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.
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?
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.)
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.
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?
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.
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.
When I was a boy, I never met a man who didn’t have a workbench either in his basement or his garage.
I can see it now, my father’s work area. The big bench strewn with tools, and more tools stored in old dressers on the flanks. Jars full of screws and nuts and nails of all different sizes. Uncle Bernie’s work area was nice and neat, like the one in the picture above, but my father’s was more mystical: more intriguing.
In those days, men were expected to know how to fix things, and even how to build some of the things they needed, rather than buy them. Was this because they were all biggits? But what a world of wonder for us kids! I wouldn’t have dared switch on the power saw. But the vise! Hammers! Screwdrivers! And all those cool doo-dads he used to bring home from the Ford plant. I wound up making a lot of my own toys–a whole Civil War flotilla, back in 1961, ideal for naval engagements on various mud puddles in the neighborhood.
I don’t know if every household still has such a magical alcove as a workbench area, these days. I was never very good with tools, but they were so much a part of everyday life, you just couldn’t help learning how to use them. All you had to do was watch your father, and you’d pick it up.
Need I add that my sister had free access to all this fun, just like her brothers?
All I can say now is, I should’ve spent even more time watching my father and my uncles, my grandparents, my mother and my aunts. I would have learned a lot more!
So yesterday it was almost 60 degrees, and today it’s in the 20s and snowing like mad: welcome to February. And oh, that wind!
I’ve just finished clearing our cars so we can use them tomorrow. It’s funny–no matter how old I get, I’ll never forget the unexpected joy of waking up on a snowy morning to learn that there’ll be no school today! How can I not love snow? Sledding, snowball fights, snowmen and snow-forts–who in his right mind would rather be sitting in a classroom?
And now, I think, it’s time for a cigar…
My daddy worked at the Ford plant for some 25 years, starting a little after I was born. Went to high school, served in the Navy during World War II, got married, settled into a job, and raised a family. In this he was not at all unusual.
It seems incredible now, but throughout the 1950s and 60s, his Ford paycheck was the only source of money for a family of five. But that paycheck was enough to provide the five of us with a house in a quiet, pleasant neighborhood, a nice car every few years, good food on the table every day, a family vacation most years, nice clothes for children who kept growing out of them–in short, with everything we needed, and most of what we wanted. My mother only had to work occasionally, and never for long. Mostly she wisely managed the family’s money.
None of this was unusual. Our whole neighborhood was one-paycheck households, with everybody pretty much at the same middle-class standard of living. The father worked. The mother raised the kids and ran the house. We went to school, and to church, and played. The grownups got together for poker, or to watch TV, and sometimes had a pickup baseball game. Boy, I loved to watch my father hit!
It was all so ordinary, so sane. So wonderful. I’m sitting here writing about it and my eyes are starting to tear up. This was wealth that can’t be measured in money.
This was America.