Last One to Leave, Bring in the Dock


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.

dad army

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.

Lu-Andy-in car_2

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.

June 1963 #2

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.

June 1963 #2

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The List in My Head

I had the handyman here this week. I’ve been meaning to call him for some time. Ten, eleven years, I don’t know. It’s amazing how long you can live with broken stuff if it isn’t actually endangering your life. I usually take a crack at fixing things myself. Failing that, I change my expectations and add it to the fix-me list, the one that lives in my mind.

I had ten jobs on the handyman list, which didn’t exhaust the possibilities but were all I could come up with before he got here. I figured he’d get two or three things done, but he fixed everything and was gone before I got home from work. Incredible.

The north side of my house sans woodpecker holes. I think there were seven or eight holes, drilled there by birds too stupid to know a house from a dead tree. I hate critters.
The handle on the front door. It opens from the outside now. For a long time it would only open from the inside, which was problematic if it blew shut when you were outdoors and hadn’t left another point of entry. I did get locked out one hot summer day when the power went out. I came home from work to find the garage door opener inoperable, and I couldn’t use the back door, as that lock hasn’t worked for about 25 years (don’t ask). I had to wait in my car with the windows down until the power came back on. Not long. About an hour.
Living room window. Look! It stays open all by itself, i.e., without the aid of the dictionary or any other handy solid object. I pulled the window out to wash it one spring and, when I tried to put it back in, something snapped on the right side. After that it would only stay up if you propped it or held it open yourself. Which gets old.
The closet door in my bedroom. It cracked and fell off some time ago for no reason I can discern. I had to clean the closet before the handyman came. I know he’s just the handyman and probably couldn’t care less. Still, I wouldn’t want him blabbing it around that I’m a bad housekeeper.
The new closer on the kitchen door. The door closes after you now, which I have decided I don’t like very much, as I used to be able to carry in groceries without having to open the door with every trip to the car. It’s annoying. I may have to deactivate it, as soon as I figure out how.
The jiggly tissue holder in the downstairs bath. I installed it myself the last time I painted; then it came loose and I had no idea how to either take it off again or fix it. Not that a loose toilet paper holder is a big deal but, let’s face it, it doesn’t leave the best impression when guests want to use the facilities, as guests will do.
The door to the upstairs bath, which used to scrape the floor until the handyman shaved it down. I hate to think how long it’s been. I’m guessing it happened when the house settled, and the house is 39 years old. I never use that bathroom anyway.
The screen door on the porch. Now that I think about it, I have a lot of door issues. The handyman replaced the screen – which never stood a chance against grandchildren, who will push on the screen instead of the door frame when they want out – and also fixed the lock, which was equally inefficient in either the locked or unlocked position, leaving me vulnerable to molestation every time I went out there to take a nap.
The only power outlet on the porch. I added the porch in 2005 and the outlet stopped working about two years later. I don’t know why. I never will know why.
Ah, the infamous fireplace bricks. No one has ever admitted how the two bricks on the end came loose, although I have my suspicions. This was back in the nineties, when my daughters were prone to carrying on in my absence. God knows what kind of hooligans they brought in or what inexpressible things took place. They’re all old enough to come clean now. But they won’t.

It’s funny. Nice as it is to have all these things taken care of, it hasn’t brought me as much satisfaction as I expected. And what’s that about?

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