Memory Lane: The Sears Christmas Catalog

1959 Sears Christmas Book | Christmas books, Christmas catalogs, Vintage  christmas

What kid growing up in the 50s or 60s didn’t love this–the annual Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog?

I spent hours and hours with these. I mean, come on–what’s better than a day off from school because it’s snowing too hard, curled up on the sitting room couch with the Sears catalog?

Everything was in there! Even guns. But my favorite was the section devoted to assorted play sets–the farm, Cape Canaveral, the circus, dinosaurs, Wild West: wow, they had everything!

Animal World Farm Playset (12 Medium size animals in a bag) - Curious Kids

I do wish I still had some of those rubber-nosed rockets and spring-powered launchers from the Cape Canaveral play set. I still have farm animals, circus animals, and jungle animals–and dinosaurs, of course–from other sets. Reminders of sweet Christmas Past. Priceless now.

It’s been many years since I’ve seen a Sears Christmas catalog. Do they still publish them?

But my box of animals is still here, to bring to mind the people that I loved, and family Christmas at my grandpa’s house, and early, early Christmas morning, and my first sight of the decorated tree, the job my father did after he packed his kids off to sleep…

Memory Lane: ‘Astro Boy’

I was shocked to discover that this goofy cartoon, which aired on American TV in 1963-64, is one of the most popular cartoons ever created. There was an Astro Boy book, of 112 chapters, that sold over 100 million copies worldwide. And although it dropped off American TV after 1964, it continued in Japan and is still being expanded to this day.

Astro Boy was a super-robot with human emotions whose job was, according to the theme song, “fighting monsters high in the sky.” I knew a kid in Sunday school who used to sing that theme song at the slightest provocation.

Yeesh, I was in high school when I watched this! Was I really that hard up for entertainment? It had a catchy theme song, though, you’ve got to give ’em that. And you also have to credit Astro Boy with making Japanese manga cartoons popular all over the world.

But I still can’t explain why I watched it.

Obsolete Dinosaurs

Nabisco 50s-60s Palaeoscincus Armored Dinosaur Cereal Premium Dark Pink  (5-23-19)

Nabisco’s Paleoscincus

If there’s anything worse than going extinct, it’s going extinct twice.

As a little boy, I was on fire to learn all that I could about dinosaurs. Uncle Bernie patiently read to me, over and over again, from my dinosaur books. Later in life I discovered how badly he’d butchered the pronunciation of the names–but so what?

Alas! Some of my favorite dinosaurs have been abandoned, rejected, cast out by today’s scientists–who will someday find their own work abandoned, rejected, and cast out by tomorrow’s scientists.

*Paleoscincus. Waddaya mean, it never existed? You could find a perfectly good one in a box of Nabisco Wheat Honeys or Rice Honeys.

*Trachodon, the archetypal duck-billed dinosaur. Look! Here’s a whole mob of Trachodons!

What do the Marx Trachodon and Constantinople Have in Common?

Now we are told Trachodon was a 19th-century blunder reconstructed from teeth from two unrelated groups of animals. I must have a dozen of these Marx Toy Co. trachodons in my dinosaur box. No, they’re not for sale! And hang in there, guys, there’s hope. Remember how they got rid of Brontosaurus for several decades, only having to bring it back last year.

*Deinodon, a fearsome carnivore on a par with Tyrannosaurus rex–only now we’re told that it, too, was cobbled together from teeth from unrelated animals. Who is there left so hardy (or so daft) as to defend poor Deinodon?

*Aliwalia rex, the supersized carnivore from way back in the Triassic–a leg bone and a jaw bone from two different animals put together to make an awesome dinosaur that now they say never existed. Aliwalia lasted just long enough to get some authoritative words about him published in several dinosaur books.

Well, some of today’s dinosaur all-stars will one day be dismissed: don’t get too attached to any of them. Thank heaven I never got that Paleoscincus tattoo…

Memory Lane: ‘Zorro’ (1957)

Was this a hit when I was eight years old, or what? Walt Disney’s Zorro–and you can bet there was a whole lot of swordfightin’ goin’ on in our neighborhood!

Now hardly anybody had color TV back then, but we knew from Zorro bubblegum cards that the show was filmed in color. And of course Zorro had a lot of adventures at night, wearing a black mask and cape and riding a black horse–so how much color did you need?

This show generated pulse-pounding excitement among us kids. I don’t think TV shows can generate that kind of excitement anymore. Maybe because there are so many of them. Maybe because Walt Disney’s dead and the company he founded has gone over to the dark side.

Anyhow, Zorro was way cool–and so was his alter ego, Don Diego–and we all wanted to grow up to be like him. And how was that bad?

Memory Lane: The Sandbox

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Summer has just ended (*sigh*). Something about the quality of the sunshine on this beautiful September Sunday brought me back to playing in the sandbox. We lived next door to the playground, and it was a big sandbox.

Sure, I played in the sandbox when I was a toddler, but I really got into it when I was older. If the sand was a little bit wet from recent rain, you could really go to town with it. Bring along a bag of toy animals, dinosaurs, cowboys, cavemen, army men (of course!), and build the terrain of their adventures. Forts that had to be taken. Pits to be avoided. Mazes that had to be escaped before the Tyrannosaurus ate you. King Arthur’s castle.

Wow, that was fun! So what if we weren’t toddlers anymore? My friends and I had endless fun, putting our soldiers and knights and horses and elephants through one tight spot after another. True, this kind of play required an imagination; but we all had one, back then. Probably because we weren’t constantly spoon-fed “entertainment” that misguided adults thought we should have.

Occasionally we would lose a caveman in the sandbox. Maybe he got lost in a labyrinthine cavern that we never knew was there. I wonder how those lost cavemen made out…

‘You Are My Sunshine’ (Joshua & Jeremy)

Let’s see if I can sing this without starting to cry. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey…” Nope. No can do.

When I was a very little boy with fantods in the night, my father would get up and pick me up, and sing this song to me. How well I remember that. “You’ll never know dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away.” And he meant every word of it. That’s why it moves me so.

Anyway, here are our own Swanson brothers, Joshua and Jeremy, with their rendition of the songs. Nice work, guys! Got me all sappy. But that’s OK.

‘Memory Lane: One Summer Night’ (2016)

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Grandma Moses, we need you!

Sometimes I look back on how different things used to be, and can hardly believe I’m still on the same planet.

Memory Lane: One Summer Night

Yes, they had block dances on the school blacktop in the evening. Nothing could be more harmless. The three of us kids watching from the upstairs window. Ray Bradbury got a lot of mileage out of scenes like this. So did Grandma Moses. How wise they were!

Can you imagine such a scene today? It would turn into a riot.

Culture rot has advanced very far indeed.

Memory Lane: ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’

I was surprised yesterday when one of my friends said she’d never heard this song, nor heard of it. Written back in 1928, Big Rock Candy Mountain was a hit song when I was a little boy. The great Burl Ives made it a hit. It was on one of those childrens’ record albums that my mother had for us, and I’ve seen it published in any number of folk songbooks.

True, some of it sounds a lot like Democrat campaign promises. Try to ignore that. And enjoy how beautifully Burl Ives hits the high note.

Memory Lane: Summer Sundays

Kids Play Badminton Image & Photo (Free Trial) | Bigstock

Today is exactly the kind of summer Sunday that my family would have enjoyed by getting together for a backyard barbecue. Hamburgers, hot dogs, beer for the gents, and lots and lots of good talk–what else is a screened-in back porch for?

And if we went to Uncle Ferdie’s house, or to Aunt Florence’s, each place came equipped with cousins to play with and a backyard badminton set. Suddenly I really miss that! I love that “ponk” sound the racket makes when you bop the birdie.

I wish our cyber-family could get together for a day like that. Horseshoes, too. That’s another summer sound I miss, the clang of horseshoes hitting the stake. Or maybe we could all go over to Grandpa’s house and set up our lawn chairs under the catalpa tree.

Betcha anything they’ve got horseshoes and badminton in Heaven.

Memory Lane: Jon Gnagy

Fast, Fun & Effective Ways, To Paint & Draw! - Art-NY Gallery

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Jon Gnagy’s Learn to Draw was among the most popular educational TV shows. I watched it regularly, and sent away for one of his instructional kits. And you know what? It really helped me learn to draw!

His lessons usually started by showing you the basic geometric shapes–cones, cubes, spheres, etc.–underlying the objects that you wished to draw; and then he’d show you how to build on those. For instance, you’d start with a cone and build it, step by step, into a sheaf of wheat, a teepee, or a church steeple. The kit had a variety of pencils, charcoal sticks, and this really cool “kneaded eraser” that was like a ball of Silly Putty. And it had a book of scenes that you could learn to draw–again, step by step.

Over the years, I got rather good at drawing all kinds of things. It was fun! We still have Patty’s Learn to Draw kit stowed upstairs. Still lifes, landscapes, people and animals–it’s all in there.