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Remembering Mother: Growing up on Jamestown Hill

A Mother's Day Story by Wilma Jean Waggener Cravens. The Tree Root Village: Making do and making believe
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By Wilma Jean Waggener Cravens
Story composed by phone 13 May 2017, transcribed by Ed Waggener

When we were growing up on Jamestown Hill, we didn't have a lot of spending money, and not a lot of store bought toys. But we did have safe neighborhoods and plenty of imagination to make do - with make-do toys - at play.

Sometimes all of the many kids living at the big two-and-a-half story house and a few of the dozens of neighborhood children of all ages.

I remember the exposed roots on the maples on the Ralph Willis side of our yard, and the surrounding "lawn" practically devoid of grass where barely any other vegetation, besides those wonderful shade trees, grew. It would not have been a Southern Living example of a great Southern lawn, but it had it's advantages. Today's kids probably can't even imagine what a playground it was.

Nothing could have provided a better kit for an imaginary village.

There were no trips to the store. No unboxing, no breakable plastic toys to ruin a set.

Tools were sticks and spoons, maybe a screw driver "borrowed" from Daddy's toolbox - that was a daring, punishable act.

Fill dirt was excavated on-site, with never a thought of buying cello-bag of fake dirt back then? Yet, the villages we built were as complex as Legolands of today.

Roads were engineered in the way many public roads were engineered back then: They took the route of least resistance. The play towns started spontaneously. They weren't part of a rigorous calendar like the ones Moms rule kids lives with today.

And they weren't prompted by adult's suggestions if we ever dared complain there's nothing to do. We didn't dare say that. It wouldn't have gained any sympathy. For Momma, and all mothers of the day, an answer came swiftly. It might be "The tomatoes need hoeing." or "Your room needs cleaning." Never, "What's what's wrong with this town? No wonder you're growing up wild as a rabbit." The play they might suggest was "go outside and play." We just weren't allowed to say we were bored. Or that there's nothing to do in this town.

The tree root village arose spontaneously started when we were just talking, and one of us would suggest, "Let's p'like we're have our own town to run." A tree root village would often have a post office, a dry cleaners, a shoe repair shop or two; a department store and always, an "E. Campbell's," what we called the biggest store we new, "Mr. Campbell's," officially "Columbia Supermarket."

Mr. Garrison's service station, which happened to sell gas, (not today's version with gas sales and no service, Lynn's excepted) might be part of the tree root town, and any other enterprise which might come to mind.

The extent of the tree root town was limited only by our interests, or by a brief summer shower, which had it's own possibilities, including mud for mortar. As for toy cars and dolls - there might be some among the family and friends, but mostly, we were left to our own devices. Our toy vehicles could be constructed with penny matchboxes with matchsticks for axles. Trucks and trailer-trucks required discarded nickel sized match boxes or a yellow and red Post Toasties carton; those were harder to come by.

Occasionally, tea parties were conducted in a completed town with the tiny glass dolls given to us by aunts as the by-invitation-only guests. I remember that the parties were very sophisticated, with relatively great instruction given on how to daintily hold the cup with the curved little finger, by one of us presumed the role of hostess - "Mrs. Snodgrass," a name we thought most appropriate of the most cultured of all women.

And if tiny three inch dolls weren't owned by the playmates they could be built with sticks and grass.

The work did consume a lot of energy - but at our house, Momma was 15 feet away in the kitchen, behind open, screened windows, and hunger was soon abated when she finally called "You who-o-o," followed by "Come and get it!". (And yes, Momma did repeat that funny cliche, "Ma's on the table and pa's half et."

Soup and sandwiches and there was an abundance of fresh from her "little garden" radishes, Bibb Lettuce, asparagus, okra. Homemade pickles from an earlier season were brought from the cellar - the word "Paramount" was a movie brand, not a food label - and milk and homemade ice tea would be served.

At the table Momma might deliver a forced sincere scolding for the tree root town.

"You kids made a mess out there. I don't know we'll ever have a sprig of grass on the yard - y'all keep all that digging and wearing out the grass with bicycle paths." Sometimes Daddy's driving around the house was cited, too.

Fact is, she meant a lot of that. She'd always compare our yard to Miss Hatties', Miss Miranda's, or one of the picture book yards on Greensburg Street or Lebanon Avenue in Campbellsville, and wonder why, despite all the kids in our family, we couldn't do the same.

It would appear, to many, that we Waggeners just grew up volunteer, to make it, if we could, altogether, on our own. But that isn't what Momma did. No mother ever lived who kept her eye on so many of her own and uncounted others.

It doesn't take a Mother's Day to remember Audrey Lee Chelf Waggener, when of course we all do. But there's not a day in our lives we don't think of her. - Jean Cravens, Indianapolis.

This story was posted on 2017-05-14 11:38:50
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Just a shady area - but to some, it recalls childhood playground

2017-05-14 - Trabue-Russell House, 201 Jamestown Street, Columbia, KY - Photo by Ed Waggener, .
My sister Jean, whose memory goes back through almost eight decades, recalled the difference in the make-do imagination kids of her era used, and the fabulous roots around trees in our yard at 705 Jamestown Street. On lazy, shady days of summer, the roots were the site of whole new play towns. The original trees in the accompanying story are long gone - four decades have passed. And the yard wasn't as fancy as this one, though it is necessary to point out, just a bit down Jamestown Hill, the road cut was higher and closer to the road, and a favorite prank of kids in the 1930's and 40's was to sail across the road on a grapevine, above or between passing cars. And notable, so far as history we've seen records, no kids were hurt in the dangerous practice. - EW

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While the dew is still on the roses

2017-05-15 - Julia Horton Memorial Rose Garden, TRH, 201 Jamestown Street, Columbia, KY - Photo by Ed Waggener, .
Mother's Day, searching for Red & White roses to illustrate an old Mother's Day Tradition - wearing a red rose pinned to lapels to indicate one's mother was still living, a white one for one who was already in heaven, I found that one of Dr. John Burns Horton's favorite sayings was that "Roses don't like wet feet," and bright red and healthy whites were in short supply this year. But this pink rose, sprinkled, not baptized, had waterdrops which evoked "In the garden" strains in my head. The item was to go with another reminder my sister Jean (one of my three favorite sisters - all wonderful mothers) told me - that tradition - in her story, "Remembering Mother: Growing up on Jamestown Hill" accessed by clicking Read More. Special thanks to the reader who still hasn't been coaxed out of anonymity, who critiqued it as "An Instant CM Classic." - EW

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