“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Last Sunday my husband and I attended an afternoon graveside service at the cemetery where my maternal grandparents are buried. On the way home we detoured to visit my grandparents’ homestead where I had spent many a Sunday afternoon as a child.
The old farmyard and the empty farm house triggered a host of memories. As I recalled the various antics that I, my brother and my cousins were involved in, I couldn’t help but smile. My grandparents did not have any toys for us to play with, but what their little mixed farm did have was all kinds of interesting places and items just waiting to be discovered and utilized. This made the farmyard way more exciting than any playground. While our parents visited (and occasionally checked up on us), we kids headed outside and made our own brand of fun.
First of all, there was the old barn with its mangers where we might find some eggs in a hen’s nest or a bunch of wild kittens that we tried to catch without sustaining too many scratches in the process. When we ventured into the hayloft we had to tread carefully so our legs wouldn’t slip between the logs. The lean-to constructed on the far side of the barn (hidden from our parents’ viewpoint) was easy to climb via the calf pen fence and from there we could jump onto the haystack. But we had to be careful not to mess it up too much or Gedo would be upset and we would be in big trouble.
There were always turkeys, geese and brooding hens to tease, taunting them to give us chase, which they often did. The sows in the pigpen would also turn on us if we bugged them long enough and dared to get close enough. And the bull tethered in the long grass could be a target, but we had a healthy respect for his power although he usually just stared at us. But when he started to snort our bravery quickly disappeared and we wisely headed off to our next adventure.
We could always try to ride Gedo’s bike which was much too big for us, but we tried anyway and bruised many a shin in the attempt. Just as a sidenote, it is quite unfathomable to us today, to think that this bicycle was used by him to make the 10 km trip to town to deliver cream and pick up groceries.
There was a makeshift playhouse behind the summer kitchen where Gedo constructed a crude table for us and we nailed wooden boxes to the wall to use as cupboards. My cousin and I collected used tins and such to stock our pretend kitchen. We made beautiful mud cakes and pies decorated with pin cherries and leaves, and tried to convince our younger cousins to eat them.
And there were the games which required little or no equipment. Hide and seek was a favourite until someone hid so well that we couldn’t find him, so we would give up and go do something else without informing the successful hider. Tag was fun until someone fell and skinned a knee (usually me). We played Anti-I-Over and 500 with a fence-post bat and ball.
I guess we live in a different world now and I am as thankful as the next person for all our modern conveniences which have made life much easier, but not necessarily simpler. Yet I can’t help but feel a little regret that most children today will never have the joy of exploring the old farmyard and all the fun, games and adventure that come along with doing so.