Tents, Trailers and Cabins
Not everyone can relate to a camping theme. But I selfishly chose the theme, because I'd just returned from some trailer and tent camping.
"Who Has Been Camping Before?"
That was the first question I had for each group. The fact that less than a fourth of each group answered "yes" could have made for some dull sharing. But as usual, everyone seemed to have something to say. Tent stories lead to National Park talk. Park talk lead to cabins and lodges. And everyone had something to say about fires and bugs!
A Fine Centerpiece
My crazy display bowl of marshmallows and sticks gave us something to laugh at, right off. Many who had never camped, remembered toasting marshmallows. Dot had more than marshmallow stories, though. As a child, her family and the families of nearby tenant farmers gathered for camp-outs, out in the swamp. "During the day, the women would fish and the men would go hunting."
Even though she hated it when the kids were all sent to the tents for bed, she loved listening to the adults as they lingered around the fire, sharing stories. "Oooeee!" Dot grinned and carried on, her Louisiana drawl, "They told the best stories!"
Margie had enthusiastic tales of helping out with her son's Boy Scout Troop. She laughed about all the sandwiches she and her husband made for the boys. A young aide joined our group at the nursing home and shared her own memories of being a Girl Scout.... not that many years ago.
"But we never camped in tents or got to make fires! I wish I could do some real camping, now!" 87 year old Elaine, smiled at the young woman's complaint and suggested they both go camping. It was fun to listen to this enthusiastic pair, planning their imaginary camp-out!
Building Our Own
We tried to imagine having only 1 match to start a fire. How could we go about building a structure that would light with one match? Many knew about the importance of tiny, dry, pieces of wood. Some suggested leaves or pine needles.
I tossed out some sticks and quite a few built tiny teepee and log cabin structures, that probably would have caught fire easily. Claire and Juanita laughed as they cheated and reached for some Lincoln Logs to add to their structure.
Besides Sleeping and Eating...
We talked about other things you might do on a campout. Some talked about hiking and fishing. The toy canoe reminded Robert of a time he tried to cross a river, without the help of a canoe. "I didn't know how to swim, but I wanted to get across! I used 2 buckets under each arm to help me float
Then I held another with my legs..." He laughed, as he described losing a grip on the bucket that he held by his legs... his face went down and he barely made it across. Robert's river story reminded him of more river stories, one that involved spotting Bonnie and Clyde as he headed in for lunch, after a morning of picking cotton. I was pretty delighted to look up details on the internet, that made his story (in Wharton, TX) sound pretty quite possible... even if it had nothing to do with camping!
Camping and Music
We imagined the kind of music you might sing around a campfire. Guitars and harmonicas came to mind. Dot proudly recalled her husband's harmonica skills. I was surprised to learn the others at the table had all heard him play. There was a hint of sad to Dot's proud smile, which made me assume he has passed away. But she seemed mighty delighted to hear the others rave about his talent.
The Good Old Portable Ukulele!
Margaret did a little strumming on the uke as she yodeled for us. Ken did as much laughing as he did singing, while he played. And then we put the uke down and listened. I was surprised to see so many faces laugh and remember, when I played a recording of the funny, "homesick song" from the 1960's, "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah... Here I am in Camp Granada..."
Books Spark Memories
Jeannette was surprised to see the Ford Treasury Outdoors book. She said it was her son's favorite book as a young boy. "For a while, he wouldn't read anything else." Claire was amused by some of the fancy Airstream trailer images. We talked about the word "glamping" and how some add so much glamour and pampering to their experience, it can hardly be called camping.
Things to Touch
While I passed around a few photos and book images with one group, I let Bruce serenade us on the uke. He never complains in our group, that he can no longer see.
He tells amazing stories and responds with incredible enthusiasm, when I give him things that he can explore with his hands. He loved the soft flannel of the doll's sleeping bag and the perfectly proportioned, miniature canoe. The props reminded Bruce of a number of camp related stories from his rich family history going back to the mid 1800's. But Bruce never was a fan of camping himself. "I did enough of that in the service."
We talked about how much better food tastes when we've worked up an appetite from playing or working outdoors.
Most believed food tastes better cooked outside. Ken thought campfire food was delicious, even when it was charred on the outside... like the potatoes they would stick directly into the fire.
Trailer, Tent or Cabin?
Out of all my groups, not a soul had pulled a travel trailer. But everyone seemed to recall Lucille Ball's movie, "The Long, Long Trailer".
We did have enough folks with cabin and tent experiences to debate which was better. Mary said. "At least you know what's in your tent! There are too many nooks and crannies for bugs to hide, in a cabin!"
Best and Worst?
BUGS! That topped the list when we discussed the worst part of camping. I had to laugh because that was indeed the biggest problem during my recent camping experience.
Torrential rains were a bit of a problem too, but the mosquitoes that followed were even more aggravating. What luck that my sister had a folding screen house!
What Did I Learn?
It's possible to have fun with a theme, even when many don't automatically relate to it. I wish I was better at convincing folks!
That's why I'm often slow to answer, when I'm asked what the next theme will be. "You'll have to come and see!" That's my best answer. If I'd told everyone ahead of time that our theme was camping... it's possible nobody would have come.
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.