I don’t see kids running through open fields anymore and I haven’t seen a kid build a fort in years. I guess there aren’t many open fields anymore and parents are afraid to let their kids out of their sight. What a sad commentary on our culture.
If a kid tried to build a fort today he’d be required to have a building permit, an environmental report, a variance of some sort, a union contract, liability insurance, workers comp, and about thirty additional permits and clearances. HUD, OSHA, EPA and County Planning are just a few of the folks who would be looking over the kids shoulders as he digs his foxhole and reinforces it with scrap plywood, covering it with branches for camouflage. That building project would be red tagged before the kid got the roof on and the little sucker would be fined or hauled off due to numerous code violations. I don’t think it’s much fun to be a kid nowadays.
When I was a kid building forts was a rite of passage for a boy. My buddies and I had no idea what the girls were doing, because we were scared of girls and kept our distance. Besides…forts were for boys only. We weren’t even sure what girls were. My little brother thought they were just soft boys with long hair and high voices who giggled a lot and ran funny. All we knew was that we didn’t want them hanging around. But we got over that eventually.
I think fort building was a genetic adaptation mechanism that automatically kicked in with boys just prior to puberty. To build a fort was something boys were instinctively driven to do and the more complex, with tunnels and places to hid, the more admiration you received from your peers. Like a spider building a web this drive was something you couldn’t control. You became a fort-building machine. You wanted the best fort in the neighborhood and you had to be prepared to defend it. And that’s what led to the invention of the infamous ‘rubber gun.’
It’s been said that the Chinese invented rubber guns back in the Ming Dynasty, but I think this weapon was actually invented by Leroy Johnson, the kid would lived across the street from me in Los Gatos.
Rubber guns were long sticks or, if you were lucky, replicas of real rifles made of wood. Clothespins were nailed on the stock and these functioned as the trigger. Automobile inner tubes were cut in circular strips roughly an inch wide and stretched from the barrel end back to the clothespin, where the band was pinched and secured.
When you had the enemy in sight, you simply pressed down on the clothespin, releasing the huge rubber band nailing your adversary, if you were a good enough shot.
Tree forts were a definite advantage during the period of history known as the ‘Rubber Gun Wars.’ From a vantage point high above the enemy, you had gravity on your side along with a wider field of fire. And you had the additional protection of tree branches and leaves, which served to deflect incoming fire.
Those were great days, but I don’t know how we survived. There were no government regulations requiring us to wear helmets or protective gear of any kind and we were not even required to register our rubber guns. If our guns had been confiscated we would have thrown rocks at each other or resorted to hand to hand combat…which I think we did anyway.
We must have been chauvinistic, barbaric and unenlightened kids, but we had a lot of fun. I just hope that someday I see a group of boys dashing to their fort while being chased by other kids with rubber guns and a bunch of young girls following the action like cheer leaders, giggling and running funny.