Our kids grew up in a wonderland, at least it seems that way in retrospect. Now, like Camelot, it has disappeared. All that remains is a memory. But it colors all of our lives and enriches them. It was, in fact, our life at one time. We lived it large. We enjoyed it ‘in the moment’ for the most part. Even then, I think we knew it would soon be gone forever. Though we could never have imagined the world as it is today. We were excited to have color TV, and when remote controls came on the scene, we felt like “genies”; they were magic. The technological age was barely a glimmer on the horizon.
We have five children. It is impossible to be “helicopter” parents when you have that many. When these children were growing up there was no such thing as parents who hovered over their children in a way that is all too common today.
We lived on a farm with many animals and always lots to do. My husband was an architect. And I was a homemaker, hostess, wife, and mother (later a real estate broker). We led an active social life; we fox hunted and enjoyed our children and their friends. We traveled and visited with grandparents often. We were “on the go .” The first three children, the oldest a boy followed by two girls, were born within the first three years we were married. Eight years later, we decided to have another baby, which soon turned into two new babies 13 months apart, both boys. We named them after our ancestors. Robert Redd Matheson and John Murdoch Buchanan Matheson, and we all adored them. The three older children acted as adjunct parents/babysitters. The little boys worshipped their older siblings. They were surrounded by loving people who helped raise them.
We lived free. The doors to our house did not lock. We never removed the keys and certainly never locked the doors of any of our cars. We had a long driveway which gave us plenty of warning if someone was approaching the house. We normally owned 5 or 6 dogs who let us know when anyone drove in. Our boys climbed rocks on the short cliffs above our pond, and they splashed in the water of “Little River,” where it bordered our property. They played in a swing made from an old tire hung from a locust tree down by the spring. There were acres to explore and build forts or pretend anything they wanted. We had a whole bunch of ponies. There were often other extraneous animals like steers, pigs, and a milk cow. We once had a goat who ate absolutely everything. There were chickens, pheasants, rabbits, and a large number of dogs, occasionally with a litter of puppies. Playing soldiers or cowboys and Indians exhausted the younger boys by evening. They came rolling in like sleepy puppies wanting to curl up on the couch with us.
We had a pool, pond, and a tennis court with a hard surface, perfect for bike riding, skateboarding, and anything where wheels could go fast. My youngest boys grew up with that tennis court and even started playing with tennis balls as soon as they could walk. Boys love balls. And they loved having that flat surface for playing with soldiers in tanks and jeeps. They learned to use a skateboard very young because their older brother Charley was great with his. They swam in the pool, and they often had friends over for lunch of hamburgers and hot dogs by the pool. We had a log cabin that had originally been an ice house with a deep hole in the floor, which used to be packed with ice and straw in the days before electricity. We filled in the hole and put in a cement floor to make this into a playhouse for the children. It even had a little loft with a ladder attached for easy access—what a great place that was for playing or a picnic. There was a concrete threshold which we poured when we filled in the floor. All of our children and a few of their dogs put handprints (and paw prints) in the wet cement! They wrote their initials and the date. Though the house is gone, that cement threshold still exists at one of my daughters’ houses. She uses it in front of a cabin door on their property.
When I see those little handprints with the names of my now-grown children, it tugs at my heart. It reminds me of how lucky we were. It reminds me of all the happy times we had. I could write story after story about the antics of those children. The heart-stopping moments and the pure love I felt for them, sometimes tinged with terror. That time the babysitter said she couldn’t find Robert, but he was asleep under his bed. The time Murdoch was shot by a ricochet BB pellet to his eye. The time they went off in the middle of the night to see the baby who lived with his parents at our tenant house.
Then there was the time we couldn’t find Robert briefly, and when he came back to us, we asked where he had been. “I was riding Duck Soup,” he said proudly. The thing is that Duck Soup was only a little older than a yearling. He was an unbroken, almost two-year-old horse. No one had ever been on his back. Shaking inside, I asked, “How did you get on? And what did he do when you were on his back?” Robert answered that he had simply climbed the fence and climbed onto the young colt while he was standing next to the fence. And he told me that the colt just walked around mostly eating grass with him (Robert was about 4 or 5 years old), on his back. When he heard us calling he just slid down to the ground. Whew!!!!
Then there was the time, when he was about 9, Murdoch broke his arm. He had been skateboarding in a neighboring barn where a friend had built a skateboard ramp for his son. Murdoch was alone and doing something he was not supposed to be doing. It was a little over a mile from our house to that barn. Murdoch walked home, crossing a couple of streams and needing to open at least one gate while holding his broken arm together so it would not flop! I nearly fainted when I heard about that one. I was at my office in Middleburg. I rushed to the hospital, where a friend had driven him as soon as I heard. I was so shocked and guilty and scared. I felt terrible that my little boy had to go through that alone. The doctor calmed me and said, “Don’t feel bad. Your son, Murdoch, is a hero. What he did showed character and builds character too. A lot of kids would have stayed there until someone came to find them. But your son got himself home where he could get help, all by himself. You should be proud of that boy.”
Raising boys was not for the fainthearted in those days. Or ever. Now these boys have children of their own. When I look at them, I remember how it was for their fathers. I am glad my grandchildren have a chance to be country children, too, at least part of the time.
Copyright©. 2022 Bonnie B. Matheson