(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. Hope you enjoy!)
The order of lumber was coming up short. Staring at the pile of lumber, dad knew there wasn’t enough to finish the project. He would have to order more. If he suspected anything, he wasn’t saying. Instead he gave a quick shake of his head, and went to work framing the cookhouse. My brother and I joined him. We were best at fetching nails, scooping up the fallen ones, and handing hammers up the ladder.
It was slow progress and by evening a skeleton frame had been erected. Dad was exhausted and went to bed early. We all did. Staying up late meant keeping lights on which in turn meant running the generator which cost money. There were wall sconces built to hold kerosene lamps, but they didn’t put out much light. We did have a television, but only two channels available. Plus you really had to work the rabbit ears to get reception.
Mornings were slow. Normally we tumbled out of bed one at a time. Mom was always the first one up, starting the coffee pot, and stepping outside to commune with the chipmunks. She had them tamed. They adored her. When mom appeared the chipmunks scooted over to snatch a sunflower seed from her hand.
Inside dad drank his coffee, and guarded his bowl of cereal from the cats. They were allowed the last dredges of milk, but were not especially patient about it.
That morning though, the breakfast routine was sped up because dad was anxious to work on the cookhouse. Keeping stride with him, we crossed the yard. Even from a distance, it was evident something was wrong. The pile of lumber had again mysteriously shrunk. It was indisputable. Dad stood and mutely stared. My brother and I buzzed around exclaiming about the disappearance, but dad wouldn’t share his views.
He set about working on the cookhouse as if nothing had happened. I was beside myself. Disappearing lumber. Imagine! As a diehard fan of Nancy Drew (we had the entire box set at the cabin), I wanted to throw myself wholeheartedly into the investigation. But there was no encouragement from dad. He simply ordered more lumber. That afternoon, he hitched up the trailer and headed into town. This time alone.
That night after everyone had gone to bed, I heard dad get up. The bed next door creaked every so slightly giving him away. I was instantly wide awake. The pile of lumber was stacked just beyond my bedroom window. To get a clear view, I had to creep down from the bunkbed. On a moonless night the north woods can be so dark; the black swallows you up. But on this night, the moon was a quarter full. I could pick out the shapes of trees and see the outline of the woodpile.
Climbing down without being noticed was a challenge. I had to pass by my sister (in the middle bunk) and my brother (on the bottom). But after a few minutes, and moving in slow motion, I dropped to the floor.
With a thud.
I stood stock still. All senses sounding an alarm. I had heard my sister move. She had woken up.
""Whaddya doing?" she murmured from her bunk.
"Nothing, just going to the bathroom," I whispered back.
Silence. She had apparently gone right back to sleep.
The cabin was essentially divided into two parts. The front of the cabin was one large room with cathedral ceilings. The kitchen, dining area, and living room all flowed seamlessly together. From the kitchen a small hallway doglegged left allowing passage to the two small bedrooms and bathroom.
In the kitchen, I heard dad pouring water into the coffee maker. For my dad to have a beer was a big deal. He wasn’t interested in alcohol. His beverage of choice was coffee which he drank morning, noon, and night. So I wasn’t surprised to hear him rattling the coffee pot.
From the hallway, I had a pretty good vantage point looking into the kitchen. Dad took his coffee and walked into the living room. No lights were on, but the light from the moon was enough to navigate. I waited a few minutes. Silence. So complete, it was like sound didn’t exist. I gathered up my courage, and peered around the corner. Dad was seated in a chair looking out the huge picture window that fronted the cabin. From his viewpoint, he could see the slope of the hill that led up to Old Lady Binghamton’s cabin.
I crouched down behind the corner. After awhile, I began to get tired, but to leave my post could mean missing out on something important.
I am not sure how much time went by before I heard my father stand up and move in front of the picture window. Something was happening. I scooted out from my safe spot and pressed up against a kitchen cabinet. In the shadows, you would have to look hard to spot me. But I could now clearly see dad and the woods beyond.
Shadowy figures clumped together were crossing our yard. It was Jesse Junkins in the lead. His boys loping alongside him. All four headed to the cookhouse site. My dad didn’t move. I saw the dull glint of metal flash in the moonlight. It was Jesse. Toting a gun. The men moved past the window. One voice could be faintly heard. It was the old Finlander barking directions in a hoarse whisper.
A few minutes later, with armloads of lumber, they crept back across the yard. My dad walked over to the front door. The cabin’s doors are heavy slabs of wood. They could withstand a small army. To open the door, I had to grasp the door knob with both hands and pull hard. The wood always gave a pop of noise as the suction broke free and the door swung open.
Dad yanked the door open with one pull. He made no attempt to disguise the noise. The men froze. Dad stood casually propped against the door frame cradling his cup of coffee. He didn’t say a word. For a moment time seemed suspended. All men motionless in the dim light. The silence burned a hole in the night.
Then a clutter. The tableau broken. One of the boys dropped his load of lumber, and raggedly began to run toward the woods. Then another followed and soon it was just Jesse and my Dad. Neither speaking. A minute later, Jesse slunk off after his sons disappearing in the night. Just like a pack of cowardly junkyard dogs.
Dad stepped out onto the front porch, and walked to the fallen pile of lumber. I watched him from the window as he hauled it all back to the cookhouse. Then I sneaked back up the ladder, and fell asleep just as I hear the door shut and the lock clicked tight.
I am seated (aged 9) between my dad and our neighbor from Bryan, Ohio (Bob Flightner) at the cabin.
My brother and future partner in crime (My options were limited.) with dad at the cabin.
The surrounding forest.
Next up: Chapter FOUR....BUSTED!