Jan Simpson Favorite child hood memories
I hate to even say it, but I had the perfect childhood. As the youngest of eight, I had seven siblings who more or less doted on me. Well, maybe not Robert, who was the youngest boy, and three years older than me. He could torture me ‘til I cried. Our dad always said that someday Robert would be old and I would still be young, and then I could beat him up. I think we’re there, but I haven’t beaten him up yet.
But the other six had me on a pedestal. Well, maybe not Carol, who was the oldest. She had to mother all of us, and I don’t think she like the role one bit. One time she and I were carrying hay on pitchforks to the sheep. I was walking in front of her, and I wasn’t walking fast enough, so she stabbed me in the be-hind with the pitchfork. Didn’t draw blood, but still…
But I digress. Of the hundreds of happy, idyllic memories I have of growing up in Hardin, Montana, the Rainbow for Girls Box Social tweaked some brain synapses, and rose to the top of favorite memories.
I was probably 13 years old. Rainbow for Girls was an offshoot of the Masons/Eastern Star/Demolay for Boys organizations. Bernice had been a member, and maybe Carol, too. I think the goal was to raise us into upstanding “good” girls. There were some secret handshake kinds of things, and it was full of ritualized procedures. It was where I first learned where the term “black balled” came from. But they did some fun things, too. The Winter Formal was a fancy dance like the prom, except it was for Rainbow and Demolay kids only. And then one year we had a Box Social to raise money.
I had never heard of a Box Social. We were supposed to decorate a box and put a meal in it for two. We came to the social with our dads, and whoever bought our box would be our dining partner. We girls put our boxes on a table, and when our turn came, we would each hold our box up front as it was auctioned off, the dads bidding on the boxes.
Some of the boxes went for a dollar, some for $5. I figured the meal was worth maybe $2 in 1967 dollars. The boxes were decorated with paper doilies, ribbons, bows. Some had glitter. I had a pretty elaborate box; it wasn’t the fanciest, but it wasn’t a dog, either. I was kinda looking forward to eating with someone’s dad that I didn’t know—and I didn’t really know many of the dads there. So when my box came up, I went to the table, found my box, and stood in front of the room holding my box for the assembled girls and dads to see. The bidding war began. I’m not sure to this day which dads got into the bidding war. It could have been Jeanie’s dad, who was a farmer on the Little Horn River; or maybe Dawn and Bonnie’s dad, who was the bulk oil guy; Or Jerry’s, whose dad owned the gas station; or maybe Carolyn’s dad, who ran the implement dealership. Whoever they were, there were some boxes, mine being one, that went for big bucks, the dads making a game of it all.
My little box sold for $25, the highest of all the boxes. In today’s dollars, that’s about $185. For cold fried chicken, chips, two apples and two pieces of cake.
And you know who bought it? Yep, my dad bought my box. At first I was a little disappointed. I wondered why he would want to buy my box—wasn’t it supposed to be auctioned off to somebody else? But then, after he bought it, and I walked my box to him, I saw the twinkle in his eye, how proud he looked, and then I realized how proud I felt, that my little box was the prize we gave each other—to be able to share our meal together, with friends and fathers and little girls on the cusp of womanhood.
PS: I didn’t think of it then, but I do now: what did the girls who didn’t have a father do? At the last home basketball game in my hometown the kids who played and their parents were recognized. That included us cheerleaders. My junior year my dad wasn’t feeling so hot and he had been through this drill with seven other kids. The glow might have worn off. So that night, neither my mom nor dad were present. As all the kids were lining up, finding their parents, I stood alone.
But I wasn’t the only one in a dilemma—Doug Peterson’s parents were divorced and both of them were there. Doug’s mom, Helen Peterson was the publisher and editor of the Hardin Tribune Herald—she was a cigarette smoking, whiskey drinking journalist. She had been good friends with my parents, and her daughter, Stevie, was good friends with my oldest sister. Hjordis and I were in track together. Doug and I were a year apart, knew each other, but didn’t hang out. So that night Helen became my mom, and I became her daughter.
She was and is an important influence in my life not only for that night but as a role model. She was a professional, independent woman; a journalist who made her living writing. She was an active participant in the community who ran for public office and lost. She was a force to be reckoned with.