Category Archives: memory lane

Memory Lane: Running Boards

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When I was a little boy, there were still cars with running boards. In the photo, that’s the wood-colored board between the front and back fenders and below the door. The man across the street from us had a car with running boards, although he soon replaced it with a newer model that didn’t have them. And of course a lot of the cars I saw on TV had running boards–some with riders standing on them. That’s how I knew what they were for.

Today some SUVs have running boards, but their purpose is to help you climb into the car.  The original running boards were for extra passengers.

If your imagination is up to the challenge, you can give yourself quite a good case of the horrors by imagining yourself perched on a running board and clinging to the car door for dear life as it barrels down the Garden State Parkway at 70 mph. That will also help you to understand why no one does this anymore.

I don’t remember anyone actually riding on Mr. Rankin’s running board, so the custom had probably already gone out of use. But if they ever needed to transport eight cops in a four-seater squad car, that was went the running boards came into their own–on small-screen TV, in glorious black and white.

Memory Lane: Goofy Stories

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I grew up in a large family, and as the first of the grandchildren, I got a lot of attention. It was all loving attention, but some of it was a little bit odd.

I’m thinking of certain things that certain adults told me that turned out to be quite untrue. For instance, Grammy (my daddy’s mother) told me never to swallow chewing gum because, if I did, a gum tree would grow inside me. I can’t say I believed that; but I did stop swallowing chewing gum.

When I went to kindergarten, I was upset at being away from home, so I cried. This encouraged the other kids to pick on me mercilessly, to make me cry some more, for their amusement–good old public schooling!–but Grandma (my mommy’s mother) had a solution. Watching the news on her small-screen TV, with me sitting on the floor by her feet, she pointed at the screen and said, “See that man? He’s never cried in all his life. And now he’s on television!” I forget which newscaster that was–it’ll come to me at 2 a.m. tonight.

Now, why did Grandma say that? Obviously I already had no chance to match the newsman’s level of stoicism, I’d already blown that. Even at five years old, I found that story a little hard to believe.

My grandmothers told me those weird stories for my good, because they loved me. It just seems, in retrospect, a funny way to show it.

How about you? Did you ever get any curious stories like that? If it’s not too embarrassing, please share! I’d hate to think I was the only one.

‘Comic Relief from Allen Sherman’ (2015)

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Allen Sherman was one of the great comedians, way back when. His zany parodies of popular songs were very well known.

“Hello, Mudda, Hello, Fadda” is one of his all-time classics. It was a huge hit when it came out in 1963. Everybody seemed to know the first few lines.

Allen Sherman may be largely forgotten by now–but he’s still funny! And I don’t know about you, but I could use a laugh this morning.

The Dinosaur Whose Name Kids Can’t Pronounce


I was administering a spelling quiz one day at St. Helena’s School, fifth grade, and I asked the kids if they’d like to tackle a really hard word for extra credit. They were all for it, so I gave them a minute to get ready, then laid it on:


And waddayaknow! None of them got it.

Piatnitzskysaurus was a 20-foot-long carnivorous dinosaur from the Jurassic Period in Argentina. Not many people have heard of it.

We adults are sometimes abashed by the ease with which small children toss around the names of dinosaurs that stymie us grownups. But when I wrote “Piatnitzkysaurus” on the blackboard, these really rather bright children just threw up their hands.

It makes me think of a time long ago when Uncle Bernie was trying to read to me from a dinosaur book and stumbling over the names, none of which he’d ever seen before–but of course I knew them already, even at the age of eight. Oh, he had a devil of a time with Ramphorhynchus! I remember it kept coming out as “Rumpadykus.” But he meant well, and for me it will remain a fond memory.

So the next time a little kid tries to show off at your expense by throwing around the names of dinosaurs, fire back with Piatnitzkysaurus. He or she will be in awe of you.

Memory Lane: Our Classic Department Stores

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When my mother shopped at Newberry’s in the 1950s, she often treated me to one of those wonderful wax dinosaurs by the Miller Company. A lot of towns had J.J. Newberry department stores.

I haven’t seen one in donkey’s years; and it’s not only Newberry’s that I don’t see around anymore. Several classic department stores have vanished from the landscape.

E.J. Korvette’s–great sporting goods department, I got my Wally Moon baseball glove there. Two Guys from Harrison: their pet department seemed to have trouble keeping the birds in their cages, which always fascinated me. Woolworth’s. Surely you had a Woolworth’s somewhere nearby. And W.T. Grant’s. As a child, these stores looked big to me; but I guess you’d have to call them medium-sized department stores. Or even small department stores.

Where have they gone? Replaced, I suppose, by Target and Wal-Mart. Replaced by the malls: who needs a not-that-big department store, when a mall offers you a whole bunch of specialty stores all under one roof?

Is Bamberger’s still in existence somewhere?

I enjoyed them all. Newberry’s had the best toys, and great Halloween stuff–what you’d expect from a chain that started out as a bunch of five-and-ten-cent stores– Two Guys the best pet department, and Woolworth’s the best candy. They weren’t so big as to be intimidating. You can practically hitch-hike from one department to another at Wal-Mart. Sometimes big is too big. Some of the big stores today seem like they could double as hangars at an airport. I never got that feeling at Newberry’s. But the last Newberry’s store, Wikipedia tells me, closed its doors in 2001.

And oh, for some Howard Johnson’s ice cream!


A Lesson for Puppies

I can sympathize with these little puppies and their aversion to tackling stairs for the first time. It reminds me of my first time on a bicycle without training wheels.

No problem, my father was going to hold on to the back and push, all I’d have to do was pedal. I did that, and got going pretty fast. But I still hadn’t quite gotten the hang of steering, and soon a hazard loomed before me: The Ruts. That was just a little bumpy area where the playground met the end of our street, but my mother, for no reason I will ever understand, had told me that The Ruts were too hard even for the big kids. Why in the world did she tell me that?

Anyhow, I was headed straight for The Ruts, so I turned around to tell my father to stop the bike ’cause I didn’t know how, The Ruts are comin’–and he wasn’t there! He’d let go some minutes ago, and was standing some distance away with his hands on his hips, all smiles because his little boy could ride a bike. Only when the little boy discovered that, the little boy went down like a ton of bricks! Fap!

Pups, I feel your pain.

Oh, Christmas Tree!

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I have just finished decorating our Christmas tree, and a fair piece of the living room, too. Even when we set up the tree in its stand the day before, it’s still a two-hour job. My father used to do it all on Christmas Eve, start to finish, after us kids were sent to bed. We’d come down exceedingly early on Christmas morning, and there would be the fully-decorated tree standing in the living room, with wrapped presents under it.

It’s such a big job because we have so many ornaments, all if them family heirlooms going back many years. I know the story behind each and every one of them. The important thing is to remember the loved ones who gave them to us, because they’ve all passed on by now, not many of us left. Because Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, we know we can trust God’s promises: we know we will all be reunited in His kingdom, and enjoy eternal life.

We wanted to take a picture of our tree and post it here, but haven’t yet discovered how to do it. Patty thought she knew, but wasn’t able to pull it off. Well, we may yet find out: I’m not about to take the tree down just after I put it up.

Next stop: our traditional Christmas Eve dinner–roast duck.

A Christmas Conspiracy

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Once upon a time, my brother and I were beguiled by Genuine Oriental Malay Throwing Knives they had for sale at Metuchen Center. I mean, what could be cooler than that? And besides, Christmas was coming! And the deadly knives were well within even our meager price range–a steal at 75 cents each. So we conspired to give each other Genuine Oriental Malay Throwing Knives as Christmas presents.

When the presents were unwrapped on Christmas morning, we earned some sour looks from the obvious source. But my mother needn’t have worried. The Genuine Oriental Malay Throwing Knives wouldn’t cut a piece of bread. I can only imagine what Genuine Occidental Malay Throwing Knives could do. And no matter how many times you threw your throwing knife at a tree, it always struck with a “Splat!” instead of with that satisfying “Thwunggg!” that you always hear in movies. It always, always hit the tree flat, never, never with the point.

As a self-defense weapon, these babies were perfectly useless. You’d have a better chance fending off attackers with ribald limericks. As projectiles, they were only very slightly better than plaster statues of Liberace.

But at least they were cheap!

Commercial… Or Parable?

A long-lived ad campaign debuted back in the 1960s. Most of us remember it as “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.” Even if we never had occasion to try the cereal, it’s easy to remember the commercials with the “cuckoo bird” going positively wild for Cocoa Puffs: like, totally out of control.

I find it difficult to believe that this same spirit has not possessed a great swathe of our fallen world’s movers and shakers, trend-setters and decision-makers. All right, they don’t go caroming off the walls in the Senate Office Building, or swing from the chandeliers in judges’ chambers: but they might as well. It doesn’t get wackier than insisting that men and boys can have periods. You should at least get a bowl of Cocoa Puffs for that.

Were these ads trying to warn us about the people who were ruling us?

I guess we should’ve listened.

A Truly Unexpected Gift

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This Christmas, give the gift of plaster teeth!

I once did this. The dentist next door threw out a load of unusual-looking boxes, and it made me curious. The boxes contained plaster models of various patients’ teeth. I knew a lot of the people whose choppers were represented there.

This was too good to pass up. I scooped up a lot of them and gift-wrapped them as gifts for my family at the family Christmas Eve party at my aunts’ house. Everyone was going to be there! And everyone was going to get a nice little set of plaster teeth, probably reflecting the dental state of someone that they knew.

I relished the raised eyebrows as I handed out the gift boxes. Like they would ever guess what was inside! Like my sister would have any idea what to do with a model of Wayne So-and-so’s teeth, who once upon a time lived next door to us.

Oh, the puzzled looks! Puzzled? Try dumbfounded! Oh, the bewildered silence! And finally, the payoff–a whole room full of laughter and merriment. Years later, you could still get a chuckle out of anybody, just by mentioning the incident. Although I very much doubt that anyone who received a set of somebody else’s teeth kept it.

The gag didn’t cost anyone a red cent, but just try buying that much laughter.

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