Tag Archives: my childhood

Memory Lane: The Addams Family

This show came out in 1964, when I was in eighth grade, and it was a huge hit. I remember when our U.S. History teacher, rhapsodizing over John Adams and his descendants, sighed, “Ah, yes, the distinguished Adams family!” And the whole class laughed uproariously, prompting Mr. U____ to remark, “Your minds are in the gutter!”

But it wasn’t such a bad gutter. In addition to having a terribly funny format, hilarious scripts, a terrific cast, and great guest stars like Richard Deacon and Don Rickles, The Addams Family had something good going for it. All the weirdness aside, the members of this family really loved each other! I think they were the happiest and most harmonious family on TV. And that’s worth watching. Oh, very much so!

Uncle Fester, played by Jackie Coogan–watch him steal this scene from co-stars John Astin and Carolyn Jones: still crazy, and still funny, after all these years.

It reminds me of my own family, back when I was five or six years old. Only without the eccentricities.

Memory Lane: Toys You Had to Have

Image result for images of melvin the moon man

Before there were video games, there was Melvin the Moon Man.

Remco came out with this game in 1959, and to my 10-year-old mind, the commercials were devastatingly compelling. Had to have it! Had to! Look, ma, it’s got Tumblebum dice!

So we finally got it.

Y’know, there wasn’t much to that game. The big selling point was the dice inside this plastic hourglass thing that you spun, instead of rolling the dice on the game  board. And you moved these little flat plastic spacemen around, according to the roll of the dice, and collected Moon Bucks. It looked like such a blast on TV, but in real life, it didn’t even challenge my kid sister’s sense of strategy; and she was only four years old.

That may be because there was no strategy involved in it. You just went where the dice told you to go. No choices to make, no decisions. No thought at all.

I wonder why it hasn’t made a comeback.

Memory Lane: Monopoly Plus

Image result for images of monopoly board

When I was 12 years old or so, a Monopoly craze swept my neighborhood, and us kids played it every chance we got.

We soon learned that, with four or five people playing, it wasn’t always possible to acquire a Monopoly. Then, unless a big trade came through, a game could take all day without anybody winning. So we devised ways to jazz up the game–but without breaking the written rules.

First we adopted the “Free Parking Bonanza,” a well-known folk rule. Fines and taxes levied by Chance or Community Chest (“Pay School Tax of $150”–aagh!) were paid to the middle of the board, where they piled up until some lucky player landed on “Free Parking” and won all the money in the pile. This could sometimes stave off bankruptcy, or even lead to a losing player’s comeback.

But we didn’t stop there. Our most radical innovation was the “Free Ride.” As in, “If you trade me or sell me New York Avenue, to complete my monopoly, I’ll throw in a free ride for you, the first two times you land on it.” Not strictly forbidden by the rules, this often blew a game wide open. On a rainy day in summer vacation, our innovations sometimes let us play two or three games instead of just one.

Don’t sell Monopoly short: it can help teach a child how to handle money and other resources, like time. You don’t always have much choice as to where to build, but you nearly always can choose when to build. Timing your investments just right is frequently the key to victory. Timing them unwisely leads to disaster. And then there’s the choice between slowly developing a monopoly that costs a lot, but will pay a big return if someone lands on it, or quickly developing a lot of cheap properties in hopes of building up an early lead. Hint: the purple and light blue properties at the bottom of the board, plus all four railroads–I’ll take it any time. And don’t be too quick to sell a Free Ride to a player who’s already in the lead!

There’s a lot of thinking involved in Monopoly. May its popularity never fade away.

Memory Lane: Castro Convertibles

When I was a little boy, there was this little tiny girl on TV who busily converted a sofa into a bed: the famous Castro Convertible commercials.

The woman in this video was that little girl, Bernadette Castro, whose father invented that famous piece of furniture. I wish the video had the old Castro jingle: “Who was the first to conquer space? Castro Convertibles!” The best I could do was this much newer ad which shows the antique commercial in the inset.

We had a convertible sofa in our house, but never converted it into a bed. I was always tempted to try–I mean, if a little girl could do it, I could do it, too. But I never dared to do it, for fear I wouldn’t be able to put it back together again.

Let me see if I can find that jingle for you.

Ah, here it is–complete with Dan Ingram’s radio sales pitch.

Memory Lane: The Lennon Sisters Sing ‘Paper of Pins’

This video, vintage 1956, has the Lennon Sisters, on The Lawrence Welk Show, singing a dear old folk song, A Paper of Pins–one of the first songs I ever heard on a record: one of those little red records they used to have for kids.

Grandma never missed Lawrence Welk, and the Lennon Sisters were her favorite. This video brings back fond memories of staying overnight with Grandma and Grandpa and my aunts, and wondering why they chose to watch this stuff.

Now that I’m as old as my grandparents were then (if not older–but to a little boy, everybody over 40 is downright ancient), and part of my job is to keep track of things like claiming that drinking milk makes you a Nazi, jawohl, I don’t wonder about it anymore. Jump on my bike and pedal down Memory Lane for all I’m worth. Stop in and see the Lennon Sisters. And maybe even sack out on a Castro Convertible–remember those?

Sequel: Nabisco’s Prehistoric Beasts

Image result for nabisco prehistoric mammals

After the Age of Dinosaurs, so we’ve all been told, came the Age of Mammals. And after Nabisco finished packing tiny little plastic dinosaurs as free prizes inside boxes of Wheat and Rice Honeys, they moved on to prehistoric mammals.

I loved these just as much as I loved the dinosaurs, and I’ve been able to save a few of them. I’m a fiend for prehistoric mammals, and have recruited a lot of them for appearances in my Bell Mountain novels. King Ryons rides–or rather, clings precariously to the top of–a Baluchitherium at the Siege of Obann, and a Saber Tooth Tiger features in the climax of The Last Banquet. I’ve shed all that Darwinian baggage, but I hope I’ll never cease to admire and enjoy these spectacular examples of God’s handiwork. With the whole universe and all of time and space at His disposal, I’m sure God has hung onto His Baluchitherium, somewhere… as I’ve hung onto mine.

(P.S.–Ignore that “Giant Sloth” label on one of the toys. That’s a Barylambda, or I’m Spartacus. And Nabisco deserved great credit for popularizing this very little-known creature as a toy.)

Memory Lane: Nabisco Dinosaurs

Ah, there they are! The whole gang. Free Inside! For a little golden while in the 1950s, these gloriously crude little dinosaurs came free inside boxes of Nabisco cereal–Wheat Honeys and Rice Honeys, to wit. You can only imagine with what eagerness I opened each fresh box of cereal and rooted around until I found my prize.

Actually these figures were a little smaller than pictured above, which made it terribly easy to lose them in the sandbox. I still have a few of them, and I wouldn’t part with them for all the tea in China.

Looking back, I’m amazed at what little it took to make kids happy, back then. Well, these toys made me happy, at any rate. So did a 5-cent pack of baseball cards, which costs $5 now and probably makes no one happy.

All right, maybe you’re not into dinosaurs. But there were all kinds of nifty prizes in cereal, those days. Little plastic figures of characters in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp (remember that?); bronze or silver-colored plastic doodads representing famous breeds of dogs; little spacemen, The Spoonmen, that you could attach to your cereal spoon… little cars, little speedboats. All of them simple, tiny, cheap–and lovable.

I don’t even what to know what they’re offering 9-year-olds today. I’m sure it would depress me.

A Song from My Childhood

Sorry! I didn’t mean to imply that this song was contemporaneous with my childhood (and I’d like to see Joe Collidge try to spell that!)–The Glendy Burk by Stephen Foster, vintage 1851. I wasn’t around for The Ballad of Ramses II, either.

No–this was just an old steamboat song that we were taught in first grade, back when it was still unobjectionable to call boys and girls boys and girls. We didn’t go in for steamboats much, here in New Jersey, but we still knew they were part of our heritage. Kind of a romantic part, at that.

Will anybody look back on this present age as a romantic part of any heritage?

Heaven forbid.

The Orchestra Song

Remember this weird little exercise from music class, circa second grade? Everybody sang something different, and yet when it was all put together, you had a harmony. In theory. When our class sang it, it sounded like a barnyard invaded by a wolf.

“The clarinet, the clarinet goes doodle-doodle-doodle-doodle-det…” We never got it right. But this video is what it was supposed to sound like.

Memory Lane: Zebras

Image result for images of stuffed toy zebra

Very young children have some fanciful ideas, and who knows where they come from?

When I was a very young child, a pre-schooler, I wanted to be a zebra when I grew up. How that ever came into my head, I don’t know. I think I was already in kindergarten when I finally realized this was impossible. But I never did outgrow my fondness for zebras. A lot of children are crazy about horses, and a striped horse living wild in Africa–well, how could you beat that?

Many years later, when I was married, and working as a newspaper editor, my Grammy phoned and asked me to come and see her, she had something for me. She wouldn’t tell me what it was, so I had to hustle over there to find out.

It was, of all things, a stuffed zebra. And I am looking at it right now, almost forty years later, as it sits proudly on my coffee table–looking at it and remembering her, and how very much she loved me, and I her. I was her first grandchild, the first of many; and she never forgot how fond I was of zebras.

Love your family while you’ve got ’em, folks! Of all the wonderful and precious gifts God gives you, your grandmas and grandpas are very high on the list.

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