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My singular guest-poster has returned to celebrate our return to Camp Nelson, allowing me to crosspost his marvelous Xmas Eve reminiscence from the perspective of all three Christmas ghosts at once (thank you, Hunny).

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

family gathers on the porch at Christmas

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 after 1990, 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 hanging out with 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, idealistic 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 mainly retirees and mountain folk.

The place looks like Norman Rockwell and John Muir got together and designed a town, 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.

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 “sock-it-to-me”.. a bit of holiday cheer in a glass. 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 ferociously claimed her 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 for you all to do yet.”

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. Yet, 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. It looks as though this will be one of those years, but after recently having come so close to forever losing my girl, we both know better than ever how much it’s who you’re with and not so much where.

Dorian with her Grandma PegGrandma Peg herself was called home early last 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 family will be on hand to stoke the fireplace and the memories, to keep both from waning as the night goes on.

We wish we could be with him, but as Grandma Peg is with him in spirit, we are too.

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

Cherish this coming new year and each other.

Cherish the now.

Related posts of mine:
YOU so silly! — Written for Grandma
Happy Damn Holidays! — MY holiday post


Silliness should be prized. I’ve had the good fortune of being raised with it as it’s always been one of my family’s most prized pursuits. None of us are class clowns or cut-ups (I had to marry to add that to the mix) but we love to laugh. We laugh readily & easily as well as good & long, especially when a shared bit of silly is the cause. Of course, it’s not so much the silliness as sharing it that we find infectious. Inside jokes are a constant. Our favorites are ones that don’t require insider information to be laughable so that anyone can join in. It also helps that those don’t require long memories since my maternal Grandma was the only one with a good memory.

“The more you laugh, The more you fill with glee
And the more the glee, The more we’re a merrier we!”

~ I Love To Laugh, “Mary Poppins” ~

What memories she had! One she shared time & again in her later years has become especially dear. When she & her siblings were quite small, one of her brothers would say, “YOU sooo siil-ly!” Grandma not only remembered it but quoted it exactly as that little boy during the Great Depression had said it. Such an appropriate remembrance too for she never would talk much about her childhood struggles; just pointing out that everyone does in one way or another. It was the little things she shared, like those long-ago words of her brother or a cherished doll (so rare amidst such poverty & no doubt the reason she collected dolls throughout her life).

“I have made it a rule of my life never to regret and never to look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy… you can’t build on it; it’s only good for wallowing in.”
~ Katherine Mansfield ~

Optimism is a choice. While it does come more naturally for some than others, when paired with our often opposing natural inclinations, it’s a powerful tool. My mum tends to be pessimistic by nature but so childlike in her faith & hope that optimism is the knife she uses to cut her pessimism down to size. It wasn’t until Grandma’s recent death that I fully realized she was a Realistic Optimist just like me although I’d long understood that our souls saw the world in the same way. She considered us soulmates, teaching me early on that true connections are made through the soul & are never limited to romantic relationships.

Grandma's little girl

Our souls are also how we connect to the world. The eyes are considered windows to that one part of us that is wholly unlike anyone else not solely because they allow a glimpse in but more importantly because it’s how we should be looking out. Memories, while precious, aren’t what make us who we are as is typically believed. My own broken brain & fictional explorations like Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse” call such common wisdom (as if wisdom is ever common) into question. It’s our souls that define us & our experiences that shape us, regardless of how or if they’re remembered.

“There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of a truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours. To the cognition of the brain must be added the experience of the soul.”
~ Arnold Bennett ~

Remembrance is simply a journey, along a path the lucky ones hope is true. Our strongest memories are born of our strongest emotions so the mosaic of our life has amazing & horrible moments equally highlighted. It really was the best of times & the worst of times but we choose which we want to build from. Of the numerous things my Grandma imparted to me, by far the most precious was her ability to focus on the good in myself & others. My mum & her parents each provided unconditional love; Granddad accepts people as they are which he passed on to his daughter who wanted me so badly she couldn’t help but love me while Grandma, as she did with everyone, saw all my flaws but never let them keep her from seeing all my potential.

“There is one thing one has to have: either a soul that is cheerful by nature, or a soul made cheerful by work, love, art, and knowledge.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche ~

Disappointment’s a given, hurt an inevitable risk & betrayal a likely eventuality. It’s not just human frailty that keeps things a far cry from perfect, our own circumstances work against us. To live is to live in interesting times. There are no easy fixes or guarantees; luck runs out, loved ones die, we let ourselves & others down, they reciprocate, no amount of hard work or positive thought leads to a particular outcome, goals can only keep you on track & acting on your dreams may not make a damn bit of difference. Letting any of that stop you is the only form of failure that really exists though.

“There are three things in life which are real: God, human folly, and laughter. The first two are beyond our comprehension so we must do what we can with the third.”
~ Indian Proverb ~

Laughter, recovery, love, perseverance; these are just as much a part of the human condition yet must be chosen. Grandma lived with everything listed previously but refused to get stuck in those aspects of life. In my own life, when I came close to not graduating high school, my mum wisely let her mum take over for a time & the truth Grandma consequently explained was the beginning of the beginning for me. She let me know in no uncertain terms that everything I did affected those who loved me & I had no choice in the matter because they would never stop loving me. It’s not that I thought unconditional love was a free pass but I hadn’t sorted the truth. It’s a responsibility.

“Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope too, can be given to one only by other human beings.”
~ Elie Wiesel ~

If we affect others without even trying, imagine the impact we can have on ourselves. The brilliance of my Grandma-given epiphany was that she specifically did not say I was hurting those I love, forcing me to face that the ripples were out of my control. When we’re struggling — be it financially, physically or psychologically — we tend to think we can limit the collateral damage by withdrawing. The reality is that we can’t make progress from that inward stance & those who are invested in us are already along for the ride. Whatever our progress or lack thereof, if we remember we’re not traveling alone, won’t we want to make the most of the trip?

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to leave the world a better place… to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

Take life on, take others for who they really are & take in the good while accepting the bad so that you too can live as my Grandma did. Never one to hold back her opinions or not pursue her own interests, she learned to balance those needs with kindness & patience. She may have never gotten to live at the beach but she loved her community & there were things she didn’t accomplish but she whole-heartedly enjoyed the things she did. Always the better reflection of me, she’s put me back on track one final time & will always light my way. I’m used to having two mothers to call on this important holiday; instead, my mum & I will honor the one we shared by living our lives anew & making it a fun journey for all involved.

“What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.”
~ Yiddish Proverb ~

We’ll start with a little silliness..

“You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather
[or grandmother] was.”

~ Abraham Lincoln [Grandma's hero, beside Granddad] ~


What the Hell’s so special about December? Absolutely nothing. Calendars are changed time & again, traditions are tweaked over the years & holidays are moved about as if in competition. Thus, it’s not the month, the time of year nor even the holidays being celebrated we should give a damn about. It’s the opportunity to do so. Although those opportunities aren’t equally distributed across countries or throughout various job descriptions, the emphasis on the very things we should be giving particular attention to year round is just about universal. Let’s not look a gift horse in its proverbial mouth.

horse faceHi there, horse called gift, what mouth? I just appreciate YOU! These intersecting holidays, traditions & family gatherings that come at the end of every year have brilliant timing. What better way to wrap up one year & prepare for the next?! It’s not about resolutions but rather refining the resolution in which you view your life. Our lives are not only larger pictures made of smaller panes but are each a small pane in the larger picture that is the world. That creates two important responsibilities. Regardless of our personal level of awareness, we are world citizens & yet must heed the needs in our own lives in order to have anything to give.

Give yourself the best gift of all — take stock. By focusing on what’s most important to you, you’ll know what to spend your time on through the holidays & every day as well as what goals to work toward in the new year. It’s the simplest equation in life; by prioritizing the things that matter, we have more time to enjoy & make the most of them. You may not be looking for or even want change but you most likely do want a continuation of what’s good in your life. That’s only possible by supporting those very things (& people). Beyond not taking all we value for granted, neither can we take for granted what is & isn’t possible. Question your status quo.

Auguri Planetari
“What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal,
and that every path may lead to peace.”

~ Agnes M. Pharo ~

We’ve got a shitload of celebrating going on & a practically universal focus on all the salient issues.. As I said last year, take advantage:

Be it merry or happy, Chanukah or Advent, Kwanzaa or Boxing Day, Winter Solstice or multiple choice; may the season hold both meaning & moments of joy. Whether you’re recreating traditions or creating new ones, have spent too much or have nothing to spend, what’s clear & what matters is taking the time to reflect. What do you believe, what are you open to &, moreover, who do you love but, most importantly, how are you showing it? From taking time to be kind to yourself to the thoughtfulness you’re showing to those around you, it’s not that December has a corner on the market nor should but with all these holidays intertwining; take advantage, people! [Do read the rest, if you haven't already.]

My own life has changed this past year yet stayed the same in important ways. I lost Taz but gained Pagan, Dave lost the job that made our new home possible but is following his heart, we had to forgive ourselves the debts & accept the miracles but still have no furniture. :???: What we’re always striving for are small but effective changes, sustainable choices & a continued focus on only that which improves our lives. Whatever your take on those ideals, seize this opportunity to set aside anything that’s not adding to your overall happiness. From how we celebrate the holidays themselves to what we plan for our futures, let’s not be afraid of failure nor let ourselves be derailed by it. If anything, it should rerail us.

Failing towards success: Discover what doesn’t work & let it go. If anything goes wrong (or less than right — read “not as planned”) this holiday, laugh it off & look past it to the heart of the matter. The same goes for our day-to-day living. Use your plans as guidelines, your dreams as goals & add in something just for yourself each day. Let those “selfish” moments fuel all the selfless ones while that emerging balance begins to define all you do. Have a Hell of a Happy Merry Christmaskah-Advanzaa-Boxing Solstice &, when the gift horse bucks you, just climb back on.

Merry Christmas

“I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas Day. We try to crowd into it the long arrears of kindliness and humanity of the whole year. As for me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, all through the year. And thus I drift along into the holidays–let them overtake me unexpectedly–waking up some fine morning and suddenly saying to myself: ‘Why this is Christmas Day!’”
~ Ray Stannard Baker ~

PS: Perhaps the most significant change this Xmas is that it’ll be spent w/family for the first time in many years! RhodesTer & I have always worked jobs that only get busier this time of year; had he not been laid off, he would’ve been working til midnight both Christmas Eve & Christmas..

“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.”
~ Burton Hillis ~