Sadly an era passes and leaves in its wake a yearning for what can never be again...
Riding around with my dad on those hot summer Saturday mornings is one of my most cherished of memories. I recall the smell of hot vinyl from the sun scorched seats. Dust was in the air and sunlight glinted off chrome blinding me momentarily. Those radio days, driving around with dad, and punching those square-tab station buttons were the best.
The old cars had style, more so than cars will ever see again. For years, my dad kept the '54 Chev you see at the top of this page. It was great to sit and stare at all the gizmos on the dashboard. On the hot summer days, cruising down the dusty dirt roads, I can still smell that old interior. I used to crack that little wing window for air as we sped down the road. My dad had a steering wheel knob that I never grew tired of. Sometimes, when good fortune led us so far astray, we'd stop at the Montavilla Tavern. They always let me in, and I'd have a grilled cheese and coke while sitting at the bar. Dirt roads like this lead me back to a place that I can never forget. It's almost as if the heat has hit a mid-morning record. Soon, we'll be off again on some sort of Saturday adventure...
I can remember this photo being taken. I don't know how old I was, but it was in 1956. I remember sitting on an old bathroom rug that covered a box, or small table. I guess I remember the rug more than anything else. The photographer was doing something to get me to laugh. My mom is amazed that I remember this picture.
I also remember getting baths in the kitchen sink and how much fun I thought it was. The only thing I didn't like was getting my head under the faucet to get my hair washed.
I used to eat my cereal and drink milk from this 50's classic cup and bowl set. The bowl was a cowboy hat, and the cup was a boot. To put in my milk, my mom bought me the "Clanky" chocolate syrup that looked like a robot.
I also had the strangest fascination for poker chips. I guess it was the colors in each of the rows, and how they clicked and clacked when tossed out onto the table. More than that, they were adult toys, which only fortified my belief in the superiority of being a kid. The basis for my theory: adults were still kids at heart.
Coloring books were the ultimate in artistic freedom. They gave me a special feeling of joy while providing a sanctuary of escape. Soon, I was creating individual works of art=both inside and outside the lines. The waxy smell of the crayons themselves were half the treat. I had the big 64 set with the built-in sharpener. To this day, the urge to pick up a set and go is almost irresistable! My favorite color was Blue-Green. Every now and then, my mom would find more sophisticated coloring books for me, like ocean scenes or pastorals. I especially loved the ocean scenes because I could use that blue-green.
Usually, my coloring books consisted of "Lassie", or "Yogi Bear", or other TV show characters. It wasn't too long before I was drawing on my own, using Crayons faithfully. The most of my works consisted of Army or Jungle scenes. My parents must have purchased stock in Binney & Smith!
I suppose I probably went through dozens of cowboy hats and pistol sets. I was a devout cowboy-sheriff-deputy, and occasional outlaw. It's funny, but back in those days, it truly was bad to be bad! Being the "bad guy" presented us with a sort of "outsider" persona that very few wanted to try on for too long. That's why we always had to take turns. Especially when playing Army. nobody wanted to be the Germans.
My cowboy days never truly saw full fruition as my Mom would NEVER allow me to have an air rifle. I always wanted one desperately, but unlike the movie "A Christmas Story", I wasn't "Ralphie" and I didn't get my Daisy.
When push came to shove, There was nothing like being on wheels! Out of all of these, I think my favorites were my wagon and my trike. The pedal car was cool, but way too hard to pedal. I could never get it going just right. The wagon however, rolled like it was on glass with a beautifully built-in steering column that would be the pre-cursor to my homemade go carts.
"Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding, here comes the Jo-Jo Man!" How the Ice Cream Man and his little Cushman scooter earned the name "Jo-Jo Man" is beyond me.
Still, that was the word for him. The Jo-Jo Man's bell could be heard ringing out a steady cadence from blocks away, plenty enough time to go and beg mom or dad for nickels and dimes. There was a little refrigerated box on the back of his scooter-truck, usually with two doors on top. Standing amongst the neighbor kids anxiously awaiting my turn to spend a dime, I can recall the weak, puttering sound of the engine as it idled in neutral. Inside that freezer compartment were chocolate ice cream bars, Sidewalk Sundaes, Rainbow pops, Popsicles, and ice cream sandwiches. My favorites were the chocolate ice cream crunch bars.
Flying Kites was an almost daily event during the warm and sunny days of spring and summer. Most of us kids on the block headed for our local Food Fair or Irwin's Grocery to buy a 15 cent kite and a roll of string.
The kites were rolled up, and standing in a box near the cash register. Paper kites cost 15 cents. The plastic kites were a quarter. For that extra 10 cents, you were promised the glory of ever-enduring quality, and sometimes brighter colors. However, I always preferred the 15-centers, simply because they had better designs and colors.
My brothers and I would often make our own kites using thin tree branches and newspaper. I can remember using a regular old table knife to carve out grooves on the branches so that when we drew the string like a bow to stretch the branches, everything would fit in perfectly. These homemade kites flew great too! It seemed that there was something more majestic, more miraculous in the discovery of creating something by hand. Spending 15 cents was easy; making your own was a challenge.
I often used the branches from our apple tree. They weren't as green, and would bend correctly when the string was tightened. It was best to take a knife and scrape off all the branch buds, then of course, carve out grooves on both ends. The center piece would have to be the most rugged, but again, light - not green. The object was to literally make a bow (like a bow and arrow) out of both pieces.
As for the store-boughts, the "Hi-Flyer" kites were great. They had wonderful designs that were very visible in mid-altitude. It seemed that everyone loved the "Jolly Roger" kites. It was cool to have one of those, and naturally, they always sold the fastest. In my neighborhood, it was a sort of status thing to be one of the first kids who bought a Jolly Roger kite. It was as if you were saying "I got there before you, therefore, I was smarter!"
My brother Pat and I decided to collect an entire series of rubber bugs that came inside the plastic gumball machine eggs. We had a great collection and almost had them all. Trying to collect these critters from a gumball machine was often a challenge.
Putting your nickel in and turnnig the crank was just a matter of luck and physics. For example, I think I ended up with three scorpions before I finally got a black beetle. I must have spent a fortune in nickels before I got the giant centipede. The most elusive of all however, was the aqua-colored grasshopper.
One particularly good day, when the moon, sun, luck, physics and a bit of voodoo were all with me, I finally got that grasshopper! Pat was so jealous. We could trade back and forth with other kids, but it just wasn't the same as actually getting it from the machine. I guess the old adage was true: the thrill was in the hunt.
During this great time of rubber bug collecting, I went to Lent School. We all called it "Lents" school. In fact, to this day, that's the only name that seems right. It was near Lent's Park where I played baseball on my little league team. Anyway, I was in second grade at Lent School.
I remember that the teacher had a chart on the wall measuring the cleanliness of our fingernails. I always got black marks which were the worst. She used crayons to fill in the little boxes next to your name. I always thought that there were other things much more important for teachers to worry about than the appearance of my fingernails.
It was also here at this school where I first saw "Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers" during lunchtime. They used to show movies during the week in half-hourly installments. It took three days to finish the movie and get me so terrified that I could barely climb the stairs to my room. I was sure that those hideous robot aliens were behind me, or waiting upstairs in the closet.