I like being the first one awake in the morning, the room completely quiet, the walls a dark forest of calm, the only laughter but an echo from the pages of books in my suitcase, a library of experience brushed by fingertips.
I've always liked the morning, and even as a child found myself up before my parents, eager to get out and explore, especially if there was water nearby. It will be time to get dressed soon, and I rummage in my purse, looking for my keys, when my hand touches a flat blue stone, etched with a moose. It is not a stone from the wild, but from an airport gift shop, purchased with a smile after visiting one I hold dear. As I touch it, a thought whispers in my head, almost a sound, a soft hushed touch, and I look up, thinking perhaps it's the sound of Abbey moving around, but she is back asleep on the couch, the sound but a rustle of a blue shirt, buried deep in a memory.
The only sound I hear is the tick of a clock, the only other thing I can sense is a taste of salt, that of the ocean, or tears, I can not tell, but distilled there on my tongue taking me back some 40 or so years to a small wooden cabin near the ocean's edge.
The cabin is gone. It's wood cremated to ash, its foundation covered by the advance of time, But from that time of my youth, it burned brightly in my mind, that one constant, that spot on earth on which we grew and spread our wings, even as we were rooted to its ground, drawing our faith together there with our life.
But what I put in that pocket was a small stone, no moose etched on it, but a stone, a small smooth weight I carried in my pocket, worn smooth by the action of the waves that flirted with the shore. Waves are part of life, the cadence of your day, perhaps that is why I'm drawn to the shore. The beach where we vacationed, like any stretch of sand and stone, is formed of glacial drift and rock, the small stones that you can still hold in the palm of your hand are worn to their element. I would touch them, smooth against my skin, stroking the surfaces well rounded by the waters never ending manipulative caress. But in addition to the stones, we'd find all sorts of treasures, branches and bits of bone, small pieces of the wild, tossed about by wind and galloping currents, and abandoned as casual playthings of the wild, just waiting to be picked up and held.
TV was not allowed at the cabin and we'd play outside unless it was raining hard enough to drown a duck, coming in only for lunch (and once to catch Dad watching football - busted!). We played, racing around rocks, trees and water until supper, when we'd come in to Mom, to fresh baked cheddar garlic bread and fresh caught fish. We'd bound in and she'd take us in, in arms that smelled of flour, her auburn hair scented with Wind Song perfume, her laughter a balm to any skinned knee that might have occurred during the days warfare. We ran until we couldn't take in a breath. We drove our feet deep into the sand, as if imprinting it forever. We conquered the waves on skim boards, shooting across the wet sand with nothing more than the physics of motion and an inch of water, getting a sensation of movement of air and water, that never left either of us.
The cabin is gone.
We went there through good times and bad as children, even during a time my Mom was battling cancer. She may have been too weak some days to get out of bed, but we were there, with Dad cooking pancakes that were so bad that the dog took them out and buried them and the one I threw in the fireplace wouldn't burn. Years later we still laugh about those pancakes. We were there when storms tossed tree limbs like toys, taking out a window and reminding us just how vast and powerful the sky and ocean were, understanding both their saving power and severity. We were there through joy and hope and loss.
We'd get up before light, being careful not to wake Mom ,and head on down to the tide pools that were exposed, gingerly looking, while not harming anything that was there, hoping to find a prehistoric shell to take home. On the old 60's TV cabinet at Dad's, now a storage cabinet, is a dish full of sand dollars. Many of you have seen a sand dollar. They're commonly sold in souvenir stores. But what you see is only the remaining skeleton of a living sea creature. When living, the sand dollar is covered with fine hair like cilia that cover tiny spines, soft, and almost purple in color. But the remaining shell is beautiful, fragile, white. The essential essence of what this creature was.
Even into adulthood, that cabin was our hearthstone, even if distant, that place where we all had the right to sit as family. We were already traveling hundreds of miles of uncharted ocean and sky, earning under or beyond the ocean, our glory, or sometimes no more than a stale sandwich and strong coffee. But going back there was like rendering an account, the open sky and that mighty ocean our friend, our inspiration, our judge. We came back, sometimes scarred, but we came back whole, as family, to face the peace and the truth which was simply grasping each other's hand in prayer, before someone decided to play "Mr. Pincher" with a crab claw on a sibling that outranked them.
It was sold and replaced with a condominium on the site where the little cottage and those of its kind stood. We went back one last time before the buildings were razed and watched the sun set on my innocence. I wanted to hold onto that night, the way the water smelled, the wash of colors of a Western skyline, the lonely cry of a bird of prey echoing off of the wind. I looked so hard, so long, that I forgot to blink, and my eyes teared up. I didn't want to shut them; I wanted to capture what I was seeing forever, a color imprint on the film of memory. For I simply did not want to let go.
The family went back there once before we lost Big Bro, staying at someplace that wasn't quite the same, still having a wonderful time, four generations hamming it up for a photo, the sound of a child's laughter, unchanged in 50 years.
I think of how many years Mom has been gone, now Big Bro. I think of dreams shattered, of dreams born. Before I left home to come back to work this week, I dreamed of Big Bro at the cabin, and in my dream he was silent, simply hugging me while I could hear his heart beat as if it was the only thing in the room. I wonder if his silence is more from my holding on to him than letting him go. But letting go is easier said than done.
The cabin is gone.
I remember the last night before I left Dad's We'd left the military cemetery a few days prior, leaving a spray of pink flowers for both my Mom and Step Mom, and as always, some daisies for my Great Uncle and WWI Veteran, Royal Crown Brown. Dad was taken care of, help coming in seven days a week, the grand kids visiting on the weekend, doing what we could to make sure he was safe and happy there, as long as he could remain. Not ideal, but the only way he wished to live, there in that house with his memories.
He yawns and his eyes close, there in the summer sun, one last exhalation that empties his body of waking or worrying. The neighborhood lay in that soft hazy light that makes the houses look like old photos, faded scraps of color that scatter lightly on the earth, lighter than dust, with which one hard rain would wash forever from our sight and memory, were we not to gather them up to protect them.
I know that parts of my life are over and the cadence of my days and my future will change once again. But dealing with change as I grew up was easier at the cabin, because over the years it was as constant as the gentle waves upon the shore. And so very last night, as I sat in a quiet room, only my laptop to keep me company, I opened up my picture folder stored therein, where I carry those glimpses of places and people that I love. As the world outside stilled, I took myself back to it, as if I was there. I took myself back so I could let go.
I told myself, not how much I miss him, but that I was thankful for who he was to me, and always will be.
The cabin is gone, but it's the memories that matter. They are in me, the way waves, incessant, after a long time, cease to be sound, yet are still there