My Oldest Friend

There is no excuse for taking this long to devote an entire blog to my oldest friend. It’s not like I haven’t mentioned him before in blogs, because I have, I just haven’t written one completely about him. Since today is his birthday, I thought it was time to put him in the spotlight. I jotted some thoughts down about what to include, and today in My Facebook “Memories” feed, there was a note from 9 years ago that I had written in honor of his getting older. 9 years later, the content of that note is still true today, so much of this blog is taken from that note (with some 2019 comments added)

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Happy Birthday, You Old Coot – A Facebook Memory from 2009

I always knew when my dad was talking on the phone with my Uncle Tom. He would laugh uncontrollably, and there was an increase in the amount of profanity. I always envied their relationship and as a kid, and hoped to have a similar relationship when I grew up. You see, my uncle is not my dad’s brother. They grew up together in the same neighborhood and caused trouble for many neighbors. My uncle, is my Godfather, and my dad’s closest friend. A friendship that has endured through so many years.

I wrote a blog about my Uncle here:

https://wordpress.com/post/nostalgicitalian.com/241

I have a similar relationship. Jeff and I met in second grade. There are many stories I can share and a TON of stuff that no one but he and I would get, so I will just mention a few and will start with my favorite.

Jeff was a bully. I was a timid pushover. I’m almost positive that Friday was pizza day. This was back when school food was actually pretty good. EVERYONE got pizza on pizza day. (Just this week, someone posted THE recipe that was used to make pizza for school lunches and I sent it to Jeff!) My dad always made sure that I had money to buy lunch on Fridays. Little did he know, I rarely ate it. Me being the new kid, I was easily persuaded. Jeff would come over at lunch every Friday and simply look at me and say, “Give me your pizza or I’ll beat you up”. That was all it took – my pizza was his. This went on for almost a year.

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One day, dad tried to give me money for pizza. I broke down and said I didn’t want to buy lunch that day. He could tell something was wrong and kept asking why. I was afraid to tell him, but he finally got out of me the reason I didn’t want pizza. He looked me dead in the eye and said, “You tell that boy that it is YOUR money, and YOUR pizza, and you are not giving it to him!” All I could imagine was the pain and bruises I would get for standing up to this kid. I was a wreck all morning.

Finally, lunch time came and I was shaking like nobody’s business. Jeff came over and gave me his typical greeting. At that point, I have no idea what came out of my mouth, but it was probably exactly what my dad told me to say verbatim. I remember Jeff looked at me, and said simply, “Hey, man, it’s cool”! He sat down next to me and we’ve been best friends ever since.

(2019) 43 years later, that story remains one of my favorites (my boys love it, too!) – it’s only appropriate to open with that one.

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I recall summer days when we’d be together all day! Seriously – ALL DAY! Jeff would come over at like 8 or 9 in the morning and stay until well after the street lights came on. Those days I remember my mom and dad saying, “Don’t that kid ever go home”?! I’d go in the house and eat dinner, and he’d just hang out in the backyard and wait for me. We could play all day. Countless summer days we’d be out in my backyard with Star Wars figures, playing. We used to go up the Hoover 11 shopping center to Circus World (the toy store) and buy the latest figures.

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We also used to have buckets of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars! We spent hours and hours out in the yard playing with them. In my back yard there was an area that my folks used to use as a garden. We used to go out to the dirt and build roads and make houses for the cars. We had to move to the garden….I guess the huge hole we dug in the middle of the front lawn that my dad almost fell in while cutting the grass was not a welcome addition to the landscape.

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We used to play cops and robbers, or pretended we were secret agents and often fought “invisible people”. One can only imagine what it looked like to people driving by to see two kids falling down like they were just punched by …. no one! I remember Jeff came over one day with this cool looking gun. It kinda looked like a combination police special and laser gun. We all had cap guns, which looked like something out of an old western movie, but his gun was really something!! Not only did it look cool – it made a variety of noises! I don’t recall if it was a button you turned or a slider switch, but that gun could sound like a gun shot, a gun shot and ricochet, a laser beam, a huge explosion, and a few other very cool sounds which only aided in our imaginary play! Man, I wish we still had that gun!

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When we weren’t at my house, we’d be at his house cause he had the latest tech gadget – the Commodore 64!!!! He always seemed to have the coolest computer stuff. I can remember him showing me these simple and crappy computer games. He was the first one of my friends to have a modem – I remember it was at his house that I first hear the sounds of a modem dialing and connecting with that annoying high pitched screech! He may also have been the first one of my friends to use AOL!!!

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There was a cousin of his, I think who sold fireworks in the neighborhood. We’d buy jumping jacks and bottle rockets and shoot em off. I remember lighting the jumping jacks and dropping them in the sewer and watching them spin under the water. Obviously, we had no clue that there was the remote possibility of sewer gasses exploding every time we dropped one down there! As we got older, we’d take the Star Wars figures and attach them to bottle rockets and shoot them down the street. This is a regret now – especially knowing how much some of those things are worth to collectors today!!

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To say that Jeff and I caused a little trouble growing up is kind of an understatement. I think he caused more trouble with a few of his other friends, but we got in our share, too. Jeff and I both had BB guns. His had the CO2 cartridge which, of course, made the BB’s go farther and faster! I remember the screen in his mom’s bedroom was full of BB holes. Why? Because we used to shoot at the garage door of his neighbor across the street. Every time that BB “tinked” against the door, we laughed. How many other things did we shoot BB guns at? Well, too many to recall. I will say that I don’t recall ever shooting at anything alive!

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We’d stay out till dark – every night! We often took walks around the block or walked up the school. When it was time for me to go inside, I’d walk Jeff part of the way home. He ended up having to walk farther than me, and I always hated walking back home in the dark. I remember we’d walk to a bush that was about half way down my street and that’s where he’d keep walking to his house and I’d turn around and walk back to mine. A few years ago, I noticed that bush was removed by the current resident.

Another thing I recall doing was recording our “stupidity” on cassette tapes. Now normally, you hit the Play and Record Buttons to record something. I don’t recall if it was me or Jeff who figured out that if you hit Record and Fast Forward, the tape recorded at a slower speed, so whatever you recorded sounded twice as fast when you played it back. Our voices ended up sounding like The Chipmunks. Jeff did a spot on imitation of his grandma answering the phone on tape! We spent countless days recording stuff – including farts. Farts are already funny to kids – farts played back twice as fast are just flat out hilarious!!!!

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There was a brief period of time that I was told I was not allowed to hang out with Jeff. My folks were gone and my aunt was babysitting us. I don’t remember all that led up to it, but we were probably purposely aggravating my brother. He came out front and was swinging one of those dog chains. You know the ones that connect to the post you put in the ground? He was swinging it around the top of his head like a lasso or something. He was getting close to Jeff, so Jeff pulled out this little pocket knife (the blade was probably less than and inch long and cheap as hell!). My brother told my aunt, who told my mom and dad and I was not allowed to speak to him or hang out with him. I was devastated, but as a young kid, I did what my mom and dad said. Eventually, we started talking again at school (because who can stop a true friendship, right!?). I think we told my mom that the knife was plastic or wood or something. Years later, even my mom said the whole thing was stupid.

It was probably during the time I was not supposed to be talking with Jeff that our house was broken into. My dad and I were bowling at Dad-Lad Night at Pastime Lanes (where I would eventually spend many weeks on a league) and mom was out bowling at another place (with my grandpa, I think). After dad and I were done, we went to see my mom and then came home. Our dog, Lucy was outside barking and we knew something was wrong. Whoever broke in didn’t take much as I remember. I know the microwave was gone, and there was stuff thrown all over the place. My paper route money was still on my bed and not touched, yet my wallet was taken. I say that this happened around the time that Jeff and I weren’t talking, because I remember my dad saying something like, “I bet that troublemaker, Jeff, had something to do with this!” He didn’t!

Speaking of my paper route, Jeff often helped me deliver. He’d take one side of the street and I’d do the other. He would often go out collecting the money from customers for that week. Sometimes my grandpa took us out to deliver in his car. We probably drove my grandpa nuts! We’d always be laughing and whenever my grandpa asked about Jeff, he was referred to as “the crazy one!”

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One of the weirdest guys we had to collect from was this old guy who always seemed to answer the door with his shirt off. He always wanted to talk for 10 minutes before handing me the money (from his little plastic change purse). It drove me crazy! It was Jeff, who noticed that the guy had no nipple on one of his breasts! From that day forward, the man was known as “no nips”!

Despite the fact that Jeff went to another school for Junior High, we still kept in touch. Sometimes he’d sneak into his mom’s liquor cabinet and we’d go up to the elementary school playground and drink it. We spent HOURS on that playground just talking – and occasionally drinking. We were such punks. I remember one time, we had been to the school drinking the remaining drops of cheap schnapps. We decided we wanted to get some snacks and a pop. We walked across 10 Mile and stopped at Quick Pick. Both of us walked out with chips and a bottle of Dr. Pepper. Jeff crossed into the middle lane, and I stayed back to wait for a car. As the car passed and I walked closer to Jeff, I watched his hand (like it was in slow motion) let go of the Dr. Pepper bottle (which was made of glass at this time) and the bottle shattered onto 10 Mile. I walked up to him and asked him what happened and he said “I was looking at the bottle and wondered what would happen if if fell – and it did.” Not sure why that is still funny to me, but it is.

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It seems like we always ate lunch at Wendy’s (with money his mom had given him)! There are WAY too many stories about the trouble we caused there together (and with Mike Smith). Another place we’d cause trouble was at Hoover 11. We often went there walking in and out of stores and just annoying people. I don’t recall where we got them, maybe from Jeff’s older brother, but we had some packages of condoms. We were probably still in junior high or just starting high school. We were such idiots – we blew them up and stuck them in our shorts and walked around Hoover 11! Anything for a laugh or for attention, right, Jeff?!

Jeff and I ALWAYS can get each other laughing – many times when laughter is inappropriate. I actually blogged about that here:

https://wordpress.com/post/nostalgicitalian.com/719

Back in the days of early cable TV, it was Jeff who told me about this ridiculous movie starring the Hudson Brothers called “Hysterical”. Don’t let the title fool you – it is FAR from hysterical! It’s fairly stupid, yet there are a few scenes in the movie that we still quote to each other while normal people look at us and wonder if we are sane! If you ever stumble on this turd, know that Jeff and I can do the “dance” scene from this movie flawlessly!

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I have probably embarrassed him enough today, but it’s his 49th birthday and I don’t have money for a birthday gift, so this blog is the best I can do. I also should get a little serious to wrap it up.

Through the many changes in life, girlfriends, wives, children, etc… we’ve always been there for each other. Even when we both decided to move. He went to Vegas for a few months, and I went to Ludington for a few. You can read about the cool thing we did when he moved to Vegas here:

https://wordpress.com/post/nostalgicitalian.com/606

I’m not sure there is anyone I can talk to, like I can talk to Jeff. Our friendship shares so many things. We both lost our mothers to cancer at an early age, we both have strong faith, and we’ve both had our share of difficult times. It is in those times, we’ve been able to call each other and vent. We can talk about work, our kids, and everything. He has always been the first call I make when I need to talk.

(Side funny to this serious portion of the blog: Sam says she always knows when I am on the phone with Jeff, even though she can only hear one side of the conversation. She says our conversation usually involves 3 things: Beer, Butts and Boobs…and occasionally farts!)

Today, this bum finally caught up to me and turned 49. 43 years of friendship! What an amazing blessing! I’m not going out to buy him a Hallmark card, because no card could ever express how glad I am that he’s my best, and oldest friend. So Happy Birthday to you, Jeff. Thanks for all the great times we’ve shared through the years. Thanks for the laughs and for being like my Uncle Tom was to my dad. I can only hope that my boys will view our friendship as something they aspire to have with someone when they grow up. Thanks for being a friend, a counselor, a sounding board, and a brother to me all these years. Here’s looking to the future!

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Oh, and when I told Jeff I was going to blog about him, he wanted to clarify: He says he is not “a bully” because it is such a harsh word. He said that he was an “opportunist who saw an opportunity …. and exploited it as long as I could!”

Consider it clarified, my friend.

Guest Blogger: My Baby Brother

Introduction:

A week or so ago, I posted a blog stating that I was toying with the idea of inviting someone to be a guest blogger.  Without hesitation, my younger brother Christopher said he would love to write one.  Let me say that he is WAY more qualified to write than I am.  He has published a book and has been writing short stories and other things for as long as I can remember. 

I saw his email this morning as I was getting ready to take the boys home.  I had to open it and read it.  I stood in my kitchen laughing as I read it.  My wife was still asleep, and I thought for sure that I was going to wake her up.  My son, looked at me and asked “what’s so funny, dad?”  I looked at him and said, “Just something Uncle Chris sent me…”

At this time, I’d like to introduce you to my brother, Christopher. I hope that you laugh as much as I did….

What the heck are they laughing at?  By Christopher Louis

Growing up my brother and I were crazy and rambunctious kids.  There is no denying that we gave our parents a run for their money.  If we weren’t pushing their patience by staying up long past our bed time or begging them to buy us the newest Star Wars figure, we were beating the snot out of each other or purposely egging the other on to do something totally stupid.  While we were not angels, we also weren’t devils.  We just loved to have fun, laugh, and have a good time.  We wanted to make each day an adventure.  Sure, it got us in trouble sometimes, but it was almost always good natured.

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As with any siblings there are lots of growing pains as you discover new interests, new friends, and truly come into your own and the relationship between you and your sibling changes. Sometimes for the good, and sometimes not so good. Despite our many differences, there has always been one thing that could bring us together – laughter. Laughter has helped us to remember and rebuild our bonds. When friends ask about my brother, I love to share how we can have the other laughing within seconds simply by sending a photo (usually of William Shatner), copying a movie quote (Airplane is always a good bet) or sharing an inside family joke (usually something our dear Grandpa mispronounced).

I admit there was a time when I swore I had to be adopted because I could not understand the joy that Keith, my dad, and my grandparents found in watching Sanford and Son.  However, the same could be said for him in my guilty pleasure of watching Dynasty.  While I am sure neither of us would relish the idea of sitting down and watching either of those shows together, there are still so many movies, TV shows, and old radio shows that provide us with so much laughter and delight.  I thought I would share a few of them with you now.

Your Money or Your Life!

Mugger: Your money or your life.

(Long, awkward pause)

Mugger: Look bud, I said your money or your life.

Jack: I’m thinking it over!

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The first to share is one of the greatest comedians of all time – Jack Benny.  I am forever thankful for my dad introducing us to the joys of old radio shows.  While we both love many others (Fibber McGee and Molly, Burns and Allen, or Suspense), The Jack Benny Program is our favorite.  Whether Jack is giving sales clerk (Mel Blanc) the worst time possible by constantly exchanging show laces (he can’t decide between plastic tips or metal tips), or constantly insisting he’s 39 years old (which can’t be confirmed because there is a hole in his birth certificate from erasing it too many times) it is comedy gold.  Plus, both of us can totally tell you what LSMFT means or what the six delicious flavors of Jell-O were.  (For those not in the know, those are both from sponsors of the Jack Benny Program – Lucky Strike Cigarettes and Jell-O).

(Keith Note:  Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco!  Strawberry, cherry, raspberry, orange, lemon, and lime!)

“Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”

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The 60’s Batman TV show is a treasure trove of comedy genius.  Adam West’s portrayal of the Dark Knight is played so straight and even that it is impossible to not start laughing at the utter absurdity!  Don’t get me wrong – I love it, but it is odd to think how anyone couldn’t see that Batman and Bruce Wayne were one and the same.

(Keith Note:  I pointed out to my brother how he hits the nail on the head here!  It really is absurd!  Proof of the absurdity – and how Commissioner Gordon must be clueless – can be seen as Adam West has a conversation with himself as both Bruce and Batman in the following video clip!)

Of course, the many guest stars paraded through as villains brought much of the laughter.  There was Cesar Romero as the Joker with white paint over his mustache, Frank Gorshin jumping all over the set as the Riddler, Victor Buono running around as King Tut, and Vincent Price as Egghead making more egg puns that you can imagine. Of course, part of the fun is trying to count how many times Robin says “Holy ____” in an episode.  My favorite will always be “Holy Hole-in-a-Doughnut, Batman!”

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(Keith Note: Oh, and I had to add the above picture because of the sub-title of this section!)

“What’s the matter, Colonel Sandurz?  Chicken?”

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There are truly so many wonderful Mel Brooks movies and while I am not as into Blazing Saddles as Keith is, we can’t deny the laughter that comes from watching his films. I’m choosing Spaceballs for this blog. Plus – what’s not to love about this amazing spoof of Star Wars, a movie Keith and I both loved and played and recreated more times than I could count with many, many action figures.

Some of my favorite quotes include:

  • No sir, I didn’t see you playing with your dolls again.
  • How many Assholes we got on this ship, anyhow?
  • Keep firing Assholes!
  • We ain’t found shit!
  • Why are you always preparing? You’re always preparing. Just go!
  • Smoke if you got ‘em.
  • So the combination is 1-2-3-4-5. That’s the stupidest combination I’ve ever heard in my life. That’s the kinda thing an idiot would have on his luggage.

(Keith Note: Love the bumper sticker – “We Brake for Nobody!”)

“Kiddie Car, June Bride, Rookie, Phantom Fox, Blarney Stone, and Clunker”

AKA – The North Avenue Irregulars.  We loved this movie!  It was one of those great Disney gens of the 1970’s that we found and just loved as kids.  I remember how excited we were watching our dad record our own copy of the movie from one VCR to the other.  I also remember the exact spot where it cut out for a moment.  Oh, those good old days of VHS tapes…

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Anyway, who would think that kids would love a movie about a group of church ladies who work to take down an illegal gambling ring? But we did! It had so many big stars of the era; Edward Herrmann, Barbara Harris, Karen Valentine, Cloris Leachman, Michael Constantine, Ruth Buzzi, and Dena Dietrich (famous for playing Mother Nature in Chiffon Margarine commercials).  Each character was different and came with their own burdens and personal issues but came together to bring down the bad guys. As with many 70s movie, it includes its own car chase / demolition derby.

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One of my favorite scenes includes three of the ladies “going undercover” to place a bet and they are all wearing trench coats and sunglasses.  One has a tape recorder hidden inside her coat and just as she is about to place her bet, she is advised to start recording.  She accidentally presses “play” instead of “record” and the song “Roll Out the Barrel” starts blaring from her coat.

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(Keith Note:  My Favorite quotes:  “It’s her money.  Get two” and “Butt out, lady!”)

“Help!  Help!  The Alcalde has all my money!”

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George Hamilton playing dual roles!  Enough said!

Zorro the Gay Blade is one of those movies that just makes me smile and laugh. While George is hilarious as Don Diego and his twin brother Ramon (aka Bunny Wigglesworth), Brenda Vaccaro and Ron Leibman as Florinda and Esteban are so over the top and crazy you can’t wait for them to come back on the screen.

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Some of my favorite lines:

  • You naughty, evil Alcalde! I’m going to do . . . such . . . terrible things . . . to you!
  • Two bits, four bits, six bits, a peso. All for Zorro, stand up and say so!
  • Thank goodness for small favors!
  • Know me? Sink me! We were once womb-mates!
  • There is no shame in being poor! Only in dressing poorly!

(Keith note:  It’s funny that Chris mentions this movie.  Look for a full write up on it from me in early September for the “Costume Drama Blogathon”!)

“Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home …”

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Airplane! One of the great comedies of the 1980s. There is something about spoofs that if not done correctly are painful to watch. This is not one of them. I think Keith and I have quoted this movie since our first viewing and haven’t stopped yet. There are just so many great lines that I could do an entire post on this movie alone!

Some of my favorite lines:

  • It’s a big pretty white plane with red stripes, curtains in the windows, wheels. It looks like a big Tylenol.
  • Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.
  • Surely you can’t be serious? I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.
  • Joey, do you like movies about Gladiators?
  • A hospital, what is it? It’s a big building with patients in it, but that’s not important right now.
  • Get me someone who won’t crack under pressure. How about Mr. Rogers?
  • I haven’t felt this bad since I saw that Ronald Reagan movie.

There are many, many more movies and TV shows I could have included here, but I decided to focus on just a few for now, but as I near my wrap up, how can I not share the one photo that I think we’ve shared back and forth more times than I can possibly imagine? I mean, I even mentioned the person’s name at the beginning of this blog. Without further ado, I present the one image guaranteed to make both of us laugh.

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You can totally hear him right now, can’t you??  The king of the dramatic pause – William Shatner.  There are no more words necessary – this image is all you need.

(Keith Note:  Ricardo Montalban should have won an Academy Award for his performance in this film.  He is brilliant!  My brother once got me a Khan figure to put on my desk for Christmas!)

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Laughter.  It has been a delight revisiting these few memories as they have helped spur so many more that could fill numerous more blog posts.  Thank you for joining me on this guest post, I hope it brought you some laughter as well. I will end with one final image that encompasses a big part of our childhood: Keith and me playing with our Star Wars figures.  The fun and adventures we created beyond the films!

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(Keith Note:  My brother could not have picked a more awful picture of me – ok, maybe he could have.  What makes me laugh about this picture is that he has Star Wars figures, and I have that Fisher Price motorcycle dude (who we called “Ginge”)!  I am also appalled that I am wearing black socks in this picture!  The picture, however, is a wonderful time capsule, though.  Besides the toys of the 70’s and 80’s, you will notice ugly shag carpeting, HUGE books called phone books (where we used to look up phone numbers), a stack of newspapers (where we got news before the internet), and one of the first video game systems – the Atari 2600!

It’s always fun to see what others remember and what you forgot.  The North Avenue Irregulars was something I had forgot about!  I am so glad he mentioned it.  In speaking to my brother after reading this, he stated that writing this blog for me, brought about many other things that he “could have” wrote about.  I am encouraging him to keep notes on those things and return for another “guest” spot.  Thanks, Chris!  I love you!)

 

 

Summer Memory – The Good Humor Man

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As I was walking to my car to leave for work today, an ice cream truck was driving down my street.  I found it odd that it was not playing music.  Usually, you can hear the sounds of “Little Brown Jug”, “Turkey in the Straw”, “Pop! Goes the Weasel”, or “The Entertainer” (among others) when the ice cream man was driving around.  That wasn’t always the case, though.

My first memories of the Ice Cream Man are from when we lived in Sterling Heights in the early 1970’s.  The Good Humor Man always drove his white truck (like the one pictured above and below) and there was no music.  There was a set of bells attached to a string that the driver pulled to ring them.  I remember hearing the bells from the next street over and running over to my mom and dad to get a dollar of change to buy ice cream.

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If you look carefully above the windshield in the picture above, you can see the bells the driver would ring.  Here are the bells detached from the truck:

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I’m sure that the loud music is a better at getting the kids attention today, but we always listened for those bells!

I remember many summer days running up to my dad (who was usually mowing the grass, or working outside) and he’d walk to the curb with us to stop the ice cream truck.  There were SO many treats to choose from!  When I was a kid, I guess I wasn’t so OCD.  I used to try different ice creams all the time.  Today, I have favorites and stick with those.  Some of the treats I remember most:

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The Ice Cream Sandwich.  I still love them.  The chocolate still sticks to my fingers while I eat them.  The good ice cream trucks took this amazing treat a step further –

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Vanilla, Chocolate AND strawberry ice cream?!  Yes, please!!!

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Push Ups.  I remember them being orange mostly.  Some trucks had the Flintstone theme, some had polka dots on them.  I remember we used to save the plastic stems and piece that pushed the ice cream up and used them for something with our Star Wars figures.

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The Chocolate Éclair was always a favorite of mine.  I also like the variation where there was a chocolate candy center.  No crunchies on that one, but it had a hard chocolate coating over vanilla ice cream.

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As much as I love chocolate, I preferred the Strawberry Shortcake version!  You can buy these in the stores today, but the ones from the ice cream truck always seemed to taste better.

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The Bomb Pop!  This seemed to be the favorite of many kids in the neighborhood.  All of us kids had red and blue lips after eating this thing.  I’m not sure why, but this one always seemed to melt faster than anything else I got from the ice cream man.

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Who didn’t love a Snow Cone!?  It was another favorite!  It also left whatever color it was all over your face.  Really, it’s a pretty lame treat.  It’s just a little flavor over ice.  The flavor ended up at the bottom of the wrapper as it melted.  That was kind of the bonus, you got to drink a shot of all three flavors after all the ice was gone.

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Tweety Bird Ice Creams were the ones I remember most.  They came in other characters, too.  I think there was Bugs Bunny, The Pink Panther, and Spider Man.  Today, I know the most popular of this creation is SpongeBob.  They all had gumball eyes and after you unwrapped it, it rarely looked like the character it was supposed to be!

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The “cup” of ice cream was always available.  It may be vanilla or vanilla with chocolate.  Some had a real thin layer of chocolate syrup on it.  Sometimes it came in a plastic cup, sometimes I was in a paper one.  Either way, it almost always came with that little wooden scooper/spoon.

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The Screwball was a favorite of mine for some time.  It was a flavored ice (kind of like Italian Ice) with a gumball at the bottom of the cone/cup.  Sometimes they were called Tornadoes or Twisters, but I remember them as Screwballs.  They also had one with two gumballs at the bottom.

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If I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be the Drumstick.  I guess that’s why I still buy them at the store occasionally.  I always loved how it had that one bit of frozen chocolate at the bottom of the cone.  Bonus chocolate is always a good thing!!

As I grew older, the bells from the Good Humor trucks made way for the repetitive songs from warped records.  As older children, we still chased down the trucks, but because of the loud music, we had to yell “STOP!” in order for them to slow down.  The larger sides of the truck allowed for more room for the “Poster Price List”.  We still looked in awe at the many treats and made the difficult decision of choosing just one to cool us off on a hoy summer day.

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I have fond memories of getting ice cream with my dad and mom.  I also have great memories of buying them for my sons.  I wish, however, the sounds of those Good Humor bells were still ringing in neighborhoods today.  If they were, I guess I’d be one of the first “kids” to run out and yell, “Stop!”

 

Child’s Play

I follow a lot of nostalgia pages on Facebook.  On one of the “Kids of the 1970’s” pages, they posted a picture of a toy that took me back to when I was 6!  I can still remember the Christmas morning I received it.  “Santa” had taken it out of the box and it was there on the floor in front of the tree. It was the Fisher Price Adventure People Daredevil Sport Van.  I remember seeing it in the “wish book” and wanting it because it had a guy with a motorcycle.

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I didn’t know that was what it was called, and it was only after searching for it on Google did I find out.  What I found when I searched for it was numerous other Fisher Price Adventure People sets that I had as a kid, as well as many other toys from my childhood I had long forgotten.

The Wish Book

Every year, before Christmas, JC Penney, Sears, and Montgomery Ward would put out their “Wish Book”.  My brother and I were told that this was “Santa’s catalog” and that he and his elves could get us whatever we saw in the book.  We would take magic markers and circle hundreds of toys that we had hoped to get.  We’d often number them in order of importance so that mom and dad knew which toys were a “top priority” for us! It was an annual tradition for us and I remember my brother and I spending many hours trying to pick out exactly what we wanted.

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Star Wars Figures

In 1977, Star Wars hit theaters and was a HUGE hit.  As kids we had to have every figure!  My grandmother came through for us and made sure we not only had every one, but both my brother and I each had a set! There were SO many great toys to go along with those figures.  My brother had the Death Star Space Station pictured above, while I had the ultimate space ship, the Millennium Falcon!

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I remember it being huge and I used to fly it around in the front yard when we were playing outside.  We spent countless hours playing with those Star Wars toys!!!

Jaws

One toy I found while searching was the Jaws Game.  It came with junk like a wagon wheel, fish bones, a tire, and other stuff that you put in the shark’s mouth, specifically on his lower jaw.  The jaw was connected to a rubber band.  You had to one by one remove a piece of junk without the jaw snapping up on you.

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Rockem Sockem Robots

Another great one from my childhood, this game can still be bought in stores today.  It was one of my favorites growing up.  Why robots?  I don’t really know, other than the fact that when you got the right punch, the loser’s head popped up.  I

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Stretch Armstrong

This was the TOP toy on my list one year.  It was the coolest thing!  Here’s a wrestler that you could bend and stretch like nobody’s business!  He was awesome!  We had a lot of fun with Stretch.  It was a sad day when he sprung a leak.  It was also cool to see what made him stretch.  I don’t remember how it happened, but something must have punctured the skin of poor Stretch.  Inside was this red jelly-like substance.  It almost looked like he was bleeding.  We tried to tape him up, but that was the end of Stretch.

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Evil Knievel Stunt Cycle

When I posted the picture that has wound up being the inspiration for this blog on Facebook, other friends chimed in with their favorite toys.  My friend, Allyson, mentioned The Evil Knievel Stunt Cycle.  Evil was quite the entertainer and was always doing stunts.  This cycle sat on some platform and you cranked this handle and then pushed a button to let the cycle go and do its thing.  Personally, I never really got it to do the spectacular stunts in the TV commercial, but it was still cool.

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Weebles and Little People

Two of the toys I remembered as soon as I saw pictures were the Weebles and Little People.  The Weebles were basically eggs.  They were plastic and had people on them.  They had a commercial that said “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down!”

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The Little People were/are made by Fisher Price.  When I was a kid, these things were made out of wood.  They had no legs or no arms. There were round figures with no feet or hands.  I think everyone I know had the Little People Farmhouse.  The one figure I remember most is the dog.

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Outside Vehicles

I had one of the coolest bikes.  It had curly handle bars and I had the coolest thing on it.  It was called Rrraw Power.  It was an attachment you put on your bike handlebar grip.  You twisted the handle and it made it sound like a motorcycle! A kid tried to steal my bike once cause he wanted it!

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Before my bike, I had two of the most coveted modes of transportation for kids.  The first one, the Big Wheel.  The name said it all.  It was basically a tricycle, but the front wheel was huge!  It had a cheap hand break that was worthless and if you skidded enough, you would flatten the wheel.

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The Big Wheel was cool, but the Green Machine was cooler! It was really a Big Wheel with the steering done by two handles that controlled the back wheels.  The seat was a bit more comfortable, too.  I loved my Green Machine and loved doing spin outs on it!

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Sit and Spin

This was probably one of the stupidest toys we owned, and probably the reason I still get vertigo on occasion.  The name says it all.  You sit and you spin.  You control how fast or how slow.  It was basically your own personal merry-go-round.  The name actually sounded more like an insult than a toy.

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“We can rebuild him…”

Those words were spoken in the intro to the TV show The Six Million Dollar Man.  He was an astronaut who is injured when his spaceship crashes.  He is then rebuilt with machine parts.  He’s kind of like a cyborg.  He has bionic hearing, sight, and strength.  I had the Six Million Dollar Man Doll.  The coolest thing about him was you could look through the back of his head and “see through his bionic eye”.  This meant looking through a red piece of plastic and seeing things through it.

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Colorforms and Shrinky Dinks

I had TOTALLY forgotten about Colorforms!  I remember having a Batman set, a Scooby Doo set and the Charlie Brown set pictured below.  It came with a background scene and plastic pieces with characters and accessories that you could stick and peel on and off.

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Shrinky Dinks were something we had, but I don’t ever recall them working right.  You had this hard plastic things that you colored with a marker or something and then you put them in an oven.  The idea was that they shrunk into a harder plastic that you could use for a key ring or something.  I never really liked them….but I am sure we had them.

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Doctor Doctor

One of my favorite games growing up was Doctor Doctor.  It was kind of like Clue in that you had to, through process of elimination, figure out a problem.  In this case, find the diagnosis for what was wrong with the patient.

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Electronics from my youth

Before X-Boxes, Nintendo Switches, and even Gameboys, we had some primitive hand-held gadgets and games.  It was so fun to see some of these things as they came up in searches for toys of the 70’s.

The Little Professor

Not a game.  Not even a gadget.  It was a calculator!  I guess the school of thought was “if we made a calculator that looked like a character, kids will dig math.” For what it is worth, I think it let you play math games on it, too.

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Speak & Spell

I can still hear its “hello” in the computer voice that greet you when you powered it up.  Today we have “Spell Check” on every computer and word processing program, but believe it or not, back in the day, you had to know how to spell.  This little gadget helped you to do just that.  It would say the word you needed to spell and then you had to spell it.  One downfall was the computer voice.  Sometimes you couldn’t understand what word it was asking you to spell.

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The Sound Gizmo

This was a MUST have for me as a kid.  It was one of my favorite toys!  The cool think about this toy was it made noises.  With the push of a button, you could have made a gunshot, an explosion, a helicopter, a train, a phaser, a siren, a motor, and more!  You could have the sound be constant, looped, or have it fade out.  There was a way to pitch the sound up and down, or control the speed of the sound.  As a kid who played outside and had a wild imagination, this toy was the best!  If we were pretending to crack open a safe with dynamite – we had an explosion.  If we were playing cops and robbers – we had a gunshot and sirens.  If we were in a spaceship, there were numerous sounds we could make!  It took our imaginations to a new level!  I remember my old boss at Honey Radio, Richard D, used this on the air often for sounds, too!

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Quiz Wiz

Trivia has always been a love of mine.  I am full of useless facts.  I love shows like Jeopardy or shows that are trivia based.  Trivial Pursuit was a very popular game in our house.  Trivia was also something that I used on a daily basis for contesting when I worked on the radio.  My love of trivia may have stemmed from the Quiz Wiz Game.  It had cartridges with questions.  I spent many hours learning trivia tidbits from this game.

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Electronic Sports Games

Again, before the fancy graphics of Madden Football, we had hand-held games.  They were primitive with red dots representing base runners, quarterbacks, and hockey pucks, but we loved them.  Coleco was the company that put out most of these games.  They were very popular!  A few years ago, I couldn’t believe it when I went to Walmart and saw that they had re-released the Coleco Football game.  I know there was also a hockey, basketball, and baseball game.  Most of these were one player games.  I had them all.  The one I loved the most was Head to Head Baseball which allowed two players to play.  One could pitch and one could hit.  I remember it because it was shaped very much like a baseball stadium.

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It was one of my favorite games until ……

Atari 2600

This was the game changer!  Yeah, we had Pong.  This could do SO much more.  You could play Pac-Man on it (it was a very crappy version)!  It was a big year for my brother and I when this arrived.  We loved Maze Craze, Pitfall, Megamania, Kaboom, River Raid,  Sea Hunt, and so many other games.  The original games still remain popular today and can be found on systems that are now preloaded with many of the ones from the past.  You don’t even need the game cartridge today!

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Oh, the many hours of fun I had growing up.

Final Thoughts

Kids today look at the toys from the past and laugh.  Many of them will never know what it means to go out and “write your own adventure.”  They will never conjure up an amazing scenario by simply using their imagination.  That is sad.  The memories that were brought about by seeing all of these toys during a simple Google search have made me smile so much that my jaw hurts.

Relive a bit of your childhood with me.  Share your favorite toy from when you were a kid!  I’d love to hear about it!

 

 

 

The Ghost of Christmas Eve Past (and Yet To Come)

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For as long as I can remember, Christmas Eve was always spent with Grandma and Grandpa P. when we were kids.  I don’t necessarily know that there was any particular reason for this, I only know that from a very young age, this was the tradition. I also remember that dreaming of a White Christmas was hardly ever necessary.  If my memory serves me right, as a kid, there was maybe one or two Christmases that were we didn’t have snow.

The excitement for Christmas Eve was a bit different from Christmas Day.  Grandma and Grandpa always seemed to ask for our Christmas list early …. like July early!  She obviously planned ahead and shopped throughout the year, which must have saved her a ton of hassles finding things.  We usually were dressed and ready to go to Grandma’s house by 2 or 3pm. We would leave knowing at least one thing we were getting – a winter coat.  She got us one every year (which we hated, because she’d take us out shopping for it as early as October!).

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Christmas Eve dinner was always the same with very little variance.  Ravioli was the main dish.  There would be a feast that included breaded steak, sausage or meatballs, dinner rolls, and just about every other things you could imagine. Grandma prided herself on being able to make dinner that could feed an army! Grandma always made her Ammoghio (pronounced Moy-Gyoo) sauce to go on top of the steak.  This was made up of olive oil, tomatoes, some seasonings and a WHOLE LOT of garlic!  I never ate it as a kid, but as an adult – I love it!  Everyone who ate it smelled like garlic for like a week!

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There was always a dish with olives (green and black), sweet pickles, and veggies.  You would also find a big bowl with pistachios, and another one filled with nuts of all kinds.  The nuts were still in the shells, so you had to crack them open with the old silver nutcracker that was probably older than my grandma!  I can’t remember, but I think there was also a bowl or two of M&M’s and Hershey’s Kisses out to snack on, too.

For dessert – there were ALWAYS cannoli! Early on I think she made them from scratch (I may have her recipe somewhere), but I really remember her getting them from the Italian bakery.  There were also always plenty of cookies!  Grandma spent days baking them and by the time she was done, I think she had like 400 dozen!  She used to store them in these big tin cans that Better Made Potato Chips used to come it.  She always made chocolate chip for me, oatmeal for my brother, cut out sugar cookies and these little ice box cookies that none of us ate … well, I can’t say that … we fed them to the dogs and they seemed to like them a lot!

I recall the year that my grandmother bought my brother and I every Star Wars Figure that was out.  There were one or two that were very difficult to find, but she found them.  We each got a set!  Then there was the year she bought us the Atari 2600!  This was long before the fantastic graphics of Play Station or X-Box.  The games on this thing were very primitive as far as graphics went!  Oh, the hours I spent playing Sea Hunt, Pac-Man, and Pitfall!!  Even after all of the gifts were open, there was always an envelope for us.  For many years there would be a crisp $100 bill in it.  $100 was a LOT of money and I was always amazed at how new the bill was – it was almost like she had printed it herself!

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One Christmas Eve I remember particularly well.  Unlike previous years, when we came in the house, we were ushered immediately downstairs.  Usually, we went into the sun porch off the back of her house, where tables would be set for dinner and food would be out.  This year, dinner was in the basement.  We hardly EVER went in the basement, so I wasn’t sure what was happening.  In the middle of dinner, we heard a noise from upstairs.  Someone was walking (actually stomping, I think) around upstairs.  I think she had my great Uncle Ralph some in and do it.  My grandma said that Santa was probably up there leaving presents.  It was well before midnight, and you know how kids are – we knew that Santa came at midnight and we questioned it.  Grandma said she had called and “made special arrangements with Santa”.  Looking back on it now, I can totally see Grandma like Don Corleone of the Godfather making “special arrangements” with Santa!  At any rate, soon after the noise was gone, we were allowed to go upstairs and into the porch.  I am sure I am over exaggerating when I say that the porch looked like Toys R Us!  It was loaded with presents and a bike for both my bother and me.  I don’t even know how we got the presents home!

After dinner and presents, my brother and I would go watch movies, play the video games, or with our toys, while the adults went back into the porch to smoke and play cards.  Pinochle was what they usually played, although I seem to remember one year they also played gin rummy.  Depending on the people who were present, sometimes dad will play his guitar, Uncle Sam would play his accordion, or grandma would sit on the old Hammond organ and sing songs and play. Grandma played by ear and had no sense of tempo (or time signature for you musical folks), so she was either hitting wrong notes or playing ahead or behind everyone else.  From a child’s perspective, the music wasn’t very good, so my brother and I would go to another room.

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When I had finally learned how to play pinochle, I was a welcome addition to the card table.  My dad played, but he was usually done after a few games, so I gradually took his place as a “regular” at the table.  I LOVED this!  We could play forever!  Grandpa and mom were always partners.  He would often over bid my mom because he thought he had a good hand, then they would lose the hand.  They would get so mad at each other.

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I remember before I started playing, they would play cards until well after midnight.  My brother and I would be struggling to stay awake, our job was to remind mom and dad of how late it was getting – God forbid Santa not come because we weren’t home and in bed! Dad would constantly remind us that he paid for Santa to bring toys, and Santa would “circle the house” until we were home and in bed before delivering the toys.

When I began working in radio, it seemed that I was always on the air on Christmas Eve.  One of the “on air” traditions that I started was to call grandma and ask her how the preparations for dinner were coming. She would go into detail about what was on the menu and what time dinner was.  She would often razz me on the air and warned me not to be late.  She was an instant hit.  It was amazing how many people would call and ask if I was gonna check in with Grandma!

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Over the years, the faces of Christmas Eve changed.  Some years there were more relatives than others.  Aunt Rose became a staple after Uncle Sam passed away.  After Grandpa passed away, friends of the family often came by and the pinochle games continued.  As the years passed, there seemed to be more reflecting on Christmas Eves of the past with laughter and sadness.

Over the last few years, Christmas and Christmas Eve has undergone many more changes.  While many of the voices of Christmas Eve have been silenced, those wonderful memories warm my heart.  I look back at the memories fondly, and I also look forward to the new memories that will be made.  This year, my two amazing sons will be with us Christmas Eve morning to open presents with us.  They are older, but still full of excitement.  When they saw the gifts under the tree their reactions were typical for their age.  Dimitri, 11, saw the big box and said “Whoa, is that for us?”, while Dante’, 16, said “Is this all of the presents, or will there be more?”

I sit writing this as everyone in the house is still asleep.  Sam and I have joked around at what is in the big box under the tree more than once.  The camera is ready to capture the moments from this Christmas Eve, ready to provide them both with memories to look back on themselves in years to come.  I hope that someday, they will look back at Christmas Eve as one of their favorite holidays, just like I do.

Mom Dad Keith and Chris 1980