A Day in Tionesta

This weekend was Memorial Day — the official kick off to summer in Pittsburgh. It’s also a day when we spend it with our families and friends, remembering and honoring the veterans in this country, especially those who gave their lives. Both sides of our family — from the Knowlson’s to the Miller’s — have generations of military veterans. We’ve had veterans in almost every war and as far back as the French and Indian War from 1754-1763 and the American Revolutionary War from 1775-1783 — my 5th great grandfather on the Knowlson side, Lieutenant Colonel James Barry — served in both of those wars. And, I have so many relatives that serve or who have served in various armed forces through the years. God bless them all, as they protect our freedom. When we refer to America as the land of the free and the brave, these are the guys that are the brave in that equation.

So, my brother Tommy had planned to take his boat to our cabin in Tionesta, PA and the entire family was going up — and then the weather report came in — and Friday didn’t even make it to 50°. While it was beautiful and sunny, winter had returned! Tommy had been looking forward to it for months as he planned to wake board for the first time!

Our last Thanksgiving with Dad — exactly 6 months to the day before he died.

Our last Thanksgiving with Dad — exactly 6 months to the day before he died.

Thursday, May 23rd was the anniversary of my Dad’s death. I thought it appropriate that we would be going the cabin — his favorite place. My husband, Tom and I decided we would drive up on Sunday and just spend the day, since it was so cold. And I had planned to take a little drive to some of my Dad’s favorite places as way to connect with him on this 11th anniversary of his death. I cherish this photo of us from the Thanksgiving holiday of 2001. It sits on my dresser beneath my statue of the Virgin Mary. It was unusually warm that Thanksgiving and Dad had talked a few of us into going to the cabin for the holiday. We prepared mostly everything at home, including the turkey and had a big feast! We had a little trouble not having enough dishes and bowls, spoons and serving trays, but we made the best of it! This would be the last time that I spent with my Dad at the cabin. And since we were all going to the cabin this weekend, I hoped Dad would join us too in spirit. 

I had planned the day trip in my mind — I was going to take the old route to the cabin, going Rt. 19 to Rt. 108 and into Slippery Rock. And then heading into Franklin via Rt. 8, catching Rt. 62 through Oil City and into Tionesta. I was going to take video footage as we drove through the winding countryside of Rt. 62, just like the film my Dad took in the 60’s. And once there, planned to take Tom around Tionesta, showing him a few of my Dad’s favorite spots. We took our time, enjoying the drive — besides the stye on my eye that annoyed me the entire way! We even stopped for a huge turkey that crossed the road on German Hill. Besides the cold weather, it was a perfect, blue-sky day. There literally wasn’t a cloud to be had.

When we got to camp, Tommy was chomping at the bit to get out in the boat. He was waiting for us, because he wanted Tom to drive the boat while he learned how to wake board. He didn’t care that it was cold outside — the water was actually warmer at 69° — and he had his wetsuit. Well, that wasn’t our plan for the day — we actually weren’t going to go out in the boat at all — but, we just couldn’t disappoint him. Not to mention, I wanted to go to Lake Tionesta anyways and sit on the benches above the docks. So our relaxing day now turned into a mad dash to eat lunch and get down to the lake. For Tommy, the charcoal in the grill just wouldn’t get hot quick enough.

We sat in the sun as Scott, Debbie’s husband cooked hamburgers and hot dogs on a small charcoal grill for lunch. Megan told us about the camp fire they built the night before. Her story brought back so many memories of sitting around that same fire pit — oh I would love that — laying back in the grass to look at the stars in the sky. You could see just billions of stars up there in the complete blackness of the night. I would lay there until I spotted a weather satellite and we would follow it’s orbit until we spotted another one. Anyways, Megan tells us that she had burnt her marshmallow over the fire, and decided to pick off the outer layer and throw it back in the fire. If you’ve ever roasted marshmallows, you know that isn’t so easy to do. Stuck to her fingers, she attempted to fling it back into the fire over and over until it finally flew across the flames and with a thump, landed on the bottom of Uncle Tommy’s jeans. Everyone laughed, and she went on to tell us that she tried to pick it off his jeans — but then Tommy broke in and called her Spiderman as it was all stringy. And he went on to say that Scott had gone into the cabin and brought out baby wipes for Megan’s fingers and when they threw those into the fire it took several minutes to catch on fire. So they laughed that if you needed to get through a burning building, just cover yourself with baby wipes! My crazy family.

Tara told us about her adventures in the boat the day before. Tommy laughed and asked me if I remembered the time when he “hooked” me with his fishing hook on my Dad’s boat when we were kids. How could I ever forget that? I was sunning myself on one of the loungers, while Tommy was sitting on the fishing seat in the back of the boat. I was just relaxing and minding my own business when Tommy flung his rod back and hooked me in the nose — that was long before nose rings were cool. This time he managed to snag Tara in the foot with his giant musky lure. Not quite as dramatic as back in the 1983, but then again the musky lure’s hook was about 10 times as big as the one I got up my nose!

I was sitting there watching my entire family just enjoying the day. Everyone was laughing and telling stories. Nobody was looking at their phones, checking email or sending text messages. Megan and Tara already informed us when we got there that there was absolutely no connectivity at the cabin — especially if AT&T was your carrier. They had already had two days to come to accept that fact, and I was completely fine with it.

So, we head to Tionesta Lake where Mom and I sat on the benches at the top of dock area, while Tom, Tommy, Debbie and Megan went out in the boat. I had my tele-focal lens for my camera, and we had talked Tommy into wake boarding past this main area so I could get some photographs. The first hour came and went. Mom and I watched all the boats being launched and talked to those around us — there was a lot of activity everywhere. When the second hour came and went, Mom and I were anxious to get back to the cabin, because I had to get the potatoes in the oven, and we knew Father Bob and Father Louie probably arrived. I had no phone service and wished I could send Tom a text that we were going to head back. I headed over to the bathrooms for a quick break and realized I had phone service for a split second when I heard all of my text messages go through. And as I was in the bathroom, everyone was texting me back. Ahhh… okay, so modern conveniences are appreciated!

I text Tom and ask him what they’re doing. And he texts me back that they’re “blade running.” I tell my Mom that Tom’s being a smart ass now, because they’re wake boarding and he obviously wants me to leave him alone. I manage to get out another text that we’re leaving to get a ride back with Tommy. I don’t even know if he’s getting my messages on the other end, and after his smart ass comment, I don’t really care. And just then, we see Tommy’s boat come flying around the bend. So we are getting excited for the big show and the others around us hear us and are also watching. It takes him a few tries, but he gets up — and I do the play-by-play commentary while everyone watches. I later learned that Tom wasn’t being a smart ass — he thought wake boarding was called blade running???

Back at the cabin and before dinner, we relaxed. Tommy was just so excited about wake boarding and was scrolling through my photos on my camera. Everyone was busting around getting dinner ready or packing up — Debbie and Scott were leaving that evening and wanted to get on the road before dinner, because they were hauling Dad’s old boat home.  They wanted to make sure they didn’t run into any problems with dry rotted tires on the trailer. Megan was making homemade lasagna and cooking it over the camp fire.

I sat on one of the Amish chairs on the porch, wrapped in a blanket, wearing my snuggly winter fleece boots, talking to Father Louie, Tom and Tommy. My mind wandered to Dad and I imagined him sitting there with us, grinning and listening to Father Louie’s stories. This is what he built the cabin for — for us to find peace amidst the craziness of our everyday lives — and that’s even more relevant today. To enjoy the simple things in life. To remember what’s really important. He taught us those things — and we continue to learn that lesson all these years later. I silently thank him for leaving us this wonderful legacy.

The cold wind blew and a chirping birdie caught my attention as it fluttered on one of the branches of a tree in the yard. I immediately thought of Dad, but then I figured if Dad was going to send us a message — it would likely be a large black bear charging from the woods or something — okay, maybe a really friendly and cuddly black bear. I smiled, remembering that Debbie and I wanted to call the cabin “Camp Fuzzy Bear.” Haha, we used to buy Dad all kinds of bear things every Christmas. He took all those things to the cabin — from the bear switch plate covers to the bear figurines on the fireplace mantle — the reminders were everywhere.

While we all know the true meaning of Memorial Day is for our veterans — somehow remembering Dad on this weekend was top of mind for me.

I miss you, Dad. Every day.

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