A Cabin in the Poconos

by Ruth Z Deming

Things rarely turn out the way we plan them. Now that the trip was over, he lay back on his pillow remembering all the details, especially where he had to rescue his son, Robby, off that teetering rock. Should he deem the trip a failure?

All he wanted was to be a good father. His own parents hadn't learned the art of parenting. As a little boy, Andrew would cry and they did nothing. Whether he scuffed a knee from riding his tricycle or was frightened in the middle of the night by a "monster" who entered his bedroom and hid under the bed or in the closet, they had no idea how to comfort their little Andrew.

He never said a word about his childhood to his own three children, Jeannie and the two boys, Chris and Robby.

His wife, Melanie, knew much of the story.

They lived in a lovely house in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. It stood high on a hill as if commanding the entire neighborhood. When they moved in, they fixed up all the rooms, as Andrew had a natural instinct on how to use carpentry and electricity.

After all, he was senior account manager for Honeywell Corporation.

He and Melanie, who was part Japanese, would make love in their bedroom, after the kids were in bed.

She was not popular in high school, where the other teens called her "sushi" or "choppy sticks."

What went unnoticed was her beauty, softness and intelligence.

Andrew had dated several girls but found them all lacking. When would he find his "special someone?"

Looking on his iPhone, he located Melanie, and soon they were meeting at a Barnes and Noble.

He shivered with excitement the moment she walked through the double doors.

She had worn a slinky red dress that showed her small breasts and slender legs.

"I've never forgotten about you," he said.

She nodded and the two of them stared at one another, as they sipped their drinks.

Melanie was charged with finding a place for them to marry. Neither of them was religious. She located "The Inn on Blueberry Hill" and invited fifty guests, including, of course, Andrew's parents.

Andrew's high school buddy, Darren, was a postman who made extra money taking wedding and bar and bat mitzvah photos. He took the photos and videos and put everything together on "Shutterfly."

The colorful assemblage of clothing, the dancing - from salsa to the waltz to the cha-cha - swept people off their feet as they plugged into "Melanie and Andrew O'Connor's wedding."

Andrew couldn't help but cringe as he watched his parents, his so-called "proud parents" dance across the floor.

Andrew was a hard worker. He did it for his family. He wanted to give them all a college education, which he and Melanie never had, and signed up for the Pennsylvania 529 Savings Plan. At the end of the year, he deposited several thousand dollars for their three children.

He was also contemplating buying a small cabin in the Pocono Mountains.

"Gee, Dad," said Jeannie, the oldest, "that's really exciting. Can my friends come up, too?"

"Sure, sweetie," he said, jubilantly.

As a kid he loved nature, the babbling brook that meandered through the neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia, the geese and their mysterious "V"s high in the sky, and the little critters he found in the creek - frogs whose bulging throats produced burp-like croaks; salamanders, which he caught in the depths of the icy-cold water and let creep up his hand and his arm; and water spiders dancing at the top of the water.

On a lazy summer day while everyone languished at home, he left before dawn to check out the cabin. He hadn't realized what a disaster the car was.

First he threw all the trash onto the driveway: water bottles, Lay's bags of potato chips, Herr's pretzel nubs, a carton of Chinese food from Mandarin Gardens and an empty bottle of nail polish.

Then he scooped up everything and plunked it into one of their four trash bins. He grimaced as he remembered the installation of Yellow Plastic Bins, mandated by the county. If you weren't tall enough - and Andrew was over six feet - you had to be a trampoline artist to get your trash inside.

Revving up his blue van, he spread out his map on the passenger side and drove in silence, wanting to concentrate on everything he saw. Sure, his neighborhood, was lovely. "What a quiet neighborhood you have," visitors would say. "Never knew it was here."

He turned on his favorite radio station and pushed back his green Philadelphia Eagles' cap. His children followed him and all wore caps of some sort, mostly the Eagles, though Jeannie preferred a straw hat with a blue bow on it.

"Look at those hills," he muttered. Green as the Hawaiian Islands. "What a fiasco," he thought as that idiot president of theirs made Barack Hussein Obama II show his birth certificate.

He forced those thoughts from his mind. A wisp of smoke arose in the distance and he passed a variety of churches, their steeples heading toward God and the sky.

Watching through his rear-view mirror, he made sure no one got too close to him. In the lane in the middle he caught sight of cop cars and their traps.

"Oh, Officer," he practiced. "I do apologize, I didn't realize I was going so fast."

What would the officer think if he saw Melanie, his Japanese bride, in the front seat?

Small houses were on the side of the road. A child or two stood in front and waved. Andrew tooted his horn.

And there were the barns. And silos, filled with corn. And the rows and rows of crops, including soy beans, corn and tobacco. An old sign read "Jesus Christ Saves." Behind the barns were corrals filled with all kinds of animals - cattle, sheep, pigs. He opened his window to see if he could catch a sniff.

Green signs flew by. He watched for his exit "9A," slowed down and then found "Barn Swallow Road." Slowly he crept up to his new cabin.

It was still light, but barely so. Opening up the glove box, he grabbed his flashlight.

He stretched as he got out of the car.

What would he find inside?

The ceiling was triangular. An A-frame. High-up windows let in light, as did windows in two small bedrooms.

"All I need is a coonskin hat," he thought, picturing the Davy Crocket hat he'd worn as a kid.

His flashlight played over the cabin.

Spider webs glistened in the light. Should he sweep them away with his jacket? Forget it.

He opened a cupboard and found a few cans of soup, as well as baked beans, containers of rice pudding and King Oscar Sardines.

Andrew was liking it already. He'd bring jars of Instant Maxwell House and Cremora, flavored with Irish Cream.

Air mattresses were already there. Dusty, for sure, but he sank down and fell asleep. His snoring woke him up.

He'd sleep here tonight.

In the morning, he reached for his phone to call his family. No reception. The elevation was too high.

Dawn was breaking. Going outdoors, he shivered in the cold and saw the steam of his breath rise and become one with the view. The golden sun crept over the horizon. He could see for dozens of miles, a pinkish orange, slowly changing to pure pink, like the tongue of a kitten.

"Hello!" he yelled and heard his voice echo from a rock quarry. "This is the life! This is the goddamned life!"

He whistled nearly all the way home. And arrived before five p.m.

Robby was playing the piano in the living room when Dad walked in.

Melanie fixed one of her dinners - miso soup, grilled oysters and clams, and lemon sherbet for dessert.

Andrew told the family, they would leave for the cabin before Labor Day weekend.

Surprisingly, the children were not excited.

All that would change, he thought. Just wait until they got to their dream cabin.

....

While driving, they filled their time by singing Christmas carols, talking about what a drag school was, favorite teachers like Mrs. Hess, who answered each and every question thrown at her.

"I wanna be just like Mrs. Hess when I grow up," said Jeannie. "Except I'll dye my hair."

"What color?" asked black-haired Melanie.

"Oh, that nice purple that some of the girls have today."

"You will not!" cried their dad.

Andrew was sure they would love the cabin the moment they walked inside.

Instead a chorus of consternation rose to the high wooden rafters.

"Where's my piano?" cried Robby. "I want my piano! Wah Wah."

Some joke.

"I sorta like it," said Chris, "except there's nothing to do here."

"Know something?" said Andrew.

He explained that the Poconos mountains were ten-thousand years old - ten thousand - and homo sapiens - men and women - had not yet walked upon this earth.

"Cool, Dad," said Jeannie, twirling around to see everything at once.

All right, the children agreed. They would walk along the river basin and "try" to enjoy themselves.

Melanie said she'd wait in the lodge and prepare lunch, as everyone set out in shorts.

"I'll bang on a pot when lunch is ready," she added.

"Yikes!" cried Jeannie, the moment she went outside, "a mosquito bit me!"

"Pay no attention," said her father, gritting his teeth.

"Or bite it back," offered Chris.

No one laughed.

Before long, Melanie was banging on the pots and pans.

Everyone returned but one person.

As they sat around the picnic table inside, Melanie said, "Where's Christopher?"

"Holy crap!" said Andrew, his face in his hands.

He took one bite of smoked salmon and said he'd be back.

Chris was a handsome young man, relishing the fact that girls liked him. Found his features intriguing. Did his disappearance have anything to do with that?"

Down hill went Andrew, step by careful step.

He imagined his son dead. Floating on top of the river, his body spread out like a Christmas tree.

Should he call his name? Would his voice be heard over the meandering water way? He kept moving, praying to God his son was okay.

He saw movement below.

A boy in khaki-colored shorts. Chris, for sure.

"I'll kill that boy," thought Andrew.

Chris was walking on a series of stones, each one tipping back and forth with each step. A few had moss on them, a perfect slippery place to fall into the river.

Andrew hurried to where his son was tipping over, grabbed one of his arms, and hugged him tightly.

"Thanks, Dad," said his son.

"Ready for lunch?"

....

Back at home, Melanie and Andrew discussed how much money they would save by selling their home in the Poconos.

"Wait a sec," said Melanie.

In her pink shorts and flowing black hair, she ran outside, down the steps and over to the piano teacher's house.

"You'll love it," she would say. "Especially for a small family like yours."

Then she changed her mind.

"Yo!" she called as she entered their house.

"We're keeping it! We'll learn to love it."

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