When I was a kid, the Christmas season began the Monday after Thanksgiving. With the Thanksgiving celebration now a memory and the deer season over, my brothers and I turned our thoughts to this special season. The Sears Christmas Catalog had arrived to tell us that Christmas was just around the corner.
Sometimes the Sears “Wish Book,” as we called it, arrived a little before Thanksgiving, but now with the turkey holiday in the past, my brothers and I spent every spare moment when we weren’t in school or doing farm chores, poring over this wonderful book. Here was page upon page of everything a boy would ever want. In those days, the folks said my brothers and I could each select one toy or book, and one item of clothing, which had to be practical such as a wool scarf, mittens or a sweater.
I looked at several things. I knew little construction sets with fancy little motors or wood-burning tools were automatically off my list. We had no electricity. I looked at the board games, Chinese Checkers and Monopoly. I studied the fancy sleds and expensive skis and snowshoes. I glanced at the several kinds of card games such as “Old Maid” and “Flinch.”
But what caught my eye and where I spent hours was poring over books for young readers such as “Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates,” “The Black Arrow,” “Swiss Family Robinson,” “Gene Autry and the Thief River Outlaws,” and my all-time favorite at the time, “Fun for Boys.”
I read the description for this book over and over. The more I read chapters about “How to be a Ventriloquist,” “How to Handle a Rope Like a Cowboy,” “The Fundamentals of Wrestling,” “The Secrets of Cartooning,” and “How to Identify Enemy Aircraft” (we were in the middle of World War II), I knew I wanted this book.
On the practical side, if I had this book, I could identify enemy warplanes coming from northern Wisconsin and flying over our farm. I looked forward to having this book with me as I stood by our barn on a cold winter evening, scanning the sky for enemy aircraft on their way to bombing maybe Milwaukee, as I doubted they would waste a bomb on little Wild Rose, population 528 at the time. Yet they might drop a bomb on my hometown just to prove that they could do it. So I would be ready.
I had it all planned out. I would identify the enemy bomber from the pictures in my book. Once I had identified the flying menace, I would get on our party line telephone and let everyone on our party line know that I had spotted an enemy aircraft and we should be at the ready. Of course, I had to have my much wanted Christmas present to make all of this happen.
I did receive “Fun for Boys” that Christmas. And I did practice standing by the barn looking for enemy aircraft flying over our Waushara County farm. I did this several times, but not once did I spot any enemy aircraft. Did the enemy somehow know that a little farm boy standing out by his barn was ready to blow the whistle on them if they flew over our farm? I did see a crow once. But that was about it.
I turned my attention to learning how to “throw my voice,” which was what ventriloquism was called in those days. I never quite caught on how to do that either. I studied the chapter on building a “powerful physique,” and read, “The most beneficial exercises for boys are hiking, baseball, skating and swimming. In addition to the exercises which boys get while playing outdoor games, they should exercise daily for about ten minutes.”
I quickly decided that the fellow who wrote this chapter had never been on a farm, where additional exercises were not necessary after doing barn chores twice a day, including lifting fork loads of straw and hay, milking cows by hand, forking silage from the silo, and walking a mile to school. I didn’t even finish the chapter.
I went back to studying the configuration of enemy warplanes. Just because I didn’t spot any when I was looking, it didn’t mean that one day a German bomber might fly over our farm.
Check out Jerry’s newest book, “Simple Things: Lessons From The Family Farm” at www.jerryapps.com.