Thursday, June 15, 2006

Hidden Treasures

What little I know about other areas of the world has been acquired mostly from reading. I am not a "world traveler" as many are but I do know of God, wonderful grandparents and growing up in the North Carolina mountains. I feel that I am an expert on this as I learned of it "first-hand".

A small child is a remarkable thing to behold. The imagination reaches far beyond one's vision and into other worlds as did one of our greatest authors, Robert Louis Stevenson. I had a GOOD imagination as a child. I had to have in order to do some of the most wonderful and most disasterous things that I did.

Feel free to let your mind wander back to those days gone by and study some of the games, toys, and inventions that survived insurmountable obstacles to come to life in your childhood as I share a few of mine. Being a child and the master of invention, I thought a grapevine swing was one of mine. But truthfully I do not know how far back that goes. I could swing to and fro over the Amazon river and monstrous snakes would strike for me. Or perhaps I would just swing over the Grand Canyon and see Indians riding after wild horses. I might even swing over the Jordan river and see Jesus being baptised.

I had a horse and for a child from a poor farm family rich only in love, that was a wonderful thing. Daddy had two big Belgium farm horses that he used to log the forests, plow the fields, gather corn, or mow the hay. But my horse was an old tree which many years ago was hit by lightening, or trampled by Indians riding ponies while chasing deer or big cats. No matter. This tree horse (Lightening I named him) was bent just so a child could, if she had a mind too, actually saddle it and gallop away into far away places. I rode with Chief Red Cloud into battle across prairies and fought the white man. I rode with the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Wild Bill Hickock, Geranimo, Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy. Some days I rode out alone and camped near a great flowing stream in the Smoky Mountains and feared for my life as huge black bear, "painters" and wildcats roamed the night.

I loved to walk with my Dad on the farm. He told stories as we walked or pointed out things a child might miss, such as an Indian arrowhead laying in the trail, or a buckeye to put in your pocket for good luck. He knew all the names of plants, such as "mountain tea" which I think we now call wintergreen. I picked many of the tiny leaves growing just above the soil and chewed them until they became bitter, savoring the wonderful wintergreen taste. The old folks and Indians made a medicinal tea from it. He taught me to pick "branch lettuce" to carry home for Mama to fix wilted lettuce with spring onions and fried fatback grease poured over it. With Mama's fresh hot cornbread and homemade butter, a child could eat so fast she forgot she had supper. Daddy knew all the different rocks, kinds of soil, birds, bugs, and once pointed out to me a "June" bug. Now, this was a most fascinating bug. It was big, dark green and shiny and strong. He taught me how to tie a string around one leg and turn it loose. I would fly one for hours until it pulled off a leg or I got tired. I did, however, notice that my hands surely smelled after handling them. Many years later, I learned they were called "carion bugs" by some and survived in unmentionable places. I discouraged my children of flying "June" bugs.

Daddy taught me to make my own bows and arrows. He would cut hickory splits, somehow just the right lengths and I would tie them into bows, placing them in the creek to soak for days until they were permanently bowed. Seemed forever waiting for them. "Bird points" (tiny arrowheads) made fine points for my small arrows. I was cautioned to shoot at set targets, not at living things. Hours passed as I rode Lightening with Indians whooping and hollering, being shot at and shooting back. Later, I spent many hours in plowed fields hunting for the prized arrowheads or anything resembling one. I found many treasures: seashells in fields and trails high in the North Carolina mountains and wondering if they got there during the Great Flood, stone marbles of all sizes belonging to history, pottery shards telling stories of all kinds, old "muleshoe" shaped, corked bottles which likely held some sort of medicine of yesterday, perhaps the dreaded Castor oil. UGH!! I found "cow killers", large fuzzy, red and black ant-looking creatures and treasures of time long past; each one holding a marvelous, most exciting adventure.

I sailed wooden boats with a rusty nail mast and piece of flour sack for a sail, up and down our 3 foot wide creek and ventured into places beyond the wildest imagination, meeting Eric the Red, Comodore Perry, and even Columbus on the greatest adventure of all. I sailed down the Mississippi with Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer and up the Missouri to watch Custer in his last adventure then down the Colorado and all of its rapids to look up at canyon walls and wonder of its history. My Dad could make the most wonderful boats. You have probably heard of him as one of the greatest boat makers of all of history, and he used only a handsaw, a tiny board with a rusty nail, and an old rag Mama gave him. He never knew his fame and fortune came from those boats. I wish I had the chance to tell him.

Living in the country could get sorta lonesome with none of my school friends nearby so on Sundays after church I would beg and plead to Mama and Daddy to let someone come home with me, or hope they would let me go home with someone. When friends came home with me no time was wasted after the dishes were finished. We would head out the door to the barn and come up with many things to do. Kick-the-can was one of my favorite games when I had two or three more kids there. Mama would give us an empty KARO syrup bucket or Pure Lard bucket and we would hunt a tobacco stick. If you never played kick-the-can you haven't lived. Rules are: Inny-meany-miney-moe to choose who is "it". Can placed in center of large "hiding area" of course outside the house. Near a barn is a particularly good place. Inny-meany-miney-moe is done again to see who gets to hit the can first. After the can is hit as hard and far as possible from said spot, "it" chases the can, retrieves it to said spot, counts to 100 or chosen number while all others find super good hiding places. "It" stays "it" until she can catch someone trying to sneak in to hit the can again. Sometimes a particularly young or small, unknowing, trusting little soul might acidentally get stuck being "it" for a while, until we began to feel guilty and got caught. After the Grindstaff family rented the old Carter home on our place I had kids to play this game quite often.

I would have never been crowned a champion marble player but I could hold my own with the best of the boys at school. Winning their marbles would come back to haunt me later when hoping to secure a date for the prom. Boys remember the strangest things like loss of marbles, failing to catch high flys hit by a girl, or losing at arm wrestling to a girl in the fifth grade. Somehow my imagination missed that one. In later years with the Smiths and Jones competing to see who could grow the prettiest lawns sand or dirt was almost annihilated from yards. The game of Marbles was then placed on the Endangered Species list. I bought modeling clay and made circles and mounds on our congoleum floor for my kids on rainy days and loved it.

Mama and Daddy went to school only 6 years and only 6 months of each of those years. Hard work like skinning cherry bark, sassafras bark and root, gathering chestnuts and herbs for medicinal teas, and growing everything they had to eat to survive filled most of their days. However, since my daughter still has Mama's "First Reader", education in those days far exceeded our expectations today. My fifth grade reading would have been comparable to Mama's first. Both Daddy and Mama were resourceful in many areas. Mama taught me a game called "Fox and Geese". It consisted of a piece of cardboard with lines penciled on it, two red grains of dry corn and I believe 20 white grains of corn. Of course the object of the game was for the fox, inny-meany-miney-moe chose which, to catch the geese. I wish I could remember the principle with which we moved. If any reader knows that would be great. Mama was a wise old bird and though shy, as sneaky as she could be. Checkers was her "favor-ite" game and she truly was a champion. She would have me trapped in two or three moves and snicker from the side of her mouth. Somehow the board acidentally managed to get knocked over or kings toppled from their perches never to recover. Of course many times Mama let me win when I was younger.

"I Spy" was another of Mama's favorite games during rainy or snowy days when for one reason or another I could not sneak outside. Mama would spy something of a certain size, color, or pecularity in a designated room and it would be my job to guess in a number of guesses or she would spy something else. No matter how busy Mama was she took time for me. I hope to pass all these along to my grandchildren.

Mumblepeg was a favorite game of boys and a few girls who had knives. Of course, Daddy had a knife so I had one too. It could be a dangerous game but played carefully was quite challenging. The choice of knife was a five-bladed or more so you could get lots of points. Playing in the dining room on Mama's hardwood floor, however, was not one of the more desirable spots.

I write this hoping you have enjoyed traveling back over the years with me and realize how important it is to communicate with your children and grandchildren the value of quality time instead of television. I truly feel by sharing at an early age how to use your imagination boosts a child's ability to love life and the desire for stability and knowledge throughout life.

Written by Freda Kuykendall