Growing up slow in rural America in the 1950s and 60s--A good start on life
Did you grow up in a rural setting, urban, or suburban?
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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?
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