From the category archives:

Those I LOVE

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


YOU so silly!

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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 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. ➡

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C'est POEM
Thumbnail image for Blessed

My 1st ever guest post, about my 1st ever soulmate, by my 2nd one; thanx Hunny!

We are blessed to have known her

She made our lives rich – vibrant – better

She was our mother – our grandmother – our friend

wife – sister – aunt

She’s gone on now,
to be with those who wait for us

and look over us and pray for us

She knows and understands
and loves all the more

and she shall be dearly missed

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