Most country kids, back in the Sixties, manufactured their own games and new toys were limited to Christmas and birthdays. Their fertile imagination carried them wherever they wanted to go and many days were spent on hands and knees in the sand pile with beat up trucks and cars.

However, there was always the little wish that he would be the one to get the prize in the cereal box. Hands disappeared out of sight searching before emptying the goods into the plastic bowl. The siblings did not mind that their breakfast had been manhandled before it got to them. Each morning was a battle to see who got the box first to start the “pawing” and after the prize was eventually found, all interest was lost . Remember the chintzy little card or whatever encased in such tough cellophane that a pair of kitchen scissors was needed?

Cracker Jacks was not necessarily an item that my four were crazy about, but there was always the prize nestled in that box with the sailor boy saluting.  As the years went by, the prizes got smaller and far worse…but then perhaps their expectations had grown too big.

They watched their mother buy soap detergent to get dish towels and glass ware so of course, it was expected that every box at the grocery store should have something mysterious hidden within.

It was about this time that I discovered one could get refunds for boxtops and labels. Well, now, it was my time to rejoice.  The average refund was .25 and what  a joy to see those quarters arrive in the mailbox!  Soon I found that one could also get premiums for those same boxtops and labels. It was a common sight to see my body flung between an outstretched hand and the wastebasket. Another big rr–iii–p and the label was mine.

One June afternoon, the four arrived home and my heart just did a jig with the surprise I had in store.  All lunch boxes were dumped on the kitchen table and I emerged with my prizes.  They watched, with open mouths, as I dumped four heaps of sticks and plastic down on the porch.

“There you go,” I announced  and readied myself with the instruction sheet. Within a few minutes, each one was holding a kite, ready to hoist it in the spring breeze .  Down to the lower field, we marched, my camera in hand, kites in their hands.

Soon the wind picked up and aloft against the beautiful blue sky were the kites emblazoned with the Jolly Green Giant on each.  They ate the canned veggies and were now reaping the rewards. 

I wish I still had the photo I took that day..the kites so high that even the Giant had disappeared. As my son, Gary, said recently …when he looks at the photo of just the kites and no one in the photo, he remembers thinking that he could fly just as high as the kites and do whatever he wanted to do in life.  Well, that might not be verbatim, but it was the jist of what he was saying.

It was such a simple thing to do…back in a more simple time. Coloring books with advertisements, a Christmas pin for .25 and a boxtop, and if you wanted to think big, S & H green stamps , lick them and stick them in a book and eventually, your son had his own bike.

I don’t do boxtops and labels any more….but I would, if I had those four young kids back again and a wide open field with a June breeze.




gary1The livestock kept accumulating on the farm and after awhile, I lost count of just how many of this and that we had. However, the four farm kids knew them all and named them as they arrived in the yard, pulled in a trailer hooked behind a big truck, pickup truck, any kind of moving vehicle.

One fact is for sure. Farm kids are tough. They know when an animal arrives, it might be just a visitor for a couple of years  and then it was butchering time. I can’t remember how they were taught this or if it was just some thing that came naturally.

One exception was the pig. I cannot remember their ever putting a moniker on the squealing piece of pork that came each spring to take up residence in the big pen in back of the farm. Maybe it was because there was little to love about the creature that delighted in digging underneath the fence and taking to the hills for long hikes, bringing out all members of the family and anyone else we could enlist who could tolerate a “porker.”

There are numerous ways one can capture a rambling pig, but few work. The first and foremost, I was told by the husband, was to stand and beat on the pig’s grain pail with a stick.  I perfected a great Latin beat with this method, but never succeeded in a capture.  The husband performed beautifully a couple of times and grabbed the pig by his hind legs, who squealed loud enough to wake the dead , thrashed around like he was demon possessed and carried the husband with him over half an acre of land before the pig was deposited back in his own domain.  I hated that pig and all pigs that came before and after him.

I forgave his many outings in the fall as I nibbled at the bacon all smoked and cured by someone in West Paris over a hickory fire. Oh, never have I tasted anything like that before or after. Crisping over the griddle on the top of my Sears,Roebuck stove, the house was saturated with the smell of bacon. 

The four were never allowed to witness any butchering nor did they ever request it. Sometimes they visited their grandparents for the day. This was particularly good the day of the pig butchering. I want to add that this day was a particularly unsavory day and it is a messy task. I did help occasionally with the final steps but it was not to my liking.

We had animals that we “took in”. There was Toby, an exceedingly old horse, who would have been en route to a glue factory, had he not landed at the farm. I vaguely remember a lamb, who grew into an alarmingly huge sheep. I remember, because I came home from running errands, and it was dead on the lawn. I really think there was some weed growing around the farm that was poisonous to some animals. We also had a burro named Jack, who we found in the back yard , with no signs of ill health. My knowledge of animal health is vague; I just know I was tired of finding dead animals every where. One would think I was using them as garden gnomes. 

We had the white bull ( in picture) for a couple years. All the kids knew, in time, he would be butchered, but of course they had a conference on the name and it turned out to be “Exodus”. Don’t ask me. I had no idea then nor do I now. Gary decided he would ride him, thus the burro’s saddle on his back and a scruffy Gary on the hillside. At the time, my newspaper column was popular and I mentioned the above and probably ran the photo.  During the summer months, we had a few column fans arrive at the farm just to meet the kids and , I guess, see what all the furor was about .

I will never forget the day the out-of-state car pulled into the yard. It was always warning call or whatever. I went to the porch to greet them and answered the usual questions. To my chagrin, one lady said, “Oh, we would love to see Exodus, the bull your little boy rides on.” Oh, boy.  Two seconds later, Gary was behind me, and held out two freezer wrapped packages to the lady. “Here’s Exodus”, he exclaimed , and the poor lady’s hand flew to her mouth.  I tried to explain the whole situation, but it fell flat. City folk just don’t understand the way that country folk live, I guess.

I don’t care what anyone says, farm kids are tough and they learn a lot of hard facts early in life. If we are lucky, they carry it through their adult years.

They are special.