Tag Archives: grocery stores

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.

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.

We Didn’t Have Warning Labels

I was looking through a box of junk with my wife the other day. The box was about the size of a shoe box and it was filled with old bubble gum machine, Cracker Jack, and cereal box prizes. When I was a kid everything seemed to have a free prize. There were drinking glasses given away inside of boxes of laundry detergent, your Esso fill up got you a spiffy puzzle featuring a scene from America’s history, and your breakfast cereal came with a toy (or a record album that you clipped off the back of the cereal box).

One of the toys we found in the box was an aircraft carrier. It was really cool. It was two to three inches long and had a rubber band inside that launched the tiny little aircraft off the ship’s deck. Can you imagine anyone putting such an item inside of a cereal box these days? First off the planes were so small they could easily be swallowed. Secondly they could be launched.

Toys with launching rockets were a staple of my childhood. The Shogun Warriors and Micronauts all had rockets, fists, or some other part that would shoot off of the toy and fly through the air before smashing into the bad guy or an obstacle like a wall. Our biggest fear was losing these small parts if they launched and rolled into a crack in the floor or got lost in the grass. All of this changed after one four-year old kid shot a toy missile into his mouth and choked to death. Suddenly toys could no longer contain spring-loaded launching mechanisms. Eventually any toy with a part that might possibly fit inside a child’s mouth had to be given a warning label that it contained a potential choking hazard. But keep in mind this aircraft carrier that I played with wasn’t sold as a toy to begin with. It was packed inside of a plastic bag and placed inside of a box of cereal that was sold for children to eat. If a cereal company attempted this today they would need a warning label the size of a Buick on the box and even then some parent would still end up suing them.

A decade or so back Nestle tried selling a product called a Nestle Magic Ball. It was a hollow plastic ball that split into two halves and contained a Disney toy inside of it. It was like a plastic Easter egg. The difference was that the ball was covered in chocolate, so the child would eat the chocolate and then open the ball and find the toy surprise. The product was quickly removed from the market only to be replaced by the infinitely inferior Nestle Wonder Ball which switched out the toy for some hard candy. Even Cracker Jack doesn’t have decent prizes any longer. All of the prizes are paper based and pretty lame even at that.

The only prize delivery system that still seems to operate with anything resembling what it was back in the good old days appears to be the gumball machine. The prices are significantly higher these days, but the prizes are still something that a child of today can drop inside a shoebox and look back on fondly twenty to thirty years from now. Some of the prizes are actually pretty cool. There is a series of rubbery animal pencil toppers that are cute and collectible. Homies can still be found in some machines. About a year or two ago Freaky Geeks showed up in several machines locally. I’ve also noticed tiny Domo figures. I’m sorry that lawsuits have ended the days of cool food premiums (unless you want to talk Happy Meal prizes), but at least I know my fifty cents can still get a decent gumball prize. Of course when I was a kid those gumball machines were a penny, a nickel, or a quarter, but when it comes to prices, truly nothing ever stays the same.

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.

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.