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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Tales from the old-timer

Childhood pursuits, 1968

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

daughter of the Old-Timer



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Our enormous black and white console TV didn’t have much programming for children. There were much-anticipated Saturday cartoons, the annual Wizard of Oz airing, and an occasional special but that was about it. We looked forward to the Red Skeleton comedy hour. A few years ago I saw a DVD advertised as Best of Red Skeleton, and bought it on a whim. While I still enjoyed his hysterical character portrayals, I was shocked at the frequent referrals to alcohol and how some of the key characters were drunks….apparently the inappropriate for children’s eyes phenomena on TV is not as new as we think. At one point the TV died, and my dad took out the electronic components, leaving the big wood cabinet. It was put in the yard and two of us children fit nicely into it to play house. That’s how big the thing was.

So we had to make our own fun - lots of reading, skating on the drainage ditch in winter, sliding down the hill (the mound of dirt next to the ditch left when it was dug, maybe all of a 1.2 second trip from top to bottom). We built forts, fires, climbed trees and rode bikes. A very kind lady in the neighborhood who had first a cute little pony and then two smaller horses let my sister and I ride. What a debt of gratitude I owe her for that - and now my sister and I are both horse owners ourselves. It was amazing to graduate from playing with our plastic horses and pretend horses to the real thing. Thank you, Elaine.

One activity that led us to some difficulty was tying an old woman’s purse to a long string, putting it into the rural intersection closest to our house and then hiding in the bushes. When a driver would stop to check out the purse we’d pull on the string. A couple times we got chased into the woods by angry motorists and once a police officer, perhaps in response to a report of our shenanigans, stopped by. He collared a couple of us (the rest melted away into the forest like skilled native American hunters). Sometimes we’d wait 45 minutes to an hour for a car, since there was very, very little traffic on the rural road.

The family dog and cats were also playmates, and really earned their keep as companions as well.

We played with the neighborhood kids in mixed age groups because that was the available pool of kids - the range of a bike ride within our authorized distance from home. Most times your playmates were your siblings and as a result lots of kids were very close to their brothers and sisters in a way not all siblings are now, busy going to organized activities and with easy access to friends who may live a considerable distance away.

We were very self-sufficient for entertainment and seldom felt bored. This skill set stands me in good stead these days, and I’m happy sitting in a camper in the rain and content staying home for a long weekend with no need for any external help in finding something to do. I think about retiring in a few years and am not afraid I won’t have enough to do, although I hope I’m not playing in TV cabinets or putting purses out on the road for fun.


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