Once my family arrived at Fred’s, the small meat and convenience store in Goodland, we knew the little red cabin was only minutes away. As a child, unable to read maps or even process the concept of one, the cabin was a secret--and thus sacred--destination known only to my father, the driver. The only navigation tools available was the peculiar landmarks. Fred’s was the last stop before the lake, and I always made sure to pick up a bag of Peanut Lovers’ Chex Mix. To this day, when I open a bag of it, I smell the cabin with all its childhood memories.
The cabin is long gone, but the memories preserve it like a private museum.
The anticipation built exponentially after we left Fred’s. There were a few turns in the roads that acted as subtle landmarks, solidifying our progress. The excitement reached its palatable state once we got to a small, yellow pipe structure that we would, of course, call the “Yellow Pipes,” (which had eventually been painted white, but we stubbornly continued to call them yellow to maintain our little tradition) where we would unbuckle our seat belts--for good--and ride the last mile in anticipation. We knew then that the cabin would soon be upon us.
Creeping into the cabin driveway was akin to hunting. We crawled through the tight, sandy pathway with our conversion van, looking out the windows for deer, squirrels or other critters. My dad would never speed down the driveway either, for that would have altogether destroyed the entire journey. The entrance to our wooded getaway required deliberate gentleness and sensitivity. Our arrival would lose its potency if we raced in.
I would always be the one to open the gate. The lock was hardly extravagant; it was a small plank of wood used to keep the gate wedged in its catch. Due to the gate’s own confusion about whether to stay open or closed after it was unlatched, it would stabilize half-way open. My job would be to hold the gate open, let the van through, then find a stick to jab into the ground and hold the gate open. This job gave me the chance to be the first one to scope out the premises, since the van was too busy parking, and I would run straight to the lake.
The lake was the most powerful welcoming presence, even though I had to run past everything else to see it. Sometimes dead fish or other aquatic debris would line the beach and occupy my interest. The wind was usually from the West, which meant it blew over the lake directly to us. The lake breeze and the sights of the blue water and the opposite shore’s green tree assured us that we had arrived.
The work began as soon as we arrived, since we had to haul our belongings and groceries into the cabin. My Dad would mow the “lawn” (it was a little patch of weeds) and my Mom would unpack the groceries. My job was directly related to my pyromaniacal tendencies: collect the loose sticks to put in the campfire wood pile.
My Dad would shortly try to catch a couple of northern pike for supper. If the wind and lure was right, we would surely have delectable fresh fish to eat. As a child, these predatory freshwater fish would often sober my swimming experience, as I would never let my toes go too deep and would always keep moving. Hearing stories of northerns biting toes never leave young ears, no matter what the probability or likelihood of it actually happening is.
Still, swimming was a staple in cabin life. Although I feared the predatory northerns, I would enjoy strapping on my goggles and maneuver through the weeds. When I got deep enough, though, the dark depths below would propel me back to the surface; too much mystery and darkness laid there.
My pyromania was fueled at the cabin. Finding birch tree bark was similar to finding treasure because it allowed me the chance to wield flame like a primordial human. I found a stick long enough to keep the fire away from me but small enough to handle, and I would then put the bark on the campfire with the “handle” at the ready. The bark burned a certain way that made it naturally wrap itself around the stick. Intuition and experience taught me when it was ready to wield, and I would soon be strutting around the night-laden cabin grounds with fire lighting my path.
The rooms had their own blankets for bedding, but I preferred my sleeping bag. At night, mosquitoes would find their way into the building, which wasn’t difficult for them, since the door was constantly opening and closing with activity. Falling asleep knowing that there was a mosquito in the room was normal. We didn’t like it, but it was a part of cabin life. I often tied socks around the mosquito bites on my legs and arms just to fall asleep since the itchiness kept me awake. The few bloodsuckers in the room would leave me with more bites in the morning, but at least I had gotten sleep before I had to deal with these new ones.
Sometimes life must progress and childhood memories need to be stowed on the back shelves of our minds. These pleasant memories of the cabin will always weave themselves in with new ones I’ll make with my own children. Perhaps that is the point of memories; the ones from the past will fuel and strengthen the ones of the present and future. Indeed, only I will ever see the impact that my own memories of the cabin will have over the rest of my life, yet that doesn’t make me feel bad that others can’t see them too. Everyone has their own set of memories; they are extremely personal, and that is a good thing. They are made to be that way.
This is why we need to make every effort to foster a living experience for our children that supports good memories. Parents ought to be the chief instruments that provide ways for children to cultivate their own memories. Without my parents, the cabin and all its memories would have remained nonexistent. I want to try my best to be memory-cultivating instrument for my own kids. Let’s craft good memories for our children and the next generation. We know they need it.