At the end of July, the Bradleys invited us to spend a weekend at their family cabin up at Russian River. Daddy was thrilled to have another short vacation on the agenda, and the rest of us were excited too. Even Rusty was invited.
I didn’t like the drive up to Russian River so much because toward the end the road started twisting and turning, and my tummy began to feel sick. Mommy handed me a saltine cracker and told me not to look out the side windows. She said if I sat in the middle of the back seat and looked straight ahead out through the front windshield at the painted line down the middle of the pavement, I’d feel better. And guess what? It worked! I kept my eyes glued on that center line every second until we got there.
The Bradleys’ cabin, surrounded by towering trees on the bank above the river, was dark brown with red-painted trim around the windows. Mommy called the cabin “rustic,” but I thought it was beautiful. It looked like the Alm Uncle’s house described in my favorite book about Heidi and the goatherd, Peter. Or maybe Snow White’s house in the woods, with dwarfs and squirrels and tweeting bluebirds. The roof was tall and pointy and covered in thick wooden shingles right up to the stone chimney.
“The cabin is made of redwood,” Daddy explained as he began unloading our suitcases and sleeping bags. “It doesn’t have to be painted because bugs don’t like to eat redwood and it lasts for a century without rotting.”
Inside, most of the built-in furniture was made of redwood too, even the built-in bunks in the bedrooms.
In the living room, a massive rock fireplace rose from the floor all the way up to a giant beam that supported the roof. I’d always been fascinated by flames dancing and sparks swirling in a fireplace, but there was something I loved even more about this particular fireplace after Mr. Bradley told us their family tradition: “When company comes up here to the cabin for the first time,” he said, “each visitor makes a wish and then hides a coin in one of the crevices among the rocks.”
“What a charming, delightful idea,” Mommy gushed.
Daddy reached into his pocket and gave Eleanor and me each a dime to add to the collection. After some thought, I wished I could stop chewing my fingernails right down to the quick so that maybe Mommy could paint them pale pink and I could get a gold ring with my birthstone in it. I hid my dime as high up as I could reach, deep in the crack between two rocks right next to the wall. Eleanor hid her dime too, and Daddy and Mommy each tucked a fifty-cent piece into cracks higher up on the fireplace. Of course, I didn’t know what any of them wished for because, if you tell what you wish for, it won’t come true. Everybody knows that.
That afternoon Daddy and Mr. Bradley and all the kids put on bathing suits and clambered down the path through the huge boulders that protected the cabin from the Russian River. The sandy river bank was gradual, and the water, except for the deep channel on the far side, shallow and slow-moving enough in summer that we weren’t in danger, even if we couldn’t swim yet.
Partway across the river, at the edge of the deepest part, a giant dead tree lay stuck in the sandy bottom. Mr. Bradley claimed the tree had been knocked down in a big flood long before he bought their cabin and had been stuck there for so many years that it was now worn satiny smooth by the current and had its own name: “The Old Man.”
A neighbor brought his rubber raft down to the water’s edge, and Daddy and Mr. Bradley helped him load up driftwood chunks for the fireplace. They used Mr. Bradley’s axe and wedge to split the bigger pieces into smaller ones and some of the smaller ones into kindling.
As the men worked, we kids had a fine time splashing in the water and climbing on The Old Man, stuck forever in the sandy bottom of the river. We pretended he was a pirate ship and we were the pirates. Using driftwood branches as swords, we sailed an imaginary ocean, yelling “Ahoy, ahoy there” as we boarded every ship we could catch in order to steal their cargo. “Ahoy, mates! Arrgggh, look at all me gold!” hollered Mike Bradley, waving his pretend sword menacingly overhead.
The neighbors joined us for hamburgers that evening. Mommy served the fruit salad she’d brought with us from home, and the next-door lady contributed a chocolate sheet cake for dessert because it was her husband’s thirtieth birthday. He made a wish—of course, he didn’t tell what it was—then blew out the candles with one l-o-o-o-n-g puff.
After dinner, we all crowded in front of the roaring fire in the fireplace and took turns telling stories. Mike’s story was all about swashbuckling pirates and stolen gold, and Mr. Bradley followed that up with an exciting tale about rescuing mermaids on the high seas.
When it was time for bed, we kids unrolled our sleeping bags on the built-in bunks in the biggest dormitory bedroom. Rusty hopped up next to me and snuggled close. The others dropped off right away, but I couldn’t go to sleep. I didn’t have my thumb anymore, and all I could think about were the nickels and dimes and quarters and fifty-cent pieces—and, who knows, maybe even a silver dollar or two—hidden away in the deep, dusty crevices of the fireplace in the living room, probably enough money to buy all the bicycles and roller skates and princess dresses and birthstone rings in the whole world.