Restored Concord stagecoach in Wells Fargo livery. Source:

In 1949, my family moved three miles out of the small town where I had been born and had spent the first seven years of my life.

We had lived in a typical neighborhood with lots of children. It was a time when kids my age were free to roam in search of others to play with. It was a time when Mother would step out the back door and holler “Billy, come on in now.” If there was no answer, or, if I did not come bounding in the door, there was no panic. Mother would just go to the phone and call Mrs. Smith down the block and tell her to send me home. Sometimes it took two calls, but someone always knew where I was.

The move to the country changed a lot of that. First of all there was no neighborhood and, therefore, no neighbor kids. I got my first dog, a blond cocker spaniel named Sandy. He was a “friend,” but dogs can’t race tricycles down the sidewalk, play hopscotch, shoot at the bad guys or even get in much trouble.

That first summer, I discovered a new friend–imagination. I’m sure I had always had one, but then, I guess you could say, the volume was turned up.

I could spend hours high in a tree flying a fighter plane. I had tacked bottle caps, jar lids and buttons to a board, making an instrument panel.

Promotional still from John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) published on of National Board of Reviews Magazine. Source:

One of my favorite pastimes will take some explaining, and may challenge your imagination.

My dad would bring the delivery truck home from my grandfather’s furniture store, where he worked. The truck was a pickup with high wood railings on both sides of the bed and lots of ropes used to secure the furniture being delivered.

It was a truck, but in our driveway and in my imagination, it became a stagecoach pulled by four strong horses. The cab of the truck became the passenger compartment and I, the driver, sat on the roof facing the rear. I would tie ropes to the rails near the tailgate and stretch them back to me, the driver. With those reins and my trusty six-shooter I could take that stagecoach anywhere. I never lost a passenger and my shotgun guard only once or twice. After an hour or two, there would be dead bad guys everywhere.

1949 Pontiac advertisement. Source:

I occasionally got a stern warning from my dad for not putting the ropes back as I had found them; but one time, I made a big mistake. Tying the ropes to the truck rails was not good enough. I thought it would be more realistic if I tied them to the hood ornament of our Pontiac parked behind the truck. The problem was that I forgot to untie them. Later that day my mother was going somewhere and, as she backed up, the ropes almost pulled the hood off the car. I don’t remember the consequences, but I’m pretty sure I was fired from the stagecoach company.

After I had gotten my first BB gun, I started venturing further into the woods on our property. There were always Indians to shoot, but my favorite imaginary enemies were German soldiers.

This wasn’t long after World War II and there were plenty of army surplus items for sale. I had an army backpack, a web belt with a canteen and a helmet liner far too big for my head. Cook’s Hardware Store in town even had C rations for sale.

I can still remember clearly sitting by our small stream on a hot summer day after pretend-fighting all morning, removing my helmet and opening my box of C rations just as John Wayne would do. I don’t remember taking my imagination to the point of eating C rations more than a couple of times. They were terrible, and I soon went back to the old standby PB&J. But, in all that time, not a single enemy soldier made it to our house.

Thank goodness my imagination has stayed with me. It has helped me fantasize about the girl in the third row, helped me fall asleep, entertain my children when they were young and practice what an old friend used to call “what if’s.”

I have entertained friends when I had possibly had a bit too much to drink. I don’t remember when this yarn first popped in my head, but at a party someone asked me what my middle name was? Out of the blue, with a straight face, I said, “Mildred.” Of course that drew laughter, which I pretended made me mad. I continued by saying, “Don’t laugh, I’m named for a dear old maid aunt who slept by the heat register in our kitchen.” By that time people would realize I was pulling their leg, but I had them hooked, and would continue with a totally made-up story of how poor we were.

As an example of how poor we were, I often, again with a straight face, would say my favorite Christmas gift was a brick. Just think what a kid can do with a brick. You can throw it, you can push it around in the sand, you can kill a snake, you can crack nuts or break almost anything with one. A red clay three-hole brick was the best. You could tie a string to it and see how far you could send it flying after spinning it around and around–then letting go. But, best not to do that too close to a house or car.

Imagination–I treasure mine.