My Cabin: Sweet Memories
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My Cabin: Sweet Memories

When asked recently where I would choose to live if I had no restrictions or obligations financially or geographically, I immediately had a mental image of a small, year-round cabin on a secluded lake with a sturdy pier, crystal-clear water and a pontoon boat. Town would be about a half-hour drive away, and I would continue to work as a pediatric critical care nurse two days a week for the love of it. Truthfully, my passion for cabin and cottage living is deeply rooted in my childhood experiences.
The lake cottage
When I was a child, my family spent weekends at my father’s family cottage on Upper Nashotah Lake in Oconomowoc, Wis. Every Sunday was family day, and my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins would gather from around the area to enjoy boating, swimming and fishing.

Each Sunday was capped off with a big family barbeque. The older folks would gather on the lakeshore on a variety of vintage lawn chairs in various stages of disrepair. There they were able to watch the small kids swim off the pier and the older ones whiz by on water skis. They smoked their cigarettes and asked the constant parade of kids for root beer refills.

Once a summer, my parents would take us to the cottage for a two-week stay. We settled in, ran in packs with the other cottage kids, and begged our parents to take us to the Kiltie drive-in for frozen custard as often as possible. We read anything we could get our hands on, from great novels to Richie Rich comic books. Puzzles and cards were strewn throughout the cottage. We lazed about on lawn chairs and hammocks.
I remember feeling safe and warm in the tiny cottage, surrounded by my family and plotting the next day’s fun.

Urban sprawl has made most of the Upper Nashotah Lake cottages, including ours, into year-round homes. Fortunately, it is still in the family and continues to be a place where we can congregate and make new memories.

Two log cabins

My mother’s side of the family also had ties to cabin living. My maternal grandfather, a widower and a skilled physician who loved the North Woods, had two log cabins located in a very remote area of Minnesota, just off the Arrowhead Trail on McFarland Lake (Cook County). Charlie Boostrom, a prominent cabin builder in the North Woods, built them for him.

Since these cabins were farther away from home, we went only once a summer for two weeks. Throughout the summer, various relatives would come and stay.

I became close with all of my cousins as we overlapped our vacations and spent weeks together in complete freedom. On our expeditions in the North Woods, we went berry picking, canoeing, fishing, swimming and hiking. We used an outhouse and bathed off of the pier.

I learned patience by fishing with my father in the dark of night, trolling 50 yards offshore. Later, we would surround my grandfather as he used his surgeon skills to clean the nightly haul of walleye. We enjoyed fish for breakfast, rolled in cornmeal and panfried in bacon grease.

Unfortunately, my grandfather’s cabins were sold years ago by my parents, aunts and uncles. They feared that handing down the aging structures to the next generation would be too cumbersome.
A new era
Now in our 50s and 60s, my siblings, our cousins and I remain imprinted with a love of cabins and cottages, and we yearn for the carefree bliss of those days. Although we are scattered throughout the U.S., we continue to gather annually at Clearwater Lake Lodge, which is near the Gunflint Trail, also in Minnesota’s Cook County.

The Lodge features seven cabins and a small lodge, also built by Boostrom. This paradise offers some improvements over the original cabin setting. Instead of an outhouse, we now have bathrooms. The cabin is always clean and ready for us upon arrival (no pesky bat and mouse droppings to attend to). When we leave, we know someone else will care for the place in our absence, and the cabins will be waiting for us the following year.

We have come to think of the Clearwater Lake Lodge cabins as our own for the weeks we are there. Gathering in the North Woods centers our collective soul and recharges us for our return to the demands of our daily lives and careers. Whether fishing, napping, reading, grilling, hiking, or sitting on the dock visiting over some hot coffee or good wine, we enjoy the family’s adopted motto: “Do nothing and rest afterwards!”
Our only jobs were to play and relax, except for the occasional chores and projects that were also fun. I remember planting flower boxes with my mom and learning how to change a fuse with my dad.

We lived in our swimsuits and bathed in the lake, shampooing up and diving off the raft for a rinse. We were tanned and glowing with health. We took canoes through the chain of lakes each summer, packing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potato chips and Canfield’s 50/50 soda pop for the trip. We freely hopped from pier to pier in search of the biggest bass. We learned to swim well so we could be allowed to go on the big raft in much deeper water. We held relay races and chased each other. Our parents (mostly our fathers) floated around and played in the water with us. It was the setting for the most carefree time with our families.

After a day on the water, we’d collapse for a late afternoon nap on our cottage beds, with saggy mattresses and soft, chenille bedspreads. Often we would awake to the smell of steak or hamburgers on the grill. Time to get up and set the table!

I remember lightning bugs and shooting stars in clear night skies. Once, my father woke us in the middle of the night to witness the northern lights.
The author has vivid childhood memories of cottage life on Upper Nashotah Lake in Wisconsin.
At large family barbeques on Upper Nashotah Lake in the 1960s, the kids would play while the adults lounged in lawn chairs.
Family members wrap up a swimming and boating excursion on McFarland Lake in Cook County, Minn.
As a young girl, the author spent two weeks a year at her grandfather’s log cabins on McFarland Lake in Minnesota. During these visits, she and her cousins became very close.
The author’s grandfather, Doc Johnson, cleans fish for the next morning’s breakfast.
The author has many memories of meals and fun games once shared at this cabin table.
The Johnson cousins reunite every year at Clearwater Lake Lodge, where they often go hiking together.
The Johnson cousins pose for a photo at one of their grandfather’s cabins.
While honing their skills as “nature babes,” the Johnson cousins inherited their grandfather’s passion for cabin living.

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