Joyful times with Mary Joyce

The little boy in this story had a wonderful playmate named Mary Joyce when they were both 3 and 4 years old. She had a very deep voice, straight dishwater blonde hair, hazel eyes, a hint of dimples on her cheeks, and a pointy nose. He had very curly hair and was yet to experience his first haircut. It seemed they would be inseparable forever.

She lived catty wampus across the street from his house on York Avenue. Living with Mary Joyce were her mom, her bedridden grandmother, her older sister, Esther, her older brother, Richard, and her Uncle Art.

Doorbells? Who needs doorbells? These little kids couldn’t reach the doorbell button, anyway. The common practice among the kids in those days (1939-40) was to stand outside on the porch at the front door and call the name of their playmate in a sing-song fashion followed by “Can you come out and play?” Mary Joyce’s voice was so low that it was often thought that it was an older boy calling at the door.

In cold weather, they often played indoors – almost always in the dining room. He had a drawstring cloth bag that he would load up with his toys to lug across the street to Mary Joyce’s. At her house, they were always under the watchful eye of her grandmother, whose bed was in the sunroom adjacent to the dining room. Other than enduring the terrible sounds of Richard’s trombone practice, things were quiet enough for their toy figures to talk to each other.

His first experience at putting his foot in his mouth (many more were to follow) occurred when he accused Mary Joyce of stealing his die cast metal toy motorcycle cop. He took it home. When he looked in his toy box there was an identical toy motorcycle cop

In warm weather, they played on her swing. Its wooden seat hung from two heavy hemp ropes. A favorite activity was for one to sit on the swing seat while the other playmate turned it round and round until the ropes would twist no more. Then let go! Round and round it would spin. After it stopped, the rider would dizzily dismount and promptly fall down.

They would pick buttercups in the nearby empty lot to make bouquets for their moms. If a bunch of buttercups was held under the other’s chin and their throat reflected yellow, it meant they loved butter. Of course, they both loved butter.

One time their neighbor, Mrs. Sauters, gave each of them a beautiful red rose from her garden to add to their bouquets. When he got home and presented the bouquet, his mom immediately got on the phone to check to see how he got that rose.

Walking to the little store at the corner of Ward and Penn was a greatly anticipated and scary adventure. Their moms gave each a penny. They had to pass by a tied-up, purple-tongued Chow dog that could eat them alive. If they made it safely to the store, they could purchase either a sucker (with a wooden stick) or a set of red wax lips. After the novelty of the lips wore off, they preferred the suckers – but not the coconut variety. The coconut was too rough on the tongue.

Sundays after church, they would crawl around on the floor pretending to read the funny papers in the Pittsburgh Sun-Telly. (There was no Sunday Tribune back then.) Mary Joyce insisted that Prince Valiant was a girl because he wore bangs and earlobe length hair. Maybe she was right. His older sister had an identical haircut.

He and Mary Joyce were constant companions until he moved across town right after he turned five. He saw her only a few times after that.

Recently, his sister told him that after she grew up, Mary Joyce married, had kids, and tried to go into business on her own. He also learned that she has since passed away. At times, he wonders if she ever thought about that toy motorcycle cop.

Mumford, of Warren, is a community columnist. Email him at columns@tribtoday.com