Hey Mom. I’m coming home. My palm is damp as I pick up my cellphone and book a night at the Mineral Lake Lodge in tiny (pop. 193) Mineral, Washington. I take a deep breath and vow not to call back and cancel my reservation, as I’ve previously done twice. This time, I’m going. It’s only a two-hour drive, but it feels like a lifetime. The photos on the website show a picturesque three-story lodge-style building built of whole logs with wide porches and manicured lawns. Each of the eight bedrooms has a theme. I choose the “Americana Room” and wonder if it might be my brother Tommy’s old bedroom. Or my sister Margie’s and mine. I tell myself I don’t believe in ghosts, but still, I wonder if I’ll feel Mom’s vibrant spirit when I walk the wide wood-planked halls. If I call out, will she answer? And if I feel her there, will I have the courage to ask her to let me go? Because every single day for the last fifty-seven years, I have thought about her, or talked about her, or written about her. Poems, memoirs, short stories—always making sure I’m keeping the promise I made at fifteen that she wouldn’t be forgotten.
But now, I’m the only one who remembers her. Margie was too young and everyone else is dead. She’s like that song that loops in my brain, and I can’t make it stop. Or like a burden that has become too heavy to carry. I want this to be the last story I write about her. Will this trip to “The Lodge” let me lay her to rest, once and for all?
Until I was ten years old, our life in a small logging town in the foothills of Mount Rainier seemed pretty much like everyone else’s. My logging-truck-driver dad didn’t make much money. We lived in a tiny two-bedroom-one-bathroom cracker box of a house on the edge of town. We watched Leave It to Beaver, but our family was nothing like the Cleavers. For one thing, Ward Cleaver never came home drunk.
Tom, Margie, and I shared a kind of super-sensory perception, especially on Friday nights. Like feral animals sensing danger, we could tell—by the sound his truck door made when he closed it, how his boots hit the back porch, the way his mouth tightened as if just the sight of us pissed him off—that he’d been drinking. We’d avert our eyes and slip away into our shared bedroom or the backyard, leaving Mom to deal with him. She’d smile, pour him a beer, light another Winston, and let her soft, smooth voice neutralize the charged atmosphere.
On a sunny day in the spring of 1957, Mom told us we were moving. This was nothing new; we’d moved plenty of times. We’d just pack up and move to a different rental house a few blocks over. But no, Mom said, this was different. We were moving to Mineral—a tiny hamlet about 25 miles southeast of our town. More important, we were moving to a house unlike any house we’d ever lived in. This was an eight-bedroom, four-bathroom log home called “The Lodge.” My parents would be caretakers of a house that had its own name—and no one would be living there but our family. We packed up the station wagon and headed out on this new adventure.