Familiar, Yet Strange

Jessica Huegel


Snow angrily cascaded down from the grey sky, it pounded the cabin with icy fists. The wintry wind howled like a phantom against the kitchen windows as I made my way down the claustrophobic hallway. I reached the area between the basement door and the undersized living-room. The cold linoleum sent shivers from my bare feet all the way up my spine. The bottom of my too long, red plaid pajama pants tickled the top of my toes when I shuttered. I stepped into the room and let the itchy green carpet warm up my lower half as I sighed.

The commotion from the living-room beckoned me to leave the comfort of my temporary room to find the source.

“Come on, don’t fail me now,” my grandfather bellowed dramatically as he hit the side of the T.V with his fist. His blue veins were seen through his almost translucent skin and stretched over his pale knuckles. Static danced across the large grey screen as he fussed over it. The bulky box was putting up a decent fight.

I rolled my eyes, “Popop, hitting it won’t help,” I said.

  He scoffed and barely bothered to look my way. “This, coming from the girl who used to blow inside her video game packs when they didn’t work,” he mumbled.

“Cartridges, they are called cartridges and blowing in them worked,” I defended. “Abusing the T.V will only make things worse,” I said.

My grandmother sucked in a breath and made a whistling sound with her teeth. That was her way of acknowledging that she agreed with me. She was seated in the brown, always squeaky, rocking chair in the corner. She was holding one of her handheld Solitaire game and stared down at it through her half moon shaped glasses.

I rolled my eyes at my grandfather and snaked them back over towards the windows facing the back of the cabin.

The wind blew the snow in an almost horizontal direction. Large frozen flakes covered the porch, but inside was warm. I thawed my icy feet on the prickly carpet that still had darker streaks in some areas from the earlier vacuuming.

We finally settled down after unpacking our things from our house in Allentown. Being a typical day in the winter season, the sun had already begun to set at only 5:30pm. It left a beautiful array of yellows and oranges streaming through the blinds.

“We are lucky we got here before the snow really hammered down,” grandma said.

“Definitely,” I said before I let a yawn escape my lips. The day had been long, and it felt oddly anticlimactic considering I was in one of my favorite places on earth.

About two times a year my family and I take a trip to our cabin in the Poconos, located within walking distance from Lake Wallenpaupack. There is no cell phone service, and only about twelve television channels. Despite this, we love it. Or at least we used to. Being here always used to feel like a cozy hug from an old friend. The kind of friend you could count on, even if you haven’t spoken in years.

  The scenery here was beautiful all year around. In the fall, loose leaves covered the trails, hiding them under a blanket of bright colors. In the summer, the beauty of the lake could take my breath away. The way it rippled in a light breeze made it looked like a stock photo featuring a happy family fishing and smiling. I never got tired of staring at the sun reflected in its surface. Unfortunately, the lake was now completely frozen over. Sometimes, my grandfather, sister and I would walk across it to the small islands located nearby. When we got tired of walking, my grandfather would pull us behind him in our rust colored sled. The sled still has the remains of my father’s initials JRH, written on the underside in faded black sharpie.  

Being in the Delaware State Park, the cabin is about a 20-minute drive from any real civilization, so my family doesn’t have a choice but to connect with each other. When I was little, my sister and I would play games like “Guess who,” Connect Four,” and, “SORRY.” If it was nice out, we would explore the woods until my grandma called us back for lunch. Back before cell phones, we had to rely on walkie talkies for communication. We were always warned, “Don’t go farther then the last fishing dock near the park.”

What did we do? We went so far past the park we could have reached New Jersey. Some of the best memories were the summers I spent at the cabin. Despite the humidity, ticks, and noxious smell of bug spray that never failed to somehow get in my mouth.

Right now, I was on winter break, so I had the next six days off. The cabin groaned like a tired old man. It was built in the 70’s and always made some sort of strange noise. Sometimes, when I waked on the carpet, it would make a crinkling noise. That signature crunch under underfoot was as familiar to me as my own voice.

I can hear another sound, like a soft sigh, coming from the fridge in the kitchen as I stood with my back facing it. I glanced in the direction over my right shoulder before finally sitting on the brown sofa. The leather whined under my weight, the spot was already indented from many years of use.

I curled my feet under me as I sat beside my sister who was paying more attention to her drawing pad than anything else.

  She was two years older then me and her stringy chestnut hair grazed the paper as she scribbled feverishly. The side of her right hand was smeared with traces of graphite where her skin made contact with the substance.

I leaned my head against the back of the couch, the spot was still cold as it waited for my body heat to warm its surface. The leather felt like smooth, milky skin under my legs as I stared at the dusty ceiling fan. The gilded chain that hangs from the light always makes a soft clink whenever it’s turned on. That sound always reminded me of the summertime.

But now, with the snow falling outside, the fan was dead still. If I concentrated, I could hear the crackling of the firewood downstairs. The smell of the burning wood wrapped around me like a blanket. The entire building was only about 700 square feet. The cabin was so familiar, so why didn’t I feel the excitement like I used to? I longed to pull out my cell phone and log into Myspace and connect with my friends. The “No Signal” in the top corner left an itch I couldn’t scratch.

“Ah ha. I got it!” My grandfather said triumphantly as the T.V sputtered to life and the picture of John O’ Hurley on Family Feud appeared on the screen.

That was my last chance to escape back into my room until dinner. I didn’t have the “the T.V isn’t working anyway” excuse anymore. If I got up now, my grandfathers accomplishment and efforts would be for nothing.

A gnawing started under my ribcage, the feeling of elation and relaxation that usually washed over me failed to make an appearance. My computer was left behind along with the cable box.

“I better preheat the oven for dinner.” my grandmother stood up from her chair and stretched her arms over her head. Her black Hush Puppies left little patterns in the carpet with each step to the kitchen.

I loved the time we had together here, and I loved how the cabin used to be more than just wood and stone. It was laughter and tears, it was my childhood. The gnawing sadness turned to guilt. Could I force myself to have a good time just because I would feel bad if I didn’t have fun? I didn’t want my grandparents to feel like I was too old to come to the cabin with them. And I certainly wasn’t going to admit it to myself.

In four days we would be packed up and heading back to the city anyway. I only felt half ready to finish out the remainder of my sophomore year.

Just then, the resonance of the cabin settling filled the room, it overshadowed the noise of Family Feud. The hums and sighs echoed through the living room.

“It sounds like the cabin is breathing,” my grandfather said as he sat down on the sofa next to me.

I smiled outwardly, but felt a frown developing deep within the roots of my face.

“Yes, it does,” I forced.

No matter how familiar and comforting these sounds were, something just didn’t feel the same. The habitual smell of the burning firewood downstairs, the sound of the cabin settling, or my grandfather sitting beside me didn’t make a difference.

I missed my friends, my boyfriend, and my phone service. Board games, exploring the woods, and watching Family Feud didn’t seem all that appealing anymore. As I listened to my grandmother fuss around putting a pizza into the oven, I wondered, would the cabin ever feel the same again?