[Note: this is a happy update of my original story I published December 1, 2015. The main update takes place at the end. But, for starters: the stock photos of linoleum I had to use in that story have been replaced with current photos of the actual thing, courtesy of some kind people who commented on my piece. And, yes, at the end of this story, please continue reading, to learn how these folks discovered an actual example of the linoleum in an old house they recently purchased.]
When I was a little boy growing up in Yakima, Washington in the 1950’s, the first thing my eyes would land on in the morning, and the last thing I would see at night, was the Mother Goose-themed linoleum my parents tacked down on my bedroom floor.
Our rented house at 707 South 2nd Avenue was small; my brother Al III and I shared a room, and we slept in wonderful cowboy bunk beds. The bunk beds were the finest a couple of little boys could have, because our Grandpa and Grandma Bowles owned Bowles Furniture in the “big city” of Spokane, and they gave them to us for Christmas, right around 1954. The maple bunks, which featured wagon wheels carved into their head and foot-boards, were a sight. I was going to say they looked like they came right out of a real cowboy bunkhouse; but in reality, I doubt working western bunkhouses would come equipped with beds which sported wagon-wheel designs. But we loved them, played in them, talked until all hours of the night in them, and once in a while, we actually got some sleep in them.
But the floor: looking at the linoleum floor, which was made by Congoleum, somewhere around 1953, was like taking a trip to Never Never Land. It was alive with Mother Goose imagery and nursery rhymes. The tales of Simple Simon and Old King Cole were right there for us little boys to read. And I should say: they helped us learn how to read. A colorful border around the linoleum featured more characters from the old stories. And, there were even checkerboards for playing an actual game of checkers. So if you tired of immersing yourself in the nursery rhyme scenes, you could play a game. That’s quite a floor!
To this day, when I’m happily (and painstakingly) going through an antique mall, pouring over hundreds of items, each of which has the potential to become the next addition to my treasure trove, and I spy a vintage copy of The Real Mother Goose book, the large, colorful book first published long, long ago (1916!) by Rand McNally & Company, I stop in my tracks and pick up the book. — It’s been reprinted many times over the years.
I thumb through the stories, which were beautifully illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright, and I’m immediately whisked away to the world of my childhood. A world where stories have morals, everything rhymes; where Jack and Jill go up the hill, Peter Piper picks his peppers, and Little Bo Peep has, sadly, lost every single sheep.
You know what’s crazy? I’ve never purchased the book! I look at every single one I find, but I’ve never bought one. — Now I know why I’m writing this silly story: my subconscious is telling me to get a copy of the book. So: the very next time I see The Real Mother Goose at an antique mall, I am gonna pay the money and add it in my collection. — I mean, after all, I’ll never find the linoleum!
I remember this: when I was about twelve years old, two things happened: my beloved teddy bear, Theodore “disappeared”. And, Mom had me help her pull up the old, cracked, worn-out Mother Goose linoleum. It had seen better days; and now that my brother and I were big boys, Mom thought we would probably enjoy having the wooden flooring which ran through the rest of our house. I’m sure the linoleum went out behind the fence, where our garbage collectors took it away, for its eventual destruction. As for my bear, I sure hope it wasn’t a Steiff, because if it was, then my folks not only took my pal from me; they took something I could get a hundred bucks for now, without even trying! (Not that I would ever, ever sell it if I still had it.) – Parents, here’s some free advice: if you think your kid has grown too old for his or her bear, and you decide to “disappear” it, don’t discard it! Save it for your child. Give it back to them when they’re all grown up.
Teddy bears, Mother Goose, wagon wheel bunk beds…. I think back to my magical childhood, and it helps me understand why I have a Christmas tree like this. – And please take note: I’ve got a hundred more ornaments to hang. This is a tree in progress, folks! (I would have a real tree, but my apartment management has banned them. I live in a senior building, and they think if we had real trees, we would set the place on fire.)
On September 4, 2016, I heard from Pastor Steve Miller, who lives in the Chicago, IL area. Steve found my story via an internet search. His son and daughter-in-law had just purchased a house in Grand Rapids, MI. The house, built around 1945, is a two-story, two-bedroom home. When they pulled up the carpet in a very large closet, they found the Mother Goose flooring, covered with paint, plaster and dirt. Steve’s wife, Christa, spent a whole day cleaning it. Steve said, “It’s AMAZING!!” He thinks the large closet was used as a nursery for a newborn or toddler.
Steve had this to say: “Our daughter-in-law is in the publishing industry… and was thrilled at the artistic style of the pictures for each rhyme. We were talking about this saying that so few kids learn the Mother Goose stories today; there are very few who would use linoleum floors like this; and the value of this would be lost on so many. But for people like us, this was a real treasure find!”
My humble thanks go out to the Miller family for sharing their story and these great photos, and for letting me share with you, dear readers. I hope they make many, many happy memories on that magical floor. — A floor just like the one my brother and I played on sixty years ago. — I love how things work out. With blessings like these, it’s pretty easy to be grateful.
Please see below for three more photos of the linoleum, from Steve Miller.
And, one more update: I finally found a great copy of the Mother Goose book — one published exactly 50 years ago. Yay!