Let me tell you a little story. It was January 1978, my sister was 8 and
I was 11, and we were standing in front of the window in my parent’s
front room. Outside the world was being covered in ice, or at least the slice
we could see from there. The trees, the streetlight, the cars, even the recent
snow had a pretty sheen that we thought was beautiful. Mom and Dad didn’t
seem to share our enthusiasm, but heck, we knew that the old fogies didn’t
know what cool was. Then of course, the lights went out.
No biggie, the lights had gone out before and our parents had already brought out the transistor radio and the oil lamps. Then my father went into the pantry for a flashlight and our family trip veered out of Coolville and into the land of bad vibes. You see, it being a month since Christmas, and electronic toys being on every kids list, all the batteries had died a natural death, including the ones that your’s truly had hijacked from the old man's torch.
As usual, we were all treated to several minutes of one of my father’s famous bi-lingual cursing sessions. I won’t repeat it here, but he was most vocal about his views on children who stole batteries out of flashlights and failed to tell anybody. I, being the fine upstanding lad immediately confessed my crime and threw myself on the mercy of the court . . . not! No way, I kept my mouth shut and let that storm pass as I hoped it would.
Once he calmed down (or possibly ran out of curse words, though I wouldn’t have bet money on that), Dad was quiet for a few minutes. Then he walked into the kitchen and called for me. I arrived quickly, hoping he hadn’t figured out who the battery thief was, and found him rummaging through the trash. He told me to go get a couple wire hangers from the closet and two candles from my mom.
After obtaining these items I returned to the kitchen where my Dad had two vegetable cans which he was washing carefully after removing the labels. I wondered what the heck he was doing as he washed and thoroughly dried the cans inside and out, but as it didn’t seem to involve hitting the boy for swiping batteries I figured I’d roll with it. Once the cans were clean and dry he put everything in a bag and handed it to me, and we were off to the basement.
I’ve always thought of my father’s basement as being like Santa’s workshop. Or the workshop Santa would have if Mrs. Claus booted him out and the elves took a hike when he cussed them out in Spanish. It was tight and dark (even when the lights were on) and cluttered with tools and scrap and goodness knows what, but it was cool. Anyway, down we went, my father gathering odds and ends and tools as we descended.
Once he had everything and the lamp was set where we could see and not burn the joint to the ground, Dad started in. First he selected a piece of scrap 2X4 which had one end cut down to about 2X2 and put it in the vice with about 5 or 6 inches sticking out. The he had me hold the can in place while he used an old ice pick and a hammer to punch a small hole about 1⁄4 inch behind the band that remained from the cut off lid. He repeated this on the other end and put another hole in the bottom of the can just below the one in the side (cans had two lids in those bygone days, not the seamless one-piece types we see today, oh how primitive). Then he rotated the can 180 degrees and used a 1” chisel to cut an “X” in the can.
Needless to say I was somewhat confused by all this and wracked my little brain as Dad repeated this operation on the second can, but still no hitting of the kid was going on so I figured I’d play along. Then he asked for a hanger, and clipped off the hook with a pair of wire cutters. Taking one of the cans he examined the two holes at the closed end and bent the freshly cut hanger wire with a pair of pliers so that it was almost a half loop. He then inserted the wire into the hole in the side and carefully poked around until it came out of the hole in the bottom. Once this was accomplished he worked some of the wire through the hole until he could twist the short end around the long one. Straightening the rest of the hanger out he went up about 4 inches from the can and bent the wire 90%, he bent it 90% again at the open end of the can and cut it off less than an inch below the side of the can. Putting the wire through the front hole he bent it up and twisted it around the now newly formed handle! He flipped the can over and began using the rubberized handle of his pliers to push on the 4 V-shaped pieces of can that made up the “X”. He only pushed them in a little, because once he had them started, he took a candle and jammed it into the hole until around an inch was sticking up inside the can.
Dad looked at me and smiled, then he dug out his good old Zippo and lit the candle. He held it by the handle and panned it around “One each, Hillbilly flashlight”. It worked as well as just about any flashlight we owned back then (we were too cheap to buy the really good ones). Minutes later we had two functional flashlights that didn’t need batteries and that would allow me and my sister to move around the house without carrying a large glass oil lamp or being escorted by a parent.
What is the point of this story? Well, I’ll tell you. This simple little episode is what I believe survivalism is really all about. Too many of us get wrapped up in arguments about weapons, equipment, and all the other stuff that we read about, but the real essence of survivalism is making due with what we have. It’s about using our brains to overcome our material deficiencies, not trying to buy our way out of trouble. I’ve seen too many people who think that if they just buy the right stuff they can overcome anything.
The truth is that the one thing every survivalist needs is the one thing no amount of money can buy, a proper mindset. History is filled with stories of people who faced apparently insurmountable odds with nothing but their wits and survived, and each one of us must be ready to do the same. If our world truly does go down the tubes as we fear it might, it will not be our STUFF that allows us to survive, it will be having the strength of will to keep going no matter what, and the willingness to use our heads to find solutions where our material preparations are lacking.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of having everything I can get to make my life easier. I’ve been in situations where I had to deal with problems without having the right tools and materials and it was a serious drag. Our caveman ancestors managed to get by with almost nothing, and while I respect them for it I have no desire to try it myself. The idea is not to become dependant on our store-bought tools or our prefab supplies. Think! Ask yourself, “What would I do if. . .?”, “What can I use instead?” All our lives, most of us have been taught to rely on others and it is a hard habit to break, but we must, if we are to survive. - Warhawke