A to Z Family Stories: R for Roy Rogers, Robin Hood and Rin Tin Tin

I was in the basement doing something when I heard it.  The television was on the floor above and the call was faint but clear enough to get me going… “Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen. Robin Hood, Robin Hood with his band of men…”  I never wanted to miss any of the story so in seconds I was up in front of the TV with my brothers, ready for our favorite afternoon shows.

I guess this subject is going to clue readers in to my age but also, I hope, to how much has changed in my lifetime (and even more in my parent’s lifetime!)  Television was a fairly new item back in 1951 when I was born – just getting to be affordable for an average family.  The huge black square sat in a corner of our living room on a table with a large hole in the middle so it could air cool and not overheat.  No remotes, and reception depended on which way your antenna pole outside was pointing.  There were only a couple stations broadcasting from far away cities and pretty much no choice of programming, but that didn’t matter.  One person outside would turn the pole while the others inside would watch anxiously, and when a picture would appear amidst the “snow” we would yell “hold it” and everyone would settle down to watch whatever was available that day.  We didn’t watch TV during a storm because lightning could strike the pole and make it’s way into the house.  It did that once and burned out the TV.

Our shows were in the afternoon and early evening, before the news and on Saturdays. Howdy Doody, Sky King, Captain Kangaroo, and Mickey Mouse Club, the theme song of which I can still remember every word,  – they were all regulars.  But my favorites, by far, were Robin Hood and his band of merry men, Roy Rogers and Silver (well, Dale Evans too, in a marginal sort of way) Tonto, and Rinny the German Shepherd.

Their adventures were the inspiration of much of my daytime play.  I was young enough to be gender unobservant so I was always Roy,  Robin, or the Lieutenant because they were the heroes and smarter than everyone else, usually.  And of course, the costumes were very important.  Back in those “old days” I don’t remember there being lots of commercials telling us which toys we should beg for, but somehow I ended up one Christmas getting the complete cowboy outfit and I loved it. What possessed my parents I don’t know.

My favorite time to make up stories was after being put to bed at night.  We children always had an early bedtime, before we were very tired, and our imaginations never let us just lie there being bored.  I would put all my gear on over my pajamas – the chaps, the vest with the star, the gun belt and six shooters, and the hat – and get my plot going.  By the time I was shot and wounded, having fallen dramatically in my bed the street, I was usually asleep.  That’s the way it was, back then, just sayin’.

It's very hard to stay awake after you've been shot.
It’s very hard to stay awake after you’ve been shot.

A to Z Family Stories: N for Nona, Storybook Grandma

Nona, her name, or at least the name she was willing to tell us. Her “real” name had something to do with Rosa or Rosabelle but she was not going let us call her that and never explained why to our satisfaction. She was my grandmother.

Three of my brothers and I were born in succession, two years apart, to a young mom who was thrust into childrearing almost before she was done being a child herself. We also lived in semi-isolation in the country. We desperately needed a good grandmother and fortunately, my dad’s mother, Nona, was that person. She and grandpa lived fairly close to town so it was a grateful mother who would drop us kids off to play in safety while she did grocery shopping or errands.

Grandma was always glad to see us come, always had a smile for us, gave us freedom to play and explore outside and seemed to be waiting for us to come in and have story time. She commonly sat at the kitchen table for letter writing and other work but come story time she would move to her recliner. We would grab a handful of books from the shelf in the stairwell and pile on top of her and the chair and listen as long as she would read. Peter Rabbit, Elmer Fudd, and other Little Golden Books were our well-worn favorites.

Grandma Nona wore an apron, the kind that goes over the head and covers the front of the dress, because she wore dresses all the time and they needed to be kept stain free. The apron only came off when she left the house to go to town or when pictures were being taken. It was a functional piece of clothing, used to carry everything from eggs gathered in the coop, to asparagus picked along the fence row. Besides the apron, her “grandma uniform” was pretty consistent – the same kind of dress, thick flesh-colored stockings, the same type of shoes. Once my aunts got her to wear a polyester pantsuit which she liked and acknowledged as comfortable, but I never saw her wear it again. She was probably saving it for “good” like all the other new things given to her as gifts.

Grandma stopped going to church when I was very young. She stayed home and cooked dinner for us, on her wood fired cook stove. We would arrive shortly after noon, to a very warm kitchen, where we sat down to fried chicken, mashed potatoes, garden vegetables, rhubarb sauce or some other dessert. Grandma baked her own bread and was also know for her cookies which were kept in a tightly covered lard can in the cupboard under the sink. All girls, including me, washed dishes after the meal, dried them and put them away. The vegetable trimmings, kept in a “swill pail” under the handwashing sink, would be taken out to the chickens or thrown on the garden. Then a couple of hours of quiet play would ensue while the grownups digested, slept or read.

Even when I went away to college, grandma was one of my strongest supporters. She would write to me regularly, as well as writing to each of her three daughters every week. When I would visit home she would watch out the kitchen window for me to come down her driveway. She would sit at the table with me, smiling, and listen to everything I could tell her about school, home, my life. I remember after I was married, bringing my firstborn daughter to grandma and setting the baby in her lap as she sat in the recliner. “Little sweetie” she called her. Somewhere there is a picture of that.

I miss her now. I think of many things I would ask her if I had the chance to do it, deeper subjects, questions that no one who knew her seems to be able to answer. I’m just sayin’, if you have a grandma, an aunt, a mom, who is close to you, have those conversations while you can. They are precious.

Grandma Nona wearing her apron, sitting in her recliner, maybe waiting to read a story...
Grandma Nona wearing her apron (a rare picture!), sitting in her recliner, maybe waiting to read a story…

A to Z Challenge: J is for Journey

Journey is a very romantic word for going someplace. The word has always sounded to me like it had purpose connected to it – a journey is for a reason and has value at its end. Evan and Claire were quite young and in my charge for a week when their parents were on a vacation. When taking care of children one of my fears has always been that I will run out of things to do to entertain them. And a week is a long time.  I decided to whet their curiosity and told them we would be going on a journey one of those days, but I did not tell them where or why (because I hadn’t yet figured that out).

Evan and Claire lived in the small Wisconsin town where I had grown up. I had memories of the places that I had played in and explored as a child that had captivated me – the farm, the backyard woods, the beautiful spring fed Round Lake. The purpose of the journey would be to share the magic of this outdoor wonderland. The challenge of the journey would be to keep it simple enough for a 5 and 8 year old to appreciate without making it too boring or tiring. Clearly food had to be involved.

Keeping our destination a secret, I packed peanut butter, apples, nuts and water for all of us. The children were excited to get into their car seats and head out on the journey.  We drove to the countryside and pulled into a field.  Just walking through the tall grass in a place they’d never been, carrying their backpacks and provisions, they were full of questions. They looked at bugs and plants and small animals, birds.  I made them count how many different sounds they could hear if they listened really hard.  The woods were even more magical with the fall colors at their peak. There was a golden glow on the forest floor and in the canopy with leaves falling everywhere. We ran to the places I had built forts and given certain trees names of their own. We climbed and balanced and explored an old machinery graveyard.  We ate our snacks nestled in the leaves.  I hope the kids had as much fun as I did, visiting my favorite places. There is something very special about revisiting places with a child and seeing them again with fresh eyes, fresh excitement.

We’ve had other journeys since and the name has stuck.  They ask me about their journeys and refer to them when we’re talking about times past. I’ll bet someday they will take their own children on journeys. What place could you share with a child on a journey?

Journey to the woods
Journey to the woods
A Special Journey
A Special Journey