<< ibnelson.com

001 First Memories
002 Hampton Road
003 Cedar Wood
004 A Room Of My Own
005 School Days
006 My Friend Wayne
007 A Great Flood
008 My Mother Makes Biscuits
009 To Disneyland
010 We Go To Mexico
011 The Cabin In The Woods
012 We Go To Yosemite
013 Grandma Nelson
014 Nelson Nursery Early Years

I.B. Nelson according to himself

The Cabin in the Woods

Hangover Cabin in Big Sur
©I.B. Nelson

Up On Mt Madonna

Our extended family once owned property on the top of Mount Madonna Ridge a few miles north of the Mount Madonna Park and State highway 152 which runs between Gilroy and Watsonville. At one time my grandparents lived on the property, when my father was quite small. Several cabins built by the family still exist along side the road and are used to this day, although with different owners. The one-room schoolhouse my father attended still is standing although it is behind a fence and can no longer be seen. My father told me that the family would gather various greens from the Mt. Madonna property and make wreathes to sell in San Jose during the holidays as a means of raising money.

The Awalt's Cabin

When I was quite young, we would stay at the cabin owned by my aunt Midge and her husband, my uncle Bob Awalt. The dirt drive leading to the cabin fronted Mt. Madonna road and had a twisted barbwire stranded stretched from one side of the road to the other; there was no lock; the wire was simply hooked loosely on a stub on a tree at one end. In the middle was a straggly stick meant to keep the wire from dragging on the ground. You had to stop outside the wire while one member of the party got out and unhooked the wire for the car to pass through, then after the car passed, the wire was re-hooked, the car reentered and driven down the gravel path to the cabin below. The cabin sat in a small flat clearing with an adjoining ancient 'car-port', which leaned to one side and which was filled with ancient moss-covered firewood. The cabin key hung on a nail in an oak tree. On opening the cabin door, one was greeted with the smell of many countless fires in the cast iron woodstove. There was no electricity; light at night was provided by kerosene lamp or the glow of the woodstove.

Oak and Madrone

Meals were cooked on top of the woodstove. I cannot precisely recall the interior of the cabin, but I remember the smell of it as if it were only yesterday, a combination of oak and madrone that to this day acts nearly as an aphrodisiac on my senses whenever I smell anything that is close to it. In 2001, I had the rare opportunity to spend a night in a private cabin high on a mountain slope in Big Sur. With my good friend Will Ashford and the owner of the cabin, Doctor Bruce, sitting at the rough wooden table under the soft glow of a kerosene lamp, I read aloud a hand-written journal kept in the cabin compiled over several decades by the owners of the cabin and its many visitors. As I read in the evening quiet, in my imagination, I was back in the old family cabin as a child nearly five decades before.

A Family Divided

Unfortunately, the cabin played a role in the origins of a family feud that eventually alienated the various parts of the extended family. We had gone to the cabin one weekend as a family, my father and mother and I and my sister Phyllis. As usual we had a wonderful couple of days. When we left, my mother cleaned the cabin as she always did, leaving a bowl of candy for whoever visited next. When we were all in the car, my father locked the door, being the last one to leave, and hung the key on the usual place on the nearby oak tree. Much later, my mother became aware that people were "whispering" about her in the Nursery and when she investigated, she discovered that our extended family had spread a rumor, "as fact", that my mother had "gone crazy" and left the interior of the cabin in disarray. Someone had spread magazines on the cabin floor, emptied out the cupboards, spread food over that and made general mayhem.

A Permanent Split

My mother was horrified that such an accusation had been made and even more horrified that our family members had spread it. So she confronted my grandmother and my aunt Midge Awalt about the accusation, which had been spread to all the Nursery Employees. They said that they "forgave" my mother but would not retract the lie about her behavior. As far as they were concerned, my mother had gone berserk, destroyed the inside of the cabin and was solely responsible for the damage, even though it was pointed out to them that my Father had been the last one to leave, had locked the door and we had not been back since then. The accusation caused a permanent split in the family, endless argumentation and as a result, we never went back there.

Selling Ones Heart

The family later sold the property to build a swimming pool on their Castro Valley property, an action which haunts me more and more as the years pass, as I consider the Mount Madonna property a central part of "who I am". I've driven up to Mt. Madonna a few times over the years to see the old property. The property where the Awalt cabin sat was purchased by a group that turned it into The Mount Madonna Institute. Even the dirt road is gone; not a trace of what I remembered from my childhood remains.

Grandfather's Cabin

Nearby is a cabin that my Grandfather, William W. Nelson built and that my father worked on also at about the age of seven. I had driven up to Mt. Madonna with my mother and we parked on the side of the road by that cabin. She said she wanted to knock on the door and introduce herself, which she did. To my surprise, the owners were quite cordial and invited us in. The owners gave us a tour of the cabin and on being told my father had worked on the cabin as a boy, the owner showed me some of the original exterior shingles (which were now inside the present cabin in a storage room due to remodeling). It was moving to see those shingles that might have been nailed on by my father so long ago