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From Where I Sit: Before TV consumed lives

So much for those well-meaning New Year’s resolutions. It’s too cold outdoors to be cross-country skiing or take the dog for a brisk walk. Buddy, my beagle pal, dashes in and out in record time for his potty breaks. I haven’t seen anybody walking in my neighborhood for days.

A jigsaw puzzle showing Minnesota’s favorite features is set up on the oak table in front of windows facing the lake. Contented, I can sit for hours piecing the puzzle together while I check on fishermen heading out to their ice houses. It’s so cold that no skaters, skiers or snowmobilers venture onto the frozen lake, only those die-hard fishermen heading for their man caves.

It’s too easy in this inclement weather to escape to mindless surfing the television or Internet. Today’s newspaper had an article on a research report that the average American spends more than 24 hours per week or 1/7 of their lives watching television. The writer used 84 years as an average human’s life span. He stated that, for many, 11.71 years of life is spent watching the tube. Makes you think about how we waste time, doesn’t it?

I’ve been reading, baking and piecing puzzles together, but I long for someone who will talk to me, face to face. Dave, my husband, has escaped our current deep freeze weather to fly to Florida for tennis tournaments. He’s staying with Fast Eddie, our NY brother-in-law, who has endless, funny car salesman stories. Kate has returned to her teaching job in Mexico City, where the weather is usually in the 70s and low 80s, and Andy is busy working on his house and his job. Buddy, my snoring beagle on the couch, doesn’t talk people words. However, his listening vocabulary is rather large. He knows all the words for food: breakfast, lunch, dinner, treat, bone… He awakes only for more food, to sit on my lap while we read the paper and an occasional potty break.

Remember when people used to play games when the weather was so cold outdoors that they had to stay inside? We’d play Monopoly, that endless game of buying properties like Boardwalk or Venetian Place and hoping to avoid jail as our marker rounded the board. Cootie was another favorite game at our house when I was little, putting together that ugly bug, a cootie. The magical, mysterious Ouija talking board gave my friends and me endless hours of entertainment; it was enticing to get yes or no answers and learn the name of a boy who liked me when the board spelled out his name. These games sparked our imaginations, essential tools of growing up.

Punching out paper dolls from the plasticized sheet, dressing the dolls with clothing that attached to their bodies with little tabs that folded over, and imagining exciting lives for them kept me happy for hours. I didn’t need a friend to interact with when I played paper dolls, just my imagination. I remember sitting on the living room floor, cutting out the clothing models in the Sears catalogue and creating stories. The doll house I got for Christmas was a two-story “modern” home with wallpaper, rugs, light sconces, paintings and even a fireplace painted on the tin walls. Hanging tools were painted on the garage walls, and shrubbery adorned the exterior of the beautiful home. I could rearrange the furniture as I pleased, from the living room couch, chair and lamp to the formal dining room’s table and chairs with a buffet and china closet. The bedroom had a double bed, end tables and a vanity, and the bathroom had a fancy corner tub…huge by 1950s standards. Of course, I was certain that “rich” people must live in such a fancy house.

Kids would play Rummy and Old Maid , Hangman, Jacks and Pick Up Sticks. My baby sister Barbie and I would assemble all our dolls to play act scenes of babysitters and crying babies. We’d rock the life-sized dolls to sleep in my little red rocking chair. I’d practice walking my Christmas present, a “walking doll,” though she was rather stiff and needed lots of help. All too soon I’d have to put her back in her cardboard box and “save” the doll. She remains in her box to this day. What was I saving her for? I played with this doll so rarely, she never got a name. When the upstairs women’s jail was empty of prisoners, dad would let kids play in the cells. That was a scary thrill for most of the kids, but we loved to feel scared!

We played outdoors almost every day. In the winter kids would congregate at the ice rink to skate or sled on the hills at home or at the football field. We’d build snow forts, jump into snowbanks and flop in the snow to flap our arms and legs to make snow angels.

In the summertime, our backyards became stages for plays we’d create. Most of us loved to read adventure stories from books at the library and see Saturday movies at the Glenwood Theatre. Zorro and his black stallion was my favorite. We had a great time pretending to be movie stars in our backyard stages. My friends and I would collect discarded bridesmaids gowns from the neighbors, veils and hats that we’d put on and form parades in our finery. When we tired of parading up, down and around the lawn, we’d switch to running around the courthouse lawn playing cops and robbers. We’d playing ante, ante over the log house on the courthouse grounds and chase each other up and down the hill to the weeping willow tree where we’d climb high into the branches to hide. What a perfect place to share secrets with best pals as we sat on the thick branches and leaned back against another branch perfectly placed for our comfort. The willow was so full of leaves we were fully hidden from view of grownups. Tired of sitting, we’d climb out of the willow’s limbs and swing on the tall swing set dad had built.

Though the weather is awful, and I’m sneezing and coughing, it’s time to turn off the TV and reset my imagination to START. When I think of how much I enjoyed being a kid, I know there’s more fun to be had than sitting in front of the TV, even in these later years of life.

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