Memory Lane: ‘Kukla, Fran, and Ollie’

This takes us a long way down Memory Lane. These days it’s hard to imagine that a little series built around a clown, a dragon, and a cheery young woman would turn into a major hit. Indeed, in 2009 the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring Kukla, Frank, and Ollie.

Kukla the clown and Ollie the dragon, puppets, engaged in gentle banter and funny songs with Fran Allison, the only live human in the show–and people just plain loved it. The show ran from 1947 through 1957. Watching it is one of my earliest childhood memories. But it was even more popular among adults than children.

And would you believe it was all ad-libbed? No foolin’. Fran had experience as a live radio comedian, so she was up to the challenge. I wonder if anybody could successfully do a show like that today.

Well, what could be more benign and harmless? I like benign and harmless–and we could use more of it. Lots more.

Memory Lane: A Mad Libs Christmas Party

Mad Libs – The World's Greatest Word Game

I don’t know why, but this happy memory washed over me this morning.

Family Christmas party, years ago, everybody still alive and healthy, the whole bunch of us crammed into Grandpa’s living room–to this day I don’t know how we fit. And just for the heck of it, we played some Mad Libs.

If you’ve never played this crazy game, well, it’s easy. You have a short story full of blanks, and the only thing the players know is vague clues to help them choose a word to go into the blank–like “noun,” “adjective,” “exclamation,” etc. All they do is supply a word for each blank.

And so you wind up with sentences like “Mikey hiccuped all the way to the moron‘s office and then asked to shame the bloated but still prehensile senator.

The story I read to my family at the party was about bird-watching, but by the rules of Mad Libs, they didn’t know that. I asked for nouns and adjectives and other details, and they provided them.

That’s how we wound up with a “ruling junta” in Baltimore pursuing a “yellow-bellied crotch sucker.” And other equally silly formulae.

And oh, did everybody laugh! I thought my mother was going to plotz. We laughed till tears ran down our cheeks.

I wish I could invite some of you over for Mad Libs. I could guarantee a good time!

Memory Lane: The Sears Christmas Catalog

1959 Sears Christmas Book | Christmas books, Christmas catalogs, Vintage  christmas

What kid growing up in the 50s or 60s didn’t love this–the annual Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog?

I spent hours and hours with these. I mean, come on–what’s better than a day off from school because it’s snowing too hard, curled up on the sitting room couch with the Sears catalog?

Everything was in there! Even guns. But my favorite was the section devoted to assorted play sets–the farm, Cape Canaveral, the circus, dinosaurs, Wild West: wow, they had everything!

Animal World Farm Playset (12 Medium size animals in a bag) - Curious Kids

I do wish I still had some of those rubber-nosed rockets and spring-powered launchers from the Cape Canaveral play set. I still have farm animals, circus animals, and jungle animals–and dinosaurs, of course–from other sets. Reminders of sweet Christmas Past. Priceless now.

It’s been many years since I’ve seen a Sears Christmas catalog. Do they still publish them?

But my box of animals is still here, to bring to mind the people that I loved, and family Christmas at my grandpa’s house, and early, early Christmas morning, and my first sight of the decorated tree, the job my father did after he packed his kids off to sleep…

Memory Lane: the Liquor Cabinet

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How many of you have a liquor cabinet in your home–or was that a 1950s thing?

We had one. It fit into a corner of the dining room, like the one in the picture above. The top half was for displaying my mother’s best glassware. I was fascinated by one extra-big glass that I now know was used for mixing drinks. It had all the ingredients for the various mixed drinks printed on it.

The bottom half was where they stored the booze. When they were young, my folks did a lot of entertaining–especially after my father became a foreman at the Ford plant. They’d have these people over–the kind of people, I guess, that you were supposed to entertain once you were on your way up the corporate ladder. The kind of people you had to dress up for. I’d lie awake in my bed and listen to them gabbing away downstairs. The next day Dad would have to buy more liquor.

They eventually outgrew these parties and had no further use for the liquor cabinet. But when I was a little boy I used to sit at the foot of the cabinet and pry open the door when my mother wasn’t in the room. I was intrigued by the assorted bottles. Why weren’t they in the refrigerator with the other bottles? But I was never intrigued enough to steal a sip.

I wonder if our old house, late on weekend nights, has ghosts of those entertainments. All those loud people–what’s become of them? And who now has my parents’ liquor cabinet?

Memory Lane: The Invisible Dog Leash

invisible dog leash... i wanted one of these stupid things so bad when my  grandparents took me to disney world a… | Dog leash, Childhood memories,  The good old days

Here I am preserving minor aspects of our popular culture which might be easily lost forever, if we weren’t careful. Not that anyone would miss them.

Remember the invisible dog leash? Once upon a time in the last century, Patty and I went to the Seaside boardwalk for the day and saw a lot of these. You could win them at various booths, or just buy them: leash and harness for a non-existent dog. Or, as they liked to say, an invisible dog.

I wonder if the ancient Egyptians or the Romans ever had fads like this–suddenly everybody’s parading around Memphis with a cardboard pyramid for a hat, or doing a Wave in the Coliseum when a gladiator gets the drop on his opponent. Have there always been silly fads, or had it remained for modern Western culture to invent them?

Somebody out there must know! We’re waiting to hear from you, whoever you are.

Sanity Break: Butterflies

Ugh, the nooze! Pandemic. Politics. Riots. I’m supposed to be covering it, but feh. And double-fesh.

Here, instead, is some of God’s stuff: assorted butterflies filmed in slow motion, courtesy of the Houston Butterfly Museum. It reminds me of my grandpa’s butterfly bush, which attracted colorful customers from all around. I used to watch it by the hour.

The works of God’s hands are everywhere for us to see: a sure sign that God is nigh.

The Lord is with us. Every day.

Memory Lane: ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’

I was surprised yesterday when one of my friends said she’d never heard this song, nor heard of it. Written back in 1928, Big Rock Candy Mountain was a hit song when I was a little boy. The great Burl Ives made it a hit. It was on one of those childrens’ record albums that my mother had for us, and I’ve seen it published in any number of folk songbooks.

True, some of it sounds a lot like Democrat campaign promises. Try to ignore that. And enjoy how beautifully Burl Ives hits the high note.

Memory Lane: Rock ‘Em-Sock ‘Em Robots

How about a little normalcy break?

This is one of those 1960s toys that made liberals and sissies clutch their pearls and gasp their disapproval. Boxing robots. Ugh! Hey, they’re tryin’ to knock each other’s heads off! How aggressive! No wonder we’ve got a war in Viet Nam! Never mind two Democrat presidents, Kennedy and Johnson, thinking it was a good idea at the time.

What harm could be done by a couple of primitive plastic robots flailing away at each other with their plastic fists? It’s not exactly the gladiatorial games, is it? No blood, no pain. Just a bit of goofy fun. Much better, really, than kids actually fighting. Less damaging than playing football. Is it really worse than Zombie Apocalypse video games, like we have today? Mixed Martial Arts, anyone?

But this–it was harmless, it was silly, and fun.


A Special Treat for You

Music Box Dancer, by Canadian composer Frank Mills, came out in 1974, worked its way around the world, and was a major U.S. hit single in 1979.

What could be more harmless, more benign, than this simple piece of music?

To me it brings back a time when everybody in my family was still here, still healthy. Around 50 you start to lose ’em, so a word to the wise: love ’em while you’ve got ’em.

It also brings back a vignette from the warehouse where my wife worked at the time: this was the tune that was playing loudly on the intercom while a couple of the lads fought each other, rolling around on the floor–with the British foreman dancing around ineffectually, pleading with them, “Steady on, lads! Steady on!”

Wonderful days.

‘Memory Lane: Skating in the Woods’ (2016)

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“Skating on the Mill Pond” by Grandma Moses (She knew!)

I wouldn’t trade my middle-class, 1950s childhood for all the tea in China. I certainly wouldn’t trade it for what passes for childhood now.

Memory Lane: Skating in the Woods

But the woods have been hewn down and paved over, the swamp and stream filled in so they could build more condos, the palatial estate so thoroughly erased that only a very few of us remember it ever existed–oh, fap! to all that. We do remember!

You can’t tell us “There is no sun.”