I loved to feed animals, swim in the pond or sit on the tractor fender watching the plow, the harrow or the planter work the rich soil. Wonderful, magical memories.
Fifty five years ago there were precious few “store bought” gadgets to compete with the creations of our childhood imaginations. Because we basically had nothing, we had to create our own fun.
The neighborhood gang in the middle l950’s consisted of Bruce, Grant, Mary- Etta, and Dixie Barton… Malcolm, Momi, Jerry and Clynn L. Young… Myrna, Billy and John Gresko… Joel and Jerry Norton and me. My little brother (Stephen) got to tag along when he got old enough, but he burned down one of grandpa’s haystacks one summer and I think he was blacklisted after that.
I am not sure how I got in with that crowd of mostly older kids (aside from being related to most of them) but because there were cows, sheep, chickens, pigs, cats, and dogs thrown into the mix, I was the happiest kid in the county.
From daylight to dark, anyone in the neighborhood who could break loose from their chores was welcome to join our perpetual “cowboy and Indian activities”. That was the principle activity while the sun was up.
However, if we got tired of that we would go up to the town pond (where the baseball fields are now) and build a raft and swim in the muddy water. Or we would make flippers and hunt birds. Or we would work on the tree house. There were no televisions in Monticello in those days and the radio was so full of static that we knew nothing of the woes of the world.
All it took to be fully equipped to participate during the day was a stick with a shoelace or a string bridal tied around it to ride and a home-made wooden gun or bow and arrow. We took our “horses” seriously. We all tried to find the finest sticks and then we carved all kinds of equestrian magic into them, including little cloth saddles.
We chose sides for the battles. There were rules. In the end, when everyone was finally dead, we would all jump up, choose up sides again, and do battle again until hunger or the setting sun interrupted our fun.
When the sun went down, we would build a big fire and switch to “Kick-the-Can” or “Hide ‘n’ Seek”. When we tired of that we would sit around the fire and tell ghost stories. It was a good life. We had basically nothing in the way of manufactured toys, but we were probably the happiest bunch of poor kids in the world… at least I was. I always thought that playing with older kids was more fun and I was honored to be included.
When we got hungry, we ran to Grandpa’s orchard and ate apples, apricots and cherries until our tummies ached. We roasted whole potatoes in bonfires, peeled off the burned outsides and feasted. When the cows were milked we had all the milk we could drink. If we needed strawberries, raspberries, carrots, peas, or other fresh goodies, there were gardens in all directions.
From June until school started in September we lived in a world of our own making… with only our imaginations standing between us and our childish perfect world.
Contrast that world with the children of 2008. If a six-year-old disappeared for 30 minutes in most places today, parents would call 911 and would be frozen with fear.
Today’s youth are so busy with their X-Box, I-Pods, computers, boom boxes and cell phones they have little time, or need, to invent their own fun. “Fun” today is having an earphone permanently planted in one ear and a cell phone glued to the other. Today’s activities usually cost money (lots of it), and are often done alone.
Has technology robbed children of much of what was precious a generation or two ago? I am so grateful for the priceless memories of my first summers in the sun with a stick horse and a neighborhood full of kids who had little but their imaginations.
And that is why one of the items still on my life’s “to-do” list is build a ranch with all manner of animals and acres on which to roam. A place where the sun can set and the moon can rise in silence broken only by coyotes at night and roosters in the morning.
For a few weeks each year perhaps my own grandchildren, great grandchildren and maybe some of your children can come to the Cougar Canyon Ranch and escape the noisy, dangerous, crowded cities where they now live.
And I hope some of them will discover the old fashioned magic of something as simple as a stick horse, a tree house or a late night session of “Kick-the-Can” around a roaring fire. firstname.lastname@example.org