If they are mine, my first memories were of sitting on the lawn and playing with toys in a washtub of water. We always had a garden, and we were free to wander and pick strawberries, string beans, and peas. We were allowed to pick and pop them in our mouths without thinking of washing them. In those days, we believed it was nice clean dirt! Occasionally we ate a bug, probably a lot of bugs!
In Maine, the winters are cold; I remember 30 below and up to six feet of snow. The frost line is also six feet! The house I was born in would properly be classified as a shack without insulation. Wind whipped through the windows and the walls depositing snow on the floor. I can recall Mom sweeping snow out the door after a storm. I remember raw wood on the inside and a worn-out linoleum covering the floor. One wood stove provided heat for the entire house. Good thing it wasn’t very large, and I can remember being mighty cold the first thing in the morning before the stove was started. Farmers thoughtfully delivered cut wood to our house.
We were uptown with an uncovered porch of raw and wood steps with no railing. I remember those steps vividly because I fell off the side, and a jagged piece of wood ripped my back open. Running me to the Doctor’s office was not an option. Mom did not own a car, and I was bleeding profusely. I remember being laid face down across the old rocking chair as Mom pulled the edges together with adhesive tape. I remember the pain, but I was lucky, no infection. However, I still have a wide six-inch-long scar on my back.
When I was 8 years old (1948), I had my ruptured appendix removed; I missed half a year of school; that scar came in handy. Kids will be kids! I told all the kids in the neighborhood, the Doctor’s knife slipped when he cut me open and went right through me. I proved it by showing both scars! There are a lot of parents that did not see the humor in that stunt. I spent most of my time playing in the snow. That got boring because I wasn’t supposed to slide on my stomach. I hooked the sled rope onto Rex’s collar, and with a little coaxing, he pulled me around the yard, only dumping me a couple times.
By the yard, I mean the wide road behind the stores. We lived in a huge old house set against the hill just under the railroad tracks. The dirt road used by trucks to supply the stores was named, and I am not kidding Middlesex Ave. This house had two apartments, each consisting of half of the house. I can’t remember how many bedrooms it had, but I think in the old days it was a mansion. Tomatoes had to be picked early because of the danger of freezing; they were placed on newspaper in one of the bedroom floors until ripened. We had the whole upstairs to play in as the boys slept in one room, and all the others were empty. The house was equipped with running water at the one sink in the kitchen. In the attached shed was the outhouse. It was equipped with the latest Sears catalog; we didn’t have toilet paper if it existed. Outhouses were smelly all year round, but summer was more odorous. In the winter at 30 below, no one tarried over the newspaper or a book.
It was a great life! Anything that was thrown out by the stores to be hauled away was fair game to us. We made houses, stores, and jails from refrigerator boxes. The local river ran under the main road, and we played in the trickle of water all the time. We were lucky they never released water from the dam while we were playing.
The vacant mill situated between our nearest neighbor and our mansion was also fair game. We confiscated wood to construct our fairs and carnivals all summer. There aren’t any poisonous snakes in Maine, but we always captured several of the largest garter snakes and caged them. The tight rope walker Richard (I remember him as Poor Richard) was sometimes successful in making it across the rope strung between the mill and a tree. Maybe if the tight rope was tighter, he would have succeeded more often. I often wonder if he fathered any children.
We made tons of games of chance using chalk we found behind stores and from the woolen mill close by. We also made tents from those same wool scraps. We hunted bottles to turn into cash to buy prizes for the games. The only downtime was when an inebriated man decided to visit our Carnaval in the middle of the night and peacefully slept on one of our games until the next morning.
We had a high jumper act! It consisted of an old back seat cushion from a car hidden under a grass pile that the brave soul would jump into from a tree branch. It went pretty well until we had a disagreement with our jumper and removed the cushion! He lived.
We once found a large scrap of wool in the pile of scraps by the back of the Woolen Mill, and Richard used it to make a Parachute which we encouraged him to climb three stories and jump! It was amazing that he didn’t break any bones; it was a miracle that we only came away from our antics with scrapes and bruises.
Another time we made a wagon to roll down the hill by the Woolen Mill. It consisted of an old table with two sets of wheels on an axle from something we scrounged, and had no tools to attach it properly, we tied it on the table. It rolled down the hill several times, loaded with kids. The front wheels disappeared the last time, and when the front of the table hit the street, all the kids tumbled out headfirst.
Halloween! We were excited, and our plans were to hit as many homes as possible in the hours we would be unchaperoned. Our group met at our house, and the whole town was our target! Those were the days when you were supposed to book for home when the street lights came on, but this night we were free to roam until late at night! Those were the days when we could travel the entire town safely. No one had to x-ray our candy; we could eat it with only our parents to oversee our fun. Mothers baked cookies, doughnuts, whole candy bars were given out. By the way, the size of the candy bars was twice as they are now and cost a nickel. We didn’t have any fancy bags, just a pillowcase or a paper bag; plastic bags did not exist. Our big town was 3500 people and one red light. We might have waxed a few windows of some scrooges. Some of the bigger kids did things like moving the outhouse or just tipping them over.
Stay tuned for the 50s and 60s!