A narrow footpath wound through the trees, shaded and cool in the late summer heat. A rabbit said hello by way of scurrying through the underbrush to parts unknown. A squirrel overhead chirred its irritation at an invading starling. Jon breathed in the woods all the way to the far end of the path where it emerged in front of Irving’s cabin.
Jimmy DeBartolo sat on the porch in a creaking rocker, whittling. In his gnarled fingers, the body of a bird was taking shape. Jon paused to admire the work, noting how steady Jimmy’s hands were, despite the outward ravages of age that had taken so many of Jimmy’s generation already. The devil knows he’s going to have a fight on his hands when he comes for Jimmy, so he’s just putting it off until the old coot’s softened a bit. Like that’s ever going to happen. Next to the old man, against the wooden siding under the shelter of the porch, leaned a worn but sturdy Garand combat rifle. He looked up as Jon approached, and his wrinkled face split into a huge, toothy grin. “Hey, Jon.”
“Morning, Jim. Another quiet day.” Jimmy’s flint-hard eyes scanned the woods as he answered, “Thank the good Lord for that.”
“How’s Papa today?” Jimmy grinned wider.
“’Bout ready to kill Beth, I think.”
“I think I’ll say hi before I head downstairs.”
“Okay, if you really want to. I’m gonna take a walk around.” The old man rose and picked up the rifle before stepping past Jon and onto the packed earth in front of the porch. He shifted it to an easy grip in his gnarled hands and slunk off through the woods with an easy, well-practiced stride. Seconds after he reached the tree line, he disappeared as if he were only a ghost in John’s imagination. The only evidence of his presence was the half-formed wooden sculpture on the seat of the rocking chair.
Damn, I’m glad he’s one of ours. I’d hate to be on that old man’s bad side. Jon stepped through the screen door and into Irving Ratzinger’s living room. Irving’s easy chair, threadbare and sunken, hunched in its corner, empty. The comfortable clutter that defined the man’s life was neatly arranged around it, the photo of his beloved Hilda within easy reach. Hilda’s prize smallmouth bass leered from the wall above the old TV in the opposite corner. Irving’s collection of dog-eared paperback westerns loitered on their shelves, separated from his how-to books and his Foxfire Series. Everything here made this cabin a home in every sense of the word.
Everything except one. The smell of Irving’s latest culinary masterpiece was noticeably absent in the air. Even though it had been three months since the heart attack, Jon’s nostrils remembered the scent of Irving’s apple strudel, among other delicious creations from “Papa’s” kitchen. How many glazed rolls had he washed down with German roast coffee around that table over the years? Not nearly enough, came the answer from Jon’s stomach.
A woman’s voice came from down the hall, frustration tempered by a good humor. “Lay back down, you old fart, and let me get your meds in.”
Jon chuckled, imagining the struggle taking place as he made his way to Irving’s room. When he opened the door, Papa was struggling to get out of bed. Beth Nelson was trying to wrestle him back down. She looked over her shoulder at the creak of the door hinges, a tuft of curly brown hair dangling in her eyes. In spite of the effort she was exerting against the old man in the bed, she smiled.
“Can you help me out here? I have to give him his shot.”
Irving grabbed her wrists and sat up again. His German accent was thicker when he was this tired. “I said I was all right, young lady, and I want to get up.”
Beth twisted her arms free and pressed on Papa’s chest again. He began to sweat with exertion. She was just plump enough to give her a weight advantage, especially with Irving’s weakened condition, and the strain began to show.
When Jon decided enough was enough, he stepped in and touched Beth’s shoulder. She let go of Irving and stood. “Papa,” he said, “you know the shot makes you sleepy. So take it and get some more rest. Beth can handle lunch when you wake up.”
The old man lay back, pouting. “The way she cooks? I’d rather eat my left shoe!”
Beth’s eyes popped; her mouth gaped. She snapped back in mock indignation. “I’ll have you know, sir, my meals are perfectly well-balanced examples of excellent nutrition—”
“That taste like old tires!” Despite the rough tone of Irving’s voice, the twinkle in his eye told Jon he was just being difficult for the sake of mischief.
Jon said, “We can’t all be gourmet chefs, Papa. You’ve had a rough time the last couple of months. It’s not going to kill you to let someone else take care of you for a while. Besides, Beth’s been a nurse for…” He shrugged, looking at her. “At least a month. When was it you took that correspondence course again?”
Beth threw a half-hearted punch at Jon’s midsection, easily dodged with a laugh. “Thanks a bunch, you jerk. I’ll have you know I got my RN from Stanford ten years ago.” She turned back to Irving. “Please, Papa, I have to give you this shot. Donna says a couple more weeks and you should be as good as new. Or at least as good as before your heart attack.”
Irving paused while he mulled it over. “Can I have it in my chair?”
“If Jon can move your monitor into the living room, I don’t see why not.” She gave Jon a coy smile and blinked her eyes.
“Gee, how can I say no to that,” said Jon with a grin and a wink to Irving. “Let’s go, then.”
* * * *
Okay, this one has a double-sided story. First, mine, and next, our contest winner's.
As you all know, recently I was in Virginia for a company road trip, and found some awesome settings to punctuate the most critical scenes of my award-winning series The NADIA Project. Unfortunately, I could not locate the perfect shot for Papa Irving's cabin, and so I posted a contest. I have to say, the final voting was close. It came down to the difference of one vote (Tell me your vote doesn't count!). And we have our winner, Lisa Reese of Nort udda Border, eh? Congratulations, Lisa!
Okay, so as you've seen, this week's post is a couple days late. I had to get hold of Lisa and get the story behind the photo from her. Now, granted, the shot isn't from Virginia. She covers it in her story. But if Hollywood can relocate a house for their own purposes, so can I. My apologies to Virginia. I'm sure there is a cabin somewhere in that wonderful state that would fit the bill. I just didn't have time to find it, which works out well for Lisa. So without further ado, here's Lisa's story behind the picture behind the story:
"Every year my family and I go camping with friends in Jasper Alberta. We love combining three things while we’re there: hiking, geocaching and photography. The day I took this picture was no exception.
Lac Beauvert is known for being beautiful to photograph, and there are some very iconic shots that can be taken of the mountains in behind the Jasper Park Golf Course, and my husband had just given me a brand new camera that I wanted to try out. But instead of just taking the iconic shots we followed a walking trail along the lakes edge to the left. After you get well past the main parking and tourist areas you can see this little cabin across the lake, just poking through the trees.
I don’t normally photograph buildings but I really liked this one, and it’s seemingly secluded location—I say seemingly because it is one of several cabins you can rent through the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge—despite that, it struck me as the sort of place I’d want to live if I could, so I took one photo. I remember I could only take one, and had to hope it would turn out as my family hadn’t noticed that I'd stopped and were well out of sight. This would have been fine if there wasn't a bear in the area, so we had to stick together.
Thankfully the photo turned out, and I loved that picture so when I heard about the contest for Irving's Cabin, I couldn’t think of a more welcoming little cabin than that one, nestled in the trees in Jasper."