Oliver of the Adirondacks

by Dashiell Walraven

Chapter 48

Glass and other debris crunched underfoot as we watched Dad go from room to room to survey the damage. He stood between us in the main room of the cottage, his hands on his hips. He didn't say much of anything beyond a few hums and tsk-tsks; he seemed maddeningly calm. I wanted to say something, but didn't know where to start, it all seemed so overwhelming.

"Well boys," he said, draping his arms across our shoulders while staring out at the giant pecker painted along the wall and fireplace, "Somebody seems to be overcompensating for something."

Neal snickered, and I turned in astonishment to see Dad grinning.

"Holy Cow Dad!" I breathed.

"Oh, don't be so serious Oliver," Dad said softly, "I was planning on demolishing most of the interior of this place anyhow. Whoever did this just got me a head start, that's all."

And that was pretty much it. Dad started on the renovations of the cottage a little earlier than planned, but that turned out to be okay. The local Sheriff's Deputy came to investigate, and sorted out the vandals in short order. It seems, a few nights earlier, he pulled over a car load of four, drunk and very stoned boys from a town over. They were already being charged with stealing the boat that brought them to the island, and then running it aground near a rocky outcropping, some 6 miles up the lake. The deputy noted they all had paint-stained fingers, and he had assumed they were just inhaling the fumes. The drunk driving, drug possession and vandalism charges meant that we would probably not be seeing the likes of them again for a long while.

Neal and I helped. It was fun tearing down the remains of the interior. We gutted much of the cottage, down to the studs, in some places. The old plaster and lath fell away fairly easily, and made it easier to put in bats of Fiberglas insulation. I got to swing the hammer stapler by virtue of being taller than even my Dad, something he never failed to poke fun at me about.

Dad picked up a pontoon boat, with the idea that after we were done using it to ferry tools and supplies over, it could be used to transport guests to and from the island. I was thrilled at the idea, picturing Neal in a smart Captain's outfit, piloting the boat. It was kind of a little shock to myself when I realized the uniform I was visualizing Neal in, was pretty similar to the one the Coast Guard light keeper wore when we visited the lighthouse on Block Island. Then, of course, I couldn't help myself seeing Neal with the same sort of enormous prong the light keeper had possessed. The image was too comical in my mind, causing me to snort audibly. Neal took notice, and later on, in our little hunter's cabin, he pestered me until I explained my outburst. He too had a good laugh at the idea, and then demonstrated how perfectly his current dimensions fit him. And me.

It only took two weeks or so, to complete the demolition inside the island cottage. By then, the local utilities had dug an underwater trench between the northern most tip of the island and the mainland, bringing both electricity and telephone service to the cottage. Dad was thrilled the day they set up the pole on the island, and the temporary service box. That meant we now could use power tools which would hasten the renovation by leaps and bounds.

I marveled at how quickly work went, once the island was powered. Before we buttoned up the walls, an electrician ran thick cables throughout the house, installed outlets and prepared the kitchen and new laundry room, with some huge looking plugs. The old butler's pantry, off the kitchen, was where the laundry room was going to be. Of course, that meant a plumber had to come too. Since the cottage had never been outfitted with running water (apart from a hand-pump in the kitchen), or bathrooms, those things had to be accommodated. Two smaller rooms, one upstairs and one down, were conscripted to become the bathroom/shower areas. It reduced the overall capacity for sleeping in the cottage, but the new cabins would more than make up for that loss of space.

The really impressive thing was the work on the septic system. I have no idea how my father arranged it, but a huge barge came down the lake one day, and off-loaded a back-hoe, a payloader, and several, concrete septic tanks. The "yard" area that Neal and I cleared, thank you very much boys, became the leech field. There were some last minute design changes in the system due to the ledge and rock beneath the surface of the island, but nothing a little dynamite couldn't solve. Now that was fun to watch and see, even as we did from the shore. Better than any fireworks.

By the week's end, the septic system was complete, and the wiring and plumbing in the cottage was done and ready to accept fixtures. Dad managed to finagle some restaurant-grade kitchen stuff, a Vulcan oven/stove/flattop as well as a large refrigerator/freezer. Within another week or so, we installed them into the new kitchen which now looked over the main room. This would be eventually outfitted with enough tables and chairs to accommodate 50/60 people easily, and still leave room for a comfortable circle of couches around the hearth of the fireplace.

All that remained was to put up the wallboard, then tape, spackle and paint. By the time that started happening, Neal and I were both working at the restaurant too. This meant working in the morning to help Dad, and then off to the restaurant. We became accustomed to coming home and literally throwing ourselves into bed. It was good, honest work, and kept us busy, but some days, it was hard to get up.

With the end of that summer approaching, Dad did hire some help, along with Garrett, to complete the brand new, wrap-around porch. Garrett took special pride in locating local logs, which he peeled and preserved to be the balustrades for the railing around the porch. The end result was as classic an Adirondack Lodge look as you can imagine. The newly renovated cottage looked, smelled and felt just like you would expect for a camp cottage on an Upstate New York Lake. Before autumn started to turn the leaves, Dad had the foundations poured for the additional cabins, so he could rough in the plumbing. We then covered them up with tarpaulins, turned off the water for the cottage, and let it set over the winter.

That year, Garrett took on the new island facility as a marketing project for his college work. By the time spring started peeking out from under winter's blanket, he already had people committing to using the cottage, and booking the cabins. One church wanted to hold its own "mini-camp" there, since one of their camps on the lake had been declared unsafe by the local authorities. Unfortunately, because there were no real beach facilities on the island, they decided to use the mainland facilities instead.

That at least gave us some time to get the other cabins built. Dad, Garrett and some hired carpenters, framed, roofed and roughed in the cabins pretty quickly, so that we were literally just doing the final inspections when the first renters were being ferried across the cove by Neal in the pontoon boat. After that, the island was a complete success. Much to Phil Cress' chagrin, Dad hired Neal and I away from him, to be the stewards of the island facility, which we dubbed "Minerva's Cove", after my grandmother, for whom the cottage was originally built. It was a weird, quirky name to give it, and I loved it.

Neal and I were perfectly suited for the job. We would pilot the regular runs of the pontoon boat, dubbed "SS Mini-Minnehaha", after the similarly named paddle-wheeler that runs along Lake George. We even developed a little safety patter when boarding new guests. Dad outfitted us with neat looking khakis and polos that set us apart as employees; he, Mom and Garrett also ended up wearing these. We all looked so smart in our professional duds, Good Lord, especially Neal.

"So..." Dad breathed into the warm, summer air one night, as we sat along the porch of the Lodge, watching the stars emerge in the early twilight, "This is going to be your senior year boys, got any plans to make it memorable?"

"Prom is probably out of the question," Neal observed, dryly, earning a snort from Dad.

"I suppose so," Dad mused. "You at all worried about your Dad coming to visit, Neal?" Leave it to my father to approach something head-on.

"Naw," Neal shrugged, "It'll be fine. He and I have talked on the phone a bunch of times. I guess it's time to put the bad stuff behind us." I had been present for a couple of those phone calls. Their conversation had been pretty straightforward, and Neal told me that Ned had gone out of his way to make sure Neal understood that none of what happened was Neal's fault. They even managed to have a civil conversation about Neal and me, which was difficult for Ned, I'm sure. In the end, they had sort of agreed to not revisit that subject, content to let sleeping dogs lie. Ned was coming up for a weekend visit, with promises to take Neal fishing and do some father/son stuff. Neal wasn't sure he could ever let Ned entirely back into his life, but I admired him for giving the guy a chance. I'm fairly certain I'd have harbored a lot more resentment, but I get that he missed his father.

"How about you, Oliver?" Dad prodded, "What's going on in that lofty brain of yours?"

"Well, Dad," I chuckled, giving a sidelong glance to Neal, "there is something I've been meaning to ask you about."

"Oh?" Dad raised an eyebrow.

"Well, you see..." I stammered, "It's just that, well..." I looked over to Neal, who was sitting rigidly now, his eyes wide. I guess he didn't expect me to bring it up so quickly, we had only discussed it the night before. "Neal and I are thinking about joining the Navy after school." Dad sat bolt upright in his Adirondack chair.

"The Navy?" Dad exclaimed, he turned to Mom, whose fingers came up to touch her lips.

"Oh my goodness," Mom blanched, "are you boys really serious about that?"

We turned all seemed to turn to Neal, who looked around at us all, nodding.

"Yeah," Neal confirmed, "Oliver and I were talking about it, and it seemed like a good idea."

"You know," Dad pointed out, "Even if you do basic training together, you'll never get stationed together. That's at least four years you'll be apart."

"Yeah, we know," I said, somewhat forlornly, "but we talked about that. Even if we just went to college, our interests would probably take us to separate classes and courses and stuff, we'd probably be separated anyhow. At least for a while."

"We both have to complete our educations," Neal added, "kind of, broaden our horizons."

"That is remarkably mature of you two," Mom said proudly. I could still see the apprehension in her face. "Have you discussed this with Terry yet?" Mom asked.

"Not yet," Neal shook his head, "but I was going to tonight."

"Good idea," Mom agreed, "She'll want to be included in your decision."

"Probably worth mentioning," Dad said shrewdly, "if the Navy ever gets wind of you two..." We both nodded, he didn't need to finish. Dad had already impressed upon me the dangers of being outed in the service. Everybody in our circle knew us as a couple, but we had long grown accustomed to being discrete.

"Dad?" I asked, "Did you like the Navy?" Staring out across the lake front, he took a moment to answer.

"Well, Son," he said firmly, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. How does that sound?"

"Sounds about right." I nodded.

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