Memory Lane: Water-Powered Rocket

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.

But I think I’ve learned my lesson.

Memory Lane: ‘Kukla, Fran, and Ollie’

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.

Memory Lane: ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’

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.

And somehow everything was cleaner…

Memory Lane: The ‘Peter Gunn’ Theme

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.

Memory Lane: Plastic Skyscraper Kit

Image result for images of plastic skyscraper kit

Nobody likes to go outside in freezing rain. A day like today brings back memories of a plastic skyscraper kit my brother used to have. It was nowhere near as fancy as the one in the picture above, but it had hundreds of pieces and it certainly sufficed.

My brother and I used to try to construct buildings that would use all the pieces in the kit. That would keep us busy for a while. You started with a composite wood base and built up from there. It had room for two skyscrapers, which we could connect with walkways. By and by the building would become inhabited by dinosaurs, cavemen, and wild animals, and adventures would follow.

The pieces interlocked, no glue involved, you could always take a building apart and make another one. That was the only way you could get the Brontosaurus out. Hours of fun.

Lego still exists, so there must be kids out there who have the attention span required to build an elaborate plastic skyscraper. Such a peaceful, soothing game to play! Grandma used to hope that one or both of us would grow up to be engineers who built bridges. She had to settle for plastic skyscrapers. And so did we–but they sufficed. They did indeed.

Memory Lane: Coming Home from the Scary Movie

Time Machine, The (1960) | Nostalgia Central

Morlocks! I knew they had to be around here somewhere!

I’m 11 years old, The Time Machine is playing at the old Forum Theater, it’s Friday night–and by some miracle, my folks let me go to see the movie. I walked there with my friend Jimmy, from down the street. He’s 12.

Okay, we’ve seen the movie, time to walk home. We could’ve gone via Main Street, but I guess we were feeling kind of grown-up and adventurous so we went by way of the back streets instead. There was nowhere near as much street lighting then as there is now.

It didn’t take us long to get the creeps. The Morlocks, the baddies in the movie… what if there were Morlocks hiding in the darkness, getting ready to jump out on us? We picked up the pace a little. We laughed nervously at our fanciful idea–I mean, come on, really! That didn’t make the Morlocks go away. Happily, we made it home before they attacked us. Dawdling Morlocks.

I wonder if kids even have this experience anymore. All it did for us was to enhance the movie experience and provide me with a pleasant memory. I wonder about the state of their imaginations.

Gee, for some reason the daily nooze this month makes me think of Morlocks… a lot…

Memory Lane: A Whopper of a Snow Day

Child walking through deep snow Stock Photo - Alamy

I may have told this story once before; but what with today’s white sky and cold temperature, I think I’ll tell it again.

Rewind to 1966. It’s snowing like crazy when we get up in the morning, but they haven’t shut the schools and off we had to go–my brother, our friend Gary from next door, and me. Off to the bus stop, with the snow coming down like gangbusters. And after waiting half an hour, it became obvious to us that the bus wasn’t running that day.

“Well, let’s walk!” I said. Some two miles to our high school, and now it was snowing even more heavily. But we were young, we liked the challenge–and in just an hour and a half, we made it to the school.

Hardly anyone was there: maybe a quarter of the staff and a few dozen of the student body. My home room was Mrs. Wilcox’s chemistry lab, one of the few classrooms that was open. Mrs. Wilcox had put up a dart board for the half a dozen students who were there. That was a treat! We played darts while Mrs. Wilcox read a novel.

By and by the principal came in and sent everybody home. The snow was deeper now, but we didn’t mind. Up to our knees and still coming down. Two hours to get home. And after lunch we went back out again, all the way down to Tommy’s Pond to help other kids clear the snow off the pond for ice skating–which was what we and a lot of other townspeople did that evening.

It sort of went without saying that school would be closed the next day, too. So we went to the Y, which was mysteriously open–I guess so Mr. Williams could smoke his pipe in peace–and shot pool for a while in the adults’ lounge; and then back to Gary’s basement for a game of cards.

What fun that was, all of it! My father went ice-skating that night: couldn’t get the car out, our dead-end street was among the last to be plowed. Lots and lots of sledding at the pond, with a fire in a metal drum so you could warm your hands.

I wonder if they have snow days in Heaven. Betcha they do.

O Christmas Tree!

We have a real Christmas tree every year. It’s a tradition. For both of us here, it brings back Christmas memories going all the way back to early childhood. And some of our ornaments, handed down by grandparents, are older than that.

But in recent years, most people have gone for artificial trees.

Until this year.

This year the word is that the demand for real trees is higher than it’s been for years (https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2020/11/27/christmas-tree-more-americans-flocking-to-fresh-cut-evergreens). In fact, sales reached a new high even before Thanksgiving.

They’re trying to chalk this up to King COVID somehow, but I think the truth is more profound than that. And simpler.

This year, more than other years, we need Christmas. We need the family and the Christmas tree, and we need it all to be real, we need the carols; and above all, we need our Savior, Jesus Christ. We’ve been trying to get buy on fake stuff longer than is good for us. Our souls are starving. We need Christ to be born in us, in our hearts.

We don’t need any more fake nooze, fake elections, fake celebrities, fake science, phony world leaders–we’ve had enough, and we’re choking on it.

We need the Baby in the Manger–and His Father, the God who has blessed everything that is wholesome, sane, and decent.

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: Chia Pets

Chia Bull | Chia pet, Garden gifts, Pets

Back in the 1970s, when cable TV was in its infancy, regular broadcast TV was chock-full of commercials for these–Chia Pets. You had these clay figurines and you coated them with Chia seeds, and voila–you had a lamb with a woolly green coat, or some guy with a big green afro.

At least that was what was supposed to happen. We gave one to Grammy and Uncle Bernie for Christmas, but try as they might, they couldn’t get the Chia seeds to sprout. And my mother said, “Oh, well! Nothing ever works for them.” Not entirely fair, I thought: but all they ever got out of it was a bare clay sheep.

I don’t know how many of these were sold, but given the sheer number of commercials, they must have been successful somewhere. Did any of you have Chia Pets that sprouted?

And then the commercials stopped and that was that. Chia Pets are still available online, but it’s hardly the fad it once was.

Imagine if you could accurately predict what was going to become a fad. But who saw the hula hoop coming? Or pet rocks? Or those shoes with springs on them so you could boing-boing down the sidewalk like a kangaroo? Some of my friends had those, but all they got out of them was a series of prat falls.

Pop culture: go figure!