A Night in a Log Cabin
We’ve all seen movies depicting living in a log cabin. And the majority of these Hollywood cabins are usually meticulously well kept. Few living today have experienced life in a log cabin.
Now, I’m not talking about those spectacular log houses costing hundreds of thousands, but those small twelve by twelves so ubiquitous to our young nation in centuries past.
I was one of the few fortunate (I thought so) youngsters to have a relative who lived in one. And no, no tone of the Hollywood cabins, but one constructed with an axe, hammer, and homemade nails. Actually, as I remember them, I’d be more inclined to call them spikes instead of nails.
The man who built it was my Great Uncle Henry Winkler, brother to my paternal grandmother.
Uncle Henry, a lifelong bachelor, lived west of Tioga, Texas, southeast of Gainesville. His homestead was in the middle of a vast oak and cedar forest.
We lived in Decatur, Texas, which about sixty or seventy miles from where Uncle Henry lived. Later, after living in Wheeler, we moved down to Fort Worth. From time to time from when I was about three until my late teens, we’d drive over to spend time with him.
Researchers a heck of a lot smarter than me suggest memories of our early years are those created by events exceeding the routine of daily life.
So that’s why my first recollection of Uncle Henry was when we spent the night at his place. And getting to his homestead wasn’t the simplest thing to do.
His place was so deep in the backwoods, if you’d stop and ask for directions, someone would have told you ‘you can’t get there from here.’ They’d be joking of course, then you would learn that you’d have to turn at the third road to the left past the second mailbox; then take the first right after the burned barn on the left.Those kind of directions, clear as the muddy water of the Sabine River.
His cabin had a closed in loft for visitors, who obviously were few and far between. He slept on a bunk downstairs. The first night I remember must have been autumn for the night was chilly.
Being his guests, we slept on pallets upstairs. It was cold. I slept between Mom and Dad. When I awakened, I couldn’t figure out where I was. I looked around for a door, but there was none. Finally I found a trap door, opened it, and managed to clamber down three or four steep, steep, steep steps.
Now, Uncle Henry’s kitchen was simply a shed fixed to the rear of his cabin. For flooring, he’d laid linoleum over the packed dirt. I found Mom, Dad, and Uncle Henry sitting at the table drinking coffee.
One of my most enduring memories is that of the years of pungent and rich wood smoke permeating the entire cabin and all its contents.
I enjoyed visiting him over the years. He always had a squirrel dog, and weather permitting, he’d take me hunting. He could cook squirrel just about anyway a person wanted.
He was a small man, his lean frame wiry and hard from years of chopping wood. He earned extra money by cutting cedar posts, loading them onto a wagon, and selling them on Saturdays in Gainesville.
In the early fifties, the government bought his land for a lake. Uncle Henry moved into Tioga with his dog. I remember Dad saying that move tore the heart from Uncle Henry.
He could have lived out his life on that small homestead, taking care of himself, hurting no one, and basking in the good things the Lord provided him.
Dad was right. Uncle Henry wasn’t cut out to live in town. Finally Dad and I moved him to Wheeler where he would live with his sister. By then, Papa Conwell had passed away. Mama was by herself and welcomed her brother.
He had a couple satisfying years there before he died.
Since that night I slept at his place, every time I smell wood smoke, I remember that little twelve by twelve log cabin, and those steep stairs.
What a shame life has to keep changing.