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Books and Beyond

Library patron

So much in Susan Allen Toth’s memoir, “Blooming: A Small-Town Girlhood,” c 1978, reminds me of my childhood and teenage years. She grew up in Ames, Iowa, and I grew up in a smaller Iowa town about 50 miles east. Relatives on the Mohr side live in Ames, and we have visited there many times.

I started her book by reading “Bookworm.” In the introduction to this section, she takes her daughter now to the library where she went as a young person. 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 check out a book she wanted from the Adult Section. Technically, she wasn’t old enough. The title she could read then was “Five Little Peppers,” by Margaret Sidney. That title is on our bookshelf here at home even now. The copyright is MCMLV. It’s here because it was on my family’s bookshelf when I was a child. Another book in that category is “The Yearling,” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, c 1938. See how I want to return to my childhood days?

Here’s the next chapter that kept me in my youthful days: “Boyfriends.” She has no brothers, and I had two brothers, but our memories about boys we were interested in are similar — one boy at a time on our minds. Seems like each grade brought us a different boyfriend. The teenage girls in Ames would get into cars driven by young boys and maybe go to the A & W Root Beer Stand. One special time three couples (in three cars) met in a park and got out of their cars to dance to Patti Page and Frank Sinatra songs on a car radio. We didn’t get together in groups like that in the small Iowa town I grew up in. We needed to drive to a larger town nearby –Marshalltown, and go to a movie on Saturday evening or to church on a Sunday evening.

Probably because Ames was a bigger town, she had many more parties and dances to attend than I did. The girls got together for birthday parties and slumber parties when they were younger. As teenagers they could go to sock hops and a once-a-year Box Social. This was planned to say farewell to the ninth graders and welcome the new seventh-graders. Each girl, with her mother’s help, prepared a boxed meal, which was auctioned to the boys attending. Whoever bought Susan’s lunch would eat it with her. She also writes about the Christmas Dance that was held in The Great Hall of the Iowa State College Memorial Union. The boy whom Susan asked to attend with her would send her flowers, and she would get ready by buying a dress from Younkers and wearing Evening in Paris perfume.

I read all 11 chapters in this book. My favorite, the longest, was “Preparation for Life.” She babysat, so did I. She de-tassled corn two summers. So did I. She worked at a newspaper, and I did too, when I was just a little older. It was too late for me to be hired for a teaching position, and I worked at the newspaper office in Decorah, IA. I was part time, and I got to have assignments in each department: Advertising, Circulation, 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 book that you could send for several little tin containers of the salve, sell them, and then receive a reward of some kind. What was it? I don’t remember the reward, but I do remember walking around town, knocking on doors, and selling the salve.

This chapter took me to Howard’s box of old comic books. I knew I’d find back pages similar to the one that encouraged me to sell something and earn money. One example is to make money by selling American Seeds; you could sell either flower seeds or vegetable seeds, or both. The company was in Pennsylvania. Another back page on a comic gave you the chance to order Christmas cards and wrapping paper, sell them, and make $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 jobs as I was growing up in Ames now seem to me ambiguous” (p. 150).

I can’t say it that way. I learned so much with my different types of work as a teenager, and I have good memories. As you have read, I worked at the grain elevator my father owned, I babysat, had a paper route, sold Cloverine salve.

She didn’t write about playing hopscotch, though, and in my book I would write about what fun that was. I drew the hopscotch squares and numbers with chalk in front of our garage. See the picture?

Marshall-Lyon County Library has many Susan Toth titles, including “My Love Affair with England,” “England as You Like It: An Independent Traveler’s Companion,” “England for All Seasons,” and “Leaning into the Wind: A Memoir of Midwest Weather.” Plum Creek Library System has “Blooming: A Small-Town Girlhood and No Saints around Here: A Caregiver’s Days.” You can place holds on these and many other materials at marshalllyonlibrary.org

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