5 Free & Fun Things for Kids to Do

Anyone who grew up in the 1950s will remember these summertime activities. There were no excursions to theme parks or money spent on activities. We kept ourselves occupied by playing in the yard or neighborhood.

  1. Catching lightning bugs – maybe you call them fireflies. Once it was dusk, you ran about the yard capturing these with your hands. Putting the captives in a jar turned it into your very own blinking lantern. I think we poked holes in the jar lid for them to breathe.Fireflies, Stars Digital Paper, Stripes, Stars, Fish
  2. Playing outdoor games – There were all sorts of games you could play with your siblings like “Mother May I?” or “Simon Says” or games that involved running like Tag or Hide-And-Seek. After we wore ourselves out with these games, we would relax in the shade for a while.
  3. Playing with the hose – If you had a lawn sprinkler, it was fun to run through on a hot summer day. It wasn’t necessary though, you could just put your finger over the end of the garden hose and spray the other kids. You didn’t have to go anywhere and you didn’t even need a swimsuit. Outdoors, Nature, People, Summer, Kids, Happy, Water
  4. Stretching out on the grass and watching the clouds – We looked for special shapes in the cloud formations and tried to imagine they were animals or people’s faces. Kansas has marvelous skyscapes with thunderheads that shifted and reformed as we watched.

    cloud photo, Kansas

    Cloud photo by Virginia Allain

  5. Pretending – After watching National Velvet on television, we spent hours pretending to ride our imaginary horses over jumps that we placed around the yard. Other times, we created a playhouse by stamping down the weeds in an overgrown area to form rooms. Of course, we could always resort to making mud pies and decorate them with the pokeberries that grew wild. The big leaves made great plates for our concoctions. (Don’t worry, we knew not to eat those.)


Playing in the Water

Growing up in the country gave us ample time in the summer to roam the pastures and the sparse woods. On searingly hot Kansas days, we often played in the creek. Water provides hours of fun for children. We created holding pools with small dams of gravel and mud to hold the crawdads and minnows that we captured. Wading up the stream, we floated short sticks as our pretend-boats and followed them as they twisted and turned with the flow of the current.

When thirsty, we cupped our hands to scoop up the chilled water that bubbled up through the sandy bottom of the spring. With nary a thought about bacteria, we quenched our thirst. Barefooted, we waded over slippery stones and whiled away the hours.

summer 1953

karen in creek

Karen Martin playing in the creek.

These photos from 1954 show my sister Karen taking the time to smell the wildflowers and enjoying some bare-footing. She was the youngest of five, so amply supervised by older siblings. Later, Shannon was born so then we became the six Martin kids.

toddler shannon and fish June 1963, may be late development

Shannon Martin with a fish.

We were so lucky to have a free-range childhood. I encourage parents to give your child unstructured time in the outdoors to play and explore. I’m sure our mom (Gail Lee Martin) relished some child-free time each day for her own sanity.

This post was inspired by the Sepia Saturday challenge. Their photo to match for this Saturday showed a vintage couple in a tidal area. Since Kansas is a long way from the sea, I used the water theme for my match.

Sepia Saturday 527 - 4 July 2020

This post is a day early for the challenge as I already have a 4th of July post planned for tomorrow. See you then.

CJ’s Wedding – 1955

From Bobby Sox to a Cinderella Wedding

In April 1955, Gail’s little sister, Carol Jean McGhee married. First we have to set the scene with her teen years growing up near Madison, Kansas. We see her in these photo wearing rolled-up jeans and bobby sox. In one picture, she’s with her sister’s two children. In another, Carol poses with a high school friend and some remarkable garden produce. In the third photo, she is relaxing in her bedroom with her black cat, appropriately named Blackie.

When Carol looks back on that time, she remembers herself as bashful. We commented on how pretty she was, but she said that she had no idea of that at the time. She said a cousin took her to the prom, “he said he wanted me to have the prom experience, and I suspect he was trying to get me out of my bashful seclusion. I did get considerable notice, showing up with an older guy (I was 16, he was 18!) from another town. He was a sweetie.”


CJ in her prom dress

1955 cj mcghee clarence and frances

CJ with cousin and father

The only dating she did was a brief time at age 17, going out with an older cowhand from a local ranch after she graduated from high school. She remembers that “I met him through church. He took me to the movies in Madison, in the cattle truck from the ranch where he worked. Then we’d park somewhere, and he’d talk about his ex-wife! I’m thinking, ‘I don’t think this is how it’s supposed to go.’ He even asked me to marry him, and I told him no. Found out later he left town the next day.”

1954 cj mcghee on trip with parents

19-years-old & on vacation with parents, summer of 1954.

Floyd was working on the railroad when they met. Before that, he attended college for a year at Emporia State University, then went into the Air Force. “He was only in the Air Force for a few months–got in a car wreck, had to have his knee cut out of the dash, got honorable discharge/medical because of it.” She said that all happened before she met him.

Carol remembered, “I met Floyd Garriott and Lon Cantrell three days before Christmas, 1954. Floyd was dating my cousin, and they got me to go on a blind date with Lon.” After that, Carol and Floyd started dating.

1954 cj mcghee

CJ McGhee – “my first grown-up portrait, in 1954, age 19

She commented that she was on the brink of being an old maid. “So when Floyd took an interest in me, I married him at age 20, as that’s what you did.”

Image may contain: 1 person

This photo shows Carol at age 20 in winter/spring of 1955, with panda bear from her fiancee Floyd. She thinks the occasion was Valentine’s Day.

The Wedding in 1955

I married Floyd Garriott at the First Christian Church, Madison, Kansas in April of 1955. It lasted 17 years.
cj mcghee and floyd wedding -street scene

Carol and Floyd in white – Madison, Kansas

Now, 65 years later, CJ added some memories on the photos, “Best man at our wedding in the middle, Max Mueller. Floyd’s best friend could not make it to the wedding, so his best man was a college friend, a student from Iran. He had not attended an American wedding and wanted a photo to send back home. You can see we went all out on wedding photos.”


April 1955 – opening the wedding gifts

Carol -“Floyd and I at our wedding reception. I made my dress on a treadle machine! Also made a nifty, fitted waist-length, short-sleeved jacket. (for any younger readers, Carol explained, “Tredle means non-electric, you made it run with your foot moving a treadle back and forth. It’s what I learned to sew on, all we knew. I was a whiz.”)

Niece Karen – “I remember your wedding! I was not quite 3 years old (birthday June 8) and all I remember is your shoes–glass slippers…or possibly clear plastic?!”

Carol – “OMG! I’d completely forgotten those shoes! Yes, they were clear plastic, all the rage in the mid-50s.”

ebay wedding shoes

Since the photos from 1955 don’t show Carol’s shoes, I found some vintage wedding shoes on eBay.

Niece Karen -” What’s weird is that it is probably the ONLY thing I remember before I was 6!!!”

Carol – “Wow. Imagine my ‘glass slippers’ being your only memory before 6. And I forgot them. They had a little ‘glass’ flower on there. I wish we’d gotten a photo of them. Also, I didn’t get a photo of my matron of honor. Floyd had one of his friends take the photos, and most of them didn’t turn out. We ended up with these few candid photos that people took.”

Carol – “I just unearthed another photo from my wedding. It shows off the pretty neckline I had so much trouble getting right! That neckline was a b**** to get right. I did it over and over several times.”

cj and floyd garriott wedding 1955

Carol – “Later, I cut the skirt off the wedding dress to make it street-length and wore it to church for a couple of years.”

The Honeymoon

CJ on honeymoon at lake of the ozarks 1955

Fun on the lake – CJ on her honeymoon at the Lake of the Ozarks – 1955

Carol – “As I recall, this was the highlight of the honeymoon. Should have told me something, right there. It wasn’t too bad. What did I know, anyway. A trip to a resort in another state, with swimming and boating on a lake. Floyd was on his best behavior of course. I had fun new clothes and was excited for my new life.”

1955 cj garriott at lake of the ozarks honeymoon

1955 – CJ Garriott at the Lake of the Ozarks

Carol – “On my honeymoon in the Ozarks. Out in the woods in high heels! What was I thinking? But then again, I had just married Floyd.”

Remembering the Class of ’52

Gail Lee Martin’s younger sister posted some memories of her high school days in answer to a questionnaire. The challenge was to remember your senior year of high school and for CJ McGhee, that was the class of 1952.

high school - senior picture

1. Did you marry your high school sweetheart? No, didn’t have one. Did have a crush on a classmate? I didn’t date.
2. What did you drive? Daddy taught me to drive the summer after graduation–out on the prairie!
3. What job did you have in high school? From 6th grade on, we lived on a farm. I got to ride the baling trailer, sticking the wires in as the hay bales came past. Helped feed & milk cows in our mini-dairy.
4. Where did you live? Kansas prairie, nearest town Madison
5. Were you in choir/band? Choir
6. Ever get suspended? No
7. If you could, would you go back? Heck NO!
8. Still talk to the person that you went to prom with? My cousin from another town took me to prom. He wanted me to have the prom experience. I was so, so bashful.Carol_s_Junior_Prom_edited
9. Did you skip school? No
10. Go to all the football games? Yes (Pep Squad)
11. Favorite subject? Journalism/typing
12. Do you still have your yearbooks? No
13. Did you follow your “original” career plan? No, I wanted to be a reporter. Ended up a typesetter, writer
14. Do you still have your senior ring? No
15. What was your thing to wear? Skirts (mid-calf length) & blouse to school, jeans & shirt on the farm

16. Favorite shoes? Oxfords to school & on the farm, Mary Janes to church.
17. Favorite thing to eat at lunch? I carried my lunch at the country school. A favorite was Mom’s fried chicken. From 6th grade on, I went to Madison school, where lunches were provided. No favorites there!
18. Favorite band/artist? Tony Bennett
19. High school? Madison High in Kansas

A Slideshow of Carol Jean McGhee’s Years at Madison High School

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Madison Remembers the Flood of ’51

Kansas is having some nasty flooding right now from all the rain. That prompted me to post my mother’s memories in the Facebook group that shares Madison, Kansas stories. It triggered many of the participants to tell about their own family experiences of that record-setting flood.

Mary Meyer, “I remember the flood of ’51 quite well. I believe it occurred in July. We lived about 1.5 miles north of Madison on the river. Dad was outside putting the cows in the barn, catching what chickens he could, and taking them upstairs along with the dogs and cats. I remember sitting on the cook stove while Mom grabbed what she could and sent the 3 older kids upstairs with it. To this day, I am deathly afraid of water!

We ate cold cereal up there for about 3 days until the water went down. Then the real work began. About everything we had, including the hogs, were swept down river. I’ll never forget that swirling dirty water in the house.

madison 51 flood

The Emporia Weekly Gazette Emporia, Kansas 19 Jul 1951, Thu • Page 2

Lora Esslinger Meirowsky, “Dad talks about George and Dorothy Fankhauser’s home flooding where it was originally located just south of the highway right before the road curves to the east. After the flood, they moved the house across the Verdigris River to the hill where I remember it. Then a few years ago, the home again made the journey across the river to its current location just north of where it originally began.

Mary Beth Davies, “Mom, Dad, and Larry lived with her mom’s brothers’ family in a house just south of Fanestil’s in 99. They had quite a story about evacuating in ‘51. They could hear the roar of the water in the distance and just got out in time.”

Michael A. Paske, “Being much younger, I don’t remember the ’51 flood. However, I was told I created quite a stir. We lived in farmhouse my great-grandfather built just south of US 54 bridge over Verdigris near Toronto. The house set on a little rise in the flood plain and had a 3-foot high concrete and stone foundation. Dad had moved everything to the 2nd floor that wasn’t too heavy except for kitchen table and chairs and put refrigerator up on blocks even though the electricity had gone out the day before and they were using the old “icebox” fridge.
Seems someone did not put my diaper on snuggly enough. I, having turned one year old just a week earlier and not being quite as smart as the dog, was not housebroken yet. My grandmother who was staying with us saw a puddle of water at the door and screamed the water was coming in. The folks looked out and sure enough, water was lapping over onto the porch but the house door lips were another 4 inches high. It seems I had sat watching the water out the screen door and what will happen when you watch and listen to flowing water had happened.
The flood did cover the porch with about 1-1½” of water but stopped just short of really entering our house.
Dad did have to dig 2-3 ft of mud and silt out of the cellar/basement and of course, pump our well dry (it was totally covered by flood water) and pour in a couple of jugs of bleach as it refilled. He had moved all the chickens and geese to the hayloft of the barn which was also set on a raised foundation for the milk cows and the two old draft horses, and sheep.” 

flood of 51

The Emporia Gazette Emporia, Kansas 19 Jul 1951, Thu • Page 12

Renell Schroeder, “I remember the 1951 flood like yesterday. I have pictures of water up almost to Main Street on 4th Street. I remember the Norman Harlans (mentioned in Gail Martin’s story) because Tim was a year ahead of me in school and Vickie married my husband’s cousin. So neat that someone would record what they went through during that time.”

Kristy Buckridge “My Aunt Sheila lives in the house close to the river and the floors in her house were ruined that year.”

flood madison 1951

The Emporia Gazette Emporia, Kansas 26 Jul 1951, Thu • Page 9

Learn more about the 1951 floods with this 114-page report from the Weather Bureau (issued July 1952).

Many thanks to the individuals who shared their family memories. It’s good to preserve these. The flood happened almost 70 years ago so it’s rather amazing that word of mouth has preserved some of these stories.

Vintage Soda Ads

Sodas, Colas, Pop…  (memories by Gail Martin’s daughter, Virginia)

I remember sipping orange pop at the corner gas station as a kid. We could choose from grape or strawberry or chocolate pop from the big red cooler filled with icy water while Dad had the Pontiac’s gas tank filled. Ah, so cool and refreshing on a hot Kansas day.

There was a bottle opener on the side of the red cooler to pry off the metal cap. Then you took a big swig of flavored soda. The strawberry would make red streaks down your chin and on your shirt if you weren’t careful drinking it.

Vintage soda machine - Coca Cola

Old time soda cooler like you would see in a gas station. Photo by Virginia Allain

If you share my memories of vintage sodas, then you’ll enjoy these retro ads that I’ve found and photographed. You’ll see these old tin signs on the walls of restaurants along with other antique and nostalgia items.

We didn’t have pop at home, even for picnics or special occasions. We drank Koolaid or lemonade back in the 1950s and 1960s. Soda was too expensive.

kayo soda tin sign

KayO chocolate soda tin advertising sign.

Whether you call it pop or soda or cola depends on the region you grew up in, but the exact wording doesn’t matter. Some of these old advertisements have been reproduced on tin signs which people like to use to decorate their family room.

Enjoy this trip down memory lane.

hot dog tin sign

Hot dog and a Coca Cola for 15 cents – the good old days.

Photos by Virginia Allain

In the comment section, tell me your memories of drinking sodas as a kid (or did you call them pop)?


Store Bought Cookies

Gail’s daughter, Virginia, shares a yummy food memory.

Mom sometimes brought home some packaged cookies from the store. Sure, we loved her oatmeal raisin cookies, sugar cookies, and snickerdoodles, but it was a treat to have Fig Newtons or Vanilla Wafers for a change. One that I really liked was called Devil’s Food Cookie. It had a cookie textured center with a solid coating of chocolate around it. Yum!

Retro Grocery Check-out Pantry Party Stock Kitchen Card

Retro Grocery Check-out Card

by nostalgicjourney

We could even turn graham crackers into a cookie by spreading icing on it and sticking two squares together. Do people still do that? If so, I bet they use the containers of pre-made frosting. We would mix powdered sugar icing to spread on the graham crackers. Vanilla wafers benefited from some icing and we could stick them together for a sandwich cookie effect.

Many people have fond memories of chocolate Oreos. I wasn’t a big fan of Oreos, but I’d pull them apart to eat the icing. The cookie part wasn’t that tasty to me. I remember vanilla flavored cookies shaped like Oreos and having icing in the middle. I liked those better.

When we had homemade ice cream, Mom would get those slim, rectangular waffle cookies that came in pink and cream and chocolate. They had icing in the center, I think. What were those called?

Of course, we had animal crackers now and then. The box was most appealing with the circus animals and the bright colors. Inside were the fairly tasteless, but interestingly-shaped lions and elephants to munch.

Tell me about your favorite store-bought cookies from childhood.

Oil Field Memories

Our guest blogger today is Les Paugh Sr. who was married to Gail’s cousin, Treva. Here he tells about working with Gail’s husband Clyde in the El Dorado oil field. 

les paugh sr.

Les Paugh Sr.

Hi Virginia: You got me started, here’s another story.

When I first talked to Clyde about the job I told him I didn’t know one end of a drilling rig from the other. He asked me I could learn, couldn’t I. I told him I had learned how to do a lot of other jobs. He hired me on the spot for the Red Drilling Company. It was November 1957.  

My first night on the job after he introduced me to the other roughneck and the derrick man, he said, “you ready to take a trip”. I thought to myself, Hey this is going to be great, just starting and get to take a trip. We went out on the deck and they showed me what to do. The previous crew had pulled the drill stem out and had put on a new drill bit. We took a trip alright, put 3000 foot of drill stem back in the hole. When we got done, Clyde asked me “how did you like the trip?” I told him if it was ok with him I would take the train next time. They all thought that was a good answer. So I got along good from then on.

About a week later Clyde asked me if I would like to work in the derrick, I told him I wanted to learn as much as I could. the derrick man showed me what to do. About 60 foot in the air and they had a tarp wind break around the platform. Wasn’t too bad, they took it slow so I could catch on to what to do, then sped it up. I did ok.

oil rig pixabay

Drilling rig photo courtesy of Pixabay

We moved the rig and the weather was a little warmer so the derrick man didn’t put the tarp up around the platform. Clyde sent me up in the derrick again, only this time I could see for miles around and it looked a lot different. It didn’t take to long for me to realize that wasn’t my cup of tea up there. I was ok till I seen how high up I was.

In the month of November, we worked 2 weeks. In December, we worked 1 week. Money got tight and the owner of the rig shut it down. I got another job driving truck in a quarry. But that is another chapter in my book of work life.”

Here’s Les Paugh’s Story about the Truck and the Quarry

“The winter of 58 I was working on an oil drilling rig with Clyde Martin, the driller, as a roughneck. Money got tight and the owner of the rig shut it down. Just before Thanksgiving, after the 1st of the year, I found a job in a quarry driving a dump truck. My job was to haul loads of rock up this big hill and dump the load into a chute.

My first load I got to the top, the area wasn’t much bigger than the truck. I came back off the hill, the foreman was waiting for me. I told him he had forgotten to tell me how the devil to turn around at the top. He jumped in the truck got to the top and cut it to the left as hard and fast as he could, then in reverse, dumped the load. On my next load, he was at the bottom of the hill waiting. I went up, dumped the load and when I came down, he had gone inside of his office, so I thought oh boy I passed that test.

A couple days later the loader operator was loading some state trucks, the powder monkeys were working up on a rock ledge setting up charges using electric caps. I had used dynamite, but with the regular fuse and caps. I jumped up on the ledge to see how they were setting the charges. The loader operator had dumped a load of rock into my truck, truck jumped out of gear rolled down and hit a rock, bent the bumper back against the tire. Loader operator had no chain to pull the bumper back. so I went up to the tool shed to get a chain.

The foreman saw me and hollered at me ‘what are you doing up here you are supposed to be hauling rock.’ I told him what had happened and I needed the chain to pull the bumper back away from the tire, and I couldn’t do anything standing talking to him, turned around and went back to the truck.  The loader operator asked me what happened at the tool shed. I told him, and he said if I hadn’t stood my ground I would have been fired, but as I did I have got it made now.”

The Carr Street Years

Gail Lee Martin created this story on the My History Is America’s History website. When the site closed, the stories were lost. Recently, we found this on the Wayback Machine so it could be saved on Gail’s blog. Gail’s daughter, Virginia Allain added the photos to go with it. 

Oil drilling around Arkansas City became slow so Clyde went to work for Red Wilson, who drilled around the El Dorado area. We moved to 715 W. Carr Street in El Dorado in August 1957. The move was just in time for the kids to start to school with Karen in kindergarten. She was the only one to have that opportunity.

Cindy Susan Owen Ginger Karen_715 W Carr_El Dorado KS_Aug 1958

The Martin kids – Owen, Susan, Ginger, Cindy, and Karen. This photo is probably taken the year before the family moved from Ark City to El Dorado.

Going to school here in El Dorado was no hardship as our house was on the same block as Washington School. We all joined scout troops. Karen and Cindy in Brownies; Susan and Ginger in Girl Scouts and Owen in Boy Scouts. Since I couldn’t be with each of our children to help with their scout activities, I was getting discouraged.

In the spring of 1958, Clyde was injured in a car accident near Ark City and he was still in the El Dorado hospital when Shannon was born, June 1. When she was 10 days old, a killer tornado tore up the town, just a few blocks west of our home.

Shannon was with Dorothy Jones and they went to the Gas Service basement. I was visiting Clyde in the hospital, where we watched it go through town. The rest of the kids were with relatives and friends, while I was in the hospital having Shannon. Karen, Cindy, and Susan were with Clyde’s sister, Zella, going to Vacation Bible School in Madison. Howard Martin brought them home the evening after the storm. Owen and Ginger were with Dorothy and Wayne Baysinger in Oklahoma.

ginger childhood

The Carr Street house in the background. Ginger, Cindy, Susan, and Karen Martin. Summertime.

We discovered 4-H and joined the Prospect Wranglers group in 1959 where all the kids could be in the same group. That solved the scouting issue.

We lived on Carr Street for two school years before we found a house in the country. It was three miles north on Highway 77 and we moved there in the summer of 1959.

Martin kids 1959 Easter

The Martin kids – Cindy, Ginger, Owen, Karen, with Susan holding baby Shannon.

Gail’s Memories of the Flood of ’51

Last month, I posted a pieced-together account of the 1951 flood, but now I have recovered Mom’s account of it using the Wayback Machine. Here is Gail Lee Martin’s story of that event.

“My husband and I with our four children were living 3 miles northwest of Madison in northern Greenwood County, Kansas in the summer of 1951. We had never had to worry about the river, as it was a good half-mile away. But in 1951, after several days of steady rain, the Verdigris river became fuller than ever before.

While we were asleep the river started backing up every creek and stream that normally flowed into it. When our youngest woke up in her baby bed and began to cry at the sight of water in our bedroom, she woke us up. What a shock it was to swing my warm feet into cold, muddy, river water.

The river had silently backed up the tiny stream nearby and overflowed everywhere. It had slowly crept into our back porch on the ground level, then up higher and higher above the two cement block high foundation, before spreading its dirty mess into our house.

We waded around through the house trying to put everything up high on cabinets, the sink, and the stove because they were already standing in two foot of water.

When we first discovered the situation, the water in the county road was already three foot deep, so all we could do was watch the water rise higher and higher to the door handles of our car, parked in the driveway.

Our children, Owen, Susan, Ginger and the baby, Cindy were wild with the excitement of actually ‘wading’ in the house, until they saw the rabbit hutches had tipped over into the water drowning their beloved pets. We never had swift water, I think my terror came from the silence as the water just steadily flowed backward, rising higher all the time.

My brother-in-law, Norman Harlan, waded in from the shallowest west side and helped carry the children to safety. Our toddler ran out to jump into his arms and not being able to tell where the floor ended, she stepped off into the water and would have sunk if he hadn’t been quick to grab her.


Gail’s sister, Melba and Melba’s husband, Norman Harlan in 1949. Their children – Vicki, Tim and Bob.

I’ll never forget the beautiful breakfast my sister, Melba, had ready when my bedraggled, wet family arrived on her doorstep.

Of course, the rain did quit, the water went slowly away and we were left to clean out the mud and haul away what couldn’t be saved. Our children held a quiet funeral and mass burial of their pets.

To this day, some of our furniture has knee-high water marks, sad reminders of what can happen while you sleep.”