Sunday, August 15, 2010

Jupiter Shines

Anyway, I keep trying, in stops and starts, to write about our vacation. I think the most significant thing was the way that I fell head over heels in love with the cabin at first site. At the risk of plagarizing Tom Hanks' character in "Sleepless in Seattle," it was like coming home, but not to a home I'd ever been to before, which is exactly what falling in love with Joel felt like.

Spending time at the summer house feels a little bit like getting to play in your childhood closet, if you can imagine spending an afternoon going back in time and seeing all the detritus of an ordinary life. Except that it's not really YOUR closet, but rather, Joel's mom and uncles' collective childhood closet.

There are souvenir penants from the 50s on the walls, a small "Army guy" with a parachute and a crumbling American flag pinned to the wall, as delicate as a dragonfly wing.

There are model airplanes from the 70s and a romance novel ("The Lady is Nurse" by Arlene Hale) published the summer my mother-in-law was 18. There's a boom box with tin foil on the antenna in the kitchen. A proprietory note scrawled by Joel's cousin-"Kathy's radio!"- sits nearby with a set of 1980s headphones like the kind Tutti wore on the Facts of Life.

The neat thing is almost everything works, right down to the ancient toaster (patent pending in 1918), partly because Joel's family is so good at fixing things. It's also partly because the cabin isn't habitable for nine months of the year, so the appliance didn't get used as much they theoretically would have were this their full-time home.

The other thing is, Joel's grandparents really loved each other. I never really understood that before, in the way that one can't when you're thinking about a relationship between two people who both died before you joined the family.

There's a Valentine's Day card and a birthday card pinned up the living room and a love poem in the bedroom. There are photos showing us all, even me, in oval frames on his grandmother's bedroom wall.

My mother-in-law added it in the past two years, clearly, since I'm in my wedding dress in the photo. Not far away is the number for the local poison control hotline, dated in the 1950s. I'm sure if I had rummaged around enough I might have found 50-year-old syrup of Ipecac or the French Canadian equivalent, in case someone gets sucked into a time warp and accidentally swallows bleach or something. ;)

On one hand, you don't want to move anything, because Joel's grandfather put that coaster there, so who am I to move it? He died in 1991.

That coaster realistically may have been there since before I was born. His antique fishing poles are still propped behind his chair, you know? On ther other hand, my mother-in-law respects hard work. She works damn hard to keep this place in good shape (evidence: the modern shower staff and updated bathroom she installed two years ago).

One of Joel's earliest memories of the summer house is his grandfather telling him that he and his little brother would have to climb up into the pipe over the woodstove and clean it with toothbrushes the summer he was 7.

He really thought he would have to, too. In his family of plucky do-yourself-ers, it's not outside the realm of possibility. My mother-in-law believes in sweat equity, so I decided to dust. I really, really didn't want to drop anything, but it also needed to be done. I was scared of breaking the bust of the saint over the fireplace, but then I saw it had already been glued back together once before, a molasses brown crack filled with aging epoxy.

Tucked behind the vase of dried flowers next to it was a tiny, broken figurine. Who knows how long that secret has been tucked back there? It was probably broken the way that things sometimes do in a cabin built for a family with four rambunctious boys and the tomboy my mother-in-law claims she was. "If only these walls could talk..." the expression goes, but since the sorority of well-intentioned daughters-in-law who screw up is a sacred bond, I'm not about to tattle just in case it was broken by a girl like me. I carefully dusted it and stuck it right back behind the vase. The once decapitated and re-glued saint statue tells no tales.

Of course, as fun as the time capsule of the inside of the cabin is, the real beauty is the lake ten steps away.

Helen Keller once said that the best things in life can't be seen or heard or even touched, but must be felt in the heart. I feel that way sometimes about things that can't be photographed. We took the rowboat out at 3 a.m. on our last night to watch the Perseides meteor shower. At night it gets so dark and the stars are so bright that you can see them reflected in the lake water. Even with a tripod and a long exposure, you wouldn't be able to photograph the pinpricks of light reflected in the ripples around the rowboat, mostly due to, well, the ripples around the rocky rowboat.

You just have to enjoy it in that moment, right then, on the lake in the middle of the night, where Jupiter shines.

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