The day had been frustrating. The cash register computer wasn’t working, and we’d had to write information about each item purchased on a paper receipt and do all the math with a calculator. It was hot, and I was tired and looking forward to shutting and locking the doors to the mercantile very soon. That’s when the old lady walked in.
She had totally white hair, but it wasn’t styled in some old lady way. It fell straight to several inches above her shoulders, and she had wispy bangs.
She wasn’t dressed in old lady fashion either. She wore sporty-casual clothes in solid colors. She looked as if she had come to hike or camp, definitely to enjoy the outdoors.
Her face was tan and wrinkled, and I noticed during our interaction that her head trembled frequently. I wondered if Parkinson’s disease, which made my grandmother’s head shake late her life, caused this woman’s tremors too.
The old woman didn’t say greet us. She didn’t waste time with any niceties. She simply launched in, demanding in her pronounced German accent, Vere is de campground?
You’re in the campground, I told her. This is the campground.
Vere are the sites? she demanded further.
The mercantile is at the front of the campground, the sites laid out on either side of a loop with a paved road in the middle. If a person didn’t know she was in a campground, I could see how she could be confused. I thought I was being nice when I explained the layout of the campground to the woman.
I assumed (and assuming makes an ass of u and me, my dad would say) she had a reservation, so I asked her, What site are you on?
I thought she’d give me a site number, and I could send her on her way. Instead, she snapped at me with venom and disdain I felt in my heart, How should I know?!! I just got here!
Oh. Ok. I understood. She was interested in maybe camping in this campground, but she certainly didn’t have a reservation.
Then she fluttered some sheets of paper at me and demanded I show her where we were on the map. I looked at the pages and saw they represented the nearby national park and some northernmost portion of the national forest. I had to inform the woman we weren’t on either page of her map.
I grabbed one of the mercantile’s maps showing our area of the national forest. I opened it, spread it before us on the counter, and pointed to our location. The map was for sale, but I never suggested she buy it.
I don’t need this map! she sneered, although I don’t know how she was going to find her way around since her map didn’t reflect where she actually was.
Next, she wanted to know the fee to stay on one of the campground’s sites. I told her since the camp hosts had the day off and I wasn’t 100% sure of the campground’s fees, she’d have to check the information board near the restrooms. However, I said I thought a tent site cost $24 or $25 a night. I thought she might fall out when she heard the price.
She wanted to know where she could camp for free.
At this point, I was pretty tired of her interrogation tactics, so I shrugged and said, It’s the national forest. You can pull off the road and camp almost anywhere.
She had other questions and complaints. Why weren’t the trails here marked like they were everywhere else? (I hadn’t even formulated an answer before she’d moved on.) Did her card get her a discount? I asked if her card was a senior pass and she said yes, but I don’t know what she actually had. She didn’t show it to me. If it’s a senior pass, you get half off camping fees, I told her.
I pulled out the campground’s daily arrival report and determined which sites were not reserved. You can check out sites 1, 4, 7, and 14, I told her. If you want to stay on any of those sites, get a self-pay envelope from the information board, put your payment in it, and drop it in the iron ranger.
Finally, she left the store.
I turned to The Man who’d silently watched my interaction with the woman.
Is she alone? he whispered. I guess he was worried she was lurking outside the yurt we work in. She’s really old, he continued. What’s she doing out here? Did she come out here to die?
I shrugged again. I didn’t know the answers to his questions, and I didn’t much care. I’d done my best to be nice to someone who hadn’t been one bit nice to me. It wasn’t my job to determine if she was fit to spend time in the woods.