Category Archives: shopping

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.

When Does Nostalgia Start And End?

When does nostalgia officially start, and at what point on in our life are we no longer nostalgic for what we had and did? I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. To me nostalgia is when you remember something from the past that is gone and you wish that you could get it back. I’m not nostalgic about my time as an infant. The food was horrible, the toys were boring, and my mobility and independence were limited. My nostalgic feelings seem to start at the point where I started interacting with other kids.

I remember playing with Major Matt Mason, G.I. Joe, and Johnny West with my nephews, and I think about how I would like to have those toys again, or even the packages. I remember getting Top Value stamps and cashing them in or buying and collecting Slurpee cups, and I wish they still had Top Value stamps and collectible Slurpee cups. I would love to go shopping at Whiz, Hecks, Arlens, South Charleston Newsstand, the Arcade News and Books, or numerous other long gone and forgotten businesses.

Equally mysterious is the point at which we no longer have nostalgia for something, but just fond memories. It appears that this point seems to be when we start working and paying for our own things. I miss Sister’s Fried Chicken, Bowincals, the Galaxy 2000 night club, and Waldenbook, but none of them hold the same fascination as The Comic Book and Paperback Kingdom, the Mart Shop, or Robert Long’s Toys. I think Heaven, a gift shop that was owned by Rite Aid and was one of the stores that opened during the grand opening of the Charleston Town Center, is probably the last place of business that I hold nostalgic feelings for. I miss Hills and Big Bear and Harts, but there is no passion to the loss of those businesses like there is for the ones named above.

The key factor seems to be age and financial independence. Hills moved in to the local area after I graduated high school and was earning my own pay. Arlens, I visited with my mom and other family members and all of the things I got from there were only possible because someone else bought them for me. I miss Whispa bars from Cadbury. My wife and I would buy them by the box when we discovered them. I have had friends send them to me from overseas where they are still made. But the Marathon bar from my youth is the candy bar I feel true nostalgia toward. Marathon was nothing more than two thin braided strands of caramel dipped in chocolate and sold in a 12 inch long red wrapper yet I would pay $5 just to have one right now.

What Was That Thing Called?

One of the biggest obstacles that I run across in my nostalgia fueled searches is trying to remember what certain toys were called. I had this problem with the Ding-A-Lings and the Fighting Furies. I still have this problem for the… whatever the hell these four lines of toys were called.

The first toy is a finger puppet ghost. There were several of these and they were all cutesy and carried little plastic signs. They were molded in glow in the dark plastic and had little faces and details painted on as well. I seem to recall them being packed in a box shaped like a haunted house. I have one of these ghosts somewhere in my toy collection. I keep thinking it was called Baby Boo or something like this.

The second toy is a flashlight. Actually it’s a rubber like character with a squeeze activated flashlight inside of it. When you squeeze the monster, his eyes and other things light up. I have a green monster and I believe he had a tooth that lit up in addition to his eyes. There were several other designs. I’m not sure that they were all even monsters.

A third line consisted of plastic men with exaggerated comical faces. There were all sorts of different figures. I recall a judge and a cook. I think there was also a prisoner and several more. The play factor was that the heads were interchangeable as were the hats/hair. Other parts may have snapped on and off as well, but I definitely remember taking the powdered wig off of the judge. I think these figures were released in a package with two to six figures included. My nephews and I all got sets one of the times when we got to go to Whiz. Whiz was the best toy store in the whole world as far as we knew, and it wasn’t just a toy store. That was just the only part we cared about. Whiz was in Huntington, so we only went about once or twice a year (or at least it seemed that way).

The final group of toys were almost more carnival prizes rather than true toys, but we bought them out of a bin at a couple of different toy departments. They were little rubber figures of cartoonish men hung up by chains to an imaginary dungeon wall. They all had a little gold cloth thread like a Christmas ornament would hang from so that they could be hung from a rear-view mirror or some such location. I remember one in a green outfit that looked like something the jolly green giant would wear. One of the guys had a brown shirt and a bald head. Some of them had their tongues hanging out or their faces contorted. There was also a skeleton that hung there with them.

None of these toys were very expensive as I recall. The little rubber figures were particularly cheap and I had a full set of them at one time. I would love to have more information on all of these lines, but it’s nearly impossible to look them up on eBay without knowing what they are called.

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Guess I should have tried again on finding out these names. Turns out the ghost puppets were from Hasbro and were called Spooky Kooky. The rubber prisoners were Jigglers from I believe Jiggler Imperial. The flashlight and interchangeable head toys are still a mystery however.

The Way We Were

One of the reasons I started this blog was to talk about what it was like being a child in the late sixties/early seventies. Today’s kids are used to going to the grocery store, scanning their frequent shopper card, and then paying for their purchase with a credit or debit card. When I was a kid you didn’t need a frequent shopper card to get the sale price or earn bonus discounts. The sale prices were clearly posted if the store hadn’t already reticketed all of the sale items with a sale price sticker. Oh, and everybody got the sale price, not just the shoppers with the card. After you checked out and paid with cash, the cashier would hand you a receipt and a handful of either Top Value or S&H Green Stamps. These sticky little pieces of paper were collected into a book which you could take to a special shop that would convert your stamps into a gift based on the value of the stamps you had accumulated. You could get a lamp or a toaster or a table. If you saved up enough you could get larger items as well.

By the time I was a kid, payment was definitely by cash. There were a few people who used checks, but they were few and far between in WV. Credit cards hadn’t arrived yet in any real force either as far as I recall. Mom got her check, cashed it, and paid for everything with cash. If we bought something by mail, we got a money order. The thing is, twenty years earlier, Mom would have simply walked into the locally owned grocery store, gathered her items, and the store would have added everything up and put it on her bill. When Dad would get paid, they would go down to the grocery store and pay their bill. Can you imagine doing that today? Sure a few rural Mom & Pop stores will let their regulars run a tab, but try getting Walmart or Krogers to let you leave without anything but a verbal promise to pay on check day. There’s one other big difference I’ve noticed as well. Back then when the shopper told the shopkeep that they would pay them on payday, that bill was the first thing those people took care of. I watched two stores in Gandeeville go out of business last year partly because of unpaid bills from regulars they had let run up a tab.

Another major change in shopping from when I was young involves the hours of operation. Most stores were not open on Sundays. No grocery stores, no department stores, no gasoline stations. The only exception might have been a drug store. People were expected to be in church on Sunday morning and visiting with family or relaxing at home the rest of the day. If you wanted to go out, you could go see a movie. By the time I really started paying attention, there were a few additional stores open. I remember going out to eat at BBF or Burger Chef on Sunday afternoons before or after seeing a movie. Teays Valley was one of the final holdouts on the Sunday business hours. They enforced these “blue laws” well up into my grade school years. What changed their minds? Hecks opened a store and wanted to open it for business seven days a week. I have been told that quite a bit of money was spent in getting the city to change its mind. However it came to pass, once the genie was out of the bottle, Sunday just became another day of commerce. People talk about the drop in church attendance and always want to point to taking prayer out of the schools. I think the real reason is they gave people a choice of things to do on Sunday. If the only places you could go to get out of the house were church and the houses of family members, you went to church and visited with the aunts and uncles.