When I started compiling word pictures of my childhood memories, I realized they were like the mailboxes along the roads and the old barns set back in fields overgrown with weeds that served as landmarks in rural Montana.
The dolls I got for Christmas two or three times were amazing wonders to my eyes and so very much appreciated. The miniature doll bed that was their home had been built for me by my Dad, and was about a foot wide and perhaps 14 inches long, with a little curved headboard.
In the winter, when the upstairs bedrooms were not heated out of a reasonable desire to save on coal consumption, the doll bed and miniature cupboard with all the little dishes were moved downstairs to the large and warm and toasty kitchen. It really was ok that our bedrooms were not heated in the winter because at night, we’d be buried under piles of blankets, their count in double digits and during the day we would be with the family downstairs or be outside playing. Children did not retreat to their rooms during the day when it was time to be up and about so our rooms did not have to be warmed all day. I think we’ll go off on a daisy trail for a moment here—
My appreciation of the stuff of memories has everything to do with who’s behind the stuff. My parents’ faces are behind “all the stuff” described in this piece.
Dad’s 1925-26 courtship letters to our mother are laying here near my computer, the stack of them tied together with a blue ribbon. The cash box we use in our home today is 4″ X 8 1/4″ and made of unfinished hardwood, A thin piece of metal (3/4″ X 2″) is fastened to the lid with 2 screws, and then mounted with a center screw to the top of the box at one end, so that the cover just swivels to one side for access.
The original commercial use of the box announces that my parents had purchased a chunk of
Swift’s Premium Quality Brookfield
Pasteurized Processed Cheese
2 lbs net
at some point in the 40s. Today, in addition to some cash, there are two other items in that box–my father’s 2-pocket leather change purse, with metal click-fasteners that open the pockets individually, and a tiny pocket knife with just two small blades. It’s only two inches long when closed. It’s finished on both sides with mother-of-pearl which is held in place by the teensiest and tiniest of metal posts. This little knife was always in his pocket, on Sunday in the suit pants and Monday through Saturday in the pocket of the pin-stripe overalls.
OK—back from the daisy trail.
My brother and I had a rather extensive collection of miniature machinery which actually functioned in a tiny way. We had tractors, disks and harrows for creating our little farm right by the 4-strand barbed wire fence gate that led from our very large farm yard into the pasture south of the barn.
The only piece of standard farm equipment that we never had in miniature which would actually work as intended was a plow, so our toy plow was an old teaspoon from the kitchen.
A plowed furrow for the little 2′ X 1′ field could be made by holding the spoon on edge against the dirt and dragging it the length of the field to turn up the dirt as with a single bottom plow.
We laid out such elaborate little arrangements for our farm, featuring little roads to drive the little machinery from the little farm house area and a few plastic cattle, some power poles and electric wire. The power lines were suspended from small sticks, sticking out of the ground perhaps 2-3 inches with string strung between them along the little bitty road. It was good, dirty fun.
Sometimes our little farm would flourish for four or five days as we continued to dream up new embellishments that might utilize little rocks (for the rock piles that were always seen at the end of every good Montana farmer’s fields), little sticks (for trees) and small piles of stray wheat kernels from the nearby granary that might fill the bed of our little grain truck. We were always disappointed when it rained overnight and in the morning we would find that our little farm was no more, even though our machinery was cleaner and shinier.
We played tennis with standard racquets and balls in the summer, but it wasn’t “pretty town tennis.”
Tennis net and two tennis racquets. Two tennis balls. The tennis court was the rough bare ground between the house and the barn, where one 30 foot 8″ diameter electric pole sunk deep in the ground supported one side of the swing suspended from 15 foot ropes and an identical pole that also served as the yard light stood about 25 feet further south (to your right if you’re facing toward the barn).
The tennis net would be strung between those two poles and wrapped as tightly as possible so that it would stay in place and tied fairly high on the poles for a very good reason: with the rough bare dirt containing knots of tough crested wheat grass in that part of the yard, there was absolutely no potential for bouncing the ball on the ground as would be done on a standard tennis court so the ball needed to remain airborne at all times.
The trajectory of the ball back and forth was at a fairly impressive altitude. The stretched-tight top of the net was about six feet off the ground, so with our farm kid arms extending the racquet straight up, at only a bit at an angle, and swinging with all of our might, the ball went across the net about 8 or 10 feet high at full speed. It was fast and powerful “tennis” and not something the town kids could manage without lots of cringing. Some summers we actually got pretty got at pounding that thing back and forth with an impressive series of “WHAAAAPS!”
I had a little cupboard with little sets of glass dishes and tiny kitchen things which got more attention and playtime in the winter when it was time to be inside. Several of the 2″-diameter plates with painted designs are in use in my home today for odds ‘n ends of various kinds.
When the weather was really bitter (temperatures dropping to more than 10 below zero (fahrenheit) was where it was considered too cold to play outside at all. Then we would sometimes be allowed to set up the pingpong net on the dining room table, and play ping pong all day. If not in the dining room, we might rig something in the basement that we could play pin gpong on.
I would also roller skate, in rather tight circles, in the basement in winter.
We were good company for one another and stayed busy with chores and lots of board games, like Uncle Wiggly, Sorry and Old Maid, and reading of all kinds.
When we had company, playing hide and seek with cousins or neighbor kids was the best fun. And if all our parents visited into the evening as darkness fell, the hide-and-seek got better as the hiding places among the outbuildings and the tree line became even a better and better hiding place.
The two large yard lights provided opportunity for shadow tag which was often the last game of the night, until the visiting parents would come out of the house after the last cup of coffee, call their children to the car.
The very final event of the evening would have them touching us and running like crazy for their car, calling as they went, “Touched ya last!!” Of course, we would be in hot pursuit, hoping to swish our hand across their back before they got the car door shut, so we could dance back from the car, celebrating our own victory as we called to them, “Touched you last!!!”
The picture below would be me in about 1947. The curlers had apparently just been taken out and the curls not yet combed out when someone decided to get the child outdoors for a picture.