With the camper hitched tightly to our ’74 Chevy Suburban, we were cruising down the long interstates and over the mountains of our annual pilgrimage. This was a simpler time when kids stretched out across the rear window and back seat for a nap. I know, but we survived. These summers, when we drove seven hundred and sixty-four-miles from the hills of Arkansas to the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina, were the best summers of my childhood! The camper pulling privilege was later passed on to our ’76 Plymouth Valiant. Oh, the stories these vehicles could tell. I’m sure their mufflers wanted to muffle out the echoing of my sister and I singing many rounds of 99 Bottles of Beer On The Wall, as did our parents.
Between the songs, I Spy, and Slug Bug games came the shenanigans. Our stir-crazy silliness usually led to fussing and arguments that were followed by phrases like, “Don’t make me pull this car over!”, or “It’s time to play the quiet game now.” from our parents. Sometimes we took the hint quickly and settled down, other times not so much.
We made this trek so Daddy could attend a preacher’s conference. But for me, it was camping, mountain climbing, rock hopping, crafts and scavenger hunts in nature.
Last weekend I spotted a pop-up camper that brought back these road trip memories. I gave my parents a call. We talked about last weekend’s RV adventure and how the A/C was much appreciated on a hot Texas fall day. I told Dad about the pop-up camper I saw while strolling through the RV sites, and how it brought back memories. There was no response. I asked if he remembered our camper. Dad responded, and my mind immediately drifted back to those summer trips again...
At the conference center in the Smokies, our parents would be in workshops while we participated in group activities and outings. When the day’s activities were over, my sister and I would hang at the playground next to the river, eating sweet tart lollipops purchased in the small bookstore of the conference center. We enjoyed a treat, only found here, while Mom was in the laundromat.
At the end of the day, we always returned home to camp for dinner. Sometimes it was a foil pouch meal cooked in the fire pit, other times we, I mean Mom, cooked a full course meal. Ah… the aroma of food cooking on the two-burner Coleman.
Tummies full and energy renewed, we headed back to the conference center to join other attendees and their families for fellowship and worship. I will never forget the surprise on my face, and the size of my eyes, when I had my first communion with real wine! That was my first taste of alcohol. After vespers, it was off to the rec center for laughs. Here we learned card tricks and a little about polka and square dancing. A card trick I still remember. Dance steps, not at all. After all, how often does one have an opportunity to show off their latest polka moves?
A part of my being and soul is still there. Part of those beautiful Smokey Mountains reside on my kitchen window seal in the form of a mica rock I’ve had for over forty years now. Through the years, Dad and I shared the secret desire to move there. The though still crosses my mind from time to time.
My thoughts returned to Dad’s answer to my question about remembering our pop-up. “I don’t know,” he said. In an attempt to coax his memory, I said, “You know, Dad, camping in North Carolina.” He responded by saying, “Oh, yes. I think I’ve been there once.”
My heart sank. Been there once? More like three times. Now, suddenly my memories have become bitter sweet. I will not let them become bitter. I will not let a horrible disease steel the joy of my most precious memories. Instead, I will hold them closer as I begin the difficult climb over the mountain that is ahead.