Monday, July 7, 2014

Summer vacations at the river

Summer on the South Branch of the Potomac River.
As I post this today, July 7, 2014, Mom, Brother and his wife are off on a road trip to the river.
That's just about 100 years of river fun for our family!

In the summertime thoughts turn to vacation memories. Last week I saw Randy Seaver's "Saturday Night Genealogy Fun" post on his always informative blog, Genea-Musings, which you can read here. This time he challenges us to get those memories out of our heads and down for others to see. I like that idea and so I thought it was high time I wrote about our summer vacations down on the Potomac River. Mom has summer river memories and you can read about that here. It's only now later in life that I truly appreciate how Mom and Dad helped make memories for us kids. So here's what I remember, except for the yucky parts which get left out but you'll be able to guess at.

We lived in Cleveland in the 1950s which was about a four hour drive from little Frostburg, the small town in the mountains of Western Maryland where all of my relatives lived and where Mom and Dad grew up and Mom still lives. Dad would take a vacation week from work and we'd pack up the car with a load of stuff, and I do mean a load! I now wish I had a photo of that car. We'd drive to Frostburg and stay with Grandma and Grandpop Kelly for one night before leaving in the morning for the river.

"The river" was a section of the South Branch of the Potomac River in West Virginia where Aunt Dotty and Uncle Harold had a cabin. That's where we'd stay with Mom's sister and her family. It was right next to the cabin of Aunt Peetie and Uncle Camey, Mom's brother and his family. Both families had two boys each to play with so that was a lot of fun right there.

And the food was great! Mom and the two aunts knew just what kids and Dad's loved to eat. Roasted corn on the cob, burgers or hot dogs, baked beans and some sort of salad like potato or macaroni. Then a desert. I still remember Aunt Dotty's pineapple upside-down cake and her coconut cake and Mom's German chocolate cake. There were old fashioned jell-o molds in gem-like colors with fruit magically floating inside and something called ambrosia with pineapple chunks, whipped cream and coconut. No one went hungry down at the river!

The facilities were adequate but hardly luxurious. The modest cabin stood on stilts about eight to ten feet off the ground. That was to save it from the annual spring floods that would wipe out cabins with a lower profile. Eventually, one very bad and rainy spring the torrent that was the flooded river destroyed all cabins on this stretch. Now wiser people bring in their RVs at the start of the summer season. It had taken both uncles years of hard work to build those sturdy little cabins but they were destroyed in just a few hours that spring.

Each cabin had an outhouse. Yes, we all used the outhouse with the sliver of a moon cut into the door. Ours was a two-seater. You had to be awfully close to the other person to make use of that feature. For me, the outhouse was a bit scary... because of the spiders and snakes. OK, I really don't know how many spiders and snakes there were but the cousin boys talked up a good game to scare their city girl relative. Typical boys!

The cabin was a basic affair with two bedroom with curtains serving as doors. There was a potbelly stove positioned at the middle of the room and at the other end was the space that served as kitchen and dining area. The furniture was old and a bit beat-up but it was real comfortable. There was a big screened in porch running the full length of the back of the house that looked out through the trees at the river. A big family-sized table, and a bunch of chairs and a glider for two decorated the porch. It was my favorite place to be on a hot summer afternoon. If you got tired out playing on the river you could find a cozy spot inside or on the porch and find a book to read there. Aunt Dot was an elementary school teacher and knew exactly what to bring to encourage reading. It was a house of people who loved to read so now I can see that it was brilliant to have the house stocked with books and not piled high with the usual assortment of toys. Nice going, Aunt Dot!

But the headline act was right down the muddy bank and on the river. So what's your favorite river activity? Boating?

Aunt Petie and Uncle  Camey and the boys loading up the boat for a nice float down river.
Or would you like to go fishing? How does that sound?

Grandpop Williams, Mom's father, fishing down on the river.

Mom fishing, about 1938.
Or would you like to take a swim? Or float down the river on an inner tube? Dive off a big rock out in the river? What's your preference?
Our rock used for diving, or chilling.
Photo taken by Cousin J. C.

Mom and her family and friends sitting on one of the big rocks in the Potomac River about 1930.

Mom tells of one summer camping on the river when her mother, Emma, assigned her the task of watching her infant brother, Camey, who was napping in a straw basket. Mom had a book, as usual, and was so engrossed in it that she didn't notice the cow who wandered over and started nibbling on the straw basket. Emma came up from her swim about that time and Mom got a severe scolding!

Thinking back on it all, I remember the corn as the best I've ever had and the peaches the largest, freshest, juiciest, and most delicious ever. There was personal freedom to be had like no other time in life. You could do as you pleased, go where you wished and swim as much as you liked. Sleep as late as you wanted. But everyone had to help if your mother asked you to do a chore. And everyone had to help clean up after dinner while the moms relaxed on the porch and got thanked profusely.

There was a big flood in 1936. A nasty spring flood that whipped out everything. Mom remembers that one. And then there was a later one that took out the aunts and uncles cabins. Maybe that was in the 1960s, but I can't remember the year exactly. I do remember being sad about it, but not as sad as I feel now thinking that it put an end to our summer river memories.

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