Sunday, July 21, 2019

Cabin, part 3

At some point every summer, I sit in a 14 foot Alumicraft boat in the middle of Muskallonge Lake in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and drift. It’s peaceful, serene and necessary. This experience sustains me and gives me something to hold onto in this often slippery world.

As a teenage boy, I was given freedom to roam the lake with an outboard motor. This was long before I had my driver’s license. When starting and stopping the motor I am treated to a rare and delicate fragrance; the grey puff of a gas/oil mix. It is my mechanical equivalent to a lilac, my favorite flower.

I could live off of that smell.

My Dad’s motor was a Sea King, Five Horsepower, purchased at Montgomery Ward in 1958. In the seventies and eighties newer motors were introduced at the cabin but nothing was as dependable as Dad’s Sea King. One winter someone broke into the shed and stole two of the newer motors but left the old Sea King. But the joke was on them, the Sea King was the only one that worked!

Muskallonge Lake is one mile N/S and two miles E/W. When I’m floating alone in the middle of the lake, I could not be further removed from civilization unless I was drifting in Lake Superior, which is only a mile away. It is ironic, because being alone, in the middle of nowhere is where I feel the most connected to my family, even those who are gone. . . especially those who are gone.

I believe being alone gives us an opportunity to reconnect with old memories while at the same time unlocking others. I remember details of family vacations from over four decades ago and share them with my family once in a while.

“How do you remember this stuff,” they ask.
The secret answer is: “I remember it because I have never stopped thinking about it.”

We cook, drink, share our lives, love, fish, explore, play cards and board games all while carrying on about earlier versions of our lives at the cabin. We miss those who are gone and make fun of those who didn’t come that year. . . . well . . .not really, we miss them too.

We pack a lot into the time we have at the cabin, but there is never enough time to do everything we want to do. Why is it we feel like we did everything as a kid but cannot come close to repeating this feat as adults?

Once every last item is packed into our vehicle, the car door slams and seems out of place as it echoes in the forest like a gun shot. The screen door of the cabin slams with a friendly wood on wood slap. Then we get a lump in our throat, saying goodbye to those who are staying but it is really more like saying goodbye to those we we are leaving.

At the end of our time together we have laughed so much we have to open the windows to let some of the laughter out. It necessary in order to create room for what we know will be coming next year.

Cabin , Part 2

The radio stations in the UP are time capsules of my youth. This summer I unexpectedly heard the following bands on my favorite Upper Peninsula radio station out of Newberry.

The Cutting Crew
John Parr
The Bellamy Brothers
Michael Martin Murphy
Ray Stevens
Minnie Riperton
Starland Vocal Band
Three Dog Night
Mac Davis
Roberta Flack
The Hues Corporation
Neil Sedaka. . .well, you get the idea. I loved hearing songs from these artists but then there was that moment--- that “in your face reminder” that the station bringing me these great songs is an oldies station.

Sink me.

During summer months, the cabin in the Upper Peninsula is a place that never really gets dark at night. In early to mid July, the sunsets are usually just after 9:00 and twilight lasts for at least another two hours. When it finally starts to get “dark” it is 1AM.

In the summer God keeps the Milky Way on high and it seems to split Muskallonge Lake in half, as falling stars and satellites whiz by us overhead. By5 AM you will begin to see faint rays of the sun, racing to the rise.

Birds chirp, the eagle hunts and you become so aware of your senses, it’s often hard to believe.

At the cabin you quickly learned that if you want to eat, you tell the cook the way they prepare a meal is just the way you like it. You also had to chip in with chores.

We read books by the light from kerosene lamps. We played spoons and board games and learned how to carefully separate those interlocking round, green coils that kept the mosquitoes away without breaking them.

That’s the way we did it back then and that’s the way we did it this summer. So, I ask this of myself all the time. Why are some of us obsessed with dreaming of youth?

The answer? Simpler times I suppose. But have we ever thought that what was “simple” for us back then was not so simple for our parents?

When I was a teen I remember going into my Dad’s office in the basement of our house the night before we were to leave for our UP vacation. He had all sorts of numbers written down in columns for; gas, food and emergencies. They all added up to quite a tidy sum. That’s just one of the many great things about my Dad. He gave us these vacations knowing we’d relish them.

I was too young to remember, but one year we ran out of gas about twenty miles short of Mackinac City around 6AM. All of us kids were sleeping because we often got a cozy spot and slept in the car the night before so we could leave in the middle of the night. Lucky for us, my Dad spotted a farm that butted up to I-75 and he walked to the house and asked the farmer for enough gas to get us to Mackinac City. The farmer obliged and my Dad repaid him with a couple of fresh baked pies on our return trip.

Some call it the cabin.
Some call it the lake.
Some call the UP, the YOOP or simply; “up north” and they are all correct.

Think about it; the same waves from our youth, still live in the lake. They tumble and lap the shoreline looking for us but disappear when the water becomes dead calm and flat like glass.

And each year, when it feels like we are connecting with the spirit and innocence of our youth; The truth is, we probably are.

Cabin 2019, Part 1

In 1975, I celebrated my tenth birthday at the cabin, surrounded by family and friends. Birthdays at the cabin were a big deal. With two and sometimes three creative mothers there at the same time, the day was well organized with games, outings and food. Since my cousin Norman and I were the only ones with our birthday in July, the focus was always on us---and we relished it. . . slightly. . .but trust me, the delight was shared among all of the kids.

Our alarm clock was a scratchy Sousa march from the Brunswick Victrola. If we weren’t downstairs before it was over, we got polka after polka, followed by cold pancakes.

We quickly respected Sousa.

After breakfast we would all pitch in with chores. This was a log cabin, without electricity or plumbing located in the thick of the Upper Peninsula and we needed to be ready for anything. We burned paper, carried garbage to the dump, collected kindling, chopped wood, helped our mothers with meals and dishes and helped our Dads by staying away from whatever they were working on.

Baloney sandwiches and Orange Crush fueled our afternoons. Reese Peanut Butter Cups and Bit-O-Honey, made them better. Games of wiffle ball in the side yard were friendly but competitive. Killing pop bottles in the dump with BB guns was a challenge but it was harder with a Wrist-Rocket slingshot.

We either smelled like Coppertone, Bactine or OFF. We pooped in an outhouse, bathed in the lake and drank water from a well. The fishing was always good and we all discovered adolescent freedom in a fourteen foot Alumicraft boat with a 5 horse outboard motor before we could drive a car.

Those were days without heartbreak, college, kids, politics or bills. One by one, our elders left us. Their loss created new memories. Ahh, ... those sweet, sweet memories. But hidden on us all was the subtle reminder that one of us is next. Each day at the cabin is a memory in the making.

But now, for one week out of the year, we take the time machine back to relive those days we loved; erroneously believing life hasn't changed.

It was the summer of 1975. In no time at all, our lives moved from there to here.

Peter Wurdock

July 11, 2019