The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Precious Playthings

By Margie Moon Coburn © 1996

Issue: Summer, 1996

During the Christmas season it was my pleasure to browse through today's beautiful toy stores and toy departments in discount stores. So many things to choose from for my little grandchildren, so much color and variety of shapes and forms.

I recalled my own special toys in the late thirties. My dad made them for me and they were surely dear to my heart.

Log Cabin syrup then came in tin cans shaped like cabins. These little cabins made excellent cars and vans when Dad put thread spools on the bottom for wheels. We rolled them over our plain wood floors for hours. Several close together could make a train with smokestack fashioned from the cardboard from inside toilet tissue.

Jar lids made fine little boats to float in the stream behind our house and with little flags made from the colored paper tape from cigarette packages tied around a toothpick, we had the prettiest fleet in town. There was a small wood bridge over the stream, and we could get the most pleasure putting our boats in and running to the other side to see whose boat would come under first. Each arrival was met with glee. When the makers of Kool-Aid began including tiny plastic animals in their packages, they made nice passengers for our boats. What fun we had!

There was no swing set in our yard. Dad made our two swings, a big one for me and other "big" kids and a small one for our baby sister. He buried posts from trees he had cut himself and braced them with smaller posts, placing a long, strong one across the top. On this he fastened strong, thick rope to hold his precious daughters. Dad took the greatest pride though in our swing seats. Sanding carefully a just-right piece of wood and painting it colorfully, he always made me feel so special as he measured the seat several times to be sure the height was just right and that the seat would be comfortable. We would swing and sing for the longest time!

Late evenings we would enjoy rolling our metal hoops on the dirt road in front of our house. Lots of times the older folks would sit on their porches and watch. These hoops Dad made for us too. He removed the band that surrounded the wood barrels our people used for catching rain water. I can recall how he removed them so carefully and checked the edges to be sure they were safe for his children. Then he would straighten out a metal clothes hanger and make a big hook at one end. The object was to keep that hoop rolling, prodding it along with our hook without letting it fall. We neighborhood kids had lots of fun racing our hoops and no doubt, got our share of exercise as well.

Household twine knotted in the bottom of two tin cans it joined together made fine telephones. We would talk into the can then put it up to our ear to hear our partner on the other can. We would always get out of sight of each other, as far as our string would allow and talk on our telephones. That made it much more real.

A favorite game among miners' children was a form of hopscotch, only we had our own special rubber pieces to jump over. "Peevers" we called them. Actually these were hard rubber valves used in the pumps in the coal mine. My dad being the pump foreman brought home lots of these discarded valves for us and we had quite a selection of peevers. A child likes seeing her name and Dad carved my name in some of my favorite peevers.

So it was, happy days full of fun and toys is what I remember. These cost nothing except a great deal of a father's love.

Editor's Note... A lot of the homemade fun in the above story sure brought back memories for me, and reminded me of others. Tin cans were used in a variety of ways as potential toys. My sister and I punched holes in either side of the end of two empty tin cans that still had a lid in it and attached a strong twine through the holes so that it made a loop over the top of the can. Then we would put our feet on top of each can and hold the loop of twine and walk around, pulling on the twine to hold the cans on our feet.

Daddies used to be the source of many homemade toys. My daddy made swings similar to Margie's swing, and also put up a chain from a tree limb that was about the height I could reach if I held my arms straight up. To this chain, he hung a cut off broom handle, centered on the chain. My sister and I played circus trapeze on it, and I spent half my time hanging upside down with my knees hooked over it.

One other homemade toy that was lots of fun was stilts. Daddy took two tobacco sticks and nailed a cross piece on them about a foot from one end of the stick. My sister and I held the top of the sticks and carefully stepped up on the cross pieces and walked around the yard. It felt very daring, but looking back on it, I know we weren't high enough off the ground to get hurt even if we fell.

My father's family was in the lumber business, so I grew up having mountains of sawdust and square stacks of drying green lumber to play on. That was lots of fun until the day my cousin Mike and I dragged home our little red wagon filled with some leathery eggs we found in a sawdust pile. The adults totally panicked, but how were we to know they were snake eggs?