I was out walking with the dog today. We went down to the lake and wandered along past the ducks, black swans and water dragons and happened upon a couple of little girls playing mud pies at the edge of the water. Their mother was sitting on a rock nearby watching them as they formed their pies and set them out to bake in the sun.
When I was a kid, we used to do this all the time. Memories came flooding back. Rows of beautifully formed mud pies and cookies, decorated with little pebbles or shells we’ve saved from our last holiday at the beach, lined up on Dad’s barbecue plate to bake.
Now, Dad wasn’t too pleased with us using his barbecue for our baking. He had spent an entire weekend building its solid brick frame, complete with storage section for the wood, newspaper and kindling twigs. He’d laboured over the seasoning of the plate, a pristine piece of metal salvaged from the biscuit factory where he worked when they had rejigged one of the ovens. It was a masterpiece, that barbecue, his pride and joy – well, up until the evening he burnt his hands on that pristine piece of metal.
He had placed his glass of beer on the back of the barbecue frame, so that it could easily be reached by a thirsty, outdoor culinary expert when the need arose. All went well until, in the course of discussing the cricket results with my uncle, he reached for his glass, overbalanced slightly and put both hands down on the hot plate to regain his equilibrium. Ouch! Severe burns to both palms…..no more barbecuing for a while.
But, back to the mud pies. We were allowed to bake our pies on the barbecue plate as long as we cleaned up thoroughly – and I do mean thoroughly – afterwards.
Those mud pies featured in many a game. They were vittles while we were riding the range with Roy Rogers or Billy the Kid. They were medieval fare when we were knights in shining armour or damsels in distress. They were fairy cakes for the little girl next door. They were space food for astronauts and they were food for Captain Nemo in his submarine city. I seem to remember that Superman quite enjoyed a mud pie too.
Mum didn’t mind how long we played mud pies. She didn’t even mind the bits of mud pie that we accidentally (almost) ate.
‘Oh well,’ she would say, shaking her head at the sight of our muddy faces. ‘It won’t hurt you to eat a bit of dirt.’ She reasoned that our immune systems were strong enough to cope with a little bit of dirt.
That philosophy is rarely found now. A teacher friend of mine established a mud puddle in the garden outside her classroom for the little ones to enjoy as part of their creative play. The kids loved it but there were several horrified parents. What if their child got dirty? What about the health risks? What if they get mud in their mouths, noses, ears etc.? How do we know that it is clean mud?
I said ‘Hello’ to the mother of the two little girls playing mud pies by the lake this morning. My dog sniffed at the pies but was told that they weren’t ready for eating yet. The girls were excited to explain to me how one goes about making special magic mud pies. One of them wiped a stray hair and smeared mud over her face.
‘Oh well, ‘ her mother said with a laugh. ‘It won’t hurt them to eat a little bit of mud.’
I laughed with her, reassured that the world hadn’t changed so much after all.