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  • Kitti McKay

Ghosts in the Cabin

By Sara Wilson

When people pass away, they usually leave the people left behind on this earth something. It can be a monumental task to both grieve and make what they’ve left you your own.

We inherited a cabin that has been in my husband's family for years. Whenever we planned to make the 18 hour trek across the Canadian border to stay there for a week or two, I couldn't put my finger on why I didn't want to go.

I did know that I felt more like an unwelcome house guest than part of the family, and that I didn’t feel "permitted" to make the changes I wanted to in order to make the cabin our own. 15 years passed in a fog of defeatism, overwhelm and inertia in what should have been an idyllic lakeside retreat.

Having worked with a decluttering coach on my properties in Ohio, I knew that the cabin should at least be decluttered, but this time she suggested a possibility I hadn't thought of - ghosts! Not literal ghosts, of course, but that intangible feeling that the ancestors were still hanging around, making me feel like I didn't matter or have any say-so in what was around me. No surprise that I didn’t do much to make it my own.

I had finally gotten to the bottom of why I was so miserable all those times past!

I learned about Dorothy Carleton, a war bride who left the comforts of city life in England to find herself having to make a new life with her new husband in the backwoods of western Canada. Her pioneer spirit inspired me to look at renovating this cabin as an adventure, because I believe that if you make it more fun than work and your curiosity is at work for you, it makes what you do so much better and easier to overcome the ghosts in any situation.

So I got to work! I started to look at the buildings on the property with renewed curiosity and ambition, and resolved to eliminate what the ghosts had left that really bothered me and what I felt wasn't my style.

First - the kitchen. The metal cabinet under the kitchen sink had rusted over the years. A flurry of scrubbing, priming and painting later, I was actually delighted to store my cleaning supplies there (funny how little things like that can make you happy!).

In my kitchen transformation, I didn't realize exactly how much wasted space there was with ALL the items that barely got used. The local thrift store benefitted from this, and I was elated to find space for me to take back and make it my own.

I had started working on rehabbing the outside of the cabin well before Covid, and the last time I had been to the cabin was toward the end of 2019. There was ONLY one outside wall left to finish, BUT where had I left off? Was I sanding? Had I put the wood preservative on? Definitely I had not put the primer color paint on. I gathered my tools, ladders and planks, along with a boatload of determination and headed out to yet another adventure, Dorothy Carleton style.

The bright primer color certainly made a lot of difference in the previously tired and sad looking cabin. I felt a sense of great relief and accomplishment to finally get to finish the paint job I had started such a long time ago. The cabin was starting to take on a personality that I was finally able to call our own. My husband thought the new coat of paint looked amazing and asked “OK Sara, what’s next?”

One of final challenges at our cabin on this trip was the 80 year old outhouse. The roof had been leaking for some time, and a skylight would most certainly happen if not taken care of. Tools and ladders were once again gathered and positioned to begin the repairs.

Our hopes were dashed a bit when it was figured out that the roof decking also had to be replaced. A quick sigh of “oh well..” and off it came. For a few hours that skylight would be there while plywood was cut and painted. The next day, on went the roof and the shingles. The new roof looked amazing, and my husband felt that our labors would certainly make the building last for a few years more.

Yes, certainly I felt that I once again was triumphant over my predecessors.

When I had first started going to the cabin, I was miserable with the entire situation. I fought going there and jumped for joy when I didn't have to go there. I really felt like the cabin wasn't mine with the ghosts there. In order to get rid of the ghosts of the previous family owners, I had to take control and "own" what I was doing with a sense of adventure, curiosity and ambition.

Our adventures at the cabin are far from over, and once we feel that it is completely ours, who knows what the possibilities will be. Perhaps one day, we will adopt a couple of kids to ensure that the cabin will be passed on to a future generation who will, no doubt, want to eliminate our “ghosts”!.

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