We are selling the family cabin this week, the last thing my father left us. He built it in 1968, with the same independence and drive he showed in everything else. He pored over plans for vacation homes, contracted the work himself, and kept meticulous records of it all. I know because forty-six years later, I still have the receipts, stapled together in thick stacks and tallied in his neat handwriting, detailing every purchase from the stones in the fireplace to a 45-cent package of nails.
The plan he chose featured a spacious layout, with huge beams in the living room and a wall of windows overlooking the lake. And although the decor is classic ’70s and the furnishings just as dated, it still stands as beautiful and solid as it did then. Good bones, don’t you know.
On Jan. 4, 1970, at age 45, my Dad died in a horrible accident. He spent one summer at the lake, doing the things he loved and putting up with a host of friends and family. And now that the cabin too is passing away, it seems like someone should tell his story. Not the whole story, but some of it. I wouldn’t want anyone telling my story bit by excruciating bit after I’m gone. I’m sure you wouldn’t either.
My father’s name was Andrew Simon. He grew up in Northeast Minneapolis, the second of six children of Lebanese immigrants. They owned a small grocery store where all the kids at one time or another were compelled to work. Northeast in the 1940s was a patchwork of immigrant neighborhoods. Dad was the rebellious kid. He ran around with his friends, got in trouble and in general just caused a world of grief for his parents, who weren’t the most patient people in the world to begin with. I’ve heard some stories; there are many more I haven’t heard and never will.
I know Dad was kicked out of a Catholic high school for boys and had to finish up at the public school. I know once he got mad at a streetcar, stopped his car on the tracks and refused to budge, throwing the streetcar line off-schedule and all the passengers into a tizzy.
When World War II came, he joined the army, serving most of his time on steamy little islands in the Pacific. At the age of 19, while still in the service, he married my mother, the smartest thing he ever did. She was a farm girl, sweet, lively, independent and good good good.
After the war, with a wife and two small daughters, my father worked all kinds of jobs. He had always been smart, but who knew he was industrious and ambitious too. At various times, he sold vacuum cleaners and sewing machines, owned a nightclub (briefly) and a successful insurance agency (for several years). He opened a liquor store. He bought a small plane and learned to fly. Finally, he started a business installing coin-operated equipment in apartment buildings throughout the Twin Cities. The business grew and grew until he became, for his place and time, a rich man.
Dad wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t a perfect husband or a perfect father. But those stories don’t need to be told here, I think, if ever. He was fair and generous to a fault. He understood human frailties. He took care of us and left my mother well off. Well, she never loved any man but him her entire life. With only a grade school education, she kept the business running for 25 years after he died, always underestimating her gifts.
And Mom kept the cabin. In the summers we raised our kids and grandkids there, watching them swim and ski, fish off the dock and paddle around in the paddleboat. We cooked, played games, sang along to country songs and watched hundreds of sunsets.
At the cabin there is a little Jesus shrine near the lake with a plaque engraved with Dad’s name. I imagine the new owners will take it down now. I have no desire to go back. Losing the cabin is a hard, hard thing, but let’s face it, families are about loss and families are about building up. Memories fade, memories are made. Really, that’s all it’s about.
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