Cumberland Times-News

March 22, 2014

Free-range reminiscing and occasional nostalgia

Maude McDaniel, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— When I was in grade school, (many more years ago than when either of you were in grade school) my daily winter (fall, spring) routine included walking to school across a railroad track. As I may have told you before, the train went down between the two lanes of automobile traffic in the street beyond ours. Like your average street, there were houses on each side, which still strikes me as a little odd. We're talking big hulkin' steam freight trains, and some passenger ones too, down the center of your fairly average neighborhood street . Somehow I can't see that happening on Grand Avenue, or Bedford Street.

Anyway. I don't remember ever seeing a crossing guard there, although my oldest brother does — but he is six years older than I. By my time, I bet they had decided that kids had a good deal of common sense in the matter of waiting for trains to get though before you ran across. Actually, as I tell my brothers, we did have more sense than they did, so there. Although I never admit that there were times waiting for the train when I seriously considered seeing if I could run across between the wheels. Yes, seriously. They turned so slowly on the track in this street, I was sure I could, if I timed it just right. Luckily I never tried.

I always fell short of doing the exact final move in some brave act that would have made me look remarkable to all the world. If I had had the nerve — who knows?

I probably wouldn't be here talking to you today.

I don't ever remember getting a day off from school because of snow, although I'm sure we did. I do remember many nights going to bed with great hope in my heart. (Say in 1936 which was a big snow year.) We lived about a block and a half away from the grade school, which was on the train street, so nobody thought it was asking much more to let these little kids find their own way through mountains of snow.. I mean, no one ever worried about the trains (so far as I know), so why should they worry about the huge piles of snow all around on the sidewalk?

Still, we didn't play in those piles much — where we did play was in our backyard. We had a separate garage, so it was the easiest thing in the world for my brothers to get up on the roof (they did it all the time) and push all the snow off for a huge, low-labor snow fort.

Many were the times I spent inside it, though for the life of me I can't remember what we did there. Laid up ammunition, I guess; I do remember a snow ball battle or two, in which, as a good sister, I switched sides frequently.

As I look back on those days, I am amazed at how much I was allowed to do on my own. Downtown Wheeling was three, four blocks away — and I remember going down there a lot by myself. (Probably not in the first few grades.) I also walked over to the library which was close to a mile across town, every week. And every Wednesday afternoon, I walked from school to the church, which was about three blocks down the street across from the courthouse. On Wednesdays Mother was not at home, but at church with the Quilters, so I always had to join her there after school.

Mother hated quilting.

She was good at all the standard women's work of the time, cooking (oh yes), cleaning, and general supervision. She had graduated from college and it couldn't have been easy for her. She gave book reviews for local groups, but she never could get interested in sewing. So, looking back, I see how hard she tried to be a good minister's wife, and go to quilting (and actually quilt!) every Wednesday, almost every week, every year.

I know I would have hated it.

But, as a child, for me it was fun. I never had to quilt, just show up and play my part - being a good little minister's daughter that Mother and Daddy could be proud of. Not to mention being the center of attention a good deal of the time. And I have to say, it wasn't that hard, because people were always kind, and interested, and generous with cookies.

I don't know where the quilts went, but some of them were quite beautiful. They were full-size too, none of your teeny little baby-size things.

Actually, I had started writing this in order to explore the whole subject of quilts, but I've run out of space.

Oh my gosh!

There is a pileated woodpecker on the dead tree in the yard.


Gotta go get my camera.

Maude McDaniel is a Cumberland freelance writer. Her column appears on alternate Sundays in  the Times-News.