Tag Archives: my childhood

Memory Lane: Marx Jungle Animals

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Boy, oh, boy, did I love these when I was a little boy! Marx jungle animals–I still have dozens of them in my toy box. I think I was five years old when Aunt Millie gave me my first little set of them.

I used these as characters in “stories” that went on all summer, or all winter, or whenever. I gave them names and put them in adventures. Some of those pictured above are newer than any of mine, but ten of them are originals from the 1950s.

Sometimes my brother or my friends would join me in playing out these little dramas, and sometimes I played alone. Once I started getting dinosaurs and cavemen, too, the stories got more exciting. Lost treasures, nasty big game hunters that had to be dealt with, lost worlds full of monsters–whatever popped into our heads, often inspired by a movie or TV show, we used. Unusually, I rarely played with little army men. I was committed to the animals.

Do kids still do this kind of play? Or has it all be buried under a mass of video games? I don’t know. Maybe some of you have children or grandchildren who use their toys to act out stories. Careful–they might grow up to be fantasy writers.


Remember Monkie-Sticks?

This was an educational toy from the 1950s: Monkie-Sticks. Except for this one picture, above, of an unopened pack, Monkie-Sticks has slid into oblivion. But some of you must have had them!

What did you do with them? Why, you built things with ’em! The sticks linked together, end to end, and the little monkeys (“monkies”) provided four-way links. My friend David and I played with Monkie-Sticks by the hour.

On a dreary rainy day like this, with everything an hour late because of stupid Daylight Saving Time, and no way to remedy it, I kind of wish I had a pack of Monkie-Sticks. Hey, come on over! We’ll build really drafty little houses for my toy dinosaurs and cavemen.

Memory Lane: ‘The Jones Boy’

This is one of the songs my father used to sing to us when we were little. He had quite a repertoire of songs, just right for those awkward moments when you were sure there was a ghost just outside your bedroom window. If you were really in a bad way, he’d sing “You Are My Sunshine.” Not so bad, you’d get “Sweet Violets.”

But I think he sang “The Jones Boy” because he really liked it. I was five years old when the Mills Brothers first sang it on the air; my brother Mark was two, and my sister Alice hadn’t been born yet. Later on in life I remember my father playing the spoons as he sung this.

Anyway, here it is from 1957 on glorious black-and-white TV: the Mills Brothers, and “The Whole Town’s Talking About the Jones Boy.” It was a big hit for them, but I’ll always remember the way my daddy sang it.

Memory Lane: The Great Estate

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I’m old enough now to wonder whether some of my childhood memories are really memories. I wonder if they’re only dreams.

Once upon a time there was a great estate in our neighborhood, complete with large in-ground swimming pool. Nobody but very rich people had those. There was a huge white house and all sorts of smaller buildings assembled around it, like chicks around the mother hen.

We called it “Oppenheim’s.” It’s possible that this wasn’t really its name, but that’s the name we had for it.

Oppenheim’s was separated from the ordinary homes on Juniper Street by a little stream, a bit of marshland, and just a few yards of spindly woods. I remember one day I managed to get to the opposite bank of the stream for a closer look at Oppenheim’s. One of the older kids started to pick on me, and a man came over from Oppenheim’s and chased him away.

And then one day Oppenheim’s was deserted. Suddenly no one lived there. That was the signal for my friends and me to cross over to the estate and run wild, exploring everything, pretending it was ours. We got into the big house. Oh, so many rooms! I think one was a ballroom. It was sort of like the house in a game of Clue, only without the billiard tables. We kept daring each other to swim in the pool; but summer had passed, and dead leaves increasingly blanketed the water and turned it dark and murky. No one took the dare.

And then the bulldozers came and tore it all down, gorgeous white house, outbuildings, stables, garage, and all. No more Oppenheim’s. In its place, a housing development–three or four blocks’ worth.

Patty and I have searched the Internet for any mention of the Oppenheim estate in our town, circa 1957, but have yet to find a single word about it. It’s like it never was. Like I’d only dreamed about it. Very vivid dreams, but no proof that they were anything but dreams.

A piece of my past is missing; and it’s not the only one. Around here, hardly anything has been left the way I remember it. This can be disconcerting. Much of what I knew is gone.

I wonder–if I dream a little deeper, can I find the way back to Oppenheim’s?

I’d like to thank that guy who chased away the bully.


‘Drinking from the Springs’ (2014)

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This really ought to be a “Memory Lane” piece, but it was written before Memory Lane came into being. The springs are still paved over, though.


Think about it. The Lord gives us fresh, clean, cold, beautiful drinking water at no cost to us at all, gushing up out of the ground all day and night, every day and night–and what do we do with it? We pave it over!

I sometimes wonder how He can live with our ingratitude.

Memory Lane: ‘Tales of Wells Fargo’

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I had to go to Wells Fargo today to do yet more paperwork for Aunt Joan’s very small estate. As I sat there at the banker’s desk, and he ran stuff through his computer, I got to thinking about one of the many TV westerns that I used to watch when I was a kid–including Tales of Wells Fargo, starring Dale Robertson as a Wells Fargo agent who went around having all sorts of adventures and foiling the bad guys. It ran from 1957 through 1962, complete with comic books and bubblegum cards.

I don’t know what I would’ve thought, back then, if I’d found out Wells Fargo is just a bank–a bank!–like any other bank: the last place in the world you’d go to, if you were looking for really colorful adventures. Oh, the crushing disappointment! It’d be like finding out that Tarzan was a greeter at Walmart. Or that Bat Masterson was a sportswriter for a newspaper. (Uh, dude–Bat really was a sportswriter… fap…)

It was all a lot more interesting, the way it was shown on TV.

‘Freaked Out by Everyday Things’ (2013)

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“Quick, get me into counseling!”

Do people truly not know where food comes from?

‘Fraid so.


The woman has conniptions because she finds a chicken foot among the chicken breasts. The other woman has to get her kid into counseling because he saw a worm in a corn cob.

I admit I probably couldn’t kill and eat an animal I knew personally. But I buy meat in the supermarket and I know where it comes from. When my mother was a girl, they had chickens and when they wanted one for dinner, Grandpa would grab one and cut off its head. Her memories of that were quite vivid; and so, I thought when I was little, were her descriptions. So I grew up kind of soft-hearted.

But there’s a difference between soft-hearted and soft-headed. When some collidge stodent says, “Food just is!”, you know you’re dealing with someone who is farther removed from reality than is good for her.

Memory Lane: ‘The Adventures of Gunga Ram’

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When I was five or six years old, I used to get up awful early on Saturday morning so I could watch Andy’s Gang on our old black-and-white TV, with this little screen that was like a square porthole. And one of the highlights of the show was a serial, “The Adventures of Gunga Ram.”

Gunga Ram was a boy in India who had lots of cool adventures, mostly because he was helping the local maharajah out of assorted tight spots. These were taken from a movie called Sabaka, made in 1953 and converted into a serial in ’54.

What I wouldn’t have given to be friends with Gunga Ram! Complete with elephants and tigers, and even the odd cobra or two.

Some of this antique TV lit up my imagination, big-time. Jungle Jim! Ramar of the Jungle! Soldiers of Fortune! Fury! Wow, I couldn’t get enough of it! I wanted to know all about these places that served as settings for the stories on TV, and the people and the animals that really lived there, and the history, and the language–!

Oh, I know now that Sabaka only plugged in stock footage of India, the young actor who played Gunga Ram was Italian, most of it was shot around Los Angeles, and African lions don’t live in the jungle, after all–and Indian elephants aren’t normally found in Africa, even if they’ve got rubber attached to their ears to make them look like African elephants. Yes, I know it was all make-believe.

But I enjoyed it!

Beware the Valley of Fatigue

[Disclaimer: I loved Welch’s Grape Juice as a boy and I still drink it today: grapes grown here in America by local farmers.]

Here my memory has played a trick on me. I could’ve sworn the “valley of fatigue” commercials were for Geritol, but it turns out they were for Welch’s Grape Juice. I do remember us kids warning each other about the perils of the Valley of Fatigue.

The commercial is from 1960, and Welch’s is still going strong.

Speaking of fatigue, this morning it’s 20 degrees outside, which strikes me as cold. But I saw a man coming out of the supermarket wearing short shorts and flip-flops–no socks, no shoes, no cover for bare legs and bare feet. Am I turning into one of those old men who can never get warm, or was this guy some kind of nut?

Memory Lane: Campfire Tales

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This cold weather makes me think of summery things: to wit, tales around the campfire at YMCA summer camp, where I spent two weeks when I was, I think, eleven years old. These tales were told at night, in the woods, around a roaring fire, by a counselor gifted in the art. Here are three I still remember.

“The Creeping Sand” was a patch of quicksand with a malevolent mind of its own. It crept (of course!) up on you and suddenly attached itself to you, and you couldn’t shake it off and it slowly engulfed you–which made it grow. I don’t remember how they got rid of it.

“The Hairy Kid” grew into what we would call a Bigfoot, nowadays. He grew a lot faster than the other kids and was covered with thick black hair from head to foot. He had a very nasty temper, and eventually he ran away to hide out in the woods, where he preyed on hikers and campers. At the climax of this tale, another counselor leaped out of the dark with a roar and freaked us all out.

“The Hairy Hand”–they had a thing about excess hair, these counselors–was somehow severed from a murderer and went on murdering without him. The hand was really good at silently sneaking up on its victims and suddenly seizing them by the throat. This little tale gave me a couple of whooping great nightmares, but again I can’t remember how it ended.

For all I know, the hairy hand, the hairy kid, and the creeping sand are all still out there, lurking in the woods around the Y camp. (Shudder)

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