“Things I remember but have gone missing now – Pt 1”

1. Shredded Wheat came in a box with pasteboard dividers.  These dividers had really neat things to do on them – games, cutouts, puzzles and the like. My brother and I would carefully cut out and play all the various games that came on the cards.  Some of the time, the actual box the biscuits came in was part of the game. The box itself was not a tall box but, instead, squat and contained three levels of four biscuits each.

2. While we are speaking about cereal: Cereal boxes used to have waxed paper inserts that you could actually roll down and seal to keep the cereal fresh much longer than today.  My major complaint is that the modern replacement is very hardy and nothing short of a sharp knife (or incisors) will tear it.  Usually what happens to me is that I will get frustrated and give a mighty rip – which, of course, spews cereal all over the floor.

3. Corporal punishment meted out by school principals. I touched on this in one of my earlier blog entries – I’m for it.  I was on the receiving end of several swats usually for being tardy.  When you are walking to class, usually through deep snow, you tend to dawdle.  Well, it was deep to ME.

4. Do kids still make Cootie Catchers?  These were fun to make from a sheet of paper.  You folded it in such a way that there were four triangular sections that, when held by four of your fingers, they could be opened in two different ways:  one way would show “You’re Clean” and the other would show “COOTIES!”. Guess which one a boy would show to a girl.

5. Crystal radios.  I built a crystal radio from a small kit.  It didn’t pick up much because my cat-whisker wouldn’t stay on the same spot and tended to bounce around a bit.  When that happened you might get switched from Gang Busters to Our Miss Brooks without realizing it and wonder why that nice little girl was getting machine-gunned.

6. Little 25-cent balsa gliders.  That’s all they cost.  You’d go to the drug store and they’d hang from hooks near the cash register.  Opening the packet, the first thing you pulled out was the fuselage, then the wing, horizontal stabilizer and, finally, the vertical stabilizer.  What usually happened was that after a few flights the leading edges of the wings would have so many dings that controlled flight was impossible.  A variation of this type of plane was the ‘slingshot’ plane.  The wings folded back and you shot the whole plane into the air using a slingshot.  When forward motion was arrested by air pressure, the wings would flap out and the plane would soar.

7. Radio and Television shows (when there WAS TV) that actually entertained kids instead of dumbing them down and being oh so politically correct. I’m talking about the likes of Howdy Doody, Pinky Lee, and Uncle John’s Saturday Morning Show.  These shows all had stuff that made you laugh; pratfalls, pie-in-the-face funny. Nowadays I hear that there are huge divided camps on whether Bert and Ernie are gay.  Who cares, they’re funny.

8. School bus stops where THEY wanted them, not where YOU wanted them.  In my whole school bus experience I never was without an “assigned” school bus stop.  When we arrived in Washington, D.C. the first order of business for me was to find out where my stop was.  Turns out, it was at the other end of my street – a good 600 yards away and NOT right in front of my house solely because I needed to be picked up there.  And, while we’re at it, does anyone remember the Gestapo-like kids assigned as “School Patrol”?  They would get to wear white “Sam Browne” belts with silver badges on them which, naturally, gave them the right to boss you around.

9. Somewhere, there might still be Ice cream trucks running around.  I haven’t heard one around my neighborhood for over 15 years.  As a kid, all of us would keep anywhere from a dime to a fifty-cent piece (depending on whether or not you had a girlfriend) in your pocket ready to hand over when you heard the tinkling of the row of bells over the windshield.  Electronic bells replaced the mechanical ones, and then the whole truck disappeared.

10. Curb feelers on cars.  My dad was a firm believer in curb feelers.  These were wire contraptions that you fastened to the front and back quarter panels of the passenger side of your car.  They would assist you in parallel parking by giving out with a sound like you’d hit a garbage can when they contacted the curb.  No matter that if there wasn’t a curb – it was the fact that you HAD feelers that made you cool.

11. Lincoln automobiles pioneered the Continental kits.  This consisted of putting the spare tire on the back of the car right over, or attached to, the back bumper.  It contained your spare tire in a clamshell arrangement and looked pretty neat.

12. Our neighbor bought a new 1951 Cadillac that had an automatic headlight dimmer.  This was an eye-shaped device that sat on the dashboard in front of the driver and “looked” down the road.  It was a photoelectric cell that would dim your lights when the lights of an oncoming car struck it.  A great innovation – had it worked.  What usually happened was that your car would go down a road and flash your headlights like a demented signalman every time the light from an overhead streetlight struck the cell.

13. Column shifts.  The first car I ever drove was a 1957 Chevy owned by my best friend.  It had a column shift.  This meant that in place of all the other levers and whatnot that now sprouts from your steering wheel there was only one lever; on the right side.  To get to first gear you lifted up and pulled back, then engaged the clutch.  Similarly, you then pushed forward and into second gear.  Then you pulled back and let the lever drop through neutral and into third gear somewhere near your lap.  To get to reverse, you pushed up and forward from neutral.

14. For that perfect date Ice cream sodas with 2 straws was invented.  One would squire your girl to a place called a Soda Shop(pe) and sit at a counter.  Then, you’d order whatever flavor you wanted plus: “oh yeah, two straws”.  The counterman (“person” hadn’t been invented yet) would smile and drop in two straws.  Holding your foreheads together you’d stare into each others eyes and sip.

15. Drive-in movies.  I miss the heck out of these.  It was a constant battle usually between the owners of such things and the kids who tried to outsmart them.  Whole back seats would be torn out to give room in the trunk for at least 10 or 12 kids on dollar night.  As in normal theatres, the rear rows were “reserved” for the make-out artists.  With constant use, the speakers would get horribly scratchy and, on occasion, refuse to work.  This meant that the person in the next car would put his speaker on the outside and let both cars hear.  Sneaking up on cars with steamed windows was an education in itself.

16. Drive-in fast food where cute girls on roller skates took your order. We had one when I was in High School that was featured in the movie “American Graffiti” – Arnold’s.  It was in Santa Rosa, California, and we used to drive up there every Friday and Saturday from Petaluma to hang around.  It was THE social center of teen life.  And, yes, we did listen to Wolfman Jack. Petaluma, by the way, was featured in most of the rest of the movie.

17. Bowling alleys with live pinsetters. I was a pinsetter in Germany.  It was a great job and netted me much more than my allowance ever did.  It was hard work though and you had to remember just how the pins were set when the first ball smashed its way through.  If a pin was moved to the side – but not knocked over – you’d have to lower the gate halfway and wait for the bowler at the other end to shout out the pin number he wanted it set to. Tipping was effected by sliding change down the alley, or sticking a bill (rare, except for servicemen) in a ball hole and rolling it down.

18. C-rations. As a Boy Scout we took many hikes, float trips, and other means of getting around the countryside.  Usually before we left we would load up our knapsacks with C-rations.  We would hold contests to see who got the oldest cans of ‘prepared foods, military, one each’.  I once won with a can of purportedly “ham and lima beans” that was date-stamped 1944. The scoutmaster would always make sure, however, that the can containing the cigarettes was ‘missing’.  The C-rations would come in a square box with eight cans in it: 4 on top, a layer of cardboard, and 4 on the bottom (with the aforementioned cigarette can missing).  In contrast to what are now served (MRE’s), C-rations were pretty good.

19. Deep quarry pools & skinny dipping.  In summer we would venture through the “Big Woods” and across Military Highway to what we kids called ‘the quarry’.  It was actually a quarry from long ago and had deep pools filled with cold, clear, water.  Parents would warn their kids to stay away from the quarry, but we would regularly ignore them – and they knew it.  Some of us more adventurous ones would slip over very early in the morning or late at night and go skinny dipping.  If you’ve never done it, then you don’t know how exhilarating it can be to strip your clothes off on a steamy 95-degree evening and dive into 12-degree water; guaranteed to make your outboard motor fall off.

20. I know the reason – economics 101 – why theatres don’t do this BUT I sorely miss cartoons, newsreels, and serials before the main feature on Saturday.  Speaking as a parent, I would love it if our local theatre would bring back this traditional babysitter if even for just an odd Saturday a month.  My parents would herd everyone in the neighborhood that would fit into our station wagon and make the run to Silver Spring to the Naylor Theatre.  There, we would all stream out, money held in our hot little hands, and storm the ticket booth for entry.  After 30 or 40 cartoons, serials, and blatant kid-oriented ads, we would be treated to at least one, or usually two, feature-length movies. Horror, Science Fiction, and Westerns were about all we saw.

T.O.M.

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