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Kindness in the Heart of West Virginia

            On July 1, 2008, our family of eight piled into our van and set off from Grand Rapids, Michigan, for Seneca Rocks, West Virginia. We anticipated sunny mountain hikes, camping in the mountains, and thrilling white-water rafting. We were tightly and efficiently packed, highly organized, and prepared for any conceivable emergency. Unfortunately, our trip did not go as planned. Despite its moments of disaster, our trip taught us much about the kindness of other people. We learned the blessing that complete strangers can bring to our lives and the joy of helping people in need.

             Pitching our tents was our first challenge. West Virginia has no level ground, and its rocky soil rejects all tent stakes. As we surveyed our listing tents, we heard the putt-putt of a golf cart chugging up the hill and a cheery voice call out, “Welcome to Seneca Rocks Campground! If you need anything just holler. My name is Dean Lufkin.” This friendly camp host stayed a long time, chatting with us. We grinned at his West Virginia twang and agreed that his southern hospitality was more than we Michiganders could handle.

            It rained hard that night. By morning, every item that we owned was drenched. Then, we discovered that our van had a dead battery. We were glumly surveying our predicament when we heard the putt-putt of Dean Lufkin’s golf cart. “How’d you folks survive the big storm?” his cheery voice inquired. “Not so good,” we replied.

            It was not long before Dean Lufkin had loaded all our wet things onto his cart, so he and his wife could dry them. While he jumped our car battery, he told us to visit an interesting place called Dolly Sods. This beautiful wilderness area was used during World War II as an ammunition testing area for the Army. People still occasionally found unexploded ordinance there.

            Dolly Sods turned out to be “Dolly Sogs.” When we finally found it, the rain was coming down in sheets. We saw neither beautiful scenery nor unexploded ordinance. As my mother examined the map in the dim light, she discovered a weather-proof activity—a nearby cave that we could explore. It looked easy to find.

            After miles of wandering across rain-soaked mountains, we stumbled across a group of “locals” having a cook-out in the bed of their pick-up truck. They were drunk but also very friendly and helpful. They offered to take us into the cave, even though we “talked funny.” We slipped and slid through a manure-filled cow pasture in the pouring rain, following our tipsy guides to the cave. They not only managed to guide us through the cave with their lanterns but also gave us a lesson in local history. It was an unforgettable tour.

            When we returned to our campground that evening, we were wet and filthy. Dean Lufkin must have been watching for us because as we pulled up to our tent he appeared with our previous day’s laundry, all clean, dried, and folded. He had even matched all eight pairs of socks. He listened to our misadventures, then cheerfully took our muddy clothes to his residence to launder. We were pleasantly surprised by the kindness and care that he and his wife showed us. Doing laundry for eight strangers two days in a row was beyond what his job required of him, but helping others clearly brought him joy.

            Our vacation did not leave us with memories of sunny mountains and breathtaking landscapes. But the lessons that we learned about human kindness and the blessings it brings are ones that we will not soon forget.

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