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 openoffice.org is pretty cool too. And you don’t have to rinse the detergent off before you use it.

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 http://www.oaktreeent.com/vintage_clocks.htm

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.”

Whatever.

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.

Local Wrestling Shows on TV

Gorgeous George with a fan

It all started with a fellow by the name of George Wagner. Wagner was a short-statured high school wrestling champion who tried to make it as a professional wrestler. The sport was not exactly a raging success. Opponents would frequently lock each other up in clinches that kept them virtually motionless for minutes at a time.

Wagner decided to take a walk on the wild side. He grew his hair long, dyed it platinum blond, started using a valet to assist him in his lengthy strolls to the ring, accompanied by the playing of Pomp and Circumstance. His valet would spray his corner (and sometimes his opponent) with disinfectant and perfume. Eventually, the match would ensue. Gorgeous George, as he was now known, would blatantly cheat and gain victory.

Half of the crowd hated his guts. The other half loved him. They all ponied up bucks for tickets. Television, a new medium in the 1940’s, started showing his antics. Professional wrestling, as we know it, was born.

By the 1960’s, there were lots of local wrestling associations all over the US. Many of them had local television shows that would show matches that were intended to draw the audience into showing up for a live show later.

These matches included some home-grown wrestlers who made a few bucks getting “whipped” by “legitimate” stars who competed for local and national titles.

In my area, the contenders included Cowboy Bill Watts and Wahoo McDaniel, who were OU football stars and who also played in the NFL. They wrestled for Jim Crockett Productions, which ran many of the local wrestling outfits.

Also-rans I recall included Apache Gringo, who wore 74 on his shirt to remind him of what year it was. Another was Grizzly Smith, a huge fellow who wrestled in overalls. And of course, there were many villains who hid behind masks.

I loved how the old ladies, cigarettes in corners of mouths, would work themselves into rages at the antics of the combatants. It wasn’t uncommon for one of them to pick up her metal folding chair and go after one of them.

Today, wrestling is BIG business. But I have fond memories of those working stiffs who would take dives for the champs just in time for the show to end on time. Here’s to Saturday afternoons watching Apache Gringo.

The Big Chief Tablet

The ritual was followed every August. You would reluctantly drag your still-in-a-summer-vacation-mood bones to the store with your mom and pick out the stuff you needed at the hated Back to School sale. The items would include soft lead pencils with enough heft to beat someone to death, a wooden ruler with a strip of steel embedded in one edge, a compass for drawing perfect circles, albeit with holes pierced through the paper at their centers, a plastic protractor, and a huge monstrosity made of processed wood pulp known as a Big Chief tablet.

Schools provided lists of required items to parents spelling out the necessary supplies, citing the Big Chief tablets by name. After all, second-graders were simply not ready for finer-lined spiral notebooks, what with using those tree-branch-sized soft-leads for writing implements (and building up our right forearms in the process).

John-Boy Walton used a Big Chief to hone the writing skills that would get him off of the farm. I was unable to track down the exact date the venerable tablet debuted, but needless to say it has served untold millions of schoolkids in the 20th century.

Walking into a 1968 classroom at White Rock elementary school at tiny Jane, Missouri, you would have spied rows of small chairs with built-in tabletops, each with a red Big Chief tablet nearby ready to record the thoughts of its juvenile owner. Had you arrived at my assigned seat, you’d have noticed one with an unintelligible name scrawled across its top. While many of its pages would be used for legitimate classwork, others would be devoted to love notes to Melanie Spurlock.

The tablet stayed in tune with the rapidly changing Baby Boomer times, in the 70’s spawning a Son of Big Chief tablet featuring a Native American looking like he was ready to take over Alcatraz.

So many generations of kids used Big Chiefs, you would have thought they would last forever. Not so. The Western Tablet Company of Saint Joseph, Missouri devised the original Big Chiefs, and later merged with Mead Products (and thereby vanished). The last Big Chief rolled out of the factory in January, 2001. (update: they are being produced again, but for prices north of 15 dollars each, presumably for collectors)

Oh well, I suppose Big Chief tablets have probably been labeled as politically incorrect, along with about 90% of the things we Boomers grew up with. But it was good enough to help John-Boy Walton become a professional writer.

Praying In School

Wow. You want to see a hornet’s nest of opinions? Try typing “praying in school” into Google.

However, this site is subtitled A Baby Boomer’s Pleasant Reminiscing Spot. Ergo, no controversy here. No, instead, I offer a peaceable remembrance of when prayer was a part of school, and nobody really thought a thing about it.

My first day of public school was sometime in early September 1966. I have vivid recollections of that day, and indeed, it will be a future column. It was a very scary place, because I had never experienced anything like it before.

After all, Mrs. Adams’ kindergarten was held in her home. Nothing was too scary about that. But real public school involved walking into a modern building (probably erected circa 1960) and dealing with bright fluorescent lights, loud bells, and strict law and order.

What kid wouldn’t want to pray under such circumstances?

Evidently, Mrs. Cottam felt the same way. So mornings would involve two different rituals: saying a prayer, and reciting the pledge of allegiance.

In later years, organized prayer depended upon the whim of the teacher. Ironically, I remember reading about prayer being banned in schools in My Weekly Reader at the very same time that my fourth grade teacher would ask a different student each day to lead the class in a pre-lunch prayer.

It was a bit confusing, to be sure.

But I don’t recall being emotionally scarred by the “heinous” practice. Indeed, organized prayer in school was simply something we grew up with, for better or worse, along with our parents smoking, corporal punishment, and Vietnam war protests.

Nowadays, our kids have to pray on the sly, as even a “moment of reflection” has been decreed by the Powers That Be to be over the line. And I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, because my religion was taught to me by my parents. And my children’s religion was taught by myself and their mother. I’m not comfortable with a state-supported school delving into matters beyond scientific explanation.

But we Boomers can remember when religion was a part of the daily school routine, and as far as I know, it didn’t kill anyone.

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 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.

Picking Up Pop Bottles

10 cents right there!

Those two nickels I used to get every day as an allowance were sufficient for most of my needs as a child. After all, it would provide two candy bars, two Popsicles, or could be combined to buy a can of Shasta.

But occasionally, a young man might need a bit more cash in hand. You could go ask mom or dad for more nickels. Yeah, right. THAT would work.

No, if you needed more moolah, you had to earn it. And there just weren’t that many job opportunities for a seven-year-old kid.

But there was always a source of income for the industrious: picking up pop bottles.

Pop bottles were frequently tossed out of car windows by the wealthy (i.e. those who didn’t mind tossing two cents into the ditch). And there they lay, awaiting youngsters (and winos) needing to make some pocket change. All they had to do was seek, find, and lug.

18 cents, if you can find a store that sells them all!

Moonwink Grocery was happy to take them off of my hands. And at two cents apiece, all it took was scoring five lousy pop bottles to double my daily allowance! How much easier could it be to get rich?

I remember spending many a summer day prowling the ditches of Miami, Oklahoma seeking the glass commodities that fetched legal tender at ANY market that happened to be close. Of course, sometimes we had to take certain brands of bottles to specific stores that sold them. Not everybody sold Canada dry, as I recall, and you would hack off store owners who didn’t by attempting to unload them at their places of business.

I guess there are still states that mandate returnable bottles. And I guess kids in those states (and winos) pick up the bottles to cash them in. But most of the U.S. youngsters have never even heard of making money by picking up the spent soft drink receptacles.

That’s too bad. There was something nicely satisfying about trading a valuable commodity for cash. It made the candy or pop taste better, somehow. And it was also good for the environment.

For some more great pop-bottle-picking-up memories and photos of classic bottles, check out http://tulsatvmemories.com/pop.html

Palisades Park

If you were looking for the 7-14 year old demographic for advertising purposes in the 1960’s, all you needed to do was place an ad in a DC comic book.

The items I saw advertised there were bewildering in their numbers. And they are also firmly lodged in my now forty-seven year old memory banks. Today’s piece is about a place that was too magical for me to imagine as a child (and, sadly, a place I never actually visited): Palisades Park in New Jersey.

How great was this place? SUPERMAN HIMSELF endorsed it! He even offered you a free ticket to go visit it for yourself!

There were many advantages to growing up in Small Town America. There was no need to lock the house. The neighbors would keep an eye on things for you. You could walk to school, or anywhere else in town your young legs could take you, with no fear (or even any concept) of the possibility of violent crime. And you knew every single family who lived on your street, and many others in the area as well.

But we had to sit and read about magical places like Palisades Park in New Jersey with no hope of ever going there ourselves.

1967 newspaper ad for Palisades Park

Palisades Park was born in 1898. Its original incarnation was as a trolley park. Are you as confused by that term as I was? Well, to clarify things, here’s Wikipedia’s definition:

In the United States, trolley parks, which started in the 19th century, were picnic and recreation areas at the ends of streetcar lines, created by the streetcar companies to give people a reason to use their services on weekends. These parks consisted of picnic groves and pavilions, and often held events such as dances, concerts, and fireworks. Many eventually added features such as carousels, ferris wheels, and other rides. However, with the increasing number of automobiles in use, trolley parks gradually declined and some disappeared. Others survived and developed into amusement parks.

And Palisades Park was perhaps the most shining example of the latter in the country, at least in the 1960’s.

Sitting on a mere 38 acres, this piece of real estate was visited by untold millions of delighted customers from its birth to its closing in 1971. Home to some of the most magnificent roller coasters ever created, these included several versions of the Cyclone (one, being built prior to 1920, was so frightening that it was demolished due to low usage), the Lake Placid Bobsleds, the Jetstar, the Wildcat, and the giant wooden coaster that was pictured in the comic book ads.

Palisades had lots of other stuff going on, too. It was the home of the Little Miss America contest, the largest saltwater pool in the world, and loads of barkers at games designed to separate your quarters from your pocket.

When I was researching this article, I found this site full of the memories of those who visited the wonderful piece of heaven on earth. It’s a bittersweet read, for, alas, the park is no more.

Hugely successful until its closing day, it was a victim of its prime location. It turns out that Palisades Park, like so many of the drive-in movies we grew up with, sat on some primo real estate. When rezoning allowed condominium development, Palisades was sold in 1971 to a company which chopped up the immortal rides, sold them a piece at a time, and bulldozed everything down for multifamily dwellings.

And, BTW, they DON’T advertise in DC comic books.

OK, readers, I want to see comments from you who were fortunate enough to take Superman up on his invitation to pay a visit to Palisades Park.