Hollyhocks and Four O’Clocks

After my mom’s divorce in the early 1950’s, we lived for a few years with my Gram and Granddad in Erie, PA, in a cottage on Kelso Drive, very near Waldameer Park. The parking lot, only two houses away from us, was hard-packed sand and we kids would go over there and sit on the ground, digging holes and tunnels in the sand. Between that last house on Kelso Drive and the parking lot was a narrow stand of trees that we called “the woods”. It provided hours of play; hide and seek, tag, and looking for Jack in the Pulpits, as well as any other games we could invent.

Oh, we had such fun in those days! We played outdoors, as there was so much to do, experience and learn! I had fun-loving cousins and friends who lived nearby and we would frequently get together and play games we made up, as well as “Red-Rover”, “Blind Man’s Bluff”, “Mother May I”, “Tag”, “Hide and Seek”, “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?” and so many others. Amazingly, we all actually survived playing Jarts for many summers without experiencing any death or injuries. Yep, we had to make our own fun, lacking the electronic equipment available 50-60 years later, which was designed to protect children from interacting with others and getting exercise outside in that nasty fresh air.

I remember the clamp-on roller skates we used outside and how hard it was to get them to stay on your old holey and street-worn sneakers…or did we call them “tennis shoes”? I think I recall that the skate sole could extend to fit all sizes. There was a special key that was used to tighten the clamps onto whatever shoes we used. If we had an old pair of hard-soled saddle shoes, those would work much better, as long as we avoided the gravel. Now that could result in skinned-up knees for sure! In the yards and driveways, we essentially had sand rather than soil, and this made for very slow skating when we ended up off the edge of the cement patio; it was similar to trying to run through quicksand. Now, what was really fun was when we’d walk to the “top of the hill” to the skating rink and rent real roller skates!

Remember the Fourth of July? There were sparklers, pinwheels, spin-and-spark toys, and real fireworks set off right next door at Waldameer. We had wooden toys using caps (originally intended for “cap guns”) to whack on the cement to send a feathered “flier” high up in the air. If you were real lucky, the thing would miss your head on its way back down while unwittingly obeying Newton’s Law of Gravity. Does anyone remember what were those things were called?

My granddad had planted several clumps of ornamental grasses positioned to the side, along one fence. Naturally, a little girl was compelled to touch the grass and run her fingers down the “blade”. And blades are what they were; they were as sharp as a razor. That little girl seemed to never learn – every summer there repeatedly were sliced-up fingers from this touchy-feely planting.

A note on the lighter side: I recall my mom, laughing, repeating the account of when I had asked Gram (apparently, she was just under sixty years old at the time), “How old are you Gram, a hundred?” Well, I guess to a four- or five-year-old, everyone looked ancient!

And now, at long last, we come to the subject of the title of this blog: “Hollyhocks and Four O’Clocks”.

I would enjoy sitting on the warm ground, helping my Gram dig and weed in her beautiful garden of flowers and veggies, which were protected by a white picket fence. It was so calm and peaceful being with my kind, compassionate and imperturbable Gram. Had I known then (or even when I was a lot older), what she had endured during her lifetime, I still would not have understood how she maintained that calm and loving exterior. And I guess the truth is, she had to be a very old, very advanced soul, as she had experienced more – umm, let’s use the term “baloney” – than most had in multiple lifetimes. Whew! She had to be super-strong to take all that karma on, if you believe in that kind of thing!

In the narrow slice of lawn between the picket fence and the “back road”, there was an apple tree, just perfect for little kids’ climbing. I enjoyed spending time up in that tree from which you could see all over, yet not be seen. Across the road was an old chicken coop that my brother had convinced me to climb onto the roof; just for fun, I guess. Hey, we were kids, he was 9, I was 3 years old. His exact words were, “I’ll catch you when you jump”. A picture of me of my left leg in a cast, toes to knee, were testament to the fact that…he didn’t. I tried to never let him forget about that broken promise. Broken leg, yes, catching me on the way down, no.

Be patient, I’m getting to it! I especially remember Gram’s beautiful, tall red Hollyhocks. Their long, slim stems reached far above my 5-year-old head. Then, sitting on that sun-warmed sandy soil, I helped her reap the seeds of the Four-O’clocks from the plants as soon as they were finished blooming and the seeds had ripened. She would save them and plant them again next season, enjoying a never-ending color-splashed garden. I have planted both Hollyhocks and Four O’Clocks in my own garden in the past, bringing back wonderful, happy childhood memories with my loving and nurturing grandmother. I love you, Gram!

4 Comments on “Hollyhocks and Four O’Clocks”

  1. Great story Deb. Grams are the best. Your story brings back wonderful memories of my own Gram and her gardens too. Thanks for jogging my memory.

  2. Great story. You write so well and you are truly enjoyable. My Mom loved Hookyhocks and could never grow them but she had trouble with some plants. Yes his brings back memories for me too especially the tree climbing

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