This is a short story written especially for the 1st Anniversary issue of the Storyblogging Carnival. See all the entries here!
The place is a compound now. It’s set back a good hundred yards from the road, and the driveway kind of meanders through the trees and undergrowth. There’s a clearing, about an acre and a half, and though that’s always been the same, there’s what we call the big house, next to the original log cabin, a pole barn for a variety of snowmobiles, canoes – that sort of thing, and the garage. Behind the house are a couple of cement pads with RV hookups, which my husband put in himself.
Everything but the cabin and its classic outhouse has been built in the last thirty years.
The cabin was built as a deer hunting camp for my husband’s grandfather and three of his friends, sometime before WWI. When I saw it for the first time in 1972, there was just the cabin. Somebody along the way had put in electricity, but we still had to get water from the pump, and use the outhouse out back. The cabin only has two rooms. There’s the main room, which has a double bed and two sets of bunk beds, with a couch in front of the fireplace. The kitchen has the original pump, a wood stove for heat, and an ancient (but beautiful in its way) electric stove for cooking.
We’ve left it alone, except for a little refrigerator I added, and either my husband or one of the other grandchildren of the originals will fix things if they break, or replace things that wear out. It’s the same safe, comfortable place as it’s always been, and everybody likes it that way.
When it was built, there was nothing else for miles, and if you needed anything you had to drive 20 miles or so to Grayling. There is now a convenience store a mile down, and plenty of neighbors with cabins and summer homes of all kinds along this road. You can see mailboxes, reflectors, and signs with cutesy names like “Dunn’s Little Acre” and “Hart’s Rest.” We just call our place “Camp.” No sign, no reflectors, not even a mailbox. Anybody who wants to visit us can figure out where we are.
I guess that sounds inhospitable, but the purpose of Camp is not for summer getaways and winter hunting trips like everybody else’s property. Sure, it started out that way, but sometime in the late 1930s that changed. Officially, that is. I think it’s always been a place of refuge, a way station for people on the path to other things.
Jack and I live here full time now, in the big house we built in 1985. It’s really a fairly standard three-bedroom ranch house, but we call it the big house just the same.
You might think that after three generations, there would be plenty of relatives wanting a share of forty acres in Northern Michigan, but people and fortunes change over time, and there are now four members of the Hunt Club, as in the beginning. One of the members was hit hard by the Depression of 1929, and sold his interest in the property to Jack’s grandfather. Some of the sons of the originals were lost in WWII, leaving no heirs, some moved away, and at least three grandsons either had no interest in the place, or found themselves in need of cash in Detroit’s Depression in 1981. I’m not sure of all the details, but I’m happy with the way things turned out.
The three other members are congenial people, and “get” what we do here. Every July 4th they all come up with their kids and grandkids, and for a week, or often longer, every bed in the house and cabin are full; there are RVs parked in back, and sometimes even tents out in the woods. Both kitchens are open 24 hours. The Stewarts, the Hoffmans, the Kings and the Moores have a vacation like anybody else.
On one day, whenever we can all be there, members and spouses find a relatively quiet place and make sure all our business details are updated, the taxes are paid and wills are in order. Bob Moore is a lawyer, and he takes care of the details. There have been a few times Elaine Stewart wanted to make things more formal by forming a foundation or a charity or something, but the rest of us wanted things to stay as they are, and let fate run its course. She doesn’t have any kids, which explains why she sees things differently. The rest of us want to make sure Camp is available for any of our kids or grandkids who need it, and formality would make it much less a place of refuge.
By now you’re probably wondering what Camp is all about, so I’ll start with the official version. Jack and Bob’s grandfathers were best friends, and both served in the Army in WWI. Somehow they ended up behind enemy lines. They were hidden for weeks by a farmer, a Russian Jew who thought he and his family would be better off in Germany. After the war was over and Hitler came to power, Bob’s grandfather was able to get their friend and his family out of Germany, and they stayed at Camp for over a year until one grandfather or another got their friend a job.
There’s no doubt that happened. Paul King is living proof, as his mother was the daughter of the farmer, who eventually went to work at General Motors.
The thing we all talk about late at night, after everybody’s had a few margaritas or rusty nails, is Bob’s grandmother. His grandparents would never talk about the past, and it didn’t seem that his parents knew much, either. There weren’t any old pictures or family heirlooms like his maternal grandparents had. Grandpa Tucker would go on for hours about living in Southfield when it was still an actual field. Grandma Tucker was much the same, but when asked about Grandma Moore, all she’d say is that she was “uppity” or “snooty,” and change the subject. The two sets of grandparents never had much contact, in any case.
Bob eventually stopped asking questions, even though he wondered from time to time why his grandmother spoke with a British accent. When he was 10 or so, he spent a few days one summer with the Moores, when his mother was in the hospital after a car accident. He overheard his grandmother talking on the phone, in a strange language he’d never heard before. Later, when his grandmother was in a nursing home, he went to visit as a teenager and discovered the language she spoke was Russian. None of her relatives appeared at the funeral.
It was like Anna Moore appeared out of thin air one day.
When Jack and Bob finally connected as adults (Bob only found out about Camp when his dad deeded his share in the Hunt Club to him at age 21) it was too late to pose any questions to Jack or Paul’s grandfathers, as both of them had passed away. Jack had one bit of information – that Bob’s grandfather had some sort of super-secret job he did during the war, as did Jack’s. His dad told him about that, and the fact that it was Bob’s grandfather who built the cabin. Not only did he build the cabin, he lived there for at least two years before coming home with his very pregnant wife.
Jack’s dad remembered the English lady who didn’t seem to know how to do anything but sew, and burst into tears when she found out his grandmother didn’t have any servants.
That is the only information we have, so we speculate away. It seems almost a valid theory that Anna may have been a member of the Romanov family, the Russian royals massacred in the Russian revolution. After all, there may have been cousins or something that weren’t at the palace. The British royal family was related, so it’s logical that she would speak English...and maybe Anna was never married to Bob’s grandfather, maybe he smuggled her into the country illegally…
It’s fun to wonder about.
So that was the first use of Camp. Then of course, the second was Paul’s grandparents. During WWII, Camp was used mostly for its claimed purpose, by those who were 4-F, or otherwise unqualified for military service. Jack’s theory was that the men who didn’t get to go overseas needed to shoot at something, so that’s why it was used so often. Right about then, his grandfather instituted a rule: anybody at Camp during deer season was expected to hunt, and if they didn’t, they should stay home. This explains why Bob’s dad never went up there. Although he was a talented amateur photographer, he didn’t hunt or fish.
We have every piece of paper related to Camp, from the very beginning. We know from the old electric bills, that somebody spent a good deal of time there during the Fifties, but we don’t know who, or why they spent so much time there. There wasn’t anything in the Club’s bylaws about members needing to let anybody know they were going to Camp.
We know all about the sixties and seventies, because that was Jack’s era. As soon as he graduated from high school, he turned Camp into a sort of Underground Railroad for draft dodgers. He used the money he’d saved for college and lived there for four years, from 1968 to 1971. Sometimes there would be several guys there at a time, hence the bunk beds, which he built. They’d stay there for a week or two, while waiting for somebody from his crew of volunteers to drive them over to Canada.
By then nobody hunted anymore. One of the members who sold out in 1981 had a guest up there in 1980 for almost the whole year. I’ve always thought the guy was IRA, because what other reason would a jumpy Irish guy want to spend all that time in an isolated cabin in the backwoods?
We went up there several times a year, usually, but that year we only went up once. I thought the guy was sort of charming, but Jack didn’t like him at all, and the boys were little then, so we waited until he left before going up there again.
Jack’s never admitted as much, but I think that was the real reason we had the membership suddenly reduced to four. They had their yearly meetings in Detroit then, at Bob’s house (which is really in Farmington Hills, but no matter.) Jack’s dad had already retired to Arizona, which left none of the second-generation members.
Each of us has our own special attachment for the place. Elaine’s parents and Jack’s were close friends, and Elaine herself spent a month here after losing her husband to cancer in 1983. Paul says that without this place, he wouldn’t be here at all, and Bob spent his honeymoon here.
Our kids have already begun to put Camp to use. Bob’s eldest boy was here last winter, before apparently disappearing off the face of the earth with his three children. Our boys come almost every summer, separately or together, to escape the summer heat in Arizona.
Over the course of the year, we see almost everybody. Sometimes we’ll get a phone call, and one of the members will alert us to a friend in need of a place to get away for a while. When they get here, we say hello, offer assistance if they need it, and then leave them alone for however long they need. Sometimes they want to talk, but most often what they need is some quiet, and some fresh air.
We’re not really retired yet, but it seemed silly to us to keep on putting up with the rat race of the city, when we had a nice quiet place up North. Jack designs tools. Not the kind you’d ever see at Sears, but the obscure kinds of things used by professional auto technicians. Cars keep getting more complex all the time. This is something he can do anywhere. All he needs is his computer and an internet connection, which we have from the satellite dish on the roof.
I’m no longer a practicing psychologist, but I do teach a class at one of the community colleges some years.
Paul and Bob have their own plans to build houses up here. There was some adjacent property up for sale a couple of years ago, and they snapped it up.
Camp will always stay as it is. Our boys know the next occupants of the big house will need to be prepared to take care of the strays, and keep to themselves. At least, that is, until it’s no longer feasible on this property. It could be anyone among the children.
We’ll let fate run its course.