Friday 28 Oct 2016

Playing at Whaling
AJ Robinson

We live in a little too politically correct era. How many times have we heard a politician or comedian say that? Yet, there are certain things that do cross the line.

Check out some cartoons and movies of the past and they’ll make you cringe. For example, the crows in “Dumbo”; major parts of “Gone with the Wind”; the entire story in “Birth of a Nation” and numerous Bugs Bunny shorts. Back when I was a kid, many games that were not at all Politically Correct (PC). My friends and I were never into “Cowboys and Indians” or even “Cops and Robbers,” but there were plenty of others that wouldn’t pass muster today. We played war, murder and one particular game that was most inappropriate.

My friends and I used to play at whaling.

Yeah, not something remotely appropriate. Back then, we didn’t see anything wrong with it. We were little boys spending our summers on Martha’s Vineyard and, while not as widely known as Nantucket or New Bedford, when it came to the history of whaling, it did have quite the connection to that enterprise.

In Edgartown, on the Vineyard, the rich town of the island, there were many homes that had belonged to whaling captains. Huge places, as those men were the titans of their industry. Most had classic architecture, columns along the porch, and each featured a widow’s walk.

A widow’s walk is a deck area on the roof, of a house, which the captain’s wife, his “widow,” would climb and pace as she watched for his return. Edgartown is where the whaling museum is located. I loved when my dad would take me there to teach me the history of the activity. There were the toggle irons, going on a “Nantucket Sleigh Ride,” slicing up the blubber, reducing it to oil.

Well, to a bunch of little boys that was an awesome thing to do. As it happened, one of my friends had a small boat on his porch. His dad kept it on the side porch and we could sit and play in it. That was all we needed.

The porch became the deck of the main ship. We would work the rigging, raise the sails and look for whales. Once we spotted a pod of them, it was off to the boat. We’d row after them, throw a harpoon and go on one of those sleigh rides. Once the whale got tired, we’d finish it off, and then haul it back to the ship to get the oil from its blubber.

We had such fun.

Now, looking back, I realize just how inappropriate that game was. I would never encourage a child, today, to play it. Yet, also looking back, as I said, I do remember it as being a lot of fun.

Standing on that porch, I could almost feel the salty breeze of the open sea on my face. As our little boat dragged through the water, my muscles strained to hold the rope and the salt water stung my eyes. I gasped in awe at the sight of the massive body of the whale breaking the water’s surface as it raced along.

It was terrifying, exhilarating. It was one of the brightest memories of my childhood. Yet, it was oh-so politically incorrect.

We go overboard on the PC.

Sometimes I think we go overboard on the PC thing, especially as it concerns the carefree games of youth. Sometimes kids are just being kids. As Freud said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

Sometimes kids are just playing a game and don’t realize the social, political or even environmental impact of their actions. After all, they’re just kids. So, the next time you see children playing at something you might find a bit offensive, stop and ask yourself if they truly understand the negativity of their game.


Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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