FEBRUARY 22, 2023
A LONG TIME AGO, IN A WORLD FAR, FAR AWAY. WHEN PEOPLE WERE NICER, AND SOUNDS WERE SWEETER.
Saturday morning, early summer, west Tulsa, 1947. I was a six-year-old boy with more curiosity than five kids my age. I woke up excited about life every single day. Still do actually. My mission in life was to explore and have fun, rainy days were horrible when I had to stay inside. In the mornings while I was getting dressed and ready for my next big adventure, The smells of my mom cooking breakfast filled our house. Breakfast was a big deal. Bacon, eggs, toast and coffee being prepared has a wonderful aroma. But on Saturday’s I chose to have something different, a dish of “stir around”. I’m not sure who named it that, it’s what we called it. Stir around is a made by putting a big chunk of peanut butter on a plate and pouring on a generous amount of maple syrup. Stir it around until it makes a gooey mess, then spread it on toast. Yumm!! Still have it once in a while.
With breakfast behind me it was time to go out and have a look around. You never know what you may find in a huge yard like mine. My mom liked flowers and stuff, so on the corner of our lot, she planted a “honeysuckle” bush. I always like to walk out there and smell the sweet fragrance of the flowers. Every now and then I would pull off one of the flowers and suck the nectar out of it. I think I saw someone else do it first. Then take a walk out in the back yard and see what was going on there.
As I walked along the side of the house, I saw a shiny black wasp walking along the foundation and flipping his wings as he walked. I was an experienced nature observer by six years old, so I knew what the wasp was doing. He was hunting “wolf spiders”. So, I followed him along until he spotted one, and then I watched the ensuing battle. The spider always put up a ferocious fight but always lost. Then the wasp would drag him off to his nest, somewhere. Never did see where he went.
Quite often in my back yard adventures I would come across a terrapin. Of course, little boys always have to pick them up and carry them around for some reason. You always had to be careful and not let them pee on you and give you warts. (All of the kids said so) So, nothing else happening around the back yard so I went across the street to see my little buddy, Jimmy Presley. Jimmy and I decided to walk down to the creek with a couple of fruit jars and catch tadpoles. After a successful tadpole gathering trip, it was time for lunch.
Lunch kinda makes you lazy, so another one of my favorite things was to lay in the cool grass by the honeysuckle bush and take a little nap in the warm sun. Sometimes just watch the clouds float by and see if you can spot any interesting formations. By six years old I could already identify all of the major aircraft by their sound, both commercial and military. Being under the flight path for Tinker Air Force base in western Oklahoma, I saw a lot of B29’s, and B36’s fly over. Loved the sound of those engines.
I’m not sure if I was an unusual kid, but I was extremely aware of sights, sounds, and smells. Later in the evening after dinner, (or supper as it was called in Oklahoma) we would often sit on our large screened front porch and enjoy the summer breeze and have a glass of iced tea. Due west of our house was a small black community, with a Baptist church. On Saturday nights we could hear the congregation singing gospel hymns, it was a sweet sound. In the distance you could also hear the faint sound of “pump jack” engines in the oil fields. Mix all of that with the sounds of a steam train blowing it’s whistle, overlaying the sounds of crickets, frogs, and whippoorwills, and you have a southern, summer evening symphony. How sweet it was.
Sunday mornings were always special. Not much happened on Sundays in those days. None of the stores were open, it was the universal day of rest. So, if you were outside on Sunday morning, which I was most of the time, the larger churches had bell towers, and the sound of church bells on Sunday morning was indeed a sweet sound. My mother made sure I made it to Sunday school. God bless her for giving me that knowledge of God and Jesus Christ. Those Sunday school lessons stayed with me throughout my life. They taught me how to interact with other human beings, and how to respect the value of life.
I loved Sundays, my mom always cooked a special dinner which we enjoyed in the early afternoon. My mom was a southern lady and cooked like one. To this day, my preference is southern style food. Probably why I had bypass surgery at 78 years old. Sunday afternoon softball game in the park were common, and really fun. But later in the day was the special time. We would pile in the family sedan and head down to the watermelon stand. Oklahoma watermelons are huge, and super tasty. Back in the day the watermelon stands would fill big tanks with ice water and the melons would float in the ice water. My dad was the expert on picking the melons. They went through a ritual. My dad would look over the melons in the tank and using his special talents would pick one. However, there was one more step. He would have the owner cut a “plug’ so my dad could taste it. Then dad would always say he was OK with his choice, and we would head home for the Sunday evening watermelon feast.
My moms sister lived in the house behind ours, she was a widow with three children. My mom and dad would invite her and my cousins over to enjoy the watermelons. After the gorging ourselves on watermelon, we ran around our yard chasing and catching lightning bugs or firefly’s as city folk called them. Of course, playing outside in the summer grass at night would result in several applications of Calamine lotion for the chigger bites. That spelled the end of another great weekend.
Summers were magical times. I can remember going to visit my aunt and uncle who lived on a farm not far away from our home. Driving past the alfalfa fields in the evenings after they had been freshly harvested is one of the sweetest smells in the world. Of course, cars didn’t have air conditioning in those days, so all four windows were down. You didn’t miss anything. During hay baling time my dad would always help my uncle. When I was eight years old, I was driving the flatbed truck while the men threw the bales onto it. I felt like a big shot.
I was the baby of the family until 1948. Before my brother was born, my mom would often go shopping downtown Tulsa and take me along. We only had one car, so we rode the bus to and from. Not one of my favorite memories. But when we were downtown it was awesome. My favorite store was Kress’s. When you walked in your olfactory nerves were attacked by all of the wonderful aromas of that store. The floors were oiled hardwood and had a sweet smell from that red colored sweeping compound they used. Then you were hit by the smell of the roasted nuts, and the fresh popcorn. The ceilings were stamped metal tiles with beautiful designs and the big brown ceiling fans spun slowly, distributing all of those wonderful aromas to every corner of the store. What an experience that was. To make it even better, I usually came home with a new cap pistol with the white steer head handles, and several boxes of caps. I wore those things out pretty fast as I remember. That was before I graduated to a Red Rider BB gun.
Life just made a lot more sense in those days. We never locked the doors on our home. As little kids, we would go on daytime adventures, sometimes as far away as three to four miles, walking, or riding our bicycles. Hike through the woods, play along the creeks and ponds. We were perfectly safe. Kidnappings and molestations were very rare in those days.
Schools and schoolteachers were 100% business. They were there to teach you the basic skills in life. There was no monkey business, no politics, no nonsense. They didn’t tolerate bad behavior, period. Bad behavior was dealt with in a forceful but civilized manner. Parents were involved in the discipline as well. Did bullying exist, of course, but to a much lesser degree.
It was a kinder, gentler world where kids were allowed to be kids. Kids don’t need the heavy burdens of adulthood put on them prematurely. They need to enjoy being children and doing childlike things. They need to play and be free of the mental burdens of adult life.
I feel extremely blessed I got to grow up in a simpler world with nicer people. I’m glad we didn’t have a TV until I was ten years old. I’m glad I wasn’t allowed to use the phone unless I had permission. I was extremely blessed to have parents who understood how to raise kids, and what was important and what wasn’t. I’m really glad my dad was a watermelon expert, and my mom knew how to cook hushpuppies and catfish.
God bless all of you. Try to give your young folks a little taste of the old days if you can. They will love you for it.
VERITAS VINCIT ~ LIVE FREE OR DIE
WHEN IT COMES TO KIDS, A LOT OF PEOPLE TODAY ARE TOTALLY ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THINGS. JESUS WARNED PEOPLE NOT TO HARM THEM. THAT’S PRETTY SERIOUS TERRITORY HARMING CHILDREN.
2 thoughts on “THE VIEW FROM ST. CHARLES”
Great story. Loved your childhood and memories of aromas. I was picturing Tom Sawyer.
I have a nephew, my sister’s boy. He’s like my little brother. He and I talk about this stuff and how we are both very sensitive to certain aromas and sounds. He loves steam trains, and railroads. If you walk down a well-used railroad in the country, it’s a sensory overload. The smell of diesel, lubricating oils, creosote-soaked railroad ties, and the sweet smell of the wild vegetation growing along the tracks. If it’s a warm summer day, all of these smells are amplified. That is what they mean by stopping to smell the roses. Thank you for reading, it was fun writing it, and looking back on the old days.