It was recently announced that Pinecrest Retreat and Conference Center in the metro-Memphis area operated by the Presbytery of the Mid-south (Presbyterian Church USA), will be closing its doors on January 1, 2015. The closure is reportedly due to the economic downturn (fewer churches able to afford weekend retreats) and to the decline of the Presbyterian Church USA—the denomination is less than half the size it was 50 years ago when Pinecrest opened.
Churches from Tennessee, Mississippi, and all over the mid-south have used the camp since the 60s. It’s always sad to see a business that has been running successfully for decades have to close its doors, but it’s especially sad when it’s a summer camp like Pinecrest, the best camp of its kind in the southeast. Summer camps like Pinecrest have a way of almost becoming another member of your family, and this is certainly true of Pinecrest in this examiner’s life.
This examiner’s uncle and aunt, Wayne and Carmen Camburn, became the managers of the camp in 1980 and because of the family connection, our family spent plenty of time at this beautiful 500 acre piece of property in LaGrange, Tennessee.
1. Childhood memories of Pinecrest
If you’re going through a tumultuous time, there’s no better place to be, in my opinion, than camp. The solitude is so soothing and the sounds and smells of camp life are distracting enough to provide a little euphoria in the midst of “real life.”
Occasionally, Wayne and Carmen would have to go on trips or conferences and such and they would ask my parents to come look over camp for the weekend. Some of my happiest memories from childhood were spent at Pinecrest. Growing up, my brother and I never attended camp in the summer, as some kids do, but we were nevertheless always at camp, it seemed like. The playground was every child’s dream. In my imagination, I had many adventures on the bridge at that playground. My brother learned to swim at the pool there.
Wayne taught my brother and me how to play pool in the back room of the lodge. My dad taught me how to play the piano in that same room. The first money I ever earned was when I was at Pinecrest, helping Wayne stack firewood. Wayne gave me three dollars, money I was so proud of that I decided to frame it. Those bills remain in a frame to this day.
My brother and I spent a lot of time at the gym in the woods playing one-on-one or Horse. When my cousin Jason was around, he would play with us on the playground for hours. It was a blast. He would take us riding around the dirt roads of camp in his old truck, blaring country music all the while. On my 10th birthday, Wayne and Carmen let our family use a cabin at the camp to throw a birthday party. For a child, it was the life!
2. Recent memories at Pinecrest
Our family, my immediate and extended family, still regularly gather at Pinecrest on Christmas and Thanksgiving. Often a fire is blazing in the lodge, and we sit in the rocking chairs and enjoy the fire for hours. To this day, going into the lodge, I’m struck by the smell. Instantly, I’m transported back to the place I was so enamored by as a child.
Growing up, my family always was well supplied with Pinecrest t-shirts. I still have one in the drawer that is almost disintegrating. I don’t ever wear it because it has so many holes, but I also can’t bear to throw it away. A stuffed animal I had a child was “Pinecrest Bear”, a teddy bear wearing a hat and camp t-shirt wearing a Pinecrest backpack. Recently, I had the fun of passing Pinecrest Bear off to my daughter. When my daughter was four months old, I took her down the slide at the Pinecrest playground. I hope to do the same thing for my son this coming Thanksgiving.
It’s sobering to think that our family won’t have that many more holidays to spend at Pinecrest. It’s sad that my children won’t grow up knowing this piece of land that’s meant so much to me over the years. One is reminded of the old Beatles lyric:
“There are places I’ll remember all my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better; some have gone and some remain”
One can only hope that Pinecrest will still function as a camp in years to come, even if it’s no longer operated by the Mid-south Presbytery. It’s too beautiful a piece of land to lay dormant and it’s unimaginable that some group out there won’t want to purchase it. Still, it won’t be the same for our family, with relatives no longer working as the managers.
How do you put a price tag on Christmases and Thanksgivings sitting in front of a fireplace with family? How do you put a price tag on the lake where you went fishing as a four-year old? How do you put a price tag on the field where you first remember flying a kite? How do you put a price tag on the place where you last saw certain beloved relatives alive? How do you put a price tag on the playground where some of your childhood’s fondest memories took place? How do you put a price tag on the swimming pool where you learned to swim? How do you put a price tag on the chapel where relatives have gotten married and baptized? The simple answer is that you can’t.
Thank God for the Pinecrest and all it’s meant to our family over the years.