Cousins, Cowboys, and Bottle Caps

Image © Mikael Cronhamn via stock.xchng

When I was a child, we lived next door to my Uncle Cliff and his family. My four cousins were my playmates. The oldest was usually the director of our games of “pretend,” setting the scenario for a story of princesses in a castle, with all that entailed. But her interests changed, and she moved on to “older” things.

And then the second oldest found our play too juvenile, and so the third in line, who is one month younger than I, became my main playmate.

His interests were different from those of his older sisters, and so our “pretend” scenarios changed from princesses-and-castles-and-one-lone-knight to cowboys and cops-and-robbers. I was perfectly happy to play the games he chose, since they went along with the movie serials we watched at the Wink Theater every Saturday morning

But the most amazing thing about our play was something I didn’t notice at the time. When I look back now, I’m struck by my cousin’s creativity.

Image © Billy Alexander via stock.xchng

We didn’t have a lot of toys. For our cowboy games, I had a broken piece of a toy gun, and everything else was imaginary. Except for our “money.” My cousin decided we should collect bottle caps. We scraped the cork inner lining from them and flattened them with Uncle Cliff’s hammer to make coins.

My cousin wanted a fancy gun and holster set for our play, which he knew he was unlikely to get. And so he made one.

He used cardboard, made slits to thread his belt through, and attached a row of bullet loops made from a smaller strip of cardboard. The holster, though, was amazing. He folded cardboard over to make a smooth front roll, trimmed the back edges into the proper shape and fastened them together by punching holes and looping string through them in an attractive pattern. He painted the whole thing black, using shoe polish, and he decorated it with daubs of silver paint “studs.”

At the time, I thought it was absolutely beautiful. And I’m even more impressed now that I look back on my cousin’s ingenuity, his workmanship, and his persistence. Making that holster set took months, because he was so painstaking with it, getting every detail just right.

I wonder about our children today, with their overflowing toy boxes, their access to all kinds of electronic gadgets, and the ease with which they get what they want. Do they ever have a chance to yearn for something they can’t have to the point that they find a way to make something else to fulfill that desire (and thereby satisfying more than just that original want)?

What about you? What things do you remember from your childhood?

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8 thoughts on “Cousins, Cowboys, and Bottle Caps

  1. We’ve tried explaining this concept to our kids on more than one occasion. They don’t get it. They have more toys than they know what to do with and definitely more than they ever play with. They demand to be entertained, but they don’t know how to entertain themselves.

    I remember spending hour after hour playing a variety of things with my friends growing up. We had plenty of toys, but mostly we used our imaginations to supply what we needed. Even now, I use my imagination to fill in the blanks as my chief entertainment involves reading or creating my own stories.

    • It’s great that you developed a good imagination…that’s a wonderful asset in childhood and even more so later in life. Like you, I’ve always entertained myself with stories, whether my own or someone else’s.

  2. My brothers were like that. Our play was very imaginative. The world was what we saw in our heads, not what was. We “built” tree houses that were just boards nailed in places (nothing fancy) and we used blankets to make elaborate tents on my mom’s clothes line. Bandstands were rocket ships….and i loved that our playgrounds weren’t safe. LOL!

    • The lack of safety was half the fun! It’s sad to see so many fun pieces of playground disappearing from parks due to safety concerns. People seem to forget that we played on those same things and we turned out just fine. You can’t protect kids from everything all the time. At some point, you have to let them out on their own and trust that they’ll be okay.

  3. Great post, Tommie! I know my kids don’t get it–well, my little one doesn’t. Toys are just too cheap to make these days. My teenager understands (she’s heard a million stories from us about how we played as kids). When she was a toddler, computers still came in giant cardboard boxes. Those boxes were easily her favorite things to play in!

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