Mr. ZIP and those Newfangled Zip Codes

Zip

Mr. Zip window painting at the Miami, Oklahoma post office which has survived for at least 50 years

We Boomer kids look back in wonder at what the world was like when we were children and compare it to the technologies we commonly use today.

But think about what our parents went through! Typically born early in the 20th century, they grew up with horse-drawn wagons delivering ice to keep their food cold. They would pick up a phone and tell the operator who they wanted to talk to. And they would address a letter with a person’s name and a town. That was all of the information that the postal service needed to see to it that it arrived.

This worked with small towns, but deliveries to bigger cities did require a bit more information, e.g. a street.

But by 1943, the situation had gotten complicated enough that the USPS instituted zone codes for larger cities.

Thus, sending a letter to a friend in, say, Los Angeles suddenly got more complicated for our parents. But they eventually learned to add the two-digit code to the address, being rewarded for doing so by speeding up the delivery by a day or two in many cases.

Mr. Zip informs the public about the new zip codes with this card, delivered to each address

Twenty years later, mailing a letter got VERY much more complicated. That was the year that the now-familiar zip code was introduced. Imagine the pain our parents went through having to add a five-digit number to each letter!

But the brains behind the postal service knew what they were doing. In introducing zip codes, they did so by means of a cartoon character that we Boomer kids saw every time we went to the post office, and also on innumerable commercials: Mr. Zip.

Mr. Zip’s familiar personage reminded us that we needed to put a zip code on our letters to make sure they got to where they were intended.

And we dutifully passed the reminders on to our parents.

Zip codes were voluntary when first introduced in 1963. By 1967, they were made mandatory for second and third class bulk mail. But while strongly encouraged for general first class usage, they remain voluntary to this day.

However, leaving a zip code off will typically add days to delivery time.

That, plus the fact that we’ve been using them since the year that JFK was killed, means that nowadays over 95% of letters mailed include a zip code. If you want, you can go the extra mile and add the optional four digits that were introduced in 1983.

However, Mr. Zip is long gone. But he retired (in 1980) with honor, having helped get a nation to voluntarily use a coding format which has greatly enhanced our mail delivery.

Oh, one last piece of zip code trivia: In 1964, Smokey Bear was getting so much fan mail that he was assigned his own zip code: 20252.

When There Was No Airport Security

Anonymous hijacker in the 60’s

One of the inescapable sad facts about human society is that the actions of an infinitesimally small group of dysfunctional individuals will invariably impact the 99.99% of those of us who behave ourselves.

Flying has become an integral part of our lives. Our parents grew up with the concept of getting on a train to get somewhere far away. It was natural for the Boomer generation to adopt the airplane as its no-brainer method of getting somewhere, especially in light of competitive airfares that seem to steadily get more affordable.

That means regularly subjecting ourselves to walking through metal detectors. It means having our carried items subjected to X-radiation. It means having perfect strangers rifle through our most personal items. It means surrendering our Leathermans and pocket knives that we may have inadvertently forgotten to pack in our checked luggage, never to see them again. It means getting viewed as potential hijackers by stern airport security personnel until we successfully pass shoelessly through the devices that proclaim us to be otherwise.

We don’t like it, but we accept it as the price we have to pay, thanks to the actions of a few idiots. But if you remember JFK, you also remember when you went to the airport, purchased your ticket, and walked onto the plane.

On July 16, 1948, an attempt to hijack a seaplane flying out of the nation of Macau ended with the plane crashing into the sea. Thus took place the first hijacking of a commercial plane.

Security check in 1973

Hijacking planes remained a sporadic phenomenon until 1968. That year, a shocking 27 attempts were made to hijack airliners to Cuba. Why did people commandeer airliners to fly to the communist nation? That’s a question that has puzzled me for years. In the case of one man, Black Panther William Lee Brent, it was done to avoid a murder trial.

Hijackings continued to increase in 1969. Palestinians saw them as a way to further their cause and force Israel to release prisoners whom they viewed as unjustly confined. And unlike typical Cuban hijackings, the Palestinian versions would frequently end in tragedy.

Hijackings became more and more popular as the 1970’s progressed. In 1971, D.B. Cooper threatened the lives of the passengers on a 727 and managed to get $200,000 in cash. He then parachuted out of the plane over Oregon and was never seen again.

The crimes of piracy showed no sign of decreasing, and finally, in 1972, the first metal detectors were installed in airports. The tunneled structures were very confusing to passengers who were not used to being searched for weapons. Lawsuits were filed questioning the legality of the procedure, claiming it violated the Fourth Amendment against illegal searches and seizures. But the courts upheld it, and preflight security checks became a part of our culture.

Every time some madman decides to make a statement by hijacking or destroying an airliner, the rules get tougher. Despicable monsters take over planes with box cutters, now we can’t carry pocketknives. A dipwad turns his shoe into a bomb, now we have to walk through security in our socks.

It’s sad, but it’s the price we pay. A tiny minority of sociopaths can have a huge influence on the way the rest of us well-behaved ones are treated. But those of us old enough to remember JFK can recall a simpler time when you could walk straight from the ticket counter to the airplane, with no searches in between.

The Old Abandoned House in the Neighborhood

People build lots and lots of houses. And sometimes, a few of those houses may become abandoned. Once that happens, it doesn’t take long for them to quickly deteriorate into an eyesore. Or perhaps a better term may be a really cool place for kids to play.

Miami, Oklahoma, population about 12,000 circa 1967, had a few abandoned houses here and there. One of them was just up the road a block from my house. It sat all by itself, thickly overgrown by bushes and such.

It drew the neighborhood kids like Mecca draws the faithful.

Of course, I don’t have pictures of “the old house,” as we neighborhood kids referred to it. And when I revisited Miami just a couple of years after we had moved away, it was already gone. But my memories of the secretive place are keen even today.

Of course, the primary function of an old house was to server as Command Central for games of Army. Perhaps it was just a local thing, but the neighborhood kids and myself didn’t play much cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians. No, we were soldiers. Perhaps it was the G.I.Joe influence of the times.

Anyhow, that abandoned house was where all battles against the enemy were launched. Warfare would take place within the house’s confines, as well, as we would squeeze up against the wall and sneak our way up to the doorways, and suddenly let out a yell and start shooting.

Another cool thing about old houses was that you could break windows, write on the walls, or do pretty much anything else you chose (short of lighting fires) and nobody would care. It was a nice break, as opposed to the rigid rules we had to observe in our own homes.

Plus, sometimes there were cool things to be found. It wasn’t unusual to find an old Mercury dime or buffalo nickel in the dirt outside or perhaps in a crack in the floor.

And you could also let your imagination go wild. Sitting on the overgrown back stoop, you might picture just who was living there and what they were doing ten or twenty years ago. Maybe there was a kid your age then, who had to careful to pick up his room, now littered with pieces of plaster that had fallen from the rain-soaked ceiling.

Of course, some abandoned houses were simply dangerous, and scary to boot. Two-story houses frequently suffered from wood rot that made venturing up the stairs an experience that might well involve plunging through to whatever lay below, perhaps breaking an ankle in the process.

Despite the potential for danger, abandoned houses were a big draw to adventuresome little boys. They still are, I reckon. However, before I close on the subject of abandoned houses, I must comment on one that is very close to me.

You see, a childhood home of mine now sits abandoned with a “KEEP OUT” sign in front of it. I stepped in anyway, figuring that if a sheriff or the like showed up, I could explain that this used to be MY house.

Anyhow, as I walked through the rotting structure, the memories came flooding back. That’s where I sat in the living room floor as my beloved Kansas City Chiefs fell to those blasted Dolphins in the marathon playoff game of 1971. There is my wood-paneled bedroom, where my posters of Johnny Bench and Roberto Clemente once hung. And there was broken plaster on the floor that I used to have to be careful to keep clean.

Abandoned houses could be fun as a kid. But to an adult, they might provide something much more introspective.

The Neighborhood Grocery Store

The only photo of Moonwink grocery I’ve ever seen. Only the back of the store, unfortunately. Oh, yeah, that’s your webmaster.

The year was 1966. Dad would give me 55 cents to run across the alley to Moonwink Grocery. Mark, the store owner, would sell me a pack of Phillip Morris Filters in a box with a plastic top, knowing I was heading straight back home to give them to my father. I would also spend a nickel, my allowance delivered twice daily, on a candy bar. If dad wasn’t in a hurry, I might browse the comic books before I left.

Every neighborhood had a corner grocery within walking distance in the 1960’s. These were real mom-and-pop businesses, sometimes being run out of a building on the same property the owner had his house on.

Moonwink had other things going for it, too. It resided in a building with two other smaller store spaces. The local barber rented one, the other was frequently sitting empty.

Those were idyllic days. In my little Northeast Oklahoma town of Miami, there were no security cameras, bars on the windows, or height scales on the doors. Nobody would dare rob a neighborhood market in the daylight, and they closed up at 5:00.

The store owner would let you have things on credit, too, frequently not even writing anything down. He knew his customers were good for it.

In 1967, a new store opened in Miami. It was a Quik-Trip. It was also the harbinger of what would be a major factor in the death of neighborhood markets.

Corporate-driven chains, along with supermarkets, would quickly drive mom-and-pops out of business. While Moonwink survived the Safeway and IGA markets in town, since it was more convenient to walk to the store rather than drive uptown, customers began drifting away to the convenience stores that were open late at night. When I was in my hometown last, Moonwink’s lot held an apartment building.

The last mom-and-pop I remember being open was in my high school town of Pea Ridge, Arkansas in the late 70’s. One day at 5:00 sharp, they closed their doors (missing height scales) for good.

The Lights Go Out in 1965

1965 blackout in New York City

In 2003, the largest blackout in US history took place. Affected areas included New York City, as well as surrounding states and Canada all the way up to Hudson Bay. The world was stunned. But Baby Boomers, particularly residents of the affected areas, said “here we go again!”

On 5:27 p.m., November 9, 1965 (that would be the middle of rush hour), much of the same area was affected by what was then the greatest blackout in history. The event would go on to inspire a movie (and a new phrase for the English language), Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?

Traffic lights went dark, subway trains stopped in their tracks, and the world learned just how dependent we had grown on electricity’s being there when we needed it.

The power grid, long touted as a system with multiple failsafes that simply couldn’t and wouldn’t collapse, was revealed to be a long string of dominoes on edge. When a relay failed to operate at the Sir Adam Beck Station no. 2 in Ontario, Canada, a bizarre series of overloads began a chain reaction. The overload shot down the main trunk lines of the power grid, separating power generation sources from load centers and weakening the grid’s structure with each subsequent separation. As the outage progressed through the northeast, power plants in the New York City area automatically shut themselves off to prevent the surges from overloading their generating capability. Within a quarter of an hour the outage had wreaked its havoc, and the entire Northeast was dark and quiet. Well, except for about ten million car horns, that is.

In a scene that was replayed on September 11, 2001, New Yorkers pitched in and helped each other. Volunteers directed traffic, assisted firefighters and rescue teams, and generally refrained from looting.

So what did we learn from the great 1965 blackout? Not much, I’m afraid. The 2003 outage (greatly feared to be terroristic in nature) was attributed to untrimmed branches in Ohio.

Oh, and much more looting took place than in 1965.

But on the other hand, urban dwellers during both blackouts saw something they possibly had never seen before: a sky full of stars.

Swimming All Day Long

My own beloved Miami, Oklahoma city pool, as seen on a 1940 postcard

Sweet summertime was at its sweetest for a kid in the 60’s. No school! Staying up late! Sleeping in! And, best of all, SWIMMING ALL DAY LONG!

Miami, Oklahoma had a huge public pool that was (and still is, I’m happy to say, even though it has inexplicably shrunk) gorgeous. I searched online in vain for photos of the actual facility. But on a hot summer day, it looked very much like the photo to the left.

Half of the pool was the kid’s area. A rope separated it from the deeper end. I spent a couple of summers confined to the shallow depths. But if you could swim all the way across the pool, you were allowed access to the Most Holy: the DIVING BOARDS!

The Miami Municipal Pool had a simple but effective policy: A child under the age of ten had to stay on the shallow side of the rope unless he or she could swim across the width of the pool ,without having to stop.

In the summer of 1967, I began attempting to swim from one side of the pool to the other, a distance of probably 75 feet. At first, I would tire out and have to stand up halfway across, but my endurance increased. Finally, I made it the entire way! I went up to a lifeguard and requested an audition.

To my surprise, I didn’t have to swim the width of the pool, only out to the island in the middle of the deep end and back. Piece of cake! Probably sixty feet total.

I completed the test perfectly, and was granted the revered access to the deep end. I was so excited I almost bawled.

I made a beeline to the Most Holy. Miami’s pool had three boards of varying heights above the water. It wasn’t long before I was climbing the ten foot ladder that led to the high dive’s altitude.

My love of swimming, in addition to my seven-year-old fearlessness, caused me to be quite the spectacle. Older kids would goad me into trying multiple flips, and once I learned to tuck, I was doing one-and-a-halfs from the three foot board. I had lots of belly busters during the learning experience, but they don’t hurt so badly when you weigh fifty pounds.

Mom would drop me off at the pool when it opened, around 11:00, if I recall. I would swim until late afternoon. Then, on the ride home, I would suddenly be aware of how FAMISHED I was!

Swimming burns lots of calories. And when you start the day weighing fifty pounds, you probably lose a significant percentage of your mass to treading water and climbing ladders. Ergo, swimming starvation.

I would go home and gorge myself on snacks before dinner. Mom would allow it, probably because she remembered experiencing the same phenomenon during the 1930’s. I still had plenty of appetite when suppertime finally arrived.

Today, of course, the times they have a-changed. Diving boards have gone the way of 29 cent gas, Nehru jackets, and ten-cent Cokes. Society has become a place where people expect to be protected from their own stupidity, or else they will grab the Yellow Pages and phone up a shyster with an ad spanning two full pages. Law schools graduate tens of thousands more each year, God help us. Municipalities can’t afford the liability insurance it takes to have high dives, or even any diving boards at all. So our grandkids slide into the water through long enclosed tubes that protect them from any harm whatsoever as they slowly descend to the four-foot depths.

What a shame. There’s nothing like the rush a seven-year-old kid would feel when he realized that he had gained access to the very same diving boards that his seventeen-year-old sibling was using.

See Rock City

In the summer of 1967, we traveled to Montreal to see Expo 67. On the way back, I got to see some pretty amazing stuff, including Niagara Falls, the Great Smokeys, and about a million painted barns and roadside signs imploring me to See Rock City.

Well, guess what. It worked. My father was relentlessly hammered by me to take us to Rock City. He continued to be pelted with requests until he finally relented, and our big Plymouth was aimed at Chattanooga, TN.

As we drew closer to the eastern Tennessee burg, the signs got more numerous. By the time we arrived at Lookout Mountain, I was ravenously ready to See Rock City!

As hungry as I was to check it out, I really don’t recall too much of the actual experience. I remember standing at a high point where I could See Seven States, and a big balanced rock. That’s about it, really. But I remember that it was a very, very fun day, and even my staid parents seemed to enjoy it.

Rock City was founded by a man named Garnet Carter. The area atop Lookout Mountain had long been known to locals as “Rock City” because of unusual rock formations that formed “streets.” Evidently, Native Americans had long earlier enhanced natural formations to create them. Carter obtained the land, then began making plans to build a residential neighborhood called Fairyland, as well as a golf course.

The golf course was a bit too ambitious, so Carter instead built the world’s first miniature golf course.

His plans for Fairyland, which would be modeled after Imaginary European cities, also proved impractical. In the meantime, he and his wife had built winding paths around the massive rock formations and also planted wildflower gardens.

They had sunk a lot of money into Rock City. Now what?

Carter realized that the public would pay a modest fee to experience the immaculate botanical garden that he and his wife had created. So in 1932, in the height of the Depression, Frieda’s Rock City Gardens opened to the public.

Carter knew that it would take advertising to get the public to show up. But times were hard. He really didn’t want to shell out bucks to newspapers that would be read today, forgotten tomorrow.

So he enlisted the help of a sign painter named Clark Byers. He hired Byers to travel the nation’s highways and offer to paint farmers’ barns in exchange for letting them paint three simple words: See Rock City.

Many a farmer took Byers up on his offer, and the painter would make certain that whatever side of the barn was best exposed to the (always) nearby highway would be brightly and boldly emblazoned with the words “Rock City” and as much of a sales pitch as he could finagle from the farmer. As the painted barns multiplied, so did the crowds. By by 1940, Rock City barns were spotted as far away as Michigan and Texas. And the crowds kept coming.

Rock City was known as a honeymooner’s retreat. It was also a great place to take the kids. National media writeups added to the success. Carter and Frieda’s dream of a European-styled neighborhood never came true (and the world’s first miniature golf course didn’t last too long either, although the Tom Thumb Golf chain that it became certainly has), but untold numbers of kids across all generations, including Boomers, have fond memories of making the long climb to the top of Lookout Mountain and checking out what Rock City has to offer.

The numbers of the painted barns have dwindled, but Rock City continues to thrive today, still owned by the Carter family. It’s nice when some things DON’T change.

Saigon Falls

The last helicopter evacuating Saigon

We Boomers have a wealth of pleasant memories from growing up in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. Those are memories that we wouldn’t trade for a million dollars. But, like all generations, we have our share of bad memories as well.

One of the most pervasive unpleasant memories that touched each and every one of us was the war in Vietnam. In this blog’s early days, I wrote a column about that subject. War seemed normal to Boomer kids, sadly, there is a whole new generation to whom it feels that way as well.

What made the Vietnam war so hard to deal with was that all of the deaths, the maimings, the psychological scarrings that happened to our nation’s youth were, it appears, all for nothing.

By 1972, the country was sick of Vietnam. The protesters had found many allies in the “establishment,” it seemed that there wasn’t a soul who wanted to spend any more lives to try to make a nation located on the far side of the world a place safe for democracy. The 1972 Presidential election featured a lot of talk by all candidates concerned about ending the mess once and for all.

Nixon really didn’t face much competition, though, and after his re-election, he set about getting America out of SE Asia.

Vietnamese tank breaches US embassy wall in Saigon

On January 27, 1973, the governments of the US, North Vietnam, and South Vietnam all signed a treaty effectively ending the war. It was a noble document, to be sure, calling for the US forces to withdraw, all POW’s to be returned, and an international military force protecting and enforcing the truce.

It was also a death sentence for South Vietnam.

Nixon called the withdrawal of troops “peace with honor.” That feel-good phrase belied the actuality, that as Americans withdrew, the Viet Cong rapidly moved in and took over.

The average American, eager to never hear the word “Vietnam” again, simply didn’t care. What was important was getting out of there ASAP.

What further sealed South Vietnam’s fate was the fact that the Watergate scandal had broken, and the news media were relentlessly covering the juicy story, to the detriment of the seemingly endless unrest in Indo-China.

Once Nixon’s resignation was a done deal, Gerald Ford continued to oversee the withdrawal, even accelerating it, despite the fact that South Vietnam was obviously being systematically devoured by the North as American troops departed.

Nobody seemed to care, except the increasingly desperate South Vietnamese, seen as traitors by the Communist North.

By spring, 1975, the withdrawal took on the appearance of a hasty retreat. North Vietnamese forces were pouring over the land like hungry locusts, and Saigon was the last “free” place left in the country. On April 30, Ford ordered Ambassador Graham Martin and all remaining American personnel to leave at once.

South Vietnamese civilians scale the 14-foot wall of the U.S. embassy in Saigon, trying to reach evacuation helicopters.

There were about 1500 hundred South Vietnamese loyalists at the American embassy, all of whom had been guaranteed protection, and they were looking more and more like they were to be tossed to the wolves.

The marines guarding the embassy perimeter were called inside the building, and an angry crowd outside the walls began to tear down the gates.

Refugees had been in the process of being evacuated, but as things got uglier, the directive was changed to transport American citizens only. Finally, at 0500 local time on April 30, the last helicopter took off from the embassy. Approximately 400 loyalists were left on the grounds, an angry crowd in the process of swarming over them.

Thus ended “peace with honor.”

The whole Vietnam mess put such a bad taste in the mouths of the American public and their elected officials that it looked like the country might never go to war again. Indeed, some 35 years later, SE Asia, despite continuing unrest, is far off the list of potential areas in which the US might get involved.

No, problems exist elsewhere, and once again, a war has drug on for many years, one that the public has grown very weary of. The helpless feelings of seeing body bags and knowing that the enemy is still very much in power is getting to have a sense of deja vu about it.

And while that feeling of having seen something before can often be pleasant, this time, it’s very much the opposite.

Playing Indoors (Temporarily!)

One of the crazes that came after my childhood that never caught my attention was the video game in its various incarnations.

Pong showed up when I was fifteen, followed closely by Space Invaders when I was eighteen. If I was going to get hooked, those were the primo ages to do it.

It never happened. I always preferred pastimes that required physical involvement of real objects, rather than those electronically produced.

I guess that’s why I’m so baffled by the generations of kids who followed mine who would gladly curl up with a Colecovision, Nintendo, Wii, or Atari (lots of years just covered there!) on a perfectly beautiful day rather than go outside and enjoy the real world.

I know that if such a thing as the gaming console would have existed circa 1967, and if it had managed to grab my attention, its use would have been STRICTLY for rainy days in the Enderland house. My mom would have insisted on it.

I grew up with the idea that the outdoors was for play. The indoors was for play if the weather didn’t allow for outdoors play. And sometimes, on a warm rainy day in the summer, f’rinstance, it was a blast to play outdoors in decidedly indoor weather!

My mom had an aversion for me laying around inside when the weather was nice outside. That principle has stuck with me all the way into middle age. If it’s a nice day outside, and if I’m not working, I feel guilty doing something inside. So I make my way outdoors and do yard work, or mess with my car, or even slip off for eighteen holes of idiot ball, AKA golf.

But there were those days when a kid simply had to play inside. Frequently, the weather would be so bad that he was on his own, his friends also temporarily locked in their indoor prisons.

Needless to say, we didn’t yack on the phone. Mom might miss a call. Another thing about the younger generations that baffles me is how they can talk for hours on cell phones.

So, it was time to get the Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys, or GI Joe out and set up the indoor entertainment on the bedroom or living room floor.

But mom would keep a wary eye on the weather. And once the sun came out, it was time to get outside.

What would she think of kids who go without sleep in order to compete in online games that completely remove them from the real world? Some serious online gamers will emerge from a session absolutely unaware of what time it is, or what DAY it is.

My own kids did catch the video game bug. It began with Commander Keen on my very first PC back in 1993. I must admit, Jurassic park (the game) hooked the whole family, including Yours Truly, a year later. But once again, I only played at night or when the weather was bad.

For better or worse, (I strongly suspect the latter), kids today spend many, many more hours indoors than we Boomers did. The idea of hanging out with neighborhood kids all day long like we once did is foreign to many of them. In many cases, this is because parents are simply afraid to let them do so. After all, the world that was ours was a much safer place than the one our grandkids possess.

But even if that’s the case, I still think it’s a good idea to get the kids and/or grandchildren away from the various electronic forms of indoor entertainment and get them OUTSIDE, even if dad or grandpa has to go with them to keep an eye on things.

Playing in the Country

I grew up in Miami, Oklahoma, classic small-town America. I had lots of freedom to go play all over town all day. But a special treat was getting to go play in the country.

My father owned a truck garage. One of his mechanics lived out of town a few miles on a farm. The mechanic was a good guy and his wife was sweet, too. Once in a while I would get to play all day long on their farm, loaded with woods, open pastures, hills, a little creek, cows, horses, and a big barn with a hayloft.

For a “city” kid to get to spend all day in such nirvana was a highlight of the summer.

I would be dropped off early in the morning. I would head out and spend the entire day doing cool country things that I couldn’t do in town.

The first thing I would do was head down to the creek with a big glass jar. Then, the hunt would begin. I would capture whatever little critters my hands could outwit. “Crawdads” (more properly known as crayfish) could be apprehended by sweeping the jar through the area formerly occupied by a rock. Lifting the rock would reveal one of the clawed crustaceans hiding, staying out of the sun. We had brown “mud craws” in town that would dig vertical tunnels in damp dirt marked by chimney-like towers of mud around them, but these beautiful creek craws with their red-tipped claws were more highly prized by juvenile hunters.

After a few hours of crawdad catching, I would empty my jar and head out to the pasture . The jar would now sport a lid with holes punched through it to allow ventilation for its next captives.

If there were clover flowers, it was bee catching time. All you had to do was drop the jar over a flower with a bee attached and wait for it to fly. Then you slapped the lid on and gazed with wonder at the insect’s detail, the pollen that covered it, and the swelled sacs on its legs that held nectar.

Now, off to the hayloft.

A hayloft was a truly magical place filled with aroma, ambiance, and dander. It had a smell that was heavenly, but which would instantly stuff me up if I inhaled it with my allergies that appeared many years later. This getting old crap has its drawbacks.

Just getting into the hayloft was cool. You climbed up a ladder that was permanently attached to the wall through a trap door. Once in the open confines of the loft, lighting was brilliant sun shining through small cracks between oak boards. It was dim, yet blinding. And there was hay EVERYWHERE! you could climb over it, jump in piles of it, make forts out of it, or whatever else the shining imagination of a child could come up with.

You would sweat gallons, inhale vast amounts of pollen and dust, have every area of your skin that persistently touched the hay get covered with little red scratches, and have the very time of your life.

At the end of the day, mom or dad would pick me up and would take my exhausted, stinking self home. I would be asleep in the car before we had traveled a mile.

The bath I got when I got home would likely reveal bloodsucking little creatures patrolling my skin looking for a place to drill. An itching sensation meant a tick had hit paydirt.

But any inconveniences were massively outweighed by the sheer exhilaration that a city kid would feel when he got to spend a day in the country.