When my kids were young, we used to spend our summer weekends camping with friends at Lake-in-Wood, a beautiful campground set in a densely wooded area just outside of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Our friends had two girls just the same age as ours, so you can imagine the fun they had together exploring the campground, swimming in the pool, fishing in the pond, browsing around the general store or playing bingo. There was always some kind of fun activity going on, and it was a magical place to experience.
When night fell, we would light a campfire and gather round to cook hot dogs or make smores and watch the girls do twirling routines with brightly colored sparklers. We’d talk and laugh and even sing sometimes, much to the girls’ chagrin! And the night sky was breathtaking – I’ve never seen a sky more brilliant with stars than in those days at that place. At bedtime we would douse the last ember of the crackling fire and turn in to be lulled to sleep by the sounds of crickets and tree frogs. Some nights were louder than others depending on the creatures of the night.
Sometimes we would venture out to the local shops and markets or we would visit educational places like the One Room School House, a working farm to learn more about the Amish culture or travel the Strasburg Railroad. Horses and buggies traveled up and down the hilly roads, and the farms were meticulously patched into the countryside. Houses were neatly kept with gorgeous gardens laden with brilliant arrays of flowers, and freshly hung laundry blew in the crisp, clean air. It was such a quaint and lovely place to explore. The weekend wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the local Freeze and Frizz for the girl’s favorite grilled cheese and cheese fries with a milk shake. And a few times over the summer we would visit the Shady Maple Smorgasbord to feast on a wide variety of Amish dishes. There were so many special memories of such a precious place and time.
Time has marched on, and the girls are now grown. Life has changed so very much since then. Recently my friend Jane and her daughter Jamie, my daughter Katie and I decided to go back and revisit the old haunts we used to know not so very long ago. We were sad Jill and Megan couldn’t join us. We didn’t camp this time but stayed in a hotel. It was exciting to venture out and visit the old places we used to know. The Freeze and Frizz is now Katie’s Kitchen! But the Amish boy sculpture with the pigs and barrel are still there, and the grilled cheese, cheese fries and milk shakes are surprising just as good as we remembered! The Shady Maple Smorgasbord has quadrupled its size with 200 feet of smorgasbord and seating for 2,000. The main drag in Lancaster now sports all the modern establishments like Wal-Mart, Taco Bell and Olive Garden among other chains. It was mind-boggling to see how commercialized certain places have become. But touring the countryside and shops with the familiar sights and sounds, seeing the horses and buggies and smelling the familiar scents like cinnamon rolls and handmade vanilla/caramel candles brought us back to the time we knew well. It was a feast for body and soul, and we enjoyed getting lost in the quaintness of it all once more. We laughed until we cried remembering the comical things that happened way back when.
In some ways everything seems to have changed but in another it has all stayed the same. The cultures of the Amish and Mennonites hold dear their past customs and way of life, and for that I am thankful. It is because of these traditions that most of what we knew in the past is still the same today. We were able to go back and recapture a part of our happier past when our children were young and our families together. And my heart ached in remembrance of a simpler time when the most precious thing in the world was sitting around the warmth of a campfire talking and laughing with our families and friends all together in one loving embrace.