Now that the weather’s warming up, here’s an outdoor toy–you’ll soon catch onto why you shouldn’t play with it indoors–that was heavily advertised on TV when I was a boy: the water-powered rocket.
Whoosh! Look at ‘er go! I want it, I want it! This was back at the beginning of the space program when we were bringing TV sets to school to watch the latest launch from Cape Canaveral. So much cooler than plain old lessons! When those first astronauts went up, the whole country went up with them. But oddly enough, I never got one of those water-powered rockets, nor did I know any kid who had one. The fulfillment of this dream had to wait till I grew up.
Finally! I bought a water-powered rocket. Mine, all mine! I took it out to the schoolyard and hoped it wouldn’t fly so far away that I couldn’t find it. Pump, pump, pump the launcher, build up that pressure. And then, and then… Launch!
It gave this sort of little farting sound and mostly just fell off the launcher. Even as a little kid I could have thrown the fatzing rocket farther than it ever flew from the launcher. Again and again I tried. Its best effort was about four or five feet. Not exactly a moon shot.
I do wonder if everybody’s water-powered rocket was as big a disappointment as this. Nowadays you can get these huge, elaborate water-powered rockets, YouTube is full of them and they probably cost a fortune.
I was shocked when I went to the store yesterday and saw packs of baseball cards selling for $7.00 each. Seven bucks! And no bubble gum included.
As you can see by the picture, a pack of baseball cards used to cost a nickel–for half a dozen cards and a nice big sheet of gum. We traded them, flipped them, or clipped them to the wheels of our bicycles so they’d make a sound like a motor. It wasn’t until 1963 that I was able to collect a complete set, and it took some pretty hard-nosed trading to do it. And my mother threw them out when we moved!
Seven dollars–it made my head spin. And without Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn… yeesh.
Our money isn’t worth anywhere near what it used to be. You used to get 2,000 cards for $7, not to mention 340 sticks of gum.
I’m glad my memories are still free. Priceless, but free.
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.
Spring is here: and the sunny weather yesterday called up memories of the playground on a weekend morning, an afternoon by the pond–they kept calling it a lake, but oh-come-now–in Roosevelt Park, and… this. Hernando’s Hideaway.
It was on the radio a lot when I was a boy. This treatment by Archie Bleyer is only one of several. My father would have the radio on while he tinkered on his workbench, or cut his sons’ hair; and this was one of the songs you often heard. It comes from a 1954 hit musical, The Pajama Game… and is about a speakeasy–let me now quote Wikipedia–“where Al Capone hid out from the Chicago police before turning into a supper club.” Pretty neat trick, Al. No wonder they couldn’t find you!
There weren’t many songs back then that had castanets in them. Maybe that’s why I remember this one so well.
When I was a boy, we lived next door to a widow woman, Mrs. Thomas, who was loved by all. We kids did errands for her, and our fathers trimmed her hedge and mowed her lawn. She had a big back yard which was always available to us as a play area.
And she had an old brown dog named Brownie. We lived on a dead-end street, with low traffic, and Brownie had the run of the neighborhood. He was everybody’s friend, and welcome everywhere.
If you were feeling blue, and sitting on the steps, moping, somehow Brownie always found you and would sit down beside you to keep you company–and before long, you felt… better! He had a gift for that.
Yeah, I know, it’s a bygone era, blah-blah. But you know something? All these years later, I still love Brownie. Remembering him always brings light to the darkness of an evil age.
Every neighborhood should have a dog like Brownie.
I never saw Peter Gunn because it was 1958, I was nine years old, and my folks sent me to bed well before the show came on. But the sounds of television used to filter up the stairs to my bedroom, and there was just no way I was going to sleep through Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn theme music. If this was not one of the all-time great TV themes, I don’t know what was.
I was usually still awake anyway, reading Uncle Scrooge, Mickey Mouse, and Archie comics by flashlight–and the light went kind of orangey as the battery ran down. Not good for my eyes.
I heard a lot of great theme music in those days. And Mancini was the greatest of them all.
I couldn’t find a picture that was even close to what I want to write about here–the once-upon-a-time children’s game that my friends and I called “Russian bulldog.” Just try to find a picture of kids playing without uniforms, without coaches, without every single ethnicity self-consciously included. It can’t be done. Look, I’ve got a picture of a Brontosaurus. But no Russian bulldog.
The game was simplicity itself. No equipment needed. No supervision. No freakin’ sponsor! Somebody’s back yard would do for a field. And you needed was five or six kids.
One would be the Russian bulldog. I have no idea how it got that name. He’d stand in the middle of the field and the others would try to run to the opposite end of the field. He would try to tackle somebody; and whoever he succeeded in bringing down would remain on the field with him as Bulldog No. 2. The rest of the kids would then run down the field again, this time trying to avoid two tacklers. The game would go on until there was just one kid left untackled, and he’d be the Russian bulldog in the next game.
We were really into this game, in my neighborhood, at around the ages of 12-13. We played it a lot. And although it consisted of tackling, and running into each other at top speed, nobody ever got hurt. Maybe because we didn’t wear any equipment.
Did you play Russian bulldog with your friends? And if you did, what did you call it?
P.S.–Patty found this antique photo of English schoolboys playing a game called British Bulldog–very similar to Russian bulldog, only the kids get tagged instead of tackled. Here’s the picture.
We’ve been talking about games kids used to play. Not video games. No–ancient games, most of which involved running or hiding. Games like Red Light-Green Light, Mother May I?, Hide and Seek, Duck-Duck-Goose, and Huckle-Buckle Beanstalk.
We had a lot of kids in our neighborhood and my mother taught us how to play all these games. She was by far the coolest mom on the block. Although Huckle-Buckle Beanstalk was played mostly at school. Remember? Someone–it can be several kids, or just one or two–goes outside the classroom to wait while “It” hides the box of paper clips. Then the others come back in and try to find it. The object must be hidden in plain sight! And spectators are allowed to shout “warm, you’re getting warmer!” or “colder, colder, freezing cold!”, etc., to help the searchers along.
Mother May I? had the other kids asking “It” questions like, “May I take two baby steps?”, or else “It” would volunteer a command, “Johnny, take one giant step.” There were umbrella steps, scissors steps, spinning steps, crab steps–probably as many local variations to this game as there were localities.
These games were folklore, genuine folklore, handed down from one generation to the next. You wonder how far back in time some of them go. One expects to see a picture by the Limbourg Brothers showing peasant children in the background playing a game we’d recognize as Red Light-Green Light. Only of course they wouldn’t have called it that in the 14th century.
I wonder how much longer we can keep this lore.
Oh, I almost forgot–Statues! Players advance stealthily toward “It,” but have to freeze instantly whenever she turns around. Anyone she catches moving has to go back to the starting line. I really enjoyed Statues.
These were among my very favorite toys as a kid–Miller Co. wax dinosaurs. I’m so glad I still have two of them left–a big Stegosaurus and a smaller one. These wax toys had a regrettable tendency to break. I’ll bet the Dimetrodon’s and Triceratops’ tails broke off while they were taking this picture.
Our snow is turning into slush today–but not to worry, we’ve got some more snow in our forecast–and if I were ten years old, today I’d be building skyscrapers with our plastic skyscraper kit and working out stories involving dinosaurs and skyscrapers. We also had a Cape Canaveral play set whose rockets came in very handy when you had to defend the skyscrapers. A rubber-tipped Atlas rocket would take out even a Tyrannosaur with a direct hit. But I usually rooted for the dinosaurs, so they had spring-powered missiles, too.
Ah, the imagination! Cavemen lined up on the roof of a skyscraper, armed with rocks and spears, fending off a giant Pterodactyl, commanded by a plastic figurine of Davy Crockett–even the movies couldn’t match it. With Sir Lancelot riding out in armor to do battle with creatures he supposed, not unreasonably, to be dragons.
These stories could go on all the way to suppertime.