As boomer kids, we made things; big things like tree houses and snow forts, and small things like slingshots and throwable rocket ships. We made go-karts out of two-by-fours and Halloween costumes out of rags. Whether we borrowed our dads’ tools or mothers’ sewing baskets or used no tools at all, we were always making things.
One of the things Mister Boomer and his neighborhood friends enjoyed making was parachutes for their plastic Army men. It was an easy thing to do and provided hours of fun, not to mention exercise, throwing the things up in the air and re-enacting scenes they had witnessed in World War II movies.
Every boy had some Army men. There were just some things a boomer boy had to have: marbles, baseball cards and Army men were among them. Every household had a rag box or bin and some thread or string available, so nothing else was needed except a pair of scissors. The boomer boys tore off an appropriate square of lighter-weight fabric, like from a sheet or pillowcase, then got together at one boy’s garage or another’s front porch for assembly. They snipped slits at the corners and center edges of the square with a pair of scissors. After cutting equal lengths of thread or kite string, the strands were looped through the slits in the fabric and tied into knots. Next an Army man was chosen. The ones with two armholes worked best, or at least the ones that had arms raised so the string could be wrapped and tied around the torso and held in place. Neatness didn’t matter, as long as the contraption could drift in the wind.
Task completed, the boys headed to the street or nearby schoolyard to make them fly. How the rig was folded seemed to affect whether the chute would open correctly. The boys folded the chutes in half lengthwise, then rolled the chute from the top down until it met the back of the Army man. With the Army man facing up, the boys could wind up and give it their best baseball pitch skyward. If the full-throttle heave into the air was successful, the chute would would unravel along the string line on its upward trajectory, and then would deploy as the air lifted under the fabric square. A good toss and a nicely made parachute could drift for several seconds, which was long enough to position the enemy on the ground to shoot up or the parachutist to shoot down. As far as Mister B was concerned, the flight was the main attraction. He and his cohorts would toss the plastic figures again and again until their arms hurt.
One of the younger kids on the block had a G.I. Joe and decided to try and make a chute for it. The construction went according to plan and in theory it looked like the thing was going to fly. The boy wrapped it according to neighborhood tradition and it gave an immense overhand throw into the air, but the weight of the action figure was too much for the rigging to support and it crashed to the ground.
Since the boys had a full understanding of physics and the forces of gravity, one suggested it might work if dropped from a higher height. The G.I. Joe boy’s house had a garage behind it, so he grabbed a ladder and climbed to the roof. Giving it a good wind up, he slipped and practically fell off the roof. After gaining his composure, the boy tossed G.I. Joe into the sky with as much might as he thought he could manage without falling. The chute was barely deployed when it hit the ground. The theory was plausible, but something wasn’t jiving in the coefficient. Either the height wasn’t enough to counter the pull of gravity on the heavier figure, or the chute was too small, or maybe both. The boy gave up and got down from the roof before his father could see him up there. None of the neighborhood kids tried to repeat the experiment.
What’s interesting about stories like this to Mister B is the contrast that has developed among subsequent generations. As boomers we were always outside — regardless of season — and always making our own fun. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were developing a team mindset as ideas and suggestions bounced from one to another. We were learning to use tools, though Mister B doesn’t know how he or his neighborhood pals didn’t draw more blood more often than what occurred. We were learning engineering principles and how to solve problems, like wheels that wouldn’t turn correctly and things that wouldn’t glide. And we learned that we could make functional things on our own, with some scraps and simple materials.
What memories of making things do you have, boomers?