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Good Morning Nanty Glo!
Tuesday, March 20 2001

Homemade toys

Yesterday's description of homemade rubber-band zip guns recalled what was an even more popular homemade toy weapon, the branch-and-string bow and arrow set. What boy, growing up there where the woods was never more than 10 minutes' walk away, didn't at some time experiment with making and playing with these? The arrows were generally just trimmed branches about the circumference of your finger, and sharpened by the unbiquious pocket knife. The bow, a bigger and stronger trimmed branch, could be effective at launching such arrows some yards through the air, though usually they were harmless, both the bow and the arrows being relatively weak. Again as with the rubberband zip guns, I don't remember knowing of anyone being injured by one of these despite their inherent danger. Injury from a real archery set, or a toy set from the store, was more probable.

The woods were also the source of other playthings. We were always on the lookout for "whistle wood," a tree or bush with white-spotted bright green bark, and with clearly delineated segments that could be whittled and the woody inside removed from the bark whole (at least theoretically). Then the bark was notched and it could be used as a whistle. I recall many nearly successful attempts at making a real whistle this way.

Around the Fourth of July, the boys in our neighborhood would search the woods for punk. That term, not listed in this usage in the online Merriam Webster's dictionary, describes the fungus that grows like a shelf off the side of tree trunks. Probably part of the mushroom or toadstool family, punk is hard and brittle. It is dried for a few days, then cut into strips and lit by the campfire or a match. It will burn very slowly, smouldering for hours, so it may have been used to ignite fireworks, or mine dynamite wicks, at some earlier time. One of the neighborhood men told us it was "fireworks," though it does nothing more than hold a spark much longer than a match would. It would burn with a white ash tip for a long time, which, when blown on, would reignite.

A more authentic firework that was common among us boys from coalminers' households was the carbide bomb. A few pebbles of carbide, from Dad's carbide lamp stash, were dropped in the bottom of a can with a tight but removeable lid (like an empty paint or corn syrup can). A hole was pounded in the lid by nail and hammer. The carbide was wetted by a little water to create a chemical reaction. The lid was put on the can and, after a minute, it was full of a foul-smelling gas. A burning match was held to the hole in the lid, and after a few seconds the can and lid would separate in a minor explosion, making about as much noise as a firecracker, the can propelled a few yards in any direction. It was probably at least as dangerous as playing with firecrackers, which we virtually never had (I remember some boys bringing cherry bombs to school once or twice, but never knew where they could be procured). We were allowed to try carbide bombs a few times but shortly afterward our supply of carbide was taken away. (I suspect that Mother, getting wind of what was going on, got on Dad's case for giving us carbide. She would never dare correct him, but probably used the economic argument, "do you want him having to go to the hospital?")

I wonder if carbide can even longer be bought in the area? It was common in hardwares at the time, but carbide lamps were phased out of the mines, I believe, even before my dad retired (1960).

There were occasional attempts to make soapbox "cars" for racing, but even though we all tried it, using wheels from wagons or baby buggies, they never got us very far. Does anyone else remember homemade toys, especially some not on this list?

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

Terms of endearment

An elderly gent was invited to his old friends' home for dinner one evening. The host was immediately impressed by the way his friend preceded every request to his wife by endearing terms, calling her "Honey," "My Love," "Darling," "Sweetheart," "Pumpkin," and such. The couple had been married almost 70 years and they were still clearly in love. While the wife was off in the kitchen to get the dessert, the host said to his friend, "I think it's wonderful that after all the years you've been married, you still call your wife those pet names."

His friend hung his head and said, "To tell you the truth, I forgot her name about ten years ago."

Sent by Zan

Lenten thought


If we have taken up the solitary life, we certainly ought not to abhor our own relations or our own places, but we ought to be careful to avoid any harm that may come from these. Here, as in everything, Christ is our teacher. It often looked as if He were trying to rebuff His earthly parents. Some people said to Him, "Your mother and your brothers are looking for you," and at once Christ gave an example of detachment that was nonetheless free from any harsh feelings. "My mother and my brothers are those who do the will of my Father in heaven."

So let your father be the one who is able and willing to labor with you in bearing the burden of your sins, and your mother the compunction that is strong enough to wash away your filth. Let your brother be your companion and rival in the race that leads to heaven, and may the constant thought of death be your spouse. Let your longed-for offspring be the moanings of your heart. May your body be your slave, and your friends the holy powers who can help you at the hour of dying if they become your friends.

St. John Climacus, 579-649 AD, The Ladder of Divine Ascent

Sent by Christopher Haas

Lenten thoughts (i.e., pertaining to repentance and spiritual growth, from any faith-community perspective) are solicited from readers.

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