Category Archives: memory lane

Memory Lane: Marx Jungle Animals

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Boy, oh, boy, did I love these when I was a little boy! Marx jungle animals–I still have dozens of them in my toy box. I think I was five years old when Aunt Millie gave me my first little set of them.

I used these as characters in “stories” that went on all summer, or all winter, or whenever. I gave them names and put them in adventures. Some of those pictured above are newer than any of mine, but ten of them are originals from the 1950s.

Sometimes my brother or my friends would join me in playing out these little dramas, and sometimes I played alone. Once I started getting dinosaurs and cavemen, too, the stories got more exciting. Lost treasures, nasty big game hunters that had to be dealt with, lost worlds full of monsters–whatever popped into our heads, often inspired by a movie or TV show, we used. Unusually, I rarely played with little army men. I was committed to the animals.

Do kids still do this kind of play? Or has it all be buried under a mass of video games? I don’t know. Maybe some of you have children or grandchildren who use their toys to act out stories. Careful–they might grow up to be fantasy writers.


Memory Lane: ‘Master of Life and Death’

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Ah, those were the days! “Two Complete Novels 35 cents”–remember those, the Ace Double Novels?

One of them that I do remember is Master of Life and Death by Robert Silverberg, a 1957 Ace Double Novel that was teamed up with The Secret Visitors by James White, which I don’t remember at all. I find it hard to believe I read this when I was only eight years old, but I don’t think I could have read it any later than 1959.

In this tale, Silverberg imagined a world overpopulation crisis in the year 2232–7 billion people on the planet (which we have already, in 2019, without a crisis) and the United Nations world government has to take really serious action! Otherwise we’re all gonna die, etc. Where have we heard that before? So they set up a Bureau of Population Equalization, complete with euthanasia and forcibly relocating people to less densely-populated areas, etc., and the protagonist becomes head of “Popeek,” as the Bureau is affectionately known, and inherits one helluva mess. Including a crisis on Venus, an embassy from another planet in another solar system, and an awful lot of angry people who want a piece of him.

What I remember most is being appalled, even at such an early age, by the whole idea of any government having this much power. Almost every science fiction novel I’ve ever read presupposes a world government, like it’s carved in stone, totally inevitable, better learn to like it. Now I wonder why. What is it about science fiction that gravitates to world government?

I used to read science fiction for fun, but now, looking back on it, I see it was filled with a lot of ideas that were either creepy, somewhat less than intelligent, or downright preposterous–or some combination of the above.

The Ace Double Novels are history, but we still have plenty of science fiction movies that are every bit as fat-headed as Ace’s very worst efforts.

Remember Monkie-Sticks?

This was an educational toy from the 1950s: Monkie-Sticks. Except for this one picture, above, of an unopened pack, Monkie-Sticks has slid into oblivion. But some of you must have had them!

What did you do with them? Why, you built things with ’em! The sticks linked together, end to end, and the little monkeys (“monkies”) provided four-way links. My friend David and I played with Monkie-Sticks by the hour.

On a dreary rainy day like this, with everything an hour late because of stupid Daylight Saving Time, and no way to remedy it, I kind of wish I had a pack of Monkie-Sticks. Hey, come on over! We’ll build really drafty little houses for my toy dinosaurs and cavemen.

Memory Lane: Gumby

This is the introduction to the 1967 Gumby TV show. Created by the late Art Clokey, Gumby was a kid-TV fixture for many years. I have to confess I’ve always been fond of him as an adult. I mean, what could be more innocent than Gumby?

I hope this brief video brings back pleasant memories for you. As for me, it’s time to go out and stand in the snow before it’s finished melting.

Memory Lane: Congressman “Cold Cash” Jefferson

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Hey! Remember this guy? Congressman William “Cold Cash” Jefferson, Democrat, Louisiana. They called him “cold cash” because federal agents found $90,000 in marked bills in his freezer (

The investigation started in 2005 and they caught him with the cash in 2006–whereupon he was promptly re-elected to Congress. In 2009 he was sentenced to prison for bribery and money laundering. And in 2017 they let him out because the Supreme Court “raised the prosecutorial bar” in cases involving official corruption–a very bad idea, in retrospect.

How much money do you have squirreled away in your freezer?

No one comes home from Capitol Hill poor.


Memory Lane: ‘The Jones Boy’

This is one of the songs my father used to sing to us when we were little. He had quite a repertoire of songs, just right for those awkward moments when you were sure there was a ghost just outside your bedroom window. If you were really in a bad way, he’d sing “You Are My Sunshine.” Not so bad, you’d get “Sweet Violets.”

But I think he sang “The Jones Boy” because he really liked it. I was five years old when the Mills Brothers first sang it on the air; my brother Mark was two, and my sister Alice hadn’t been born yet. Later on in life I remember my father playing the spoons as he sung this.

Anyway, here it is from 1957 on glorious black-and-white TV: the Mills Brothers, and “The Whole Town’s Talking About the Jones Boy.” It was a big hit for them, but I’ll always remember the way my daddy sang it.

Memory Lane: The Great Estate

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I’m old enough now to wonder whether some of my childhood memories are really memories. I wonder if they’re only dreams.

Once upon a time there was a great estate in our neighborhood, complete with large in-ground swimming pool. Nobody but very rich people had those. There was a huge white house and all sorts of smaller buildings assembled around it, like chicks around the mother hen.

We called it “Oppenheim’s.” It’s possible that this wasn’t really its name, but that’s the name we had for it.

Oppenheim’s was separated from the ordinary homes on Juniper Street by a little stream, a bit of marshland, and just a few yards of spindly woods. I remember one day I managed to get to the opposite bank of the stream for a closer look at Oppenheim’s. One of the older kids started to pick on me, and a man came over from Oppenheim’s and chased him away.

And then one day Oppenheim’s was deserted. Suddenly no one lived there. That was the signal for my friends and me to cross over to the estate and run wild, exploring everything, pretending it was ours. We got into the big house. Oh, so many rooms! I think one was a ballroom. It was sort of like the house in a game of Clue, only without the billiard tables. We kept daring each other to swim in the pool; but summer had passed, and dead leaves increasingly blanketed the water and turned it dark and murky. No one took the dare.

And then the bulldozers came and tore it all down, gorgeous white house, outbuildings, stables, garage, and all. No more Oppenheim’s. In its place, a housing development–three or four blocks’ worth.

Patty and I have searched the Internet for any mention of the Oppenheim estate in our town, circa 1957, but have yet to find a single word about it. It’s like it never was. Like I’d only dreamed about it. Very vivid dreams, but no proof that they were anything but dreams.

A piece of my past is missing; and it’s not the only one. Around here, hardly anything has been left the way I remember it. This can be disconcerting. Much of what I knew is gone.

I wonder–if I dream a little deeper, can I find the way back to Oppenheim’s?

I’d like to thank that guy who chased away the bully.


‘Drinking from the Springs’ (2014)

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This really ought to be a “Memory Lane” piece, but it was written before Memory Lane came into being. The springs are still paved over, though.

Think about it. The Lord gives us fresh, clean, cold, beautiful drinking water at no cost to us at all, gushing up out of the ground all day and night, every day and night–and what do we do with it? We pave it over!

I sometimes wonder how He can live with our ingratitude.

Memory Lane: ‘Tales of Wells Fargo’

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I had to go to Wells Fargo today to do yet more paperwork for Aunt Joan’s very small estate. As I sat there at the banker’s desk, and he ran stuff through his computer, I got to thinking about one of the many TV westerns that I used to watch when I was a kid–including Tales of Wells Fargo, starring Dale Robertson as a Wells Fargo agent who went around having all sorts of adventures and foiling the bad guys. It ran from 1957 through 1962, complete with comic books and bubblegum cards.

I don’t know what I would’ve thought, back then, if I’d found out Wells Fargo is just a bank–a bank!–like any other bank: the last place in the world you’d go to, if you were looking for really colorful adventures. Oh, the crushing disappointment! It’d be like finding out that Tarzan was a greeter at Walmart. Or that Bat Masterson was a sportswriter for a newspaper. (Uh, dude–Bat really was a sportswriter… fap…)

It was all a lot more interesting, the way it was shown on TV.

Memory Lane: ‘The Adventures of Gunga Ram’

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When I was five or six years old, I used to get up awful early on Saturday morning so I could watch Andy’s Gang on our old black-and-white TV, with this little screen that was like a square porthole. And one of the highlights of the show was a serial, “The Adventures of Gunga Ram.”

Gunga Ram was a boy in India who had lots of cool adventures, mostly because he was helping the local maharajah out of assorted tight spots. These were taken from a movie called Sabaka, made in 1953 and converted into a serial in ’54.

What I wouldn’t have given to be friends with Gunga Ram! Complete with elephants and tigers, and even the odd cobra or two.

Some of this antique TV lit up my imagination, big-time. Jungle Jim! Ramar of the Jungle! Soldiers of Fortune! Fury! Wow, I couldn’t get enough of it! I wanted to know all about these places that served as settings for the stories on TV, and the people and the animals that really lived there, and the history, and the language–!

Oh, I know now that Sabaka only plugged in stock footage of India, the young actor who played Gunga Ram was Italian, most of it was shot around Los Angeles, and African lions don’t live in the jungle, after all–and Indian elephants aren’t normally found in Africa, even if they’ve got rubber attached to their ears to make them look like African elephants. Yes, I know it was all make-believe.

But I enjoyed it!

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