My parents bought a cabin in the Laguna Mountains in the winter of 1965-66. It’s in the Cleveland National Forest, and you buy the cabin – but lease the land from the government. They are considered summer homes, and won’t allow you to buy with the intent to live year-round. They won’t even let you buy one if you don’t own another home.
Yesterday, July 30 2016, my father, my oldest brother, and I took the pilgrimage back to the place we were all happiest.
The windows are new. The roof is, too. The paint job looks fresh, and they put skytubes into the kitchen to open it up, as well as the sliding glass door on the right which is new. The place looks well-loved and taken care of.
The cement slab, though, was poured by my father and my brothers. You can still see our names in it.
My mom’s writing.
I won’t lie…this was an emotional day. Before we saw the cabin, we went to Major’s Diner, in Pine Valley, for lunch…the best burger I’ve had in a very long time.
I remember sitting at that counter, 45+ years ago,and feeling like a “big girl” because the counter was the perfect height for littler kids.
And Dad…well, he had a quarter of his waffle. I won’t say he’s getting too thin, but…note the cardboard between the back of his watch and his wrist. (He’s an innovator.)
So, we got to the cabin. I have more photos on my big camera, but these were all taken with my phone and are more readily accessible, so.
My brother Greg parked the car, and I was itching to get outside. Dad wanted to, as well, so we helped him out. Walked up a short hill to within the steps to the slab (top photo). He was dizzy, out of breath, and couldn’t go further.
I left them there, Greg hanging onto Dad, because this hill right here was calling to me.
Up there, along the ridge line, in the summer of 1993, we scattered my brother Scott’s ashes. I was, oh…maybe six months pregnant at the time.
The next time I visited the cabin, it was in the late spring of 2007, when we scattered my mother’s ashes. At the time, I thought the next time I would be there would be to scatter my father’s ashes, but luckily that was not true.
I took many, many photos. I stuck my nose in the bark of the Jeffrey Pine trees and smelled the rich vanilla scent. I laughed at the woodpeckers and the blue jays even as I brushed my tears away. And when I hiked to the top of this hill, my feet sank into gopher tunnels that I had once been able to spot and avoid. Dirt got into my shoes. The air was muggy, and sweat rolled between my shoulder blades as I stocked up on photos and memories.
The outhouse had been taken down; there were only a few bricks left in the soil to mark where it once stood. The big oak tree that my dad had shimmied up (about 30 feet) in the summer of 1966 to tie a rope swing on was also gone; not even a stump remained. We used to swing high and try to push off the outhouse…never quite made it…
This side of the mountains, the trees were lush, and green. The rains had done good here. The oaks and pines both looked amazing. All the ground fifty feet surrounding the cabins had been cleared, as by law. The place looked beautiful.
Going back to the car, I saw Greg helping my dad inside. He laid the seat back and closed his eyes, and a part of me hurt for him…Dad had sawn logs, gone arrowhead hunting, taken us for hikes. He cleared land and created a volleyball court. He brought a litter of puppies up in one box, and a month later had to take them home in two boxes. He strode these lands in the prime of his life…everywhere I looked, I saw that young man who, when he wasn’t working with his hands, was writing novels.
Greg Cunningham and Chet Cunningham, July 30, 2016.
I had an incredible, safe, loving childhood filled with remarkable people and this oh, so amazing place in the mountains. I am blessed.