By Norris Chambers

                        I suspect that kids raised in the cities of long ago had a different play style from those who started their lives in the country. But I would bet that those whose families were struggling with the depression in the cities found novel ways to entertain themselves.

            Since we were familiar with raising crops and handling livestock we naturally turned to games and activities connected with things with which we were familiar. Some of my first endeavors included planting pennies to harvest a money crop. It didn’t work. I also tried planting candy to produce an abundance of sweet treats. When an adult cousin told Clifton and me that we could catch a bird by putting salt on its tail, we carried a pocket full of salt for several days until we discovered that we couldn’t get close enough to place the condiment where it belonged. The cousin later told us that if we could get close enough to salt the tail, we could pick up the bird.  I guess that made good sense.

            Probably one of our first home produced toys was a stick horse. These first steeds were nothing more than a long stick with a string tied to the front end to serve as reins. There was no provision for a saddle. Later, as we grew older, we carved a board into a rough resemblance of a horse’s head complete with leather reins and some sort of wheel on the back end to make the ride smoother and easier. We provided hitching racks at most places where we regularly hung out and tied our faithful mounts when we arrived. We rode them back to the house when it was time to return. Stick horses played a very prominent part in our everyday life.

            In the transportation department, as automobiles became more plentiful, we graduated to stick cars. These were made by taking a board about three or four feet long and placing a wheel on one end and a wooden wheel or cross piece on the other. To navigate, you grasped the wheel with your hands and pushed the vehicle like a wheelbarrow wherever you wanted to go. Some of us could imitate the sound of an early day automobile as we toured the farm. A lot of horn honking was required. We also had home built wagons that we could load with various commodities, such as fresh cut weeds and stove wood.

            That just about took care of our transportation needs. We had soil tilling tools, such as sharp sticks that we called plows. These were equipped with rope pulls so that another kid, or even a dog, could serve as a mule while the one behind the stick did his necessary plowing. We had dull hatchets that we used as axes to cut wood or remove a small tree. We did real farming when it came time to dig potatoes or pick cotton.

            We did a big livestock business using beetles, mantises (sometimes called devil horses), red ants and just about any other small body that moved as our cows and horses. We built pens and fenced fields with sticks pushed in the ground. Sometimes we even went so far as the use the sticks as fence posts and attached string as wire. It took a pretty good fence to corral a beetle. Ants required an even tighter fence. We used pieces of glass to fence for ants. An ant cannot climb glass. A large number of ants confined in a play field will begin digging and will construct an ant den within its confines. When we put grain or weed seed in the ant enclosure they would carry the food into their new den.

            We discovered that we could bury a glass jar near an ant den and it would soon fill with ants. They would fall in and couldn’t climb out. Sometimes we would take several ants in a jar and turn the jar upside down over a suspicious looking hole in the ground. The ants would immediately enter the hole and prepare to take up residence. Often a mean looking spider would come running out and the ants would attack it. The ants always won. At other times some sort of ground wasp would emerge. Nothing that ever came out was a match for our ants.

            Another ant diversion was to take a jar with many ants in it and carry it to another ant den. Dumping the jar in the den created terrible confusion, not only for the forced visitors, but for the unprepared and surprised hosts. A vicious fight occurred between the home team and the invaders. The invading ants apparently surrendered as soon as the original confusion began to wane. The invaders would stand still and a home protector would catch him around the waist with his mandibles and carry him a long distance from the den. He would then release his load and return to his den. The released invader was confused and wandered around aimlessly. We never knew if they found their way back to their own home.

            We placed ants in all kinds of containers that we had filled with dirt. As we grew older, we used window glass for one or two sides and watched the ants as they dug tunnels and rooms. When we put food in the box they carried it to store rooms. Of course we had to drop an invader into the den occasionally. That was a cruel thing to do because the ants dismembered them and either carried the remains underground for food or hauled them to a far corner where they piled all unwanted rubbish.

            When we grew older, we took wooden paddles and fought wasps, yellow jackets and bumblebees. This sport took a fast swing and a quick get away. We would approach the nest with out paddles and as one of the enemy approached we would swing the paddle. This was a substitute for tennis or racquet ball. Of course, if you missed you paid the penalty. The result was painful sting somewhere on the face. Ordinarily, we were successful unless several attacked us at the same time. If this happened, we immediately retreated. But many times we were stung on the back of the neck. Bumble bees made the best targets and we seldom found a bumble bee nest that we didn’t have to attack. We killed a few bees but after a sting or two we grew tired of the sport and left them to pursue their usual activities.

            Most of the time there was a fighting cow or two that we could do battle with. We found out early in our battling career that a cow could not turn very fast. If we could find a big tree we would get behind it and keep it between the cow and us. This irritated the animals and they would snort and paw the ground, but they just couldn’t reach us. A fighting goat also offered some pretty hectic sport. They would butt you or rear up and come down at you with their front feet. The only defense we found against a goat was to manage to grab him by the neck and wrestle him to the ground.

            Playtime was fun time! What could be funnier than getting stung by a wasp or knocked down by a goat! Perhaps you should try it some time!