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Family celebrates cabin Christmas State park provides home for holidays

Warmed by the wood stove and family togetherness, a three-room cabin is home to the Slaugenhoupts for two weeks each December.

While some may spend the winter holiday skiing or sunning in warmer climes, the Gasport family is one of several dozen that rent cabins in Allegany State Park for Christmas and New Year's Day.

"Al and I just love it here," Sue Slaugenhoupt said.

She and her husband, Alan, a land surveyor, have brought their family here -- using vacation time -- for six years. They don't decorate their home in Gasport anymore, saving the lights, ornaments and stockings for the cabin. They bring rugs to cover the concrete floors, and their four children decorate the walls with Christmas cards and homemade pictures. Tiger, the family's orange tabby, also enjoys the cabin.

"How long will we keep doing this? As long as we can, until we're older and we can't do it anymore," Sue Slaugenhoupt said.

They hope their children -- Alan Jr., 13; Elizabeth, 10; Lawson, 5; and Lydia, 3 -- will want to bring their families. Who wouldn't want to re-create the memories of stockings hung by the tree, Christmas lights, and decorations inside and outside the cabin?

"Most of the ornaments are homemade, and we made them down here," Sue Slaugenhoupt said. The family cherishes each Christmas more since Lawson was diagnosed with leukemia in September 2003. That December, they didn't know what to do for Christmas.

"Should we go, should we not go?" Sue Slaugenhoupt recalled.

The family went -- after scouting out the route to the nearest hospital, just in case. This year -- after chemotherapy treatments -- Lawson has his hair back.

"I won't cut it. I don't care how long it is," his mother said. And he's feeling fine.

"We're in remission; we're going to stay that way," she said.

For Lawson, the best part of the vacation is spending time outdoors.

"I like going sledding and snowmobile riding. She likes to take the ornaments off and put them on," he said of his sister, Lydia, as she played barefoot by the tree.

"I like spending time with my family. At home, I have to go to school and do my homework," Elizabeth said.

They spend their days enjoying the 65,000-acre park in Cattaraugus County and awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus. Elizabeth said she usually wakes up at about 5 a.m. Christmas mornings.

"Then I wake my older brother up. He says go back to sleep," she said.

Today, the family will cook a ham dinner and take a hike in the woods.

Grandparents, friends and family will visit in the coming week. The family also will have a New Year's Eve party and burn their Christmas tree in the bonfire for New Year's.

Then, they will pack up and head back to Gasport.

One year, while driving through the park, the family saw a herd of deer. Lawson thought they were reindeer, and now he calls Allegany State Park the North Pole. For the family, it has become that kind of place, a tranquil spot where dreams and memories are made.


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