The Cabin
By Amberfly

 

General Jack O’Neill sat in his Washington office, and deep in thought, rubbed his thumb gently over a grainy, black and white photo. Some geek in a photo-mart could make the snap clearer he supposed, but he wasn’t sure he wanted that. Turning it around and looking at the faded date, he struggled to remember how old he’d been when the snap had been taken. According to the scribbled date he must have been around nine years old, and with a gentle snort, knew a lot had happened to him since then. Squinting, he couldn’t see his grandmother’s tiny frame, and presuming she had taken it, flipped it over, and studied the flowery handwriting. “Grams!” The faded snap with the curled edges showed a laughing man outside a wooden cabin holding a boys hand. The boy held up a fish almost as big as himself, and despite missing most of his front teeth, grinned like a loon for the camera. In the background a dog of indeterminate breed lay on his back, legs in the air. Chuckling, Jack whispered, “Horatio! God, you were useless! Worst damn bird dog Pop ever had!” Leaning back into his leather chair, General Jonathon (Jack) O’Neill closed his eyes and took himself back forty years, when a freckled faced little boy spent his summers in paradise. The calls of the loons had been his favorite noise in the whole wide world - the vapors rising from the waters in the early morning as they made their first plaintive cries etched in his memory for ever.

In the early fifties, Jack O’Neill’s grandfather built his timber cabin on Rush Lake near Ottertail County. Six feet tall, with a head of riotous ginger hair, Seamus O’Neill was a man of dry wit and easy laughs. Jack absolutely adored him and hung on his every word. Constantly trailing after him, the wide-eyed boy begged to be told stories about France and how he won his Silver Star. A dough-boy during WW1, Seamus delighted Jack and horrified everyone else with his tall tales and highly inappropriate songs learnt from questionable sources. With his easy lilt, Seamus made it sound like it had been his greatest adventure, and that everyone got a Star just for turning up and saluting your terrifying old sergeant. Far too young to know any better, Jack giggled, and gazing awe-struck at his Pops, believed every single word. Years later, through the war-weary eyes of a soldier, Jack fingered the medal, and wondered what demons his grandfather had refused to acknowledge. If there was one thing O’Neill’s knew, it was how to hide great honkin’ truckloads of guilt where no one would ever find it.

Jonathon (Jack) O’Neill was born in the windy city but his father moved them all to Minnesota. “Closer to family,” he’d argued, “and Mom and Pops can help with the kids.” As far as Jack was concerned, it was the best decision they ever made, and he and his ‘Pop’ became the best of friends. His own father never minded. A music teacher and a man of peace, he smiled, and figured the more people to love his mischievous son the better. He sensed in Jack a restlessness, the same restlessness he knew drove his father. “Kindred spirits,” he told his wife in bed late one night, “Pops and Jonathon are kindred spirits.”

Come July when the city baked and the pavements seemed to melt, Jack would pack his duffle bag, and waving goodbye to his folks, happily escape to his grandparent’s cabin. Learning the finer arts of fishing, casting, and elaborate lures, the small boy with the cheeky grin also learnt that it was okay to cry when digging fish hooks out of tiny fingers, to miss your mom at night, and to always let your grandmother kiss you in public.

Hunkering down and placing a large hand on his small grandson’s shoulder, Seamus O’Neill explained the facts of life… O’Neill style. “Never be ashamed of who you are. Never be frightened to say you miss someone, and always tell the people that matter that you love them. Remember, a woman will truly love you for your kindness, but never for what you can buy her.”

Brown eyes sparkling with intelligence, Jack nodded. “Okay, Pops.”

Swimming in swimming holes and fishing in the fishing holes, Ottertail was idyllic and very Mark Twain. Jack learned to paddle a canoe, swim like a fish, and in winter, heard his teeth chatter uncontrollably while ice-fishing. He adored the small town with its many lakes, and his vacations were happy, safe, and carefree. Time moved on so quickly, and the little boy became a teenager discovering baseball diamonds and ice hockey. Pretty girls, fast cars, parties, and good times, enticed Jack away from the little cabin at Ottertail, but he never forgot it. The cabin, the smell of the pines trees, and the lakes were ingrained into his soul. When the call of the country proved too strong, Jack collected his grandfather, and trunk filled with fishing gear and beer, reconnected with the Whip-poor-wills, and the walleyes of OttertailCounty.

Sitting on the pontoon, wearing ridiculous fishing hats, and slapping at humming mosquitoes, Jack and Seamus discussed anything that weighed heavily on their minds. Seamus was the one person Jack could never bullshit to, and when it came time to leave, the young man always felt as if a burden had been lifted. There was only so much Jack’s broad shoulders could bear before cracks started to appear. One summer it had been his grandfather’s turn to unburden his soul, and listening quietly, Jack learned his beloved grandfather was dying. Cancer spread contaminating everything it touched. Frail, bruises under his eyes, Seamus took his grown up grandson in his arms and told him it was okay to cry.

Jack wiped his eyes, and squared his shoulders. He made sure he kept appraised of his grandfather’s condition, the hope never leaving his eyes. The cancer ate at Seamus’s once robust body, and with the hope flickering a little less everyday, Jack talked about the Avalanche score from the night before, who deserved to be traded, all the while silently begging him not to die. Trapped in a dying body, fighting to stay alive like the warrior he was, Seamus heard the unspoken cry, and gently spoke of what made a man strong.

“Let it go, son. Sometimes we make the mistake of worrying more about the dead than the living. Promise me Jonathan; promise me you’ll be happy. I’ve lived a fine life, and yours is just beginning.”

“Okay, Pop’s, I’ll try. For you.”

One morning when the glorious sun warmed his part of the world, Seamus O’Neill smelled the sweetness of cut grass on the air, and closed his eyes for the last time. He left his grandson his cabin, his love of the outdoors, and his restlessness.

Grief overwhelmed Jack. He loved his grandfather very much, and when Seamus finally passed, Jack drove to the cabin, sat on the pontoon, and cried like a baby. The values he taught his grandson stayed with him forever, and when life became intolerable, he drifted back to find a sense of peace at the wooden cabin in Ottertail County. It became the soldier’s wall against his often harsh world.

Ooo

Rubbing his eyes, surprised to find moisture there, Jack scolded himself for being overly sentimental. “O-okay, where did that all come from?!” Drumming his fingers on his desk he grabbed the phone, and tapping it, felt a stab of uncertainty. Snatching his hand back, he reasoned, ‘Well, it is hot, and the cabin could use an airing.’ Pushing in the number, Jack impulsively rang the one person who knew how much the cabin meant to him. One call, he figured, and a thousand possibilities.

 “Hey, Sara.”

“Hello? Jack? What’s the matter? Are you okay?” Concern and surprise made Sara sound sharper than normal. What could he possibly want she wondered?

Clearing his throat, Jack rolled his eyes, feeling like a nervous teen making a first date. Recovering his over whelming coolness, he asked her if she’d be free to go fishing sometime. “Apparently,” he laughed, “the bass were the size of whales this year.” When asked how he knew this unlikely fact, Jack grinned at her audacity, and looking at the black and white snap shot, said, “Pops told me.”

The End.

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