Glamping: Revisiting Childhood Camping Memories

When it comes to vacations, I am a bit of a princess. I love luxury bedding and room service. We work hard, so when we are able to get away, I prefer five star accommodations. Since I began “chapter two” of my life, the ability to travel has become important to me. I have heard “the condition of your home reflects the condition of your life.” One thing I know for sure is I don’t need anymore clutter in my life! I will pick a vacation over knick knacks every time!

When dating during your 40’s, you hopefully have narrowed down the qualities you are looking for in a potential mate. There are characteristics you prefer, and there are also “deal breakers”. Deal breakers are non-negotiable. It’s always a good idea to casually mention the deal breaker during conversation on the first date. For me, any partner in life had to love dogs, and be willing to love my dog unconditionally. Kevin passed with flying colors! At some point, he asked me his deal breaker question. “Do you by any chance like to camp?” he asked. I later found out a couple of ladies didn’t make it to the second date due to their reaction to the camping question. Kevin hit the jackpot with me. He didn’t know he found a girl born and raised in West Virginia who spent her childhood camping and loving it.

Every summer my parents loaded five kids and a week’s supply of food, clothes and equipment into our Clark Griswald Ford LTD “Country Squire” station wagon and headed to Sherwood Lake. The small lake is located on the southern end of the Monongahela National Forest in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. It isn’t a big lake, and only canoes and jon boats without motors are allowed on the lake. There is a beach area for swimming and bathhouses in all the camping areas. Some of my best childhood memories are from summers spent at Lake Sherwood. Hiking around the lake was always a big deal, and when we reached the dam, it was tradition for my Dad to throw my Mom over his shoulders and run across the dam with my brother and sisters chasing after.

Sherwood Lake, West Virginia

When I think about it, I wonder how my Dad got everything in the big wagon. After all, Clark Griswold was able to cram a mean snarly dog and Aunt Edna half way through their adventure. I’m sure it was more comfortable when the dog was killed and Aunt Edna died. Say what you want, but tying Aunt Edna to the luggage rack was an act of pure genius. In many ways, I can relate to the adventure and chaos of family trips in a station wagon. There were times when we had so much fun, we would go home to wash clothes and get fresh supplies. We would then pile back in the wagon and drive almost two hours for a second week. My parents were either awesome or crazy, or a little bit of both.

 Our wagon looked very much like Clark Griswold’s 1979 Ford LTD Country Squire Wagon!

Setting up camp for two people in a tiny cabin is a lot of work, so I can’t imagine camping for two weeks with five children. Some of the best memories I have are from Sherwood Lake, so I didn’t blink when Kevin asked me if I “would be open to camping”. Our second date was a day trip to the cabin, a place I am convinced he built just for me.

The last time I camped at Sherwood Lake was in 2002 with my son’s 4-H Club. I asked my Dad to go with us on the trip because I knew I would need help feeding a bunch of growing boys. He also told the best campfire stories! Dad was in his early 70’s and he led the group of ten boys and their fathers on a hike. Unfortunately, most of the hikers turned around and headed back to camp after a couple of miles. Four of us, all adults, decided to venture on and we got lost. What we thought would be a three mile hike turned into ten miles! My Dad led the way, with three out of shape parents following him. When we reached the dam, Dad took off running across the dam. I was doing good to hobble after him, and when I finally got to the other side, Dad was waiting with a smile on his face. “It’s tradition,” he said. “I couldn’t break tradition.” I have no doubt my Mother was watching from above and laughing like she did so many years ago.

It’s been eighteen years since I watched my Dad running across the dam, leaving three “thirty something” adults in the dust! Six years ago, Dad and my stepmother, Eunice, came to our tiny cabin in North Carolina for a weekend. Located at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and five minutes to Stone Moutain State Park, it was a weekend I will never forget.

I always tell people we are going “glamping” because our cabin does not have electricity or running water. However, we have almost every luxery one would need whether summer or winter. It was “tiny” before “tiny houses” became cool. Kevin built it mostly by himself. Creating and building is one of Kevin’s many talents, and most of his knowledge was passed down from his Father. I always say, “You are a visionary,” and he just smiles and shakes his head. I could not build a house of cards much less anything with a hammer and nails! God blessed me with the ability to create stories. It’s funny, because we think so differently but are so much alike. I like to think we are a good balance of logic and dreaming.

So, what is “glamping” like in our tiny piece of heaven? My favorite place is the sleeping loft. When we set up camp, it’s my job to make the queen size bed with fresh linens brought from home. My grandmother’s quilt, a diet coke, and my Kindle is all I need. I love to nap, especially when it rains. The sound of rain hitting the tin roof while thunder echos off the mountains is a perfect lullaby. I leave the small window in the loft open, and the smell of rain combined with musky wet earth takes me back to childhood. It’s as if your senses have been asleep and suddenly wake up when not locked inside a house filled with computers, t.v. and phones.

We have a propane heater for winter, and a generator runs an air conditioner for the hot months. Our food stays cold in a large cooler on the front porch, and we usually cook over an open fire. We also have a propane stove if the weather is bad, and a hot water heater fueled by propane as well. I have several basins I use for washing dishes and for taking a bath. Kevin is in the process of building me an outdoor shower, but for now we take baths “Little House on the Prairie” style. Our biggest luxery is a compost toilet. We are trying to anticipate our needs for when we get older. If the ladder to the loft ever gets too difficult, our futon is a comfortable double bed.

Evening at the cabin is my favorite time. I get the laterns and light candles. We have a wrought iron chandelier where votive candles give the room a soft light. A battery pack used for charging Kindles also powers strings of LED lights to complete the ambiance. We sit in silence with the windows and front door open and just listen. Isn’t it a shame we forget to listen to the sounds of the world of birds, crickets, and other forest critters? It isn’t unusual for a few turkey to come strolling by and sometimes a curious group of deer wander down to graze at dusk. Kevin is never happy when they find a way into the fenced blueberry patch or eat our pears. As long as the bears do not get my steak, it’s all cool with me. It’s moments like these when your senses become sharp and your spirit is at peace. I always say it’s “nature’s valium.” It is a calm difficult to find unless you are truly willing to “unplug”.

We remember Harleigh & Gypsy who are no longer with us.

When my Dad and stepmother, Eunice, came to the cabin six years ago, Dad immediately understood why we loved it so much. We went to Stone Mountain, cooked on the open fire, and played poker by the light of lanterns and candles. Dad was in his early 80’s, and wasn’t at all humble when he won the poker game and took every coin we had! I asked Dad if he would be okay climbing the ladder to the loft. He looked at me like I was crazy. After all, he spent every summer painting in order to save up enough money to take his family camping. I think about how much he loved us to work so hard to take us camping. It’s probably why “glamping” is so meaningful to me. Thanks Dad.

In memory of Jarrell Kenneth Hartsog, 1931-2020. We miss you, but know you are with Mom fishing, camping & running across the dam!
Stone Mountain State Park one room house.
Exploring Stone Mountain with Dad & Eunice.
Loving life with Kevin
Waterfalls at Stone Mountain State Park
Our little kitchen table is a great place to eat, play games, and read!

Bella relaxing in the hammock

Published by statesville2020

Francie has spent her thirty year career as a licensed family therapist. She is a freelance writer & her work has been published in medical journals, magazines, and newspapers. Francie lives in Statesville, NC with her husband, Kevin, and their two dogs, Gypsy & Bella.

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