By BETTY BIVINS COOK
Several of us were discussing recently about how much fun we had when we were growing up, and how little money we spent in the process. One of my favorite things to do was to ride my tricycle around our house — over and over, round and round. I continued riding until my legs were so long that I could no longer peddle the tricycle. There was a trail worn down around house where we’d made so many trips.
When I was about 10 years old Santa brought me a brand new bicycle — a pretty light blue and white model. Although I’d learned to be quite a bike rider by that time, I still spent a lot of time riding round and round our house.
Down the road going south by our house grew the most beautiful berry vines you ever saw, filled with big dark purple berries that made wonderful pies, if we could get back home without eating so many of them there was barely enough to make a pie that is.
A washtub turned upside down made a nice table, and upside down aluminum buckets made pretty good chairs too.
We had swings hanging from branches on the cottonwood tree in our front yard, and had a lot of fun chasing a small wagon rim with a coffee can lid that Daddy nailed to a shortened broom handle. We played paddle ball, working hard to see who could keep the little ball attached to the paddle with a long rubber band going for the longest time. The winner was usually our Mother, who often came outside when we were playing with them. She had played with a similar toy when she was a child.
We never had a problem being bored. I suspect she would have found plenty for us to do if we had complained, but we never did. What fun.
One day I was visiting with my Aunt Florence who lived down the road from us. Aunt Florence was married to Daddy’s brother Charlie. She climbed up to the top shelf of her kitchen cabinets and got down several things to give me for my play house. I was thrilled when she sacked them up to take home with me. I don’t remember all of them, but there was a sugar bowl lid with the bowl missing, and several other glass dishes. My favorite was a beautiful cobalt blue goblet. I took them home and showed Mother, and she promptly took most of them from me and said “these are too nice to play with.” She did find a good use for the sugar bowl lid. A while back someone (probably me) had broke the lid to Mother’s sugar bowl. This one fit perfectly, although it did not match. That didn’t bother Mother, she was just happy to have new lid. I still have that sugar bowl with it’s non-matching lid.
My older sister was born in 1932, during the Great Depression. Daddy was a farmer during those years, and life was hard. She writes:
“I loved walking from the house to the big cotton field. There were wildflowers along the way, and there was a branch to cross. We would pull off our shoes and wade across, then put our shoes back on because there were stickers. Mother always warned to watch for snakes too. She carried her sharp-edged hoe just in case. A few times she used it.
“I loved to read, but even that didn’t keep me indoors. My favorite place to read was on the front doorstep. There was something about being outdoors under the blue sky and surrounded by green growing things that brought good feelings.
“I loved to swing. Daddy built a swing on the cottonwood tree in front of our house. That was another of my favorite places to be. I had a book of Shirley Temple poems that I memorized. One of them was “The Swing.” I loved to recite that poem while swinging.
“I had lots of Bivins/Pool cousins who I spent a lot of time with. We cousins loved to roam the woods over by their home and my grandmama’s. There were huckleberry trees, persimmon trees, black haws, and sweet gum to nibble on and experiment with. I’m sure that sweetgum from the tree bark did nothing good for our teeth! But it was all great fun!
Best of all, they had a chinquapin tree in their back yard which produced lots of nuts. These nuts had an outer bristly shell and an inner smooth shell. The outer shell usually fell open when the ripe chinquapin hit the ground, and could be easily removed. The inner shell was sot and could be cracked with the teeth. (Again, maybe not the best thing for the teeth, but hey! We were kids.)
“Besides that was in the day when Mother cracked hickory nuts with a flat rock and a hammer. Nutcrackers were unknown.
“One time the whole family went down on Big Sandy Creek, a tributary of the Sabine River, to camp out overnight. The men set out trot lines and some of the adults sat on the bank and fished with line and pole. We built a campfire for cooking the fish (and the chicken Mother had brought along just in case). We slept on old quilts near the campfire at the creek’s edge. The next morning, he men checked their lines and brought in fish for breakfast.
“We also loved playing with marbles. I had a little tobacco sack full of marbles. It was a sack Daddy had bought tobacco in when he rolled his own cigarettes (he later quit smoking). I had marbles which came from the 5&10 cent store and I had some which came in a box of laundry soap (when I could get Mother to buy that kind; she liked P&G).
“But there was the great outdoors. And there was love.”
“I’d say that some of the best times my brother Darrell and I had in our younger years revolved around getting down and dirty, whether it was in the sand or clay, a mud puddle, or a nice deep ditch full of water from a rain. Many were the hours we spent outside, joyfully digging, splashing, and generally enjoying life.
“My favorite times were after a rain, when there was a lot of water in the ditches down in front of our house. This was before the highway department came along and dug them deep, putting culverts under the driveway. A short time after a rain, we could go down there and wade up and down the ditches, squishing the mud between our toes while tadpoles miraculously appeared. Mama would let us take canning jars to catch some of the tadpoles. One time I remember well, she brought out a large glass jar that had once held pickles and fixed up a make-do aquarium to keep some of the tadpoles in. Surprisingly, she even let us keep it on the bar in our kitchen. As days went by, the tadpoles perished one by one until one day, there were just a couple left; however, those last two were beginning to change, showing the beginnings of back legs and a shortening of the tail. Over a period of several days, the little critters morphed into tiny frogs. We were allowed to keep them for a bit, dropping in small crickets and other insects for them to eat. Finally, we had to set them free, but it was such a fascinating experience watching the transformation.
“During the dry summer days, we spent hours outside, digging in the sand. After our house was built, there was a lot of building sand that had been used mixing concrete, left around the yard. It was lovely and clean, free of pests like Fire Ants that would be there today. Tonka dump trucks loaded and dumped lots of sand while G.I. Joe plowed through the dunes in his Jeep. Often Barbie was allowed to accompany him on his adventures. In return, she allowed Joe to cruise in her green convertible, or share the comforts of her glamorous camper.
We didn’t require fancy electronic games and such to keep us busy. The great outdoors provided more than enough opportunity to keep us entertained while we unknowingly learned basic lessons from mother nature. As Darrell is fond of saying when we speak of such things, “Ah, good times!”