The year my mom died, my dad spent every weekend at our lake cabin west of Waukenabo, Minn. The year following, he spent less time, and the year after that he died. He loved to sit on the deck high above the lake among the oaks and talk about years ago: streetcars and coal furnaces, his siblings, his parents, and he and my mom when they were young.

Our work on the unfinished cabin came to a halt during that time, and we spent the days playing dice, and spite and malice, and attending church on Saturday evenings. He managed to walk down the long path through the woods to the lake only once, easing his way down on a cane, pulling himself slowly back up the trail by means of a knotted clothesline tied to a tree at the top of the hill. Having proved to himself he could do it, he never tried again. I tried to talk him into going on a canoe ride with me once, but he said, “Why be crazy?”

We spent our weekends at a cabin near Oxlip, Minn., growing up, though he sold that place long ago. He liked work for its own sake, it seemed to us, and organized work gangs of us kids to move wood piles and haul wheel barrows of sand from here to there. He also had us constantly transplanting trees to more favorable locations. Every evening he took my mom somewhere: long drives on country roads or to a restaurant in town or to a neighbor’s cabin for cards. We were not to press for details. As he reminded us: I’m your dad, not your pal.

After his funeral, while cleaning his basement tool room, I found the sign that had hung outside the door to his old dental office on West Broadway near North Commons on the north side of Minneapolis. I have it nailed above the door to the shed at the lake. A reminder, whenever I see it, that values are lived, else they’re not values at all.

Jim Ennen, Maple Grove