In thinking on this family since then, I have thought about my childhood, of my freedom to be a child. My father was a toll collector on the Cumberland River Bridge at Canton, a small village on the Cumberland. There were many children of my age and we found interesting things to do. Only one boy owned a bike and he also was the only one with a pair of Gene Autrey guns with holsters. That automatically made him the cowboy hero and the rest of us were Indians, bar waitresses who served Pepsi Cola, outlaws and the like. We had favorite trees to climb, we had a baseball diamond at the school, we could always run down the hill to the river to watch a boat with barges go by.
We had a wonderful creek that emptied into the river near Canton and we had a swimming hole that was deep and wide and it was only about a half mile to walk. We made a mudslide, which was my very favorite thing to do. Near the mouth of the creek there was a long swinging bridge overlooking, it seemed, a long way down to water. It was the one and only thing I could not be convinced to do, not even on a dare.
We had a little general store run by “Uncle Rube”, a good friend to us all. There we could buy overalls, a real necessity, high top tennis shoes, cold drinks, candy and even bologna and crackers.
I had never had a doll except for a little baby doll and when there was nothing appealing to do, I sewed for her. Her name was Toodles and she had a very extensive wardrobe. It was the only girl thing I did, but from Toodles, I learned to sew. I also played baseball, football, swinging on a grapevine and oh, yeah, I had a bag of marbles.
This sounds like Eden and it truly was an idyllic childhood. But there were some snakes in this Garden of Eden. We had a local pedophile. The truth was that we all knew about this sick, horrible person and we knew there was safety in numbers. If we went swimming, we had a scout who stayed behind, hidden in the tall grass, to see if he was following. We always went swimming in our clothes so there was nothing for him to see. If we went fishing in the big pond across Highway 68, several of us went together.
All in all, we had a great life as children. None of my gang had chores to do. I might have to let my little sister tag along but she hardly hindered our fun.
In those days, there were few radios and they were only used to listen to the prizefights and only my father owned one. My grandparents had a big, tall victrola but that was thirty miles away. We had probably one or two footballs, a baseball or two, some rope swings that dropped you into the creek. So we learned to make our own fun with what we had available to us. One of our gang came down with Polio and we spent most of the days lying all together on his bed, playing Old Maids or Checkers. No, we didn’t contract Polio.
There was always a funeral or two to brighten our days. We usually had a gang of four or five for a funeral held in the bottom of my yard where we had a cemetery. A neighbor, Ms. Mary would have a dead baby chick, baby guinea or a baby turkey, which she gave us to bury. Jr. Ricks was usually the preacher, he of the two Gene Autry guns and the bike: then we had a long prayer by someone and we also had a song leader. We gathered flowers for the grave and all in all, had a high old time at the funeral.
I hope you can envision the freedom of the gang at Canton more than 70 years ago.
Contrast that life to the structured life of kids today. They rush from soccer practice, baseball practice, and football and basketball practice, to say nothing of the games. Then there are band practice, dance and piano practice and recitals. And every spare moment, they are texting. Somewhere in there, there has to be time for studying.
It seems to me that there is no time for children to just be children.
The thing that saddens me is that there are so many types of phones; there are I-phones, I-pads, tablets and more, I think. Any spare moment is taken up with texting. When someone comes to visit me, I want to say, “Please don’t answer that phone”.
The saddest sight is a young mother having lunch with her children in a restaurant and talking on her cell phone or texting the entire time. What an opportunity lost!
I wonder if we have lost the ability of conversing as we are losing the art of letter writing. Recently, I received a lovely, beautifully worded letter from an old acquaintance. I cherish those few letters and note cards I receive. It tells me that someone cared enough to spend a few minutes just thinking of me.
Please feel free to phone me at 270-522-3632 or write to: Ronella Stagner, 137 Main St., Cadiz, KY 42211.