Growing up on a farm with limited income, my parents had little money for store-bought toys. When we were born, most of the grandchildren were older. And since Daddy’s sister, Marie, had no children of her own, she became our Santa Claus. At Christmas, she came with new dolls and dresses for my sister and me. A few years into our childhood, the gifts stopped coming when Aunt Marie and Uncle Mutt adopted their son, David.
Despite the hard times, our parents tried to come up with at least one present for each of us. One Christmas, Daddy found a rusty, discarded bicycle. He sanded off the rust and painted it a bright red. For me, that bike became the best of times and the worst of times. I envied the birds as I watched them soar to the heavens. I often dreamed of flying and felt disappointed when I awakened from my fantasy. That bicycle provided a way for me to soar as I flew down the hill toward the creek. But it also contributed to my worst injuries.
While rounding the corner of the house too fast, I landed on a pipe sticking from the ground. I was rushed to the hospital with a hole in my thigh and still have the scar from that painful experience. On another day, I was playing with our neighbors from across the creek, the Dennison children. I pedaled my bike too fast down the hill with Faye riding on the back. Her brother chased after us with his own bike. We were laughing and teasing one another when I hit a rock and catapulted headfirst into the creek. My next conscious moment found me in my mother’s arms at the dairy barn. With no money for doctors, she was praying for the blood to stop and soothing my battered body. Though scared and bruised, my split tongue healed in a few days, and I was psyched for another adventure.
Occasionally, we received gifts from our playmate’s generous Aunt Bobbie. Bobby Jones, a year younger, lived on the farm to our left. “Aunt Bobbie” often brought a small gift for Paulette and me. Regardless, we loved playing with Bobby’s toys. The pile of dirt left from digging their septic tank for the indoor toilet, provided hours of imaginative play.
Probably our favorite toys were paper dolls; We rarely received the ones purchased from a store–the ones that came in a booklet with a cardboard punchout of a girl on the front. Inside were paper outfits to cut out. Each garment had flaps at the top and sides to hold the clothes in place. Though we were thrilled when someone gave us the store-bought variety, our favorites were cut from the Sears and Roebuck catalogs. We spent hours searching for the perfect model while quarreling over who would choose first. After we had demolished the ladies’ fashions section, the dog-eared catalog was retired to the outhouse.
As far as games, I only remember checkers and monopoly. Since playing cards was considered a sin by our strict mother, we spent hours around the dinette set with torn vinyl chair cushions collecting the best property and avoiding jail time.
On the farm, toys really weren’t necessary to have fun. Paulette and I spent hours climbing the pecan tree next to the barn. In the hayloft, we played with kittens and sometime took an afternoon nap snuggled in the hay with the barn cat. When the tobacco had been cured and sent to market, we climbed the wooden beams to the top of the tobacco barn. We walked barefoot in the creek, caught tadpoles, and built dams until Daddy had his own dam built. He turned the creek into a fishpond where we learned to swim and fish.
Just a walk in the woods, picking blackberries and wildflowers, brought hours of pleasure. Of course, I felt deprived when the town kids bragged about their gifts from Santa Claus. But as I look back, I realize how blessed we were. Growing up on the farm with two loving parents was worth far more than mountains of presents. They gave us the greatest gifts—a strong Christian heritage, the freedom to dream and a home filled with love.