Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Putting a ship in a bottle requires problem-solving

My students who were preparing to be recreational leaders studied various techniques for teaching games and directing people of different abilities in facilities such as public school playgrounds, gyms, nursery schools, summer camps, Elderhostels, woodland trails and other places.

Sometimes students came to our farm, rode in the tractor-wagon to the woods to select and cut a native cedar tree for Christmas.

In the fall semester, I often assigned "Make a Snowman" when the snow is right.

Each student could invite one helper - a friend, fellow or girl, Stephens or MU student or other. They made snapshots of the group’s finished snow sculpture.

Sometimes we built a snow sculpture as a class activity; one was a penguin so big we used a step ladder to reach its head.

The joy was in the doing - not necessarily in having a completed snow sculpture because Missouri snow sculptures don’t last long.

One mild winter, I taught the students to "make a snowman without snow." Using baskets, and buckets and discarded clothing. We stuffed two big snowball shapes and a small bag with rags and newspapers.

We mixed plaster and water and splashed it over the entire "no-snow" man - several coatings till it could stand alone. We added buttons, eyes, nose, hat, broom and a big red bow tie completing Frosty - directions and photos are in "My First 84 Years," pages 261-263.

For some classes I assigned a semester project. It was to put a ship in a bottle.

There are at least two ways to get a big ship through the small neck of a bottle: one is to build the ship and its fittings outside the bottle, with cloth hinges on the bottoms of masts and sails. The completed ship’s masts and sails folded, to pass through the bottle neck.

A strong, tiny thread attached to the tops of masts extends out through the bottle’s neck and allows you to raise the masts and sails by carefully pulling that thread. Add a drop of glue on each of your ship’s cloth hinges. A tiny bit of glue on the ship’s bow will hold the long thread tight if you leave it undisturbed overnight.

The final chore is to snip off the end of the long thread. The students knew I would suggest ways they might solve their own problems - see story and photo in "Just Leave The Dishes," pages 204-206.

I’ve never put a ship in a bottle by the second method: the entire contents are whittled, measured, painted and decorated. One by one, The ship’s hull, masts, sails, oars and other fittings are added through the bottle neck and glued in place, one at a time.

What’s so great about putting ships in bottles? Try it!

It requires patience, dexterity, practice in surviving failures - some students cried. It requires improvising tools, perseverance in spite of set-backs.

More important is that final moment - the pure joy of accomplishment! Two decades after graduating, one of those students showed me the ship and bottle she made in that class. Her bottle was one of the nicest I ever saw.

What a thrill to hear, "I learned so much in doing this ... it has affected my life ... and, yes, I was one of those who cried. ..."

Little Walt was politely happy about his gift of a ship in a bottle at birthday number six. A few weeks later he asked, "Mom, could you ever make me a ship - and not put it in a bottle?" I could. And did!

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