Carolyn's note: The Cabin Chronicles is an ongoing feature on my life growing up in the Northwoods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. On a regular basis, I will be posting 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!)
Over the years, our mode of transportation to the cabin segued from a station wagon to a pick-up with a camper top. Mom and dad really felt they had latched on to something special when they dreamed up the camper top. The beauty of this system was the locking window.
There was a 15 inch window that separated the cab from the bed of the truck. It could be slid back and forth, but the key feature was the lock. You could slide, shut, and lock the window from inside the cab (and only from inside the cab).
The three children, suitcases, food supplies, and whatever tools dad was transporting were all shoehorned into the back. We were all very territorial. Our spaces were marked out, and strictly adhered to for the entire journey. Of course inevitably turf wars would erupt over the 14 hour trip.
One August while traveling to the cabin for the month, sibling infighting broke out.
“Mom!” I hollered banging on the window. “He won’t move over!” I mouthed through the glass, pointing to my brother.
From the other side of the window both mother and collie (who rode in front seat between mom and dad) turned with a frown.
Inching the window open only a fraction, she inquired as to what the issue was.
“He’s the problem!” I shouted.
“I didn’t do anything!” my brother yelled back.
“Yes! You did!” I exclaimed. “Mom, he’s on my sleeping bag and he won’t move.”
“Am not!” my brother shouted back. “She’s on MY sleeping bag!”
“Mom make him MOVE!” I screamed.
“Move yourself,” my brother retorted.
My mother calmly suggested we work it out. She often philosophized that she was neither judge nor jury. She also believed in us learning to work out our differences. So it was not surprising that she lowly slid the window closed. And. Locked it. She turned around. The dog, bored with the business in the back, also turned around.
I banged on the window again. “Hey!” I shouted. “Tell him to move!” I kept knocking. “Open up!” I demanded. I tried to force the window open. But the lock held.
“Mother!” “MOTHER!” I yelled. Tears pricked my eyes. But my entreaties went unanswered.
Snug inside the warm, quiet cocoon of the cab, mother, dad, and dog rode smoothly ahead. While I peered helplessly inside their serene oasis, I saw mother deliver the final blow. She stretched a hand forward and slowly turned up the music on the radio. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was over. No one was looking back.
Not even the dog. (Oh…the inhumanity of it all….and I’m talking about the dog!)
Fourteen hours later after bathroom breaks, food and gasoline stops, and occasional breaks for the dog to stretch her legs, we arrived at the cabin.
Driving down the one lane trail surrounded by trees, it always felt like a homecoming.
Time stood still at the cabin. I slid back into my Northwoods life like slipping on a well worn sneaker. It just felt right.
A week later, mom called everyone in for lunch. I reluctantly abandoned the sunshine and walked inside the cabin. Then I had an epiphany. I grabbed my sandwich and apple informing mother I was eating al fresco. She thought I was headed for the front porch; I had other ideas. I decided a picnic was in order.
Roaming through the woods, I found myself on the trail leading to the highway. Federal Forest Highway 16 is a solitary road, but I loved to march down it’s center feeling as if I owned the world.
Making the final turn to the highway, I saw a man sitting down propped up against a tree stump. He was just a stone’s throw from the road. A huge green backpack sat next to him.
“Hey!” I called.
He half turned to see me walking up the trail. “Hey yourself,” he replied.
“Watcha doing?” I asked.
“Just taking a break,” he said.
“Oh, okay,” I responded and flopped down in front of him on a pile of pine needles.
He seemed very tired. As if even his bones were too exhausted to hold up his skin. He wore blue jeans and a faded green army jacket. Everything about him was dusty and worn. Even his eyes were a faded blue. I felt empathy for him as if I had come upon a wounded bird.
“Where did you come from?” he asked.
“Oh, we have a cabin up here, and I just decided to go for a walk,” I said.
“That’s nice.” he responded although I felt he was just being very polite.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Bill,” he responded. “My friends call me Bill.”
“My name’s d'Artagnan,” I replied. That’s not my real name..’course. I changed it. I’m sorta like The Three Musketeers. I like reading ‘bout them”
“It’s a very nice name,” he told me.
“Where ya going?” I asked.
He shifted his weight against the stump trying for a more comfortable position. He seemed to be weighing his words.
“Well,” he said. “Nowhere really. I just wanted to be someplace where it was quiet and peaceful.”
“It sure can be quiet up here!” I exclaimed.
“Except for the Junkins,” I added. “They’re neighbors and they make a lotta noise. They’re not very nice, but I think they’re gone now.”
A lull drifted down and settled between us. I could hear the hum of insects.
“Hey,” I said breaking the silence. “Do you want some of my sandwich?” I held up the peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a flourish.
“Oh, no thanks,” he said.
The quiet returned as I munched on my sandwich.
“Have you heard of the Vietnam War?” he asked breaking the silence.
I had seen images on tv. Grainy black and white videos of soldiers and helicopters. I didn’t really understand it. But I knew what he was talking about.
“Yeah, I’ve seen pictures on tv with soldiers,” I answered.
“I was in the Vietnam War. I did a tour there,” he told me.
“Oh,” I replied not sure what to say. “What was it like?”
He thought again for a moment. “It was very loud. It wasn’t nice. I don’t really like to talk about it.”
I blushed red. “Oh, sorry,” I mumbled.
“That’s ok,” Bill said. “I just like to talk about normal things now.”
I scrunched my face trying hard to think of something normal to say.
“Do you like school?” Bill asked.
“Oh yeah, it’s okay,” I replied. “I like to read. I like to go to the library too.
One time though, I got in trouble at school. I accidentally pulled the fire alarm and all the kids came running out of the cafeteria! I had to go to the principal’s office.”
For the first time, Bill seemed to smile. Not a huge grin. But the muscles in his face arced upwards, and his eyes seemed less faded.
“Oh, boy,” he said. “I’ll bet your parents weren’t happy! I liked school. I played baseball with my friends a lot.”
“I like tetherball,” I chimed in. “I broke my little finger once playing it, but I never told anyone. It’s crooked now.” I showed him my finger and he nodded.
“That’s pretty cool,” he said. “I bet no one else has a little finger like that”
“Nope, it’s a one of a kind!” I proudly said.
I was on a roll now. I explained how I had a brother and sister (he had a brother)plus cats and a dog. I talked about my friends at school, and how I liked to ride my bike.
Bill nodded. Every now and again he would interject a “I see” or a “Oh, wow” but for the most part he seemed content to let me rattle on.
Eventually I ran out of steam. The woods seemed to envelope us again.
Then Bill let out a little sigh. “Well, I’ve got to get going,” he said starting to untangle his legs.
I popped up. “Oh, okay. Where are ya going?”
“I’m not sure, but I’ll probably hitch a ride and keep heading north.” He shrugged on his backpack adjusting the straps.
“If ya need a ride, my dad can give you one,” I said.
“No, but you should probably get on back,” he told me. “I’ll be fine.”
He was right. I wasn’t sure what time it was but I needed to go home.
Bill walked up the short distance to the highway and turned right heading north.
“Bye!” I yelled from the woods.
He waved and started walking along the road. Then stopped, turned and shouted, “Thank you!”
“For what!” I yelled confused. “I didn’t do anything!”
He briefly smiled for a moment and shouted back. “Yes, you did!”
I watched Bill as he kept walking becoming smaller and smaller. When he was only a tiny speck on the horizon, I turned walking slowly back to the cabin.