LONSBERRY: My Cabin In The Woods

Three specific incidents, when I was a young man, led to my determination to one day have some country land.

The first was when I was 19, visiting a newly married Navajo couple, living in a trailer on two acres of reservation land, listening to them gush about their plans for their place.

The second was a few years later, as a newlywed myself, listening to my father-in-law tell stories about visiting his grandfather as a boy, and fishing in his pond.

The third was in the early 1990s, at the Dansville balloon festival, looking at a vendor’s display of sheds and realizing that such a shed might make an affordable cabin.

In each of those incidents, my imagination was set afire, and my desire was stimulated. Together, they instilled in me the ambition to, one day, get my own piece of country land.

I found, though, that the desire was easier to get than the land. And as years turned into decades, I never had the extra money, and my imagination had to be satisfied with books detailing the country life or recounting the experiences of others.

I am grateful for my living, but for most of us, small-market media is not huge money. Especially if you’ve had a divorce, and extra especially if you’ve had a bunch of children.

So there was no lake house for me, or Florida place, or any of the other luxuries you hear people talk about.

There was just the dream.

Which about eight or nine years ago started coming true for me. Piecemeal, and slowly, and in a sometimes odd fashion, but coming true nonetheless. And sitting in a tree on my country land recently, hunting for deer, I thought to write it down, so I don’t forget, and so I don’t forget to say, “Thank you,” – to God who gave it to me, and to the people he used to do it.

The process began when I called Mount Morris real estate agent Bill Benson. I had known him and worked with him previously and read his ad in the Shopper every week. There was something in there about a piece of rural land, something like 80 acres, that was for sale.

He gave me the paperwork on it and graciously took me out to give it a look see, but he knew my income and what I could afford and what I couldn’t afford so he also brought the paperwork for another parcel that wasn’t advertised.

Not quite eight acres and much of that best described as hillside swamp.

Some scrubby trees and a bunch of golden rod and that was about it.

But the sellers were willing to carry the paper and if I could come up with a certain amount per month I could have it.

Bill had connected the ramblings of my dream with the reality of my wallet.

And I never saw a more forlorn or loved piece of land in my life. It was ugly and infertile and useless, and after four years of payments it was all mine.

That began a process of slow growth and improvement made possible by the unique circumstance of my employment. Specifically, the fact I work for a radio station and do commercial endorsements. In radio – like television and newspaper – the money is made by the sale of advertising – the commercials. In radio, you may be asked to voice a sponsor’s advertisement, either recorded or live. Typically, when you do this, your compensation from the advertiser includes an endorsement fee – an amount of money to associate yourself with their product.

That fee, which is fully taxed as income, can be paid in cash or trade – with trade being some amount of the advertiser’s product or service.

With our family finances, all cash that’s made goes into the family account. Trade that’s received, that’s negotiable between my wife and I, and some of that can go to make improvements at the country land.

Which is how we got the pond.

Remembering my former father-in-law’s stories about catching fish from his grandfather’s pond, I had always wanted one of my own. Once we got the land, I immediately began looking into having a pond dug.

The problem was, that cost money – money we didn’t have.

So I fretted over that for a couple of years.

And then I made a proposal to John Gizzi Sr.

He owned a manufacturing company that sponsored a school for machinists, and every year he would pay me to do the commercials for the school. He was also a dad and grandfather, and he had some ponds of his own, and we talked more than once about how much his family enjoyed them.

So I offered him this: If he paid me upfront for five years of doing his ads, I would accept two-thirds of what it would have cost spread out over the five years. He would save a little bit of money, and I would have some money right now – enough to pay the pond man. Mr. Gizzi thought about it, and talked it over with me, and ultimately agreed – and I think he took some glee in knowing he was making a dream come true for my children and me.

About the same time, an inquiry came through my bosses asking if I would be willing to do ads for Fisher’s Sheds in Leicester, New York.

That, like everything in this process, struck me as an answer to prayer, and as God using my bosses and various businesspeople to lead me by the nose to my own little promised land.

I loved the people at Fisher’s and their Mennonite faith. I also loved their craftsmanship, and before long we were sitting down to plan a giant shed that would be the shell of a future cabin. I wanted lots of light and windows so I called former sponsors Pace Window and Door, knowing that they sometimes had leftover windows because of cancellations or measurement issues. That gave me three more windows. A call to new sponsor Dan Fulmer Construction gave me a picture window and another door. And when that shed rolled out of the Fisher’s production facility, it was the apple of my eye.

And when they parked it beside the newly dug pond, the folks from Avon Stove and Fireplace came down and expertly put a beautiful little wood stove in.

Each of these sponsors had come to the station independently, and each brought some essential piece to the cabin puzzle.

But for a couple of years, it was just a shell with a woodstove.

Until last year when there came another inquiry from the bosses: Would I be willing to work with HEP Sales and North Main Lumber – a locally owned regional hardware and lumber company.

Now, companies don’t advertise with the radio station so that I can get stuff from them. They advertise so that the radio station can bring them new customers, and so that the radio station can stay in the black. Those two things are what it’s all about. If and when those things are achieved, and we’re talking about compensation, then I’m good with whatever comes.

But what came with HEP Sales and North Main Lumber was incredible. Association with an outstanding regional business, as well as materials, tools and expertise I desperately needed.

And the shed turned into a cabin.

The first year they told me how to insulate, and the second year they told me how to put up tongue-in-groove paneling.  

And when that was done this summer, I reached out to sponsor Christian Flooring and asked if they could put in a laminate floor.

Which they happily and expertly did.

Then Jamestown Mattress, a sponsor my wife and I love, offered mattresses for the cabin’s bunks. Instead, we put the new mattresses in the kids’ beds and moved their old ones out to the cabin.

This winter I will prune apple trees I got from sponsor Miller Nurseries, and in the spring finish a dock I’m being talked through by the folks at HEP Sales and North Main Lumber.

And so, where I once had a dream, I now have a bit of land with a cabin next to a pond, and all the camping and fishing and swimming my children can bear.

The whole property has a cash value approximately that of a used car. But it is priceless in the ways that matter. It is humble, and we still need to figure out water and a toilet, but it is a blessing.

And as I sat in a tree the other day, hoping a deer would walk by, that’s what I thought about.

About the businesses that have so kindly helped me, about people who pointed me where I needed to go, about bosses who didn’t laugh in my face, and about the nature of life to work out if you don’t give up.

I’d still like to find a hundred acres with some woods and a stream, and maybe I’ll find it, maybe life will take that turn. But if it doesn’t, I’ll still be thrilled with the turn it has taken.

I have some country land, and a little camp, because of the kindness of others.

And the blessings of God.

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