THE MOTHER OF INVENTION
My Creative Siblings in 1958
My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction, awarded the Moonbeam Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction, and awarded the 2016 Frank Yerby Award for Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon.
(Author note: This blog was originally written in early October. Just when it was ready to post my computer crashed, and this was one of the files that could not be recovered. Though my new computer has been in operation for a couple of weeks, I couldn’t get motivated to reconstruct the original. Since all evidence is gone, I’m going to claim that the original was ten times as funny and interesting as this version.)
In his book, GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL, Jared Diamond argues that native children are likely much more innovative and creative than modern day American kids, because they have to devise their own entertainments, instead of having everything handed to them ready to use with no effort required. My own childhood seems to confirm this. Growing up in poverty in the Georgia mountains, we Junkins kids had few toys. We had to devise our own diversions or do without. We owned no books beyond the Bible and the Sears Catalog. This was before TV. And radio was a sometime thing with us. When no books were available, I made up stories to entertain my four younger siblings. And I’m still making up stories, but otherwise I don’t seem to have struck the motherlode of creativity.
My brothers were another story. While many kids were riding tricycles or pedal cars, they built their own vehicles out of scrap wood and stray wheels from junk yards. Sometimes they made their own wheels by sawing small tree trunks into rough circles. They built multi storied tree houses so lofty that it made me dizzy to look at them. My sister was no slouch herself. Before her teens she began designing and making clothing for herself. No tools were ever denied us. Knives, saws, scissors, and axes were all permissible as soon as we could walk. You just better return them to their proper places afterwards.
Maybe my creative gene was damaged at three and a half when I was trying to cut wood with Daddy’s axe and chopped my left leg instead. I screamed in terror as the blood flowed. Daddy laughed and told me that would learn me to leave the axe alone until I was old enough to use it. It did. I’m still not old enough.
Once my sister fainted while using lighter fluid to take a spot out of her coat. “Better go outside next time,” my mother told her when she cleaned the gash on Jean’s head. “And set down so you won’t fall so far.”
My father, who had only a second grade education, was very creative. He devised all kinds of inventions which made the big textile machines at our hometown mills work far better and more cheaply. He took pride in the innovations but never received extra money or the patents for these. His brothers showed the same skills, which had been developed and honed on the mountain farm where they grew up.
As adults that creativity paid off. It paid off for my brothers too—all three have taken on successful building projects for which they had no formal training—bricklaying, deck building, even constructing sheds, sunrooms and porches. My sister was one of the best teachers I ever knew.
Of course, as an adult I saw all the dangers my siblings and I had miraculously survived and determined that MY boys were going to have safe childhoods. No knives, sharp scissors, or dangerous tools for them. Santa brought them safe plastic toys with no sharp edges. But I noticed that before the wrappings had even been gathered on Christmas morning Ben and David were playing with the BOXES that the gifts came in. Stacking them, rearranging them into cities, and using the larger ones for caves and hideouts.
Fortunately, there came a point where my husband had enough of my safety rules. “A boy needs to learn to use a knife,” he decreed when they were maybe ten and twelve. And so they did, probably just in time to save their creativity! They both became engineers and can tackle just about any job Lowe’s sells tools for.
And then there are my grandchildren—geniuses, every one! Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Jared Diamond.
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