The ride home was interesting. His mom had been quiet as he rearranged his tickets to fly home through Philadelphia on Monday. He sat in the front seat while his dad drove and his mom peppered him with questions from the back seat in a stream of consciousness conversation.
“Did you really just meet that woman at the airport? Why are you staying until Monday? Don’t forget that your nephew will want to spend some time at the cabin with you.”
His dad piped in just long enough to hand over the keys to the cabin and let him know that he had aired it out and laid in the supplies his mom provided. And then his mom chimed in to let him know that “…after breakfast coffee he was expected to the house for lunch and dinner. The keys to the car are on the ring with the cabin keys. While you are here you should get a hair cut.” And he thought, a hair cut? I did a military buzz cut in July when it was beyond hot in New Orleans. No hair was cooler for working construction and it was also low maintenance. Just how long could my hair really be?
“The party is Saturday and everyone is coming. I’m very honored. How are things in New Orleans? Are you still happy there? Yes, you are I can see it in your face. And who is that woman really.”
”Mom, she is just someone I met on the plane today. I promise.” And on and on. His dad smiled contentedly in the drivers seat as someone else got peppered and also because his big burly son really did look happy.
His brother was waiting at the house with his 13 year old son Eric. Eric ran up to him shouting, “Uncle Owen, Uncle Owen!!!!! Can I really stay at the cabin with you this weekend?” And he surprised himself and the boy by lifting him up and swinging him around and saying as he set him down “Of course, I wouldn’t think of staying up there without you!” But his father broke in by saying, “Now Eric, you can stay up there on Friday & Saturday, but tonight you’re staying home so you can go to school tomorrow”. Eric looked crestfallen and so Owen smiled at his brother and then said: “Yep, that’s right, but pack your bag before you go to school on Friday and I’ll pick you up straight from school and we’ll take a hike in the woods before it gets dark”. And the kid’s smile looked just like his grandfather’s.
They hung out and caught up a little before his brother and Eric left to get home so Eric could tackle his homework. His mom was never happier than when she had a full kitchen table so this was its own kind of present. After they left, Owen said he’d like to slip up to the cabin and get settled before it got dark. He promised to be back down for dinner at 8PM. It was only a 20 minute drive.
He arrived at the cabin near the top of the ridge at well before dusk. It was exactly as he remembered it, timeless in its own way. This place had been built by his grandfather when he was quite a bit younger than Owen. It was a 4 bedroom guy’s hangout where his grandfather, Papa Eric, could spend time with his sons and later his grandsons. There was a fireplace and a large deck. The deck was great for grilling either the fish they caught or rabbit or even deer. It also had a great view of the lower valley. He rarely worried about what he’d eat when at the cabin because there was a large chest freezer filled with the spoils of the hunt. Stocking the cabin usually meant some fresh fruit and vegetables, coffee, milk and some wood for the fireplace so no one had to chop wood, at least not on the first night. There was usually some liquor there. His grandfather had liked Jack Daniels and so they always kept an honorary bottle, but there was a small wine cellar and beer too.
He dropped his bag into his bedroom, checked that there was firewood, grabbed a glass from the kitchen and poured himself a shot of JD. He walked out onto the deck and toasted his grandfather as he did each time he came to the cabin. Eric Ambioren had been a joyful, smart man whose great, great grandfather had made a small fortune during the Pennsylvania oil boom that started in 1859. Getting the oil from Pennsylvania to market had taken the original Ambioren patriarch to Boston where he’d met and married, at the late age of 29, a young Italian woman. His family had managed to hang on to the fortune through the Great Depression and because of this, while Papa Eric had always worked, he had never worried about money. Neither did Owen. His family had plenty along with a consistent work ethic that had served them well over the years. But even with their family tendency to hard work, Owen’s family didn’t understand why he worked so physically hard. He certainly didn’t have to. There was money in a trust fund he could tap when ever he needed it.
The only person who had understood and accepted him completely had been his grandfather. Papa Eric had been born to a certain amount of privilege but he had loved the wildness of nature and had not been happy unless he was close to it. He loved building things with his own hands, like this cabin. He loved catching or shooting, cleaning and cooking his own food. But he was smart too and he had found a way to make a living without simply living off of his inheritance. He ended up owning a very large amount of land that abutted the Appalachian Trail as well as land in coal country that was perfect for ski resorts. He had usually managed to spend at least a day a week “in the woods”, as he would say, and he also managed to add to the family’s bottom line and the family line of sons. His brother, Ryan, the oldest, was married and when his son was born named him in honor of the much loved patriarch. Papa Eric had died in 2005 at the age of 96. At the time Owen had been with his girlfriend Lisa for 10 years. Before he died his grandfather had insisted that Lisa was not the one he was looking for and that he needed to follow what was in his heart and not live someone else’s. “Go to New Orleans”, the old man had said. “You were happy and at home there.” Damn the old man. Owen knew Papa Eric was right but he had been too lazy and to loath to deal with hurting Lisa and his family’s expectations to listen.
It was only when he saw the TV coverage of Katrina that he knew with perfect clarity where he needed to be and what he needed to be doing. It didn’t take that long to make Lisa realize that he was serious. He had assumed that she would go with him. But he should have known better. Even when they had visited New Orleans on vacation she said she didn’t like the heat, or the way the people were so personal so quickly or the funky old houses that he adored. She liked it where she was, she like the seasons, she liked the people, she was comfortable and where she belonged. It had been a fun ride, but she had known for awhile that Owen wasn’t happy. She wasn’t stupid either. So when Owen started talking about going back to New Orleans, she acknowledged that it was over. She told him when they finally separated that Papa Eric had had a talk with her as well and that as usual the old man had been right. She was married within a year to his youngest brother.
He took another sip of his JD and wondered again what Papa Eric had told his younger brother Simon. Simon had enjoyed being the family playboy. Simon was bar none the most charming person at any party. Their dad had always said that Simon had more girlfriends then he had sense. And all of them liked him and each other. It was crazy. Yet somehow the very grounded and practical Lisa had pulled to Simon like a magnet. The minute Lisa was no longer attached to Owen. Simon started seeing her. At first they went out together because they had known each other for so long but Simon quickly fell hook, line and sinker. Now he only had eyes for Lisa. When Owen thought back on his years with Lisa, it seemed a shame that they hadn’t split up years ago. The situation could have been awkward. But it wasn’t. His mom and dad loved them all and just wanted their children happy. Their boys loved each other and that was all that mattered in the long run. And Lisa had never looked so beautiful. She glowed with happiness and would soon find out she was pregnant.
One more sip of JD and it was time to drive down to the house for dinner. As he took that last sip he smiled to himself and thought Papa Eric would have probably really liked Nola because they were both plainly direct and honest. He reached into his pocket for his ticket stub with her Email and the booklist. Maybe he’d jump on his parent’s PC and order “the manual”. With luck it would be in New Orleans by the time he got back home.
Dinner that first night was quiet, just Owen and his mom & dad. More stream of consciousness conversation from his mom. His dad’s views on global warming and what it might do to the ski resort business. According to his dad it would either be really bad, no snow or really good, lots of snow in the east and very little in the Rockies, which would encourage folks to rediscover just how great northeast was for skiing. He did his best to try to get them to understand what it was like in New Orleans, but deep down he realized that Nola was right, if they hadn’t been there then they couldn’t really understand. He hoped he could eventually talk them into visiting. Maybe next spring. After a visit they might be better equipped to understand. For now he stuck to the practical, how many workers he had, what projects he was working on, how much his investments were paying off, how many houses he had completed, how happy the homeowners always were on move in day. It was enough to appease the maternal senses.
He also got instructions on his responsibilities for the party. Dinner tomorrow night would be a family affair, all 3 brothers, their wives and Eric. Saturday was the big to do and he needed to make sure that he had a nice suit. Owen groaned and his dad said not to worry that Lisa had dug out a suit he had left behind and that they had an appointment tomorrow with the tailor who could work any necessary miracles. Sunday, the family was coming back to the house for brunch and he was expected to be there as well. It was perfectly scripted with the same touch that made their ski resorts the places to be. While Owen groaned about the festivities he knew that it would be flawlessly executed and fun in its own way. His mom was “officially” retiring and turning the event management over to Ryan’s wife, Stella, who was as good, if not better at it than his mom. Unofficially Stella, who was endlessly gracious, knew that Owen’s mom wouldn’t really retire until she was unable to lift her pinky finger. But part of what made Stella so good was that she knew how to make what could be for some a difficult situation work for everyone.
Later that night as he lounged on the sofa with his dad, his mom leaned over and kissed his head “Owen you are a thousand miles away.”
“Not really mom, I was just sitting here thinking about how lucky I am and what a cool family I have”.
“Well that’s something. Are you sure you don’t have a fever?”
“See you tomorrow. Jack don’t stay up too late.”
The Ambioren men looked at each other and rolled their eyes and smiled.
“Swing by around 11 and we can take the suit to the tailor, pick up a shirt, you can probably use one of my ties. Do you have dress shoes or just those boots?”
“Argh, Dad you know I’m not a dress shoe guy… we’ll have to buy some.”
“We figured as much. Your mother called ahead and they now have a supply size 14 dress shoes waiting for you at the shoe store.”
“We can also get some lunch while we’re out and let your mom and Stella have full reign over the house for the evening get together and Sunday brunch plan finalizing.”
“Well son, I’m turning in. It’s good to have you back and to see you happy. Lock up when you leave”. And his dad tried to muss his hair as he walked behind Owen and toward the stairs.
“I think we can probably skip the haircut…provided you comb it before you come to dinner”
“I think I can manage that.” Owen said with a chuckle.
The drive back to the cabin was beautiful with a moon high in the sky. He didn’t even light the fire but fell into bed and was asleep almost before he got out of his clothes.