RETREATING TO THOM'S WILDWOOD CABIN

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: DOWN-HOME

Having endured over a year restricted of their freedoms from the COVID-19 pandemic, the husband a teacher, son a virtual student, and wife a nurse practitioner, decided to get away, a surprise ultimately to greet them at their mountain cabin retreat in South Carolina.

RETREATING TO THOM’S WILDWOOD CABIN

Story and Painting by Virgil Dubé - Copyright 2021

DEPARTURE

It was 6:00 a.m. and the sun had begun to rise. The Jameson family stepped out onto the front porch of the stately brick home situated on a knoll in Marietta just north of Atlanta, Georgia. Two were dressed casually: buttoned short-sleeve printed shirts, mid thigh cargo shorts, Sketcher loafers with ankle socks, and one wore green hospital scrubs, pink Crocs for footwear. Three-year-old Labrador retriever Pepper quickly joined them, sensing they were about to leave on a drive, which meant a change in scenery and open air rushing against his snout, an utter joy. 

Joanie the wife wearing the scrubs, mid-thirties like her husband, also tall, sandy blonde, medium athletic built, sighed, then said, “Thomas, you got everything packed, made a final check of your list? You don’t want to travel down the road and suddenly recall something you swore you wouldn’t put off loading, but did distracted.”

Joanie’s husband Thomas, tall, lean and fit, dark auburn hair neatly trimmed and clean-shaven, responded, “Honey, I’ve double checked my list. Everything is loaded, especially two new poles, hooks, line, sinkers, bobbers, jar of bait, and select lures I added lastly to restock Thom’s aged fishing tackle.”

“Great, you and Tommy have a safe trip. I’ll miss you both, and Pepper also.”

“Needn’t worry; I’ll drive extra careful. We’ll miss you also, my dear.” He kissed, hugged, and released her, allowed their fifteen-year-old son Tommy to step forward. 

The tall lanky boy practically a physical match to his father, except for freckled face, hugged and kissed his mother, then stepped back, ready to jump in the Jeep Wrangler to enjoy freedom since he like so many active American youth had grudgingly endured lockdown over the past year from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Joanie bent and ruffled Peppers’ head, patted him vigorously, the tan three year old dog grunting delightfully, “Be a good doggie, Pepper. Don’t pick fights with unruly raccoons, or tangle with a bear plundering the outdoor garbage can.” 

As father, son, and pet descended the steps early this Thursday morning, heading for the Jeep parked alongside Joanie’s antique Corvette convertible on the drive, she commented, “Thomas, Thom would be proud you spending extra time with your son, just as he had you, fishing, hanging out together at his country paradise.”

Thomas waved over his shoulder, “You’re right, my dear, Pop sure would; see you in about ten days. I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Once in the Jeep, Thomas and Tommy buckled up. Pepper situated himself on his haunches on the rear seat directly behind Thomas, happy to be near the open window. Between the door and suitcase he had enough space to enjoy the incoming breeze. A duffle bag, and utility bag containing replacement tackle, and two brand new Quest Travel LL Bean breakdown fishing poles, filled the remaining seat space. Below him, Thomas had placed a sizeable cooler on the floor.

Thomas backed slowly down the sloping driveway banked each side with trimmed boxwoods. One eye on his progress, the other on his wife standing alone and watching them leave, he wanted her to join them but acknowledged as a caregiver she had a humanitarian responsibility a relatively small number of people shared or fully grasped and appreciated. 

On the street, Thomas and Tommy waved through open windows, said a final goodbye; Pepper barked his farewell. Then Thomas drove from their subdivision toward I-75 a couple miles distance, soon to veer north on the Georgia Mountain Parkway - Atlanta’s I-575 to GA 515/US 76.

FRONT-LINER

Joanie Alicia Jameson waved, watched the Jeep depart down the street. A nurse practitioner, she had worked five years in the ICU at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, but never under incessant pressure and physical and emotional hardship she shared with patients and co-workers as she had the past horrific months. All around her, suffering and death occurred daily, hour after tough hour. Shoulders slumped, she lingered on the porch, hated to see her dearest hubby and son leave, wanted desperately to join them. However, she had work responsibilities because of yet another infectious spike sweeping the nation and sickness plaguing Georgia, subsequently infiltrating her workplace to further test every care workers’ skill, nerve, and patience to the nth degree. Normally she would have vacationed to the cabin also, not unusual this time of year just after school had let out for summer vacation. But this year unlike previous years, she recognized Thomas’ self-guilt and hesitation to leave her. And she identified with him a schoolteacher, understood his dutiful pressure keeping his virtual students afloat, and had insisted he along with Tommy must get away. It was perfect opportunity; Thomas with time off from Fulton County Virtual Classroom duties daily interacting with eighteen kids assigned him. Considering Tommy also, he had agreed with her, acknowledged private time as father and son bonding was most important to start summer leave, especially to visit his father Thom’s cabin nestled in nature’s allure across the line in North Carolina, at Chatuge Lake north of Hiwassee, Georgia.

Valuable minutes were slipping away. She returned inside to make final preparations before leaving for her twelve-hour shift and yet another days’ challenge, that few except for her own profession were in full understanding of caregivers’ trials and tribulations. Backing from the driveway, she glimpsed the dash clock, had just enough time, forty-five minutes to drive the expressway, park in the garage, walk a block, then clock-in to make the 7:00 a.m. shift — that happening if Atlanta’s morning traffic was cooperative.

ARRIVAL AT BEAVER HOLLOW

Thomas and company breezed up the Georgia Mountain Parkway to Ellijay, next Blue Ridge, after that Blairsville, and Young Harris. In no rush, he drove the open-air Jeep over the gentle hilly roadway across North Georgia - father, son, and pet enjoying fresh air and charming mountain scenery, the array of stunning wildflower lining the roadway and in median flocks making for further gratification. The trip was normally a repeat this time every year, except for last June as the viral outbreak climbed across the country and world at large, the majority of humanity feeling it unsafe to venture into the public domain. Despite the uplifting experience traveling this day, Thomas continued to miss Joanie, still felt guilty her working under dire condition and he to enjoy unmitigated leisure. But he countered the unpleasantness by reminiscing, conveying to his son needing the break perhaps more than he this vacation trip, of stories about his father Thom’s active life. 

Time sailed by, the two travelers chatting and having loads of fun, their pet in equal rapture. Approaching the fringe of Hiwassee, Thomas turned left, drove GA 17 alongside McClure Cove. After crossing into North Carolina on NC 69 and before approaching the turnoff that would take them to the Clay County Park and Campground, they came to the private clay road on the right that wound to the Jameson twenty-five acre retreat, as the wood sign on the property gate designated as Beaver Hollow. Their remote destination was situation a mile off the main road, a winding drive through lush woodland to end on a wide strip of land jutting into Armstrong Cove just off Chatuge Lake. A clear spot, a mix of tall conifer and deciduous trees spread roundabout the red stained five-room cabin nicely situated against a backdrop of mountain ridges bordering the lake and cove. 

Thomas’ father, Thom Arthur Jameson, had retired a Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander, thirty years devoted to guarding Americas’ coastline. Apart from normal duties at home, Thom was granted leaves to travel the world, and had tales to tell his son upon return, as the two sat on a tree stump on family property across the inlet from the cabin that he and his wife Poppy built in 1982. So enthralling were the stories told Thomas growing up he couldn’t help being captivated, believing every word uttered by his father of his adventures and fish catches at exotic places from here to Timbuktu. 1984 Poppy suffered a heart attack and died. Instead of selling Beaver Hollow when overwhelmed in grief and secluding himself months, finally to realize he must pass down the property and special thing to his son Thomas, subsequently his offspring. Thus, he emerged with uplifted spirit and dropped the impulse so he could forever enjoy his favorite place in the whole wide world, topped by the fishing spot that Poppy had loved in his company, her spirit always with him and interlaced in the air, soil, plant and tree, surrounding hills, and abounding water, especially the handsome cabin he proudly gazed as he cast one line after another.

This trip hadn’t been any different from those before for Thomas and Tommy, except that Joanie wasn’t with them. After parking on the front circular drive topped by gravel, unloading the cooler, duffle bag, suit case, utility bag, and rations for them and Pepper, Thomas checked the house exterior and scanned the immediate yard always left tidy from the previous visit. All looked fine at first glance, orderly. He reconnected the television with satellite, made a cup of coffee for him, poured his sons’ favorite cherry Dr Pepper over ice, and together they settled on the living room sofa to relax after the ride and enjoy the cabins’ knotty pine interior. With the outer front door swung open and an invigorating breeze advancing through the inner screen door, the freshness also airing out any lingering stuffiness, in addition, was pleasant to hear natures soothing sounds permeate throughout the cabin. Later, Thomas fed and watered Pepper, then cooked himself and Tommy a thick hamburger with cheese, union, ketchup and mustard on it, French fries, and dill pickles brought in the cooler. 8 o’clock, he popped a bowl of popcorn to have with a Dr Pepper and the two enjoyed a couple TV sitcom reruns before bedtime. Pepper an opportunist, ate his portion also, preferred water to Dr Pepper. 

The next morning Thomas cooked a hardy breakfast: grits, two eggs each, toast with apple jelly and spread, and fried sliced ham with red-eye gravy over the grits, while Tommy fed and changed the water for Pepper. Finished with the dishes, the two straightened the kitchen. Then Pepper at their heels, they sauntered to the boat ramp, between them carrying two Winco boat paddles, fishing tackle box, the cooler, and two lunch sacks highlighted with peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches and a bag of corn chips. They removed the tarp from Thom’s stored rowboat secured well offshore. Finding the boat in pristine shape, they dragged it carefully a short distance then scooted it into the water. Both situated on a plank seat and pushing the boat from shore with paddles, father and son synchronized to row across the lazy inlet water toward the sacred fishing spot, a slight chill in the air and thin fog blanketing Armstrong Cove. Arriving on the opposite shore, and anchoring to the creosote post that Thom many years ago had erected, Pepper jumped ashore first, followed by Thomas and Tommy unloading the items they brought. Once seated on ancient tree stumps, relics from two tall conifers once struck by lightning and downed by Thom, the logs split by him for firewood, both took several moments to relish Thom’s favorite spot to fish, grass and weed covering the higher bank with relics of wildflowers Poppy had once planted, perennials still thriving. They talked, enjoyed the beautiful flowers, even the Canadian geese keeping them company at safe distant, also staying protectively away from Pepper. Fog lifting above and beyond surrounding ridges, the pair set their hooks with small gobs of Pink Fire Bait and cast their first lines. 

Fish were biting this day, and Tommy caught the largest trout. Late morning after catching a good mess, only the big ones, they rowed back across the inlet. Following lunch, father and son gutted and cleaned the fish outside on the backyard stone patio, buried the carcass remains a distance from the cabin. Late afternoon, Thomas fired up the grill and began cooking trout to have with grits, spectacled butter beans, steamed carrots, hush puppies, and pecan pie for desert. Pepper sitting on his rump between the two enjoyed their handouts.

SURPRISE REUNION

Busy on the patio minutes later, and after Tommy had placed the first trout on the grill, they heard a car engine approach on the front drive; moments later it shut off.

“Wonder who that could be?” Thomas responded, mixing batter for hush puppies in a bowl. Tommy wearing a griller’s apron and tending the grill, looked inquisitively at his father. He too thought this unusual that somebody would open their property gate and drive back in what should be considered private property, though not posted as such, the gate never re-locked during their visitations. 

Thomas wiped his hands with a dry towel after a quick wash from water in an adjacent bowl. Peering around the house corner, he noticed a Thunderbird convertible had parked behind the Jeep on the drive. The driver was nowhere to be seen. He figured the visitor had stepped on the porch to ring the doorbell, probably a salesman of some type. About to shed his apron and go check, a tall slender man dressed casually, wearing a floppy hat and deeply tanned with medium-length silver-white hair, appeared from around the cabins’ opposite corner. Pepper didn’t bristle up or growl. He went straight to the man still a distance away, another oddity. The man halted, bent, petted him, and jostled him playfully.

“Hello, my nephew,” the man said, straightening up and so cheerful it startled his onlookers.

Thomas and Tommy were too befuddled to speak immediately. Finally Thomas grinned broadly, turned to face his son, spread his arms wide, said, “My, my, Tommy, this beats all, your Great Uncle Toby and my father’s twin brother, just dropped slap-dab from the sky. Clever Pepper even remembered him.”

“Yep, in the flesh and blood,” Toby Jameson commented, as he shifted his attention from the man to study the boy, “My, my, lad, you’ve grown a heap since I last saw you three years ago, when I came for Thom’s funeral. You’ve practically grown into a man.”

Social distancing had become a norm within the populace as of late, so the three were naturally reluctant to move directly close in greeting. But the hesitancy was momentary and they did, embracing strongly, lots of back pats. Finally, they moved apart, looked one to the other, happy in the moment.

Tommy smiled, remembering the last time he had seen his great uncle, when at age twelve he had flown from Hawaii. Though for the funeral, seeing him then and now was a grand coming together … but for what reason to show up so unexpected?

Toby moved away, walked to the patio’s edge. He looked about the property, across the inlet, up and down Armstrong Cove at the encircling hills, “Thomas, Beaver Hollow looks just grand in a great setting. You, Joanie, and Tommy have done a superlative job after Thom passed.”

Thomas had followed him, stayed a couple feet back, and commented, “Thanks, Uncle Toby. There are always things to do here since it can’t be our permanent residence, us away varying periods, returns not always predictable.”

“There will come a time you and Joanie move here to stay ... mark my word.”

“Maybe, I hope so. Right now that doesn’t seem practical. Say, I like that Thunderbird you’re sporting; a rental, or your own.” 

“Rented a very used Ford Focus in California. It was okay. But I wanted classic wheels, bought the 2005 T-bird in Houston from an elderly fellow I met that was getting vaccinated, in a wheelchair and couldn’t drive anymore. I’ll probably ship it back to Honolulu, spruce it up and make it a real gem.”

“You’ll do that for sure, by example of your dazzling designer surfboards, some becoming collector items. So, Uncle Toby, you’re traveling across the country during this pandemic; why?”

“Back on the islands we were hit hard by the outbreak like you on the mainland. I had plenty of hired hands in my surfboard shop; felt I could lend a spare hand to help needy and sick people, so I began to volunteer sparingly, my services soon heightening and time away from the shop increasing. I did all I could, was gratified to help people. It began to look bleaker on the mainland so I got the idea to come to California and work my way across the southern states, volunteering, helping at key facilities along the way: Phoenix, Houston, Lake Charles, Lafayette, New Orleans, Biloxi, Mobile, and Tallahassee, six months total but not staying too long each spot. I delivered supplies and food to people, many disabled and stranded, to the sick and immobile, also assisted at vaccination centers. Fellows, I’ve observed some dreadful COVID-19 cases, the suffering most times perplexing. I really feel for your Joanie working the front line against this disease afflicting the vulnerable and yet compounded in severity by too many negligent and often uneducated people, those that I shake my head in wonderment that fundamentally do not care.”

“No mask, I assume you’ve been vaccinated, as have we.”

“Oh, yes, back on the island before I volunteered, two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, was tested several times, never positive.”

The two ambled back to the patio, where in the center a picnic table with benches on each side had been set up as the work place to prepare supper, with food to cook, condiments, utensils, bowls, plates, napkins, and silverware spread about on a plastic checkered covering. Placed randomly in close proximity to where on one side Thom had erected a fire ring for nighttime bonfires, were an assortment of patio chairs and chase lounges.

“Have you had supper?” Thomas asked his uncle.

“Last I ate was breakfast in Valdosta after driving early from Tallahassee.”

“Gotta be hungry, so you must join us. We caught a large mess of trout this morning, have plenty if you’d like.”

Toby laughed, rubbed his stomach, “Guess you haven’t heard my stomach growling. Yes, that would be delightful, Thomas, thanks.”

“Also, if you’re merely passing through with no immediate obligation, please stay awhile. We would love to have you visit with us while you’re on a touring break. I’ll call Joanie later to inform her that you’ve stopped by. She’ll want to speak with you on the phone.”

“Fine, I have time, would be a pleasure to hang around awhile, maybe fish some with you fellows over at Thom’s favorite spot.”

TOGETHERNESS

Supper prepared and eaten, table cleared, leftover food stored in the fridge, provisional items placed in cabinets and the pantry, and utensils and dishes cleaned, the phone call was made. Following a delightful conversation between Joanie and her family members, the three settled to enjoy old times. First, they congregated around a bonfire on the patio, enjoyed gazing up in a clear sky at the Milky Way, stars so crisply delineated each felt he could reach up and touch one. Ultimately, they ventured inside, Thomas immediately fetching the hand crank ice cream churn from the pantry floor, and a can of pineapple chunks. The three shared in churning pineapple ice cream they ate along with store-bought oatmeal cookies, followed by cups of hot coffee. Naturally, Pepper joined in for his share, a mess he made around his feeding bowl on the floor, no worry; he quickly lapped it up.

The following day as the three, with Pepper accompanying them, went fishing at ‘Thom’s favorite spot’, Thomas got a call on his cellphone. It was a follow-up from Joanie.

“Honey, I mentioned to a co-worker Uncle Toby coming from Honolulu, and him doing all the volunteering across the country before arriving here. I guess my remark went higher up the chain. I was called into the ICU Director’s cubical off from the nurse station and told since I had worked almost nonstop these last months I was due time off, had duly earned it. Doctor Marlene Ayer suggested I take the time to visit you all at the cabin, be with family and especially Uncle Toby, that a PRN would stand in for me. She allotted me six days, two for travel.”

“Honey that would be fantastic. Hold on a moment.” 

Toby, pulling a hooked fish in, paused long enough to comprehend what Thomas relayed to him, “Joanie is coming, will be here tonight, is looking forward to seeing you again Uncle Toby.”

Toby held a victory thumbs up, replied, “Terrific … look forward to seeing her, another of my heroes.” Then he finished pulling a small fish in, released it from the hook, and tossed it in the water beyond the anchored rowboat. Tommy and Thomas chuckled, enjoyed seeing him have the time of his life, which took both back to times spent likewise with Thom at this very spot, Toby and him identical twins, so special for father and son his moment that synchronized with the past.

Joanie arrived after 6 o’clock, the countryside gloaming, a golden hue bathing low ridges as the sun set. Enough time to unpack in the master bedroom, she returned and sat at the kitchen table head and had a supper fit for a queen that the three guys doing their part had prepared her, Toby initiating a toast to her for her gallantry working in the hospital, four glasses clicking in unison. Afterwards, they visited, enjoying the moment well deserved. And the next four days were special beyond description, fishing a highlighted activity each morning, several horseshoe games thrown during afternoons, dart games on the porch at twilight, card games inside in the evenings, fun-loving distractions from the chaotic world beyond to mend prior hardships.

Tommy, his father, and Pepper were the last to leave six days later, Joanie having to return home two days earlier and within the specified time to the ICU as promised. Uncle Toby departed early the last morning, driving to Orlando then to Miami to resume his volunteering, South Florida a hotspot for tourism and still struggling to rebound from the pandemic. As Tommy settled in the passenger seat mid morning, he said to his father while buckling up, “Dad, this trip was absolutely special, having Uncle Toby visit us, Mom coming up, everybody happy together. When you ran an errand yesterday in Hiwassee and I fished with Uncle Toby across the inlet, it was like living three years ago again, Pepper a puppy barking at the geese and Grandpa Thom sitting across from me on the stump, Uncle Toby looking so much like Grandpa. I really enjoyed him telling me about catching giants while surf fishing in Hawaii, just like you said Grandpa Thom told you as a boy, tales of fishing in distant countries.”

Minutes later, Thomas stopped the Jeep outside the metal property gate. Before he got out to close and chain it to a sturdy metal post, he said, “Son, it was the best vacation ever, especially with you, my Joanie coming up to Beaver Hollow, and Uncle Toby arriving out of the blue.”

***

The serene lake valley and mountains of North Carolina was better than medicine to heal, every moment enjoyed and deserved by a front liner giving her skills and attention to her patients her all, a duty bound schoolteacher likewise dedicated, a virtual learner making straight A’s, and a volunteer traveling from his faraway home and prosperous business to sacrifice time and money to help his fellow man in distress, all four sharing in their moment of solidarity to garnish some semblance of normality that they hoped would return someday, if only and by all likelihood the sacrifice of every responsible person on Earth.

For all, it was the grandest of all previous retreats to Thom’s Beaver Hollow cabin in the North Carolina wildwood, and there was more of the same to come, undoubtedly.

***

Joanie and Thomas Jameson were educated informed people, kept up with local, national, and world happenings. They recognized the Federal Government had amped up initiative for vaccinations the past five months and herd immunity had begun to occur, with hope by all Americans for a return to normalcy. Still, top doctors and scientists were warning not to let guards down, the transition to life as it once was dependent on caution with individual people taking proper measures to safeguard against a resurgence that again could spike infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.

And the couple was open in their discussions on a broad array of related subjects reflecting sound knowledge and understanding that included Tommy, forthright and honest each to the other, a healthy family roundtable.

Over the past fifteen months despair had held no boundaries across the world. Almost everybody was touched in some familiar manner by the COVID-19 viral outbreak, suffering, death, loss of a loved one, be that family, relative, friend, neighbor, or a famed individual admired for accomplishment. Humanity had fearfully retreated to closed doors, hidden behind protective masks, normal human contact stripped of them to stay distant; consequently economies small to huge were crippled or reduced to shambles. 

The Jameson family had not been hit directly, yet they had received word of a distant relative, friend from the past, and person down the street that had contracted the disease and expired, the news always received with bitter taste. They had by their sacrificial conduct each made a contribution, that of a medical practitioner, a conscientious teacher, a diligent student, and an above the call of duty entrepreneur, each holding steadfast to guidelines asked by knowledgeable authorities to abide both in person and in the public, not to make in their small quarter of existence a careless or ambivalent contribution to the spread of the disease. They were staunch models of cooperativeness, for the most part silent champions unheralded, like so many like them that if they had chosen to disregard commonsense disciplines, the tally universally would most definitely have been greater and incomprehensibly bleak, and in the long run decimated unfathomable scores of humankind ... perhaps questionable, but something serious to consider in the future by individuals common and otherwise, and leaders for whom their constituents either consciously or blindly place their trust.

THE END


Submitted: April 25, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Virgil Dube. All rights reserved.

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