Long before we moved to the old log house, I began decorating it. I would see a brown velvet Christmas tree skirt in my shopping forays before Christmas—crewel-appliqued deer and pine trees scattered around the hem—and just know I had to have it. It made no sense, since I would be working at least five more years in my California high school classroom, but I bought it and wrapped it carefully in tissue before tucking it away in a dress box. One Christmas my daughter-in-law gave me two grapevine stars frosted with snow, a loop of sheer gold ribbon attached to each one. I searched for more in the after-holiday-sales rush, for each downstairs window in the cabin. Out antiquing one summer, bronze glass icicles hanging over a counter caught my eye. Delicate, fragile, long icicles. A splurge, I bought six and packed them in shredded-paper nests, along with the vintage ornaments I’d been collecting. Garlands made of small tin stars, birds’ nests, and cranberry wooden beads all made their way into the boxes over the years.

It wasn’t just Christmas decorations. I collected old thrift tablecloths, soft from use, bright cherry-print napkins, old red-and-white dishes, and remnants of assorted lace fabrics for the tiny upstairs windows. A painting in a Savannah shop called to me one spring. It was a young woman playing a harp, her long blonde hair and deep burgundy Renaissance gown flowing around her and her golden harp. It wasn’t a style I would normally choose. My brother-in-law wrapped it in foam and cardboard, and fashioned a Paracord handle so I could carry it home on the plane. And then there was the table lamp turned from a piece of warm-red wood, curvy and full at the bottom and narrowing at the top, like a genie’s bottle. Its burgundy shade was edged with dancing tortoise-shell-like beads.

The log house came with more than one hundred years of patina on the inside log walls and ceiling. I’ve never polished the logs but I know that Grandma Edna used to, and certainly, the much-used wood stove made its contribution to their depth of color over the years. While those red-brown walls wrap you in coziness, they also soak up the light. So it is the wavy-glassed windows that steal the show. Whatever the season, your eye is drawn out—to the sky, the mountains, the lake, the pines, that light. I didn’t want to cover any of these, but the cabin needed dressing up—pale green botanical print draperies hanging full and loose from wooden rings at the sides of the windows, curvy lamps, and a bit of jewelry. Crystal candlesticks on the piano, a mirror above the stone fireplace, colorful ceramic roosters, soft pillows on couches, African violets on the windowsills, and a harp-playing girl in the stairwell.

When we finally moved in, it was fascinating to discover that the cabin hadn’t just told me what it wanted to wear, it also had something to say about how to live there. We had all sorts of ideas about where we would put the furniture on the slanting floors, how the kitchen space might be reworked, and what the wallpaper-covered walls beside the stairs in the living room might be hiding. Hoping to find more logs, we took them down. No logs, but beautiful old bead board emerged from behind one, and rough shiplap from behind the other, complete with a long-deserted mouse nest, ten inches wide, rising nearly to my chin! I could see that Grandma had longed for the same touch of femininity in that log room that I did, those spots of cream-patterned wallpaper beside the stairs, the beautifully-set oak table, and the tall benches with their curvy Scandinavian tops that she’d commissioned for each side of the fireplace.

Our first Christmas in the cabin we woke to a new snow. It lit nearly every corner of the living room and lent a hush to everything. I swung the wooden window out in the bathroom, leaned out towards the lake, and breathed. Silence. As the flakes sifted softly down, we sat with our morning coffee in our own little snow globe, white swirling at every window. Two of our nephews had brought us a tree from the woods. It was full and lush, decorated with oodles of glass ornaments, bronze crystal icicles, birds’ nests, and cranberry-beaded garland. The brown velvet tree skirt peeked from beneath brightly-wrapped packages. Frosted grapevine stars hung from their ribbons in each window, and my big roosters on the mantel were decked out in their jingle bell necklaces. Yes, Stonecroft was as magical at Christmas as I remembered from my childhood, as magical as I had imagined.

There would be other Christmases with trees from the woods, star-hung windows and family filling the space. Fifteen stockings would be hung with cording from the scalloped tops of the benches beside the fireplace waiting to be filled. Mine would be flat as a pancake that year, but that’s a story for another time. The Christmas tree would fall with its precious icicles and have to be hastily propped up and tied with fishing line to the log wall before the grandchildren came down. Cookies would be baked and frosted, cinnamon rolls left to rise on the mantel, ham tucked in the oven, tables set with soft white cloths and red and white dishes, crystal candlesticks filled with cranberry candles. Every one of these Christmases would be wonderful, but none as full of wonder as that first, where each unpacked treasure finally put in its place, felt just right, as if it belonged there.

4 thoughts on “Dressing up the cabin

  1. I can see it, I can smell it, I can feel it, I can hear it…the silence. You have wonderful taste; you know how to listen to the cabin when it tells you what it wants to wear.

    Liked by 1 person

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