The Lingering Joys of Camp Retro

There are things in life I prefer to avoid whenever possible.  Driving Houston freeways during rush hour is one. Listening to political commentators who raise my blood pressure is another. Above all, I try never to stop by the grocery at 6 p.m. to “pick up a few things for dinner”, although circumstance or my own lack of planning occasionally force me into the heart of the pre-suppertime pandemonium.

The night I made a pass through our local supermarket intending to get only milk, lettuce, broccoli and some kitty treats, lack of organization was the issue. As usual, 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, yogurt and a totally unnecessary pint of key lime gelato.

Plunking down the little plastic bar meant to divide one customer’s purchases from the next I began unloading my cart, then suddenly remembered Ritz crackers. My mother’s quite  fond of them, and she’d asked if I’d pick up a box the next time I was in the store.

I pondered the cart belonging to the people ahead of me in line –  apparently a mother and two lovely daughters.  They’d done some heavy shopping and still were unloading their own items onto the conveyor.

“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 girls. “You’ve got time”.

Off I ran. The crackers were two aisles over and halfway to the meat department, but I knew Ritz were on the bottom shelf and I found them quickly. When I got back to my cart, the checker still was busy with the group ahead of me, and she was grinning. “Well,” I thought to myself. “She’s a pleasant one.”

Then, as I turned to add the crackers to the pile, I did a double-take. My tumble of items, unloaded helter-skelter from my cart, had undergone a transformation.  The bananas were marching along in a tidy row, flanked on either side by their vegetable friends, carrots and celery. The yogurts had been stacked into a pyramid, with the tangy gelato on top. Canned goods had been separated out and placed in neat squares of four cans each, with the 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 found the checker, the woman and the two girls looking back at me. “Well, I said, “it looks like the grocery fairy’s been here”.  That’s when the girls dissolved into breathless giggles and the checker laughed out loud. “That’s what they thought you might say, ” she said. “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 they’d never rearranged groceries before, but that was only because they’d never had the chance.  “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.”

With their mom beaming in the background, 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 is any indication, they do look around more and they see more, as well. I suspect their camp was setting rules not to imprison their spirits but to open their eyes, and it seems they succeeded marvelously well. I haven’t a clue about their camp’s actual 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.

Recently I discovered an incarnation of Camp Retro up 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, just faded away. Given its 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 became aware of 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 2011:

“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 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, and any one of us can begin saying “please” and “thank you” at the dinner table.

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, too – 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 make it fun to be at Camp Retro.


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54 thoughts on “The Lingering Joys of Camp Retro

  1. Our church used to go to a camp there for weekend retreats. Can’t think of the name of it right now. And our old minister had a vacation home not far away on the river.

    Those pictures bring back memories. I recall there being a dam with a chute around the edge that acted like a spillway. It was great to tube down, though I didn’t use a tube and tore a hole in my bathing suit. I think though, that the river turns into a raging potential disaster zone when those Hill Country huge rainstorms take charge. Loved the post.

    1. Symonsez,

      My first experience of the area was a conference at Mo-Ranch, back in the 80s. It was autumn, and the river was absolutely beautiful. Even when I began spending most of my time between Kerrville and Medina, it was fun to head back over to the North Fork, enjoy the scenery and have a burger at the Hunt Store.

      You’re right about those floods. People out there don’t talk about being snowed in, they talk about being “watered in”. Those low water crossings mean business. The town of Hunt was taken out by a flood in its early days – 1932. And of course there was the 2002 system that flooded the whole valley as well as other area rivers.

      Glad you enjoyed the read – I’ve never met anyone who’s been to the area who doesn’t have good memories.


  2. I found my iPod: apparently my grand-daughter “accidentaly” took it home with her last weekend. Actually I did not need it since all I use it for at home is a time piece but we did spend a bit of time digging into the sofa and her bedroom (and my truck cab and coat pockets). I was quite relieved to find that our initial suspicion was correct – grand-daughter also has an iPod but it won’t do what the newer one can do (I do not really know what either machine can do) so sometimes she mistakes mine for hers but so far has not left hers.

    What a concept! A Camp where you are only able to talk (to people present), read, or write. No “ear Buds” or folks walking about speaking to someone who is not physically present, no gaming systems or poking letters on the on screen keyboard. I’m impressed that the girls responded positively to the experience (and that you paid enough attention to find out what had happened and went on to write about it).

    It’s obvious we are undergoing a communication revolution. A few days “out of the loop” might be good for anyone.

    1. Ken,

      Funny, isn’t it, how the kids never seem to lose track of their own gadgets? I tend to “lose” my cell phone on a regular basis, mostly because I lay it in a safe place on a boat and then walk away from it some hours later. I keep it with me so Mom can get in touch if she needs to, but it’s far from surgically implanted.

      My most recent attempt to keep track of the danged thing has it tucked into a bright yellow waterproof case. It’s easier to spot from a distance, and also protects the phone when I forget it’s lying around and get out the water hose. ;-)

      Camp Waldemar – and others like it – are preserving something I feared was gone forever. The more I explored their website, the more clear it became that they could be considered the true subversives in our society. Before I found a direction for the story of the girls at the grocery, my working title was “Nice is Nice”. And it is – we just think decent behavior and “nice people” are boring and irrelevant.

      I’m no Luddite, and I am, after all, tapping away at this keyboard. But technology should be a tool, not a raison d’etre.

      Good to see you – always a pleasure!


  3. Loved the picture of the Camp Waldemar car and surrounding campers. Ah, the bliss of camp. It should be for all ages. I guess that’s what some resorts, zen escapes, retreats, etc are for. For the past two sumemrs, we’ve tried it “at home.” During our “vacation.” (HM has a MUCH more difficult time divorcing the tech world than I do…but I”m not bragging, just noting.)

    Funny how those girls thought to rearrange your groceries. Love the idea and ensuing image. I’m taking your Cowgirl’s advice to heart this week: “Always saddle your own horse.” It applies to so many things.

    Off to Camp Retro, er, bed. Pooped. And gonna read a few pages of a good old-fashioned hardcover book.
    (And you have me thinking – I may hunt around tomorrow for some old camp pictures. Oh, how I adored going to camp…)

    1. oh,

      My camping experience was at a place called Camp Hantesa, and I was a Camp Fire Girl at the time. It was wonderful. Even though some of the structures were different, the basics were the same: learning to live and work with a group, plenty of skill-developing activities, and those two-hour afternoon “quiet times” in the cabins for reading and letter-writing.

      We didn’t miss the electronic world, of course, because we didn’t have it. And now I’m so suddenly curious I’m going to have to drop an email to Waldemar – I suspect Kindles and Nooks have gone onto their proscribed list, too!

      Connie Reeves’ admonition has become the unofficial motto of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. You may not have read “Cowgirl Up!” so I’ll just mention that she died after being thrown from her horse at the age of 101. There’s a lesson or two there, as well. And you may enjoy this short video and the interview with her.

      I’m glad to see Spring is springing to life for you, finally. Thanks for taking some time from it to stop by!


      1. I LOVED this video. What a lady! And what a fine paint horse she’s riding in a lot of it. This is great. I’m thinking I may have to revive my barrel racing days! Ah, you can’t beat the view you get while on horseback. Thanks for this one, Linda! I’m trying to figure out how to wear my denim jacket to work this morning.

        (Btw, that’s where I’ve been and I may blog about it at some point, but the company I’ve been working for has just been acquired by a far larger corporation – egads. Change has been afoot for several weeks and all the jockeying and meetings has been eating up time. I come home and go outside in the fresh air with the dogs. Haven’t done much blogworld writing. Will get back to it, soon!)

        1. Jockeying, hmmmm? Well, that’s sort of horse-related. I have my problems at work, but at least mergers and acquisitions aren’t on my list of things to worry about!

          I’m glad you enjoyed the video. She was quite a woman. And even though she says she can’t choose a “favorite” horse, I do think that paint might be Pepper, who was a favorite, at least.

  4. Linda,

    Another great story! It’s good to hear that there are still kids who know how to live without using some sort of electronics all the time. I must admit, I don’t get the attraction of video games, constant texting, and, for Heaven’s Sake; what the heck is the deal with kids taking pictures of themselves all the time and posting them on Facebook or sending them to each other? Does that strike anyone else as extremely narcissistic? Never mind the fact that these kids are often suggestively posed. It just doesn’t seem right. I think that our up and coming generation can all use some “unplugged time”.

    I have never been to summer camp, but then I grew up at a time when everyone was “unplugged”, and in fact, my family didn’t even have a TV until I was a senior in high school. But my oldest grand-daughter (16 year old step-grand-daughter Zoe) has been going to summer came for 2 weeks every July for years and she loves it. She stays in touch with her camp-mates year round. It says something that this shy teenage has found lasting friendships and happy memories that will last a lifetime at camp.

    Thanks for yet another wonderful read! ~ Beth

    1. Beth,

      Yes, there still are some kids who know how to live without all that gadgetry, but there are other kids who have learned to live without all the gadgetry. They’ve been given a vision of a life that’s more fun, more engaging and more satisfying than peering at a smartphone all day long, by adults who know the value of unplugging.

      We keep talking about how important role models are, and those two girls who rearranged my groceries are living proof of the difference adult guidance can make. Still, we often ignore opportunities to make a difference when we can. If the younger generation is going to learn that some experiences in life don’t arrive packaged as “apps”, they’re going to need some help.

      I know that you live a relatively unplugged life, and so do I – but it’s required thought and some decision-making. The joke is that while so many are obsessively texting and tweeting, others are making big, big bucks off their behavior. It’s the marketing gurus again, trying to convince us we can’t live without the next big thing.

      Well, there are things in life money can’t buy and marketers can’t sell, and those memorable weeks at camp are among them. Thank goodness!


  5. Today, I will look around more – that’s it. . . no doubt what I needed today. Thanks, Linda. . .

    And maybe, just maybe I can be a grocery fairy, too.

    Thanks for the reminder of all the glory that can be camp and a life lived wide open.

    1. Andi,

      What fun, to be a grocery fairy – or a traffic fairy, or a customer service fairy, or…

      When you think about it, we’re all just camped out here, anyway. We might as well enjoy the experience – living wide open.

      So nice to see you – I do hope all is well.


  6. I wanna go to camp! Although I’m not sure at this stage of life if I could handle FOUR weeks :)

    I’m so tickled that the girls did that with your groceries – isn’t it more fun to just chill & enjoy the people around you in the grocery line? I know that I’m a LOT happier with the experience if I do that – although I’m too often one of those with the kamikaze grocery cart that you need to avoid. Sorry!

    1. Bug,

      I know you could handle four weeks! I surely could – pack your bags and put name tags on your clothes. I’ll be right over to pick you up.

      I swear – that grocery-line experience was such a stunner I’ve been carrying it around with me, waiting to do something with it. It was fun, and so startling there was nothing to do but enjoy it – like a surprise party.

      Love the kamikaze grocery cart. I confess, there are days when I’m the one with the slitty eyes, counting the number of items in the cart ahead of me in the express lane, and thinking, “Seventeen. The limit’s fifteen. Should I raise a fuss…?”


  7. I was surfing on and stumbled past your story. I really like your voice and the imagery. I’m going to have to pass the prank along to my 13 (nearly 14) year old son. He’d get a kick out of it.

    Thank you

    1. Maureen,

      How nice of you to stop by, and how nice that you graced me with a comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the story – it is the sort of thing a young boy could have fun doing. Of course, it’s the sort of thing I could have fun doing now, but it took a couple of girls to show me the way!

      Again, many thanks for your comment. You’re welcome any time.


  8. Kids have to go some place like Camp Waldemar to unplug. Life has changed and I’m sad for kids. They miss so much.

    Love those rules.

    I’m not sure what kind of attention span today’s kids will have when they enter the work place. Can you imagine? The worst part of it is how they completely tune out. The house could catch fire, and they would continue texting or playing their video game. I won’t even go into how violent some of those video games are.

    As I was drifting to sleep last night, I thought about a swing that my uncle made. He thew a rope over a huge tree just outside my aunt’s kitchen. We had so much fun on that thing. Times, they are a changing.

    1. Bella,

      I don’t know. I used to be a little woe-is-me-ain’t-it-awful about the general downward spiral of things, but now? Not quite as much.

      Truly, things began to change for me when I tossed out the tv. I don’t have anything against television. I know there are good things, and I will watch a show now and then – but it’s negatives were outweighing the positives, so I thought, “Why not give it a try?” I don’t miss it at all. And I haven’t filled up the silence with iPods or Pandora or radio, either. I listen to the fish, or my complaining cat.

      I suppose my point is that, just as with fashions for the ‘tween set, the first decision has to be “Who’s in control here, anyhow?” And I’m taking back control of my life – as much as I can. I think that’s why Waldemar appeals to me so much – it’s nice to know that I’m not alone in thinking these things are important. Just today, I kept my elbows off the table. ;-)

      As for those tire swings – weren’t they fun? The last one I swung on wasn’t at Waldemar, but it went out over the Guadalupe. I didn’t even fall in.


  9. Oh what a lovely concept…. may I send my daughter? I know she would have to be hog tied, kicking and screaming. It makes me very sad to see the electronics strewn across the bed in the morning. She can’t stand being out of touch at any time! It’s an awful addiction. I guess times are always changing and the oldsters (now me!!) will talk about back in the day when things were, tsk tsk tsk, better/different/more simple…

    I didn’t go to camp, but I went with my grandparents to their cottage on the lake. We didn’t even have a tv there, and the phone was for emergencies only. I would listen to the wolves howl at night and traipse through the woods all day with my canteen and compass. Yup, those were the days!

    1. qugrainne,

      I’ve always thought the tsk-tsking of the “oldsters” was so much nostalgia, a viewing of the past through filters that allowed only the good to be remembered and not the bad. And that may be so. Still, I’ve come to believe that in some cases things WERE better in the past. The latest and greatest always comes with a tag attached called “Unintended Consequences”, and every eager “emptor” had better keep the “caveats” in mind.

      Watching some of my more Facebook/smartphone obsessed friends, I’m struck by a bit of an irony. The more “in touch” they are electronically, the less in touch they seem with themselves. But, they’re free to use the technology as they see fit, just as I am. I’ll only say that my use has changed as I’ve begun asking a single question on a more regular basis: “How does this improve my life?”

      Weren’t those days with the grandparents wonderful? No woods when I visited mine, but plenty of room to roam, and listen and watch. Even as adults, we need that.


  10. Linda,

    You really should let Sherry Turkle know about this one! A social-psych study on Camp Retro should balance her research… which sometimes makes me feel quite limited in scope.

    I remember when my son was a teenager (just a few years ago), his youth group practised “Media Fast” every now and then. They would go without TV, video games…etc. for a week or so. Some discipline I’d say, for a young person. In this period of Lent, we need such respite ever more. I must confess, it gets harder every year to get unplugged.

    1. Arti,

      I just found the most interesting article in a Chicago paper. It says, among other things, that three out of four camps forbid cell phones and other electronics, and that very often it’s the parents who cause the problems. They’ll send their kid to camp with three cell phones – one to surrender, one to use and one to replace the backup when it’s discovered and taken away. Camp Waldemar deals with that pretty easily. Found with a phone? You’re gone.

      One statistic that I couldn’t believe is that American kids spend an average of 7.5 hours per day involved with media-related activities. What I don’t know is whether that includes school activities, such as using computers to do research. I certainly hope that’s the case!

      It’s a real issue, for sure. My guide through some of this is Paul Graham, who knows the cyberworld as well as anyone. In his Accelerating of Addictiveness he makes the point that in the future, we’ll increasingly be defined by what we say “no” to. I suspect he’s right.

    1. Andrew,

      Spoken like a true photographer! Hmmmm… some camps are trying to find a happy medium by doing their own posting of camp photos online. Maybe you could be the camp photographer!

      But now I am curious – are there times when you do set aside the camera for a while? I know that when I take time off from work I don’t want to spend my time varnishing, even though I enjoy it. Maybe you don’t think of your photography as work/profession, so it feels different.

      In any event, I’m sure glad you take your photos! Too bad you couldn’t have gotten a shot of my perfectly arranged groceries!


  11. A lovely post as usual. I long to get away at a camp like this.

    I’m not addicted to gadgets, having left my teens far behind, but some of the time I spend way too much time with them. I want to go unplugged for a while.

    1. Damyanti,

      It is easy to spend too much time, isn’t it? Though I’ve made a choice to forego Facebook and texting, there still is this danged internet, and its attractions can be nearly irresistable. One blog leads to another, and that link-hopping – well! Someone needs to write a children’s story about The Yellow-Crested Link-Hopper, a fanciful bird who gets himself into trouble by hopping from one link to another to another….

      Of course, all of us need to remember – unplugging’s really quite easy. We just do it! To recall the words of another writer, the problem’s not in the technology, but in ourselves. ;-)


  12. I’m delighted to know that there are summer camps where “gadgets” are forbidden, and that there are kids still spending their summers with good old fashioned summer activities like swimming hiking rowing

    1. dearrosie,

      I mentioned to Arti, above, that there are far more camps like this than I realized. (Of course, until I ran into the girls in the grocery, I didn’t realize there were any!)

      There’s something wonderful about the “lazy,hazy, crazy days of summer”, and it’s great to know that some of that joy is still being passed on. The more I read about this, the more I have an impulse to go outside, lie down and watch the clouds for a while!


  13. Fun post, Linda. Such great, creative, generous girls to play “grocery fairy.” Another reminder of the need to slow down: you go to the line with the checker. A person. Too many times, especially with a small “list” I go straight for the automatic. Not a good thing, with jobs in jeopardy everywhere (except Washginton, DC apparently).

    I think I would enjoy a camp like that. Is there a Camp Waldemar for middle-aged types?

    1. ds,

      Funny you should ask! As a matter of fact, Waldemar itself has a week-long camp for “ladies of a certain age”. They have a family camp, too, which lets dads and boys get in on the fun. Let’s play “Let’s Pretend” – wouldn’t it be great to get about a dozen or two of us together at such a place? We’d all have to mind our manners in the dining hall, though!

      And you’re exactly right – go to the line with the checker. What’s even more fun is to go to the line with the checker and say something like, “Your hair really looks pretty.” Whatever fits. It reminds them they’re a person, too!


  14. I enjoy all of your posts, Linda, but this one had me slowing down to savor it. I’d like to add that, as happily surprised as you may have felt to discover your groceries so sweetly arranged, those girls were just as fortunate. You could have been someone who found their little prank annoying or offensive. (“How dare you touch my things?”) It’s nice when the right people happen to bump into each other.

    Key lime gelato doesn’t sound unnecessary to me at all.

    1. bronxboy,

      You know, your take on the incident never occurred to me – that someone might have taken offense. Now that I think about it, they were pretty trusting souls themselves. I find that as heartening as anything. Someone else pointed out the remarkable fact that they were with their mother, who didn’t stop them, and gave them time to engage in conversation with me. Maybe it was a Twilight Zone episode, after all!

      And of course you’re right about the gelato. We all have our addictions. ;-)


  15. There is so much in this post to love, I don’t know where to begin. Is it the sweet and creative children in line? I adore them — and the clerk at the counter and their mother. What joy must be in their home! How wise the mother to find the camp for her children that doesn’t advocate technology!

    And then to find Camp Waldemar. Wow — I have to say I get so frustrated with kids and technology. I hate being at dinner or a ball game or anyplace where I feel their attention is so divided between the small electronic device in their pocket or their phone and the real-life at hand. I think they miss so very much, and it affects their concentration on every level. One feels a conversation is continually interrupted by unseen individuals who aren’t a part of this event. (Can you tell, I’ve had this conversation with Rick’s kids before?) We tried once, having them check their phones at the door. We should have hid them while we had the chance.

    Interestingly enough, I’ve noticed this now with a lot of adults in the work place. I’d like to think maybe it is because I work in a media environment, but I have to say at times it is frustrating to know that while we are meeting, one person is checking twitter (and that might be the boss) or email on the phone. Folks bring their laptops to the meeting and it’s encouraged (I don’t have one, so I’m stuck “at the meeting!”) Sometimes it comes in handy — someone mentions a website or something we’re not sure of and another looks it up online in a flash — that’s not so bad. But the other…

    I have a dire feeling that all this is here to stay, but I do think that while it may lead to a more informed, quicker reacting world, I’m not so sure it is a more civilized one…

    1. jeanie,

      When you mentioned divided attention, it occurred to me the beginnings of all this may reach back further than I’d realized – to that blasted function we term “call waiting”. It was supposed to be “the thing” – a great convenience, and all that. But there were words other than “convenient” that came to mind when, in the middle of a conversation with someone, they’d say, “Oops! Gotta another call coming in! Hang on for a minute!” And then off they’d go. Eventually, if we hung on for that minute or more, they’d come back and say, “Are you still there?”

      It was annoying, disrespectful and impolite, that’s what it was. I never used call waiting myself, and am bumping up against it less and less.

      Of course, we have other “functions” now, including the smart phone app that uses a camera to record your surroundings and post them as a sort of wallpaper to your phone, so you don’t bump into people or buildings or trash cans while you’re walking, head down, and texting. Good grief.

      So much of this is nothing more than the electronic version of “See how important I am?” In the old pen-and-paper days, the pocket calendar would come out and the jockeying for a future meeting date would begin: “No, I can’t do it then. And Wednesday’s out, as I have an important meeting. Maybe a week from Friday?” And so on.
      You’re there. You know how it goes.

      Beyond that, I can’t help but think of the way some people will leave chatrooms or blog discussions, saying, “POOF!” and then disappear. Maybe there really are people among us who’ve come to the point of believing if they completely unplug, they’ll truly disappear – cease to be. I suppose if a virtual identity is more “real” to someone than their existence in the real world, that’s exactly what would happen!


  16. I like the way the girls didn’t consider you an adult stranger. It sounds like they see everyone as fair game to kid around with. How refreshing when people get past the “How are you? I am fine” routine that makes us so lonely and really engage with one another.

    1. Claudia,

      Once I had a chance to think about it, I was struck by their confidence, and positive view of the world. It also occurs to me they must have a whole lot of fun.

      Beyond that, in a world filled with crabby and/or obnoxious people, think how far the effects of that one bit of fun and silliness have rippled. When I was a kid we sang a song I see is still around. It includes these lyrics – “If everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world it would be.”

      Schlocky? Sugary? Overly-sentimental? Maybe. Maybe not.


  17. Wow, I loved this post! How did I miss this last week when I was on my own rampage about the internet?? lol

    I love those kinds of spontaneous interactions in public places, especially when children are involved. And all because you forgot the Ritz crackers…

    1. Becca,

      For some reason I just thought of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” again – where he says, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” In this instance the crack was in my memory – and I ended up being blessed with a whole lot of light.

      I don’t say it very often but I do believe it – grace isn’t a doctrine, it’s an event. ;-)


  18. Love your grocery story, great girls! Funny how little events add up to a one off experience. If you hadn’t hesitated for a second over the Lime Gelato or forgotten the crackers – and then when something wonderful happened you spotted it and blogged it. On your gadget. . . now if you’d had your phone on you, you could have snapped a pic for us!

    1. Jeannine,

      Ah, but I had my phone with me. I just don’t know how to use the camera built into it, and I’ve lost the instruction manual somehow. But that’s ok. I gave you a different sort of picture. After all, what the girls looked like doesn’t matter as much as what they did!

      They were great girls. A pretty neat Mom, too. And isn’t it funny how a minute here, a minute there and everything changes. I suspect all of us have had the experience of coming upon an auto accident and saying, “If I hadn’t done this or that….”

      Somehow, I imagine your boys being the same sort. A little more impish, of course, but quite capable of surprising and delighting some unsuspecting adult!


  19. What a lovely story. Nice that some youngsters are grocery fairies instead of cellphone obsessives! Thanks for visiting my blog, glad you found Picnic for the Planet interesting!

    Crafty Green Poet

    1. Juliet,

      “Nice” is seriously under-rated. These were nice girls, doing a nice thing, and I expect to be smiling over it for some time to come.

      On an unrelated note, do you know of Roz Savage? I suspect you do. She left Fremantle this evening on her next row, across the Indian Ocean on behalf of a variety of ocean/environmental causes. If you don’t know of her work, a Roz Savage search will find you lots of interesting things.


  20. Hi Linda,

    This post is another sign of the vastly different worlds we two live in. I’m thinking not of router and ROUTER :-) but the sponteneity and friendliness of Americans in general. This scenario would be impossible in Germany. Everyone in a grocery store here, from the clerks to the cashiers to the shoppers themselves, goes through the motions as if on autopilot. Go in, shop, pay, get out.

    1. Ian,

      But don’t forget – if the girls’ behavior were a commonplace, there’d have been no reason to write the post. There’s plenty of the kind of behavior you describe here, too, and more than a few people who seem to live their entire lives as automatons.

      And we have real regional differences in friendliness and approachability – a Texan in parts of New England is going to think the people as cold as the weather, and a certain sort of Midwesterner’s going to be aghast at being called “Honey” and “Sweetie” by a cafe waitress in Texas.

      Still, I take your point. On the other hand, there are some positive differences in your world. Here, the guys from the neighborhood chop shop would have stripped your car down to the chassis long before the authorities showed up!


  21. Another great post.

    I never went to an “organized” camp but we used to spend the summers from the day school let out until the day after Labor Day at Nickerson State Park in Brewster on Cape Cod prior to our moving to the neighboring town of Orleans when I was 12. You have no idea how much I loved it there. Every time I visited the Cape years later I always used to visit the old camp site and talk to the people who were using it.

    Re: grocery stores. The best line I ever heard from a cashier came from one who worked the “10 items or less” line. A woman pulled up to it with her shopping cart filled to the brim. The young cashier smiled at the woman and said, “And which of those 10 items do you want to buy?”

    1. Richard,

      There’s a certain “something” about that combination of childhood, camping and summer that just never disappears. This morning it’s cool here – not cold – with a nice dew and that diffused sunlight that says, “Enjoy it now, because a hot afternoon’s on the way”. Between our conditions and your comment, I’m thinking again of that song about the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” and understanding perfectly why it was so popular. It’s no wonder we go back to those campsites, if only in memory.

      Kudos to that checker! It’s a perfect response to one of life’s constant irritations!


  22. Hi Linda,
    What an enjoyable and refreshing story. Are there still camps like that around? I would love to go to one myself just to escape for awhile.
    Back in my “camp days” we did not have any of those “not allowed” items.. They were not invented yet!
    And it was a “Church Camp” so we were “proper” most of the time also.

    Thank you for another delightful story!

    1. Patti,

      There are more and more of those camps, actually. I had no idea there were things like “Associations of Camp Managers” but of course there are, and it seems clear from some of what I’ve read that they’re taking a “united we stand, divided we’re overrun by these gadgets” approach. Most of them do have limits on cell phones, cameras, ipads and such.

      I”ve been trying to remember what limits we might have had when we went to camp. All I can remember is that we had to have every towel, shoe and piece of clothing marked. We could bring our own tennis racquets if we wanted, and our own swim caps. Oh, and our own pillows.

      Beyond that, I don’t think there’s anything we would have wanted to bring – the whole point of camp was to enjoy what was there, not to re-create home!

      As for proper behavior – I do remember some real recklessness. There were pillow fights, and we short-sheeted beds! ;-)

      Glad you see you out and about again and feeling better. Thanks for taking time to stop here!


  23. Oh, now where is camp Waldemar for boys? Our nephew was speaking to us in “text” the last time we saw him. He used acronyms and would say “happy face” or “sad face” for feelings :-0

    His manners, however, thanks to his mother are very good. So I guess we can teach them values, but they are going to make up their own language. Then again, so did we.

    1. Nanette,

      I’m sure Waldemar for Boys is out there, and they’re probably struggling against video games as much as anything. No World of Warcraft for you, young man!

      Absolutely true about making up our own language, primarily to separate from the adults around us and to show we were “cool” (or whatever it happened to be). Still, we spoke our language to one another without the mediation of machines – and it was language. When I bump into leet speak and LOL-ers, I feel like I need to dig around in the cereal box for the decoder ring that surely must be there….

      It’s insidious, I’ll say that – and useful to a point. Those smiley faces and LOLs can come in handy when you need to indicate humor rther than sarcastic nastiness, for example. And who hasn’t read something that leaves them ROFLMAO?


  24. I think it is very great the girls learned an important life lesson from one summer of a camp with purpose. Also, it is great how lightly you took the situation, because I have a feeling not everyone would smile that that.

    1. ladyjane,

      I think it’s wonderful they learned such a lesson, too, and I have a feeling I’d like their camp counselors as much as I liked the girls. After all, it’s the counselors who help kids at camp understand and accept the rules, and flourish under them.

      I’m sure not everyone would smile. The truth is there are plenty of folks out there ready to take offense at just about anything. Some things are offensive, of course – but a couple of high school girls having some creative fun isn’t one of them!

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and for being so kind as to leave a comment. You’re welcome any time!


  25. What a lovely story and a nice break for everyone in a busy shop! I would have loved it! This funny episode was certainly the highlight of the day for the checker.

    Living for a while without our usual sort of technology can also be a gift. I just experienced this recently and felt my days were longer, richer with different sorts of interests and discoveries. A beautiful piece of writing and experience that needs to be read again. Thank you, Linda.

    1. Isa,

      That’s the beauty of such experiences, isn’t it? First the experience itself, and then the telling and re-telling of it. It made me happy to think of the checker having a story to tell at the end of a long day – that’s not the easiest work, and surely the good stories must be few and far between.

      It may be silly of me, but I’ve been thinking that blizzards, rainy days and computer malfunctions have that one thing in common – they enforce a different kind of activity, or imbue familiar activities with a different quality. All of us know what you mean by those longer, richer days.
      Learning to turn off the computer by choice now and then isn’t a bad thing, either.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece – it’s always a pleasure to have you stop by.


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