Things We Did, Things We Made

Although winter days were short, we still found time to play games; one of the games we played as a group was a "pretend war". There must have been at least 10 of us ranging from 8 to 10 years of age. I think the group was made up of boys only, most of us were Macedonians and the rest were Greek. We chose the battle ground for our pretend war. It was a flat open space covered with snow, left of the creek and north of our house. It was Macedonians versus Greeks. We stood facing each other at about 20 metres apart. We were friends, but for the purpose of the game we pretended to be enemies. The rules were simple: stand your ground, make snow balls and throw them at the opposing enemy. The highest number of hits would determine the winner. At the count of three the pretend war started well and it looked like good fun until it started to escalate into a serious and potentially dangerous affair. It didn't take long for one of us to improve the weapons of the war by soaking the snow balls in the creek-water in order to make them harder and heavier. A heavy and harder snow ball goes further when thrown and it hurts more when one is hit by it. I for one was worried by the thought of being hit by a wet heavy snow ball and didn't want to participate in this dangerous game but reluctantly I continued on. But then when I saw one of the opponents making a snow ball with a decent-size stone in it I thought that this game was becoming too dangerous, so we called for a truce. I remember walking away from the pretend battle field satisfied that at least we the Macedonians didn't lose the battle and I was relieved that I for one or anyone else for that matter didn't get hurt. I am amazed how this make-believe war game mimicked a real life military situation; and despite that we all thought it was great fun, so much so that we agreed to have another pretend-war but this time during summer. Sure enough summer came along and we arranged to have our make believe war again at the same location. This time the Macedonian group would play the part of the partizani and we would hide in the nearby hill we called "Chukata". Chukata was a small bald hill rising from the base of the creek and plateauing at about 300 metres where low, dense bushes were growing. We called these dense bushes "shumka". The Greek group on the other hand would play the part of the Greek liberation army. They would start from the same flat open ground near the creek and from there they would cross the creek, climb Chukata and search for us in the scrub. I don't know how this idea came about, or who thought of the idea of surprising the enemy with an unexpected weapon but it was a great experience. We brought ropes and matches with us and we had our usual knives with us to cut the "shumka". We chose and cut the dry branches with lots of leaves on them, bunched them together and tied them together in rolls. Due to our excitement at seeing this weapon at work we only made two rolls of shumka. We hurriedly rolled them out at the edge of the plateau, lit them and pushed them on their way down the hill. The plan worked perfectly, the flaming bushes picked up speed and bounced down along the hill all the way down towards the creek where the pretend enemy was in the process of crossing the creek. Eventually the flaming bushes crashed into the creek, extinguished themselves in the process but still forced the pretend enemy to scamper for cover. Needless to say the pretend Greek liberation army surrendered and gave the partizani a decisive victory. I remember this as a fun day that was enjoyed by both participating parties but we didn't re-enact another war game again. There were so many other things to do.

Top row from left: Clay car and a spinning top. Middle row: tractor, made out of a cotton reel, a rubber band and a bar of soap for lubrication, a propeller with a cotton reel. Bottom row: a rim steered by a wire handle made by us, a monastery made from a pile of flat stones, a tangelo (shanghai) made out of thick rubber band and leather. Bottom: a modified sled with a steered section and a brake.

I enjoyed making things as much as I enjoyed observing how things worked. The first thing that I made was a three dimensional map of our region, called Lerinsko after its town "Lerin". The three dimensional map was good enough and it served its purpose as a school project but it was a display piece only. It did not move, which means I wasn't excited by it and therefore not interested about making a similar display-type object again. I liked making things that moved or at least were useful, so the next thing that I made was a toy car. It was made out of clay with clay wheels; the wheels were held by four sticks stuck into the sides of the clay body. After several days of drying the clay toy with its clay wheels in the warm sunshine, I let it roll down an incline and sadly watched its wheels crumble gradually as it rolled all the way down the incline. It was a failure but it was a good failure.

It was more of a lesson for me than a failure: never make toy cars out of clay. During the days when I was watching the sheep I would carve shapes of common objects out of small pieces of wood. I loved carving out small boots out of wood. At other times where there were flat little rocks on the ground I would stack the rocks on top of each other and build a small monastery. But my proudest achievement in making things was when I modified an old sleigh by adding a steerable section to it and by adding a brake to it. The sleigh worked pretty well to my pleasant surprise. I and others in our group made several other interesting toys (see the drawings in figure above). There was always something to do or make, I can't remember there ever being a time when I was bored.

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