Much to do with nothing
Once upon a time not so long ago there were no iPads or computers. Phones were not particularly smart. A laptop was where you sat when Mom or Dad read books before bedtime. You could write in your tablet, and the best ones were red, and “Big Chief,” a Native American in full headdress, looked on proudly. Some evenings the family gathered in front of a screen, a television; black and white pictures flashed weekly episodes. In our home, Dad selected the entertainment for the night, which was not always the kids’ choice.
Though electronic technology was limited when I was a child, I do not ever remember being bored. Possibly I mentioned the word once and my mother responded by placing a hoe in my hand and voicing the words, “Good. The potatoes need weeding.”
On our South Dakota farm the outdoors beckoned, especially in summer. Trees were particularly appealing and we swung from them, climbed them and cleared areas in them for our play house. We repurposed cans, crates and discarded dishes and pans to create a working kitchen and spent hours stirring up culinary delights from dirt, water and whatever other materials we could scrounge.
In early summer a hunt through the bales in the haymow often revealed baby kittens, much to Mother Cat’s dismay. Soon after, the young felines, decked out in dresses and bonnets, bounced along as we pushed them in our navy blue, hooded doll buggy.
When the corncrib was empty, the cement floor invited skating. We dug out the metal skates from the toy box, attached them to our shoes with the skate key and rolled along. Hopscotch numbers lasted a long time in the crib. Limestone rocks wrote almost as well as chalk, then served as “throwers.”
A box in the porch overflowed with outside “toys”: sand pails and shovels, tractors, bats, gloves, baseballs, softballs. If a sibling was available, we could go to the granary and play Ante I Over. One yelled the words and threw the ball. The other one, with luck, caught it as it came down the other side. Only on a few occasions did the roof hold the ball for ransom.
We tied knots on the ends of a rope cut the right length for jumping. How many jumps could we count until we missed one or dropped to the ground, exhausted? Or silly rhymes held our focus as we jumped with the rhythm: “Cinderella, dressed in yella, went upstairs to kiss a fella. By mistake she kissed a snake….” I smile remembering my mom accepting the jump rope challenge. In her everyday dress and apron, she “skipped rope” and competed with the best of us, easily making one hundred skips.
The old shop smelled of oil, corncobs and mice. As soon as we kids were tall enough to peek above the bench, we discovered a crank hand drill and a vice. The hammer and coffee can of various nails on the side tempted us beyond resistance and resulted in an immediate visit to the wood scrap box. I don’t think Dad was too excited about us using his shop, but he always managed a smile when we proudly displayed our lopsided car, birdhouse or doll bed.
My brother Delmer owned the coolest store-bought pistol and holster. Of course, fighting bad guys required more than one gun, so he traced that pistol on a board and painstakingly cut around it with Dad’s coping saw. To the younger sister, the wooden gun he made was far more impressive.
Thomas Edison once said, “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” We didn’t call it junk back then. Possibly it was a throwback from war times when nothing was wasted, but the folks saved string, boxes, cans, wooden spools, rubber bands and scraps of paper, all of which invited invention.
On cold winter days hours wiled away as we watched our windup coupe scuttle across the kitchen floor. An empty thread spool, a match stick (with the fuel end cut off) for winding, a strong rubber band threaded through the spool hole and a paperclip or button to hold the rubber band, pieced together to make a car. The brothers sometimes notched the spools with a jack knife. Traction was critical!
Spools and plastic measuring cups became tables and chairs in the paper box doll house. We threaded a string into a large button and tied a circle large enough to tug and release between hands. The resulting noise rivaled Crocodile Dundee’s frantic SOS signal.
Thick catalogs provided dresses and shoes for paper dolls that we drew and cut out. My sisters designed their own wish books by pasting catalog pictures onto folded sheets of paper. Small fingers spread a gooey mix of flour and water on the back of the pictures; flour paste was the “tie that binds”!
Cylinder oatmeal boxes easily converted to drums and tambourines. Cutting them into doll beds created a quieter entertainment. When Mom needed quiet, we colored. An old cigar box housed hundreds of crayons of every length and color. I honestly believe the same box dispensed those crayons through all six of us kids. Only the cover eventually fell off. Then it became the ramp for the stock truck.
Yes, Mr. Edison would have approved.
(DeAnn Kruempel grew up on a farm near De Smet, S.D., the sixth child of Harrison and Mabel Wolkow. DeAnn attended school at Erwin and De Smet; married Vicar Robert Kruempel; and lived in Benedict, N.D., Toeterville, Akron, and Missouri Valley. The author now resides on an acreage near Logan and is employed as Children's Librarian at Missouri Valley Public Library. DeAnn has written a series of books with four published so far and a fifth to come out soon, "Promises to Keep," which are available at Amazon.com.)