Getting Tested for TB

Tine test apparatus

When you think about it, going to grade school during the 50’s and 60’s was downright hazardous! I mean back in those days, asbestos was a wonder substance for insulation that was used in our floor and ceiling tiles and insulation ubiquitously. Our schools were full of it!

Not only that, but there we were, innocent little kids, and they were sticking needles into us right and left! Needles full of nasty things!

You can quickly spot a Baby Boomer by the presence of a scar on a shoulder (mine is the left) from a smallpox vaccination.

But another procedure that I (and no doubt many of you) recall being performed upon me at least twice was the tuberculosis test.

Tuberculosis has had an up and down history. It was one of society’s biggest killers in history, up until about WWII. A vaccine was developed during the 1930’s which slowed down the disease in general. Unfortunately, it also CAUSED the disease in some cases. And it wasn’t a lifetime vaccine. It would lose its effectiveness after a few years, and the recipient would again become vulnerable to the tuberculosis bacillus.

What largely caused TB to disappear in our childhoods was effective quarantining. TB can be “arrested,” i.e. it can remain in one’s system, but not be infectious. And mandatory quarantines caused TB to become a rare, but still worrisome, disease by the 1960’s.

That worrisome factor was what led to us Boomer kids being pricked with the Tine TB test during our grade school years.

The multiple needles didn’t hurt a bit. Of course, neither did the gentle pricking which initiated that huge smallpox lesion. So many of us were a bit skeptical when that nurse produced the small plastic hoogus that implanted actual tuberculosis bacteria into our skin.

It was probably good instincts that made us feel that way The Tine test has since been largely discredited as being inaccurate, and in fact CAUSING TB in some cases.

But hey, we were kids. We hadn’t yet learned to not trust anyone over thirty. So we submitted to the procedure.

I never knew anyone who tested positive. I assume that they would have been quarantined themselves. Quarantine is very effective in containing infection in many cases, but it’s politically incorrect in itself.

And sadly, in today’s society, political correctness has decreed what is moral and immoral. Taboo and acceptable. Good and bad.

With TB’s return via immigration and the compromised immune systems of AIDS sufferers, perhaps the school TB test is back. I know my kids never took it in the 80’s and 90’s.

But we Baby Boomers remember the little pricking of the TB test as one of our many rites of passage so long ago.

Crayola Crayons

A well worn set of 60’s vintage Crayolas

The term “ubiquitous” is defined as “existing or being everywhere, esp. at the same time; omnipresent.” Ubiquitous perfectly describes the humble writing implement known as the Crayola Crayon.

The depicted postage stamp was released in 1998, graced with an illustration of an early-20th-century Crayola box. This shows that kids have been playing with Crayolas for over a century, making the pigmented wax writing implements ubiquitous in the truest sense of the word.

Binney and Smith, a company that specialized in industrial pigments, released the first box of eight Crayola crayons containing red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, and black sticks in 1903. It sold for a nickel.

The brains behind Crayolas (the name was dreamed up by Alice Binney, wife of one of the company’s founders) realized that kids would delight in drawing and coloring with them. They would also likely ingest them in the process. Therefore, Crayolas were made of non-toxic materials.

Thus did they arrive in my hands sometime in the early 1960’s. I don’t remember my first box of Crayolas, but, like most kids, coloring was one of my first artistic activities. I was probably three or so, just old enough to be somewhat trusted not to eat the delicious-smelling creations.

Seriously, is there any more intoxicating aroma than opening up a shiny new pack of Crayola Crayons?

But, of course, it wasn’t all joy for Boomer kids when it came to Crayolas.

The first thing that would happen is that the more popular colors would wear down. That would lead to using, say, raw umber to color a tree trunk instead of brown, which was showing wear and tear (as in tearing the paper sleeve back a bit).

The more fortunate among us had the 64-color box that had that sharpener in the back. Thus, a reasonable facsimile of the pristine pointed tip that adorned a brand-new Crayola could be produced. The rest of us had to make do with using a dull crayon’s sharpest edge for fine details.

But sooner or later, time would catch up with every new box of crayons, and they would be reduced to shortened, war-wounded shadows of their former selves.

So many of our boxes of Crayolas looked like the image to the right: Once immaculate and beautiful, but now showing signs of struggles against coloring books that required vast amounts of yellow, dark blue, and black to create landscapes and such that would adorn refrigerators and schoolroom walls for an amount of time suitable for masterpieces of their caliber.

Eventually, popular Crayolas would become too short to go into the box. Then they would be relegated to a cigar box full of their brethren which would have all of their paper peeled off, to be used by laying the entire crayon down on the paper and creating a one-inch wide swath of, say, blueness for a vast sky.

Like us, Crayolas saw their share of having to change with the times for politically correct reasons. In 1958, in response to requests from schoolteachers, “Prussian blue” was renamed “midnight blue.” I’m not exactly sure what that was all about, unless there was a sense of anti-Teutonic prejudice in the air. In 1962, the color “flesh” was renamed “peach.” I guess that’s better than “Caucasian.” And in 1999, “Indian red” became “chestnut.”

The last color change is particularly PC. You see, “Indian red” is a pigment produced in India and used in oil paints. However, since it could give the “wrong impression,” it was renamed.

Thus have Crayolas mirrored the Boomer generation. We are showing wear and tear, some of us more than others. We have had to make changes as society has demanded them. But we have also endured in pretty much the same easily-recognizable form that we have always had.

Could a postage stamp commemoration be far behind?

Naptime in Kindergarten

When we were kids, kindergarten was an option, not a requirement. And if our parents opted for it, it cost them cash.

At least that’s the way it was in Oklahoma. That’s how I ended up going to Mrs. Adams’ big yellow rock house every day.

My mom, a schoolteacher, was familiar with Mrs. Adams and her teaching program. She was using something relatively new at the time: phonics. Mom saw the value of learning how to spell, read, and pronounce phonetically. The public schools had not yet committed to the teaching method. But mom had.

I don’t remember too much about kindergarten except for a few things. One was that Mrs. Adams was a fan of cooked cabbage. It wasn’t unusual for the fetid stench of cooked cabbage to foul the air of that big yellow house in the afternoons.

Another thing I remember was naptime.

We would eat lunch (thankfully, she never fed US cooked cabbage!), then spread out our thin cotton mats and crash. At first, a few of us protested, but resistance was futile. Mrs. Adams’ word was law in the big yellow house.

After a while, naptime was welcomed, rather than resisted. And, 42 years later, may I say that it still is.

I don’t know how we slept so well on those flimsy mats on that hard wooden floor. But sleep well we did. Then, we woke up, ready to attack stuff like phonics.

60’s phonics flash cards

What I remember about that kindergarten class is that practically every one of us learned how to read. We also learned how to recognize tricky combinations of letters like ph = f, sch = sk, etc. We all, with no exceptions that I recall, entered first grade as full-fledged readers.

I remember that it was pretty dramatic in my case. I recall Mrs. Adams going over the basics of phonetic reading, and I picked up the ball and ran. When I got home that day, I was delighted to read out of a Bible story book whose pictures I had always enjoyed, but whose words were, to that point, a mystery. I remember the thrilled look on mom’s face as I read to her out of it.

Of course, this made first grade a tad boring for Mrs. Adams’ graduates. “See Dick, see Jane” just didn’t cut it when you were used to pronouncing words like Jeremiah and Solomon. So, some of us were given more advanced reading material.

There has been a growing movement to cut naptimes from kindergarten. This has caused no little controversy with medical experts who say that 3-5 year old kids need more sleep that older ones. I’m inclined to agree.

The local public school kindergartens also spurn teaching phonics. However, my daughter, who was home-schooled her first two years, did learn it through a tutor that we hired. Like me, she was reading at an advanced level at age five. My son went to conventional kindergarten at the elementary school. He did learn phonics a little later, and caught up quickly.

Some enlightened employers have also seen the benefit of a brief afternoon nap greatly enhancing employee productivity. While I’m happy with my employer of twenty years, I’m sad to say that they aren’t among that group. But I think Mrs. Adams was on to something with those compulsory naps after lunch.

I just wish I could get that smell of cooked cabbage out of my mind.

Lessons Learned on the Playground

A genuine swingset

When the recess bell would ring in 1967, thus would begin a mad dash by students weary of classwork out of the classroom and towards the most desirable piece of playground equipment: the swing set.

There are still many school swing sets like that which continues to exist at Nichols School in Miami, Oklahoma that many, many generations of school kids have enjoyed. When the one that I played on was erected in the 50’s, it was made of strong tubular steel set deeply into the ground in concrete. It has withstood tornadoes, floods, and steady use by thousands of children over more than fifty years.

However, what might bring it down one day is no force of nature, but rather the fear of liability.

In today’s litigious, politically correct, it-takes-a-village society, playground equipment that has the slightest chance of causing injury to a poor, innocent child is an abhorrent thing. Yellow-Pages-advertising lawyers are hungry to get their slimy hands on any case involving a kid who splits a lip falling off of a jungle gym. What a sad situation compared to when we Boomers were kids.

Genuine monkey bars

We Boomers tend to accept what we can’t change. Make no mistake, we knew no limits on what we could change when we participated in sit-ins, campus protests, and marches. But nowadays, we know that some things, like death and taxes, are certainties, and we deal with it.

Maybe one reason we do so is that we grew up on those playgrounds where you could take as many dares as you wished, but if you screwed up, the price was pain, and a possible chewing-out by our parents for not being more careful.

Our swing set looked exactly like the one pictured. Four sets of swings, and a big, tall slide on one end. Of course, one swing was too high, one too low. That left only two that we all fought over. But that was okay, because one wouldn’t swing for the full twenty minutes of recess. No, you would get up to a suitable altitude, then launch yourself. Your feet might get as high as six feet off of the ground before you plummeted to the slight cushion of the sand. Then it was the next guy’s turn.

Yes, a kid or two broke an ankle while I was in elementary school. And each time, their parents would pick him up from the nurse’s station, take him to the doctor, and make certain the child had learned a lesson about just how daring he could be without becoming foolish.

The slide, too, presented adventure tempered by the possibility of danger. At the top of the slide, you were perhaps seven feet off of the ground. The teacher forbade more than one kid at the top at a time, but that didn’t stop us from pushing the limits when she wasn’t looking. And yes, once in a while a kid would fall off and split his head open. That kid was much more careful the next time.

A sanitized, foam-rubber-lined safe playset

Today, of course, any pain that a child might come into contact with is taboo. In fact, any situation that might cause harm to ANYONE is to be avoided if at all possible. Hence the square feet of warning labels that adorn new ladders. Did you know that it’s possible to fall off of a ladder and hurt yourself? How horrible! We must warn the masses!

The result, I fear, is one generation after another of kids who grow up into adults who feel entitled. Sure, the world owes me a living. Of course, I have a right to party. Too much credit card debt? I’m entitled to blow it off by going bankrupt. Not getting along with that girl I just married? Divorce time!

Perhaps the lessons we learned by experiencing the dire consequences of misusing potentially dangerous playground equipment would have well served the succeeding generations that were village-raised.

Collecting Bugs

Bug jars, much nicer than the ones I had

Perhaps you might be able to relate to today’s memory, perhaps not. Anyhow, here goes.

When I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, I was quite fascinated by collecting insects. It was not unusual to find somewhere in my bedroom a collection of unfortunate victims impaled through their thoraxes with straight pins and attached to a board of styrofoam with little labels containing childish scrawl as to what their species was.

Of course, I had my Field Guide to the Insects to assist me in noting the subtle differences between, say, the Chinese and praying mantids.

It helped that from the age of nine onwards, I lived out in the country. So many a summer day was spent with my collection jar looking for insects who would be immortalized by having their carcasses mounted on my styrofoam board to be proudly shown to any kids who would visit.

I was just fascinated by bugs in general. I would capture many a honeybee or firefly to be confined in a mason jar with holes punched in the lid. A handful of grass and clover flowers would accompany them, of course, and some lived for days before they either passed or were granted a reprieve by me.

Bug collection

But gathering bugs for collections was a different matter. You would need a collection jar which would double as a killing jar. When you got back to the house, you would drop an alcohol-soaked cloth in with the bugs to cause their demise.

Once the little critters were belly-up, it was time to impale them and double-check the Field Guide so they could be properly identified, complete with scientific name.

Luna moth

Of course, the collections were fragile, so they would require rebuilding every year. No problem. there were always lots of bugs around.

I discovered that parking lots were amazing places to find exotic insects to add to my collections. They also had the added bonus of already being dead. Giant water bugs, Goliath beetles, rhinoceros beetles, and beautiful moths could be found beneath the big lights which had lured them to circle endlessly until their death from sheer exhaustion.

One morning I stepped out into the yard to find a gorgeous luna moth lying in the grass. I don’t think I ever saw anything so beautiful in my life (with the possible exception of Annette Funicello). I had seen photos of the beautiful insects, but had not yet seen one in real life. I proudly added the moth to my current collection of the time.

I don’t stick bugs to a board anymore, but I still enjoy strolling through parking lots when my wife and I walk our two schnauzers. I frequently spot big insects lying on the pavement that still give me a little thrill to see. My wife smiles patiently while I explain to her how rare it is to actually encounter giant water bugs.

Again, some things never change.

Childhood Ailments

A Jan. 16, 1957 file photo shows Greg Cox, left, 7, in Altamont, Ill., as he looks at his friend Jon Douglas, 6, through the doorway while he recovers from mumps.

First of all, my DSL internet connection is dying fast. Next Friday, I get on cable, along with screaming 15 MB speed. but in the meantime, since working on the web under present conditions is pure torture, today’s column will be it for Boomer memories this week. Things should be back to normal by next Monday.

One of the reasons that we Boomers are so tough and resilient despite the various curve balls that life throws at us is because we had to endure multiple rounds of epidemic ailments when we were kids. These diseases were expected, even welcomed, as rites of passage that provided evidence that we were, indeed, growing up.

The goods news about mumps, chicken pox, and rubella measles was that once we went through the agony, that was it. We were provided with lifetime protection against future infections by our wondrous immune systems. So we knew, as we sat there in agony from itching, fever, and overall pain that once it was over, it was OVER!

But that didn’t provide any short-term relief. No, the only solace we received was that at least we were getting out of school. The very unlucky among us got infected in the summer. There was absolutely no good news about that.

Toddler with Chicken Pox

I remember having chicken pox. The evidence of the latter is found in occasional scars located on my 49-year-old physique. Why are they there? Because I didn’t listen to my mom, of course. She told me not to scratch, but I just couldn’t help it.

Obviously, most of us couldn’t help it. The majority of Baby Boomers have chicken pox scars.

There is really nothing unattractive about them. I remember having some heart-rending crushes on a young lady or two who had the telltale marks of a chicken pox infection of the 1960’s.

The infection lasted about a week, as I recall. Mom was working as a schoolteacher, and dad had his own job, of course, so I spent the week over at Terry Michael Browning’s house.

Such were the easygoing arrangements our parents had with each other. If one mother was unable to stay home with a sick child, she would trade out with other moms who would have sick kids of their own someday that needed watching.

Dennis the Menace advertising Rubella vaccine in 1970

Mumps were another agony that I recall having. My salivary glands swelled to the size of baseballs, or so it seemed. Any sort of movement was sheer agony, and the only relief that was available was orange-flavored Bayer Children’s Aspirin, which, as we all know today, will instantly kill any child who takes it. At least I was led to believe such when my own kids were small in the 80’s. Interesting, though, that we were given the little white pills by the millions in the 50’s and 60’s and survived.

The relief that aspirin provided was negligible, and my only alternative was to suffer. The good news was that the suffering didn’t last as that with chicken pox. It was a couple of days, as I recall.

Then there were the three-day measles. Also known as German measles and rubella, as much as a fourth of my second-grade class was out at once with the ailment.

As far as I know, I never contracted it.

Rubella was bad news for pregnant mothers who had never had the disease as kids. Their babies were born with defects, or were miscarried. Thus, this disease was aggressively fought by the medical research community in the 60’s. The first rubella vaccine was made available in 1969, and I can recall many posters at school announcing the need for us to get vaccinated. Maybe that’s why I never got the three-day-measles.

Vaccines against chicken pox and the mumps were developed later, with the result that our own kids and grandkids may have never experienced any of the big three rites of passage that we Boomer kids faced.

Obviously, not EVERY memory we had as kids was one we that want to relive.

Mimeograph Machines

Mimeograph machine

The Xerox copier made its debut in 1959, with the 914 model. It was a technological marvel that would scan a document, then spit out a nearly flawless copy.

It was also very expensive, and school budgets being what they were (and still are), that meant that teachers who wanted duplicate test papers or any other types of duplicated handouts needed to be adept at running something called a mimeograph machine. Generally, there would be one to share among several teachers.

I make lots of typos as I write these columns. I recognize most of them because Firefox underlines suspected goofs in red. All I have to do is right-click on the questioned word and I am offered suggested fixes, one of which is usually correct.

But teachers in the 60’s had to be PERFECT typists. That’s because there was no room for error, the first step in creating a mimeograph was to insert a waxed stencil into the typewriter, set it to punch letters directly onto the stencil, bypassing the ribbon, and DON’T make a mistake! If the teacher was writing up exams or graduation announcements the stencil could not be corrected. The expensive sheets had to be used very carefully so that the exams or announcements would be perfect on the first attempt.

Mimeographed papers

Once the test was painstakingly typed out, the sheet was attached to a drum inside a hand-cranked mimeograph machine. Each turn of the crank drew a sheet of paper inside, where it was pressed against the stencil and ink would be printed matching the punched letters. The result was a duplicate of the original, albeit with extra lines caused by wrinkles and such on the stencil.

One of the delightful smells we enjoyed in the schoolroom was fresh mimeograph ink. I remember being handed a freshly printed test on a piece of paper that was slightly damp that smelled heavenly.

If you ever smelled a mimeographed page, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, the smell, slightly chemical, is difficult to describe. But it delighted the entire class to receive the fragrant sheets.

Teachers, on the other hand, weren’t so crazy about the devices that produced them. Mimeograph machines were prone to various malfunctions. You could get ink on your hands or clothing. A rookie might put the stencil on the drum backwards, making a perfect copy of a test printed in mirror image. And the stencil could simply wear out, making the last tests unreadable.

But mimeograph machines were a part of our growing up, and if you could ever get your hands on one of those freshly printed sheets and smell its reassuring aroma, you would instantly be transported back to being eight years old again.

Filmstrips in School

Filmstrip projector, 1950’s vintage

How did kids in school see the world in the 1960’s? Frequently by means of film strips.

Film strips were strips of 35 mm film that had positive images on them, much like movie film. However, it wasn’t designed to be quickly run through the projector like a movie. No, each slide was a scene in itself.

Many film strips were silent. Words at the bottom of the image described whatever was portrayed. But it was also common to see film strips that were synchronized to records. The teacher would play the record, and a beep would indicate it was time to move on to the next slide.

Of course, it was easy to get lost. When that happened, the class would loudly offer the teacher their assistance in locating the correct slide for the dialog.

We loved film strips. It meant a break from the tedium of regular classwork.

Filmstrips in canisters

The sound film strips would be shown at my school through an ancient projector, much like the one illustrated above. It had a noisy fan that kept that great big light cool, and presumably the film as well.

But in the school libraries, there were more personal versions of film strip viewers. I remember we had models designed for single use and text-only filmstrips. There was no provision for sound, like the students from 1972 had in the illustration to the left. We had little separated cubbies on a long table so we could view our film strips side by side.

We would be shown pictures from other countries, photomicrographs of cells and protozoa, health/hygiene stuff, and occasionally, fun stuff like cartoons.

I remember one teacher with a two-pack-a-day habit who would appoint a kid to be the film strip advancer and would slip off to the Teacher’s Lounge for a smoke. Don’t worry, Mrs. Finley, your secret is safe with me. 😉

Today, of course, our grandkids in school are treated to live videos streamed over the internet, or perhaps DVD’s viewed on plasma TV’s. But if you’re old enough to remember JFK, you can recall when multimedia in class meant the teacher wheeling in the 1950’s model film strip projector, and playing a scratchy record. It was great stuff.


1948 Hopalong Cassidy lunchbox

Man has been eating lunch since time immemorial. And you might think that the portable lunchbox like you carried to school in the 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s would have been just as ancient. But you would be wrong.

In 1950, Nashville, TN-based Alladin came up with a concept that they felt just might have potential, especially in light of the fact that the largest generation of six-year-olds in history were about to enter school for the first time: a metal box/vacuum bottle combination just the right size for a kid to carry his/her lunch to school in. And seeing how metal lasted forever, and a steady supply of new customers was needed in order to do future business, what if they put a TV character’s image on the box and bottle? That way, new TV shows would create demand for new lunch boxes!

I couldn’t find any names connected with that idea, but rest assured, even Don Draper has never possessed that kind of genius.

Those original Hopalong Cassidy lunchboxes were an immediate smash success, and a tradition was born for not just Boomers, but all kids of the 20th century: a perfect-sized case that a kid would proudly lug to school and back, festooned with colorful pictures.

The metal lunch box for kids was actually born in 1935, a company called Geuder, Paeschke and Frey creating a lithographed box with Mickey mouse’s image on it. But it took postwar prosperity, TV, and the addition of a Thermos bottle for the concept to become a craze.

OK, not an actual “Thermos” bottle, but that’s what the ubiquitous containers have come to be generically called. In fact, it was Thermos who decided to jump into the lunchbox fray in 1953 with their own Roy Rogers version. And it, too, was a staggering success, the kid-sized lunchbox kit increasing the company’s overall sales revenue by 20% that year.

1968 Star Trek lunchbox

The companies didn’t waste any time getting more TV and movie characters onto the store shelves. And more manufacturers jumped into the lucrative market. By the late 50’s, there were ten or so different brands of lunch boxes. One of these was Ohio Art, who used lunchbox profits to develop a new toy: the Etch-a-Sketch. I am astounded to realize that I have not yet written a piece on the artistic toy, stand by for that one.

It was brilliance beyond brilliance. Besides filling a utilititarian need, new TV shows came out every fall, so there would be a continuing demand for more and more lunchboxes. Life was good.

The thing is that they were built to last forever. The quality of the metal kept getting better and better. By 1962, designs were embossed onto the boxes, replacing the flat graphics. The Thermos bottles didn’t fare so well, though. The first thing to go was the plastic cap, frequently left on the table in the cafeteria. Next, the bottle itself would fall victim to gravity, and dropping a loaded box might cause the bottle’s glass liner to shatter. However, the box itself would soldier on, eventually being sold at a yard sale, or perhaps being tossed into an attic, to be rediscovered and put on eBay in the next century

007 lunch box

An alternative to the rectangular models came along a bit later. It mimicked the classic lunchboxes that our fathers lugged to work twenty years earlier. The kid’s model originated, once again, with Aladdin, in 1957. It was expensive paying for the rights to use TV and movie characters, so Alladin decided to make miniature versions of the blue-collar’s model, decorated with more generic (and cheaper) graphics. A Disney schoolbus model was the single largest-selling lunchbox of all time, some nine million units! Other dome-tops bore the likenesses of VW buses. Additionally, many were decorated with pirates, spaceships, cowboys, and other inexpensive kid magnets.

Lunchboxes reigned supreme throughout the 60’s. The glass vacuum bottle was replaced during that decade with a plastic foam-insulated version that was more durable. But that was the last plastic improvement.

As the 70’s started rolling along, overprotective mothers became concerned that their kids were carrying potential weapons to school. Lawsuits began to be filed, wussy legislators jumped on the bandwagon of the dangers of evil metal, and the manufacturers began feeling the heat. Starting in 1972, plastic and vinyl lunchboxes became the norm, and they were, in a word, crap.

The plastic would fade and crack, the vinyl would tear, but oh, how lucky we were to be protected from that vile steel. The popularity of the school lunchbox began to fade.

Alladin continued to make a limited amount of metal boxes, the last one celebrating Rambo in 1985. In 1998, they got out of the lunchbox business altogether. Thermos continues to make them, though, even metal ones! However, they must be careful marketing them, because obviously, one of the most horrible hazards a kid can face is being plunked in the head by a fellow student possessing that most heinous weapon of mass destruction, the metal lunch box.