Friday, March 7, 2014

Sepia Saturday: Big Backyard

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.




This week’s Sepia Saturday photo prompt is all about backyards and fences.  I’m immediately reminded of one of my favorite poems by Robert Frost, “Mending Wall,” in which the old adage “Good fences make good neighbors” is questioned by the narrator who opposes building fences for the sake of building fences.  He asks his neighbor – and the reader - to consider what we are walling in and walling out.  Like many poems, this one is simple on the surface, but a philosophical discussion of the complexity of this poem is more suited for a graduate course.  And I’m anything but complex.  

The house in Cradock where I grew up came with a fence.  Not a charming picket fence.  Just a scallop-topped welded-wire fence held up by a series of metal posts.  An adult could press our fence down a bit and step right over it.  Children used the mesh openings like steps to climb over.  It was a practical reality of life that children needed to be contained, in view from the kitchen window, safe from traffic.  

We lived on the corner of Gillis Road and Upshur Place, and we shared the fence with 3 good neighbors. 



Mary Jollette Slade August 1959
Mary Jollette August 1959
Sitting up near the grapevine



The fence that ran parallel with Upshur held a grape vine.  It came with the house too.  Every year we looked forward to a small crop of purple grapes.  However, between the squirrels, the birds, and kids running up and down Upshur, we seldom got to enjoy the fruit of our vine. 










Facing Upshur were our neighbors Frank and Mary Bland who shared the fence running along our back yard.  Frank and Mary were an older couple, somebody’s grandparents.  They were extremely tolerant of the many times my sister climbed the fence to go play with her friend Rusty Taylor, and the many times Rusty returned the visit or hopped the fence to retrieve a ball he hit into the Blands’ backyard. 

Easter 1969 Wendy and Mary Jollette Slade, Portsmouth, VA
Wendy and Mary Jollette Easter Sunday 1968 (?)
That's Frank and Mary Bland's house and car in the background.



The most lasting memory of the Blands, though, is late afternoon or early evening when Frank arrived home from work.  He always blew his car horn so that Mary would come running dutifully to open the garage door.  In our house, we’d all stop whatever we were doing and yell, “Frank’s home!”  Even today when my sister and I are together and we hear a car horn in the distance, we’ll say, “Frank’s home!” and then fall into a fit of laughter.





We shared the fence on the right with both the Allens and my grandparents.  Bets and Earl Allen had four kids.  Dickie was older and a boy, for goodness sake, so he stayed out of our way for the most part.  Peggy was the oldest girl, maybe 2 years older than her sister Mary and me; Anne was the baby, probably 4 years younger than Mary and me.

Anne Allen, Mary Allen, Peggy Allen, Wendy Slade
The Allen girls Anne, Mary, Peggy
and ME in dressups
Standing in my grandparents' side yard facing Frailey Place
Every day was a play day with the Allen girls, so that fence got a workout.  The wire fence  bent and warped as little feet inserted themselves in those window-like openings.

The Allens’ side yard was mostly dirt, thanks to a large tree that wouldn’t allow grass to grow.  So it was an excellent spot for hopscotch, Mother May I, and jump rope. 

Our yard, though, had the swing set,

Susan Golden and Mary Jollette 1966
Susan Golden and Mary Jollette
in dressups 1966
(We all LOVED dressups!)




















a ready-made stage for all kinds of plays thanks to the previous owners (not sure what that cement pad had been – perhaps the floor of a shed?),

Susan Golden and Mary Jollette 1966


Nancy Taylor and Mary Jollette summer 1969
Nancy Taylor and Mary Jollette
The fence behind Mary Jollette faces the Allens' yard.
plenty of room for croquet despite two large pecan trees (we never got any pecans either thanks to birds and squirrels), a crab apple tree, a fig tree, and an oak,













and a kiddy pool – no diving board and no lifeguard on duty – swim at your own risk.

Mary Jollette Slade and Rusty Taylor July 1965
Mary Jollette with Rusty Taylor July 1965
Anne Allen and Debbie Ellis
Anne Allen and Debbie Ellis

One day the splashing and squealing that accompanied our escape from the heat of summer led to a verbal cat fight between my ordinarily mild-mannered-non-confrontational mother and Bets Allen.  Bets complained that she couldn’t take much more of Mary Jollette and Rusty and all their squealing.  Like a protective mother bear, Momma fired back, “Yeah, well now you know how it feels over here when you let Anne scream and cry all day.”  (Ouch.  I’m sure Mary and I were to blame for Anne’s frequent melt-downs.  She merely wanted to be included, but Mary and I didn’t want some baby tagging along ruining our fun.) 

That was one day when good fences did indeed make good neighbors as Momma and Bets each retreated to their homes to cool off.

The other half of our fence separated our yard from my grandparents’ yard.  The neighborhood kids probably spent as much time at the Davis yard as in their own backyards.  With hardly any traffic, the road was the choice spot for all the popular jump rope games.  But the big draw was my granddaddy’s garage. 

Davis house corner Gillis and Frailey
My grandparents' house with the ever-popular garage.
In the distance the Allens' two-story house
and then the Taylors'



In the summer it was a playhouse with paint cans for furniture and old screens for walls.  Sometimes it was a school.  Sometimes it was a hideout for robbers.   And in some game resembling tag that we invented, it was a prison for slow runners captured by The Eagle. 












My own backyard was fenced in, but the backyard of my youth extended beyond that wire fence.  When we grew tired of one yard, we moved on to another.  We played in the Harrises’ ditch.  We skated in the Horniks’ driveway.  Nobody complained.  Just free to be.

Hop the fence and head to Sepia Saturday for a plethora of backyard adventures.


46 comments:

  1. Such happy days. I enjoyed the trip.

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  2. Nice childhood memories. You have to look closely to see your fences. It must have been fun growing up next door to your grandparents - we left both sets of grandparents behind in NZ when we came to Australia, Dad's mother died 3 years later, without him getting back at all, and I think my Mum only saw her mother 3 more times after that, so it must have been hard for both of them.

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    1. Oh, I'm always conflicted about those major moves when a family knows they might never see the rest of their family again. I admire the bravery but am sad too.

      Yes, you have to look for the fence -- I'd say it was probably the cheap way to go if you needed a fence.

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  3. Fun post with the 'Fence & Neighbor' narratives right through the Melt Down and Cool Off! Great pics and memories. Isn't it amazing what one little ole prompt can bring out of the backyard. Well done for Sepia Saturday.

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    1. I love the prompts. Sepia Saturday rules!!

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  4. I loved reading about your childhood memories. Now you've got me thinking about some of the good times I had with the neighbor kids. Thanks. :)

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    1. Maybe your memories will work their way into a poem or story or journal.

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  5. Thanks for sharing your childhood of a neighborhood which raised everyone's kids...I never had that, nor relatives living nearby, so it was doubly enjoyed.

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    1. You said it -- I had a lot of mommas on Frailey Place!

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  6. What a wonderful trip through your childhood and various yards. I had fun playing dress-up with my girl friends too, but my favorite was playing (American) football with the boy up the street IN the street! Fortunately it wasn't a particularly busy street.

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    1. A street with little traffic makes a great playground.

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  7. Lovely. I really like that pink suit.

    I don't remember having children as neighbours in any of the places that we lived.

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    1. That was a great suit -- my mom made it. I loved my 2-tone pink shoes too.

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  8. “Frank’s home!” That's really funny! Fine post!

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    1. It's funny to us, but I wasn't sure anyone else would think it's funny. It's just how we are.

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  9. You've distilled the perfect essence of childhood geography with this post, Wendy. A child's back yard had boundaries that were invisible and not always contained by adult structures like walls and fences.

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    1. When I look back on my childhood, I can't help feeling darn lucky to have lived when and where I did.

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  10. Wendy, on another topic, are you planning to attend the NGS conference in May in Richmond? I am considering going & if you are we could meet for lunch or tea.

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    1. Working on it -- I'll be in touch!

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  11. I enjoyed reading about your neighborhood fun.

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    1. Thanks -- it was fun reliving it.

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  12. You begin your lovely family journey with one of my favorite things growing on a fence. Grapes, how lucky. I am a fan of that quote as well, and you'll surely pick up on it once you read my opening quote for my post. Thanks for the trip through your childhood!

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    1. I can see in my mind's eye the purple-ness of those grapes, but I KNOW we never got a whole lot at a time.

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  13. What wonderful memories of family and friends. I really like Easter photos -- and you and Mary definitely make the grade as being in your Easter best. Also liked the dress up photos. I kept a trunk of "dress-up" stuff long after my granddaughters wanted to play dress up.

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    1. Dress ups were the best. I think every mother kept a stash for us.

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  14. OK… we played dress ups, hopscotch and jump rope but what is Mother May I?
    Maybe we called it something else over here.
    Such a shame kids these days can't play as safely as back then.

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    1. Kristin explains the game. The Mother dictated the type of step such as "you may take 2 baby steps," "you may take 1 giant step," "you may take 5 butterfly twirls," "you may do 1 cartwheel," etc. The person who reached the Mother first became the new Mother.

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  15. We played Mother May I. Everybody lines up and one person is opposite, some ways from the line. This person says "you may take 1 step", as I remember calling out a name. If the person doesn't say "mother, may I?" before they take that step,they have to start over. If they do ask, they may be told yes or no, you may take 5 steps or whatever. This post did take me back to days of playing in the neighborhood.

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    1. I guess my girls will remember playing "Capture the Flag." I doubt they ever played Mother May I. I'll have to ask.

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  16. How on earth do you remember so much detail of your neighbours? I played with some of mine too and can remember a few but I’m astonished at your recall. You had a happy time in your backyard(s).

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    1. It was a happy time. My sister and I still see these neighbors occasionally. As for my memory, I'll admit I had to contact a friend on Facebook to recall Frank and Mary's last name. I knew it started with a B.

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  17. I hadn't thought of neighbours as a topic on its own this week, but you have done it proud.

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    1. Thanks -- I stuck to neighbors who shared our fence.

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  18. You have so many wonderful childhood memories--fences and all! Loved the dress-up photos!

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    1. Thank-ya ma'am. I do have fun memories of a wonderful childhood. It's practically storybook perfect.

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  19. I was instantly transported back to my childhood and memories of playing with my brother and sister in the garden. Thank you

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    1. That's great -- I'm glad my little post triggered some good memories for you.

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  20. Ahhh! These are such fun childhood memories you've shared with us. I remember playing with our neighborhood kids when I was a kid too. What fun days those were!

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    1. Thanks. All kids deserve a wonderful childhood.

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  21. So lovely. It sounds like a paradise for kids.

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    1. I'm sure I've blocked out anything that wasn't great, but overall yes, it was a good time and a good place with lots of places to go and places to play without worrying about being assaulted by a predator or enticed into a stranger's car.

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  22. The fence in our front yard was an important part of my youth. The girl next door, Mary, was halfway in age between my sister and me and early in our childhood she was my BFF, and later on she was my sister's BFF. Mary and I would often get into little fights and one or the other would run home in a huff. It usually didn't take too long before one of us would pick up the phone and call the other to say, through our tears, "meet me at the fence" and we'd run outside and meet at the fence for a much needed hug. The neighbors all used to laugh when they'd see us outside hugging and know that we were making up from one fight or another.

    Thanks for the memories!

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    1. Oh goodness -- how funny and sweet. Threesomes are tough to manage!

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  23. What a fun romp through your childhood neighborhood, Wendy. Our swing sets could be fraternal twins: the only difference was that mine didn't have a "teeter-totter" -- if that's what they're called. And I can absolutely identify with those made-up "real life games" -- playing school, house, etc. Dress-up? Yes. Croquet? Yes. Fences? No. We didn't have fences anywhere in my hometown that I can remember.

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  24. Best post ever girl!

    Playing Eagle always scared me to death, LOL. I know we were talking about the Harris' ditch the other day, what did we do in that ditch, just lie there two inches from the Highway and look at cars?

    Daddy said that Granddaddy Davis always sat on the porch to watch y'all play to be sure nothing happened to you. What sweet granddaddy.

    I wonder what became of Mary and Frank. I don't think they were were as old as we thought they were. Frank traveled to Russia when I was in 5th grade, left sweet Mary home by herself. At least she didn't have to run out and open that damn door for Frank for a couple of weeks. BEEEP! Frank's home!

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