Backroads: Christmas at the Camp

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A decorated cedar and trunk filled with gifts.

The Christmas season always brings back a fullness of heart when I think of the holidays I’ve spent in Love, Virginia. I have celebrated Christmas in a variety of houses here on the mountain, but the ones that stick in my mind the most were the years spent in the little green hunting camp I rented and called home from 1980 to 1983 and again from 1990 until 1993. Nestled between two steep mountains with Back Creek flowing right out the door, the view from the camp was isolated and spectacular.

The camp pictured in winter.

The first Christmas there was the most exciting for me because I was living the mountain life I had dreamed about since childhood. If the camp lacked modern conveniences, I never paid much attention. I was too enamored with living in the Blue Ridge to notice my new digs didn’t have one bit of insulation. When the wind blew, so did the curtains! The indoor bathroom was so small one could sit on the potty, stick feet in the shower, and wash hands in the miniscule sink without ever having to move. The kitchen was equally tiny, but a real step saver when it came to doing five things at once. The rest of the house made up for it, with four bedrooms and an enormous living/dining area in the front.  There was a bar on one end and a long harvest table that could seat fourteen on the other. Boards were nailed directly to the rafters, providing a cathedral ceiling throughout. 

Because the ceiling was so high, our first Christmas tree was a monster. The top of a blue spruce was cut from a neighbor’s tree and it had to be cut three more times before it would fit inside the house.  Once the behemoth was in place, my daughter Heather and I strung long strands of popcorn and cranberry garlands on it, standing on the bar to reach the top.  Other adornments were white lights, red plaid bows and pinecones sprinkled with glitter. With an old quilt spread around its base, it looked like something out of a Laura Ingalls novel.

Back Creek flowing out the back door.

Although I loved living at the camp, by the summer of 1983 the roof was leaking so badly I had learned the rudiments of sleeping with a galvanized bucket on my chest to catch the drips.  Since the beds were nailed to the wall, I had no other choice but to learn the fine art of balance.  A move down the mountain was made when the leaks became unbearable.

When my first marriage dissolved, I found myself living back at the camp, sad but determined to make a happier future for myself. That Christmas was frugal to say the least. I cut a shapely cedar at a co-worker’s farm and loaded it in the back of my ’51 Ford pickup and drove home. I dug out candles with white lights and put them in every window. I hiked up the mountain and pulled up running cedar to decorate the fireplace mantle. Coming back down, the sight of the camp all aglow against a backdrop of dark blue mountains caused a lump to form in my throat and I felt a joy I hadn’t known for quite some time. Suddenly the lack of material goods seemed trivial compared to the richness my heart felt. Stepping through the back door, the aroma of fresh cedar filled the house and I threw a few more logs in the woodstove, turned on some Christmas music and put my feet up. I filled an antique trunk with wrapped presents for my daughter and strung some colored lights in the antlers of a deer head mounted over the fireplace. The whole effect was cozy, especially when I turned out the lights and lit a few oil lamps. The dim yellow glow of their flames cast long shadows about the room and set the scene for simplicity.

I celebrated two more Christmases in that fashion and although I was alone, I was never lonely.  Then the unexpected happened. My family of two turned into a multitude of blessings as December 1992 rolled around. My mother, whom I hadn’t celebrated a Christmas with in twenty-five years, moved to Waynesboro just about the time I began dating my up-the-road neighbor and the miracle of love unfolded as Billy Coffey and I began planning our future together.  

The camp’s miniscule kitchen.

Although we’ve had many happy Christmases in our own cabin since, the one at the camp remains the dearest. For it was there I received a gift that had eluded me for so long: peace of mind, hope for the future and a heart full of love. The verse of Jeremiah 29:11 that I had clung to during the hard times became a living reality as its timeless words spoke to me. “I know the plans I have for you, saith the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil; to give you a future and a hope.”

May each of you, regardless of your circumstances, be thankful this Christmas season for the simple blessings God gives as well as the greatest gift a loving Father can bestow; the gift of his Son. 

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