Here’s one of the dwindling supply of my uncles’ old One o’the Nine stories I happened across today as I was cleaning away the clutter that accumulated on my desk over the year. I thought it especially appropriate at this time of year, since so many families are having or facing some of the hardest times of their lives, losing jobs and homes, sometimes not having enough to eat. I don’t regret being brought up without the focus on materialism that most American children fall victim to today, because I know that the best things in life don’t come with price tags.
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Back during the depression (of the ’30s) when no one had any money, and many didn’t have enough to eat and wore patched britches–because that was all they had–we learned to make-do with what we had and appreciate anything we got. We never threw away much because we didn’t have anything to throw away except maybe a spool when Mama had used the thread from it. Back then spools were made of wood and very seldom thrown away. Spools had several uses other than holding thread.Two of those uses that come to mind are handles for doors that had no knobs, and as toys for us to play with.
A piece of string was threaded through the hole in the spool, tied together and the toddlers pulled it around the house. If we were lucky enough to get someone with a sharp knife to whittle the spool in two pieces, we would put a stick through the hole and sharpen it down, making a top (or spinner) out of it.
Other toys I remember making and enjoying as a depression child was a button with a string strung though two holes, tied together, then pulled back and forth making the button spin back and forth to make a buzzing sound.
Another was just a plain piece of twine tied to make a loop, then through manipulation of the thumb and fingers, making a “Jacob’s Ladder.” With that same piece of string and a different manipulation of the thumb and fingers we would make a see-saw–sometimes called a sawmill. I still remember how to make a Jacob’s Ladder and a see-saw. In fact I just recently made a string see-saw with the help of one of my grandsons, and I believe he enjoyed see-sawing almost as much as I did when I was his age.
I find that in this throwaway–discard– computer age, that children can still be amused by simple things. All they need is someone who will take the time to show them how to make the simple toys, and they will thoroughly enjoy them, sometimes more than some expensive technical toys.
It is too bad, I believe, that fathers and mothers can’t take the time to spend with their children teaching them how to enjoy the simple things of life. It is much too easy to buy some expensive toys, give them to the children, then leave them alone so that mother and daddy can do other stuff without being bothered by them.
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Postscript: Back when I was a kid, around this time of year, I was so mindful of Santa’s elves sneaking around unseen and making notes on how I was behaving, I was a veritable angel. Christmases were lean enough as they were–in the ’40s and ’50s when the Depression was supposed to be over–that I couldn’t afford more than one or two transgressions between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Kids aren’t cowed by elves anymore, at least not my grandchildren. One day last weekend, our 7-year-old Grandson had at least two tantrums in one single afternoon–one of which resulted in his first–and hopefully last–running away from home caper. His mother, who–as a psychologist–has studied enough child psychology that she was prepared enough to wish him good luck and tell him goodbye, was confident enough to wait it out. He left–only to circle around and come back home long enough to get his shoes which he couldn’t find of course, so he left again, barefoot. This time he was gone a bit longer, and it wasn’t easy to resume the wait–this time closer to half an hour before he got too cold and came home.
At least part of the reason he felt compelled to run away was that his parents were awful people who never bought him anything. Never mind all the expensive Lego toy sets or the expensive electronic gadgets and almost any kids’ DVDs you can think of including Starwars, it’s just never enough.
I have no answer when his mother asks “how do you deal with a problem like this?” I wish I had a magic formula–if I did I wouldn’t sell it, I’d GIVE it away. Because I know our grandson isn’t the only child out there who has never gone without his needs being met who still expects more. His parents are looking into some way to make him understand that there are children all over the world who have real needs, who have no toys and not enough to eat.
I hope Santa has some ideas.