September 27, 2013

Those Powerful Childhood Memories

As the summer winds down, at least in most parts of the country, I was thinking about one of my stronger childhood memories that defined this time of year for me. My grandparents owned a 36 acre plot of land about a hour north of Pittsburgh in a rural part of the state.

We called it "The Farm" even though nothing was planted or harvested, except memories. From the time I was four until an early teen, I spent two weeks every summer here with my parents, brothers, uncle, and grandparents. Some fifty-five years later, that time is still nothing but golden memories for me.

For a child of today, the conditions would seem unbearable. There was no electricity or running water. Cooking was done on a huge wood burning stove or over a fire pit. The bathroom was a rickety outhouse down a path. Water was pumped from a well. A weekly bath involved heating buckets of water on the stove and dumping them into a large tin bathtub in the living room, not too far from the fireplace, which was also the only source of heat for the two story house. The second floor bedrooms could get rather nippy over night but no matter, we just piled on extra blankets.

Kerosene lamps were used after to dark keep the downstairs pleasant. The adults read, played cards, or talked. My brothers and I would play with simple toys or listen to the stories my uncle would tell. Upstairs, a flashlight was the light source if a trip to the privy was required. I remember falling asleep listening to squirrels (or something small) run around in the attic above my head.


I would awake each morning to the smell of my grandfather boiling coffee and frying bacon over the outside fire pit. Coffee grounds and cold water would be dumped together in a pot and placed over the fire. Eventually, a strong smelling brew would be passed around to the adults to jump start their mornings. The younger set settled for orange juice and cereal from the ice box.

Days were spend sitting under the large trees listening to adults talk. Obviously, there was no television and only a battery operated radio so days where filled with conversation. I do remember my grandfather had an outbuilding that was packed to the rafters with old tools and all the things needed to maintain the property. Being the oldest, occasionally I was allowed inside the shed to watch him built or repair something with tools that probably came from his father.

My uncle was our primary source of entertainment. Not only did he tell great stories but helped us "improve" the land. Each summer we would plan for some paths through the woods and fields all over the property and then proceed to lightly trim a path. We gave them names, like Lowry Lane or Munn Boulevard. Of course, each summer these paths had to be rebuilt but that didn't seem to bother us. The hard work kept us busy and produced tired little boys each evening.

Near the end of each year's stay we would have our big adventure: walking to the small town of Mars for ice cream cones. Since it was five miles from the farm, for the first several years we only made it part of the way. After an hour of trudging down the dirt roads with mom and dad alongside us, granddad would pull up in his car, pick us up, and take us to the general store for ice cream. Each year he'd tell us how far we had managed to walk in the allotted time. Finally, when I was probably eleven or twelve, we managed to walk all the way to town before being picked up. We were so proud.

Today, as close I as I can get to the experience of the farm is RV travel. The campgrounds satisfy my need to be surrounded by nature. The freedom of rolling down a back road reminds me, for just a moment, of the walk for ice cream down a dirt road near Mars, Pennsylvania.

Mom and I saluting the flag on the 4th of July at The Farm

What childhood memories come to mind for you? 


17 comments:

  1. Going to the KingPin in Binghamton NY for the precursor to fast food joints, where they put the trays on the window ledge of the cars. Hamburgers and the best Watermelon sherbet I ever tasted with my parents. Playing every sport outside virtually every day, especially baseball, football and basketball, no matter the weather (probably instilled in me my lifelong love of exercise). Going to Friendsville PA to my grandparents house, which they used to run as a hotel. Big ballrooms where parties were held, and exploring the upstairs with all the rooms and brass beds. And basically getting together with all my country relatives who lived on their farms in Friendsville, while the rest of us lived in the cities. Different times.

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  2. I used to visit Binghamton while a student at Syracuse University, but don't think I ever experienced the KingPin.

    Ours was a small family, so the time at the Farm was really about our only opportunity to be with relatives. For reasons that he has never adequately explained, my father had virtually no contact with his brothers so my whole family was just my mom's side. There are uncles, aunts, and cousins I have never met. Very strange.

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    1. Same with the two sides of our family as well, Bob. Lots of bad blood and ill feelings, oftentimes for reasons none of us were ever privy to. As for the KingPin, that's been out of business for many, many years, probably as soon as McDonald's, Burger King and the rest took over.

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  3. The busy-ness of harvest time always comes back to me, with my dad and the neighbors who helped him coming in dusty late in the evening for supper, a big meal my mom would have prepared after canning pickles and tomatoes all day. I've just spent the morning with my granddaughters, digging the corn out of the garden and feeding it to the cows over the fence. That was a big deal for them. Then we dug some carrots, washed them on the verandah and juiced them. That didn't go over so good. Hopefully I will make some memories for them now.

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    1. Digging corn out of the garden and feeding it to the cow, that sounds like a memory in the making for your granddaughters...maybe not today or next month, but a few decades from now!

      I'm thankful our family "farm" was 36 acres of grasses and woods. My summer memories would have been quite different if it had involved real harvesting.

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  4. I am glad you have delightful childhood memories.
    My good memories are very small slices.
    The rest are why I became a teacher to- protect children and help form good memories.

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    1. I am very aware that my childhood wasn't like everyone's. I have no bad memories and I know that is not normal!

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  5. My mom grew up in a rural setting on a farm. I have fond memories of going there in the summer. I loved helping to milk the cows, and gathering eggs. We slept on a screened in porch to stay cool on hot summer nights. Not so fond memories -- the ticks!

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    1. That is one thing the Farm didn't have: a screened porch. But, for some reason I don't remember flies or mosquitoes being a problem. I assume the upstairs bedrooms had screens in the windows, but otherwise bugs probably had an easy path in. I know there were mice in the attic..I heard them!

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  6. Sounds like paradise to me. I remember summers at a lake in New Hampshire -- eating on the screened-in porch, swimming across the lake, diving off the raft . . . and the leeches. But back then, when I was 7 and 8, they didn't bother me in the slightest.

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    1. I was talking with a friend about how kids today would react to spending two weeks without electricity, cell phones (any phones!), TV, running water, flush toilets, The Internet, or DVDs. We decided they would not do well.

      Add leeches and you have lost all of them!

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  7. I remember driving trips to the beaches on the East coast. I loved making "drip" sand castles and watching my Father surf fish. I remember lazy summers visiting some of my Mother and Father's friends in Huntington WVA and all of the kids helping churn the home made ice cream all day long on 4th of July weekend. I remember catching fireflies at night and making chalk drawings and hop scotch squares or blowing on fuzzy dandelions while lying on the grass and making up funny stories from the cloud formations. I remember driving to many of the Civil War battlefields and learning how precious our freedoms are. I remember a simpler, slower time in my life. I'm re - living that time of life through my grandchildren. Life is sweet!

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    1. You and I, dear wife, have talked about an RV trip back east to visit the Civil War battlefields. With the number of places we want to go, we had better become full timers!

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  8. Cari in North TexasSun Sep 29, 02:08:00 PM MST

    My mother was a teacher so she was able to be off in the summers with us kids. Every year she and her mother (my parents were divorced) would load us 4 kids into our station wagon along with all the gear and head for Port Aransas on the Texas coast. We'd stay in the same little cabin very close to the beach for 2 weeks, and life was very slow-paced. We'd walk to the beach after breakfast, stay for a few hours till it got too hot, come back for lunch and a nap, then back to the beach till it got dark. Occasionally we'd go into town for something to do or, a rare treat, a real seafood meal.

    Then both sets of grandparents had a tradition of taking each of us kids individually for a week or so. We'd be the center of attention, and being away from my brothers was a real treat. They'd fix our favorite meals, let us watch the TV shows we wanted (not a lot of choice back then LOL), and take us out to eat or to a movie. They lived in a different town, so it was a great change of scenery.

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    1. I love the idea of all the personalized attention each child received from the grandparents. That was a tremendous gift.

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  9. Steve in Los AngelesSun Sep 29, 06:41:00 PM MST

    I remember almost every summer, usually in August, my parents, sisters, and I would go to Las Vegas. We would stay at the Sahara Hotel. We would leave very early on a Sunday morning and return on the following Tuesday evening. In the daytime (usually on Sunday afternoons and on Mondays), we would sit on a grassy area close to the Sahara's enormous Olympic swimming pool with a high diving board and a regular diving board. We would have a nice breakfast and a very nice dinner. In the evening, my parents went into the casino to play blackjack. My sisters and I would share a room. My sisters each had their own beds. I had a roll-away cot.

    In later years, after my sisters got married, my parents and I would go to Las Vegas perhaps once or twice a year. We would stay at the Golden Nugget Hotel in the downtown area of Las Vegas. After I turned 21, I would go into the casino with my parents. Although I never got into gambling, I would sit next to my Mom and bring her good luck. My Mom was a good blackjack player and often would play well into the early morning hours, while my Dad and I slept. My Dad and I would wake up somewhat early in the morning and have breakfast together while my Mom slept. Whenever my parents and I went to one of the many buffets in Las Vegas for dinner, my parents, especially my Mom, were amazed with the amount of food I would pack away (and never put on a pound!). I still have a great appetite and still am in great shape, as I have a high metabolism.

    My Mom and Dad fortunately were not addicted to gambling. Whenever they went to Las Vegas, they were very strict with the amount of money with which they would gamble.

    Those were the good old days!!!!!

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    1. You have some really great memories. My wife and I stayed at the Sahara a few times in the late 70's. It was quite the place in Vegas at the time.

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