Folks, readers of thefiresidepost.com, I am busy. Three of my grandchildren are coming every day for two weeks. I am relearning some things, and learning some things for the first time, about raising children. One thing is certain – I am busy and have little time to think grand thoughts and write witty posts – There is surely something funny or enlightening or wise that will come of this experience.
I feel like I am running a summer camp for elementary school children who have been denied summer school because of budget cuts at the school. The burden of raising America’s children has fallen to grumpy old men. The result will surely make the problem 12 million illegal immigrants look like a minor problem with 42 inch chain link fences.
I’m serious, as I always am.
I am watching two eleven year old boys and a nine year old girl. They walk in the door and start shedding their coats, shoes, socks – anything that seems to encumber freedom of movement. Discarded items fall to the floor wherever the children happen to be at the moment. The solution was obvious to me: I showed the children pictures of Brown Recluse Spider bites. Then I informed the children that Brown Recluse Spiders like to hide in shoes and clothes laying on the floor. The children ran out of the room and found six more pairs of shoes in the closet to put out on the floor – they were determined to catch a spider.
I took the children down the road to St. Joe, Missouri. We drove along MacArthur Drive, between the river bluffs and the river, along the north/south railroad tracks. I told the children that Jesse James used to rob the trains along this stretch of the rail and then ride with his gang up Blacksnake Creek. The creek led them to the opposite side of the bluff, where they had dug a cave in the thick clay soil. Jesse James hid his gold in those caves – and he was killed before he took the gold out.
Telling stories about Jesse James is much easier than trying to keep up with three excited pre-teens who are desperate to find the cave, recover the gold, and get their picture in the paper as heroes or something. The hike through the forested river bluffs took about three hours (90 degrees, 70% humidity, and old man legs). I needed a diversion.
So I pointed to the tan colored clay soil, then showed the children the contrast to the dark brown or black dirt along the surface of the forest floor. There was a very clear delineation between the two layers of soil. I explained to the children that the clay was not really dirt at all – it was pulverized rock – pounded to dust by glaciers in the last little ice age – the clay was about eleven thousand years old. I explained that the clay could be moistened, molded, dried, and baked – returning the clay to the original consistency of rock. I thought I was pretty smart until the children loaded about six gallons of clay in my truck, determined to eventually make old rocks.
Bear with me. Last week I had taken the children to the local shooting range at the Pigeon Hill Conservation area. The boys like to shoot clay targets. They load the spring mechanism and fire the clay when the other yells ‘pull.’ I drink coffee and manage the safety of the range. While we were at the range the boys investigated the mounds of dirt behind the pistol firing range. They found hundreds of bullets, some lead wad cutters and many jacketed shells. I let the boys take the bullets home. I showed the boys how the lead would melt by applying the heat of a propane torch. We melted some lead and poured the molten lead into molds.
After leaving the Jesse James story behind the children were curious about that mysterious metal – GOLD. I explained that gold was a very dense metal, much like the lead we melted last week. One of the boys asked if gold was heavy like lead. “Yes,” I said, “Gold weighs more than lead. In fact,” I clumsily went on, “If we made lead bars and painted them the color of gold some people would not be able to tell the difference.”
YIKES! Old men should not say things like that to curious eleven year old boys and a bright eyed nine year old girl. “Can we make gold Grandpa?” was the refrain sung in perfect timing and less perfect pitch. “Well,” I said, “We would have to create a mold to form the lead.”
The boys looked at each other and smiled, “How about that clay. We can get it wet, make molds, then bake it hard, pour in the hot lead, then paint the lead gold. Then we could tell everyone that we found Jesse James Cave and found the gold.”
I was asking myself, “How did I manage to get into this mess?” The answer was easy – I was as curious as the boys.
Our hope is that by the end of the week we will have enough fake gold bars to smash the spiders hiding in our shoes.
(I am still trying to figure out how I am going to explain to my daughters why I let the children play with EPA certified toxic metals).