My youngest niece, Kate Oechler, is getting married this August. She and Cliff, her fiancé, and Banshee, their ever-so-mellow dog, visited us in the summer of 2010, and we’ve been watching their adventures via Facebook since then.
We got the “Save the Date” card about the wedding last winter, and then, in March, Kate wrote and asked if I would be willing to paint the old family homestead, the place we call variously “The Camp,” “Camp Cedar Pines,” “Cedar Pines” — or just “the old place up Pine Creek”.
Pine Creek is the river that runs through the Pine Creek Gorge, and is a designated National Wild and Scenic River. When the mountains retreat a little and private land begins, the Creek (“Crick”) makes its way south to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River through tiny villages like Cedar Run and Slate Run. It’s between those two hamlets on Pennsylvania Route 414 that Cedar Pines, where my mother and father lived for some years after Daddy retired, sits above the stream in a wide spot in the valley.
But back to the wedding of Kate and Cliff. Between March and June, between family and medical matters, between chewing my fingernails and realizing the difference between being flattered to be asked and actually doing an acceptable job, I painted. By June, I had three acceptable paintings (I refuse to count the “studies” and rough drafts) that I sent off for approval. Kate and Cliff chose one for their invitations.
Here’s one that wasn’t chosen:
JOU, Cedar Pines in the 1980’s, oil on masonite, 2012
The Camp isn’t an elegant house. It’s an old farmhouse dating from the late 19th century. After that early farming family left, Cedar Pines became an adult and then a youth camp for overheated inhabitants of the Susquehanna Valley. The campers came by railroad up the Jersey Shore, Pine Creek, and Buffalo Railway and then, as the highway improved, by roadway.
The adult/youth camp business added to the farmhouse to create a building we called the Lodge (the dining hall), as well as a largish outbuilding known as the Teepee, and a batch of small shacks for campers. The shacks got torn down when my parents bought the place (Jer and I helped on that in the mid-1960’s), the Lodge was reduced in size by tearing out the rotting connection between it and the house, the Teepee got upgraded (a little), and the main house was made livable. Then, after many happy years, my parents died, a small tornado destroyed the trees and took out various parts of buildings, the Lodge became a hazard and was torn down as was the garage that my father added, and the place declined into an almost unusable hunting camp.
However, it seems that in part because of Kate and Cliff’s desire to be married on that property and in part because a whole batch of cousins are newly interested in the area, the house is being painted and put back together again.
JOU, Cedar Pines circa 2011, Oil on masonite, 2012
The Camp means different things to different people: Jan remembers it as a place where she and her cousins “ran feral,” swarming into the kitchen as a gang, devouring food, and then tearing out the back door to jump into the Crick or to build dams in Gamble Run (which ran into Pine Creek along one side of the property). I remember it as a place we retreated to when we ran out of money in graduate school — it was cheaper to drive to PA from Stony Brook, New York and eat all weekend for free than to stay out on Long Island. It was also much more pleasant.
The Camp was always filled with people; my folks were not merely hospitable but easy to be with. Cousins, in-laws, friends of the family, children of friends of the family, old boyfriends — you name it and some of them would show up during any given day. My mother would cook for them, my father would draft them into cutting the enormous lawn and fields that he mowed; all the men worked on their cars; all the women took care of the kids. Jan said she read and reread Invasion of the Body Snatchers during a couple of her teenage summers; the upstairs back room was filled with an eclectic collection of books — everyone’s throw aways, from college astronomy texts to True Romances.
I’m not showing the painting that Kate picked for her invitation. That’s her privilege. But here’s a couple of my favorite photos from the late 1970’s or early ’80’s at Camp:
Ann Oechler (Mom/Grammy Ann) holds the baby at the center. Charlotte Oechler (now Conser) is probably the teenager on the photo’s left (Charlotte is my brother, CJ’s, daughter) and my sister Carol Oechler (now Lau) is to the right of Mom and the baby. The fuzzy person in the plaid is perhaps my Dad, although that’s not an angle I ever really looked closely at. And which baby is that? — one that age in about 1979? Ah, the mysteries of old photos. Anybody in the family want to fess up?
And here’s another:
That’s my dad, Carl Oechler, and the collection of cars usually to be found sitting in front of the Camp. I don’t see an Underwood vehicle there, but it must have been somewhere around.
Painting the Camp and reviewing old photos took up a lot of head space during the spring. It was definitely a Good Thing. I began to yearn over those gentle mountains and the scent of PA forest. God willin’ and the Crick don’t rise, Jer and I might head east this summer to attend a wedding and do some work of our own at the old homestead.
Well, god willin’ and the Camp being available for civilized living, that is…. –June