“This place has no WiFi and its boring.”
“There’s nothing to do here. We can’t get WiFi.”
“This cabin doesn’t have WiFi.”
“PLEASE GET WIFI!”
Last October my in-laws rented two cabins at Kooser State Park. My husband and I joined them for dinner to celebrate our nephew A.’s first birthday. After dinner my sister-in-law read from the cabin’s “logbook.” You know: the little journal found in many vacation rentals where visitors can record their activities and opinions about place. She noted that the book was filled with entries, in kid-looking handwriting and grammar, kvetching about cabin’s lack of internet service.
I took this personally. My dad was a part-time Kooser park ranger for decades. (He also taught high school.) When I was eight, I was friends with the then-park superintendent’s eight-year-old daughter. I had many play dates at the park with her. After she moved away I had many more play dates at this park with my own sisters. And with my cousins. And with my Girl Scout troop.
Nothing to do here? Nothing to do?
So – I almost wrote a blog entry about how kids these days should get off of the internet and make their own fun. Like I did, back in my day. Then I was going to sit in my rocking chair and eat my prunes.
I thought all winter about how I would write this entry. Then today I read a story in our local newspaper in which its medical columnist lamented that people spend too much time on their phones at restaurants. I commented that said columnist spends too much time writing about what other people need to stop doing. Then I remembered the blog entry that I almost wrote.
I thought, “Jen: If you feel so strongly that other people should find stuff to do at Kooser without the internet, what don’t you tell about all of the stuff that you found to do at Kooser? Why don’t you write your own logbook entry?”
So here goes.
First, I need to confess something: I grew up without the ‘net. My parents took me to a lot of state parks and forests, we did a lot of camping and cabining, and I never had the internet for any of this. My grown-up self now spends more time on the internet than I would like to admit. I am not proud of this. We have in the past few years brought our own wireless hotspot to Kooser (and several other state parks, including Clear Creek) and then been utterly disappointed when we couldn’t get a signal. When I was at the nephew’s birthday party at Kooser this fall, I forgot, over and over, that we had no signal there and thus I checked my phone often throughout the day. To catch up on the news? To see whether I had any texts from my own sisters? I’m not sure.
Now for my Kooser logbook entry:
One spring, eight-year-old Jenny went “fishing” with the park superintendant’s eight-year-old daughter in the cold, cold, cold creek that flows from Kooser’s spring into its lake. My fishing line got tangled in a tree over the creek. I didn’t want to rip the line, so instead I jumped into the creek.
My sixth-grade Girl Scout leader was either naïve or a glutton for punishment. She took six girls cabin camping at Kooser on Mothers Day weekend. Only one of these girls was hers.
Also, the cabin check-out was on Sunday, which meant that everybody’s parents would have to pick up their daughters from Kooser State Park on Mother’s Day weekend. So, she planned for us to prepare a turkey dinner for everybody’s families at the end of our weekend.
Now, wood-burning stoves heat the Kooser cabins. Since Kooser is in the Allegheny Mountains (in the Laurel Highlands), the park gets cold most nights in May, as it did that year.
Also, when I was a kid the park facilities had absolutely no indoor plumbing for the public.
The park now has running water in outdoor restroom and shower buildings, as well as sinks with indoor plumbing inside the cabins. The cabins still do not have bathrooms in them. However, when I was a kid the Kooser cabins didn’t even have faucets and sinks. We had to use a pit toilet all weekend, and we couldn’t take showers.
(Note: I can totally one-up any youth that gripes about not having WiFi at Kooser.)
So – our Girl Scout leader had charge of six tween girls who whined. We whined before we got water from the spigot at the front of the cabin area. We whined before we carried firewood from the park’s shed.
She reminded us to “help” with the turkey dinner that she cooked for everybody else’s families.
On Saturday night, Scout Leader’s daughter “Mary” got homesick and cried.
“Mary is such a baby,” I said to Fink, a fellow Girl Scout.
Fink walked into the cabin and told Scout Leader that I had just called Scout Leader’s daughter a baby.
Scout Leader told me off. I learned a valuable lesson that day.
I bet you think the lesson was, “Don’t talk about people behind their backs.” No, sorry.
The lesson was “Only talk about other people behind their backs with old friends that you trust.”
I think that the turkey dinner went off okay.
Years later, my Aunt Sue married her beloved Roger at the stone pavilion next to Kooser’s lake. Roger left us way too soon. Aunt Sue, if you’re reading this, please don’t be upset. Every time I go to Kooser now, I think about that beautiful wedding.
My in-laws held my nephew’s 1st birthday celebration in a Kooser cabin. This was the same cabin where my Girl Scout troop made turkey for Mother’s Day. You hear that, John Calvin?
My father-in-law invited Father Jean-Michel, a French priest that he knows from his university. I took Father for a walk around Kooser’s lake and tried to answer the questions that he asked with his strong French accent.
I told Father Jean-Michel that my dad was a retired ranger at this park. That my mom used to take us kids here to swim while Dad was working. He carried our cooler to our picnic table and joined us on his dinner break. The other picnickers looked at us when the ranger came to our table. Were we in trouble?
I told Father Jean-Michel about Sue and Roger’s wedding, and I showed him the stone pavillion. We met a happy-looking couple who had a nice toasty fire going in its fireplace, to go with their October picnic.
Father Jean-Michel and I returned to the birthday cabin. I tried to check my email on my phone. ‘Cause I forgot that you can’t get the internet or cell phone service at Kooser.
(Photo by Dennis Woytek.)