(Carolyn's note: The Cabin Chronicles is an ongoing feature on my life growing up in the Northwoods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Each week I will be posting several new chapters on stories that will surprise you, stun you, and hopefully make you laugh and cry! To read past chapters, go to the heading entitled Blog on the top bar of tswails.com and click on the Cabin Chronicles.)
Walking about a tenth of mile or so up a small hill from our cabin was a source of unending fascination.
It was a small one-room cabin. The only other structure within miles of our camp. The property was owned by Old Lady Bingham. But now at the end of her life, she had little interest in the place, and even less in the family she paid to take care of it.
So the Junkins were the de facto owners. The father, Jesse, was a Finlander who had emigrated to America. He was a bitter, quick-tempered man with a love of guns and whiskey. He made three sons. Each boy just a spot meaner than the next. They lived by a code that made them well known with the local law.
When the family was in residence, the crack of gun shots rang through the day. During the night, drunken shouts echoed down the hill. Jesse and his boys ran roughshod. Poaching, trespassing, and stealing anything that wasn’t bolted down.
One hot afternoon the sounds had faded up the hill. I decided the coast was clear for an important reconnaissance. At the ripe old age of nine, I felt it vitally important to scope out the enemy camp. I recruited my brother as my aide-de-camp. He was three years younger than I and an agreeable kid who took things in stride.
The forest was silent. Typical for a hot August afternoon. Only a whisper of a breeze slid through the thick trees. We crept through the underbrush with our hearts crazily thumping in our chests.
I knew these people were dangerous, but in a fairy tale way that only a child could conceive.
The camp looked deserted. It appeared not a soul was there. I checked for vehicles and saw none. This was our golden opportunity.
My brother and I emerged slowly from the cover of the woods. We decided to first check out the cabin. The stout front door was clearly locked. But there were no coverings over the windows. We could easily see inside. Dirty dishes listed in stacks on the counter. Scarred bunkbeds crammed together took up one corner. A sagging couch tilted near a small stove. We slowly crept around each side of the cabin peering in absorbing every detail.
The thrill was simply delicious.
Situated down a small slope of land from the cabin is where the outhouse stood. We had an outhouse at our camp, but we also had indoor plumbing so it was never used (except for mother…more on that later). Thus this tiny building was another source of curiosity. It was clearly in use. The door hung slightly ajar just begging to be opened.
So I complied.
I poked my fingers through the crack and swung the door open. And gasped. Dumbstruck. Naked ladies smiled lazily back at me. Every inch of that smelly john offered a seductive pout, and everything else in between. You could easily determine the vintage of the photos. Clearly the outhouse had been decorated over time. Some of the girls a bit faded, (but still enthusiastic). Our parents could never know. “ Not a word,” I hissed to my brother who stood mute. He mechanically nodded his head. At the age of six, I’m not sure he knew what to think. But as the older and more worldly sister, I knew this spelled nothing but trouble. Not to mention we were trespassing. With these thoughts swirling in my head, I nonetheless stepped inside and looked up. Even the ceiling was plastered with girls. It was a visual so alien, I didn’t know what to think. I had never seen a naked human being before, so I alternated between being fascinated and grossed out.
A rumble of an engine broke the spell. A car was coming. “Run!” I urgently whispered. We scrambled like thieves back into the woods careening down the hill…arms windmilling wildly as we headed over the crest of the hill. Once our cabin was in sight, we slowed panting and heaving.
I sagged over breathing hard, and realized something awful. We had left the door to the outhouse wide open. “Oh, no,” I said. “We didn’t close the outhouse door! They are going to know we had been there.”
“I’m not going back,” my brother answered stoutly. I had to agree. It wasn’t safe.
All during the next day I worried that Jesse and his boys would march down the hill and demand justice for our invasion of their privacy. This would not go over well with my parents. When days passed and nothing happened, I began to relax. And plan again. For another foray into the woods.
During this time my father was continuing his building projects. He was forever hammering, sawing, climbing on roofs, and running around with his chainsaw.
This time the project was a cookhouse. Approximately 100 feet from the cabin was a perfect spot to sit and look over the Paint River. In the Northland, the bugs are big and they’re bad. So dad’s solution was to erect a screened-in space where the views could be admired and the bugs avoided.
Dad was in his glory. He cleared the area, poured a concrete pad, and ordered the lumber. The cookhouse would feature a solid wall on one end and half walls around the rest of the way. Everything else would be screened in. A cathedral ceiling would keep the space light and airy.
That afternoon dad hitched up the trailer and went to town to get the wood. My brother went with him. Everyone was in high spirits.
Several hours later he was back with two-by-fours hanging off the back end tagged with little red flags.
Everyone pitched in and helped unload the wood, stacking it carefully next to the building site.
The next day I was handed my first real mystery. Nancy Drew couldn’t have asked for better.
The trail leading into the cabin.
The Paint River.
The Paint River. This photo taken from our riverfront. Upstream is where the Bingham cabin used to sit.
My dad in the midst of one of his many, many projects.
An inside shot of the cabin's living room.
On Saturday be sure to tune in for Chapter Three! The Disappearance!