Category Archives: childhood

Turner Classic Movies Is My New Best Friend

As a child I used to love to read movie monster magazines, especially Famous Monsters of Filmland. I used to look at the pictures of all the old horror movies and think how much I’d love to see them. Every Saturday night Chiller theater would play two or three old horror movies, and while I was always hoping for a classic, it seemed more often than not I got The Monolith Monsters.

One of the movies I really wanted to see was a black and white film called The Island of Lost Souls. It was an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. In 1977 Dr. Moreau was remade with Burt Lancaster and Michael York. I got to see that one when it hit HBO and even got to read the Marvel comics adaptation, but The Island of Lost Souls was still just a dream for me. It was even at one point considered a lost film due to the censorship it had faced back when the Hayes Code was in effect for movies.

Another string of films I really wanted to see, but that continuously avoided my viewing pleasure, were the silent film classics of Lon Chaney Sr. I got lucky enough to catch The Phantom of the Opera on PBS one time back in the days of their Matinee At The Bijou program, but never any of the other films that earned him the name “man of a thousand faces”.

About two years ago I started doing a podcast, Cinema Toast Crunch, ( http://www.cinematoastcrunch.libsyn.com )where I would get together with family and friends to watch a movie and immediately review it. It was a lot of fun even if our number of listeners never climbed all that high. After a bit I decided that I would like to try and do a second podcast on movies. This one would concentrate on the Oscar nominated best pictures from each year. As luck would have it, Turner Classic Movies was playing a lot of Oscar nominees and I was able to catch rarities like The Racket and The Crowd that had been nominated at the first Oscars. I also wanted to catch some of the films from this time period that had not gotten nominations just to see what the competition had been like. This required constantly checking the listings for TCM to see if any of these gems were playing.

One night as I was scanning through the upcoming films, a title jumped out and grabbed me. Turner was playing The Island of Lost Souls. The “lost” film from my childhood was going to be playing on my TV after a nearly 50 year wait. I sat my DVR with sweet anticipation and then also found that The Most Dangerous Game was also playing. It joined the list as well.

When I finally had the chance to sit back and watch the movies I was captivated by them. They were everything I had hoped for even if The Most Dangerous Game had never been as huge of a draw for my attention. I was so happy to have finally caught The Island of Lost Souls and scratched it off my movie bucket list. Then Turner decided to help me knock off a few more films by playing a Lon Chaney marathon. Here was my chance to finally see The Penalty, The Unholy Three, Laugh Clown Laugh, and several others.

As much as I love DVDs, and trust me, I love them a lot, Turner Classic Movies has become my new best friend. Many of the films they have offered are not available on DVD, and even many of the ones that are aren’t readily and easily available. The only problem is I don’t have as much time to watch movies now as I did in my youth, and sadly I have a harder time staying up and watching them without falling asleep. If only TCM and DVRs had been around when I truly had free weekends and a 3 months long break every summer. I might never have left my house at all.

Happy Birthday, You’re Now Officially Closer To The End

I’ve had a birthday every year since I turned 1. I don’t remember that one, but some of them are supposed to be milestones. Thirteen, sixteen, eighteen, twenty, thirty, forty, and this year’s major occurrence, my fiftieth birthday. Fifty years old. God, that sounded so old when I was a kid. Fifty years old. People will tell you it’s not old at all. Usually these people are in their later fifties or their sixties or even seventies.

The thing I realized this morning as I turned fifty years old while working at my job, is that my life is already more than halfway over. Think about it. What’s the age of your oldest relative, or friend? What were the ages of the last three people whose funeral you attended? Was the average of any of these figures over 100? Heck, were any of the individual answers over 100. How about 95? 90? Even if the average is 90, although I suspect it’s probably closer to 80 or 85, I hit the halfway mark five years ago.

You know how when you’re reading a book and you hit that halfway point, everything starts gelling. All of the main characters have been introduced. The plot is usually fully revealed and the action is accelerating, forcing you to keep on reading to see how it all comes out. If you’re like me, you start calculating how many pages are left. Or maybe it’s a TV show and you know there will be three more commercial breaks. I’m not at that last commercial break yet, but I don’t need to worry about seeing Flo or the GEICO gecko more than another time or two.

I’m a little sad, mostly because I haven’t accomplished anything with my life other than the basics. I have a wife, a couple of grown kids, a granddaughter, a job, a car, and a house. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to make movies. I wanted to have fans that I entertained with my next project. Nope. I have a dog that puts on an acrobatic act for me every time she thinks she’s getting to go for a walk, but that’s the extent of my fan club, and honestly as cute as it is watching the dog jump and spin and twist in midair, it makes it very difficult to attach her leash to her collar.

Maybe some third act miracle will happen and I’ll still get that fame I was dreaming of when I was a child of fifteen, twenty-one, or thirty-four. But the pages are getting flipped faster. The action is accelerating, and before you know it Time’s finger will be ready to flip that last page to see how it all wraps up…

Part of me imagines people happy and celebrating as they toss me in the ground. I’ve battled with depression all my life and low self-esteem issues as well. I know I’m a great person, but I can’t convince myself that I am. And I sure can’t convince anyone else, except for maybe my dog… and maybe my wife… maybe the kids… oh and some of my nieces and nephews and cousins and maybe my sisters and some other friends and family. And maybe that’s enough. Maybe that’s more than enough.

How Did We Know What Was Going On Back Then?

My wife and I were driving down the road today talking about various things when we got to discussing making a “junk journal” for the kids. I have a lot of crazy stuff that I have held onto through the years. Some of it looks like nothing to the untrained eye, but to those in the know, there are stories and history in these various items. I have an old pill tin that my dad carried around with him. I have a pocket knife that he won for my mom and that she carried around with her from then on. To my kids these items are just a small green tin and a pocket knife. They don’t understand the family history attached to these pieces. I also have books and toys that have a special place in my life or DVDs that are out of print and worth a pretty penny. These are things the kids need to know before boxing all this stuff up and taking it to Goodwill after they put me six feet under.

The fact of the matter is that none of them have the attention span to remember everything about all of this mess. There’s also the problem with me forgetting lots of details as well. For example, I can’t remember what it was that Dad used to carry in that tiny pill tin. I remember Mom telling me about it, but I can’t remember the full story. Since Mom passed away several years ago I can’t ask her any longer. My sister or my cousin might remember, but I need to get the facts down where the kids can find it when my time finally comes to an end. Of course they will also have to wait for my wife to pass before they truly get to run free with my things but never the less.

So in the midst of this conversation I mentioned to my wife about how certain toys were special to me growing up. The Mego Planet of the Apes action figures were some of my favorites. I had the full set of them and their accessories. Most of the expensive pieces were Christmas gifts left under the tree by Santa or given to me by my Aunt EI. The actual figures however were ones that I got at Kmart and Murphy’s Mart and Hecks department stores. There were two waves of the action figures as I recall. The first batch was based on the movie. The second batch was based on the television series. I still remember playing at my Aunt Tress’ one day as a kid, and it just came to me that the new figures should be out. One of my cousins might have seen them and mentioned it or it might just have been a psychic premonition, but I begged me mom to stop on the way home. She agreed to stop and sure enough there they were.

When the Kenner Star Wars action figures actually came out (my mom refused to buy me the Early Bird IOU that was offered) we just ran into them in the store. I think the first ones we bought might have actually come from Krogers grocery store in Saint Albans. The thing was, I didn’t have the Internet to tell me these things were coming out. We didn’t have toy magazines to prepare us for new toys and toy lines. We found out the old-fashioned way; we bumped into them.

Sometimes I learned about new toys by ads in my comic books. I remember the big two page spread for the Haunted Mansion action model kids or the Strange Change models. I recall ads for Evel Knievel, the Six Million Dollar Man, and lots of different cars and bikes like Hot Wheels and Matchbox. Today kids and collectors know exactly when each wave of the new action figures are going to start shipping. They know which figures are going to be hard to locate and eBay helps make that search easier as well. Some how this just doesn’t seem as exciting as going into the toy department and finding the new additions to the Aurora Prehistoric Scenes model kit line. Silly as it sounds, I think I liked our way best.

Peanut Butter and Karo Syrup

When I was a kid growing up, money was tight. We weren’t as bad off as some kids, but we did tend to do a lot of homemade snacks. I was thinking back on this when I tried the new Cadbury Peanut Butter Egg. The idea seems to be a mix of the classic Cadbury Egg, but with peanut butter added. When I bit into the chocolate shell and tasted the peanut butter and Cadbury “yolk” filling, I was immediately taken back to one of my mom’s greatest concoctions, at least in the eyes of a child. Mom used to mix peanut butter and Karo syrup together as a snack. I loved it. It was one of the trifecta of peanut butter snacks that a child could easily fix. The other two were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and peanut butter and marshmallow creme (also usually served as a sandwich).

Peanut butter and Karo syrup was a go to snack for me for most of my childhood, and it was simplicity in itself. Take some peanut butter. Put it in a bowl. Add some Karo syrup, but not too much. Stir the two together and enjoy. The Cadbury Peanut Butter Egg brought back this long forgotten memory as the center of the egg tastes almost exactly like Mom’s peanut butter and Karo syrup did. The only problem is that the Cadbury product tastes like the peanut butter and Karo syrup snack where someone added a little too much Karo syrup. It was extremely sweet.

I’m trying to write down and share things like this as I remember them because these are things being lost to the dust bins of time. My son has heard me talk about the great toys from my childhood and some of the things that we used to do, but much of what life was like I have forgotten to tell him. He might remember me talking about having to wait years for a movie to finally come on TV, but have I ever properly explained Top Value stamps? Oh well at least he’ll have my blog if he ever gets curious about the old days when TVs had 3 channels, gas was well under $1 a gallon, there were no drive thru restaurants, and almost everything was shut down on Sunday. And now if he wants he can even try out one of our old budget snack recipes.

Remember The Plastic Pop Top?

I was fiddling around with the lid to my Diet Pepsi bottle the other day and got to thinking about the old plastic pop bottle tops. This was an item that was probably in every home up until about 30 years ago, but has now disappeared almost completely. Back in the seventies pop was sold in bottles with metal bottle caps that had to be popped off using a bottle opener. Once the bottle cap was removed it was unusable for resealing the bottle. Leaving the bottle uncapped allowed the carbonation to escape and the pop went flat. In order to fix this problem a simple little gadget was invented, a plastic reusable bottle cap.

bottlecaps

Some of the caps were used as promotional items and had the name of the bottler painted on it. Other caps were sold in packages at department stores in their housewares department or at grocery stores in their pop aisle. There were plain round ones and then there were ones with “tails”. The tail was a thin strip of plastic connected to a plastic collar that was placed around the neck of the bottle. This allowed the consumer to open the plastic top without fear of losing it.

The plastic pop top was made obsolete by the screw top pop bottle. Every cap was now a resealable bottle cap. In addition to the plastic pop tops, “church keys”, the bottle openers that popped off the old caps or poked holes in the old pre-pull tab cans depending on which end you used also soon went missing. The market tried to sell a redesigned bottle opener that fit down around the twist off caps and assisted in twisting them off. This didn’t last too long as the caps became easier to unscrew and people learned to use pliers on the bottles that remained contrary.

I miss those days. I also miss the old metal pop tops that had a thin layer of cork inside them as well. Drinks just seemed to taste better coming out of these bottles. The bottlers also used to place removable plastic liners inside the metal tops with game pieces or prizes on them. Now days the information is printed directly inside the screw off cap or on the back of the thin drink label wrapped around the bottle.

Easter Sunday Reflections

When I was a kid I always looked forward to Easter. Easter to me meant an Easter Basket which usually would contain my favorite seasonal candies and at least one small to medium toy that I had been wanting. It was like a very early Christmas stocking in many ways. Easter also meant getting dressed up in nice clothes and going to church and Sunday school after which I would come back home and the family would all gather for an Easter Egg hunt. I was never very good at finding the eggs, but I always enjoyed it anyway. The eggs would contain candies, small toys, or sometimes money. Of course by money I mean a few pennies, a nickel, a dime, or maybe a quarter. I don’t recall the eggs ever having anything larger than a quarter. A dollar bill in those days would have been like a kid today finding a fifty or a hundred. A dollar would buy a comic, a slurpee, and a candy bar. That was a full meal for a kid.

I looked forward to Easter Sunday just like I looked forward to Christmas. I know a lot of kids might have frowned on getting dressed up and going to church, but I enjoyed that part as well. I was in awe of our church’s minister, Rev. John Shadburn. Rev. Shadburn made all the kids feel special and when he smiled at you and spoke to you, he perfectly encapsulated what God’s love meant to a kid. I was so thrilled with Rev. Shadburn and the church at the time that many people assumed I would likely grow up to be a minister as well. Of course the Methodist church doesn’t like to leave a minister in the same church for very long and Rev. Shadburn soon departed St. Paul’s, replaced by Rev. Arnold Belcher. Rev. Belcher was a fine preacher, but he was not the boisterous, larger than life personality that Rev. Shadburn was in my eyes. And where I was favored by Rev. Shadburn, other children were favored slightly by Rev. Belcher. I wasn’t ignored, or shunned, or treated badly. I just wasn’t made to feel as special as Rev. Shadburn made me feel.

I began to lose interest in the church and soon Mom and I quit attending on a weekly basis. Years later after I had graduated and moved away, Mom started going back to St. Paul’s on a regular basis. She had always kept in contact with the church and remained a member of their women’s group. With me gone and living away, she had more time and became a more active member of the church once again. The church had been through a few different preachers since I left, and they had one that Mom truly enjoyed. Rev. Frank Shomo had breathed new life into the church. He had a special children’s sermon each week as well as the sermon geared for the adults. He welcomed everyone and he understood what Rev. Shadburn had known. You have to make the children love coming to church in order for them to hear the message of the church. He also seemed to understand that the young adults and teens were important as well. Where the church let me slip away as a teenager, Rev. Shomo kept his teens and young adults engaged. He understood that these were the people who were starting out in to the world or in the case of the older ones, starting their own families. If you lost them, you also lost the next generation. But Rev. Shomo didn’t forget about the older members either. He respected the elders of the church and celebrated every day that they were still with the church. He was an amazing minister, and he even managed to lure me back into the church to the delight of my mom.

But, as they say, all good things must end. Rev. Shomo was moved to a different church by the Methodist leadership. I also moved to a city 30 miles away from St. Paul’s. I could have used the help of my church family in moving, but no one stepped up and volunteered. My mother fell and broke her hip. She was unable to attend church or the meetings of the women’s group. The church responded by essentially forgetting about my mom except to remind her that her yearly tithed offering was not up to date. No one visited her, and only a couple of the women even called her. The new minister didn’t step up either.

I tried a new church in the town I moved to and was greatly disappointed. There was no children’s program, no youth program, no young adult program. There was nothing to make me look forward to being with these people every Sunday morning, and even less reason for my young children to want to be there. St’ Paul’s never called or wrote to ask me how I was doing either. The last contact I had with St. Paul’s was when I stopped there one Saturday morning for a rummage sale. I bought a few items and my wife and I noticed another item we were going to purchase, but we didn’t have the cash on us. I asked if they would take a check. They very firmly told me no. I am still on the books as a member of the church, but apparently membership does not have its privileges.

I have heard several news reports lately about how the church is losing members left and right. How young people don’t relate to the church and the church’s teaching on homosexuality and other issues. I hear the church complaining about how it is portrayed in the media and blaming that on the declining numbers, and I can’t help but think that they’ve got it all wrong. The people didn’t just give up on the church. The church forgot about taking care of their people.

Don’t Forget To Remember What You Don’t Want To Forget

I remember a lot of what it was like when I was growing up. Oh sure I’ve forgotten a lot of it as well, but there are plenty of things that were just as basic as remembering to breathe. If I needed a quick bit of change, I would scour the neighborhood for discarded pop bottles. Each bottle would get you a dime which was enough money to make a phone call. Two bottles would pay for a comic book. I think Slurpees were fifty cents each, so five bottles would send you rocketing toward brain freeze if you so desired.

I also knew how to add, multiply, subtract, and divide. I could spell most of the words I could speak. School actually taught us these things along with history, state capitals, and other boring facts that we didn’t want to learn but did anyway. I loved books and movies, so I also learned who wrote what books and who directed which films. We didn’t have the Internet and the IMDB, so if I wanted to make a checklist of all of the Godzilla films, I had to know which books to look up the information and then memorize them. Same for the kids that lived on sports scores or music or what ever their field of interest was.

There were always certain films that I would read about and want to see. It started with Disney films, then monster movies, then Woody Allen films, then Oscar winners, and then various films important to the history of cinema like Battleship Potemkin or Citizen Kane. There doesn’t seem to be any interest in any of this with my son’s generation. Comic books have been replaced by video games. Spelling has been replaced by spell check or just ignored completely. Math was no longer important to them once pocket calculators became cheap and of course now the calculators are antiques replaced by computers and smart phones.

Sometimes I wonder what has replaced all of the information that we used to have to remember. People don’t have to memorize phone numbers, their phones memorize the numbers for them. People don’t have to know where to go look something up because a search engine will do that for them. With all of the free memory space available to today’s generation what do they choose to remember? Video game button combinations. Somewhere my remaining aging brain cells are crying.