For many years, camping at a different state park every June, July, and August, was a family endeavor. My siblings and all of our children went and many memories were made. Holly River State Park was one of our favorite parks and my kids still talk about the year Grandpa hand carved each of his grandkids a little boat to play with in the river.
In June, 2019, my parents were camping at Holly River over Father’s Day weekend. I can’t remember why I didn’t go with them that year but it probably had to do with my health. Maeve the Motorhome hadn’t been adopted yet, and sleeping in a tent was rough on my aching body.
Father’s Day dawned beautifully weather-wise and I decided to drive down to Holly River to surprise my Dad and to tell him happy Father’s Day. We had a good visit, and when I left, I decided to go to Helvetia and eat at The Hutte Restaurant. A road to Pickens left directly from the park and I figured I’d be there in no time.
Well, between Holly River and Pickens, WV, is a grid of dirt roads that meander forever. After the initial sign, there were no further hints of civilization. Many of the dirt roads were dead ends and I had no cell service. I was almost to the point of tying ribbons on trees to mark my trail when I saw an elderly gentleman standing at a gate by his tractor. I asked him if I was anywhere near Pickens, and he said Missy? Pickens, Kentucky is just the other side of that hill. He then cackled and spit a long stream of tobacco juice into the dust at his feet. He could tell that I’d been driving long enough to believe that I’d crossed a state line or two.
I found Pickens, then Helvetia, and ate at a great German smorgasbord at the Hutte before finding my way home. My parents came home the next day. Looking back, I am so thankful for that visit with my father because, by the end of the week, he was gone. He’d fallen early one morning, causing a brain bleed, and lost consciousness shortly afterward. I was in Tennessee when I got a call to come home and finally made it to the hospital later that night. He passed away ten minutes after I got to his room, surrounded by his wife, all of his kids, and his baby sister.
One afternoon while the AC was gushing frigid air, I was cold and went looking for something to snuggle into. In my closet, I found a flannel shirt that had been my Dad’s. It’s probably a few steps beyond normal, but when I put it on, I felt like my Dad was giving me a hug.