We spent every Summer and Fall vacation in a small rustic mountain cabin in the Italian part of Switzerland. My Dad’s family used to live there for a while way back in the late 40’s and early 50’s and the place is teeming with stories. With a stroke of luck the cabin stayed in the family and became our vacation destination for my entire childhood and beyond. There was no hot water, only ice cold at the kitchen sink, and the bathroom was an actual outhouse. You could open the door to the outhouse and look out into the mountains while sitting on the throne!
I have so many fond memories of that place, some of the happiest times of my childhood were spent there. We had such freedom, running around the myriads of mountain trails in the woods all around the cabin, exploring old chapels, ruins of stone barns, storage caves and old growth gnarled trees, stealing grapes from the vineyards and collecting chestnuts to roast over the fire. Our days were spent outside, rain or shine, and we would crawl into bed at night and fall asleep almost instantly. Three of my cousins shared practically all my experiences there and they feel more like siblings than cousins to this day.
In the valley below our cabin are the ruins of old castle Serravalle and an ancient chapel from the 1600’s, which is still fully intact. Serravalle always called to me as a child! It had this magical pull that I could barely resist. Every vacation I managed to convince my Mom that we needed to go explore the castle at least once! We would climb over the leftovers of the walls, peek into every crook and cranny until we knew the layout by heart. The strong energy of the place making us giddy, almost lightheaded.
The main hall used to have three big columns, the remnants staggered in height. I would climb onto the lowest one, sit down cross legged and close my eyes to really immerse myself into the history of the place. In my mind’s eye the massive stone walls rose back up around me, the hall filled with life, laughter and noise. Boisterous knights sitting around a long table, silverware clinking, demure ladies with veils linger in the background. Maids serving food in big old vats. I could hear hoof beats outside, calls and whinnies. I sometimes even smelt the place, the sweaty horses and manure, the body odor of the men, the meat fresh from the fire.
Someone would eventually rouse me from my time traveling day dreams and we would go on our merry way back up the mountain to the cabin. The spirits of the place following us, memories of the images, sounds and smells still fresh in my mind.
Two years ago I returned to the castle with two of my cousins and some of my Mom’s ashes. It felt like a homecoming of sorts. I could still feel the energy and I immediately remembered those visions I used to get. And I swear I smelt the horses and the men, even though nobody but me and my two cousins were there. I spread my Mom’s ashes right there at the bottom of that column I used to sit on and day dream. Now my Mom’s spirit mingles with the ancient ones and next time I return it will feel even more like home.