Friday, May 8, 2020

Growing up as a kid in the 50's was..."romantic"!

...not in the sense you might think of when I say..."romantic." For example—my kindergarten teacher's name was Miss Bowers. She was up there in years but I did not know it at the time because she smiled a lot and dressed so colorfully. Our bus driver's name was "Mr.Pickle." (I assumed he was old because he was bald) At the end of second grade, Mr.Pickle asked Miss Bowers to marry him. She said "yes" and she became Mrs.Pickle—the kindergarten teacher.

...see what I mean?

But back to kindergarten...early in the spring that year, my older brother Bruce went to his Saturday Cub Scout meeting dressed in his little blue uniform, yellow scarf around his neck, held secure by a little metal ring with a wolf engraved in it— (boy was he proud of that!)

While he was there, he found an injured bird hobbling in the grass. It was a gorgeous red bird with black wings—a Scarlet Tanager. Its wing was injured and it was unable to fly—easy prey for any lurking cat.

I remember him returning home with the bird in a Buster Brown shoe box. He named the bird "Flair" and over the next month Flair became a part of our family. Each morning we would wait at the end of our driveway for the school bus. Flair sat perched on top of Bruce's head. Mr.Pickle would stop, throw open the bus door and smile from ear to ear—delighted at the sight! Flair spent the school day on Bruce's shoulder, patiently watching as he worked. Now today I'm sure there would be a dozen reasons why Flair would not be allowed in school—"fleas...bird flue...the other children do not have a bird like Flair to bring to school..." but in the 50's Flair was more than welcome!
After school Bruce sat and watched his afternoon shows—Claude Kirschner and his Terrytoon Circus-cartoon show...the Mousekateers with Annette and Cubby. Flair sat on top of the television set perched on the rabbit ear antenna until they were over.



Weeks went by. Bruce hoped Flair's wing would heal and he would be able to fly again someday —until that day actually came. Each day we would take turns running across the yard with Flair perched on our hand, to see if he would try to fly. One day my brother Jeff took his turn and Flair took off! Bruce was not happy. He wanted to be the one to see Flair off. Flair sat high in a tree top looking down at us, then up toward the sky—hesitant, as if contemplating what to do. Then he was off! Though we always looked for him, we never saw him again.

I'll bet there are a number of Baby Boomers today who remember the year a Scarlet Tanager rode the bus to school with them and attended third grade.


....now tell me that's not a romantic thought!



(my dad with Flair-we all loved him!)


Update February 7, 2017

Thought it would be interesting to post an update on the little Cub Scout-Bruce Kunkel.
From the time he could hold a pencil, we knew that he was an artist. If you Google his name "Bruce Kunkel-Gibson Guitar" you will be able to see some of the stunning guitars he has created over the years at the Gibson Custom Shop in Nashville.
Here is just one of his many creations:




Sunday, April 12, 2020

Remember when permanents were....PERMANENT?

Home permanents had come a long way by the 50's. But not quite far enough!
This ad promotion from the 50's featured identical twins, with identical looking hair styles. One was done professionally, the other was done at home.

In his role as radio announcer for the long-running mystery series, Casey, Crime Photographer, sponsored by Toni, Bill Cullen would often deliver the commercial as if he was a character in the program. He would ask his radio audience..

"...which girl has the Toni?"


From my one experience as a child, I don't think either one of them did!

But before I take you back to the first time I saw my father cry— lets go back to 1909 and the day Karl Nessler's wife Katharine Laible had her very first home permanent. Her husband Karl had been working several years perfecting a method to curl hair using chemical treatments, electrical heating devices and brass rollers each weighing about two pounds. It was a complex system, using countering weights suspended from an overhead chandelier and mounted on a stand to prevent the hot rollers from touching the scalp. The process took at least six hours. History records him using a mixture of cow urine and water.
(urban legend? Perhaps!)
Now it's hard for me to imagine Katharine willingly subjecting herself to this process. But it is even more unbelievable that she allowed her husband to give her a
second permanent after the first one completely burned her hair off, scalding her scalp.
.....He didn't quite have it down the second time either–she lost all of her hair again.


He did eventually perfect the method and his electric permanent wave machine was patented in London in 1909 and went into widespread use.

Unlike Karl Nessler's wife, I had only one permanent as a young girl.
By the time it was my turn, Toni had produced a product that women could use at home for $2 (compared to $15 if done professionally at a hair salon)
The cow urine was gone-but it had its own distinct smell—not a big improvement.


In April of 1957 my mother was in the hospital after delivering her seventh child, my brother Chris—son #6. At that time mothers were kept in the hospital for at least a week following the delivery of a baby. A live-in baby sitter was hired to help take care of the other six children at home. My Dad thought it would be nice to surprise my mom on Easter Sunday morning with a visit from all of her children. We were not allowed in the hospital, but we could stand outside on the lawn and wave up to her at her window.

The babysitter, a very capable elderly woman, thought it would be nice to surprise my dad and give his little girl her very first home permanent. Wouldn't she look nice waving up at the window with all those curls?
The picture was not quite as dreamy as she envisioned. When the curlers were removed my head was covered with a mass of frizz and gnarled, kinky curls. When my dad arrived home he took one look at me, covered my head with a towel and escorted me next door. Mrs. McGrady was a nurse and she could fix just about anything.

"Marge! Can you do something?!

"I'll try Wally! I'll try!"



She did try. I remember standing in front of her full length mirror and watching her brush, and brush, and brush— and watching those PERMANENT curls pop right back up to where they were, springing about six inches off the top of my head.

My dad waited outside the door. But sorry to say I looked exactly the same when I walked out.

(ok...it's not an actual photo. There were no pictures taken of me that day)
I'm sure I'm not the only 50's Baby Boomer who had a bad perm experience!
We learned to do one thing when we caught a whiff of that pungent Toni solution—

.....RUN!

Update:  May 21, 2013
I have never seen this photo before today.  It is a photo from that day.  I think that my Easter hat is covering the rest of the FRIZZ!




Thursday, February 27, 2020

The 50's—When Dogs Were Our Heroes...



Just as kids ran free in the 50's, I remember dogs running free as well—maybe it was because most of my early growing up years took place in a country setting, several miles outside of Morristown, New Jersey. We knew all the neighborhood dogs by name. There was Tinker the Shepherd mix and Shea the Springer Spaniel who hid in the closet at the first rumble of thunder—and Drifter the hunting dog. He was the only dog I remember that did not run free. He spent his days in a kennel outside the house.

This was our neighbor's dog "Boxer" and as you can see we were good buddies. The thought of a dog not being friendly never entered my little mind.

That familiar Lassie theme beckoned us home at dinner time and we fell asleep at night dreaming we could own a dog just like Lassie!
Imagine a dog that would go get help when you fell into a hole—a dog that could understand you better than another person—and could communicate that understanding!
Our family was blessed to have a dog every bit as wonderful as Lassie. Perhaps he is the reason I have had such a great love for dogs all of my life. His name was Flash—a long haired German Shepherd police dog who came to live with our family in the early 50's. We had taken him in when a friend on Long Island realized a neighbor was intent on poisoning dogs, and they loved him too much to risk that happening to him. We were asked if we would like to have him.

Flash with my oldest brother Marc
Flash was very protective of me and my six brothers. He waited for the school bus with us each morning at the end of the driveway and greeted us there in the afternoon. He positioned himself each night in front of the front door, and that is where he stayed keeping watch, protecting his family. No one entered or exited without his express approval. Often a little one could be found nestled up beside him, resting on his beautiful long coat of fur.
When the ice froze on the neighbor's pond he loved to go ice skating with the neighborhood kids. We would toss a snowball across the ice, grab onto his tail and go for a ride from one end of the pond to the other. No matter where we ventured, Flash was at our heals.


On November 3, 1957, the year I was in kindergarten, a Russian mission blasted off, sending the first dog into orbit around the earth. Laika, a female mutt who was part Siberian Husky, rode on Sputnik 2. (Sputnik 2 was a metal sphere that weighed about 250 pounds = 113 kg).My older brothers brought their Weekly Reader magazines home from school and if the cold war with Russia wasn't already underway, I'm sure this event would have triggered it in the minds of baby boomers across the country! A dog.... in space?Laika was originally thought to have survived in Earth orbit for four days, dying in space when the batteries to the cabin over-heated. In 2002, it was revealed that Laika died roughly 5 to 7 hours into the flight, from overheating and stress.
After orbiting the Earth 2,570 times, Sputnik 2 fell back to Earth on April 14, 1958, burning up during re-entry.

1957 was also the year that Old Yeller stole our hearts—and baby boomers learned that all stories don't have happy endings.

That story prepared me for an event a few years later that would impact my life in ways I would not fully realize until years later—and that event will be the subject of my next post....so "stay tuned"!
(Original artwork-all rights reserved)

















Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Mom's Cadillac






...It was big—it was real big. Shiny black with a white hard top—rounded fins in the back, rounded trunk—1953, a few years before the lines on the Cadillac became sleek and the fins sharp. It was very classy—but it was just too big.


Mom had learned to drive only the year before. Having grown up and lived in New York City until their move to New Jersey after getting married, she never had the need or desire to drive a car. When the older children were young, milk was delivered to the doorstep, our pediatrician came to the house, even groceries were delivered. But now, with growing children and a home in the country to manage, learning to drive became essential. She learned quickly, and before long was on the road, usually with a carload of kids. "Mr. Sawdust' was now bringing in a substantial income, and he wanted his Jeannie to ride in style.

As I said, the car was just too big for Mom. Maybe it was from where I was sitting in the back but it did appear that Mom looked through that great big steering wheel, rather than over it. She was a good driver, but as you might imagine this required her utmost concentration. And I do believe the car was as wide as it was long. Children in the back were merely 'assumed', because they couldn't be seen in the rear view mirror.

Seat belts had not even entered anyone's mind at the time, and our outings were very "relaxed." A little brother with a bottle hanging from his mouth would ride standing next to Mom, and another would occupy himself with a truck or two on the floor in the back seat. Of course there were not as many cars on the roads and not as many accidents, and we were young and oblivious to such things. I'm afraid we were not the only ones who were oblivious.

I had discovered the joys of an open window at high speeds. I loved leaning my head out and feeling the wind whip my pony tail just like a galloping horse. I'd pull it back in when I started to lose my breath. Then I discovered something even more exciting than that. I would very carefully stand up on the back seat, sit out the open window, hanging on to the roof for dear life. The view was wonderful from up there. I remember doing it several times and feeling quite safe. Apparently an off-duty policeman traveling behind us one afternoon, didn't have the same "safe" feeling. He was blinking his lights and motioning for my Mom to pull off the road. It took a while for her to realize he was behind her. When she finally pulled off the road, he ran over to the car and yelled, "Hey lady, do you want to lose that little girl?" Funny how his exact words have stuck in my mind to this day! Maybe it was that "Now I've seen everything" look that accompanied his words. He allowed me to sit up there just long enough for Mom to turn around and take a good look. She was stunned! I slipped down onto the seat and listened to the frantic conversation, but suddenly was hit with the realization that my Dad would be the next one to find out. This was not a good thought!

Only a few months earlier I had received a spanking from him that was still fresh in my mind. My dad rarely spanked me. It had to be a life threatening situation for him to do so. That casual stroll I took one afternoon with my two best friends, gathering flowers along the busy road in front of our house, was in his mind one of those situations. What would he do when he heard about this?

Funny thing, I don't remember ever receiving a spanking for my little joy rides. Certainly I was in much more danger than picking flowers along the roadside. Now I'm wondering if my Mom ever really told my Dad. I know he knew about it years later.

Maybe she decided not to tell him….for a little while.

….I'll have to ask her about that.

Update-August 12, 2013


 
My beautiful mother passed away March 23, 2012-a profound loss to me and my entire family.  This picture was taken at a car show in 2010 where mom discovered a Cadillac very similar to the one that she owned way back in the 50's!  She was so delighted, remembering the car and all the "fun" we had riding together! 

(original artwork-all rights reserved)