Indiana and Big Bear Cabin

I’ll end this memoir with some stories involving my whole family, which kind of brings this all back full circle. Of all the vacations we have taken, the one constant travel tradition we try to keep almost every year is to my hometown in Munster, Indiana for the week of Father’s Day. My parents always host that holiday in their backyard for my aunts and uncles and cousins and their families. They make it fun for all the kids by setting up games like Croquet and Cornhole, and they have a big grassy lot in the back to pass the football around, as well as a park down the street. Aside from Father’s Day, that week also includes my mom’s, Rob’s and his son Robby’s birthdays, as well as my parents’ anniversary, so we’re basically celebrating something every day that week, including visits to Rob’s and Chris’s families. Then the following week is Pooneh’s birthday and our own anniversary.

I’ve been taking Kaveh and Kian there since they were babies, and they really developed a sentimental attachment to Munster. As soon as we exit the expressway into town, they get all excited seeing familiar stores like Target and their favorite restaurants as we drive down Calumet Ave. For whatever reason, they get the biggest rise out yelling out “Johnny’s!” as we pass by Johnny’s Tap.

When Kian was about four years old, I took him by himself when Kaveh was in school. I remember it was October because we went with Rob’s family to a pumpkin patch. He got really worried when we couldn’t seem to find our way out of a cornfield maze. Then when we finally emerged, some enormous dude using stilts in a big ugly giant costume popped in front of us and scared him half to death.

He must have really bonded with his grandparents that week because when we were sitting on the plane waiting to take off, he seemed kind of quiet. I asked him what his favorite part of the trip was, and he said, “Seeing Nannie and Papa.” He sounded like he was all choked up, and then he bunched his little fists and twisted them in his eyes like a kid in a cartoon. His face tightened up into a classic little boy grimace as he cried. He turned to look up at me with tears flowing down his cheeks and cried out, “Papa!” Then he rubbed his fists into his eyes again and sobbed, “Na-na-nannie! When will we get to see them again?” I told him we would probably see them again in a few months. His face contorted again and without turning away from me, he let out another agonizing “Paaapppaaaa!” He looked so sad and precious at the same time that my heart just dropped.

The first time I took them to Indiana without Pooneh, she put me in charge of all the packing. I was quite sure I had everything ready to go that they would possibly need. But while I was standing in line to check in at the airport, Kaveh asked me where my suitcase was. I was so focused on making sure I had everything packed for them that I completely forgot to bring my own suitcase!

I now have a checklist on my phone that I refer to every time I travel because I would almost always end up forgetting something, even if only my toothbrush or bathing suit, but all too often it was something more important than that (like my entire luggage). Twice in my life, I forgot to bring my wallet with me to the airport. Once was when leaving from my girlfriend’s parents’ house right after she broke up with me. Her kind mother actually drove back to the airport to bring it to me. She even sat down with me for a few minutes to talk about breakups and to try and cheer me up. The other time was only about a month after 9/11, but amazingly, they let me fly home without any ID.

On that same trip to Hawaii that we forgot to refill the diaper bag (previous post), we came home to a startling discovery. As we walked through the courtyard, we noticed that our front door was wide open. Fortunately, nobody was in the house and nothing was stolen. I remembered trying to hurry and grab our luggage because our taxi arrived a little early and probably meant to go back and shut the door since my hands were full.

Well, I didn’t learn my lesson because just last January we went to San Diego and came back the next day to find the door wide open again with our two cats looking up at us from inside to welcome us back. (I guess I should have included closing the front door on my checklist.) Our current house doesn’t even have a courtyard so anyone walking down the street would see this open invitation. Our friendly neighbors across the street would have closed it for us, but they were away for the weekend as well. Apparently, none of our other neighbors cared or even noticed.

About ten years ago I flew out to Florida to attend my brother Chris’s wedding. As I was boarding the plane, I happened to see a tuxedo hanging up to be checked. It suddenly dawned on me that I had forgotten to pack my own tuxedo jacket! I remember ironing my white shirt and packing it but actually left the tuxedo jacket hanging in the closet. I had to spend an extra two hours finding a tuxedo store to rent another one that would have it ready to go by the next day, not to mention having to spend the extra money that I didn’t need to.

A funny thing happened during the wedding. I was standing next to Chris on the beach, watching the guests take their seats. My mom had shattered her tibia in thirty places the previous winter (a story for another time) which took a serious toll on her health and spirit. After about seven surgeries and endless physical therapy, she was finally near recovery by this June wedding. It was a long way down to the beach, so Rob had the honor of escorting the proud groom’s mother via wheelchair to take her seat. 

She looked so pretty, all dressed up in her finest gown, smiling and waving to the onlooking wedding guests as Rob wheeled her down the boardwalk ramp. But as they neared the end, a sudden look of vexation struck his face as the ramp turned to a steep decline. Despite his efforts to slow her down, the wheelchair kept picking up speed until the front wheels exited the wooden ramp, stopping cold in the sand and catapulting my poor Mom several feet forward into the air before slamming her knees onto the rough beach!

As we all rushed to her side in horror, we could hear Rob shouting, “Oh my God! Oh my God!!!” while frantically trying to lift her out of the sand. Once she got to her feet, she smiled as she dusted the sand off her gown and proclaimed: “Well that was a fun ride!” We all got a good laugh out of it—except for Rob. His shaken voice was captured on the ceremony video recording several minutes later bemoaning this catastrophe: “I can’t believe that just happened. Oh my God, I can’t believe that just happened.”

Final story! When my mom and dad came to visit us, we always try to take them on a road trip somewhere fun for a couple days. When we used to live in Arizona, I made reservations at what appeared to be a nice hotel at Lake Meade to stay at on our way to Las Vegas. It turned out to be a shabby fishing retreat about fifty miles out of the way, down a dark two-lane road. The rooms were old, ugly, and cramped with nothing to do at night except play cards and watch a small old TV with poor reception. We told the front desk that this wasn’t what we had in mind and asked for a refund, but they refused, saying that they would need at least a week advance notice.

In 2008 (which happens to be the same year as Chris’s wedding, I wanted to redeem myself and arrange for a magical Christmas vacation with my parents and family. When I was a teenager, I recalled my dad saying that someday he wanted to get a quiet cabin in the woods with a fireplace for Christmas. Since they were traveling out to California to spend Christmas with us, Pooneh and I thought this would be a perfect opportunity. I found a good deal on a cabin right on Big Bear Lake, which is about 7,000 feet elevation. My mom has a mild phobia about driving up into mountains, so we decided to make it a surprise and didn’t tell her until the day before we left; otherwise, she would have been anxious for the whole week and probably would have tried to talk us out of it.

The morning of our trip looked ominous, the sky laden with heavy, dark clouds. When I stepped outside, a blustery wind whipped cold rain into my face, which meant fresh snow in the mountains. Mom and Dad were kind of quiet and seemed apprehensive. Dad got on the internet and checked the weather. “This doesn’t look like such a good idea, Scott,” he said grimly.

I called the reservation desk who said the roads were still open but advised us to bring tire chains and a small shovel in case our car gets stuck in the snow. We got everything packed and stopped to buy boots, hats, gloves, and tire chains which were $150 (unreturnable) for one overnight trip into the mountains. 

We made it up to the village without any problems, and my brave mom didn’t even look worried or complain—except to remind me that they came to California to get away from this snow, not drive into it! At least the roads were mostly clear, so I didn’t even need to bother with the stupid tire chains. We stopped at a restaurant which turned out to be closed, so rather than put the kids back in the car seats again (major hassle), I asked Dad to drive with Mom down the block to find another restaurant, and we would just walk there.

When I didn’t see them coming after a few minutes, I went back to see that the car was stuck on a small pack of snow under the front tires. Some guy helped me try to push it back over the hump while my dad backed up, but the tires kept spinning. Of all things, we forgot the shovel. After struggling for ten minutes, I reached inside for the tire chains and realized he never removed the parking brake! He said he never uses that since Indiana is so damn flat and didn’t even think of it.

After dinner, we went to find our cabin but the address didn’t exist on our navigator. We eventually found the general area but still couldn’t find our unit. Pooneh went off in one direction on foot and Dad went another, while I drove around some more until we finally found it in the back of a complex of cabins. We unloaded everything, but the cabin wasn’t nearly big enough for six of us and didn’t even have a fireplace like it advertised. When I called to complain, he said I booked the two-person cabin instead of the six-person one. He upgraded us to a bigger cabin with a fireplace and perfect view of the lake, but I had to go back a couple miles to the check-in office to exchange keys. My mom and Pooneh stayed with the kids while Dad and I trudged off back to the car.

Once again, the car was completely stuck with icy snow under all four tires and no shovel to dig us out. I finally broke out the tire chains but had no idea how to put them on and neither did my dad. The temperature plunged as the day turned to dusk, and to make things worse, it began to snow again—actually sleet. After struggling for a good fifteen minutes and our frozen fingers fumbling with the instructions for the chains, Dad’s voice kept growing louder and more agitated, until his lip began to curl into a snarl. I knew from my childhood this meant he was about to blow. He finally let it out with a bellowing roar: “THIS REALLY SUCKS!!!”

I felt totally defeated and unprepared for this winter wasteland. This wasn’t going to be the quiet evening by the fireplace we had imagined. He said it reminded him of “that damned Lake Mead cabin” that I screwed up about ten years ago.

After his loud hollering, a few neighbors scurried out to see what the trouble was. A rugged-looking bearded mountain man with some know-how came to our rescue and put the tire chains on for us, while we just looked on feeling totally emasculated. He called out to his son who rushed out with a shovel to clear the way while I tried to back out. It had only just then occurred to me that I had left the parking brake on again! I quietly released it without saying a word and we were on our way.

The new cabin was much bigger but still only had one bedroom and a crummy pull-out couch in the living room. Now we had to move our stuff from one cabin to the other which was about a half a block away. As we hurriedly ran back and forth through the ice-cold night, we accidentally left Kian in the cabin by himself with no lights on. He started screaming bloody murder for Mommy and came out into the snow in his socks. Pooneh, figuring I would have stayed with him in the new cabin, shrieked as she ran to his rescue, “Oh My God! How could you leave him there by himself?!” Both Mom and Dad nearly tripped on the ice walking over.

It didn’t end there because around midnight, feeling totally exhausted and sleepy, we pulled out the couch bed and discovered there were no blankets, sheets, or pillows. I called up to see if they could deliver the bedding, but she said nobody was available at this hour, so we would have to drive all the way back to the office again to pick up them up.

By this time, I’d had a few beers while watching the Bears game, and the snow had turned into a blizzard—already a couple inches deep. Apparently, this was the most snow they had accumulated in thirty-five years (four feet in a week)! This was the last thing I wanted to do, but back in the car we went. Damn those tire chains worked great—best $150 I ever spent!

Fortunately, there weren’t any other cars on the road, and we made it back safely. We told my parents to take the only bed and kids slept on the floor. Pooneh and I only slept about three hours on that old, warped pullout couch with squeaky springs sticking into our bodies.

The next day was fun at least. The lake and the surrounding snowy mountains were stunningly beautiful in the bright morning sunlight. We went sledding down a nearby hill which was much faster and funner than it looked, and then we pulled them on the sled over the icy roads, running and jerking and spinning them around like a roller coaster. Sure, we had some wipeouts, but those were the best parts!

Such is the life of a parent. No matter how good your intentions, sometimes they just backfire. No matter how much you plan, life will throw you curveballs, accidents will happen, and you may forget something at the last minute (some people more than others). But take heart, the unexpected is what gives life color and excitement, and most of all humor. I mentioned at the beginning of this blog that I hoped to be like Mr. Brady as a father, but my kids tell me I’m more like Phil Dunfy of Modern Family.

For anybody out there on the fence or nervous about becoming a parent, don’t be afraid; just roll with the punches, learn from your mistakes, and laugh about them later. As long as you spend quality time with your kids and show them love, compassion, and only your best intentions, they will forgive your mishaps, and hopefully your spouse/partner will too. To this day, whenever Pooneh gets angry about one of my mistakes, she tells me “You should put that in your stupid memoir!”

Published by swojtowich

I am a physician, story writer, husband and proud father of two sons. I enjoy travel, exercise, and reading/writing books.

6 thoughts on “Indiana and Big Bear Cabin

    1. We’ve had some crazy trips to Big Bear! I thought about including the one with you guys when you broke your ankle within an hour of arriving. I guess wiping out on the sled wasn’t the best part in your case. Then we got a flat tire driving down the mountain in pitch black night and got rescued by a bunch of teenagers and their dad.

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