Sunday, January 18, 2015

A to Z: C (for Cabin)

If you know me, even a smidgen, you know I'm a huge fan of U2 and that their lead singer is due my gratitude for inspiring me to see what I could offer the world as a writer. Bono is not just a great songwriter. He's a great writer. Period. While recovering from a very bad bicycling accident, he wrote an incredible A to Z list about 2014. Google it. Read it. It's truly great. Humble. Honest. Sincere.

It sparked an idea. So I'm beginning a new writing endeavor. I'm launching myself into the unknown. Which is to say I have not thought this out. It may be about 2014. Or about 2015. It may just be about me...not like that though, but rather the intricate parts that make - for better, for worse.

The Cabin

If you were in the mood and ready for a bit of adventure, you could set sail in a rowboat and follow one of Susquehanna River's tributaries that stretches eastward for about fifty miles. The Pequea Creek, a Shawnee name, is mostly a flat and tranquil body of water and you would certainly be serenaded by the beauty of the farming landscape of Lancaster County. There's one particular place I would encourage to dock your boat. It is not only the family farm, rich in its history as the soil upon which it stands, but also an important landmark in my childhood's landscape.

After docking, you would step out onto the creek's muddy banks before pulling the boat ashore. There used to be an actual dock that jutted out from the banks several feet built by me and my older brother along with our cousins. I doubt I was much help although I suppose I did earn the honor of carving my name into one of its planks. I imagine that dock is long-gone by now. Death by weathering and time (but not poor craftsmanship I assure you).

After finding shade under perhaps a willow tree that artistically dot the creek-side, you would stretch out your sore muscles while taking a break from the intense sunlight. Upon wiping the sweat from your brow, you would raise your head and gaze upon a hundred acres of farmland. In the distance, a red brick farmhouse with a surrounding yard decorated with beautiful spring flowers and a hedge separating itself from a white barn where many games of capture-the-flag had been played among the hundreds of hay bales.

But in the foreground, less than fifty yards away, you would find a building that housed many adventures and inspired me so much I put it as an integral and mysterious element of my first novel...and realized later, after finding more of my writings, that they too were centered around what you would see in front of you. A cabin. Sitting right there in the meadow beneath the canopy of a couple of giant trees. The setting has most likely changed since I was a teenager camping there with my brother and cousins. Storms and floods have undoubtedly painted their toll on its forever-changing canvas.

Not until recently have I learned of it's history. Built around 1850 in New Jersey, it served as a summer kitchen and later a storage shed for the Jamesburg Presbyterian Church. A hundred years later, viewed mostly as an eyesore, the church agreed to, rather than to raze it, allow Rev. Harold Brackbill to disassemble it. That was 1957.

With the pieces loaded up on flatbed, Harold, along with his sons Skip and Don, traveled to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the future site for the cabin. After being denied requests, my great-grandpa Brackbill finally allowed them to reassemble the cabin in the meadow where it has stood, on its cinder-block foundation, ever since.

Keeping mindful of the fact the Pequea Creek can flood, they positioned it above the highest flooding point. While rebuilding the cabin, they added a pair of bedrooms (doubling its size) on the east side topped with a shed roof to which I would imagine made the framing more simple.

It was completed during that first year. Since the main room was now furnished with a sink, cabinets, a stove and a propane refrigerator, the cabin was used as a vacation home for family as well as retreats for both youth and adults including the Boy Scouts. 

I had never really thought much about the history of the cabin and all its furnishings. They were always there when my cousins and I spent time there in the dog days of summer in the late 1980s. Running water? Who needed it? Electricity? Overrated. For four nights and three days, our late-night poker games were lit by kerosene lanterns while our music was powered by what seemed to be fifty-five D batteries. And just outside, a hop, skip and a jump away...a fully-functioning outhouse. They were some of the best days of my youth. It was where boys became men...well, more like where boys were boys. Messing around with fireworks was probably the dumbest thing I had ever done. It was probably a good thing that the echo of the Black Cats woke people up. It put an end to our fun. Thankfully.

Boys being boys is how we paved our path to manhood. It was our quest.  A rite of passage. Physically, we had no choice. Some day in the near future we would look like men. We would talk like men. But, would we be men? I remember sitting in the back of the sanctuary when we were initially struck with the idea of spending time at the cabin. It would be a sleepover like no other. My cousin Gary, using a mini-pencil from the pew, started jotting down ideas along with a list of what to bring. Before we knew it, our planning became a reality. That was part of the growing up we had to do. Other than one spaghetti dinner, courtesy of Marie, we were responsible for the planning of everything - our meals, what to pack and daily activities. During most of our trips, none of us could drive. Planning ahead was essential.

If not playing high-stake poker where the anti was a penny or two, we were trading baseball cards, having home-run derbies, taking boat rides and sitting around the campfire. Whatever we were doing, we had no choice, but to learn and adapt to each other's personalities. Respecting each other for the childhood we were exiting and the men we were becoming was part of the journey.

We had free reign. We chose to do what we wanted to do when we wanted to do it. All for the better too. Whether it was poor judgement or not we were learning how to live life in the real world where we also have free reign. Our choices would either haunt us or help us to persevere.

We were individuals - independent from our parents, but we learned another lesson of becoming men. Life is a team sport. The stronger we are as individuals, the stronger we are as a team.

One night in particular I'll never forget. It was the night of the headless horseman. I would tell you if I was kidding. I assure you that I'm not. Above the main room of the cabin was a loft where we slept some of the nights. All I know is, it was late, we heard a strange noise and looking out of the rectangular window of the loft we witnessed out across the creek, up over the hill a horse and carriage roaring down in a full gallop headed right towards the muddy waters of the Pequea. I may have misled you a bit. Calling it a headless horseman implies there was actually a body when in fact there was no body. No body...just a really fast horse all by itself, pulling a carriage, headed right towards the creek in the dead of night. Not in my entire life before or since had I been so freaked out. 

What happened after that we don't speak of.

The cabin not only stands strong as a childhood landmark, it physically stands strong. In 1979, a tornado uprooted six large trees near it, but the cabin was untouched and unharmed. Another year brought a flood which deposited mud inside and then in 2009, another tornado. This one causing some damage that has since been fixed. But with all that Mother Nature had to offer, it didn't crumble. It's almost as if there's something special about it.

There's more history, more stories and adventures, but for now it's time to set sail down the rest of the Pequea. May God bless your journey.

*Special thanks to Don Brackbill for the history lesson and Dustin Brackbill for suggesting to add more about boys becoming men.


Jessica Loomis said...

Great post Ryan! I too have fun memories of the cabin. My grandparents used to take Melissa and I there in the summers. Sometimes we'd stay in the cabin, sometimes in their camper. Melissa and I would take turns pouting over losing at Pitt or Rumikub. My boys have only been there once I think, when we helped fix the roof after that second tornado you mentioned (I think) It was a great place for a kid. Also, isn't there a story involving the scream from the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack? :0)

Ryan S. Graybill said...

Hi, Jess! Thank you for sharing your memories. I also enjoyed camping down in the meadow with my grandparents. I need to take my girls there sometime. And yes, there is a story about the Phantom of the Opera and a scream! I have not forgotten about that, but if you want to know more, I'm not going to mention any names, but Gayle could probably fill you in on some details.