Childhood in Cooperstown

Remembering my childhood in Cooperstown, one of the first things that comes to mind is Playday.  We looked forward to Playday almost like we looked forward to Christmas.  What we would wear, who we'd be with, and what events we'd participate in.  It was food for thought and dreams for many a week before the great event.

The day almost always fell on a typically windy spring day and the town would be overrun with enthusiastic children of assorted sizes and ages energetically taking part in the old time potato sack races, three-legged races, and whatever was offered as well as running from store to store gathering up the freebies that the goodhearted merchants gave out to the little ones on that special day.  In discussing this event with Russ Edland, he tells me the country children viewed Playday with even greater love than did the town kids.

I can't believe that it was possible.  There was usually a parade on that day also.  The floats were a far cry from today's convertibles, antique cars and commercially trimmed floats but were built on little red wagons out of crepe paper, cardboard boxes, construction paper or whatever was available and they were generally pulled by two of the children.

Picnic lunches were brought along by the farm families and were eaten at the playgrounds or spread out on a blanket by the side of the car.  The playground was well used on that day as well as every other day during the good weather.  I recall the giant strides and the monkey bars and the slides and the swings and the lovely long evenings in early fall when it was dark and still the kids would be reluctant to come in and the parents would have to walk over to the playground and fetch the children home.

Saturday nights are another vivid memory of my childhood and I'm sure many others think of them and how we just had to go uptown on Saturday night and join the throngs of people walking up and down the streets visiting and shopping.  Shopping for us little ones at that time meant going to Marquardt's Cafe with our pennies to buy penny candy.  Oh, it was a long and delightful time that went into picking out those goodies - Otto and Belle Marquardt had more patience than anyone else I've ever known.  How they put up with the kids endlessly picking out that penny candy, I'll never know! Otto was a great tease and he seemed to love every minute of it.  Teenagers had to be out and about to meet members of the opposite sex - after all, in those years, not every eighth grade graduate went on to high school where you normally make these contacts.

Buying popcorn from Fred Ashby and his popcorn wagon is probably a memory that children of several generations will enjoy.  When I was a little girl if you had fifteen cents you could go to the show and have a bag of popcorn, too.

The little clown that turned the peanut roaster on his red wagon was a constant Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial of joy to me and in later years, I was privileged to sew several suits and hats for that little clown friend of mine.

There were no X-rated movies in those years so I was allowed to go to lots of movies at the Strand Theatre - that is, when I could manage to earn a dime.  Laurel and Hardy were about my favorite movie stars.

The old canvas curtain that was used on the stage at the old Opera House lives on in my memory and, even after having visited several well-known art museums, never have I seen anything more beautiful.  The painting on that curtain was the subject of endless thought and study.  It was almost as interesting to me as the home talent plays that were put on from time to time on that stage.  Those plays were hilarious and featured such notables as "Teed Marquardt, Rose Loder and A.M. Paulson among others.  The curtain at the Strand Theatre was also a beauty and many of us remember going there to the Cowboy and Indian serials on Saturday afternoons for the grand sum of five cents.

Jim Cussons tells me that he and 1, our mothers and his sister went to the Chautauqua at the Playgrounds.  Jim says what impressed him most was the size of the tent.  He also remembers whole carloads of watermelons coming in at the depot and that he and other little boys from town cut slices out of the melons from between the wooden slats of the railroad cars - I'm sure no other melon has ever tasted so sweet!

Crocus picking on Vinegar Hill in the spring brings back memories of meadowlarks singing sweetly and gentle spring breezes on our faces as we selected the prettiest crocus flowers for our Mothers.  We also packed a lunch and had our picnic on the last day of school - on Vinegar Hill.  The older students went further afield for their last day picnic but the first two or three grades loaded their lunches up in little wagons and made the trek to the north part of town.  Jim Cussons remembers as a little boy, digging caves in the hill just back of where Rick Larson's house now stands.  These caves were connected by mysterious tunnels and entrances.  Ali yes, Vinegar Hill and the surrounding land was a vast, almost unexplored wonderland that the kids of town dearly loved.

Growing up in a little town has many disadvantages -such as almost everyone in town knew absolutely everything about you and your whereabouts and doings were easily reported to your parents but, on the other hand, someone was always truly interested in you and your welfare.  Doors never had to be locked, you always had a neighbor from whom you could borrow things, you could walk anyplace there was to go, and you could walk in the dark of night and no one would harm you, - yes, these and many more assets more than offset the liabilities.

Maxine Torgerson

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial Page 124

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