the short story project


Cindi Walton author

162 Lavender Lane’s “Last Word”

   Leaning on the gate at the end of the dock I find myself blanketed in memories as raw as the autumn wind that was whirling around me.  The dock belongs to the cabin behind me, the very one that defined my childhood; a time when unicorns grazed the shoreline,
while magical “merfairies” hovered over the lake with their mermaid bodies and fairy-like wings.  162 Lavender Lane was more than an address, it was a monument that paid homage to a simpler time, a time when everything could be made right, even when reality told you otherwise.  Grandpa Henry had built the cabin back in the late 30’s as a weekend get-away for his growing family.  The Benson household had averaged a baby every 12-16 months starting with my Uncle Robert followed by his brothers William, Harvey. Leroy and finally my mother Alice, the youngest and the only girl.  Having had four older brothers, it was easy to see how my mother became the family “princess.”  Her privileged reign was not one of birthright or royal blood, but rather one bestowed upon her by the males in the Benson stronghold.  Grandpa and my uncles found her to be the epitome of “sunshine and a thunderbolt” all wrapped up in the body of a tiny cherub who ruled her kingdom as if she were a Viking goddess.  Alice Benson seemed destined to grow up spoiled, snobbish and entitled, but she didn’t, and that was because of the intervention of her mother, my grandmother Mabel.  Grandma Mabel was the rock of the family as anyone who knew her could attest.  Fair, firm but most importantly knew how to play with us kids.  Grandma looked past the halo her husband and sons had placed on their only female heir.  She distributed accolades and punishment in a way that was just and fair for all of her royal subjects she deemed “royal pains in the keister!”  Mom never ceased being “special” in the eyes of her father and brothers, but she lovingly admits Grandma Mabel stripped her of her “Princess” title and told her being known as a “nice girl” was the title she should strive to acquire.
        Time stands still for no one, and that included the Benson family.  Toddlers became teens, who in turn left for college, but 162 Lavender Lane was front and center for each transition.  Beach balls and sand toys gave way to water skies and motor boats.  The cabin providing shelter and comfort, the dock was the platform from which swimming lessons and cannonballs were perfected.  My mother and her brothers married and that’s when the cabin at 162 Lavender Lane truly came to life.  As each family produced their own family, the two -bedroom cottage with its open loft began to resemble a college frat house.  Bunk beds and air mattresses filled every available space; an infant crib and play pen became permanent fixtures for decades to come. Our genealogy read like a page from the First Book of Chronicles with all of the “begetting” that was going on.  It was during this period in our family history that the naming of the grandchildren took a detour, and landed knee deep in “what were they thinking?”  Maybelline Alice Benson Warren…yup, that’s my name.  My mother and her siblings managed to inbred the names of both Mabel and Henry and attach the atrocities onto their children.  Cousins Henrietta, Henri, Henrick, Henni, Mableson and Mabelynne can attest to a mutual dislike of our given names.  The greatest atrocity was the one given to my youngest cousin who was born just six months after me.  Since he would be the last grandchild, (unless there was an immaculate conception) and the last of his generation to carry the Benson surname, they straddled him with the moniker “Able M. Henry.”  If we’d been descendants of the Viking gods, Thor would have struck us dead for that alone! Needless to say we all adopted nicknames before we entered school, long before bullies had a reason to single us out.  I referred to myself as May and tried to forget the indignity of my given name except when it was required for legal or medical purposes.
                A spray of water separates me from my memories and pushes me back into the present, the very reason I’m standing on the dock of162 Lavender Lane at this precise moment in time.   After Grandpa Henry’s death five years ago, we saw Grandma Mabel slowly decline to the point it became necessary to move her into a senior assisted living facility.  Grandma had not been back to her beloved cabin since her husband’s death.  The truth of the matter was this…162 Lavender Lanehad very few visitors these days and the remnant of family who visited didn’t see what all the fuss was about.  The great grandchildren, my two girls included, had loved visiting when they were small, but as they became teens the cabin retreat seemed more like a prison.  “Do we have to go?” was soon met with defiant resistance, eye rolling and the snarky, “whatever!”  So we visited less often, only staying for a night or two.  Long gone were the days when we brought along tents and pop up campers so the entire gang could be accommodated.  Bonfires, sticky S’mores and star gazing were soon replaced with grumbling children and frustrated parents.  Sometime between placing grandma in assisted living and the annual spring cleaning of the cabin, the subject of selling the cabin was first mentioned.  Between my mother and her three remaining siblings, (Uncle Harvey had died in a car accident when I was just a child) it was decided the Benson offspring no longer needed 162 Lavender Lane.   So here I stood, a grown woman trying to wrap my head around the fact that once the cabin was sold, my memories of this place would be just that…memories, with no chance to make more.
                     Zipping up my lightweight windbreaker I braved the autumn chill.   Making my way toward the cabin I instantly heard the clackety- clack sound of the old wooden dock slats.  They were an assortment of woods in various colors, a visual reminder the old dock had been repaired numerous times throughout the years.  Rotting boards were replaced each summer before anyone was allowed to run the full length of the dock, plummeting into the chilly waters of Lake Lavender.  I take in the emerald green Thujas trees Grandpa Henry had planted before I was born.  They’ve grown wide and tall, resembling giant soldiers who’ve been assigned to the front lines protecting us from whomever may be on the other side.
     Entering the musty cabin, the staleness of the air engulfed the scene unfolding before me.  Cardboard boxes were haphazardly thrown about the room, resembling the cars of a derailed train.  I could hear my mother and her siblings squawking over each other like auctioneers.  “Anyone want this? if not it’s headed for the Goodwill box.”  “Put it on ebay, must be worth a few bucks!” “You put it on ebay!  I sure as hell don’t have time to haul this shit home, let alone pimp it out!”  The last comment was from my Uncle Leroy who used the word “pimp” so frequently that no one bothered to correct him anymore.  I vividly remember the summer the neighbors had gathered Labor Day weekend to groom the long stretch of beach that was shared by five cabins, one of which was ours at 162 Lavender Lane.  A potluck would be served along with a competitive game of volleyball after the beach was cleaned.  I just happened to be the caption of my high school volleyball team so Uncle Leroy put me in charge.  It wasn’t the fact Uncle Leroy wanted me to organize the activity, it was his use of the word “pimp” that started “the argument,” ruining the entire weekend for me.  “Alice, I just pimped out your daughter for volleyball,” was all it took for World War III to erupt.  Mom spewed feminist views, reminded her brother how long women had fought to be treated as equals, only to have “her blood” toss it to the side like the carcass of a dead deer.  Needless to say the weekend became a sibling smack down, one that would have made Jerry Springer proud.
          Gravitating to the bookshelf I informed the “elders” I would pack the books and find homes for them.  It’d been decided amongst the siblings earlier in the day, the books were “old, musty and of no value to any of them.”  My cousins, the ones that were present, concurred.
 Grandpa Henry had been an avid reader and his collection of books were a testament to his love of the written word.  Running my hands over the dusty bindings transported me back in time, to the summer I had rheumatic fever and was stuck inside while my cousins frolicked under the warmth of the sun and coolness of Lake Lavender.  That was the summer I discovered Charles Dickens.  I devoured his works, mentally meandering the streets of London where lamps were lit by lamplighters in hopes of thwarting the pickpockets prowling the cobblestone streets.  His characters fascinated me, from Ebenezer Scrooge to Madame Defarge, I loved them all.  Pappy, as I referred to my great grandfather, often left handwritten notes inside the books he’d finished reading.  These notes might consist of “good read, thought provoking, pure trash.”  I once found a two- page essay tucked inside a copy of Dickens “Bleak House.”   Pappy had found the book dull and boring, using words like mundane, repetitive and platitudinous.  The latter word I had to look up in the dictionary.  Lost in thought I was brought back to reality when Mom announced she was going on a food run.  Banter abound as people began shouting out, “pizza from Antonio’s!” “No, sub’s from Grinder Bay!”  In the end it was decided it would be easier if the whole damn gang headed up the street to Shorty’s, the local bar and grill where bar food of every kind was served by Shorty Baxter himself.  Shorty was a Lavender Lake fixture as far back as any of us could remember.  Dirty and tired I begged off going, requesting an order of chili cheese nachos be brought back to me.  Shorty’s chili cheese nachos and Pappy’s books had been my best friends that  “rheumatic fever” summer.     With everyone gone the silence was delightful, the cabin serene.  There was only an hour or two of work left to be done, and then the cabin would be turned over to the realtor.   I had no doubt the place would sell within a month.  People had been approaching my mother and her brothers almost immediately upon hearing great grandma would not be returning, and neither would any of us.  In their absence I was free to roam the cabin taking in each element through a kaleidoscope of emotions as if attending the funeral of a loved one, one who had died a long suffering death.  They would be missed, but in good conscious you could not wish them back either.  Forcing myself back to the task at hand I emptied the massive bookshelf.  Separating the books into piles, those to be donated to the local library and those I’d handpicked for my personal collection at home.  With the last box taped and ready to be loaded into the back of my SUV, I sat down on the worn maple floor that had been lovingly laid by Henry Benson so many years ago.  I remember stories being told about the old wooden floor.  Stories that centered around Pappy picking each maple floor plank by hand, and then sanding them smooth as a “Benson babies behind.” Chuckling I found myself talking out loud, as if Pappy were present in the room.  “What were you were thinking as you hand-polished each maple floorboard?  Mom said you did it every fall just before you closed the cabin up for the season.”  Pushing myself up off the floor is when I saw it!  Hand carved onto the bottom shelf of the bookcase were Pappy’s  thoughts about 162 Lavender Lane.  Words that explained what this cabin had meant to him, maple floor and all! 
 “The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists”…Charles Dickens


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