When I was young, one of my family’s summer traditions was camping.
We started going to Holly River State Park in Hacker Valley, W.Va. We had a specific camp spot that we got the first year, perfectly tucked in the woods, next to the creek. Once when we went and didn’t get “our spot,” we waited for the people to pack up and leave and carried our fully expanded tent across the campground and claimed it for ourselves.
Camping was my father’s idea. My mother was along for the ride and family time.
I remember two very specific things about that first year we went: My best friend melted her flip flops off on the campfire and my father caught a green tree on fire.
There’s a story behind one of those. My father, who will probably be very embarrassed that I am telling this story (sorry daddy), was having trouble getting the fire to start after a rainstorm. He ended up soaking the wood in “Coleman Fuel” for our stove, essentially gasoline. First, my mother will probably want me to let you know that she was telling him this was a bad idea the whole time. Second, she had my friend and I back very far when my father lit the match. Third, I still remember the ball of fire that erupted from that fire pit. It caught a very summer green tree on fire above it and people all around the campground came running to help. It fizzled out, thankfully, and an older man camping next to us suggested something he called “girl scout water” for all of our fire needs and lent us some for the rest of the trip.
The following years, more traditions came along. We always went camping in August, just before the start of school, a “last hurrah” of sorts. We would always set up the campsite first and, for some reason, dunking ourselves in the freezing cold creek became a tradition. How it was that cold in August, I will never know. Whoever could do it first, all the way over your head, won the game. My father usually won as my best friend, Heather and I stood on the bank squealing as we put our legs in up to our knees and ran back out. I’d usually be the last to dunk and we would all run back to the campfire to warm up and roast some hot dogs.
Our camping trips were always calm and relaxing. We would play in the creek and read book after book by the fire. At night, my parents would try to scare Heather and I with scary stories around the fire. One night, my parents had hatched a scheme that involved my mother coming up behind us and scaring us while my dad distracted us. Well, in the dark, she tripped over another campsite’s tent stake and caused quite the ruckus and ruined the scare. Other times, they got us...really good.
When we were teenagers, I remember sitting at the very top of the campground’s swingset to get a cell signal so we could check our flip phones. It was there that Heather got the first voicemail from her then middle school boyfriend, now husband.
That campground and camping, in general, will always hold so many memories for me. This year, my parents and I are planning on a camping trip next week as a vacation. Hopefully, while you read this, I am reading a book by a bubbling river.