I am absolutely reveling in April this year. Oh, April happened last year – April happens every year. Back then, however, I was preoccupied with the prospect of a pandemic. But here I am, once again marveling at Mother Nature’s radiant sunshine and wafting breezes alternating with her latest batch of random snowflakes and lingering frosty temperatures. Last week a friend patiently listened as I serenaded her with my mother’s traditional rendition of “April Showers.” Fortunately, my performance in no way dampened the essence of this still youthful April with all its blossoming promise.
Even as my brother-in-law and I discussed a homemade concoction to rid his lawn of dandelions, I tried to calculate just how many scrunched-up nosegays of the pretty weeds we presented to Mother during her Aprils of young motherhood. And I recall the Aprils when we piled into the trailer behind my dad’s tractor to hunt mushrooms in the pasture field. We delivered to Mother our haul – sometimes massive, sometimes paltry – those spongy morels to be floured, fried in butter, and devoured in all their crispy delectability.
Sweet times, our youthful years when we seldom had all we wanted, but what we did have was most assuredly enough. Not only children of parents who lived through the Great Depression, we were also second-generation offspring of grandparents who raised families during those unrelenting hard times. From all of them, we learned to make do.
For example, I spent many a recess in Concord’s schoolyard on the swings and teeter-totters I often utilized, next to a slide and monkey bars I just as often avoided. But some kids had swing sets right in their backyards, like the one displayed in a 1950ish Sears catalogue, according to Google, for $29.95.
There was no swing set on River Road, but we did have an old tire my father suspended from a sturdy bough of the overarching butternut tree. We could swing – and the courageous among us clambered around in a quite climbable cherry tree. Add a sidewalk for hopscotch, bushes for hide-and-seek, and a grassy lot for neighborhood baseball games – what we had was a place to make the memories we still cherish.
Children with swing sets were often also lucky enough to sit on the bench seats of ready-made sandboxes and shovel nice clean sand into an array of buckets and pails. By contrast, on washday my sister and I sat on the backsteps outside the laundry room to dig in the dirt with old tablespoons. What we eventually did have was a big deal for the Scott girls. In a corner of the yard near the old milk house, my dad filled a flat, round container of some sort with gravelly sand from somewhere. Mother added discards from her kitchen cupboards for our scooping pleasure!
Inside the house on River Road, there were also things we had and did not have. As a devotee of House Hunters, I frequently see modern kitchens filled with stainless steel appliances and anything-but-laminate countertops adjacent to playrooms easily observable by concerned mothers. Mother could easily observe us at play – we were right there underfoot most of the time! When she shooed us out, we moved our cluttery, rowdy selves to the living room, where we would string our dolls, blocks, and puzzle pieces all over the place.
Fortunately, we did have a little table with four matching chairs. We used that kid-sized furniture when we drew and colored pictures, with any original artwork done on old envelopes or the backs of monthly pages ripped from our several calendars. And new boxes of Crayolas were purchased only as school supplies. What we did have for art projects was a pile of coloring books as well as leftover school crayons dumped into a basket in May – and quibbled over for the rest of the year.
At our little play table, we rolled and molded not Play-Doh but clay from a recipe Mother probably found in a magazine. And when Santa delivered one doll baby per sister per Christmas, each baby’s outfit was the only outfit for the year. For wardrobe playtime, we cut out clothes for our paper dolls.
House Hunters are often desirous of abodes in which the children have rooms of their own. With no central heating on River Road, we seldom used our bedroom upstairs for anything but sleeping. Yes, bedroom in the singular – as in two double beds in one room.
What we did have, however, were three other upstairs rooms. My grandmother stayed in one for a while after Grandpa died. Another contained treasures in boxes still not unpacked long after the move in 1950: old clothes for dressing up and lovey-dovey letters exchanged by my parents during their salad days. And how boring might my childhood have been without hours of curiosity about that other room, the mysterious one holding nothing but an empty birdcage and a music stand?
Yet, I recall no real sense of childhood deprivation. After all, I lived with a mother who had read the same five books over and over again because there was no library nearby. I lived with a father whose most memorable Christmas presents were an orange, a rubber ball, and a tin cup. In truth, there was much we did not have, but come to find out: what we did have was exactly what we needed.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.