The Old Paths: A Lost World

By Leslie Bray Brewer - Special to The Stokes News

Remember what it was like to travel before the era of 21st-century communications? We kids would sit in the back of the car and play games. You over-30 people remember that, don’t you? You know—the license plate game where you wrote down the different state license tags you spotted or perhaps the A-B-C game where you tried to espy all 26 letters in a row on highway signs, license tags, church signs, billboards, etc. Maybe your parents went high-tech and bought you a little cardboard bingo-type card—with colored plastic windows that you could slide closed when you saw the object pictured in that square. Maybe the object was a cow or a church or a tree. The goal was to spot every object before your siblings did.

Sometimes you’d have a family sing-along. We might sing in rounds: “Three Blind Mice” or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” I think of the movie “Homeward Bound” where the parents and three kids are riding down the road, all happily singing “Witch Doctor” just so they can enjoy that memorable line: “Oooh eee oooh ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang!”

Then there were always the less-popular sibling games we played: “Mom, make him stop hitting me!” “Dad, how much longer ’til we get there?!” “I’m hungry.” “I gotta pee.” Whate’er the game, there was rarely silence from the back seat unless the riding motion finally lulled the kids to sleep.

These days, my kids are often quiet for hours as we travel long distances. When I ask one of them a question, I usually get no answer. My hubster reminds me, “You know they can’t hear you.”

I turn around to see my oldest son wearing big headphones as he scrolls down his iPhone. My youngest son wears earbuds as he plays games on his Kindle. My daughter’s ears also sport earbuds to enable her to listen to music on her iPod. When they finally look up from their screens to see my lips moving, they free up one ear and ask, “You say something, Mom?”

Ah, I’m beginning to think I miss the whiny days of “Mom, he looked at me!” after all!

My family returned this past Monday from our annual vacation. Being a one-income family, we stay home all summer long…..looking at everyone’s beach pictures on social media and dreaming of the lower fall rates.

That nasty Hurricane Florence knocked us out of our reservations at our beloved Emerald Isle, but at the last minute, we found an affordable beach house on the Outer Banks that was available the very next day. We scrambled to hit the road for a week-long trip to a less-commercialized destination on Hatteras Island. What joy it was to finally escape with my family for the first time in a year!

Although we had a terrific time and spent many hours of quality time together—playing cards, Scrabble and Scattergories; hanging out on the beach; touring Fort Raleigh National Historic Site; eating at restaurants—I still often pondered how our ever-advancing technology has changed family vacations.

For example, at almost every minute of every waking hour, one of us was looking at a screen. It might’ve been my little boy playing games on his Kindle, my youngest daughter creating iPod videos of herself singing, my hubster setting his Fantasy Football team on his iPad, my older son texting his friends on his iPhone or playing his Nintendo Switch, my oldest daughter listening to iTune playlists on her iPhone, my next-oldest daughter taking pictures for Instagram on her iPhone.

Or perhaps it was the older generation—my Daddy scrolling Facebook on his iPad or me editing my beach pictures on my MacBook. (Notice I just said iPhone, iPad, iPod, iTunes and MacBook a lot; somebody please tell Apple I deserve their sponsorship!)

As I took note of all of this, I tried to recall what vacations were like before Smartphones and tablets and computers. Without music coming through our headphones or earbuds, we had to “make do” with the sounds of seagulls crying, waves crashing, the salty breeze blowing, family conversations.

Without a lighted screen to stare down at, we were “forced” to focus on the vivid blueness of the sky with marshmallow clouds scudding across it, the moonbeams on the sea, the grandeur of the orangish-red-orbed sun setting into the Pamlico Sound, the golden sea oats waving on the sandy dunes, the left-behind sea-foam of each wave lapping onto shore.

Perhaps more books were read, more journal entries written, more games played, more thoughts “thunk.” My book-loving, interactive family certainly read and wrote and played and thought during our beach retreat, but what would it have been like had we done more of that…..the way we did on the pre-Smartphone, pre-computer old paths?

I, for one, would’ve gotten more sleep had I not had a laptop on which to load beach photos onto Facebook. We would’ve seen more shooting stars had we not been editing beach videos for social media. Perhaps we could’ve solved some of the world’s problems had we had more unencumbered brain time.

But that kind of world is gone—a lost era.

When we visited the site of the Lost Colony in Manteo during our trip, we all pondered the fate of that group of early colonists on Roanoke Island. Did the Croatoan tribe kill them? (No sign of violence/bodies.) Or maybe take them captives and absorb them into their Native American culture? (Grayish-blue-eyed people were found in some of these tribes later.) Did the settlers die from disease? (No graves found.)

My kids got a kick out of “Lost Colony” theories submitted by people who had visited the site before us: aliens abducted them, they died of hurricanes and diabetes and tacos, Bigfoot ate them, Dr. Who spirited them away in his Tardis. I simply enjoyed learning more about a mystery that has fascinated me since fourth-grade NC history with Mr. Larry Neal at Walnut Cove Primary School.

We will probably never know what happened to the Lost Colony in 1590. But we WILL know what happened to the lost world of my childhood. It was gobbled up by technological gadgets that caused us to become dependent on plug-into-the-wall chargers. When battery power gets low, we cry out, “My kingdom for a charger, lest we perish!”

In a sense, we’ve already perished, or rather our more natural sensory-focused approach to the world has. I much prefer the old ways, but I figure you had already guessed that. If I could plug into that lost world, I guarantee you I would be recharged without a cord. Batteries not included…..or needed.

Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at Her blog is at

By Leslie Bray Brewer

Special to The Stokes News