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James R. Stout

Fine Art Photography

Blocks of Ages

      One of the earliest toys that I had the pleasure to look forward to playing with when visiting my grandparents was what was called “Playskool’s Duffle Bag O’Blocks”. It lived up to its name. It was a canvas bag of real wooden blocks in different shapes and painted in various colors. My sisters and I and my cousins all spent hours playing with those blocks over the years. The set of blocks was made sometime in the 1950’s after my oldest sister would have been old enough to play with blocks. So, that means somewhere around 1954 or so. Since I was born in 1955 they are part of my earliest memories at the farm. We had a great time with those blocks.

     There were something like 130 blocks in the bag and they were not only fun to play with, but as intended by the Playskool company, were teaching tools as well. As a young child I learned what squares, rectangles, triangles, cubes, cylinders, and some other odd shapes were. I also learned what the colors were. There was red, blue, green, yellow, orange, and purple. 

     I can still remember sitting on the old linoleum floors of the farmhouse building houses, forts, barns, and other buildings to go with the bag of WWII army men I brought from home. Sometimes it was the bag of cowboys and Indians with horses, but no matter which it was I had a great time. Playing like that literally opened my imagination up to just about anything. I suppose I played with those blocks up until I was about 11 years old or so. My grandfather died when I was 11 and since my grandmother was not able to live on the farm by herself she moved to a house in town. The farm was still hers and she would go out for a night or two periodically after that. Many times I would go up and visit and we would spend the night at the farm. That too ended by the time I was 13. No 13 year-old boy wants to spend time at the farm with his grandmother when there was rock and roll records to be bought, girls to check out, and all the allure a city has for a young teenager. And, truth be told Grandma’s health got to the point that she had to move to Houston near us and my Aunt Velma’s house as she was no longer able to go to the grocery store alone etc.

     During those first few years after my grandfather’s death that bag of blocks just set at the farmhouse where they had last been placed by one of us kids. The place was full of memories and a lot of things like that bag of blocks. In 1972 the house was broken into. They caught the guy later, but not before he had already sold all of the things he had stolen. He was a prison guard at one of the prisons and he had a little “gang” that were breaking into places like our farmhouse and stealing things of value. I guess he wanted to be an inmate rather than a guard. This guy and his gang managed to steal a window air conditioner, an old black and white TV, an old radio, two antique shotguns, the big wooden stove (my grandfather always used to say that some people would steal a hot stove - I guess he wasn’t far from wrong!), the old crank handle phone, and a few other such items. After that incident the family got together and decided we better get anything of value out of the house so that we don’t lose what was precious to us. 

     By this time, both my sisters were married and the younger of the two wanted that bag of blocks as a display for when she would be a teacher. So, she took them and they ended up mainly being a decoration in her home for years. She did start teaching after graduating from college in 1974 and just retired last year.. After her two kids came along there was all the worry about lead paint and kids and since nobody knew if the paint used on the blocks had lead in them they were relegated to a closet in her house for over two decades.

     When I finally got to fulfill my dream and build a home up here on what was part of my grandparent’s farm I was looking for some “homey” things to decorate the place with. I am not a great decorator. My sister is and she volunteered to help. I don’t have a wife (another story) or a sweetheart (hmm . . .) so there isn’t anyone around with the feminine touch and I guess even a sister will do in a pinch. 

     Debbie shows up with a bunch of boxes of stuff that she no longer needed or wanted and there in one of those boxes was that “Duffle Bag O’blocks”! The memories flooded in and I knew I had to display that bag. It is so displayed and will be for the rest of my life. Now, truth be told that canvas bag has been around about 60 years. It started out a brilliant blue color and it is now basically gray. The blocks themselves are in pretty good condition, but there are some scratches and fading on them as well. 

     Today I took those blocks out of the bag for the first time in 4 years since I first got them from my sister. As I sat at the dining table looking at them and the bag they are stored in I realized the memories were there of course, but something else occurred to me. Something a bit more profound. That bag of blocks is a great example of how time ages us too. Just the simple passing of time causes us to go gray, to get a few scars, to fade a bit, and to just plain get old. But our value increases as we age too. Our worth to those we love and to those who love us is that much more valuable. We too are packed full of memories alive in the minds of the lives that we have touched. I bet Playskool didn’t think that a simple set of colored blocks for children would also be a teaching tool for adults. Trust me, they are.

     By the way, I’ve attached some pictures so that you can see the “Bag O’Blocks”. There’s a picture of the bag now and blocks now and then I was able to find some pictures of what the bag and blocks looked like when they were not so . . . aged.





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