Oh, the halcyon days of youth! Those days when we spent hours upon hours making our own fun! Where’d they all go? They disappeared so fast! Sit back, close your eyes, and let your mind transport you back to another time, another place, long ago… or maybe not so long ago for some of us!
I wish I had been old enough to remember life in a 12x20 foot cabin at Delta Junction, Alaska. Our mom took me and my baby sister to join our dad for his last seven months in the Army at Fort Greeley – a foreign assignment, prior to Alaska statehood. We flew out of New York City with several stops enroute to Seattle. The plane for the last leg needed engine repairs, and caught fire after leaving Seattle, but we landed safely in Fairbanks. I do have a few photos, including of buffalo out behind the cabin and the day my dad bundled me up for a photo in the dog sled at -30!
When his Army service ended, dad wanted to homestead, but mom was not too keen on the idea, so back to the states we went. How I wish I could have admired the beauty of the Al-Can Highway through Canada on the drive back to Seattle and a train trip east. But, I was only 2 at the time and missed the scary parts of steep cliffs without benefit of guardrails along that road, especially when the car’s steering wheel briefly locked up, again, as my mom struggled to turn the wheel… thankfully, just in time!
I do have many other memories of carefree childhood fun with my sister, Carol, though. Being 15 months apart, we were inseparable, inevitably together, dressed “alike” when our Grammy V. got to sewing or knitting for us. The only dress I didn’t like was the white crinkly organdy with an itchy crinoline slip – oooh, the memory still gives me shivers!
But, seriously, my sister and I knew how to make fun… real childhood fun, especially when we lived on the farms! We grew up without a television until our dad brought one home after we moved to Clifton, New Jersey in the mid ‘60s, though even then our viewing was limited.
As the oldest child, my earliest memories begin at about age 3 in Sodus, NY when my dad worked for Wychmere’s dairy farm and apple orchards… and we took trips to the beach at Chimney Bluffs on Lake Ontario. I clearly remember my grandparents arriving one time bearing special gifts… my favorite Dolly, clothes sewn and knit by my grandmother, and a table made by my grandfather – I still have it all, shared with my children. Then there was the time my sister would not open the door for me as I stood, crying and scared to death, on the outside of the door as a very large dog barked at me from the edge of the yard and orchard. Talk about fear! In my child’s mind, I couldn’t understand why my sister “wouldn’t” open that door for me! Never mind she was only about 2 years old and couldn’t even reach the doorknob!
Some of my next favorite memories were on the Breemes farm in Marion where my dad farmed the year I was 4, and our first brother, Charlie, was born. I remember the house, barn and land so clearly. Stopping there a few years ago, I was given a tour by Mr. Breemes’s now-elderly son who graciously showed me inside the barn, both upper and lower sections, though the old milkhouse is gone. Oh, the memories that came flooding back! It was a New England bank barn, i.e. built into a bank with the upper level even with the road, with all the old beams, grain bin and haymow still intact.
And I’m not ashamed to admit that tears began to flow as I recalled standing on a bale of hay, moving an old teakettle along on the narrow ledge of wall just below the road-side windows. I milked “my cows” while dad milked his real ones. We girls were warned sufficiently for a healthy fear of the bull at the end of the barn by the door. We made our own “slop” to feed the little pigs – mixing anything and everything we could find… including dirt, which, amazingly to us back then, they devoured!
I even got to drive the tractor when the manure spreader broke. My dad set me up on the old Minnie-Mo (Minneapolis-Moline) as I took the huge wheel in my hands. I was to steer it straight ahead while he forked out the manure. Right! As we slowly crept along, every time the wheel turned, I turned with it… until we headed for a tree… at which time my dad jumped off and stopped the tractor just in time to avoid a big wreck – though he has said I was never even close to crashing. But, I can still see it all so vividly!
Then one day the pigs got out, and they were not so little anymore. This time my sister was outside. Remembering, in my child’s mind, that she “would not” open that door for me a year or so earlier, I wouldn’t open the door for her as she stood outside crying for help. Thankfully, our mom rescued her quickly and I took a deserved scolding!
And how well I remember the morning we opened the garage door at the side of the house… as we girls stood at the top of the steps, face to face with two giant golden-brown Belgian draft horses! When Charlie was born, my dad milked alone while we “twins” roamed around looking for our next adventure. We found it all right – in the back barnyard… throwing rocks into muck puddles… until little Carol fell in still holding her rock, pulling me in behind her as I tried to get her out. Oh pooh! Our dad had to stop chores and take us girls in for a bath, filthy stinking dirty from head to toe… but we did wash up nicely!
Another time we were waiting to cross the road to the barn with our dad. A car drove by just as one of our kittens shot out in front of us and met his demise. The kind gentleman stopped, and walked over to apologize. Instead of bursting into tears, my dad said I replied, “First Gepetto! Now Mickey! That’s the way it goes, right Dad?!” And the poor man walked back to his car shaking his head.
After my dad was ill from the flu with an extended recovery, we left the farm for Clifton, NJ where his parents lived. Here I went to kindergarten, walking the few blocks to P.S. No.15 on a hill overlooking Weasel Brook Park. We returned to Marion/East Palmyra the following summer, living upstairs in the big Victorian farmhouse of the DeVries family while my dad drove a Purina Feed delivery truck to dairy farmers. Gerald and Joanne had been friends of my dad in Sussex, NJ.
In Sussex, my Dad had been herdsman for Walter Titsworth after he graduated high school. It was Walter’s elderly spinster daughters we loved to visit in our early teens. Walter was a direct descendant of Willem Tietsoort who, with his family, had survived the 1690 Schenectady, NY massacre by Indians. Removing to what is now Sussex/Port Jervis area of NJ, Tietsoort purchased thousands of acres from the Indians and built a new home. Interestingly, in researching my mom’s genealogy several years ago, I learned she is a descendant of one of Tietsoort’s daughters! If only we’d known that years ago!
Now, making a foursome, my sister and I meandered around the farm and pastures with Betty and Fran for more fun, helped them ready the milking machines a few times, watched their dad blow silage into the silo (with the old tractor and belt that ran from the tractor to the wagon, heeding their dad’s warning to stay clear in case it flew off), checked on the chickens… and just shared good times together.
Next, we moved to a house half a mile or so up the road on Musshafen’s tenant farm. We loved this old farmhouse with its big rooms and space to explore inside and out… with lots more fun to be had. We grew pollywogs in a jar, returning them to the creek when they began showing signs of becoming frogs. We fried eggs on the hot road… well, after all, we’d heard that it was so hot you could… so we had to try! And, didn’t understand why they remained raw…
We traipsed all over the fields and through the woods, never minding the heifers and dry cows in the field, and walked fearlessly up the road to visit Fran and Betty. I saw my first Baltimore Oriole nest in a bush alongside the fence line of their father’s field. Nearby neighbors had a beautiful home with antiques; their large bed of snapdragons fascinated me so much they remain one of my favorite flowers, and her custard pudding was out-of-this-world delicious!
Our chores included dust mopping the floor, so I pushed my sister around on top of the mop, also giving her rides in the baby carriage - disappointed because she could not reciprocate! We ran and played between the rows in the vegetable garden… rather than weed. We had a steer and a flock of chickens to care for, and I remember trips to the butcher in Marion, Pembroke’s, with a gleaming white board fence around the pasture where he kept animals waiting to be butchered.
We shelled peas and snapped beans – dumping some under the lilac bushes when we’d had all we could take of that chore! We practiced with our new fishing poles, casting the lead weight toward a bucket – if I’m not mistaken though, I don’t think my aim was too accurate! And we lay on our backs, gazing at puffy clouds, thinking about what they looked like. We shared everything, including chickenpox and mumps (and later the two-week measles in New Jersey), even with our new baby brother, Mark.
I also remember we girls, about 7 and 8 years old, chased brother Charlie as he pulled a length of chain. Wanting him to stop so we could catch up to him, we stepped on the chain. Charlie stopped all right… abruptly… and down he went with his chin hitting the concrete step, cutting it open with blood all over. He needed sutures, and we got another scolding for that one. I’m so sorry, dear brother!
I remember a small private plane landing in a field across the road from our house. Never fond of naps and loving the outdoors even then, I played outside while everyone else napped on a Sunday afternoon. I had the honor of witnessing a plane come down in the hayfield, see the pilot checking something out, and watched as he taxied and took off again. What a sight! But then, my napping family thought I made it all up…
One evening we asked to sleep out in the yard under the stars, setting out our blankets and pillows, and “turning in” way early… hey, this was something special and exciting! We even saw a shooting star for the first time. But, in the middle of the night, we got scared… and were no longer having fun… we were cold and damp… so we quietly crept back in the house to sleep on the couch. Oh, so many more stories and memories I can’t even begin to share them all here.
We next moved to another tenant house on the Bouman farm just outside of East Palmyra on the road to Newark, and joined Ruth and Annette for a new foursome of fun and games. We traipsed all around their farm, over the fields and through the woods. One time, I narrowly missed being run down by an angry mother for coming too close to her newborn calf… and managed to slide under the barbed wire fence with barely seconds to spare as her hugeness charged after me!
We went sledding down the barnyard hill that seemed so steep then, but really wasn’t, and we built snow forts in a hayfield. We played in the upper level of the bank barn, sliding down the slippery pile of oats in the bin. We ran around the haymow… until I tripped, catching my foot on baling twine, pitching over the edge, falling to the floor down below, landing with my head literally not more than a foot away from an upturned pitchfork, sustaining quite a concussion, and being walked home by Ruth’s older sister, Grace. It was here I learned to ride a bike, falling and scraping my knees a few many times.
Not having ice skates, we tried rollerskating on the pond… only once… but that was enough to know it was not our best idea! Our boots were good enough to skate in. We played Red light/Green light, Mother May I, Hide and Seek, Telephone - as we all sat in a circle, whispering the message to the next person… only to find how different it was at the end from how it started! We often walked to my friend Kathy Zonneville’s home to play and go sledding down the slope in a nearby field with friends. We walked into East Palmyra and carried home pails of water from the still-flowing artesian well for our mom to make special recipes. Our Christian school and church meant everything, as did the time spent playing at the homes of so many other friends.
And then… we moved back to city life in Clifton, near my dad’s parents and his siblings’ families once again. How I missed my classmates and friends in East Palmyra. I cried for weeks. Though I moved on in life, I never really got over that loss, but have retained special friendships from both home towns and renewed a few more since. In the city once again, my sister and I learned to make new friends and new fun, walking and biking virtually everywhere with used bikes our grandfather repaired for us. Our dad took us for day trips around northern Jersey, to the train yards, shipping docks, and into New York City. My sister and I made many trips to the public library as we were both avid readers, played in Weasel Brook Park, the park at Racies Pond, and a park along the Passaic River, never fearing for our safety. My sister and I were responsible for the family’s laundry every week at the laundromat, enjoying our reward – money for yummy treats! We even acquired a third brother, Andy.
In the summers of 1967 and 1968, Dad took us camping at his cousin Howard’s farm in Nichols, NY, setting up camp surrounded by horses. Let me tell you, dinners cooked all day in a Dutch oven over coals in a ground pit were the most delicious ever! Loving the country, farm fresh air, and absolutely everything about horses, I was on cloud nine! The next summer, I was the happiest girl alive to move back to New York, the tiny hamlet of Lounsberry just east of Nichols. On August 18, 1969, we drove out of Jersey on Rt. 17 through zillions of congregating hippies… the one and only incomparable Woodstock! Except, I led such a sheltered life I had no idea at the time we were eye witnesses to part of an historical event!
Back in the country, we found all new learning experiences and made new fun as I helped our Dad remodel and reroof the chicken coop, and make a stall and pasture fence for beautiful War Bugg, a granddaughter of the famous race horse, Man O’ War. And, then a fourth brother, Ted, joined our ranks.
I treasure my childhood - a time of innocence, a time of making our own simple fun, a time of learning… something I think many of today’s children miss out on as they play with the latest computerized gadgets and phones that go way beyond a simple voice connection… or they’re overbooked in sports and extracurricular programs all year ‘round.
My sister and I, lacking the current “in” toys, were out and about with little adult supervision – definitely not something available to current generations. And I think that’s a shame… for the lessons we learned were priceless and invaluable… pieces of which you will find scattered throughout my poetry and blogs. Oh, the halcyon days and blessings of youthful innocence!
Halcyon Days of Youth
Linda A. Roorda
The halcyon days of adventures past
dreams and schemes and youthful machines
Unsupervised fun, roaming freely safe
Absorbing life with innocent ease.
Where did they vanish, those carefree days?
Though ever near in faded mem’ries
The stirring heart can recall at will
All that once was from time without cares.
There was no fear to childhood games
With all of outdoors the playground of choice
No worries or frets to grip the young heart
Trust was paramount and your word was gold.
Could we have known that the games we played
Would form the basis of adulthood mores
For lessons learned in the days of youth
Were meant to achieve maturity’s morn.
Values thus learned bring a depth to wisdom
They form foundations to live a life well
They penetrate deep the essence of our soul
That should steps falter deep roots will hold firm.
For where leans the mind so is the treasure
Youthful innocence in the child at play,
Where imagination takes hold of the heart
To grasp youth’s best on the journey of life.
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