Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Unlocking the cabin

We got back from the mountains yesterday and after 8 hours on the road with 2 kids, I'm glad to be home. I unpacked everything within an hour after our return, and have washed and dried no fewer than 6 loads of laundry in the past 18 hours. Blogging with a cup of tea is my reward. Folding will come later.

Some of you know about my...how shall we say...dread? Horror? Anyways, my rather negative feelings about our annual excursion(s) to Husband's family cabin in Tennessee. If you're new to this blog, let me just explain that this cabin is beyond "rustic." It's more along the lines of "filthy" or even "squalid." I am no pansy when it comes to damp and dirt, like say on a camping trip or a long hike. Neither am I by any stretch of the imagination the keeper of an immaculate house. You know, someone who makes you take your shoes off at the door, someone who even scrubs the toilets regularly. But this cabin! The floor is so disgusting that I just can't bring myself to go barefoot. I wear socks instead, and after a couple of hours have passed, the sock bottoms are stiff and shiny with black filth. The mattresses and whatever horrible things fill the old dressers reek of mildew. I am physically uncomfortable when we have to lie down in one of the damp, stinky beds at night between sheets that will never get properly clean because it's just too moist there, and anyway the washing machine stinks, too. Factor in the 8-hour drive over the mountains with kids in the back, and the prospect is ghastly. Every time.

Last time we went there over July 4th, I began to understand a little why Husband's family is practically reverent when it comes to the cabin. The family members themselves are wonderful people--smart, well-traveled, friendly, good cooks, lovers of my children. Spending almost a week with them over the 4th made me think of the cabin as just the setting for a long history of really good times with these people. Many of them have been vacationing there since they were children. Their parents have, too, because it's been in the family for 4 generations now.

This time, something else happened. Husband invited an old friend of his deceased mother's up from Knoxville to breakfast with us on Saturday. Knoxville is only a 45-minute drive, which is nothing in that part of the country, so they were pleased to make it. She--I'll call her Kathleen--knew Husband's mother for 60 years before she died. 60 years, y'all! After breakfast, when we were all chatting on the back porch, listening to the river rush by and drinking coffee, I asked Kathleen how she'd originally met Husband's mother.

"Oh, gosh, I can hardly remember. It was in church, in Sunday school. We didn't attend the same grammar school, 'cause B. lived across town, but course we got along so well that we played together sometimes. Then we did go to the same high school. You know, B. and Nancy (another long time friend) were the only ones in our crowd who had a car in high school. So after church every Sunday--we'd have our bathing suits and our shorts with us--we'd leave church and come driving down here to the cabin. We'd stay here all day and swim and go tubing, and then drive back to Knoxville when it started to get dark."

And in an instant I got the clearest picture of a group of teenage girls piled into a big car, smoking illicit cigarettes, gossiping, laughing, the windows down and no seatbelts to keep them from turning around in the front seat to grin at their friends in the back. They'd be skinny because they all were back then, and wearing the modest bathing suits of the 1950's because that was the era, and because they were all good Southern girls, but they'd still feel the wind and sun extravagant on their skin and in their hair. They'd be talking in loud voices over the wind, excited to be on their own, out of church, heading towards a whole day at the river, the cabin and the water all to themselves. And then the cabin itself waiting empty for them, then full of them as they burst in. They'd run down to the water and shriek at the cold, nudge each other in, tripping over the smooth rocks, smoke on the bank if the cabin next door happened to be unoccupied that day. Later inside, they'd lounge with their legs up on furniture that was old even then, eating pears from the tree out front, talking til it was time to drive home.

Kathleen didn't tell me all that, and I never got the chance to hear B. talk about the cabin, but I could see it so clearly in my head. I understand how B. must've talked about that time in her life to her two sons, and how all the now-old cousins must talk about it to their children and grandchildren. I understand where Husband's love and yes, reverence, for this cabin comes from, and I understand why he wants our kids to go there and love it, too.

We would all be lucky indeed to have a place we loved like that, friends like that, memories like that.


Nancy said...

Sugarmama, what a lovely post. I loved your description of the cabin followed by the story about your husband's mother's friend and her history with the same cabin. Kind of gives it a different perspective, huh?

Suzanne said...

Beautiful post! It's pretty amazing that you can see beyond the physical, umm, drawbacks of the cabin to see its overarching meaning for your husband's family.

Dawn said...

That was wonderful. But I also know of the smell...and it is Hard to ignore, cause it gets in your nose and it is all you can smell.

BUT, the talking, the family, the bonds? Worth it.

Brony said...

Lovely post. You are so right that sometimes the beauty is within the cabin (the people, the memories, the love...).

It would be great if we all had a special place to hold onto in our hearts and minds when things seem bad.

Mama D said...

The disgusting mildewy smell that you described sounds a little easier to handle when you imagine those girls hanging out there so long ago.

Like the musty smell of an old book, it wouldn't be the same without it.

"Grandi" said...

Maybe some year the family can have a "clean the cabin in memory of the departed" weekend! Ha! Your word picture was great! Think of the tales your own kids will tell someday!

Sugarmama said...

Grandi, that suggestion was brilliant! I'm thinking next year that we'll find room in the car for the vacuum cleaner, some bleach, Murphy's wood oil soap, and an enormous stack of cleaning rags. Of course, we'd have to devote at least one entire day to scrubbing, but it might be worth it!