Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Childhood Memories: Our Kansas City Years

Dear friends and family,

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a distant cousin in Iowa, John Woolson, who had stumbled on a blog post I wrote two years ago about my Revolutionary War ancestors Captain Samuel Ransom and his son Colonel George Palmer Ransom. John mentioned that his sister and her husband had been involved in Methodist ministry for over 50 years. It’s funny how even stray little comments like this can trigger memories from decades ago.

At the mention of an elderly Methodist minister, my mind instantly leapt to kindly Rev. and Mrs. Allen, my Aunt Nancy’s parents-in-law. I treasure distinct memories of visiting their home in small town Linneus, Missouri, at age seven. I remember Mrs. Allen's vegetable garden in the front yard, and that she made pickles from the cucumbers she grew. We kids discovered a robin's nest with pale blue hatched eggs in it, put it in a cardboard box, and took it home. Playing the board game Life, we moved little cars around the board, picking up a tiny plastic spouse and children along the life journey. (Did I ever dream that I would someday need a van to seat 10 children in my Real Life? Not in a million years!) After strolling to the village antique store, I purchased a small glass cat playing with a ball, which might have been the start of my extensive glass animal collection. (Whatever happened to that?) My end-of-day memory was snuggling into a borrowed white flannel nightgown and going to sleep in a cozy guest room in their two story white house. Do you get the feeling of warm welcome and hospitality, of diligent and delightful homemaking? That’s an abiding impression to a young child. It’s funny that I didn’t even recall that it was Thanksgiving until I found an old pho
to in a box yesterday. The inscription on the back notes that it was 1970, and that Mom Allen took the photo of me reading Good Housekeeping figuring it might make a good ad for the magazine. I’m sorry to say that I am not particularly Good at Housekeeping myself…

I wrote those recollections down quickly in my journal a few weeks ago, later sharing them with my English students as an example of simple descriptive writing and story telling. Their writing assignment that week was to record one of their own childhood memories in a paragraph.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to share several other short vignettes (hopefully poignant and/or humorous) from this chapter in my childhood. Perhaps this will inspire you to recall and share some of your own childhood tales with someone you love!

Our family lived in a northern suburb of Kansas City from shortly before my fifth birthday in 1967 until 1971. Dad worked for an airline, TWA, as a computer programmer. (Yes, we’ve been a computer family since before I was born!) Believe it or not, he actually flew back to Chicago two evenings each week for quite some time so he could finish up his MBA at the University of Chicago

We lived at 34 Greentree Lane in a rather hilly neighborhood. Sometimes while driving home at night, we would stop at a certain bluff overlooking the beautiful city lights and exclaim, “Oooh, ahhh!” (Those exact words, every time!) Living in that hilly neighborhood meant that adjacent houses were not always at the same level as one another. One nearby yard sloped to a six foot retaining wall. I must have been only five when my tricycle, with me on it, plummeted over it onto the concrete patio of the next house below. The neighbor children ran screaming to my mother: “Virginia fell over a cliff! Virginia fell over a cliff!” The ambulance could not find our house so my parents frantically drove me to the hospital. I remember regaining consciousness with my head leaning against the window of our white Ford Fairlane station wagon. I still have the scars underneath my left eyebrow and on one of my middle fingers, which got caught in the tricycle spokes.

My birthday, September 7, fell just one week after the deadline for entering public school Kindergarten. Not wanting to hold me back, my parents enrolled me in a private school, Little Folks, which went up to first grade. The picture here is from my first day of school. It was on that momentous day, when the teacher called roll, that I found out my real name was Virginia instead of Ginny Lynn. (I had been named after the Ginny Lynn Restaurant. My Grandma Hess did persist in calling me Ginny Lynn off and on until I was a teenager.) When I graduated from Kindergarten there, my Grandpa Quarrier gave me a purple cow that played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” when you pulled the cord.

Mom had to go back to work about halfway through my Kindergarten year. The first day she dropped me off at a home daycare before school, the cranky old lady, Mrs. Johnson, spanked me! My crime? Crying for Mom because I missed her! I dreaded her house so much that one day I got off at a friend’s bus stop instead of the one near her house. My mom got the picture, and found another babysitter. Ah, heaven this time! Mrs. Eugene Hull lovingly cared for the little children who were valued guests in her home. We read books (like Meet Abraham Lincoln, of which I have a copy today), watched Romper Room and Captain Kangaroo, and ate cookies dipped in milk. Her son Philip, the same age as me, would walk me to the bus stop since I was afraid of dogs. Decades later, while expecting our fourth baby, Thad and I happened to visit Kansas City --- and we stopped in to see Mr. and Mrs. Hull, living in the same house! That, again, shows the impression that warm welcome makes on a small child. A teenager named Marsha Thornton also sometimes babysat us in our home. She gave me the books The Large and Growly Bear and Sylvester, the Musical Mouse for my sixth birthday. I still have them! Books also make such a lasting imprint on small hearts and brains!

In 2nd grade, the public school finally decided I could join their ranks, then promptly moved me up to a combined 2nd/3rd class. My classmates and I loved to run to the library at recess time to check out our favorite Thornton W. Burgess animal books like Reddy the Fox. (I still own some of these classics, too!) The Bobbsey Twin mysteries were our other top picks. Back then, the school dress code was regulated by the ultra-conservative John Birch Society. Little girls could only wear dresses or skirts, unless it was snowing. Then they could wear pants underneath their dresses and then promptly remove the pants upon arriving at school. One day, our teacher had to leave the classroom and told us not to leave our seats. Being the obedient child, I stayed in my seat --- and wet my pants rather than walk over to the little bathroom that connected to our classroom. Mom had to bring me fresh clothes, and, you guessed it, I was sent home because she brought me a pair of pants to wear!

Since Dad worked for TWA, we enjoyed the perk of free or discounted flights. One year, we joined Dad on a business trip to England! It was originally supposed to be two weeks, but I think we wore them out too much, so we came home a week early. Of course, we “did” the usual London tourist things like watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, touring Westminster Cathedral, and riding the double decker red bus past the Big Ben clock tower. We got tickets to see the Dickens musical “Oliver” and walked the city streets in the rain. Our quaint little hotel was called The Hansel and Gretel. Our room on the top floor had slanted walls because of the roof dormer. Mom read The Dr. Seuss Sleep Book to us to try to settle us down. Everything cooked in the hotel kitchen (which was in the basement) tasted like fish. I don’t like fish! I think I must have consumed countless peanut butter crackers on that trip!

In spring 1971, Dad lost his job, but he found another one in the booming Silicon Valley near San Francisco. Our Midwestern days came to a close as we climbed aboard our covered wagon (a white pickup truck with a shell constructed of two-by-fours, canvas, and heavy plastic for windows – it even had bunkbeds in it and most certainly would be illegal now!) to head for the Pacific. I will always remember our Kansas City days with nostalgia.

You can find several dozen charming childhood photos, including one of me sitting on top of our refrigerator, here: Growing Up in the Quarrier Family.

My sweet 16 year old daughter, Joanna, has written her own blog post with some of her own memories -- of me! Mi Madre

Your own assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to browse through your old photo albums, cuddle up on the couch with someone you love, and tell your childhood stories. (You could even write them down for posterity.)

Virginia Knowles

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