Growing Up In Waterford, PA


The simple things
by the late Herb Walden

Fort LeBoeuf Class of 1956

With computers taking over the world, I often wonder if today's children ever entertain themselves the way we used to. Kids are learning computers at younger and younger ages. In just a few years' most will be on the net before they learn to walk. I suppose there's nothing wrong with that, but I still worry about these young Bill Gates-types. I'm afraid they're missing out on some of the good, old fashioned, simple things.

For instance, can you imagine Bill Gates as a little kid, (he must have looked pretty much as he does now), playing mumbley peg? Lots of boys back in our day carried jackknives, not as weapons, but for entertainment. My cousin and I used to play mumbley peg quite often. You really need a Barlow knife to be good, but I did pretty well with my Lone Ranger jackknife, which I still have.

Some of the boys were good at whittling. I wasn't. The best I could do was make a little stick out of a big one. However, my Dad showed me how to whittle a quill pen from a large feather. I was pretty good at that. I had a pet goose who periodically molted her wing feathers, so I made lots of quill pens. I didn't use them; I just had them in case of an emergency. It's been a long time, but I'll bet I could still "whittle a nib."

Did you ever stomp on a tin can so that it bent around your shoe and stuck there? I doubt if Bill Gates ever did. Tin cans on your feet not only make you taller, they also make a very satisfying noise as you clomp along the sidewalk. You have to have less than 10-year-old feet to do this. Adult feet are too big. Not that I've tried it or anything.

If you wanted to be really tall, stilts were the answer. All that's required are a couple of poles with blocks of wood nailed to them, but I'll bet Bill Gates never had stilts. Dad made my first pair and even demonstrated how to use them. I am a slow learner. I fell immediately and scraped a sizeable quantity of skin off my legs. I was reluctant to try again. But I did. About 25 years later. I did very well.

Do you suppose Bill Gates ever caught bees in a jar? I did. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was the element of danger. That, and bugs were about the only available wildlife smaller than I was. If there were hollyhocks around, (and back then, there always were), I would sometimes catch a bee in a blossom by quickly folding the petals together. I never knew quite what to do next for fear of being stung. Talk about having a tiger by the tail!

I caught a few butterflies, too, but I didn't care much for that. In my 8-year-old mind, butterflies were more of a "girl thing."

I used to catch grasshoppers just to see them spit their "tobacco juice." The big, brown flying grasshoppers were the hardest to catch. Throwing a hat over them was the best way, but even that wasn't too successful.

Did you ever catch cicadas in late summer? Most folks called them "locusts," but this is incorrect. Cicadas are really tough to catch, but I remember Dad catching one for me and tying a long piece of thread around its neck, (or what would be its neck if insects had necks). I could then hang onto the thread and fly my bug like a miniature control-line model airplane. Cicadas do not land so good, though.

I always collected all the cicada shells I could find on tree trunks where they had been shed. They were especially easy to catch. Somehow I got the idea of hooking the shells on the screen door. It never failed to startle people going in and out of the house, especially Mom. What appeared to be a dozen or so thumb-sized insects would capture anyone's attention!

Did you ever make a "telephone" from a couple tin cans and string? My cousin, Donnie, and I tried it a few times, but without much success. The trick is to keep the string tight and don't let it touch anything. We knew all that, but it still didn't work very well.

In desperation, we'd haul out the garden house and talk and listen through that. Of course, neither of us could understand the other, but at least there was sound! And when we would finally give up on communications, we would squirt each other to the point of near-drowning.

Bill Gates couldn't even do that!

Do you remember making grass whistles? You sort of pinched a long blade of grass between the sides of your thumbs and blew on it. I never had much success with grass whistles. Most of my friends did very well, but the best I could do was make a rather disgusting noise once in awhile. I'll bet Bill Gates couldn't even do that!

My greatest whistle success came from using the little caps from acorns. You hold the cap under both thumbs and blow through the space above the knuckles. Now that's a whistle! I could drown out any old blade of grass with an acorn cap!

I wonder if Bill Gates ever split a dandelion stem with his tongue. You've done that, haven't you? The taste of dandelion juice is pretty disagreeable and requires a lot of spitting to get rid of it. But it's worth it when you get a big stem to split into four or five nice curls.

So if you have children or grandchildren who are computer wizards, maybe you ought to pry the mouse out of their fingers and show them some of the simple things we used to do. Otherwise, today's computer kid may turn out to be tomorrow's Bill Gates. And be the richest person in the world. And have the biggest house on the planet. And own a million cars. And a couple of continents. And one of the smaller oceans. And . . . . . . .

You know, now that I think about it, maybe you ought to just leave the kids alone.

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