The waters of William’s River still run swift and cold. It swirls around huge boulders, cresting white and foaming, as it rushes onward. The immense rocks that throng the river’s banks and inhabit the river itself look as if they had been thrown with abandon by some giant hand.
The river is still as compelling and fascinating as it was the first time I saw it.
Although I am sure that I was taken there earlier, the first memory I have of camping here has been more than 70 years. Daddy had a Model-A Ford, and Grandma O’Dell and I rode in the rumble seat for the long trip from home. We didn’t have enough pillows, so Grandma and I hunted a patch of sweet ferns and stuffed some feed sacks with them. For years, the haunting fragrance of those crushed ferns brought back the vivid memory of Grandma.
Each April as trout season opened, Daddy heard the siren call of the river and would load up the big tent, camping supplies and all the family. It didn’t matter whether it was sunshine or rain; Daddy heard the call and had to go. Many times Mom had a little baby but that didn’t deter Daddy. (I asked my youngest sister Susie, as we were camping together this week, how many years she had been coming here. She answered, “Why didn’t you know?—I was born here!”)
We always camped at White Oak, a large tributary that ran into William’s River. It was an ideal place that was off the road with a large area to pitch a tent and plenty of room for a gang of kids. It is no longer a camping area, with trees and underbrush obscuring the place we loved.
Someone asked me recently why we always go to William’s, when there are many more trout streams for us to visit. Well, I am sure it is tradition that keeps us coming back to the same place. Even after Daddy wasn’t able to go there, we kept the family tradition with our children and siblings. We tried to go each year during spring break when the kids were out of school.
We had to pick a large campsite. By the time we got all the campers, tents and pavilions set up around a central campfire, we looked like a wagon train on our way to the West. (I was told this week that soon the Forest Service regulations will stipulate that only one camper will be allowed on a campsite.) To me, that takes all the fun out of it. There’s nothing that can bind a family any tighter together than camping out together for a few days.
Husband Criss was not brought up like we were, and it must have been a culture shock to say the least when he made his first trip with us. We hadn’t been married very long, and I was thrilled at the prospect of going. It rained the entire week, and of course the black mud was ankle deep. (Criss was less than thrilled.)
Daddy had rigged a tarp over the campfire for Mom to cook, and one evening she was fixing cube steak. All at once a stream of water poured down in her skillet of steak (there was a little hole in the tarp) and made gravy around the meat. (Criss was still less than thrilled!)
It was a long time before I persuaded him to go camping again, and he reneged when it came to sleeping in a tent. He insists on using a camper. I miss the old tent, though. Our tent had a floor in it, and I can still smell the piney fragrance of the hemlock boughs that daddy cut to put under it. Mom would pin three quilts together to stretch across the width of the tent, and it was always my luck to sleep along the seam where safety pins pinned them together.
We were really bonded together as a family. Sometimes we were so crowded that when Daddy hollered, “Turn!” we all had to turn in unison. Of course we dug and ate ramps (cooked over a campfire; they were wonderful!) on our trip, and it was an experience to drive along William’s River road and smell the aroma descending up from each campfire. Woe unto the one who didn’t eat ramps and had to sleep in the tent with the rest of us!
The campfire at night was one of the high spots of our trip. Daddy would build a roaring fire, and we drew our chairs up close and watched the flickering flames as darkness closed in around us. There was such a feeling of closeness and security as we talked round the fire, while the little ones roasted marshmallows and grew increasingly sleepy.
We must have sounded like the Walton’s after prayers were said and we bedded down in the tent. “Good Night, Daddy—I love you.” “Good Night, Alyce Faye, I love you too.” “Good Night, Mommy—I love you.” “Good Night Alyce Faye—I love you too.” This went on, all the way down the line, until each one of us – Larry, Mary Ellen, Mark, Ronnie, Jeannie and Susie had their turn.
These memories are precious, and that is the reason that I keep returning. I can almost see Daddy, with his old hat stuck full of fishing flies, coming around a bend in the river. He has that old familiar grin on his face, carrying his creel full of trout. Mom is cooking over an open campfire, and there will be trout and fried potatoes.
Since it was Mother’s Day, I wish to send a bouquet of roses to all of our blessed mothers who have sacrificed for their children, nurtured and labored for us, and made a home wherever we happened to be. Whether in a tent pitched along a trout stream, or in an old Jenny Lind house, it was Mom who made the home. God bless these mothers and may God reward them abundantly.
The days of youth slipped quickly by,
Life’s sun rose higher in the sky.
Full grown were we, yet ever nigh
To love us still, was Mother.
And when life’s span of years shall end,
I know that God will gladly send,
To welcome home her child again,
That ever-faithful Mother.
by George W. Wiseman
The mother is the heart of a home, and when she is gone, the heart is also gone.
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