A Father's Journal / Tradition at the rock cabin
Published 12:35 pm, Tuesday, August 9, 2011
My daughters and I just got back from our summer vacation at our family's camp in rural Alaska. Actually rural is not a strong enough word for where we stay. We are 120 miles on a gravel road from a real store. It wasn't always a camp. Most of the time while I was growing up, it was just a piece of mining property my parents owned.
It all changed when I was talking with my dad in 1998 at my brother's wedding. He said, "One of my only regrets in my life was we never built the rock cabin at our old mining property."
It occurred to me that he used the word "only." He was a World War II vet who had lived a life of few regrets. I have not. I have thousands. I regret getting butter on my bagel this morning, though it did make it moister.
We decided to go up to the old property and see if building a rock house was feasible. The next morning we drove the 120 miles and dad figured it could be done with some help from friends in town and family members. On the way back, Dad talked about establishing a family camp.
The next summer, we built a small wood cabin so we would have a place to stay while building the rock house. The following summer we started to work on the rock house. It did not go quickly. Rocks are heavy. So was the sand, and the water, we carried from the creeks. Around that time my dad was diagnosed with cancer. Chemo slowed his activity a little bit. It took us four summers to complete the cottage. We finished it enough so dad and Mom could spend the last summer of his life in the rock cottage.
When the snow melted the next summer, we were at the property to scatter his ashes. We scattered about a third in a bay he loved. Another third we placed across the creek from the cabins under a cross that my brother Mike made. The last third we mixed with some mortar and used it to cement the last rock into the cabin.
Through the years, most of the people going up to cabins were adults. We had building projects to complete. Three summers ago we agreed it was safe enough to bring the kids up. About 15 people came up the first year, and every night the children put on shows. All through the day the kids would practice for the evening's show. With all that practicing, you would think the shows would be better.
This year my sister and I were watching the shows and were talking about all the money we wasted on dance classes and choir rehearsals when we noticed my mother crying. I went over to her to explain that my kids have more abilities than are being showcased right then. They normally sing in their choir with a full orchestra. I also wanted to explain that I thought my sister Ellen's daughter was throwing my kids off. But she was not crying about the lack of musical theater talent in the next generation. All she could say through her tears was, "This is what your father wanted."
Now, the third generation has grabbed my parents' dream and are running with it. My older nieces have started to bring their small children. Everyone is pitching in with labor and ideas to make the camp better. My dad would have wanted this also.
When my dad was undergoing cancer treatment, one of the nurses pulled my brother aside and said the mine property must be fantastic. The way dad was describing it to the staff made it sound like a gorgeous utopia. My dad continuously invited the doctor and nurses up to the mine. My brother told her that it might be utopia for dad, but for the rest of the world it was 37 acres consisting of three cabins, four million rocks and a sea of mosquitoes.
How did the doctor let my dad know that he was going to die? When my dad asked him "Am I going to get up to the mine this summer?" The doctor turned to him and said, "No ... no Joe, you are not." My dad took it calmly. He could. He was a man of few regrets.
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Wednesday. He can be reach at: email@example.com