Up at the Cabin

The phrase “up at the cabin” now rings metaphoric to me. The cabin is a real place, its denizens over the Thanksgiving weekend were my middle brother, Duck and his wife, Bunky, whose cabin it is, my son and his wife and their two children, her Dad, and her best friend. It’s a beautiful wooden house/cabin purchased by Bunky’s Mom and Dad back in the 70s, where they vacationed with their family and friends. I’d call it nouveau rustique – the nouveau parts are rustic, too, so I don’t intend to freight it with the value judgement normally ascribed to nouveau. There’s nothing riche about the cabin, except it’s history, which wears a thick patina of familial experience that still echoes within its walls. A big bookcase in the corner holds brother-in-law Bruce’s AV Extravaganza, which fortunately he had the foresight to write instructions to before passing away a few years ago. Even so, it took several of them to figure out how to play the video of Lady and the Tramp on the DVR, while the picture of Bruce gazed indulgently down at us from the top of the shelves.

The original wood burning stove has been replaced with a propane remote-controlled red stove, which takes a minute to get started, or so said Duck, when I asked him to walk me through the opening instructions for the cabin. This was Grandma Dorothy’s decision, after watching the aging cabin denizens split wood to feed the fire. After a day or so, I suddenly realized that no one had been fetching wood. Duck shared the history of her decision to change out the fireplace and Grandpa Dan, who has one of his own up north, suddenly looked interested. We’d been discussing what people wanted for Christmas, and as his interest warmed, I nudged his daughter with, “sounds like we know what to get Dan for Christmas this year!” Gulp. I love being helpful.

Other improvements to the cabin – a brand new Kenmore range, which did a great job of cooking the turkey, after hours and hours of discussion about the stuffing, much perusing of the Chronicle recipe, calculating the correct time and temperature to cook the 22-lb. bird, and many attempts at inserting the meat thermometer judiciously to get the most accurate reading. That followed on the thesis we wrote on brining the turkey and making the stuffing. Bunky led the charge on both of those efforts.

I should explain that my brother and his wife both have real, parentally-prescribed names, and that the above names are their professional names, being well-established commercial fishermen for the past 20-30 years. Their conversation, especially when they were in the company of my son Chris, aka Duckling, who shares history with them as a fisherman for three years on Duck’s boat, was peppered with colorful names which my failing memory now won’t allow me to retrieve. Names like Blind Bob, Stumpy, Red Ryder, etc. Knowing full well that these names are endowed on fishermen not chosen, I nevertheless made idle conversation asking those of us never-to-be-named to think about what our names would be. I decided mine would be Miss Manners, but the others eschewed the game and it died quickly.

The cabin nestled all eight of us comfortably over the Thanksgiving holiday. It chuckled as we donned the adult-sized onesies that my daughter-in-law had picked up at Target on the drive from Tahoe. Clad as Olaf, she had a goofy carrot sticking out of her head like a maniacal unicorn; her nearly four-year-old daughter sported the bobcat suit, sans tail, and her best friend, Beth, a Bunny; I rocked the Deer. Except for Skylar, our tails all jiggled a lot when we played Twister. One thing I can tell you: Twister is a whole lot different at 60 than it was at 16.

So many times over the weekend, my brother, Duck, covered his eyes with his weathered hands and just shook his head in disbelief at our shenanigans. Then he snapped pictures of the Twister game, which will no doubt become part of the cabin’s voluminous photographic history.

We played the antique ivory dominoes that belonged to our maternal grandfather, which I remembered playing with on the floor of their den on wintery visits; Duck shared how much he loved the game, teaching me to play again, and sharing how much he’d enjoyed playing with Grandma Dorothy, who was apparently killer good at Dominoes. Duck bemoaned his dearth of play since she’d passed away and I remembered the bloodlettings he’d given our older brother Don and I on Christmas morning as we played Monopoly from about 4AM until a reasonable time to get up. Somehow, he’d bank all his thousands under the board then whip them out and buy a slew of hotels just as we were coming around the corner into his zone. He was strategic, frugal, then funded the capital need as it arose. Sort of like he’s become as the president of the San Francisco Community Fisherman’s Association. I understood why no one else wanted to play dominoes, and in spite of fearing for my reputation, I played a few games with him.

The snow fell consistently pretty much the entire time we were there, piling up a foot and a half on the railings of the deck, where I’d spent summer evenings about 13 years ago with our Dad and his wife, and my uncle and aunt and my niece and her boyfriend at the time. Back then, too, Duck managed to feed the troops, while the rest of us recreated and enjoyed each others’ company.

This visit, before I got there, Wednesday, mid day, my granddaughter had built a snowman, made a pumpkin pie, and made two cheese balls, or so went the legend when each of those items was presented and eaten. Ultimately, my granddaughter also cooked the bird. She is turning into quite the little chef. Such is the lore of the cabin. By the time we left, the snowman was buried up to her waist in fresh powder, her eyes and nose gone from her face.

The snowman before the real snows came.

“Up at the Cabin”.

I was so aware while there, napping in the afternoon, pulling up the shade in the upstairs bedroom at the end of my nap to see three full-sized deer (gender identity unclear through the branches of the surrounding trees) gamboling through the snow up the hill, that these are the moments that make up our lives. A phrase resounded through my mind all weekend was one my coach recently shared with me: “How we live our days is how we live lives”. Not that I want to spend my days napping, dressed as a deer, or even watching deer through a cabin window. And god knows I did enough dishes to last me quite a long time, thank you very much. But being in the breast of family is sweet.

“Do you think you’ll want to come up to use the cabin by yourself?” Bunky asked me on the last morning we were there.

Bunky, Yes, I intend to come back up to the cabin. Both alone, and with our family – to sop up the experiences, and to hang out with the people with whom I want to make a lot more memories.

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