I was 24 when she gave me the cabin.
It was isolated, sitting on a slight crest and facing the woods. Its walls were old wooden bare. I heard cars around the back, but not to close. Occasionally, I heard people talking and old men calling to dogs in the woods.
I could see from a tiny wavy glass window, first the leaves finally blow away and I felt the first chill. When the first snow came, I laid huddled in my grandmother’s homemade comforter that I had carried for so many years and never climbed out from under its’ warm.
I saw my first rabbit then a deer race by and followed by close behind by the young Native boy and an older man that could have been his father. They held their weapons high over their heads as they went silent through the brush and woods. They almost disappeared against the white of the snow and the barren branches
I saw the tailored soldiers coats, of English troop soldiers ,blood red splashed against the bare white of the drifted snow. The look in their eyes said a sorrow of a thousand miles from home. I saw leather buckskin farmers waiting to pounce never feeling the cold. Behind the fear excitement in their faces were dreams of a warm health and bubbling stews.
The parade continued each day: first the pink then burst yellow followed by the rabbit, the fox, the lost soldiers and the farmer waiting to kill, waiting to plow rich earth. And none left marks in the snow, none left a trail to follow. There were no prints for me to follow to see how each story played out.
And then the clouds and the room darkened and I drifted back off to sleep.
When the first sun came and the snow left, each day grew longer. Bits of green appeared and the playgrounds that had been the fields of snow came to an end.
When the suns came and the snow went quite, I was left in silence. I began to sit at the oversized wooden table that filled the main room. At first I sat near the open door of the stove, later moving the chair away until the stoves heat was no longer needed to stay warm. Each day began the same. I started the water for my coffee and heard the gentle crunch of the woven basket at my doorstep. At first I found fresh bread, still warm from the ovens of the big house and later, wrapped balls of churned butter, occasional bowls of jam and finally a few vegetable then fruits.
I sat in the chair and drink coffee and ate my toasted bread left quietly on a basket by my door.
After several days, I learned to speak, to listen, to share my stories of the fox and the farmer. I spoke to myself of all I had watched through the old window. I made notes on bits of paper
When to path to the road dried to dust, I scratched a sign on an old piece of wood I found. It just said Coffee.
I heard the old men walking dogs, calling to them when they chased after a varmint in the woods around the cabin. I heard cars, some downshifting, others grinding as they slowed for the curve at the bottom of the crest my cabin sat upon. I thought they might have been slowing.
After I few days, I found a clean old pottery bowl and filled it with water. I made another sign with an arrow pointing dog that said DOG. Next to the bowl was a cushion I had brushed off and plumped up from a nearby barn,
When no one came after a few days I added the words “and toast and talk*.
Only one day later there was a knock.
I barely heard the tapping at my door. It may have been the wind. But I listened and it definitely was tapping and someone had come to share their time and my coffee and the toast I made from the basket by the door .
“Hello”, I said as I opened the door.
An old man, a voice I had heard through the woods spoke firmly as he nodded his head.
“I saw your sign.” The man and his dog stood at the bottom of my wooden stairs. “My friend and I decided this old hill was getting taller everyday and this was as good a place as any to stop.” He looked up at me and then to the dog.”You have coffee?”
“Of course, of course. Thank you for stopping. He or she or your friend can come in or I have water…” The old man pointed to the bowl and the dog lapped at it with gusto as if they had travelled many miles. Before he had climbed my stairs, the dog had curled up on the cushion I had set out. “Please, please come in” and I pointed at at the long table. He sat with this back to the window maybe to feel sun warm his woolen shirt maybe to sit at the head of the table as he did in his clan.
In a few moments, I had poured his coffee, and sat a semi-circle of a small pitcher of milk and bowl of sugar, a stubby butter knife and little square of bread and finally a slab of the butter that the old woman left for me in the morning.
“No need for all this.” He waved at the pride I had laid out in front of him. “no need. Albert and I drink it hot and black.’ He thumbed toward the open door and silently whispered “Albert.” I heard the dog whine as if he expected to be called.
” He usually finishes my second cup.”
I was so proud.
What we spoke of that first morning was not important. Two strangers had crossed paths, laid down their swords and sat by a fire. I am sure we talked of our family and the cabin and the old woman. He spoke of the road. He told a story of a bridge at the ocean and the sun. I wanted to read some of my poetry, some of the stories I had written in the chair he had chosen while I looked out the window.
But I held back and I let him talk. Albert wandered slow through the open door and swung his head around and once no threats were found, he walked oer and pressed against the old man’s leg. After a scratch on the neck, he laid down at the his feet.
“Gotta be getting along,” he spoke. They will be wondering where I am off to now.”
I watched him leave and waved as we headed back to the road and his journey with his friend along the road. After I was sure he was gone, I headed down to the road to check on my sign and clear some leaves and branches that might have obscured the words.
Later that day, I tried to write down all of what the old man has shared, of Albert and their smells and details of how they looked: the watch fob of the old man, the dangling neck and clinking of the dog tags as Albert sauntered into my door.
Before I knew it, the room had darkened; I lit a candle let it burn down for a while and then soon headed to bed. I slept well that night.
I woke early the next morning and sat by the open door. I jumped several times at sounds in the woods and walked to the road looking for any life, for anything to move. I fell asleep in my big chair waking up early the next morning to the sound of a barking dog. By the time, I rubbed my face awake and opened the door, the man stood there holding my basket that had just been left at my doorstep.
“Wish I had delivery; he said, “ Hell, mail, coupons anything. Still have coffee?”
“ Just warming a new pot.” I went down the stairs and put fresh water in the bowl. Albert took his position. By the time I turned around, the man had climbed my stairs and was waiting in his chair by the window. I fired the stove, filled the pot, gathered everything for my table and went through the basket. It seemed different this time. This time, I pulled out a jar and held it to the light. The glass was blue green, held down tight by a metal clamp, filled with a rich brown creamy jam. I had smelled cinnamon the day before. The jar opened with a pop as I snapped the wire rings that held down the lid. The smell of apples and rich cinnamon filled my room. The coffee boiling, I toasted some buttered fresh bread and while we talked, we crunched on the bread and apple butter. I kept our cups full and we talked of our travels, his from the Navy in early wars and mine following the University.
We both had many war stories to share, or being stuck in worlds we never thought we were going to be freed from, how we had gotten to where we were and it had become easy. We learned by the end of that day, we were much more alike than different.
As if on cue, Albert came through the door, pressed on the old man leg and laid down. A few minutes later, they were gone and I cleaned our cups and crumbs, putting everything neatly back into its place.
The following day had been much like before. The old man came, assumed his position while I filled Albert’s bowl. I was ready this time and everything had been set out. A routine was growing like a spring garden. As we settled, there was a shadow at my open door.
“Room for another?” The man entered the room. He set his pack against the door and looked around waiting for an answer. I paused and then said
“Please, make yourself at home. Let me get you a cup and a plate” and within what seemed like minutes we sat around my table, moving easily as old friend. Our laughter allowed little silence. It was obvious we all wanted to share.
The days in the cabin passed and the numbers of visitors to my table ebbed and flowed like a forest stream waiting for a rain to fill its’ banks. Sometimes there were some many talking on so many subjects that when we all paused for a breath and there was silence, my cabin filled with laughter only to begin again.
As the conversation grew, as the subjects skated from our past to our future, of things golden and of things meek, so to did my table. First came a basket of flowers
picked along the road, then a bowl of berries and fruit followed by homemade cheeses and sliced meats.
All was shared and all enjoyed our bounty of words and food and the comfort of the cabin. Even on rainy days, umbrellas and slickers hung on the rack by the doors and people once strangers, rubbed their hands over the steaming coffee. A few came early, a few came to the door late after they returned from work, peaking in their head just to see if anyone was still around. One voice or another would say “Don’t stand there, Come on in” and late strangers became friends until the last voice was hear on the hill, heading down the path and washed my cup and wiped up the crumbs and put away the knife and spoons.
I ended in day with a smile, waited each early morning in anticipation.
As the table cleared one late summers evening and the last wandering guest clopped down my stairs whistling, I heard a little voice at my door.
“ I was feeling so guilty coming each day, enjoying this time and I never thought to stay to help you put everything back.” I was so used to organizing my little cabin along that it was strange at first, but with each visit, it was easy and warm and felt natural.
About the time the first winter chills came and the traffic on the road slowed followed by a light dusting of snow, my guests arrived at my door less and less. I kept the fires going to keep my cabin warm. I laid out all of the cups I had gathered and saucers I had been gifted over the months but each day fewer and fewer were being used. Each afternoon, the girl that helped me clear, Emily wiped the crumbs to her hands, rinsed my cups to dry and sat down when finished in my big chair by the fire to fell the warm on her cheek before she left.
One night I sat down beside her, cuddled and in grandmother comforter and somewhere just before the last ember fell, we had drifted off in the old chair.
I dreamed in the chair of a path and a signpost and I could see a fork in the road ahead. I remembered the fox and the deer stood by the signpost and the native boy stood on the crest of the hill by the forest his beaded leathers growing in a fading sun.
When I woke, I was curled snug on the overstuffed chair, curled in the stories of my Grandmother comforter. I was sad for a moment but I had laid there alone. I thought for a moment of the walls ringing with laughter and voices and hugs as we parted ways at the door. I could still see out the window and could just make out a couple heading up the hillside as if on a mission to the village or to visit old friends.
It was then I heard the clink of heavy cups and smelled the fresh brewed warmth of the coffee. As I bolted up from my sleep, I saw Emily slicing bread. She too was listening for the tap at the door.
In a few minutes, we both sat in the chair, watching out the old window, waiting for the rabbit and the deer and the native boy and an older man that could have been his father.