Category Archives: memory lane

The Doll That Scared a Boy Silly

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It is not the usual thing for boys to be afraid of dolls. Nevertheless, I knew a boy, who grew up to be a star athlete and a model citizen, who had a dreadful experience with a certain doll. I must not reveal his name, lest he be embarrassed by this anecdote. For the sake of convenience, I’ll call him Ariobarzanes.

As he was a new boy in the neighborhood, my friends and I decided to introduce him to our local wilderness, preparing him with lurid tales of Hangman’s Tree, which stood at the very heart of it. To this day, we whispered to him, as we followed the trail beside the creek, some evil force continued to string up people from that tree. But it ought to be safe to go there in the daytime. Probably.

Meanwhile, my friend Ellen, a very good tree climber, went on ahead to set the stage.

We had poor Ario pretty well pumped up by the time we entered the clearing where the tree glowered down on all of Middlesex County. And there Bobby and I stopped short, pointing and crying out, “Oh, no, not again! Oh, no!”

A hapless little doll hung from the lowest branch, swaying dismally in the wind.

With a great cry, Ariobarzanes turned and ran all the way back home without stopping even once, showing great promise of the track star he would one day be. He didn’t even need to use the path: he made one of his own.

I admit that this was a naughty prank, but Ario soon laughed it off and he and I became great friends. Best freakin’ shortstop we ever had, too.

But now you see, I’m sure, that under the right circumstances, a boy can be scared by a doll.

Memory Lane: Football for Kids–Without Adults

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Riding my bike this morning, after a solid week of rain, I saw kids playing football–flag football, organized by adults and under adult supervision.

Ain’t the way we played football.

Yes, we followed the sports seasons; so about now, at this point in the year, the kids in my old neighborhood would be changing over from baseball to football.

Without uniforms, without a scoreboard, without coaches, helmets, parents in the stands, or sponsors. Without having to try to get our names in the sports section of our local paper. Just kids playing football, with only three, four, or five kids to a team. And five was a lot. Three was more likely, and sometimes we played with just two.

We played for as long as we pleased. The best yard for it was Mrs. Thomas’ yard, which had no trees, and she didn’t mind us playing there. The only hazard was her oil tank, up against the back of the house. I remember one time when my friend Ellen caught a pass for a touchdown, but couldn’t stop. Boom! Right into the tank. But kids were tough in those days, and after a few brief moments, she was able to continue.

Sometimes we played tackle, sometimes two-hand touch. We had no goalposts, so field goals were out. We had special rules. “No dumping the hiker,” otherwise hiking the ball to the quarterback would be a thankless job that no one wanted. If we were playing touch, we made a rule that you could lateral to yourself and the touch wouldn’t count if the ball was in the air. We would have loved to try a flying wedge, but there were never enough kids for that. Usually we ruled that the defenders, or defender, would have to count to three or four before charging across the line of scrimmage to grab the quarterback. And we had to be careful of the rose hedge that separated my yard from Mrs. Thomas’.

There was no adult to lay down rules, so we made up our own, kept the ones that worked, and forgot about the ones that didn’t. The games went on for hours and hours, and I don’t remember anyone ever getting hurt, beyond a scrape or a bruise or two.

Playing on our own taught us innovation, cooperation, negotiation and compromise–none of which are to be found in organized sports. I’m afraid it didn’t teach us to be docile citizens awaiting the decisions of authority. My parents only laughed when I mentioned joining the Pop Warner league. “You’d hate it!” said my mother. And I see now she was right.

We played as our parents played when they were kids, and it was golden.

I’ll bet they let you play like that in Heaven.

Memory Lane: My Uncle’s Dog

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Our family was a close one, and on weekends there was always plenty of visiting back and forth.

Often we went to see my Uncle Ferdie, my father’s kid brother, who was approximately twice the size of my father, who was no stripling. Ferdie enlisted in the Marines in World War II, but because he looked like a recruiting poster come to life, they packed him off to Puerto Rico to be an admiral’s chauffeur. Later in life he became an inventor with RCA, with a ton of patents to his name. But I digress.

Uncle Ferdie had a German shepherd named Shep, who always barked like crazy when we visited. I was kind of afraid of dogs and I was very afraid of Shep, who was bigger than me. I should have reasoned that with a house already full of little girls, Ferdie was unlikely to keep a dangerous beast that would eat children. But at seven or eight years old, my reasoning powers were limited.

I don’t know what finally persuaded me to approach Shep: temporary insanity, maybe. Imagine my astonishment when Shep proved that he only barked so much because he loved children and wanted to make friends. This gigantic ferocious dog just loved me! So from then on I joined my cousins in playing with Shep. I guess I knew, instinctively, that my uncle wouldn’t have anything in his house that would hurt me. Well, he did have a .22 rifle, but we never saw it until we were old enough to shoot safely, under his supervision. That was just way cool.

The lesson I learned from Shep was that appearances can be deceiving–in this case, very deceiving.

The Night I Read ‘The Exorcist’

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So here it is in the early 70s, I’m all alone in the house tonight, ’cause I’m gonna stay in and real The Exorcist. It’s supposed to be one of the scariest horror novels ever written, and I want to savor the full effect of it.

I go down to our finished basement to read. Nobody here but me and my iguana, and the latter is asleep in his cage after gobbling up the nice salad that my mother made him for his supper.

I settle down in my favorite chair, right under the floor lamp, with my back just a few inches from the lizard cage. I start reading. I keep reading–because, say hey, this book really is scary! It’s sucking me into it: I couldn’t stop reading if I wanted to.

At that moment the great big iguana wakes from his nap and decides to jump off his perch onto the screen three inches from the back of my neck–yow! Through the ceiling! Out of the chair! Book goes flying! Iguana looks at me quizzically, wondering why I’m acting up. I’ve got to catch my breath. I am afraid a harsh word or two escapes my lips.

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Well, that’s one of those things about pets, isn’t it? Full of surprises!

Memory Lane: Trolls and Wishniks

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Remember these, from the early 1960s? First they were called trolls, then “Wishniks.” Originally invented by a Danish toymaker, they took off like a rocket and soon everybody was selling knockoffs. As I recall it, every girl in  our junior high school had one of these attached to her purse. These toys sold out easily, and some parents had to go to a lot of trouble to provide them for their kids. Sort of like what happened with Cabbage Patch Kids, much later. But we are talking Bronze Age stuff today.

Wishniks never entirely went away. You can still get them, and they come in many different sizes. When I was a liquidator I tried to corral a batch of keychain-sized Wishniks, but a competitor beat me to it.

Before you write them off as just another toy fad, I have heard that Wishniks now constitute a strong majority in the Oregon State Legislature.

Memory Lane: Bob and Ray

Hey! Remember these guys–Bob and Ray? They always cracked me up, and a lot of other people, too. They started their comedy gigs on radio and kept it up for several decades, easily transitioning to TV.

This is their classic bit on “The Slow Talkers of America.” The volume’s a little iffy, so you might want to turn it up. Bob and Ray would have just segued into “The Excessively Soft Talkers of America” and cracked you up with that, too.

‘A Wee Memory Break’ (2015)

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I think just maybe you can  get into Heaven with a note like the one Rudi wrote to get us onto Island Beach (

I close my eyes–heck, I don’t even have to close ’em–and I can hear my father whistling Cindy, O Cindy as he repainted my bedroom. I can hear John playing a harmonica duet with his brother, Jakob, when Jakob came over from Holland on a visit. And I can see the sun glinting off the waves as I tried to learn to surf-fish.

Good, good things to remember! I wouldn’t sell ’em for a million dollars.

And every good thing is the gift of God.

Memory Lane: the Boomerang

It took me most of my life to learn how to throw a boomerang so it’d come back to me; and I had no sooner mastered the art than my boomerang disappeared. But then the local playgrounds in our town have all disappeared, too.

I don’t know if the boomerang ever matched the national impact of other summer fads, like the hula hoop, yo-yos, cracker balls–and we had local fads for pea shooters, pop rocks, and punks. Mr. Bruno across the street had a heavy wooden boomerang. He’d take it out to the schoolyard now and then and play with it, and all of us kids stood in awe of his expertise: the thing always came back to him. When I finally got a chance to try it–Mr. Bruno wasn’t home, his kids found the boomerang and sneaked it out of the house–it never even thought of coming back to me when I threw it. Heavens, no. The blasted thing sought out the nearest school bus window and crashed right through it. So much for that.

What touches off a fad? It can be something as utterly senseless as pet rocks, or something that takes a fair amount of skill and practice, like learning yo-yo tricks. (I still have my yo-yo. The cats like me to use it.) And then the fad disappears as suddenly and as mysteriously as it first rose up.

Hula hoops are back, though; and a few days ago, the kid across the way was banging cracker balls off the sidewalk.

Memory Lane: Old Brownie

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Our family lived on a dead end street, and with the fathers off to work all day, there was hardly any traffic. Mostly it was kids riding bikes, roller-skating, playing kickball.

But sometimes you didn’t feel like playing, because something had made you sad, or thoughtful, and all you wanted to do was sit on the front steps.

And Old Brownie would be sure to find you, and sit down next to you, and by and by, you felt much better.

Brownie belonged to the widow next door, Mrs. Thomas, and she let him wander because he was wise enough not to leave our street, he never made any kind of trouble, and everybody loved him. I was kind of scared of dogs, but never of Brownie, even though he was as big as me. Any kid who was feeling blue could count on Old Brownie for sympathetic company.

I’d trade all the lawn mowers, weed whackers, and leaf-blowers in the world for ten more minutes with Old Brownie.

Baseball Without the Little League

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I am so glad I had my childhood in the 1950s, when you were allowed to play without some adult ordering your every move.

In the summer we liked to play baseball. We did not have 18 kids for two teams, a scoreboard, umpires, adult coaches, uniforms, sponsors, bleachers full of parents, and all the rest. We didn’t have bases. See, in the picture–somebody’s mitt is serving as home plate. And they’re playing on the sidewalk.

But what we did have was games that could last all day if we wanted, in which it was possible to come to bat 100 times and get 50 hits.

So how do you play baseball with only six or seven kids and no sponsors?

Simple–you just use however many of these special rules you need.

*Pitcher’s hand–If any fielder can get the ball back to the pitcher before the batter reaches first base, the batter is out. This makes up for a shortage of infielders.

*Invisible men on base–When the team at bat has only three or four players, one or more can be replaced on the bases by imaginary baserunners. If you hit a double with an invisible man on second, the invisible man scores. If you hit a single, he stops at third.

*Call your field–If you don’t have three outfielders, the batter must declare which field he intents to hit to. If he calls left field and hits to right field, he’s out. This makes up for a shortage of outfielders.

*Special ground rules as needed–What to do if the ball caroms off a tree or any piece of playground equipment, rolls into a mud puddle, etc.

Way back when, we invented new rules as needed, and refined our game so that baseball could be played one-on-one–just a pitcher, just a batter–as long as both players agreed to the imaginary parameters.

Later in life, in the men’s softball league, I found players who came up through Little League to be whiners, complainers, prima donnas, always trying to build themselves up by undermining their teammates–and none of them could hit worth a damn. But when you have 24 kids on a team with room in the lineup for only nine at a time, and some adult deciding whom those nine shall be… it’s a great inducement to concentrate more on politicking than on hitting.

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