Perilous Playthings

This afternoon during my class, we were going over similes. I had a list of common similes that I passed out to my students, and as I did so I noticed that one of the ones on the list was “as quick as silver.” So I asked the kids why they thought silver might be thought of as “quick.” They didn’t know, so I explained to them that the metal mercury used to be known as quicksilver, and the simile refers to that rather than to actual silver.

This caused me to have one of my frequent sudden nostalgia attacks, and I related to my students how I used to play with mercury as a kid. Of course, none of them has ever handled mercury, and that is as it should be, since it’s a deadly poison. However, I did not know this as a kid and as a result I probably shortened my life by several years.

We all handled mercury during our science classes at my boarding school, and found it fascinating, but I had extra exposure because my job for a couple of semesters was to clean the science room after school every day. If one of the classes had involved mercury, there would inevitably be some drops of mercury on the floor, and my instructions were to find every tiny speck and return it to the bottle. This involved crawling around the cement floor on my hands and knees. I’d start on the perimeter of the room and when I encountered a shimmering drop of mercury, I’d nudge it with my finger  or a piece of paper and scoot it toward the center of the room. I’d crawl in ever-decreasing circles until I ended up with one gleaming puddle of mercury. I admit I usually spent several minutes playing with it before scooping it up with a piece of paper and returning it to the bottle. It was fun to play with and if you’ve ever fooled around with it yourself, you know that it is indeed very “quick.” Also lethal, of course, but I’m glad I didn’t know that then.

So here’s my question: did you play with anything dangerous as a kid, and if so, what was it?

Today ended up not being much of a school day, because Jasper had to pack and prepare for his big trip tomorrow and I had a class to prepare for and teach. This week is officially Jasper’s “fall break,” although Mercy plans to do at least some school with him while they are in Colorado.

After my class Jasper and I went out to buy him a couple of things he didn’t have, like long-sleeved shirts and . . . shoes. Shoes are always problematic for this family. On the off chance we find shoes that are long enough, they will almost certainly not be wide enough. We could not find sneakers to fit his size 14 wide feet—well, not without going to the other side of town. To my surprise, we found a pair of hiking boots that actually fit. They were not cheap, but he can use them for work too, so hiking boots will be his only footwear in Colorado. I just hope he doesn’t outgrow them before he gets some decent wear out of them!

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