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Return to Little Orleans Campground; Recollections of a Great Childhood

Updated on July 13, 2011
View of the Potomac River from our campsite where we went innertubing and canoeing.
View of the Potomac River from our campsite where we went innertubing and canoeing. | Source

Landmarks that Served my Memory Well

Looking back through the years, it seems that I have always had a love for the great outdoors. I inherited that tribute from my father, who was not only a great outdoors man, but also an avid hunter.

From the time I was about six months old, my parents would take me camping. Rumor has it that I was even conceived in a tent! I can recall many wonderful childhood camping experiences. Both my mother and father were scout leaders. But one of our favorite places to go camping was Little Orleans Campground, located in Little Orleans, Maryland, at the tip of Virginia and West Virginia. All three mountains from all three states reflect off the Potomac River.

It had been 12 years since I had returned to Little Orleans, the one place where my father's memory had been kept so vividly preserved. But one day, I decided to pack up my camping gear and head for the mountains to revitalize some old memories, and create some new ones.

There was nothing like the fresh, clean air and the picturesque views as I headed up Orleans Road to the top of the mountain summit. The abundance of deer were a sure sign that I was getting close to camp. Before a more direct route across the mountain was installed, Orleans Road was the main route from Fort Frederick to Fort Cumberland. In past years, its traffic consisted of supply wagons, horses and stage lines. Years ago, except for hunters and fisherman, no one had ever heard of Little Orleans. It was one of Maryland's best kept secrets. But now, it is frequently visited by tourists and campers.

Along the way, I passed Bill's Orleans Grocery, which served as a landmark for more than a 150 years--and to my memory. The country store was known for its beer, bait and boats. We often walked there from camp for fishing worms and canoe rentals. As a child, I had never seen anything quite like the original store--that was before it caught fire. There were tattered dollar bills wallpapered to the ceiling from people near and far, who had visited before me. There was a pool table off to the left, and taxidermy mounts on the walls--the kind of fish I had only heard tales of . . . Behind the counter were canned goods, just like what you would expect to find in a country store. Campers could purchase personal items like soap and toilet paper; amenities left behind at home. But what I remember most were the soda pops and the Good Humor ice cream sandwiches. These were all fond memories of a great childhood.

Arriving at Little Orleans, I noticed the old hand-pumped wells, which used to supply drinking and cooking water to our camp. Then I saw the monkey vines and heard the laughter of children, and for a moment I went back in time. I could hear my brother Billy and I laughing as we swung from vine to vine like two little monkeys. We'd tug on the vines so hard that any swinging would shake the canopy of trees above.

Picture of me and my brother (far left) cooling off in our childhood swimming hole.
Picture of me and my brother (far left) cooling off in our childhood swimming hole. | Source

A Little Soul Searching

I parked the car down near my childhood swimming hole, and I could remember skipping rocks across the water; one, two, three, kurplunk! The water was crystal clear, and it mirrored the years gone by as my soul searched deep beneath its surface. As children, Billy and I would go diving for railroad spikes along the bottom.

I met my mother and Billy at the campsite across the river. It was just footsteps away from the 185-mile C & O Canal. I recalled the many nature walks with my father along that canal. He taught us all about edible plants, emergency first aid, and survival techniques. He was ahead of his time. But his idea of being ahead of time was actually going back in time. He wanted to move us all to Alaska in some God forsaken place, where everything had to be flown in by plane. Thank goodness, my mother wouldn't have it. She was afraid we would all get eaten by bears!

Sometimes, memories are all we have . . . like the one of my mother and I setting up camp, while my brother was busy retying the old rope swing. We'd get a running start to build up momentum, then we'd swing out wide over the river, dropping in feet first, sometimes head first. There were only remnants of a frayed rope that had withstood years of weathering, and it was the same rope that my father had tied with his hands. The knot still held. Watching my brother tying the knot in the new rope, I noticed that he had the same hands as my father, but was no longer the little boy I once knew; he was a man.

Me sitting on my father's lap enjoying the warmth of a good campfire.
Me sitting on my father's lap enjoying the warmth of a good campfire. | Source

Remembering a Great Father

As darkness closed in on our camp, the campfire illuminated the smiles upon our faces. Laughter filled the air as we recalled the times we used to play cowboys and Indians, and my father would make us tomahawks and spears out of rocks we found along the water's edge and birch tree branches. I could remember my father sitting around the campfire, whittling our names in wood, and carving Indian head arrows out of soap stone.

It was a clear night, and as I looked up at the stars, I wondered if my father was looking down from the heavens above, wishing he were here next to our fire. We roasted a few hot dogs and some marshmallows for old times sake, and I could tell that my mother was happy to be with her children. We all settled in for the night, and I hoped the raccoons would visit our campsite as they had done in the past. I slept like a rock and probably on a few, too!

The next morning, I awoke to the sounds of my mother rattling the aluminum pots as she had always done, and the smell of hot cakes lingered through the air while bacon sizzled to a crisp on the griddle. The morning mist had settled over the water, and I could hear the sound of a lone train ricocheting off the mountains in the distance. It reminded me of the railroad tunnel that went through the mountain about five miles from camp. It was probably part of the Western Maryland Railway at one time. The light at the end of the tunnel looked about the size of a dime.

My father used to drive the pickup truck down to the tunnel, then hike back to camp. We'd be waiting with innertubes in hand for a day of fun on the Potomac River. My parents took the canoe, and Billy and I would trail behind on tubes; all connected together with a towline, so we wouldn't get separated. And down the river we went! The truck was waiting for us at the end of our journey to bring us all back to camp. My father thought of everything.

I was anxious to relive some of those old memories, so after breakfast, Billy and I took the canoe out for a jaunt around the water's edge and underneath the old stone bridges. The placidity of the glass-like water and the warmth of the sun shining down on my face made me reminisce of a time long forgotten. I remembered my father telling me stories about the canal boats and mules driven along the towpath.

The sun had slightly blocked my vision, and as I looked back over my shoulder at my brother navigating the canoe, all I could see was a silhouette that resembled my father. For a moment, time stood still, but the sounds of the oars set the years drifting forward again. Billy and I recalled hours spent catching crayfish, and jars filled with lightening bugs. The canoe slowly coasted to shore, and we were just footsteps away from camp.

As our weekend slowly came to an end, I took in one last panoramic view of my favorite camping place, Little Orleans.

Sometimes, it is necessary to go back to the past, to be able to go on with the future. On the way home, I remembered being camouflaged in calamine lotion, and I could hear my mother hollering at Billy to "quit digging at those mosquito bites!"

My father enjoying the companionship of our family dog, Thumper.  My brother is in the background messing around with the tent.
My father enjoying the companionship of our family dog, Thumper. My brother is in the background messing around with the tent. | Source

Map of Little Orleans

Little Orleans Campground:
Little Orleans, MD, USA

get directions

Preserving Your Own Childhood Memories

If you would like to create and preserve some of your own childhood memories, visit Luis E. Gonzalez's article, "Childhood Memories Through Photography."


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