Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Small town rituals

The small, rural town of White Lake, South Dakota, held great fascination for us six kids as we visited there each summer. It was our Mayberry.

Although the farm itself was a novelty, the small town routines of the 1950s were even more interesting to us.

An "ice cream man" came to the farm to deliver Popsicles, ice cream and frozen novelties.  This differed from the ice cream wagons with their tinkling bells that drove slowly up our neighborhood streets in the city. The White Lake ice cream man stocked the deep freeze (we said freezer; they said deep freeze).

Then there was the "bread man" who, similarly, stocked the freezer (deep freeze) with bread and buns. We had a "milk man" in the city, but, of course, there was no need of that on the farm, because another ritual was taking the milk to the White Lake Creamery in town. First, of course, came the twice-daily ritual of milking, skimming the cream from the frothy milk in the stainless steel "separator" and filling milk cans.

The stores were open on Friday nights in White Lake and everyone headed to town, as much for socializing as for weekly shopping at Oltman's dry goods, Gambles, or Ehler's General Store.

We were excited as we cleaned up from our day's play, dressed in something better than our play clothes, and piled in the car for the 8-mile ride to town.

The kids all congregated together by the stores as we'd each been given a nickel for a pack of gum, maybe Black Jack, Beeman's, or Clark’s Teaberry. Or a Baby Ruth candy bar. Or Necco wafers. When we were a little older, we could get a cherry Coke at Warrell's drug store, or the Silver Dollar cafe.

The women did their shopping, while the men played pool or just drank red beer (beer with tomato juice) in the tavern or the Legion Hall. It was a big social night for all, and a weekly ritual for farm families isolated most of the week.

Saturday night was bath night. With one small bathroom and a limited water supply, we had to share the water. Where at home we could fill the bathtub, there was barely enough water to cover us, but we didn't mind.

Trinity Lutheran Church
ca. 1970
Sunday mornings, as at home, were reserved for church.

But church at White Lake was much more fun than it was at home as it meant we could sit together with all the other kids, and not with our parents.

This was a practice they had, and we thought it was great. We wished we could do that at our church at home.

I made friends with a few girls my age. Mary Ann lived down the road from my grandparents' farm, and Kathy lived a few miles away. Grandma would drive me to Mary Ann's, and that was the only occasion, or the furthest, I'd ever seen her drive. 

Kathy's mom would drive over to pick me up for a visit. I thought she was the prettiest mom I ever saw, and always pleasant, always smiling. I thought Kathy was so lucky, as I couldn't imagine her mother ever scolding her. She always offered us nectar (we called it Kool-Aid). 

Over the years, I was able to see how different my White Lake friends' lives were from mine; and yet we were the same, laughing at the same silliness and sharing 'Teen magazines when we were older.

My Grandpa had a quiet sense of humor, always stood with his hands behind his back, and delighted in playing tricks on us. His cow-pie trick became a ritual for us kids, as well as our cousins who visited.

First, he would claim to have a “secret" to tell us, or he'd ask us to come over by him to look at something oh-so-interesting. 

Of course, he’d stand in front of the pile of manure, blocking its view.

When we came close enough to him, he’d take us by the arm and into the “cow pie” we’d step. He'd take no regard of our footwear: barefoot, sandals, or Sunday patent leather shoes. If we were barefoot, he’d laugh about the manure squishing between our toes.

No cow pies in sight? Then it might be chicken poop. My mother didn't always think it was so funny, but we sure did. We fell for his trick every time, even though we usually knew what was coming. Grandpa would laugh like he really got us.

Ah, the simple fun, the simple rituals, the simple life.  I know now how choosing life on a farm is anything but simple.

But to us as kids, it was simply delightful, and a treasure to recall.