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Growing up slow in rural America in the 1950s and 60s--A good start on life

Updated on October 2, 2014
ecogranny profile image

Through meditation and an eclectic spiritual journey, Kathryn learned from many teachers throughout her life, finding peace begins at home

"Sweet Memories" by Norman Rockwell perfectly illustrates the country settings of much of my childhood
"Sweet Memories" by Norman Rockwell perfectly illustrates the country settings of much of my childhood | Source

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Did you grow up in a rural setting, urban, or suburban?

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A childhood steeped in community builds strong, caring adults

I grew up in small, rural communities where everyone knew everyone else and watched out for each other.

If someone got sick, the entire community came together and helped the family--bringing food, bringing cash from the cookie jar, and bringing extra hands to help bring in the crops.

My siblings and I, along with our friends, had the run of the town and surrounding fields.

Whenever we weren't in school, at the dinner table or in church, we were outside, playing.

We invented amazing contraptions, built forts and castles, discovered bugs and birds we hadn't seen before, and traipsed off on day-long hikes into the fields and the forest.

We knew how to take care of ourselves, and we always knew where to find an adult quickly if one of us got into trouble.

Looking back, way too many decades later, I can see it wasn't a bad way to grow up. Not a bad way at all. Take a look.

"Sweet Memories" Art Poster Print by Norman Rockwell, 16"x17"
"Sweet Memories" Art Poster Print by Norman Rockwell, 16"x17"

This beautiful print is available in several sizes.

 

Contemporary artist Norman Rockwell captured our lives in gorgeous detail

Throughout my childhood, the artist Norman Rockwell illustrated the world we knew and showed us people and worlds far beyond our rolling hills.

Seemingly in love with all things American (that is all things United States, which at that time we, ignorant to geography and multinational politics, considered synonymous with "American"), Mr. Rockwell painted our joys, our tragedies, our whimsies and our pastimes with a sometimes pastel, sometimes sepia-tinted, sometimes boldly bright and primary palette that made our hearts throb with pathos and delight.

Photographs of his paintings illustrate this page because they help to tell the story in exquisite, messy, sometimes frumpy, always heartwarming detail so true of the time and place.

To keep food on the table, our parents farmed and gardened

"Norman Rockwell Visits a County Agent" by Mr. Rockwell is another of those iconic images so recognizable to a woman or man who grew up in rural USA during the 40s, 50s and 60s
"Norman Rockwell Visits a County Agent" by Mr. Rockwell is another of those iconic images so recognizable to a woman or man who grew up in rural USA during the 40s, 50s and 60s | Source

A lot of our dads worked second jobs to pay the bills. Even families who lived in town, like mine, kept a garden, and many had enough acreage, or big enough lot, to keep a milk cow and chickens.

The County Agent, a trusted adviser, visited our village gardens as faithfully as he, for it was inevitably a he, visited our 640-acre farms. With his pamphlets and his access to the state land colleges, he knew where to send us for the answers to all our agricultural problems, be they swollen udders on our best milk cows or a blight on our fruit trees.

Feeding and clothing the family and caring for our home was a full time job for Mom

"Decorator" by Norman Rockwell shows just one of a mother's many jobs during those years when a woman "didn't work"
"Decorator" by Norman Rockwell shows just one of a mother's many jobs during those years when a woman "didn't work" | Source

Nutritionist, tutor, designer, seamstress, decorator, and all around handy woman

Back then, most of us had work-at-home moms who made sure we were well-fed and had fresh-starched and pressed clothes in the closet.

My mom, like so many in our community, made most of our clothes and put up hundreds of jars of tomatoes, green beans, peaches, pears, cherries and jams and jellies of all kinds. She helped us with our school projects, got us over the learning hump when we learned our times tables, and interceded with Dad when flats came in and oxfords went out, despite their impracticality and threat to the future health of our feet.

In addition to taking care of us, our moms, even the ones who worked outside the home for pay, put in untold hours of volunteer work with local schools, churches and auxiliaries. They fed and clothed the the poor in their own communities, kept politicians more or less on the straight and narrow, and sent relief overseas--to our armed forces as well as to children and families in lands they learned about on missionary slides, wherever blight, strife and sorrow hit.


Dad had his sphere

"Construction Crew" by Norman Rockwell - Like Mom, Dad wore many hats and worked many jobs, paid and unpaid
"Construction Crew" by Norman Rockwell - Like Mom, Dad wore many hats and worked many jobs, paid and unpaid | Source

Just about everything to do with the car, the yard and bringing home a paycheck

Our dads worked hard bringing home paychecks, keeping the family car running, and helping out their neighbors when it was time to put a new roof on the house, frame an addition, or fix a tractor. They were there, to be counted on, whenever injury or tragedy struck.

When my dad nearly severed his arm, while repairing a lawn mower with a stuck blade, all the neighbors came running at our screams. Old Mrs. T and Mom bound Dad's blood-gushing arm with rags torn from their aprons and slips. Mr. T bundled Dad and Mom into his car and drove them the ten miles to the nearest hospital while his wife took all four of us kids home and fed us milk and cookies.

While Dad recovered, unable to work his second job with that mending arm, the whole town took up a collection to help pay the medical bills. None of us had health insurance in those days.

Bags of groceries showed up on our doorstep. Women dropped by with casseroles and extra produce from their gardens.

Everyone knew that sooner or later, they might be the ones needing help they would have to accept with as much grace as their pride would permit them to muster.

The great outdoors was our world, and we made use of it

"Carefree Days Ahead" Art Poster Print by Norman Rockwell - When the school bell rang for the last time before summer recess, we fairly shrieked as we ran home, ready to change into play clothes and hit the dusty streets
"Carefree Days Ahead" Art Poster Print by Norman Rockwell - When the school bell rang for the last time before summer recess, we fairly shrieked as we ran home, ready to change into play clothes and hit the dusty streets | Source

We children lived outdoors, whatever the weather. We packed lunches and took day-long hikes into the woods or across the fields. We older kids always watched out for the younger ones.

I asked my mom once how it was that we could run so far afield, even then. She said we were never out of sight of someone.

Back then, every one who had a phone was on a party line. Picking up the phone to see who had seen the kids last was easy enough, even if we'd traipsed a mile down the road.


Running free

Seeing deep into our dashing, happy spirits, Mr. Rockwell captured our carefree range within the small town and beyond with his usual deep understanding and love of light and shadow.

Of course, it wasn't as idyllic as all that

"Golden Rule" by Norman Rockwell - A man in touch with the powerful social movements of his time, Rockwell made the more prosaic or simply less well-informed of us think with his multi-colored crowd of worshipers from many faiths
"Golden Rule" by Norman Rockwell - A man in touch with the powerful social movements of his time, Rockwell made the more prosaic or simply less well-informed of us think with his multi-colored crowd of worshipers from many faiths | Source

We did learn a lot about taking care of ourselves and each other

Not everyone had both a mother and a father. Lots of kids in our communities were hungry some of the time. People cared for each other, but people also had pride, sometimes too much pride to let on they were in need.

There were whispers. Oh yes. I heard the grownups talking about one person or another. There were the hushed discussions about my school chum's father. He drank too much and beat his son harshly, locking him in his room for hours at a time with no food or water, even on a hot summer day. Nor were there regular baths for the boy, as we got, despite having no running water in our home.

Then there was the old geezer who chased down young girls, offering them dimes and ice cream cones if they would get into his car or follow him into the cellar. When the sheriff refused to deal with him--a member of a prominent family--the women got on the party line and gossiped about him.

His wife soon banished him to California, to live with relatives. We children never saw him again, never had to run and hide in fear when we saw his long-nosed car turning up our alley. I do wonder now what happened to children who lived near his new home. Back then, I only knew I felt safe again.

The Golden Rule loomed big in our lives

For us, the Golden Rule mostly meant we were kind to our neighbors, all of whom looked pretty much like us, went to the same churches we did every Sunday, ate the same mashed potatoes, barnyard chickens and home-butchered beef and pork we all ate.

Mr. Rockwell, on the other hand, had a more cosmopolitan view of the Golden Rule. Even way back then, he saw the vast diversity in our country and the world. He broadened our views a bit, if only on an almost subliminal level. I asked my mom a lot of questions about paintings like this one. She answered them the best she could, but she didn't always know.

Thankfully, she was one who would do what she could to find out, even if the village library had only three hundred books, all donated by a wealthy landowner through his will, executed upon his death.

I can't help wondering what the world would be like if all the world's children were well fed, safe and loved

I dream such a life for all the world's children

"Boyhood Dreams" by Norman Rockwell captures the longing and bounty of a child's life so well
"Boyhood Dreams" by Norman Rockwell captures the longing and bounty of a child's life so well | Source

The great economist and agriculturist Lester R. Brown has proven that we have the means to provide a life of plenty, good education, routine medical care, and comfortable shelter to all the world's children. We need only the compassion and political will to make it so.

Today I dream such a life for all the world's people. One day, if human beings are willing to give up greed and fear of one another, we will make it happen.

Until then, I keep images such as this one by Mr. Rockwell close to hand. It shows a young boy sitting on a fence, contemplating the distant train that might one day take him to far away places, while all around him lies a peace and bounty many children across the world can only dream.

Give children the tools they need to dig themselves out of any situation

"The best tool you can give a child is a shovel." That's a chapter title, but it is also a telling quotation from Mrs.Clinton's father. "Hilary, how are you going to dig your way out of this one," he would ask her.

I agree with Mr. Rodham. The greatest gift, beyond love, we can give our children is tools--tools to dig themselves out of trouble, wherever they find it.

Whatever you think of her politics, you cannot help but be moved by Mrs. Clinton's passion for assuring that all the world's children receive the love, support and tools they need to grow into healthy, productive, happy human beings and parents of the next generation.

What is your take on the rural lifestyle? Boring? Or a good way to live?

Our lives weren't perfect by a long shot, but they were fun, full of earth, wildlife, solitude when we needed it, and a wide network of support and love. Rural life may be simple, but it's never boring! Or is it?

The options below are fairly polarized. The answer is probably a little of both or a lot of both at times, with a whole lot in between. I'm interested in learning what you think.

What is your take on the rural lifestyle?

Or do you see it as a rich Earth-centered life, where families pull together and communities reach out to those in need?

Or do you see it as a rich Earth-centered life, where families pull together and communities reach out to those in need?

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    • Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      @smine27: Now that I've lived in cities for a few decades, I'm ready to return to smaller communities myself. Good luck with your dream.

    • Shinichi Mine 3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      I've bee a city boy all my life but I dream of a quieter place with a sense of community.

    • Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      @lesliesinclair: After many years in the city, we are experiencing similar feelings and beginning to make plans for a quieter lifestyle.

    • lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      For me, it's the only way to go. I'm fed up with the city noise and congestion and moving out of it again.

    • Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

      @Diana Wenzel: It would still be my choice too, if we didn't need fossil-fuel burning vehicles to manage our already fairly minimal lifestyle. One day! It is my dream to live in a small, neighborly village again, preferably one that is surrounded by miles and miles of mostly unsettled land. You are living my fondest dream!

    • Renaissance Woman 4 years ago from Colorado

      I grew up in the Heartland of America. Many of my formative years were spent in a rural village of 350 people. My childhood was much as you describe. All I ever wanted was the rural lifestyle. It's still my lifestyle of choice.

    • Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

      @AlleyCatLane: Those are the key words, "and actually be allowed to be a child." Thank you for contributing.

    • Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

      @evelynsaenz1: I worry about that too. My city-bound granddaughter has to run in circles on a rubber playground except for those weekend days when she might spend a few hours at the park, where once again the playground is covered in rubber. Unlike the sinewy, tanned arms and legs of my childhood, hers are palest pale and lack muscle definition. But at 4, she is quite iPad savvy, and we helped with that.

    • Evelyn Saenz 4 years ago from Royalton

      Growing up in a rural town of about 350, we all went to school together, church together, Grange etc. Everyone knew each other and everyone knew whose kids were whose and if they were where they belonged. We spent time in the fields, forests and streams. Every day was an adventure full of imagination. We weren't allowed back into the house until lunch or supper time but always had to stay close enough to come when called. I brought my kids up in both settings. They had the opportunities to visit museums and theatrical performances but they also got long summers to wade in the brook, capture chipmunks in Harv-a-hart traps and milk cows. I worry about this latest generation growing up with computers instead of experiencing the real world.

    • AlleyCatLane 4 years ago

      Sounds like an ideal way to grow up and actually be allowed to be a child and engage in imaginative play outside.

    • Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

      @Virginia Allain: I agree. Growing up with Nature seems far more important to character development than growing up with iPhones and iPads, don't you think? Thank you for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.

    • Virginia Allain 4 years ago from Central Florida

      It's unfortunate that so many families today have no connection with the land or nature, but are isolated in their houses with just their stuff for company.

      My childhood in the country seems idyllic now even though I know there often wasn't enough money for the bills.

    • anonymous 4 years ago

      I grew up in the beautiful north woods and it was wonderful!

    • Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

      @Linda BookLady: I must say, I envy what you describe. May your blessings continue unabated.

    • Linda Jo Martin 4 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

      Seriously, it is a bit of both where I live. There are a lot of cohesive families and there are some backwater rigid-thinking people as well. Who you are will determine what kind of people you end up spending your time with. I'm in a very isolated community of 1200 people in the center of a large forest. There are many blessings.

    • yayas 4 years ago

      I am fortunate to live in a rural community where everyone pulls together an' everyone cares 'bout everyone else. I'm so thankful my grandies have the chance to know that kinda' love in a world where there is so much that is unsure.

      Far from being boring, we find that there is never quite enough time to include everything we hope to accomplish, but when the chips are down, someone brings more chips.

    Do you see it as a dull backwater way of life, where people are uninformed and unlikely to embrace necessary change?

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      If you have a minute, share something about your childhood, or what you remember about growing up in rural communities. If you were raised in a city, I'd love to hear about that too.

      © 2012 Kathryn Grace

      Please sign my guestbook and share your childhood dreams and memories

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          Kathryn Grace 2 years ago from San Francisco

          Thank you, @lbrummer. I remember running off so as not to have to go inside and help with the indoor chores. I never minded the outdoor chores as much. Just let me stay outside!

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          Loraine Brummer 2 years ago from Hartington, Nebraska

          Hi Kathryn. Nice to see you here on HubPages too. Thanks for your note. In regards to this hub of yours, I so enjoyed this little trip back in time. My siblings and I also grew up in the country where we made up most of our games. We definitely knew better than to complain about being bored.....if I remember correctly, we tried to stay as far away from the house, for as long as possible, so we wouldn't get a job. Jobs like pulling weeds in the garden or carrying water. Thanks for the memory jog.

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          Kathryn Grace 2 years ago from San Francisco

          @Merrci, thank you for your heartwarming response. I too remember blanket forts and cartwheels in the grass--the scents those images evoke!

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          Merry Citarella 2 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

          I am so glad your article has been republished here. I hadn't seen it before, but I am still smiling. We grew up in a lovely time I think. The outdoors was so much a part of it. I so remember the forts made with blankets, doing cartwheels in the grass. Technology has been good in so many ways, but it surely has taken us from many of those simple pleasures. I'm blessed to be living in a small town now. Love it. Great article that makes us all think and remember, Ecogranny!

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          Kathryn Grace 2 years ago from San Francisco

          @SheGetsCreative, I'd love to know more about your childhood and how it informed your urban life today. Do let me know if you have a story about it online you like to share.

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          Angela F 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

          I grew up in a semi-suburban area with dusty roads and lots of trailer parks and vacant lots. We played outside, we had a garden and a goat for milk. Almost everyone in the neighborhood was blue collar, hard working families. Much different from the very urban life I've had as an adult.

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          Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

          @smine27: smine27, from what I understand, Hawaii is one giant park to explore, or rather several giant parks, considering all the islands. I imagine it would be fun to grow up there.

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          Shinichi Mine 3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

          Although I grew up in the city, there was a small river near our place when I was a kid. We used to go down there to play and it was fun. Fortunately, we didn't have videos games yet so we still ended up using our imagination to play. We also lived in Hawaii, where there were many parks to go to. We didn't get that sense of community like rural areas though.

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          Digory LM 3 years ago

          Nice lens. My fiancée and I are looking for a place to grow old slow. We hope our kids, and our grandchildren to come, will embrace a life of margin, space, and peace. Thanks.

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          Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

          @Ruthi: Indeed. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. It means so much to me.

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          Ruthi 3 years ago

          I think a rural lifestyle a perfect place for children to grow up. I do believe we can bring the lessons of such a natural environment to our inner city kids, if we but dedicate ourselves to doing so. I can not help but wonder the same as you - all children nourished by food, safe shelter, and to be loved - this should be a top priority project for us all.

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          Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

          @goldenrulecomics: Thank you. His artwork was so much a part of my childhood.

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          goldenrulecomics 3 years ago

          Nicely done, and I love the Normal Rockwell art!

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          Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

          @lesliesinclair: I loved your lenses about your mom's life growing up in Alaska. Supplies came in only one time of year! Daunting to many of us, but must have been a wonderful life in so many ways.

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          lesliesinclair 3 years ago

          Raised our children in rural areas, was raised in a tiny town and in mines in Alaska, only moved to a city for job reasons and hitting the trail again.

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          Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

          @Diana Wenzel: We did all those things! Swinging on ropes in the hay mows was wonderful fun. Thank you for stopping by.

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          Renaissance Woman 4 years ago from Colorado

          The best part of my childhood was all of the time we spent outdoors just free-ranging. We rode bikes, climbed trees, danced with butterflies in the fields, cooled off in stock tanks, and swung from ropes in hay mows. It was the kind of life I would want for all children today. This lens really resonates with me.

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          Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

          @AlleyCatLane: Those parts of it were indeed wonderful, and I tend to think you are correct, that if all the world's children could grow up so well-loved and with so much freedom, our world would be quite different.

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          Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

          @evelynsaenz1: Evelyn, thank you for sharing this snapshot of your childhood. Back then, all that labor our parents invested in their homes and gardens was unpaid and did not count in the GNP or GDP. What a different world we might live in if such unpaid labor were counted around the globe, eh?

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          Evelyn Saenz 4 years ago from Royalton

          Squid Angel Blessed! :)

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          Evelyn Saenz 4 years ago from Royalton

          I grew up in Rural Vermont where we had a cow, pigs and chickens for meat. We canned vegetables from our garden. We ate bitter dandelions in the spring because they were the first fresh vegetable to come up in the spring after an entire winter of home canned vegetables. My dad raised the garden, tended the animals and hayed our field but also had a full-time job outside the home. My mom cooked, cleaned and cared for us children. We loved going to Town Meeting, potlucks and other get-togethers because these afforded a delightful time to interact with kids our own ages.

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          AlleyCatLane 4 years ago

          What a wonderful childhood you had! If more of our children were raised this way there would be a lot more peace and harmony in this world.

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          goldenrulecomics 4 years ago

          Always love the Norman Rockwell scenes!

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          Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

          @vineliner57: I'd love to hear more about your life growing up. Do let me know if you publish a lens (or lenses) about your experiences on the farm.

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          Hal Gall 4 years ago from Bloomington, IN

          Great lens. For me growing up, Dad worked, Mom raised us kids, we had a huge garden and what wasn't sold at our little truck stand alongside the road we canned or froze. We also raised and slaughtered chickens, rabbits, cows and pigs. Heck, I'm ready to go back!

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          Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

          @Terrie_Schultz: Me too!

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          Terrie_Schultz 4 years ago

          Lovely lens! I wish more children were able to grow up like this.

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          SQuidMonster 4 years ago

          the World is everything about being positive and hopeful

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          anonymous 4 years ago

          We seem to have grown up with parents in the same roles in rural communities where everyone knew everyone's business and looked our for each other with a "howdy neighbor" feel and you could show up at 3:00 p.m. anywhere and know the coffee was on. I smiled at your saying it wasn't quite as idilic as the Norman Rockwell picture. I always say i grew up with Ozzie and Harriet as parents. Humble beginnings are a treasure we carry inside of us all our lives. This is another breath of fresh air by you my dear!

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          Linda Jo Martin 4 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

          I enjoyed your lens on rural American life. It reminds me so much of our little community. The way the people here pull together to help people is awesome. It seems like one big extended family... lots of cousins.

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          yayas 4 years ago

          I lived in every state, except Hawaii, so I experienced life in the big city, as well as rural country life an' everything in between. I can't say enough 'bout the joy of living in a small community. For our family, it's the best possible lifestyle.

          Thank you so much for visiting 'I, Yaya's Home, Thank You.' I'm so glad you enjoyed it an' I surely appreciated your sweet comment. Thank you. :)

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          Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

          @joanhall: My feelings exactly. My children could not know the freedom I had, nor can theirs. I dream of such freedom for all the world's children and, in the tiniest of ways each day, work toward building it. Eventually, we will make it happen.

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          Joan Hall 4 years ago from Los Angeles

          One of the things I wish we still had is open fields. Even if we could let go of our fear enough to let our children wander these days, where can they go?

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          Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

          @CoffeeWriter LM: It is a question I ask frequently myself. Thank you for your contribution and your kind words.

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          CoffeeWriter LM 4 years ago

          Wonderful lens, I too think that the middle class has been virtually decimated. While we have more technology than 50 years ago, I'm question whether our lives are significantly better.

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          Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

          @siobhanryan: I don't know about Ireland, but in 1950s dollars, most American families are far poorer today. So I'm not sure we gained anything in giving up our kinder, gentler world. Thank you for the blessing. I do believe it's the first on this brand new lens!

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          BestGamesQuest 4 years ago

          Loved your story and your pictures. Thanks for sharing!

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          siobhanryan 4 years ago

          So like my childhood here in Ireland- the world might be money richer today but sadly lacking in what helped us survive-Blessed

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