I came across an article recently about the National Toy Hall of Fame located in Rochester, New York. (Their web site is http://www.museumofplay.org/index.html.) The hall showcases 41 classic toys such as the kite, the bike, Crayola crayons, marbles and Mr. Potato Head. This year the Hall added three new toys to its collection: a skateboard, a baby doll and a stick. That’s right, a perfectly ordinary stick is now in the Toy Hall of Fame. The committee said that the stick was an “all-purpose, no-cost toy” with no rules or instructions for its use.
At first, I thought adding a stick to a collection of classic toys was just plain silly. I mean, compared to Mr. Potato Head, a stick is just a stick. But the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with the Hall of Fame’s choice. Kids today probably don’t play much with sticks, particularly if they live in the suburbs where cutting a stick would result in some sort of trouble. In the country, though, sticks grow on trees (I just had to say that) and I remember playing with them. A lot.
With imagination, a stick could become a pretend gun. It could also become a sword, although those battles were interrupted at some point by a parent screaming, “Stop playing with those sticks like that—you’ll put an eye out!!” They could be the lance of a knight or a staff for a hiker. Hung between two trees with a tarp thrown over it, a stick could be the basis for a wilderness shelter. Of course, it made a fair baseball bat (or a cricket paddle or bat or whatever they call it, if desperation set in). We also had javelin throws back in the septic field. It’s a wonder we didn’t spear each other, but God looks out for children.
A good stick was hard to find, actually, particularly when it had to be cut with a hatchet the sharpness of a chunk of cheese. My parents wanted to be sure we didn’t hew any of our limbs off flailing around in the woods. After what seemed like hours of hacking, we had our sticks. I remember one that I was particularly fond of, a piece of hickory which I decorated with arcane symbols. I didn’t know many arcane symbols so I used the ones from the beginning of the old Ben Casey television show in which Dr. Zorba drew the appropriate symbols on a chalkboard and intoned “Man, woman, birth, death, infinity.” It was a great stick which I kept for a while until I left it too close to the woodpile and my father burned it.
I would also nominate the stone for inclusion in the Toy Hall of Fame. (That way they could display sticks and stones.) We also enjoyed playing with stones. They could be piled on top of each other to create the walls of a fort or placed across a creek to make a dam. We didn’t go so far as throwing them at each other (we did have a tiny bit of sense) and used dirt clods instead which “exploded” on impact very satisfactorily. A good flat stone is also great for skimming across the surface of a pond. We had competitions to see who could have the most “skips.” We also spent hours striking one stone against another in hopes that one would be flint and create a spark. Luckily for all involved, we never succeeded. I also rubbed sticks against each other for hours to try to make a fire with no results. We were not allowed to have matches since our parents knew we would set the landscape on fire. I did find some matches once and set the ditch in front of our house on fire. But it was only a small fire which my mother easily put out with the garden hose.
I feel a little sorry for kids today if they depend on video games devices to amuse themselves. It’s so much easier and more fun to find something to play with lying on the ground. It certainly engages the imagination much more. If you do play with sticks and stones, though, be careful. You could put an eye out.