Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

"If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools."

– Plato

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Back to "The Good Ole Days


I decided to lighten things up today and toss in a chapter from my book, “The Huckleberry Days of the ‘50s.”  This will take us back to the “good ole days.” Back to the days of “I like Ike” buttons and fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view mirror. It’s a sane place to visit when you need a break from a world gone mad.  You can find the book at www.ralphhhiggins.com

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Why Are Boys Driven to Build Forts?

I think it’s a genetic adaptation or defense mechanism that drives boys to build forts, because every kid I knew back in elementary school had a fort.  To build a fort was something boys were instinctively driven to do and the more complex, with underground tunnels and places to hide, the more admiration you received from your peers and from those you allowed to enter your domain.  Naturally, girls weren’t allowed in a boy’s fort back then.  We weren’t quite sure what girls were.  All we knew was that they giggled and ran funny.

If a kid tried to build a fort today he’d be required to have a building permit, an environmental impact report, a variance of some sort, a union contract, liability insurance, workers comp, a health plan, a sprinkler system, and about thirty additional permits and clearances.  HUD, OSHA, EPA, County Planning, and the Women’s Temperance Society, are just a few of the agencies that would be looking over the kid’s shoulders as he dug his foxhole, reinforcing it with scrap plywood, and covering it with tree branches for camouflage. 

His building project would be red tagged for code violations before he put on the roof.  I don’t think it’s as much fun to be a kid nowadays.

A tree fort was the ultimate fortress, but more skill was required in the construction of a tree fort.  After flooring boards broke and a number of us fell out of trees, most of us decided to stick to digging holes.  There was a group of kids who felt that they had the physical attributes for tree living, but it didn’t work well for them either.

The main problem with the “tree-dwellers” who tried to build tree forts was that those with prehensile tails didn’t have opposable thumbs.  They could climb trees and get around up there all right, but they kept dropping their tools.
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The drive to build a fort was something young boys couldn’t control.  When you hit a certain age, you became a fort-building machine and you wanted the best fort in the neighborhood.  

The blue prints for forts are rolled up somewhere in a boy’s DNA waiting to unfold at just the right time in his development.  Like a duck imprinting on mama duck, when that timer goes off, the kid is a full blown mini-architect.  He can’t help it.  It’s beyond his control.

If the urge to build a fort hits too early, a small child will become obsessed with hiding behind furniture or under blankets hung over chairs. But if it hits too late in life, the unfortunate young man may eventually find himself living in tunnels under New York City or in the sewer system of Chicago.

Miraculously this building urge hit all my friends at about the same time.  The neighborhood was pock-marked with foxholes and it looked like the area had been taken over by a hoard of large ground squirrels.  Wood disappeared from construction sites and the sound of hammers punctuated the rhythmic grinding of hand saws.

We definitely needed wood for our forts.  A local contractor was building a house on the next street over from ours and the word on the street was that his house came up one bedroom and half a garage short.  He ran out of lumber.  The poor guy was still studying his wood order when I tossed the last of the camouflage over my hideout.

It was great to be a kid in the ‘50s.

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P.S. – If you want me to add a friend or family member to my blog notification lists, please send me the name and email address at higgins@digitalpath.net .

14 comments:

  1. One of my favorite chapters, Ralph

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  2. The cave behind our house on 20th street would have been red taged

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    1. Caves were cool! You were lucky. We had to dig large holes with tunnels. Maybe I'll tell the story of a good friend who build the world's largest foxhole and hid it so well that the farmer fell in it with his tractor. It may still be there.

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  3. Oh man, the good ole days for sure. I was still living in Coos Bay, Oregon when I was at the fort building age. There was what seemed like an endless old growth forest at the top of our street. It was a large forest and that is where all us boys were for hours a day. The forest floor in some areas were deep with thousands of years of mulch. Running through these areas was like running on a giant mattress. All our forts were in ground also. No lumber but we cut small trees for our construction. We also dug big holes and covered them with thin branches and ferns in hopes of trapping a bear or any animal. We never trapped an animal but we did get Bobby Bowers when he accidentally stepped on one of the traps. Once in awhile I would swipe a pack of Chesterfield cigarettes from my grandfathers drawer and we would smoke them pretending like we were loggers. When I have trouble falling asleep at night I like to think back to those innocent times in my life. Most times it helps. Perhaps that is what heaven is all about, we never get older than 10.
    I loved your book Ralph and now I think I will read it again.
    Your ole pal,
    Jimmy Loar

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    1. Thanks, Jim. I'll bet you've got a lot of those stories and, I too, hope we are kids in heaven. I'm still a kid at heart.

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  4. I am a girl but I knew a couple things about forts while growing up with two brothers in San Jose in the 40s & 50s. My brothers would build forts out of wooden fruit boxes they somehow confiscated from one of the local canneries. They would stack those wooden boxes, along with a few cardboard boxes to build a quite impressive fort that would include a couple separate rooms complete with a few sturdy cardboard boxes that served as table and chair settees and then they would place lighted candles on the "tables" and would serve up peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and Kool-aid. Since I was only a girl I was not really invited to join them and their friends, so I would just wait until they were all gathered inside their fort and then I would crawl inside, armed with Tootsie Rolls and gum to use as bribery tools so to be allowed to join them. The very last time I remember entering one of their forts was the time when my long hair (which was usually hanging in my face) caught on fire from the propped-up candles on the "table". I remember the boys all began to beat on my hair with their hands and a couple towels to extinguish my flaming hair. It was amazing that my face escaped any burns. Of course all the yelling and screaming that was going on inside that fort got the attention of our mom, who then came running with her dish-pan full of soapy water, which she used to douse my flaming hair. That was the last time I ever tried to be "one of the boys". I was about ten years old then, and I soon understood that I enjoyed girl stuff a LOT more than "stupid boy stuff".

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    1. Judy - That's a great story and very well written. I'm thinking about soliciting stories like yours for another book about the days of the '40s and '50s. Everyone seems to have similar stories. I guess that's why I think it must be a "genetic mutation" that hits pre-puberty. If it hit any later, girls would be allowed in a boy's fort. But it does seem to be a universal trend...at least in America back then. Thanks for a good story and I'm glad they put the fire out.

      If I do try to do another book on that era, I'd like your input too from a girls point of view. My wife missed the fort thing, but occasionally finds me hiding under the table with blankets and a peanut butter sandwich. (only kidding - I can't fit under the table.)

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    3. Hi Ralph, This morning I attempted to Reply from my iPad but was unsuccessful due to my iPad kept "Cutting Out"..So,I am now on my PC...If you do decided to do another book on the era of the '40s and '50s and if you would like some "female point of view" I think it would be fun to participate a little bit, if I am able to come up with some thoughts on whatever the subject may be. I liked your blog on Gun Control, but didn't get around to writing something before the next blog appeared.

      Hiding under the table waiting for your wife to find you sounds like fun...

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    4. Judy - I'm looking into the possibility of a series of books, but must find an agent first. My wife has a lot to say about those days too. You can contact me at higgins@digitalpath.net. I should add that email to my blog.

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  5. Ahhh Ralph! Forts, bikes (horses), BB guns, and creek beds. Is there still wide blade grass you can place between your thumbs and make signal whistles? I don't think my children or grandchildren know how to do that. What a great time. Best of all we would ride off in the morning and not return until dinner. Of course we were never where Mom told us not to go, right? My grandmother, Nannie, who took care of us while our mother worked could be convince it was vital to make us Velveeta sandwiches on wonder bread so in case we were tied up at lunch (so to speak) we could make it 'til dinner. No pre-wrapped Kraft singles then.

    But the magic was in that we could be gone without anyone knowing for sure where we were and the only danger was what we could do to each other. I think those days really were priceless. I too still think of all the great forts, wars, bike races, and pickup baseball games we were able to have with such complete freedom.

    Thanks Ralph, I'm re-reading your great book again too.

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    1. Thanks to you I have a story in the book about "frozen" rattlesnakes and picking prunes. Jot down some of those story ideas. I may try to find a publisher for a series of books with stories from others - men and women - who grew up during those great days. Judy, in a comment above, is an example of the female perspective from those "fort-building" days.

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  6. I remember a fort I built using fruit drying trays. More of a hideout, really. I arranged the trays such that I had three rooms I could hide in, if need be. But the best part was a prune bucket sitting in one corner of the "living room." I believe it was the first Porta-Potty.

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    1. Bob - When I worked in the cannery during the summer, we built "hide outs" in the huge stacks of trays and brought cans of fruit cocktail in for snacks. We always posted a guard to look out for bosses and when one was headed our way, the look out would toss a can lid over the stack into our hideout to warn us. We had several escape routes, so it looked like we were still checking on the lines, etc.

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