Thanks to some kind friends, my first night was not even in the van, but in a real bed in a house in Santa Rosa Beach. I was extremely grateful, since that first day of driving was super-stressful.
On day two, I continued west through Pensacola and Mobile, and then headed northwest on US 49 in Mississippi. It’s considered a “scenic highway,” which translates to wooded vistas and a wide, 4-lane road. At the end of the day, I pulled into a campground that said “WiFi” and looked like it had plenty of room, with some heavy equipment indicating construction in progress.
A confusing set of signs at the office directed me to “the back.” At first, I tried to walk around the building, then realized they were referring to the back of the property. Back there, I found a handful of very grubby RVs and cabins and the manager, Carrie.
She took my payment and told me to choose any spot. “Except, well, maybe not that part…” She gestured down the road, and her voice trailed off. “And not out front, because, you know…” her voice trailed off again. I didn’t know, but it didn’t seem like a good time to ask.
I thanked her, got in the van, and selected a site near the restrooms. I was excited about my first campout in the new van.
As soon as I plugged in the electrical cord, magic happened! The house air conditioner started humming and pouring cold air into the tiny (hot) space. The display on the microwave lit up. And I tested the stove burner — it works!
I sat down and read through all the manuals. I am now the proud owner of something called a “cartridge toilet,” which features a custom-molded toilet paper holder. I also have mood-lighting. It’s cool, but not as cool as my toilet paper holder.
It didn’t take long to go through all my new systems. I was ready to stretch my legs and explore this mysterious campground.
It had the feel of a ghost town, where you walk past a cabin and the curtains stir. In the middle of the road, something shiny caught my eye. It was foil from a Polaroid photograph, mixed up with the dirt and a handful of family snapshots. The people were awkwardly charming, posed in their 70’s outfits, washed out by the bright flash.
Why were someone’s precious memories scattered in the dirt?
A few minutes later, a golf cart overtook me, with Carrie and her black lab. I asked her about the photos, and all the pieces fell into place.
Three months earlier, on May 11, there was a record rainfall — almost 15 inches. In less than an hour, this place was completely under water from the nearby creek, and people had to be rescued by boat.
Now I understood. The strangely flat, sandy terrain. The mud stains on everything. The small handful of remaining RVs. The furniture piled up in the office window. “That was my home,” she said. “I had four and a half feet of water inside. I lost everything.” She shrugged and looked at her dog.
At the time of the flood, there had been 55 families living at the Perk Creek RV Park. They all lost everything. I thought of the handful of photos in the dirt and asked where everyone had gone. “I don’t know,” she said, “but they’re not coming back. They’re scared to.”
Thinking about the former residents, now scattered, left me somber, recognizing how easy it is to lose everything in a instant. But Mother Nature is resilient, and I noted bright green grass poking up through the sand. It gave me hope that a new community will eventually grow here, like the grass. Although the faces and memories will be different, joy and laughter will return to this place, as it does to all of us.