Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pencil sharpenings, magnets and mercury.

When I was in junior school we did not have Pokémon cards or Lil' pets to trade. We did not have a thousand TV channels and cartoon characters to discuss.

We, however, did have amazing erasers in all shapes and sizes. We had pencil boxes with magnets inside that opened on both sides. We had sharpeners that had pictures and an eraser and a brush at each end. We had huge pencils that had backscratchers attached to them. We had felt pens that we dipped in water when they dried out. We used pencils to learn how to use chopsticks.

We coveted magnets. They were not easy to get and so much fun to play with. All sort of things stuck to them. You often got it from a broken pencil box, or worse broke a pencil box to get it. Magnets were so cool that I joined my friends on a trip to the railway tracks to make one. The rumor was you could make a magnet by leaving a piece of iron on a train track. The train going over it would magnetize it. We put a nail and a coin on the track. The train went over them. We found neither.

We were sure you could make erasers using pencil sharpenings. You were supposed to collect a lot (four cups of sharpenings) and then boil it in milk till it was all pulpy and rubber came out. None of us ever reached the four cup collection goal but we stuffed our bags and pockets with pencil sharpenings.

We loved mercury. They came from broken thermometers and older siblings that stole them from the chemistry lab. Looking back, I am amazed at how recklessly we carried the shiny globules in paper cones and took them out to play with.

We found our own way to trade and do dangerous things. So now, when I watch my kids' trade cards, spoil their eyes on a video games, and ramble on to each other about the latest Ben 10 episode, I don't think this generation is crazy. I think of my trip to the railway tracks, I must have had mercury in my pocket and was surely rambling about what tiny eraser I'd trade for a handful of pencil sharpenings. We were crazy.

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  1. I remember playing with mercury too! Also, putting glue on those foam insulation boards and watching them dissolve. Probably explains a lot.

  2. Reading this made me realize how old I am. Have no clue what Ben 10, Pokemon and lil pets are. A whole new generation exists and am an ignoramus to their world.

  3. making eraser from pencil shavings - i remember those never successful experiments so well..

  4. KJain - thanks for the comments. Reading through them made me re-read a lot of these stories. Thank you for taking the time to comment - and comment so nicely- made me happy.