One of the first things we did after bringing home Betty (our new travel trailer) was to save the date for the annual family camping trip with a group from our church. This fun-filled weekend has been held every year for the last 25 years. Nevertheless, it would be the first time that Helen (adorable wife) and I would attend. I can’t really explain our reasons for not attending, especially in the early years except that it was probably because our boys were heavily involved in competitive soccer. That was our loss because this is a large amount of fun and very spiritually rewarding.
Family Camp is held in one of the group campgrounds in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area located on the Cumberland Plateau near Oneida, Tennessee. The area is truly beautiful and this year the leaves were brimming with color. Fortunately, their color lingered long this year due to above average rainfall. About 25 families had signed up for the trip and we had over 70 people, including children, attending throughout the weekend with Helen and me being the oldest—probably by several years. Our age didn’t prevent us from being excited, however, and we were eagerly looking forward to the experience. This is what Easin’ Along is all about…faith, families, food, and fun–our kind of retirement activity
We made it to Big South Fork around 2:30 on Friday afternoon and, except for one other person, were the first to arrive (being retired does have advantages). We filled our fresh water tank at the campsite and backed Betty in place with little trouble (I’m getting better at this). The reason for wanting to arrive early aside from our excitement was to secure as level a camping spot as we could find to make set up as simple as possible. We were soon joined by other families and, after everyone arrived, it turned out that we were only one of two campers with trailers as everyone else had tents.
The fun began almost immediately as children scampered about joining their friends and playing games. Of all the events of the weekend, it was this one aspect that gave me the most pleasure. It was so much fun seeing the young people ranging in age from three to thirteen playing outdoor games like hide and seek, flashlight tag, and football while leaving the Ipads and the television at home. I love it when children play while making up their own games (and rules) and I love hearing their laughter and squeals even more as they score wins or run away to avoid being “it”.
On the first evening, we were treated to a delicious potato soup prepared by one of the organizers and long-time attendees of the camp. We were then led by Mark, our energetic assistant minister through a short session where every family was asked to introduce themselves and share a family tradition with the group. The stories and traditions brought smiles all around and it was a great way to become better acquainted with the attendees. This was especially true for Helen and me because I serve as an usher for our early service every Sunday and don’t encounter most of the congregation that attends the eleven o’clock service. The same thing is somewhat true for Helen because she sings in the choir. The introductions were followed by an inspiring devotional given by Richard, one of the elders in the church.
On Saturday morning, a breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and sausage was served up with the assistance of a couple of young fellows eager to get in on the act. It was a brisk morning and filling my lungs with crisp mountain air went a long way in getting me out of my comfortable bed inside Betty and on toward the pavilion in search of fresh coffee. I was just ahead of a group of children who arrived on their scooters in a jolly mood despite the early hour.
Helen and I spent the bulk of the day chatting with fellow campers and giving a few tours of Betty while we got her a bit more organized. We took a walk to admire the fall colors before preparing a cornbread salad for the evening potluck dinner. Oh, and a nap was also on the schedule…just because we could.
At around 5:30 all campers began arriving for hamburgers and hot dogs that were accompanied by a smorgasbord of side dishes brought in by the families. I stuffed myself with a variety of treats, some of which are shown in the photo above. Trust me when I tell you that everything was delightful including the conversations we had with everyone sitting at our table where I met my new BFF, Mollie. She was a bit shy at first, but Helen brought out her best grandmother smile and let Mollie know that she wanted to be called BeBe (her name to our grandchildren) and that I was Big Daddy. Mollie and I became fast friends.
The evening was capped off with a huge bonfire, a time of singing songs and a great message delivered by Mark as well as a devotional led by a charming young middle-schooler nicknamed “May-Ray”. I don’t know when I ever felt more relaxed and grateful to our Creator for the blessings we have been given including the opportunity to share in a setting such as this. I’m also certain that the children will remember this time for many years to come.
After we left the bonfire, I did peek at my Ipad (don’t tell the kids) to find out if our Tennessee Volunteers were winning their football game. Fortunately, we had the game in hand and I was able to shut everything down and relax by our own campfire. Helen did the same. The night sky was brilliant with a full moon as well. I even saw a shooting star, something I haven’t witnessed in years.
Pancakes and bacon were again the selection for breakfast on Sunday morning along with a variety of cereal and fruit. This didn’t take long as many were involved in packing for the trip home before our Sunday Service began. Mark had arranged for a student who is working as an intern at the church to come and lead us in music. This young man was a very talented guitarist and had a great voice. He taught us the words to several songs and led us in singing them. We also had several children participate in the service and a children’s sermon from Mark on the beauty that surrounds us. After Mark’s message to the congregation, Helen and I served communion.
I took away a lot from the weekend that will stay with me for a while. The staggering beauty of Big South Fork, the wonderful fellowship with members of our congregation, many of whom I had never met before, the awesome experience of being surrounded by beautiful, loving, and happy children, and of being touched by each of the messages we received.
I left with a better understanding of what it means to be grateful for God’s blessings. It didn’t require a great cathedral either…only a weekend of worship in the woods.
We had a wonderful time at Family Camp, and it’s once again a great time to be Easin’ Along.