Some things looked different, foliage more grown up around me with lily pads bigger and more numerous than I remembered. And yet, I found myself remembering, remembering the many times I crossed that bridge, asking my parents for the 30th time, "are we there yet?"
When we finally got inside the state park and made it to the Ranger Station to check-in, I found myself to be giddy, giddy with excitement to see something that, over time, had become just a memory, a 17 year old memory. It was a vivid memory though, not necessarily the surroundings, but the love of family, the relationships, the people. I have never forgotten the excitement I felt to see my grandparents and uncles and aunts. I never tired of camping even if we did go to the same park every year. It was always just simple fun that was filled with riding bikes, exploring the trails, making mud pies, and just being. Life slowed down, even if my sister and I never did.
And so with a giddiness of a young girl coming down the stairs on Christmas morning, we drove to our spot in the park. It was a different spot in the park than where we would camp as a child, but it was summer, not spring, so we opted for the air conditioned small shelter versus tent camping.
And that was OK. I never set out to recreate everything exactly the same, because I think that brings disappointment. And truthfully, nothing stays exactly the same.
But I watched with wonder as my old memories and traditions intertwined with new ones, the next generation experiencing my memories all while making their own. And this is what I wanted. This is what I had hoped for as we crossed that bridge.
And so my parents were there, mom carrying the same tin can full of cookies, the tin can that my little hand reached into many times in search of a cookie. I explained the coffee can to my kids, the coffee can that would be our middle of the night potty if needed to save us from a trip to the bathroom down a very dark, quiet road. The response left me giggling and wondering if that was my first response to the coffee can.
A Coleman stove was used to cook our breakfast, eggs and bacon it was, cooked in my Granny's iron skillet, the same iron skillet that had cooked many of my own childhood breakfasts.
Critter watching at night, of course, with raccoons searching for food. And stories told, remembering the small, baby raccoons that would peak around the tree, wondering if their watchers were gone.
We played until we were filthy, the smell of fish and sweat all over with dirt under finger nails and dirty soles of feet. Bathing while camping never was a high priority-the faucet at the campsite was always enough to wash hands, face, and get teeth brushed.
A walk on the Island Nature trail added to our filth, as well as our many mosquito bites. This was the same trail that was such a part of my memories, the trail that my sister and I begged to go on all the time while there, and the voices were heard, "don't get too far ahead of us or we can't see you." We often pushed that boundary, seeking independence and adventure.
And these words were spoken from me, now a mom to 3 children seeking their own independence and adventure.
The trail was so much the same, and yet so different. The hurricane had come through, toppling many trees, trees that you would never think would fall.
And it looked like life; destruction all around, things fallen that one thinks would never fall. And I saw my life in those trees, fallen, broken, and burned. And then walking on the path, my mom pointed to it, this beautiful growth in the middle of the destruction of the path, a growth with small flowers amidst green foliage. And again, I saw my life; beautiful growth in the middle of destruction, growth that you know can only come from God.
And all around me was the new beautiful growth; a family together, 3 generations, oneness, experiencing old memories and new, blended together into one magnificent memory.
Some old memories were missed though. I could feel it, sense it. The owl lights that hung at our campsite, always shining their soft glow in the complete darkness around; these were missed. Mom looked for them, but couldn't find them.
Funny how something that might seem so insignificant can be so dearly missed. I guess they, these lights, represented something far greater than just light at night; they represented my Granny, a woman that was always a light in the middle of darkness.
But the new generation has their Ninnie, shining her own light now.
My Granny was missed though. I knew we both desperately wished she was there; my mom to once again have her mom, and me to once again have my Granny. It wasn't spoken, but it didn't have to be. I think if I had spoken this wish out loud, I would have opened the flood gates of tears, not sure if I could dam them up once they started.
And I missed my sister as I drove around the loop we rode around many times, both on our Huffies. I could see us, riding fast, wind blowing our hair, excited and feeling so big that we got to ride around all by ourselves. Back at the campsite, cookies grabbed with drink in hand, shortly ready to go again.
Now, as an adult, things that I had never paid attention to were more apparent to me. I found myself annoyed at the mosquitoes, not in the least bit enjoying the constant swatting going on with my arms. The anxiousness in my mind thought about spiders, bad spiders that could bite my kids at night, leaving areas of skin dead and in need of medicine.
And the alligators? Well, they looked different with my "mommy" eyes than they did with my child eyes. I watched for them quite often, warning small kids to back away from the water and "please don't cast right now."
My dad asked, "what happened to you. You used to be so adventurous." And my only response was simply, "I became a mom."
I found myself wondering if I even liked camping anymore, to the point that I told the Other Nut, "I think I hate this now." I wondered if my memories were really what I thought, or had I just made them better over time, over 17 years of time.
But grace found me, even in the darkness of the night when sleep was hard to find me; for we were the only ones in the campsite and fear found me first. And grace said, "it's OK to not like everything about camping now. Things are always different as an adult." And grace said that "it was OK to not be as adventurous now, that memories can still be made." And then grace brought sleep to my tired mind.
Morning showed up, and I met it with excitement, because the darkness of the night was replaced with light. And as I stepped outside our cabin, I really noticed God's creation. I mean really noticed it, and it took my breath away. The morning was still, with only God's creatures singing, and the sound of 3 children excited about fishing. Gone were the worries of spiders and alligators. Gone was the frustration towards the many mosquitoes.
And so I sat, next to the Other Nut, under the tall pines, breeze blowing, and watched 3 children fish with big, fat, juicy worms. I sat, taking it all in, this blending of old and new memories, tucking them safely in the back of my mind, knowing that one day, I'll pull them back out and smile.
And who knows; I might even be driving back over that bridge in another 17 years, and watching, once again, this blending of old and new.