Mailboxes and Old Barns: Consequences In The Olden Days

Today’s MBOB is filled with cuteness of cats.  Just because.   

“Sharon ate all the crackers again!” was a complaint lodged against me somewhat regularly when my best brother would go to the cupboard on a winter Saturday afternoon thinking to have a couple of saltines.  Mom nearly always had cookies in the cookie jar–gingersnaps, chocolate chip, thin-rolled sugar cookies–but when we discovered it empty, it was understood that two saltines were the equivalent of one cookie,  so saltines (or raw carrots) were the go-to snacks in our house if the cookie jar was empty.

The reason for my repeat violations on this issue is simply this: munching away on saltines while reading Nancy Drew or Carolyn Keene or The Bobbsey Twins just worked.    I have a glass of cold water drawn from the cistern, a book, and a row of crackers on my lap. Utter contentment that was–supported by complete oblivion to the impact I was making on the cracker inventory. 

One of my uncles owned his own movie projector and actually purchased cartoon movies for my cousins’ enjoyment.  Last week’s MBOB mentioned the childish curiosity–“what does it mean to be rich.” Oh, my–that uncle and aunt had to have been rich, don’t you think? It was 1952 in Montana farm country, and they have a movie projector at their house.  We loved going to their house for dinner, because sometimes all us cousins would gather in their big basement and watch the movies of Bugs Bunny, and Tom and Jerry. It was wonderful.

The other movie event we looked forward to was when our little country church had a visit from A Missionary Home On Furlough From Africa–and this is the little road we can take to get to further illustrations of Personal Consequences in the Olden Days which actually have nothing at all to do with movies.

One of the deacons would arrive early and drag the movie projector out of the storage closet, dust off the creaky metal wheeled table it stood on and set it up in the center aisle, about the second pew back, where it waited for The Missionary to install the full color, 15 minute movie–taking us to villages right out of the National Geographic,  showing us waterfalls, tables piled high with vegetables and flies buzzing around, brightly clad women and men with spears.  It goes without saying that such a Country Church Missionary Evening would not include any National Geographic-style pictures of bare-breasted women and we never missed them, but oh, we enjoyed seeing those pictures and being able to touch the stones or feathers or small dishes or brightly colored fabric that would be laying on a small table after “the program.”

The other great attraction for such an evening was that “lunch” was always served in the basement afterward.  When farmers’ wives “serve lunch after the program” this has absolutely nothing to do with a light meal at noon time (which was referred to as dinner) and it had nothing to do with supper (which had been eaten two hours earlier after the farmers had left the field early, if it was not Sunday, to clean up for the evening program).

“Serving lunch after the program” means that cakes, pies, ham sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, jello salads in a hundred iterations, coffee and kool-aid are being laid out on the long tables to support an additional 90 minutes of visiting with one another and getting to know the missionary.

If it was a warm evening, the kids migrated outside to the two acres of fenced churchyard where they would play wild running games until it was time to go home.  If it was a cold night, they would drag board games out of the shelves back there in the far corner of the basement where all the Confirmation Class Pictures from as far back as 1926 hang in a row.

A 14 year old boy and a 12 year old girl who liked each other (not knowing why) might sneak back upstairs to the darkened sanctuary, pretending to be looking for a book so they could have a fleeting two second hand contact which was terribly exciting and intense, but casual enough that either of them could easily deny they had intended to “try to hold hands.”  If their parents caught them as they returned to the basement, they were dealt with as naughty children of any age always were: a sharp  and painful squeeze across the top of the shoulder or a pinch of the upper arm and a hissed, “What were you doing up there? You behave yourself and get down here.”  Nothing more would be said.  There was no need.  It was a given that if we misbehaved,  it would be dealt with immediately and neither the outward exposure or the inward shame were  soon forgotten.

When I was about eight years old,  I was very naughty in a way that directly impacted Missions Around The World as I recall.  Each of the Sunday school children (in other words, every single person from age 3-15 in the farm community where we lived) had been given a little cardboard bank building in which we would each put a coin or two from our weekly allowances.  I had agreed with my mother that I would put a dime from my 25 cent allowance in the cardboard missions bank each week.

Over a period of many weeks, each of our little banks would eventually have 75 cents or perhaps even a dollar in them.  Then on a given Sunday all the little cardboard banks would be brought to Sunday School and lined up on the table to be emptied by The Sunday School Superintendent, who would send the money off to some mission in Japan or Africa.

Now long before the appointed Sunday, I had taken a dime out of the Missions Bank to get a fudgesicle in town when I was able to go off on my own for a little bit.  Then I took another dime.  For another illegal fudgesicle.  Of course, as a result of stealing dimes from World Missions, now I have the added problem of getting change back from the 5 cent fudgesicle, so I sometimes have nickels for which for which there is no Godly explanation. On  One Very Dark And Shameful Day, my mother checked my Cardboard Missions Bank.  My embezzlement was exposed.

Now–why on earth didn’t that experience prevent me, some time later,  from stealing a 5 cent candy bar from Zero Foods, the small store so named because it had the large town locker where sides of beef or venison would be kept in walk-in cold storage?  I don’t know.

The candy was swiped off the shelf and into my pocket in one move,  hidden there all the way home as I sit very still so it doesn’t “rustle.”  I  desperately try to act natural, quite unable to remember what acting natural feels like.  After I help Mom get the groceries into the kitchen, stolen goods still in my pocket,  I tell her I’m going to go out and play in the trees.  I hide among the big Colorado blue spruces, unwrap the candy bar and gulp the whole thing down.  I have never in my life had a whole candy bar to eat and I feel kind of sick.

Then I dig a deep hole in the dirt with my hands and bury the wrapper.  I try to re-arrange the dirt to hide the evidence.  Get all the dirt off my hands.  Be sure there’s no chocolate on the corners of my mouth or on my teeth.

I apparently had committed the perfect crime.  I was not caught either during or after, which did nothing to remove the burden from my conscience.  I went back into that store after I got my driver’s license at 16 years of age to tell the owner I had stolen the candy bar years and years before. (I think it was a Baby Ruth)   He listened quietly to my sad little confession.  I gave him a nickel from money I had earned washing dishes.  He thanked me for the nickel and our business was concluded.  I went home quite at peace.

My best brother and I were too young at the time of a certain unknown offense to be able to account for it when we were told about it later.  So, to this day, no one knows.  No one will ever know what we did (or thought we did) that we ought not to have done, and the consequence we suffered as a result.

He was about 5 and I would have been 3 in the days before the REA brought electricity to our farm. Around midday, we were playing quietly in the dining room which is where my mother’s treadle Singer sewing machine stood in one corner, against the outside wall, right between the big bay window full of potted geraniums to the left, and the in-the-wall heat register on the right, where in winter the heat from the coal furnace in the basement would pour out into the room.  Mom was working just out in the kitchen, and decided we were perhaps a little too quiet so she stepped to the dining room doorway to see what we were doing.

At that exact moment, we literally weren’t doing anything. We were standing quiet and big-eyed, in the far corner directly across  from the sewing machine–the two of us squished together in the 16 inch space between the end of the big buffet (the kind with the mirror running across the back) and the wall,  with our little backs pressed flat, simply trying to be as far away as possible.

She looked around carefully because it was obvious We Had Been Naughty, but she found nothing out of place, nothing broken, nothing messed up. The only thing she could think of that we might have done was–one of us had perhaps dared to walk right up to her highly valued sewing machine and reached our little hands up to turn the wheel, wanting to satisfy some curiosity about how it worked. After a moment, she went back to her work in the kitchen and left us standing there,  suffering silently in the corner between the buffet and the wall

When she told us the story many years later, she said that as she had turned to leave that day, she heard my brother say softly, “She didn’t catch us.”

When she was back in the kitchen, we stood there awhile longer.  Our self-imposed Standing In The Corner was probably adequate consequence for whatever it was we had done (or thought we had done).  It probably fit the unknown childish trespass perfectly.

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16 Responses to Mailboxes and Old Barns: Consequences In The Olden Days

  1. stellap says:

    The Bobbsey Twins – I thought nobody but me ever read them! I loved the name “Flossie”, because it was the name of my favorite aunt, but certainly not a name ever given to anyone my age. I also loved reading the “Little House” books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I still do, occasionally.

    P.S.: I once visited the “Little House in The Big Woods”, where Laura was born. Actually, it’s a re-creation of the cabin, but built on the land that was owned by her parents:

    http://www.lauraingallspepin.com/

    • stellap says:

      I found this advice from a letter written by Laura on the website:

      “The ‘Little House’ books are stories of long ago. The way we live and your schools are much different now; so many changes have made living and learning easier. But the real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.”

      Still good advice! Something I think that you also illustrate in your essays, Sharon.

    • Menagerie says:

      I read the Bobbsey Twins and Hardy Boys too. There was a local author who was very popular around here, Christine Noble Govan. How about the Penny Parrish books? And I loved the Maud Hart Lovelace books about Betsy. They were set in the very early 1900’s and I found that so fascinating. When Betsy grew up, her husband went off to serve in World War I. Our library was in an old brick building with Gothic arches and stone detailing and steps, and leaded glass windows. It was like a trip into another silent, sacred world. I loved the library just as much as the books.

    • texan59 says:

      I read and re-read the Bobbsey Twins and Hardy Boys. I must admit that I also read every Little House book as well. In my first elementary school, we did not have a library and so we had a weekly visit from the Bookmobile. That was COOL! :D

  2. Josh says:

    It would be nice if a majority of the children of today would enjoy such an afternoon as you describe…

  3. churchladyiowa says:

    Yes, Sharon, saltines were most likely the second choice after any cookie, cake or pie supply was exhausted. My mother used to make a pot of green tea and used a spoonful of sugar in her cup of tea. She would then dunk a saltine *slow, quick, quick* into the tea and relish the cracker absorbing the sweetness of the tea. I learned to imitate her and to this day, I occasionally do the same

    What was it about Lutheran Christian little girls that stealing seemed to be our Achilles heel? My dad was Sunday School superintendent for years and would bring home all the offering change, dumping it into a big Quaker oatmeal box. About every six weeks he would count it–or so I thought. I “borrowed” nickels and dimes to purchase candy & gum in town. Except I didn’t realize that Daddy actually counted each week’s offering before adding it to what already had been counted in the oatmeal box. So after six weeks, his books would always be short, never long. I think he figured out what was happening because suddenly the Sunday School money oatmeal box disappeared. 20+ years later, when hubby and I made out our wills, I added a $500 bequest to St. Luke’s because of the candy money pilfering. Not that I hadn’t confessed and been forgiven, but it assuaged the guilt I’d been carrying around. As little Lutherans, our heads knew that works/righteousness was wrong, but our hearts sometimes bought into it!

    I, too, read all the Bobbsey Twins Books, as well as the Nancy Drews. Distant runnersup to them were the Cherry Ames series, Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden and the Whitman TV westerns. Nowadays I read a book once and call it done. Not only are there too many waiting in the wings to be read, there isn’t time to re-read. But back in the 1950’s & early 1960’s, I must have read “Annie Oakley, Danger at Diablo” at least 50 times. I would never miss the TV show, and had a real / genuine Annie Oakley cowgirl hat/vest/skirt. All pieces were red with yellow plastic fringe, but my girlfriend’s had yellow silky tassel fringe. Mine came out of the Christmas catalog, while her parents had gone to Sioux City and bought hers at Younkers.

    • Sharon says:

      Yeah, what is about us little Lutherans and stealing? 8O

      That’s funny….consciences that were sharper than a good kitchen knife–but that still didn’t stop us!!

    • stellap says:

      I had one of those cowgirl outfits too – complete with holster and guns! There a pic somewhere I think ……

  4. Cyrano says:

    Why am I thinking of Raskolnikov? You didn’t kill anyone did you??? Each week we learn more. Like a female Dostoyevsky baring her soul. Unable to bare the weight of the guilt. And why am I drawn to this madness?

    • Sharon says:

      Yer funny!….and you made me go research Raskolnikov…when I found the phrase ” the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of” Raskolnikov ….just the second paragraph in, I understood how your mind went there!

      Shoot….ya see one of the problems I’m having is that all of my raw material, journals, Dad’s Navy and farm records, family writings, etc. etc. etc. have still been buried in boxes since our move last year. They are just now finally coming to light….ran across Dad’s Farm records from the 20’s and 30’s last week, but they didn’t make it into the house yet–still in the garage. So–the problem is!……as I’ve been trying to write something fresh every month I don’t have the records and raw materials at hand–only my very own 7th-child-of-7-children memory to work with for the most part.

      And I gotta tell ya, I’m getting sick of my own memories…..and your free association of my childhood memories with Crime and Punishment has just added to my desperate and increasingly obvious need to get things out of boxes and broaden the effort again.

      Thank you! ;) I* think. 8O

      But you are on to something–I’m nothing if not a bundled, tangled package of well-meaning guilt and madness!~ Again ~ 8O

    • Sharon says:

      Oh–lest anyone think I evaded the direct question–I’m not aware of having killed anyone.

  5. SR says:

    My brush with theft came on a Saturday afternoon at the Sterling Five and Dime. I started to put some pink bubble gum in my pocket but thought better of it and asked Mother to buy it for me instead. She declined, reminding me of a dental appointment the following week (I assumed cavities can happen really fast).

    When we were in the car I confessed my temptation and quickly learned I would have been better off keeping quite. Turns out Baptists don’t make much of a distinction between temptations to sin and sins.

    Thank you Sharon for jogging my old memory.

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