Windswept landscapes abound in Central New York and in Colorado. I am reminded of zigzagging tumbleweeds choking driveways and highways in the West while here in Upstate New York, we prepare for winter’s harsh onslaught of weather.
The last place we lived in Massachusetts before moving to Colorado was in Sturbridge where my father built most of our home with two fireplaces in the basement and first floor. He chopped wood and stored it in the playhouse he had built for us. His well-built knotty pine doors led to the attic spaces which became secret hideaways for us to play in when the weather was inclement. We never lacked for things to do and relied upon our imaginations to create activities. We cut paper dolls from used newspapers and magazines and fashioned clothes for our dolls. In the fall we pressed colorful leaves between sheets of wax paper and hung them in windows. In the winter, we took our wooden sleds to one of the hills in our yard. Bundled in our winter coats and pants, we made snowmen all over the yard and down the hill. When the weather was warm enough, we went to a nearby ponds, Big Alum and Little Alum.
Sometimes we visited nearby cousins to play with. We could drink the sweet soda offered us here but never at home. Our car did not have seatbelts nor were they required in those early days. I remember the driver bracing a front seat passenger if he had to brake quickly. Before we acquired our first car, however, we walked everywhere including to the doctor if we had to. It did not seem to be a hardship to us but simply a fact of life. My mother hung the laundry on the clothesline in the backyard and carried it in the straw laundry basket. Left outside in the sun, it was a favorite resting place for the various snakes. On more than one occasion, a snake found its way inside the house with the laundry and wreaked havoc. From time to time, we watched the garter snakes in between the rocks of the stone wall our father painstakingly built between our yard and the street. Our nearest neighbors in Massachusetts were about 1/2 mile away but that didn’t prevent us from visiting one another. My mother told us of a May 1st tradition of leaving a bouquet of flowers on the front porch of a friend, ringing the doorbell and then leaving quickly before someone came to the door. We found flowers in the woods nearby to pick and leave as surprises for our friends and neighbors.
My mother sewed almost all of our clothes and when we had birthday celebrations at school, she baked chocolate chip cookies and lovingly packed them in a box for us to carry to school. I carried my lunch in a metal lunch box. In elementary school when we were outdoors on the playground during recess, the teacher signaled us back in by ringing her big hand-held bell. She kept that bell on her desk to signal other changes during the day. Our readers were called Dick and Jane, and we learned to read using these books. Cursive penmanship was taught in first grade with big yellow pencils. Above our blackboards were posters of each letter of the alphabet in upper and lower cases. As a high school teacher today, I find myself resorting to cursive letter charts to use when my students have to write cursive pen pal letters to their German pen pals. Contrary to popular opinion, cursive writing is with us to stay and offers the brain many benefits.