The Slingshot

The Slingshot

by Leon Chamberlain

When I was growing up there were three possessions that were critical to a boy’s happiness and survival. One was a bicycle, which I have written about. The other was a Flexible Flyer Sleigh which I have also written about. The third is a sling shot, correctly called a flipper crutch. A sling shot is a device consisting of four long cords, 18 inches to 24 inches tied to the four corners of a pouch approximately 3” square. A rock or other hard item is placed in the pouch and you would hold the cords in one hand and swing it over your head. Centrifugal force would hold the rock in the pouch. After rotating the sling around over your head several times as fast as you could, you would release two of the cords allowing the rock or other hard item to be released. The rock would travel towards its target at a high rate of speed hopefully striking the target. This is the device David of the Old Testament used to slay Goliath.

Leon and a friend getting into mischief

Being accurate with a sling requires much practice and skill. A flipper crutch is a device usually cut from a tree branch that forms a “Y”. Two rubber bands are attached to the top of the “Y” and to a pouch. You use the energy created when you pull back on the pouch loaded with a projectile to propel to its target. For rubber bands we would cut strips from an old inner tube from a car or bike. Back in the 40’s and 50’s inner tubes were made from natural rubber which has good elastic properties. The pouch was made from the tongue of an old shoe. Our “ammo” was usually some hand-picked round rocks about 1⁄2” in diameter. In a pinch we would use an old marble. We were very careful to avoid windows and people. Unfortunately we would sometimes target birds that invade our fruit trees. A well-placed rock would easily kill a bird or shoo-off an unwanted dog. We called our flipper crutch our personal protection device and you did not mess with someone who was good with their flipper crutch.

I read somewhere that the army investigated using a flipper crutch to propel a small explosive device. More modern versions of the flipper crutch are called wrist rockets and they use steel balls as ammo. As you can imagine, these devices border on being deadly. As a young boy I made many flipper crutches and spent many happy hours shooting at targets of bottles and cans. It was all we needed in those days.

Of Sleds, Slingshots, and Bicycles: the Memories of Christmas Past

Of Sleds, Slingshots, and Bicycles: the Memories of Christmas Past

A short time ago, my father and I reflected on some childhood memories, and how certain smells or songs could trigger powerful remembrances that would otherwise remain buried. “Memories,” he said quietly, “are all I have.” As the primary caregiver to our mother, he is married yet in many ways alone. His hours are filled with prolonged periods of reflection, and with that time he often writes these memories into childhood stories, life sketches, and anecdotes.

Many of these stories we already knew in the form of family folklore. At family Christmas gatherings, he would tell us the story of The Bicycle or The Christmas Tree, but until now, they were never shared in written form. This Christmas, Kindex helped Leon create a small book of these memories, three of which we will be sharing with you. The first story, “The Slingshot” coincided with a gift of homemade slingshots he presented to his grandchildren. The grandchildren had a riot on Christmas Day practicing their new slingshots on various targets around his home. No eyes were injured, no glass was broken, and amongst the fun, we wove new memories into old ones. We not only knew the story, we became it.

Someday when our parents are gone, we’ll write this story: The story of how Grandpa made 25 slingshots in his woodworking shop, shaping and sanding each one. The story of how, in his loneliest hours, he cut and sewed each suede “flipper crutch” and attached the rubbing tubing. The story of how he made each slingshot unique, painting each grandchild’s initials on the back. We’ll write about how he showed us how to shoot them, and who first toppled the giant pyramid of cups he stacked for target practice. We’ll remember Grandma watching us quietly from her bed in the middle of the family room, knowing that in her prime, she’d beat us all.

Nothing can stand up to the value of memory. It shapes our belonging like no DNA test or ancestral chart can. This year, the story of the slingshot got another chapter, and with each generation more will be added. We hope you enjoy these memories and stories as much as we did.

 


A Christmas Tree for Archie and Matilda

As recalled by Leon Chamberlain It was probably around 1920 that the saga of the Christmas tree took place in my grandmother Chamberlain household. Mary Caroline Nordstrom Chamberlain was a widow with two young children, Matilda (8), and Archie (5). Grandmother worked...

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The Bicycle

That Yale was the only bicycle I had growing up. When I got tired of the color, I painted it a different one. I would completely take the bicycle apart from one end to the other and reassemble it again. I knew that bike backwards and forwards and probably rode it several thousand miles. I had no desire to have another bike, and it wasn’t until my interests shifted to cars that I parked my Yale in the back of the garage, never to be ridden again.

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A Christmas Tree for Archie and Matilda

A Christmas Tree for Archie and Matilda

As recalled by Leon Chamberlain

It was probably around 1920 that the saga of the Christmas tree took place in my grandmother Chamberlain household. Mary Caroline Nordstrom Chamberlain was a widow with two young children, Matilda (8), and Archie (5). Grandmother worked at Deseret Mortuary helping prepare the bodies of the deceased for burial. As Christmas time approached it was the desire of my grandmother to have a tree for Christmas. At that time it was not uncommon to decorate the tree on Christmas Eve. There was a Christmas tree lot near the mortuary and my grandmother ordered and paid for a tree to be delivered the morning of Christmas Eve.

As Christmas Eve morning turned to Christmas Eve afternoon, and no tree had arrived, my grandmother became concerned. In the late afternoon, she took the trolley uptown to the tree lot, but when she arrived, the lot—surrounded by a high, locked fence—was closed.

At best my grandmother was around 5 feet tall and it would have been impossible for her to climb the fence. As she stood there contemplating her dilemma, a young boy walked by. She approached him and offered him a dime to jump the fence and throw a tree over to her. He agreed, and grandma now had a tree but no way to get it home. Undaunted, she drug the tree to the nearest bus stop, loaded the tree on to the bus and rode toward’s home. I can see her in my mind’s eye, dragging that tree the final distance to her home on Navajo Street. Because of the resourcefulness and tenacity of my grandmother Chamberlain, Matilda and Archie were not denied a tree for Christmas.

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Mary Caroline Nordstrom Chamberlain with children Matilda and Archie.

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My grandmother Chamberlain was known for her perseverance and hard work. She was widowed at a young age when her husband suddenly died while chopping wood in the yard. She raised chickens, sold eggs, planted a large garden and canned much of the produce for and her family. She told fortunes and was famous in the neighborhood as the best therapist there was. Thanks Grandma Chamberlain.

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The home on 742 Navajo Street as it was about 1918.
Mary Caroline Chamberlain stands in front with daughter Matilda.
A sign for “Fresh Eggs” hangs on the front.

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Leon Chamberlain with his Grandmother Chamberlain, about 1943.

The Bicycle

The Bicycle

Every Christmas, Leon Chamberlain tells the story of the bicycle to his children and grandchildren. He has written it here for our benefit.  -CG

By
Leon Chamberlain

I love going to bicycle shops, so when I recently accompanied my adult daughter to a bicycle shop to select a graduation gift, I lingered among the rows of sleek, new bicycles. Inevitably, I was drawn to what are now called “retro” cycles. The sight of those old-style bikes brought to mind my first bicycle and all the memories that came with it.

As I recall, I wanted a bicycle when I was just six years old. Even at that young age, my hope was tempered by the realities of the time. World War II had just ended and items like bicycles were very scarce. I was also quite young to receive such a coveted Christmas gift, so I knew the chance of getting a bicycle that year was slim. When Christmas passed without a bicycle, I held my hopes out for next year when I would be seven.

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Leon Chamberlain (left) stands with a friend outside their home on Navajo Street in the Poplar Grove neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Utah.

As the war and its scarcities grew distant, I grew more hopeful that there would be a bicycle under the Christmas tree. But when Christmas came and there was no bicycle, I struggled to hide my profound disappointment. My disappointment mixed with jealousy when I learned of my friend’s good fortune. His dad had salvaged a bicycle at a junkyard and fixed it up for Christmas. “Maybe my dad could go to the junkyard and find me a bicycle,” I thought. But the spring and summer months passed without a bicycle, and it wasn’t until the next Christmas season that my longing was once again renewed.

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Leon Chamberlain standing on the south side of his home on Navajo Street.

It was 1948, and to me it was the mother of all winters. There was over two feet of snow in our yard, and the streets in my neighborhood were coated with snow and ice. The wind blew drifts so high we could climb to our rooftop and slide down the drifts banked up against the garage. I was eight years old, and my guarded yet unflagging hope for a new bicycle never left my mind.

That Christmas Eve, I could not sleep. Through the darkness, I crawled on my belly from my bedroom to the living room to see if the bicycle had arrived. I strained my eyes through the dim light, but I couldn’t discern a bicycle. I repeated this exercise several times without any success. The anticipation was excruciating, and as the first gray light of morning entered my room I pled with my parents to be allowed into the living room.

There it sat. A 26-inch balloon-tired Yale bicycle. A Yale? Yes, a Yale. I was very familiar with the brands of bicycles by then: Schwinn, Columbia, Raleigh and Roadmaster. I had never heard of a Yale and have never seen anther one since. That did not matter. I had a bicycle and that’s all that mattered.

I did have a problem, though: I wanted to ride my bicycle and there was literally no place to ride it. Despite blankets of ice and snow, I braved the below-zero temperature and immediately set to work shoveling a path for my bicycle. Beginning at my back door, I tunneled a 25-foot square course through the snow. I could barely reach the pedals as I shakily guided my new bike though the narrow course I had cleared. As ice formed on the spokes, the bike became more difficult to ride, and after a few trips around the course my enthusiasm waned. My patience was again tested as I was compelled to wait through the long winter in anticipation of riding my new bike.

That Yale was the only bicycle I had growing up. When I got tired of the color, I painted it a different one. I would completely take the bicycle apart from one end to the other and reassemble it again. I knew that bike backwards and forwards and probably rode it several thousand miles. I had no desire to have another bike, and it wasn’t until my interests shifted to cars that I parked my Yale in the back of the garage, never to be ridden again.

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Leon Chamberlain with his ’51 Ford.
His first car, a ’41 Ford, didn’t last too long*

I have since bought several bicycles and enjoyed riding them, but as I shopped with my daughter it became clear that while I could buy any bicycle in that shop, none could bring the happiness that my Yale did. It wasn’t until many years after that Christmas that I discovered that my Yale was second-hand, and that my parents had much difficulty acquiring it.

Perhaps at some future time I will again have the chance to ride my Yale along the streets of Salt Lake City, the breeze blowing in my face, my shirt unbuttoned and my hands behind my head. It doesn’t get any better than that.

 

*My ’41 Ford had been through a lot. I remember driving to West High School, and my friends in the back were complaining they were cold. Before I knew it, my friends had built a small fire on the floor of the car to warm them up. The brakes also went out in that car. I remember carefully driving all the way home from West High to Navajo Street without having to use the brakes. Unfortunately, I did not calculate how I would eventually stop the car once in the driveway and sailed right into the garage door.

If You Scan It, They Will Come

If You Scan It, They Will Come

It’s December, and the records are piling up like snowdrifts in my office. As one who digitizes records for me, my family, and for Kindex, I’ve experienced the cyclical nature of scanning. Like laundry, scanning is never really done. With new records being created or found every day, the waves of scanning will continue. For December in particular, the wave of scanning is more like a tsunami (the photo above representing some of my ongoing scanning projects).

November and December are times of gratitude and gift-giving. Such times generate a need for both a remembrance of our past and view toward a future where nothing will be lost. It is with these emotions that records find a way to my door. How it happens is a phenomenon worthy of another post on the interplay of dumb luck and divine intervention. Like the cars that stretch for miles in the closing scene of the movie Field of Dreams, the records find their way here.

 

The other day I was musing about all the records I’ve scanned, and while I’m determined to learn exactly how many records I’ve digitized, my top-of-the-head estimate is at least 60,000. I say this not to boast, but rather as a consolation for the times I wonder if all my efforts will make a difference—to Kindex, to my family, and to history. Surely on one of those 60,000 pages is the face of one otherwise doomed to be lost, the words of an ancestor that will be read for the first time. Surely this hope is enough to get me through this next batch, and then the next one. 

Maybe when I die my children can create a baseball card of sorts, with a nod to my final numbers. I know, they are just papers. But to me, they have life. The rustlings are the breath of my ancestors; the ink and paper were in their hands. They bent over them, writing by lamplight. They laughed and wept, holding them. They carried them in their pockets, and hid them in their secret places. Like Norman McLean in A River Runs Through It, I am likewise haunted by the words of the past:

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”