My grandmother took care of me when I was a little girl. My parents both worked back then, and she graciously took on the responsibility of her first granddaughter’s day care.
Like a perfect guardian angel, she was there when I needed her, and busy tending to household chores when I did not.
Is it Only a Paper Moon?
I don’t know if it was the fact that my grandparents were well versed in raising children, or times were just different, but everything was more relaxed than it is now.
Part of that serenity came from the lack of electronic media, I’m sure.
The television was only on at certain times of day, and it wasn’t used to pacify me for hours on end.
So, what does a preschool age child do in the care of two grandparents all day?
Now that I think back on it, quite a lot.
This was not the era of play dates or daily educational excursions. My grandparents had things to do, and entertaining children just wasn’t on that list.
When they took a break, usually in the afternoon, my grandmother would sit on the glider with me and rock me, rubbing my back. What more could a kid ask for? (Or, an adult, for that matter!)
Amazingly, none of these days involved expensive toys. I don’t even remember taking toys to my grandparents’ house.
One of my favorite play things was the JCPenney catalog. When a new, fat, glossy, edition came in the mail, I was bequeathed the old one. My aunts showed me that I could cut out the models for paper dolls.
Once I got the hang of finding models in good positions for cut outs, I expanded my collections to include couches, chairs, windows with curtains, clocks, lamps, beds, you name it.
My catalog furnishings and people where spread around the perimeter of the kitchen floor and continued into the dining room, as I perused page after page and diligently cut out favorite items.
It was a comfortable set-up in may ways. My grandmother would go about her chores, mostly centered around the kitchen, and I would busily work/play at her feet. The kitchen was warm and cozy, as the oven baked up delicious bread or cinnamon rolls.
Across doorways and under chairs, my collection of paper dolls grew. I panicked when anyone came into the kitchen, reminding them to step over, not on, my displays.
When the furnace blower came on, the warm air would send these delicate paper people and their home goods flapping across the room. Then, I’d go back to arranging them and adding more.
I must have spent hours making these scenes, and developing corresponding stories in my head.
There were clashes between moms and kids, families eating dinner together, people dressing up for parties and holidays (the Christmas catalog was especially coveted, with all of the decorations and gifts to add to my paper stories).
And I was a scissors expert well before I was tested for kindergarten readiness.
The button tin was another favorite past-time.
My grandparents raised a family during the Great Depression, and like many couples of the era, they always remained frugal.
We were taught that food is never thrown away. Even bread crusts were fed to the birds rather than being trashed.
Clothes were worn until they were ready for the rag bin. Then, buttons were cut off and saved.
Following my grandparents up into the attic one day, I spied the tin on the attic floor next to the stair well. When I asked, my grandmother obliged and opened the tin.
Inside, I saw a treasure trove of buttons of all colors, textures, and sizes. She told me that I could take the tin downstairs and look at them.
It was an exciting prospect to me.
First, I put my hands into the tin and felt the hard, slick buttons run through my fingers. Pirate gold. I listened to the sound of the sliding buttons, clacking like a hard rain hitting the roof.
Then, I started looking closely at just how many different buttons they were. I started sorting them into “families,” based on their colors, sizes, and materials they were made from.
The brass buttons were military men, the pink buttons with inset crystals were beautiful ladies, the shell buttons, often the smallest, were kids. Big, black buttons represented the clergy; leather-wrapped buttons were dads.
Another sorting into family units came next. A mom, a dad, kids, priest, grandparents, aunts and uncles; all of the members of my own family.
And so many hours of my childhood were again occupied with imaginative play, without even one toy at hand.
My Bro Joins the Fun
When my brother got old enough to be a true playmate, I had a peer with whom I could interact. Still, we spent most of our time making up games that involved tools from the garage or house.
We’d dig up interesting rocks in our grandfather’s garden and take them to his workbench in the garage. We’d put them in his vises and use files and hammers to make “gold dust,” or grind them by holding them against the spinning sharpening stone. The faster we could spin the stone, the happier we were.
And, if that stone happened to have some metal in it, we could get sparks to fly!
The gold dust would make us rich, we were sure. It felt like a secret fortune that could be discovered and exploited, so we kept a lookout for intruders and were careful to fasten the door with the hook and eye lock when entering or exiting our workplace.
Even back then, we understood that work was the precursor to earning money.
We Didn’t Even Miss Toys
Was it just luck that we learned so much about life by playing without toys?
And, not to mislead anyone, we did have plenty of toys at our own house. It’s just that we never missed them when we were away. We always found lots of things to keep us occupied.
I think my grandparents were more savvy than they probably got credit for. They knew that kids didn’t need to be gifted colorful, plastic, noisy playthings to be happy and engaged.
This lesson would come back to me, as I watched my own kids preference for yogurt cups and lids over all of the fancy and expensive “toy” dishes and kitchenware we bought them.
I’m thankful for those early years in my life, and the lessons my grandparents so subtly taught.
Be happy with what you have, find pleasure and satisfaction in simple things, use your imagination.
Have a joy filled holiday!
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