Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Peeling Paint

The first twelve years of my life were spent living on a farm in northeast Kansas. I don’t remember anything about the first four or five and I’ve forgotten most of the rest…or thought I had.  But one day, while looking for something else, I happened upon a photo album on the top shelf of our closet. I had seen it before of course. It was the one my mother kept under her bed for most of her adult life. When she passed on, and as her only child, the album had naturally fallen to me for safekeeping. I couldn’t remember the last time I had leafed through the pages, but it was probably at my mother’s side as she pointed out her many brothers and sisters, her cousins and second cousins, as well as dozens of people I’d never met. The word boring comes to mind.

Deciding it might be time for a nostalgic trip down memory lane, I spread the album across the bed and once again went through it, page by page. It was sad to see how many of those aunts and uncles as well as my cousins, were no longer with us. But when I came to a photo of the old farm, my childhood home, the memories came flooding back.

I had almost forgotten how poor we were back then. The paint was peeling off the house, a gate hung by one hinge, and our “sidewalk” was nothing more than a few well placed stones, probably taken from the nearby creek. My mother, who always prided herself on her appearance, was wearing a nice looking dress while pumping water from a well. A well for Pete's sake. We had no running water! Sure, I remember that. No indoor toilet. Oh God. No electricity either, not for a long time anyway.  I had a flashback of my dad in his favorite chair, reading by a lamp of some kind, one with a wick.

Another memory rushed in. It was the day that an electrician threw a switch and suddenly, my world changed. Bright lights to read and eat by. Electric heaters, no more shivering under heavy blankets during cold Kansas nights. And a radio. Oh my, a radio of all things; Amos and Andy, The Shadow, Fibber McGee and Molly, and my favorite, every Saturday morning, Gene Autry, the singing cowboy.

The thing is, I didn’t know we were poor. We were never hungry. There was a garden and I can still see the rows of sweet corn, beans, peas, and carrots. We had livestock too, not much, but there were a few cows and pigs and chickens, lot of chickens, for meat. Despite the lack of high definition television, an iPad, or an Xbox, I was never bored. There were woods to explore, ponds to be fished, and a great old red barn with a swinging rope to play Tarzan.

The paint on the barn was peeling too. No big deal. Not then.


  1. I often wonder what today's generation would be like if they spent less time sitting and more time doing. Its great that you didn't know you were poor. Your life was rich even if the pockets were empty.

  2. Great memories, and I loved the photos.

  3. Oh! You take me back in time too! No indoor plumbing or electricity until I was 7 years old. It was a miracle to have hot water come out of a faucet into the bathtub!! I was so far down the totem pole of family ranking that the tub water was always cold by the time it was "my turn." Thanks for the trip.

  4. I love how your Mom looks almost like a stereotypical suburban housewife in that picture, except for the well and her clearly knowing how to pump it.

  5. What wonderful memories! Sam's comments makes me want to help change the memories that grandchildren will have. Somehow "I remember when we didn't even have a high definition TV" doesn't have the same ring to it! Camping, fishing, hiking, family sing alongs would be better.


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