Wednesday, May 1, 2013

When I Was A Lad

When I was a kid, we had really awesome toys. A great many of which had to do with war. It was the way things were back then. Last I checked, none of my childhood friends grew up to be mass murderers, dictators who spent their time invading other countries nor any other form of criminal. We all grew up to be pretty decent, law abiding citizens.

There were seven of us in our neighborhood, which was in a fairly small town in Vermont. Most of our free time was spent in four activities: playing baseball at the end of the street (where it turned into an old Jeep trail going up into the woods), riding our bikes (yes, we often had baseball cards in the spokes to produce that cool sound, reproduced down further), wandering through the woods (climbing trees, nearly any tree, our little group could take to the trees just like a band of monkeys if we were spooked) and lastly (but not least) we played Army.

But before I go into that any further, check this out -


A throatier sound could be produced by adding more baseball cards. There was a point of diminishing returns however. Too many cards and the bike became nearly impossible to peddle!

Now back to that playing Army thing. It was always World War II. Many of us knew veterans of that war. It was also (at the time) the last "good" war. Good as in everybody felt that the Nazis and Imperial Japan had to be defeated. Still don't understand why no one felt Korea was a "good" war. I mean we do understand that the Communists were just as bad as the Nazis, right?

So we split up into four on three. Of course the Americans always got the four, the bad guys had the three. Normally it was Americans versus Germans. The kids who got to play the Germans simply wore their toy helmets backwards. To us that looked kind of German. And we all had one of these -

Though I don't recall that ours had stripes on the front or that fancy netting. But in those days, nearly every boy had a helmet just like that.

Now when we wanted to fight the Japanese, we still did the helmets on backwards thing. But the three youngest kids had to be the Japanese, because they were smaller. And one of our little group, Pete, actually started to think he was Japanese. He once stampeded two of the bigger kids when he came out of the woods wielding a large branch screaming like a banshee. Startled those boys it did. Then one of our Dads commented that Pete did a pretty good banzai charge. All by himself.

Banzai Charge
Then one week my Dad had to go on a business trip to Milwaukee. When he returned home he brought home three of these - 



Yes sir, toy German Army helmets. We officially became the coolest kids in the neighborhood. Especially after our parents equipped us with these -


Toy Tommy guns, which fired caps. They were beyond awesome. When we had these and our German helmets we looked kind of German. At least to the kids in the other neighborhoods. Then one Christmas, we got upgraded, to these -




That's right, camouflaged Tommy guns (same as the darker ones in form and function). Pretty neat we thought. So at that point we didn't want to be Germans that much anymore. Now we wanted to be Marines! Because we figured that only Marines would have something as cool as a camouflaged Tommy gun.

So the three littlest guys were condemned to be Japanese soldiers for a time. Pete got really scary good at the whole Banzai charge thing. And the two other smaller guys learned from him. Freaked us out! Almost made us give up playing Army!

We had other cool toys. Like this ball turret gun. We'd set these up in the back window of the car and fire at the other cars. Battery operated, they made cool machine gun noises. After a while I think Mom and Dad regretted buying us those. And then one day we weren't allowed to take them in the car with us any more. Go figure!



See,what I mean? A B-52 Ball Turret Gun!
I mean it was electronic!
How cool was that?
When my youngest kid brother, the Musician, was six, he got to go hunting with Dad and his two older brothers. I was 13 and the Old Vermonter was 10. I think we older boys were carrying our toy hunting rifles (yes, they had those back in the day too). Now the Musician was offered a toy hunting rifle to carry. He turned it down. He wanted to bring a ball turret gun. So much to the amusement of the Old Vermonter and I, Dad let the Musician lug this ball turret gun out into the woods. I guess that might have come in handy had the deer had some kind of air support they could call in. The ball turret gun would surely take care of them!

Of course, when my Dad took all three of us boys hunting, we never saw any deer. We made more noise moving through the woods than a platoon of poorly trained infantry. Any wild life that hadn't put many miles between us and them would probably have gone extinct thousands of years ago. If not laughed themselves to death at the three boys, two carrying toy Winchesters, the third lugging a ball turret gun. Still and all, we had fun.

My oldest kid brother, the Old Vermonter and I had these Steve Canyon helmets when we were kids. Totally awesome! Somewhere at the ancestral home my Mom has a picture of the Old Vermonter and I wearing our Steve Canyon helmets, sitting side by side in the living room in kitchen chairs. We thought that was awesome. The fact that we were wearing our pajamas and bathrobes did not dampen our spirits. In our imaginations we were in the cockpit of a jet, high over some bad guy country ready to unleash devastation. (Okay, the bad guy country was the Soviet Union. Sometimes China. When we were kids, those were the bad guys.)



As the Old Vermonter and I often remark, we had a great childhood. With lots of cool toys. Toys that, for the most part, required us to be outside. Enjoying Mother Nature. Outside after breakfast, home when the streetlights came on. Life was good.

I still have the toy German helmet. The Old Vermonter found it at the ancestral home and asked me if I wanted it, otherwise Mrs Old Vermonter was going to sell it on E-Bay! Much to the eye-rolling disgust of the Missus Herself, I did bring the old toy home with me. Some memories are too dear to sell on E-Bay. YMMV.

C'est la vie!

14 comments:

  1. Excellent post! Somehow when I was a boy, my dad got me a toy M 16, which actually shot spring loaded bullets. It was strong enough to propel a plastic bullet all the way across the back yard and smack the fence with an impressive noise. Lucky no one lost an eye.

    But my uncle told me a story one better. When he was a lad, the boys would bring their single shot .22 rifles to school. At recess, the teachers would remove the bolts, rendering them inoperable, then give them back to the boys to play cowboys and indians. With real rifles! Those were the days when common sense and practicality ruled, and boys had way more fun as a result.

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    1. Isn't it amazing how the vast majority of us managed to grow into responsible adulthood without the Nanny State? I shudder to think what future generations will be like.

      And I think everyone had a single shot .22 rifle when we were young. 'Twas the first firearm of my boyhood.

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  2. I had loads of different cap guns. We played more cowboys and indians than Army. I guess those guns tought us little boys the wrong things and made us all gun loving lunatics.....except I have yet to fire a real gun.

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    1. I don't think we ever played cowboys and Indians. Not sure why. We did do the cowboy thing though. With us it was always the Shootout at the OK Corral. Of course, there were a lot of cowboy dramas on TV when I was a youth. Mostly it was the cowboys fighting each other. A lot of the cowboy and Indian fighting was in the movies. And of course we liked Indians. We also saw a lot of the Lone Ranger as kids. Tonto was an Indian and the Lone Ranger's loyal side kick. And who would want to fight Tonto?

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  3. Loved this post! I remember saving for the best and biggest toy I ever wanted- a toy machine gun like the green one above. We had a ton of kids in our neighborhood, and we had huge "war" games, running through backyards, snipers or scouts in backyard trees tall enough to see into the street, hedge jumping, ambushes, booby traps, etc. Great fun and great memories. Seems like you are either very good at finding pictures of these toys on the innernets, or- like me- have spent a bit of your hard earned treasure finding your lost youth on ebay. Hotwheels were my vice. I found them all, but it took several years. I never got rid of my comic collection though.

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    1. That's one thing we always wanted more of when we were young, more kids in the neighborhood. But alas it was just us, the Magnificent Seven as I like to remember it. Having more kids would've made our battles that much cooler.

      I have gotten very good at finding stuff via Google Images. Sometimes finding just the right keywords is a challenge, but eventually I get there.

      As the Old Vermonter and his Missus have been going through all the stuff at their house (which is also our ancestral home, my brother bought it from my Dad some time back) they are finding some cool stuff from the days of our childhood. I usually will get informed and given the option of picking up some old toy from them. That's how I got the toy German helmet from back in the day.

      Hot Wheels huh? I loved those, glad to hear you were able to resurrect your collection. I have a collection of sorts which I'll have to post on. Should be entertaining. Let's just say, it involves "action figures".

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  4. I knew I should have lived in your neighborhood! I feel like a victim, it must be my parents' fault. Cap guns, couldn't have a BB gun, but we did take our air rifles, pump them up, stick the barrel into the dirt and let 'er rip. My older brother worked at J&L Machine Shop, made me a cannon, sort of. Was about 16" long. he took me to Aumand's Sporting Goods in Bellows Falls where I bought a can of black powder ( I was 12-13, don't think that will happen today). We would pack it with the gunpowder, use newspaper for wadding and fire plastic golf balls. Did you ever make a potato gun -PVC pipe, using propane or hairspray or whatever was handy for propellant, use potato, or apples, or whatever was handy for shot? I've never entertained thoughts of blowing people up, but I sure killed my share of enemy soldiers, Indians, robbers and every other bad guy that made the mistake of coming near my house! I love the movie "Stand By Me". Thanks for pleasant trip down youthful path.

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    1. You should have!

      The movie "Stand By Me" is excellent!

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  5. Last I checked, none of my childhood friends grew up to be mass murderers, dictators who spent their time invading other countries nor any other form of criminal.

    I got a dollar to yer donut that the whole lot of you are THOUGHT CRIMINALS.

    You know I lived in Paris from ages eight through ten (1953 - 1955). Most of my childhood friends at that time were French kids; there were only two other American families in my general neighborhood. We played war a lot and it was ALWAYS the French resistance against the Nazis. We had some pretty cool guns, too.

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    1. French resistance against the Nazis? That must have been awesome. AND you did it in Paris. Way too cool.

      And I'm betting that ALL of my childhood buddies are indeed THOUGHT CRIMINALS, and proud of it.

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    2. I confess to being a Thought Criminal - evil thoughts about moronic politicians...but maybe I get a pass for that.

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    3. Ah ha! I knew it.

      And I'm very proud of you Greg! Confession is good for the soul, innit?

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  6. Folks who know me will tell you I'm one of the least violent and peaceful guys around (although I bark a lot.) I grew up with all manner of toy guns and weaponry, and my time not playing with plastic weapons was spent laughing like a loon at the Three Stooges and violent Tom & Jerry cartoons. By all that is espoused as holy by liberal sorts with degrees, I should have turned out to be a murderous psychopath, but I haven't even had so much as a fistfight since the time I was, perhaps, 17. So much for that crap!

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    1. The empirical evidence seems to indicate that those liberal sorts with degrees should be pursuing real jobs, such as garbage collection or street sweeping. Ya know, something which might benefit society.

      (And your childhood sounds much like mine. Even to the Tom and Jerry cartoons. Small world.)

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)