We didn’t have video games, and we didn’t watch much television growing up.
I do recall black-and-white episodes of “Little House on the Prairie” on Sunday nights. Mom and Aunt Ella sewed and watched soap operas together while we were at school. I remember the music from “Guiding Light” drifting through the house whenever I was sick and stayed home. To this day it makes me queasy.
From an early age, Mom enforced outside play and making things in lieu of watching television. I’m sure she was eager to get seven kids out of the house, but she also had (and still has) a knack for crafts and liked to see people “doing something.” And if you ever needed a suggestion about what to do, she was full of ideas.
A favorite of ours was the art sale. Those of us who were more creatively inclined enjoyed the expressive aspect of it. The rest of the siblings put forth their best effort in anticipation of profits.
Mom provided a large roll of newsprint for us to use as canvases. Then she brought out crayons, finger paint, glitter, pipe cleaners, yarn and other miscellaneous items with which to decorate it. After we spent a couple of hours building an inventory of artwork, it was time to go to market. Mom stretched a clothesline out near the highway, and we hung our pictures with clothespins like laundry. Then we sat in the driveway and waited for customers.
In winter, business was slow. We got, perhaps, a passing car every 10 minutes. And the only people who ever stopped were my grandparents and Aunt Ella. Somehow, they always seemed to be driving by when we had art sales. Summer was more exciting. With our cousins over from Mobile, profits nearly doubled. Regardless of the season, we always had at least two customers, and we were sure to sell out our inventory and walk away with about 75 cents in our pockets.
Once I outgrew these paintings, my crafting evolved into making things out of animal hides from the various critters I hunted and trapped. One day I shot a squirrel in the backyard, skinned it, nailed its hide to a board, and poured Morton salt over it. I let it sit for a couple of weeks until the smell was tolerable. When I finally took it off the board, it was stiff as a shoe sole. I’d heard Indians chewed on hides to make them soft, but I wasn’t ready for that, and the project was already taking too long. I folded the hide in half, stapled the edges, added a red yarn shoulder strap, and presented the purse to Mom Easter morning – tail on. She took it to mass.
Higher Art Forms
The girls moved on to making pot holders. Then, they graduated to beading and jewelry. My younger brothers turned to devising weapons. They created slingshots, blowguns, clubs, spears and other devices that didn’t fit a category. The most terrifying of these was the cheese grater on a broomstick. It was acceptable for even the oldest brother (me) to run for his life when someone brandished the cheese grater stick.
Trips to Fairhope Hardware were few and far between. We had to thoroughly scavenge the house, the beach and the yard for supplies. Occasionally, my parents missed things that found their way into someone’s creation. Dad’s valuable, hand-painted lead soldiers he’d played with as a boy were smelted into a baseball-size mace. The tail feathers were plucked from Mom’s live rooster to complete an Indian headdress. Her new sheets were confiscated for the sail of a raft (as seen in the July issue’s Bay Boy).
I was gone to college by the time my brothers progressed to more complicated weapons, such as bows and arrows, atlatls and battle-axes. Then, they outgrew the arena of our backyard and took their act on the road.
When I was home one weekend, Murray asked me to drive him and our youngest brother, David, to the Battle of Fort Mims reenactment. They were going to take their homemade weapons and play Indians in the show. Murray had done it before, but it was 8-year-old David’s first public appearance.
When I parked the car next to a field crowded with spectators, I assumed David was getting dressed on the back seat. But I was shocked to see him jump out of the car and run across the battlefield, seemingly naked. Then I saw the string from his loincloth tracing just above his bare buttocks.
“Can he wear that?” I asked Murray.
“Yeah, ” Murray said. “He’s an Indian.”
Some of the siblings exercised their artistic license to a greater extent.
These days my creative efforts are mainly focused on writing, but I still check myself if I wind up in front of a television for too long. One afternoon I was driving through the countryside and passed a yard full of scrap iron creations. Out front was a sign that read, “Look what I did while you were watching TV.” I like that person’s attitude.
text by Watt Key