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Mary ConleyDear Friends,

Awhile back, I wrote the post “A Final Hour On the Farm Where I Was Raised.” Oh, my, I didn’t see it coming, but this is how 255 of you Capper’s Farmer and GRIT followers told us you would spend an hour at your childhood home if you could. I want to thank each one of you for sharing. It was so very touching. I read every reply, and it made me feel a connection to all of you in a world that is moving so quickly.   

Listen up readers!  Maybe you still have the opportunity to do some of the things these people only wish they could do.

So many of you wanted to go back and get some peonies, iris, blackberries, raspberries, and other plants your parents or grandparents had. “If only I could get or just smell the lilacs again!” you said.

Then there were the photos. You would take snapshots for you and your children of all the rooms in your home and areas of your yard or farm.

Many of you would spend time with Mom or Dad. “Work with my dad.” “I would just sit and talk to Dad or Mom.” I agree. So often, I have questions about something, or wish I had listened more closely when they told me the old stories.

father daughter 

Father and daughter having a chat.

I was very surprised at the number of you who mentioned your grandma and sometimes both grandparents. “I would just hug my grandma and tell her how much she meant to me!” It blessed my heart to hear your love for them. 

sleep over

Making memories: I think our grandchildren will remember all the holidays they camped out on air-mattresses at our house, and the wonderful time we had with each other! When they are as old as I am, I think they might say, “I would love to spend one more hour at Grandma and Grandpa’s house at Christmas time!”

“Tell my parents not to get divorced and make them play with me in the yard.”

“Ask Granddaddy to read me the Little Golden Books! Oh, to hear his wonderful voice again!”

“I would tell my mom and dad how much I love and appreciate them.”

“Just love everyone!”

“I would sit on the garden bench and shell peas with my grandmother, and we would laugh while we worked.”

“I would look at my old comic book collection.”

You remembered your first true love who lived next door! “Find the girl I gave my first kiss and really lay one on to her now that I know what I’m doing!”

“I would walk around and soak up the memories so I won’t forget.”

“I would carry out as much as my arms could hold of the old toys, jars, etc.” 

A couple of you buried things and forgot to dig them up when you left! LOL!

You preferred the quiet life with friendly neighbors instead of the busy traffic noise and people who don’t know each other. You liked neighborhood gatherings. You would visit your high school. 

Then my heart hurt for those of you who wanted to burn the place to the ground or wished you had left earlier. “Burn the hell hole to the ground!” “Burn it down!” “Biggest source of sadness and abuse.” “Burn it!” “I would curse and burn it. It was not a happy place.” “Burn it to the ground!" I was shocked to hear so many of you express that. It is my hope for you that the pain will fade and the good things, yes there had to be some good things, will be remembered, too.

Here are some of the good things often mentioned: pets, nature, ponds, rivers, climbing trees, walks in the fields, swinging, playing in the loft, coloring and doing simple family things, riding your horse, caring for livestock, walking barefoot, picnics, fishing, making homemade ice cream, catching fireflies, playing dolls and jacks. 

Many of you stated that you still live in your childhood home, came back to live there, or are wishing to buy it. Some of you have visited it recently. 

Then there were those of you who moved so often that you didn’t know which place you would like to visit for an hour! I can’t relate to that, but I also can’t help but think that you have some unique memories that none of the rest of us have!

One woman said that everyone has a story, and it was nice having a place where we all could share. A few of you thanked me for taking you down memory lane. Actually, I felt your comments did that for me. What a special time we all had together! Thank you!


Mary ConleyDear friends,

Here is an unusual post! We bloggers try to encourage one another, and about a year ago, I discovered that Nebraska Dave and I live in the same city. He is a blogger for Capper's Farmer's sister magazine, GRIT, and we finally managed to become acquainted over lunch this week.

Dave is a generous and delightful man, which we already knew, not only from reading his blog, but the fact that he often makes encouraging comments below other bloggers’ posts, including those of us on Capper’s Farmer. I know I always appreciate his comments. I thought you might like to see us together.


Nebraska Dave, Old Dog New Tricks, and Larry, my husband and unpaid editor. I did double his salary this year!


Mary ConleyDear friends,

It is State Tournament time here in Nebraska and Larry is very excited because he and our three sons will make their annual trek to Lincoln to watch the boys’ finals on Saturday night. They always stop and buy snacks to sneak in, eat at HuHot, and have a great time together.  

My last post was about how I started playing the historic 6-on-6 Iowa girls’ basketball in the '50s, and I want to share a favorite memory of that time: The State Tournament! If you read that post, you’ll know our team never made it that far, or very far at all, but we got to go watch! It was an amazing time for us Washta teens, as most of us had never traveled past Cherokee and maybe once or twice a year to Sioux City! I think many of you athletes, girls and boys, will relate to the fun we had!

I’ll never forget when Luanne and I, both eight-graders, were told we could go! The school policy was that the first team and the seniors on the team were given the opportunity each year. We were playing quite regularly as the season progressed, so they invited us, too, and there was some dissension again. I know I was excited, but also overwhelmed and a little scared of the unknown. Think about it; Luanne and I were only 14. 

What a blast to get out of school, travel to Des Moines, and stay in Hotel Kirkwood! I had never stayed in a hotel before. We had a chaperone, of course, but she didn’t stay in our rooms, as she probably required sleep. Not us! The way to accomplish this, is to never get in bed. In the five years that I went, I only remember sleeping a little one night as that chaperone and coach came down hard on us.  

The hotel couldn’t put us on the same floors with teams that actually played in the tournament, or other visitors, because we were running the halls and stairs all night and having a great time making friends with other teams.

What fun we had during the day! Freedom to roam the streets, shop and eat what we could afford, and be carefree and silly. Never underestimate being silly! I remember eating pizza for the first time. Some of us had pooled more than we could afford for that pizza, were starved, but could hardly down a piece. The whole top was thick, stringy cheese, and nothing like the pizza we eat today. Perhaps it was because we Iowans were only used to beef, corn, potatoes and gravy!

A highlight of each year was to visit the beautiful Iowa State capital and climb the circular stairs to the very top. In those days, you could even continue on the wooden steps into the dome, which was very scary. Years later, when Larry and I took our children there, it was closed off because of bomb threats. Oh, the innocence of our time.

OK, I know you can’t believe that I would do this, but one year, two or three of us dropped water balloons from our hotel window. Besides us, there were a couple quieter girls who happened to still be in the room. Soon we heard a knock on the door, so we hid in the closet. The other girls had to answer the door and face the policeman who bawled them out and gave a stern warning. Their faces were SO red and they weren’t too happy with us. 


A program from the Girls’ State Basketball Championship the year I was in eighth grade.

The games: Oh, that’s right, we went there for the games! Of course they were exciting, and it was fascinating to see how well the girls played. The thing that actually made me wide-eyed, though, was the overwhelming size of the auditorium, and all the people; it was so far down to the players! Everything about it was new and exhilarating. Contrarily, it was also difficult to stay awake!

I could probably go on for another page or two about the fun we had those five years, but what I’m really hoping is that this post will be a catalyst for all YOUR wonderful memories. If you would like, share one in the comment section for everyone to enjoy. Be sure to click “like” at the top of this blog so I know you read it, and “share” with all your old school buddies! Thanks, and happy reminiscing! 

*Visit my post on How and Why You Should Write Your Memories, and leave your stories for your grandchildren. 


Mary ConleyDear friends,

My name is Mary Moore Conley. Recently, Deb Warth White read my post on How and Why You Should Write Your Memories. What caught her eye was my high school basketball photo, and she suggested I join the “I Played 6-on-6 Basketball in Iowa” Facebook page. So I did! She was also kind enough to share my post to that site.

Oh, my! As I scanned, I saw photographs of teams from way back even before my time (I graduated in 1960) and read some of the history of the unique game. On one of Deb’s entries, she mentioned two of her favorite things to watch is the movie, “Hoosiers,”and the Iowa Public Television video “Watch More Than a Game: 6-On-6 Basketball In Iowa.” I agree. We have that video, and I can almost see myself in much of it. Yes, I wore one of those very modest uniforms! As for the movie, my husband, Larry, and I can fully relate to the cracker box gymnasium in the story, as ours was even smaller. In fact, there is one scene our team experienced. We were about to go to a tournament held in a large gymnasium in Sioux City. Our coach took us there for a practice so we could get a feel for it. Then he used a tape measure to show us that the basket was the same distance from the free-throw line and same height from the floor as in our little gym where the two free throw circles overlapped the center circle! What he couldn’t do, though, was to give me the energy to run such a large court!

Also, as I scanned the Facebook page, I felt left out. I couldn’t identify with the many photos with trophies. Mostly LARGE trophies winning state. Wow! They don’t make them like that anymore! No, we never had a team that played at state, so Washta never had the chance to talk for years about the big game at Des Moines that shut down our little town for the day. However, there are so many wonderful memories in the hearts of us girls that should be mentioned, I think I may have to do just that!

Where to start is the problem. I’m thinking it will take more than one blog post because I want to recall several memories of those times. I’ve decided that I can only start from the beginning of my own story, knowing that much of it will also be the story of so many of the girls. I was not the star player on my team, but still, I can only tell my story. 

It began in a school building that housed kindergarten through 12th grade. First, though, you’ll need to realize that back then, parents didn’t pay for their children to play on teams starting in grade school like at the present. So, I first started playing basketball in seventh grade on our little junior high team.


Junior High Basketball:  I was in seventh grade. 

Then came a big surprise. Actually, a shock. First two, and eventually five of us, were asked to stay after school to practice with the high school girls. You know that our school was desperately small in numbers for that to happen. My friend, Luanne, was better than I, and didn’t seem as scared to be with the older girls. I tried to fake it, but I was petrified. I realize, now, that the coach and superintendent watched us, thought we might have potential, and the sooner we started the better.

Before long, some of us were put in the games now and then to get experience. The regular bench warmers who eagerly waited for a turn were not too happy about that, and I can understand their disappointment. I didn’t win any popularity contest with them, but worked hard and did my best. I don't remember exactly when we began playing quite regularly, but I do know we played high school BB for five years. 

high school

The high school basketball team. I was in eighth grade.

As I previously mentioned, I wasn’t the star player, so I’m now going to tell you my ONE personal highlight I found in my scrapbook today. Then my boasting will be over. It was a county tournament game, and the newspaper article not only verifies how young we were, but also caused me to remember that it was a turning point for my acceptance from some of the benchwarmers and older girls. Mostly, I know all you athletes will identify with the disappointment of playing your heart out and then losing.  

clippingThis is a clipping from the Cherokee Daily Times. We were eliminated in the first round of the annual Cherokee County Tournament.

Yes, I even underlined my name!

We had given it our all and come so close. After the game we dragged ourselves to the locker room. What a pathetic downcast mess we were. Then our chaperone told us not to shower quite yet as the coach wanted to talk to us. There certainly wasn’t much talking going on among us. No, we all just sat down on the floor along the walls and benches and shed a few tears, as girls do, and waited. And waited. Eventually, our coach and school superintendent came in. They were late because there had been quite a heated dispute. It seems the person “forgot” to start the clock as soon as he should have. It didn’t help that he was a fan of the other team. We’ll never know if he did it on purpose or just got caught up in the game. We lost just the same. We were told in detail that we played a great game, and I was personally complimented. One always remembers that.

It was on the bus ride home that a teammate, one of the bench warmers, sat by me and told me that she admired what I had done and that I deserved to be on the team. After that, I noticed that the others also had a better attitude towards me, and I felt accepted. Luanne certainly deserved her place on the team, far more than I. 

A side note is that neither my or Larry’s parents attended our games. News of the game traveled back to Washta before our bus did, and my dad, who played cards in the pool hall while waiting for me, had already heard about the game when I arrived, and I could tell he was proud of me.

Now you know about a young Iowa girl who loved the game even though her team didn’t get far, let alone to state. Please join me again as I recall more highlights as well as the nitty gritty of playing small town 6-on-6 Iowa girls' basketball.


Mary ConleyDear friends, 

Do you still get to visit your childhood home? I’m 73 and the youngest in my family. My parents have been gone for several years, and the farm where I was raised was sold long ago. We just passed it on the way to visit relatives a few days ago, taking in all that has stayed the same, as well as the changes. I always look forward to seeing it, but then so many emotions start flooding in, I tear up, and almost wish I hadn’t. If I could, though, I know without a doubt which part of the farm I would love to relive again. Even for an hour or so. The railroad track.

A few years ago, I decided to write short stories of my life to pass down to our children. It surprised me how many of those memories involved the railroad track.

Our farm was in the Little Sioux River Valley 1 1/2 miles south of Washta, Iowa, and the track ran parallel to the farm, highway 31, and the hills. I wrote about walking on the rails and ties, and riding our pony in the safety of the surrounding ditches. There was an exciting summer my cousin, Gary, and I spent Sundays in the slimy water under the trestle witnessing the gradual change of tadpoles. We always acknowledged to each other when we heard the sound of the train that passed once a day, and I often waved to the friendly men who pumped the handcar checking the track between Correctionville and Washta. Occasionally, a black man helped repair the track; he was the first person of color I had seen in small-town Iowa.

And, it was while wandering along the railroad track as a young girl that I looked at the hills and decided there must be a God who made it all.


A small trestle just like the one by our farm. Photo: Roxy Lang Photography

Mostly, I remember the many hours herding cattle along the track on the hot, dry, summer days of July and August. The pastures had been grazed bare, but there was plenty of lush grass and tall weeds along both sides of the track. It was my job to take the cows down the lane and along the track to the next farm, turn them and head back. Cows are sneaky and there were many scary moments. If it were not for my trusty dog, Shep, it would have been impossible to keep them off the road, turn them towards home, and then back down the lane and through the gate to the barnyard.

Although herding cattle required my full attention, there were so many distractions such as beautiful wildflowers in bloom, and birds nesting in the grass and singing their special songs. Can’t you almost feel the soft winds and warm sun making me drowsy? Cars passed by now and then, and trucks with guys who honked and stuck their arms and heads out the window to wave and whistle. (No air-conditioning in vehicles in those days.) I was quite shy with my grubby clothes and windblown hair, but I wondered what they were like. Were they young or old? Were they already married? Cute? Would it be fun to date them? Would – OH, NO! There go the cows!

As adults, we often drove back to visit my parents on the farm. I can still picture our four children leaning forward to see who could be the first to spot their grandpa’s silos as we rounded the bend. On one of those trips, much to my horror, we noticed the railroad track had been ripped out and the ground graded smoothly in its place. To me, those tracks had been as permanent as the hills, or the winding Little Sioux River bordering the opposite side of our farm. It was part of my identity. How could they? They didn’t even ask me. It was so very sad.

Yes, if only I could spend even one hour back along the railroad track.  

I guess I just did!

* Check out my last blog on How and Why You Should Write Your Memories!


Mary ConleyDear friends,

I am not a writer. I know because I’ve read good books! I am a blogger, though, and I’m just now getting used to saying that. For a long time when people complimented my blogging, I always felt as though we were talking about a third person. In today’s post I want to tell you about how I first started writing. It was a few years ago, and my goal was to record several stories about my childhood for my children. I think you should, too, and I’ll soon tell you why.

“Not me,” you say? You can’t spell or punctuate or you don't have good sentence structure? Doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you get it down and in your own words. You don’t want your story to sound like someone else’s life, anyway. How do I know? I read it in a book, and that is what gave me the courage to start. I also know from the following experience:

I received a fairly lengthy note from my sister-in-law, Wilma. A FIRST! It was a rare thing, indeed. I felt so privileged that she had written to me, I was nearly floating around the house. Then my husband, Larry, started reading it, and pointed out the errors. It made me so mad. I didn’t care about those errors; I was just happy that she had written to me. Furthermore, because she had written in her own voice, I could just about hear her talking to me as I was reading her note. I treasure it!

Back to the “why” you should write your stories. Again, learning from experience, it is bound to be so much more than just passing down your life to your children. The act of writing, itself, may become therapy. For free! At least it did for me. It helped sort things out and made me realize something very important.

My family was wonderful in many ways, and very dysfunctional in others. What writing did for me was to revisit even the difficult times. I often stopped my typing to wipe the tears. Sometimes, I sobbed through it, or discontinued until another day. Then, I eventually applied forgiveness where needed. One of my stories was a letter I wrote to my dad, talking it all out. In the end, I told him I forgave him for all his anger and the sadness it caused. This may seem ridiculous since he was already dead, but it helped. My big surprise, though, was how I realized all that my parents had sacrificed and done for me. What started out as writing some of my childhood stories for my children, turned into gifts for me of forgiveness and thankfulness.

Maybe you don’t want to put yourself through any of those emotions. Well, don’t write those stories, then. I didn’t in the beginning. Tell your children all the fun and happy experiences you had. You’ll find yourself smiling as you type! I wrote about my dolls, playing on the railroad track, the arrival of baby chickens, riding our pony, being sent to the principal’s office, girls' basketball, typing class, 4-H, Mom sewing all my clothes, adventures with my cousin, Gary, and many more. If you can’t type, don’t give up before you start. Your family will inherit your very own authentic handwriting. My recollections range in size from just a paragraph to three pages.


1956/57; my memories of playing six-man Iowa girls’ basketball.

I’m quite sure ideas are popping into your head right now while you are reading this. Quick! Jot the topic down and you can get back to it later. One memory will most likely trigger another and soon you’ll have a whole list to work from. Larry “plans” to write his childhood stories, and he often mentions that he wants to tell about how the boys played marbles at recess and every chance they got.

I do feel I should warn you about something else I read in a book. Someone, probably a sibling, will tell you that your story isn’t accurate. It may not be, since everyone experiences things differently, especially if you were very young. Don’t let your feelings get hurt. Maybe they are the ones who don’t recall the details correctly. Don’t worry about it. Memories are just that, what you remember, and you can tell them so! Hopefully, you’ll enjoy reminiscing together.

One more thing: Don’t forget to write about your emotions. I learned this from Larry’s mom. She left a diary which we all read. It had a little historic value, but was completely devoid of any feelings concerning the situations, even when their house burned down. Not only was it boring, but it left us with so many questions. One could get the impression that they didn’t have emotions back then, similar to how the old sepia portraits make us wonder about our ancestors. I remember my elderly Aunt Golda telling me that after stiffly posing for those lengthy sittings, they would all burst out laughing! Ever since she shared that memory, I visualize it whenever l see one. Can’t you imagine those sober, colorless people transitioning off the photo paper into a fit of laughter?! Don’t make your readers wonder. Capture the emotions of what happened. They want to know you were a real live human being with feelings, just like them! Are you ready to begin?!


Mary ConleyDear Friends,

Mark Twain said there is a great deal of human nature in people! I have a perfect example I want to share with you. It was a week before Christmas that year (before 9-11), and I was on a three-hour layover in Atlanta, on my way to Pensacola, Florida, where our son-in-law was stationed in the Air Force. It was a special trip because I was going to help with the arrival of a new grand baby. Leaving my coat at home in frigid Omaha, Nebraska, I eagerly looked forward to my first visit to sunny Florida during the winter. I purposely overdressed in my new Christmas attire so that my young grandchildren, Joshua and Katie, would see me come off the plane in a cheery red dress.

While exiting the first plane, a man in front of me complained, "You can’t even go to hell without stopping in Atlanta." I, however, was almost thankful for the lengthy layover as I sat crocheting a pair of blue booties. I scolded myself once more for not making them before the rush of Christmas preparations. Now, if they would only turn off that annoying, repetitive message about not leaving luggage unattended or with a stranger, I would be able to concentrate on the pattern.

It was probably the red dress that first caught people’s attention, then they would see that I was a gray-haired grandmother crocheting booties, and smile at me. A little girl and her mother stopped and chatted. Then the mother asked me to watch their bags while they went to the restroom. As a woman, I understood how difficult it is to manage everything plus a child in one of those small stalls, but then another person observing us asked me to watch his, also. It became a job. All of a sudden, I was watching three people’s bags at the same time! All those black carryons began looking the same, and I was concerned that I might lose someone’s luggage! It became difficult to concentrate on my crocheting so I gave up and decided to continue after boarding the next plane.

I laughed to myself at how several people had ignored the constant warning on the intercom. I thought, if I ever need to look trustworthy, I'll just wear a red dress and crochet booties!

blue blanket

This is a more recent photo of this gray-haired grandmother crocheting! I have on red, and I’m crocheting a blue baby blanket. Do I look trustworthy?!

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