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Imagination’s Country Roots

Peg Finley, yesterday’s guest, spoke fondly of those days growing up on a WV farm when she could allow her imagination free rein. I do know how the lady feels. Back in the olden days of the fifties and sixties (yes, I do mean during the 20th century), those of us privileged to live in the country had it made over the ones living in town.

Regardless of how small the town was, the restrictions placed on kids were far different than those on us. City kids had to be careful where they went, what kinds of people they met, how far they could go from the house, who they could play with, what they could eat, and on and on. We figured they’d been “ruled” to death and that’s why they didn’t know very much about living.

I know, prejudice reared its nasty head and sank fangs into the arms of all of us living the free life of the country. We just couldn’t understand why anybody would want to be surrounded by concrete.

I mean, really, when we played cowboys and Indians, we had real weapons, a real forest to play in, and lunches of wild things growing in the fields and forest.

We drank out of springs and brooks half a mile or more from the house. We crossed whichever creek we came to regardless of the water snakes available to frighten the unwary. We thought nothing of exploring whatever cave happened to be in the vicinity, whether we were alone or not.

For us, it didn’t matter if we were alone. We were comfortable with ourselves.

All the kids I knew had imaginations that could make a game out of anything. We could talk about anything from whether I was the reason the cow went dry to the fact that Dad and his buddies had cleaned out the Big Walnut of all the catfish it might have had. They had brought home over 200 pounds of fish, it’s true. Those were the days.

Those were the days when we reaped the native bounty of a sustaining Earth. Our calendar began in Feb. with water cress from the creeks and moved through the months and wild fruits to autumn with its four different types of nuts.

Yessirree, country people knew how to live well in the food department. Of course, those were only the vegetation and fungi. The wild game was Dad’s purview. There were rabbits, squirrels, deer, fish of many varieties, and others. The land provided, and we gratefully gathered the gifts.

The life gave us freedom of thought, of ingenuity and creative rumination. Sure we had TV, even in those dark ages. We preferred doing other things than sitting in front of it, though. Mom and I made taffy, burning our hands as we pulled it, folded it over, and pulled it again, only to repeat the process. We played cards and other games, and we talked to each other.

Country kids were encouraged to use their imaginations to solve problems around the property on out on the land. We were expected to think of something other than gossip about other kids or going shopping and spending money.

We were comfortable in old clothes that could withstand a romp through a thick woods or a quick trip across a field on the neighbor’s cow. Most of us didn’t even have shoes for getting around in the summer. That’s why God gave us feet. Time and exposure toughened our soles.

We could spend hours of an evening catching fireflies, or trying to lure Jack Snappers from their holes. Crawdads couldn’t hide from us when we went alookin’ and the hellgrammites were used for fish bait, very carefully.

Like Peg, we used our imaginations every day, stretching them to take in the world around us and our place in it. For us it was a happy way of life, a life that kept us moving, exploring, questioning, and discovering. It gave us our identities. It also gave us an appreciation for every morsel of information that came our way.

Telling each other about our adventures grew into a love of such stories. Most of us learned early how to keep a listener’s attention around the campfire on a summer night or on the creek bank while the fish were dozing. We loved our lives and our adventures and our rural backgrounds. I doubt many of us would have had it any other way.

For Peg, and me, and other country kids, imagination’s use in writing became the outlet for who we were becoming. Many writers trace their love of books, writing and storytelling back to those days living in the country when life was simpler and more straightforward.

Families told their histories to the young around the kitchen table at gatherings. It formed a tradition that continues in the South today. Southern roots run deep and can never be completely removed from someone who grew up there.

If you ever want to be literarily surprised, look up the major writers of the U.S. who come from the South. It might give you a taste of what I’ve been talking about and what Peg Finley remembers so well and so fondly.

Tomorrow, stop in to visit with our guest, Suzanne Lieurance, writer, coach, and entrepreneur. Until then,

A bientot,



Categories: Writing and Poetry
  1. January 28, 2010 at 3:46 am

    I grew up on an Australian sheep farm during the sixties and early seventies. It was such a wonderfully innocent time and I cherish the memories.
    Children of the millenium find it hard to understand that we survived in a remote location without television or even a telephone. We were turned outside at dawn and told not to come back before the sun went down because the fresh air was good for us.
    Now, well into middle age and quite healthy I’m thinking maybe the parents of old knew what they were talking about.
    Maureen. http://www.thepizzagang.com

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