“What was life like when you were a kid?” Have you ever been asked that question? That happened to me just a few days ago. I met a young man from Russia who curiously, posed this query to me.
I obliged him by listing a few everyday lifetime memories. Some are unique to my family, but no doubt there are those which many folks share.
As the firstborn child in my family, Mom and Dad welcomed me to the two-room house that my Dad had built for Mom. The kitchen housed a double sink and cupboards, a booth and two benches, a stove, a refrigerator, a sofa and a rocking chair. The other room had a small closet, a full-sized bed, a baby crib, a vanity and a bureau. Tucked in a young grove of poplar trees, stood the outhouse.
As I grew, so did the household. Soon my baby brother joined us.
One day, we got a black thing to set on a small table. A man tied it to the wall. Mom and Dad lifted its arm and talked to it. Sometimes the thing talked back. I know because I once picked up its arm and I heard it say, “Number please.” You guessed it… it was our first telephone.
Without fail, on Saturday nights, little brother and I got a bath. We each sudsed up in a square washtub that Mom used for washing clothes with the wonderful Maytag wringer washer.
When I was three years old, Dad brought home a brown box. It had a window in it. It sat on a little metal stand. Pokey wires came out of the top. Rabbit ears they were called. On it we saw pictures, heard news and music.
Friday nights brought us the fights. Boxing matches did not attract my attention, but the sponsoring beer and razor blade commercials did. On Sundays, documentaries of World War II came to the fore. Actual footage of dogfights and wounded aircraft whining their way down to earth and destruction added to the Cold War jitters in a child’s mind. Whenever a plane flew overhead, even at play, we looked up to see if the plane was “one of ours.”
Television also delivered more pleasant, educational programs like Captain Kangaroo and I Love Lucy. Davy Crocket, Lassie, The Lone Ranger, Robin Hood, My Friend Flicka, Sky King, and Roy Rogers became favorite shows to watch.
As time sped by, school became a necessary part of life. Kindergarten opened up a whole new community to me. My neighborhood kids and I met a whole new set of friends. We played at recess and talked together at milk break. Every day all the girls wore a dress or skirt to school… even in winter. Boys and girls played marbles on the grassy or snowy ground. After eating bag lunches, we migrated to the corner store for a treat of penny- or two-for-a-penny candy.
Summer became more significant. School was out! The first, most exciting week of summer was Vacation Bible School at church. Before the church bell rang, all the children gathered in a line. We marched into church singing, “Onward Christian Soldiers.” The songs, stories, crafts, games, eating our lunches together and going out to play games were all special.
In July, wild strawberries ripened in the field next door. I picked to my heart’s content.
The call of soaring seagulls greeted us many times especially on hot summer days when we headed for the Sand Bar. The Sand Bar was a long shallow beach in Chequamegon Bay on majestic Lake Superior.
In town and on the edge of town, ore-docks and several train tracks skirted Superior’s lakeshores. Rafts of logs being tugged across the bay lodging in the waters just offshore was a common sight.
My hometown was the central shopping district for two counties. On Friday nights, people came from miles around to shop at the big stores like F.W. Woolworth, Montgomery Ward, J.C. Penney, and The Three Sisters.
Many days we traveled with Dad to our small lake lot where Dad was building a cabin. On some trips, Dad treated us to a pony ride. A farmer boy set up a fenced area and led us through the trail he made (for a small price). Sometimes Dad bought us lunch at an A&W Root Beer stand. He bought us delicious hamburgers for 25¢ a piece. Root beers were 10¢ each.
Life was certainly different then. The two-room house with the trees we climbed are no more. They are beneath a college parking lot. But the experiences and memories are real and still linger.