The view from the rustic log cabin was a sight to behold; idyllic to say the least, and yet, idyllic at most. For what detail could be altered to enhance and captivate the senses? On a grand or minor scale, what natural features could be fine-tuned and improved upon to uplift the soul? None, indeed, for this picturesque scenery was already a work of art, a landscape portrait; waiting however for its true colours to be revealed by the white light of day. Across the lake as foreseen, points and tips of treetops were the first to bathe in sunlight; a highlighted strip of greenery that would grow wider as the sun rose, until it reached the bases of the trunks and even further down to the shoreline. A few clouds, as if painted on by the stroke of a steady hand occupied the sky, shaped by the currents of air they so effortlessly glided through. And due to the early hours, each possessed its own shadow, creating a stunning contrast with that of the pink-blue hue of the atmospheric canvas behind.
The woodlands were no longer dormant and were gradually waking up. New voices were joining every other minute, amounting to a chorus of bird chirps, squawks and songs, as if set to sound as nature’s intended cheerful alarm clock. While most remained complacent, perched up on the branches where they woke, others took to flight, traveling short distances in and amongst the trees. Even fewer emerged from the wall of greenery and flew high to soar, soaking in the new light their little bodies had sought. And down below, like an unwavering liquid mirror, the immense stagnant body of water caught everything above and around its edge in reflection. Every now and then it would carry ripples, travelling outwards whence fish came to inspect, perhaps in search of winged insects either hovering dangerously low, or landing on the surface. And two beautiful otters yet to wake, afloat on their backs in the most adorable embrace, drifted gently along without disturbing the waters in their wake. This tranquil setting, one of nature’s havens, was truly a sight to behold; and this is what lay before and met the eyes of a young boy named James Galloway as he stepped out onto the front porch at seven-thirty on a Saturday morning.
Taking in a deep breath and refreshing his lungs to their capacity, he felt his mind begin to clear and his body revitalize. Focused and feeling happily more alive than he did in his bedroom, he began to walk around examining the floorboards beneath his feet. Based on prior hot weather, the forecast was expected to be a scorcher, and though the porch would escape direct sunlight until the latter part of day, once the temperature reached its zenith, any manual labour would become unbearable. In addition to the heat, the traffic of folk in and out of the cabin would tarnish practicality. He was dealing with a large working space and thus considered sanding and varnishing every inch excluding a right-of-way: an area the width of a door, leaving the main entrance, leading straight towards the steps at the end of the porch. But first and foremost, he had to clear it of its furnishings.
Glancing around unconcernedly at each item, he evaluated their size and shape, their strong and weak points, gauged what each item would weigh and came to this reasoning: they would need to be hauled away and placed in an orderly fashion on the wild lawn below, instead of within the timber dwelling. The initial idea of sparing a right-of-way had too been promptly discarded. He knew it held merit for it allowed ease of access in and out of the cabin. And in some guileful way, reduce the amount of labour. But what would that scheme ultimately achieve if he was compelled to finish the job sooner lest the furniture remain outside by twilight? He had been mindful; considerate towards the others. But who will be doing the heaving? Who will be on their hands and knees, sanding and coating the floorboards? And he would not relish in being harried while doing so.
Once the marginal dilemma had been resolved, it allowed for engagement of the errand at hand. He took another deep breath and indulged in one final regard of the lake, by way of reassurance for a refreshing swim, at what time his duty had been fully tended or when he was in need of rest.
Turning around and casting his attention to a few coffee tables, he set about their redistribution. A difficult task for they were fashioned from solid wood and held an awkward shape, thus a challenge to manoeuvre. He became increasingly flustered by how hefty and unwieldy the first was to lift. Resisting gravity on its behalf his grip almost gave way, nonetheless recovering, and for a split second amidst the mental struggle he had it in mind to shift his position and hurl it over the wooden railings onto the earth below. He knew however he stood no chance at that feat. The edge to exceed was in no way of close proximity, and the object would simply not make the intended distance from launch. Instead, he could expect for it to have gone crashing through the very floor that supported this would-be Olympic endeavour. And that would have been the end of all his due efforts.
So by repelling this surge of emotion, he composed himself and went about stumbling and staggering with the cumbersome piece of furniture towards the steps; and carefully, with great balance, made his descent to ground level, and then lowered the burdensome table onto the wild lawn. After he rose, undoing the arch in his back and standing erect, bloodshot in the face from exertion, he appeared nonetheless proud and happy. This expression however had been replaced with discontent once he realised that of which he managed was but one act of displacement. He loathed his inefficiency, though it was not long since the days’ work commenced. And so like an athlete determined to prove himself and diminish his limitations, he bolted up the four steps within two strides for the next item.
Before long, down came a second, a third, and a fourth coffee table; each one transported with a developed manoeuvrability. His early morning endeavour urged blood flow in the muscles of his arms and legs, and so harboured a new energy and potency for tackling the next set of cargo – the rocking chairs.
Despite his anticipation they were not as problematic to move, for he had come to find use of the momentum they offered. But there were ten that needed displacement. And so where the task at hand initially lacked the testing factor of his endurance in the same way the tables ensured, the numbers had compensated. Relocating them to ground level one might have thought posed a greater challenge. But the curved woodwork at their bases provided a surface to slide them across and over the edges of the steps. But they too were hefty and called for his most vigilant actions. Instead of lowering the chairs from above, he thought it best to stand below, holding them up with rigid arms whilst cautiously descending backwards. Gradually the items of furniture were lining up on the earth below, and soon enough, four benches were the only set that needed clearing, of which he tended to without much bother.
Wiping the sweat from his brow, he brought to rest a second hand on his hips as he took a fixed position in the middle of the path that led to his timber residence. He gazed upon the three-storey building, and the sun, now loftier in the sky, however behind the rooftop, submitted an impression that the impressive structure gleamed with a halo. The brightness it emitted caused for a hotter sensation to come over James, and amidst contemplation for a transient swim, he turned around and made the stroll towards the brim of a plateau overlooking the lake.
Suddenly, into his line of vision, carried by a placid breeze, a paper plane appeared from above, and his stride began to pacify until it all but ceased. Judging by the fair distance it flew, he could only assume its origin of flight was one of ample elevation. But before he could confirm this hunch, a voice of youth, all too familiar to his ear, called out in query:
‘Do you like the plane I made?’ Gyrating on the spot to face the abode, James found his hunch determined the plane had been thrown from the uppermost storey.
‘Yes I do, it flies well.’ he said, and turned once more to wander a way down the path to where the flimsy contraption lay. He approached and retrieved the model toy, pinching one of its wings as he brought it up to assess its shape. ‘I see you are getting better in the art of folding paper planes. Maybe later you and I can fold a few together; but only once I’ve completed my chore; my mom wants the porch to be sanded today.’
The boy who stood on the third storey balcony, five years his junior, and whose outlook was somewhat obscured by the balusters and railing, was George. Peering from the daunting height, he replied in cheerful tenor:
‘Okay, that’s fine. The weather is sunny today; can you swim with me later then?’
‘Of course, that would be great.’ said James. ‘I’ll try my best to finish quickly and then I’ll call you, or join you by the lake side. Anyway, do you know if breakfast is ready?’
‘I don’t, I’ve been playing in my room. Would you like to see what else I’ve made? I’ve made lots of planes, so if you really like that one you can keep it.’
‘Thank you, I’ll keep it safe. And maybe later I’ll come up to see what else you’ve made, but can you walk into the passage, come back and tell me if you smell food. I think your mom is fixing breakfast today.’
‘Okay, I’ll go look. But I think it’s your mom fixing breakfast with Aunty Julia and Aunty Helena.’
‘Maybe so.’ said James. ‘But tell them I’ve cleared the porch and I’m starving.’
‘Promise you will swim with me later?’
‘Yes, of course. When I’ve finished my work or once I’ve done as much as I can, I promise I’ll swim with you.’
Unfailing to abide by an aired wish and encouraged by oath, the young boy promptly disappeared into the imposing abode. A short time had passed and the double front door opened to reveal George, who stepped out to announce in emphatic tone:
‘Breakfast is served!’ This urged for a smile, followed by a chuckle that James, trying as he might, could not resist. He truly loved the merry persona that wholly embodied the boy.
‘Great, hold on a minute.’ said James, ‘I need to splash my face with water.’
Refreshed and bearing an appetite he could no longer neglect, James entered over the threshold of his residential front door and walked in on a scene unfolding of orderly chaos: boys and girls, husbands and wives, siblings and grandparents, single men and women with no blood-tie to any of the others, milling in the midst of a gathering within the single largest room; an open plan space covering a kitchen, a dining room and a living room.
Directly opposite the main entrance towards the rear of the cabin, three spacious countertops were arranged one short of shape that a fourth would aid true to form - a square of segregated space for the kitchen to inhabit: two countertops in linear of the right and hind wall, and a third spanning two thirds of the cabin’s width, running in parallel to the hinder of identical length. The countertop surfaces were carved out of wood; maple, collected from the forest that encompassed their home. At the kitchen’s centre stood a sizable island, accommodating numerous stoves and an assemblage of drawers containing scores of cutlery and crockery that would routinely come under maraud at the first sign of a meal. And four large windows with their open shutters at the posterior of the cabin offered a view from the kitchen: an area of mostly untouched land carpeted in a tall grass that met within twenty steps of the forest.
The dining tables took their position between the kitchen and the great fire place, whilst the latter dominated the heart of the open plan floor, as to ensure heat bestrew about the entirety of the spacious room.
Upon entering through the front door, one might be struck as to find an extensive seating arrangement, essentially acting as the reception but in fact as the living room, much like a labyrinth, including many chairs, couches, ottomans and similar furnishings to that of the porch, with cushions and pillows enveloped in patterns of variety and colour; some the length of a grown man decorating the maple carpentry. The seating was also an array of orderly mayhem; comparative to that of the occupants when attempting to arrange themselves. This was particularly true during those icy, winter nights when a roaring fire attracted the masses carrying their favourite item of furniture or decor once having ransacked the living room.
On either side of the open plan, basal floor, two staircases hugged the walls extending to the second and third storey. Each of these levels offered six bedrooms and two bathrooms, where the average room allotted to four people. A total of forty people occupied the timber dwelling, and on that Saturday morning all were shuffling about downstairs, embracing and greeting one another; some grumpy, some smiling, whilst others were still rubbing the sleep from their eyes.
A delicious smell of a cooked breakfast now lingered in the air. Everyone appeared to have their noses fixated on the aroma that had been set adrift from the kitchen, whilst they were sure to follow the accustomed procedure of retrieving the cutlery and available beverages of either milk, juice, tea or coffee, so that they may be seated by the two large dining tables.
Amidst the convoluted din of conversation and the laughter of children, a woman in her mid-thirties called over the loud chatter:
‘James dear, breakfast is nearly set. How are you this morning my angel?’
‘I’m fine thanks, and you?’
His mother, Jenny Galloway, stood aside of the hot plates grasping a glass of milk.
‘Well rested. You must be starving.’ she said, coupling her enquiry of concern with a warm smile.
‘Yes, you’ve got that right. I cleared the porch as you wanted; all the tables and chairs are on the lawn.’
‘As little George informed me. Well done sweetie; now come, I’ll pour you a glass of juice.’
As she prepared the beverage, other members of the household began to pay him attention by way of greetings:
‘Good morning, James.’
‘Morning to you, Mr. Galloway.’
‘Well hello there James, how are you this fine morning?’
‘Up early doing the necessary, I see; good lad, how are you?’
James was in what one could describe as a satisfactory mood; nothing to delight over, he simply held a fair disposition. His appetite may have grown to take on a life of its own; a creature growling sporadically in the depths of his stomach, however he knew of no reason to complain for the impending arrival of food would ultimately keep the beast at bay.
He acknowledged the benign residents in requite to their kindly greetings, and then explained how he would complete his chores in succession to breakfast. His mother handed him a glass of apple juice and he thanked her for it, before taking a seat at the table situated closest to the kitchen.
Differential sitting arrangements correlated to the meals of the day, and the orders of which were atypical: it was not expected of relatives to sit next to one another, in fact, most children would invariably opt to occupy a space away from their parents, and every so often, for the mothers and fathers the feelings were mutual. There was no expectation for married couples either to sit aside each other, but from time to time one half had enough of the other’s company and would seek anything with the exception of an adjacent seat; and every so often, for the other, the feeling was mutual.
Upon this particular morning George sat to the left of James. He favoured sitting beside him for the amity. His adorable twin sister, Georgina, was to sit opposite James, however she had yet to present herself. Her mother, Catherine Brighton, called for her from down stairs:
‘Georgie, Georgina, darling! Breakfast time! James tells us how hungry he is, and says he will eat your eggs and bacon if you don’t come down! We can hear his stomach growling; you need to come now quick!’
‘That sounds great. No doubt I’ll be looking for seconds; maybe another plate full.’ said James.
Aunty Catherine, who had taken a seat to his right, genially patted him on the shoulder and said amiably:
‘It would fail to surprise me. As a young man of nearly fifteen, you need as much nutrition as your tummy desires. The same of you, dear.’ she added as to advise her son, whilst inclining towards the back of her chair, trying to fixate eye contact with George. ‘You must eat well, so don’t ignore this young man’s appetite; he will surely have your breakfast too.’
‘I’m not that hungry.’ said George. ‘I haven’t been hungry for a long time.’
‘You had better eat all that Aunty Jenny, Helena and Julia prepared or else I will not allow you to swim with James later today.’
A perplexed impression emerged as he regarded his mother, and after a moment mute he asked in great suspicion:
’How do you know I wanted to swim with James?’
‘I heard you earlier, dear, from the balcony. You may do what you want, but you must do exactly as I say. Georgie, darling, come sit now.’
His twin sister Georgina made her way to the table with her favourite doll and took a seat opposite James, who became a target of a vehement glare. It was not as effective as had been the intention, for he could identify her temptation to evade eye contact, whilst fighting the urge for a smile. Crossing her arms and intensifying her gaze, Georgina said in the sternest voice she could sound:
’You, Mister, will not eat my food.’
There were chuckles all round, and as James found her the cutest ten-year old she was, he mustered an appropriate, benevolent response:
’I wouldn’t dare, Georgie. I know Little Lady would be very upset if I did.’
‘Exactly.’ she replied, as she caressed the doll on her lap that James had referred to. ‘Little Lady also needs to eat.’
From behind a kitchen countertop, Aunty Julia asked aloud:
‘Has everyone got something to drink? Knives and forks? Here’s a pair on the countertop. Georgie, dear, is it yours?’
At last Georgina had wavered her gaze.
‘Oh, it is;’ she said, ‘I’ll come now.’ and placed Little Lady on the table before leaving her chair.
‘No worries, sweetie, I’ll bring it when I bring your food. Is everyone hungry?’
‘Yes!’ They were sure to include a dollop of impatience in their collective retort. The mothers who were concluding breakfast looked at one another and nodded.
‘As we had thought. It seems to me that we ought to serve these starving people.’ Aunty Julia suggested per explicit sarcasm.
‘Absolutely - but have we prepared all the toast? Remember to spread it with butter and as I recall, James does not palate the crust, so do cut round the edges.’
‘Nonsense.’ said Jenny, calmly in responding to Aunty Helena. ‘Everything I put in front of my son he will eat.’
‘Oh, does he? Then perhaps another boy. Is it you, Oliver?’
‘Yes, I don’t like the crust.’ Oliver replied, and had taken a seat three chairs to the right of Georgina.
‘I do personally think it’s a waste.’ said Jenny. ‘But no worries. The birds won’t mind when we feed them next time we’re by the lake. However, you should know by now, Helena darling, that my James is not fussy.’
‘I do know, but oh, what ever am I to do; age may be gripping my memory.’ she said in wry humour.
’Age, my dear, our birthdays share 1890, and are merely a week apart. If you and I are to be regarded as old at thirty-five…’
By this moment most were considered to have eavesdropped on their dialogue.
‘What does that make Uncle Paul?’ Oliver interjected, and all to have heard the question began to cackle.
‘Ancient!’ added a boy named Michael who occupied the adjacent table.
There was additional laughter, but none to surpass the initial, witty question.
‘Michael, Oliver, don’t be rude.’ Aunty Julia advised sternly, showing a frown. ‘And what is wrong with the inevitable? - coming of age. Uncle Paul may be in his later years, but he is certainly in no need of less respect than any of you boys.’
‘Why thank you, Julia.’ said Uncle Paul. ’But their banter may be the ways of the youth, as is what I chalk it up to; and laughter, keep in mind, makes for an impeccable start to one’s day. Nonetheless, you little buggers…’ Continuing in good nature and rising to his feet, finger pointing towards the lake, he said: ‘If you two are not careful, I’ll be sure to put a hole in the canoe you built yesterday.’
‘No!’ shouted George.
‘Ha-ha.’ teased Georgina.
‘Georgie, you don’t know anything about canoes, so shut up!’
‘George!’ his mother exclaimed. ’Do not say that to your sister; apologise immediately.’
‘Exactly.’ said Georgina.
It was the sight of the three Brightons in argument, mainly the bickering between the siblings, and the consequences of which that prompted Michael, Oliver and James to begin giggling. Although they revealed their sense of humour, they had also shown their collective unease when catching a glimpse of Uncle Paul, for they knew he was perfectly capable of doing what he had warned.
Paul Showman was in his late-seventies, but was young at heart and certainly harboured a surplus of vitality for someone his age. George was then, to an extent, justified in expressing concern, but in no way did it present any grounds for snapping at his sister; and typical of all teenagers, Michael, Oliver and James thought it amusing when a child was scolded for a bad mouth.
‘Sorry… sorry Georgie.’ he said after a moment of sensed remorse. His sister, who maintained grooming her doll, replied: ‘We forgive you.’
‘There, there, my darlings.’ said Aunty Catherine. ‘Let’s settle down, breakfast is on its way.’
It may have seemed inconceivable for only three mothers to have prepared every meal. Nonetheless, they were efficient, skilled behind the counter and communicated well with one another, and in due course, the loaded plates made their way to the table, carried by the chefs of the day: Helena Sterling, Julia Lawrence and Jenny Galloway. Their services in the kitchen were offered on Saturdays; the rest of the week, different groups of women were assigned to said duty; and yet not without taking great pleasure roping in their children - that included their husbands - into the process and technical know-how. They were more demanding of their partners when it came to preparing tuck-ins, for their children by default were responsible for scrubbing the resultant grimy dishes.
He took a bite of his buttered toast with light, fluffy scrambled egg plonked on top, and James breathed out through his nose a sigh of relief now that he could finally eat. By contrast, George had been idly inspecting the tines of his fork, and James leaned over to say in a whisper:
‘You told me breakfast was served, didn’t you? That means already on the table.’
George took a gulp of milk, swallowed, and said in a hush:
‘Aunty Jenny told me to say that.’
‘Doesn’t matter.’ said James, and then raised his voice significantly to say: ‘Thank you to the mothers for this amazing food.’
There were jolly smiles from the chefs, and Jenny took her seat to the left of Georgina.
‘It is only a pleasure, sweetie.’ she said with bright eyes of love.
‘Always a pleasure, James.’
‘You are most welcome, dear.’ Aunty Helena and Aunty Julia replied.