We drove up the snowy, winding road towards the cozy A-frame cabin. And that’s when it hit me.
“I know that cabin,” I said aloud, partially to Percy, although it was mostly to myself, “but from where?”
I could feel his boyish grin as he pulled the car into the parking stall. “You’ll get it, Red. Just give it some thought.” He chuckled to himself, obviously pleased that I caught on to the fact that his proposed weekend adventure to Vermont was layered in a riddle.
He loved his riddles. That’s one thing that I loved about him, how he was equal parts thoughtful and playful.
At first I thought a weekend getaway to Vermont was crazy. Why drive so far when we have so many beautiful places to explore nearby? And yet I couldn’t resist how insistent he was.
And now I knew why. He had uncovered a secret. Only what secret, I had yet to find out.
I knew that I hadn’t been here before, that much was certain. New England was entirely foreign to me as a traveller. As much as my family enjoyed organizing our calendar around what camping trip we would take next, we had kept our travels north of the border. Ontario mostly, although sometimes Quebec.
“How about this?” Percy said. “Let’s unpack the car and get a feel for the place, and then we can go for a quick snowshoe before dinner.”
“I like that plan. I’ll get the gear if you go unlock the place.”
“Sounds good.” Percy leaned over and gave me a quick kiss before asking, “Have you solved the mystery yet?”
“No. It’s killing me!”
He laughed, grabbed his bag from behind the seat and made his way up to the A-frame to find the hidden key.
It had started to snow as we made our way up the road, light big flakes slowly drifting in loose clumps to the ground. The perfect texture for packing into a snowball.
I made my way around to the back of the vehicle, crouched down to pick up some fresh snow, squished and shaped it into the perfect little snowball, and let it fly.
“Yes!” I cheered, celebrating that I had successfully hit my target.
Percy was quick to retaliate. Too quick. He set down his bag and raced over to the bench beside the door, expertly crafting a snowball to return fire my way.
If it wasn’t for the shield of the car, I would have been done for. Thankfully I scrambled around and was able to land another fluke shot before missing the next three.
Percy moved fast. Of the two of us, he was always the more coordinated, although what I lacked in skill, I made up for in heart. He closed the gap, making his way around the car so that I would be just as exposed as he was. I raced around to the other side, laughing and panting as I tried to out-manoeuvre him, but he caught up and wrapped me up in his arms.
“You’re aim is improving, Mrs. Barnes,” he whispered against my ear.
I took a deep breath in, trying to regain composure after laughing too hard. “And yet you still get the better of me, Mr. Barnes.”
“Someone has to keep you on your toes.” He winked and kissed me on my cheek before heading back to his discarded bag near the door.
As I closed the trunk after getting the last of our belongings, I looked at the cabin once more, my thoughts searching for where I knew it from.
Percy unlocked the door, set his bag inside and came out to help me with the items I carried.
The inside was completely unfamiliar to me. I looked intently to see if anything was recognizable, but nothing. No feelings of long- lost memories sparked.
It was cozy and inviting, with a beautiful fireplace, rustic design, and open kitchen. There was a staircase leading to a loft where the bed was. A perfect little cabin in the woods.
We put our things in the room and prepared the kettle for hot coffee when we returned, and then set out on our adventure.
Percy was first with his snowshoes on, leaving me to sit on the bench as I finished tying up my boots and strapping my feet into the snowshoes.
He went back towards the car, not towards the trail as I expected him to, and I when I looked up, I saw that he was taking a picture.
“Stop that,” I said. “Why do need a picture of this moment?”
“I want pictures of every moment with you,” he said.
“I know. But if you’ll just indulge me, would you mind taking three steps forward and facing slightly to the right.”
I did as he requested, following his instructions as he used his hand to signal how much I needed to adjust my angle.
“Perfect. Now, can you pose as though you’re about to flip up your hood?”
“Really? Like I’m some kind of model?”
“Trust me. The lighting is great, the snow looks majestic, your hair is perfect --”
“Okay, okay, I get it,” I said in mock defeat, getting into the pose. I’ve always struggled with being in front of the camera, but for as long as we’ve been together, Percy has been determined to show me how he sees me.
He changed angles a few times, moving around to get the right picture, constantly promising that in just a moment I’d be able to see them and give my approval.
When he was done, Percy closed the distance in just three wide strides and handed me his phone.
It was then that I realized how I knew this cabin.
My chest felt tight and tears came to my eyes. I looked to him, searching to know if it was really true, knowing that it must be for all this fuss.
“Is it…?” I was too scared to put it into words.
“You tell me,” he said, pulling out a wrapped gift for me.
I took the ribbon and paper off and pulled out a framed picture.
It was one that I owned already.
One of my mother from when she was in her early twenties.
One of my favourite pictures of her, standing in snowshoes in front of an A-frame cabin, hair beautifully framing her face as she was about to pull up her hood.
A tear rolled down my cheek.
Percy took hold of the phone again and we looked at them side-by-side. They were clearly the same cabin, although time had altered a few things. There was still the same decorative trim around the windows, and in the distance, you could see the same lake through the barren trees not too far away.
“How did you find this place? I’ve never even known where this photo was taken.”
“It wasn’t intentional at first. A colleague of mine was working on an article about maple producers in the Vermont area and asked me to help narrow down his pictures. Turns out, your mom’s second cousin owns this cabin and runs one of the longest-standing family-owned operations in New England.”
I couldn’t contain the laughter that erupted from deep within. “You mean that we’re on my cousin’s land?”
“I know, weird right?” Percy laughed as he pulled me close. “I reached out and got talking with the owner. Great guy. I sent him a copy of your mom’s picture and he confirmed that this is, in fact, the right spot. He’s your mom’s second cousin and remembers a few different summers -- and one winter after her parents passed -- when your mom came to visit.”
Fresh tears swelled to the surface. Tears that I hadn’t braced myself for in a long time.
My mother had died when I was too young to ask questions about anything, and she was the only child of parents who had passed long before her. I had many pictures, books and things to connect me to her past, but no details. And Dad was never one to remember the details.
But here, in this moment, I was given a gift of a much different nature.
I pulled back to look Percy in the eyes. “She stood here, right here.”
“She did. And she stayed in this very cabin, too.”
I took a deep breath in, trying to steady my emotions.
“Any chance I’ll get to meet my cousins?”
“That’s your second surprise!” He smiled down at me as he reached for my hand to lead me towards the hiking trail. “We’re having lunch with some family tomorrow, and they’ve assured me that they will share many stories about your mother.”
I pulled back on his hand just a little so that we would stop, taking this moment to look back at the cabin one more time before our hike.
“Thank you,” I said as I leaned in to kiss him on the cheek. “This truly is the most thoughtful gift I’ve ever received.”
“Anything for my girl,” he said with a wink as he took me by the hand and led me into the forest.
The forest my mother explored.