Tag Archives: my childhood

Memory Lane: Electric Baseball

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My brother and I got this toy for Christmas once, sometime in the Fabulous Fifties: Tudor Electric Baseball.

The ball was a tiny white magnet which you “pitched” with a kind of catapult, aiming for a tin sheet representing the batter. Behind the sheet sat your opponent, who, when he heard the ball stick to the other side of the screen, smacked his side with a spring-operated plastic bat. If the ball landed on a circle marked “hit,” he flicked a switch and these little plastic guys with strips of celluloid on their bases ran around the basepaths, accompanied by a loud buzzing sound as the whole gameboard vibrated energetically. The basepaths were thick cardboard guides. Without them, the runners would have dashed all over the place in a kind of brownian movement.

If this sounds complicated, that’s only because it really was complicated.

Our friend “thewhiterabbit” had an Electric Football game. He soon gave up trying to make any sense of it.

Colorforms Baseball, which we also tried, had no electricity–only a dial on a spinner which, when spun, would stop either on an out or some kind of hit.

I have a feeling this toy cost my parents a fair amount of money. We dutifully played it until the day we somehow lost the ball. It was a very noisy game, and lots of times you’d smack the tin sheet and the ball would just fall off and you’d have to have a do-over. Or sometimes you’d smack it and the ball would just stick there.

But it’s the thought that counts!

Memory Lane: The Remco Bulldog Tank

This toy was a hot item in 1960, and my brother, then eight years old, got one for Christmas: Remco’s Bulldog Tank. Battery-powered, its mighty caterpillar treads would take the tank up and down steep hills of my mother’s books, all the while making a not entirely hopeful wheezing noise. Our family’s home movies show it doing that while my brother watches in angelic rapture.

Best of all, it shot! Boom! Well, not “boom,” really. It went “click.” It fired these plastic projectiles and ejected brass shell casings. Y’know something? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tank in a war movie eject a shell casing. But they must have, right? I mean, you can’t have the turret filling up with shell casings.

I wonder if they still make toys like this for kids–or do they try to make out like there’s no more war, we don’t need tanks to protect us from the bad guys anymore? Meanwhile, the same children deemed too emotionally fragile for a Bulldog Tank spend hours every day playing Zombie Massacre video games. Go figure.

Bonus Video: Fli-Back!

Wow! Remember these? Wooden paddle (usually with a picture of a cowboy on a bucking bronco), rubber ball, and rubber band–the classic Fli-Back toy. How many times could you hit the ball up and down before you lost control?

My Grandma bought me many a Fli-Back when I was a boy, but I never got the hang of it until much later in life. Maybe the lady in this video can say the same. I still have a Fli-Back in one of the kitchen drawers somewhere, although I think the cats batted the ball out to that place from which no little rubber ball returns.

Memory Lane: The ‘I Dare You’ House

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Patty and I were watching Salem’s Lot yesterday, and as soon as they showed the haunted house, Patty said, “That’s what we used to call an ‘I dare you!’ house.”

I knew exactly what she meant. Every town used to have at least one “I dare you” house–an uninhabited house said (by kids, mostly) to be haunted. As in, “I dare you to go into that house,” or “I dare you to go upstairs/down the cellar,” etc.

Once upon a time the finest haunted house in our town was called “the 1868 house.” Wow–1868! Ancient! Probably Egyptian hieroglyphics on the walls. Trilobite fossils on the floor. It never occurred to us that there were people still around who were alive in 1868. And it looked like an 1868 house should look. It had turrets. And a stone wall around the grounds, and the grounds all overgrown with saplings and bushes, with piles of grey lumber marking all that was left of assorted sheds and outhouses.

One day my friend Ellen and I dared each other to enter the 1868 house without Bobby, her big brother, who usually led these expeditions. To do this without Bobby was an act of incredible audacity. But who could afford to chicken out, and lose face forever? It was a grim duo that mounted their bikes that afternoon…

Well, we did go inside. To say our nerves were tightly strung would be an understatement.

As quietly as we could, we crept into a room that looked like it might have once been a kitchen. At the other end of it, a door was open to a passage filled with darkness. It must have led down to the cellar. Dark as night down there.

“I dare you to go down those stairs!” Ellen whispered to me.

“I dare you to do it!” I whispered back. Hey, we were 11 years old: we knew what would happen. That’s where the freakin’ ghost comes swooping up the stairs as swift as the wind–and gets you.

I forget which of us took the first tentative step in that direction, and I can’t honestly say what I thought I saw coming up those stairs. All I can say is that we both shrieked simultaneously and broke several Olympic speed records charging out of the house, leaping onto our bikes, and pedaling back home faster than a pair of speeding bullets. It must have been a serious scare, because I never once muttered to Ellen, “Chicken!”, nor did she ever accuse me of desertion in the face of heaven knew what. I don’t think we ever told Bobby about this adventure.

But of course the 1868 house is long gone, replaced by half a dozen modern homes; and whatever walked there then, walks elsewhere now.  (Hat-tip to Shirley Jackson: “And whatever walked there [in Hill House], walked alone.”)

Cuddly Cows

It’s beginning to look like I missed a lot by living in the suburbs all my life. But I should have remembered about cows! Once, when I was only five years old or so, my parents went on some sort of getaway in upstate New York. We stayed at a farm, and each day, I would go out to the stone wall in the back yard and hang out with the cows on the next-door farmer’s field. I remember showing those cows my toys, petting them, talking to them, getting licked by them (“cow kisses”), and just plain loving it. There weren’t any other kids around to play with, but who needs other kids when you’ve got cows?

We really ought to love them.

Memory Lane: ‘Supercar’

Back in 1962, all the 8-year-olds in my neighborhood ran around singing the theme song from Supercar, a kids’ TV show starring wooden puppets. Anybody out there remember it? C’mon! Mike Mercury behind the wheel of Supercar! You don’t remember that?

Watch carefully, then see if you can answer the question, “What’s wrong with this picture?” I mean, talk about cutting corners on a special effect–!

My brother had a model of a car that, like Supercar, was supposed to ride on downward-thrusting jets of air rather than wheels. You made it do that by blowing through a rubber tube. Alas, no one in my family had enough wind to lift the car. There it sat, immoveable. *sigh*

Bonus Video: Pogo Stick Fails

Those who know me well, know I was, in my youth, an eighth-degree black belt in pogo stick jumping. If my mother could have ever seen me hopping on my pogo stick up and down our high, steep cellar stairs–ho, boy!

Now, though, as I contemplate such videos as these, I wonder: “What was I thinking? How did I manage not to kill myself, doing that?”

Ah! But just once let me get my hands on a pogo stick again–!

Memory Lane: Now They Tell Me!

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In 1953 somebody invented a toy submarine that would dive and surface if you filled it with baking powder. In 1954 it became available as a “free inside” prize in Kellogg’s cereals.

Oh, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one of these! Only now I find out that you had to put baking powder in it–not baking soda! Baking soda won’t work. The sub will just sit there in the water, usually floating on its side. You know a submarine’s in trouble when it’s floating on its side.

Confound it! I know now what I did wrong. My father did it wrong, too. He filled the kitchen sink, put the dratted baking soda in the sub, and presto–nothing. We tried again and again, and the blamed thing never worked. Well, waddaya want for “free inside”? At least the cereal worked.

The confusion between baking powder and baking soda was so widespread, the WikiPedia article on this toy takes some pains to explain it. But there was no WikiPedia in 1955.

I’ve mistrusted submarine travel ever since. Thank goodness the Navy knows the difference between baking powder and baking soda!

‘Your Old Toys Are Worth Big Bucks’ (2014)

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The Marx dinosaur play set. Mine was an earlier, simpler version. But look at all the dinosaurs and cavemen!

I have to think about this. The dinosaur play set my father said we couldn’t afford, back circa 1960, cost $5. It contained many toy dinosaurs. Now, just one of the smallest of those little plastic dinosaurs sells for $5. All the dinosaurs and cave men in the set, sold individually, would fetch several hundred dollars–several times what my father was earning per week at the Ford plant. And that was a good job!


I keep these toys because they remind me of the people who gave them to me: my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and my mother and father are all gone, but I can still feel their love. When I handle one of these, it calls up sunny days in the sandbox.

Besides which, I still think these were really cool toys.

Memory Lane: Don’t Try This!

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“Hey! Don’t touch that umbrella!”

When I was a boy, TV was loaded with ancient black-and-white cartoons–those old “Farmer Grey”cartoons, by Paul Terry. You might not be old enough ever to have seen one.

A common feature in many of these cartoons was cats, mice, and sometimes humans jumping off a rooftop and wafting gently to the earth by using an umbrella as a parachute.

This does not work in real life (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/peoplesdaily/article-4420876/Boy-jumped-five-storey-home-holding-umbrella.html). The host of one of those cartoon shows, “Uncle Fred” Sayles (he also MC’d wrestling), used to have to issue frequent reminders to his youthful audience not to try this. But kids did try it, and some of them got hurt. But good. I would have tried it myself, but I didn’t have anyplace handy for jumping off.

Is it necessary to explain why this doesn’t work? Like, is there any 29-year-old Gender Studies major who thinks it might work, if you use a big enough umbrella? Yo, genius, stick to Play-Doh.

Kids try crazy things because they don’t know any better. That’s why we don’t give them credit cards and drivers’ licenses.

And we still can’t stop overgrown kids from trying to eat detergent pods because they saw it on Youtube.

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