Off­hand Shots: Joe re­con­structs his child­hood

If you’d asked, I’d have said it was far­ther from the jumble of weath­ered gray boards to the sil­hou­ette of the win­ter-bare cot­ton­wood grow­ing in what had been our back­yard.

Outdoor Life - - CONTENTS -

Much far­ther.

The dis­tance from the screened kitchen door of our two-story farm­house to the cabin was the dis­tance be­tween farm kids and ex­plor­ers, be­tween chores and ad­ven­ture, be­tween yes­ter­day and to­day.

But my rangefinder reads

202 yards.

When I say cabin, I mean the one-room shanty. It was orig­i­nally an add-on kitchen for a sod house at a nearby farm, which gives you an idea of how old it was. Mom ac­quired it from a neigh­bor­ing farm and had Dad and our handy­man move it to the bank of our 35-acre lake. It was stur­dily built, with hor­i­zon­tal inch-thick planks nailed to two-by­four stud walls. They re-cov­ered the ex­te­rior with barn-red grav­el­tex­tured tar pa­per.

With Mom’s help, we kids swept the wooden floor, dusted, cleaned, and hauled in sec­ond- and third-hand fur­nish­ings. There was no elec­tri­cal wiring, no plumbing. A kerosene lamp and lanterns pro­vided light.

It wasn’t big—maybe 12 by 20 feet—but it felt big to us kids. It was big enough for a wood-burn­ing kitchen stove, an old kitchen ta­ble, chairs, and a couch. Some­how we fit, even with too many in­vited friends from school.

I re­mem­ber Mom and Dad came down once in a while to see what we were up to. But for the most part, I re­mem­ber that cabin as an adult­free area where our imag­i­na­tions ran un­fet­tered.

We spent nights in­side it, doors and win­dows open in hopes of cool­ing sum­mer breezes. In win­ter, the stove roared, bat­tling back the cold. One mem­o­rable night, a bliz­zard raged against its stub­born walls as we hud­dled un­der piles of blan­kets and quilts.

I sup­pose Mom and Dad fig­ured we’d look af­ter each other, and if any­thing hap­pened, we would han­dle it or come run­ning for help. I don’t re­call any ma­jor mishaps: We swam with­out drown­ing, we fished with­out hook­ing our­selves or each other, and we rowed a sawed-off boat with­out cap­siz­ing— most days. One of our sports was to row out and tip the boat un­til wa­ter poured over the gun­wale, then ride it down as it sank, the sealed nose com­part­ment keep­ing it from go­ing com­pletely un­der. Then we’d tow it in by dog-pad­dling to shore, dump out the wa­ter, and take ’er out again.

Then one day our farm­house was gone in an in­stant. A propane-leak ex­plo­sion ripped through it one Novem­ber morn­ing. My sis­ter Mary—home sick from school—and Mom were in­side. Nei­ther was in­jured, but our house was turned to rub­ble, just like that. We even­tu­ally moved to town, away from the lake and the cabin.

The lake slowly ebbed as the wa­ter ta­ble dropped, the bed now car­peted with cat­tle-grazed grass. The cabin is gone too, and so are we. Mom and Dad rest side by side in the fam­ily plot; we kids live sep­a­rate lives around the homestead.

Once in a while, I pause, still­hunt­ing for deer among dead and dy­ing cot­ton­woods and the elms the grandpa I never knew planted way back when. I spy a pile of gray boards and lin­ger­ing tar-pa­per scraps, al­most hid­den by tall prairie grass. You could walk by and never see it, never know.

I imag­ine the cabin, empty, weath­ered, weak­ened, and be­gin­ning to lean. Hol­low win­dows have ex­tin­guished the stove’s warmth, hushed the ex­cited late-night kid talk, and blown the laugh­ter far away.

With no one in­side to steady it from the rage of an­other bliz­zard, the cabin slowly, fi­nally slumped to the ground, suc­cumb­ing to the press­ing load of age and the years gone by.

But no prairie storm can erode the me­mories of that place, still trea­sured by the kids who grew up within its walls.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.