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So much in the memories of Susan Allen Toth, “Blooming: a childhood in a small town”, c 1978, reminds me of my childhood and adolescence. She grew up in Ames, Iowa, and I grew up in a small town in Iowa about 50 miles east. Relatives from Mohr’s side live in Ames and we have been there several times.
I started his book by reading “Bookworm.” In the introduction to this section, she now takes her daughter to the library she went to as a youngster. Then we go back with her to the 1950s. There were sections in the library for different age groups: children’s room, junior room, adult books. As a young teenager, she needed special permission to view a book she wanted from the adult section. Technically, she was not old enough. The headline she could read then was “Five little peppers” by Margaret Sidney. That title is in our library here at home, even now. Copyright is MCMLV. It’s here because it was in my family’s library when I was a kid. Another book in this category is “The Yearling”, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, circa 1938. Do you see how I want to go back to my childhood?
Here is the next chapter that kept me in my youth: “Little friends.” She has no brothers and I had two brothers, but our memories of the boys we were interested in are similar – one boy at a time in our minds. Seems like every year has brought us a different boyfriend. Ames’ teenage girls were getting into cars driven by young boys and possibly heading to the A&W Root Beer stand. Once, three couples (in three cars) met in a park and got out of their car to dance to Patti Page and Frank Sinatra songs on a car stereo. We didn’t get together in groups like this in the small town of Iowa where I grew up. We had to drive to a larger neighboring town – Marshalltown, and go to the movies on Saturday night or to church on Sunday night.
Probably because Ames was a bigger city, she had a lot more parties and dances to attend than I did. Girls got together for birthdays and sleepovers when they were younger. As a teenager, they could go to socks and a social box once a year. This was intended to say goodbye to the ninth graders and welcome new seventh graders. Each girl, with the help of her mother, prepared a boxed meal, which was auctioned off to the boys in attendance. Whoever bought Susan’s lunch would eat it with her. She also writes about the Christmas dance held in the Great Hall of the Union Memorial at Iowa State College. The boy Susan asked to accompany her would send her flowers, and she would get ready by buying a dress from Younkers and wearing the Evening in Paris scent.
I have read all 11 chapters of this book. My favorite, the longest, was “Preparation for life”. She babysat me too. She pickled the corn two summers. Me too. She worked in a newspaper, and so did I, when I was a little older. It was too late for me to be hired for a teaching position, and I worked in the newspaper office in Decorah, IA. I was part-time and I had assignments in each department: Advertising, Traffic and News.
Another similar experience was that she sold Campfire Candy one summer. I sold Cloverine Salve one summer. I read on the back of a comic strip that you could send in several small pewter containers of the ointment, sell them, and then receive some sort of reward. what was that? I don’t remember the reward, but I do remember walking around town, knocking on doors, and selling the balm.
This chapter took me to Howard’s box of old comics. I knew I would find other pages like the one that encouraged me to sell something and make money. One example is making money selling American seeds; you can sell flower seeds or vegetable seeds, or both. The company was in Pennsylvania. Another last page of a comic book got you to order Christmas cards and wrapping paper, sell them and earn $ 100. This company was in New York.
She ends this chapter by writing that these jobs weren’t the best part of her life. “All the lessons I learned in my job growing up at Ames now seem ambiguous to me” (p.150).
I can’t put it that way. I learned so much with my different types of work as a teenager, and I have fond memories of it. As you read, I worked on the grain elevator that my father owned, I babysit, I had a paper itinerary, I sold clover ointment.
She didn’t write about playing hopscotch, however, and in my book I would write how fun it was. I drew the squares and the numbers in hopscotch with chalk in front of our garage. Look at the photo?
The Marshall-Lyon County Library has many titles by Susan Toth, including “My love affair with England”, “England as you like it: an independent travel companion”, “England for all seasons” and “Leaning into the Wind: A Memoir of Midwest Weather. “ The Plum Creek Library System has “Blooming: A Small Town Girlhood and No Saints around Here: A Caregiver’s Days. “ You can reserve these documents and many more at marshalllyonlibrary.org