Failed childhood endeavors |

Failed childhood endeavors

Ellen Campbell
Central City, Neb.

When I think of kites I remember all the homemade ones we put together as kids. We were never successful in flying any of them. The inferior materials we had to use might have been part of the problem. To get the traditional kite shape, we placed two thin boards together in the shape of a cross. The boards were from pull-down window shades. My brother Lawrence lashed them together with string. Then we stretched string from one point of the cross to another to make the diamond shape. We cut the body of the kite from brown paper, spread homemade flour and water paste around the edges and lapped those edges over the strings. While this was drying, we cut strips of cloth from the rag drawer and knotted them onto the string that would be the kite tail. When all of this was assembled, Lawrence (who was the kite master) attached string to the bottom of the kite and wrapped it around a corn cob.

When we took it out to the pasture to fly, Lawrence would stand and play out the string while Margaret or I ran with the kite. Sometimes it would go up in the air about 10 feet, but then would plummet to the ground. We used lots of energy to get it going, always with a disappointing outcome. As I recall, we tried it again on various windy days until the kite was wrecked. Then the next year Lawrence would want to do it again, but our efforts remained futile.

We did this when we were pretty young, while we still lived in the little house on Grandpa’s farm. Something else I remember from that era was the time our cousins, Buddy and Margie and their parents, came to visit. They had never been to our house before and we girls decided to make our cousins think we had an upstairs. We piled wooden apple boxes in our bedroom doorway and back far enough to make three steps. The idea was to have the kids go up the steps and unwittingly fall off the edge onto the floor. We even piled pillows below to break their fall. Then, when their car pulled into the driveway, we suddenly got embarrassed about it and tore down the whole thing. Actually we were pretty smart kids, and so were Buddy and Margie. I don’t know why we thought they could be fooled into thinking a pile of boxes were steps to a nonexistent upstairs.

Lawrence had his own plans for that visit. He had nailed together a raft from some old boards, and he took Bud down to the calf pond for them to float on it, like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. But when they stepped onto it and shoved off, it immediately sank.

Lawrence was always figuring out things to do that required more finesse than he or his sisters had. That’s why so many projects didn’t work out as envisioned. He would order novelties from the Johnson-Smith Company catalog, and of necessity they had to be the cheapo items. He never had enough money for the dribble water glass, the hand-shocker or the whoopee cushion. What he ordered were the 10 or 25 cent “Amaze your friends” things, like magic card tricks or a book on how to throw your voice. He never told us what he was ordering because he wanted to “amaze” us, and of course it never worked out. He once got a rubber spider and dangled it in front of Margaret while she was playing the piano. That one really backfired. She screamed and threw her hands up, knocking off her glasses which broke. Our parents were not amazed or amused when they had to buy new glasses for her.

I had an experience of my own with Johnson-Smith. I ordered the “amazing” Sam and Dinah dancing team. They turned out to be only minstrel-looking paper dolls which were put together at the joints with brass paper fasteners. To make them work, a string was passed under their arms and looped on cup hooks inside a box (for the stage), leaving one end free for a finger pull. They really did go through dancing motions when I jerked the string, but the show had to be run in the dark. Otherwise, the audience would see the strings and would not be amazed. My parents were always good about humoring us kids in things like this, so the whole family assembled on chairs in the dark living room. I had rigged up a cord light to illumine the stage so they could see Sam and Dinah dance. But as I was about to begin the show, Daddy suggested the hall light should be turned out too. Immediately my obliging little sister Helen jumped up from her chair and ran to do it. She cut across my string set-up, ruining the whole thing because then everyone saw how I was engineering it. I cried.

And I have to tell about my sister Evelyn’s disappointment with her Johnson-Smith order. She sent for a set of “wedding night” cards, expecting to see pretty wedding dresses. Instead, the cards were all plain black. We should have known when the word “night” was included that it would be some kind of trick.

This is only a handful of many failed projects. Others included tin can and string telephones which of course didn’t transmit any sound, the snipe hunt played on us by our city cousins, and Lawrence’s plan to hunt wild game with his homemade sling shot. He did shoot a squirrel with it once, and Mom obligingly cooked it for him while the rest of us did some conspicuous gagging.

I ran across a quote from Colette, the French novelist who wrote “GiGi.” She said “You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.” That describes us perfectly.

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