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Thank You for Your Service

Updated: Oct 28, 2021

It was approaching 4:20 pm as I said my goodbyes to Mendocino Botanical Gardens, turned right out of the parking lot onto CA-1 South, and headed out of Fort Bragg, California, to my evening place of respite, Casper Beach RV Park.

Four miles further, I steered Rhoda to make a right onto Port Cabrillo. Although an abundance of towering trees shaded the well-paved and curvy two-lane highway, glittering sunlight peeked through to accentuate the wildflowers darting the roadside. As Rhoda and I ascended a hill, I looked out into the distance. Stretched out before me was the Pacific Ocean, rolling blue waves that seemed to extend into infinity. Then I spotted the Casper Beach RV Park sign on my left after we crested the hill and started our descent. Five hundred feet later, we turned left into the parking lot. The total distance from the Gardens to Casper was 4.7 miles. I arrived with plenty of time to spare.

A lovely lady at the office checked me in, processed my credit card payment, and gave me a map of the property. Assigning me to site #52, she highlighted the map to direct me to my site, gave me the necessary information on how to access the campground internet service and the location of the laundry facilities.

Jumping back into Rhoda with a map in hand, I was looking forward to settling in for the evening as I pulled onto the main campground road. Headed to my site, I passed the manager’s house, several permanent tiny house residences, a few rental cabins, the liquid propane distribution shed, and one of the two laundry facilities. As I turned slightly to the right and then again to the left, I began approaching the RV sites, counting down to my spot … 70, 64, 57 … As Rhoda approached a slight right curve, I spotted site #52. We were home, or so I thought.

Then I glanced left, and what I saw gave me pause – a large congregation of 10 - 12 fifth-wheels, motorhomes, travel trailers, and mega-sized pick-up trucks amassed in an elongated circular formation, directly across the road from my site. The cohort of campers appeared to be a huge family gathering or reunion of some sort. I couldn’t discern which. The four pick-up trucks in my line of sight had gun racks mounted in the back of their truck bed. The jovial campers standing in the immediate proximity of the trucks were attired in camouflaged vests or jackets and pants, all of them wearing Vietnam Veteran caps.

I admit I was starting to feel uncomfortable. The excitement of my afternoon in the Gardens and my lovely drive was dissipating.

Realizing I had to get camp set up without delay, I took a deep breath and proceeded to park. Pulling Rhoda parallel to site #53, next to mine, I slowly began backing her up as I cut the steering wheel right and eased her toward the campsite. Of course, I cut it too close and was driving on the lawn, threatening to hit a firepit and cooking grate. So, I pulled Rhoda forward again and paralleled her to site #53. I gave her a little gas and slowly backed up, again cutting the steering wheel to the right. I cleared the fire pit this time around but was still too far from the water and electrical hook-ups. Only half of Rhoda was on the gravel parking space; the other half of her was on the grass.

The third time should be a charm, I reckoned. I pulled Rhoda forward a third time. I maneuvered too close to a Black Ford F-250 pick-up truck parked across the narrow road in this attempt.

I glanced at the truck’s license plate – West Virginia. I took a long, deep breath, got into a parallel position next to site #53, and mentally ordered Rhoda not to so much as touch “Mr. West Virginia.”

As I put Rhoda into reverse for a third try, two of my “neighbors” crossed the road, each with a can of beer in hand. One flanked the right side of Rhoda; the other flanked her left. Feeling the anxiety rising in my stomach, I rolled down the window.

The guy on the left began giving hand gestures and instructed me how hard to cut the steering wheel. The guy on the right kept a watchful eye to ensure I didn’t take out the fire pit or the picnic table. I followed my guide’s instructions through a few maneuvers and voilà! Rhoda found herself correctly situated on her gravel parking space.

I leaned out the window to thank both guys for their help. Smiling, I asked if I would hear about the “rescue” during the duration of my stay. They chuckled, and one yelled back, “I didn’t want to have to move my truck.” I snickered under my breath. “So, you’re Mr. West Virginia.

Assessing my site, a lovely spot surrounded by lush foliage, the sound of a babbling brook, which I had neglected to see next to my site earlier, rewarded me. My spirit was at peace once again. I hooked up to shore power and water and got my camp set up in short order.

Finished with dinner and clean-up chores before 6:45 pm, I relaxed in my camp chair with a glass of wine. While relaxing, three ladies came over from the bevy of activity across the way and introduced themselves.

I invited them to join me as they told me the gathering was an annual reunion of guys who served in the same platoon during the Vietnam war. The men all became friends during their tour of duty. After the war ended, they began planning an annual camping reunion to stay in touch with each other. Every year they meet in a different state for one week of camping and spending time together. They come from all over the country. Although 2021 was the group’s 45th reunion, attendance declines each year to deaths and ill health.

I shared my grand adventure of touring gardens across America. As luck would have it, the group of wives (and girlfriends) had scheduled a visit to the Mendocino Botanical Garden the following day. I encouraged them to wear comfortable shoes and bring plenty of water, and we continued our delightful conversation. Shortly before sunset, we said good night, and they returned to their campsite to prepare for their community meal with beloved friends around several roaring campfires. After they departed, I couldn’t help thinking about what had transpired a few hours earlier.

I had surrendered to unfounded perceptions, and those perceptions redefined made it okay to judge, stir up my apprehension towards “others.”

It’s human nature to want to make people “other” in some way or another. The tendency is there unless we make a conscious effort. These days when there’s so much going on in a world where it seems worthy to judge harshly, and when I am not mindful, I find that I can be right there along with everyone else.

That night, I reminded myself that when I can observe life and people simply, without needing to label or judge, I’m able to be more openhearted, happy, and accepting of life as it is rather than of how I wish it were. I am at peace when I can stop judging situations and people and observe what happens, and when I am at peace, I believe I make better decisions and can be involved positively instead of in an unhelpful way. What resonates with me is a choice to allow everything to exist as it is, paying attention to my own life, and extending goodwill and love to as many people as I can.

The early evening air gave way to the delightful smells, sounds, and sights of glowing campfires across the RV park. It was a perfect ending to, yes, another perfect day.

Observing the Vietnam Vet’s reunion in full swing, I whispered, “Thank you for your service.”

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