Brothers and Boondoggle #AtoZChallenge

B is for Brothers and Boondoggle: Second of twenty-six posts in the April 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Endwell: My Elementary Years”— where my genealogy journey germinated. Wish me luck!

Genealogists are always thinking about those ancestors who came before us, but family history is also about those who come after — and for me, the first two additions to my family were my younger brothers Mark and Jeff.


My brothers arrived two years apart, Mark when I was four and Jeff when I was six — during the years when my family lived on a farm with my maternal grandparents.

Then we moved together to Endwell, west of Binghamton, N.Y., and became the three new kids on a block that had 52 children at the height of the Baby Boom.

Me and my brothers right before our move to Endwell. My younger brothers were boon companions during my elementary years — team players for getting around our parents for this and that, and great fun on long car trips to visit family or vacation on Cape Cod. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

Many of our Endwell neighbors had local roots and extended family who lived nearby. But my brothers and I had only one another and our parents — with our nearest extended family living several hours drive away. So we were thrown together at home and at play — and that helped mold my personality in positive ways.

For one thing, I was not a girly girl — partly because I had brothers. I could catch toads and garter snakes or skewer a worm onto a fish hook without flinching — unlike some of my sisters-only playmates who screamed at the mere idea.

Growing up with brothers, I saw their tough and tender sides, which helped me relate to male classmates and colleagues throughout life. Something my sisters-only friends never seemed to grasp.

But most of all, my brothers were fun! They were endlessly amusing and great team players when it came to working around our parents for this and that — or helping me survive long car trips to visit relatives or vacation on Cape Cod.  (Never mind the fights we had over our lone TV set because the Walt Disney and Ed Sullivan shows aired at exactly the same time on Sunday nights!)


One diversion available to my brothers and me was summer day camp at Hooper Elementary School. The school was a 1930s brick structure with a flat, cement playground — which was fun during the school year but broiling hot in the summer.

Woven whistle chains. In my elementary years, I learned to make boondoggle whistle chains, weaving contrasting plastic into intricate patterns that presaged my later interest in knitting and crochet.

Nevertheless, it was walking distance from our house. So to give our moms a summer break, the kids from our street were trundled off to Hooper School to do arts and crafts at long tables set up in what little shade the school building offered.

At Hooper School summer camp I learned to make boondoggle whistle chains, weaving contrasting plastic into intricate patterns that presaged my later interest in knitting and crochet.

Do children still do this, I wonder? It certainly was relaxing — and a great way to pass summer days and evenings when we weren’t busy running around the street, riding our bikes, catching fireflies in mayonnaise jars or wandering down to the creek that trickled past our street’s dead end.

Up next: C is for Christ the King ChurchPlease stop back!

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28 thoughts on “Brothers and Boondoggle #AtoZChallenge”

  1. Molly,
    What wonderful stories of growing up with your brothers! I was # 4 out of 5 kids. I had 2 brothers and 2 sisters. So, our small house was always loud and crowded.

    1. Ours was as well — and such a small house, too. Even now, I can function well in noisy places because I grew up filtering out the mayhem 🙂

    1. Cousins make great sibling substitutes if they live nearby. Lots of my neighbors had local cousins who joined in the pandemonium when visiting our street.

  2. Brothers! The best! My little brother and I were great friends and playmates, since I was what we used to call a “tomboy.” We made forts in the woods and snow forts in the snow and did so many things together…I used to call him my favorite brother, which made him smile, since he was my only brother…thanks for the stories Molly! Just loving them.

  3. I grew up in New York City, as an only child, during the 1950’s and 60’s. A wonderful thing that you were so close to your brothers. I certainly do remember boondoggle – my favorite stitch was the Box Stitch. I attended a day camp in a city housing project a few blocks from the project I lived in. I ended up learning to crochet in my freshman year of college. I’ve lived the last 30 plus years not that far from Endwell, in the Town of Union. My late next door neighbor lived in Endwell right after World War II before he moved to my neighborhood.

    1. I loved box stitch! Usually added at the end where the whistle was attached. Interesting to learn that the skill was taught universally in the city and the suburbs.

  4. I had forgotten about boondoggles and certainly never knew them as that in Australia but we did make something very similar…no memory of what they were called.

    1. So boondoggle was international as well. There must have been a summer school handbook that educators used worldwide!

  5. Great story. I don’t remember those boondoggles. We girls made pins and hopscotch markers out of old buttons and bits. Interesting how much difference family order can make. My brother was younger and often a brat! And I had to keep an eye on him. We were friends later though.

  6. I grew up in East Los Angeles and your childhood sounds just like mine. I had 3 nephews that I grew up with that were very close to my age, just as your brothers. They were my friends, brothers, enemies and playmates all through those late 1950’s to mid 1960’s. We also lived within walking distance of our elementary school and had summer arts and crafts. I remember making those things you call Boondoggles, we made them with rings to use as keychains and we just called them keychains. They were precious years, thanks for reminding me.

    1. I am always amazed when what I consider “unique” experiences of my childhood turn out to be universal for our generation. Thanks for this story about your nephews and summer arts and crafts experience.

  7. Enjoying your childhood memories and stories. We made those braided plastic things too but I did not know they were called boondoggles.

    1. Aha, you’re the first person whose childhood was whistle chain-free! Looks like this summer craft did not make it to Scotland?

  8. I’m an only child…. sounds like you had so much fun. Sure wish I had a sibling now with a mom turning 90! Didn’t realize England had fireflies… loved catching them! Never heard the boondoggle name and yes they still make them. My granddaughters love making them today

    1. So glad to hear that your granddaughters are making the woven lanyards — I was hoping the craft had not died out.

  9. very cool post! i love the pic of you and your brothers. my mum has a similar shot in our scrapbook 🙂 i actually have made similar things to what you call Boondoggles chains but I reckon we used a different name. But i remember those were popular at summer camp in the 90s.

    1. I decided to show the entire photo because I love the scalloped edges. Would be nice if they still offered those on today’s prints.

  10. I am enjoying reading about life in Endwell.
    I too was not a girly-girl, much to my mother’s dismay. With two brothers and all boy neighbours I spent my childhood in jeans making forts in the woods, climbing trees like Tarzan and playing football. Funny my four daughters are all girly!

    1. What a great story! We also did our fair share of roughhousing in the woods at the end of the street — and down by the nearby river. I thinks it’s good for girls to have a rough-and-tumble childhood. Helps prepare for the vagaries of adult life!

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