By Ginny McKinney
A change can come in many shapes and forms but one thing we know for certain is the only thing that stays the same is change itself.
It was a beautiful March morning in Colorado. The sky was that particular bluebird blast that sends your spirits soaring after a brutally cold and snowy winter. The topic of conversation at our dinner table had been our upcoming retirement and what we wanted it to look like. I wanted a camper. My husband wanted to play golf. So, we compromised. We went out to buy a camper to sleep in while we traveled to play golf.
After breakfast, we drove to the nearest town with an RV dealership. We arrived just as they opened and were thrilled to be left alone as we browsed. We walked from camper to camper, trying out the beds and sofas and dinettes for comfort. We opened cupboards and stood in showers. We had no idea what we were doing or what we were looking for, really. We were just enjoying the process, and each other’s company, on this early spring day.
At some point, when we were in the fourth camper, I noticed my husband didn’t appear to be feeling well. He kept shrugging his shoulders and grimacing. His coloring was off, and he truly appeared to be in pain.
“Honey…what’s wrong? Did your breakfast not sit well with you?”
“I told you, I hurt my shoulder the other day. It’s really bothering me.” He sounded terse…which was entirely unlike him.
“Here…sit down.” I motioned to the nearest sofa. I worked in medicine for many years. I knew the questions to ask. Finally, I asked him if he thought I should take him to the doctor, and he said yes. Now, this man never went to the doctor, so I knew this was serious. He stood up and threw his arms out to the side.
“Whoa! I’m dizzy!” His look of uncertainty and fear sent icy shivers down my spine. A terrible foreboding came over me. I sat him back down on the couch and ran out the door and across the parking lot.
I burst through the door to the office and yelled, “Someone call 911! My husband is having a heart attack!!!”
I turned to the two burly gentlemen standing there and said, “You…get me back out to that camper!”
We hopped on a golf cart and raced across the gravel lot to the trailer where I’d left my husband. When I walked in, I realized right away where this was going to end up. My husband was gray, perspiring…his head lolled back, gasping for breath.
I turned to the men and said, “Quick, get him down on the floor in case I have to do CPR.” They laid him down and I propped his feet up with pillows. Someone handed me aspirin and I forced two between his cheek and gum. I held his hand and calmly talked to him. He didn’t respond.
I could hear the sirens in the distance, so I knelt beside him and whispered, “I love you!”
“I love you, too.”
Those were the last words he said to me. The doctors worked valiantly to save him, but three hours later, there was nothing more they could do, and my beloved Mr. Virgo slipped away from me for good.
I was bereft…inconsolable. He was my world. I had no idea how to move forward through this. For the next few nights, I went to bed clutching my iPad and looked at pictures of us in happier times. Our vacations. Our wedding. Our holidays and special occasions. I didn’t know how I was ever going to live through this.
Then, I remembered reading stories about women getting together and camping in groups. Somehow, I knew I had to put something joyful in front of me in order to survive such a loss. So, three weeks after he died, my daughter and I took the grandkids and went to an RV dealer in Denver to buy a little camper of my own.
I didn’t think I could handle as big a camper as what my husband and I had been looking at, so I purchased a little one only sixteen feet long. It had bunk beds which seriously jazzed my grandchildren. The front dinette folded down into a full-sized bed. There was a huge picture window where I could sit and drink my morning coffee and gaze out.
As soon as the spring snows ended and things warmed up, I took off for three months in the wilderness and back roads of Colorado and came out an entirely different woman. I was on a mission….to learn new skills, to share my experiences, and to write about it all.
I started my blog…Marshmallow Ranch…and I took my readers along with me on this crazy journey of passage. We delved into grief, love, loss, travel, camping, and cooking for one. I made art jewelry from antique silverware and maps to sell along the way and finance my trip. It was an amazing time of personal growth and healing.
The following year, I decided to sell my big house in Colorado, purge myself of forty years of accumulated junk, and trade up for a 30 foot camper I could comfortably live in. I drove to West Virginia…my home state. My original plan was to live on the family farm and help my elderly aunt, but ten very long and miserable weeks later, she invited me to vacate the premises on Christmas morning. Now I know she had early dementia, but at the time, it was very difficult to take.
I pulled my camper to a friend’s river lot and set up housekeeping…without water…and lived a fairly rustic life on a ledge overlooking the beautiful Ohio River. As I licked my wounds, I made plans to travel when the warm weather came. My first stop was the Country Living Fair in Nashville.
One morning, when I was in my camper at Cedars of Lebanon State Park, I received a text from a chipper woman asking if she could interview me for her blog on the Go RVing page. She wanted me to stop by her camper which was on display at the fair. I wandered around till I found her.
It was Janine Pettit.
Janine was dressed in a comfortable pair of khakis, a neat and tidy sweater over an equally neat and tidy blouse, and a pair of bowling shoes. Her lilting voice was unmistakably a cross between her native Chicago and her adopted New Jersey. I was smitten. I felt a kinship and knew this was a woman who was going to be instrumental in my life.
She not only interviewed me for the blog. She also interviewed me for her podcast and I instantly became Ginny “Episode 5” McKinney. Janine was a Girl Camper. She was an educator. She was your favorite camp counselor and Mr. Rogers and I Love Lucy all wrapped in one…in the very best of ways.
I have learned so much from Janine. Not only how to be a Girl Camper, but how to be a strong woman, how to be a better mom, and how to be a faith-full Christian. I am so very excited for this new adventure she has us on and hope you will join us in learning how to be brave and step out of your comfort zone…think outside the box…expand your territory…and grow in ways you never thought possible. I hope our paths cross and we can share a campfire one of these days.
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
1 Peter 4:10 NIV