By Bruce A. Smith
Tomorrow, I travel to New York to spend the Christmas holidays with family. One of the ways I prepare to go is to think about the old days – remembering the funny, quirky events of the past, and some of the dramas that have made us the people we are today. This year, I’ve just stumbled upon an old file I wrote a few years ago, remembering the itsy-bitsy details of what life was like for me growing up in the 1950s and 1960s in suburban New York.
Naturally, I write many of these remembrances down and I’ll be including them in a package of stories that I’m delivering to my family members. I’ll probably share some of these stories on the pages of the Mountain News once I get the approval of the individuals involved, but in the meantime I’ve sent out this list of Things I Remember from Childhood to local friends and colleagues, and have gotten many wonderful responses.
One unanticipated addition to the list is “penny candy.” Everyone I have sent this list to replied with “penny candy” on their updated version. Of course, I remember penny candy, but it wasn’t that big a deal in my life. Yes, I remember “Five and Dime” stores that would sell penny candy out of a tub of candies at a counter, or the small neighborhood “Stationary Store” that sold household items, newspapers and cigarettes, and had a large glass jar on the counter that was filled with “hard candy” – the “suckers” that are probably called mints nowadays. One piece of candy was one cent. Three for two cents.
Root beer suckers were my favorite.
Apparently, many of my fellow baby boomers remember the same set up in their home towns. Buying a penny candy must have been our first purchase in life, and for many the memory lodged deep in their neural nets. Hence, I have updated my list with this vital addition.
So, here are a few other things I remember from childhood; Long Island, NY, 1950s and 1960s.
1. Sunday drives with the family, “dropping in” on friends and family without calling first.
2. Reading in the Herald Tribune about women dying from botched abortions.
3. Creation of the Interstates, a few miles at a time.
4. The introduction of ball-point pens in about 1959, fifth-grade. Prior, I used a fountain pen.
5. Society-wide failure to prepare for the baby-boom. I was born 1949, and I was always part of a group getting squeezed in somewhere.
6. Stinging eyes from air pollution when I went into NY City with Dad to see the Lehigh-Columbia football game, circa 1962.
7. The introduction of 707 jet planes. I thought they were going to crash when they were landing at “Idlewilde Airport” they were so loud. We lived about 10-15 miles from the airport. Idlewilde is now JFK International.
8. Lionel electric trains.
10. Blizzards every-other-week on Long Island, NY when we lived in Floral Park in the early 1960s. Now they happen once in ten-twenty years.
12. Death of JFK, MLK Jr, RFK, Malcolm X.
13. Mickey Mouse Club; the Howdy Doody Show and Buffalo Bob. Spin and Marty. Watching TV on Sunday evenings with the whole family. Grammy loved Lawrence Welk!
14. Digging up clams from the beach when we went swimming. They’re gone, now.
15. Schwinn big-tire bikes. Going for bike rides with the gang and never telling our parents where we were going.
16. Little League, Boy Scouts, summer camps. Going to the beach at Point Lookout every Sunday, and at least once or twice during the week. Playing chess on the back seat of the Rambler.
17. Nuns and Catholic school.
18. Red, white and blue crepe paper decorations on our bikes for the Memorial Day parade. Rides on fire trucks afterwards for all the kids.
19. Baseball cards pinned to the spokes of our bikes to make a buzzing sound. Collecting baseball cards and gambling for them in various flipping and pitching games.
20. DDT fogging trucks on the streets in the summer. Riding our bikes through the haze.
21. My grandmother, Grammy, stayed with us for six weeks every Christmas. Her “Toll-House” cookies, and she gave everyone hand-knitted wool mittens for Christmas gifts.
22. Hearing lots of foreign languages and accents. All the old people spoke “funny,” i.e.: brogues, Yiddish, German, Lithuanian, Italian, etc.
23. Some old folks with numbers tattooed on their forearms.
24. Everybody eating dinners around 6 pm. Smells of pork chops frying. Mothers calling for their children.
25. My father and his friends telling Army stories.
26. Keds sneakers. High-tops, too!
27. Having a catch with my dad. Baseball in the spring. Football in the fall.
28. TV tubes. TV repair shops. My dad fixing the TV set every-other-week. It was a black and white, and had a tiny screen mounted in a big oak cabinet.
29. Introduction of portable transistor radios.
30. Introduction of FM radio. WABC and “Cousin Brucie.” The Beatles and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”
31. No meat on Fridays for Catholics.
32. Widespread appearance of pizza-places. The arrival of MacDonald’s.
33. Carvel ice cream.
34. My first airplane flight was aboard a DC-3. I was five years old, and Mom and I flew from LaGuardia to Worcester, Massachusetts. I remember the sailboats on Little Neck Bay looking so small, like toys, and I couldn’t figure out why.
35. Families showing color slide shows of their summer vacation to the neighbors.
36. Fireflies everywhere in the summertime.
37. Local fruit/corn stands in the neighborhood.
38. Getting spanked.
39. Having to eat liver for dinner a couple of times.
40. No heat in the back-seat of cars in the wintertime.
41. Making model airplanes.
42. Reading comic books on really hot summer days in the cool of some kids’ basement.
43. Reading the Hardy Boys, often under the covers with a flashlight.
44. Life magazine coming every week and reading it voraciously.
45. Making a dollar-an-hour shoveling snow and my father saying, “Congratulations. I remember when men worked for a dollar-a-day.”
46. Doctors making house calls.
47. Lollipops from doctors after office visits.
48. Japanese products were junk.
49. Gang members were called “hoods.” Hoods were often called Juvenile Delinquents, or J.D.s, too.
50. Refrigerators that couldn’t keep ice cream solid.
51. Advent of air-conditioning.
52. Seeing my first color TV set, a SONY Trinitron. Wow.
53. Afternoon newspapers. And the comics were actually funny. Peanuts – Charley Brown and Snoopy, Lucy – the whole gang.
54. Push-cart hot dog stands on the corners of busy streets.
55. Making your own tape recordings and saying, “I sound like that?
56. A&P and Bohacks grocery stores. They had wooden floors.
57. Flying kites
58. The arrival of Frisbees and hoopla hoops.
59. Going down to the park to play basketball, 2-hand touch football, or ice hockey every day after school.
60. Always making friends everywhere I went. Never bored, never lonely.
61. The buzz in my feet after roller-skating.
62. Rotary phones that still work fifty years later. Pay phone booths with folding doors.
63. Calling long-distance on Sunday evenings because it was cheaper, and rushing the conversation to get it into the three minutes allotted before the price increased at four minutes.
64. Maris and Mantle going for Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1961. The Yankees always won.
65. Adults asking me “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
66. Twenty-five cents allowance every week. Getting a raise in high school to fifty cents, then a dollar.
67. Going on two-week family vacations every summer. Shelter Island, NY, where I learned how to swim, and car camping throughout the Northeast.
68. Garbage dumps at the bays and marshlands, especially in Brooklyn along Jamaica Bay.
69. I remember gas at 19.9 cents a gallon, but the first gas I ever bought was 29.9.
70. Good Humor ice cream trucks driving throughout the neighborhood during the summer.
72. People smoking everywhere, even on airplanes, and I didn’t think too much of it.
72. Driving to Westchester County to see a Shopping Mall in White Plains. Then we got Roosevelt Field in Garden City and it was an outdoor shopping center.
73. Penny Candy.