When I think of childhood memories, I think of my paternal grandparents and their home. Charles and Bertha moved to this city from a small town where they were married to begin a new life. That was over 100 years ago, and they bought a modest house with a finished attic on two city lots. Grandad got a job as a baggage clerk working for the Railroad Company downtown. Grandma worked in a laundry for a large hotel.
Grandad went to bed in the evening about the same time as the chickens did who lived in the small red barn out back of the house, getting up at 3:00 a.m. or so when the rooster crowed to walk the three or four miles down the railroad tracks to the Railway Station. In those days, people travelled a lot by passenger trains. Grandma also got up early to ride the trolley car to work. From that marriage came three children, Blanche, Chesley and Verne. Verne was my father and the youngest of the three children.
Each of their children married and there were four girls from my aunt’s family in the early years, four girls from my uncle’s family and me. I was later to have a brother and two younger sisters. Because of all the girls in the family, I always had enough clothes because my mother knew how to sew, so I wore lots of my cousins’ clothes that Mama trimmed with lace, buttons and bows made over for me.
Often, two or three or more of the cousins would spend Saturday and Saturday night at Grandma’s house. She would take us to Mrs. Kerr’s Drugstore a few blocks up the street–we walked–and we were allowed to have a book of paperdolls for ten cents and a fountain drink or an iced cream cone for a nickel. Sometimes we got a piece of bubble gum which we saved for later so we could see who could blow the biggest bubble! I think it cost one penny back then, over 50 years ago. When we got back home, we would cut out all the paperdolls and we each had our own cigar box to keep them in.
Every Sunday after Church, we all gathered at Grandma’s house for dinner. Grandad would go out and find a chicken or two, get the hatchet or wring their necks. There they would be–chickens flopping all around the yard, headless–until they stopped flopping and Grandma would go and gather them up and take them downstairs to the basement to a wash tub of scalding hot water. Sometimes we would watch from the stairsteps as she carefully plucked out all of the pin feathers before boiling the chickens. She had already made noodles or dumplings on the kitchen counter and had plenty of fresh vegetables for dinner. There was a large dining room table where we all gathered around as Grandad prepared to thank the Lord for the family and the food and the adults ate at the table and the children scattered to the front porch or wherever they could find a place to sit down to eat. Grandad dipped with an old dipper from a large pot iced tea for everyone and we had chocolate cake with cooked white frosting for dessert. Every Sunday for many years, this was our family tradition. We didn’t have paper plates back then, so we ate our dinner on Jewel Tea dishes. Grandma must have had two sets, because she would carefully select each new piece she wanted every time the Jewel Tea man came. We had to sit down and be quiet when the Jewel Tea man was there. Grandma was counting her money to see what she could get with what she had in hand.
After dinner, everyone found something to do, especially the children. We were cousins and we loved our time together. There were hollyhocks in the back of the barn with beautiful spires of flowers waiting to be selected for the toothpick dolls we would make together.
A small bed of sweet smelling lillies of the valley adorned the side door of the old house and they were Grandma’s favorite flower. We picked the tiny little stems with bells drooping and took them to her with love from our hearts.
There were irises growing all along the fenceline between our house and the next one and we had to be careful to stay on our side of the fence.
In the front yard was a grand old catalpa tree. Straight up with thick branches, very suitable for climbing. We felt safe and would climb clear to the top of the tree. Mama taught me to put the little blossoms on each fingertip to look like lovely lacey gloves when they were in full bloom and some of the children used the long bean pods like swords. I loved that old tree and would climb clear to the top and sing as loud as I could the Bible School song I’d learned about “Zaccheus”, the wee little man who climbed up in the tree to see Jesus when He passed by in the story in the Bible.
Grandad kept a wonderful garden on the side lot, completely fenced in with a locked gate to keep the kids and critters out. But the little rabbits would almost always find a way in and so did the birds. Inside the fence were two cherry trees and we would climb the fence to reach the cherries if the birds or Grandma hadn’t gotten there first. There were also two green apple trees. I loved my Grandad and sometimes he let me walk to the feed store with him to get feed for the chickens. He sang beautiful old hymns to me as we walked hand-in-hand together. He took me to see the baby chicks at the feed store and the same family still owns the feed store today. But it isn’t the same without Grandad.
At Grandma’s house, we played hopscotch. We always had chalk and we could hop, skip and jump for hours. To win, you couldn’t step on any chalked lines. Then we played silly games like not stepping on any cracks on the sidewalk. Come to think of it, I can’t remember any of my children ever playing hopscotch. What has happened to hopscotch? We jumped rope. We loved to jump rope–big ones and little ones. We had roller skates. We played ball games in the backyard. Everyone played yard games: Mother, May I and Red Rover, Red Rover. As the evening wore on, it was hide-n-seek. And, at the first sign of dusk, the lightening bugs began to appear. What fun! We would catch them and put them in a jar with holes poked through the lid. Occasionally, we would find a stick bug, a walking stick on one of the window screens and what fun to capture a grasshelper [grasshopper]. A special treat was to trade marbles with cousins (we kept them in tin cans with lids) and someone had a baton and we would take turns trying to learn to twirl it and catch it after throwing it up into the air really high.
It the weather was rainy or bad, we played jacks on the linoleum floors in any room in the house. The walls were covered with big patterned wallpaper, ferns or flowers and I remember a small wooden plaque that said, “The Lord knoweth them that are His” hanging on the wall. There were other reminders throughout the house clearly showing that God’s people lived there. Often, young couples would come to the house to be married, and Grandma would keep all the children in the back bedroom while Grandad performed his ministerial duties. I remember peeking through the curtains to see what was going on. It was exciting!
Grandad went to bed as the chickens did before dark and would read his Bible and Smith’s Bible Dictionary every night. If we were really good, we would take turns sleeping over at Grandma’s house and we were allowed to go in and see Grandad reading and he would let us see the pictures in his Bible Dictionary and he would exlain some Bible truth to us. It didn’t matter how many of us stayed over, because Grandma always made pallets for us to sleep on the floor against any wall–plenty of quilts to lay on, a pillow and one quilt to cover up with–we thought we were in heaven. All lined up together against the wall of the living room or dining room, one right next to the other. Grandma would sing to us or say prayers with us or tell us a story or read to us and we knew we were cared for and dearly loved. If we were poor economically, we were rich spiritually. We grew up in a place where we learned to help each other and share with one another. We worked and prayed and played together. Love was spoken there.
I would say I had an old-fashioned childhood. I am 73 now and I haven’t forgotten it.