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Childhood Memories of the Fifties: Trapping a Monster

Updated on November 14, 2015

Tarzan Was Raised by Apes Like This One

As kids, we pretended that our woods was a jungle inhabited by apes.
As kids, we pretended that our woods was a jungle inhabited by apes. | Source

Childhood Memories of the Fifties

It was no surprise to my parents that my brother and I were not angels. Our energy and active imaginations got us into trouble on a regular basis. During the summer we had even more opportunity to get into mischief as our parents both worked, and we were on our own to invent our own play and entertain ourselves and each other.

It was the early 1950s and, at twelve years old, I was in charge of my nine year old brother while my parents went off to work. Not that I really watched him, but we spent many hours playing together because there were no other children nearby.

Kids Had More Freedom in the 1950s

Times were so different for kids growing up in the 1950’s. Back then, no one gave a second thought to working parents leaving a twelve-year-old in charge of her nine-year-old brother. Nine and twelve were considered too old for babysitters. Besides, neighbors always watched out for us.

We lived in the country and played in the fields and woods and creek most of the summer. No one was afraid that we would be kidnapped or hurt. Our parents knew that we wandered in the fields and woods, and that we rode our bikes on the road. No one got upset if we came home with scraped knees or bruised legs because that’s what happened to kids who played outdoors. Parents didn’t worry about kids playing outdoors, doing normal kid things. Maybe they should have!

Tarzan of the Apes

Television was still somewhat of a novelty in our house in the early 1950s. While most of our time was spent outdoors, my brother and I were allowed to watch some of our favorite shows in the daytime when our parents were gone. One of our favorite adventure shows was Tarzan of the Apes. We loved hearing Tarzan's trademark call and watching him swing through the jungle to rescue Jane or escape the bad guys. In fact, this was inspiration for a lot of our play in the nearby woods. The long grapevines hanging from some of the trees were perfect for swinging. Well, they were perfect as long as they didn't break under our weight. Sometimes we'd end up in a heap on the ground, but a few black and blue marks, cuts and scrapes were commonplace in our summertime activities. No one ever even noticed.

Tarzan of the Apes with Johnny Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O´Sullivan

Endless Days of Summer

School let out in mid-June and the summer stretched out ahead. There were so many things to do, but we were in no hurry as the lazy days of summer seemed like they would last forever. We always had a stack of books from the county library, and there was the TV if we cared to watch it, but mostly we made up games to play outdoors. Robbie and I both had active imaginations, but as the eldest, I could usually persuade my brother to go along with any of my ideas. Not to say he didn't have a few hair-brained ideas of his own!

Biking, Fishing, Playing in the Woods — All Part of Summer

Robbie and I pushed our bikes up Mason’s hill so that we could coast down with our feet on the handlebars. That didn't end well on one occasion when I missed the driveway and crashed through the bushes.

We made fishing poles out of sticks and string and caught sunfish in the creek. We built forts in the woods and made up fantasy games. Early mornings in July, we sneaked into our neighbor’s berry patch and picked raspberries berries for our breakfast cereal. It was always a challenge not to get caught after he started watching for the little thieves.

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Tarzan of the Apes was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the first story was published in the pulp magazine, All-Story Magazine in 1912. It was a popular series, that came out in book form in 1914. By 1918, the book was made into a silent film, and followed by 23 sequels starring Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan. Tarzan and other characters in the book were so popular that other movies, a TV series and comic books were based on them, some authorized, some not.

The story of Tarzan of the Apes

The Tarzan story is about a feral child who is adopted and raised in the African jungle by apes. He eventually learns of his human heritage, but is caught between two worlds, ape and human. His adventures include conflicts with Africans tribes as well as other tribes of apes, and he is eventually recognized as King of the Apes. The romantic interest is provided by Jane, who is marooned on the island with a new party of Americans. Tarzan’s convoluted adventures carry him from the jungle to the United States where he follows Jane. His love unrequited, he eventually returns to the jungle to live in the wild again.

Playing Tarzan - The Bright Idea!

Playing Tarzan was one of our favorite games because he did so many fun things, from tree climbing and swinging from vines to fights with natives and other daring escapades. One of the most fascinating things we learned from the Tarzan show was a neat way to catch dangerous animals or trap enemies, and we couldn't wait to try it. How devious it was to dig a huge hole and lay leafy branches across the top so that the beasts (human or otherwise) would step on them and fall into the hole with no means of escape!

Building the Monster Trap

Although we didn’t know what dangerous beasts we might catch in such a trap, Robbie and I decided to do it. We borrowed Dad’s shovel and a few other tools from the garage and started digging in the clay soil near the creek banks.

By the mid afternoon, our hole was close to 3 feet deep and we were sweaty, dirty and tired. We decided to camouflage it until we could come back to complete the project. It didn’t take long to gather some sticks to lay across the opening and cover them with leaves and grass. We also covered the loose dirt with weeds and grass to hide the evidence of digging. You could hardly tell there was anything unusual about the area at all. Robbie and I congratulated each other and went back to the house to get a well-deserved snack.

A little later, we went back to check to see if we had caught anything, but our trap was disappointingly undisturbed.

Still tired, we trudged back to the house to watch an episode of Sky King until our parents got home from work.

Your Outdoor Play as a Child

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Catching the Monster

My parents were home by 4:30, and Mom always got right to fixing dinner while Dad wanted to do some work in the garden.

"Where's my shovel? Did you kids take it down to the creek again?"

Robbie, who was engrossed in the TV, answered, "We might have left it down there. I'll get it as soon as this is over."

Well, Dad, being the impatient type, couldn't wait five minutes, so he headed out the door. We didn't pay much attention until we heard a yell from him followed by some words we seldom heard from our father.

"What the blazing &*%#$$%& were you kids thinking! Somebody could break a leg in that hole! Fran, do you know those kids dug a three foot deep hole out there? I could have broken a leg!"

Oops! We knew we were going to be in deep trouble when Dad swore because we seldom heard that kind of language from him.

In limped Dad covered with dirt and madder than a wet hornet. Before he could catch us, my brother and I beat a hasty retreat to the "trap" and started filling in the hole.

But we did laugh a little as we did it. Our dad could play a pretty good monster!

Lucky for us, we didn't complete the trap as planned. We never did tell Dad that the next part of our project was to put pointy sticks in the bottom of the trap...


Copyright ©2012 Stephanie Henkel

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