Entry #149 In which our hero talks about the cabin.
Yesterday I asked The Scientist, “hey, are we doing anything this weekend?” To which she replied, “Ye-ah, we’re going to the cabin!” To which I had to say, “Jesus, how did I forget that?”
My family owns a small hunting cabin in the Allegany National Forest Reserve in Pennsylvania. This cabin has been in my family for probably 50 years. It’s not fancy… matter of fact it doesn’t even have running water. But there is electricity. It can sleep 10 comfortably. We’re expecting about 16 this weekend.
I love it up there. It’s deep in the forest and far from the road noise and light pollution of big cities. My childhood involved at least three trips up there every year; visits in which I’d hike the trails (including a rather harrowing getting lost experience when I was about 13), help gather wood for the campfire, go deer-spotting at night, roast marshmallows and hotdogs over the fire, drink way too much soda and laugh and play with my cousins. Every night we’d play penny-ante poker, usually under the auspices of my grandfather (who was actually a bit of a bastard, but kids are quick to forgive) who would fill the tiny cabin with clouds of sweet-smelling cigar smoke.
In time, my three older sisters would abandon the cabin, having either moved too far away or simply losing interest. But I still went up every year, driving as long as necessary to get there.
August is a special time for the cabin. My Mom’s side of the family gathers for a family reunion of sorts, with plenty of eating and drinking and bullshitting. I’ve always been among the youngest, so I don’t have to prepare anything and have no responsibilities other than getting myself there. A weekend getaway in a beautiful forest setting with all the food and drink I want for FREE? Yeah, I’ll pay for a tank for that.
But this year is different.
It’s different in that now we have kids, and it will be Lily and Macey’s first trip up to the cabin. Since bunk space is at a premium, we’re bringing a tent… I’m a little concerned that Lily will be freaked out by sleeping outside, but that kid takes so much in stride my worry is probably unfounded. No, I’m more worried about my Uncle John.
A little history.
I’m not sure when the cabin first came into my family’s possession, but it’s upkeep fell to my grandfather and grandmother for most of the early years. They even lived up there full-time for a bit. After they died, the care of the cabin (including paying its property tax, etc.) fell to three couples: my Mom and dad, my Aunt Joyce and Uncle John, and my Uncle Frank and Aunt Maryann.
My father died in 1993. This was a blow to everyone, but trips to the cabin continued, more or less uninterrupted.
My Aunt Maryann died in 2001. In many ways, this was a bigger blow. Not just because the usual crew was now down by one-third, but because after Maryann died, Frank refused to return to the cabin. He said he just couldn’t deal with being there without his wife. Not only was that heartbreakingly sad, but it was a bit of a problem in that Frank is the handy one. He’s the guy with tools and the know-how to fix a leaky roof or replace a broken window. Some of that responsibility has fallen to me… and Lord knows I’m not especially handy.
And earlier this year, my Aunt Joyce died. Her death is especially hard for me, for a couple of reasons. Her illness (actually, a brain tumor that took a little while to diagnose) came on suddenly late last year. She was fine, then she started having seizures. What followed was a long, painful year in which she seemed to get better, then relapsed. She had chemo and radiation, people were hopeful, then she got worse. During this time I was reminded that she had never met my children, and she wanted to. Before it’s too late, was the unspoken coda.
By this time, my Aunt Joyce sometimes had trouble recognizing or remembering people. I wanted to bring the girls to see her, but not if she was so out of it that it wouldn’t matter. Mom kept me updated, and it seemed she was getting better. So I waited, hoping that she would rally and we could have a pleasant visit in which my children got to spend some quality time with my favorite aunt.
As it turned out, I waited too long. I see now that Mom’s reports were colored with a unrealistic dose of optimism, making her sister’s condition sound better than it really was. She died, almost a year to the day after being diagnosed. My children will never know their Great Aunt Joyce, or really understand why she was a favorite.
As plans were being made for the traditional August trip, John declared that he wasn’t going to go. Not so soon after Joyce’s death. “I’m just not ready,” he told my Mom.
The usual cabin crew was down to one.
Not that Mom would be the only person there, far from it. My Aunt Joan is coming, and her daughters. My youngest sister is coming, with her two boys. My Uncle Jim is coming as well. And a few others. It’s going to be a full house. But mom would be the only member of the usual cabin crew.
But I talked to Mom last night, and it turns out John is coming. I don’t know what motivated the change in heart, but I’m glad for it. I’m also apprehensive. Next month would have been my Uncle John and Aunt Joyce’s 40th wedding anniversary.
I can’t even imagine.
This year is The Scientist and my 5th anniversary (that’s the wood anniversary, if you’re curious). I’ve now been with my wife longer than I’ve been with any woman in my life. And I’ve only been with her 1/8th of the time as my aunt and uncle were. How do you recover from something like that? How to do you live with someone for four decades, only to have them suddenly and permanently removed from your life?
I hope this weekend is as full of laughter as it always has been. I hope it’s not too soon for my Uncle John to return to the place that’s been so important to our family for so long. I hope John beats the socks off of everyone at the poker table.
And I hope that the usual cabin crew doesn’t dwindle any further for a long, long time.