‘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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Camping, fires naturally inspire story swapping

Day by Day

Camping, fires naturally inspire story swapping

By LIZ THOMPSON

November 11, 2015

This Week News

Nothing sparks storytelling like a campfire on a cold night. The flames reach toward the sky and faces are lighted by an orange glow.

Step away from this ring of fire and cold and dark greet you. A friendly voice might call you back and you gladly comply.

Conversation is easy, often animated, and uninterrupted by cellphones, computers or televisions. The only “electronics” would be a flashlight to push back the darkness outside the ring.

Most adult campfire stories hold none of the spookiness children have shivered to for ages. Adult stories are history, with a little embellishment thrown in to make it more interesting. History, no matter the timespan, is best told by those who lived it, or what’s passed along generation to generation or camper to camper.

Gather people in the same campground — campfire or not — who are invigorated by fresh air and an unhurried pace, and the stories begin.

As my brother-in-law, Richard, says, “You get complete strangers, with almost nothing in common, together in the campground and suddenly you are best buddies!”

He’s right on target.

“Did you know there’s an 82-year-old woman who camps here all summer? Pulls the trailer herself and her grandson sets it up for her.”

“I thought you could only camp here two weeks?”

“Well, don’t cha know, after two weeks, she goes to town for a day and comes back!”

Did you hear about the woman who hiked every day and to the 6,593-foot summit of Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park 718 times, the last time in her 80s? Many people hiked with her over the years and remember her as a gentle leader.

In our much younger years, we hiked almost all the trails in the Smokies, with three children leading the way. We never hiked as far or high as Mount LeConte, but made it partway.

Those days are gone for us, but we have the sweet memories of long, quiet hikes with our children in nature. Yes, blisters, too, but those were long since deemed part of the experience.

These days, we walk the campground roads while we look, listen and take it all in. Twice we set out for such a walk but we got no farther than two campsites spaced a good distance apart, where we stopped to talk with fellow campers as young as 2. Twice we talked long enough that it was time to head back to our site.

“Your goldens (retrievers) are beautiful,” I said from a fair distance.

“They’re old, like me.”

I moved closer to visit. This man, Bill, reminded me of my late father-in-law, a great storyteller. Bill and his wife, Jean, were from Knoxville and their goldens were 12-year-old brothers. That I learned in less than two minutes.

All it takes is a wave and, “It’s a beautiful day,” or “Did you hear the storm last night?” or something similar. Then you wait and listen.

People camping in a national park are typically from all over the U.S. and beyond. In the Great Smoky Mountains, we have met people from Canada, the West Indies, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Indiana, Illinois, Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina, Michigan, Mississippi and, of course, Ohio.

Regional accents abound. Of course, being from Ohio, we have no accent, right? Wrong, or so I’ve been told.

“You from up North?” someone might ask. But it sounds more like “Noruth.”

Listening to a story told by a man from Mississippi was a real experience. Correction, stories. Once he got started, he couldn’t seem to stop. We had nowhere to go and nothing to do. The lilt in his words made us want to listen; made us “smaale (smile).”

My cochlear implants allow me to hear speech clearly, and accents from different places in the U.S. and from other countries are music to my ears. I take every opportunity to listen.

I wonder if Southerners go home and talk about the Northerners they met?

During our October trip, we also met an X-ray technician who has retired five times; a photographer from Florida waking early to capture the sunrise over the mountains; friends from Tennessee we’d met two years ago; and others whose stories still crop up in conversation.

But mostly we met people yearning to feel a connection to others and to nature, if only for a short time.

Thanksgiving is near. After the pumpkin pie, why not swap a story, or two? Campfire optional.

 

Slow down and enjoy life’s read

Day by day

Slow down and enjoy life’s read

By LIZ THOMPSON
Wednesday June 18, 2014

What page are you on?

I can tell how much I’m enjoying a book when I don’t want it to end. Slowing down only delays the inevitable; the last page, the final word. Next I’ll be searching for the sequel or another book by this author.

Some people struggle to read and find it hard to study and learn; it can be a real problem to overcome.

But I’m also talking about those who can read fine but don’t want the task. They stop and look to see how many pages they have to read, bemoaning the fact they aren’t close to being finished — wasting time being frustrated instead of enjoying the read. The end will come soon enough.

We do that same thing when we check our watch every few minutes or wish our days away, when we spend time worrying or wanting a bad day to end. We’d be better off by making the most of the moment.

Maybe it’s a human condition where we push forward, in essence, to simply get all the pages turned and the book finished.

As a teen, a reading test showed I was a fast reader, yet my comprehension lagged. Reading fast has served me well in some respects, but proved detrimental when typing what I was reading. By reading so fast, I often skipped entire lines. The same proved true when playing the piano while reading the music.

In time, I learned to pace myself for accuracy in typing and playing music. As a result, my comprehension improved and I enjoyed more what I was reading or playing.

Our personal life is a unique book, one I believe is written by God. Not one book, or life, is identical. That’s remarkable. We need to listen and watch thoughtfully as each page is turned, knowing the end will eventually happen.

In May, we were camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On our campsite, we had a screened room but we kept the front open during the day.

A yellow butterfly was darting frantically in this room, seeking an exit. I tried to help it out with my hands and hoped it would alight on my cane when upheld, to no avail. It was almost painful to watch as it hit the top and sides, coming so close to the exit and starting its mad path over again.

Finally, it escaped. We sighed with relief. Two days later it happened again, and I was able to use my hands to ease it to freedom. The flutter of its wings was both a thrill and a warning.

I found my heart rate was up after it flew away, and it reminded me how we sometimes spend a lot of time flying around seeking freedom, often refusing help. We see children acting much like the butterfly until they realize accepting help and guidance is good.

Life lessons are a gift.

I’m reminded of the final page analogy when someone dies and I attend the funeral, memorial service or wake. In April and May, I attended four such events, although in the same time frame six people I knew left this life: three friends, a brother-in-law, a neighbor who was also a friend, and the pastor who performed our wedding ceremony many years ago.

In retrospect, we think of these lives and their legacy.

I believe it’s unhealthy to compare ourselves to others. That would be like saying all the best books, poems and the like have been written. Why should we try to write anything?

I refer to other writers who inspire me; I don’t stop writing, thinking it doesn’t measure up, although I often choose to toss writings or completely rework them.

So with our lives. We spend time reworking ourselves and tossing out the garbage, so to speak. That’s a good choice.

When I attend memorial services, I try not to compare my life to theirs but I take inspiration from them. Those who volunteered — I might support these causes. Those who had great humor — I might catch myself when I grumble. And those who were humble — I’m reminded to check my ego at the door.

The list goes on.

When I fail to do what is good and true, I look to change that, often thinking of those who were positive influences on me.

Life moves fast enough; no need to push ahead. Turn your life pages slowly and enjoy the read.