Nancy Roman


A few days a go I was doing a little gardening.

Here is a totally gratuitous photo of my helper. Theo has nothing to do with this story, but I am addicted to taking pictures of his adorable self.

gardening help


So anyway, I am digging up weeds. I love pulling weeds – it is sort of a free association task for me. Sitting on the ground with the sun on my shoulders doing something so mindless – it allows my brain to travel to all sorts of interesting orbits.

I have new gardening gloves. I suffer from a severe allergy to poison ivy. My reaction is truly terrible, so my dermatologist told me to buy very cheap gloves and use them as disposable, since my gloves may come in contact with the satanic plants. But the problem is that I poke through the fingers of cheap gloves immediately. So this year I sprung for a really nice pair. I love them.

So in my wandering thoughts I returned to the dirt of my childhood.

As much as I hate getting dirt under my fingernails now (hence the better gloves), I hated it even more as a kid. I despised that gritty feeling – even though I loved playing in the dirt. My mother did not garden. She had four kids and a job. Tending flowers was WAY down on her list. So I didn’t even know there was such a thing as gardening gloves. However, I invented a pair.

What I mean is that I took my white Sunday gloves and put them on, grabbed a good soup-spoon from the kitchen drawer and went out to dig. Mom did not think this to be a creative solution.

So I learned to scrub my fingers with an old toothbrush, and get used to a little dirt.

I see the sandboxes that kids have today. So pristine. Hygienic, sterilized sand. Sand you buy.


We didn’t have a sandbox. We had DIRT.

We had a little pit in the center of our backyard where no grass grew. My oldest sister thinks the bare spot was the result of a car up on blocks in that spot for a long while. I don’t remember that. I just remember that is was a nice convenient spot for digging.

But our digging ambitions grew larger than our little circle.

It was the end of the summer of 1960. For the first time, the Summer Olympics were televised. There was no such thing as satellite TV back then. No siree. Videotapes were sent from Rome to Paris to New York. And yet through this primitive, mostly manual technology, we still saw some events the same day they occurred. It was like a miracle.

These were the Rome Olympics that saw the likes of Cassius Clay (our beloved Muhammad Ali), Rafer Johnson, and Wilma Rudolph. I was mesmerized.

Through all this wonder, there was one event that captured the hearts of me and my cousins.

John and Arthur were brothers. They lived downstairs in our three-family home. Their mother was my father’s sister. My family lived on the second floor, and my grandmother lived in a little apartment on the third floor. If you are thinking this is a spectacularly nice way to grow up — you are right. People may refer to this as an “extended family.” But we weren’t extended at all. We were together.

Arthur was my age – nine in 1960. John was a year older. They were rough-and-tumble boys. I was a feminine skinny little girl. Every time we played together, I ended up with some minor injury. But that didn’t stop us. My mom just stocked up on Mercurochrome and Band-aids.

The event that so inspired John and Arthur and me on the grainy shadowing black-and-white TV was:

The Broad Jump.

 Also called the long jump, we watched men and woman hurling themselves down a stretch of runway, launching themselves spectacularly airborne – to land impossibly far away into the soft earth. The men jumped more than 25 feet. The women almost 20.

We had to do it.

We needed a long flat surface to gather speed. That would be our driveway. And at the far end of the driveway was a patch of yard not much used. It was sort of our secondary dirt hole. We often played with toy trucks in that stretch. There was not much grass. After that year, there was no grass.

We took shovels and rakes and loosened about 15 feet of earth. It took days on end. School began and so we worked after school. We built ourselves a landing pit.

And we jumped. We ran down that driveway and threw ourselves into the air. If there were cars in the driveway, we ran down the edge. We had no measuring tape. We used a couple of sticks to mark our best efforts.

We jumped and jumped. The following summer, we did it again.

It was exhilarating. It was euphoric. It was flying.

I remember my mother laughing as I got into the tub every night for my bath. I was solid dirt from my ankles to thighs. The outline of my socks was the dirt demarcation.

I don’t remember too much fall-out from digging up the yard. I only remember joy.

And I learned some good things during those summers of jumping:

* Dirt doesn’t hurt. It feels good and soft and it smells good.

* You don’t have to compete with people who are better than you. There will always be someone bigger and stronger. You can be glad for them, like I was glad when Johnny could move his stick to a new personal record. Work for your own personal best.

* You just have to be just a little bit better than you were before. Inches count. Small improvements each time yield big results after a while.

* Fun doesn’t have to cost anything.

* Keep lots of band-aids handy.


broad jump


  1. Haven’t seen your drawings in a while (probably my fault). This is heartwarming.
    Yes, dirt was great at one time wasn’t it. I wonder what kids really think of it today. Do they even know about it? o_O 😀 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure kids know about dirt. And I haven’t drawn anything lately – I had to track down my colored pens and upgrade my scanner software – it’s been that long!


      • Doris Kennedy

        Did I ever share with you when I moved back home in 1976 after my divorce. Eric was 3 years old and made friends with a little boy living in your house. When I would go pick him up, where were they? Digging in the dirt pile at the end of your driveway. I remember being flooded with memories every time. Time moves on but some things never change.


  2. Brings to mind one of my favorite quotes: “In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” But I don’t like it under my fingernails, either!


    • I’ve learned to love gardening too, which is a good thing since I spent the last ten years working for White Flower Farm.


  3. I love gardening—more pottering really (I also have an adorable 4 legged ‘helper’)—but hate having dirty hands. I’ve learned to tolerate dirt under my fingernails for the pleasure of gardening, but I give my hands a good scrub as soon as I’m done. Love your cute drawing 🙂


    • Thanks. I wear flip-flops a lot when I’m gardening, so now I am dealing with dirt under my toenails too! A strange problem for a 65-year-old!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Doris Kennedy

    Loved that dirt pile. We had one in our yard too AND a swing set. Most terrifying memory. Playing Red Rover and having Johnny charging through our line. And of course you & I being the weakest link, he always crashed through us. Ouch!!!


    • I remember well. I hated Red Rover…I always got hurt.


      • Susan Ritchie

        I remember getting SO dirty in the back yard, that Mom would brush me off with the broom on the back porch, make me take my shorts & shirt off in the back hall, and literally carry me (at arms length) .and dump me into the tub. What a wonderful way to grow up, brothers to bug me, cousins upstairs (ALMOST like having sisters, thanks for that, Nancy), best friends, around the corner. Red rover, hide and seek, and hide from the cars behind the hedges. Running up the street to get Good Humor bars,when we were lucky enough to get that amazing 15 or 20 cents from Mom and Dad. What a wonderful way to grow up.


        • Doris Kennedy

          How about racing paper plates in the oily Pequabuck River. Stood on the bridge on Center St, we all dropped a paper plate or paper into the river than run thru ND parking lot to see which one would be the first to go under the bridge at Horton Mfg. Catching lightening bugs in the parking lot next door to our house (now the Post Office) Worst memory, never getting picked for a baseball team …. everyone wanted Michelle Boyko. She WAS good. We sure had a great neighborhood and lots of fun things to do.


          • I never got picked for baseball either. Michelle died last year – she may have been much younger than I was, but there was NO sport she couldn’t beat me at.


          • Doris Kennedy

            I reconnected with Michelle many years ago as she was a good friend of sister Linda. Became very active in the preservation of Bristol and missed by so many in the community.


  5. What a great childhood memory – love it! ❤
    Diana xo

    Liked by 1 person

  6. We had a small sandbox, a big meadow and a hill with trees- so most time I lived up in the trees or down in the dirt- during the summer it would never vanish from under my toenails. Great times, they were!


  7. What a wonderful lesson. No point competing with anyone..we must truly learn to enjoy the process. Lovely memory indeed 🙂
    And sand box!!! (rolling eyes) I can’t imagine buying sand…I grew up with sand alright…getting dirty and gardening with my father…that’s how I spent my summers! And it was one pleasurable experience 🙂


    • I learned from my much bigger-than-me cousins how to lose good-naturedly. It was an important lesson. There will ALWAYS be someone bigger, smarter, richer, quicker, more powerful. It doesn’t have to stop you or discourage you.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. We lived in a trailer park for several years when I was growing up (in the late 50’s). Not a mobile home park, mind you, but a trailer park. In the desert, with miles of dirt in every direction. It was an awesome place to be a kid! So many other kids of all ages to play with, so much space and freedom. Nobody ever heard of organized sports; we organized ourselves, thank you very much, and were more or less covered in dirt most of the time. Great memories!


    • Some people would think “Trailer park? What a terrible childhood!” Childhood can be awesome wherever you are!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Reblogged this on talktodiana and commented:
    This takes me back to my wonderful childhood and how much fun we had playing outside and getting dirty. In this post Nancy talks about how much she enjoyed the long jump. I loved riding my bike with my friends. What was your favourite childhood activity?


    • Thanks for the re-blog. I also loved riding bikes. We lived in a small city near the biggest factory – there were tons of parking lots that cleared out on the weekends – great bike-riding and kite-flying!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Lovely story — I linked through from Diana’s place! Glad I did.


  11. Christine

    I just barely remember the old car that created the bare patch in the back yard. And we were so lucky that our parents didn’t try to immediately plant grass as soon as the car was gone, and that they didn’t mind a little (or a lot) of dirt. The water in the bathtub would turn brown when we got in.(We didn’t have a shower then.) can remember Dad saying in his later years that kids get sick more today because they don’t get dirty, and dirt builds resistance.


    • I think Mom and Dad thought that kids were SUPPOSED to get dirty. Although Mom certainly scrubbed us hard enough later!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Doris Kennedy

        I remember the drill. WALK home from school, change out of your school uniform into play clothes, have a home made snack, and GO OUT AND PLAY. Ass in seat at 5pm supper cause dad had to be at 2nd job for 6pm. Do dishes, do homework and if time before bed, GO OUT AND PLAY.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Susan Ritchie

          But, you had to be home when the street lights came on! How many times did we all go running because someone noticed the lights came on, and the church bell was ringing


  12. Ray G

    Nowadays, I don’t remember any kids in our neighborhood doing the “dirty” kind of play outdoors. Either they are indoors doing video games, or they’re on the street on motorized skateboards and such, and once in a while a pedal bike. Too bad they don’t know what they’re missing (though their parents have less washing up to do!).


  13. There was nothing we couldn’t do with dirt! Finger painting. Face painting. Playing farmer. Digging to China (I only used my mother’s best silver serving spoons for that. Of course I claimed ignorance. Innocence. Who me?)

    But, ummmmm, I don’t think the dirt built much resistance in me. 😦 Perhaps I am the exception that proves the rule..

    What a great post. And the picture of Theo is adorable. But I didn’t see any dirt on him!


  14. I remember digging in the dirt (age 5-6) and compressing it into houses, model houses, mostly a block with another block for a chimney. Why a chimney when we had never had a fireplace, I wonder. I felt gloves were in sissydom for long time, but now wear them. They do get holes rapidly because I need the thin ones so I can feel the weeds.


  15. Dirt was such fun! We dug holes, made frog houses, mud pies…..and they simply hosed us down at the end of the day HA HA
    Wish al kids were able to have those summers of jumping and dirt!
    great post


  16. I’ve read somewhere that it is because children today lead such ‘clean’ lives that they have many more allergies to common things than our generation ever did. My kids were mucky pups in our garden, and now my grandchildren are living in India and that is a much less sterile environment – they seem non-the-worse for it.
    As to gardening with gloves, I know I should use them, but I loathe it, I have many pairs of gorgeous gardening gloves I’ve been given as gifts, but I like to feel the soil, feel the plant roots etc.
    Top tip for scrubbing your nails clean afterwards – wash your hands in hot soapy water, and scrub the nails, then put some toothpaste on the nail brush and give them a good scrub, they come up looking great! Then use some hand cream!


    • Thanks for the toothpaste tip… I will definitely try it!


  17. You can show us pictures of your helper any ole time. Cute helper!


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