Beauty, Bread And The Beloved

by RhodesTer on December 24, 2009

I married a girl some time ago, and there was this whole family that came along with the deal.

Granddad Don, Grandma Peg, Aunt Diana and the girl

My dad had drawn his final breath way back in ‘76 and, although mom and I were pretty close, I hadn’t had any kind of “real family” for years. I’d get up to see her around Christmas time but it was never a big holiday affair.

I’d drop in, bringing the girl with me, and we’d stay a day or two, usually around the holiday season but never on Christmas day itself.. that just never worked out. We’d bring her something — one year it was a puppy who ended up being with us for the next ten years — and she’d always have a little something for us.

Mom wasn’t about “fuss and bother,” as she called it. She’d do a bit of Christmas shopping and get it all sent off to distant relatives who seldom came to see her. Sometimes they’d send her something. I always brought mine in person.

In 1993, she joined my dad. We inherited the pup, Rufus, and proceeded to miss her terribly. We still do.

But I always had Camp Nelson.

The girl I married had told me about the place early on, back when we were just getting to know one another. She said she’d been raised there and that there was nothing closer to heaven-on-earth. Well, that sounded like a good place to get married, so that’s what we did. We tied the knot and vowed to be faithful before God and everyone else right there in a tiny little chapel that looked like something out of Little House on the Prairie, except there wasn’t a prairie for miles.. only gorgeous, breathtaking mountains.

A few months later, I was invited to spend the first (for me) of what would later become an annual tradition.. the Camp Nelson family Christmas trip.

Welcome to our cabin

You’ll find the place nestled among the Sierra-Nevada Mountains of California, in the Sequoia National Forest. You drive past the valley town of Porterville and hit the highway to the mountains, enduring an hour on a twisting, winding snake of a road that brings you into the former first world war encampment of Camp Nelson, now home to mostly retirees and mountain folk.

The town looks like Norman Rockwell and John Muir got together and designed it, after having first asked advice from Thomas Kinkade and Ansel Adams.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in
where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.”

–John Muir

I remember that first Christmas visit well. I’d been there a few times by then, but the girl was right.. there was nothing like Christmas in Camp Nelson. A silent hush emanated from the snow, broken by the crunch of our footsteps as we stepped from our car after pulling into the little driveway in front of the cabin. If you stood still for just a few seconds, you could hear the trees breathe.

A cabin in the snow

Granddad Don knew a car had pulled up, so the front door flew open and there he stood, his curiosity satisfied once he saw that it was his “little brown-eyes” and her shiny new husband. He welcomed us in, and in we went.

We stayed for several days and, for that whole time, the welcome never wore out.

Others arrived and they too were ushered in with open arms. Aunts, uncles, cousins, friends.. they poured into the cabin and rendered it a sanctuary of acceptance and love. It was a place to forget the woes of the year, even though they were lightly discussed before dinner, but as if they had happened to someone else. We didn’t know worry and stress while we were there. There just wasn’t room for it.

Granddad Don would fix Grandma Peg a bit of holiday cheer in a glass, then she’d regale us with tales from the old days, about family and friends who’d long since passed. I didn’t know of those people, but that wasn’t a requisite for finding charm in her stories. Granddad would chime in and, as often happens with those who’ve been together for a lifetime, they’d spend a great deal of time discussing the finer points of things that may or may not have happened and how they happened, if they did happen at all, depending on who was doing the remembering.

Aunt Donna visited for a few of those Christmases. My girl’s maternal aunt, she was a gracious soul who’d busy herself with things to be done.. dinner preparation, dishes, a spot of cleaning, a little gift wrapping and then a nice nature walk among those majestic trees to cap it off. Her sister would occasionally accompany her on a stroll along the crunchy, snowy paths and they’d gab on endlessly as if they hadn’t seen each other in years.

It’s been years now since Donna herself was peacefully laid to rest under those majestic trees, after cancer had ferociously claimed her kind but fragile body. Her gracious, loving soul flew on and soared like an eagle. Today, as Christmas comes around once again, she patiently awaits the great reunion.

“Take your time,” she says, “there’s plenty yet for you all to do.”

I haven’t had many holiday visits up there in that mountain heaven, where John Denver, Andy Williams and Bing Crosby sang us Christmas tunes and the wispy smell of the fireplace warmed my spirit. But I’ll cherish what few I was invited to with a grateful heart. The time came when life in the mountains was proving to be too much for such hearty old souls as Don and Peg, particularly with the loss of Donna stinging so badly. Things would never be the same for them without her cheery and loving visits so they moved to the valley below, sadly leaving the glorious cabin to be an empty, lonely sentry of God’s creation. But although the memories are cherished, the place only plays a small part of it, since Christmas is really in the heart.

My girl and I have recently passed through a few tough years. A Camp Nelson Christmas has long been a thing of the past, and there have been Christmases spent solely with each other, wherever we have found ourselves. But this year some angels have seen to it that we get to do it once more, perhaps just for this Christmas or maybe a handful yet to come – only the one who wrote the book of life knows about such things.

A girl and her GrandmaHe’s the one who called Grandma Peg home earlier this year, so Granddad returned to the lonely cabin to wait out that great reunion in solitude. But he won’t be alone this Christmas, because we and a handful of others will be on hand to stoke the fireplace and the memories, to keep both from waning as the night goes on.

I’ll be offline for a few days. It’s a break from all of this, to find my soul once again and get back in touch with what’s important and meaningful.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and
HAPPY NEW YEAR to my readers!

Cherish 2010 and each other.

Cherish the now.

tell the WORLD..
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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Scott Roche December 24, 2009 at 4:46 am

Lovely.
Scott Roche´s brilliant blustering.. Podcasts For Christmas! My ComLuv Profile

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2 RhodesTer December 24, 2009 at 11:40 am

Aw, thanks.. :-)

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3 Raymond December 24, 2009 at 8:13 am

Very nice. Merry Xmas back at ya….

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4 RhodesTer December 24, 2009 at 11:40 am

You too, Shobe.

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5 Jim Nelson December 24, 2009 at 4:39 pm

Camp Nelson? Must be a cool place indeed!
Jim Nelson´s brilliant blustering.. Who needs domain mapping? My ComLuv Profile

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