"We like camping better!" --Raymond Alexander Kukkee

view of the north shore Critter Pond, KOA Canandaigua NY [c] 2009 jcb

Plain old "Looking Back"

What got us going the other night? I can't remember, exactly, but suddenly my wife and I were rambling aimlessly down memory lane. Though we grew up hundreds of miles apart, we found lots of common ground as we dredged up old images from our respective childhoods. Our kids have so many choices today, whether it's food or entertainment or shopping; our own experiences were much narrower. I'm sure that's why people our age, who grew up before cable television and video games, share so many similar memories.

We all watched the same shows, for one thing. Leave It to Beaver, The Flintstones, Gilligan's Island, Flipper, Gunsmoke--whatever was the hottest show on a given night, chosen from one of the three networks we had available on our dial: everybody knew the characters, even if they didn't always tune in. Most of us still know the words to the dippy theme songs, like the amazing saga of Jed Clampett. "Up from the ground came a bubblin' crude--oil, that is..." I could stop most any forty-something on the street tomorrow and quiz him or her about Gilligan's Island, and they'd know all the answers. "Oh, yeah, it was a three-hour tour." And so on. We can all look back now at the crap we watched every week, (even during the horrid summer re-run season!), and laugh about it now. We took our shows pretty seriously, though. What else did we have for free entertainment?

We played cards, that's for sure! And Monopoly, and even the game of Life. When we were kids, and feeling creative, we built amazing stuff with Lego bricks and pieces. Stuff we made up on our own, without following step-by-step instructions. All the boys stuck used playing cards to their bicycles with clothespins. Then we'd roar around the neighborhood and thrill to the realistic motor-sound that made. We worried that the cards might wear out our spokes and make the wheels collapse. On a warm summer Saturday night we'd grab flashlights and play flashlight tag, unless there was a really good Gunsmoke re-run on TV, of course.

Our parents took us to the Drive-In. We brought pillows, since we were sure to fall fast asleep during the second feature (the boring "grown-up" movie was always the later show). We never stopped at McDonald's for dinner before the movies; there weren't any McDonalds anywhere near us. Or Burger Kings, or Wendy's, or anything even close. Well, yeah, we did have Drive-In's--the other kind of drive-in, where you could order food right from your car. You could have a burger or a hot dog, a big basket of fries, and a root beer to drink. We weren't allowed to get dinner from the concession stands at the movie drive-ins, 'cause the prices in there were "sky-high," according to my dad. Last movie I saw with my kids, we paid five bucks for a medium-size soft drink. Dad was right!

As kids, the big special was to stop at "The Book Store" for a cherry Coke. Oh, man...cherry Coke--when it was mixed right there in front of you! The Book Store was a lot more than a place to buy books. Keep in mind, this is a two-aisle store with wooden floors and a glass humidor at the register. The Book Store had a slot on Main Street, conveniently on the way to school when we walked. To the right of the entrance was the kid-trap: thirty feet of candy racks. This was before every supermarket sold candy at the registers. We bought the big Smarties by the roll. I think they had things written on them, like "be mine," maybe inside a heart-shoped outline. Everything was a nickle, until it all went up to a dime. Then a quarter. That must have been over the whole course of my schooling, since I don't recall any big shock at the price increases. Seeing a little bag of M&M's selling now for damn near a dollar makes my head hurt.

Anyway, The Book Store had one of those wonderful stainless-steel fountain set-ups. You could order up a big old ice cream sundae or a rootbeer float, if you weren't in the mood for a cherry Coke. The stools were heavy, banded in steel and covered with hard red vinyl (of course? were all soda fountain stools like that? maybe.). It's tough to find a cooler memory from childhood than those few times Dad took us there for a sit-down soda. This place had cool toys, too. You know, the ones you don't want to buy for your kids today 'cause they'll break before the weekend. It was a big deal back then--capguns and those stupid paddles with the little red ball on a rubber band. There were lots of magazines, too. We kids didn't care about those, and we had no idea there were completely naked women pictures hidden in the top rows. I'll bet my Dad knew!

I do remember the big round clear-plastic display case of Matchbox cars that sat to the left of the cash register. You picked out the car you wanted by number, then Dick or Jim (the owners) would get you your Matchbox from under the counter. It came in a funny little cardboard box with no fancy graphics or window to show off what was inside. Before I had any idea about how much things cost, I thought the numbers in the display case were the prices of each model car. How weird is that? It's not like I was stupid or anything; I just had it figured wrong, I guess. Each car was sixty-nine cents, whatever the number of it. I bought one of each, over a period of years. Still got 'em around here somewhere, or my kids have 'em. Bet they'd be worth more than sixty-nine cents if I'd kept the crappy cardboard box and never took them out for play!

Thoughts for next time, or when I update this one: Fran's IGA, and Ogden Drug
No Wal-Marts or fast food restaurants
TV vs cable