Category Archives: nostalgia

Christmas Catalogs of the 60s

They came in the mail every November in the 1960’s. Particularly important was the Monkey Ward’s catalog because there was a Montgomery Ward Catalog Store in Belmond on Main Street. Mom and Dad could order, pay for, and pick up things there, particularly Christmas and birthday gifts. The four of us; my little brother, my two younger sisters, and I would argue about who would get to look at it next for hours at a time (the catalog, not the store… although the man who ran the store sold tropical fish in the back, so I could look at that for hours).

I, of course, dog-eared different pages than my sisters Nancy and Mary did. And David was eight years younger than me and was into baby toys, blocks, and books.

Nancy owned the three on the left.
I was nutty about model trains… and so was Dad.

I am amazed at how cheap things were back then compared to now. Of course, things were more easily destroyed because of the cheaper plastics and simpler ingredients and materials common in the 1960’s. So, it is truly amazing how many of those toys I still have. And how many survived me only to be destroyed by my own children.

And it often wasn’t enough to look at just the Monkey Ward’s catalog. (Grandpa Aldrich always called it “Monkey” instead of “Montgomery”, a pretty standard old-farmer joke in the 60’s). Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich always got a copy of the Sears catalog. And we would pour over that to find treasures that Monkey Ward’s didn’t have. That was inconvenient for Mom and Dad. The nearest Sears store was in Mason City, 50 miles northeast.

I was 10 years old in ’66.
Mary Poppins was a 60’s Disney hit.

Just the mention of Christmas catalogs of old when discussing with sisters flashes me back to the time when I was in grade school and Christmas time was all about being good for Santa because… well, toys.

And old Christmas catalogs still fascinate me. I love to look back through ten-year-old Mickey-eyes at a simpler, kinder time. Although, if I’m honest with myself, it probably wasn’t really any better than now. I just choose to believe that it was.

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Filed under autobiography, Barbie and Ken, birthdays, family, humor, nostalgia, playing with toys, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Art Day Art

These are ESL portraits, a quiet Chinese girl and a pencil-chewing Hispanic girl inspired these two, but they look nothing at all like this picture.

I have been doing most of these Saturday art posts from my WordPress library of images. I generally try to organize around a theme. Having exhausted myself at Vivian Field Middle School yesterday, school-ish pictures are my theme for the day.

I have a tendency to think in pictures, and these are all school thoughts of one kind or another.

Basketball practice when I was a high school freshman inspired this picture of Brent who was an athletic young friend of mine I went to practice with.
Being a school teacher is also being a story-teller. That is essentially what this picture is about.
If this much-used picture looks familiar, it is because this is what teaching looks like through my eyes. Reluctant Rabbit holding the big pencil is me in my teacher-self. The students are Amanda, Ruben, Fernando, and Flora.
Kids don’t literally go to school naked, but metaphorically they do. They have no secrets from a teacher who knows them well from talking to them and reading their classroom journals. Talking about themselves out loud or in writing is how little people make themselves into bigger people.
This classroom portrait is a picture made from my own classroom in Garland, Texas.
Some of the characters in my school-ish pictures are actually me and my own school-aged classmates and friends.

Some of my favorite students over the many years in the classroom were major nerds.

I liked them mostly because they were the same exact species as I was when I was a monkey-house-aged student.

Monkey-house is a synonym for Middle School.

Wally shared my obsession with Japanese anime and could draw them better than I could. He was a major nerd. And a totally enthusiastic learner whom other students treated like he was radioactive. I always had time for him when he needed to talk to someone. He was a teacher’s kid at a time when my own son was still little.

This is a class picture from AeroQuest, a novel series about a teacher in space. All of these kids were based on real-life students I had in class once upon a time. One of these kids, pictured as a blue alien, was actually Wally.
So, now I need to post this post as there are next things happening on my schedule. Like these silhouette students, I need to get there on time.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, Cotulla, education, kids, nostalgia, Paffooney, pen and ink, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching

Aunt Minnie’s Love Seat

This is a story about an innocuous piece of furniture in Great Aunt Minnie Efram’s house.  It was a little brown loveseat with carved wooden monster feet.

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As the story begins, the little loveseat was sitting in the parlor in front of the small black and white television.  During the monthly Efram family card party, the love seat was the only place for the two of them to spend the evening.  But he was ten and he hated girls.  He had a reputation with the guys at school as a girl hater, and he couldn’t have it known that he was sitting on a loveseat with Uncle Henry’s stepdaughter, the one the guys all said they had seen eating her own boogers.

She was also ten, and in his class at school.  She liked to watch him more than any of the other boys.  But she didn’t know why.  She liked unicorns and the color pink, but she also kinda liked the way boys looked at her when she wore shorts.  And she liked seeing him in PE class at school, wearing shorts.  He was athletic and often won games in PE.

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After two years of monthly card parties happening during at least three different months every year at Aunt Minnie’s place, he had discovered that girls didn’t actually smell bad, and this one actually listened when he talked about playing football, and how it made him feel when he scored the seventy-five-yard touchdown.  In fact, the more he talked about football, and the closer they sat to each other, the better she seemed to smell.  He liked that smell.

She liked that he didn’t only pay attention to her at the card parties anymore.  He actually said, “Hi” in public.  And she liked his smile, even when he got braces.  He let her pick the shows they watched on the old black and white television while seated on the loveseat.  She actually worked up the nerve to tell him that she had told Jane at school to ask him if he liked her, and stupid Jane had completely forgotten to ask him, or maybe Jane was just too chicken to ask him and used the excuse that she forgot.

He said that if she liked him, he liked her.  But if she didn’t, he didn’t either.  “Like” her, he meant.  Which he did because she did.

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After two more years and six more card parties worth of scootching behinds closer together on the old loveseat, something different had happened.  And it was about time too.  Aunt Minnie had bought a puppy, and that not only was a bad thing for the seven cats that lived with old Minnie, but it was hard on the loveseat too.  One of the little couch’s monster feet was lost, and the numerous instances of terrified cat claws digging in were beginning to have an effect on the upholstery.  And that danged dog wizzled everywhere.  The loveseat had one purpose in life, and it didn’t want to give in to wear and tear before achieving that purpose.

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But the very next year brought disaster.  He apparently told the members of the freshman football team that something had happened on that old love seat that really hadn’t happened.  The football team was impressed because they all thought she was pretty hot stuff, and he was generally thought of as a lame-o dweeb.  She heard about it from Jane who heard about it from Nanette’s boyfriend who was on the team.  And she got mad.  How dare he say something like that when it wasn’t true?

In January of that year, Aunt Minnie passed away in her sleep.  The loveseat was sold at auction to a farmer who liked to do re-upholstery as a hobby.  It got re-done in red velvet and leather with wheels replacing the wooden monster feet and sold to a car dealer in Des Moines who placed it in the lobby show-room for customers to sit on.

But the story has a happy ending.  She would later make his locker room lie into the truth on Prom Night (fortunately with protection) and then went on to marry him when they both were sophomores in college.   Of course, it wasn’t always, “They lived happily ever after,” because they didn’t.  They got divorced once and got re-married shortly after… to each other.  They had three kids.  And the loveseat didn’t ever learn any of that.  Because it was a loveseat.  You didn’t really think loveseats could know anything, did you?

 

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Filed under finding love, goofy thoughts, humor, nostalgia, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Take the Midnight Train to Anywhere

 

Journey back with me to the 1980’s, and hear once again the music of escape.

There was a time when I was young when I did not know where I would be when the next new dawn came.  Yes, I once took the midnight train (except it was a bus) and I arrived in a teaching career in deep South Texas.  I crossed borders into another culture, another way of life, another journey made of words and pictures that hasn’t reached the final station yet.

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At the outset, we all take a risk.  Born and raised in South Detroit (although it was really North Central Iowa) I passed through established procedures, rules, and regulations to do things that desperately needed doing for people who could only help themselves in very limited ways.

Some spoke mostly Spanish.  Some lived in broken homes.  One boy lived for a while under the bridge of the Nueces River, but attended school every day because he was hungry to learn, and because free school lunch was the majority of the food he got to eat.  He got on a midnight train, and I never saw him or heard from him again.  His sister, though, lived with a tia who treated her like a daughter, and grew up to be a school teacher.  I let her teach the lesson for me during one class period, as part of an educational experiment, and it put her on her own midnight train.

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It was a train going on the same track I followed.  Not because of me and what I did for her.  But because she came to realize it was the right journey to take for her.  It was the perfect anywhere for her.

But there is danger inherent in getting on a midnight train going anywhere.  You don’t know who is waiting for you down the line, or what your circumstances will be at the next station along the way.  There may be strangers waiting up and down the boulevard, their shadows searching in the night.  I befriended other teachers, mentored some, learned from many,  even married one.  I had a run in or two with people who sell drugs to kids.  I had all four of my car tires slashed one night.  I had a car window broken out.  I had a boy once tell me he would kill me with a knife.  I later had that boy tell me he had a good job and a girlfriend and he was grateful that I talked him out of it and never turned him in to the police.

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And we end up paying anything to roll the dice just one more time…  At one time or another we have all been there, aboard that midnight train to anywhere.  There is a moment in everyone’s life when… well, some will win, and some will lose.  Some were born to sing the blues.  I have been there.  I have done that.  And it occurs to me, that song plays on in my head still.  I am still on that journey.  And I won’t stop believing.  Because it goes on and on and on and on…

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Filed under autobiography, insight, music, nostalgia, philosophy, poetry, review of music, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Dawn in Iowa, Sunset in Texas

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The recent Iowa trip has been more or less a metaphor for my life as a whole.  I don’t mean to be funny but… wait just a minute!  Yes I do.  This is corn-shucking humor blog, after all!  But the metaphor is still there.  I was born in Iowa.

Dawn broke over the farm yesterday where Uncle Harry used to live with his wife, Aunt Jean, and their three kids, Karen, Bob, and Tom.  Bob was in my class at school.  We got into a fight once over who should be Robin Hood when we were playing with all the cousins in the old brooder house on Grandpa Aldrich’s farm, the farm where mom and dad now live.  It was a fight that got so intense that we were throwing broke flower-pot shards at each other in anger.  Bob’s hand got cut so badly that he had to go to Belmond and get stitches.  Dang, was I in trouble after that.  Bob’s version, the shard I threw hit him right in the hand, directly between his thumb and pointer finger and cut him.  My version, he cut himself as he threw a pot shard at me, and it cut him leaving his hand.  Everyone believed Bob, of course.  I’m the nutty kid that always told the stories that gave the girls nightmares.  And those stories were never true… mostly.  So they couldn’t believe my version.

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Mom and my sister Nancy designed and executed the painted barn quilt on the work shed that used to be the chicken house.

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Bucolic farm scene to represent my Iowegian past.

But life, like days and car trips, moves on.  We had to pack up the little Ford Escort that brought me home and take off once more for Texas.  I was a little bit worried about the dog.  She didn’t poop as much in Iowa as she normally does in Texas.  Well, we figured that out on the way back.  She pooped a lot of funny colors at every rest-stop dog park on the way back to Texas because of all the people food she had eaten.  She got fed better in Iowa apparently.  And it was stuff like stolen Doritos and other stuff that is so not-good-for-her.

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But going back to Texas with two kids and a dog is a lot like me after college, moving to Texas via Trailways bus in order to become a teacher.  I got a job in Cotulla, Texas, the place where LBJ taught way back when he was a young Texan and still working at being good at telling the REALLY BIG LIES.  I think I mentioned this before, but all the kids in the painting above were real kids I taught in my first year teaching (except for the kid sleeping.,, nobody did anything but hop around and yell at me my first year as a teacher… including the principal).  Oh, and the window is imaginary.  I taught for three years in a windowless concrete box with only buzzing fluorescent lights to keep the monsters from killing and eating me… or each other.  Within a decade of that first class, two of the boys had been to prison, three were already dead, and one became a star lineman for the Texas A&M football team.

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And over time I got closer and closer to my goal.  My skills became bigger and better as a teacher.  I grew in wisdom and power.  Honestly, the grass in the picture was closer to the camera than I was, so I am looming in the sky above the photographer, not tiny and smaller than the grass.  So maybe I better claim the picture was taken by fairies.  Yeah, that’s it.  Down there in the grass.  Iowegian fairies got a hold of my camera and took the picture.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  (See.  I never really learned to get away with the REALLY BIG LIES.  A teacher, as a storyteller, has to also be a truth-teller.)

fulldance  So we returned to Texas, and that is probably where the sunset of my life will take place.  I am retired from teaching now.  I am blogging and telling lies instead… well, writing fiction.  I should have another book published soon.  And it has fairies in it.  So maybe there is still time to pull off the REALLY BIG LIES.

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Filed under art my Grandpa loved, artwork, autobiography, commentary, humor, lying, nostalgia, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Wisdom From a Writer’s Life

Don’t get too excited.  I searched every box, trunk, bag of tricks, safe, closet, and jelly bean jar that I have in my rusty old memory.  I didn’t find much.  In fact, the old saying is rather applicable, “The beginning of wisdom is recognizing just how much of a fool you really are.”  The little pile of bottle caps and marshmallows that represent the sum total of my wisdom is infinitely tiny compared to the vast universe of things I will never know and never understand.  I am a fool.  I probably have no more wisdom than you do.  But I have a different point of view.  It comes from years worth of turning my ideas inside out, of wearing my mental underwear on the outside of my mental pants just to get a laugh, of stringing images and stupid-headed notions together in long pointless strings like this one.

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Mason City, Iowa… where I was born.  River City in the musical “The Music Man“.

One thing I can say with certainty, nothing makes you understand “home”, the place you grew up in and think of as where you come from, better than leaving it and going somewhere else.  Federal Avenue in Mason City looks nothing now like it did when I was a boy in the 1960’s going shopping downtown and spending hours in department stores waiting for the ten minutes at the end in the toy section you were promised for being good.  You have to look at the places and people of your youth through the lenses of history and distance and context and knowing now what you didn’t know then.

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Grandpa Aldrich’s farm in Iowa is now Mom and Dad’s house.  It has been in the family for over 100 years, a Century Farm.

The only thing that stays the same is that everything changes.  If I look back at the arc of my life, growing up in Iowa with crazy story-telling skills inherited from Grandpa Aldrich, to going to Iowa State “Cow College” and studying English, to going to University of Iowa for a remedial teaching degree because English majors can’t get jobs reading books, to teaching in distant South Texas more than a thousand miles away, to learning all the classroom cuss words in Spanish the hard way, by being called that, to moving to Dallas/Fort Worth to get fired from one teaching job and taking another that involved teaching English to non-English speakers, to retiring and spending time writing foolish reflections like this one because I am old and mostly home-bound with ill health.  I have come a long way from childhood to second childhood.

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                                                                                      If “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is really true, I should be Superman now.  I look like I’ve seen a lot of Kryptonite, don’t I?

Six incurable diseases and being a cancer survivor since 1983 have left their marks upon me.  Literally.  Little pink bleedy spots all over me are the mark of psoriasis.  The fuzzy-bad photo of me spares you some of the gory details.  The point is, I guess, that life is both fleeting and fragile.  If you never stop and think about what it all means then you are a fool.  If you don’t try to understand it in terms of sentences and paragraphs with main ideas, you are an even bigger fool.  You must write down the fruit of your examinations and ruminations.  But if you reach a point that you are actually satisfied that you know what it all means, that makes you the biggest fool of all.

If I have any wisdom at all to share in this post about wisdom, it can be summed up like this;

  • Writing helps you with knowing, and knowing leads to wisdom.  So take some time to write about what you know.
  • Writing every day makes you more coherent and easier to understand.  Stringing pearls of wisdom into a necklace comes with practice.
  • Writing is worth doing.  Everyone should do it.  Even if you don’t think you can do it well.
  • You should read and understand other people’s wisdom too, as often as possible.  You are not the only person in the world who knows stuff.  And some of their stuff is better than your stuff.
  • The stuff you write can outlive you.  So make the ghost of you that you leave behind as pretty as you can.  Someone may love you for it.  And you can never be sure who that someone will be.

So by now you are probably wondering, where is all that wisdom he promised us in the title?  Look around carefully in this essay.  If you don’t see it there, then you are probably right in thinking, just as I warned you about at the outset, “Gosh darn that Mickey!  He is a really big fool.”

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Filed under autobiography, education, empathy, goofy thoughts, humor, nostalgia, photo paffoonies, psoriasis, self portrait, strange and wonderful ideas about life, wisdom, writing, writing teacher

Rescuing Rolling Stock

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Welcome to Toonerville’s Mountain Station atop lovely, snowy Church Mountain.  The Snowball Express is just pulling out.

I believe I may have mentioned in recent posts that part of the joy of cleaning the garage after a long illness left it in a nightmare shambles of boxes and old toys and stuff we really need to throw out, is that I found the boxes with the remnants of my old HO model train layout.  Now I am busy rescuing, repairing, and photographing the pieces of Toonerville that I have dug out of the trash piles.

In the picture from Mountain Station, you see the billboard boxcar and the old caboose I managed to pluck out of one of the boxes that heavy stuff had been tossed on top of.

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Smokey Joe, the engine number 99, is pulling the 1890’s Pullman passenger car and mail car that will soon pull into Mountain Station.

The two Pullman train cars that I rescued from the same box as the billboard boxcar are both built from kits back when I was in college and had my train set in the basement at home in Iowa.

You may have noticed the mysterious mansion up the mountainside from the Methodist Church that gives the mountain its name.  No one knows for sure what the two weird, big-nosed men currently living up there are up to, but lately there has been a lot of barking filling the air.  The lights are on in the mansion currently.  Maybe someone brave should go up there and investigate.

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Here’s a better look at the side of the Pullman Passenger car as it zooms past the church.

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The Super Chief is pulling its passenger observation car and its gondola car toward the station also.  Santa Fe’s finest passenger service also goes fast.

I bought the Super Chief engine at a train show in San Antonio in the middle 90’s.  The passenger cars I have had since I was in high school, circa 1974.

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The F-9 diesel freight hauler is pulling a lumber car and the old caboose.

The blue F-9 is the same kind of engine as the Super Chief.  It was originally part of the set my father bought for himself when he retired.  He intended to build a layout in the basement at the farmhouse when he moved back to Iowa.  He finally gave it up, though, and gave it to my sons and me as a gift.  I found it in the box in the garage.  It looks like it probably still runs.  The Union Carbide lumber car was on the back porch in the mess left behind when my father-in-law’s house burned down and he piled the salvaged stuff there.  It was in a box with old salvaged kitchen goods that managed not to burn.  It still needs serious cleaning.  My caboose is missing its back wheels and the trucks the wheels ride on is broken.

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Cruella DeVille’s roadster was spotted near the mysterious old mansion.  It is very possible something bad is going on up there.  

Of all the many things I have to get done before I schlepp off this mortal coil stage right, rescuing my HO rolling stock is probably not the most important, but it is definitely one of the most satisfying.

 

 

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