Kimball column – Fond memories of summer school on the farm
I grew up in the 1940s on a farm in rural Randolph County with three brothers and a sister.Our thirst for fun and adventure and our natural creativity was realized in the out-of-doors, which imprinted rich lasting memories. Although we were on summer break from school, our education continued daily.
Everything we did was a contest of skill, will and wits. A hot game of marbles for the Championship of the World was played anywhere there was room for a circle in the dirt. Likewise, hopscotch blocks could be found on any path, at the barn, in the driveway or in the front yard. As was the custom, all the boys carried a fold-up pocket knife so mumble peg competition broke out in the tobacco barn, the hayloft or even at the chopping block used to split wood for the stove or to crack walnuts. Tag and hide-and-seek were spontaneous games that did not require props, but we had to stay on our toes for a sudden “You’re it!” We used a ball, rock or an apple for red rover, usually played at dusk when chores were finished.
One of my favorite pastimes was jump rope (when I could get my brothers to turn the rope). I loved the chant, “Cin-da-rell-a, dressed in yell-a” as I jumped.
On weekends we rounded up neighbors and cousins who lived down the road for a game of softball in the side yard. Stumps and bare places were used for bases. Once when I was about 11 years old, I was guarding first base, bent over in a wide stance snapping my right fist into the palm of my left hand and mouthing trash to the batter when my grandfather, sitting in the rocker on the porch, stopped the game cold to yell to me, “Gail, straighten up. It’s not lady-like to stand spraddle-legged!”
At night we played “I Spy” with the whole family involved or Mama would read aloud such classics as “Black Beauty” to the five of us. Some nights we crowded around the Zenith radio to hear “The Lone Ranger” or “Fibber McGee and Molly” or “The Creaking Door.”
We solved problems and entertained ourselves imaginatively through play, consultation with each other, fights and brave attempts to solve any challenges. At ages 11, 10, 9, 8, and baby sister Pattie, age 4, everything seemed a challenge. We had heated barefooted races daily. We seldom passed a tree that we failed to climb. We climbed or jumped over every fence we could find. We had a well-worn path to the creek where we waded, skipped rocks or cooled our heels. No tadpole or frog was safe from us. We used homemade fishing poles, tobacco twine and freshly dug earthworms to fish from the banks of any creek, pond or lake. Every evening we caught fireflies that we put into a Mason jar with holes punched in the lid.
We had June bug collections. Each insect was anchored by a two-foot piece of twine tied to its leg. We tied the other end to our finger, wrist or toe. You could wash dishes, hand tobacco or chase a chicken while keeping your June bug nearby.
When we got hungry, we traipsed through the garden, plucking a radish here, an onion there, a turnip or maybe a juicy ripe tomato. For dessert we shared a watermelon or cantaloupe there in the patch. Many times, we picked apples, berries, figs or grapes for on-the-run snacks. Our pockets most always held pecans or walnuts. We bartered, swapped and shared with or took from each other.
Additionally, we enjoyed memorable community events, such as corn shuckings where finding the red ear of corn insured a kiss and barn raisings where savory chicken stew simmered in a big iron pot over an open flame. We looked forward to our church homecomings with “dinner on the grounds” and occasionally visited our grandfather’s Primitive Baptist church’s foot washings. Once, I was doused with the waste water as I raced around the corner of the church when I was supposed to have been inside, of course.
But, the most fun of all our adventures involved my siblings and me as we conjured our own games, rules, penalties and rewards without consideration of the punishments. This particular summer the four oldest of us perfected the innovative feat of sliding off the tin-roofed barn while sitting on a piece of waxed paper we borrowed from the Zesta cracker box. Mama was not happy ó and neither was I after I landed on the roots of a nearby tree instead of the intended pile of straw.
Frequently , we sneaked off through the woods to our favorite (and forbidden) swimming hole, the Foundry, which was about a mile from our home in the Flint Hill community near Sophia. We jumped off a solid stone waterfall 10 to 12 feet into a natural pool of cold, clear, clean running water below. I don’t think Mama ever knew we’d been to the Foundry, even though we arrived back at home after two to three hours’ absence … and sometimes we were still wet!
On a slow workday on the farm, we played tag over, around and through the large pig lot that was covered by huge tree limbs with thick handy vines hanging down. Against Daddy’s direct orders, we accidentally used the natural trapeze to swing to and fro, and frequently, we sorta used the backs of the swine to rest, support ourselves, or to dodge the one who was “it.” Daddy was not amused when he found multiple muddy child-sized footprints on the backs of the hogs he was fattening for market.
We made Tom-Toms with tin coffee cans and ropes, and we carried telephones made from soup cans and twine. We played in the barn loft, incurring falls and large wooden splinters in our behinds as we slid across the rafters.
However, we crossed some invisible line on the day Daddy, Mama and baby Pattie left the four of us at home with the admonition to behave as they left in the Ford pick-up truck for High Point to get farm supplies. Earlier that week, we four stooges had had our immunizations at the country grocery store where visiting nurses came yearly to give mandatory “shots.” I overheard Mama and Daddy talking about some kids being cranky.
They made the trip without us. They were hardly out of sight when the ill-fated adventure began. No one has ever owned up to this good idea (of course), but suddenly there was a ladder ó just leaning against the house and reaching the roof ó so, the next thing I knew all four of us are on top of the house! Somehow, the competition began. The winner would be the one who sailed the most shingles over the clothesline into the edge of the wheat field beyond the yard. Well, naturally, the yard was plastered with shingles. As soon as we heard the pick-up truck coming down the driveway, we knew what else was coming. As usual, we were charged with finding the appropriate switch. It only took three tries for Daddy to approve our selection. Aside from the blistering hickory switching we all received, that night it rained in my face!
The natural consequences of our creative problem-solving and play made lasting impressions. The lessons we learned growing up on the farm cannot be taught but need to be experienced. It’s a wonder we survived our summer education.
Gail Kimball lives in Salisbury.