My grandparents built a cabin on the side of a mountain in Arkansas. They moved away from it when my dad was still a child, and so I never got to see it until after they had died, when we went there to scatter their ashes. It was a grueling climb, physically and emotionally. The mountain was now completely overgrown; the old paths covered by poison ivy.
It was worth it, though, to fulfill their last wishes and scatter their ashes around the house they had raised their children in.
The roof had collapsed in places. There was a family of raccoons living in there that scattered as soon as we arrived, but I’ve no doubt that they continued making a home of it after we left. Which is good, in my opinion. What was less good was finding a Chick Tract in there. I’ve no idea what possessed someone to climb a mountain and leave behind religious literature in an abandoned cabin, but I wish they hadn’t. My grandparents were atheist Quakers, and it felt disrespectful to their memory to see that.
My grandparents owned half of the mountain that they built the cabin on. Apparently there is a cave on that half of the mountain, which is the only known roosting place of an endangered species of bat. After the ashes ceremony, my family officially donated our half of the mountain to the National Parks Service, which already owned the other half, on the condition that they not tear down the cabin and that they put up a plaque commemorating my grandparents.
My grandparents were really cool people. In addition to building the cabin, they were both doctors, working in rural communities ranging from Arkansas (where they wrote and took photographs for the first baby-raising book in America featuring both black and white babies, the white baby being my dad and the black one being his boyhood friend) to Togo, where they worked with Doctors Without Borders, to the University of Michigan, where they both held positions until their retirement, a few years before they died.
I don’t often share personal things on my blog here, but this felt appropriate. Plus, when this post goes live, I’ll be at my next family reunion, so the timing felt appropriate enough to be worth it.