Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Way We Were

For a couple of summers when I was very young, my family stayed at a cabin near Brainerd.  The cabin was owned by one of the families for whom my dad worked, and I learned later in life that my dad painted the cabin and did other handyman jobs in exchange for our use.  It was basically a one-room building with a kitchen on one end and a living area with beds, chairs and tables all mingled together.  It was clean and bright, with lots of screened windows that let the breezes pass through.  It had indoor plumbing and sat on a lovely private beach.

During the day we would swim, fish, go to the neighborhood store for a Popsicle® or hunt for agates along the beach and gravel roads.  At night, we would do jigsaw puzzles, play cards, have campfires or go to the city dump to watch the bears.  At least once during the week, we would go to a drive-in movie.  We ate hot dogs cooked on a charcoal grill, watermelon on paper plates, buttery popcorn made in a cast-iron skillet and marshmallows toasted on sticks over a fire.  We drank strawberry and grape soda pop in glass bottles and water from a garden hose.  There was only the sound of slamming screen doors, splashing swimmers and laughter during the day, and the lapping of water on the beach and droning of mosquitoes at night.  There was no TV and the phone that hung on the wall in the kitchen never rang.  The night skies were filled with stars.  It was heaven.

A couple of weeks ago we were invited to spend a weekend with my brother and his family at their cabin in Wisconsin.  We hadn’t been there for a while and they were eager to show off their recent improvements.  We had a busy winter and early spring, and welcomed the opportunity to go someplace where our dogs were welcome and we could read, relax and generally unplug.  Maybe recapture a bit of those heavenly moments at the “Pat’s Cabin” of my youth.  I even purchased a jigsaw puzzle.    

On Friday, we checked traffic on the Internet, piled in our car with the dogs, set the GPS, plugged in our phones to recharge on the drive, and set the iPod to road music.  We packed light – an overnight bag with a change of clothes, a gym bag with toiletries, books and leashes, a crate with dog food, a few groceries and the jigsaw puzzle.  And, of course, the computer bag with laptops, iPad, cords, etc.   Nevertheless, it felt more crowded in our car with two humans and two four-legged companions than I ever recall in our family station wagon filled with parents, four kids, a dog and assorted sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, groceries, tools, etc.  

We arrived at my brother’s “cabin” which had now been doubled in size.  They had added a “room” that was bigger than all of Pat’s Cabin, finished the lower level to add a guest room and game room, and extended the deck – part of it now screened.  The entire place was wired for wi-fi, they had a satellite dish for their two large flat screened TVs and a kitchen with a granite-topped island and every possible appliance and convenience you could imagine.  

Over the weekend, we drank cappuccinos, red wine and lemon-flavored water from a specially designed infusion pitcher.  We cooked gourmet meals on a gas grill using recipes and instructions we popped up on the laptop. We took long walks along trails and gravel roads, but found no agates, instead concentrating on a new bird-watching app, even though we saw no birds that we didn’t already know.  When the dogs ranged too far, my nephew called them back (along with an assortment of neighborhood dogs) using his dog whistler app.  We used our cell phone lights (or flashlight app) to walk around at night, and joined the neighbors for a campfire where we listened to guitar music provided courtesy of iTunes®.  It was a clear night with lots of stars, so we used an iPad® to identify constellations using the GoSkyWatch Planetarium app .  

We all regularly checked emails and voice messages, paid bills on line, scheduled appointments and chatted with family members that were not with us that weekend.  Electronic games were played on every sort of electronic device.  NETFLIX® was our source for movies.  Everyone found some time to work on the jigsaw puzzle - during the day in the cool air conditioning with the drone of a golf match on the TV in the background, and at night in the warmth of the gas fireplace while eating microwave popcorn.  Entrepreneurs working diligently on technology to make our lives easier and more connected have made all of this possible and are hard at work on the "Internet of Things," although I'm not how I feel about that.

The weekend was relaxing--but it wasn’t magic.  And it definitely wasn’t unplugged. 

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