Historically Speaking: The lost art of imagination
With the advent of television, games played on the TV, movies, videos and countless other new forms of entertainment, the children of today don’t have much of a chance to try their imagination. Even the pure joy of reading a book (and imagining in your mind the scenes and the characters) is lost for many youngsters who no longer go to the library and/or read books for fun. It is all portrayed for us on the screen, and the mind goes lazily along with the pictures and dialogue. How very different were the activities of the boys and girls of years ago!
Not only did we enjoy reading, but we “ate up” all the books we could get our hands and eyes upon. Even the old favorite comic strips are now slowly being replaced by movies and videos. How we used to eagerly wait for the paper to see what was to happen next in our favorite comic-maybe Blondie and Dagwood, Wash ‘Tubbs and captain Easy or Little Orphan Annie, to name just a few.
Imagination is something we all have, but the opportunity has to present itself for it to be developed, and the more it is used, the sharper and more daring it becomes. Very young children might “imagine” fairies in the garden among the flowers. I did, and I even thought that I heard them talking to each other. I would sit in the swing my father had made for us kids, and then I would sing to the fairies in the flowers. Some kids “made up” imaginary playmates, but I had a brother, and did not lack someone to play with or to imagine with-he had an even sharper and better imagination than I had.
We had a battery radio, and would lie in front of the old radio and listen to adventurous episodes of “The Shadow,” “The Green Hornet” and let’s not forget “Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy.” We each had our own mental pictures of the fast action we heard over the airwaves…what fun that was! And then our imagination almost ran over when the episode ended at a very critical time in the story. We could hardly wait until the next segment-with our imagination running far ahead of a dialogue. “Fibber McGee and Molly” and the “Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy Show” also captured the time and imagination of the adults in the family, as well as the children.
In the spring, when the river cleared of ice and there were many streams and water puddles, we fashioned boats, complete with masts and sails, and made believe we were Vasco de Gama or even DeSoto or Lief Erickson. We also folded “airplanes” and put our names on them and competed to see who could fly the furthest in one, two or three tries. Stilts were easy to make, and we each had a pair. We got quite good at walking and running on these stilts, but I never could go as fast as my brother. To heighten adventure, we wrote notes and put them in bottles and set them in the river, imagining they could be found by someone, and they would write to us (the note inside contained a short message and our names and address, and where we placed the bottle in the Wisconsin River). I must admit we never did hear from anyone, but the spirit of adventure kept us trying again and again.
Making miniature farm areas, complete with little fence posts strung with grocery string for wire, roads and even little gates was fun. I was not artistic enough to make barns, silos and sheds, but we imagined the in our minds and kept our “farms” neat as a pin!
There was a sand delta formed on the side of the slough where the water in the ditches carried clean sand, especially in the spring after all the rains. We called this our island-the sand was pure and fine and sifted clean. We divided the island in half, each using half to make sand houses where our “people” lived. A sturdy wall (of sand, or course) was placed exactly in the middle of the island. We spent many happy hours playing there in the summer-until one year I especially recall we had a severe rainstorm, and when we trotted down to play after the storm, we found that it was all under water. We’d wait until the water subsided, and then we would rebuild, wall and all.
Rolling tires (old car tires) was a pastime, but mine usually rolled down toward the river. I wasn’t good at knowing how to “steer” the tire in the right direction.
During bad weather, or in the frigid winters, we had quite a few games to play-checkers (and later came Chinese Checkers), dominoes, tinker toys and several board games. We had a corner in one of the rooms for our toys. My brother had the two top shelves, and I had the lower two shelves. Here we kept our treasures-our very own things that nobody was to touch. I had a few tiny dolls, a pink kewpie doll and clothes, a small doll house, a tiny doll bed with a one-inch China doll in it, and also my collection of catalog “paper dolls.” Again our imagination was evident as we each had our own favorite things to amuse us. I even named some of my favorite paper dolls, usually after friends from my class at school.
In the winter we played outside a lot, of course, all bundled up, and made trails in the snow kept open by a homemade snowplow fixed onto the front of our sleds. This was usually on the frozen waters in the slough, and curled around all the muskrat houses that were partly above the frozen surface. We made believe that some paths led to Mexico, some to China and Greenland, and even India and Siam. We’d play at this until we were so cold we had to go in to get warm before going out again!
I am sure that the imaginations of all the kids in those days were certainly working overtime…it kept us curious, adventuresome and active both in mind and body. It’s a good thing to use your imagination!