Victory Garden

20200515_12320820200515_123148

 

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. 

To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.

— Alfred Austin

 

I set out to plant my garden this year as a quest – as some sort of proof that Mother Nature is not out to get us.  I needed to get my hands in the dirt and remember that nature is powerful in its beauty and mighty in its magic.  Also, to try and forget that nature can be cruel, given our current pandemic.

But, planting a garden this year was more complicated than in previous years.  Usually, I just went to Lowe’s and bought some plants.  Easy.  However, with the pandemic upon us, I had so many more considerations: When should I go to the store?  When would there be the least amount of people there?  Should I go in the morning when they have just sanitized?  What about wearing a mask and gloves?

I waited a long time.  The fear was too much, and I was paralyzed with worry.  Finally, I decided to stop spinning and just get to it!  I asked my husband to go with me at 6am when Lowe’s opened.  I had my list and we grabbed up plants with breakneck speed.  No hemming and hawing over what would look good, or what is full or partial sun?  Just grabbed and paid, adorned with our masks and gloves.

I felt so much better after tackling that hurdle that I planted the whole garden and all of the flower pots as soon as we got home.  It was therapeutic to get my fingers into the soil as I lovingly patted down the new plantings.  Yes.  I admit it.  I talk to my plants.  My kids made fun of me as I wished all of my flowers, herbs and vegetables the best on their growth journey.  I also thanked the worms for helping my plants to grow; while the sun kept me warm and the songbirds created background music.

The dirt under my fingernails was like a badge of honor and a tribute to my mom.  I remember Mom planting gardens when I was growing up.  She was also a member of the Garden Club.  She loved the earth and all of the harvests she planted.  As I admired my little garden, I thought about a recent conversation with a friend about people working in their yards more during this pandemic.  She called them victory gardens.

When she said ‘victory garden’, it brought back memories of social studies classes when I first heard the term.  The idea of a victory garden stemmed from pervasive food shortages in Europe during World War I and World War II.  Americans planted gardens and shipped their bounties to European citizens to help.  Their horticultural efforts were also enormously beneficial stateside. “An estimated twenty million World War II Victory Gardens produced nearly forty percent of the nation’s fruits and vegetables” (Smith).

Companies during war time found that victory gardening held several benefits for their employees.  The act of planting communal gardens boosted employees’ morale during a very difficult time in our country’s history.  Coming together for a common goal gave citizens purpose and helped with depression amidst the backdrop of two world wars.

In 1944, manufacturing companies started victory garden programs  to help with absenteeism.  In a newspaper article from February 1944, a reporter wrote,  “One way a company can help make workers happy and more contented, thus reducing absenteeism and turnover, is to encourage victory gardening.  The food will come in handy this year, too.  The answer is that victory gardening pays.  The man who gets comfortably tired at weeding over Sunday won’t get down to work with a hangover on Monday.  The fellow with a thrifty garden underway won’t readily quit his job and leave the crop for someone else.  Closer friendships and associations – not only among employees but their families as well – create a wholesome spirit that makes for better all-around labor conditions” (Heuchling).

Victory gardens did not stop after World War II.  In fact, during the 2008 economic crisis, gardens sprouted up due to the rising rate of unemployment.  People found that growing their own food was not only cost effective, but a good way to get healthy, organic produce for their families.  Some people continue to plant bee gardens – gardens that are specifically designed to increase the honeybee population that is at risk of extinction due to climate change.

There is no doubt that victory gardens have a storied history combining love for the earth and benefit of humankind.  I found a great deal of comfort planting our little garden and an added bonus?  We planted it on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.  Who knew?  The days all blend together in this quarantine, but there must have been some cosmic pull to getting that garden planted on that day.

After Charlotte made the national news as the “#1 location to watch” for a COVID 19 surge, I remain scared, but resolute.  This garden helps me stay productive and positive as it is teaching me mindfulness, patience and hope. 

 

The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world. 

– Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Victory Gardens - 1944 2020-05-15 125421

 

Citations:

Heuchling, Fred. “‘Gardens That Raise Morale.’” Nation’s Business, Feb. 1944.

Smith, Tracy. “‘Victory Gardens for the War Against COVID 19.’” CBS Sunday Morning,                              CBS, 5 Apr. 2020.

Pandemic Perspectives

20200408_085231

To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; 

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

-“Success” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

My great-grandmother, Lavina Towner Emigh, died on December 13, 1918 during the influenza pandemic that ripped through our country.  My grandmother was 4 years old at the time and used to tell us stories about her. I wish I had listened. The arrogance of my youth whispered nothing like that could happen to me.

Yet, here we are.

In 1918 and 1919, the Spanish influenza killed 550,000 people in the United States and 20 to 40 million worldwide (Montana Historical Society).  When news outlets call the COVID 19 pandemic “unprecedented”, I have to think our ancestors are laughing at our hubris.  There have been pandemics in the world before this one. And, there are unique parallels of the emotions and feelings captured in the archives of survivors’ first-hand accounts of the day.

A Charlotte Ledger article entitled “Charlotte’s Other Big Pandemic” exposed the myth of our current reality as ‘unprecedented’ in a recent article.  Author Tony Mecia introduced us to Lauren Austin and her groundbreaking doctoral thesis, “Afraid to Breathe:  Understanding North Carolina’s Experience of the 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic at the State, Local and Individual Levels.”  The thesis features voices sharing eerily recognizable accounts. And, we have the chance to learn some lessons from the past:

The words of Professor William Cain, professor of mathematics and engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill still ring true.  This excerpt was a letter written to his sister in October, 1918:

“I can only infer from your letter that one of you has caught ‘The Flu’, though I wrote you to tell me definitely, for B. Jr. has been in great danger.  I do not like her exposing herself continuously. As I write you, Drs. MacNider and Mauquess both caught it in spite of masks on, Mauquess having a relapse after 10 days from going out when he thought he was well” (Austin 223).

His letter continues with a stern warning:

“If any of you get symptoms, don’t do as I did (work on), but go to bed and stay there.  I did lie down for four hours every evening and took no walks” (Austin 223).

In Wisconsin, circulars were distributed to residents in October 1918 to urge them to stay in bed:

“Every case of influenza should go to bed at once under the care of a physician.  If you get a cold, go to a well-ventilated room. Do not kiss anyone. Patient should stay in bed at least 3 days after fever has disappeared…The great danger is pneumonia.  The patient must not cough or sneeze except when a mask or handkerchief is held before the face. The after-effects of influenza are worse than the disease. Strictly observe the state and city rules and regulations for the control of influenza” (Wausaw Record Herald).

The woman’s committee of the Council of Defense in Wisconsin was asked to help by visiting the sick:

“They were told to warn all members of afflicted households to wash their hands frequently and not to use eating and drinking utensils in common. All dishes should be thoroughly cleaned, all rooms kept clean and well ventilated and handkerchiefs, towels and linens used about the sick boiled or destroyed” (Capital Times).

They also had restrictions similar to our Stay-At-Home orders:

“Also not to spread or contract the disease from their neighbors by unnecessary calls or neighborly visits, nor by allowing children from various households to mingle on the streets or the premises.  The police have been ordered to keep a close lookout for all children found playing on streets or on premises other than at their own homes” (Wausau Record Herald).

The loneliness of Stay-At-Home orders was illustrated an interview with a Montana survivor of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic:

“People would come along, and young men, nineteen, twenty years old…And they’d stop and say hello to us. My mother was very friendly. She loved to see those people. She was kind of lonesome there, you know, just us kids and her. So when anybody passed by, she always stayed with them. And, you know, maybe a week later, they’d say so-and-so died, and they had been past our place. So many people had that flu, and young people, and they died” (Montana Historical Society).

Yet, through despair, survivors remember helping each other.  Edna Register Boone lived through the 1918 pandemic in Alabama:

“I was 10 years old and my family was the only family in the little town that did not contract the flu. Therefore, my parents became automatic nurses. They nursed every family in town. It was my job as a 10 year old to take food to people, to families, all of them stricken. Mama would put a gauze bandage around my face and she kept sterilized fruit jars on the stove at all times. She would fill the jars with soup or whatever there was, and I would take those jars to the home of an afflicted family, knock on the door and leave the food at the door for someone to come pick it up. It was not a pretty picture…No one was able to go shopping. No one was able to cook. They could bake a few potatoes, even if it was in the fireplace. I knew I had to participate. I knew that my family was being protected. I knew I had to do my part” (Alabama Public Health). 

My daughter Colleen is 10 years old and my son is 14. Contrary to Ms. Boone’s experience, they are living pretty well- albeit missing their family and friends.  I cannot imagine having my daughter or son deliver food to the sick at this time. However, we are helping local charities from a safe distance.

Apart from staying at home, most survivors were asked for their advice on how to survive a pandemic, if it ever happened again.  Garfield Johnson of Alabama gave some good advice:

“Well, you know, most folks don’t try to have a garden. I say it’s better to have it and not need it than it is to need it and not have it. Me and Harriet got three deep freezers and we’ve got them partly full. We give to the young ones – share it one thing and another (Alabama Public Health).”

The Saratogian, Saratoga Springs, N. Y. Sat. 14 Dec 1918

Mrs. [Lavina] Starr Emigh, aged thirty-two years, died at her home in Locust Grove [Town of Greenfield, NY] at 12:30 o’clock yesterday [13 Dec] afternoon following a short illness of influenza. She is survived by her husband and 8 small children; Zilpha, Burtis, Vina, Beatrice, Elsie, Lena, Dorothy and Alice; 1 sister, Mrs. Howard Emigh of Milton; 3 brothers, Thomas and Jerome, who are in the United States service; Clarence of Burgoyne; and several nephews and nieces.

Funeral services will be held Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock at the late woman’s residence. The Rev. R. D. Andrews of Greenfield Center will officiate and burial will be at Greenfield Center.

Five of the young woman’s surviving children are also seriously ill with influenza.

 

Special thanks to The Charlotte Ledger, The Saratogian, Lauren Austin, oral histories shared by the Montana Historical Society, Alabama Public Health and the archives of the Capital Times and Wausaw Record Herald of Wisconsin.

 

 

Quarantine Scenes

20200408_085404

 

 

“We Read to Know We’re Not Alone”

-Sir Anthony Hopkins,

as C.S. Lewis in the film Shadowlands

 

 

Last week, I was supposed to meet Joy Harjo, Poet Laureate of the United States, during our college’s annual arts and literary festival, Sensoria.  We had been anticipating her visit for months, then COVID 19 struck.

I listened to a podcast this morning featuring her work.  She reflected on the iconic song, “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie.  She remarked how this song is relevant, but the songwriter got one pivotal point wrong.  She explained, “What Woody Guthrie forgot is we ARE the land”.  

This quote struck me as a teacher.  I sympathize with our students, but my feeling is we ARE our students right now.  We are all in this together. I am not dealing with the magnitude of their pressures, however, I feel at one with them.  Their issues are different, but the feelings of uncertainty and collective grief are the same. I just read my students’ posts on our Blackboard Discussion Board and my heart just hurts.

I want to say to my students:  

I see you.  I am listening.  And, I love you. Is that too much?  I don’t care.  

I want to take this time to share a love letter to my students for their bravery, devotion to their families and their fight to stay in our course despite insurmountable challenges at this time. 

To my students who are parents:

I hear you when you say that you have kids at home and it is hard to concentrate.

I am with you when you say you are scared.

I can understand your raw frustration when your kids are screaming and fighting in the background of our WebEx chats.

In their own words:

“The part of adjusting when I am doing school work now is that my little one is hanging on my hip.  That is the biggest challenge. In a matter of 4 days, I have decided to follow the governor’s orders and stay home, to not only protect myself, but mainly my child who is under age 2. I had a job four days ago and now, I have lost my job. This is the biggest change adjusting to.  I am back to being a full time mom, with a child stuck indoors and finishing this semester. As far as how am I feeling, I think stressed is the perfect word.”

“My son and I do yard work and go hiking and kayaking to pass the time by.”

“If I was to worry it would be for my four-month-old little girl. The only thing I need from you all is to keep all of the frontline medical workers and first responders in your thoughts. They are the real heroes during this pandemic.”

To my students who are worried about their grades:

I hear you when you say you are not good at English- though I would argue that you are.

I am with you when you say you didn’t sign up for an online class and you are uncomfortable with technology.

I can understand when you say it’s hard to write about things right now.  My brain is also full of static.

In their own words:

“To be most sincere I’m not feeling that great. I’m a high school senior and all I wanted was to at least graduate after 12 years of hard work and endurance. I feel like the one thing that I have left has been taken from me and it has been very hard for me trying to figure out my life, from working.. making enough money to survive.”

“Dropping out of high school in the first half of junior year gives me a different perspective. I knew I was never going to experience walking across the aisle for a diploma, go to a prom, or enjoy being a senior. I also lost contact with a lot of friends from high school because I didn’t see them anymore. Going to CPCC everyday in a way fixed it, as I enjoyed seeing everyone on campus and because it is such a small campus, I feel like I knew everyone. Now, it feels like I dropped out all over again except this time, it wasn’t a choice.”

“I can agree with you about the grades. I was not doing so well with my chemistry class in person.  How am I supposed to do well online?”

To my students finding out they are suddenly unemployed:

I hear you when you say you are afraid you can’t pay your bills and you worry about putting food on the table for your children.

I am with you when you say your uncertainty is crushing.

I can understand your anxiety being at an all-time high.

In their own words:

“My job had to shut down, which has been the largest source of my stress because I now have no income. I am unable to file for unemployment because my job did not file taxes, so after learning that I will not be able to receive financial help by the government during this time, it added a lot of stress.” 

“I feel deeply for local businesses who have had to shut their doors because I am in the same boat. My job is owned and operated by all Vietnamese people whom I love deeply, but there is a large language barrier. My boss has been coming to me every day asking for updates on what is happening throughout the world and specifically our county because they do not understand the news. Over my time working with them, I have taught myself how to communicate effectively with them so I have been explaining what is going on. We have been shut down for over a week now and we thought it would be just for 2 weeks, but after the Governor’s update from last night, it will be for at least another 30 days. I had to tell my boss and co-workers this information and they were devastated and asked how can they could continue to afford to live and it broke my heart to have no answers for them.” 

“I am in a similar situation. I work with kids in an after school program, but because school is canceled there is no after school program, and I am currently jobless at the moment. The whole situation is less than ideal. I didn’t even get to say bye to the kids, I just had to up and leave.”

I am also very proud of my students for so many reasons. 

I am proud of your kindness and how you stand up for your fellow students.  From sharing recipes you found on Pinterest, to yoga websites, you have been there for each other.  When one of your classmates told us he was getting bullied for being of Asian descent during this crisis, you were tenacious in your support of him:

“I am also Asian and I feel a little afraid of going out in public.  Although, nothing bad has happened to me yet and hopefully never will.”

“Though I am not Asian, I go to a Chinese church.  Don’t worry. Most people here are very nice and even if someone is being mean to you for no reason, it is just because they’re not smart enough, so don’t concern yourself with that.” 

“We can use our written communication skills to encourage and uplift others. Not only through technology, but also the old-fashioned way of writing letters. Words are powerful. We all have the ability to support others during this time of uncertainty.” 

I am immensely proud of how you have used the research skills you have learned in our class to be able to find credible sources during this pandemic:

I think a lot of people who get their news from a single source are really missing the full picture, and I am glad for this course for helping me to understand that. For example, it is good to understand that the polls showing confirmed cases are not an accurate depiction of the spread of the virus, since we aren’t testing everybody that is sick.”

“This course has helped me to look for what information is actually reliable and what side of the story some news outlets may be leaving out. It also has helped me to ensure I am fact-checking information I hear from other people since many people are panicking and spreading false information. For example, I had heard from someone that pets can carry the virus and first took that as a fact, but when I was politely challenged by my sister, I looked into it more and found that the CDC has no evidence claiming that pets can carry the virus.”

“I have easily been able to identify false information, and even try to tell my parents they are receiving false information from certain sites, and they do not believe me!”

This student even called out a fellow student for using Twitter as their primary news source:

“Also I don’t think Twitter is the best place to get your news unless it comes from a well known and reliable source. It’s just more believable that way. Not to say that other lesser known news or information sources don’t have the potential to give out quality information. I wish you would have specified exactly what the bits of information are that you have gathered from Twitter and later compared to other news sources.”

I am proud that ALL of you called out people in your age group about not observing social distancing regulations.  You are getting a bad reputation in the media and it is not fair.  Not all millennials and members of Generation Y are irresponsible. Students, like you, are leading the way!

“It bothers me to see friends and people I know defying the guidelines and posting on Instagram saying “ItS cOrOnA TiMe” and “SoCiAl DiStAnCiNg” when people are dying and they are being selfish by unknowingly spreading the disease.

I think it is so unfortunate when you see videos of people on spring break or just out and about not taking any of this seriously. The longer people ignore the CDC and WHO, the longer we will all have to be in quarantine.”

“Nonetheless, having this time to stay at home has given me an opportunity to really settle into a more present lifestyle, something that I have been trying to improve upon as a student. I am grateful for the opportunity to stay home and spend more quality time with my family and build stronger routines for every aspect in life such as wellness, and self-care. Also, being allowed to continue our education online and finish the semester as strong as possible is also a blessing.”

“My family and I watch both American and Serbian news from home and it’s astounding how differently the virus is portrayed in different areas of the world. Over in Europe, there seems to be a much more urgent vibe to the situation and more panic, while in the US we have kept pretty calm about the situation up until now.”

But, some students observed efforts to work together during this crisis:

“This pandemic has affected almost every nation on the planet. What has been amazing to see is that nations and leaders that otherwise have been adversaries have reached out to one another to offer aid to fight this disease. Humanity is simply reaching out to others and offering help and support when it is needed most. I think that through this course, we all have a positive outlet for learning and furthering our education which is a productive use of time while our lives are all affected by this pandemic. Being that the course timelines and expectations have changed, it is important to reach out to other classmates when needed and to offer help when you have the chance.” 

“I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that we need to come together as a community. In times like these, we are really able to see how much our well being depends on the actions of those around us, and who we choose to have around us.”

“More than just being kind, which should be a trait that everyone has regardless, we need to rely on each other and lean on each other. Martin Luther King Jr. had a wonderful quote that is especially true in times like these, ‘Through our scientific and technological genius we have made of this world, a neighborhood. And now through our moral and ethical commitment, we must make of it a brotherhood. We must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools.’”

Remember

By Joy Harjo

Remember the sky that you were born under,

know each of the star’s stories.

Remember the moon, know who she is.

Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the

strongest point of time. Remember sundown

and the giving away to night.

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled

to give you form and breath. You are evidence of

her life, and her mother’s, and hers.

Remember your father. He is your life, also.

Remember the earth whose skin you are:

red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth

brown earth, we are earth.

Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their

tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,

listen to them. They are alive poems.

Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the

origin of this universe.

Remember you are all people and all people

are you.

Remember you are this universe and this

universe is you.

Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.

Remember language comes from this.

Remember the dance language is, that life is.

Remember.

20200406_08390720200406_082939

20200406_081130

RV Chronicles #4 – Travel Book

20191116_165526“You can see a war out there, or you can see a friendly place.  Or you can simply see and skip the words.”

-Charles Bowden, Some of the Dead are Still Breathing:  Living in the Future

So, this story is not an RV chronicle, but it is RV adjacent.

We were in New York City for the weekend.  Mark took the kids to an M&M store in Times Square.  I opted to go to a large independent bookstore in Chelsea to be amongst my people.  I love to go to independent bookstores because the staff are not only really friendly, but incredibly knowledgeable.  I wanted to find a travel book based on RV adventures. 

Although I didn’t find one, the person helping me showed me a book of essays entitled, Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing: Living in the Future by Charles Bowden.  I loved the title, so I that was an easy sell.  Then, she showed me some books by French authors traveling around the U.S.  I bought the one that was most critical of America, as I love a little snarky adventure.

When I approached the cashier, he looked at me with disdain.  It was as if he was saying with his eyes, Here she is.  Another middle-aged white lady.  What is the book of the day, ma’am?  Ah, Meditations on Menopause? Good choice.  It is a typical look and I have seen before.  The NYC intellectual look, I call it. I usually wilt when I see this look as I still have an “also-ran” attitude when it comes to NYC.  I am from Cortland, NY, which the New Yorkers view as basically, Canada. Definitely not New York. Although, as I have gotten older, I do not shrink much anymore.  I met his gaze head on.

As he was ringing up my purchases, he grabbed the Bowden book and asked, wide-eyed, “Where did you get this?”.  I looked around, my Catholic guilt showing, and said, “From the travel section?”. My statement was posed as a question because I was stunned by his.  Then he asked, “Who gave you this book?”. This time, I stared him right in the eye and said, “Someone who works here.” In my mind I was thinking, Listen, Skippy.  I don’t know what this is, but don’t try to pull anything on me.  I’m a New Yorker, too. Upstate New Yorker.  

I was relieved when he started gushing about the author.  His love for Bowden’s work made me just happy to be alive.  This kid went from sullen and dark, to sweet and puppy-ish in a matter of seconds.  He said, “Oh, do you want a bag?” and I responded, “Yes, the tote bag that I picked out before.”  He shook his head, apologized and blushed brightly like a Christmas ribbon.

I like to surprise people, and it’s even better when they surprise me.

When I left, I checked my Google Maps app.  It looked like I had a 15 minute walk ahead of me to our hotel.  No big deal. I started walking down Houston and then up 6th Avenue.  It was so great to walk in the city and see real life in front of me – men playing basketball, old couples walking arm in arm, kids in strollers.  Although it was only 33 degrees, I was feeling quite warm basking in the NY glow.  

I had been walking for a good 20 minutes and my face was starting to sting from the cold air.  I decided to double-check the hotel address. 827 6th Avenue, OK, and I am now at…..127. WHATTTTTT!!  So, I misread Google Maps. The directions from before were for driving distance, not walking. I was in for a 60-minute walk.  Ah, no big deal.

I kept an eye on the blocks as they rolled by – 200 block, 300 block….whew!!!

 I got to the hotel feeling pretty good about myself.  I had some cred after that walk, I tell you. I announced to the front desk staff that I just walked there from Little Italy.  I got a lot of accolades and we laughed about my Google Maps guffaw.

I remembered such an important lesson after these two situations.  Even though I am a control freak, I definitely enjoy the unexpected.

20191116_12312820191116_165533

RV Chronicles #3 – Flashlight Letters

20190612_072736“I’d been the recipient of one kindness after another…I had nothing but generosity to report.  The world and its people had opened their arms to me at every turn.”

– Cheryl Strayed, Wild

The RV’s roof leak took a little longer than expected to fix.  My daughter and I decided to head out and the boys would wait at home for the RV.  After a day of sightseeing, Colleen and I headed to our campground in Asheville, North Carolina.  The campground was located at the summit of a mountain, accessed only by a narrow dirt road. The ride was entirely uphill and the road had no shoulder – no buffer between the small road and potentially plummeting over the cliff’s edge.  I was concerned the RV would have trouble on this road in the dark.  

As we checked into the campground, the owner said, “We do have a black bear and her cubs on this mountain. It’s best to stay inside after dark.”  Umm, what?!? Immediately, I became on high alert. What did I learn in Girl Scouts about bear safety? Was it that you talked nicely to a bear? Played dead?  My mind tried to remember the protocol, to no avail. My eyes darted from bushes to trees, looking for the lurking threat. It was dusk at this point and the boys were going to arrive in about 2 hours.  Without a camper, Colleen and I had to wait in the car for them to arrive.  

An hour went by.  As we were watching “Black-ish” on my phone to kill time, there was a knock on the window.  I screamed. 

This very tall, massive man with a long beard smiled at me.  I got out of the car and introduced myself. He motioned to his massive camper parked in the neighboring site and explained he and his wife camped at this site each year.  They were “regulars”. He offered me a flashlight for “safety reasons”, as he encountered a bear when he was retrieving his wife’s shoes one morning from outside of their camper.  “I shined this flashlight into his eyes and begged him or her not to kill me.” Excellent. I knew I was about to die on this mountain with my young daughter.  

He invited us to wait in their camper until my husband and son arrived.  “It’s not that clean, but it’s home.” Although he seemed kind, I am still a New York girl at heart.  I do not trust strangers that easily. I smiled and said, “No, thank you,” and explained we would wait in the car.  “OK, take the flashlight anyway. And, let me know if my wife and I can help you out at all. We’ll be up for a while.” 

The flashlight was extremely bright and industrial-looking.  It was bright enough to illuminate the entire site as well as the woods behind our campsite.  I immediately felt a little safer, being able to see a wide view.

My husband arrived and we had to park and level the RV before settling in for the night.  In the dark. With the bear in close proximity. You see, you have to prop up the tires, called leveling the RV, at every campsite to ensure everything inside the RV works properly, like the refrigerator.  We learned that lesson the hard way. Although I was deathly afraid of being outside in the darkness, I felt like the flashlight kept us safe from impending doom.

The next morning, I walked over to return the man’s flashlight and he told me to keep it.  ”You may need it and I’ll feel better if you all are safe.”

We took our time in the bright sunshine to tour the campground.  The view from the common area was tremendous. It would remind you of the movie, Shadowlands, when Anthony Hopkins as C.S. Lewis talked about the Golden Valley.  There were majestic mountain peaks with a lush, green valley and a river running through it all.  The beauty was almost too much to take.  

The next night, our kids wanted to roast S’mores, so we headed to the campfire at the common area.  A couple from New Jersey were there enjoying a cocktail, after a 12-hour drive and were ready to start their vacation.  The man had lots of stories about being a bus driver, while proudly mentioning his wife was the breadwinner of the family.  She smiled, and was quiet. She seemed happy to give him the spotlight.

As we chatted, he said their son just graduated from Parris Island as a newly minted Marine.  The whole training experience, as grueling as it was, bonded their family in unexpected ways. Before his son left for training, he told them not to write him. Then, the son made up excuses why he wouldn’t be able to write them either – he’d be tired after drills, too busy, etc.  They were crushed as they left their young man for the first time, knowing they would not be in contact with him at all until after his training. I learned that there were no phone calls allowed while at Parris Island, and no e-mail. The only permissible correspondence was letter writing.

After one week of training, they were surprised to receive a letter from their son.  The man said the letter ended with the words, “Write me. Write often.” He said his son’s words made him feel better than “Christmas morning”.  They began to write a series of letters back and forth. “I got to know my son better through writing letters with him than when he lived with us at home, “ he noted and added, “instead of fleeting face-to-face conversations that were few and far between, these letters enabled us to bond.”  He went further to say that the letters were the son’s single most loving gestures he had ever given them. He and his wife were grateful to get to know their son, and the man he was becoming, through letter writing. This revelation sent my English teacher heart soaring, of course!

There is something about camping where humanity is on display and the kindness of people shows through.  We have plenty of examples from our very short tenure as campers: people helping us park the camper, offering us cocktails, sharing snacks and meals.  Our experience has been that the RV lifestyle is one filled with people who are happy to connect with others, while enjoying nature and creating memories with the ones they love.