Freebies in the Detergent Box

My mom used to get aggravated at me when I would pick out a breakfast cereal based on what prize might be contained inside. But you know what? She bought laundry detergent based on the fact that there were drinking glasses inside the box! I believe the brand was Oxydol, if I remember right.

In many ways, the internet has taken us back to the days when freebies were abundant, e.g. gas station gifts. You can outfit your system with a free operating system, office suite, protection against viruses and spyware, and even have the weather presented up-to-the-minute, all for free.

But step back to the 60’s, and you could see detergent makers tempting consumers with gifts buried within the powder.

These gifts were usually glasses. The style would vary from brand to brand, and brands would also vary what they offered. They all put at least three sizes in, that would prove motivating for multiple purchases.

I know many of our drinking glasses were retrieved from detergent boxes. Mom also bought Crystal Wedding oats (each container also had a glass within) and bought Welch’s jelly (those Flintstone-laden jelly glasses will rate their own column).

Breeze detergent took a different approach: free towels. I can still remember an early 70’s commercial featuring Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton that aired in my area. Dolly was very excited because the towels had pictures of flowers on them. I’ll never forget how she gushed about the “zeenyas!”

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen detergent packed with goodies. Like so many of the little niceties we enjoyed as children of the Baby Boom, they have taken their leave. But you know what? Being able to download a free office suite from is pretty cool too. And you don’t have to rinse the detergent off before you use it.

Formica Counter Tops

The pattern to the right was a familiar one to you if you were a visitor of malt shops and hamburger joints in the 1960’s. It’s known as VirrVarr, if you were wondering (probably not). It was one of Formica’s biggest sellers of the 50’s and 60’s, and was installed on the tabletops and countertops of eateries all over the world.

Formica was patented in 1913. The story, according to, is thus:

A young engineer had an idea that was pretty straightforward: take fabric, coat it with resin while it winds on a spindle into the shape of a tube, slit the tube lengthwise, unroll it, press it flat and then cure it. The result was a laminated plastic material that was tough, light and an excellent electrical insulator. It was easy to see the commercial potential of this new material.

The initial “commercial potential” was to replace the natural mineral mica as an electrical insulator. Ergo, “for mica.”

Formica eventually became the state-of-the-art inexpensive countertop material for diners and such. When you walked into a diner, your eyes were enthralled to see a wide variety of contrasts, from the black and white floor tiles (which cover many of the floors of our retro-themed home) to the chrome on the barstools, chairs, and counter trim, to the shiny Formica finish on the eating surfaces.

We had yellow Formica on our countertops at home. I’m guessing that it was installed when the house was built in the early 50’s, because dad did quite a bit of work on the house, replacing carpeting, nailing up paneling, installed a swamp cooler, and the like, but I don’t recall the kitchen ever getting any work.

It would be pretty ugly to look at today, but it was as comfortable as a well-broken-in shoe when I was a kid.

Formica was durable, but there were two things it wouldn’t stand up to. One was sharp knives. If you ever cut anything on your kitchen countertop, it would leave a dark, ugly gash. That would incite the wrath of mom, of course. The other element Formica was very pervious to (that’s the opposite of impervious, right?) was a burning cigarette, a very common heat source in those days. It was not at all unusual to see ugly cigarette burns branded into otherwise scar-free earth toned Formica.

The Formica corporation has listened to the public, which has clamored for a return of the classic styles we remember from our youth. So you can build yourself a retro table or bar topped with the ever-stylish VirrVarr. All you need is Elvis on the jukebox and a mug full of A&W root beer, and you can be a kid again.

Electric Wall Clocks

Among the subtle sounds that made up the ambiance of the home where I spent my early childhood was a gentle whirring noise. It was coming from the electric clock hanging up in our kitchen.

The electric wall clock was a staple in most homes during the 60’s. Ideally, you wanted it to be hung in the middle of a wall. However, esthetics required that the cord hang straight down. Therefore, the clock resided directly above an electrical outlet.

While that cord stuck out like a sore thumb, it didn’t take long for it to vanish. In fact, if the clock was replaced with a battery-driven model, it just didn’t look right without a cord hanging down.

The clock made a whirring sound because it was driven by a rapidly-rotating motor. Seven-year-old me discovered this one day by taking the clock down and seeing for myself. And as the clock aged and bearing surfaces wore down, the whirring would turn into a more abrasive noise, which would eventually get so bad that it could no longer be ignored. The clock might even seize up.

But electric clocks were still preferable to battery-driven models. Most of the took a huge d-cell that just didn’t last very long. It was a pain to change the battery every six months.

Today, like most of the objects we grew up with, genuine vintage electric clocks sell for big bucks. Atomic models like the one pictured that might have sold for twenty bucks in 1964 go for hundreds of dollars on the auction sites.

If you’re into these motor-driven beauties, check out

Here’s to that gentle whirring sound that helped make our house a home.

Burning the Leaves in the Fall

“Leaf burning leads to air pollution and is a health and fire hazard. The smoke from burning leaves contains a number of toxic and/or irritating particles and gases. The tiny particles contained in smoke from burning leaves can accumulate in the lungs and stay there for years. These particles can increase the risk of respiratory infection, as well as reduce the amount of air reaching the lungs.”

Thus spake B. Rosie Lerner, Purdue Extension Consumer Horticulture Specialist in a 1997 article entitled “Please Don’t Burn Your Leaves.”


The first arrival of a slightly cool snap this past week put me in mind of the sweetly perfumed skies of Miami, Oklahoma forty years ago, when neighbors would rake their leaves into neat piles and set fire to them, spreading a heavenly, autumn aroma all over the town.

Nobody complained about the smell or the smoke back then. In searching for appropriate images to accompany this article, I was quite surprised to see numerous passionate diatribes out there citing the smoke from burning leaves as the Next Great Threat. Indeed, it seems to cross that most sacred of lines: political correctness!

For instance, check out this comment from a garden club chat board, reproduced verbatim:

“im really sick of people burning leaves in their yards. is there any law against this in pennsylvania? the smell is sickening even with my windows closed tight i can still smell it. theres a cloud of smoke above my neighborhood is this legal?”

Thus complained a user who probably keeps their windows closed tight, their garage door down, and their front door bolted shut to escape possible interaction with neighbors.

That was the whole point of leaf burning. Neighbors would gather in loose groups on K Street and have conversations as their leaf piles slowly smoldered. Some neighbors were outdoors more often than others at different times of the year, but in October, everyone was outside burning leaves. Thus, you could have a conversation with Mrs. Koff, who would rarely be seen otherwise.

And I seriously doubt that any of us died from the effects of smelling leaf smoke.

And that aroma. They say that smell is the single most powerful provoker of deeply hidden memories. When I smell burning leaves, I am instantly transformed back to a slightly nippy night in October, 1967.

Leaf burning has been outlawed in my town, as it has in most cities all over the country. However, I take advantage of a loophole for backyard fire pits to enjoy a single burn of a modest amount of leaves. The procedure follows this routine, if you would like to duplicate it:

Rake up a bushel basket of leaves, then set the mulching mower to have the front wheels higher up than the rear. Mow the entire yard, chopping the leaves into nothingness. Then, place the unchopped leaves into the pit and wait for sundown.

As it gets dark, pour yourself some good bourbon over ice and set fire to your precious little stash. As it burns, savor the subtle aroma, close your eyes, and enjoy a few minutes of being a kid again, at least in your mind. Sip your bourbon, go back inside, and sleep like a baby.

For a non-paranoid look at burning leaves, check out this site.

Bubbles, Bubbles Everywhere

We Baby Boomer kids were fascinated with bubbles. I don’t know, maybe all kids share that love, but I personally have lots of fond memories of childhood that involve bubbles of all sorts.

For instance, take Mr. Bubble. In the 60’s, no bath was complete without a heaping mass of white bubbles caused by a capful of Mr. Bubble tossed into the running water. What made it so essential to bath time? That endless string of commercials, that’s what!

There’s probably not a single American kid from the 60’s that didn’t grow a Mr. Bubble beard.

Another bubble phenomenon we all loved was buying a bottle of bubbles for a nickel. It was a little container containing a plastic hoogis that had rings on each end, designed to be dipped into the soapy stuff and either (a) waved through the air, making a string of little bubbles, or (b) slowly blown into by a child with just the right amount of exhaled air, thereby creating a massive vesicle (sorry, but hey, there just aren’t many good synonyms for bubble!) of eight or more inches in diameter.

You could also pour the soap solution into a pan and place a massive plastic ring about a foot wide into it and make some truly gargantuan orbs of next-to-nothingness (I came up with that one myself). The manufacturer of the aforementioned giant bubble maker (Wham-O, I believe) also had another big ring with dozens of smaller holes, so you could create a miniature blizzard of smaller sized bubbles.

The bubble pipe was a prime example of a really cool looking product that was disappointing in actual performance. A perfectly designed bubble pipe would have sent a flurry of globelets (I’m seriously starting to run out of synonyms here) skyward with a healthy blast of breath. Instead, it simply produced a flaccid froth, which dripped down the edges of the triune plastic bowls and unceremoniously hit the ground.

Boomers who purchased Pontiac Fieros in the 80’s experienced a similar letdown.

Then, there was Super Elastic Bubble Plastic. Just try getting THIS product approved for sale to kids today. It consisted of a tube full of polyvinyl acetate dissolved in acetone, with plastic fortifiers added. The acetone evaporated upon bubble inflation leaving behind a solid plastic film. You rolled up a small circle of said concoction, then inserted a straw and slowly blew into it. All was well, as long as you were in a well-ventilated are, and you did a Bill Clinton. But if you DID mess up and inhale, you got yourself a lungful of fumes that weren’t good for you.

However, the semi-rigid bubbles would last, and last.

Then, there was Bubble-Up pop. “A kiss of lemon, a kiss of lime.” The now-obscure soft drink was immortalized in Merle Haggard’s hit Rainbow Stew. “We’ll all be drinkin’ that free Bubble-Up, and eatin’ that rainbow stew!” Introduced in 1919, it was still around and distributed by Coca-Cola when we were kids. Then Sprite came along, and Bubble-Up slipped into obscurity, although someone out there is still making it.

Nowadays, I prefer my bubbles in a bedtime bourbon and Coke. But we kids of the 60’s sure had a lot of fun with them back in our day.

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?

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.

Moving Day

Los Angelenos moving in, 1953

I was a fortunate kid. I spent the first eight years of my life living in the same home. In kid years, that’s about four entire lifetimes.

But just before I turned nine, we packed everything up and moved seventy miles away.

It might as well have been seven thousand.

My parents had lived in our modest Miami, Oklahoma home since the early 1950’s. Dad had a yearning to move out to the country. So in 1968, he sold his truck garage and our house and bought a 250 acre farm in southwest Missouri.

We went from comfortable small-town life, where a milkman would bring us fresh dairy products two mornings a week, to living three miles up a rough dirt road without a telephone.

Now, mind you, I’m not complaining. I had 250 beautiful acres to run around on. Perhaps 150 were in thick woods. There were also caves, a creek, and I even had a horse to ride all over the spread.

And it was great. But after a few months, I started missing my little house in my little neighborhood. I also missed my friends.

It was a strange experience, to be sure, packing up everything that we owned and loading it all into boxes. This was stuff that had been in place literally since I could remember. And now it was being removed from the places where it had long sat and packed.

Uhaul, early 60’s

It also seemed strange that I would be saying goodbye to the only home that I had ever known. The yard where I had spent countless afternoons playing baseball, football, tag, army, and even golf with my dad. His eight-iron (which I am proud to still own) would fit nicely under my right arm as I took mighty cuts at Titleists that were really in little danger of ever being contacted.

Incidentally, my golf game hasn’t improved much over that even today. 😉

But that June morning, we packed up the makeshift beds we had slept on the night before, and the house was empty. As we pulled out of the driveway for the last time, home now lay ahead of us.

It was all very strange to a kid.

When the homesickness reached critical mass, perhaps six months after the move, we went back to Miami for a visit.

To say I was shocked was an understatement.

They had changed nice straight Main Street to some sort of obstacle course! Planters and other concrete structures were in place that forced dad to weave in and out in our 1965 Chevy pickup.

At least my best buddy, Van Rucker, hadn’t changed. He was the same, as were most of the rest of the old neighborhood gang.

Strangely, by the end of the day, I was missing our Missouri place.

I moved again within a couple of years, then one more time a couple of years after that. Each move was stressful, exciting, arduous, and strange.

But the first move we made was by far the most significant of the bunch. There no stranger feeling than leaving the only home you’ve ever known.

When Litigation Wasn’t So Blasted Commonplace

Oh, lord. I’m opening myself up to cease-and-desist orders and libel lawsuits here.

Well, I have freedom of speech. So here goes…

According to the Georgetown Journal of Legal ethics, Summer 2005 issue, in an article by Emily Olsen, this summed up the stance of the American Bar Association once upon a time:

In 1908, the American Bar Association (“ABA”) established and promulgated its first ethics code, known as the Canons of Professional Ethics, which condemned all advertisement and solicitation by lawyers. Academics at the turn of the century generally viewed advertising as not appropriate for the legal profession. They believed that only tricksters used legal advertising in order to improve their reputation and an honest lawyer worked to earn his good name. “In the case of the lawyer, advertising of one’s own willingness to be trusted as a man of unselfish devotion frosts the rose before it has a chance to bloom.”

Wow, shades of the NRA (and I am NOT anti-gun, before anyone’s hackles get raised) coming out against machine guns and sawed-off shotguns in the hands of the general populace in the 1930’s. Once upon a time, common sense was much more common.

Well, the times they-have-a-changed.

In the mid 1970’s, the state of Arizona had the good sense to file suit against a lawfirm that, in its view, was crossing the line with its advertising.

In 1977, the US Supreme Court sided against Arizona. On that day, floodgates were opened which led to massive full-page-Yellow-Pages ads promising you wealth and justice if only you will hire the mentioned legal firm to sue the crap out of whomever you felt like wronged you.

Perhaps a less-than-contemptible idea in philosophy, in practice, it has transformed a society whose individuals once by and large blamed themselves for their mistakes to lay the blame on the state, the nation, their doctor, or perhaps McDonald’s or another wealthy corporation who can darned sure spare the cash.

Prop 65 warning, telling me the light fixtures I just bought might cause cancer

The same article that I quoted from outlines a comprehensive list of rules that lawyers must now follow when advertising their trade.

Sadly, that list doesn’t bar bad taste. Thus, we are bombarded by things like garish full-page ads in phones books and magazines promising large payoffs if the potential plaintiff who reads the blurb chooses to enlist the firm (no win-no fee!!!) to go after the real or imagined injurer with barrels-a-blazing.

And society has paid for the litigation free-for-all that widespread lawyer advertising has contributed to.

Now in all fairness, I’m a big John Grisham fan. Grisham himself is a licensed attorney who instead uses his literary talents to make a nice living. And yes, I’m familiar with Grisham stories like The Rainmaker, in which a corrupt insurance agency has to be sued to cause it to see the error of its ways.

But if I recall, none of the plaintiffs in the book found Rudy Baylor in a large, intrusive Yellow Pages ad or on a massive billboard or on an often-rerun television commercial.

Thanks for letting us know

And yes, corporate corruption exists that victims must use legal means to fight against.

But if you find it necessary to write down a 1-800 phone number from an afternoon ad in order to seek justice, then you have issues of your own.

You see, lawyers have thrived on word-of-mouth referrals since time immemorial. I have had a day or two in court, and each time, my lawyer was someone who was recommended by a trusted friend or by a previously-utilized attorney who was unable to handle the particular case.

When we were growing up, a lawyer’s advertisement was his shingle, or perhaps a discreet bold-type phone listing. And, if I recall, medical bills were reasonable enough to pay on the spot upon dismissal from the hospital. McDonald’s didn’t have to put large warnings on their coffee cups designed to let the particularly low-witted know that the contents therein were hot.

But nowadays, if the average Joe slips on the ice, or trips and injure his ankle, or (horrors!) spills hot coffee on himself, instead of warning himself to be more careful next time, he frequently finds himself reciting an 800-number that he’s heard so many times on TV ads that he has it memorized. And that is one of the many differences between the world we grew up in and the one that we now inhabit.

BTW, for a defense of the infamous McDonald’s decision that is completely self-unaware of how ironically funny it is, click here.

When Everybody Smoked

If a TV show or movie about the 50’s or 60’s is REALLY authentic, it shows nearly everyone above the age of 21 having a smoke.

Our generation was perhaps the smokingest one in history, at least during those two decades. And no wonder! We were bombarded with ads on TV, radio, in newspapers, magazines, and billboards. And we had a pretty good idea that it was bad for us, but we weren’t 100% sure.

In 1947, Merle Travis’s Smoke, Smoke that Cigarette painted a dark picture of tobacco addiction and its ultimate effect: death. But it was not until 1966 that the US government finally required labeling on cigarette packs stating that “Smoking may be hazardous to your health.”

In my house, the warning had an immediate effect. Mom was a Salem chain smoker, and as soon as I was old enough to read that warning, I began hounding her to stop. She finally did, a few years later.

Smoking began declining late in the 60’s, but it was still extremely commonplace. The idea of a smoke-free restaurant, or even a smoke-free SECTION of a restaurant, was inconceivable. If you went out to eat, you smelled cigarette smoke. It was a given.

All cars had ash trays. So did the vast majority of homes. Movie stars like John Wayne hawked cigarettes, though he filmed many anti-smoking ads late in life as he fought cancer.

Speaking of the ads! TV advertising was banned in 1970. Yet, even though I was only ten when I heard my last cigarette commercial, I can easily recite at least twenty jingles and slogans that I heard over and over.

Smoking was simply cool. That’s why so many teenagers did it. There was a stern warning on cigarette machines warning minors not to operate them, but it was never enforced. Therefore, many eighteen-year-olds already had two-pack habits.

A commercial aired the same year that the warning appeared on cigarette packs that was replayed for at least twenty years afterwards. It was a kid imitating his father’s every move, including picking up a pack of cigarettes and having a look at them immediately after his father had lit up.

Smoking has a negative reputation these days. Smoking is no longer allowed in many establishments any more. You can’t smoke on US domestic air flights. But in the 50’s and 60’s, it was everywhere. We grew up smelling it, and got to where we didn’t even notice it anymore.