Tag Archives: my childhood

‘Memory Lane: Skating in the Woods’ (2016)

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“Skating on the Mill Pond” by Grandma Moses (She knew!)

I wouldn’t trade my middle-class, 1950s childhood for all the tea in China. I certainly wouldn’t trade it for what passes for childhood now.


But the woods have been hewn down and paved over, the swamp and stream filled in so they could build more condos, the palatial estate so thoroughly erased that only a very few of us remember it ever existed–oh, fap! to all that. We do remember!

You can’t tell us “There is no sun.”



‘Freddy and the Bean Home News’

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Is it okay for me to review a book when I’ve only just started to read it? Yeah, well, why not?

Only Walter R. Brooks would ever think of starting a sentence with these words: “There was an ant named Jerry Peters…”

I got this for Christmas this year, Freddy and the Bean Home News. It’s one of the few Freddy the Pig books that I haven’t read. But I know I’m going to love it.

I read a lot of these when I was a little boy, scarfed ’em down like marshmallow peeps. Back then, it was the story and the characters that kept me coming back for more. But now I read them for the subtle wit and humor that went right over my head when I was ten or twelve years old. How many writers can write just as effectively for young children and mature (chronologically, at least) adults? I think I might enjoy them even more now than I did as a child–and that’s saying something.

What could be more soothing, more quietly hilarious, than a Freddy book? Mr. Brooks cranked them out for almost 40 years, and there’s not a bad one in the bunch. Ideal for reading aloud to your kids or grandchildren; and just as ideal for reading for yourself.

Many of these have been recently reprinted, and the rest are available online through used book services. Rejoice!


Memory Lane: It Should’ve Been a Snow Day

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We lived some two miles from our high school, and to get there, we usually took the Public Service bus. Or walked.

In those days, they were rather averse to closing the school on account of snow. So one day, as it snowed rather heavily, my brother and I, and our friend Gary, found ourselves standing almost knee-deep in snow, waiting for the bus. Which never came. So we had to walk, because there had been no official school closing.

The home room bell used to ring at 7:18 a.m. We got there at around 10:30, and found the school virtually deserted. The few students who had made it there now gathered in Mrs. Wilcox’s chemistry lab, where she had a dart board. Maybe 5% of the student body made it to school that day, and maybe a dozen of the teachers. By and by the principal stopped in and told us we might as well go home. It didn’t occur to him to recommend any particular way of accomplishing that.

So we walked: another two miles in snow that was now hip-deep. I’m afraid we loved every minute of it. We finally got back home around supper-time. And the next day it was sleeping late, soup for breakfast, and sleds and snow-men instead of algebra and English grammar. There are few times in life when you come out that far ahead on the deal!

Memory Lane: the Sears Christmas Catalogue

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Another dreary, grey, rainy day–and me without a Sears catalogue.

One of my coziest childhood memories is cuddling up on the sitting room couch with the Sears Christmas catalogue: and there’s no school, because it’s snowing like mad outside.

I felt like Howard Carter peering into Tutankhamen’s tomb, who answered, when asked what he could see, “Things! Wonderful things!” Bikes and pogo sticks. Toy guns and real guns (not much chance of me getting one of those!). Erector sets and plastic models.

But for me the ultimate treasure was the play sets. Like this farm set.

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I wasn’t much for army men, but oh!–all those cool animals in the farm set. And my Grammy gave it to me for Christmas that year. I still have some of those animals. When I see them, I remember her. And her Christmas tree, every year in the same corner of her living room. I still have a few of her ornaments, too, including the elf who winds up on our tree every year.

Yeah, I know it doesn’t count as holy–unless family, and love, and delight are holy, too. Gifts of God, who is the source of every good gift we’ll ever know.

P.S.–And get a load of those prices! The whole 100-piece farm set for $4.99. I can’t imagine what a toy like that would cost today.

‘Away in a Manger’ (Nat King Cole)

Nat King Cole, a national treasure, sings Away in a Manger. This is what I call the American melody that goes with the hymn.

This was the first Christmas hymn I ever learned. When I hear it, I think of the “primary” class at Sunday school–nowadays it would be called “day care”–and this little book they gave us, one Christmas. On the front cover was a picture of the Holy Family in the manger: and how well I remember the sweet smile on the baby’s face!

I will never forget it.

Harmless but Hilarious: A Prank

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Women used to have these things called “hair rats” that they put in their hair to achieve certain styles. They went under the hair, I believe. By themselves, they didn’t look quite wholesome.

One day my friend Ellen came out with her mother’s hair rat in her hand. “Look at this!” she cried. “Doesn’t it look like a poo?”

“Wow! It sure does! Let me borrow it for a little while.”

With the hair rat hidden in my pocket, I went back indoors, picked up a comic book, and locked myself in the bathroom. My mother was seated at the dining room table a few steps away, working on her comptometer. (Do those exist anymore? Let me see if I can find a picture.)

I stayed in the bathroom for a while, reading the comic book and occasionally making a loud noise that I hoped would suggest meant that I was having some difficulty. By and by I emerged from the bathroom with the hair rat in my hand. I went up to my mother and held it out for her to see.

“It wouldn’t go down when I flushed,” I said.

The joke had the desired effect. “Aaaagh!” Her reaction was all I could have hoped for. It certainly banished any sense of boredom she might have been experiencing.

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And here’s a comptometer like my mother used to have. Invented in 1887, it was an extremely fast mechanical calculator, since superseded by computers. My mother was a skilled comptometer operator, which meant some extra money for the household.

Note: I don’t know why I want to write about practical jokes today. But who am I to shoo away a pleasant memory?

A Blast from the Past

Sorry! But I couldn’t resist this blast from the past (lots of blasts, actually)–former National League first baseman Chuck Connors as The Rifleman, a classic TV Western from way back when. I wonder what would happen if you showed this on a college campus today.

Two questions for trivia buffs:

How many shots does the rifleman get off in just this brief intro?

And what was Chuck Connors’ real name?

(P.S.–His lifetime batting average was only .238, so quitting his day job wasn’t a problem for him.)

‘Honest Conversation’ with Your Children

This essay by Andrea Schwartz would have been just as applicable in 2005 B.C. as it was in 2005, when Chalcedon published it.


How do we answer children’s questions, which can sometimes lead us well out of our comfort zones? Andrea’s advice is to “tell them things as they really are, rather than sugarcoat or mislead them.” Sometimes you have to tell the child about wrong or foolish things you did when you were his or her age. That’s not easy, but it is important.

My Aunt Florence almost drowned when she was a little girl because my mother, who was supposed to be watching over her little sister, got sidetracked playing with her friend and never saw Florence toddle into a nearby pond that the older kids used as a swimming hole. Good thing someone else saw it! It was a revelation to me, as a little boy, to learn that my mother once fell down on the job every bit as badly as I did… when I was supposed to be watching out for Alice but got distracted making mud pies with my cousin Jeffrey and never noticed her toddle out of sight–all the way out to Main Street!

And yes, I got what my mother got for not watching out for her sister.

I honor her today for her honesty.

How Big Things Grow Small, Etc.

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Have you noticed? As you get older, a lot of big things get small, and small things get big.

Years, for instance. The more years you live, the smaller they get. When I was nine or ten years old, a year was an eternity. But this year, 2019, whizzed by so fast, I almost missed it.

Mr. Bruno, across the street, went spear-fishing once and brought home two enormous striped bass. They looked enormous to me! But now I realize they couldn’t have been that big, because they both fit in the kitchen sink.

It seemed a small thing, an everyday thing, to me that my father was able to keep everything around our home in good repair. Like, he just did it, no big deal. But now that I’m older than he was at the time, I can’t imagine how he did it! How did he ever manage to do all that work around the house, and still do everything else he did?

We had a lot of family Christmas get-togethers in Grandpa’s living room. When I was a boy, it seemed a very big room. Now I can’t believe we ever fit so many people into it.

The street we lived on: I was there the other day, and it seemed way too short for all those houses. I am sure it used to be much longer. That’s how I remember it.

Shoveling snow off the sidewalk: that was a little job, wasn’t it? But it isn’t anymore. Now it’s a big job.

What would it be like, if things stayed the same size for as long as we knew them?

I’ve heard there’s a place in Lintum Forest like that, but I haven’t found it yet.

Memory Lane: Playing in the Leaves

I guess I’m too old for this now (or am I?), and nobody rakes leaves into piles in my neighborhood anyway: but among my happy memories of fall is the great big piles of leaves my father used to rake up in our yard, and how we used to play in them. I remember sitting in a pile of leaves with my friend, Ellen, up to our necks in autumn leaves, pretending we were Mr. and Mrs. Zacherley trying to decide which monsters to invite over for supper–Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, etc.

Our dog, Rags, just like the dogs in this video, liked nothing better than to dive headfirst into a heap of leaves. He was white with brown spots and a tail like an anteater’s: when he wagged that tail, it was like waving a flag. My father couldn’t help spoiling him.

This was fun! And it cost absolutely nothing. You didn’t need a coach, a sponsor, or a uniform. Just the leaves, and the trees didn’t charge you for them.

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