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James R. Stout

Let's Play In The Dirt!

            It may sound strange to the children of today, but when I was a child one of the things that we would do for hours at a time was to “play in the dirt”. In an age where children don’t spend a great deal of time outside, I’m sure that playing in the dirt sounds like something that wouldn’t be much fun. It’s not an iPad or all the gadgets that kids are addicted to these days, but it was great fun. There was no place better for me to play in the dirt than when I would spend a week with my grandparents on their farm.

            To the left of the farmhouse was a row of big cedar trees. They are still there but are getting very old. Under those trees there was a huge swing. It was made of wood and could easily hold 4 adults with a couple of kids in their laps. The double-a frame that the swing was mounted to was huge as well. The ground around this swing was mostly hard-packed dirt due to all the foot traffic it sustained and also due to being in the shade of those big cedars. When we would go spend a week with Grandma and Grandpa much preparation by them was made in advance of our arrival. Grandma would have fabric purchased and patterns ready to start measuring us for homemade clothes that she would have ready before the school year would begin. She was an expert seamstress and a prolific quilt maker. Many of her quilts would be composed of scrapes from the clothing that she made for us. Grandpa always had his own major project for us.

            There’s a part of the land nearby about ½ a mile from the farm that we always called “The John Russell Flats”. I know that it was named after a relative who once owned the land. He was either a great-great-grandfather to me or perhaps a great-uncle. I don’t really recall for sure. The most distinctive part of that land was the amount of dirt it had. By amount I mean that it was very deep. In the 1920’s the county built a road through the John Russell Flats and my grandfather also donated a right of way so that the road would cut down the eastern edge of his farm giving him access. The road was built on top of an old wagon lane that had been there since the 1800’s. Once that road was completed the amount of dirt in that road on the John Russell Flats portion was prodigious. During droughts the dirt would dry out considerably and it wasn’t uncommon for a vehicle to get stuck because of the lack of traction. You might say that it was the opposite of a muddy road. Grandpa had an old homemade trailer that he used for various projects around the farm. It was made with wood and the front and sides were about 3 feet high. He might use it for carrying hay, for carrying limbs and debris from trees that fell or were cut for one reason or another, and he would use it for getting a load of dirt from that stretch of road.

            He had a tractor, but it was a 1953 Allis-Chalmers and it didn’t have a scoop like the tractors of today do. So, he would use the tractor to pull that trailer down to a likely spot on the road and he would hand shovel a trailer full of dirt. He would then take it back to the house and unload the dirt by shovel and into a giant pile. Sometimes he would make two or three loads to get the amount of dirt required. The yard of the farmhouse was full of stickers. We called them cockleburs given that was the name of the plant that they came from. You didn’t want to step on one of those in bare feet. Not only did it hurt, it might call for the extraction of a splinter by way of Grandma heating a needle and digging it out. OUCH! Knowing that we rarely wore shoes in those days lead Grandpa to make a path with shovel loads of that dirt that would allow us to go from the front of the house to the dirt pile and swing area without having to put on shoes. I might add that by bath time on a given day the soles of our feet were black. But what fun we had getting them that way.

            When we arrived on Saturday to spend the next week with Grandma and Grandpa the dirt pile and pathway were ready for our use. Those weeks in the summer were golden times. Playing in the dirt was a great part of those times. Sure, we loved helping with the vegetable garden, feeding the cows, chasing the chickens and helping Grandma get the eggs, going into town one day and returning with some new inexpensive toy such as a water gun, cap pistol, sheriff’s badge, or a new comic book. But playing in the dirt was the best.

            I had a couple of toys that I left up at the farm for when I came to spend a week. Two of those toys were a late ‘50’s Tonka dump truck and a similarly aged Tonka excavator. I would build roads with that dirt using the dump truck and excavator. I would make bridges with an old set of Lincoln Logs and I had several small die-cast cars and trucks to drive on those roads. We would use a spray bottle with water in it to dampen some of the dirt and this allowed us to make all kinds of things. When we weren’t playing in that dirt we would be in the swing. There’s just something comforting about swinging in an old wooden swing in the shade of big cedar trees with the aroma of the cedars and the good clean dirt permeating our clothes and bodies.

            After the week was over and we went home, Grandpa would then get out his wheelbarrow and fill it many times with that dirt and spread it in low spots on the ground around the house, garage, chicken coup, and wherever it was needed. Nothing went to waste with Grandpa. When I think about how much physical labor Grandpa had to use in order to provide us with that play area and the dirt to play in, I marvel at his stamina. He would have already been in his early 60’s, my age today, and I can’t imagine how sore he must have gotten doing all that labor. But he was more than happy to do it for his grandkids. That’s what grandparents do unless they just aren’t able to. When my granddaughters come to see me, they have no idea the preparation that I have made for them being here. And that’s just fine by me. I do what I do because I love them. They don’t play outside like we did, but if they want to do something outside, then I’m ready for them. I bought a 4-wheeler last summer with them in mind. I also bought a seat that mounts on the back of the 4-wheeler. This will allow me to take them for drives all over my land. They finally got a chance to do that the last time that they were here, and I feel sure that neighbors in the next county heard their squeals of delight. The yard is always mowed and ready for them to play in the water or shoot their arrows etc. The house has been cleaned thoroughly for their visit and despite it not looking like it after about 30 minutes of their arrival, they have a safe and clean place to be. I will have gone to the grocery store and purchased things for them that I am informed by their mother they will like. She sends along some stuff too, but the things I buy for them aren’t generally things that I would eat. Lunchables comes to mind!

            The deal is I love those girls more than anything in this world. They bring me such incredible joy. The only thing that I don’t like is how fast that they are growing up. I love spending time with them. Isn’t that what being a grandparent is all about? I hope that one day when they are my age, they will remember with fondness coming up to visit with Paw-Paw. Maybe they’ll write about the fun times they had. I am so thankful and feel so blessed to have been allowed to live long enough to enjoy these special times. Here’s to all the loving Grandmas and Grandpas that we had and then we became. Now, let’s go play in the dirt!


These are the actual cedar trees that we played under. My grandfather planted them in about 1922. By 1960 they were already quite tall. Some of them are dying now and this accounts for the less amount of shade than they once provided. The old swing was set-up just in front of these trees and the dirt play area was roughly where there is now shade in front of the trees.



This swing frame is the actual swing frame that we swung on way back when. The original swing rotted away many years ago. It was much larger than the swing now being used on the frame. Sometime in the 1970's my grandmother gave our cousin the swing frame to relocate to the nearby farmhouse that he purchased from family members on my grandfather's side of the family. It is still there today and used by my cousins.

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