Harry grabbed a leather glove to open the firebox on the wood cook stove. He poked the embers into an even arrangement, then threw bacon into the cast iron skillet. He had begun each day frying bacon and eggs on this same stove a for the last 60 years since the first time he cooked breakfast for Gladys. He had built this cabin himself, hewing the logs out of the timber on the mountain. Gladys giggled when he carried her over the threshold; she said the only honeymoon she wanted was to start their life together in the cabin he built just for them.
They spent 50 wonderful years in the log cabin in the moutains with no electricity, no phone and no running water other than the cold, pure water from the hand well he dug. Life was hard but love was good. She passed quietly in her sleep. A year later, their only son who lived far away with his wife and new son, died of a heart attack. They had given their baby Harry’s middle name, Ethan.
Ethan’s mom soon remarried and moved even further away and, for an old guy with his only transportation being a ‘49 Ford pickup, he would get an occasional Christmas card and make it to town to call every once in a while, but they were like strangers.
Grief was Harry’s constant companion.
“Chauncey,” Harry spoke to the golden lab curled by the fireplace. “Ethan’s coming for Thanksgiving today! You better get your lazy bones out of bed.”
At the sound of Ethan’s name, the dog sprang to his feet, his whole body trembling with the wagging of his tail.
Harry moved his suspenders out of the way and reached into his pocked to read the note had had read at least a hundred times since it arrived two weeks ago. He put his wire rimmed glasses on his bony nose.
Harry no longer dreaded lonely holidays since being reunited with his Grandson, Ethan, a few years earlier. Out of the blue, Ethan decided to start writing to Harry almost like a pen pal. After that first letter, the trip down the long gravelly lane to the mailbox was filled with hope and anticipation of another letter. What ten-year-old boy decides to start writing a Grandpa he barely knows?
“Dear Grandpa Harry,
I had a great time this summer with you and Chauncey! I’ve been telling my friends in school all about it and they all want to come spend some time with you. I told them they’d have to live without electronics since you don’t have any electricity and they think you’re so cool it would be worth it. I tell them about the adventures we go on like hiking and camping, or fishing and hunting and they want to go on adventures, too. While they were all kind of shut in this summer because of Covid, it seems like you and I were outside doing something all the time.
It’s been a weird year. Our school is hybrid and Mom decided to keep me home for a few weeks before I come to see you. I’m always anxious to come visit you but I’m super stoked this time after you told me there was going to be a surprise waiting for me. You sure know how to make me curious!
Well, I better get this in the mailbox.
P.S. Tell Chauncey I’m bringing him a new collar I made in Boy Scouts.
“Well, how do you want your eggs this morning, Chauncey?” Harry asked. “Over easy again? You’re kind of spoiled. If you’d quit chasing those chickens we’d get more eggs you know. I know you’re not going to hurt them, but you just stress them out and they’re a persnickety bunch.
Chauncey woofed and ran through the doggie door. Harry quickly finished his breakfast and made his way outside. Chauncey and Ethan were already wrestling on the ground.
“Hi Grandpa!” Ethan jumped up to run to the old man.
“Easy there, young fella,” Harry chuckled. “You’re getting stronger and my old bones are getting more brittle!”
“I’ve really missed you! It feel so good to be out of the city and up here with you and Chauncey. Things seem kind of crazy in the world right now but this place is always to peaceful.”
“So tell me how your birthday party went,” Harry said. “You turning 13 is a pretty big deal. I got a new rifle for my 13th birthday and Dad told me to go hunt for a deer and not come back home until I had one. It took me three days but I finally got one and it was a good thing. It was a long, hard winder and we really needed the meat.
“Oh, it wasn’t much,” Ethan lamented. “We couldn’t have people over and couldn’t really go anywhere, but Mom made it pretty special like she always does.”
“Well, I hope you like the surprise I got you. It think you will.”
“Mom told me not to ask and be patient and you’d tell me what it was so whenever you are ready, I’m sure it will be great, but I’m just happy to be here and that’s good enough for me. I just wish I lived here all the time.”
”Follow me, young man,” Harry ambled off to the barn with Chauncey and the boy playing tug-of-war with an rope behind him. Slowly, the heavy wooden barn doors rolled back and they went inside. Shafts of light shone brightly on straw scattered across the wooden floor.
“Come over here,” Harry motioned. “I made something for you. Here’s your surprise!”
Harry expected the puzzled look on Ethan’s face so he wasn’t disappointed in the reaction.
“A mailbox,” Ethan forced a joyful response. “That kind of looks like yours down at the end of the lane. It’s really cool Grandpa! I’ll put that in my room at home and I’ll store all my important stuff in there.”
“Oh, my boy, it’s not going home with you,” Harry explained to the perplexed boy. “It’s staying right here and we’re going to put it up right alongside of mine.”
Harry turned the mailbox so Ethan could read the lettering:
741 Whispering Mountain Drive
“Hey, Grandpa,” Ethan exclaimed. “That’s your address! But I’m kind of confused; I don’t get mail here. How will anyone know to send me mail here.”
“Well, Grandson, remember when we planted a seed in the garden and I told you you were just going to have to wait until it grew into a beautiful plant? The same things true now; we’re going to plant this mailbox and one day it will grow into something beautiful.”
Ethan was still confused.
“It’s like this, Ethan,” Harry gently explained. “One day, this cabin, this land and everything else I own will be yours.”
Harry retrieved a brown envelope out of the mail box.
“For your birthday, I went to the lawyer and reworked my will so everything goes to you when I’m gone. My cabin, my barn, my vehicles, all my money, everthing will be yours.”
“But I don’t want you to go,” Ethan said sadly. “I want you to live forever.”
“Oh, that would be nice,” Harry chuckled. “And I plan on staying around for quite some time, but there’s something that I want you to understand. This place is not a place you come and visit your Grandpa; it’s a place you own with me. This is your place, too.”
Ethan grew silent and Harry waited for him to respond.
“Grandpa, how did you know this is what I wanted for my birthday? I told Mom the other day that one day I wanted to own Grandpa Harry’s cabin someday and we talked about what it would take. I mean, I’m only 13 and most kids my age don’t even think about this, but this is such a special place that I want to live here full time someday.”
“Consider it yours, Grandson. Your Dad didn’t seem to want it, but I figured you’d like to have it.”
“But, Granpa, you’ve said that when people are given something for free, they often don’t appreciate it because they haven’t earned it. Wouldn’t this be the same?”
“Oh, you’re going to earn it,” Harry chuckled. “There is a lot of work to do around her to fix things up and as you get older and stronger, I‘‘ll need you to help out around here. Let’s go for a walk; I’ll show you where the property stakes are and explain how real estate works.”
Harry noticed a change in Ethan over the next few days. Sometimes, the path a boy takes to become a man is long and winding, yet, at other times, the transformation happens overnight.
The last night at the cabin for Ethan and Harry was different this time. Rather than the sorrow that came with knowing Ethan would return home and Harry would be lonely again, this time the evening chatter around the fireplace took on a different feel as an old man and young boy dreamed new dreams.
“Grandpa,” Ethan said as the fire slowly died, signaling the time to turn in for the night. “You said you were going to give me a surprise and this weekend has been full of surprises. But you know what the best surprise of all is?”
”Hmm,” Harry pondered. “I don’t know. What is the best surprise.”
“That you and I get to dream about the same things together.”