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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Monday, June 6, 2016

Playing during the Great Depression

In spite of the lack of money for store-bought toys, we boys always had plenty of things to do besides hunting, fishing, and rambling.  If we found some time on our hands, or just wanted something different, we invented something to do.  We made our own slingshots that we carried in a hip pocket from a small fork of a hickory tree, two rubber bands cut from an old automobile inner tube, and a piece of leather from the tongue of a cast-off shoe.  We also sometimes carried some small pebbles in a pocket to shoot at birds, fence posts, tree trunks, and sometimes at each other when we got mad.

You may recall that in an earlier chapter I mentioned the usefulness of that white pine Grandpa used for making egg cases.  The thick end pieces were ideal for whittling out things like boats, airplanes, and rubber band guns.  We could always find some pieces in Grandpa’s kindling box.

Perhaps I should explain about those rubber band guns.  We made them to shoot at each other when he had mock wars.  A piece of that thick white pine was whittled to the shape of a handgun with a barrel long enough to get a good stretch to a loop of rubber cut from one of those old automobile inner tubes.  The rubber band was stretched from the muzzle to a notch at the rear and you fired by flicking the rubber loose with a thumb.  Those heavy rubber bands were not dangerous but they sure did sting, especially if someone got you on the rump while you were bent over with your overalls stretched tight.

One things that was fairly easy to make and afforded many hours of recreation involving muscle power, balance, and coordination was homemade stilts.  We made them from sapling poles about seven feet long by simply hailing on blocks of two by fours to put our feet on.  Beginners and little kids would have the blocks on a few inches off the ground, but, evidently, we vied to see who could walk on them with the blocks the heist.  I once made a pair with the blocks nearly two feet off the ground that gave me a good long giant stride.  Of course it also gave me farther to fall if I got off balance or tripped on a rock.  The latter happened every once in a while as there were plenty of sandrocks and rounded glacial flintrocks in that red Ozark hill soil.

Cedar shingles were handy to have around, too.  We used them to make wood arrows.  Those shingle arrows could not be shot with a bow because they had wood vanes at the tail instead of feathers that would go through your fingers.  Instead, we made a launcher that was sort of a mono-bow.  It was a length of lithe green hickory limb having a lot of spring in it.  A string or piece of fishing line about two feet long was tied to the small end of the throwing stick and a knot was put in the other end of the string to fit into a notch on the arrow.  The trick was to get the arrow balanced and the notch in the right place.

We never shot those shingle arrows at each other as the sharpened point would be dangerous.  Instead, we had contests to see who could shoot the arrow the farthest and the most accurately.  Again without realizing it, we were building coordination, agility, and muscle power.