Part One – Memories of a Childhood Outdoors


I am tempted to call this story Days of Heaven because growing up in Iowa in the 50s was pretty wonderful. Our dads went to work and came back home for lunch and went out in the evening to work on our cars or in the garden . Our moms kept house and had long phone conversations with the other mothers and were there for us when we wanted. When we weren’t in school (for that’s another story) we spent all our time outdoors. Oh, there were the early morning Saturday cartoons when we were older and finally got a television. Cartoons started at 7 am and ended after breakfast and then it was up and out if the weather was halfway decent which it usually was and even if it wasn’t we just bundled up and went anyway. The only time we were indoors was if there was a thunderstorm and a tornado warning or coming in 50 miles an hour sideways in a blizzard.


Sometime we had a blizzard and when it stopped we would pile in the car and go sledding at the Country Club golf course. We had sleds and inner tubes and sometimes one family would bring a toboggan. The snow in Iowa was perfect for sledding. The first time I went skiing at Lake Tahoe I thought “let’s go sledding” because I was used to Iowa conditions. That thought was promptly squashed when we realized that the Sierra snow was too deep and all you did was sink. Not going anywhere on a sled, you weren’t! But in Iowa it was gravy. I mean it was perfect snow. Only about 3 or 4 inches deep and, boy, you could go fast! We kids would be airborne most of the time on those long slopes. A little bump and whoo-wee up you’d go sled or inner tube and all if you were holding on. If you weren’t you were ejected and flying on your own. I wish I had a photograph of the entire scene. It would have looked like a Courier and Ives postcard.

Our Weimaraner dog Heidi (in silhouette), my sister, my mom and me.

From our house on Fifteenth Avenue you went down Nevada Street to there was a little grocery store called Twin Foods.  They sold milk and bread and a few other things. They had a real bakery in the back where they made the most scrumptious white sandwich bread, crusty crust and soft, chewy insides. In the winter the owner had the brilliant idea to take his tractor and scoop out a shallow depression that he then filled with water to freeze and make a kind of ice skating rink.  Then with our classic white figure skates we girls would tentatively swoosh around. The boys would swoosh around on hockey skates because no self-respecting boy would be caught dead in figure skates.   Sometimes we would go over to the bottom land on North Center Street where water went over the bank of the Iowa River, gathered in large tracts and then froze. We would skate there, too, but it was not very smooth ice so I never got very good at skating. I mostly got good at not falling.

My dad holding the buck. Howard Stegman holding proof of the recurve bow. They fletched their own arrows, too.

My dad was a hunter. He hunted all manner of wild animals. He hunted squirrels, pheasant, ducks, and rabbits. He even went to Canada once and bagged a moose. We were eating moose for a year. But deer were the most prized animals. He and his friends hunted deer with the classic recurve bow. Compound bows did not exist at that time. Al Polley was a farmer out north of town and he had corn fields and timber that bordered the north side of the Iowa River. He gave my dad and his friends permission to hunt there. To keep warm while they were hunting my dad and his friends built a plywood one room shack that they called the deer shack. Like I said they used it to warm up in. They needed this because how you hunted deer with a recurve bow was to make a little platform high up in a tree next to a trail that the deer used habitually. The hunters would sit for hours in the tree waiting for the deer to come along. But the deer didn’t come like clockwork so when our dads got cold they would climb down and get in the deer shack to warm up. Some snowy winter evenings we would take a big pot of chili out there and build a big fire and then stand around the fire and eat the chili with crackers. Later on I would go with my dad in the dark to scout for deer sign while the others stayed behind. I guess it had to be in the dark so as not to spook the deer so much. Dad never explained much of anything. But it made me fearless of the dark.

Other winter evenings we would go out in the car just after dark and drive into the corn field stubble and circle the car around so the headlights would illuminate the perimeter of the field. If we were lucky we would see a deer herd feeding on the corn stubble. Their heads would pop up and we’d see their shiny eyes. Such beauty. My dad hardly ever hit a deer with his bow and arrow. I think maybe he hit one or two in all the years I was growing up. It’s hard to hold a recurve long enough to get the perfect shot and the deer would not come into the perfect position. Tree branches could be in the way. The dads practiced all summer at the Isaac Walton League so they would be as ready as they would ever be when deer season came.

Next: Part Two – Spring


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