Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright
Desperate for any kind of verbal signal beyond a sigh, we promised him a fire and s’mores. It was the summer of camping with sullen teenagers in our first, tiny, popup truck camper. We gave them their own tent for independence and privacy for whatever it is that teen boys do on their own. That summer, the boys fought so much, we had to camp with them separately. We entrusted the other with my mother, lest there be wild parties held in our absence. The week before camped in Fundy, we had taken Matthew to Labrador. He was seventeen and in no mood to recreate with his parents.
I offered Shane an evening of s’mores. I began eating “healthy” that summer. No sugar, not much booze and, instead, the addition of whole grains and a lot more vegetables. I had hoped for more energy and a lifted mood. Mostly, I craved sugar nonstop. If ‘smores appeared that night, I was pretty sure candy bars would be my breakfast, lunch and supper for the rest of the vacation. This offer was no little sacrifice on my part. That afternoon we picked up the marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers in the only grocery store in Alma.
Fundy National Park seemed strangely devoid of campers that summer. So, we were surprised when we returned to our campsite to find that we had neighbours. To our right a couple in their forties from Quebec was setting up their tent. We waved and nodded whenever they turned toward us. When I encountered the woman at the washroom, I said “Hello, nice sunny day.” She looked at me with a serious expression and spoke some quick words in French, then quickly retreated back to her campsite. About an hour later the most ancient of Volkswagon campervans pulled into the campsite across from us. It had American licence plates. To our astonishment, Mama Cass, Brian Doherty and their thirteen-year-old son emerged. At least, that is what I shouted out to Carl. Alas, it was not. He agreed, sipping his beer, that the trio bore a resemblance to what could be expected in an alternate universe, had Brian requited Cass Elliot’s love. We three watched those three put up a very old canvas tent. Despite their cheery flower-power van, they too, seemed awfully serious.
It seemed a sullen kind of day. So be it, I thought. Bring on the s’mores.
When all the tents had been put up, both sets of neighbours stretched themselves out on lawn chairs. The French couple had state-of-the-art suspension chairs with cup-holders. The Americans had webbed, wobbly ones. The sun was out, at least, and there was a modicum of civility in the neighbourhood. We settled in, casually observing each other in sidelong glances. The Quebec man got out of his chair, fished around in his sports car for something, rolled down the window and closed the door. The unmistakable words “Writer, writer, writer…” drifted through the air. He had put on the Beatles, Paperback Writer. We held up our beer in approval. Shane emerged from his tent-lair and the American Hippie Gothic trio across the way turned their heads toward the Quebecer campsite and nodded. Acknowledging the nods of approval, the gentleman leaned in and cranked up the sound. We jumped off our chairs as did the Americans. Everyone, even the teens, were dancing on their own campsites.
It turned out that all three families had brought the new Beatles CD set camping with them. For much of that week, the Beatles filled the late afternoon soundscape. One evening we ate s’mores while listening to Back in the USSR. We recalled for Shane the punky audacity of those four Liverpool boys who dared to sing that there might by something fun and interesting about the USSR at a time when everyone in the West was supposed to hate the Soviet Union as an evil empire made up of drone-like evil people.
I once read a theory that the Iron Curtain fell, not because of Ronald Reagan, economic pressure or world sanctions. Instead, some young people discovered the Beatles and created their own bootleg copies to distribute. When they saw what the “Demon West” had produced, a million questions about the unnecessary distance between peoples and economies began to surface. Those questions cracked the foundation of the Berlin Wall.
I felt the Beatles had done that for us in our little camping neighbourhood microcosm. We did not all become fast friends or party together. Rather, we engaged each other in friendly, funny, small moments as we shared communal living spaces and equipment at the Fundy Park Campground. Sometimes we could only communicate through basic hand gestures and halting French/English. However, we respected each other’s language and cultural differences because a common love of the Beatles somehow made awkward conversations possible. I think this is one of the many reasons why I love National Parks. They make these kinds of conversations and encounters possible.