Camping: Then and Now

camping then now Providence Moms Blog
Camping: Then and Now
camping then now Providence Moms Blog
We all sat around the campfire checking our phones. (Well, now, not then.) 

Then, which was about 50 years ago, my maiden aunt took me and my younger brother, ages 8 and 6, on our very first camping trip. He had a slight fever, just about 100. 

“Don’t cancel!” My mother exclaimed. “Just put him on a blanket in the back of the car; let him sleep it off; and he’ll be fine.” 

I think it was my aunt’s first camping trip too. She was a mathematician, a world traveler, and a career woman. Nothing fazed her. At least not a child with a fever. After all, my mother said he would be fine, and my mother was always right about that kind of thing. But the tent, or perhaps the cooking, did prove to be a challenge. My brother was fine, but my aunt wasn’t. At least not until someone from the next campsite took pity on a confused lone woman with two children in tow. Miraculously the tent went up, and then, they made us the best hot chocolate I have ever had. Then, or now.

The next camping trip I remember was a trip to Mount Monadnock. This involved my mother, the mathematician aunt, my other aunt, my three brothers, my two cousins, and my grandmother. The husbands had all apparently demurred. But my mother was prepared for anything. After all, she had the foresight to bring a foursome for bridge. 

When they arrived at the campsite, they promptly lost the youngest child. And there were rumors of thunder storms. We all desperately wanted to go up the mountain, and they could hardly disappoint us. So they put me, age 12, in charge of the 10 year old and two 8 year olds. And we set on up. 

I remember it pretty well. At some point, in my 12-year-old wisdom, I decided that we should just leave the trail and strike out straight for the summit, so we would get there before it started raining. But we were quite a ways from the top when we heard thunder. 
The two eight year olds whimpered, and begged me to head down. 

“The lightning will get us,” they cried. “We’ve got to stay out of the open.”

But we had already lost the trail. 

“The only way down is up.” I proclaimed. “We have to go to the top of the mountain to find the trail.” 

(My cousin, one of the two 8-year-olds, is still a bit bitter about my part in that adventure.)

We felt pretty triumphant, if a bit wet, when we finally made it back to the campsite. Or at least I did. 

But once there, we discovered that our mothers and aunts had problems of their own. During their search for the missing child, the rain caved most of the tents, and everything was soaking wet. There wasn’t a single surface dry enough for a bridge game. 

“Well. It’s a good thing the guys aren’t here,” my mother declared. “Right now, they would probably want to do something stupid, like pack up and head home.” 

Some of us slept in the station wagon that night. But the next day the sun came out, the tents dried and the bridge game commenced. We may have even gone up the mountain again. 

With that heritage, I obviously had to take my own kids camping. 
camping then now Providence Moms Blog
Camping in the 1980’s was not quite like camping in the 1950’s. Or I wasn’t. I was a nervous mother, terrified that my children would wander from the campsite in the dark and be eaten by wolves. I certainly did not send them up a mountain alone with a thunder storm pending. And I brought my husband because he knew how to put up tents and cook and stuff. But what I clearly remember was sitting around the fire, sipping adult beverages, and discovering that my children knew every single line of every single song of the Teddy Bears’ Picnic and Peter Pan. They entertained us with dance numbers for several hours. 

Now I was always sure, in a general, unproven sense, that my kids were terrifically talented. But, that night, I was rather surprised to learn that it was actually true. We camped a lot, and I always dreamed that, one day, I would go camping with both my children and my grandchildren.  

And this summer, I did. My life turned full circle. I was now the grandmother on the camping trip. 
camping then now Providence Moms Blog
I was not as game as my aunt, or my mother, or even my grandmother, (who was always the most unflustered of all.) I wasn’t even as game as my own younger self. This summer my husband and I rented a cabin with electricity, and let the parents and kids do the tent stuff. But, we sat around the campfire, sipped adult beverages, and helped the grandchildren cook s’mores. And, of course, it being the 2010’s, we all periodically checked our cell-phones. After all, Twitter and Facebook wait for no man, or woman…

I guess at this point, I should comment on how much better it was in the old days. Or, alternatively, how much better it is now. 


Really. Camping is camping. Even in the 2010’s. 

The cell phones don’t ruin it for me. After all, children still sit in laps. Adults still talk. S’mores still fall tragically into the fire. Or, less tragically, get smeared though-out a toddler’s fingers, face, and hair. Babies pick up bugs. Little boys are allowed, under careful supervision, to poke at the fire with a stick. Children impress their parents.

This trip the group decided to keep me occupied and out of trouble by insisting that I “teach” the boys how to cook biscuits on a stick. In their wisdom, the boys then decided that their job was to put the biscuit on the stick and supervise me while I cooked it. Actually cooking it in the fire stuck them as either too dangerous, or, too hot, or too tedious. But they kept careful watch on me, and told me precisely when to turn it and when to take it out.  

“OK. It’s done now.” they nodded seriously. “Good job, grandma!”

And then, they washed those biscuits down with the best hot chocolate that they will ever remember drinking. 

‘We should do this all summer long…’ I thought dreamily… ‘This is how all people should all live…just sitting around a fire…it’s who we’ve been for like…the last two hundred thousand years…Yeah…this…just this…’

But that is not the whole truth about camping. 
The whole truth is that, for me, the very best part about camping is – the day that I get back home. 

‘Yeah. Two days camping is enough…’ I’ll nod sagely, running around my big, empty, bug-free, house, thinking…’Hello, refrigerator! Hello microwave! Hello washing-machine! Hello hot shower!’ 

And, to the best of my recollection, my aunts, and my mother, and my grandmother, back then, some 50 years ago, felt exactly the same way. 
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Carol-Ane Woodard
Carol-Ane Woodard was born in Rehoboth, which is in Massachusetts, but really should be a part of Rhode Island. She grew up taking the Trailways bus into Providence and shopping at the Warwick Mall. She currently lives in Foxboro, Massachusetts with her husband of of 38 years, Paul Woodard, but she misses coffee cabinets, red clam chowder, and hot wieners, and she still considers Providence to be her home city. Carol-Ane graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1973 with a degree in sociology. She minored in business at U Mass Dartmouth and took a job for the FDIC as a bank examiner. She worked there for 30 years and retired 10 years ago. Other than her 3 children and 5 grandchildren, her hobbies include reading, reading, and more reading, interrupted only by hikes in the woods, Freecell, and knitting. Although her Linkedin profile lists her as a stay-at-home grandmother, Carol-Ane actually has a rather nervous disposition and is frightened by small children. Nevertheless, she persists.


  1. I remember that trip to Mt Monadnock. I remember going up the Spellman trail, the most difficult trail. Oh and the rain. At one point we found an outcropping of rock and sat down to ‘wait out the rain’ before we realized that would take hours. We did wait out the heaviest part of the rain and by the time we got to the top the rain had stopped. The view was breathtaking.

    You were amazing to this 8 year old.

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