Pity the kids today
My niece posted on her Facebook a photo of a backyard, metal framed swing set that carried the caption: “The Original Play Station”
I couldn’t help but reflect on my generations ‘play stations’, in the ‘40’s, back up on the farm, with nary a pre-made swing set in sight.
My 'original' play station included the real swing Grampa made me in the big sugar maples out back and another in the barn for rainy days and winter. Other activities included stilts and kites and cedar whistles and snowshoes he made me; making kites, including the old box kites that soared high into the spring skies; climbing barn beams — and hoping Grampa didn’t catch us at it — and jumping off into hay piles; learning to knit and to sew quilt squares, sitting by my Grammie’s knee, at five years old; learning how to plant seeds and weed and hoe and water until the vegetables were ready for the table, etc etc. No video games, no texting our thumbs off.
Poor kids today. Oh, and in winter, the Flexible Flyer sleds. made in Maine, these were the best sleds ever. You could really ‘fly’ with those metal runners which were flexible enough for steering, either with your hands while belly flat in on the sled, or with your feet if you sat up. (There’s not much control on those plastic things they call sleds today.) We’d spend many a happy day sledding, on a hill a mile or so up the road with the other Ridge kids.
Then there was snowshoeing. I had my own pair that Grampa, who made snowshoes in the old Indian way, made just for me, scaled down to my size. They even had the red and green tufts of yarn on the edges, per the Indian style.
On the January and February nights of the “Stalking Moon,” as the Indians called the full moon, Grampa would take us out in the night woods, bounce lit with the bright moonlight on the white snow. Almost as bright as day, he taught us how to follow game tracks, like deer, rabbit and moose. (Hence the “Stalking Moon”)
Now I’m a great grandmother. I still sew and I still knit. I grow as many flowers and vegetables as my garden spot with the requisite hours of sun the close surrounding forest allows through. I still snowshoe — with a pair of original design snowshoes webbed with rawhide — and a pair of genuine, vintage Alaskan Muck Lucks that my niece gave me. These are the best footwear, bar none, for wearing with snowshoes.
I have a great old-time rope swing, that my big brother put up for me in my trees, with the handmade wooden seat.. The ropes reach a good 14 feet to the tree branch, providing REAL swinging. It’s very like the swing my Grampa made for me in the big maples out back of the farm house. He also hung one from the barn beams for me have on rainy days and in winter. On that one, he made me two seats: one was the regular wooden seat with notches on the ends to fit the rope but could easily be taken off so’s different seats could be used. On one, Grampa mounted an old tractor seat. That was great fun, but being top heavy, if you didn’t jump off the swing while still at a pretty good clip, to get well out in front of the swing, that seat would tumble down on your heels. After that happened the first time, you perfected the jumping off. That honed your motor skills.
A good old farm swing gives the best overall exercise, far’s I’m concerned. You pull your whole weight with your arms, and you can feel the pull of muscles in your back, your stomach and arms and neck. Then you kick your legs for the return swing. Plus, you’re taking in great gobs of fresh oxygen, and all in the life and Vitamin D giving sunshine. And I still sing the old ‘swinging songs’ like ‘Don’t Fence Me In” and “You are my Sunshine." ‘Beats a sweat-smelling gym or a Stairmaster hands down and is sure a heckava lot cheaper.
On gray, rainy or cold winter days, we had the “cook room chamber,” a treasure trove of attic chests full of by-gone era clothes for role playing, stacks of old National Geographic’s for reading stories of people and place the world over, ingots of lead that became our bars of silver for making bullets, as we became The Lone Ranger and Tonto, and so on. With light from the window, and the pattering of rain on the roof, this little chamber-attic space of the kitchen, “cookroom,” was warmed by the cook stove pipe on it’s way to the roof. Our imaginations had plenty of stuff for fantasies and games.
And down in the sittin’ room, (living room,) we’d play checkers, regular and Chinese, and caroms and card games. And for me, there were the paper dolls.
Spring through fall would find us mostly outside, climbing trees, hunting small varmints, like the woodchuck, etc. My brother had his Red Ryder BB gun and later a great little Remington 22 Long rifle. He also trapped the plentiful porcupine that chewed on outbuildings and apple trees, for the bounty money. To collect per animal, you had to turn in all four feet and the nose. Off he’d go with his paper bag of toes and noses to collect his bounty. That was an activity I left strictly to him.
We had the birds to observe and play with. We had a "pet" crow that would come to us, hop off fence posts to our heads an off down the fence, all the wile talking to us. The flickers were friendly. We learned the ways of the barn swallows, the robins and other birds. And we had plenty of fishing time.
I don’t climb barn beams or jump off into hay piles anymore — mainly because I don’t have a barn full of hay. If I did, I just might just be fool enough to give it a go.
But the gist of my story is: The things that were "play" to us as kids were things I could continue to do and enjoy the rest of my life. I doubt the kids today will still be spending beautiful sunny days, inside, playing video games 60+ years from now.
Well, I would hope not.
Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, is a Maine native and graduate of Belfast, now lives in Morrill. Her columns appear in this paper every other week.