A Boy's Summer: Fathers and Sons Together

A Boy's Summer: Fathers and Sons Together

by Gerry Spence

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429980982
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 04/01/2007
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

Gerry Spence is the author of ten books, including How to Argue and Win Every Time, Give Me Liberty, and The Making of a Country Lawyer. Spence and his wife, Imaging, have six children of their own and ten grandchildren. He lives in Jackson, Wyoming.

Gerry Spence has been a trial attorney for more than five decades and proudly represents "the little people." He has fought and won for the family of Karen Silkwood, defended Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, and represented hundreds of others in some of the most notable trials of our time. He is the founder of Trial Lawyer's College, a nonprofit school where, pro bono, he teaches attorneys for the people how to present their cases and win against powerful corporate and government interests. He is the author more than a dozen books, including The New York Times bestseller How to Argue and Win Every Time, From Freedom to Slavery, Give Me Liberty, and The Making of a Country Lawyer, and is a nationally known television commentator on the famous trials of our time. He lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Read an Excerpt

A Boy's Summer

Fathers and Sons Together

By Gerry Spence, Tom Spence

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2000 Gerry Spence
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-8098-2


Into the Wind — Making a Kite

SPRINGTIME, THE wind, a boy, his father and a kite all belong together. In the spring, the wind blows, sometimes as if to blow away the memories of winter. But so far as I can figure out, the wind in the spring is for only one purpose, and that's for a boy and his father to fly a kite.

Boys and fathers have been flying kites since the day that string was invented. Some say a Greek scientist by the name of Archytas of Tarentum invented the kite five hundred years before Christ was born. But the ancient Chinese had been flying kites even before that. And every spring during all of those thousands of years the wind was blowing. And boys had fathers. So the point is that boys and fathers flying kites in the spring is part of being human. It's in our genes, as it's in the genes of fish to swim and birds to fly. Man himself has always wanted to fly, and before he invented flying machines, flying kites was about as close as he could come to it. So there's no getting around it — you and your dad have to make a kite and fly it.

You can buy a kite, of course. In fact, you can buy some very fancy ones. Even when I was a boy you could go to the dime store and buy a kite. But they were usually flimsy or didn't fly very well, and they cost something like twenty-five cents, and in those days that was a lot of money. They were never as good as the ones my dad and I used to make. Besides, who would want to buy a kite when you can make one? Making a kite is more than half the fun — thinking about how it's going to fly and whether we're as smart as the Greeks and the Chinese.

What materials and tools do we need to make this little flying machine? We need some sticks and some plain, two-foot-wide wrapping paper; some paste (Elmer's glue will work); and some old cotton rags, perhaps from an old dress or apron. And, of course, a lot of kite string — the more you have, the higher you can fly the kite. For tools, we need a saw, a pocketknife to whittle the sticks and a pair of scissors. That's all.

Now, about the sticks: Look around the house for some old boards or split firewood with straight grain. Fir is the best, but you could use other straight-grained wood. The wood you choose should be sawed to about thirty inches in length before you split off the sticks. Now split off three sticks. Make them about half an inch in diameter and whittle them nice and smooth. Two of the sticks will be about thirty inches long. The third stick will be about twenty-four inches. (They can be a little shorter or longer. Just keep the length of the sticks in proportion to each other, as shown in Tom's drawing.)

About a quarter of an inch from both ends of each stick, make a very tiny notch all the way around — but not deep enough to weaken the stick. These notches will hold the framing string in place. Now cross the longer sticks to make an X as shown, with the top of the X smaller than the bottom. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to do this. Just place the sticks to look as much like the drawing as possible. Next, take some kite string and bind these sticks together. Then place the shortest of the three sticks across the X as shown in the drawing, and bind that stick to the other two. This creates two more places to tie, which will make the kite frame strong.

You now have the frame together — it's that easy. With string that is somewhat stronger than kite string (we used cotton grocery-store string), and starting at the right upper limb of the frame, tie the string to the notch and then stretch the string from one limb to the next, looping the string around the limb's notch two or more times. Then go to the next limb, loop the string around the notch there, and so on until you have gone completely around the kite ending where you started. You can glue the string at the notches if you like. Now your kite frame is ready to paper.

Place the wrapping paper on the floor and lay the kite frame over it. Cut the paper about an inch wider than the out line of the kite. Then simply fold the paper back over the string, trim the paper where needed, and glue as shown in the drawing. Now you have it! The kite! The flying machine made by you. All we have to do is make the harnesses and pray for wind.

Let's make the harness for the kite string. The easiest way to make this harness is to punch a small hole through the paper at the exact center of the crosspiece. Then, from the face of the kite, thread the string back through the hole and tie the string to the exact center of the crosspiece. Or you can make a string harness as shown in Tom's drawing. What we are trying to do is create an angle of flight so that when the tail of the kite is attached (which holds the bottom of the kite down) the top of the kite is tipped forward against the pull of the kite string. When the wind hits the kite at this angle, the kite climbs as it tries to get away from the string to fly free with the wind — and in the trying, it continues to climb to the end of the string.

While we are dealing with the kite string, let's unwind the kite string from the ball onto a stick about a foot long, winding the string diagonally back and forth on the stick. We can let out string faster from the stick than from the ball. Besides, we need several balls of string because we want to fly the kite high — oh, as high as we can until it's hard to see it way up there.

Now let's make the tail. Take a cotton rag (cut off all the hems first for easy tearing) and tear the cotton into strips two to three feet in length and a couple of inches wide. Tie the ends of the strips together until you have a tail five or six feet long. Now secure a loop of strong string between the two bottom limbs, as shown. Tie the tail in the center of this loop. Experiment with the tail length. The proper length depends upon how heavy the tail is compared to the strength of the wind and the weight of the kite. Assuming a fair wind, the kite will fly straighter and climb faster with a longer tail than a shorter one. If it fights too hard to get off the ground, shorten the tail. If, after the kite is in the air, it goes around and around in a crazy fashion, you don't have enough tail to properly weight the kite so that it assumes the correct angle against the wind.

Let's go fly this baby! Find a place without trees, power lines, or telephone poles or other obstructions — a large open park or a field. It is dangerous to fly a kite around power lines because the string could be damp and conduct a killer current down the string into your body. Besides, we don't want our kite caught in the wires, because that would be the end of it. Goodbye kite. And good-bye a lot of good string. Never climb a pole to free your kite. Give it up and make another one.

Unwind about twenty or thirty feet of string. Have Dad hold the kite up, the face of the kite into the wind. The two of you may have to run together to get it up in the air if the wind is light. This is the time for you to judge the length of the tail. Nothing very hard about all of this. It will come naturally once you go out and do it and experiment a little. Benjamin Franklin used a kite with a key attached to the string and flew it in a lightning storm to demonstrate that the nature of lightning is electrical. Don't do this! He could have been electrocuted if his string had been wet. What you and your dad want to do is just have fun. See the kite fly — no motor, no propellant except the wondrous spring wind. Only the lovely wind, a boy, his dad and a kite. What could be better? And remember, when someone in a sassy voice tells you, "Go fly a kite," you can say, with great happiness, "OK." Then run for your room where your kite is hanging on the wall.



Walking on Stilts

THE DIFFERENCE between you and this magical tall guy named Michael Jordan who plays basketball and gets a lot of money for selling things on TV (that cost a lot more because he's selling them) is that he has a built-in pair of stilts that he walks around on all of the time.

If you want to be as tall as he is, it's very easy to arrange. All we have to do is make a pair of stilts, and there's nothing much to that. You can see how to do it from Tom's picture (see page 9).

For the foot-blocks, take a two-by-four-inch block and saw it diagonally. This will give you the two foot-blocks you need. Better to screw them into the stilts than nail them. Stronger. The straps over the feet can be of any strong strapping material you can find. Nail the straps to the stilt. The straps shouldn't be too tight, so you can pull your feet out if you fall, which you probably will the first few times. Be sure that the two-by-twos that you use for the stilts have been smoothed with sandpaper, because you want to save your hands from splinters.

The question is, how do you learn to walk on these things?

When I started to learn my father put the foot-blocks right down next to the ground. I thought that was a sissy thing to do and I hollered and pouted about it, but I learned to walk on them at that level very easily. Not only do you have to learn to get up on the stilts, but you have to get off of them as well — without falling. You can learn to mount the stilts by putting in one foot first, and as you step up, put your other foot in the other stilt. If you learn to do this with the foot-blocks low to the ground and get good at mounting and dismounting, and if you also get good at walking on them, then you and Dad can raise the blocks a little higher, and when you get good at the next height you can raise them still higher. I finally had the foot-blocks at the same height as the front steps on the porch, which was a couple of feet high. Then I climbed up the steps, moved the stilts over to the side of the steps and mounted the stilts.

This is another activity in which you need to use some care. Pay attention to what you're doing and where you step. You can fall off the stilts and break a bone. If you are walking on a very wet lawn, the bottom of the stilts will dig into the grass, and this might not only damage the lawn but also cause you to fall. It's a good idea to practice on a lawn that has dried, so that when you fall you have a little cushion under you.

When you're first learning to walk with the foot-blocks down low, practice falling. Practice pushing down on your stilts with your hands as you begin to fall and kick free. Find the safest way to get free of the stilts as the fall begins. You will learn from experience the best way to take care of yourself. Don't go too high until you are good and safe at what you do. Always do your experimenting while you are close to the ground.

Now, walking on stilts teaches us something. We are the same person whether we are up high on stilts or not. Long legs that make a person tall do not make the person smarter or better or more brave or more beautiful. A tall person, someone bigger than you, is just another person walking on his built-in stilts. Except he can't get out of his, and you can.



Making a Whistle

WHETHER YOU are an Indian in the woods or a boy on the street, you need a whistle. That's because whistles and boys go together like pancakes and syrup. What kind of a boy would you be if you didn't know how to make a whistle? You would be "plum ignorant," as Tom Sawyer would say. Yet ask any boy if he knows how to make a whistle and he'll probably tell you no.

If you are in the woods and things are very still, very quiet, and you are all alone, it's nice to have a whistle to make sure that you are there. You have heard the old conundrum.* If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, if a boy is in the forest alone without a whistle, and he hollers, and no one is there to hear him, did he holler? Yet if the boy has a whistle, everybody knows that a whistle makes a noise whenever you blow on it. Does this make any sense? And if it does or doesn't, why?

When you are in the woods with Dad and you are separated and can't see each other, it's nice to have a whistle to let him know where you are. And he can have one too and whistle back, and that way you can walk through the woods whistling back and forth like a couple of happy birds, and what is more fun than that? There is something very holy about woods that are so large and so silent. Woods are to be respected, as we are respectful in church or in a library. You don't holler or talk loud in a church or a library because there's something that makes us feel reverent about such places. You whisper when you're there.

Boys and dads ought not to yell at each other in the woods or talk loud. It disturbs the woods. The woods like softer sounds, the sounds of the chipping squirrel or the occasional chatter of a jay, the warble of a song bird or the sweet call of the forest thrush or even the distant howl of the coyote or the quick yapping of the fox. Deer rarely make a sound. The elk lives in the forest, and except during the mating season, is mostly silent as a statue. Forest creatures are very respectful of the great cathedral in which they live, so that often you can walk through the woods and hear only the powerful shouting of silence. But when we have a willow whistle we can blow on it as we go and its sound will blend with the other forest sounds so as not to disturb the woods.

How do we make a whistle? We wander along the stream in the springtime with Dad looking for a willow or a chokecherry bush. In the springtime the sap has come up to prepare the bush to burst into the bloom of flower and leaf, and it's the sap right under the bark that will permit us to remove the bark in one piece, which is the secret to making a whistle.

First, find a length of branch about five inches long. It ought to be free of any little limbs or sprouts, and should be about the size of your father's third finger. The reason we don't want any limbs or sprouts coming out of the bark is that when we wrest the bark from the section of limb we have cut, little holes will be left where the limb or sprout used to be, and we don't want any holes in the bark except the ones we cut.

Now, cut one end of the limb to form the whistle end — the mouthpiece (see Tom's drawing, left). Note, we not only cut the end at a diagonal for the mouthpiece, but we also trim the end of the diagonal so that instead of it coming to a point we cut a small flat section off the end, leaving a blunt point that we will later trim out. Again, see Tom's drawing. Next, about an inch and a half back from the mouthpiece, cut a V-shaped notch through the bark and into the wood beneath. This notch should be fairly deep, maybe a quarter of an inch deep and a quarter of an inch wide.

Then, about an inch from the blunt end of the whistle, make a circular score through the bark. Cut all the way around the limb through the bark. With the handle end of your pocket knife, tap sharply all around the section between the cut and the end of the mouthpiece, tapping the bark hard enough to loosen it from the wood, but not hard enough to break the surface of the bark. The tapping and tapping around and around this section is the key to loosening the bark from the wood. Then just twist the bark loose from the limb and slide it off — just like that. See the green, wet wood underneath?

From the tip of the mouthpiece to the notch, cut in the air space. Tom's drawing shows it. Trim out the air space and the resonating chamber, a little at a time. Experiment by slipping the bark back on and blowing. If no whistling sound comes, slip the bark back off and trim some more. Usually the resonating chamber needs adjustment. Whittle at it until you get it right. Don't make the air passage too large, but just large enough to allow an ample amount of air through. You will probably have to deepen the V cut a little as well. Work at the V and the air space until the whistle finally sounds. You might have to make a second whistle in the process of learning. It's all a matter of trial and error, but once you have the hang of it, you can make a whistle in a matter of a few minutes. Then off you go through the woods, respecting the silence, but whistling once in a while like a bird to that other bird over there who is your dad.



How to Make an Argument — for a Pup (or Something Else?)

LEARNING HOW to make a successful argument is a very important skill, because an argument is just a way of convincing someone about something that interests us. Arguing is communicating in a more powerful way. And we will be making arguments all of our lives. The more successful we become at making arguments, the more successful we will become as persons. So, to illustrate how we can make a winning argument, let's make an argument for one of the most important things a boy can ever own — a dog. If you already have a dog, you can help a friend who doesn't by helping him make an argument for his dog.

Every boy should have a dog — that is the premise, or what we are arguing for — and in making our argument, whether we already own a dog or not, we can learn how important having one really is to us and to our families.


Excerpted from A Boy's Summer by Gerry Spence, Tom Spence. Copyright © 2000 Gerry Spence. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


An Introduction for Fathers,
An Introduction for Sons,
How to Use This Book,
1. Into the Wind-Making a Kite,
2. Walking on Stilts,
3. Making a Whistle,
4. How to Make an Argument-for a Pup (or Something Else?),
5. Keeping a Summer Journal,
6. Finding a Hidden Treasure,
7. How to Make a Beanie,
8. David's Slingshot,
9. Hiding a Time Capsule,
10. Flying Without Even Trying,
11. Making a Summer Garden,
12. Our Friends the Grasshoppers,
13. Catching Butterflies and How to Keep Them by Setting Them Free,
14. Finding the North Star,
15. Making a Bow and Arrow,
16. Damming the Creek,
17. Kids on a Raft,
18. The Unexpected Trip,
19. The Cave Dwellers,
20. A Dandelion Necklace,
21. Searching for Tinder,
22. Making Fire the Indian Way,
23. Fire by Friction, the Caveman Way,
24. Weaving a Basket,
25. Building a Box Trap,
26. A Mouse in the House,
27. Fishing Side by Side with Dad,
28. Fishing with a Homemade Fly,
29. Rigging a Wild Fishing Pole,
30. Finding the Fish-Making a Bobber,
31. The Water-Drop Microscope,
32. Building a Tree House,
33. Becoming a Poet,
About the Authors,

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