Another Summer at Camp Retro

Given a choice, each of us tends to avoid certain experiences.  I steer clear of Houston freeways during rush hour and turn off political commentary I feel raising my blood pressure. I never go boating on holidays, and above all I try never to stop by the grocery at 6 p.m. to “pick up a few things for dinner”.

Unfortunately, poor planning can force me into the very heart of pre-suppertime pandemonium, as it did the night I made a pass through our local supermarket intending to pick up nothing more than milk, lettuce, broccoli and some kitty treats. Shopping without a list meant I ended up with far more than I’d intended. By the time I reached the checkout line I’d thrown in some celery and carrots, English muffins, two pounds of sale-priced Peet’s French Roast, some assorted canned goods, pear yogurt and a totally unnecessary pint of key lime gelato.

Plunking down the little plastic bar to divide my purchases from those of the people ahead of me, I began unloading my cart. Then I remembered the Ritz crackers. My mother was quite  fond of them, and she’d asked if I’d pick up a box the next time I was in the store.

The people ahead of me in line –  apparently a mother and two lovely daughters – had done some heavy shopping and still were unloading their own items onto the conveyor. Pondering the situation, I made a decision.“Excuse me,” I said to checker. “I forgot something. I’ll run and get it, and be right back.”  “No problem,” she said, glancing at the woman’s still-full cart. “You’ve got time”.

Knowing the crackers were two aisles over, halfway to the meat department and on the bottom shelf, I found them quickly enough and returned to the line with time to spare. The checker, still busy with the group ahead of me, was grinning. Well, I thought. She’s a pleasant one.

As I turned to add the Ritz crackers to my little pile, I did a double-take. My tumble of items, unloaded helter-skelter from my cart, had been transformed. The bananas marched along in a tidy row, flanked on either side by their vegetable friends, carrots and celery. The yogurts looked like cheerleaders, stacked into a pyramid with the tangy gelato on top. Canned goods had been separated out and arranged in squares of four cans each, with  English muffins serving as a sort of bridge between the little tin islands.

It was neat, tidy and clever, the nicest arrangement of grocery purchases I’d ever seen. Looking up, I discovered the checker, the woman and the two girls looking back at me. “Well,” I said, “it looks like the grocery fairy’s been here”.  The girls dissolved into breathless giggles and the checker laughed as she said, “That’s what they thought you’d say. They wondered if you wouldn’t think the grocery fairy’d been here.”

None of us could stop laughing. I laughed at the sight of my groceries marching along like a little army, while the girls laughed with delight at their own cleverness. “Do you do this sort of thing a lot?” I asked. They admitted it was the first time they’d rearranged groceries,  but that was only because they’d never thought of it.  “We like to look around and see if there’s a trick we can play on somebody – not a mean trick, just a nice trick. A surprise. It’s fun.”

As I paid for my own purchases I said, “Most kids your age would be texting or updating their Facebook status, not playing games with people’s groceries.”  “Yeah, well… We don’t text as much as we used to,” the taller girl said. “We went to camp last year and they didn’t let us have cell phones or iPods or anything, and we kind of got used to it. We had a lot of fun and I guess we’ve never, like, gotten back into texting. We still do it, but we look around a lot more.”

If their spontaneous fun at my expense was any indication, they not only look around more, they see more. Apparently their camp was setting rules not to imprison their spirits but to open their eyes, and it seems they succeeded marvelously well.  I never thought to ask about their camp’s name or location, but in my mind it’s taken on life as Camp Retro - an oasis of halcyon days and limpid nights, a refuge for complete sentences and proper spelling, a place of creativity, wonder and joy.

An incarnation of Camp Retro lives out on the North Fork of the Guadalupe River near Hunt, Texas. The town of Hunt dates back to 1912, when Alvie Joy bought some land from his friend Bob Hunt and gave the town its name.  When the store and post office were built at the junction of the North and South forks of the river, a pair of earlier settlements, Japonica on the North and Pebble on the South, faded away. Given the climate and the beauty of the surrounding countryside, Hunt prospered, and it wasn’t long before summer camps, retreat centers and vacation homes began to be established among the ranches that fronted the river.

One of those camps, Waldemar, has been operating since 1926.  I remembered Camp Waldemar while writing Cowgirl Up!, a celebration of western women and their art.  Connie Reeves, one of the cowgirls highlighted in that piece, taught riding at Waldemar for 67 years and is estimated to have introduced her basic philosophy – Always saddle your own horse – to more than 30,000 girls.

Beyond the variety of activities at Camp Waldemar – the archery and kayaking, the drama and crafts, the emphasis on teamwork and personal development – a deeper exploration of the rules and regulations reveals some remarkable requirements for girls who attend one of their sessions.

For example, each girl receives points for good table manners, and the twenty-one guidelines are distinctly retro.  Like her predecessors, the Waldemar girl of 2012

“is prompt to meals…  She helps with the passing of plates (using two hands) and is always attentive and responsive to the requests and needs of others…  She uses her silverware correctly…  She does not waste food…  She uses “please” and “thank you” when requesting and receiving food…  She avoids whispered conversations that exclude other girls at the table.

And so on.  The Waldemar girls might as well be sitting at my Grandmother’s table. The rules are the same.

Even more remarkable are Camp Guidelines for Parents related to email and other electronic communication. While the receiving and sending of letters is encouraged, email contact is limited. At Camp Waldemar, only parents and grandparents are allowed to purchase email “credits”. The guidelines clearly state that emails are filtered “for g-rated language and content” and “those deemed inappropriate…will be charged to the sender but will not be delivered to campers.”

A two-hour block of cabin time is set aside each afternoon for campers to write their own letters, to read, to nap or play quiet games, but as is made clear in the section for parents called Get Unplugged, they won’t be surfing the net, videotaping one another or listening to Lady Gaga. Everyone knows the rules before they reach camp.

Enjoying the experience of Waldemar means spending time with friends, staying involved in all that camp has to offer, unplugging from the world, and being safe by leaving your valuables at home.

Campers, please do NOT bring the following with you to camp: Nice jewelry, nice purses, expensive make-up, Cell Phones (Honor Code), Gameboys, Play Station portables, Digital Cameras, Camcorders, iPods/mp3 players with photo/video/or slideshow capabilities, Portable DVD Players, PDAs, Blackberrys, Lap Top Computers. These items will not be allowed at Camp Waldemar.

For four weeks Campers can live without these devices and luxury items. Trust us when we say that there is so much going on at camp they will adjust beautifully. We all can use a respite from TVs, phones and beauty products for a short while.

Indeed we can. The true beauty of Camp Waldemar and its values, its approach to life and the seriousness with which it commits itself to the well-being and development of its campers is that positive results can be seen in the lives of the girls who go there.

The truth of Camp Waldemar is that its joys are available even to those unable to participate in its camping programs.  Regardless of our age, our gender, our available time or financial status, any of us can turn off a cell phone or unplug the tv.  Any of us can write a letter instead of sending an email or text.  Any one of us can begin saying “please” and “thank you” at the dinner table, or anywhere else in life for that matter.

Certainly there are those who object to such discipline, people who experience such restrictions as an end to freedom rather than its beginning.  But I suspect I’ve met a few of those folks in the grocery store, as well – aggressively competing for a shorter line, yelling into their cell phones, venting frustration at slow shoppers or awkward checkers.  I may be an old-fashioned, obsolescing relic of another time, but I’ll take the unplugged, giggling grocery-arrangers every time. They only add to the joy of Camp Retro.

Many thanks to Georgette Sullins, whose current entry, “Camp in the Hill Country” nudged me to rewrite and post this earlier story. To leave a comment or respond, just click below. And please – No Reblogging. Thanks!
Published in: on July 21, 2012 at 8:48 pm  Comments (95)  
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  1. Key lime gelato is NEVER unnecessary!

    • Richard,

      And I don’t regret a single spoonful of that gelato, because it’s suddenly disappeared from the market. It was the best, ever.

      By-the-by, on an unrelated note, our town is having a music festival in September, and guess who’s on the program? Marcia Ball! Am I thrilled? You bet. You can see the whole lineup here, but the highlight for me is going to be Marcia.

      Linda

      • I am incredibly envious. I’d LOVE to see Marcia again.

        • There will be photos, and I suspect some videos. Our little town has a darned good videographer who tends to show up for most of our events.

  2. Delightful article and I loved your grocery fairies!

    • Julie,

      And they didn’t even have wings or a wand! They were the delightful girls, as pleasant and straightforward as could be. I’m just certain that a combination of a good home and good experiences like camp helped to shape them in such a fine way – rather like a certain young man we know!

      Linda

  3. I thought: “She is working on another ‘Task at hand'”. Turns out just fine!

    Way back I proposed that every small time politician should be required to spend a week in a place like Camp Waldemar every year. Big time politicians should be required to spend the whole year. Maybe learn to cook something for supper.

    • Ken,

      You know the routine, for sure. Sometimes I wish I could clone myself, but most of the time I’m glad I can’t.

      I like your proposal. My own version has been that one year out of every five, every academician, politician, attorney, mid-level manager and so on should be given the (ahem) “opportunity” to get out and do some real work. There are lessons to be learned on the farm, in the machine shop, on the docks, that just can’t be learned in an environment where someone’s cosseted and protected from the consequences of their actions.

      That cooking something for supper is an especially nice touch. I like it.

      Linda

  4. Uh, I’m pretty much speechless at the moment, and wondering if I’m allowed to leave a comment because I’m using an electronic device that is certainly not allowed at camp Woe-be-gone! I mean, Waldemar!

    Beautiful post, Linda, as usual! I really enjoyed this one as I have wonderful memories of summer camp long before any of this cyber technology was even thought of. All we could do was write letters, and radios were not allowed at all. The list of what NOT to bring back then was way shorter than the one nowadays! Great memories of summer camp . . . . ah, the simplicity of it all.

    My cell phone is on the lurch right now, and I’m trying hard not to panic. Isn’t that just CRAZY! Fretting over whether to get a step-up Crackberry or go ahead and take the dive into touch technology by way of I-phone or Galaxy III S. My kids tease me that I’m so far behind times already. Sheesh. Give an old lady a break, kids!

    • Wendy,

      You know, your comment about radios set me thinking. When I first went to camp, there was no question of taking even a transistor radio – the transistor hadn’t been invented yet! I hardly can believe it. I first went to camp in 1953, and the transistor wasn’t invented until 1954. Certainly it didn’t make it to market in the form of affordable radios for some time after that.

      If your kids give you too much trouble, tell them you know someone so old she didn’t have a transistor radio until junior high. Good grief.

      I went to Camp Fire Girls camp, and loved every bit of it except for a couple of cabin-mates. There wasn’t any canoeing, since we were in the middle of Iowa and rivers and creeks were a little scarce, but there was swimming, archery, hiking, overnights in the woods and lots of crafts. I still remember the songs, and the fun of making a punched-tin lantern. Simple, indeed.

      I just was thinking this week it might be good for me to at least add pay-as-you-go texting to my phone. I’ve heard the business about texts sometimes going through if calls won’t, and it is still The Season. But I’m undecided. You can tell your kids you know someone who’s never texted. That might distract them for a while.

      Linda

      • Of course the camp rule applied to transistor radios, and that was in 1965-1975, because I worked there in the summers once I was in college! That’s how much I loved camp in the pines. Never texted, hum? Wow! It is true about texting during The Season when calls won’t go through–experienced that during and after the 2008 double whammy. My kids would rather text than call me, and so I’ve had to go up and up and up on my text limit. Guess I’ll soon be forced to just pay for unlimited. The amount of money we pay for communications is ridiculous! Cable TV, internet, land lines, cell phones, data, texting. Just ridiculous.

        • I was thinking about texting today and did remember that it doesn’t always work. When the derecho whooshed through Virginia a few weeks ago, there were areas where texting wasn’t possible. Still, a lot of people were surprised after Ike that they could get through using text when nothing else was functional. It’s a good backup, and it would take me all of five miinutes to set it up. I guess I should.

          I did dump my land line. The only difference I’ve noticed is that I’ve lost the telemarketers and most of the political pollsters. I can’t say I miss them much!

          • Warning about setting up text. Once folks realize you have texting, they will start sending you texts, and then you’ll have to ask them all not to. It’s sort of like a contagious illness–very hard to stop once you’ve been exposed!!! And I don’t know how it happened, because I don’t publicize my cell phone number, but I get recorded telemarketers about once a day on my cell, and it’s very, very annoying. Might have to look into the “do not call” policy again.

            • I looked at my account online last night, and discovered I have the ability to start and stop service myself. A reasonable solution would be to begin text service once a tropical critter starts roaming around, and then suspend it after. I suspend my broadband modem when I’m not traveling – just never occurred to me to do the same with text.

            • Suspend your broadband when you’re not traveling? Did you mean when you ARE traveling? Didn’t know one could do that. Who’s the provider?

  5. What a beautiful story! I’m so glad that you and those gals had such an enriching moment in the checkout line! They’ll cherish your reaction forever! Z

    • Z,

      It’s just another bit of proof, for those who need it, that treasures are hidden in the midst of our ordinary lives, and adventures are as available at home as across the globe. Granted, a suburban supermarket doesn’t seem as exotic as Ecuador, but we have our moments!

      Linda

      • But of course there are wonderful moments everywhere if we will slow down and take note! Your supermarket story will burn in my memory for a long time, and who knows, maybe I’ll try that same joke when I’m in the checkout line!
        Have a great Sunday! Z

      • So today I stood in line in a large supermarket in Manta Ecuador. I wondered if people noticed my mischievous smile as I pondered my choices of what to do with the four heads of cabbage and box of garbage bags in the buggy in front of me!

        I decided to look elsewhere for mischief and saw six huge grapefruit in another person’s buggy. Short of pulling out the sharpie marker and drawing smiley faces on the produce, I decided I’d best be a good girl and act normal!
        z

        • Z, the next time someone tells me blogging makes no difference in the larger scheme of things, I’m going to tell the story of my grocery fairies bringing a smile to the face of a shopper in Ecuador as she ponders the produce! Your may not have drawn the smiley faces on the grapefruit, but you put a smile on mine!

          • By all means, you get the credit!!! I have been known to hurl a watermelon across the aisle more than once! The other person ALWAYS catches it!

            I’m waiting on a MOV to burn, and it’s going on 45 minutes and half finished! logging back off!
            Have a great day!
            Z

  6. Linda, I thought those days were gone. Example: My last trip to Costa Rica.

    We are in the midst of rainforests and farms with real cows, monkeys and toucans, Quetzals and sloths… and a young boy and girl, teens in tow with their parents, are complaining, “There is nothing to do, and the only three [TV] channels we can get here are in Spanish, and we hate it here.”

    When I was young we looked forward to vacations. Traveling the US and camping. All of us in the back of the station wagon with the dog, and piled on top of the camping gear. We loved it. We saw and experienced so much.

    A refreshing post!
    Thanks,
    Lynda

    • Lynda,

      Your Costa Rica experience has been transformed into cover art for “The New Yorker”. I received my most recent issue yesterday, and on the cover – well, imagine this. A family of four, in tropical garb, at the edge of a beautiful tropical lagoon – each of them peering into their own handheld device and doing who-knows-what. Texting, I suppose, or reading emails.

      The shadow of the person taking their photo is on the sand in front of them, camera raised. They can’t even be bothered to look up at the photographer, let alone at the beauties around them.

      Our vacations were much like yours. We didn’t camp – Mom wasn’t a camper at all – but we traveled around the country and saw every sort of marvel. The Continental Divide. Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox, Babe. The Corn Palace. Old Settlers’ Days!

      We sang songs, looked for license plates from far-away places like Massachusetts, and read the Burma-Shave signs aloud. No batteries required!

      Linda

      • A photograph by Phillip Toledano in a similar spirit appeared on the cover of the Atlantic in May in conjunction with a story entitled “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?”

        • Equally provocative is the editorial titled “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Brand”. I’m glad to have found it, thanks to you, and look forward to reading the longer article.

      • Linda,
        It was a quite a search but I finally found it, and yes it illustrates my point perfectly. ~ L

        The cover (only available as an icon) can be seen here Just in case anyone else doesn’t want to drive all the way to the newsstand to see it. ;)

        • Ah, you beat me! I scanned the cover so you can see a larger version . It’s just so funny, and sad, and true!

  7. Linda,

    You know I loved this. Your grocery fairies make your case perfectly! I’m so glad these girls, their mom and you met up!

    As much as I loved going to camp, I think my husband loved it even more. We always arrived a day early, stayed two nights in the local hotel, and left on the third day. With the directors’ permission he hiked and poked around always finding another honeycombed piece of limestone for our front yard garden and the front gates at the farm. Which is the house on our street? The one with several of those pieces in the front garden.

    I know that grocery store at the fork of the river in Hunt and Ellen’s Table not far across the road. I know the row of camps in order on the south and north forks — and going to the north, to the left a Texan version of Stonehenge. haha…

    Thank you for taking us back as only you can. I’m so pleased my little piece, provided a nudge to this wonderful read as always.

    Have a wonderful week,
    Georgette

    • Georgette,

      So. I’m not the only one with hunks of hill country rock lying about! Mine are rather smaller, but they’re equally pleasurable reminders of that wonderful world – especially my chert nodules from the hills between Kerrville and Medina.

      I’ve not been up that way in about three years.It would be interesting to do some exploring and see how much of the Guadalupe still is accessible. A friend from Kerrville says one of the great ironies is that the camps, often considered “elitist”, actually are helping to preserve stretches of the river that otherwise would have gone into private development. I don’t know about that, but I’m certainly glad the girls and boys still have camp opportunities available to them. Generational loyalty and tradition play a big role, of course, and that’s to be admired. It tickles me that so many of the Waldemar girls go back for their weddings.

      The good news is that there’s river enough for everyone. One of the best guides to river access is this one put out by Texas Flyfishing. It’s kept updated, and it’s useful even for non-fishermen who just want to find some places for photography, bird-watching or relaxation. Paying ten or fifteen dollars for an afternoon’s enjoyment is well worth it.

      Now, I’ve got a case of traveling fever!

      Linda

  8. Thanks for this magic moment in the supermarket, Linda, and the reflective post in which it is set. There is a zeitgeist thing going on here!

    Only last Sunday I was privileged to help out at a local outdoor event held on North Kelvin Meadow, a patch of waste ground near our home in Glasgow, Scotland which has taken the last twenty years or so to turn into grassy woodland. When we moved to our four-story building overlooking the river twenty-seven years ago, we were always wakened on Sunday mornings by the sound of youngsters playing football on that patch of ground. Then, it was a fully functioning football pitch, a much used local amenity. For some years now it has been derelict Council property, waiting for the developers to move in.

    The local community has other ideas. One of them was the “Enough’s enough, ditch the stuff” outdoor event held on Sunday15th July on North Kelvin Meadow. A young friend and mum in her thirties, Emily, managed via local media and word of mouth to get over two hundred kids and parents to attend. We all had a great time, and the Stuff – expensive toys, computers and all the apparently indispensable paraphernalia of modern childhood was left at home and forgotten for an afternoon of fun events including den building, face painting, and making bows and arrows.

    Many, many parents to whom we spoke that afternoon expressed their extreme concern, their fears that the materialist project has gone too far and is damaging their children in innumerable ways, not the least being via separation from the natural world.

    So, let’s keep this anti-Stuff, anti-materialist thing going in all ways and in all places, shall we? Who knows what may emerge from it!

    • Anne,

      You’ve posted a beautiful example of how the same dynamic being nurtured at Waldemar can be encouraged in a local setting.

      I’m not against electronic gadgets as either tools or toys. They make wonderful things possible (here we are chatting, after all!) and there’s lots of fun to be had with everything from online Scrabble to streaming films. But we are becoming less attuned to the natural world – not only its beauty, but its existence as something “real”, something outside of us that can’t be manipulated as easily as a virtual world.

      Less appreciation for the “real” world inevitably leads to less appreciation for other realities: finely crafted products, from-scratch meals made from real foods, the details of real lives.

      How ironic that “reality tv” has so little to do with reality! I don’t want to watch someone’s scripted life – I want to live my own. Camps of all sorts help kids do that, and pondering their lessons can help us, too.

      Linda

  9. It would have been great to have taken a picture of the well assorted supermarket items that the girls decorated. Your description was so elaborate, I could almost see the scene like the movie, “Toy Story”.

    Unfortunately, we don’t have summer camps in Panama. They haven’t been invented yet like the transistor radio that you mentioned. Maybe they are now in the planning table somewhere.

    As always, enjoyed your post, and yes, I never text on my cellphone either. That makes two of us.

    Bye,

    Omar.-

    • Omar,

      I don’t think the girls would have minded a photo, but sometimes taking a picture can break the magic of a moment. I think even if I’d had a camera with me I would have let the moment pass. The groceries wouldn’t have minded having their portrait made, but it might have made the girls more self-conscious.

      I’ve never really studied the development of summer camps in this country. I do have some suspicions – completely unproven! – that they arose as fewer and fewer kids had a chance to develop “country skills” in a natural setting, and parents who valued such skills began sending them off to camp. The development of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts played into it, too – the earliest Boy Scout camp was established in Michigan in either 1910, 1911, or 1912, depending on your criteria.

      Eventually, camps devoted to specific skills began to spring up. Sailing and horseback riding were among the first. Now there are art and music camps, and probably dozens more I don’t know about.

      Disposable income helped to turn camping into an industry, of course. But even kids from families who couldn’t afford the luxuries of a month-long camp in splendid surroundings had a chance to enjoy some of the same activities. I walked across the street to Day Camp during my grade school summers, and it was free for any child who showed up.

      And here’s an amazing tidbit from this article about the history of Day Camps: “The Heart of the Hawkeye Camp Fire Council started their first fun-at-home day camp for girls in Newton, Iowa, in 1931. The eight weekly day camp sessions had an assembly and athletics in the morning, followed by crafts in the afternoon.”

      Newton, Iowa is my home town. No wonder everyone was so enthused about Day Camp when I was young – they were on the cutting edge!

      Linda

      • Don’t forget math camps! A Google search for “math camp” (with quotation marks) a minute ago turned up 185,000 hits.

        • Math camps? Who knew? I wish they’d had such when I was a kid – presuming I would have been willing to go. There’s math aversion, and then there was me. Say “algebra” and my stomach still knots up.

          The tumblers in my brain didn’t start clicking until I started sailing and could “see” math in action. For example: drop an apple core off the bow. Time how long it takes for it to travel the 40′ distance represented by the boat. Voila! You can figure your speed!

          You are now free to laugh. ;)

          • Nothing to laugh at: there’s nothing better than math in action.

  10. Oh those legendary hill country camps. Used to dream of that elegance – mine was the affordable low budget scout camp…really creative make-do without the luxuries ( but the same experiences pretty much).

    Glad Waldemar is still holding traditions. That ” always saddle your own horse” concept – the teamwork and “personal development” created women who could be assertive and control their own lives (with Waldemar style and grace) before it was popular in other places.

    You worry about all the little kids going down the road with their eyes glued to a tiny screen in the car…..they’re going to miss the two-headed snake!

    • phil,

      Girl Scouts for you, Camp Fire for me – and the basic difference, I suspect, lay in what we sold to get to camp. You cookies, me candy. I’ll bet the Girl Scouts were just as inclined to short-sheet beds, have pillow fights, and try to outscare one another with stories! It’s strange that I don’t remember any of my counselors – but I remember down to the smallest detail things like our overnights in the woods – especially how good the food tasted.

      I’ve been told the first words out of my mouth were “Mother! I want to do it myself!” I’m sure they weren’t the first, but they came pretty early and they were my version of “always saddle your own horse”. It’s good advice, and it would have been good to have a Connie Reeves around to give it. Maybe she could have served as a counter-weight to all the 50’s-mom opinion that it really was better to be taken care of.

      You’ve seen the two-headed snake? What about the world’s biggest prairie dog? I know this – if I’d had my face buried in an iPhone July of 1964 on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I never would have seen the pulsating, green flying saucer that trailed our school bus for a few miles, and neither would my classmates. It beat the World’s Fair all to heck.

      Linda

  11. I remember going to Girl Scout camp on the Rio Blanco the first year it opened. The dining hall was not finished, and the carpenters were still working on it (the kitchen worked, though). The local Air Force base (since closed) donated surplus aluminum trays to carry our food from the serving line to the tables.

    We were 4 to a tent, and the tents were up on wooden platforms (rattle snakes, scorpions and tarantulas). We had to provide our own cots, and our own bedding or sleeping bag — (and had to make our beds each morning!) I remember lying on my folding cot during the heat of the afternoon listening to the cicadas and the mourning doves. We were not allowed to have cell phones or digital anything because they hadn’t been invented yet! I had a Kodak Brownie camera that never had to have the battery replaced because it didn’t use one.

    I remember we learned to whip the ends of rope to prevent fraying and used the same technique to wrap an empty tin can in twine to make our own drinking cups, which we hung from our belts on a loop of twine. We were required to bring a canteen and a pocket knife, and to wear hats, socks and shoes when outdoors. We were required to bring flip-flops and wear them in the shower. I remember we did a lot of singing — we sang the “Johnny Appleseed Blessing” before meals (and nobody got their nickers in a wad about it), and sang songs around evening campfires — silly songs, beautiful songs — and learned to sing rounds (Dona nobis pacem – is one that stands out) and harmony parts and descants. I learned how to do 4-braiding and round 5-braiding, and we made lanyards (do they even make those plastic strips any more?) from which we hung our pocket knives around our necks. All the camp counselors had nicknames, and most of the campers ended up with one. We hiked and learned to cook over campfires, we learned to lash stuff together with twine and made “som’mores”.

    As for your “grocery fairies” — when I set out my groceries on the check out stand, I always bunch like with like to help the checker out, and put all the frozen food together (and, yes, I am compulsive!) . One of the reasons I like to shop late at night is the lack of squalling, ill-mannered kids (and their ill-mannered parents!) Could we clone your “grocery fairies”? Lord knows children like that are in critically short supply.

    • WOL,

      Yes, ma’am, that plastic lace is still available, in any assortment of colors you please. We had to make do with red, blue, green, yellow and white, but those were The Old Days, when it wasn’t assumed you had to have a hundred choices for everything.

      I took a look at Rio Blanco’s site – it looks wonderful. I noticed that GPS adventures and geocaching have been added to whittling and canoeing – welcome to the New Era in Camping. I hope they sing the same songs. You and I share a lot in that area, including Johnny Appleseed. One of my favorite rounds was “White Coral Bells”. I couldn’t find a good version of it sung as a round on youtube, but I’m sure you know it. My other favorite was “Sarasponda”. It was such fun to sing.

      I did find an old postcard showing the kind of cabin I stayed in – it may even be the same cabin. Who knows? I was a little startled to see current photos of camp activities with both boys and girls. Nothing against the boys, but that makes me sad, and is one clear advantage for Waldemar, at least in my book. Camp would have been a completely different experience if it hadn’t been all girls. Ah, well.

      As for the grocery fairies – I wish we could clone them. On the other hand, I’m beginning to be aware of more children and youth like them. You don’t always notice them, because they’re quiet. But they’re around.

      Linda

  12. You’ve already heard my story about good fairies in a grocery store, even if I was the one who coaxed them into good-fairy-ness, but I’ll repeat it here:

    Although I gather that your mother was rather afraid of pressure cookers, mine had one and actually used it, as I remember well from growing up in the 1950s. In around 1972, when I was walking through an aisle in a supermarket in my home town of Franklin Square, Long Island, I heard two women talking about how they had both gotten pressure cookers as wedding presents but never used them (I can’t remember why, but maybe for fear of having them blow up).

    I continued on to another aisle, but then I got my courage up, went back to where the two women still were talking, and said: “Excuse me, ladies, I heard what you were saying about your pressure cookers a minute ago, and if you’re not using them, can I have them?” They both agreed, gave me their phone numbers, and within a day or two I was the proud possessor of two pressure cookers. One was a basic aluminum model, but the other was an expensive stainless steel one; it came with me when I moved to Austin a few years later and I used it regularly for decades until I could no longer find a replacement rubber gasket for it (and the handle was coming apart as well).

    • Steve,

      It’s a marvelous tale. I confess I stopped and paused for a minute when I read about the ladies giving you their phone numbers, but then I considered the time and the place and it didn’t seem so extraordinary. In 1972, I would have done the same.

      My second thought was, “Those pressure cookers take up a lot of space. If they weren’t using them, I’m sure they were happy to move them on and empty a corner of the cupboard!”

      It’s easy for people to forget how good it feels to do something for someone else. When an opportunity presents itself, most people are pleased – for the person they’re helping, of course, but also for themselves. We talk all the time about downward spirals, but there can be upward spirals, as well. Even if we start by coaxing people into good-fairy-ness, they may discover they have wings and flit a little more often!

      Linda

  13. What a lovely discovery at the grocery store — girls who have unplugged enough to get a fresh look at life. Camp Waldemar sounds like a unique experience for kids today.

    • nikkipolani,

      What’s so telling about Camp Waldemar is that the girls who go, want to go back. It becomes a tradition, and not only for a single girl who attends several years in a row. There are multi-generational Waldemar families, as there are for many other camps around the state. Grandmothers, mothers and daughters – all having shared a similar experience.

      When I think about the camp, I often think of it as a “still point in a turning world”. However chaotic society may be, at Waldemar there are horses, politeness, canoes, good manners, real conversation at the dinner table and responsibility.

      Maybe I’ll get out the router and some wood and make a sign for my front door that says, “Waldemar South”.

      Linda

      • That’s very cool, Linda. Kind of gives hope for the next generation who have vision beyond their computer/mobile device screens!

  14. How totally fun, Linda! Now if only there were more places (like schools, movie theaters, churches, etc.) following these compelling guidelines. I ‘spect we’d all be hearing a lot more giggles. :)

    • Ginnie,

      Isn’t that the truth! And perhaps – just perhaps – there might be a few parents who would put down their own i-whatevers and tell the kids: “We’re eating dinner together, and talking to one another. No gadgets allowed!”

      Isn’t it funny how things like family dinner and conversation can sound positively radical? Here’s a question to ponder: is it possible that blogs are filling up a vacuum left by things we used to take for granted?

      Linda

  15. I am so glad you stopped by my blog and allowed me to discover your writing. I have just whiled away a happy spell reading your post and the wonderful conversations in the comments. Had I been recording my thoughts while I read, you would have heard a lot of ‘Oh, yes”, ‘Absolutely’s and ‘me too’s (my spell-check doesn’t like them, oh well).

    I feel as if I’ve been sitting on a wooded hill with friends, reminiscing about our childhood camp experiences and commiserating about the very real phenomenon of ‘nature deficit’ personality disorder and the challenges of raising children and living in the world today. Many specifics have come to mind, but I will restrain myself from much more babbling beyond sharing that sending our bullied, self-doubting preteen son to a YMCA nature/adventure based camp for a few summers was the best thing we ever did for him.

    I hope he and his wife will do the same for their 3 beautiful daughters and I wish all parents would see the value in giving their children the opportunity to be on their own in a safe, caring, natural place to make new friends with peers, nature and themselves.

    • Cindy,

      Your phrase “nature deficit personality disorder” is so wonderful, and so on target. Of course, now that I’ve poked around the intertubes a bit I realize that it’s not precisely “your” phrase, but you introduced me to it, so for me, it’s yours.

      I did a quick scan and discovered the experts finally are catching up wth me, as with this article from The Telegraph. I’ve been saying much the same thing for years, although my focus has been more on the grown-ups who continue to make pathetic attempts at running our world without the benefit of experience in that same world.

      The only thing I’d add is that I wish there also was a little more willingness to allow children an opportunity to be on their own in their own neighborhoods. I understand that there are dangers lurking out there, but even back in the 50s, when I grew up, there were the girls with sharpened can openers and an attitude, guys named “Rocky” who wore black leather jackets, ducktails and chains, and those “strange” men we all knew about, and avoided.

      When I think about the freedom we had as children, it does make me wonder: are we now, as adults, more concerned with maintaining freedom because we’ve experienced it, with all the bumps and bruises – and punishments! – that came along with it?
      I wonder: are cosseted children ever truly confident children? I don’t know. But I do know that the camps are one way to allow children more freedom, and hence more confidence.

      Thanks so much for stopping by. You’re always welcome!

      Linda

  16. Ah, how sweet it is to be unplugged, yet so hard to make it happen. The timing of your Camp Retro piece is perfect for me, as I, too, chose to be unplugged during my vacation and now want desperately to preserve and extend that mode of being. You once wrote something on the order that, to accomplish what you most desired, you had to focus first and foremost on your writing, and only read and comment on blog posts as you had time. Wise priorities. With refreshed resolve, I hope to follow suit.

    • Susan,

      Welcome home! I was glad to learn you got some sunshine on your trip. It’s been a bit soggy, to say the least.

      Your comment reminded me there’s a form of camp for adults that often goes by the name “retreat”. Like camp, it can be a time for learning new skills, but often it’s a time for stopping, taking a breath and then setting off again – sometimes on a new path, but more often on a familiar path with that refreshed resolve you mention.

      To my mind, this cyber-world is a weird amalgam of Alice’s rabbit hole, the Great Dismal Swamp and the La Brea tar pits. There are fantastical sights and extraordinary experiences to be had, but once you fall in, it can be a bit of a slog to get out. It takes discernment and discipline to keep the internet a tool and not a raison d’etre.

      I came across a new composition called “Poke” recently, It’s a satirical musical look at social media, and kept me laughing all the way through. Appealing “new music”! Who knew? Well, me for one, thanks to you. Things like this are a reason to stay connected.

      Linda

      • Thanks for the link and great spotting. Very, very funny, and yup, things like that are a reason to stay connected. Discipline is all, and I must find some!

  17. What a delightful read! I actually like checkout lines at the grocery store because I usually chat with fellow grocery shoppers and checkout person. For some reason, I have the gift of gab at the grocery store. Perhaps a bit of my father in me (never met a stranger). That was a nice trick, too, by the two girls. Made me smile.

    I went to camp once and not as nice as described here. And I had a Brownie camera with me. Dates me, I know. I never forgot the camp experience, though, because I had enjoyed it. I know that as a kid I would have enjoyed Camp Waldemar.

    I am trying to get back into writing letters via postal mail. Preston does a wonderful job of it sending little neat things along with a letter to a loved one. It always helps lighten the load of world worry woes when one is courteous with a smile, and saying please and thank you.

    Enjoyed the post and photos, Linda. Thank you. :)

    • Anna,

      There’s one independent, family-owned grocery I patronize here because it’s a better atmosphere for chatting. The selection isn’t so large and the prices are a bit higher, but it’s far, far cleaner than my house, and when someone thanks the young sackers, they say “You’re welcome” rather than “No problem”. We all have our criteria. ;)

      In the end, it’s the people who make the camp experience, not the surroundings. Some of the fancy camps have more activities, or less staff turnover, or better cabins, but in the end it’s the values that count. What I love about Waldemar is that beneath the trappings the experience doesn’t seem to be so very different from what I experienced when my friends and I “camped out” under my grandmother or great-aunt’s big trees.

      All this talk of Brownie cameras reminds me of that other reality of life in the 50s – film in the refrigerator. And oh, yes – those camp letters and postcards. I didn’t keep all of them, but it’s such fun to pull them out now and read them. That’s the great advantage of a “real” letter or card – you have something tangible to hold on to, or use as a bookmark, or put on the refrigerator. Good for Preston! I need to be better about sending out little bits of reality.

      Glad you enjoyed the post. I hope you get some cooler camping weather soon!

      Linda

  18. I love the grocery fairies! We can use a lot more of that going around! I think we could also use a whole bunch of the spirit of Waldemar: it used to be called “class”.

    • montucky,

      There’s no question our culture has grown exceedingly coarse – or worse. Places like Waldemar may end up being functional equivalents of the monasteries during the Dark Ages – places where the qualities of a civilized life can be preserved until a time of renaissance.

      As for the grocery fairies – innocent fun’s refreshing wherever it pops up. Not everything in the world has to be Fraught With Meaning or Serious Business!

      Linda

  19. As a former camper and camp counselor — YES! Love this. Love the spirit of those girls, and the way they look around more. Such a great post, Linda. Made me smile repeatedly.

    • Emily,

      I’m sure you had many, many opportunities to smile on your recent trip. When I read the list of “learnings” you posted, I thought of these girls – there was a good bit of looking around for your group, too.

      Sometimes I think the media would prefer that we think of the younger generations as nothing more than drugged-out, video-obsessed zombies. It makes great grocery store magazine headlines, but there’s obviously another side to the story – thank goodness!

      Linda

  20. Growing up, I seemed to be the only one who’d be disappointed when the power would go back on and somebody would blow the candles out and someone else would turn the TV back on.

    • Claudia,

      Exactly. No one wants a truly destructive storm, but the interruptions caused by blizzards were a cherished part of my own growing up. There was no question about what to do: we stayed home, built a fire, and read books. When summer thunderstorms took out the electricity, we’d watch the lightning and read books by flashlight.

      It had to be difficult and frustrating for the Big People, as we now know, but for kids, it was just another form of camping.

      Linda

  21. I liked the grocery fairy story. It was sweet and made me smile.

    • Browsing the Atlas,

      Smiles are good! I’m glad you enjoyed the story. Thanks for stopping by, and for the comment. You’re always welcome!

      Linda

  22. Hi Linda! Wow I haven’t been here in eons, and eons! I loved this story. The girls playing with your groceries, and bringing back memories of summer camp! I attended a few summer camps in my day and then I worked a few as well. Of course, we also didn’t have that long of a list of “do not bring” items that they must have today. I honestly don’t remember any “do not list” as I don’t think I would have even thought to bring a radio, transistor or not!

    I love going without technology every once in a while. I’ll still have a day here or there when I never turn on the computer and check email or anything else. We aren’t big TV watchers, so I’m not so concerned about that, but it’s pretty easy for me to NOT turn on anything electronic until pretty late in the day. I’m an outside person and outside is where I’m most comfortable and happy.

    We returned from a week long vacation about a week and a half ago, and I loved that there was very little technology. No TV for sure, we all had cell phones, but I only used mine about 3 times. This was a time when texting came in handy. I didn’t have enough bars to call my sister-in-law down in Carson City, but for some reason I could send her a text. If I walked around the camp ground, I could find some bars, but I really only needed to contact her for a particular reason. My phone battery lost one bar in a week! Almost everyone else had a Kindle or Nook, and to be honest, that kind of bothered me, although it shouldn’t have. They were just reading books. I still read the old fashioned paper kind :0)

    I did finally upgrade to a phone and plan that could text. It is surely not being abused. As one of your posters above said, be careful who you tell. I’ve told my daughters, and so far, besides the one time I texted my sister-in-law, they are the only ones I text with. Upgrading my plan still has me paying about $20 a month for my cell phone. I can also check email or browse on the Internet with my phone (it’s NOT a smart phone), but I’ve had no desire. It might come in handy someday. I still prefer the size of my computer screen.

    Anyway, thanks for a lovely ‘summer’ story!

    • Karen,

      It’s funny – our camp always sent us a list of things TO bring! I’ve been trying to remember what they included – I know a camera was on the list, and postage stamps. If we wore glasses, it was suggested that we bring an extra pair. An extra pillow was ok, but that was about it. Maybe towels, too. Otherwise, everything we needed was available there, even books from the lending library.

      Your story of searching for bars made me smile. I go up to the Frio River occasionally, and when I’m there, internet connection’s possible only at a couple of the little stores that have satellite dishes. One has a marvelous sign that says, “Beer, Bait and Internet”. If I want to use my cell phone, it’s either 7 miles north to the top of a particular hill, or three miles south to the cemetery gate. Local knowledge is a wonderful thing!

      One of my friends has a new smart phone. It’s very nice, but the danged thing makes little noises every time she gets an email or text or whatever. I suppose you could turn off the sounds, but she just ignores them. At least now I know what all that chirping is that I hear when I’m out in public!

      Vacations are the best, aren’t they? The best part is discovering the world keeps right on a-turning, even when we’ve unplugged from it!

      Linda

  23. Great story. Now I know what to call my “writing time.” I turn off the phones in the house each day when I write. And I have the rule of no checking e-mail or zipping around the internet unless it’s a quick bit of research. I’ll call it: Time to go to Camp Retro.” I hope I run into some grocery fairies, too.

    • lutheranladies,

      Turn off your phone? You radical, you! Actually, you might enjoy an essay written by Paul Graham, called “Disconnecting Distraction”. I discovered it two or three years ago, and found it very useful and supportive. It’s interesting that he added a note that his attempts at discipline hadn’t been completely successful. If you’ve managed it, you should send him an email and offer your tips!

      Thanks for stopping by, and for being so kind as to comment. You’re always welcome!

      Linda

  24. Ah, grocery fairies, I always wondered from whence they came!

    I never attended a summer camp, mostly because of money and we lived in a rural place where there plenty of outdoorsie things to do; catching frogs, building rafts, counting shooting stars, collecting fireflies, and you name it. But I can see the real value of this, particularly these days, when electronics dominate the worlds of our youngest generations. The book “The Last Boy in the Woods” explores they loss of innocence and knowledge of our natural world by younger people. It is a powerful, and scary, read.

    I was working the other day and drove through a suburban neighborhood. Here it was July. Not a kid in sight. Were they all indoors playing video games or watching TV? But now I have hope, perhaps they were at camp!

    • Wild_Bill,

      Personally, I think the grocery fairies and their ilk are nurtured out in your woods, along with their cousins, the postal sprites and the shop-keeper elves!

      I’ve not heard of the book you mention, but that future is approaching quickly enough that I can well imagine it as a scary read. People who forget – or have never experienced – their connection to the natural world often have an overblown sense of their own importance, and little sense of how complex this marvelous planet is.

      It has changed in the neighborhoods, hasn’t it? In my childhood and youthful summers, we roamed freely and unsupervised. There were sandlot ball games organized by the boys themselves, lots of bicycle riding, trips to the gas station that sold penny candy and always the book-reading. In the evening, we collected fireflies or played tag until the street lights came on and we knew it was time to go home. To the best of my ability, that’s the life I’m going to keep living until I die!

      Linda

  25. Where to start? I loved the comments so much that I want to complement you not only on your lovely post, but the family of readers you’ve gathered around you here. :-)

    I like your little mention of your Mom’s favorite snack. Hard to believe it’s already a year, but we’ll never forget them…

    I hope those fairies come to my supermarket check-out. It’s enormously encouraging to know that there are some kids who can happily carry on without hand-held devices even when home from camp… A glimmer of “hope” for the future of our society because I see too many people walking through the museum [where I work] not talking to each other or looking at the art, but looking at their hand held devices.

    While I served a woman at my cash register last Sunday I noticed her husband standing behind her busy with his iPhone. When she’d finished paying she called him to come and he followed her still checking his iPhone so I called them both back and took out my copy of the New Yorker magazine with that brilliant painting of the family posing for a photo on the beach that you mentioned above [instead of looking at the camera they're looking at their hand-held devices]. The woman laughed but not the man so I challenged him to have ONE hour in the museum – one little hour without looking at his iPhone. “I cant,” he said. “I have to be constantly available,”
    His wife shrugged with frustration.

    • dearrosie,

      I do love the comments here. I’ve always thought a blog post is a beginning, not an end. The discussion that follows is part of what distinguishes it from, for example, a magazine article.

      That year passed quickly, didn’t it? What surprised me was that a post I’d planned didn’t seem appropriate. I suspect it may show up in October, the anniversary of our trip back to Iowa for burial. That was the true closure, and the series of events I remember with some fondness.

      I often see the same dynamic you describe in restaurants – whole families sitting at a table, each peering into their little device. I’ve wondered a time or a dozen whether they might be texting each other!

      How wonderful that you (ahem) “shared” that cover art with your museum guests. It’s wonderful that the fellow is so responsible – perhaps you encountered Atlas, holding up the world! Or perhaps you just bumped into an inflated sense of self-importance. Hard to say, but it’s a shame he couldn’t enjoy the museum while he was there.

      Linda

  26. How nice about the shopping rearrangers, Linda! How refreshing it is to cross paths with others who show such good will.

    I’m personally not so sure about attempts to ban cell phones and email, etc., as these means of communication are now an integral part of modern life.

    • Andrew,

      “Refreshing” is a good word for it. When I was their age, we had other words we used. “Nice” comes to mind. As for what they did, it was a good example of “having fun”. In a world where we’re barraged with news of not-so-nice people doing truly nasty things, it’s nice to have a way to get some of these “small stories” out into the world.

      Personally, I’m all in favor of camps requiring their residents to leave electronics at home. For us, they’re an integral part of modern life, but for many people today, they’ve overwhelmed other ways of relating. I think it’s good to introduce kids to other ways of being, and it certainly isn’t bad to remind ourselves that our gadgets are simply tools that can enhance life. But they shouldn’t replace life, as they do for so many!

      I can’t help thinking of your photos of people in assorted galleries, as I ponder Rosie’s comment, above: “I see too many people walking through the museum [where I work] not talking to each other or looking at the art, but looking at their hand held devices.” Now, that’s a shame.

      Linda

  27. I never had the experience of going to an organized camp, well with the exception of Navy Boot Camp.There are tons of them on Cape Cod. Sailing camps in Orleans and a “Fat Camp” in the next town over, Brewster.

    But I did get to spend six wonderful summers camping at Nickerson State Park in Brewster. The day school let out in those years I went to grammar school, my parents would be waiting outside with the old “woodie” station wagon and the Chevy panel truck my dad used in the catering business. There was a small trailer hooked up to the truck and my little pram was strapped down to the top.

    It took us about three hours to drive down to the Cape from Watertown and Woburn. I used to love it when the first fragrant whiffs of pines would waft through the windows of the car. No a/c back then. We had the same spot every year. The Bolduc’s and their two daughters were in the site just above us. Then there were the Laravees and their son Donny. Across from them would be the Taylors. Their son, Tom, was an hour older than me. On the other side of the path were the Brenners, the Cullums and the Morrises. My Uncle Bill and Aunt Stephanie and their two daughters were in the spot right at the entrance of Area 5.

    My bed was literally only feet away from Flax Pond. The Cullums and the Brenners also had boats for their kids and we spent hours on the pond. We all were required to take swimming lessons which were held on the opposite side of the pond from where we camped. It wasn’t until much later that we realized this wasn’t done to teach us to swim but rather to give our mothers a couple of hours down-time a day.

    We’d all stay there until the day after Labor Day. All of us kids would have sun-bleached hair and tanned nut-brown from days in the sun. If we wore shoes at all during the summer it wouldn’t have been more than once or twice.

    Back then, of course, there were no cell phones, game boys, etc. I’m not even sure we had a radio to listen to.It was a magical, glorious time.

    Now, the longest anyone can stay at Nickerson is two weeks and you can’t make reservations.

    • Richard,

      I just had the best time roaming around your old neighborhood. And I really enjoy your tales from those early days on the Cape. Tradition just isn’t what it used to be – at least it seems that way to me. Everyone has so many important things to do, don’t you know!

      Reciting all those family names made me think of my parents’ graves, actually. I had forgotten until I took Mom home for burial that long, long ago, their bridge club decided they all wanted to be buried together. So there they are – all the couples who used to show up at our house to play bridge, nestled next to one another on a hillside. The more I think about it, the funnier it is.

      There’s a Girl Scout sailing camp not far from here and a Space Camp over at NASA, but I think that’s about it in this neighborhood. I can imagine the sailing camps on Cape Cod would be far more appealing – as would those just about anywhere else. Clear Lake and Galveston Bay are fine, but they’re pretty far down on the Appealing and Beauty scales.

      In the same way, we have our East Texas piney woods, but they just aren’t the same as what you’ve described. There’s a freshness to a real pine forest that can’t be replicated. Thanks for the memories!

      Linda

  28. as i sit here reading this on a device; my computer, i think of how often i’ve recently been saying it’s ridiculous how attached people have become to their cell phones. good thoughts, good read, and i love the image of the river bend.

    • sherri,

      I’d love a dip in that river right now. It’s hot and getting hotter – but of course you folks have outdone us recently in the heat department, so I’ll not gripe too much.

      I was at the same grocery store last night. They have a new promotion – now we can “Make shopping fun and easy!” by downloading coupon apps to our iPhones and Androids. They’ll even track your purchases and tell you when the items you buy most frequently are on sale. Uh – no thank you.

      When I told the young checker I didn’t have a smart phone and didn’t need information on the promotion, she gave me “that look”. I just smiled.

      Linda

  29. Brings back memories of Cub/Scout camp during the 50’s. That was before we had TV at home, and the phone was a shared line with our neighbour (we each had a distinctive ring.) Radios were of the vacuum tube variety which took a few minutes to warm up prior to making any noise. The TV, which arrived in 58, was also vacuum tube, and at first only one channel was available between 1600 and 2130 h. Remember the Indian head?

    My first radio was a crystal receiver in the shape of a rocket. No batteries required. And the ear plug ensured that no one else was subjected to what I was listening.

    In the early 80’s I managed to purchase 2 acres in a remote spot on the Rideau waterway, accessed by a 2 mile long private right of way. There was no hydro or potable water; everything we needed had to be brought in by car. Eventually I built an outhouse, 2 cabins joined by a screened porch, a warf and a platform with screen tent and picnic table. If one stood at the end of the warf, one cottage was visible across the lake. Sounds were limited to croaking frogs, buzzing insects, the cry of loons, chipmunks playing in the underbrush and wind in the leaves. At night hundreds of fireflies would illuminate the underbrush. Absolute peace.

    Cooking at first was done on a hibachi; later mostly replaced by a propane BBQ.

    I would spend most summer weekends there, often reading 5 or 6 books. Illumination at night was mostly from candles, but a full moon was sufficient to read by. The flashlight was reserved for nocturnal outhouse visits.

    Bathing was accomplished by jumping in the lake with a bar of soap. Ivory was good because it floats, but soap-on-a-rope was also satisfactory.

    Camping and sparse cottage life prepares one to deal with events which interrupt modern conveniences most of us have become reliant upon. The 4 day power outage of the late 90’s and an ice storm a few years earlier were dealt with as a hiccup. A cooler stocked with food and drinks keeps one going for several days. An alcohol fondue burner or a propane BBQ is all that is needed to cook on and make coffee, toast, eggs, etc. I’ve baked pies on the BBQ.

    I’ve always sorted my groceries at the checkout; not to be artistic, but rather to group like things so that frozen stuff gets packed together and hopefully with the meat as well. When lineups at the cash seem excessively long, I often start a conversation with a fellow shopper with: “Born on the wrong side of the cash register.”

    Life is short. Enjoy it while you can. Learn to love, live and have fun.

    • Rick,

      I do remember the Indian head! And of course going with my Dad to wherever we went to check the tubes – for radio as well as tv. It’s amazing now to remember how entranced we were with the test patterns, and how proud I was when I learned to talk to the nice lady on the telephone who asked, “Number, please?”

      Your comment about camping and cottage life being good preparations for the interruptions brought by storms, blizzards and such caught my attention and reminded me of something I read today in the midst of a report on the power grid failure in India. One reporter said, “While the midsummer outage was unique in its reach – it hit 370 million people, more than the population of the United States and Canada combined – its impact was softened by Indians’ familiarity with almost daily blackouts of varying duration.”

      Never mind the power grid – the response when Twitter or WordPress go down can be as panic-stricken. Pull the plug on the social network and you’d think the end of the world has come.

      And, yes – frozen foods together, canned goods first and the bread, tomatoes and eggs at the end. There’s a 50% chance they’ll get home safely then!

      That phrase – “Learn to love, live and have fun” – reminded me of one of my favorite songs. I wasn’t around in ’26 when Whispering Jack Smith made it popular, but my mom remembered singing it for music class in school! Remember the Red, Red Robin and the words from the chorus? “Live, laugh, love and be happy”

      Linda

  30. Like Richard, my first thought was key lime gelato is hardly unnecessary! :) Another first thought was how whole-heartedly I agree with you about minimizing the external pressures in our life, when possible, such as radio or television programs which elevate one’s stress immeasurably. Or, completely waste one’s time, either one.

    Love those girls and their spirit of fun (and kindess!) How I long for the days pre-technology, when people talked to each other, and thought of lovely things to do for one another. Perhaps Camp Retro is Camp Halcyon as you said, “an oasis of halcyon days and limpid nights, a refuge for complete sentences and proper spelling, a place of creativity, wonder and joy.” Oh to find that place and live in it permenantly! I think it’s possible to do it in our minds, at least, with the conscious effort to stave off the external pressures.

    • Bellezza,

      It’s so easy, isn’t it, to slip into a kind of either/or thinking about these things. Shall we live in the age of gadgets, or shall we be human, giving and receiving among ourselves?

      The answer, of course, is that we can do both, have both. But it takes intentionality, and discipline – that conscious effort you speak of. It probably even takes a certain willingness to be ridiculed for being so “retro”.

      I know this – the best times in my life, my favorite places in the world, have involved a certain isolation, the kind of simplicity that comes with willingly stepping out of the maelstrom of modern life. The Liberian bush, the hills of West Texas, the deck of a boat or my dock – I do cherish the silence and solitude of them all. The trick, of course, is to find ways to transform the routines of daily life (the classroom, the computer desk) so that they nurture us as well.

      Linda

  31. I like this post very much. You get so many comments I usually wilt at the idea of jumping in. But, I just wanted to say I like the post and now I’ll get out of the way…

    • Martha,

      My gosh – you never need get “out of the way”! Six words is as good as six paragraphs. I just like knowing you’ve been here, and that you’ve liked the post.

      Of course, if you didn’t like it, that would be fine, too – and I wouldn’t mind you saying so. If we learned anything with our moms, it’s that a little honesty isn’t going to kill anyone.

      Thanks for jumping in – I’m really quite fond of this piece, and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Linda

  32. I so remember your earlier posts on this topic and the cowgirl one. This is particularly enchanting. I never went to camp — we always went to the lake. I spent time with the cousins, so it wasn’t solitary but it wasn’t “away” with strangers. We have a nice joke about checking phones at the door, but even when we try, it seems we’ll find our twentysomethings texting some other twentysomething.

    Rick’s up north with a family reunion on his mom’s side (perhaps someday a thoughtful post) and all the cousins, most of whom haven’t seen one another in 50 years, are there and some with their kids. I was so impressed with one cousin’s girls, 18 and 13. They said yes, they had their phones, and no, they didn’t need to talk to their friends, there would be time for that later… I wonder if they still think that? Guess I’ll find out next weekend!

    Another perfect Shoreacres special!

    • jeanie,

      Clearly, “going to camp” and “going to the lake” have a lot in common. Our family sometimes went to a lodge on a Minnesota lake – there was a lot of fishing, swimming and general messing around. The biggest difference, as you note, was between being embedded in the family, and being with “strangers”, even though there usually were several members of my Camp Fire troup who headed off together for the camping experience.

      As an only child, learning what it was like to live with other kids was really important for me, and I suspect that’s why my folks sacrificed to get me there so regularly.

      I hope the younger ones have maintained their rationality about being “in touch”? I hope so. I suspect so, actually. I look forward to your reports!

      Linda

  33. I thought places like Camp Waldemar didn’t exist anymore. We don’t have summer camps here in the Philippines but this sure reminded me of my childhood.

    We didn’t have the gadgets that people have now: cell phones, digital cameras, tablets, laptops, etc. In the place where I grew up we even didn’t have TVs! If we wanted to play, we went to play with friends and neighbors outdoors. If we wanted to stay inside the house, we would play board games like Scrabble and Monopoly, or, better still, read a book.

    Today people are stuck with their gadgets most of the time (not only the young but also the not-so-young). Sad to say, this has brought a host of negative effects. For sure, technology has made life better for us but it has also caused a lot of problems. For instance, in South Korea ( which has the fastest internet connection in our planet) is now spending millions to combat one of their biggest problems to date – internet gaming addiction!

    In spite of the fact that we can’t give up technology, I agree that it is a good idea to unplug ourselves from our gadgets from time to time. And spend some time having face-to-face contact and conversation with family and friends , or simply spend time to read a good book without our devices continuously distracting us.

    ~ Matt

    • Matt,

      What memories you’ve raised – especially of the adults saying over and over, “Why don’t you go outside and play?” Outside held no terrors for us or our families. “Outside” meant bicycles, jacks, marbles, hopscotch, and chalk drawing on the sidewalk. Now, they’re arresting kids in this country (or their parents) for making chalk drawings.

      Forced inside, we did the same game-playing you did, although I sometimes would substitute paper dolls. Even after the television arrived, it wasn’t turned on constantly. We would gather as a family to watch particular programs, and then we’d turn it off.

      And there’s the key, I think. No one seems willing, any longer, to turn off the gadgets, to disconnect from the constant stream of information, or what passes for information. Sometimes I think we’re like children, afraid we’re going to miss something. Sometimes I wonder if we’re just terrified of silence. In any event, creating the atmosphere of Camp Retro is entirely possible, and we’d do well to give it a try now and then – as you so well know.

      Linda

  34. Hi Linda,
    Finally I am getting here and i Love that story!!!

    I went to a Methodist Church Camp in summer of 1968 and had a great time with my friends who went on the trip. Actually I am Baptist but the Methodist did more fun things for teenagers so I did their activities!

    We did not have nor need any of these new, modern gizmos back then. I don’t think any of us even made a phone call home the 2 weeks we were there.

    I assume Your Camp is still running and I wish there were more of them out there for our young people today. They need to know they can live in a simplier world.

    Thank you for brining back some sweet memories.

    Patti

    • Patti,

      I was raised in the Methodist church, and you are exactly right about all those fun things for teenagers. When I think about our youth groups, I think about hayrides, taffy pulls, ice skating, roller-skating, caroling parties, bobbing for apples and (get ready for it!) fund-raising dinners that featured chicken and noodles served over mashed potatoes!

      It sounds rather like the 1850s rather than the 1950s, but the truth is that the distance between 1850 and 1950 was far less than the distance between 1950 and today. It’s no wonder so many of us are feeling some cultural whiplash. When I heard a recent critic of the new Romney/Ryan ticket say, “They want to take us back to the 1950s!” my first thought was, “All right!”

      Of course I wouldn’t really want to go back. I remember other aspects of that era that weren’t so pleasant, and the struggles for equality and increased freedom so many people endured. In the 1950s I never imagined running my own business, for example. Many things have changed for the better.

      But I still prefer dinnertime conversation, back-fence gossip, easy neighborhood sociability and wholesome, participatory fun for the kids to all of this gadgety stuff. I’m glad to camps are there to help us remember what it was like!

      Linda

  35. Hi Linda, I have often seen you at Priya’s but today I saw a comment by you on one of the blogs I was reading, which made me come here. I went through your home page and picked this one to read. All the little things you describe here resonate with me. Little things that have begun to change the way we are living!

    Glad to hear about the two girls who “look around a lot more now.” :-) Nice to have touched base with you too, after all this time!

    • An Idealist Thinker,

      The little things do count, don’t they? And that can do in both directions. Small changes in policing in New York City helped to begin a positive transformation of areas there like Times Square. And whatever their differences, all of of the health-and-nutrition folks seem to agree that small changes can make big differences in terms of health, especially when the small changes begin to pile up.

      “Looking around” seems to be more and more a lost art these days. It’s hard enough to pull noses out of “gadgets”, but even those of us who like looking around sometimes are blind to what “is” because of our preconceptions. Practice is key, I think.

      It’s so nice to have you stop by, and kind of you to leave a comment. You’re always welcome!

      Linda

      • So true – about the pre-conceptions & practice being key.

        It’s my pleasure, Linda!

  36. I see that Georgette noted mini-Stonehenge outside Hunt. It was such a lovely surprise the day in 1998 when I happened on it! Lovely essay (as always) Linda.

    http://www.statesman.com/life/travel/a-texas-stonehenge-will-move-from-hunt-to-848808.html

    • Musingegret,

      How nice of you to stop by – thanks for the kind words and the great article. My favorite little paragraph was this: “The specter of human sacrifice was raised. Ingram Mayor James Salter told the fellow that no sacrifices had been performed in Hunt, “and he didn’t think the arts foundations would allow any, either.”

      That’s right. We may have our quirks here in Texas, but we tend to reserve places like Hippie Hollow and the Trans-Pecos for our human sacrifices. Arts foundations? No way!

      Linda


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