He was still shaking his head as he drove away. I listened to the distant sound of his truck as he rumbled onto the main road and headed south. When he was gone, there was nothing left to hear but a steady wind coming off the lake.
"Well, Pops," I said to the wind, "let's see if I remember how to do this."
This was the cabin he had built in the summers of '80 and '81. I helped him for a few weeks in that second year. I was already out of baseball and working as a police officer in Detroit, and this was my last attempt to make peace with him. The days were hot. I remember that. And as I helped him peel and scribe the logs, it brought back yet another summer, back in 1968, the first time I had ever been up here in Paradise, Michigan. I was only seventeen then, with one more year of school ahead of me before heading off to single A ball in Sarasota. He wanted me to go to college, but I had my own ideas. Thirteen years later, he finished this cabin, his biggest and best. His masterpiece. Six months after that he was dead.
The cabin may have burned to the ground, but at least we had those summers.
Twenty years later, on a cold October day, I started all over again. I cut the sill logs first, the logs that would run along the bottom of each wall, then secured them to the foundation with J-bolts. I cut a groove along the outside edge with the chain saw, just like he had taught me. When it rained, the water would collect in the groove and drip away instead of running down the foundation. Then I cut the grooves for the floor joists. I put rough plywood down for the time being - I'd put the nice hardwood floor boards down when the outside was finished.
That was the first day.
When the light was gone, I went down to the Glasgow Inn for dinner. My friend Jackie owns the place. If you ever find yourself in Paradise, just go to the one blinking light in the center of town, then go north another hundred yards or so. It'll be there on the right. When you step into the place, you won't see a typical American bar - there are no mirrors to stare into while you drink, no smoky dark corners to nurse a bad mood in. The chairs are comfortable, there's a fire going in the hearth every night, regardless of the weather, and there's a man there named Jackie Connery who looks like an old Scottish golf caddie. If you ask him the right way, Jackie will even risk his liquor license and give you a cold Canadian beer.
I take that last part back. Those Canadian beers are just for me.
I felt like hell the next morning. My hands were sore, my arms were sore, my legs were sore, and my back was sore. Aside from that I was fine.
I had my coffee and looked up at the dark clouds. Rain was the last thing I needed, because today was the day I'd start building the walls.
I scribed each log the way my father had done. I did most of the heavy cutting with the chain saw, stopping every half-hour to sharpen it. I used an ax to cut the notches, keeping both hands together as I swung it, like a baseball bat. That much he didn't have to teach me. You can't be accurate with your hands apart.
Of course, cutting the scarf just right is the hard part. Or as the old man liked to say, this is where you separated the men from the boys. The idea is to cut it so perfectly that one log will rest on top of the other with no daylight in between. If you do it right, you don't need any chinking. If you don't do it right, then God help you. You've got no business building a cabin in the first place.
The first log I tried cutting that morning, I didn't get right. The second log was worse. The third log you could have put in a carnival and charged people five dollars a head to come laugh at it.
The wind picked up. It looked like rain was coming. I kept working. I was halfway through the fourth log when the hornets attacked me.
From Blood Is The Sky by Steve Hamilton. Copyright © 2003 Steve Hamilton, published by St Martin's Minotaur. All rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.
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