A Memorial Day Story

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By Steve Chitwood, National Alumni Board

My younger son, Abraham, is in 5th grade. According to an Adventure Unlimited-centric chronology, this means he’s been a camper for two years and attended some local DiscoveryBound (DB) Outreach activities. He is on the cusp of a regional DB Outreach weekend in the next couple of years, has a handful of camper summers left, followed perhaps by DB Compass or the National Leadership Council, if he stays focused. Further on, he may enjoy years as a CIT and summer staff member, an occasional turn at Family or Christmas Camp, probably an alumni reunion or two, and, of course, a fulfilling stint on the National Alumni Board (NAB). Maybe eventually HQ staff or a trustee – the sky’s the limit.

My Adventure Unlimited story, while sharing some of the above, was written quite differently. I was a camper one session during high school at Round-Up Ranch (thanks to the generosity of donors and our local church), and I spent a glorious decade on seasonal staff. I carry fond memories of Christmas Camp, some soul-finding off-season ranch hand work, as well as lots of fun times with local and regional A/U chapter activities from my youth. I’ve enjoyed reunions and the opportunity to give back through NAB. Adventure Unlimited has definitely become an indispensable part of my family’s journey, but it was not always this way.

The A/U Ranches came to our family over Memorial Day weekend during my 5th grade year, and it was magical. I don’t know the circumstances – probably a flyer distributed at church – but we loaded up the car and headed to Buena Vista for a work weekend (now called Service Weekend). We left the familiarity of our suburban Denver apartment and slept in log cabins, ate in a grand lodge and skipped rocks across a lake that perfectly reflected the clouds and trees that surrounded us. We met friend after friend, stayed up late playing games, and had a church service like no other – huddled together, staring out across a vast, calm valley on a truly measureless mountain day that really did open a thousand windows to show us God – just like the plaque in the chapel said.

We worked on these weekends. We worked hard. (Honestly, we played really hard and were thrilled that some work got done in the process.) We slathered miles of chinking between the logs of the cabins, nailed a thousand slats to bunks and painted the pools a peculiar shade of blue that stained my clothes for years. We cut, split and stacked firewood and fixed windows (and on occasion threw firewood through windows that we subsequently fixed – but that was an accident). I even learned to drive over a work weekend at camp. Marshall Needham sat me in the El Camino, pointed to the clutch, walked me through the basics of a three-speed transmission and sent me off to the dump to deliver an unwanted stump. (Editor’s note: This NEVER happens now.)

The author’s mother, raking in fashionable attire during Memorial Day Service Weekend

Memorial Day weekend became camp for me. I never really connected that we were spending our time getting camp ready for other kids to have a very different experience from the one I did. We returned for five or six years in a row as our late-May trips to the A/U Ranches became a favorite tradition. Friday night would have us roll through the gate from Denver. I’d head straight to Valerie Lodge for a rousing game of wink (many apologies for the broken chairs) and to catch up with camp friends – who remain friends today.

In recent years, we’ve spent most Memorial Day weekends at soccer tournaments and home improvement stores. As May turns to June, our boys anxiously wait for school to end and camp to start (#infor17). We, like many parents, will comb through the daily SmugMug camp photo uploads to make sure lip balm is judiciously applied and take pride in the glowing faces and wide smiles of summer.

But along with these new pictures and the many thousands of Adventure Unlimited memories I cherish, there are a couple of photos in our collection that best tell my A/U story. One is of my mother from a Memorial Day long ago, posing with a rake in her “work” slacks and white sandals as she pauses from her needle collection. Another that’s probably tucked away in a box in my basement is of my dad and me, far out in the lower pastures under gathering storm clouds, trying to string together the last strand of broken barbed wire before the sky opened up for our afternoon cleansing. Still today, when I turn up the main road from the head gate, I look for a hole in the fence I should mend (with the help of my boys) and smile a little wider at the first well-tended flower bloom I see.

We’d love to see you at the A/U Ranches this Memorial Day for our Service Weekend! Learn more and register here.

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