5 -Friends and Free Time 1963/64 Style
What did I do in rural Georgia for fun during that school year? I thought it would be fun to reminisce about activities that kept so many of us engaged and having fun. My little-girl diary from 1964 serves as my source of inspiration.
I had four or five close friends outside of school. Those of us who lived in town found it convenient to hang around together on weekends and after school. Usually, someone in the neighborhood had interests or access to activities which became available to friends. Names have occasionally been changed to protect the innocent :) Some friends have recently given permission for me to use their first names.
One neighbor, Nan, had a trampoline and that became a favorite gathering spot some afternoons after school. The spring-like surface lay on ground level in a dug out area of the backyard. It seemed very cool and unique. Often I was a little timid about jumping on it. Nan would encourage with, “Come on Donna! It’s so fun. Just get on and jump!” I did it, but still I was in awe as I watched Nan do a front flip and naturally then coaxed me further, “It’s really so easy. Just tuck and flip!” I never did that flip on the trampoline. My brother and his friends seemed to have no problem with those acrobatic moves. Brother did wrench his back rather extensively doing some maneuver or another. Jimmy, the neighbor a couple doors down, didn’t really get into the flips, either, so he and I would simply jump, laugh and joke around. I felt a part of the neighborhood, partial insider (I could jump!), partial outsider (no flips, please)
My family had a croquet set that attracted friends for weekend afternoons of play. Two neighbor sisters, Debra and Mitzi, often enjoyed playing that game with us. When friends came over to participate in games, I felt so happy. I enjoyed the fellowship and the give and take. Debra screeched with delight when she hit Jimmy’s croquet ball; then, she would artfully place her ball next to his. With her shoe atop her ball holding it in place, she hit a powerful blow that would send his ball flying across the yard. She would ‘rub it in’ saying something like, “See, I can play just as well as you can.” Jimmy was quite crafty at croquet and never let the drive across the yard stop him from regaining the lead. We spent many a fun hour outside chasing our croquet balls across the yard and setting perfect aims to navigate the wire arcades through which a player must shoot the ball in the course of the game. Our conversations drifted toward happenings at school. How is the basketball team doing? Is there a game this coming week? When is homecoming game? Who will go to camp during the summer?
We also put up a badminton net in our backyard as April and May neared. Jimmy and Nan really got into badminton. My brother and I also enjoyed teaming together. What a great outdoors game that did not require expensive equipment, but allowed the breeze to blow through our hair and we could run, dodge, and dive to return volleys successfully. I especially enjoyed the frolicking around our backyard. The yard was comfortably large, lots of green grass, a few trees, a small tin storage house and a scuppernong vine hanging across a wire grid my dad had constructed. What’s a scuppernong, you ask? It’s a muscadine type fruit, a yellowish green plum-flavored fruit. Grows on a vine, simply delicious. Badminton was most fun playing doubles. What fun on any springtime day!
Behind the schoolhouse, just two blocks from my house, was a set of tennis courts — so even in February and March we found time to play a few games of tennis. My dad would sometimes invite me to play. My father took up some extra time with me that year since my brother was away from home at military school. Dad moved around pretty good for a 50-something. He taught me to play on those courts behind the school. I practiced my first tennis serve and how to hold the racket properly. Other friends came to play later on as we entered junior high school and high school, but my beginnings with the game happened that year with my dad. My dad was not real great at long conversations as might unroll sitting in the family room, but out on the tennis court, I could get a good exchange going with him not only in volleying the tennis ball, but also at catching some good conversation flow. How are things at the post office? Are you going to PTA meeting with mom this month? Do you sometimes listen when I’m practicing my piano playing? Did you play a musical instrument ever? What was it like serving in the Army during World War II?
Several of us participated in small local community clubs. The 4-H Club and the Junior Garden Club met monthly throughout the school year.
The 4-H Club meetings were monthly usually scheduled at the schoolhouse in the afternoon after school. We learned a lot of everyday skills as 4-H members, from learning to care for farm animals to more practical skills such as simple cooking techniques or learning to be better citizens. I entered a cooking contest as a result of having perfected the standard breakfast. I recall winning second place in some kind of district competition where I was named the “better breakfast” runner-up! As preludes to district meets where we might compete in some demonstration of talent, we kids would practice in front of each other at our local meetings. We’d laugh and cheer and goof up and get better together.
The Junior Garden Club provided an opportunity to learn about growing plants and flowers. It tracked so well for me that sixth grade year, as my family began cultivating a small vegetable garden. I can hear my mom coming in from our garden on a Saturday morning with a large plastic container or pot of butter beans or peas and saying to my brother and me, “Here is something you’ll can do while watching those Saturday morning cartoons. Just shell these butter beans and peas. You’ll be done in no time.” I recall how the shell pieces would sometimes get stuck under my fingernails. Ugh! Not fun.
The main churches in town had youth groups. I remember the Methodist Youth Fellowship and Baptist Training Union. These fellowship circles offered chances to connect, visit, and learn together. I occasionally went to one or the other with hopes that some particular friend might be there. I might hear my mom say, “Donna, are you going to BTU tonight? Do you have more homework you should do?” My response, “I’ll give a call to Kay or Jimmy and see who is showing up. If so-and-so is going, I might go. Otherwise, I’ll watch the Ed Sullivan Show.”
Many of us took piano lessons. There was no band in our school. Several people around town offered music lessons. Lessons were typically twice a week, might be a Tuesday/Friday or perhaps a Monday/Thursday lesson.
One music teacher was very well respected. He was a rather accomplished piano/organ player. A local grocer, he played the organ in the church, sometimes.
My piano teacher had a stellar reputation as a musician. She was an extremely talented pianist. She did not play for church, but had played piano her whole life. She could so easily spot when I had not practiced very much between lessons. She would lower her glasses and say, “Donna, how many minutes a day did you practice this week?” I must admit that I occasionally sheepishly had to admit, “Sorry, I didn’t practice at all. Ms Ruth, a lesson on Tuesday followed by Friday just doesn’t allow enough time!”
Both teachers had their strengths and weaknesses, but regardless they seemed to connect well with students and gave us yet another channel for using our time to better ourselves and develop talents that would stay with us throughout our lives. Pride swelled in May each year as we music students performed at the yearly recitals!
I mentioned playing ‘Barbie dolls’ with my female friends in an earlier post. This pastime was certainly a favorite for wintry days when outdoor play was out of the question. I had three particular friends, Sandra, Kay, and Etta with whom I enjoyed “playing Barbie dolls.” Most of the times -a two person adventure. One of them would bring her Barbie and Ken over to my house or I’d do the visiting and bring my dolls towed in a special carrying case to her house. We’d enter the world of make-believe and would create stories where we would use the dolls as props; We’d set up little living areas for their homes. The toy manufacturer eventually created dream houses and even small cars for the dolls, but we had to use our imaginations most of the time in the early ’60s. My Barbie the fashion model might be dating her Ken doll, the lawyer. Hours of unending imagination unfolded while we mapped the story.
Sleeping over at someone’s house was a ton of fun, but at 11 years old, I was only allowed to stay overnight with ‘in-town’ friends. During the school year, I had that chance on an occasional Friday night.
One friend, Laurie, had a small wooden playhouse in her backyard. I recall spending the night in that playhouse a couple of weekend nights in that spring of 1964. Laurie and I scared ourselves a few times as night fell. We had lanterns and felt safe enough, since the playhouse had a locking door on it! However, night time alone, just the two of us, and a few mischievous neighbors made for interesting times. Two neighborhood girls Evelyn and LeeAnn and their brother Robby came by making whooping sounds like wild birds and howling sounds like wild coyotes. We could hear them laughing as they imagined they were scaring us to death! Yeah, that shook us up a little bit.
As I grew older, sleepovers became more common, but that playhouse was a rare adventure at that time in my life.
Outdoor and indoor adventures with friends and family never go out of style. I reflect back with fond memories and lots of love for so many who shared and contributed to those activities in my life.