Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Flying Jenny

What kid has not ever wished for a carnival ride right in their own backyard? I can remember going to the carnival when I was young and riding the ferris wheel and the Merry-Go-Round. At school there was a fantastic thing that seemed to spin wildly fast and you had to hang on for dear life but it was great fun and quite popular. I don't know what it was called, still don't as a matter of fact, but I wanted one. I wanted the Ferris Wheel too. And the Merry-Go-Round.
On our way to school, North Charleston Elementary, every day we passed a house on the corner that had a small train track all the way around the edge of the yard and the owners had the little engine, passenger car and the caboose train too! A couple of times on a weekend or something we would have to pass that house and the train would be going around and around the yard, an elderly fellow watching and walking alongside of it and there would be two little kids in the train having the time of their lives - You just knew that. I wanted to ride so badly but we never stopped and asked. I am sure he would have let us ride... Who could say no to big blue eyes and beguiling smiles flavored with a few "please, mister?" inquiries.
Well, anyway, we never got to ride and I am sure we (my sister and I) must have tormented Mama and Daddy with the ceaseless whining about wanting a train, a Ferris Wheel, a Merry-Go-Round, or anything that was more fun than our typical old everyday, everybody-has-one, boring old swing set.
Of course we didn't have that kind of money to buy anything like that but we had Daddy and Daddy was always pondering and piddling, he said. "Whatcha doin' Daddy?" " Oh, just piddlin'" .. I didn't know what piddlin' was but it had something to do with whatever he was building or doing in the wood shop behind the house, or in the garden down by the back fence. It didn't look fun all of the time, but it looked interesting for at least a few minutes.
One day Daddy was 'piddlin' with a deep hole he was digging out in the back yard. It was about 3 feet round, and seemed to be forever deep... In truth it was probably 2-3 feet deep. He started with post hole diggers and worked his way up to shoveling later on that afternoon. He had certainly piqued our interest and Jo Ann and I stood by attentively, watching, and waiting to see what happened with the hole. Fat earthworms wriggled in the clumps of dirt, and he was definitely a fisherman, but digging for earthworms this deep was - extreme- and even we knew that. But worms came and went and he paid them no mind. We did, and gathered several to take to the worm box for him and along the way became distracted with the caterpillars and Mimosa fronds and left Daddy to piddle with the hole. The next day our inspection of the hole was of immediate concern but there was no hole. Instead what was there was a large round pole, thick and sturdy, that was buried in a big round metal barrel. We'd spent many hours rolling that barrel, let me tell you! We knew it was hollow, but now it wasn't. Ingenious was Daddy's middle name. Somehow he had anchored the wheels and axle of some old automobile in concrete inside of that barrel. So that pole, innocuous laying flat, proved all kinds of interesting standing up. Now we asked him what it was because this was not an ordinary 'piddlin' he was doing, no Siree! He was bolting and soldering crossbars on the top axle while we watched. "It's a Flying Jenny." he said. I'm sure we must have seemed perplexed. "What does it do?" "You'll see" was the gist of the conversation. It seemed forever to find out what Jenny did. But one morning we were carted off to the store, or somewhere, and when we came home Flying Jenny was complete. What Daddy had built was essentially a smaller, 4 seated version of the flying swings that are so popular at the Fair. Instantly we attached our butts to the swings and my brother was the one to pull the rope that got us spinning. Rather like the magneto on a lawnmower pulley, he wrapped a rope around it and gave it a hard pull, and we spun 'round slowly and then faster. The rope pulling was a bit hard on anyone's hands after a bit and before the day was over we'd figured it was easier for someone to stand under the bars in the center and push them, and so Thomas, my brother, did. And we learned why Daddy called it the Flying Jenny. We flew. Our backyard became the neighborhood Fair and we never lacked for friends to push and take turn swinging. This marvelous toy was people powered and we learned fast that in order to make it work we needed friends and we needed to take turns, and somehow from that day forward, I no longer envied the children who trundled slowly around the edge of their Grandpa's yard in the tiny train. I knew that our Flying Jenny was the best ride in all of 'Kiddom'. Those were some of the best summers of my life - pushing, swinging, laughing, taking turns with our friends getting dizzy going 'round and
round staring up at the blue sky and knowing all the while that my Daddy was the most incredible 'piddler' in the whole wide world.


  1. Oh wow Sue!!!
    LOVE this story. What a wonderful man.

    You have a gift with the pen (keyboard? heh).

  2. Thank you, J! Some people are just all kinds of talented with cameras (you) and some of us are just piddlin' with keyboards! LOL

  3. Sue Ellen, once daddy hooked an old metal twin wash tubs to a rope and hung it in the mullberry tree in our yard near the smoke house...and we kids had a ball getting in those two tubs while someone pushed us!

  4. Tell us all about that Carlene! These are the greatest stories because they are about real people, doing inventive things and making kids laugh - and it taught us to appreciate the thought and the hard work it took to make something that seemed so simple.