Archive for the ‘Childhood’ Category

One sock up and sensible shoes

Sunday, August 29th, 2021

First Grade, Versailles School, Alameda, CA – May 1942
Sydney – First Row, second from left

Versailles School — First Grade — Alameda Calif — May 1942  it says in Dad’s handwriting on the back.  My first school picture, or at least the first one I remember.  It turned up in an unmarked box with forty years’ worth of disparate images.  I’m eager to sit down and take a look, but for now this one and a few others from the forties have captured my attention.

I wish someone had thought to write the names on the back of this one.  I think I remember that the boy in the back row was Russell and the next to the last girl in that row was Verna Schott, the girl I walked to school with every day.  Maybe the third boy from the left in the second row was Bobby and, even more maybe, the girl at the end of that row was Trudy.  For once, I wasn’t in the middle of the first row — but close enough.  I wonder what my mom thought about my sagging sock…

I remember the school as “Edison School” not Versailles so I looked it up on Google.  I found that Edison School (“Home of the Otters”) was, indeed, Versailles until September 14, 1942, when, after many construction delays due to strikes and the beginning of WWII, Edison School was opened.   It had been funded through the WPA and, according to the website:  From the six classrooms originally planned and built, Edison has grown to its present size of sixteen rooms (portables not included when this article was written) and all other facilities necessary to a modern, first-class school.

Our House at 1320 Versailles Avenue, Alameda — 1941-1947

Good to know.  Mostly though, I wonder who of all those children are still living and what the past 79 years have been for them.  I think I heard from a mutual friend that Verna died some years back — and now our friend, Sharon, has also died.  How I wish that someone could recognize and put me in touch with one or two of these “kids.”  And where was our teacher, anyway?  I think it was Miss Thompson who was also the principal…

That’s the thing about memories…  They are best of all when they can be shared with someone who also remembers.


Blotting Your Copybook & Other Dreaded Deeds

Saturday, February 20th, 2021

Helen Richardson’s Copybook, 1895

I was surprised when I wrote to a friend that we didn’t want to blot our copybook about an Oysterville issue and said friend didn’t know the meaning of the metaphor.  Granted, she is a decade or so younger than I, but I was a bit surprised.  So I looked the expression up just to check on how old I really was.

According  the online Free Dictionary. blotting your copybo0k means to  tarnish, damage, or ruin one’s reputation by behaving badly or committing some mistake or social transgression.  Refers to a child’s copy book, the blotting (staining with ink) of which ruins one’s work.  Primarily heard in UK. .

There was no frame of reference for time and I don’t know why the expression is familiar to me.  Maybe all the British novels I’ve read?  Or maybe because I’ve run across lots of copybooks in my family research.  Most don’t have many blots, though.

Blotters! Blotters! Blotters!

We do have a plethora of blotters, however.  Books of blotters, individual blotters, advertising blotters, blotters given away with purchases.  So it was in the early 1900s when my mother and her siblings dipped their pens in the inkwells built into their school desks.  I had blotters in my day, too.  I think it was in fifth grade that we “graduated” to using fountain pens with real-for-sure liquid ink after four years of pencilwork.  Those pens didn’t cause much blotting, but woe be unto your careful work if you forgot to blot before you turned or left the page.  Smears or smudges forevermore!

I think kids across America could be heard breathing a collective sigh of relief when ballpoint pens came into general use in the 1950s!!!



Saturday, October 17th, 2020


Last night it was Dinner-on-a-Stick at the Stevens’ house — more properly called Pork Kebabs, no doubt.  Nyel had cut up a thick, boneless pork chop in the morning and had it marinating all day in some exotic concoction of white wine, orange juice, garlic powder, cumin, oregano and probably other stuff.  Also soaking (but in plain water) were eight 10-inch wooden skewers, pointed at one end.  They came from a large package labeled “made in China” which, like all such packages these days, gave me a moment’s pause — but only a moment, for we’ve had them for several years.  Definitely pre-Covid.

When I was a little girl, “Dinner-on-a-Stick was what we called our bonfire dinners at Camp Willapa.  They, of course, took the place of dinner in the KP Tent when we were off on an overnight to Beard’s Hollow or Long Island or up the Naselle River.  Those meals always involved hot dogs which, for those “in the know,” were threaded lenthwise onto a roasting stick.  Newbies sometimes stuck them on their sticks horizontally — a sure invitation to disaster.  The other part of stick dinners was usually s’mores, the marshmallows carefully toasted to perfection before being added to the Graham Cracker/Hershey Bar sandwich.  It was the perfect dinner!  (I have no recollection of fruit or vegetables but there must have been… At least carrot and celery sticks or maybe apple slices.)

Cookout on the Beach

The experienced campers took great pride in their roasting sticks.  I remember making mine with the help of one of the older boys from Sherwood Forest, the boys’ camp just across the road from the girls’ camp and with whom we often had bonfires and sing-alongs.  I was probably seven — my second year as a camper.  I know I already had my own pocket knife and my “teacher” showed me how to peel the bark from my stick for about a foot from the small end, and then carefully sharpen it to perfection.  I remember that choosing the “stick” from the right tree was the important first step, but I’m not sure now if it was from a spruce or a crabapple or… what?

Rowing on the Bay

Toward the top of the stick (which I think was about three feet long) I carved my initials in the bark.  There was plenty of room left for the notches that would  commemorate each award I would get for the next seven years at camp — milestones in swimming, boating, horseback riding, and archery as I remember. The more summers you had been a camper, the more precious your stick became and I remember being very proud of mine and the “record” it kept of my accomplishments.

At the end of summer, when my parents came up to Oysterville for a week or two and then we all went back to California for the school year, the stick stayed in the closet of my room at my grandparents’ house.  Except for one year when I took it home with me.  It must have been after the war when we had a car.  I don’t think I could have managed the logistics of taking it home on the train which was our usual mode of transport from Portland to Oakland and vice-versa.  But, I do remember having it in Alameda one year and showing it proudly to my neighborhood friends, Jackie and Joyce.  I remember that they weren’t nearly as impressed as I thought they should be.  My first lesson in “you had to be there.”

Little Red Riding Storybook Doll c. 1940

I have no idea what happened to that roasting stick.  Or to my pocket knife, for that matter.  They must be with my storybook dolls and ice skates and all those photos of Hollywood stars, signed by the stars, themselves.  Maybe even with my dog Zipper who “went to a farm out in the country” one summer when I was away at camp.  There are some things that happen when you are growing up that you just don’t get over…

Time and Tide…

Thursday, October 1st, 2020

Sydney c. 1944

When I was growing up, there were only two sacrosanct rules:  obey the person in charge and be mindful of the tide.  The first edict applied everywhere; the second, only to my summers on Willapa Bay and/or when at the beach.  Those words to live by came into conflict only once and it was not a pretty picture.

It was 1946.  I was a scrawny ten-year-old and was spending my fifth summer at Dorothy Elliott’s Camp Willapa.  Although my grandparents were in nearby Oysterville, I visited them only on occasional weekends and between camp sessions in deference to my grandmother’s frail health and, more importantly, because she was blind.

On the occasion of my transgression, our camp “unit” — about seven or eight girls of 10 or 11 and a college-age counseler — had gone up to Leadbetter Point for an overnight campout.   Miss Elliott had dropped us off in the morning and had then returned with our sleeping bags, knapsacks and food supplies.  By lunchtime we were “on our own at the end of the known world” as we told each other with shivery delight.

Typical Transport with Miss Elliott

After lunch, the counselor said we were going over to Grassy Island which, in those days, was still separated from the mainland by a fairly wide channel of water.   At low tide, however, it was but a stretch of wet sand, quickly transversed and, since the tide was out, our trek was an easy one.  I can’t really remember what we did over there but I do remember keeping an eye on the water.  When the rivulets began to trickle into our homeward path, I said something to the counseler about it being time to go back.  Cheeky me!

I don’t remember her response — only that I soon was concerned enough to leave the group and head back to our campsite on my own.  By the time the rest joined me, they had had to wade in water up to their waists and I remember that they tried to dry thier clothes by standing as near to the campfire as they could.  I, of course, was grounded for the rest of the trip.  No dinner.  No campfire singsong.  A cool reception at breakfast the next day and, when we finally returnned to camp, I was confined to quarters for the rest of that day as well.

Not far from our campsite.

I do remember feeling that I was being unjustly punished and, in my weekly letter home to my folks in California, I recounted the experience (apparently in lurid detail.)  What I didn’t learn until I was a young mother myself, was that my mother wasted no time in calling Miss Elliott and giving her a piece of her mind.

According to my Aunt Mona (who was the one who told me “the rest of the story”), Mom said something like, “How dare you let a counselor, who has had no experience with our bay at all, take charge of a group of children on an overnight trip such as that!  And how dare you discipline Sydney who was absolutely right with her suggestion to go back to the mainland?  She’s been on the bay every summer of her life and knew exactly what she was talking about!”

I don’t think I ever did talk about that incident with my mom or with Dorothy Elliott, either, for that matter.  But I do think that my inclination to question authority figures probably stems from that long-ago visit to Grassy Island.


And already, the signs of autumn!

Thursday, August 20th, 2020

Autumn Colors in Our Garden

Even though the autumnal equinox is yet a month and more away, it is definitely feeling fallish this morning.  It was still dark when we awoke at our usual 5:30 and a chilly drizzle hurried me out to the chicken coop with the girls’ breakfast.  In the flower beds, the daisies drooped; only the lilies and dahlias looked perky in their ready-for-fall colors.

Once upon a time, a day like this might prompt my mother to say, “How would you like to go shopping for school clothes today?”  Of course, it would have to be a Saturday or, otherwise, she’d be working and I’d be having an inside day with Mrs. Nagle, our best-ever housekeeper/baby-sitter/friend-and-confidant.  Maybe she’d teach me some new embroidery stitches.

Oysterville Kids c. 1944

But, if I was lucky enough to be in Oysterville, a rainy August morning might mean skpping next-door through the raindrops to Judy and Peter’s house.  There was always something going on there at the Heckes House. — Aunt Rye might have cookies in the oven or Glen might have come in from the Oyster beds with one of the Kemmer boys and they’d be teasing us about this or that.   If the Heckes/Kemmer cousins Anne and Nancy Cannon were down from Portland, us kids might sit around the big oak kitchen table and play shoots and ladders until those cookies were ready.

Or, if it was warm enough and only a little bit misty-moisty, we’d go picking blackberries to sell to Klondike Kate who lived on the corner.  She had a red light on her porch but we were too young to know what that was all about and, besides, she was full of stories about when she lived in Alaska.

Klondike Kate’s Place

But wherever I was and whatever I was doing, I remember that those first dark, rainy days toward the end of August meant school wasn’t far off.  I can still feel that shivery anticipation of “the first day back.”  It’s the thing I feel sorriest that kids will miss when virtual school starts this fall.  Heck, they won’t even need to go shopping for school clothes.  And if they are lucky enough to have a Klondike Kate in their neighborhood, visiting isn’t an option.  Bummer!

Will Covid-19 add to children’s literature?

Friday, April 17th, 2020

“Ring Around The Rosie” by Kate Greenaway

Ring around the rosy,
A pocketful of posies,
Ashes, Ashes,
We all fall down.

I’m not sure when I learned that this nursery rhyme is not the innocent childhood song it seems.  I only remember it as being one of the first that I sang and danced to with delight.  It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned about its grim origins — which didn’t slow me down a whit when it came to teaching it to my own children.

The rhyme, of course, refers to the 1665 Great Plague of London.  The “ring around the rosy” presumably refers to the rash associated with the bubonic plague. The “pocketful of posies” describes the handfuls of herbs people would carry to mask the smell of the sickness and death.  “We all fall down” refers to everyone dying, and the “ashes” are the cremated bodies. Pretty dark for a children’s rhyme, but maybe the philosophy was something like my mother’s, “It’s better to laugh than to cry.”

And it wasn’t the only nursery rhyme that, according to today’s sensibilities, seems too horrible for children.  How about “London Bridge is Falling Down”  that might be about a 1014 Viking attack with a bit of child sacrifice thrown in?  Presumably, it concerns the alleged destruction of London Bridge at the hands of Olaf II of Norway some time in the early 1000s. (“Alleged” because some historians don’t believe that attack ever took place.)

“London Bridge Is Falling Down”

The song’s popularity around the world is often cited as further proof that it was the Vikings who created it and brought the tune to the many places they traveled. Oh, and that whole child sacrifice thing? The theory goes that in order to keep London Bridge upright, its builders thought that it must be built on a foundation of human sacrifice, and that those same humans—mostly children—would help to watch over the bridge and maintain its sturdiness. There is no archaeological evidence to support this but I’m glad I didn’t know about the theory when I was singing, “Build it up with silver and gold, silver and gold, silver and gold….”  So much better than “Build it up with children’s bones…” don’t you think?

Which all leads me to wonder what the children of five hundred years hence will be playing and singing about the Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020?  Or will all their games be played virtually in a future well beyond present-day video games?  A pity if that is how it turns out.  I did love those games when I was a child!  Didn’t you?