There were moody days when nothing in particular was going on. On these days, you just had to pass the time whatever way you could. Sometimes it would be with a stack of comics under a shady tree , or out seeking adventure somewhere on my bike. It's a true fact that the skies were a deeper blue then; There was much less pollution than now, and even the air felt lighter. The sky was young, and like myself, full of dreams cleverly hidden behind vagrant cloud puffs or perhaps the sheer simplicity of the wondrous blue.
Summer skies were a joy , inviting a freshly-strung kite or perhaps a game of army with the other kids. Thinking back on it all, I can recall how those summer skies drove us to seek shade under sprawling trees, to roll on velvet grass, or play games in the street. Often I would set out on my own with my trusty machine gun and plastic army helmet and canteen . I'd be out on recon mission, turning over rocks, rusting the bushes and coaxing adventure from wherever it could be found.
As for my friends and myself, we would always find a lonely back street, or road that led to another neighborhood. It was all a part of summer, to be free, and young, and adventurous, yet unfortunately still within earshot of Mom's call. It's funny how parents did that; They put their hands up to their mouths and shouted out a kid's name as loud as they could...
"J-e-f-f-f-f! Time to come in for dinner!"
I know that everyone has their favorite summer memories. I think that some of my favorite summer memories are of playing outside till dark on warm evenings. Everything fun came out at night. Games of hide and seek were extremely popular on my block. Nobody really wanted to be "it" (the person who buries his or her head in the crook of their arm and counts to twenty or fifty by twos while everyone else finds a secure hiding place).
That was the real fun; finding that special hiding place, the one that nobody would ever figure out in a million years. There were those special occasions when I would be the recipient of the old "Olly, Olly Oxen free!" shouts of surrender.
Sundown also brought families out of their sweltering living rooms to the front porch to sit with neighbors or just take in a bit of the calm evenings. Front porch treats consisted of juicy watermelon or cantaloupe, or on rare occasions, a wedge of Neapolitan ice cream served in a bowl.
I can recall crossing into our neighbors' yard to catch a bit of "Ozzie and Harriet" through the rusty mesh of the front door screen. Parents always urged us to come in and watch, but why bother with that? The fun was watching it through the screen. The neighbor boys were about my age, and once a commercial came on TV, we'd break our prime time trance long enough to make a plan for the evening. Night games of Army were regular fun, except for the fact that it was harder to track the enemy, and even more difficult to avoid the familiar "uh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh" faux machine gun sounds uttered from deep within our throats. Even more familiar than the gun sounds were the consistent arguments of "I got you!", "No you didn't!", "Yes I did!"
Once bedtime rolled around, I could lie on warm sheets dreaming and scheming, planning the tomorrow's adventures. Yes, summer was endless , it was beautiful, and hopefully within these slight paragraphs, I was able to bring it back if only for a moment. Summer nights seemed endless under the pale blue glow of a corner street light. Gathering for nightly games, then re-grouping on the front porch, or the cool lawn for treats and conversations with neighbors made the nights just as important as the days. Everything was alive and connected.
When I was younger, I used to fervently check the movie listings in the front of the TV Guide for any monster movies that were coming up. (A habit that I nurtured way into my adulthood). I guess that was one of my favorite parts of the week was sitting on the back porch near the apple tree, protected from all evil by the shadow of the cross of the clothesline, flipping through the pages of the new TV Guide. It cost twelve cents back then, and was worth every penny.
Looking forward to something seemed more fun in those days, probably because we didn't have the luxury of being able to get whatever we wanted whenever we wanted it. The sixties weren't an age of instant gratification . You had to wait for good things to come to you. Plus, television was more generous in its attempt to provide a more diverse potpourri of programs. Still, as much fun as it was to look forward, there were still several hurdles to overcome when it came to either Tarzan or monster movies . They were:
- The movie vs. my bedtime
- What channel was it on? Channels 2 and 6 always came in fuzzy no matter how you worked the rabbit ears.
- Did it compete against any of my Mom or Dad's shows? (this was a biggie).
- Was the title "too morbid for kids"?
- Was it too scary for me? (okay, scratch that one)
- What if it was horribly boring and I missed out on "McHale's Navy" or "Petticoat Junction"?
Ah, but those were the chances you had to take in order to earn the pleasure of being scared to death. In fact, being scared to death was a regular thing when it came to those good old monster movies. Still, not all of them were scary, but almost all were fun. "Attack of the Giant Leeches" was an interesting movie that gave me the serious creeps one Saturday afternoon. This movie by the way, is the one title that instigated my Mom's credo of "Too morbid for kids". The giant leeches had a bunch of people prisoner in a cave underwater. Even as a kid I always wondered how they could be in a cave underwater. I remember the giant leeches sucking their blood, and it oozed down their necks.
There was a time when my brothers and I and some friends of the family sat around in front of the TV one Saturday night, all prepped for the evening's horror movie on "Alley Cat Theater" . It was called "Horrors of the Black Museum" .This movie was truly a piece of work and featured a scene where a woman looks through a pair of binoculars and two needles come out and stab her eyes. That scene had me up most of the night. I don't remember anything else about that movie, except that it was so much fun to just be sitting around with a large group of kids watching a monster movie. My Mom would whip up a big shopping sack full of salted and buttered popcorn. Just as soon as we'd burn through that, she'd be out there whipping us up another one.
I used to love an ice cold Coca-Cola or Pepsi during a movie . I could never tell a difference in taste. They both were great, and were the perfect compliment to a good horror show. "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" pretty much scared the pants off me. That evening when bedtime rolled around, I always made sure I got into the sack before my brothers. There were two reasons for this: A. If I was the last one in bed, then surely the werewolf would get me on my way to the covers. B. One of my brothers would also probably try to "get me" from behind a door or something. Did I love my brothers? Of course I did. Did I trust my brothers? Of course I didn't. There were other movies that forever creeped me out, like: "War of the Colossal Beast", "Fiend Without a Face" , and the wonderfully terrifying "House on Haunted Hill" .
Speaking of Houses and Haunted Hills, there was a movie that scared us all so bad, we didn't get over it for a year. Note that I used the word "us". Yes, this was my whole family--including Mom and Dad. The movie was "The Haunting" ,a ghastly gothic about four people agreeing to spend a night (or maybe even a week) in a reportedly haunted house. About halfway through the picture when the pounding sounds began and the echoey giggling, my dad reached over and turned the living room lights on. He said he couldn't see, but he also couldn't lie worth a dang. He was scared! It's funny, that movie still scares the life out of me today, and I refuse to watch it alone. Yeah, I miss those old monster movie days, and the simplicity of the wonderful 60's era.
Fun things came in bright colors.
These Universal Monsters were my favorite plastic figures. They sold for ten cents apiece, but soon went up to a whopping nineteen cents. They came in bright, flourescent colors and I used to just stare at them for hours. I do mention these on my school page. I also tried painting them like models and ending up ruining them. So, off to Newberry's toy basement to buy another set.
I remember having an orange "Phantom" and a pink "Mummy". They were great! I had to re-buy them a couple of times because I actually tried painting them with my modeling paints. Of course it didn't work out too well. There was something so special about dime store figures.
Summer was full of great activities like water fights . Water baloons, squirt guns, hoses, even buckets of water worked. It seems that the objective was to completely soak your opponent much more severely than he, or she could soak you.
Half the fun was sneaking up on people, then spraying or dousing them when they least expected it. Dropping a water baloon on their heads from up inside a tree, or an upstairs window was about as good as it could get. We used to love those power nozzles on the garden hose. They were like rifles in the sense that they could shoot much farther than merely putting your thumb over the metal end of the hose. That only worked for short distances.
There were, however, 3 main rules to water fights:
- No running through the sprinkler first to get your skin used to the cold water.
- No running into the house to escape when the action gets to be too much.
- No shooting a hose at somebody's face or eye. (why risk punishment and lock up on a beautiful summer day?)
Next came the joy of bubble wands . A good bottle of "magic bubble wand solution" usually cost around ten cents. I can't remember how many of my formative years were spent puffing these mystery bubbles into the vast spacial frontiers of our house. What's even worse is that I can't remember how many years I'd been blowing bubbles and spending dimes before I figured out that Mom's Ivory Liquid did exactly the same thing. I can recall trying to figure out how to make everything a bubble wand. Pencils, rulers, household spoons from the silverware drawer-including my own finger were all beta-tested for bubble ability. Nothing really worked. The plastic mystery wand was an implement of pure magic.
My brothers and I altogether. clockwise from left: Kenny, Pat, Mike, Aaron, and Me in the very front.
Sometimes there were days when my brothers weren't around and I had to find something fun to do for the day. Smashing an entire roll of caps on the sidewalk with a rock or hammer was one loud experience. Just as entertaining as a firecracker, you get that monster hit of gun powder and a pleasurable ringing in your ears of accomplishment. A box of caps cost a nickel , and there were were five perforated rolls in the box. So, if you were not like me ("a caps pig"), then normally you would put them in your toy gun, or pop them on the sidewalk one-by-one and have a good hour of fun. But, if you were like me- a "caps hog", then you blew the box in a minute. In essence, it cost you a nickel to go deaf five times in a row.
A typical day in my life whilst seeking fun and adventure when none seemed to be around, was usually just spent wandering. First I might try Doug's house; Hey, his Dad is taking everybody swimming at Creston Park! Neal's Mom is bar-b-queing in the back yard! No, the guys have got 2 armies formed, and we're all heading toward Miller's field. Most of these times were so carefree that they were spent just wandering from house-to-house, yard-to-yard, seeking adventure as it fell into your lap.