The Cabin. With those two words, I’m instantly transported to my childhood and my “happy place” on Earth. Memories of seemingly endless days filled with adventures and experiences many suburban kids never get to enjoy (or adults, for that matter). My paternal grandfather build The Cabin in the south-central Pennsylvania Appalachian Mountains just after World War II on a shoe-string budget, with his own hands, and a good deal of back-breaking sweat and love. It’s comprised of a small, yet functional kitchen, a living/dining room anchored by a large stone fireplace, two tiny bedrooms, each with a double bed and single bed, and a screened-in porch complete with wicker chairs. Outside there is a “summer kitchen” with a wood-fired stove, an outdoor sink and outdoor shower, plus a tool shed and wood shed. And, of course, there is the “necessary shed” (also known as the outhouse).
The Cabin is an escape from the modern hustle and bustle…a simple existence where you rarely have any need to look at the clock or think about any part of life away from The Cabin. I have memories as a young child of my grandmother heating hot water over the fire in a large cast iron kettle, then pouring it into the sink along with a little cold water in order to wash the dishes. Since then, my father has added an electric hot water heater, but there is not a phone or TV, nor any cell-phone service.
I grew up a tom-boy, and the modern feminist in me is thankful that I learned so many things “that boys/men do”….because not only can I hold my own weight at The Cabin and in the mountains, but, alongside my father, I can teach my two boys as well. I can make sure my boys experience so many of the things that I feel are “essential elements of childhood:”
- that morning chill as you visit the “necessary shed”
- doing some morning chores such as emptying the mouse traps by flinging their now dead and stiff contents out into the woods and re-setting them with peanut butter (yes, you read that correctly);
- going for “a walk in the woods” down the family-created and maintained trail that leads through the bottom of the mountain valley, across a small creek and up the other side of the mountain while receiving lessons on tree, flower and wildlife track identification as well as how to make sure you don’t get bitten by a rattlesnake;
- swimming at the state park lake 3 miles down the road on hot summer days;
- showering in the outdoor shower (you don’t really take showers at the cabin in less than warm weather);
- gathering wild huckleberries (think mini blueberries) to put in tomorrow morning’s pancakes;
- learning how to safely handle a .22 shotgun and taking target practice on soda or beer cans set-up on the wood pile;
- listening to thunderstorms coming down the valley with thunder so loud and close that it echoes off the rocky sides of the two mountains and literally shakes the ground beneath the cabin;
- baiting your own hook with squirmy mealworms and fishing for sunfish at the lake, then watching your Dad skin, fillet and fry the sunfish for dinner;
- eating dinner at the plank table while looking out the large window and watching the rays of the setting sun light up the mountainside spread out in front of you as the deer appear from among the trees to eat the dried corn you set out for them earlier in the day;
- listening to the last songs of the birds fade into the darkness as the rhythmic song of the katydids takes over;
- playing card games and Yatzee at the plank table before bed;
- looking up into a night sky to see the Milky Way as you make your way back and forth to the “necessary shed” for one last trip before falling asleep to the silence of the woods at night.
The subtle lessons of childhood are hidden among all of these things – respect for and awe of nature, self-reliance, family tradition, responsibility (it’s not optional to lock the garbage can in the tool shed at night…unless you want a close-up experience with a brown bear on your way to the “necessary shed” at 3am), working hard at chores, and persevering on long hikes because the view at the top of the mountain is worth it. One of my favorites is the conversations you have (both inside your own head and with others) in the silence that occurs when the electronics are turned off.
These experiences and lessons of childhood are as valuable as gold to me. They are an essential part of growing up. In my views on parenting, there are a few things on which I will not waiver. The Cabin is one of them. I take my boys at least once a year to The Cabin for experiences and lessons that I hope will last them a lifetime and serve them as well as they’ve served me. We’ll be there the end of June and the boys and I can hardly wait.