Mailboxes and Old Barns – Sunday Open Thread


We weren’t very far into Grade School (1-6) when we heard new words; and our first opportunity to use them in our parents’ presence became their opportunity to quietly inform us why we would never use them again: “Gee” was the abbreviation for Jesus; “darn” was just a substitute word for damn (as everyone but us knew, apparently); and, finally, “golly” or “gosh” being vain references to God Himself. We knew good and well we were not to take His name in vain but sure hadn’t connected that to this. So with the loss of these words from our conversation we paid attention to all the words that we could use, and flamboyantly used the English language in the very best ways with which we could come up. And we were always careful not to end a sentence with a preposition.

I loved reading from the day I entered first grade, so words were happy business for me. My most flamboyantly public error in the pursuit of words came in fifth grade when our teacher put a new and lovely looking word on the blackboard. She asked for a volunteer to pronounce the word. Well. This one was a no-brainer: “You-nee-que!” I announced.

I still think I should have gotten points for sounding it out but my Unique pronunciation was just kindly passed over by her as she went on to explain heretofore unknown mysteries of the English language. (Have you ever considered what ESL folks are up against when they must distinguish between cough, tough, through, though and bough? Not to mention Unique?)

I learned some painful words in the fifties. One day in sixth grade as we ran for the school buses which would distribute us to the dryland farms scattered over 40 square miles of prairie, we saw the county sheriff with a pretty local lady and her new husband. They looked tense. It didn’t make sense to me. They were not the type to be in trouble. Then as my fifth grade friend started to get on our bus, the sheriff and the man stepped forward to talk with her. Just for a moment she looked confused, and then quietly went with the newlyweds to their car.

Until that day, I had thought that our neighbors were her parents, but now I learned they were her grandparents and had cared for her since she was about two years old after her mother (their daughter) had died in a car accident. The couple waiting by the bus was her father (a local businessman) and new stepmother, a very nice lady.

Her grandparents had also pulled up to the bus at the last moment to tearfully try to stop the unstoppable transaction. So in the little town with lots of cottonwood trees and side streets that never were paved there were two happy hearts taking his daughter to her new home, and two hearts flailing in renewed grief and loss as they returned to an even more painfully quiet small farm house, now missing not only the voice of their daughter but their granddaughter’s as well. So that day when I got home, I learned about Guardians and Court Orders.

I learned some really bad words. I asked Dad what Taxes were. He explained, “Well, every year I have to send money to the tax people because I own land and sell wheat.” But, Daddy, it’s your land! Do you have to buy it every year? “No. I have to pay something because it is my land.”  That didn’t seem right.

I figured out what Murder was. Normal summertime reading fare  included The Bobbsey Twins, Little House on the Prairie, Carolyn Keene and Nancy Drew. And I was beginning to read the subscription magazines that came: The Saturday Evening Post, The Reader’s Digest, The Farmer, The Farm Journal and The National Geographic. It may have been in a Reader’s Digest article that I first saw and understood the word Murder. And then I went out and sat on the south step just thinking about the word. Murder. Someone could decide to kill someone else. Murder. Just because they wanted to~~they could Murder someone. That really is a very bad word.

I learned what Divorce was in a more roundabout way.

We did lots of singing at school…patriotic songs, the state song, “Montana, Montana, where skies are always bluuuuuue! M-O-N-T-A-N-A! Montana! I love you!” Sometimes we learned what passed for folk tunes at the time.  Thus it was that we sang about the plight of Barney Google. The song was first written in 1923 by Billy Rose and later had some attachment to the comic strip but in 1953, all I knew was what I learned from the chorus that day:

Barney Google! With the goo-goo-googly eyes!

Barney Google had a wife three times his size.

She sued Barney for divorce~~now Barney’s living with his horse.

Barney Google! With the goo-goo-googly eyes!

That thing had a lilting melody that fourth graders could sort of yell and it’s a fact that our teacher weighed at least 300 pounds.  I thought that she might even be Mrs. Google, but I didn’t discern the more serious matter mentioned in the song.

The words aren’t written out. We learn them from listening to the teacher sing. Because I enjoy reading and spelling I know what the words look like,  so as we sing, I’m well aware that I don’t know what “forty force” means, but…that’s what the song says…so I’m cheerfully singing, “She sued Barney forty force! Now Barney’s living with his horse!”

When I get home, I sing my funny song for Mom as soon as I get in the house, and it’s obvious that she’s not familiar with the term “forty force” either and, furthermore, isn’t amused with the song. She’s not amused at all. She’s actually quite upset, finally just saying, “Divorce is a terrible thing.” I’m still clueless, ’cause I’m not singing about divorce (whatever that is). I’m singing about forty force (whatever that is). Then she explains, “The words are not ‘forty force.’ They are ‘for divorce.’ Divorce is when two people who are married decide they don’t like each other any more and stop living together.”

And right there, standing in front of her in the big kitchen, time seems to slow and blur for me and life becomes uncertain.   I’m the youngest of seven. I’m only in fourth grade. I’ve already been far more trouble than I’m worth more times than I can count because I run too fast, talk too much, often fall up the stairs because I don’t take my roller skates off when I come in from outside and I make too much noise…and now you tell me Dads and Moms can just change their minds about being Dad and Mom??

I’m assuming that summer always has the scent of lilacs and peonies with ants on them; I’m planning on more warm spring days when we can finally play marbles with a poison pot; I still believe in hollyhocks that can be turned upside down to look like a bunch of dancing dolls….and now you tell me Dads and Moms can just change their minds about being Dad and Mom??

I suddenly feel very sorry for Barney Google, living out there somewhere with his horse.

It’s not funny any more and it sort of scares me.

Childhood is a colorful container

which can hold lots of flowers.

But sometimes those flowers wilt suddenly.

In that moment, the child really doesn’t know

if the fault lies with the flowers or the container.

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26 Responses to Mailboxes and Old Barns – Sunday Open Thread

  1. stellap says:

    Another great read, Sharon, this time an insight into childhood in the 1950’s. Compared to most children today, we were sheltered from the seamy side of the adult world. I wonder if those glimpses we did see were not the more horrible in contrast.

    I still remember the name of a girl who was abducted and murdered here in Detroit when I was about 10. She was my own age, and the horror of knowing that someone like me could be killed for no reason at all has stayed with me for more than fifty years.

    My much-older sister was divorced when I was five years old, though I’m not sure I was even aware of it, and I don’t think the word itself was spoken. I know now that it was considered a great shame, and she moved to California with her young son to escape the gossip. “What will the neighbors think?” was a real concern in those days.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. weeweed says:

    Good Morning, All, and thank you, Sharon for another thought provoking chapter! I learned about divorce at a somewhat younger age but it took some time for the concept to penetrate my brain fully. I, for example, had four sets of grandparents! I was lucky – why didn’t everybody have four sets of grandparents?? It takes time (and age) to appreciate exactly what that particular word means.
    And my first public mispronunciation (reading aloud, fourth or fifth grade) was “fragile” – fra-gee-lee! Yup, just like in “A Christmas Story!”


  3. YTZ4Me says:

    Enjoyed tremendously (again!)


  4. Patriot Dreamer says:
  5. churchlady1904 says:

    Sharon . . . now it can be revealed. I was your twin sister,
    separated at birth and sold by the kindly country doctor who
    delivered me to my late-in-life German parents in Iowa!

    My older sister (born in 1932, me in 1948) spent the first three
    years of my life grounding me in reading & story-telling. I must
    have worn out a half dozen flashlights reading under the covers
    at night! Nancy Drew, the Dana Girls, Cherry Ames, Lois Lenski
    books, as well as Wallace’s Farmer, the Sioux City Journal daily
    & Sunday papers were my reading buddies.

    Attended country school format in a small town. I know that I
    already knew how to read when I entered kindergarten. By 2nd
    grade, the teacher allowed me to give the 4th graders their spelling
    words. And I LOVED taking the Basic Skills tests. It was the
    subject of newly-implemented parent/teacher conferences in the
    mid-1950’s. Daddy always attended them (mom was usually
    indisposed on the couch) and would relay the results: I was the
    only student to consistently score 100% on Basic Skills language
    and spelling. A’s in spelling, reading, language, penmanship
    and history; B’s in science and arithmetic. I can remember winning
    a 7th grade spelling contest; as the last person standing I went on
    to spell dozens of other words, finally tripping up on “solder” (I
    spelled it s-a-u-d-e-r-).

    Everybody in my school had two parents with the exception of
    Verlene, who lived with her grandparents. One time I got up the
    courage to ask about her MIA parents; she confided that her parents
    were divorced and both were married again—but neither step-parent
    wanted her. Friends of my parents in their card-playing
    rotation of birthday & anniversary parties, included an elderly woman
    and her middle-aged widowed daughter-in-law. Great-grandma Mary
    cheated at cards and Grandma Rosie did nothing but yell at the
    out-of-control small grandson she was raising. My father explained
    that Rosie’s older daughter, Barb, “got in trouble” and neither Barb
    nor her boyfriend, Ronnie, wanted Matthew (a naughty
    child who routinely hit his grandma & great-grandma). Didn’t know
    what “in trouble” was if Matthew was the result, but I knew it wasn’t
    good. Sex education in those days was done via barnyard animals,
    and it was referred to as “planting the seed” to get little calves, pigs
    and kitties.

    Daddy’s sister, aunt Martha, had a big ole Victrola in her dark upstairs
    hallway. It was filled with 1/4″ thick Edison records. One of them was
    “Barney Google”!! Flip side was “I Popped the Question to Her Pop and
    he Popped me Out the Door!” Daddy and his family had a dance band
    in the 1920s and he taught me Barney, Five-Foot-Two Eyes of Blue,
    Last Night on the Backporch, I Love My Baby (My Baby Loves Me) and
    so many more. Fifty years later I have a huge collection of vintage
    sheet music and remember Daddy with his banjo teaching me the
    lyrics and melodies. He would be so proud to know that his two grand-
    daughters and three grandchildren are all excellent pianists/singers.

    Sharon, your Montana uprbringing is a heritage that can never be
    taken away from you. I can see that your cherished memories and
    childhood experiences have shaped you into the person you are today.
    I, too, feel for so many subsequent generations adrift in a rudderless,
    valueless world of immorality and confusion. Undoubtedly, you make
    the difference in the lives of your children and grandchildren!


    • Sharon says:

      So that’s what happened to you! I always wondered what they did with you. Your comments bring back more memories about the animals and the no-go subject of sex: one of my summertime duties was to chase after the cats with a big broom and “make them stop fighting” when they started their “fighting” right under the clothes line in broad daylight, right in front of God and everybody. Ain’t gonna have no cat-fights in our front yard!! The cats obviously learned to do their fighting out of sight of the house, because we always had between 15-20 new kittens every summer….


  6. g8rmom7 says:

    Someone posted this farewell speech by Reagan…it’s about 20 minutes but SO WORTH it. I am going to make my kids watch this. I just wish I paid more attention to politics at this time in my life. I was 24 and just so NOT interested in anything political. I thank God that Reagan was President at this time of life…I really didn’t need to worry about it at that time. Anyway, it’s a great thing to watch on his 100th birthday.


    • stellap says:

      “Hello, Ameican Sailor! Hello, Freedom Man!”

      What a terrific speech. It is well worth the time to watch and listen. Thanks for posting.


      • g8rmom7 says:

        There are so many good quotes in this speech…like “…there is a cause and affect as neat and natural as the laws of physics…when government expands, liberty contracts”. And I also love how he talks of the fact that other countries have Constitutions that are from the government telling the people what they can and can’t do…ours is from the people telling the government what it can and can’t do. Such an easy thing to understand…and I told my daughter she needs to get her History teacher to play this tomorrow for her class.


        • stellap says:

          Absolutely love his discussion about how “We The People” tell the government what to do, not the other way around.

          Does your daughter’s teacher have an email address? You could suggest it to her today, along with a link to the speech.


    • Kristi says:

      WOW… that put tears in my eyes.

      I was just a teenager.. but I loved Reagan.


  7. weeweed says:

    This poll is on the Fox news website – about ‘should citizenship be on drivers license.’


  8. weeweed says:

    Oooowweeeeee…..He Won is gonna have to put some ice on it after he reads this one!!


  9. Auntie Lib says:

    Hey Hikers! I haven’t had a chance to even start catching up on the posts and comments from the last three days, but I do want to share a bit about our evening with Michele Bachmann.

    She was so sweet!!! A genuinely lovely lady. Of course, her speech was interesting, inspiring, and every other thing we could have expected, but what impressed me most is how warm and friendly she is. Most “name” politicians tend to be pretty closed off and want as little to do with the audience as they can get away with. Michele personally OFFERED to stay after the events were concluded to meet with anyone who wanted to shake her hand and have their picture taken with her. I HAVE NEVER SEEN ANY OTHER POLITICAL FIGURE DO THAT!!! It was so cool. She stayed at least another hour plus so that as many of the 400 guests that wanted to meet her would have the opportunity.

    If any of you have the opportunity to see her in person – do whatever you can to get there. She’s amazing.


  10. Menagerie says:

    Sharon it is just so fitting that your Milboxes posts are on Sunday. The Lord’s day. The day of rest. The day so many families spend together. A perfect day to enjoy your wonderful memories. Only a very few talented writers can take you there, so to speak. I always look forward to Sundays in Montana with you.


  11. churchlady1904 says:

    My Marine son & his wife are back at
    Camp LeJeune NC, stepped out in faith and
    built a new home in the area.

    Even though the 2012 Dem convention was given
    to Charlotte, not every North Carolinian is
    planning on voting for Benito:


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