In this penultimate part of the Cabin Life series, I am going to be talking about my teenage years at the cabin, though the timelines around the edges may be blurred. I don’t really remember if some things happened when I was 12 or when I was 13, but they all occurred in this general time frame, and they were all affected by that cruel joke played on all humans. It’s that person in gym class waiting to sneak up behind you and pull your shorts down. That gassy bubble rumbling loudly through your intestines when you have your hand raised, waiting for the teacher to call on you. It’s that knock to your forehead that leaves you momentarily dazed. We call it puberty.
Being a teenager is equal parts fun, frustrating, challenging, confusing, and embarrassing. You are not quite an adult yet, but you certainly think you know everything. You are starting to notice the opposite sex, or maybe the same sex, and changes are happening at a rapid pace. Some kids are fortunate and seem to breeze through this time with ease. At least that is what outside appearances suggest. Others suffer terribly, growing at different rates and sizes, perhaps developing a severe case of acne, or a larger than average chest, which is uncomfortable and embarrassing. And a teenager’s looks and self-image can be everything during this stage of life. Me, I fell pretty solidly in the middle of all that.
While I had been a very outgoing child, entering my teenage years, I got glasses. My fashion sense wasn’t great either, no thanks to my parents who still picked out my clothes for me. I wasn’t an ugly kid, but I was definitely geeky and lacked a muscular physique. But I felt confident. At least until I asked Michelle to the 8th grade dance and she very clearly said no. My first heartbreak, and my first realization that whereas before, I had always had good relationships with both boys and girls, things were different now.
Living separate lives.
The differences between my two lives, my two worlds, really became apparent during this time. At home in California, everyone knew who I was. We’d all grown up together, going to the same grade school, and now at the same middle school. Eventually, we’d all be in the same high school. But at the cabin I left all that behind. It was my sanctuary.
At the lake, I knew all the cabin owners. I got along well with adults in general, and I completely enjoyed hanging out at one lodge or the other, learning about the old times. Heck, I even learned to square dance at the bi-weekly dances they would have out on the patio at the North Shore Lodge. I would spin my grown-up partners through the group with an Allemande Left and a Do Si Do, finishing with a Promenade back to starting position.
On the other hand, I was a stranger to all the tourists who came in each weekend. I was a local, yet I had this California accent that didn’t quite fit with the Idaho folk. And I had a motorcycle! Every Friday afternoon, you could find me zipping about on my Kawasaki 90, around the lodges and through the campgrounds, seeing the new families that were arriving and looking to see if there were any cute girls. More than once, the sheriff followed me home to tell my parents that I had been going way too fast through those areas, and without a helmet, which I never wore.
I would get a talking to, and my motorcycle privileges would be restricted for a bit. So instead I’d take the boat over (I had a boat too!) and go visit the campground manager, this old grizzled guy who looked a bit like Willie Nelson. He’d take me on his campground tour to collect fees, and I get to meet all of the families in person.
To a young boy just discovering the opposite sex, this was a grand time. Just getting to spend time with this ever-changing collection of girls, having conversations and sharing my knowledge of the lake, was great for building confidence. And yes, I might have kissed one or two of them during those long summers.
The re-introduction of religion.
I grew up Presbyterian, but stopped attending church once I was given the choice to be able to stay home. I found the sermons interminably boring. After I entered high school, a friend from choir asked if I wanted to attend a Campus Life meeting. I didn’t know what that was, but I said sure, because it was an opportunity to be social. And to be out of the house and away from my family, which I wanted more and more in those days. It turned out that Campus Life was a program of Youth for Christ, targeting high school students. We would play games for most of the time, with a little preaching thrown in at the end. Well I loved it, and through that I rediscovered religion.
Around the lake, there are two bible camps, one Baptist and the other I am not sure. One of the motorcycle trails that I would ride went near the Baptist camp, and I had stopped to talk with a camp counselor who told me they had a high school group coming in the following week and that I should stop by. I did, and for that week, I became an off-site member of the camp, showing up for all the services, and participating in all the activities.
It was there that I discovered the band Mannheim Steamroller. Their album Fresh Aire II was an experience for me. They later became famous for their Christmas albums. I was a classically trained pianist by this time (thank you Mom and Dad!), and I would play along on the piano at the camp with the album. While playing the piano, I met a girl, shy and nerdy like me, with glasses and the whole bit.
Well, for that week we were inseparable. I was so deeply infatuated. That kind of infatuation that only teenagers in love can have. She was Sandy to my Danny. When she had to leave, I was devastated. We promised to write, which we did for a bit. But trying to have a long distance relationship, especially at that age, is almost impossible. These days, I can barely remember what she looks like. But I hope she is living a wonderful, healthy, and happy life.
I parted ways with religion too, several years later when my father passed away. But I hung on to spirituality. When you spend any length of time in the woods, it is impossible not to have some kind of sense of something greater.
All play and no work.
In one of my previous posts, I talked about the “lazy days of summer”. Well those days got less frequent as I got older and I began to be responsible for some of the cabin maintenance. You see, a cabin in the woods requires a lot, especially when it gets buried in snow each winter. Not only the cabin, but the dock as well. When the lake freezes over, which it does each year, the frozen water shifts and wears at the dock, moving it from its supports. It must be reset on its foundation and occasionally needs new nails and boards. We actually have a floating dock now, eliminating much of that work.
Now the cabins themselves require much more. All the logs need to be painted with log oil to keep the moisture out. The roofs need to be swept free of pine needles, and they get painted with an oil as well, so that snow will slide off. There you are, walking around on the roof with a rope tied around your waist for safety, a bucket of oil nearby and a broom in hand to dunk and sweep, dunk and sweep. During the winter, metal pipes that are not fully drained of water will crack and burst, so I learned some minor plumbing skills as well. Did I enjoy this work? Not one bit and I complained like the devil!
The one task I did enjoy was chopping wood. Ever since I was young, I was taught how to handle an axe, and chopping wood was a great way to spend an hour or so, a couple of times a week. But now as a teenager, I was involved with the going out and collecting it part, which I hated. My father, grandfather, brother, and I would head out with the trailer, find trees that were dying or dead, and the chainsaw would come out. It was noisy, smelly, wood chips flying everywhere, and I despised every moment. Plus, then we had to load all of these cut logs into the trailer and haul them back to the cabin. If I had money, which of course I didn’t, I would have paid anyone to take my spot on those gathering trips.
So yes, there is a lot of maintenance involved in owning a cabin, and it continues to this day. I still love to chop wood, and I can handle a chainsaw pretty easily as well. I don’t mind the gathering part so much anymore. Now stacking the split wood is another thing altogether. They have machines that use a pneumatic press to quickly and efficiently chop wood. Where’s the fun in that? But if they had a machine that neatly stacked wood? Oh man, I’d buy that in a heartbeat!
My grandfather passed away when I was in junior high. Funny how writing this now, 40 years later, brings tears to my eyes. I think this is the first time I’ve cried about it in almost just as long. The process of writing this series must have immersed me in these memories more than I realized.
He was a magnificent man. His name was Charles Gill, or Charlie, as he went by. As much a father to me during those summer months as my own father. More than once, my parents would leave to go on a trip, sometimes for a day or two, sometimes for a week or a month, and I would be left in the care of my grandparents. My grandmother had a wicked sense of humor, but my grandfather was always strong and stern. In my memories he towered over me, a commanding figure. Always busy, always working. But he was always willing to teach as well, never saying no, I shouldn’t do this or that.
He is the one that taught me to water-ski. He taught me to slalom (skiing with only one ski) several years later. He taught me to swim, to chop wood, to pilot a boat, and to fly fish. My age was never a factor. If I wanted to learn, he would teach me. And if I did it wrong, he wouldn’t raise his voice. He had a patience that stands out in my mind. I didn’t realize how much I would miss him until that first summer without him. I believe I am a better, well-rounded man now because of him.
I made it through my teenage years without dying (the same can’t be said about my adult life, but that’s another story.) I grew out of my awkward teens, I got contact lenses, I started picking out my own clothes, and I got a girlfriend.
I left behind the awkwardness, but I never left behind the magic. As I grew toward adulthood, I began to experience the cabin and the lake in new ways, and from a new perspective, seeing it through the eyes of others and enjoying their reactions to it as much as my own. I will talk more about that in the last post of the series.
As always, thank you for reading this. Comments and questions are welcomed. Know that I will read them all.