Over the second summer of living in the tent, we looked for and purchased a parcel of land on the upper border of Adirondack Park. We split the acreage with another couple who were friends of ours. Many warm summer evenings around the campfire, or during long rainy weekends in the tent, we dreamt, schemed, and planned our new home in the northern woods.
Money being tight, and the thought of it drained towards rent in the upcoming winter, caused enough concern for us to become even more creative with our living situation. We decided to build a tiny cabin and stay the winter over the same dirt foundation where the tent stood. We would then tear it down in the spring, reusing all the lumber for our future home on our new land, an ambitious plan, but we had youth on our side. Some lumber from the barn where the roof had collapsed was still usable. Samuel recycled it, ripping it down with a table saw to more modern building code specifications. All the pieces were labeled before erection in the cabin, marked with a big black felt pen so they could be refitted later. Awestruck by the building process, I watched construction of our winter cabin from the ground up.
“Hold this,” he said, handing over the measuring tape, plotting the floor plan where the joists would lie, the tape snapping shut after whizzing back to him once the measurement was taken.
“Hold this straight,” he said, out of breath as he hammered in the corner plate while my hands held it tight to the wood.
A frame, then the floor appeared, next two-by-fours to support plywood walls, rafters, more plywood for a roof, then tar paper over everything. A little black cabin emerged with one window over an old sink looking out to the pines. The cabin took a lot more work than the tent. Mostly I did little except stand, watch, carry, or hold something. It was slightly bigger than the previous space and needed a heat source. We found a small cast iron stove for sale in a newspaper ad. It fitted our needs perfectly, and for fifty bucks the price was right. Jack-Of-All-Trades Samuel built a red brick fire- protective layer atop the flooring in the corner. We easily kept toasty through what would be an exceedingly harsh winter. Due to very limited space, our bed was built on a platform so two dressers could be stored underneath, with a ladder tacked crossways onto one side of the bed frame.
The big, white, two-basined sink had a drain to the outdoors and gravity-fed water from a whiskey barrel elevated outside. Brushing teeth with the taste of whiskey in our mouths might not have been a preferred flavor, especially first thing in the morning, but we were thrilled with the novelty of running water in our rustic cabin. Once the rain turned to snow, the luxury of running liquor-flavored water ended till the spring thaw.
The outdoor john still consisted of a turned-over crate with a toilet seat tacked on, nestled among the same circle of pines a short walk downhill. A bathroom excursion in winter meant shivery snow down my nightgown as my shoulder accidently bumped a pine bough. The outer bathrobe offered no defense against the white stuff falling off the branch onto my neck, sitting upon the “throne” not exactly queenly.
The Coleman fridge and cook stove sat on a table at the end of the bed; ice and gas tanks were staples on the weekly grocery list. Often in the dead of winter, it was so hot inside we kept the door wide open for long periods. Watching the snow fly we snuggled up warm and cozy within. And what a winter!
Samuel had assumed I’d be home to tend the cabin fires by day. I instead began work at the town’s grade school as a teacher aide with special needs children, grades third, fourth, and fifth. Before dawn, after a night of ravaging hard snow, I’d listen eagerly to the radio for school closings. The snows that winter were intense blizzards. I had many days off from my job, but grocery stores never close due to snow conditions. So Samuel fought two commutes: the first just getting to his van through the frigid, icy drifts. On those blustery mornings, I’d watch him leave, glad not to be him. He braved the thigh-deep snow, battling his way down the hill past the barn, then traipsing even further before reaching the vehicles parked by the road at the end of the drive.
Those days I sometimes trudged over to Mom’s for a hot shower or to do laundry, pulling our trusty toboggan that carried an Army duffle bag stuffed with dirty clothes. The toboggan also helped bring in other supplies, like groceries, water, and wood for the fire, roping down the load so it wouldn’t slip off.
And we had visitors. Nelson, a mutual friend, played guitar by the woodstove while we fell asleep in our bunk listening to his raspy voice singing folksy blues. He didn’t seem to mind his meager sleeping arrangement by the fire in a sleeping bag; I suppose the novelty of it replaced any discomfort on the hard floor.
The money saved living this way caused our bank accounts to blossom. We competed to see who saved the most, though we would later burn though it quickly buying lumber for the new dwelling. In the spring, the cabin was carefully disassembled and each stick of lumber that had been specifically marked found its place in the new location, piece by piece. We traveled the five-hour drive on weekends while living again in the tent back home, and married that summer in ‟78.
When fall approached we found a cute little farmhouse to rent nearby for the upcoming winter. It would take three more years of weekends and vacations to build a dwelling that could safely shelter us from the even harsher elements of the upper Adirondacks. We built a gambrel-style home—well, the shell of half of one. We had lacked the foresight to think about the availability of employment in the area.
Reality, the one involving money, had not yet sunk in. But it did five months later. We moved to the new dwelling while pregnant with our first son. The red hand pump in the sink, bringing fresh water from the spring, along with the outhouse complete with a roof, felt like luxuries. But soon our finances depleted. Forced to return with our new baby, we lived at Mom’s until Samuel found steady work. The sale of our partially built house in the northern woods helped pay for our new home, a hundred-year-old dwelling in need of just about everything, including interior walls and ceilings. But that didn’t matter. We owned a home.