Before the Break in March

Published in the Enterprise-Bulletin newspaper March 2009

The last winter winds are at our doors and March break beckons. What to do with the kids? If you aren’t whisking your family off to a playground in the sun then you’re probably scrambling to organize activities and adventures to keep your youngsters occupied, entertained and out of mischief. Oh, the dreaded refrain, “I’m bored.”

Eleanor Long cannot recall ever feeling bored as a child growing up on the family’s farm in Osprey Township in the 1930s and 40s. “Our games were very simple but we never seemed to tire of them. One game was to take the hoop from a wagon wheel and chase it around the yard with a stick. A silly thing, I suppose, but we entertained ourselves for hours like that,” recalls Long.

Long was one of four siblings and a farm operation of eighty years ago was a seven-day-a-week vocation for the whole family. Organizing activities for the children, beyond regular attendance at school, was never contemplated. In those days play and work were inextricably combined. “Haying was a great favourite. It was hard work but we made every part of it a game.” Long remembers the side-cutting mower, her father’s major haying machinery, drawn by horses Dolly and Babe. “Most of the work was done by human power. Our main tool was the pitchfork, which we used to gather loose hay into coils shaped like miniature haystacks. My sister Edna and I could almost keep up to our older brothers Donald and Jack. Mother occasionally had to leave her kitchen to drive the horses.” When all the hay had been assembled neatly into rows of stacks, the hay was pitched onto a flat hay rack and hauled into the loft. Salting the hay helped to prevent spontaneous combustion.

The peak of family entertainment was the annual July 12th Orange Parade. “It was the first family outing of the year, since the Christmas concert in December,” Long says. “The whole family went into Collingwood, Markdale or Dundalk to watch the parade. It was certainly the highlight of every summer.”

Other favourite recreations were hide and seek, or taking turns on the swing built by Long’s grandfather with a flat board and a length of rope, hung from a strong tree limb. “And the best fun was toad collecting—just before a rain shower, when you could smell rain in the air, the toads would come out. We all wanted to be the one to find the most toads.” Bragging rights were the only reward, and the toads were released afterwards.

Perhaps this March break offers opportunities to return for a moment to the days when folks knew the joy of simple pleasures and child’s play was left to the children.

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