Dock-leaf Plates and BrokenSlate
I was sitting here thinking of how much kids today are missing. Oh, I know they have video games and the internet and all kinds of technology that we didn’t have as kids, but neither do they have to make their own games.
For all of my childhood and teen years, we owned two farms side by side. I don’t remember how many acres any more but it was a good sized chunk of property. Each one had a house and barn. Ma and Pappy, the couple who had helped raise Dad, lived on the lower one. A couple different families rented the upper one—the McKnights for quite a few years, and later, the Sellards. Both of them had several kids. The McKnights had all boys, three I believe. The Sellards had a girl my age and four or five boys.
We spent a lot of time on the farm. One of my favorite places to play was outside the barn of the upper farm. The barn had all kinds of neat stuff stored there, as well as a big farm wagon, tractor from time to time and hay in the mows. (This was long enough ago that the hay wasn’t baled like it is now, but was hauled into the barn on big flat wagons piled high with loose hay. It was transferred to the mow by means of giant forks that dropped down on to the big loads then lifted clumps of hay into the mow.)
In front of the barn there was about a ten or fifteen foot space before the road started. On either side were high shaggy weeds and grass. The center of it was a ‘driveway.’ The ground there was pulverized into a fine sandy dust by trucks and tractors going into the barn and traffic on the road. It made wonderful mud pies!
I would carry the cook top from an old iron stove out of the barn. It wasn’t very big, maybe two feet long and a foot wide-heavy; ‘drag’ might be a better word than ‘carry.’ There were a couple battered pans in the barn and I used those and some old fashioned coffee cans to ‘cook.’ My cooking utensils were long skinny sticks and a broken spatula. I called it a ‘pancake turner.’ There were no pretty plastic play pans or dishes. There was no Barbie cook stove or cute little picnic table. There wasn’t even any fake fruit or realistic looking muffins or slices of bread.
I would scoop the fine dust into a flat coffee can mixing bowl and stir up my ‘batter/dough.’ I could pat out little round discs and ‘bake’ them on the old flat cook top. Or I could press it into lids or other little round containers and turn it out on the cook top. Those were ‘cakes.’ I could also make ‘pudding’ by thinning the wet sandy dust to a ‘pudding’ consistency. And to make ‘stew?’ Just add a few broken corncobs!
I served them to various invisible guests on big dock leaf plates and broken pieces of slate. It was just me and my imagination! I had to stay constantly focused or my ‘dinner party’ would disappear into a pile of trash.
Nobody worried that the bread, cakes and stew were full of pulverized cow and horse manure. Nobody worried I was going to be kidnapped by a stranger driving by. Nobody worried that I was sitting in the dirt getting my clothes dirty. Nobody worried I was getting sunburned and might end up with cancer in thirty years. Nobody was concerned about where I was. Dad would look around the corner of the barn or drive past on the tractor once in a while, but he wasn’t particularly worried about me. He knew where I was and that I would be there until he drug me away.
The best thing was that when it was time to ‘clean up’ there was very little work involved. All I had to do was drag the cook top back inside the doors and throw the old pans after it. (Actually Dad usually found it quicker to pick the cook top up and take it inside himself! It was heavy enough that it took me a while to drag it back in.) The cans and lids and cut-out can lids just got shoved aside and left where they were. Nobody worried about keeping the place neat or ‘what will the neighbors think.’ Everybody’s barn looked like that.
I worked in day care for 20 years. With all the play dishes and stoves and tables and baby beds the kids would only play for a few minutes then walk away bored. I played all afternoon with no pretty toys, just dirt and junk.
Those times in the sun and dust with mud to my elbows are some of the happiest memories of my child hood