September 28, 2020

Childhood memories: Which Ones Do You Treasure

The last post asked you to think about what you have to be thankful for in a rather miserable year. I hope some fresh thinking allowed you to dwell on some of some positives. Frankly, the comments helped me find some new light during a dark time.

This time, it might be fun to remember a time that wasn't bombarded by all sorts of nasty, adult-type news: your childhood. As summer comes to an end, I have been thinking of some of the more powerful childhood memories that defined this season of the year. Especially this year, thinking about good things helps us get through the uncertainty ahead.

My grandparents owned a 36-acre plot of land about an hour north of Pittsburgh. 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 substantial 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 in that two-story house. The second-floor bedrooms could get rather nippy overnight, but no matter, we just piled on extra blankets.

Kerosene lamps were used after to dark keep 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 robust 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 icebox (with a real block of ice).

Days were spent sitting under the large trees listening to the adults talk. Obviously, there was no television and only a battery-operated radio, so days were filled with conversation. I 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, grandad 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, though we were happy to accept a ride back.

Over the past several years, as close as I could get to the experience of the farm was RV travel. The campgrounds satisfied my need to be surrounded by nature. The freedom of rolling down a back road reminded me, for just a moment, of the walk for ice cream down a dirt road near Mars, Pennsylvania.

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

What childhood memories come to mind for you?

23 comments:

  1. I am lucky to remember my childhood with fondness. We used to live outside of the city where my dad used to work. We did not have a car back then so, we had to use the bus service to go to the city. On Friday evenings, dad would walk the short distance home and pick mom and I up to go to the city to have dinner. Their favorite place was right at the heart of the city. I remember dad having a beer, frankfurters and fries. Mom liked some fancy fish dish. I do not remember what I liked but, I loved the soft serve ice cream they had. I can still feel the smell of that cafe/restaurant which is long gone. I also remember begging for a sibling for a long time. Finally, when I was 7, I became the proud big sister of the cutest baby ever. My sister is the apple of my eye and I remember how I loved reading to her and keeping an eye on her when she was out playing with her friends. Happy days... Thanks for sharing your memories.

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    1. Isn't it interesting how certain smells and sights can trigger memories so many years later. I bet when you see some place servicing soft serve ice cream you are transported back to that restaurant on Friday nights.

      I remembered the smell of my grandfather's and uncle's pipe tobacco for years after their passings.. Nowadays, pipes are few and far between. But, if someone has one, just seeing the pipe itself brings back strong memories.

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  2. Bob, that photo of you and your Mom is absolutely precious! A defining memory from my childhood is that of The Family Picnic. My Mom's family is large and close. When I was young, a well-attended gathering was held every summer at a State Park about 45 minutes from our home. We would be on the road around 7:00 a.m. so that we would be sure to get "our" picnic spot next to the lake. It was bacon and eggs cooked on a grill for breakfast, and I can remember one particularly brisk picnic morning that my cousins and I spent huddled around the fire with beach blankets wrapped around our shoulders. Lunch was traditional picnic fare - hamburgers, hot dogs, and all the standard side dishes. My Mom always brought her baked beans, and my Aunt Jen always brought her potato salad and her world famous chocolate chip cookies. As kids, we would spend the day swimming in the lake, building sand castles on the beach, tackling the playground, hiking the trail along the lake shore and going for rides in the row boats the adults would rent for the day. It was a badge of honor among the cousins to reach the age when we were allowed to hike to the other end of the lake to rent the boats and row them back to our picnic spot. I say this is a defining memory for me because it jump-started my love of nature and outdoor activities, and it underscored the importance and depth of family ties. At some point, I think it was during my teenage years, the location of the family picnic was changed. It was never the same and the annual tradition fell by the wayside. When I was in my early 40's, and Alan and I had two young kids, my Mom, a cousin and I resurrected the tradition and, once again, the family began gathering at the State Park (at our very same spot) for our annual Family Picnic. I wanted our kids to have the same wonderful and priceless memories that I hold close to my heart. My Mom, aunts and uncles are all gone now, and my cousins and I are the grownups. I can't possibly express how heartwarming it has been over the years watching our own kids and those of my cousins grow up enjoying the lake and the love of their family just like we did. Life has come full circle, and I hope our tradition continues.

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    1. That's a great story and example of the power of positive childhood memories. You and all your relatives are so lucky that the site at the park is still open and accessible! The day you describe is very typical with nothing out of the ordinary...so it was the time with family and the routine of the event that made the day so special and such an important memory.

      Those of use who are grandparents need to remember that even everyday events and activities can be part of the memories that our grandkids carry with them forever. We should strive to create as many opportunities as possible for these lifelong keepsakes.

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  3. My parents bought a lot on a lake when I was three years old and my fondest childhood (and adult) memories stem around that place. They built a cottage themselves using wood they got from tearing down an old house they bought for the lumber and for probably thirty years they were constantly upgrading and remodeling. In the firs decade, though, we didn't have running water, electricity and a indoor toilet so I have some great memories similar to yours. My niece owns the place now so I still get to walk down Memory Lane out there where the woods I played in, the camp by the creek and of course the lake itself have not changed in all these years.

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    1. I've always wished I could have taken my kids to "The Farm" to give them a feel for the place. Unfortunately, shortly before their deaths, my grandparents sold the property to a family with several kids. My understanding is they added water and electricity, and actually farmed and grazed the land. "The Farm" is only alive in our memory.

      You are so lucky to still be able to visit the lake and remember.

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  4. That sounds a lot like our summer vacations in Connecticut where our Grandfather (and lots of other relatives) lived. Water from a pump 3 houses down and an out house in back. There was electricity, but no heat. And bath time was simply a jump in the lake with a bar of soap. Brushing out teeth hanging over the end of the dock. Great memories.

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    1. Try to explain that lifestyle to a kid today, and you will get met with puzzled stares..."what's an outhouse? How do you flush it?"

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  5. Crossing the bridge into our grandparent’s state we got excited knowing they were close. Coming down the road behind their house the first sight was the back porch. We had been on the road 10 or 12 hours. By now we were bored and restless. None of that mattered. We were just happy to arrive.
    Eating fresh peaches in the backyard, they were so juicy you had to lean forward to keep from getting peach juice all over your shirt. Exploring the mountain and building quilt tents on the huge front porch. Riding in Pop's old Plymouth on the way to our uncle's country store. Pot belly stove in the middle of the store, right next to the peanut roaster. We always got a silver dollar and a pick of any Nehi drink in the freezer. We never lived here but it always seemed like home.

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    1. You last sentence is so true for me: "we never lived there, but it always seemed like home."

      I love how detailed your memories are, Fred. Obviously, they are still very fresh in your mind.

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  6. We lived in Wyoming and Montana until I was about 8. The local DQ's would close for the winter. I remember each spring dad taking us when they opened for the summer. The year I was 5 I got to carry my own ice cream cone back to the car. I was told (and told) not to run, but I was so excited that I forgot and ran. My whole top part of the ice cream fell off. Many parents would have been mad, or made me do without (I did have the bottom part still), but Dad got me another one and even let me try it again (and I did walk the whole way back to the car on the second try).
    Another time we went up to a lake and I was told not to get wet (again about 5 or 6 years old) and I really didn't plan to get wet. I was just wading a bit and I slipped and fell in (yup, I was wet all the way to my neck).
    Also, about the same time we were stopped by a big river during spring run off. Mom and dad went down the little embankment to wash their hands. Then I went down. I slipped in, and due to the curve of the hill nobody realized it. I was lucky I was able to grab a branch and pull myself back out. Scared mom and dad really badly (I was pretty shaken too).
    I am not sure why by that point they were not taking extra clothes for me, since it was getting to be a pattern of getting wet, but they didn't take any when we went to the ocean when visiting my grandparents in Washington. You can guess the results. I slipped and fell in. I ended up wearing dad's coat while they hung my pants out the window to dry.
    I swear it didn't get better. At 16 I was working at a camp and I think I fell into water at least once every week (often out backpacking so I did have extra clothes). That meant I fell in 10 times (or more) that summer.
    One of my son's (the oldest)takes after me. At 5 or 6 he fell in a small pont on a camping trip. I got him changed into his last dry set of clothes and he went back out. Walking up to the edge of the pond (about 18 inches deep at most) he tripped and landed in the water. I all I could do is stand there and laugh.

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    1. I think I sense a book or movie in these stories: the kids who couldn't stay dry! Those are funny memories, Linda. I can relate to the ice cream and DQ story because of our walks to the store each summer. There is something magical about kids and ice cream.

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  7. My best memories are from my Grandparents house. It was in the city in a regulation neighborhood, and was not a huge house by any means. My mom was from a family of 5 children so add their spouses, my grandparents and 21 grandchildren and we had a small tribe when we all got together, which we did for every holiday. Fortunately my grandparents lived on a dead end street, so all the cars did not block the street passage.
    We kids played everything imaginable while the moms got the meal ready. Then we all came inside to eat, (all the kids in the large back den and the adults in the dining room) so we kids could scarf our meals down and head back outside to play. If it rained we were all sent to the "boys" rooms (my uncle's childhood space, a semi finished couple of rooms in the basement) to play games or to the garage to play more games. It was fun and chaotic all at the same time. We still get together yearly, but now only one uncle remains which makes "the Kids" the old guys.

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    1. Notice how many of the comments relate to memories from interactions with grandparents! We are very important parts of our grandkids' life experiences.

      BTW, you didn't have a small tribe, you had a small country of people! That must have been quite a sight (and sound!)

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  8. I have two memories. My Nana would "gather the clan" for pictures every Thanksgiving. Since her father had moved her to Phoenix after her mother's death, she had no "other family". Her husband, who had died years before my birth, had been an orphan--so the extended family gathering was a huge deal. All of us lined up for the picture that Uncle Herby would take- all 33 of us. The picture time was the highlight- as we all would be laughing and joking.

    The other memory is of my dad taking us fishing on Oak Creek. Five kids. The baby was always with him. He would bait a hook and walk down stream to "fix up" the next child. We were far enough apart to not be able to see each other. I don't think I ever caught a fish. The Sycamores, water and sun were always a delight. That space is still the one I "go to" for meditation and silence for my soul. Can you imagine now if someone left a five year old to fish--lol. Oh and I did catch a fish off the Oceanside pier when I was six. I had gone down to fish by myself. By the grace of God some men were on the pier that morning and helped me reel in a barracuda! Woo HOOO!

    I have a question. Why do you think your grandparents were without "modern convinces"? My great grandfather's chicken ranch in early Phoenix had electricity and water. Do you think they had been hard hit by the depression? Had they always been "country folk"? LOL- I love this stuff!

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    1. To answer your question, I think they wanted it that way. It was a total break from urban living in Pittsburgh. They were not impacted by the Depression very much, so that wasn't a problem. Also, where the land was located was quite rural. Running electric lines may not have been even possible, and they were certainly well away from any water lines. No, I think they wanted to step away and "go off the grid" well before that had a name.

      Oak Creek in the Sedona area is beautiful, though at times overrun with people. And, no, leaving a 5 year old alone by a running stream, would not be acceptable today!

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  9. We emmigrated when I was an infant so extended family consisted of one of Dad's uncles who preceeded us, and his children/grands.

    1. We would go to Uncle's home for a visit. Then over to Knots Berry Farm for walking. In the 60s, there were no fences or entrance fees. I'm sure there was a treat involved, but it's the strolling that stands out!

    2. I grew up on Dairy Farms. If I was in trouble or felt lonely, I would go to the calf barn, crawl in a stall and snuggle with a calf letting it suck on my fingers. Ohhhh soooo soothing.

    3. My childhood dog was outside only. Her bed was in a shed. I would go sit in her bed with her in the quiet.

    4. I made mud pies. The guys that worked for Dad ALWAYS "bought" them all. Currency: sticks, leaves or anything they could find.

    5. Road trips with Mom and little sis once we moved out of state. Every summer back to So Cal for a few weeks to visit everyone.

    6. Summer weekends Mom would drive me and older brother to the beach for the day (2 hour drive). We would swim and float for hours. Body surfing by age 7. We all loved the ocean and Mom could sit there all day long.

    7. Dad was always there but he rarely left the farm-Church was about it except for the occasional day trip to Knots. When you have cows, you're working 24/7.

    8. We had a huge Pontiac Electra and I was kid #5. I laid in the back window when we went to the drive-in movies.

    I didn't know we were low income because life felt rich and full! My first purchased pant was at age 11. Who knew Mom didn't have to sew, knit everything we wore! (Older sisters were making their own clothes by the time I was old enough to be aware).

    Great childhood!

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    1. What a tremendous list of memories, Elle. Did every kid make mud pies at some point. I know my brothers and I did.

      Funny, when I read about Knott's Berry Farm I think of the present day amusement park. But, the original farm was just that. Added later was a Ghost Town display that let people enjoy most of the attractions for free. It wasn't until the late 60's that a $1 fee to enter was charged. A Year later, rides were added and the transition to a big amusement park began.
      So, you were there when it really was still a farm.

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  10. The 100 year old log house I lived in when I was very young did not have a toilet or bathroom. It was the same house where my grandma gave birth to her six kids in the 1920's and 1930's. Tt had a hand pump in the backyard that pumped out the freshest tasting water. The "old" house has since burned but I still own a portion of the land. My granddaddy died farming, when a tractor overturned on him. I think it was because he was used to using mules to plow. Cindy in the South

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    1. My grandparent's place also depended on well water: cold and sweet even on the hottest days. There was one pump in the back and one at the kitchen sink. Do you remember having to prime the pump to get it to start drawing up water? We always kept a gallon of water by each pump handle to get things going.

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  11. The closest neighbors lived 1-2 miles away, close enough to navigate by foot or bike. Nothing thrilled my 2 sisters and I more than to have play days with the neighbor kids. One day swimming in the muddy bottomed dug-out comes to mind. Of course it started with just wading, then getting our clothes wet then stripping down to our underwear. We were free range kids. Not one of the 8 kids got into any trouble at the dug out. There was some trouble when mom found out we had been swimming in our underwear. The fun ended with a wash in the rain barrel.

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    1. Just normal kid behavior! Mud has a magnetic draw for all youngsters, regardless of where they grow up or spend vacation time.

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    2. The well is still there. I do not remember that but probably because the adults did it for me....lol.I will have to go see the next time I go to the family farm. It is still a farm. It is rented out to a neighbor.

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