Category Archives: memory lane

Memory Lane: The Colonel’s Den

Image result for images of japanese military relics collection

Imagine that you’re twelve years old, visiting, with some of your friends, their cousin’s house. And you all go downstairs to what in most homes would be a cellar: but in this house, it’s a military treasure trove.

It all belongs to the cousin’s grandfather, The Colonel, relics of a long military career in the Far East. Suddenly you’re in a very different world, a world that might have been  created by Rudyard Kipling or Joseph Conrad. The lighting is subdued, and the walls hung with swords, spears, samurai gear, Japanese battle flags, and exotic weapons whose use you can’t even imagine. There are cigarette lighters made of hand grenades, artillery shells standing on the floor, and a brightly-lit aquarium, built into the wall, inhabited by fish you’ve never seen before. All very shadowy and quiet.

The Colonel himself is a tall, straight figure of a man with an iron-grey crewcut; and although I visited his house many times, I’m sure I never heard him speak. I doubt he ever knew my name.

The collection dazzles me. It would take all day to see it all. One of the Japanese battle flags has a tear in it, and a dark stain that must be old, dried blood. One is not inclined to be frivolous, down here, and loud talk is garishly out of place. I feel as if I will never be able to describe it adequately, however hard I try. But it’s also unforgettable. Almost sixty years later, I can close my eyes and see it.

What it tells me is that the world is very wide, full of peoples and places that I couldn’t hope to list, who fought battles and waged wars that I won’t be able to track down in a hundred books of history. So much vastness, in such a small space!

But The Colonel saw it all. He was there. He doesn’t need to speak: his collection says more than he can ever say.

Memory Lane: Dr. Seuss Zoo

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When I was 11 years old, I was crazy about these toys–the Dr. Seuss Zoo from the model company, Revell. This ad is from Life Magazine in 1959.

The great thing about these was, once you owned several different models, you could mix up the parts any way you pleased and create all sorts of new critters. The parts were interchangeable from kit to kit–a great way to sell lots of kits. The downside was that the little knobs that snapped into holes had a regrettable tendency to snap off.

These toys exercised your imagination–and your hands. Nowadays they’d probably be too advanced even for college students, but kids in 1959 had a lot of fun with them. Oh–you did need the ability to sit quietly in one place for a few minutes while you made what you imagined take shape.

Much better for kids than zombie video games.

My Other Four Aunts: a Memorial

Image result for images of aunts cuddling babies

I’d like you to meet my mother’s sisters, my aunts, of whom Aunt Joan was the last one left. Having no children of their own, they showered us with love, their nieces and nephews, all five of us.

My three maiden aunts, Gertie, Millie, and Joan, lived in their father’s and mother’s house all their lives. Gertie, the eldest, died in the same room in which she was born. All three kept the same jobs all their lives.

Gertie worked in New York City and was an ace bowler: I wonder what happened to her trophy. She was fond of cross-country bus and train trips and a little skittish around animals. When she went to Australia, she declined an offer to cuddle a koala. Human children were more her speed. She often took us to New York–museums, the circus, the big department stores. But I had to be taken home early from the rodeo because one of the cow’s horns broke off and I couldn’t stop crying over it. The clowns in the circus kind of spooked me, too. I was much better off with dinosaurs.

As the firstborn, I was kind of a favorite of Aunt Millie’s. She was the secretary at our town’s high school, the voice you heard on the PA system every morning. The pastor at her Lutheran Church called her “our little ewe lamb.” It was a fitting nickname.

Ordinarily a very plucky traveler, she ruined her record by having a serious bout of claustrophobia inside the Great Pyramid.

The second eldest, Aunt Betty, was a nun and a scholar. What a mind she had! I wish she were still here, so I could learn from her. She could quote Horace, in Latin, as easily as I quote Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Aunt Florence, Joan’s twin, started out as a nurse and became a hospital administrator. She and my mother were the only married sisters. What a lot of good, long natters Patty and I used to have with her, on the telephone!

These four women went almost everywhere in the world, always bringing back a plethora of slides and souvenirs. Occasionally they traveled on ships that didn’t customarily take passengers. But I remember them best for the love they poured out on us.

One more anecdote:

My parents went out one night, when I was still a baby, and left me with my aunts at Grandma’s house. Grandma and Grandpa had just returned from their annual trip to Florida.

When my mother returned to pick up her baby, my aunts told her they’d put me to bed in the next room. But I wasn’t in that room. They’d put a doll in the bed, in my place–and something else. One of those grotesque carved coconuts from Florida. And when my mother turned on the light, expecting to see me, and saw this thing instead, she let out a scream you could’ve heard in Egypt.

Meek and mild, modest maidens–with a spot of mischief!

‘Memory Lane: Hangman’s Tree’ (2015)

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Yeah, this is another little piece of life around here that got erased by the orcs. Gone as if it had never been. As if I’d only dreamed it.

Let it be so. At least in my dreams it’s safe from the Developers.

Memory Lane: Adults at Play

Image result for images of original monopoly board

As a little boy, I watched in fascination, and not a little envy, when my aunts sat down to play Monopoly. Joan, Millie, and Gertie, usually with my mother and father joining them–and all that cool stuff going on: I used to poke around Grandpa’s house trying to find the Monopoly board, but could never guess where they’d put it.

I was used to kiddy games like Chutes and Ladders. But this game sounded all grown-up. Railroads! Houses and Hotels! And what exactly was that thing called “Community Chest”? And could that possibly be real money they were tossing around?

Eventually they bought a new Monopoly game and handed down the old game to my cousins, my brother and sister, and me. How intriguing it was, to study all those Rules and figure out how to play the game properly. Our reading comprehension still had some growing up to do, but I’m convinced it grew faster because we were so hot to play Monopoly and we just kept reading and re-reading those rules until we got them right. Or almost right.

Any of those adults could have taken over and taught us how to play, but some rare wisdom told them that it’d be a lot more fun for us if we doped it out for ourselves. It took us longer to learn the game that way, but so what? Working at it until we got it right was great!

I’m afraid that kind of wisdom’s even rarer, nowadays.

But I still love Monopoly, and I still have the game that Grandma gave me for Christmas, long ago. Complete with bills, rules, and cards scotch-taped together where necessary.

Memory Lane: Model Cars

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When I had to buy and install a new computer monitor yesterday, I was afraid it would turn into a fiasco. But once I opened the box and saw the parts, I discovered the assembly was so simple, even I could do it. In fact, it was just like assembling a plastic model car–a pastime which my brother and I enjoyed many times.

You got a box with a picture on it, which contained a bunch of parts and instructions that we really didn’t need. After all, we knew what cars are supposed to look like. So we put them together, and used our imaginations to customize them with the extra parts provided for that purpose. My father built us a display shelf for the models. One great big hot rod model that we got for Christmas had so many extra parts, we were able to make completely imaginary extra cars out of them. I was even able to create a Martian invasion thingy on long legs made from extra exhaust pipes.

I wonder if kids are still making model cars. It requires an attention span, which is hard to come by nowadays.

In addition to being fun, the skills you pick up in passing just might come in handy, years and years later.


Memory Lane: Out of School for ‘Religious Instruction’

Image result for images of hebrew school textbook

Before “Diversity” became a shibboleth, and a not-so-subtle way of sneaking around the Constitution’s prohibition of religious tests, we actually had something like real diversity in our sixth-grade classroom.

Back then, you could be excused from school to attend “religious instruction.” The Catholic kids got out early on Friday afternoons. I don’t remember when the Jewish kids got out. As a Protestant kid, I didn’t get out at all. We had nothing called “religious instruction”–we just had Sunday school. On Sunday.

I was jealous of the Catholic kids, because as far as I could tell, there was nothing that made them any different from us Protestants, except that they had to have fish on Fridays. Why should they get a break from that stalag known as Franklin School?

But the Jewish kids went to Hebrew School, and that was a lot more interesting! Neil Katz, who sat in the desk behind mine, used to let me leaf through his Hebrew book–which of course I could not read, because it was in Hebrew. I did know it had something to do with the Bible. There was something very cool about this.

And if there were any more exotic religious traditions represented by anyone in our class, the subject just never came up. I wouldn’t have known about it, if there were.

It’s only when “Diversity” is insisted upon from above that it begins to shrivel down below.

Memory Lane, ‘Sky King’

Remember this? Sky King–the only TV Western hero who flew his own airplane, which he called, affectionately, Songbird.

Sky King started as a radio show in 1946 and ran on television from 1951 through 1962–quite long-lived for a TV series. It starred Kirby Grant as Sky King, who always caught the bad guys but never killed them, and Gloria Winters as his niece and co-pilot, Penny. I had kind of a crush on her when I was 11. I wonder if my other girlfriends at the time, Jean Simmons and Lee Remick, ever got jealous.

Anyway, this little clip ought to bring back pleasant memories. It was such a can’t-miss idea–a Western with an airplane–you wonder why it took so long to think of it.

When We Were Young and Very Foolish

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Back in high school, in the 1960s, my Catholic friends used to have CCD classes some nights; and the next day, as we walked home from school, they’d tell me what they’d learned.

We had a lot of laughs at their teacher’s expense, a priest named Father H___. Oh, boy, what a huckleberry! He just wasn’t with it, man!

“You won’t believe what that old boob Father H___ said to me last night,” said one of these kids, one day. “He said, ‘Y’know what your trouble is? You’re a humanist!'” We all exploded into laughter. Like there could possibly be anything even a little tiny bit wrong with humanism! That was rich, even for Father H___. He’s not just out of it. He’s crazy! Haw-haw-haw! If he only knew, or even just suspected, how much smarter we were than him–!

It’s a memory that causes me no little embarrassment.

Father H___, you were right, you couldn’t have been more right, and we were stuck-up young fools. And then along came college and made us even worse! I wasn’t in your class, but I heard all about it and was just as foolish as my friends: I, too, should have listened to you!

But no–we all succumbed to that old school-and-college trick of being led to believe we were tons smarter than our parents, than anybody over 30, except for our teachers and professors who told us how smart we were: and that was how they so easily manipulated us. Young minds, wired for trust, can be so defenseless.

*Sigh* Live and learn.

Memory Lane: Road Construction ‘Cannonballs’

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Hey, remember these things? Actually, you’ve got to be a bit on the old side, to have seen them. They were declared a no-no around 1960, although some municipalities and private contractors kept on using them for some years afterward. But you won’t see them anymore–except as curious artifacts for sale here and there.

Not until yesterday did I learn they were called “road construction smudge pots.” As a boy, seeing them along Route 1 as we rode to Grammie’s house, I thought they must be cannonballs. Because, well, they looked like cannonballs. But that flame at the top–maybe they were bombs. There were bombs that looked like that in Farmer Grey cartoons. (Remember those?) They never went off, though, so I was pretty sure they must be cannonballs.

We are told by certain persons who collect these, nowadays, that you have to wear gloves to handle them because they’re just so terribly filthy. Probably leave a carbon footprint that even John Kerry would be proud of. Once upon a time they used to be set up along road construction areas as guides to help keep drivers on the road. Now they’re just collectibles.

Not that I miss the old cannonballs. But I do miss those visits to Grammie, and that’s what I think of when I see pictures of those things.

Sorry about the Disabled Comments! I forgot to take the extra step of disabling the disability.

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