Did you ever build a scooter using discarded wood and old roller skates? A few things come to mind as the weather becomes warmer and the sun makes more frequent appearances. With winter going away and thoughts of ushering in springtime capturing my imagination I am again reflecting on how much more I used to anticipate the changing seasons.
As an aging man who regards the best of my life behind me now I have to revisit those times a little more often to insure they never completely fade from memory. So, much of my writing not only serves as documentation of what I think was a pretty good life I hope that it stands as a testament to that fact. Have you ever walked through alleys looking for discarded pop bottles to carry to a store and redeem them for extra spending money as a kid?
There was a time I not only did that as a mission but during that era of my own youth I rarely left an empty bottle on the ground. Even if I were busy playing with my friends or just riding my bicycle. So precious and valuable then I would go as far as to hide one that I may have found to retrieve it later, and I am sure I probably picked up a few and carried them to the store for the two cents they were worth even if that meant interrupting something else I was doing at the time.
And speaking of simple transportation, have you ever folded a piece of cardboard and attached it to your bike so it would rub the spokes and make sounds like a motor, or placed a balloon there to make it sound like a more powerful one? Have you ever decorated bicycle spokes with bottle caps? Ever ride a bike that had streamers in the handle grips or rear view mirrors or a bell to warn others that you were coming?
Did your bicycle ever have a metal basket on the handlebars or a pair of them straddling the rear wheel? What about a chrome headlight shaped like a rocket or a horn that sounded off-key when the batteries were going bad?
Have you ever ridden a bicycle through deep snow or on an icy road without worrying about having it slip out from beneath you and breaking a bone in the process, or on dry pavement and going as fast as you can and slamming on the breaks to lay rubber? Were you ever able to leave rubber from the rear tire on the ground by pedaling real hard going forward? Ever put decals or paint your name on your bike?
Have you ever painted a bike with a brush and if you did, did it look ridiculous? Have you ever tied a transistor radio to the handle bars? And before you learned to ride a bike did you ever ride a wagon by sitting in it on one knee while scooting your foot across the pavement of a sidewalk? Have you ever thought you could make it further than you did while hopping on a po-go stick or while walking on stilts? Have you ever had a pair of stilts that you or your father didn't make?
Have you ever had to end a game of bad-minton because the birdie went into a cranky neighbor's yard and you were afraid to ask them to return it, or stopped playing whiffle ball because the ball landed in a gutter on a roof? Ever tried to walk to school without stepping on a crack?
Ever heard the phrase "step on a crack...break your mother's back?" Have you ever worried that you would have a bad day or something horrible would happen if you walked under a ladder or stood under an umbrella when it wasn't raining? Did you ever wear a yellow raincoat that came with a matching hat or rubber boots with metal buckles? Ever purposely step in water puddles because you knew your shoes wouldn't get wet because you were wearing boots? Were you ever disappointed when the boot didn't do its job?
Have you ever wondered why the area in a classroom where you hung your coat and parked your boots was called a cloak room? Was there a time when you didn't know what the word cloak meant and never really pondered it? Did you ever think of the principal's office as a scary place? Did the inside of a school ever smell like crayons or modeling clay to you?
Have you ever felt special because the teacher asked you to erase a blackboard or did you ever get a face full of chalk by banging two erasers together? Did you ever feel like the school day was almost over the moment you smelled food cooking in a cafeteria?
Have you ever carried your lunch to school in a brown paper bag that had your name written on it in pencil?
Was part of that lunch ever a sandwich wrapped in wax paper? Did your mother ever give you a nickel for milk money and tell you not to lose it? Have you ever sat in a class room and stared a clock, especially before lunch time or near the end of the day? Or did you ever need to look at the alphabet above a blackboard because you forgot how to make a letter?
Did you ever feel silly or excited the night before Valentine’s Day because you had to print the names of all of your classmates on little greeting cards? Did you save the best ones for the kids you liked best and did it ever look odd to you or did you ever cringe when you had write someone’s name on one that you didn’t like at all? Ever feel like a mailman when you walked around the classroom and dropped them into little bags taped to the front of everyone’s desk?
Have you ever taken gum out of your mouth and stuck it beneath your seat or under a desk top? Have you ever written your name on a desk or the name of someone you had a crush on? Ever draw a heart around it with an arrow going through it? Have you ever drawn a mustache or blacked out someone’s teeth on a picture in a yearbook or class picture?
Has a teacher ever caught you doodling on a piece of paper or has one ever made you stand in a corner for some other insurrection? Did you ever feel like the entire class was staring at your back and laughing the whole time you stood there, even if you had to stand there for an hour or more?
Have you ever panicked while sitting in class because you had gas and had to struggle to hold it in? And speaking of anxious moments, was getting naked in front of classmates and taking showers together after gym class ever something you dreaded? Did you ever worry that the gym teacher would see you that way and think less of you, and if you did, did you ever keep a towel wrapped around you until the very last moment before stepping into the shower?
Have you ever played games at school called kick-ball, tether-ball or four square? Have you ever taken a plastic gun to school to share with the class or to aim at your classmates while playing army during recess?
Have you ever lied to your mother about being sick just to get out of going to school? Have you ever wished you could go to school instead of keeping a dentist appointment? Was a doctor ever someone who made regular visits to your home? Have you ever left your mark using something as harmless as a piece of chalk on the side of someone else's property? Today vandals use spray paint to that but in bygone years there was a sense of really getting away with something and in some cases even accomplishment to make your mark even though it could be removed with a water hose.
And speaking of water hoses...have you ever shared one with a friend on a hot day to quench a thirst? And if you did, did you worry about getting something called cooties if your mouth touched the end of the hose? Sort of like allowing a friend or a sibling to take a swig from your bottle of pop, if you did that did you wipe it off thoroughly before you took another drink?
Maybe going as far as to using your shirt tail to scrub it clean? Or maybe you asked for a drink from someone else's bottle and were offended when they did exactly what you would have done if it were the other way around?
The warmer weather has me thinking about pulling my bicycle out of the garage and taking a long ride around the neighborhood to again reflect on a time when doing that was how I got to every destination I wanted to be. Not just places I needed to go, but where I wanted to. Have you ever tried to ride a bike as far as you could go on just one wheel? And if you could do "wheelies " was there more of a sense of accomplishment if there were others watching you do it?
And speaking of such exhibitionism have you ever played basketball by yourself using someone else's rim without permission to do it? Like one nailed to some one's garage behind their house? And if you did that were you hoping someone saw you when you made a great shot? Were you a little embarrassed each time you missed, or did you hope that no one saw that one?
Regardless, did you usually win all of your games? Were some of those games ever played inside of your house using your mom's clothes hamper as a rim? Looking out at the ravages left behind from what has been a brutal winter I am not eager to tackle the yard work that needs done to transform my property from one of ugliness to something that shows that I care about what the neighbors might think.
In all honesty I don't care but I happen to be someone that feels a sense of pride when my yard looks good.
I do it for me, but have you ever mowed a lawn using a mower that had no motor? In recent years I would curse out loud if my mower ran out of gas before I finished the job but in the days when I had more energy than I could possibly burn up in a day I would walk the neighborhoods hiring myself out to make other lawns look great for about a dollar a yard using what was called a push mower. No cords to yank to get them started, no spark plugs to clean off or replace and best of all no gas can. And with the price of gasoline now soaring by the day... no grumbling that I would have to mow three yards just to buy a gallon of it if I were to charge that same dollar. With jobs as scarce as they are now I am thinking about it.
But speaking of that, have you ever raked a neighbors leaves for that same amount? And speaking of piles of leaves, have you ever burned them and if you did, did you savor the aroma that surrounded you? If you smell burning leaves now does it take you back to that time? Burning leaves was something that was very common around my neighborhood when I was a kid. I think everyone on my block did that and not just leaves...have you ever burned trash in a fifty gallon drum?
Was there ever a time in your life when taking out the trash would become an adventure? For me it was. Separating anything that would burn from everything that wouldn't and igniting it in a big can while imagining I was watching buildings on fire instead of milk cartons.
And speaking of such juvenile pyromania, have you ever placed firecrackers in a plastic model car and blown it up? Using the funds I would earn from my neighbors when I was small I would buy model car kits from a drug store called Sloan's Drugs a few blocks from my home for around a buck and a half and then spend hours lying across my bed gluing it all together, then painting it and eventually destroying it.
Have you ever poured lighter fluid on something and then lighting it just to watch it burn? Did lighter fluid ever smell good to you? What about pipe tobacco? Have you ever enjoyed being in the presence of someone when they lit there pipe to smoke it? My dad's favorite brand "Cherry Blend" comes to mind here. Have you ever called a store and asked if they had Prince Albert in a can? Do remember what you said to them if they did?
Did you ever buy a pack of cigarettes when you weren’t old enough that required nothing more than about thirty cents and a note from your father as an i.d.?
Of course that was in the days when lighting up indoors wasn't a criminal offense or when it wasn't regarded as child endangering if the kids were in the room. On the tobacco topic...have you ever asked an adult to save a cigar box for you? Or if you weren't shy about such things have you ever asked a store clerk behind a counter if he or she had any empty ones?
I don't remember exactly what I used them for but I seem to recall owning several empty cigar boxes as a kid. It would seem that I might have had a fascination for things that were either flammable or caused flames when I was a kid does it not? I don't think that was the case, I think that I was just a kid in a time when doing some of the things I did wasn't always a cause for alarm or worries of how I might grow up.
But that reminds me, have you ever tried to burn something with a magnifying glass? Ever focused one on your own hand to see how long you could stand it? Ever tried to burn a bug with one?
Speaking of making fire, have you ever wasted a book of matches by lighting them all at once without pulling them from their cover? Do you remember when a book of matches cost around a penny or when individual pieces of candy did? Have you ever stood in front of a glass case and pointed to pieces of candy and said “I'll take a penny's worth of those?"
Have you ever picked up a penny off the ground and thought that someone else's misfortune was a windfall for you? Did anyone ever tell you that placing a penny in your shoe would bring you luck? Have you ever seen one on the ground and not picked it up because you were afraid someone would see you do it?
I’m starting to sound like Andy Rooney! But have you ever gotten a dime for going to the store for your mother? Did she ever remind you..."don't forget my stamps?" Do you remember watching her lick trading stamps to place them into stamp books or perusing a catalogue to decide what you would get with those books if they were yours do what you wanted? Ever get a dime for a grade in school, I mean in addition to your regular allowance? Was your allowance ever withheld as part of a punishment for something you shouldn't have done?
Was missing your favorite television programs ever because there was only one television in the house? Was there ever a time when you pretended to hate the programs your parents watched but watched them anyway because you really did like them? Have you ever laid in front of a TV on your side with your head cradled in the palm of your hand while balancing yourself with your elbow resting on the floor? Have you ever wanted to stay up later to watch something only to have your mother remind you that it was a school night?
Do you remember when everything you watched was in black and white and there were just three channels and all of them signed off around midnight? Have you ever turned on a television in the morning and saw a test pattern instead of people? Have you ever put powdered Cool-Aid on your tongue and wondered why it tasted bitter? Ever eat a spoonful of instant chocolate and then looked at your tongue? What about Hershey's Cocoa? Ever done that and rinsed your mouth with water?
Do you remember when you needed a can opener to open pop cans or remember when they were made of metal that the average person couldn't squash with their hands? Do you remember when milk only came in glass bottles or paper cartons?
Have you ever heard the rattling of milk bottles early in the morning outside your window and looked out to see a man carrying them in metal baskets or watched him climb back into a truck that he drove while standing up? When you see or hear the words Battle Creek Michigan do you instantly think of cereal?
Have you ever cut off box tops and put them in an envelope to send away for a toy? Were you ever excited when the mailman brought it...only to be disappointed when you saw what it was? Have you ever been disappointed with the surprise that came in a box of Cracker Jacks?
Do you remember an animated kid with big ears shoving a giant spoon into his mouth after saying "I want my Maypo!" Can you finish this jingle..."You'll wonder where the yellow went when you brush..."? Or this theme song from a super hero..."Here I come to save the..."?
Did you ever think that a couple of guys named Spin and Marty reminded you of someone you knew who was older than you? Do you even know who they were? Have you ever named a dog after one you watched on television...I mean besides Lassie? Have you ever pretended to be someone from a television show by dressing like them or acting like them on a playground or in your backyard?
Have you ever hosted a tea-party without serving tea or fed a doll baby with empty baby bottles? If your play-time required the use of weapons did you ever have a bean shooter in your arsenal?
Have you ever shot your own tonsils with a squirt gun? Have you ever destroyed glass bottles and jars with a BB gun or by just throwing rocks at them? Have you ever been yelled at for not putting your dad’s tools back where you found them or for getting in to your mother’s make-up case? Ever refused to let someone use your comb because you feared they would leave cooties in it?
Have you ever stood on a sidewalk and watched televisions left on in an appliance store?
Have you ever gotten on a bus and watched nickels and dimes drop into a glass box and wished you had a key for the box? Ever heard a bus driver call out the name of a street and know what he was going to say before he said it? Remember when they were all men and they wore hats? Do you remember when the mail man wore a uniform and his hat looked like a policeman's? Do you remember when the cops on the street or in police cars were all men?
With the warmer weather fast approaching I am also reminded of bugs. Have you ever tried to catch honey bees or flies with your hands or placed lightening bugs in a jar to make a lantern only to be disappointed that they didn’t put out enough light to see anything but them? Ever been afraid to get too close to a praying mantis? Have you ever lost a piece of candy and found it the next day covered with ants?
Have you ever felt victorious about swatting a fly with a fly swatter or slapping a mosquito on your arm but felt terrible if you accidentally killed a lady bug or a butterfly? Has your mother ever told you not to scratch a mosquito bite because it would get infected? Have you ever sprayed your lawn before dusk so you could catch night-crawlers when it got dark? Ever seen two of them seemingly glued together and covered in slime and decided to leave them alone and look for another one?
Has someone ever taken you fishing at night but instead of watching a fishing pole hoping to catch a fish you spent the night collecting wood for a campfire and then stoking it all night? Did a bologna sandwich or a can of soup ever taste better along a riverbank than it did at a dinner table?
Have you ever stared at the sky and looked for clouds that reminded you of someone or maybe a favorite pet? Have you ever looked at a wooden fence and seen the natural formation of a dog or a cat? Have you ever walked across the top of a chain link fence pretending it was part of your high wire act? Ever dig a hole for no earthly reason or one to replant a dead flower?
I think about things like that when I ponder the yard work ahead of me. I am reminded of the years when playing with dirt meant sliding my hands on it to making dirt roads for my toy cars or to draw lines to play marbles. Have you ever done that? Have you ever thought that kids who stay indoors playing video games year-round are missing all of the wonders that await outside?
When it is raining outside and you are stuck inside have you ever thought about how you used to occupy your time on such days? Was a doll house or little plastic soldiers ever necessary to fill up a few hours? Did you spend time on those days coloring in a book or playing with an electric train? And if you did that have you ever placed toy cars on the tracks so the train would crash into them or read comic books you’ve already read?
Have you ever lain in bed at night with a flashlight and read a comic book? If you shared a bedroom with a brother or sister did your parents ever shout at you late at night and tell you to knock it off and go to sleep if you were talking too loud? And if they did, did you continue to carry on a conversation in whispers?
Have you ever lived in a home with just one bathroom? Did you ever have to ask your parents to order a brother or sister to hurry up and get out of it because you couldn’t hold yourself any longer?
Have you ever turned on a faucet in a bathroom hoping it would drown out whatever you were doing in there?
Have you ever wished you were older? How about now? Probably not if you answered yes to most of the questions I have asked you so far. However, was there ever a time before you were ten that you wished you were younger than you were? How about on the first day of a new school year, did you ever wish you were too young to have to go at all?
Reflecting on the past is what I do best, or at least it would seem that way sometimes. I do enjoy remembering things from my own youth and sharing what I think I remember. But sometimes it takes something someone might say or even a certain aroma to bring back a memory. Has that ever happened to you? Has the smell of a pesticide or some other foul odor caused you to reflect on something that happened long ago?
For instance, have you ever followed behind a vehicle that fogged for mosquitoes in the summertime? Like riding a bicycle in a thick cloud of white smoke pouring out of the back of it and making it nearly impossible to see where you were going? Do you ever think of some of the things that you did that were dangerous back then, or things that because they were have long since been outlawed. I have already touched on smoking tobacco but to revisit that subject have you ever sat next to someone at a dinner table who was smoking while you were eating?
Have you ever lit a cigarette in a hospital or inside of a courthouse? Ever seen someone else do that? What about in the waiting room of a doctor’s office? Did you know that smoking in a teacher’s lounge during school hours was once a common practice? I can recall seeing signs on the walls of hospital rooms that warned against smoking only if oxygen was in use.
Did you ever purchase a bottle of beer in a bar and then drink it without violating any laws when you were still a teenager? Did you ever fear getting paddled in school by a teacher? Do you remember medicine bottles that didn’t have safety caps or food containers that didn’t have nutritional charts or the ingredients printed on labels?
Remember when they couldn’t say any four letter word on television and when none could be used in songs we heard on the radio? Remember when most radio stations played music and none of them carried talk-shows? Do you remember when most radios were only AM?
Have you ever made a trip to a store to purchase just one song on a 45 rpm record? Ever sit down at a lunch counter inside of a small drug store or have something delivered to your home from a neighborhood carry-out store? Have you ever visited a store that was called a Five and Dime Store?
Have you ever had your shoes resoled in a repair shop or had a repair man come to your home to fix your television set? Ever accompany your dad to a store to test television tubes? Have you ever held a flashlight for your dad while he tinkered in the back of a television set?
Ever had a knock at the door and heard a man shout, “gas man!” Or had one delivering baked goods?
Have you ever seen a street sweeper on your street before dawn? Have you ever paid seven cents for a newspaper or a nickel for a candy bar? Have you ever gotten change from a dollar after you paid for a meal? Ever leave a dime on a table as a tip?
Have you ever seen a commercial on television or heard one on the radio advertising cigarettes or cigars? Do you know what beverage was called the “Champaign of bottled beer?” Have you ever tried to light your way using something called a carbide light?
Have you ever seen a commercial for something called “Geritol?” Do you know what that was? Have you ever drunk 3-V Cola? Ever filled your gas tank with Sun Crest or Pure Oil Gasoline? What about Humble or Sohio gas? Have you ever bought a gallon of gas for less than thirty cents?
Have you ever washed your face with "Lava" soap, and if you did, did it feel eerie? Ever carve something out of a bar of Ivory Soap? Do you remember a time when shampoo bottles were mostly made of glass? Remember how amazing it seemed at the time when a plastic bottle of "Prell Shampoo" was shown falling on the floor and it didn't break? Do you remember soap on a rope or who coined the phrase "rope a dope?" Ever get drinking glasses out of a box of laundry detergent? What about bath towels?
Do you know who Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and Howard K Smith were? Do you remember a game show called Concentration? What about one called Beat the Clock or how about a man named Bill Cullen? Do you know who he was? What about something called Midwestern Hayride? Have you ever had to adjust rabbit ears on a television? Do you know what they are?
Do you know what products were called Herbert Tarreyton and Sir Walter Raliegh? Their names were on products that had something in common with something called Bel Air, Lark and Chesterfield. Have you ever rolled a package of "Luckies" up in a t-shirt sleeve? Do you know what LSMFT meant? Ever splash on a little Jade East? Do names like Durward Kirby and Clem Kadiddlehopper sound familiar to you? Have you ever ate something advertised as "two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun?" Do you remember what business had a jingle that sang "You deserve a break today?"
Think fast! Have you ever seen a television series about a car that talked? Did your mother ever remind you of a TV mom? Have you ever felt sorry for Clarence Rutherford? Probably not, but more to the point do you know who he was? Have you ever wished that Lucas McCain was your dad? Have you ever had a crush on a TV star who was about your age before you were twelve years old? Do you know who the TV character Linda Williams was? Hint-Her father played a nightclub singer. Do you remember Uncle Tonoose? What about Uncle Charlie, Uncle Miltie or the Man from Uncle?
Ever tossed salt over your left shoulder to ward off bad luck? Ever said one, potato, two potato, three potato four? Do you remember why you said it? Have you ever heard of Boston Blackie or Joe Friday? Do you know what they had in common? Can you finish this jingle..."Wherever wheels are rolling, no matter what the load, the name that's known is....?" Or this one... "What walks down stairs, alone or in pairs, and makes a slinkity sound? A spring, a spring, a marvelous thing! Everyone knows it's ...?"
Have you ever snuck into a drive-in movie theatre in the trunk of a car? Just asking.
Have you ever built a house out of Lincoln Logs or played with Colorforms? Have you ever balanced a gyroscope on your fingertips or played Tiddlywinks? Do you remember when Mr. Potato Head sets were meant to be used with real potatoes? Have you ever loaned your sweater to a girl at school on a Friday or asked a boy if you could wear his? Ever wrap angora around a ring so it would fit your finger? Ever used a Band-Aid or a piece of tape to make one fit snugly? Have you ever worn a shirt with a Neru collar? What about a polka dotted one with a wide belt and tight jeans? Have you ever worn a Maltese Cross necklace? How about checkered dress pants? Ever worn a dickie?
Did you ever stick pennies in slots on a penny loafer? Ever pitch pennies? Do you remember Sky King? Do you remember his daughter's name?