And so it was that we would wait with ever-increasing anticipation for the big day. Memorial Day weekend was usually when his internal alarm rang and he simply couldn’t stay away any longer. Sometimes we’d be able to drive to the cabin, sometimes we’d have to snowshoe in a couple of miles. But the old man was going to the cabin, come hell or high snowdrifts. There are places where Memorial Day is the first holiday of summer. Our place at 9,000 feet elevation in western Wyoming isn’t one of them. There, it’s the last holiday of winter.
Depending on the year, we might go with spring bear hunting gear or spring fishing gear, but we went. Sometimes we got the pickup stuck in the snow, and sometimes we got it stuck in the mud, but we went. He was like some high country bird that picked up and left on the last day of elk season and wintered in the sagebrush along the Green River, but just couldn’t stay there once the vernal equinox had passed. So we’d head out, with tire chains and tow chain, shovel and two spare tires – ready to take on whatever obstacles stood in our way.
Now, more than a half century later, here we are again. Some things have changed. Solar-powered electricity runs the lights now and we don’t have to pump up the Coleman lanterns. There’s a woodstove insert that puts out more heat than the old fireplace ever did. And we’ve got cell phones to call someone to come get us if we get stuck. But the feeling hasn’t changed a bit. We’re still anxious to get to the home place.
Tomorrow, Grandma and I will be packing the truck and the trailer with all the stuff that came down the mountain last fall to be cleaned and stored. We’ll be packing up the food staples that need to be replenished. And we’ll have a load. It’s a lot of stuff, and it’s a lot of work. But somehow, we end up being the opening day crew every year. That’s OK, at least for now. We like being the first ones in. And like the old man, we’ll sit by the fire and drink our hot chocolate. I’ll wear my disreputable old hat. And we’ll be alone together. Just us and the memories.