We went there as a family for the first time when I was seven years old. We had our pop-up camper hooked up to the back of the car and the three of us were tired of being cramped in the back seat together. We'd never been to this campground before, but had come with another family whose aunt and uncle owned the place. Our spot was on a corner, right underneath the biggest weeping willow tree I'd ever seen in my life. It gave us lots of shade from the summer sun and was fun to swing on. A two minute walk took us right down to the water and all you could see was Lake Erie for miles and miles. I don't remember how many nights we stayed on our first trip, but those nights were simply added to the weeks of nights I would spend there over the next 20 years.
We had always been a camping family, initially with our little pop-up camper towed behind our current car. Our summer vacation consisted of a week here or a weekend there, traveling around to different campgrounds within a few hours of home. Sometimes another family or friends from church would also be there. Those early days and nights of camping fill my mind with memories of Twizzlers, Uno and my rainbow stripe swimsuit...sneaking marshmallows with my brothers and the dog being afraid of fireworks so my dad had to hold him...mountain pies and washing the dishes in big, deep plastic basins on the picnic table.
Shortly after going to the campground on Lake Erie my parents decided that was enough of the transient camping for us. We bought a big old camper that would be in a permanent spot, ready for us whenever we wanted. It was only 35 minutes from home so we could sneak up there for a night anytime we wanted. We still spent our summer vacation up there- two weeks straight sometimes. Lazy days filled with my BFFs, tons of books, countless hours swimming in the lake, gorgeous sunsets and evenings spent around the fire. Conversations and moments shared that are integral to who I am and what I believe. Love and laughter and stories that made bedtime come too early.
The days of childhood gave way to those of my youth, but the back drop of summer remained the same. My biggest dilemma would often be choosing which friend to bring with me to pass the days with. My mind remembers hours of shooting pool in the camp "store", laying on the tennis courts counting shooting stars, sneaking out to meet our new "friends" long after my parents were asleep, and getting into my first (and last) fist fight with a mean girl named Becky who chased me all the way down the hill back to our camper. I also remember the lounge chair my dad would pass the afternoons in- reading or snoozing or just relaxing. Sometimes he'd be off golfing or fishing or maybe just tinkering with something that needed fixed. See, this was his place; it was his escape from the pressures of life and one of the only places he could truly relax. Even after he was sick it was a place we could go and try to forget what was happening. Sometimes it didn't work, but at least we tried.
After my dad died, it was hard to go to camp. It seemed empty and hollow and like we were always waiting for someone who never showed up. We kept trying though and it did get easier with each passing year. Life didn't allow us to spend nearly as much time up there as we had in the past, but I still have great memories of sharing this place that had meant so much to me with new friends. We still had family picnics and spent evenings around the fire. I still managed to take my BFFs with me and sit around the fire talking about boys and dreams and eating mountain pies. All of my nieces and nephews have been there and heard stories about their Grandpa Jon and how he loved that place.
We had a magical weekend there in September with my brother and his family and my mom. I'm so glad that I didn't know then that it would be our last time at camp together. I'm glad I didn't know it was the last fire I would sit around in the same spot my dad did. I'm glad I didn't know there would never be another evening there filled with laughter and stories and sharing that made me want to stay up way too late. I'm just glad it was a perfect weekend, sharing this special place with Haven for the first time and watching her climb up and down from her Grandpa's favorite chair.
We're saying goodbye to camp this spring. The beloved weeping willow our camper sat beneath for almost 20 years did us in during an ice storm in February. The damage done left it beyond repair. It makes me sad to know that this part of our lives is over, but even in the way it happened I see God's hand at work. My mom would not have let this place go willingly; so the Lord took care of it for her and gave her no choice. In my mind, I know that it's for the best, but my heart is having a tough time agreeing.
There will be no more lazy summer afternoons spent at camp, but the memories of this place, and most importantly the people we shared it with, stay with me for always.