Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Cabin and Hamfists

When my father was a very young man, he and some of his friends — German immigrants — pooled some money and built a little cabin in the Adirondacks in Upstate New York. The area reminded the Germans of their homeland in the Alps, and they had hoped they could make the spot their little hunting lodge. In fact, they named their little group the Jagers, which means the Hunters auf Deutsch.

Luckily for the fauna in the region, the Jagers scouted the property during the very short window of warmth. The region is simply too cold for many critters to call home, and so not many animals got killed over the years. Instead, the men would go up and play their loud, earth-shattering German instruments, drink whiskey and copious amounts of Jägermeister, play cards, sled, snowshoe, and hike. Our families would take turns visiting the cabin during the cool months, to get away from the crazy pace in New Jersey. My parents weren't much for typical outdoor winter sports, so they had a tradition of tying a sled (with rope) to the back of a car and placing us kids out on the sled, and we'd drive around the perimeter of the property that way. I do not recall ever being in the car during these jaunts around the property, only hanging on to the sled for dear life, as I was dragged through the snow, at what felt like 80 or 90 miles per hour (but probably was only 40 or 50; maybe my dad can confirm; I know he reads this). I'm not sure why I didn't let go of the sled once I fell off, which would have been much safer than getting dragged down a bumpy, unpaved road covered with snow and ice and sticks and rocks. Fear of abandonment? Stupidity? I don't know, but how my sisters and I survived the 1970s is incomprehensible, but we did — along with most of our friends, so we humans must be more resilient than we think. The safety features that come standard with EVERYTHING these days are probably wholly unnecessary. Right?

There was an old generator, and an oven that never worked, so the food we cooked had to be prepared on the stovetop, which meant lots of stews and soups and tacos (my favorite). There was no phone, no TV, and questionable indoor plumbing, but I always loved going up to the cabin. I still love the smell of the moss there, this poofy, spongy stuff that must have an official name (that I don't know), and it smells fresh and clean and alive. The stars are brighter and more seemingly more abundant, the leaves more colorful, the air cleaner, the water colder, and it's just plain quieter than it is here. It was nice to have to deal with one another, to talk, and play board games, or to have the space and calm to get in touch with our own thoughts.

Lacey walking around the property a few years ago, in autumn

The property was an old farm, of sorts, so there is evidence of old buildings: foundations and fences, and I used to love rooting around those places. We'd find horseshoes and old, rusty tools, and it was good to think about the people who came before us.

My dad was (and is) considerably younger than all but one German with whom he built the cabin, and so the other Germans sold their shares, and my dad (and family) and his other German pal (and family) now take turns using the property. But now there's electricity, and spotty cell phone service, and the plumbing is better, and this new generation of cabin-goers enjoys snowmobiling, and riding around on quads, and so forth, and well, I have all that here in Trenton (in fact, several of my moronic/drug-dealing neighbors are taking turns riding a quad all over Villa Park, Wilbur II, and more as I type [I can see them from my window, and I saw them while I was out on errands crossing Hamilton Avenue, near DeLorenzo's], although I have seen the police circling too, so I hope they catch the punks...maybe the cops will employ weighted nets to catch them...I'd love to watch that! ).

My dad and Lacey about 10 years ago at the cabin, under the rustic German plaque that says something (in German) about special blessings for all of those people who kill animals for sport, which I was able to translate as a kid, if never comprehend, since I think it would be better for the blessings to be bestowed upon the prey, don't you? After all, the jagers and the fischers were already blessed with opposable thumbs and instruments with which to kill. The critters are at a serious disadvantage.

After Lacey died this past fall, I spent hours scanning old pictures. I do have photos — though none of them digital, yet — of the cabin itself, I'll try to get one or more up soon. It's a small, cute Bavarian dwelling on the outside, with pretty, Sound-of-Music style windows. And inside, it's a cross between a monument to solid German economy/resourcefulness/heritage, and the everyone's first apartment: leftover tiles from my PopPop's basement, old central European style furniture, well-made bunks, a pool table which doubles as a dining room table, late 1960s/early 1970s-style draperies, a 1950s-era fridge, and a cuckoo clock.

My dad read the post and sent along this picture of the cabin:

Glen was invited to go up to the cabin this weekend, for a Man's Retreat. My dad, brother-in-law Rich, Rich's brother, Bob, and my two oldest nephews, Richie and Michael, made the 8-hour trek to bay at the moon, ride snowmobiles, and for the adults, drink loads of beer, and do whatever else men left to their own devices do for three days without women around will do, which probably means they didn't shower much, ate a lot of chips and hot dogs, and farted a lot.

There is evidence of farting, actually: Glen called me Friday afternoon, about three hours into their journey, and proclaimed, "Michael has already had two sodas and isn't wearing a shirt!" Michael is not supposed to drink soda, except when he's away from home, and when he's away from home, he's able to down 'em with breakneck speed.

And then I heard everyone in the vehicle shout angrily, "Come on, Bob! What the...?"
And then a young voice said, "It wasn't Bobby, it was me."
The occupants of the vehicle groaned and I heard Glen say, "I have never smelled anything so rancid in my life!"
More groans.
Then, I heard Rich say, "Michael, did you poop your pants?"
"I don't know," said Michael.
"CHECK YOUR PANTS!!" ordered his father, Rich.

Later that night, well, technically, the next morning, Glen called me around 1 a.m., possibly drunk, but claiming otherwise.
"Hi, Babe, how's it going?" he said.
"Fine. How are you?" I asked, more or less awake, but not entirely. "Are you having fun?"
"Yeah," he said. "Wanna talk to your dad?"
It was 1 in the morning, and right or wrong, my dad and I are neither much for the phone and don't talk on the phone to one another much, but I didn't have the wits about me to verbalize that at the time.
So I just said, "No. Not really."
Apparently my father was right next to Glen, and Glen, I am guessing, felt awkward and he said, "No? Really? You don't wanna talk to your dad?"
"No." I said, "But tell him I said hi."
[to my father] "Chrissy says hi," Glen said. "Wanna talk to her?"
[to Glen, but I could hear] "No, that's okay. But tell her I said hi," my dad said.
"Your dad says hi," Glen said.
"How are things there?" I ask, in an attempt to change the topic.
"Fine. We're having fun. Why don't you want to talk to your dad?"
I wish I wasn't as sleepy/on the spot as I was, because it's not that I didn't WANT to talk to my father, it's that I really just wanted to hear how they were all doing, and then go back to bed. Or go back to nodding in front of my 30 Rock DVD, which what was really happening.
"I'll talk to him some other time when I'm more awake," I said. "Did Michael crap his pants earlier? Everyone wants to know."
"No," Glen said. "It was just a really smelly fart."

When Glen and I were first getting to know each other, Glen had a habit of calling me at odd hours of the day and night and then proceeded to offer the phone to anyone else within a few feet. He still does it, actually. But, in the early days, I never knew the people at the other end, or when the conversations would begin or end. Suddenly I would be talking to people in bars in Canada and New York City; or some dude named Rob who was digging fence posts for his girlfriend in Ontario; or Glen's friend, Adolf, while he was in the hot tub; and plenty of random coworkers, former coworkers, and far-flung family members.

I'm just bad on the phone, so I always felt dopey when the "pass the phone" thing happened. The phone is scary to me, a necessary evil, and not a toy. I asked Brenda why Glen calls me and then passes the phone around, and she suggested that it's because he likes to show off his "dialing prowess with his big hamfists against those little bitty cell phone buttons." Sounds good to me.

Anyway, it turns out, the men got in plenty of snowmobiling, and beer and soda and chips, BUT Michael's fart on the way up was a premonition of sorts. Apparently Bob had a nasty stomach virus and spent much of the weekend in the bathroom. Thank goodness the plumbing is better than what it used to be. Glen said, on the way home, the other guys were starting to feel queasy too. Hopefully they're able to fight it off. Cuz I don't want it, not to be callous. Hopefully Bob feels better, too.


Brendage said...

The cabin sounds pretty sweet! I miss the devil may care lax safety standards of the 70's! Woo Hoo! Do you guys have any lawn darts floating around the property?

Chrissy said...

Hey Dad (I know you read this)!

Any jarts up at the cabin? Or only the clay pigeons for skeet shootin'? Brenda might like skeet better anyway.