The first time I went ice skating was at a shopping center. We didn’t yet call these malls, and it was outdoor in a new development called Lloyd Center. Its big draw was covered areas so you could “shop in the rain,” a real incentive in very green(and rainy) Portland, Oregon. For a small amount I could rent a pair of skates and work my way tentatively around the rink, mainly holding onto the rail as are many others doing in the postcard above. As you can tell from the crowd watching from above, ice skating was a novel sight for most and quite compelling, especially the stunts of the expert skaters. I never advanced beyond the rail gripping stage at Lloyd Center.
Arriving in Massachusetts as a college student I learned that people actually ice skated on frozen ponds. This amazed me so much that I promptly bought my own pair of ice skates and went with a friend to try them out. As you can imagine, the experience at the shopping center had in no way prepared me for outdoor skating. Most terrifying, there was no railing to grip! I fell a few times and abandoned my dream of becoming “Hans Brinker’s” sister on ice.
But remembering these experiences took me back to another snowy day with my pals Dude and Skipper. There was a shallow pond in Skipper’s yard that had frozen over. A small hill lay to its side. The ice looked tempting, so we all got in a red wagon and rolled it down the hill onto the pond. We were sure it would be fun to sit in the wagon on the ice. Once we hit the pond the ice broke, we fell in and our parents rushed to haul out three disgruntled six year olds. Despite our imagination, this was not a vast lake, but only about a six inch deep pond, so no real safety issues were a concern of the adults. I suspect they would have forbidden the stunt, but they were indoors and we were outdoors.
Our parents had often warned us about our behavior by saying we were “skating on thin ice.” They were from Winnipeg, Manitoba and Buffalo, New York, so the saying meant something to them. Until that afternoon, the metaphor made little sense. Now it most certainly did.
I am not sure how it is outside of the western United States, but there every girl I knew went through a period of being “horse crazy.” My late sister Patsy, pictured on the right, kept that love up for years. She collected Breyer horse models, rode at a local farm, and read every horse book she could find. Me, not so much. Perhaps you can see that from my somewhat dubious expression in the photo on the left.
We had many opportunities to ride. A friend of my parents owned a large farm and we rode around it. At the Oregon coast we frequently went on trail rides along the beach in a line of other riders. We were assigned quite docile steeds, fortunately, so the experience was pleasant.
My last experience on a horse proved that it is really not my passion. While on vacation in Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, my daughter wanted to have the two of us rent horses from the local Navaho family who kept them. I was clear that neither of us was particularly used to riding. Accordingly the father sent us out on the valley floor on one very old aged horse(me) and one young looking pony (her.) Rather than taking us himself, he sent his 10 year old son as guide. As I plodded along, the boy and my daughter took off at a fast pace laughing and delighting in the speed and distance between them and me. Realizing that she was perfectly safe, I sat on my now even slower horse and smiled.
Do girls love horses other places? If not, is there another animal that they go crazy over?
Adults often want to spend time away from children, but it is equally true that kids like to get away from grownups. They construct all sorts of structures to allow them to hide out for a while. Above is a simple fort made of sheets and chairs, hastily assembled by two kids playing detective.
My friend Skipper had a cloth teepee that he set up in his room to retreat into. I had a cloth that fit perfectly over a card table which was designed to make the covered table look like a little house with an opening to crawl in through. My siblings and I used couch cushions, chairs and blankets to make a space to hold four kids, a dog and two cats. The neighbor twins had a tree house, but we never were so lucky. I did carve out a space for myself under several fir trees among violas and buttercups and had little fairy tea parties there.
It turns out that the need for a sheltered space continues through our lives in different ways. In grade schools teachers have come up with various strategies for children who are feeling overwhelmed by emotion. Sometimes it is a corner with pillows, sometimes a special chair, sometimes just a desk away from the other kids. Unlike being sent to the corner as punishment, the child is offered a chance for a little break to settle down while still being with the class. As adults we too sometimes need to cool off. Instead of raging at one another, we take time outs for ourselves and go to a place similar to a blanket fort, perhaps the back yard or the car. I know mothers who have locked themselves in the bathroom to get their sanity restored.
I would love to hear about tree houses, forts, hideouts and caves that my readers once treasured. By the way did they have signs like “No Boys Allowed?”
Growing up some girls were known as “tomboys.” Unlike the connotations around the word “sissy,” there seemed nothing bad about the label. It referred to girls who liked to climb, run, do sports and generally play anything except dolls. Looking back at my elementary school days, I realize that the majority of the girls in my grades before puberty were all tomboys.
I don’t know if it was because we were in Oregon or because of the specific nature of my little school, but the most admired girls were very athletic. Being “cute” or “pretty” really didn’t seem to make any difference in popularity. We might have to wear skirts and dresses at school, but that didn’t stop our activities. The only hitch I had was when I transferred in second grade to this new school. At the old one we hung upside down without pause. At the new one I was quickly informed that I needed to wear shorts under my dress to do the same stunt.
As I mentioned a couple of days ago, my friends early on were all boys and I loved dressing up as seen above in my father’s necktie and my cowboy hat and gun. In grade school I made friends with girls, but even in fifth grade my best friend and I spent a long time debating whether Annie Oakley or Dale Evans was our idol. We could still imagine ourselves riding into the sunset with either one.
Seventh grade seemed to be the demarcation line for becoming “ladylike.” We went to dancing school, learned how to follow, not lead, how to wear gloves and to be “demure.” It seemed agreed that it was time to put our “tomboy” self behind us. Most of us did.
I have written before that in my early years all of my friends were boys. Above you can see the guests at my birthday party, six little boys, including the twins in nice white shirts. We played together for hours, mainly chasing, running, hiding, swinging, sliding and shooting. We all had cap guns and gleefully shot them with no thought about how later generations might condemn such play.
I had several dolls that I cherished, but I never tried to play with them with my friends. I understood that dolls were for girls, as were play cooking and tea parties. Once I started school I made my first friend who was a girl, and learned about hair styling and makeup applications, at least those that six year olds could master. I enjoyed this new kind of play, certainly never a part of my earlier fun.
By third grade the sexes had completely split. Girls played with girls and boys with boys. Our activities too became more gender specific, even on the playground. For instance only girls jumped rope, only boys shot baskets. I quit thinking of boys as friends. From fourth grade on, boys figured only in conversations with other girls about who liked which boy.
The 1950’s had very clear understandings about gender. The toy catalogs had boy toys and girl toys. Clothing was either for boys or for girls (I couldn’t even wear pants to class in college.) Boys talked freely about the cars they wanted. Girls fantasized about future houses. We really seemed to inhabit parallel universes.
I would love to know from my readers how things might be different now. I also wonder if this gender distinction was true in other parts of the world. Please comment.
Saturday a close friend reminded me of the toys we used to be able to buy for a dime. I have written in the past about the little balsa wood airplanes that cost that amount. But she recalled the paddle ball, a piece of wood with a rubber ball attached with an elastic cord to a staple in the middle of the paddle. Not very sturdy, but it did only cost ten cents!
In theory you bounced the ball out and back with the paddle, either overhand or underhand as the two children in the picture illustrate. In practice, however, I most often bonked myself or my sibling with the ball. This was not my favorite way to enjoy myself, but I always forgot that consequence whenever I bought a new one. Because, as you can easily guess, the previous one was either broken or confiscated.
Childhood seemed to provide numerous opportunities to be bonked on the head or face. Tether ball seemed to always leave me not only a loser (I really was too short to have a chance) but also bumped. Dodge ball’s sole purpose, of course, was to hit another child with a ball. A kickball, ineptly fielded, could hit my nose too. Where were all the overly solicitous safety concerns anyway?
I thought I had left all the chances to hit myself in the face behind me when I became an adult. But modern gyms have several pieces of equipment to repeat the experience. Perhaps naming one of them “slam balls” should be a clue. These can rebound off the wall right back at me if I am not careful. And weighted medicine balls can be hazardous too. Perhaps a full face guard should be the next addition to my home gym!
As kids we had a solid understanding of many laws of physics without ever having learned them in a classroom. Imagine how dull it would have been to have had to master a knowledge of fulcrums before being allowed out on the playground. Fortunately we had the teeter-totter and figured things out quite handily.
The equipment required two children, one on each end of a long board. Each had a handle which suggested that the child would stay secured to the board. One child would go down, push her feet and the other child would go down. A problem obvious in the photo above is that the two girls are nearly evenly weighted. We could stop and ask them to solve the issue with a law of physics. Instead we could watch as one child or the other scoots forward or backward until one end goes down allowing play to continue. In the center of this particular board is a fitting that allows the board to be repositioned in three different slots. Again no lengthy discussion would ensue. A larger child intuitively knew what adjustment needed to be made to allow fun to go on.
Teeter-totters seem to have disappeared from playgrounds. Apparently some cautious adults noticed the clever explorations of the laws of physics taking place. There was the famous jump off the board while the other child was still in the air maneuver. The stranded child would land with a thump, perhaps cracking a tooth on the handle. Another mischievous variation had the one child push so hard that the other child went flying, handle or no. I assure my readers that I have only heard of these experiments and NEVER tried them myself. If you find an archaic teeter-totter, please NEVER learn physics this way.
Schools have decided that learning things in books is much safer than learning them on playgrounds. What a loss.