Over the holiday weekend, myself, my husband and our three kids traveled to the Northwoods to enjoy the fall colors and help my dad clean up the cabin for the winter. My parents bought a place on the Cisco Chain in Watersmeet, Michigan when I was in college. It’s everything a cabin should be – rustic, creaky, damp and ever-flowing with fabulous memories.
My sister came up for the weekend, as well, and we spent our first day, a rainy Saturday, driving to some of our favorites haunts – Bents Camp, Nordine’s, Bond Falls – and even snuck in a bit of antiquing. Normally we’d take the boat to Bents to enjoy a meal between fishing escapades, but it was pouring rain and being cooped up in the cabin for an entire day seemed unnecessary with all we had planned to do this weekend. Rain or shine, sometimes you just have to make the most of it.
My husband, Bill, complained about seeing Bond Falls, again, in the rain. He jokingly poked fun at me all weekend long about how amazing the falls are in the rain. Truthfully, they don’t really change from season to season and year to year, but I never miss the chance to see it – the site is breathtaking. The enormity of the water – the sound from below and above – the landscape evolving to stay in place and adapt to the powerful location from which it grows. Even sopping wet, it’s remarkable. I’ve probably been 30 times to Bill’s three or four. It never gets old.
Even more lovely were the trees. It’s peak season now in the U.P. – ranges of color that almost don’t equate. We took tons of pictures, but nothing really capturing the beauty of it all. We had a quiet moment to take the canoe out, paddle and sing old camp songs, while checking out the lake of fallen stumps around the point. Murky bottoms, but clear waters, earthy smelling, very quiet escape – my oldest daughter trying to maneuver her camera and keep her paddle steady. I’m more wobbly now than I remember. Or the canoe is more tippy. It’s been a long time since I’d been in one. I held my own painted paddle remembering all the times I’d gone on voyages as kid at camp – and now so many years later I felt a little out of my comfort zone.
We fished just a little. We ate great meals. We told stories. We read. We watched movies. We racked and racked and racked the leaves. We weatherized the boat. We cleaned the gutters. We scrubbed the bathrooms. We disconnected and reconnected. We lost the dog a time or two – she was having her own sense of freedom. We made plans. We planned to make changes. We need new furniture. Music. Light. A few new windows. A better dock. Something easier for my dad. It’s time to make a change.
On the last morning, before the clean up began, my dad and I started to make a list of all the things we needed to bring back the next time. Rice. Lightbulbs. New rakes. Under his pad of paper was a spiral bound book. A diary. From the beginning, when they first bought the place. It’s filled with my mom’s notes. Her handwriting. Her voice. She kept track of flowers and wildlife. There were phone numbers and the amount they wrote on checks for this or that. Addresses. There were stories. Mishaps. Adventures. Excellent fishing days and speeding tickets. Aunts and uncles who had visited. Cousins. Grandkids. I read some of it out loud. My dad filled in with unwritten details. He laughed, remembering. Smiling.
And then there were blank pages. A huge gap of white. That space and time where we had lost her and didn’t want to remember what we had seen or done. When breast cancer finally had it’s way with her, leaving us all in a foggy haze for years.
He said, “Keep going.” And I found a new section started with my dad’s chicken scratch. A little harder to read, but equally as entertaining. He’d done the same; recorded who stayed, what they did, what they saw, what they ate. In his lines, there were more fish stories, and more grandkids. There was more detail. He’d come up a lot by himself. So many more times than I’d realized. So many entries saying how thankful he was we’d come up to help with the leaves and how beautiful it was to see them change.
My mom will have been gone 11 years this December. She’s everywhere around us all the time. Before she died, I didn’t really know my dad that well. Not the way she did, certainly. She was the communicator and planner. She made all the arrangements and phone calls. She relayed the messages to and from him. She was the voice of my parents. And though it took a while for us all to shake off the darkness of her passing, today I’d say I see what she loved about him – about keeping his company. And for the first time in weeks he didn’t need to ask me how my chest was – because he could see I was okay. And for the first time since my mom passed he put up no resistance to making changes.
“It’s time. I’m ready.”
Married, mother of 3.