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Reminiscing Upshur County – How Much Fun We Had Growing Up


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.

When it rained, my sister Patsy and I jumped in mud puddles, probably ruining lots of clothes in the process, but it was so much fun. Down the road from our house, near the spot my daughter Karen’s house now stands, there is a sharp corner. The road was dirt back then. Water from the ditch beside the road spread most, if not all, the way across. What fun my sister  and I had splashing around in that that puddle. On the bank was lots of berry vines, the kind that produced lots of berries, but very tiny ones that were not good for making pies of eating.

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.

Water didn’t stand in those ditches, and the road was level so water didn’t run across it either.
We built a play house in the back yard under a chinaberry tree. Scraps of lumber left over from building our new house were used in our play house, which usually meant placing a board over two fairly big rocks to form a table. or maybe between two limbs on a tree with a bouquet using flowers in a tin can for a vase setting on it.
A coffee can served as a mixing bowl for mixing mud pies, and a good strong stick made a fine stirring spoon.

A washtub turned upside down made a nice table, and upside down aluminum buckets made pretty good chairs too.

We made doll beds by placing some of those boards on bricks left over from underpinning our new house.

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 grew up in the country. This meant I spent much of my time outdoors: in the yard; in the fields where Daddy farmed; in the woods where my cousins and I loved to roam; on the playground at school; on the creek bank on family fishing trips; wading in the creek.
“Daddy farmed until I was 12. When I was too small to pick cotton, I sat at the end of the cotton row under a big oak tree on an old slide Daddy had built to level off his rows for planting. I loved sitting under the trees, leaning back and seeing the sunlight filter through the leaves.

“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.

“As I got older, I could pick some cotton. I had my own cotton sack, made to my size. I picked 100 lbs. of cotton the summer I was five and got $1. Mother let me choose a dress from the Sears & Roebuck catalog. It was rust colored with a tiered skirt, with tiny multi-colored rickrack. It was my first “ready made” dress. My mother and my grandmas had made all my clothes before that, (and continued making most of them as I grew up).

“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 the wind and the rain. I used to go out in the back yard when a storm was coming and run in the wind. I ran back and forth across that brush-broom swept yard until the rain started to hit my face and Mother called me to “come in and get out of the rain.” I was ‘Singing in the Rain!’

“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.

“How do you like to go up in a swing, up in the air so blue; Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing, ever a child could do.”

“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.

“The Bivins family loved fishing. Ma went fishing down on the nearby creeks, and often took me with her.
She caught mostly perch and sometimes catfish. She would clean the fish and send them home with me for Mother to cook. Mother didn’t like to eat fish (except for canned fish such as salmon or tuna), but she would cook what Ma had sent. It was very good, but Mother continuously warned me to ‘look out for bones.’ Perch had many tiny bones. Fried potatoes and onions were good with fried fish.

“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 played lots of outdoor games in those days. In the back yard, we drew hopscotch blocks such as kids sometimes draw on the city sidewalks today. We loved to jump the rope, both in groups and individually. I could jump to 100 without missing a beat. We played group jumping at school. Some of the variations were ‘hot peas’ and ‘high waters.’ In hot peas, the two people turning the rope would turn it faster and faster until the jumper missed. In high waters, the rope would be raised a little higher each time until the jumper could not jump it.
“Other popular outdoor games were London Bridge, Mother, May I, Little White House on Top of the Hill, Red Rover, We’re Marching ‘Round the Levee, and Drop the Handkerchief.

“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).

I had a steel bearing marble that Daddy gave me. I was silver and shiny. I had a couple of taws, extra big marbles. A Taw was good for shooting another marble out of the ring.
“We built play houses. At home we had one under the chinaberry trees; at school, we had one under the pine trees. We saved bottles, cans, and pieces of broken dishes for our kitchen ware. We built shelves and chairs and whatever else we could from scrap pieces of wood or flat rocks.
“There were no computers, no video games, no cell phones, indeed not any phones. There was perhaps a radio and a library to check out books every two weeks. There were not stores on every corner or shopping malls.

“But there was the great outdoors. And there was love.”

The last portion of this column was written by my daughter, Karen Cook Gee, who was born in 1967. She writes:
“A few weeks back, I saw a post on Facebook featuring the grandchildren of a longtime family friend. After one of our good, spring rains, the children were having a splendid time splashing and playing in mud puddles, making mud pies, and generally being country kids. I so enjoyed the pictures, as they brought back lots of memories from my childhood.

“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.

“Down pasture from our house was a spring where we often played. It was never more than a few inches deep, even after a rain, but was a grand place to wade and stay cool. The water split at one point, going around a nice raised area, and forming an island surrounded by a moat. This was a rather small spot, but we had a lot of fun there, watching the water flow, and launching little sailboats made of twigs and leaves.

“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.

“Another favorite pastime was building a playhouse at Grandmama’s house. We didn’t require any real structures, only our active imaginations. Grandmama had several pine trees in the yard that dropped lots of needles. She showed us how to rake the pine straw into rows, forming rooms and making doorways and imaginary windows. Toy pots, pans, and plates stocked the kitchen, while piles of pine straw served as beds or seats in other rooms. Depending on the season, we might pick bean pods off of the Wisteria or pick up berries from the Chinaberry tree for pretend meals in our play kitchen. Again, the only limit to our fun was our imaginations.

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!”

My thanks to my sister and daughter for sharing information for this column.
If you have a story you’d like to share, please E-mail it to me at

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