Monday, March 12, 2012

The Modern Handy Book for Boys

A weekend with siblings brought a wave of reminiscing and lots of laughs over our different versions of shared events. It's a long story, the one you have with your brothers and sisters. It includes the houses you grew up in, the extended family, the pets, the neighborhoods, the family cars, the food, the schools and, of course, the parents.

One story that came up was this book and the activities it generated, mostly for my older brother. A quick trip to the tucked away books produced it, much to my delight. I must have picked it from the shelf in the dissemination of parental possessions in one of the transitions, thinking my kids might enjoy it one day.

What's fun about this book, apart from reliving the things we did, is that in this era of lawsuits and foam rubber playgrounds it might very well be banned. I can see it now, after Justin has shot Geoffrey in the eye with "the whip bow", the briefcases are banging on the author's door claiming "egregious malfeasance and irresponsible disregard for the safety of the citizenry and their offspring." Hell yeah, that's why we liked this book.

A sampling of chapter titles - How to make stone hatchets and spears, how to make nets and traps, how to build a camp fire, make a swinging target operated by a phonograph, collecting - killing and mounting specimens. One chapter titled "Amateur Vagabonds" might well be called "How to Run Away from Home".

But the most influential chapter was "The Zarabatan or blowgun". Brother Larry and his friend took this idea and ran with it, making it a part of their activities for probably a year or so. From the book:

"The force and accuracy of a blowgun astonishes anybody who tries one for the first time. It is nothing but a straight, hollow tube into which small darts fit; but let the dart be a sliver of steel such as a sail maker's needle or horseshoe nail, and a puff of breath will sink it quivering a half inch deep into a plank. Yes, and even at a distance of a hundred feet."

Larry and Albert worked at it, perfecting the darts made with finishing nails and glue coated paper cones, or needles inserted into the end of wooden match sticks. They practiced their marksmanship and indeed they were astonishingly accurate.

And little brother had to try it too though I never developed their level of expertise.

An internet search does not say much about the author, Jack Bechdolt(1884-1954). He was a short story writer, novelist, and journalist. Only one or two works were for the juvenile audience. Much of his work was serialized in magazines. Our copy of The Handy Book for Boys is a revised edition published in 1958. It was first published in 1933.

Some sample pages - the contents show there were many civilized activities as well.

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