Where is the Wish Book?

After leafing through a small catalog mailer checking out the two page kid section, it was certainly far from grand as I remembered during my time when the Wish Book came in the mail at our house….just about this time of year, every year. For those that remember, The Wish Book was every child’s hopes and dreams to be eternally satisfied in gifts from Santa for the holiday season. The Wish Book was every parents dream to keep us busy marking the pages, even cutting out, and highlighting the most important choices that would be wrapped and placed under our Christmas tree. I made excuses to stay on the potty longer than usual, my posterior sore just to intensely study and plan with my Wish Book. This was no flimsy flyer. Published by Sears in the forties, fifties and 1960’s holiday additions where over 400 pages in length. In 1964,1968, and 1969 proudly boasted over 600 pages and it took two hands to carry. I finally cut out the Barbie I wanted and carried that around until Christmas.

How beautiful the dolls…. dressed in ruffles and fairyland colors just like it says in the book in 1964. There was Betsy Wetsy, the tiny kissing cousins, the exceptional Thumbelina. Barbie, Ken, Midge, Allan and Skipper, Barbies new dream house, vinyl cases and sculptured doll carriages priced as low as $4.98. Then there were pages of vanities with neatly filled cosmetic trays, Little Hostess Buffet, All in I kitchen in corrugated card board as well as all steel play kitchens and fully furnished Split level houses of sturdy steel for under $10.00 along with phonographs that never needed a tube replacement. There were tuck and touch needlepoint sets that were never that easy. There were paint by number which were my favorite that I still do.

Of course there were the 3 speed bikes, Gilbert train sets, Ford J slot cars, Gemini rocket to blast to the moon,walkiestalkies with code buttons to send secret messages. There were the electric build it sets and basic science club kits, chemical sets and wood burning sets in all shapes and sizes with an actual analog computer for only 5.88. Gas and battery powered miniature cars and planes and at one point motorized erector sets. Make things work boys, with your own 53 piece workshop with a workbench to match for under 20 dollars. And there were plenty of guns from the newest assault rifle to the western marshal outfit.

We both had view masters with our collection of pictures from Cinderella, Bambi, Batman and the Man from Uncle as well as an etch a sketch for under 3 dollars. I guess those were like our cell phones today. We both played music. For the boys, it was Roy Rogers Guitar, an accordion and girls tended to receive pianos in all different sizes.

And what about the games for the entire family? There was dominos, chess, checkers of all types,along with CandyLand, Cootie House, Dr. Kildare, Lie Detector, Dick Tracy, Snakes Alive, battery operated table top Pinballs.

And believe it or not, my wish book has finally arrived once again. Not in the form of back breaking print but I can peruse through the pages of several Sears catalogs from my time at Wishbookweb.com. I can thumb through the entire catalog while sitting on the potty with my phone.

I wonder if I could place an order too!

Aww…..the good old days!

The Other Side

By Caryl Clem

When Halloween approached, I was one of the first kids to ask for a “ ghost story”.  Kids succumbed to magical powers by a person or animal who acts like your long lost friend.  I imagined myself outside the protection of my family. I became  a moving target for evil forces: a fear that quenched exploration of the other side for years.

Later in college dorm life, peer majority exploring mystical forces opened the door to the Ouija Board. I sat huddled in my room with friends who wanted to invite spirits to guide us. A blessing was uttered to protect us against the evil spirits. My turn came, I asked to speak to the spirit of my birth father. I was adopted, had no idea who he was The message spelled out, PLANE DOWN.  I had had dreams of him in a uniform. When cold air  rushed through the room and almost detached my closet door from its’ hinges. Fear was like frostbite chasing my friend back to their rooms.  I gave the board away. Today’s reflection, did it really happen? Over 50 years later a contact through Ancestry said my father was in the service but never came back to marry his girl.   My birth mother went to a unwed mothers’  sanctuary.  

Switching schools while attending college, I lived by a city cemetery. A  new friend who lived across the driveway during an open  window  conversation one night said,” There is a rumor that a ghost appears above this headstone every year. Do you want to check it out.  We can meet at 11:40  p.m. and walk there to see.” I have nothing else to do that night being too old to trick or treat.  I reply, “ Let’s do it !”

I had never climbed over a gated fence before or felt so vulnerable. Getting out would be just as hard. It is near midnight on Halloween while a friend and I walk towards the gravestone. Glistening fear on my neck.  Within a few minutes mist is swirling by the site turning into a gowned woman twirling. I had reacted, “ Let’s get out of here. “  I was running chased by a cool breeze. Once over the fence, I feel a sense of quiet and calm. I was too afraid to look back to see if the mist disappeared.

I lived in my Grandmother’s last residence built by an aging contractor who told my father, “ This is my last job.” I loved the quaint cottage style dwelling. I prayed for blessings as I moved in, young, ready for my life’s journey. My hairbrush traveled without my help. It could be resting on the kitchen counter,  or on the stove , or in the refrigerator. It was part of a set that was parked on my vintage dresser. A ritual every morning, brush your hair to life. I often searched for the hairbrush mumbling, “ Thanks for watching over me, I need to brush my hair now.” Guided by an unknown force, I would find the hairbrush and carry on with my day.I live on this side but unexplained forces exist.  

Put forth blessings for all of us facing the day in front of us, no matter what side you are on. 

Songs still played in kindergarten

Working with students in kindergarten, it continues to amaze me how they are mesmerized listening to the same songs like I did in kindergarten over 60 years ago. And my own children reacted the same when they were little; 3+ decades earlier. One day I watched one little guy work on his ipad to the sounds of Go Tell It On The Mountain, Skip, Skip, Skip, To My Lou, Are You Sleeping, Brother John, also known as( Fre er Jac Que). I learned the French version of Brother John in third grade. Do You Know The Muffin Man, and B-i-n-go, B-i-n-go, B-i-n-g-o, and Bingo was his name…..O, more of the past. I thought that was it….done… until the teacher put on the video of the famous all-time children’s song Wheels On The Bus and he couldn’t stop singing….neither could I. The music we sang when learning the ABC’s is another melody where everything stops and they listen to the classic creative music. We play that every day just before we leave for home; a celebration song earned for a good day.

Go Tell It On the Mountain is a Christmas carol as its original lyrics celebrate the Nativity of Jesus: Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born. An alternate final line omits the reference to the birth of Christ, instead declaring that “Jesus Christ is Lord”. This is popular with Cedarmount kids who released a music series in the 1990’s. Skip to my Lou was a song produced in 1844 and was recorded by Judy Garland in the movie Meet Me in St Louis. BeeCeeDee is a popular You Tube channel for kids with entertaining vidoes of the old music and nursery rhymes with over 2 million followers. Are you sleeping…..is another video that you can’t stop listening to as well as watching.

Do you Know the Muffin Man was a traditional nursery rhyme for the Baby Boomer generation but back then it ended with the guy who lived on Drury Lane since the song originated in London. This was a street where fresh foods delivered, such as muffins, which were delivered door-to-door by a vendor known as a muffin man. The “muffin” in question was the bread item known as an English muffin, not the typically sweeter U.S. variety of muffin. Drury Lane is still a thoroughfare bordering Covent Garden in London. You Tube, once again, has transformed the song into a creative video with cartoon characters that also introduces the Ice Cream Man and the Fruit Stand Man!

Bingo was a folk song created as early as 1780 and has been transformed in a number of ways for children. Again, a Barney video created in 2004 with the Bingo song as well as number of videos that include the Muffin songs, the Countdown Kids, The Countdown Singers, the Little Series and Debbie Doo. “The Wheels on the Bus” is a traditional American folk song from the 1930’s written by Verna Hills in Boston, MA. The song is based on the traditional nursery rhyme “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush ” sharing the same tune. It was a popular for teachers to share in the 1950’s and has been translated into several languages. The YouTube video by Cocomelon is the one our school children delight over but YouTube provides many animated rhymes.

The ABC song is the same melody we learned as we watch the video by Cocomelon and as she writes the letters on a green chalk board just like ours and our children. The song was first copyrighted in 1835 by the Boston-based music publisher Charles Bradlee, and given the title “The A.B.C., a German air with variations for the flute with an easy accompaniment for the piano. Music done well never dies.

Highlights for children

A husband and wife team began a magazine in 1946 to give children Fun with a purpose (their tagline). And it worked, giving children the encouragement to learn in all different avenues that included stories, art work, puzzles, games and for me as a child, finding the hidden picture. It took me awhile to learn to read, write, and comprehend but I could not take my eyes off the picture page whether I checked it out at school or in a doctor’s office where Highlights were found for many Baby Boomers. Highlights encouraged me to read and now celebrating 75 years, Highlights has a book that is a collection of just hidden pictures. I have placed my order.

Founder Garry Meyers and his wife were teachers of illiterate soldiers and became nationally known in education for a column called Parent Problems and co-authored many books before starting Highlights. Their first copies only sold approximately 20,000 copies. In 1995, they sold over 2 million. Highlights circulation numbers declined by 2015, and the magazine announced that it would move some content onto tablets and mobile devices with the help of San Francisco startup, Fingerprint Digital, led by former LeapFrog Enterprises executive Nancy MacIntyre. The magazine launched a new mobile app Highlights Every Day, in April 2017.

Highlights today offers clubs and a variety of magazines including Highlights Magazine ages 6-12, High Five Magazine which focuses on pre-school ages 2-6 and Hello Magazine. With new discoveries in every issue, HELLO magazine is made for babies and toddlers. Durable, wipe-clean pages and stitched binding means they’ll enjoy it all month. They offer a great collection of picture, puzzle, arts and craft, sticker and game books for all ages besides the magazine as well great gift bundles. It’s never too early to inspire a love of reading!

Rainbow Ice Cream and Rileys Trick Shop

Living on the south side in the 1960’s, we would make a trip to Rainbow Ice Cream  at 92nd and Western eating the same five-flavored ice cream cone as today; chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (New York vanilla with cherries and walnuts), pistachio, and orange sherbet. Grandpa Joe Sapp established Rainbow in 1926. His first rainbow cones were sold out of a small ice cream shack on 92nd street across the street from the building that was built four years later and still exists today. Then we visited Riley’s Trick shop that was located at 9033 Western Ave, opened in 1965. I remember getting trick cards and funny eye glasses.

Riley’s opened in 1937 at 79th and Rhodes which mainly sold greeting cards and paper goods. Jim Riley and Eleanor married three weeks after opening their shop. They had a popcorn wagon that was hurting popcorn sales at the nearby Rhodes Theatre so the manager offered them $75 for it. They invested that $75 into a line of tricks, jokes and magic, and Riley’s Trick Shop was born. In 1945, Jim Riley co-founded Magic Masters of Chicago which is still thriving today. They moved into another rented storefront at 1057 W. 79th St. in 1956. In 1965, Jim and Eleanor Riley built their own building with living quarters above at 9033 Western Ave.

In 8 years, the business outgrew two building additions and moved to its current 5,000 square-foot location at 6442 W. 111th in Worth, Illinois. Jim and Eleanor lived above the business they loved until they passed away 27 days apart in 2002. Jim’s son moved the Worth to Palos but had to close in 2014.

Rainbow Round Cake consists of all five ice cream flavors of the Rainbow Cone on top of a cake layer. Rainbow Cake Rolls are offered in 6″ and 12″ rolls. They currently offer chocolate cake rolled with five flavors of the Rainbow Cone. Over 96 years, the Sapp family is still serving the same ice cream Joseph developed back in 1926.

Decades of kitchen fun

During kindergarten recess, I would anxiously visit their kitchen, have a seat while waiting for the best in plastic cuisine presented to me. There were several cooks involved in the process; a far more elaborate setting than my early 1960’s, childhood kitchen. They would fight when offering me the best to eat from their own personal menus. It was a constant argument between pizza, chocolate chip cookies, donuts with sprinkles or just candy. Sometimes I would get juice…half filled. Now, without being in school with friends, they are probably learning the real art of cooking in the family kitchen with Mom. I loved my childhood kitchen and after watching a home movie, I realized that I, too, wanted to be in charge, just like my kindergarten friends.

Made in the early 1960’s, mine was not metal like some, but the made from Sears brand that many had in white or pink corrugated cardboard with red, plastic handles that was easy to move. The set included a stove, with glow burners, oven, cupboard, sink with running water and refrigerator. I don’t remember the cups, saucers and other utensils except for a metal coffee pot and a aluminum baking pan for cupcakes. Vintage play food was not as extravagant as it is now. Pizza and chocolate chip cookies were not a big item on the list. My collection included lots of fruits and I did have a turkey for Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, in the early 1990’s, my daughter did not have a kitchen but her best friend who lived right next door did. They had a special bowl and ingredients to make alphabet soup. She also had a Fischer Price Sizzle and Glow that the girls would try to relocate outside during nice weather but this was electronic. She had a muffin container too. However, they came with the finished product;  great looking frosted cupcakes with maraschino cherries.

Today, play kitchens are not that different with the exception of having a microwave oven, refrigerator ice dispenser and no corrugated cardboard designs. Many are being crafted from high quality wood. Mine went for about 15 dollars. Today, 200 is the average price to fulfill your child or grandchild’s dream of having the best kitchen in the community. During another article soon, we will talk about the best of childhood grocery stores…found right in your home! Pickup and delivery was available even back in the day.

 

The origin of Candy Land

Candy Land has been another favorite game that I like to play. Especially with the kindergarten class during indoor recess. During the polio epidemic which many Baby Boomers experienced, hundreds of children were in hospitals and thousands quarantined at home in 1948. Strange times… like today. It was then that a young San Diego schoolteacher named Eleanor Abbott invented Candy Land. Abbott created the game inside a polio ward, as a patient herself; trying to inspire the sick children; taking them on a magical trip through Peppermint Stick Forest or Gumdrop Mountain. She wanted them to experience travels, far from this devastating illness. The game was made for them and tested by the children in the same polio wards in the hospital. They loved it and she pursued Milton Bradley. The boy at the start of the original game had a brace on his leg. The Atlantic offers a picture of the first Candy Land board courtesy of the Strong Museum.

Players had tokens which raced down a track of many rainbow-like colors. Drawing from a deck of cards, they would stop according to the card description or number of spaces suggested. Whoever finished, was the winner. According to some sources, Milton Bradley published the game as a filler to school supplies in 1949 but it then, of course, became their most popular game. Hasbro purchased the game in 1984 and at least 4 versions of the game have been made as well as many limited editions. As of 2013, Candy Land is being sold by Hasbro with a spinner instead of cards. The spinner includes all outcomes that were previously on the cards.

Last year, Candy Land celebrated 70 years of existence. Very little strategy is involved and that is why it sells millions of copies. It is simple; a game producing the feeling of magic and escape when you begin to play. It is easy to get lost in. Above, the board copyrighted in 1962 was different than more recent versions. But, this was my version as well as my own children since I saved that game for them. Even now as the pandemic continues and days are gloomy not being able to play with friends, we are still able to take trips with family through Lolly Pop Woods, Ice Cream Floats, always returning…on my game anyway….to the beauty of home, sweet, home. Regardless of what version you play, Candy Land will continue to take us down a colorful road of sweet surprises beyond the pain real life sometimes expresses.

 

 

Quija Boards

When I was a pre-teen playing with my first board on the dining room table with friends, I would ask if I would marry and it always said yes. How right the board was! Would I have children, yes…true again. How many….I can remember four and I only have two. Trying to spell out what spirit was talking to us was always a difficult mess. We would get a letter or two but we were not quite bright enough to make a spiritual match from heaven. Would I be wealthy or rich? The planchett placed beneath our fingers would never say yes or no but sometimes good bye. Money in the bank today, I could claim,just enough, but for many, I am in rich in love, family, job and friends.

Sometimes, when the planchett was really moving across the board, we would get either scared and stopped playing or blame each other for pushing it in a desired direction. In some households, the game was not allowed because some religions felt it was demonic. My parents did not like the board…not sure how I had one…..friends may have brought their own game to play. It seemed to be used only for fun around Halloween or a sleep over. My own children were allowed to use a board during the Halloween season or a sleep over, but again, their group of friends got out of hand when it came to the movement of the planchett.

In 1886, the New York Daily Tribune reported on a new talking board being used in Ohio. It was 18 by 20 inches and featured the alphabet, numbers, and the words yes, no, good evening, and goodnight; the only other necessary object was a “little table three or four inches high … with four legs” that the spirits could use to identify letters. This table was called an Idometer and caused muscle movement or reflexes to move an object not a spirit visiting the household but the later thought took off in popularity.

In 1966, the Ouija boards were sold to Parker Brothers, which manufactured the modern boards as we know them today. In 1991, Parker Brothers was sold to Hasbro, which now holds all the Ouija rights and patents. Today, according to the Museum of Talking Boards  there is truly aa renaissance afoot. Hasbro, who currently owns Parker Brothers upped their game in 2008 by introducing a controversial pink version aimed at teen girls. Then in 2013, they stunned everyone by breaking tradition completely with a redesigned, much darker themed Ouija board equipped with a light up planchette that automatically illuminates hidden messages on the board.

Hollywood has jumped on the use of the board in movies and television. Ouija is a 2014 American supernatural horror film that was a huge success where young girls try to burn the board but it comes back to life.  Ouija: Origin of Evil came out in 2016; another American supernatural horror film. The film is a prequel to the 2014 film,grossing over $81 million.

Many talking board enthusiasts are creating public shows and events. While experts claim that there is nothing evil about the mystic board; many have assured customers  that it is just a game. I am, yet, to be convinced.

 

Magical summers

Many Baby Boomers growing up did not always have their summers planned with vacations. Some went to summer camp and many, like me, waited anxiously for best friends to get home from camp so we could play or create the next adventure. Some of us had no place to go during the summer with the exemption of exploring the neighborhood because we did have full freedom to go outside and play on a nice day.  Full freedom to explore and be back by 6 for dinner or for some until the street lights came on. No fear of stranger… danger!

Sometimes, we would go to the local playground or city park such as Chicago’s Bessemer which had a community pool or Stoney Island Park, which was popular for its ball fields, now known as Jessie Owen Park on the South Side of Chicago. Of course, riding our bikes(without helmets) often doing all sorts of stunts to get there. Many families had plastic, above ground pools in their backyard…not so different as those today.  The backyard sprinklers were are last resort but always fun once turned on. We never got sick drinking from the hoses either. Playing hopscotch, kick the can, red light, green light, red rover, Chinese jump rope, jacks( inside and out.)

I am not sure if it initially came from boredom or just not sure what to explore next but we produced plays, musicals and all sorts of summer shows for our families. One my friends and I did was about Betsy Ross and instead of the infamous lemonade s tand we re-created the Sip and Stir on a front porch which was originally an ice cream shop in Old Town. We made chocolate shakes and decorated the porch with tissue flowers. Though unless we had help from a Mom, we had to make sure that cooler was stocked with ice.

If in junior high and a Chicago city kid, sometimes we would ride the local Illinois Central Train downtown for lunch in the Narcissus room at Marshall Fields. Sometimes we would ride the bus to Evergreen Plaza in Evergreen Park on the west side; one of the first indoor malls.

However, screens did come into play when it was a rainy day. You could select from 3- 5 channels. If it was Saturday morning, you had a variety of cartoons to choose. Prime television was generally in the evening and reserved as a family event after your friends returned home. Board games or blind mans bluff were always an option and some of us had indoor ping pong or pool tables that we were allowed to play in the cooler finished basement since some did not have air conditioning.

Saturday afternoons could offer corny black and white horror movies such as Attack of The Crab Monsters,Teenagers From Outer Space and I Was A Teenage Werewolf. This was all after adjusting the TV antennas which could take some time especially if weather was poor and Mom watching over you while you made Jiffy Pop, the best stove- top popcorn that you loved to gently slide back and forth over the burner and watch the foil expand to new heights. Evenings were always spent with my favorite paint by number set from Bargain Town or reading which was encouraged before I went to bed. We always took trips to the local Chicago Public Library branch. Today, I am an avid reader and love to paint for fun.

Raising children in the 1990’s actually was pretty similar to the 1960’s though there television sets had a lot more channels to select. And they still made Jiffy Pop and my kids loved to help. Personal computers were just showing up in homes and they were pretty bad. So were pagers used mainly for work and more Mom’s needed jobs. I still let my children take over the neighborhood on bikes.Though, they did not have the run of as many blocks like we did in the old days. They did play outside and established some creative plays to perform for parents. Games were similar like tag, Red Rover with the exception of Marco Polo, a new game at the pool. I found sometimes, as parents,we would get too involved in the preparation of games and adventures. Maybe,we should have taken a back seat more often and just watched them build their creativity and love for one another. A very difficult exercise.

Today, just give kids markers, chalk, paper, and even washable paint. Let them go for it outside. Give them boxes, paper towel rolls, saved cereal boxes, tape and let them create their own summer houses, vehicles or forts. Pull out old clothes, dresses and see what they can do. Let them play with their friends and learn together. As far as games,Duck, Duck Goose and Monkey in the Middle seems to be popular. Gathering by themselves to play without you is the best of time for your children during the summer.

But never limit your field trip trips to the local library. You can actually cook Jiffy Pop on the grill outside. And watch the entire shows and movies from the past on Netflix. Maybe true summer fun hasn’t changed that much after all.

Kids on wheels can thank a Chicago entrepreneur

By Caryl Clem:

Chicago hosted the World’s Fair in 1933 where businessmen showcased their products hoping for worldwide approval. A young Italian immigrant had first designed a wagon in 1917 named Liberty Coaster to honor his first impression of landing in New York. He came to Chicago hoping to own his own business, working his way up in the world by various jobs that including washing celery to sell.  By the 1930’s in Elmwood, his manufacturing firm was expanding producing his renamed wagon, The Radio Flyer.

Antonio bravely risked most of his money to grow his business as he made plans for the Chicago World’s Fair. He and another immigrant friend constructed a giant boy and his wagon for his exhibit. Antonio Pasin passed out toy wagons for 25 cents each to future customers interested in his product.  After this business venture, he became famous and firmly established his company’s image to be part of every child’s future.

Through the decades, this wagon worked its way into parents and kids worlds mixing fantasy and reality. Radio Flyers had featured specials from Disney star specials to the 1950’s model I used, “Town and Country.” I delivered papers, transported flower pots and found countless uses for my wagon. I even trained my dog to take rides as I pulled the wagon.  Antonio had a flair for appealing to his customer base by clever advertising. I recall a slogan in the 1950’s , “The only wagon to outsell the Ford station wagon”.The product line kept evolving adding scooters, tricycles, and plastic replaces metal by 1994.

The current CEO is a grandson of the Pasin founder who turned a sagging business in the late 1990’s into a powerhouse that still rocks with success selling in the 100 million dollar range.  Robert Pasin enacted product development as the main focus, researching how the product was used by the consumer. In 2011, a Play Lab with a test tract was installed in the Chicago main office. “Radio Flyer offers nice perks: flex time, parties for employees and their families, a wellness reimbursement program, an exercise room, and a garden with a walking path at Chicago headquarters.

Last year, Crain’s Business Chicago ranked the company the seventh-best place to work in the city, calling out its employee incentives and philanthropic efforts. Radio Flyer donates thousands of wagons to local and national charities.

I don’t think you can outgrow the love of a wagon ride so as Spring Days are rapidly approaching, it is time to get your Radio Flyer Wagons out of hibernation.