It was a last-minute decision to head north last weekend — Wednesday or Thursday night when I shot off an email to check with Dad (our host) and make sure he didn’t have other plans. There are relatively few things clogging up my calendar this summer — not like some years when it’s practically all booked by March (I hate that kind of summer) — and I’m employing a "take it as it comes" approach.
We left on Friday night and Kate & Al drove the whole way except for the half-mile between gas station and discount store in Wausau where we stopped for a few supplies. As long as there was light, I knit on my sock in the car. The girls had control of the audio system and we listened to their CDs until the very last part of the trip. When we finally switched on the radio, about 15 minutes from our destination, it was 11:00 p.m. and I heard the unmistakable beginning to a national network news update…
I have been going up to the cottage at least once a summer for my whole life. My grandparents were one of three families — siblings — who owned a big log cabin — four bedrooms plus a big loft at each end, large kitchen/dining/living area, enclosed porch with a huge swing, also a boathouse on the island across the bridge, outhouse, tool shed, and "the hoodlum" — that my great grandpa had built in the ’30s; each of the three had a whole month of summer to spend there themselves or divvy up amongst or share with their kids. My grandparents’ month was June and, in my memory, they always spent the whole whole month, 1st through the 30th, at the cottage. One time Great Uncle Gordy showed up on June 30th to get a head start on his month of July and that didn’t go over real well with my grandpa — early fireworks that year. Great Gramps had actually left the cabin to all six of his kids, but three of them, arguably the ones with the most sense, immediately sold out to the other three. The remaining owners never put any more into the place than was absolutely necessary, so the plumbing was never upgraded beyond the original outhouse and outdoor pump, except for a cold-water line to the sink in the last couple of years. It had always been the job of whatever kids were around to keep the two water pails filled — pumps are never located right outside the door and this one was no exception, located a little downhill, even, and it couldn’t have been farther from the kitchen. In fact, the three owners could rarely agree on exactly what constituted "absolutely necessary" maintenance, so the place was in need of a major repairs and renovation when they finally sold it after some 40 years — so much work needed to be done that no one in the following generations would touch it with a 10-foot pole. An uncle bought a different (and smaller) cabin a couple of doors down — there were about a half-dozen places that were built and owned by various ragtag relations and this was one of those — and my dad bought some nearby land and eventually built a small place of his own.
When I was a little kid, Dad had a small plane and we sometimes flew into a nearby "airport" — which, depending on where we were flying into and the time of day, might actually not have been an airport but was instead the local lumber yard doing double-duty. Most of the time, though, we drove. I could usually pull rank, as the eldest, and sit in the front seat between my parents rather than one of four squished into the back seat. Sometimes I lost the front, but then I’d wrangle for (and usually win) at least a window seat in back. I remember stopping for gas, sitting by the open window in the back seat, waiting for the attendant to come and pump the gas, wash the windshield, check the oil — and inhaling deeply — I loved the smell of gasoline. I remember my dad’s left arm always being much more tanned (or burnt) and freckled than the right because he liked to drive with his arm hanging out the window. I remember wistfully passing drive-in after drive-in with fluorescent ice cream cone signs — but I don’t remember ever stopping. We never had anything to drink — no bottles of Coke or water or Starbucks Double-Shot — or eat — no king-size Milky Way or bag of Ruffles — and I don’t remember even stopping to use a bathroom. My dad’s a drive ’til you get there kinda guy now, and I think he always was.
The minute I heard the jingle leading into the news last Friday night, I was transported. It was 1968 and I was between mom and dad on the front seat of his white Jeep Wagoneer with the boat being towed behind. It was a wooden boat, a Thompson, and one year it was suspended in the garage, sanded and repainted. It was a pretty boat and sometimes I was allowed to drive it. "The lake" was actually a flowage, though, and boaters needed to be constantly watchful of stumps just below the surface. I was never allowed to let ‘er rip on open water, and I never would have wanted to! On that day in June, 1968, the news was relentless, constant on the radio — at every turn of the dial — with word of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. I was only 9, but I remember how solemn the mood during that trip. I don’t know if I put it together myself, the relationship between Bobby and his brother, John — whose assassination just after my fifth birthday I also remember to a degree — but I’m sure it was put together for me. I was only a year younger than Caroline Kennedy and that was close enough that I felt sad for her and her little brother that their dad was killed. I would often look through the book "The Torch Is Passed" that my mom had, and I would look at Rose Kennedy’s face and think about how awful it must have been for her — I think John was the third child she lost? — and now this? Bobby? I was not a newshound by any means, but even I knew that 1968 wasn’t going very well, not with Martin Luther King, Jr. have been assassinated a few months earlier.
There was another June, several years later, listening to the chase of O.J. Simpson. I learned of the death of Princess Di coming home from a trip to the cottage, too, though that was in August (oh! that wasn’t our month!).
The pictures are all from the 40s or early 50s, I think. Picture #1 taken from the island where the boathouse was, to the left (out of the picture) was a group of big marten houses, way over on the right is "the hoodlum" which is now at my uncle’s place — it had wheels and two, built-in, full-size bunks, and was originally hauled around to lumber camps. Picture #2 is the others side of the cabin — the shorter lady is my great grandma — the hoodlum is at far left, the building next to it on the right is the two-seater outhouse. Picture #3 — I don’t know where they came from, but the Adirondack chairs at the cottage were the most comfortable ever!