Sunday, May 28, 2017

Thanks for the memories, Paul

If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know how I look forward to our annual cabin-by-the-lake trip. We typically go each August and it's one of the biggest highlights of our year.  We hike, we swim, we relax. The cabin belongs to my friend Paul.

Back in 2000, I worked with Paul at a technology company. He was a sub-contractor and stopped in regularly to drop off his timesheets. He and I were chatting one time that year and I mentioned that I had rented a cabin for an upcoming vacation. "Just use my cabin!" he said. That wasn't really an option because I'd already paid for the other cabin. However, I remembered his generous offer and when 2001 rolled around, I asked if we could borrow it that summer.

"Of course!" he said. "Go up and have a great time."  He gave me directions and we made plans to head up there for a little R&R that summer.  His directions turned out to be critical because the cabin is on privately-owned land inside a national forest. The path to the cabin includes miles of dirt roads and few landmarks. We had a heck of a time finding it that first year.  We took a wrong turn and drove up on a man camping alone in a tent. Fortunately, he didn't shoot us or anything. My husband and I still joke about that poor guy.

Once we found the joint, we fell in love - with the lake, the forest, and the whole area. The lake is four hours from our home but it was worth every minute on the road. My husband and I felt so fortunate that Paul let us use his cabin. I had offered money (that year and every year after) but he would not accept it.

That first year, we learned just how soul-satisfying it is to step out onto the deck and see the lake shining through the pine trees. We listened for the loons, which we never failed to hear. At night, we stared up at the stars, amazed to be so far from civilization that no other light was visible. Humming birds came to the feeder that hung on the deck. If I listened closely in the early morning before anyone else woke up, I could hear the beating of their wings.

Every spring, I would tentatively ask Paul if we could borrow the cabin. "Sure thing, kiddo," he would say. One year, we didn't ask to use the cabin.  We had planned a trip to Texas and plus, I was always cognizant of not wanting to cross the line between enjoying Paul's generosity and expecting it. Later that year, Paul called me. "Hey, why didn't you go up to the cabin this year?" he asked. I think he truly just loved having families enjoying the cabin. Once A was born in 2005, we couldn't wait to take her to the lake. In fact, her first visit to the cabin occurred when she was just a few months old.

Since Paul would never accept any money for the use of the cabin, we made our own small contributions to it. Whenever I'd go "into town" I'd pick up food storage containers or other things that the cabin seemed to need. On our last visit, I installed a new shower head. One year my youngest sister joined us at the cabin and purchased a blender just in case any future visitors might also be in need of a margarita. When we left, we always cleaned the cabin as thoroughly as we could. The joint was rustic and there were always dead bugs in the windowsills.  One year my dogs found a dead mouse behind the couch. The rustic nature of the cabin was part of what we loved.

Paul and his brothers built the cabin themselves, which made it that much more special. There was a photo of them on the mantle of the fireplace. The harsh winters "up north" did a number on the cabin, so Paul was forever painting the deck or making other repairs.

Over the years, we made so many amazing memories at the cabin. My husband I still laugh about the time our daughter fell in the lake. My husband jumped into the shallow water after her, his phone still in his pocket. Sometimes friends or family would join us at the lake. The cabin wasn't spacious but we were happy to squeeze in some extra people so that we could all enjoy the crisp air and the amazing view. We received hundreds of mosquito bites and at least a couple of ticks in our annual visits to the cabin. Countless fish were caught and tossed back in. We ate S'mores and drank lots of adult beverages. We played games (the cabin had no TV and no internet, of course, which was also part of its appeal) and read books. We took afternoon naps while waiting for the cooler evening air to drift in. After sundown, which watched bats streak across the night sky.

Recently, I had a dream in which Paul told me that he bought new furniture for the cabin. It was powder blue and looked very expensive. In the dream, I was wondering what on earth he was thinking (cabin furniture usually consists of cast-offs from other dwellings - the main goal is "sturdy" and "doesn't stain easily"). I left him a voicemail recently and was going to tell him about the dream when he called back.

Instead, one of his sons called me after hearing my voicemail. "My dad died this week," he said. I couldn't believe it. Paul was 77 but in my mind he hadn't changed in the 17 years I'd known him. He was involved in pee-wee ice hockey and so many other things - he was very active. When I hadn't heard back from him, I guessed that he might be in Germany. Paul originally went to Germany for a work assignment but made so many friends that he kept going back just to visit them.  He had a lot of friends and I felt fortunate to know him. I remember that he used to wear a pin that said something like, "Men against violence against women." He was just a cool cat.

"Okay, kiddo," he would always say to me.

"Paul, I'm 47!" I would reply, laughing.

I would like Paul's children and other family members to know just how much Paul's kindness meant to me over the years. After our visits to the cabin, I would often send him photos in the mail - of my daughter in the rowboat or my husband fishing off the rocks. I know he liked knowing that friends and family were creating memories in that place that he built.

We'll find other cabins on other lakes for future vacations, of course. And I'm sure we'll have a great time. But, I'll never forget the generosity and kindness of the man who allowed our family to make a million priceless memories. Rest in peace, Paul.

With love from Kiddo.


Meghan Wallace said...

Beautifully written.

Mindy Toneys said...

I am Paul's youngest sons wife. I did share your blog with the family.

We appreciate your kind words and many others shared memories. We hope to see you at his service. He was a ripple effect of Gods Love and Kindness. May we follow his path to share kindness as he is watching over us.

God Bless.