I grew up spending summers in a small cabin near a lake. My father was a professor, and my mother stayed at home, caring for me and our family. It wasn’t until I grew older that I realized most grown-ups had to work year-round, and came to understand how fortunate I was that my family was able to enjoy this unique schedule.
Our cabin near the lake was idyllic through my young eyes. We caught our own fish, then cleaned and grilled them for dinner. We roasted marshmallows over fires built from scavenged wood. And for the two months of summer each year, I was unplugged. This was the time before the internet, before cell phones and even before computers. (I’m one of the lucky fringe generation that recalls using a typewriter, and the days when an Encyclopedia Brittanica took up shelves of our bookcase and served as my ultimate guide to the known world.) We had only a tiny black and white TV that was hauled out of the closet, antennas maneuvered and fuzzy picture acquired, every four years for the summer Olympics. At the time, I often protested, but looking back, I see that these summers planted seeds of simplicity, love of learning, and hard work that have served me in many areas of my life.
Here’s what these days taught me:
Shelter Has A Simple Purpose.
Our cabin was modest, a single L-shaped room that housed the kitchen table, the small couch, and my parents’ bed. The kitchen was a tiny box, the sink fed by an adjacent stream and equipped with a filter to clean any detritus or potential contamination. A small bathroom, with red wallpaper and a red bathtub, provided the necessary comforts of an indoor sink and toilet. At bathtime, my mother would augment the tap water with boiled pots from the stove, mixing a lukewarm concoction that I tolerated. And I slept on the screened-in back porch, the family dog curled up by the foot of the bed. The walls were papered with old advertisements from the Sears Catalog, boxes of facsimile newsprint featuring women’s dressmakers and soaps and luggage and all matter of amusements. When it rained and the porch roof leaked, I would be moved into the main room, where I’d snuggle into the inflatable raft, bundled in blankets and snug as a bug. The house was modest, but it was shelter and it served its purpose.
Being Bored Is A Choice.
My days at the cabin were full. As an only child until I was nearly 10, aside from family outings and adventures, I was often left to amuse myself. This is where my love of reading was born, as I discovered the adventures held between two covers. I maxed out my library card permissions, hauling back tall stacks of laminated books each time we went to town. Once I exhausted the teen section, I moved on to Dean Koontz, Tom Clancy, Robert Jordan, John Irving, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Larry McMurtry…the list of authors was long and wide-ranging, and I sought to read my way through the library, selecting titles that seemed innocuous enough to my mother (no romances) but not too scary to me (no Stephen King). When I wasn’t reading, I was mixing concoctions from the berries and branches and nuts and dirt and anything else I could scramble together from the great outdoors, or swimming in the lake, or fishing or canoeing with my parents. Sometimes I would tune in to the local FM radio. I learned to play poker with my Uncle, and chess with my cousins. There was always something to do, if I would only seek out the opportunities in front of me.
Hard Work Pays Off.
In addition to vacation time spent at the lake and enjoying outdoor activities, I was the dedicated helper to my father and his never-ending maintenance on our small family orchard. I watered trees; I weeded plants; I hiked up the mountain to clear the water access lines, helped reroute the irrigation system and shuttled boxes, tools and endless things needing to be carried from one spot to another. I watched my parents slowly turn an open field into a forest of trees, and saw newly-planted apple trees grow until today, when they produce sufficient fruit to sell to local markets. Literally, the fruits of our labor. The work was iterative; nothing happened in a week, or even in a season, and there were many false starts, replantings, torn-up and tilled land and starting fresh. We warred with pests, from insects to a bear who found our trees particularly appealing. But these cumulative efforts made an impact on me. While it’s incredibly simple, watching trees grow in front of your eyes throughout your childhood and beyond is a powerful illustration of the possible and the potential of life and growth over time.
As an adult, I’ve returned to the spot by the lake, first as a frequent vacationer, and now as a resident. The white cabin is gone; a new home, built for our expanded family tree and including all of the creature comforts of the early 21st century, sits by the lake. My husband and I live here today as we start the next chapter in our own lives. For me, as I work as a writer and a business owner and a creator, the lessons of my childhood apply more than ever. The fertile ground on which I was raised, and which has taught me so much, will no doubt have new lessons for me into the future. I can’t wait to see what it will teach me.