Monday, February 21, 2022

Growing up in Turn-of-the-Century Mondovi, WI: Play Time

Grace Reese Adkins, 
Leaves from Childhood’s Diary, Part 2

In the poem “Our Front Yard” (see part 1), Mrs. Adkins recalled four games that she, her siblings, and neighborhood kids had played in turn-of-the-century Mondovi. Of course, such physical games were not enough to fill up a weekend or whole summer.  So, in addition to those games, the kids found other ways to engage their imaginations and fill up their days. In two of her poems, she recalled such activities, playing school and putting on shows.   

Grace Reese Adkin
Northwest Ark. Times, Nov. 6, 1948

Playing School (Published May 6, 1937)
We played school
In the back yard,
And I was the teacher,
But my brothers
And Cousin Ray,
And the neighbor children
Often made trouble
So that mother
Had to call the boys in,
And sometimes send
The neighbor children

Home Theatricals (Published April 21, 1937)
Every summer vacation
We had home theatricals.
I was master of ceremonies
Mother was patient
And let us string sheets
Across the living room,
And decorate
We invited our grandparents,
And all the neighbors,
And when our uncle was home from college
He liked to come.
We spoke pieces
With much gesturing
And staged impressive tableaux.
It was hard work
Cleaning up the living room

Note that when playing school, Grace Reese was the teacher and when putting on shows, she was the master of ceremony. That she took on those roles provides a good clue about what she was like in her childhood: She was clearly a “take charge” girl. Playing school was probably fun for Grace Reese, but quickly became boring for her “students.”

 Nevertheless, the game was good preparation for Grace’s first job. After she arrived in Arkansas in the middle of 1902, she began teaching schools in rural Washington County schools. She taught a couple of years in Prairie Grove and later two more years in Oak Grove, near Winslow.   

 The “home theatricals” were no doubt more fun than playing school. Much effort was spent in preparing for the production, and the audience was appreciative. Later in her life, Mrs. Adkins wrote and directed various programs, plays, and celebrations for her churches, including the one she founded in 1938.  She orchestrated Mother’s Day, Easter, and Christmas shows featuring young folks singing, reading verses, and reciting poetry. 

Fun was not only to be had in games and play but also could be found in celebrating special occasions. Grace Reese recalled one “nice” birthday party where the birthday boy found a way to impress all the girls in attendance.              

The Party (Published on May 3, 1937)
One of the boys
Had a nice birthday party in his front yard.
We wore our best clothes.
He got lots of presents,
But he drank one of the bottles
Of perfumery –
An act which profoundly impressed
Us girls.
Proposed Logos for the Ozark Moon Column

Lemke was not impressed with the boy who drank perfume. He commented on the poem, recalling:  “We didn’t do anything sissyish like that. Up in Wausau when we wanted to impress the girls we bit off a big chew of Mail Pouch. Or maybe it was Battle Ax. Perfume – pooh!"

More serious and educational fun was to be had in exploring nature around Mondovi.  Mrs. Adkins recalled an annual event that took her into the nearby wilds to find spring plants.

Flowering (Published April 13, 1937)
In early spring
We went flowering –
An oft-repeated pilgrimage,
Fondly anticipated
During the winter.
Disagreeable winds
Blew sand in our eyes,
But we trudged down the road
That paralleled the river.
Our first objective was a low fill
Where something we called nervine grew.
The green leaves carpeted the ground,
And dainty, bell-like flowers
Peeped out.
Then there was a wind-swept pasture
Where, springing at our feet,
We would find the pasque-flower.
There were patches of buttercups
By the roadside,
And deep in the woods
Beside a creek
A spot where bloodroot grew.
And Dutchman’s breeches,
Snowy white.
We picked the flowers,
Because we did not know
They should be left
To bloom for others.

Mrs. Adkins loved flowers, both wild and the ones she grew, and she became quite knowledgeable about them. In 1936, she submitted seventeen short poems to Ozark Moon on the theme ofBotanical Notes.” The poems had the following titles: Houstonia Minima (March 12), Anemone Patens (March 12), Ranunculus Fascicularis (March 12), Amelanchier Botryaplum (March 12), Quercus Alba (March 12), Pyrus Malus (March 12), Trillium Grandiflorum (March 18), Aquilegia Canadensis (March 20), Draha Verna (March 23), Sanguinaria Canadensis (March 24), Viola Blanda (March 26), Thalictrum Anemonoldes (March 27), Anemone Nemorosa (March 30), Caltha Palustris (April 13), Taraxacum Bens-leonis (April 15), Anemone Nemorosa (April 16), Hepatica Triloba (April 17).

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