Imagination is the greatest toy

hay pyramid

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”

— Albert Einstein

Listening to plans of young families needing a getaway so their children can enjoy some fun makes me wonder if we did it all wrong.

The thought of entertaining a family took me back to an interview I did with a sweet lady who was about to turn 100 years old. When I asked her about toys of her youth, she smiled and so sweetly said, “Honey, we were dirt poor. When we were little kids, we played with stones. Those stones could be anything we wanted them to be!”

She reminisced about going to the woods with her siblings and searching for the most interesting sticks they could find. A perfectly sloped stick could be a horse for as long as it remained in one piece.

“My brother had his stick horse for a number of years, and was good about sharing it with the little kids,” she said with a sweet smile.


My own childhood was rich in comparison, but my parents didn’t spend much money on keeping us in toys. Imagination can blossom when few new things come your way. We could spend hours figuring out how to climb the most impossible tree, scaling it to heights that were surely ridiculously unsafe, and we knew better. That’s why we did it when Mom was too busy to witness us in the middle of our shenanigans.

A rainy day didn’t keep us inside, battling boredom. We grabbed a sleeve of saltines and headed for any one of the barns on the farm, looking to create our own fun. Finding a litter of kittens in a hidden spot could bring entertainment as we named each one. If they were very young, we knew not to touch them, but just watching them move and stretch and feed off of their mama was a thrill like no other.

Hay mow fun

We dreamed up creative life stories, a hay mow becoming an exclusive apartment building. We worked hard at deconstruction of those perfectly placed bales as we built rooms and tunnels, creating our separate apartments way up high. My sister could accomplish some amazing decorations with baler twine, often sending me to the house to get a few odds and ends deemed necessary.

The worst part of a hay mow day for me when I was very little, I still vividly recall, was navigating the scary step from mow to ladder. Standing frozen with fear, I often needed a big sister to help me get my footing, begging for pinky-swear promises to not let me fall from that mountainous range to the floor below. When our daring undoing of a mow was discovered, we might be banished from the barn for a time.

We could find ways to entertain ourselves with the simplest of things, like boxes and a string. We played “house” on an outdoor porch a great deal of the time, my oldest sister telling us all what to say. On very cold days, we might play school, hide and seek or freeze tag. It goes without saying that none of this happened until all the chores were done, while waiting for the next round of chores to begin. Our television was rarely on until evening, and even then mostly only long enough for the national news. David Brinkley and Chet Huntley did their job, and then said good night.

We soon all said good night, said our prayers and slept the deep sleep of tired, joyful souls. And the next day, we would happily do it all again.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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