Tag Archives: nostalgia

Memory Lane: Toy Horses

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See that beautiful palomino horse, rearing up on his hind legs? It was a popular toy in the 1950s, and I still have mine, and it’s still beautiful. They came in two different poses and several colors. In fact, I still have half a dozen of them. Each one came with a cowboy, a rather fragile saddle (that’s the green thing, and I’m afraid none of my saddles have survived), even more fragile reins and bridles, and a very tiny hat for the cowboy’s head. I still have one of the cowboys, but no hats.

My animal box that my father made for me is full of plastic horses of all different shapes and sizes. Like a lot of kids of that era, I was horse-crazy. On rainy days, indoors, or sunny days in the sandbox, I trotted out my horses and put them through adventures. What with all the westerns on TV at the time, that wasn’t hard to do. And the hours drifted by so pleasantly.

Castles made of my mother’s books, looming fortresses of sand–my horses had their work cut out for them. But those stories I made up for them always came out all right in the end. Soon I left off making up western stories and had my horses interacting with lions, elephants, and dinosaurs.

I wish I could line them up and take a picture for you. If you’re my age, you might spot some dear old friends among the crowd.

A Crabby Crab

Here’s a little something I miss from our old fishin’ day–the crab who gets hauled into your boat while trying to steal your bait, and then wants to make an issue of it. These little fellows can be feisty! The big ones we kept–yum, yum!–but the small ones got a talking-to and tossed back into the water.

Note the silly hormad in this video tempting the crab with his finger. He’d’ve sung a different tune if the crab had caught him!

Video Treat: ‘The Mermaid,’ the Clancy Brothers

I learned this old, old folk song at summer camp, and have sung it around more than a few campfires since. There are a hundred minor variations, but the end of the story never changes. I do enjoy the Clancy Brothers’ rendition of it.

And maybe tomorrow I can get to work on typing up my book!

Memory Lane: Halloween

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(This will be the first Halloween, in I don’t know how many decades, without Zacherley, “the Cool Ghoul,” who died a year ago tomorrow. He and his maniacal laugh worked right up to the end.)

Patty and I have just returned from a ride around town, looking at Halloween decorations. I can’t say much for Halloween as it is today–too much nastiness has seeped into it–but even so, it does call forth pleasant memories. Just to name a few:

The store windows in New Brunswick, all painted with Halloween scenes. My father used to take us there to marvel at them.

The huge, grey Victorian house catty-corner from the Y, peeling paint, grey boards, surrounded by encroaching stunted trees–with a yellow light in one of the windows on Halloween: and how we kids trick-or-treating used to scuttle past it in a hurry.

A nice little black and orange whistle I used to have, in the shape of two cute little owls.

My friend Bobby’s precocious imitation of Zacherley imitating Boris Karloff.

Bobbing for apples in a washtub in one of the many little grocery stores our town used to have. They’re all gone now. So are the apples.

Those special assorted Brach’s mallowcremes that only came out for Halloween–yellow, orange, brown, and honey-colored, shaped like pumpkins, cats, ears of corn, bats, witches, shocks of wheat, the Man in the Moon, etc. I loved those! They’re still around, but few stores seem to carry them.

Everybody coming to school in their Halloween costumes–quite a break in the routine.

Aunt Millie serving Halloween cookies and making spooky noises from some undisclosed location in the house. She always got into the spirit of any holiday.

The special, thick, 25-cent Halloween issue of Little Lulu.

These and other details I’ve stored up as memories of a good time, a fun time, wholesome, harmless, nothing to do with violent video games about shooting blood-crazed zombies… and at least I can still get mallowcremes, even if all the rest of it is gone for good. But at least it’s gone where this unhappy age can’t touch it anymore.

Memory Lane (More Old Fogey Stuff): Rubber Band-Powered Boats

1961, the Civil War Centennial: and I wanted to go out to some of those lovely huge mud puddles on the playground and re-fight the Monitor vs. the Merrimac.

First I had to make the ships; and the operating principal was the same as displayed in this video, only instead of styrofoam I used left-over wood paneling, and instead of a sharp knife, a jigsaw. Add the rubber band-powered paddles, tack on a rotating turret for the Monitor, and you’re in business. In fact, these little ships were so successful, that I made a whole fleet of them.

I had to provide sound effects with cap guns, and line the shores of the puddle with little plastic soldiers, blue and grey, and the result was hours of fun. My father bought the jigsaw in the first place so we could make our own jigsaw puzzles, but the rubber band boats were even better.

And all it cost was the few hours it took to make the ships.

Sanity Break: Flight of the Knuckleball

My brother-in-law has had to be hospitalized for his dementia, and who knows how it’ll turn out? Please pray for him.

Meanwhile, permit me this indulgence. All my life I’ve wanted to throw a knuckleball, and have yet to accomplish it. Watch the video and see how the ball wobbles and wanders on its way to the catcher, who almost drops it. No wonder it’s so hard to hit.

The shortstop on our softball team, Sandy, had a terrific knuckleball. You really couldn’t tell where it was going to go. It’s hard to describe what I saw while waiting to catch it. A softball isn’t supposed to flutter like a moth! As a first baseman, I used to dread the possibility that someday Sandy would give in to temptation and throw me one of these fluttering moths during a game; but he never did.

It’s raining now, so I can’t go outside and try again with some black walnuts. By the time I was fifty I’d finally mastered the curveball, then the screwball; but the knuckleball continues to elude me. I’ll keep trying, though. It’s goofy things like this that keep you young.

The Awfulness of ‘Queen for a Day’

My Grandma had what I could only think of as a very strange taste in television. I ought to know: I spent many an afternoon at her house, just the two of us.

She loved those old soap operas with the creepy organ music, most of whose plots seemed to consist of old ladies getting a raw deal; but the show that really gave me the willies was Queen for a Day. As I remember the format, the poor old trout with the most baroque sob story got to be Queen for a Day and received a lot of rather cheap prizes. This pioneering effort in reality TV ran on NBC from 1956-1960, and on ABC till 1964. It has since been equaled many times for sheer horribleness, but never surpassed.

For entertainment and edification value, it ranked somewhere between a deep paper cut and stepping in what your neighbor’s Great Dane left on your lawn when he got loose.

Oops! Wrong video! Somehow I got the 28-minute sample instead of the 2-minute one. Please don’t feel obliged to sit through the whole thing. Two or three minutes is more than enough.

Memory Lane: ‘Oleanna’

This came out in 1959, and soon us kids were singing it at YMCA summer camp. The mess hall rang with it: Oleanna, a Norwegian-American folk song. This version’s by the great Theodore Bikel, plus Israeli folksinger Geula Gill.

Yes, this song was sung by those eccentric people who came here legally, embraced their new country, took pride in becoming Americans, and never demanded to be rewarded for breaking immigration laws. They learned to sing our songs, we learned to sing theirs, and the songs wound up belonging to all of us.

(Inane Y camp memory: Kid to counselor: “Bruce put a boogie in the Kool-Ade, I seen him!” Counselor bops his against the table. Some people will do anything to pay their way through college–but maybe that’s ancient history, too.)

Memory Lane: ‘My Weekly Reader’ & Project Mohole

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Hopefully I can get through this Memory Lane piece without stirring up any controversy.

Once a week, back in the 1950s, school kids received a copy of My Weekly Reader, a news magazine for children. We liked it because it broke up the monotony of school and classroom. Launched in 1928, and discontinued just a few years ago in 2012, My Weekly Reader brought us kids up to date on the news of the world. It was how we kept up with the dawning Space Age: terribly exciting stuff.

But even more exciting was Project Mohole, a mind-blowing scientific experiment to drill all the way through the earth’s crust. I mean, who knew what would happen? In 1961 they started drilling through the sea bed in over 11,000 feet of water, and they drilled down another 600 feet before Congress killed the project in 1966 because of rising costs. But it was fascinating while it lasted!

It was an exciting time: Antarctic exploration, satellites, space travel–by mice, dogs, monkeys, and chimpanzees first, and then by humans–and Project Mohole. I could hardly wait for each week’s installment of My Weekly Reader. What was going to be coming out of that hole, once they broke through the crust? Monsters? A lost civilization underground? Alas, we never found out.

I shudder to think of what children in public schools are handed out, these days, by way of “news.”

But then we adults don’t have it so much better.

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.


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