Lofty Ideals


Dear Readers: On January 30, 2018, the McAdoo Marvel left this earth to begin her life in heaven. To honor her, I will be publishing several more of her writings, including the one below. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy sharing them.

Rest in peace, in loftier places, Mom. 

For whatever reason, this was it - our favorite place to play – the barn loft. If we were up earlier than anyone in the house, we’d play for a short time in the cellar. But, in the summer, as soon as breakfast and morning chores were over, we usually headed for the loft.

And chores we had! As soon as summer began, there were more chores. We weren’t given a set time to accomplish any of them. We could spend an entire morning throwing up the top sheet and diving under it. Or falling on the unmade bed with arms and legs extended to show how we died. That’s how a calf struck by lightning looked, wasn’t it? It couldn’t have been rigor mortis; we hadn’t yet learned that term. It must’ve been the lightning. Whatever, we knew we couldn’t play until the jobs were finished.

Although we shared the loft with a horde of busy dirt daubers, and with cured hams, bacon, and little sacks of sausage hanging from the ceiling rafters, we liked it, especially filled with cottonseed. When our brother, Reid, happened to spend time with us, we’d often construct a throne in the seed. He’d be named King, with one beautiful daughter, our youngest sister, Theresa. We decided what life would be like for each one of us. I don’t remember everyone's destiny, but do remember that Reid would have lots of money and one gorgeous child, a girl. Louise would have a houseful of kids and dogs, mixed together. Theresa’s kids would starve because she was too busy reading comic books to feed them. I was considered such a sucker that they thought I would take in washing to earn a living, while my husband spent each day in his undershirt, drinking beer.

One of the big deals in the loft was playing with paper dolls. For a time, Aunt Rosie sold clothes, and passed the outdated clothes catalogues to us. When they weren’t too big for the regular catalogue people, we’d cut out wardrobes and dolls from Aunt Rosie’s catalogues. Hers had heavy cardboard pages, about 12” X 14”, and were more durable than Montgomery Ward people. Our doll furniture – beds and chairs – were made from cereal boxes. We were nothing if not versatile, so we also used cereal boxes for cars. We’d cut a couple of slits with enough cardboard for seat backs, add a book of the right height, and properly fold the people to make them sit. And voila! We had a car.

Not that everything went smoothly. One day, Billie and Doris argued about whose paper lady was sicker. Sick enough to be in the hospital meant they were super sick. Once, a wind blew in the loft, lifted Billie’s woman off the hospital – the bottom of a wooden crate – and onto the loft floor. Billie thought that freak accident certainly made her person sicker. But Doris didn’t; she still insisted that hers was sicker. I don’t remember how that one turned out.

To get to the loft, we only had to walk through a small part of the barn and climb up “stairs,” a few two-by-fours nailed to the barn uprights. Reid and some of his buddies thought they could do better. So they tried rigging an elevator. Thank goodness, everyone who tried to use the elevator voted against it. A ladder standing on a barrel, and reaching to the loft, didn’t fare any better, especially after I was lucky enough to catch a little boy and the ladder when they fell together. So we stuck with the stairs. I can’t imagine that Mama didn’t know what the outside ladder and barrel were. Otherwise, we would have been told to move them long before they disappeared.

Sometimes, we didn’t want to be confined, even to the barn loft. If we felt like playing mothers, we didn’t bother to go in the house for dolls; we picked up pieces of wood from the wood pile or a special cut and size of pipe we found. It was much easier when we were finished playing; we just dropped them anywhere. That may have been part of the appeal of the loft, too; no matter what we played, we didn’t have to clean it up. The no-clean-up lifestyle meant that we almost always forgot to return “borrowed” things, usually the scissors or a knife from the kitchen. I recall telling Doris, “You keep looking with them, and I’ll go get the knife,” as everyone turned the house upside down searching for a knife we’d used while playing. But what do you do when your Dad says that knowing and saying nothing is still lying? I felt a little guilty, but I ignored it.

Not everything that took place in the loft was sweetness and light. That’s mostly where we smoked cedar-bark cigarettes. The bark wasn’t what you’d normally expect. The posts holding the barbed-wire fence around a nearby field had the type of bark that peeled off in long strips. We’d peel off some strips, wrap them in catalogue sheets, and have our cigarettes. They’d be fine for a time, then one of us would take a deeply inhaled breath, and fire would pour out the end. That called for swift, decisive action. It’s a wonder we didn’t start a fire like Doris and I did with the brooder house.

I have no idea where we got the matches. They weren’t left out for us to use, or even to find. But find them we did, and managed to start a fire. Knowing it would be empty of little chickens that time of year, we thought the brooder house, with its smooth wooden floor, would be great for a fire. I’m sure it was my idea; kids Doris’s age, about 3, don’t ordinarily come up with such.

We got a couple of dry broomweeds, with hundreds of little heads. We held the heads in the fire to get a glowing set of coals on them, then twirled the broomweed above our heads as we sang and danced, like American Indians. The brooder was small, so we soon tired of it. I was very careful to put out the fire. We raked it out, and were sure it was totally extinguished. But when the older kids came home from school, one of them discovered that a corner of the wooden door was smoking, near to bursting into fire. Needless to say, we never tried that again.

Loft play brought creativity of all kinds. It was a regular playhouse where we cooked, washed dishes, etc. When we played restaurant, and wanted to serve real food, we had green onion blades stuffed with black-eyed peas. One year, I handcrafted my Christmas present for Doris and Theresa by turning two fruit crates on end, nailing a board across them, and painting them. I could find only gray and red paint, so the trim on the edge was red, and the rest gray. I have no idea where I found the paint, and I don’t recall anything around the house in those colors. 

When each of us grew older, about 13, and tired of paper dolls and general barn-loft play, we’d drift toward the house where we’d spend our time reading. But I had to break the chain; I knew if I stopped playing, my little shadow, Doris, would be right behind me, and then Theresa would have no one to play with. My great fear was that my school friends would somehow learn I still played paper dolls. So I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing. I suppose I was the only one who ever knew.