Every year my older sister, Ruby Ida Denton writes about her recollections of how things were when she was growing up and has given a copy to both of her younger sisters, her six children, and her older grandchildren.
I’ve learned a lot from her writings. She is 12 years older than me, 10 years older than Patsy, so she has lots of memories of the early years of our parents’ marriage, and how difficult life was for them. Daddy farmed until the mid-forties, which included a large portion of her growing up years.
This year those of us who attended our Christmas get-together received our copy in person. She has graciously consented to allow her letter to be run in this column. I hope you will all enjoy her memories as much as I did:
SHADOWS ON THE WALL
By Ruby Ida Bivins Denton
"In the evening, after the day’s work was done . . .
"Mother made animal/bird silhouettes on the unfinished pine wall in the living room of the old bungalow house where we lived while Daddy farmed his 74-1/2 acres. The silhouettes were shadows. The artistry was made by my mother’s hands. The artist’s tools were the light of the fire from the wood burning fireplace or the flame of the old coal oil (kerosene) lamp.
"As I said, the wall was unfinished. It was just plain old wood planks nailed to studs -- no paint, no sheet rock, no wallpaper -- just plain bare wood planks.
"Yet it made a good screen for the changing images Mother created with the skilled movements of her hands.
"By the positioning of her hands and through varied finger movements between the lamplight and the wall she brought to the ‘screen’ moving images.
"A fox or a dog could open its mouth as if barking or howling. A rabbit could curl or wiggle its ears A goose could waddle down an imaginary path and give an imaginary quack.
"Shadowing was a skill which had been handed down through who knows how many generations. It was a pre-bedtime game designed to ‘settle down’ its players for bedtime. It was simple fun and entertainment in a world before television or even radio. It was the stuff memories are made of.
"I see these shadows now, in my mind’s wandering eye. Our lives are like the shadows on the wall. All the things we did in our childhood are but shadows, memories. Yet, like the shadows on the wall, they made a lasting impression which stays with us.
"I can return to these shadows of imaginary beings and in so doing, return to the love of a mother for her children, and that of a father leaning back in his old straight chair, soaking his tired feet in a washpan of watter drawn from the well.
"Unlike the shadows, which were but pretend, our memories can help us or harm us. We can remember hard times, for either ourselves or others, with a tack toward good or harm. Did we perceive ourselves to have failed? Did that perceived failure continue to affect our abilities to progress? Does it yet affect us adversely?
"Our lives are continually changing. We are continually changing. I remember that child I was. I remember, but I am not that child. I remember a family who loved me. I remember my world turning around ‘me.’ I remember the woods, trees, flowers. I remember huckleberries, and persimmons, and chinquapins.
"I also remember weeds, thistles, and briars. I remember creeks and branches but I don’t remember an ocean or a gulf from those early years. The ocean and the gulf came later.
"I remember the cotton fields and the waving corn. I remember the ribbon cane and the peach orchard with five kinds of peaches.
"I remember lizards, and snakes, and wasps. I remember frogs and turtles and earthworms. But I also remember butterflies and birds, and dewberries along the side of the dirt road. I remember pink Cherokee Roses marking the path of a long ago tribe who came through that way.
"I could remember many more thngs from later years as the gulf widened and ocean lapped its waves over my footsteps. But I choose to remember all the wonder and beauty of nature in its innocence. I choose to remember loving parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. I choose to remember my sisters whose coming taught me that the world did not turn just around me. I choose to remember their families. I choose to remember my six children, my 28 grandchildren and my 52 great-grandchildren and all their families. I remember many friends.
"Above all, I choose to remember my Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
"I remember this and so much more . . .
And I remember the Shadows on the Wall."
I too remember "Shadows on the Wall," although I had not thought about them for many years. I’m sure most of my memories are from the years after we lived in the "new house," for I was not yet three years old when we moved into that house.
The walls I remember were also covered with wood, but at least part of them were also covered with a heavy wallpaper that would help keep out the cold.
The "new" house had no fireplace as the old one had. Instead, it had a kerosene heater. Two large metal drums sat outside by the south fenceline of the yard, and a truck carrying kerosene from town would come out and fill the drums when needed.
I don’t remember too much about the kerosene stove either, because I was still young when we got a large Dearborn heater and a somewhat smaller clay-back heater. There was no heat in the bedrooms until I was a teenager, and even then we were not allowed to sleep with the heaters on.
Ruby Ida married in early 1950, and things were a lot different after that. Most of my memories of the "new house" occurred after that time.
Although life was still not easy, it did become a lot easier after Daddy went to work in town.
Just a few memories of have of early life in the "new" house . . .
A dining table hand made by my father, Marshall Bivins, and his father, Tom Bivins . . .
Four straight-back chairs, along with a bench that would seat three people comfortably on the west side . . .
A kerosene cookstove, which was later replaced by a newer stove of the same kind before it was replaced by a modern gas cookstove . . .
Opening jars of vegetables canned from Mother’s summer vegetable garden, especially jars of vegetable soup that she canned from whatever vegetables might be available at the time . . .
Opening up a jar of that homemade soup in the winter time, which along with a pan of cornmeal made many a meal at our house . . .
Wooden rocking chairs with cushions Mother made herself in the living room . . .
One beautiful upholstered rocking chair that Daddy bought for Mother to rock me in when I was a baby (my son still has that rocking chair in his home).
Little by little improvements were made, nicer furniture was bought . . .
I’m thankful for memories of loving parents and grandparents, and for memories of time spent with my sisters. And I’m thankful for the patience of my older sister, who had two young sisters interrupt the 12 years of her "only child" life.