February 21, 2011

The cabin

Many years ago uncle Walt and aunt Ada lived in a little four room house out in the middle of the woods. They had no electricity or running water. They traveled part of the year, working the carnival circuit, but returned to their place for a few months at a time. I either never met them or don't remember them. Once they had gone on we used the place as a weekend get away from time to time.

My earliest memories of the cabin, that's what we called it, were from our weekends we would spend there. I can recall everyone getting home from work on Friday evening and running around packing things in the car. I was always excited about these trips. We would make the seemingly endless drive (about ten miles) to a little dirt road off the road I now live on. I always loved turning onto the road and bumping down the long driveway waiting for the cabin to appear around the last curve. We would pile out of the car and start running all over the place as my mother would call out warnings about boundaries and snakes.

The big people would unload the car as I would run around the house to the back to check on everything. There was a big tree in the back yard that had a table built onto it, it was a small table about chest high to an adult that was held up by supports nailed directly to the tree... For some reason I always thought that was the coolest thing... There was a small fire pit we used for grilling out. The pit was made of concrete blocks and had a little grill on it where they would cook all manner of food. There were two doors on the back, the one on the right went into the kitchen and the one on the left went into one of the bedrooms. The bedroom door never opened. I would stand at the kitchen door until someone came through and opened it. Once inside I would make a hard right into the first bedroom then hit the second bedroom in search of the green ghost game. That was one of the few things we left in the cabin, we played that game continually while we were there. Once I had made sure it was there and doing ok I would head back around through the kitchen into the front room.

The front room had a small fireplace and the most uncomfortable couch you could imagine. Seems like the cushions were made of plastic or something... There was an old black and white television near the front door. The place smelled like woodsmoke, and sometimes we were allowed to build a fire. The grownups would set about unpacking, getting everything ready for dinner and then they would all mill about while cooking on the grill and in the kitchen. The two bedrooms had several beds each in them.

Once the food was ready and darkness was setting in we would take our plates of hamburgers and settle down in front of the television for Friday night wrestling. This was before anyone had ever heard of cable television, the picture was snowy and flippy, but worked. We would eat and yell and jump around imitating the likes Mr. Wrestling one and two... we would make fun of Gordon Solie as he would speak to the wrestlers between matches... The evening would always end with someones parents coming in and yelling at us for making too much noise. We would then retire to the back bedroom to play the green ghost game until we fell asleep. The adults would be outside by the fire, or inside playing cards until the wee hours of the morning. I was still a bit too young to be outside playing hide and seek with the older kids, but I wouldn't mind falling asleep because I knew what was coming...

The next morning we would have a full on nasty big breakfast with all sorts of heart healthy fried pork dishes, huge home made biscuits, and scrambled eggs with lots of cheese... Then outside we would go... I was restricted to the yard and would often walk around the perimeter as I watched the older kids heading out in all directions for lord knows what sort of grand adventures... At some point there was always a nap before lunch, which was another grilled out affair. Shortly after lunch we would hear the call to go back in the woods to the shooting range.

There was a berm way out behind the cabin in a small field, that's where I first learned about guns. Someone always had several paper grocery bags full of bottles with them and they would be set all along the berm for target shooting. Dozens and dozens of bottles would be placed out there... There would be a line of people standing there shooting every type of gun you could think of, obliterating the bottles over the course of the afternoon. My father would take me aside and hold an old 22 rifle for me as he would let me sight it and pull the trigger. He would talk to me constantly, telling me about the rules of firing a weapon. He had an old 22 pistol he would wear in a holster as they shot, if I was lucky he would let me shoot that.

I remember the heat and humidity in that little field, the sun would beat down blazing that middle of the summer, skin ripping off the bones, blast furnace heat you get in the deep south. I remember one moment in time when my dad and cousin were lined up and drew their pistols to finish off the last of the bottles. I sat in awe as the bottles flew apart, both of them never missing a target. I had a huge paper cup of lemonade that I was nursing against the heat. My older brother grabbed the cup from me when my dad was finished shooting and ran out to the berm, sitting it right in the middle, I recall crying and screaming as the guns went off and my drink was blown to tiny bits as I watched in horror... Those days would end with sunburns, a head full of sand and dirt, and a jar full of strange bugs and lizards as my prize...

When the cars would be all packed at the end of the day we would load up on the back of a truck belonging to whoever and head for home, sitting on the tailgate for the entire ride. Imagine that, riding for ten miles in a pickup truck with a tailgate loaded down with kids trying to touch the road with their shoes... Try that these days and you would get cops parachuting on you from all over the state and DFCS would be called in to judge whether or not you were fit to be a parent. I always remember taking that first curve up the driveway as we were leaving. I would stare at the cabin and wonder when the next time would be that I could sit in there and eat hamburgers while watching Gordon Solie... I would look at the plants and flowers along the edge of the property and the bare red dirt of the front yard, the last thing I would see would be the swing set looking silent and mournful as we rounded the curve and headed up to the road.

That was nearly forty years ago... The weekends of my youth that I still sit and think about. Over the years since then I would make the occasional trek over to the cabin, since we moved from town out here... During those years I would watch the neglected place begin to fall into disrepair.

This past weekend we were out and about enjoying the first good weather since last summer when the line was thrown out, "Hey, lets go down to the cabin.." There is a nice wide dirt road there now that has been cut in from the road where the entrance to the cabin used to be, it runs straight down into the woods to points unknown. We walked down it for a bit looking off to the right for the old driveway. I spotted the place where you would make the first turn towards the cabin, but just barely. I haven't been down there in probably twenty years... The bed of the driveway remains, a faintly discernible shape in the woods. Trees have now grown up, masking what it used to be. We followed the road bed, pushing our way through the undergrowth. I began to get chills as we headed down what I knew to be the last curve before you get there. I started looking through the trees for that first glimpse of the cabin, a move that seemed genetically implanted when at that spot... Yet it didn't appear... I frowned for a moment then saw it... Trees have filled the red dirt yard all the way up to the cabin now.

The cabin is almost still there.. most of it has fallen in, yet it remains sitting there like a sentinel protecting past lives. I walked around the place, taking the same path I took so many times as a small child. The sight was depressing, yet strangely comforting. I was shocked to see several of the same plants still around what used to be the edge of the yard... I looked at each spot I played as a child, no longer recognizable due to the encroaching woods, but I knew where they were. I walked around back and looked in the doors, almost hearing the voices of those long gone days. I looked at each tree in the back yard to try and remember which one had the table nailed to it. I found the tree but couldn't locate any remnants of the table... At the foot of that tree I noticed the old grate from the grill propped against it... I didn't have my camera so I used my cell phone to snap a few pictures...

The front of the cabin...

The back wall is still intact...

The piece of the grill...

As I was taking the picture of the grate from the grill I heard a call from the front yard telling me everyone else was heading back up to the road... I looked over my shoulder toward the little field and the berm where we used to shoot guns. I thought about walking back there looking for it, but decided against it, "not just yet..." I told myself...

There used to be a path that went from the side of the cabin over to the main dirt road, so I headed off in that direction, I never found the path but hit the dirt road and started walking back toward the main road. I was looking at the pictures on my phone while memories danced around in my head of a time long since gone by. A time before the internet, cable television, video games, and cell phones... When waking up Saturday morning meant sitting on the floor in front of the television to watch Bugs Bunny before you headed outside to play all day long.

I got the eerie feeling that the cabin now serves as a symbol of those days, soon to be forgotten, crumbling in the middle of nowhere, kept alive only in the memories of those that lived to see them...

February 15, 2011

A guest post by Wendy Hopkins

Sometimes when I get writer’s block, or whatever one chooses to call the phenomenon of wanting to write but not finding the words, I remember my 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. Dishman. Every Friday was creative writing day and we would be required to write a story or poem or something. We could choose a photo (usually just ads stripped out of magazines) or a starter card (a sentence written on a 3x5 card) to get us started/ for inspiration and she had binders full of photos and index card boxes full of starter sentences; enough so we could find something, anything.

I still use the photo method, it was my favorite back then too, only now I go to Flickr. It may take me a little while to find something that hits the inspiration switch in my head, but eventually I’ll either hit it, or walk away inspiration-less.

I always start at Flickr Commons, a place where institutions put their old photographs, all are in the public domain. I love the old shots and how they are artsy without trying to be; the way we all try to make our photographs artsy nowadays.

I saw this photo (http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/4012277816/)of two men taking photos of the grasses in Kansas in 1974. It makes no matter to me the whats and whys of this shot; the only important thing is what it reminded me of, the inspiration. (side note: the photo is from the National Archives Documerica set (http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/collections/72157620729903309/) and is some interesting stuff, especially if you were around back then).

I was an aspiring poet in my youth, not unlike many others, devouring all sorts of poetry to feed my teenage soul. When I look at this picture I am reminded of a line from a poem, “Desiderata” (means: desired things) , by Max Ehrmann:

Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Max Ehrmann was an attorney from Indiana. He didn’t start a career of writing until he was 40 years old. His writing didn’t become popular until after his death when his wife compiled several books of his poetry.

Some things are important, even if you don’t see it while you are living. Some things we do touch others in such a way that we don’t even need to be there for it to have an impact. Some things are perennial as the grass.

"Desiderata" by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be
greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career
however humble;
it is a real possession in the
changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you
to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit
to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore, be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham,
drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

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