‘Unplugged’ vacation recalls carefree youth

Day by Day

‘Unplugged’ vacation recalls carefree youth

By LIZ THOMPSON
This Week News
June 28, 2016

I’m glad I was born in the early 1950s.

I didn’t appreciate it then, but times were much simpler than today. Choices were fewer, true, but I never felt deprived.

The doors to our home were never locked; we played outside till after dark — barefoot in the summer. Our parents never worried and since everyone knew us, we couldn’t get into mischief without being caught in the act. We were too busy having fun to think about messing around.

Our social “media” consisted of extended family and friends from school, Scouts and church.

Speaking of church, its doors were never locked, either.

When we camped in the Smokies this past May, we watched children play with abandon — running up and down the hillsides laughing and chattering and helping the younger ones up and down the steep hills.

All the while, they were talking to each other face to face, hugging playfully with arms flung around the shoulders of siblings and friends. As I listened to the chatter, I realized I couldn’t understand a single word spoken in rapid fire. I asked several other adults if they could understand and they all smiled and said, “No, not a word. But they seem to understand each other!”

I was walking our dog and a young girl said to me, “I’m looking for my brother. He’s 4 and riding a (indiscernible) bike.”

“He went that way,” I said, pointing.

I knew this because the whole crew of children had gone by our campsite many times.

I saw the girl again and asked if she found her brother.

“Yes. He was already back at the campsite.”

Another young girl rode by on her small, pink bike numerous times, always singing at the top of her lungs with a smile.

No worries. Fresh air. Freedom. And no distractions. In today’s vernacular, unplugged. No Wi-Fi (oh horrors!), so no Internet or cellphones that worked. The campground had a pay phone if you want to call someone and that worked just fine for me.

It was about 10 years ago when the first smartphone came on the market. Before that, cellphones made calls and texting was cumbersome, using a keypad like a regular telephone, so I didn’t text. I still only do it as a means to get a quick message to someone.

The first pay telephone was installed in 1889 in Hartford, Connecticut. By 1891, there were more than 2 million pay phones in America, according to Smithsonian.com. By some estimates, there are now fewer than 300,000 pay phones in America (one in the Smokies!)

But being unplugged is refreshing. When someone walks by the campsite, they are talking to the person next to them, not into a phone. People actually wave and smile, just like when I was growing up, and people walked for the simple joy of it or to actually get somewhere without a car.

I got a sense of how adults might have felt raising children in simpler times in small-town Westerville, which was a village when I was born. Or in the thousands of small towns across America. A campground can mimic a small town, albeit for a short time. Campers come and go continually, unlike the days decades ago when families stayed put for generations.

We saw several retro campers — Scotties and Shastas, mostly. One was aqua and white pulled by a 1956 Chevrolet Cabriolet (I only know this because my husband told me) painted to match. The inside was decorated like a diner with a mini jukebox.

For days, people walked by it taking photos and talking to the owners. The man said his father used to take him camping in the Smokies in a camper like that, and he wanted to recapture those good times.

Retro trailers, and days of old, for that matter, don’t have all the bells and whistles the new trailers and our current society have. But something about this era charms us.

I think it’s possible to keep a lot of what we loved about the simpler times by remembering that talking with someone is more interesting than staring at a phone screen and that looking at the trees and enjoying the breeze can bring more peace than hundreds of texts.

And taking a walk and waving to our neighbors can hold the same allure as it did when we baby boomers were young.

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Anniversaries provide reason to reflect on past

Anniversaries provide reason to reflect on past

Day by Day
by Liz Thompson
This Week News
June 2, 2016

When I walk through the woods and forest glades I wander, and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees. When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur, and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze…

This verse in the hymn, How Great Thou Art always makes me emotional.

We camped in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last month and we experienced all these words imply first hand.

This might not have been possible if a few determined people hadn’t gone many extra miles to make national parks part of our lives. What began in the 1850’s, became official 100 years ago this year. It wasn’t all pretty and it wasn’t all easy.

Some of the saddest pages in our nation’s history include when Native Americans, who had lived on these lands for generations, were driven off the lands. When our government finally had the opportunity to make National Parks in Alaska, they had a chance to “do it right.” The natives continued to be part of the culture, not excluded from it.

But we can focus on the end result of what these determined people did for our nation. First and foremost, to preserve the natural wonders– flora and fauna in all its purest form. And later, the wonders like Mount Rushmore and other monuments to people and historical events.

All this happened when communication was very basic – written letters and telephone. Transportation was by train and car – and many people did not own cars. If you wanted to travel from the East Coast out to California, it wasn’t easy going. I’m not even sure the condition of the roads.

Most of us can’t think back 100 years or even imagine what life might have been like. But preserving our history is important so we can learn from it and hopefully not make some of the same mistakes.

Preserving history also is celebratory.

Recently, my Mother came upon her mother’s wedding gown she had stored in her home. Another 100 year marker. The satin of the gown is in mint condition with only the delicate bodice and sleeves having become more fragile.

In my quest to find a home for this gown with a historical society, I wanted to get a copy of the February 27, 1916 Columbus Dispatch. The front page of the Society Section had a story about my grandparent’s wedding with a photo of the bride, her six bridesmaids and two flower girls.

My grandparents were married in a downtown Columbus church. 1,500 people attended and the reception at my great-grandparent’s home at 368 E. Broad greeted more than 300. The church still stands but not the large home.

I was amazed the paper copy my mother had of the story was still intact and, for the most part, we could see the photo and read the article. Personally, I’m glad I didn’t have 1,500 people at my wedding. My Mother and I were trying to imagine addressing invitations or writing thank you notes to all those people.

I learned the Dispatch only keeps papers in storage back to 1980. They suggested contacting the library, which I did.

Julie Callahan, of Reynoldsburg, Librarian in the Local History and Genealogy Department of the Columbus Metropolitan Library gave me the good news.

“We have every copy of the Columbus Dispatch since it began.”

I told her of the paper copy my mother had and that I wondered how it survived 100 years. Julie explained that paper in the 1800’s was fiber and lasted much longer. So the newspaper in 1916 was still a much higher quality paper than is used today.

Now I’ll have my copy to go with the dress once I find it a permanent home. No gown 100 years old should be hidden in storage.

Time does march on, but when I see my grandmother’s wedding gown I can’t help but wonder what was going through her mind as she placed the gown over her head and walked down the aisle. What gems did I miss in the 30-plus years I knew her?

She was starting married life the same year that the National Parks began.

I know she could play “How Great Thou Art” on the piano beautifully.

So while I walk through the woods, I can see the connection to the beauty in more ways than one.

For more information, go to: pbs.org/nationalparks