Matterhorn in Minnesota
If it weren’t for this picture, I would have no memory of rainy days at the cabin.
For the first eight years of my life, we spent one glorious week of every summer at the Hylden cabin on South Twin Lake. Without this picture, I would have told you that every single one of those 56 days were warm and sunny. Buggy, yes, but always warm and sunny.
I would have told you that I spent every one of those 56 days was in a swim suit, except for Sunday mornings when we went to Mass in the village. Other than that, I probably donned a pair of shorts for our occasional field trips. Dad would take us to the Ranger Station, where we would eagerly climb flights and flights of stairs to the lookout, pretending we could spot forest fires just like Smoky Bear. A couple of times he took us to a remote clearing in the woods and solemnly explained that we were looking at an ancient Indian burial ground. For all I know, we were looking at a set of septic mounds, but my seven-year-old soul absorbed the full impact of those tribal spirits.
I remember all of that, but without this picture, I would not be able to recall a single rainy day. Back in the 1970s, the cabin was a simple rectangle: three bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen with an island for eating. We had no dining room table on which to spread out a puzzle. Board games were played on the cool linoleum floor. On a rainy day, our options were limited.
I suspect that my older siblings spent a rainy day reading, but I would turn my attention to this three-dimensional picture. The trees in the foreground are real twigs, and the little house is made of bark. It was the three dimensions that drew me in. I could imagine myself in the little cabin, wandering down the path to the mountain, dipping my toe in the icy water. Beyond the path, the mountain in the background that reminded me of the Matterhorn, something I learned about only because it was a thrilling ride at Disneyland.
I would stare at that picture and spin up stories in my mind. Most of the stories were some combination of Little Red Riding Hood meets Hansel & Gretel, but always involved a happy ending. Then, as now, my fiction was character-driven, with possibly weak plot lines. My heroines always emerged unscathed, and everyone always made it home. And because of the Matterhorn, the stories were always set in Switzerland.
I have no idea how long I might have sat in front of that picture, and I wonder now why no one ever expressed concern that a small child was silently transfixed by artwork on the wall. Did they wonder what I was doing? Did they raise their eyebrows and cock their heads in my direction? Surely someone silently twirled their index finger on the side of their forehead in the universal sign for “she’s crazy!”
Maybe, just maybe, they were glad that I finally shut up for five minutes.