"I like it here in the summer, but when we go downtown it's HOT!" These were the words that effectively summed up the way my family used to wile away three months of every year. They were written by my younger brother in the guest book we kept at our mountain cabin. That book was the living record of our stays: guests, important additions or events, and eventually one of the early training grounds for my writing.
If you read the whole thing, front to back, you would see a rhythm to the way we lived, but only from a monthly perspective. The day to day, week to week rituals that took place on those Rocky Mountain acres became second nature to us all. On Memorial Day, when we made our first big push to settle in for the summer, it was often a struggle to throw off the habits of the city. No TV. No phone. The nearest kids to play with were close enough, but they were also your brothers. It was hard to adjust to our Little House ways at first.
But by the middle of June, we found our mountain legs. We knew we would be hauling water or chopping wood or gathering kindling. When you have only a wood stove for heat and for cooking, keeping the fire going even in the warmth of July is vital. That was the part my brother had exactly right. It was summer, but it was summer in the mountains, and it rarely got so warm that we didn't look for a jacket by dinnertime.
When we weren't actively involved in the routines that kept the place running, we found places to climb, hide, and run. Rupert, our dachshund, wasn't going to let us spend the day sitting on the porch wishing that we were somewhere else. There was far too much to do and see, even if we had seen it a hundred times before.
When it was all over, and the sun started to go down, we found ourselves a corner of the cabin lit by a kerosene lamp to read a comic, or a book that we never would have had the attention for if we weren't living in the woods. Then it was time to turn off the gas and head upstairs to our sleeping bags where we continued to read with our flashlights, listening to our Panasonic AM radios with one ear, and the rolling thunder of my father snoring below us. When the morning came it was time to get up and do it all over again.
That's how it went: June, July and August. My father would get up early and hit the road to go to work in the city, returning each night with newspapers, mail, and stories from civilization. Once a week my mother would gather up the laundry and her sons to go back to where there was a laundry and a grocery store. For six to eight hours, my brothers and I relished the opportunity to see what life was like "downtown." We watched TV. We didn't care what it was. We watched "Match Game" because it was on just before we had to load up the car and head back up into the hills.
As we grew older, some of this mystique lifted. When we were old enough, we each started spending time by ourselves "downtown." It was a rite of passage. In hindsight, I wish that I could have squeezed just a few more weeks of chores and freedom from our mountain retreat. It seemed so very important to make that separation. Now I find myself hungering for one more night of solitude. The Cabin is gone, but the guest book lives on. It tells the story of those summers and all the people that came to visit. And all the people who stayed.