As we sped southeast through tunnels of tall evergreens toward Mineral, Mom told us that The Lodge had been a gambling hall, a hunting retreat, and—my favorite—a sanitorium for the “alcoholic, epileptic, and mildly insane.” I looked out the window and smiled. In a way, it sounded like the perfect fit for our somewhat dysfunctional family. From the first day, life at The Lodge seemed almost magical. Some Fridays, Dad still came home buzzed, but the air in the big house was calmer, smoother, lighter. Margie and I explored the rustic ski-lodge style bedrooms. We slept outside on the “balcony” overlooking Mineral Lake. We walked up the twisty little staircase to the unused third floor where we uncovered boxes filled with classic books. On hot nights, we crept down to the lake and swam naked, the water swirling around our bodies with no one to see us but the stars. For four and a half years, The Lodge was absolutely the coolest house we’d ever lived in.
And then in one month, everything changed.
Mom got sick. The flu was going around; everyone had it. But when she didn’t get better, Dad took her to the hospital. She just kept getting worse. One month later, she died…of metastatic lung cancer. She was forty years old. From the outside, it looked as if our day-to-day life continued almost as if nothing bad had happened. I found a cookbook and learned to cook. Margie finished first grade while I stumbled through the last weeks of my freshman year of high school. Tommy escaped to the Navy and Dad still got in the truck every morning and hauled logs. But the center that had held us together was gone. We were moving through each day like zombies, never talking about Mom but never forgetting her for a second. And then one day we moved—out of The Lodge and back into the house we’d lived in before. I’m not even sure we packed. We just left.
I pack and begin my journey back to Mineral and The Lodge.
Two hours later, I stand on the wide porch and gaze out at Mineral Lake, sparkling bright blue at the base of Mount Rainier, so grand it almost doesn’t seem real. In the silence, I can hear the whisper of an iridescent dragonfly as it swoops by. The door opens and the innkeeper, a jolly woman with braids to her waist, welcomes me into the living room, chatting like this is a normal visit because to her, it is. “You’re our only guest tonight! You’re in the Americana Room. Here’s your key.”
She continues talking, and I try to focus, but my eyes skim the room, looking for something familiar. In one corner, there’s a cloth doll in an old buggy. On the wall, there’s a saw from the early days of logging. Early American decorations cover every surface of the room that used to be perfect in its simplicity. It’s different, yes, but it’s still the room where my family sat in front of the stone fireplace and watched TV. Her voice fades and I move to the foot of the broad staircase leading to the rooms upstairs. My hand wraps around the soft wood of the bannister. It feels the same. The steps creak in the same places. I look over the side to the hallway below, the one that led to my parents’ bedroom. Mom, are you there? I whisper. A soft breeze from the open door nudges me upward and I wonder if it’s a sign.