Vacation Time

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I just got back from a driving vacation through several states and national parks. Along the way, there was lots of time to think about our family vacations of yesteryear, specifically, when baby boomers were youngsters. How different they were. How did families survive in the days before mini vans and SUVs? What did kids do without iPads, tablets, DVD players and energy drinks? That got me thinking about the games our mothers created … counting cows or horses along the way; finding items in an alphabetic or numerical order, guessing when we might get to the next waypoint, etc. My most fun was trying to hold my breath as my dad drove through the tunnels on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I don’t think I ever made it through one without having to gasp before we got to the other side.

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Remember when the entire family got into the car, hopefully a station wagon, and drove off in search of adventure?   Families were larger, with three to five kids being typical. Cars seldom had air conditioning and only roll up windows. There were no seat belts, and car interiors were principally metal, with lots of sharp edges. If your family was lucky enough to have a station wagon, kids had the option to crawl over the back seat to occupy the “way back,” where they might spread out and play games. Entertainment was whatever reception the driver could pick up on the car’s AM radio. Depending on where your family was driving, the “sounds” might be really unique.

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Bench seats allowed for three (or four kids) to sit alongside each other (without seatbelts) in both the front and back seats. If you got tired, you could lay down on the back seat’s floor until the “hump” that ran down the center of the car (for the drive train) got too uncomfortable.

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The 1963 Chevrolet Impala Sport Sedan with a front bench seat. The 2013 Impala is the last North American passenger car in the industry to offer a front bench seat.

The 1979 Chevrolet Impala Station Wagon with a front bench seat. The 2013 Impala is the North American last passenger car in the industry to offer a front bench seat.

If it got hot, your parents would roll down the car’s windows so that you’d get air (albeit hot air) circulating through the car. When it rained, the windows would stay rolled up, and the car’s interior became sauna-like. If your brothers or sisters hadn’t bathed, everybody suffered.

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There were few national maps. When your dad (or mom, in the case that she was the driver) stopped for gas, an attendant would fill up the car with gas, check your oil, and clean the windshield. You could go into the gas station to get a soft drink or a candy bar, and you’d definitely need to get a road map, especially when you crossed a state line, and the state map you were using stopped. Very seldom did your family have reservations along the way, so you might have to stop multiple times to find a hotel that didn’t have a no vacancy sign hanging or illuminated. When you found an available hotel, the entire family would sleep in the same room, hopefully with two beds and a few cots, after swimming in the motel pool.

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It was so much fun.

Please add your memories by commenting on this post, and share it with your Facebook friends.

Why Do We Celebrate Memorial Day?

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When baby boomers were growing up, Memorial Day was always celebrated on May 30th. In my town, the celebration started with a parade, that frequently included military personnel, both active duty and veterans. The parade wound up in the town’s Memorial Park where those who have died in military service were appropriately and solemnly honored. Afterwards, many of us gathered around a radio to listen to the broadcast of the Indianapolis 500 while others attended family picnics. There was always something to do at the local Veteran’s of Foreign War (VFW) post or the American Legion post. Hopefully, winter was gone and warm temperatures were on the horizon. We were kids.

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Now, baby boomers are adults and many are senior citizens. Many of my friends and I share the perspective that Memorial Day is another of the many American holidays that have become highly commercialized. My goal is not to get opinionated or political in this blog, but I am going to give all of you something you can share with your children and grandchildren about how it was when we were their age. Please remember how it used to be.

This is the real meaning of the holiday (as posted on time.com, Tessa Berenson, May 23, 2015)

It’s easy to forget what Memorial Day actually means while you’re sitting by the pool and looking ahead at summer vacation—but the day signifies much more than just a three-day weekend.

Memorial Day is a solemn day of remembrance for everyone who has died serving in the American armed forces. The holiday, originally known as Decoration Day, started after the Civil War to honor the Union and Confederate dead.

It’s unclear exactly where the holiday originated—Charleston, S.C., Waterloo, N.Y., Columbus, Ga. and other towns all claim to be the birthplace of the holiday. The event in Charleston that may have precipitated the holiday offers poignant evidence of a country struggling to rebuild itself after a bloody war: 257 Union soldiers died in prison in Charleston during the Civil War and were buried in unmarked graves, and the town’s black residents organized a May Day ceremony in which they landscaped a burial ground to properly honor the soldiers.

In the years following the Civil War, Memorial Day celebrations were scattered and, perhaps unsurprisingly, took root differently in the North and South. It wasn’t until after World War II that the holiday gained a strong following and national identity, and it wasn’t officially named Memorial Day until 1967.

The final event that cemented the modern culture of Memorial Day in America was in 1968 when Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Act, designating Memorial Day as the last Monday in May rather than May 30, as it had previously been observed. This ensured a three-day weekend and gave the day its current status as the unofficial beginning of summer, mixing serious reflection with more lighthearted fun.

Baby Boomer Classic Photos

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A friend of mine, named George (last name withheld to protect the guilty), has been following the folderol I’m posting about baby boomers and their era between 1946 and 1964.

He sent me an email with lots of photographs about things each of us, as baby boomers, should immediately recognize. I’ve collated the many individual shots into a twelve image photomontage for your enjoyment. The first photo, cod liver oil, immediately caused a reflux reaction withheld for nearly sixty years.

Please feel free to comment, and share these remarkable images with your Facebook friends.

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One of my first (and favorite) big boy toys

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I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but I was probably eight or nine. My father had a friend who regularly traveled to New York City. Dad asked him to buy me one of America’s new hot items … a transistor radio.

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Until I researched background information about transistor radios like the one I got, I mistakenly thought they came from Japan. In fact, the first transistor radios in America were produced through a joint venture by Texas Instruments from Dallas, Texas and Industrial Development Engineering Associates from Indianapolis, Indiana. That radio was the Regency TR-1. It was released in October 18, 1954, and it cost $49.95 (equivalent to $439 today). The Regency TR-1, and competitors’ versions, including Sony’s TR-63, introduced in December 1957, soon became the most popular electronic communication device in history, with billions being manufactured during the 60s and the 70s.

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The Regency TR-1 received AM stations only, measured 3” x 5” x 1 ¼,” and initially came in black, ivory, Mandarin red and cloud gray, but were soon joined by mahogany and forest green. The Sony model was ¼” narrower and ½” shorter. It came in lemon, green, red and black. The radios had a small speaker and produced a really tinny sound. The Regency TR-1 also had an earphone jack, and its optional earphone retailed for an additional $7.50. Three months after the radio’s introduction, the first aftermarket leather case was available for $3.50.

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Three social forces made transistor radios successful. Baby boomers, disposable income and rock ‘n roll music. Finally, teenagers could listen to their own music, when they wanted, without disturbing their parents.

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A Regency TR-1 is on display at Washington DC’s Smithsonian Museum.

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Please feel free to add your comments, and please share this post with your Facebook friends if you like it.

What TV shows did we used to watch?

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On Friday, April 3, 1953, a new fifteen cent magazine, TV Guide, was first published. Its inaugural cover featured a small photograph of Lucille Ball, and a larger photo of her newborn son, Desiderio Alberto Arnaz IV, soon to be called Desi Arnaz, Jr., along with the headline: “Lucy’s $50,000,000 baby.”

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For the next fifteen months, TV Guide published its weekly schedule from Friday through Thursday, and then it switched to a Saturday through Friday format on July 17, 1954. The magazine’s launch was almost instantly successful, and by 1960, TV Guide was the most circulated and read magazine in the United States. In 1974, twenty-one years after its launch, TV Guide became the first magazine ever to sell a billion copies.

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Initially, TV Guide posted listings for only the three major networks, listed in alphabetic order … ABC, CBS and NBC. The magazine’s programming started at 6:30 pm and ended at 11:00 with shows listed in half-hour increments. The earlier timeslots were generally listed as “local,” with no programs actually named. If you look at the screenshots from the years 1953, 1954 and 1955, you’ll notice some shows that are today’s “classics.” Remember Jackie Gleason, Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Milton Berle, Arthur Godfrey and Friends or Dragnet, just to name a few.

Screenshot 2015-04-11 20.05.16Please share this with your Facebook friends and invite them to register their email addresses on babyboomerreflections.com to keep up to date with future posts.

Only the nose knows

This is another in a series of posts leading to the release of my book, Baby Boomer Reflections: Eighteen Special Years Between 1946 and 1964. The book is scheduled to be released in May 2015. Please continue to follow the activities on Facebook or by going to babyboomerreflections.com, and add your email address on the sign-in form on the right-hand side of the page.

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Can you remember any awkward teenage boys during the 1950s and 1960s? To compensate for a possible lack of confidence, they frequently supplemented their persona with cologne … probably way too much cologne. Perhaps the girls did as well (maybe perfume just smelled better than cologne), but somehow, they always smelled a lot better than the boys.

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That premise led me to research products that boys used to woo the opposite sex during those “good old days.” My personal ultimate weapon was a Nine Flags Cologne Set by Colton. It consisted of nine individual bottles, from around the world, that were packaged in a styrofoam case. The bottles each contained a different, uniquely-colored cologne with their unique name and country of origin on the bottom, including: Green Moss from Ireland, Manzanilla from Spain, Royal Saddle and Live Oak (two individual scents) from Germany, Panache from France, Aromatic Tabac from Brazil, Clear Spruce from Sweden, Dry Citrus from Italy, and Patcham from Hong Kong. Each bottle was sufficient in and of itself, but my friends and I would meet up, and dab a mixture on our necks from multiple bottles, sometimes all nine, to make us completely irresistible.

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My father loved the collector bottles that were sold by the Avon representatives (“Ding Dong … Avon Calling!”) but I thought the products contained therein were impotent. The “collector” bottles didn’t inspire me either. Can you say “tacky?”

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Think back to those good old days, and try to remember the smells. How many of these masculine products can you remember?

  • Kings Men
  • Brut
  • English Lyme
  • Royal Pub
  • Royal Lyme
  • Jade East
  • Lagerfeld
  • Hai Karate
  • Canoe
  • British Sterling
  • Aqua Velva
  • English Leather
  • Old Spice
  • Penguin

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Please comment with what perfumes you used to wear, and share this with your Facebook friends.

Did your family collect trading stamps?

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Mine did. I spent many youthful hours filling collector books for both my mother and my grandmother. I’d eagerly lick the stamps until my tongue would get dry and my mouth had an awful taste. When finished licking, I’d spend countless hours looking at rewards catalogs to see what we could get right now. Then, I’d review what might be available if we only had more stamps. Just when I had it figured out, a new catalogue would arrive in the mail. Somehow, the merchandise we could get with the stamps was much more interesting and appealing than getting it in a store. I never considered that the store-bought items were probably less expensive in the long run.

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Sperry and Hutchison a/k/a S&H was the largest trading stamp company and started its practice in the late 1800s, becoming one of the first such companies. During the 1960s, S&H printed its own rewards catalog that became America’s largest publication. At the same time, S&H allegedly issued three times more stamps than the U.S. Post Office.

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S&H had competitors, including, Plaid Stamps, Gold Bell Gift Stamps, Gold Bond Stamps, Blue Chip Stamps, and a few others. The stamps were distributed when customers bought products, primarily at grocery stores, gasoline stations and department and other retail stores. I’m going to speak about the S&H stamps since I licked more of them than other brands.

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S&H’s stamps came in one, ten and fifty point denominations and were awarded in ten-cent increments … a one denomination stamp was equal to ten-cents and so forth. Their collector books were free; twenty-four pages long; and needed fifty stamps to fill a page. That meant each book held twelve hundred stamps, equivalent to spending $120. The completed books were exchangeable for merchandise at an S&H redemption center or via mail.

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The retailer that planned to offer trading stamps would purchase their stamps from whichever company it chose, and then award the stamps at a rate determined by the merchant. Customers would frequently choose one store over another because that store gave out more stamps than another for each dollar spent.

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Trading stamps were most popular during the mid-‘60s. In 1965, supermarkets stopped issuing stamps and started lowering prices instead. They also started to use “preferred customer” programs. Later, the recessions of the ‘70s diminished the value of trading stamps, and consumers began to stop collecting them.

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If you still have any trading stamps, they might have some “value.” The Internet is your best source to find out what you need to do to redeem them for something.

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The Front Porch … Has It Become An Anachronism?

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Depending on where you grew up, many frequent and pleasant baby boomer evenings were spent sitting on a front porch, if your house was fortunate enough to have one. Most of the beautiful photos in this post were shot by Judy, one of my two special helpers.

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American porches have been around since the mid-1800s, when a well-known landscape gardener wrote about how to distinguish American homes from English architecture. The porch became a “transitional space between the private world of the family and the public realm of the street.” Porches became a necessity before air conditioning, whether it was the screened sleeping porch or the broad, columned veranda where iced tea — and gossip — were plentiful.

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In the 1950s and 1960s, and even today, when families had a front porch, they would sit on the porch in the evening. Neighbors, who were taking an evening stroll, would walk past and stop to talk and perhaps be invited to come and sit and visit.  Young couples, that didn’t have a car, would walk to their destination. All the neighbors would greet them as they walked past, and then the” porch sitter” would report on the couple to the next neighbor.  Those boys who had cars would cruise up and down the streets in hopes the girls would be “porch sitting.” What might have happened afterwards is pure speculation and faded memories.

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Today, there are a number of publications and organizations that simplify and romanticize the way things were when we baby boomers were growing up. Philip Gulley, from Porch Talk laments, “I believe all that is wrong with the world can be attributed to the shortage of front porches and the talks we had on them. Somewhere around 1950, builders left off the front porch to save money, and we’ve had nothing but problems ever since.”

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There is an official “Professional Porch Sitters Union,” whose mantra is, “The best way to do nothing well is to make sure to do it slowly.” “Crow Hollister,” from Louisville, Kentucky, founded the PPSU in 1999. There is only one rule, although a suggestion is a better description … “Sit down a spell. That can wait!”

According to “Crow,” “Starting your own chapter of PPSU is simple. You simply declare yourself a local chapter, pick a number to represent your Local Chapter identity and then sit back with friends and neighbors to celebrate with an interesting story or two. Meetings can be called at any time by any member and attendance is optional.”

To become a member you simply need to say you are a member and agree to sit around with friends and neighbors shooting the breeze as often as possible or practical, preferably on a porch but that’s not critical. There are no dues, no membership requirements, no mailings, no agenda, no committees, no worries. PPS believes that the radical act of sitting around sharing stories with no specific agenda is critical to building sustainable communities.

Unfortunately, television and air-conditioning have moved far too many people off their porches and into their homes where they quickly become isolated from their communities. We believe that sometimes the most effective course of action is to sit down and relax while sipping iced tea and sharing stories.

Please add your comments and share this with your FaceBook friends.

The Sunday Funny Papers

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It’s Monday morning. Time to reflect on the past weekend.

So, here’s another memory to share with your friends and families.

Unfortunately, because newspapers are becoming relics, so will the comic strips that were once family traditions in our times, as we enjoyed reading them together, whether we were adults or kids. Those special Sunday comics sections carried other important stuff, like puzzles, cut-and-paste activities, including paper dolls and comic-like advertisements. The funny papers also provided something for future inventor’s to create. For example, Dick Tracy actually had a two-way wrist watch in 1946. Take that, Steve Jobs!  I wonder if Dick Tracy’s creator got any royalties?

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The early funny papers filled entire newspaper strips and were subsequently reduced in size to half-page or strip formats. During World War II, paper shortages reduced their size even more. Typically, during the 1950s, the comic sections were ten to twelve pages long.  Which of the following strips can you remember like it was yesterday?

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In case you are a person who likes to rank things, I found a source that listed the top twenty-five comic strips of all times. The baby boomer years resulted in only five of those, including:

  • # 25 Beetle Baily, created by Mort Walker, from 1950 to present

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  • # 22 B.C., created by Johnny Hart, from 1958 to present

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  • # 18 Dick Tracy, by Chester Gould, from 1931 to present

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  • #   8 Pogo, by Walt Kelly, from 1948 until 1975

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  • #   3 Peanuts, by Charles Schulze, from 1950 until 2000

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And the rest is history.  Please share this with your FaceBook friends.  And watch for Baby Boomer Reflections in May.

Let’s go shopping

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Like many of my posts, this one started off in one simple direction and wound up with a profound memory.

In the ‘50s and 60’s we didn’t go to the mall. We didn’t even know what a mall was. Most stores were mom and pop operations, and they weren’t large. There were catalogue stores, like J.C. Penny and Sears, with local storefronts in smaller towns, and there were department stores, also known as “five and dime” stores, throughout the country.

Depending on where you grew up, there were regional stores that didn’t have national reach. My formative years were in the northeast, specifically, Pennsylvania, and that’s where my familiarity lies. Our department stores were J.J. Newberry’s, F.W. Woolworth’s, and W.T. Grant’s. And yes … there was also E.J. Korvette’s.

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W.T. Grant opened his twenty-five cent store in Lynn, MA in 1906. By 1972, when “W.T.” died, his chain of stores had grown to over 1,200. Shortly after, in 1976, as a result of extending credit to customers with no related investigation to determine whether that customer could actually pay for purchases, the company became infamous as the then-second largest bankruptcy in U.S. history.

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J.J. Newberry’s started in East Stroudsburg, PA in 1911. By 1918, there were seven stores in the chain and seventeen stores by 1919. When “J.J.” died in 1954, there were 475 stores, and by 1961, 565 sported the recognizable gold letters on a red background. The chain was eventually purchased by McCrory stores that ultimately entered into bankruptcy. The last Newberry store closed in 2001.

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I’m going to move out of sequence for a moment to speak about E.J. Korvettes. Founded in 1948 in New York City, it was the first store to challenge the “suggested retail pricing” commonly in practice. By so doing, Korvettes displaced the earlier “five and dime” stores and preceded discount stores and warehouse clubs. Korvettes was a “membership store” and it was quite easy to become a “member.” The membership concept legally skirted fair-trade laws. There were a lot of competitor lawsuits, and while they did not cause Korvettes’ demise, the company went bankrupt in 1980.

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And then there was F.W. Woolworth’s. It was started in Utica, NY in 1878 as “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store.” That store failed, but a second identical store opened a year later in Lancaster, PA. It became an international company and grew to be one of the largest retail chains in the world before going out of business in 1997.

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Woolworth’s eventually incorporated lunch counters into their stores.

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One of those lunch counters became quite infamous, and that’s where the profound portion of this post is. It was the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, NC where on February 1, 1960, four students from all-black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College walked in with the intention of ordering lunch. The students stayed until closing and came back the next day with fifteen other students. On day three, there were 300 and then 1,000. The Greensboro Woolworth sit-in was not the first in the Civil Rights Movement, but it did play a significant part of similar actions that spread across the country. That Woolworth store is now the location of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.

Here are some other department stores you might recognize.

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