Oma Sue's Blog
Hi – I’m Sue Reyzlik. I recently realized my life-long dream of building a writing hut in the backyard. The writing hut serves as a creative space and home office for Oma Publishing. This blog will be intermingled with family history, varied experiences and insights on being a Grandma (Oma), creating my special backyard space, as well as, my “retirement” career as a self-publisher of children’s stories. And perhaps a little bit on the 32 years I served as Executive Director for Keep Fremont Beautiful and the wonderful people who are sharing this adventure.
It’s weird, but I often find myself reflecting on memories of time spent at the family cabin in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I think my mind goes there as a continuation of my fascination and fondness of small homes. Our family cabin was located on the Platte River, in an area known as Big Island. I believe those times spent at the cabin on Big Island were formative; and I know that as I told the story of the three frogs to my granddaughter, I envisioned the ponds, the river, the frogs that we chased, the sand, the mulberry trees and the abundance and diversity of bugs. I also know that those same things entered my mind as I sketched some of the illustrations for the book. This excerpt about the cabin, is from a writing of a larger essay on memories of days spent at the family cabin. I may share some of those personal cabin memories in the future – we’ll see.
When I was a kid in the late 50’s, the family rented a cabin on Big Island - right on the Platte River. The “family” was Grandpa Joe and Grandma Lil, My mom Alyce, Dad Bill and my brother Billy and me. My mom’s sister Joey - her husband Mel and their two children Cindy and Lynny also shared the cabin.
It was a summer cabin with an outhouse - plumbing was available in the kitchen. Not that it was so much of a kitchen - there was an old hand pump and cast-iron sink on the west wall of the larger front room of the cabin. As I recall there weren’t any doors on the cupboards in the kitchen. They probably weren’t so much cupboards as they were shelves and a work bench. The lower work bench portion covered in frilly flowered curtains.
We had to bring some water with us or fetch it from the river to prime the pump. We were warned to never ever drink the water - it was dirty, dirty, dirty - but we could wash our hands with it and we boiled it to wash the dishes. That didn’t seem right. We would always take a jug or two of Kool-aid or lemonade when we went to the river - we had to ration it out to last the whole time. (I know they made coffee - wonder what they used)
My least favorite thing was the outhouse. The outhouse, just back by the rear lot line, was both disgusting and frightening. The smell disgusting, the lurking spiders and potential for snakes, frightening.
The nighttime trek to the outhouse was often made in complete darkness as flashlights had a way of disappearing and pathway lighting didn’t exist. It was a treat to have the light of the full moon to help guide you to that truly disgusting and frightening place.
Anyway - you entered the cabin through a screen door in the center of the front covered porch. The screened in porch was big and easily accommodated a large picnic table to the left. A double window was located on the wall, behind the table, and opened to the kitchen. A single bright light bulb hung just outside the window and provided the only light for the entire porch.
There was a wooden door as entry to the cabin. To the right of the door leading into the cabin was as much porch space as on the left. That portion of the screened in porch had no lights or furniture. It was more of a no man’s land in my mind - a dark place of mystery hidden in the shadows - all kinds of spiders lurked in the shadows. There was no reason to go to the right side of the porch - all the fun and food and light was on the left - that was a known area - no secrets or danger lurked there.
When you walked into the cabin, the kitchen was on the left and the living space on the right. In the very center of the cabin was a huge stone fireplace. The front half of the cabin was like a great room but not so great big – it was more like pretty small. On either side of the fireplace was a bedroom. The bedroom on the right was completely open - the one on the left had a bit more privacy as a partial wall separated the kitchen and bedroom and behind the dividing fireplace was a simple closet - the only closet space in the cabin. This is where you would find the life jackets - river swimsuits - fishing gear and maybe a broom and dustpan.
As I mentioned before, the kitchen occupied the west wall of the living space. Next to the old hand pump and sink was a tiny stove and oven - in the bedroom nearest the kitchen was a refrigerator. There was that work bench counter that ran from the sink to the front of the cabin with that pass-through window conveniently located at the front of the cabin.
There was a little table in the kitchen just under the pass-through window. You could reach into the kitchen from the porch and retrieve plates or bowls of food which was great fun for a little kid.
We had 4 chairs at the inside table. It was an old drop leaf table and the chairs were shaped like a pine tree - at least more of a triangle shape than a boxed rectangle shape. As I recall the chairs and table were painted a light green. The refrigerator was in the corner of the second bedroom - sitting at an angle - a big circle motor area perched on top of the refrigerator made it look obsolete even in the 50’s. The refrigerator was not conveniently located but we felt lucky to have there to keep food cool for the weekend.
Each bedroom had two double windows. The windows opened from the middle and into the room. There were screens on the windows to keep out the bugs - but the bugs usually could find another way in - it wasn’t that hard. The outside of the windows were shuttered - with hinges at the top. One of the first things Dad would do when we got to the cabin was prop up the shutters on the outside of the cabin. Mom would start carrying in the food and supplies and we kids would run to the river to check out the flow. After checking on the river, we would return to the cabin and open up all the windows. The place needed to air out. It always smelled musty and stale - but in no time the breeze took the unpleasant odor away.
The bedrooms each contained a double bed with a lumpy mattress resting on iron bed frames. There was a single chest of drawers in the bedroom to the right and a small mirror hung over the chest of drawers.
There was a television set in the living area. It was a small set with clunky dials and a twisted antennae. You could sometimes get a show - but more than likely it was just static and snow. There was a couch next to the television and a rattan type loveseat on the wall next to the front door - no cushions - it was not comfortable.
The whole cabin was sparsely furnished - and we always brought clean sheets when we came for the night or the weekend. Every night before I crawled into one of the double beds, my Mom would pull the sheets and the blankets back to assure me there were no bugs or spiders sharing my sleeping accommodations.
If we had lots of overnight guests at the cabin, I would awake in the morning, not in the bed, but on a large quilted comforter on the floor. For some reason, this always surprised me.
The cabin is a place that holds many memories from my childhood. I’m sure it also fed my life-long fascination of small spaces. The summers spent at the river were times of creating family bonds, times of adventure, an opportunity to go camping without totally roughing it and times of great fun.