Old memories in unusual places
By Bill Shepard
Slingshots, iron-piles and a place called the Thicket! What do these three have in common? Read on …
I can’t tell if it is the cold and drizzly days of winter that are upon us that have put me into the mood for this article or if it is just an old man, recalling some of his childhood memories. It really doesn’t take much to send me back into time, like the other day when I visited the doctor’s office for a routine checkup.
He sent me to the lab for blood work. The technician placed a rubber band tightly around my arm and proceeded to fill the small vials with blood. When finished, she took the rubber band from my arm.
“What will you do with the rubber band?” I asked. “May I have it?”
“And what will you do with it?” she asked.
I said that I would make a slingshot. Whether she knew what a slingshot was or not, she did not say but dropped the band into the waste can. She then reached inside a box nearby and handed me a handful of the rubber bands. I thanked her and left.
I returned home and immediately started a search for an old slingshot that had been in my possession for many years. My oldest brother had cut the prongs from a dogwood tree, tied them into the shape he wanted and baked it in an oven. Afterward, he sanded the prongs to make them smooth. We got most of our prongs from the Pussy Willow tree. (My brother has been gone for many years, but I still have this slingshot.)
With the rubber bands and a short piece of leather, usually a tongue from an old leather shoe, I would soon be in possession of my weapon used for hunting. The rubber bands, cut from an inner tube from an old car tire, were much stronger than the ones I brought home from the doctor’s office.
During the 1920s and ’30s, no boy on the Mill Village would be caught any place without his weapon for hunting. I can recall a few times when a boy was in serious trouble for breaking a windowpane in someone’s house (unintentionally).
As written, all my friends on the village had a slingshot. At the first sign of cold weather, it would be brought out of hiding. If last year’s slingshot could not be found, a new one could be made.
Ammunition for our weapon was easy to get. The Atlantic Coastline railroad track cut a straight line through the full length of the Mill Village. Rocks that were referred to as “railroad rocks” were spread along the track, almost annually, to keep the embankment from eroding. The small rocks fit the pocket of the slingshot perfectly; thus, our ammunition was cheap and plentiful.
Behind the huge old mill, which stood for more than a half-century at the center of the sprawling village, was a place that the boys called the “iron-pile.” There, old worn-out pieces of machinery were carried and left to rust away. The iron-pile was off limits to anyone except those authorized to oversee it. Mr. Truett was overseer of the yards around the mill and occasionally showed up at the salvage depot, just to make sure it was still there. Occasionally, he would show up while one or more of the boys were there and that would cause a bit of excitement, as the boys would scurry away and hide in the nearby woods. To be caught and reported to the mill officials could mean the firing of that boy’s mom or dad from their jobs at the mill.
The village boys went to the iron-pile, in search of old wheels and pieces of the machinery that could be used to make a wagon to play with. Iron pieces that could be broken into pieces small enough were used for ammunition for the slingshot. The iron pieces were more deadly than the rocks. I knew of a few times when rabbits, if found sitting on their beds, were killed by a shooter with a slingshot. Even so, birds were the main targets for hunters with a slingshot.
For the boys of the village, during my boyhood years, a place called the thicket was their favorite hunting ground. The thicket was a large space in the forest near the village, where hedge bushes had been left to grow and they became trees. The hedge produced small seeds in abundance and the birds flocked there to feed on the seeds and to roost among the thick foliage of the trees. One was never alone inside the thicket. I went there often, when I was a boy, and though I did a lot of shooting at the birds, I seldom killed one!
Modern-day readers would think it horrible to shoot to kill small birds. I do also but that happened a time long ago. It was more than a sport; it was sometimes the only meat a boy would have to eat at suppertime. Before anyone should judge too harshly, they would need to have lived through the Great Depression, the times of which I write.
“Time,” they say, “changes everything!”