Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Keep Your Hotdog Out of the Sand

Do kids build forts anymore? During the 50s, when I was a kid, we built forts everyday. Every kid in my neighborhood should have grown up to pursue a career in architectural engineering. When I think back about it, we were very innovative. It took a lot of creative planning to build forts out of perfectly good junk people would throw away.
We were lucky. We had a lot of commercial buildings nearby. We used to go on scavenger hunts to the back of the local carpet store and find 1 and 2 inch diameter bamboo poles that carpet was rolled up on for shipping. They also threw out carpet remnants, so our forts were always well carpeted, ceiling, floors, walls, it didn’t matter, we had plenty. The hardware threw away all kinds of things we needed—nails, screws, latches, wooden crates and wire. We would drag pallets home for tree forts, carpet and bamboo to cover our underground forts, and large refrigerator boxes for cardboard mansions.
We did not have OSHA inspections back then. They would surely have put us out of business in a hurry. The only bad accident I remember was Caroline Rudloff catching a hammer in the head while trying to help build a tree fort. She ended up with a few stitches and Billy Kennerly got yelled at. Poor Caroline was the only girl and I guess a tempting target for pranks.
We would build long tunnels from our main underground compounds and roof them with roof struts of board and bamboo. We would then cover them with cardboard and carpet and put dirt back on the top. The field behind our house was littered with these tunnels and covered fox holes. I can’t remember how many times we beat the Germans and the Japs with our cap guns a blazin’. Everyday was a pitched battle.
One day somebody put a garter snake in the tunnel Caroline was crawling through. That was the last time that ever happened. She came screaming, straight up through the dirt roof like a gopher going for a grub. One heck of a fight broke out. To top it all off, Caroline’s mother came over and told us we were all going to someplace we would surely hit if we dug deep enough.
We didn’t always build tree forts in trees. If we didn’t have a suitable tree for a building site we would build a stand out of old lumber. One day we were all eating lunch in our fort on stilts when it began to lean. Before we could bail the whole thing fell over and crashed to the ground. One stilt had sunk into the sand, we hadn’t built it on a solid foundation. We all finished lunch but we had sand on our hot dogs.
Behind our neighborhood was a sand pit where we could always find adventure. They hauled tons of sand out during all the years I was growing up. One rainy season a small lake formed on one of the higher levels of the pit. We all decided we would dig a small canal a couple hundred feet over to the edge of the cliff that dropped into the next level of the pit. We didn’t realize that once the canal started flowing it would quickly begin eroding the sand and turn into a torrent. Before we knew what was taking place we had a giant waterfall, powered by a quickly emptying lake, flooding the pit below. It roared. Mr. Stonewall was coming across the pit and we all hauled the mail for home. The only reason I admit to this stupidity today is that I think the statute of limitations has run out.
My concern is that kids today do not realize the power of erosion and the importance of a good foundation. They have never built an underground fort so how do they learn excavation techniques?
There’s a lot of cool stuff on the computer, but there is no substitute for learning the hard knocks of life, like toppling over in a stilt fort and gettin’ your hotdogs in the dirt.
—Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird

1 comment:

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