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by Ron Cruger
The Cabin and Mr. Johnson
 We wanted a different kind of vacation this year, so my beautiful bride and I spent a week in a one bedroom log cabin nestled in the lush, overgrown hills high above the central California coastal town of Cambria. 
          The cabin, built in 1921, is made of trees felled and hewn from the Cambria area. It sits, secluded in a jungle like setting, grown lush thanks to the moist currents blown up country by the winds of the nearby Pacific Ocean. The cabin hides behind the vegetation – trees, vines and flowering plants. A narrow road winds in front of the hidden cabin. A few steps down the road and one can look down the mountainside and there, far below, see the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean meet the picturesque, rocky shore of central California.
          The cabin contains an ancient television set, not capable of receiving programs. The set is there only to serve as a player for viewing old movies recorded on video cassette. No cop shows, no murders, no rapes, no psychotic killers, no cooking shows. No television, no computers, no microwave – and thankfully, no cellular phone service.
          Stacked under some yellowed magazines were three old movies – “Chocolat,” “Out of Africa” and “Babbette’s Feast.” What a treasure find. Three intelligent, gentle, sensitive movies that bring hope and charm into our lives. We watched the three videos over three evenings and after each one felt remarkably different than we did after an evening of watching standard television. The difference was palpable – the comparison between eating a cheap TV dinner and that of eating a fine, gourmet meal. Sometimes, in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives we overlook the richness of what abides around us.
         The combination of quiet days and nights, clear, sweet air and restful days gave birth to new thoughts. Clarity crept into our minds.
Three days of quietness had passed. We decided to drive to Cambria and shop for food. While in the quaint village we noticed a coffee shop and decided that a cup of coffee would go nicely as the sun began its day ending descent.
          The coffee shop bore no resemblance to a Starbuck’s. This one had been in town for many years. It was the meeting place for the old timers. It seemed as though everyone knew everyone. Many of the customers didn’t have to order a specific drink. After all those years the servers knew what they wanted. These were the regulars.
          We ordered. “One coffee, one decaf.”
          We sat down next to an older man sitting alone. We exchanged polite smiles.
          As we waited for our order the older man glanced across the table, smiled sociably and said, “New in town?”
         “Yes, we’re just here for the week – vacation.”
          He reached out to shake my hand, saying, “Johnson, Theo Johnson, glad to meet both of you.”
         “Nice to meet you, Mr. Johnson.”
          Our coffees came in two sturdy white cups.
         “Please, call me Theo, everyone around here does.” 
         “Okay, Theo, our pleasure.” 
         “Lived here long, Theo?” 
         “Most of my life. Born in Minnesota, lived in Illinois for a few years, but this has been my home since ’59. Great place to live. Gets a bit cold and windy at nights sometimes, but other than that it’s paradise here.”
         “What kind of work did you do, Theo?” 
          “Me? I was a journeyman cabinet maker. Learned the trade from my dad. Worked building fine cabinets in Illinois. Then came out here and opened my own shop. Made cabinets and did fine woodworking in some of the nicest homes around here.”
          “You still working, Theo?”
          “Me? No. Hell, I’m 92 years old. I stopped working a long time ago. Oh, once in a while I get out my tools and build a small cabinet and go to the farmer’s market and make a few bucks, but mostly I hang around my little house, spend time with my dog, Charlie. I read a lot and every day about this time I come down and grab a cup of coffee here. Meet some old friends and sometimes some new ones, like you two.”
          “Sounds like a good life, Theo.”
          “May sound like it, but it ain’t. Too lonely. My wife, Edith, died 17 years ago. Ain’t got no kids. Was a time when people used to think a lot of me. Thought I was the best cabinet maker in the world. Thought I was something. Now, I’m just an old man with a limp and a cane that hangs out in the coffee shop. Anyone who bought a cabinet that I built knew that my two hands touched every inch of that wood. I smoothed it and rubbed it ‘til it shined. That cabinet was part of me and I was part of it. I took a lot of pride in everything I built. You ask anyone who’s seen my work. They’ll tell you what kind of a man Theo Johnson was.”
          “You’re still quite a guy, Theo. Seems like everyone here knows you.”
          “Yeah, they know me as the old man with the cane. Most of them didn’t know me when I was young. When Edith was with me. We were quite a couple. That Edith was a wonderful woman. Smart and good looking. We were together for 52 years. I still miss her. Hard to face each day without her with me. I’m just hanging on. I know I don’t count much anymore. I used to be somebody.”
           Theo reached towards the back of his chair and gripped his cane with his left hand. With his right hand he leaned on the table top, pushed himself up from his chair. He stood still and stared out the front window of the coffee shop for a moment. Then he held out his hand and said, “Nice to meet both of you. Hope you enjoy your vacation. Take care of each other. Maybe I’ll see you again down here.”
          We drank our coffee and drove back to the little cabin in the hills of Cambria.
          We didn’t go for coffee again during our stay, so we didn’t see Theo Johnson again.
          I hope Theo will be at the little coffee shop next time we go to the little cabin in the hills.
          We left the cabin a week ago, but every day since we seem to talk about Theo Johnson. We want to return to the little coffee shop and talk with him again. Theo is like all of us – just wanting to be somebody.
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