At Home With Jeff: “Pockets”

Martinez News-Gazette Columnist

One of my favorite games to play when our kids were little was “What is in your pockets?” We played this while waiting somewhere or killing time. We would sit on a curb and everyone would empty his or her pockets. Next, we would see what we could make out of what we had. The game sparked amazing creativity and imagination. A soda straw could become a pea shooter, a stilt, a bracelet, or an animal. A rubber band could be a ring or a hair tie or propulsion for some machine. Gum wrappers and empty candy boxes were equally useful.

One version of this game was to take a item and pass it from person to person. Each person had to pretend it was something new. A twist tie could be a mustache, a monocle, a hearing aid, a shoelace, or the Eiffel Tower, The possibilities are limitless. The game could be stretched to fit any length of time. It is never the same because the items people have in their pockets changed every day.

Pockets are amazing. One time, our son was about five when the whole family was sitting in church on Sunday morning. During a quiet time in the services that Ed started whispering “Varoom, varoom!” I looked down to see that he was having car races up and down the pew with two Hot Wheels. I quickly snagged the Hot Wheels and made them disappear in my own pocket then motioned for Eddie to be quiet.

Ten minutes later Ed started whispering “Ba boom! Pow! Ba boom!” When I looked down, he had six green plastic army men fighting a pitched battle on top of the kneeler. I confiscated these and hid them in my pocket. Five minutes later, Ed was chasing a one inch green superball under the seat.

Before the church service ended, Ed came up with a plastic ring, a snap bracelet, plastic toy food, a slide puzzle, string, vampire teeth, and a slinky. I compare it to a magician who produces items from thin air as if by magic – the magic of pockets. After that day, my job was to frisk Ed every Sunday as he left the car to enter church. Only in that way did we prevent random items from magically appearing during church services.

Ed Roubal holding the troop flag in 1992.
Ed Roubal holding the troop flag in 1992.

There were other times when Ed benefited by having random items in his pockets. This was certainly the case when Ed and I attended a Boy Scout Jamboree in Pena Adobe Park near Vacaville in the late 90’s. The jamboree was arranged with a dozen stations at which the scouts competed to earn points. Each station tested a different skill like knot tying, lashing, building a shelter and identifying animal tracks. The troop with the most points won acclamation at our evening campfire.

At one station, the activity was to start a fire. The scenario was that a scout was alone in the wilderness with only their wits and whatever they might be carrying. The scout could use only what was in his pockets. Matches, lighters, and flint were outlawed for this exercise.

My son read the rules a few days ahead and asked me if lint with something that someone would normally have in their pockets. I replied, “Of course. Everybody has lint in their pockets.” When we came to that station, Ed easily started a large fire with the lint in his pockets. He had collected a wad about the size of a softball from the dryer at home then divided the lint equally between all his pants pockets so as to not make any noticeable bulges. The judges were a little surprised but, in the end, gave him extra points for ingenuity.

Ed went on to become an Eagle Scout. The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared.” That means that a Scout must be ready, willing, and able to do what is necessary in any situation that comes along. One of the things he and I prepared was an “Altoids survival kit” so called because everything fit in an Altoids mints tin in your pocket. Here is a list from Ed’s kit: flashlight, whistle, 8 water purification tablets, button compass, signal mirror, coffee filter, 4 waterproof matches, Bic lighter, 4 strips of duct tape, razor blade, 2 cotton balls, dollar bill, striker for matches, 2 sewing needles, 2 safety pins, dental floss, 2 fishing hooks, 2 split shot sinkers, crazy glue, 2 bandaids, 1 ziploc bag, 2 alcohol prep pads, 1 foot of tin foil, tweezers. If you pack carefully, everything fits in an Altoids tin!

My wife Vivian is a skilled seamstress. Over the years, she has made capes, jackets, shirts, and carrying bags. I always request that she add pockets, whether the pattern calls for them or not. Extra pockets are useful. If the pattern calls for two pockets, I ask her to add a third. She made a bag for our camping tent with pockets on the inside and pockets on the outside. The ones on the inside, we use for tent stakes and the repair kit. The one on the outside is for assembly instructions. She also made a carrying bag for our air mattress. I have not figured out yet what to put in the pocket.

One of the greatest inventions for me has been cargo pants. They come with long legs or short legs, in every color of the rainbow. My cargo pants have pockets to spare. It is a good thing that Ed did not have cargo pants when we were going to church many years ago!

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