Tag Archives: nostalgia

Memory Lane: A Double-Decker Bike

I suppose this idea would naturally occur to a certain kind of mechanically-inclined person: mount one bicycle on top of another, and have a double-decker bike. A wealth of videos shows it has occurred to more than a few.

Back in my neighborhood, circa 1962, one of our weirder characters attained celebrity–a front page spread, with photo, in our local weekly newspaper–by creating one of these tall bikes. It surprised us all. We knew him best for being the kind of person our parents ordered us to stay away from, or else. The police were very well acquainted with him. But once he started riding his double-decker bike around town, no one could keep us kids away from him.

He finally came up short when a few of us dared him to ride his bike across the ice on Tommy’s Pond. As might have been expected, halfway across, the ice gave way and down he went into some exceedingly cold water. He struggled out, somehow–the pond is only two feet deep, at the most–but that was curtains for his bike. He never resurrected it. Then he went back to stealing sheets and other items from his neighbors’ clotheslines, attaining another but less desirable kind of fame; and our parents went back to warning us off his company.

Our town was smaller then, much smaller; and its more eccentric citizens more visible.


Summertime Fads

Image result for images of kids using pea shooters

We must not let the summer pass without some mention of summertime fads.

There used to be this place called “outside,” and that’s where we were, all summer long. I think it might still be there, somewhere, although children don’t appear to be visiting it much, these days.

One summer, we all had pea shooters–just these little plastic straws… through which we shot dried peas at each other. Now it’s all I can do to find a picture of a pea shooter. Mostly I just found stills and videos of this character called “Pea Shooter” from some electronic game which keeps kids indoors instead of moving them “outside.” I should add that nobody, for all the pea-shooting we did, ever shot their eye out.

Then there was the hula hoop, a nationwide craze that’s still with us. Everybody had one of those, too. Tommy Mascola, next door, used to be able to walk up and down stairs while keeping the hoop rotating around his hips. This made him a neighborhood celebrity. Too bad “America’s Got Talent” hadn’t been invented yet.

Another local fad was these little rubber rockets: you inserted a cap (from a cap gun) into the nose cone, and when you tossed it into the air and it came down on the sidewalk, it would go “bang!” Richly entertaining.

And there were impromptu bike races, home-made parachutes, and these weird candies that would go all fizzy when you put them into your mouth. I wonder what ever happened to them.

On the whole, I’m sure we had more fun than we would have ever had “inside” all day, fatzing around with video games and cell phones.



Memory Lane: Bill Ding Blocks

Image result for 1950s building blocks shaped like men

Remember these? “Bill Ding Blocks,” they were called, made of wood and brightly colored. They were also called “balancing clowns.” Those strangely leering little figures were supposed to be clowns. And if you were patient, with a light touch, you could set them up into all sorts of improbable arrangements. I used to play with these with my friend, David, next door. We were little more than toddlers at the time, and improbable arrangements were beyond our powers.

Bill Ding Blocks first came out in 1911. In the early 1960’s the company that made them was bought and the product discontinued, but the owner believed in his product and eventually bought back the rights to it. Today they’re manufactured in China. It does seem a shame not to make these in America.

David and I enjoyed these unusual blocks; but I think if we’d looked more closely at the faces, we might’ve had second thoughts. Happy memories, though. Happy low-tech memories.

Memory Lane: Your Cavemen Gotta Have Caves

Image result for images of marx toy caveman

It’s 1958 and you’ve just acquired a Marx Dinosaur set, complete with an assortment of cavemen. The little fellow pictured above is one of them. There are also cavemen throwing rocks, walking around with clubs and grinning placidly, making stone tools, and cavewomen preparing supper. It was 1958 and we were not required to show transgender cave-bipeds. etc.

Anyway, you’ve got cavemen and they ought to have a cave. Otherwise the dinosaurs will get them. No cave came with the set, so you had to provide your own.

My cavemen lived in caves made of my mother’s books, Grandpa’s beautiful stone building blocks, upside-down shoeboxes… and sand. The sandbox was the best place for caves, mountains, volcanoes, and forts. You did run the risk of losing a caveman or two, because these figurines were really quite small: that determined-looking spearman up there is only about an inch tall, albeit he’d be taller if he’d only stand up straight. I know exactly how tall everybody is because I still have my cavemen, except for those few who, for all I know, are still somewhere at the bottom of the sandbox in the playground next door. Uh, no, wait–they’ve expanded the school to swallow up the playground, and there is no more sandbox. Kids don’t play there anymore.

Is it already too late to teach children to use their imaginations?

I think God will help us if we try.

Memory Lane: Sgt. Pepper’s White House Guards

Image result for nixon white house guard uniforms

All right, some of you don’t remember the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” album, with the off-the-wall uniforms. And probably even fewer of you remember these White House guard uniforms from 1970.

Can you dig those black hats? They were made of plastic. Cool.

It was Richard Nixon’s fault. He was inspired by assorted palace guard uniforms he’d seen on a recent trip to Europe, and he thought his White House guards looked pretty hum-drum by comparison. So he had ’em wear these instead–and didn’t the whole country (except for a few members of my family) get a big fat belly-laugh over that! The uniforms were an irresistible target for satire, and were soon phased out. In 1980 the last of them were donated to a marching band in Utah. Alice Cooper wanted some for his band, but he was too late.

It was a different America in 1970. We didn’t grovel to government, like Europeans. Oh, sure, today it’s hip, it’s almost mandatory, to execrate President Trump and all us deplorables who voted for him. But where was the satire when his predecessor, ol’ *Batteries Not Included, was in office? If he’d come up with these ridiculous uniforms, you’d better salute ’em if you know what’s good for you.

Anyhow, in 1970 we had the self-respect to laugh at such pretensions by what were then our elected public servants, not our masters.

May God grant we find out way back.

Memory Lane: Toothpick Sam

Image result for images of 1959 topps sam jones

Something about the light outside today whisked me back to an early Sunday afternoon in 1959, in my Grandpa’s gardens. They’re all gone now, along with the house, the chicken coop: dogwoods, roses, black and red raspberries, grapes, butterfly  bushes. All torn down as a sacrifice to Progress.

So I was standing there in the sunshine, ten years old, opening a pack of baseball cards which Grandma had just given me. And as the wrapper came off, the top card was, as pictured above, Sam Jones: aka “Toothpick Sam,” because he often chewed on a toothpick.

What a treat! This was one of my favorite players ever. I don’t know why. Something about his face, I think: it made me feel like it would be just so wonderful if this man someday took me fishing. It wasn’t exactly hero-worship at first sight: no. Just something in this man’s face that made me really, really like him. Until I had his baseball card, I’d never seen him before.

And oh, bliss! A few days later he was traded to the Giants–my family was a Giants family–and went on to win 21 games for them that year.

Maybe it was the way the light came down on the gardens, behind a houseful of my family. They’re all gone now, too. And as far as it goes for me, baseball’s gone, too–changed so much, I just don’t care about it anymore.

But the memory remains; it’s a very vivid memory. And I’m thankful that I have it.


Memory Lane: Mandrake the Magician

Image result for images of mandrake the magician

[Editor’s Note: I’m kind of steering clear of miserable news this weekend, although it seems to be costing me some readership. Oh, well…]

When I was a boy I looked forward to the color comics in the Sunday paper. Flash Gordon, Little Lulu, Archie, Mark Trail–and Mandrake the Magician. Lee Falk, who went on to create The Phantom, came up with Mandrake in 1934. The comic strip outlived its creator and only stopped running in 2013. I had no idea.

Mandrake the Magician always went around in his magician’s duds, along with his best bud, Lothar. Lothar wore a fez and a leopard skin, finally getting real clothes in 1965–after, I suspect, many a chilly winter. Lothar was an African chief with super-powers of his own. And there was Princess Narda to complete the team. She and Mandrake were engaged to be married, which they finally did in 1997. It was a very long engagement.

My favorite line in this comic strip–Patty and I still use it–was, of course, “Mandrake gestures hypnotically.” The subject, usually a bad guy, was instantaneously hypnotized to see and feel whatever Mandrake planted in his head. We may be thankful that Mandrake never entered politics.

To borrow a motto from World War II paratroopers, “It’s foolish but it’s fun!” I mean, really–always to be wearing a great big cape and high silk hat? Or leopard skin and fez? Don’t magicians ever change their clothes? Or do they just have whole closets full of capes and shiny dinner jackets?

Mandrake, I might add, was a personal friend of the Emperor of the Galaxy. It ensured him always to be able to find a parking space. If magic can’t do that for you, political pull surely will.

Memory Lane: Not Quite Built for Two

One of the fun things we could do in the summer was modify our bicycles. My friends across the street, Bobby and Ellen, modified two bikes, combining them into a tandem bicycle built for two.

The folks who appear in this video seem to have followed exactly the same easy method of turning two bikes into one. Simply remove the front wheel from Bike A and place its fork over the back wheel of Bike B. You’ll have to tighten the nuts good and tight or the blamed thing will fall apart. Bobby and Ellen’s home-made tandem bike never fell apart, and I think it turned better than this one in the video.

Anyhow, that old double bike looked way cool and we all took turns riding it. But eventually Ellen wanted her front wheel back, so that was the end of that.

Memory Lane: An Innocent Little Song

This is one of those innocent little songs that children used to sing–and maybe still do, somewhere–although I never knew anybody who could sing it as fast as Burl Ives does. Frog Went A-Courtin’ is a folk song with more variations, optional verses, than you can shake a stick at. I kept waiting for my favorite, about “the little moth who wiped her mouth on the table-cloth,” but Mr. Ives didn’t include it.

Yeah: this one, the one about the old woman who swallowed a fly (and then a spider to catch the fly, etc.), Jimmy Crack’d Corn, and the slightly less than dignified Jars and Jars of Green and Gushy Gopher-Guts–brightened up many an hour of childhood, way back when. I’m sure I don’t want to know what they’re singing now.

Anyone for Pop Goes the Weasel?

Memory Lane: A Hot Summer Day

Image result for images of children playing in pond

When you’re ten years old and school is out on summer vacation, it doesn’t matter how hot the day is–you’re going for the gusto. At least, that’s how it used to be.

If it’s really, really hot, you play in the water. In our neighborhood, on the edge of the woods, was a little seasonal pond with a clean shale bottom. We sat in the water, or waded in it, splashing around with our toys. If you were a little older, the high school football field next door usually had its sprinkler system going, and we played around in that.

A hundred degrees? What did we care! We could squirt each other with garden hoses, or sit in rubber wading pools. And when I was twelve, I made sure I got the afternoon newspaper first so I could look at all the baseball box scores and see how Willie Mays did in the night game. I remember sitting on the lawn with the paper open to the sports page and my little iguana, very far from being a big iguana yet, perched on my shoulder.

So we rode our bikes and pitched horseshoes until we got hot, and then soaked down in the pond, the sprinklers, a pool, or in the front yard with the hose.

You never see that anymore. And that’s a pity, because it was good. I’m sorry kids miss out, these days, on times like that.

%d bloggers like this: