Farm kids’ lives were not all work, of course. Today,
I’m recalling events that happened mostly before I started
to school. My brother was 16 months older, and we didn’t
have many playmates except at church and community events. We
made our own fun where we were, with what we had. I now know that
this homemade recreation helped shape our lives.
Mom, a city girl, liked an excuse to go to the woods, and she
took us there before we were old enough to go alone. We gathered
acorns and those shiny, lop-sided buckeyes and took them home to
play with on rainy days. They were soldiers or hay bales or
hen’s eggs treasures in our toy box. Dad carved
acorns into little baskets or finger rings. I could hardly wait
to have my own knife, and I now carry a tiny penknife and use it
We had two goats, Nanny and Billy, who liked playing with Jim
and me. They weren’t milk goats, just plain white goats that
we’d hitch to our wagon and pretend they were horses. The
hired men used to call me "Billy," and Gene Waters, an
MU ag student who lived with us, called me "Nanny" for
the rest of his life.
I was a tomboy and liked riding saplings in the woods. Hickory
was best because it was flexible and strong when just the right
size to bear my weight. I often climbed my favorite big maple
tree in the back yard. Maybe that’s where I learned the joy
of leaving the world behind and being alone sometimes?
Gene Waters used to play marbles with us on the rug after
supper. Jim and I would often ride about a half-mile in
Gene’s motorcycle sidecar when he went to school; then
we’d walk back. Could that be the beginning of wanderlust? 1
got into trouble, before I was old enough to remember, for
slopping around in the chicken’s water with my shoes and
stockings on. I still like being in water.
Jim and I didn’t get in trouble for rolling up half-dry
mullen leaves and trying to smoke them like cigars because nobody
caught us. The taste was terrible, and we couldn’t make them
burn anyway. Then we tried to smoke coffee grounds, and that
tasted even worse. Perhaps that’s what made nonsmokers out
of both of us?
Mom and I roamed in the woods, waded in shallow creeks,
fished, and often carried baskets of "leaf mold" back
home for the flowerbeds. She helped me catch toads and woolly
worms in my bare hands, and we’d put them in a tub with
rocks and grass and a jar lid of water, then release them later.
I taught my four grandsons to do that. They’d build a
castle in moist sand and have toads and woolly worms for
inhabitants. It was a victory when a worm crawled across the
bridge over the moat and entered the castle door, and when
he’d nibble a leaf they offered him. That meant the worm was
happy to be playing their games.
When I was 16 months old, Mom wrote to her parents in
Centralia: "We all love the outdoors
. Sue cries when I
take her sweater off
. When they unhitched
Steamboat’ after harrowing the garden, she went and
picked up the lines, shook them and hollered, Whoa,
Boat.’" proof that I created fun where I was,
with what I had, even if I wasn’t supposed to do it.
Mom made a snapshot of that, and I plan to use it on the cover
of my book that’s now in the works. More about that later.