Monday, January 14, 2013

Once Upon a Time It Was

This morning I awoke to the most disturbing email I have ever received.   The feelings of shock and denial took over my emotions as I tried my best to process this devastating news.  My heart was broken.  My brother’s mountain top cabin had burned to the ground.  The chimney was all that remained standing.

This mountain top cabin has been a like family retreat for many years.  It is a place of beauty and scenery and a place that takes you back to the days of simplicity.  

The cabin hosted many picnics, parties and celebrations. Just this past summer, my family spent a Sunday afternoon eating, golfing, skeet shooting, rzr riding and just hanging out at the cabin.  Lots of mountain fun.  Little did we know, that day would be our last family party at the cabin and in in a matter of a few short months the cabin would be no more.

Back in the 80’s, my father gave my brother, Mark, a piece of land that his father had given him.  The land was on top of a mountain, not easily accessible and very rugged.  It wasn’t the greatest piece of land but nonetheless it was 6 acres of land that only a 19 year-old kid with a huge dream could appreciate.

Mark took possession of the land with great pride and determination.  He set out to build a log cabin on that beautiful mountain top.  And so it began.  Ten years of hard work coupled with a big dream of one college kid who never looked back and never quit.

Our Dad couldn’t have been more pleased about what was to become with his father’s land.  He jumped right in and started helping Mark, along with Mark’s siblings, uncles and lots of friends.   

The first project was to build a road in order to gain access to the vast land.  Once everyone could actually drive up the side of the mountain, building a rest area/picnic/party area was the number one concern.  This was completed with tables, benches a grill and a wooden swing.  Some speculate that this “rest area” was one of the reasons the cabin took 10 years to complete.

It has been told that one day everyone was having yet another “rest” in the rest area.  Dad and Jeff were just swinging away in the wooden swing.  The chain suddenly broke and they both landed on the ground.  My dad, in his laid back approach to life responded, “Garsh Jeff, I think we need a bigger chain!”
The rest area was later turned into a shed after the cabin was completed.  No need for outside parties when the entire cabin was “open for business!”

Once the road and the rest area were completed, the next order of business was to purchase the logs and to dig the basement. I remember that Mark talked about buying the logs for the longest time.  It seemed it took forever for him to save enough money to purchase them.   

Once the basement was dug, it was time to lay the blocks.  Our grandfather was a master brick mason but Mark had never “laid a brick” in his entire life.  As each block was laid, it measured either too high or too low in comparison to the last one and Mark would voice his concern to dad.  Dad assured him that it would be okay and they would “work it out” on the next run.  This went on for the entire summer.  By the end of the summer, all the blocks were laid and the basement was completed.  To Mark’s amazement, the basement was within ¼” of being perfectly level.  Dad assured him once again, “That is as close as you are going to get.”

One can just imagine the next 6 to 12 months of celebrations and parties in honor of the basement being completed.  I am confident that during that time period the rest area was in full swing party mode.  The story would later be told that construction plans were being made regarding the new building phase for those who care to believe that.

Mark shared a story about our dad as the construction continued, “One day we were cutting the ridge row, which is the very top rafter.  It was a compound miter and was a very difficult cut. My brother and a few others were there.  We talked; we measured, talked some more and measured some more.  Finally, Dad just couldn’t take it any longer; he called out “JUST CUT IT, it will either be close or way off.”  He hated procrastination.  If he was on a project, he wanted to “get her done.”

In 1997 our family spent our first Christmas at the cabin.  It was for this very special occasion that I sang “O Holy Night,” accapella.  However, I was surprised it was met with a rather cold reception.  Looking back, I now realize that I should have picked a song more suited to the cabin and mountain life.   

In 2002 our family hosted a huge family reunion party on the mountain for all of our dad’s family.  So many memories.

Mark lived in this cabin off and on for the next six years.  A few years before graduating college and in between jobs in Winston Salem, Bull Head City and Newland.  I always found it sad that after all the years to complete the cabin, he rarely got to live in it.

In 2004 Mark’s work took him to Australia.  On a side note, the move to Australia was another dream that a 27 year old held close to his heart for many years.  It would be a full 6 years of planning, communication and interviewing before a then 33-year-old Mark would board the plane for yet another beginning of a new life.

The weeks leading up to his departure were filled with many “goodbye celebrations” at the cabin.   Many camped on the land for days to spend a few last days with him and enjoy the all the beauty of the land of which his humble cabin called home. The “rest area” was in full swing party mode.

Mark rented his cabin to his friend, Scott who also purchased his truck and took in his dog.  That's just the way life the country.  Scott called the mountain cabin his home for almost 10 years.  And then just like that, it was gone.  All the beauty and the place that took you back to a life of simplicity, gone within a matter of minutes. 

My entire family was in shock when the cabin burned.  We gathered there the next morning in despair and disbelief of the story our eyes told.  Mark lost his mountain retreat.  Scott lost his home and all of his possessions.  Everything was gone.

Mark was told about the fire and immediately seemed at peace with it.  I assumed his reaction was full mode shock and denial and once the reality of the loss was realized, he would be shaken beyond measure.  That never happened.  A few days later I asked him how he was coping with such a great loss.  His reply was, “It is really sad but that place allowed dad and I to spend some great quality time together and I learned quite a bit.   It has served its purpose and I feel like I have gotten my money’s worth out of it a long, long time ago. I wish I could have shown my children what we had accomplished but, who knows, maybe one day we can do it all again.”

My brother’s life has taught me a few things.  The first is, you can definitely have big dreams and just “go for it.”  They may just come true. 

The second is the power of sheer will and determination.  If you continue to work at your dream, something is going to come true.  It may not be exactly what you had it mind, but you will accomplish something big.

This story also reminds me of how God uses different things, people, places and situations to carry out His purpose.  When His purpose has been served, God is finished.  It doesn’t matter if it is a friend, a possession or a mountain cabin.  This is the time when we should “move on down the road” to whatever is in store for us next.  It is okay to remember and even to mourn but we must keep walking forward.  God will lead us and he will change us little by little as we walk with him along the way.

In closing, take a moment to cherish what you have for the time you have it.  Be thankful for the things God has given you and never take anything for granted.  Don’t think that something like this will never happen to you because it can.  Be there for those who suffer loss.

As of this writing a "41-year-old" Mark is living a wonderful life in Australia with his Aussie wife, Karen and his two children Evan and Casey.  He later admitted that it was his children that eased the pain of loosing his mountain cabin.  

Sometimes God takes away the things we think we absolutely cannot live without and gives us the things we never dreamed we could have.

If you want to lighten up your mind after reading this "heavy" post, click  "Naked Ladies Rule" for a good clean laugh.
The end.

See you next time,


  1. Wow Donna, You are an awesome writer. Sorry for the loss of your brother's cabin.

  2. Thank you Denice for the nice compliment. I actually have a follow-up story written but can't seem to get it finalized.