Monday, February 8, 2010

Chapter Five - Dangerous Fun

Our House On Cherokee

Chapter Five
Dare Devil With Strings
At the end of summer when my dad’s garden had done all the growing it was going to do for the year, our backyard became a wide open playground. I found several ways to amuse myself in that area. What made it nice was that my dad collected a lot of things that he kept in our backyard. He eventually found some kind of use for what he collected. I remember one time in particular when I found something he was able to use. When I was walking down the alley I saw some things that someone had set out to be picked up as trash. Among this pile was paint can. I figured that it was probably empty, but when I picked it up I could tell it still had something in it. I pried it open and found it about 1/4th full of paint. I wasn’t sure, but I thought my dad might be able to use so I took it home. I felt very good when I found out that he used it to paint our bathroom. I learned that every little thing helps.
Sometimes I was able to find things in my dad’s backyard collection. I’m not really sure what he had in mind when he added an old wheelbarrow wheel to his assortment of things, but it didn’t take me long to think of something. I became a dare devil with the wheel an iron bar and a beat up old cooking pot that still had its handle. Putting the pot over my head like a helmet with the handle under my chin, I stuck the iron bar through the wheel like an axle and I had my own dare devil machine. With my hands holding both ends of the bar and my feet providing the power, I was able to run and role around the yard like a tricycle with feet. It didn’t take me long to realize that this worked pretty well, so I decided to add to the fun. Gathering pieces of plywood and boards, I built a makeshift wall at one end of the yard, took my running tricycle dare devil contraption to the other end. With my dare devil helmet pot on my head, I bent down over my dare devil machine and headed full speed toward the wall. My thoughts were that the helmet would protect my head from injury. It worked. I didn’t get a scratch on my head. However, I can’t say the same for my knuckles and by the time it was over both hands were bleeding. I know—not too smart. But it was still fun and the blood was a badge of honor and my bravery.
That wasn’t the only occasion when I didn’t think things through before taking action. I liked to see things float down, like from a tree, etc. So I took some string, climbed a tree, let the string go and watched it float down. It was fun, but after climbing the tree a couple of times I figured there ought to be an easier way to get the string high enough to float down. So I came up with a plan. I found a rock about half the size of my fist and carefully wrapped the string around it. Going out to middle of the yard, I took aim and threw the rock up as high as I could. By the time the rock reached its maximum height, the string came loose and floated down just like I hoped it would. However, the string wasn’t the only thing that was coming down. While I was concentrating on the string, the rock came down and hit me on top of the head. This time the pain kept me from thinking of the blood as a badge. But none of these injuries kept me from trying something else, even when it was dangerous.
Now that I am looking at things from a more adult perspective, I can see now that we did a lot of things that were potentially very dangerous—of course some more so than others. One in particular causes me to think of many questions. The first question is who was the guy that first thought of making a match shooter out of two different kinds of clothespins and why did he do it. Since you can’t buy wooden matches that will light by striking it against anything, I guess it will be ok to explain how it worked. I am not even sure if anyone sells anything except “safety matches.” Anyway, the two styles of clothespins were the ones with a spring that allowed two pieces of wood to fasten (pinch) together to hold the clothes to the line and then the style where a slice was cut out of one piece of wood allowing a person to hold the piece of clothing by simply jamming it down on the line. We would take apart the one with the spring, turn the spring around, carefully cutting the groove that held the spring a little deeper. After altering the spring, we would jam this part into the other clothespin. This allowed us to use the spring as a kind of trigger and firing pin, After we placed the match into the shooter with the head of the match securely jammed against the spring, we would press down on the trigger and at the same time it shot the match toward our target, it would also light it. It wasn’t very accurate, but it usually did light the match and propel it away.
Most of the other questions involving who, what, when, where, why and how about this invention can’t really be answered. We had no idea what this inventor had in mind, but it didn’t take us long to develop our own reasons for changing harmless household products into dangerous toys. Since it was during the war years, many of our games involved guns, shooting, getting shot, flying imaginary airplanes, etc., we made the match shooter part of these games. One game in particular involved cardboard boxes, newspapers, packing material and lots of imagination. We would build makeshift fighter planes out of the boxes with wings, etc. After building our airplanes in the alley behind our house, we would wad up the newspapers and packing material and put it all inside the fuselage and under the wings. The two planes were set up about 15 feet away from each other. Then, each pilot would get into the cockpit and we would have a dogfight, using the match shooters as our firepower. The object of the game was to shoot a match at the other plane, trying to set it on fire. In addition to two pilots we had an observer. It was his job to make sure the pilot of the burning plane would know about the flames. I’m not sure where this idea came from, but when the observer would see the flames he would start singing, “Go tell aunt Rhoady, go tell aunt Rhody, go tell aunt Rhody the old gray goose is dead.” Like I said, I’m not sure where this came from, but it was probably from one of the many war movies that came out during those years.
Even though I do believe movies provided a great service to our country, I believe they also glorified war to a dangerous degree. And I can’t help but wonder how much those movies contributed to the racial prejudice against all Orientals. These movies more or less trained us to hate the “Japs,” the “Krauts,” and the “Wops.”
In all fairness, the contribution of movies toward racial prejudice may not be as powerful as I have indicated. After all, prejudice against black people in our country doesn’t seem to need any help from the media.
As I was writing about match shooters, I was curious about what other people might remember about them. So I “googled” it and sure enough there it was on several locations. Some of the sites even had pictures detailing how to make them. Hopefully nobody reading my words will try to make one. Believe it or not—they can be dangerous.
Back to the dangerous things we did for fun, one of the things we discovered was a way to make our own explosive devices. Even before firecrackers were made illegal, it wasn’t very often that we could afford to buy them. So we improvised, making things that made noise but were not destructive. This endeavor also involved “un-safety” matches. It was very simple. We would take the heads off of 4 or 5 matches, a large metal nut and two bolts. After screwing one bolt into the nut just enough to fasten and yet leave room to hold the match heads. When the match heads were in this small container, we would take the other bolt and screw it in until it was securely fastened to the nut. Now we were ready for the noise. Going out to the paved street or some other hard surface, we would flip this device up into the air in such away that the end of one of the bolts would hit against that surface giving us the desired noise. Of course the larger the bolts and nut, the more match heads could be used and the louder the resulting bang. It is probably best that we didn’t have access to the really large bolts, etc.