Lincoln Log Afternoons
Old toys, worn carpets, and unhurried creativity
Nostalgic moments seem frequent in my life as of late. From discovering the original Tamagotchi is still available at stores like WalMart to seeing Fun Dip at a camping store in the Catskills, little glimmers of days gone by emerge from the past in the midst of the present.
It seems fitting, then, to dust off this piece that I finished a while back and share it with you all. Curious to know if you had a similar hobby? (LEGOS and Tinker Toys were also a favorite, but I remember the Lincoln Logs most vividly.)
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We kept the Lincoln Logs under the couch in their original box: a beat-up white cardboard rectangle, corners held together with discolored masking tape. The little logs smelled of wood and varnish and felt smooth in my small hands as I sorted through them on the worn living room carpet with Dad.
Afternoons were our Lincoln Log time. Those wooden bits could, with a little imagination, become just about anything—provided you were in a rustic, old-fashioned sort of mood. Long logs were just right for cabins, and some had flat bottoms to keep our creations stable on the carpet. Shorter pieces made perfect square side rooms or outbuildings. The smallest bits didn't even look like logs, just notches with rounded ends that spaced other logs apart to make fences.
When the cabin walls were tall enough, we perched a pair of orange plastic triangles on top to support the roof slats. I liked to bundle the slats in my hands and feel their grainy texture before we put them on the cabin. One set long and green, the other shorter and orange, they provided a pop of color that probably didn't resemble a real log cabin roof at all, but I didn't care. I was a kid, and I liked how it looked.
Those afternoons held no sense of hurry, no pressure to finish and rush off to the next task. My elementary school concerns were few, my weekend responsibilities minimal: No technology vying for my attention, no pressure to do something "more productive" in service of a meticulously planned goal.
No concept, yet, of such experiences.
My main focus in those moments was to build for the sheer enjoyment of it as I basked in the childhood pleasure of family time spent in a context both familiar and comfortable.
A record spun on the turntable at the far end of the room, Michael Martin Murphy's Blue Sky, Night Thunder. Its opening track, "Wildfire," provided the backdrop as Dad and I stacked logs and laid roof slats. A scratch on the vinyl made a rhythmic tick-tick-tick during the introductory piano solo, as much a part of the atmosphere as the music itself.
Sometimes sunlight streamed through the windows that framed the beat-up old chair in the corner, where I would curl up with books or Dad would spend hours reading with his feet propped on the shiny black ottoman that we always called a hassock. Cloudy days or dusky afternoons called for light from old-fashioned ceramic lamps with bulbous bellies that glowed like candlelight at the first turn of the knob and went dark again as the lightbulb flared to life.
I remember a fire crackling in the fireplace more often than not, a cozy fieldstone fixture that dominated the wall opposite the couch and was always warm and inviting during winter months. Dad fed it with logs he split himself on the noisy yellow log splitter in the backyard. The perpetual blazing flames beat back the chill and tamed the drafts that swirled through our old mountain home.
Maybe an hour passed to the tune of the crackling logs, or maybe two. It didn't matter how long we spent building or if the cabin was perfect or if the fence fell down when the dog rushed through an hour later. The log creation was just one part of an ecosystem that encompassed the Lincoln Logs and the song and the sun and the fireplace, and me and Dad and the worn carpet and the afternoon unfolding in the background.
And I wonder how I lost the ability to have moments like those, when time moves with the slow and quiet rhythm of unhindered creativity, when there is no striving, no perceived need to accomplish something or reach a self-imposed finish line as an indicator of success. When the activity itself is enough—the feeling of doing and making for as long as I like, until the fire dwindles or the afternoon sun goes down or Mom says it's time for dinner, and Dad slides the battered cardboard Lincoln Log box back under the couch to wait for what we'll create next.
Much thanks to Foster members , , and Christine Cauthen for their help bringing this piece to life.