Tales from the Cabin
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A Cabin Christmas Past

A memory born of necessity
By Mike Wilkus
Published: December 16, 2011
When I reminisce about my favorite memories of our cabin, I would have to say my favorite is the Christmas of 1992.
    Here is our story.
    We all have our hopes and dreams. For my wife, Barb, and me, one of our dreams was to own a cabin “up north.” The dream materialized in 1986, with the discovery of a newspaper ad listing a lot on the Wabana Chain of Lakes in northern Minnesota. Within weeks of the birth of our second child that September, we packed the car and headed north to check out the lot.
    We fell in love. The lot was on a beautiful lake, and the shoreline was covered in towering birch and majestic pine trees.
    Our dream quickly evolved. We purchased the property, bought a pop-up tent trailer, built a dock and constructed the most essential of required structures – a pre-modern outhouse!
    Over the next several years, we constructed the shell of our cabin, we added on to that shell, and we insulated the entire building – with the idea of using it year round.
    With the barest of necessities in place, we planned a Christmas gathering at the cabin. We had everything needed for a winter adventure: a wood burning stove, electricity and, of course, the outhouse. We packed our cars and headed north with our two sons, Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt, Uncle, and three dogs.
    The weather was typical for late December in northern Minnesota – cold. We set up a Christmas tree, added the lights and worked on homemade decorations for hours. As Christmas Eve approached, the weather was not cooperating; the cold was getting colder.
    Remember the outhouse? Well, in an attempt to temper the cold, we ran an extension cord from the cabin to the outhouse and set up a small heater.
    Fun outhouse fact: Did you know that stalactite icicles form on a toilet seat in an outhouse when it is freezing outside?
    Well, back to the holiday. Christmas Eve was a success in the eyes of the children and all involved. (By the way, it just happened that Grandpa had to use the outhouse right when Santa Claus arrived, so he missed everything.)  
    As everyone woke to a cold Christmas day morning, we noticed that the thermometer read 36 degrees below zero Fahrenheit! This was no “wind chill factor” or “feels like temperature;” it was actually 36 below zero! And no one wanted to brave the cold and make that morning trip to the outhouse.  
    As the person voted most likely to succeed, I made the first trip to make sure the heater was working. Everyone eventually made the trip. But when Barb returned, she declared, “Never again!” And she informed me it was time to install the bathroom fixtures – no ifs, ands or buts! She is actually a true outdoorswomen, but this was the breaking point.  
    We had already purchased and stored the materials for the eventual installation the next summer, but now was as good a time as any. With the help of Grandpa and my brother-in-law Barry, we installed the toilet on Christmas day. This was no small task and took most of the day. When everything was in place, we donned our cold weather gear, grabbed the water jugs and the ax, and went down to the lake to chop a hole in the lake in order to get enough water to flush the toilet. (Running water was not yet installed.)
    After hauling water for every flush, we truly learned the value of water conservation. We quickly adopted the poem so familiar to those with rural septic systems: “This is the land of fun in the sun, and we don’t flush for number one.” This was posted in the bathroom for several years.
    So there’s my favorite cabin memory: family, Christmas, 36 below zero, stalactites on the toilet seat.
    And to top it all off, our 2-year-old son uttered a classic cabin quote: “If my butt was as big as Mom’s, I wouldn’t have to worry about falling in!”

Mike Wilkus has learned that his favorite cabin memories are not always the same as Barb’s.
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