Oh, The Things We Did

“John, what could you have possibly been thinking of?”  John’s mother was looking at the pile of fresh washed clothes lying in the mud.  “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time,” John sheepishly replied.  He had been practicing his knot tying on Mom’s clothesline and a strong wind was blowing the clothes about until they almost hung straight out.  The line had slipped over the top of the cleat, causing the clothes to be awash in the mud, so to speak.

John was sorry for the accident, but was somewhat mollified because he had been tying knots right out of his Boy Scout Handbook in anticipation of a merit badge.  John was learning how to tie a bowline and was using the end of his mother’s clothes line to practice with.  “Now, let’s see.  The rabbit comes out of his hole and goes around the tree and goes back down his hole.”  The end of the line was the rabbit, a loop in the line was the rabbit hole and the tree was a very taut clothes line in a high wind when the line came loose and the sheets and pillowcases took on the color of barn mud.  Mom didn’t say a thing as she stooped to pick up the muddy clothes.  Sweetmans had a persnickety old gas-washing machine, hard to start and prone to stop in the middle of wringing the clothes of their water.  She was calm and reserved when she asked John to “Please start the engine.”  John pulled the starter rope until he was blue in the face.  Mom asked him, “Did you turn the switch on?” And John collapsed in the wet grass.

Rock collecting was important to the post-hole digger who used them to stiffen up the cedar fence posts as he tamped the rocks and dirt in the hole.  Most of the rocks we collected came from the beach but it was just for fun.  Agates were important because they were so hard to find and the most prized being the “blood agate”, which was blood-red in parts and translucent when holding it up to the sun. We would find bits of colored glass that the rocks had polished so the surface had the texture of sandpaper.  If the glass was very old, the sun would have turned it purple, making it the most prized find.  Our cousins down at Manzanita used the half shells of the giant Washington clam as a display case for the collections of rocks and agates, “freely” decorating their small cabin inside and out.  My prize find was an Indian worked awl, very sharp and made of obsidian, a black glass like rock only found in Lewis county or points south such as Utah or Wyoming.  The Indian must have traded for it before he dropped it in my garden so many years ago.

Us kids were vulnerable to collecting just about anything.. Dead birds, road kill, rocks, junk in old homestead trash warrens…John had a friend that collected pop bottle caps.  He had a lot but none of us appreciated  his efforts… he’d pick them out of the little steel pocket where they fell off the early ne-hi soda machines where you had to drag bottles along a track to get them out.. Remember?  The pronunciation of the name ne-hi was “knee high” because the label showed a woman with her skirt above the knee.  We never paid much attention to it because we could hardly read the labels anyhow; the bottles had been re-used so much.  Just drank the stuff and never looked at the bottle. Back in those days all the bottles were recycled at a few cents a pop and were all scraped up like beach glass. That was a hobby; collecting bottles as a bank account.  We all had gunny sack stashes for emergency purchases of vital kid’s stuff.

“Things of Science” came in a small blue box every month and was sent by Grandpa Gordon who lived in New York City and had been an advisor to Presidents, Roosevelt and Hoover.  Each month produced a different experiment, such as building a battery, all parts included, or a garden experiment with samples of the seeds to use.  Naturally, most of us kids were immediately bored by titrating acid and base, going on to fire and explosive concoctions…with sometimes, let us say, naughty consequences.  Brother Mike and I made a rocket in the early werner von braun style, except due to a lack of good sense, or for that matter any sense of self preservation at all, blew a hole in the garage door…which I “fixed” with an early version of duct tape…a la ‘red green’…the repair didn’t stand up to parental inspection.

Bull kelp grows in patches in fast water and close to the shore, attaching itself to rocks for an anchor.  We could always find a good supply of bull kelp after a storm broke it loose.
There was an old fisherman who lived down the beach from us.  They called him “Jack the Ripper” because he gutted fish so fast.  His real name was Gilbert Strachan.  The last I saw of him, he was walking the beach with his two nephews, all three blowing kelp horns.
Kelp is a kind of seaweed that grows in shallow water and is hollow, causing the bulbous head to float on top streaming great fronds from it.  If you cut off the fronds, the kelp made a fine beach whip; or, by cutting the top partially off…and making a three or four foot section that you blew like a trumpet, that had only two notes, high and low.  Kelp leaves a sweet taste in your mouth and I even heard that it makes pickles.  Jack’s kelp horn was longer than his two nephews, so the notes were lower and with nobody blowing at the same time, it made a very nice sound from way down the beach.