Historically Speaking: Memories of simple pleasures last a lifetime
Pleasures and happy times can be compared with that “warm and fuzzy” feeling we all have experienced in the best days of our lives. To get this feeling there is no cost, neither a great sacrifice; and when these simple pleasures come into our lives we want to treasure them forever. Looking back on my early happy life in a country setting, I find that I have a great number of such memories and I am sure that you have, too.
A routine trip into town on Saturday during the pleasant-weather months was to me a highlight of the week. A picnic lunch of home-baked beans, together with a pan of fresh gingerbread, cold milk and hot coffee for my parents was enjoyed at Pioneer Park after the shopping and necessary business was completed. It tasted so good; I can still smell the tasty beans, carefully wrapped in newspapers to keep the casserole warm until eating time. It was simple food, but nutritious, and with full tummies we finished the outing by swinging on the swings and exploring the park.
Then there were the Sunday dinners, usually shared with a friend of the family who walked down to our farm each Sunday morning during nice weather. He would have my father cut his hair in the spring and again in the fall, and then he could enjoy a delicious chicken dinner. Many Sundays during the summer we had other visitors, and all expected to stay for a meal with us. My mother was very generous, and an excellent cook; no one left without having one of her great meals. The lumberjacks who lived with and worked for our Lithuanian neighbors would come to our farm and use our boat for fishing on the Wisconsin River. They, too, had a meal before going back with their catch of fish to their living quarters. A summer Sunday dinner usually consisted of chicken, riced potatoes with gravy and stuffing, vegetables fresh from the garden, a cake or a fresh berry pie and sometimes jello shaped in fluted molds with fresh real whipped cream.
I particularly remember several weddings at the homes of our neighbors lasting several days with lots of food, singing and dancing. My parents had to leave in the early evening to go home to do the farm chores but allowed us to stay at the festivities. Later in the evening they would return for more partying and then we’d walk home together. These were good times I will never forget.
One of my favorite pleasures was to go fishing with a pole and worms. My father was a sportsman and taught us to cast and try to get game fish, but I preferred to do what we called “still fishing.” There is just nothing that compares to the feeling of the tug on the line when a hidden fish way down in the water lets you know it’s nibbling at your bait.
The arrival of the Watkins man, Hollis Thayer, a friend of the family and a neighbor, was special. He didn’t make a big sale at our home, but my mother did buy regularly the Watkins vanilla. It seems to me there was also a special cough syrup that she’d kept in good supply. He sometimes had little trinkets for us, so we hung around while he showed his wares.
We had some friends who were Native Americans. The father was the boss of the section crew out of McNaughton at the railroad station. We played with all the children in the family and were good friends. Later they moved to the reservation at Odanah and we had promised that we’d come up for a visit, and we did so. It was quite a trip, but the best part was seeing our friends again.
Hikes were fun. We hiked out to the Beaver Lake area at least once to play with our friends, the Blackman kids. The walk home, after a day of games and fun, was hot and long and I remember being so very thirsty. When I got home and had a long drink of cold well water, it tasted so good. Pure, fresh cold water was definitely one of the simple pleasures of life, and one that we take so for granted.
Swimming at Black Lake, now called Two Sisters Lake, meant a long hike and then fun swimming. Of course another long hike back home. But we enjoyed swimming in this lake because it had a sandy bottom and was a safe beach.
During the school year, the Book Mobile’s arrival every few weeks was a great thrill for me; such excitement and elation as I carried an armful of books home. The Christmas program and the picnic at the end of the school year were great sources of pleasure for us country kids. The excitement at Christmastime, plus the nervousness of having to sing and recite our parts is a feeling that can never be equaled. The picnic, with potato salad, lemonade, ice cream and yummy sandwiches was looked forward to each year, and the best of all was that then we could have summer vacation.
The yearly county fair and an occasional circus were also highlights. I’m so glad that my father was one who loved the circus and made it possible for us to also go the fair each summer, even though I knew he was sacrificing valuable time and money to take us.
And for simple treats, I would end with a 4th of July treat we longed for all year long—a huge watermelon kept ice cold in the shady waters of the Wisconsin River. This sticky, sweet delicious treat was just wonderful. When I eat watermelon today it is still delicious, but will never equal that special taste when we were kids. These were surely simple pleasures!