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PRIVATE LIVES

This time of year brings back many memories of a fun-filled childhood.

A city kid had endless fun skating in the streets, playing Run Sheep Run, May I?, Hopscotch and Red Light, before that term had any questionable connotation. Life was fun, especially in our off-school moments, mainly because we made our own fun and none with damaging consequences.

Yet there were greater thrills than the home-front street games. Our family spent many weekends as well as vacations back on the farm in northern Pennsylvania where my father grew up. Ah, the farm with its quaint oil lamps, outhouses and early morning wake-up calls. Dad always managed a vacation time to go back to the farm in late August when they needed an extra set of hands for threshing. We'd go back again around Armistice Day. The cool time of the year was the ultimate.

The thrills of the farm were much different from those in the city: jumping down into the hay after climbing a ladder to a high loft; riding bareback on an old nag that didn't object to your flyweight; watching cows being milked by hand (I didn't do very well at it); gathering eggs from reluctant chickens that resented the intrusion; flying high on a stout homemade swing; shouting across a valley and having echoes come back to you. Ah, that was living!

In the fall were grange picnics, craft shows and those county fairs: How different they were from our sophisticated ones in Allegheny County, Pittsburgh's base, where the majority of displays were all business-oriented. Northern Pennsylvania, though, was real country, beautiful country, and so interesting!

One of my greatest memories of past autumns is that of a group of farmers gathered round a potbellied stove in the general store on a crisp fall morning, reminiscing. Some of them had been in World War I, one even in the Spanish-American War. Big topics of discussion were crop success or failure, the forthcoming winter and threats of damage, the next expected or unexpected move out of Washington, the fact that there just might be a Social Security program of some sort in the years to come.

In the meantime, their security was in the ground and in their own hands to till it. They had the stuff America was made of. They built their own houses and barns, some made their own furniture, the womenfolk made their own braided rugs and drapes. They all made their own fun and music.

Hard work and helping oneself (and others, if help was needed) was the keynote of many of the speeches around that potbellied stove. It should be enshrined in some prominent spotlight as a symbol of Americana.

The potbellied stove has come back again in greater glory, now a real boon to house-heating savings and decor, and as a real conversation piece for those who wish for something "modern." Yep, it's the "in" thing these days.

Would that some of the older objects and lifestyles would return with all the nostalgic appeal.

_ Ruth Harvey lives in Palm Harbor. Private Lives is edited by Mary Jane Park.

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