More outdoor play
Damphewmore Acres, Kan.
I’m continuing with my theme of “how did I play as a kid growing up in the 1940s and 1950s.” This is in answer to parents questions of how to keep their kids occupied during the CV pandemic.
Well, first off, as I recall, my parents didn’t really get too involved in how I passed the time when I wuz a kid. They were too involved in trying to make a hard-scrabble living on a small diversified farm. So, it was up to me and/or the neighbor kids to find our own playtime diversions.
So, I’ll start off with what I did during silo-filling time. During my youth, at various times as we moved from rented farm to rented farm, before buying a farm, we had both an upright stave silo and a dirt trench-silo.
Since I was too small to actually work in the field, I assigned myself the dirty job (although I never realized it at the time) of helping the two elder guys who were “packing the silage” in the upright silo. It wuz dirty because every load of corn or milo silage the blower swooshed into the silo caused such a “hurricane” of swirling pieces of silage that we three “packers” wore handkerchiefs over our faces.
After we finished tramping and packing each load of silage, we’d get a few minutes to recover and rest. That’s when the two old grizzled “packers” would dare me to climb up the ladder in the silo chute to open windows and jump into the semi-soft silage. Each window I went up increased the jump down by probably 4 feet. As I recall, I took their dares up to three windows, which would be a jump down of 12 feet.
The old silage vets didn’t worry themselves one whit about me hurting myself jumping down. They just enjoyed the dares. Also, during the rests between loads, they swapped “juicy” and ribald stories with nary a care about my tender young ears. Up in a silo was were I learned the cuss words that I could never use at home.
Another upright silo play activity wuz to build a bunch of paper airplanes of different designs, then climb the chute ladder clear to the top of the silo — I’m guessing at least 60 feet — and tossing the airplanes into the air to see which “design” would fly the farthest. It wuz a great way to entertain myself and I don’t recall any adult ever warning me how dangerous it wuz for a kid to climb to the top of a silo and pitch out paper airplanes.
Moving along to my play inside a dry, dusty, scorchingly hot earthen trench or pit silo in the summer of 1955, just after sixth grade. It wuz an intense drought year and the crops were burnt up. My Dad, ol’ Czar E. Yield, wuz trying to salvage a droughty grain sorghum crop by filling a newly-dug pit silo. Again, I wuz staying with the silage packer (with a tractor) in the silo. During the break between silage loads, I would entertain myself by conducting life and death mountain climbing contests with — are you ready for this? — grasshoppers.
The landscape that summer wuz filled with hordes of big, juicy grasshoppers. I, of course, hated the insects for the damage they did to our crops and garden. So, I amused myself by capturing two big grasshoppers. If you don’t know it, grasshoppers will “kick off” their big back legs if you squeeze the legs at the joint. So, after I’d eliminated the back legs of the two “contestants,” I’d put them side by side on the crumbly dirt on the side of the pit silo.
The inclination of the “by-now-non-hoppers” wuz to climb upwards using only their four front legs. Eventually, one of them would encounter a place of sufficiently loose soil that it would lose its footing and drop to the floor of the silo. That’s when the “loser” paid the ultimate price. I squashed it with my calloused bare foot. Then I caught another combatant and renewed the mountain climbing contest.
My self-made rule wuz that if a grasshopper could “win” three consecutive mountain climbs, it got a reprieve from me and I turned it loose. Of course, it still was absent its back legs, so, in retrospect, it wuzn’t much of a reprieve.
Of course, in late summer the annual grasshopper crop made for great fishing bait. I would go out just after dark with a flashlight, into a tall bunch of horseweeds, and catch a Prince Albert metal tobacco can full of grasshoppers for bait the next day. Dad didn’t smoke, but we had a neighbor who did and he supplied the Prince Albert can.
The grasshoppers were superior bait for the bluegills, “black perch,” channel catfish, bullhead catfish, “punkin seeds,” and bass in local ponds or the upper reaches of the clear, limestone Marmaton River.
Sticking to the insect theme, lightning bugs were play things for me as a kid. I would catch them in the evening and smear their “light” on my ring finger. The only really bad thing about catching lightning bugs in the grass is that I always “caught” an irritating bunch of red chigger bites, too. But, that didn’t deter me.
Got a phone call from a faithful 82-year-old reader from central Kansas, near Hutchinson, as I recall. The caller told me this story:
He got a new pair of strong reading glasses and thought they really made his muscles look big, strong and rippling. But then he, sadly, realized that he wuz merely looking at his “magnified” wrinkles.
Time for the weekly words of wisdom. These come from a bumper snicker:
“Because of Covid, for the first time since 1945, the National Spelling Bee has been cancil … cancul .. cansel … It’s been called off.”
Have a ‘gud” ‘un. ❖