Sunday, January 15, 2017

Yesterday's Message

I have a Facebook account.  I don't use it to post my opinions, nor do I get involved in the political arguments I have seen springing up lately.  I mainly use it to swipe grandkid photos that have been posted by their parents.

So I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when I found a message from my former sister-in-law.  We grew up close neighbors - she on her Dad's dairy and beef cattle farm and me right next door on my Dad's 20 acres that had once been part of the same farm.  She had been looking through some of her mother's things and had run across an old card that reminded her of our childhood.  She shared those memories with me.

I answered her message by telling her some of the memories I had of that time.  Like when her older sister and I decided to try smoking corn silk.  I was about 13 years old then, and all we succeeded in doing was singeing our eyebrows nearly off.  There were memories of a playhouse where she and my sister played with their baby dolls and a tire swing behind it that was used by all the kids.

I told her about the time my Dad came into our house, chuckling.  He said he had just seen the oldest boy in the family next door, running as fast as his 16 year old legs would carry him, across the barnyard, with his Dad hot on his heels.  Dad said he didn't know what the boy had done, but he kind of hoped he didn't get caught.  That Dad doing the chasing would later be the best Father-in-law anyone could hope for.  The boy doing the running grew up to be my husband and the father of my four children.

After that little meander down Memory Lane, I got to thinking about other things from that time period of the late 1950's and early 1960's.  I wonder if anyone remembers the telephone party line.  In rural America it was common for several families to share a telephone line.  I think there were nine families on ours.  There were no long chats with friends.  You said what you had to say and then hung up, because someone else might be waiting to use the phone line.  That sort of put a crimp in the teenage social life.  And you didn't dare plan any shenanigans with friends over the phone, for there was always the one busybody on the line who loved to tell your mother when you were up to no good.  Don't ask how I know this.  :)

I was thinking about TV programs back then.  Most farmers in my neighborhood didn't have a TV.  They were too busy to watch TV and they were content to get the weather forecasts and farm reports from the radio.  I was 15 years old when my family first owned a TV.   Kids living in town had more choices of programming, but the rural areas were lucky if two or three channels came in clear using the rooftop antenna.  The one kids program I remember most was "Axel and His Dog."  Axel was a goofball with sort of a Scandinavian accent who lived in a treehouse.  Axel is sort of hard to explain to those who never saw this local program, so here is a clip.

My Dad loved the ending of each show - the "Birdie with a yellow bill" part, because sometimes in the last line of that little poem, Axel would sneak in something that the kids might not understand, but the grownups would surely get the double meaning.

Dad would chuckle.  Mother, on the other hand, was not amused.


  1. It is nice to go back to some of those childhood memories, and I very much remember the telephone party lines as that is all we had for years. Can you even imagine thinking back then that in the future you would not only be carrying your phone around with you, but it would be a small box that could bring the entire world with you wherever you went.

    I enjoyed watching that clip of "Axel and His Dog", as I had never heard of him before. Quite entertaining and it reminded me of our own local children's shows where I grew up which were "Fireman Frank" and the competing "Admiral Bernie." If I remember correctly though "Admiral Bernie" was a bit of a lush and it was evidenced on his show several times. He must of had something on the stations owner, I guess. I also remember that "Fireman Frank" did the intro to the weekly Friday night midnight show which was called "Nightmare Theater."

  2. I can remember "pre-television" days on our farm, too, AND the party line. There was a nosy' gossipy, spiteful neighbor on ours, though, and one by one everyone got a private line when they became available, to escape her. She was fit to be tied when no-one was willing to stay on a party line with her and she had to pay the extra cost of a private line.

  3. I don't remember "Axel and His Dog" but I think we are different generations.. I grew up with "The Friendly Giant" and "Mr. Dressup" and "Sesame Street".

    I barely remember party lines. We generally lived in cities but I do remember the party lines that my country-dwelling aunts and uncles had. They were happy to get rid of them. I do remember rotary phones - we certainly had several - and only having to dial the last 4 digits of a local phone number.

  4. I don't remember the party line but I do remember having to call an operator to make a call. Maybe that was a party line and I didn't know it.
    My best memory then was getting my $0.10 allowance on Saturday and biking to the candy store with my best friend. Oh how that ten cents would just burn a hole in my pocket. That would have been mid-60s. The moms in the neighborhood would just let us take off on our bikes after breakfast with the warning to be home by dinner. We may or may not have made it home for lunch and that was fine by them.

    The tv show I remember was a local one called 'Captain Satellite". It was essentially a show with cartoons but there was a local host who would introduce each short. The intro to the show was a space racket being launched into space.
    Thanks for the memories! SJ in Vancouver BC Canada

  5. Jim...It seems the older I get, the more I wander back through those early days. That may have a lot to do with wishing the world around me weren't quite so insane. There have been so many changes in the 70 years I have been here that sometimes it boggles the mind. Telephones are just one of those. I even remember one of those wooden telephones that hung on a wall at my Grandma's house - the one where you turned a crank on the side and then an operator would come on and get your number for you.

    Axel was a local kids program so I doubt anyone outside of Minnesota knew who he was. There were other local kids programs, but the sheer silliness of Axel made him a favorite. I sometimes wondered if he took a nip or two, but from what I have read about the man behind the Axel character, it is doubtful. There was one local news anchor who would show up bit tipsy now and then. But he was so popular with the general public that I think the station couldn't afford to fire him.

    Looking back and comparing Axel and your Admiral Bernie with what passes for entertainment today, I think I prefer the Axels and Admirals of this world.

  6. Gorges...I think every party line had at least one nosy neighbor. I imagine it was frustrating to those who thrived on gossip when they could no longer listen in on the party line. You could always tell when our nosy neighbor was listening in by the clicking sound on the line when she picked up her receiver. I got into trouble with my mother when she heard me say goodbye to the person I was talking to and then said goodbye to my nosy neighbor. I was kind of a cheeky kid. :)

  7. Steve...If you are not of the Baby Boomer generation, then I am sure we have different time lines. Axel was a local kids show based in Minneapolis, so I doubt anyone outside of Minnesota ever heard of him. I don't recognize those you mentioned other than Sesame Street.

    Party lines were the bane of every rural teenager's existence. We were taught to be polite, so tying up the line talking to friends was considered being rude to our neighbors. Party lines were still in existence in rural Minnesota as late as 1970. Rotary phones could be rented from the phone company and most folks did that so that if something went wrong with a phone, the company would either repair or replace it. Telephones were expensive by today's standards and many could not afford to buy one outright. How things have changed!

  8. SJ...I remember having to make long distance calls through the operator. We called long distance only in emergencies for each call was charged to the bill and they were expensive.

    Living in the country, there was no store close by, but on Saturdays the family would go to town to do the weekly shopping. I always headed for the drugstore because they had a soda fountain where I could get a cherry coke or an ice cream cone. We were "free range" kids as well. Once our chores were done, we were off and running. I think our moms let us go mostly to get us out from under foot!

    Every city that had a TV station must have had its own kiddie show. Minneapolis had at least three. Other shows tried to teach the kids everything from the alphabet and numbers to how one should behave in polite society. But Axel was just silly and fun, which is probably why he was such a popular character.

  9. I remember party lines. We had two old biddies on ours that never got off the phone. I used to eavesdrop on them.....

    Life was simpler then. No computers, internet, cell phones, social media, fax machines, only three television channels.....

  10. Party lines. My relatives in rural Alberta had them. My one aunt and uncle and my other aunt and uncle just down the road were on the same line. One aunt was quite nosy and was known for listening in on other's phone conversations. It is almost impossible to explain what a party line was to someone these days.

  11. Nice memories! I like that aspect of Facebook, finding an old friend etc. The rest, I also stay out for the most part.

  12. Harry...I think nearly every party line had someone who liked to hog the lines. Ours had a teenage boy with a girlfriend in town. He could spend a lot of time whispering sweet nothings in her ear. I remember more than once my Dad picking up the phone and telling the boy, "Kiss her goodbye. I need to make a call."

    Life really was simpler then. People actually had face to face conversations. I guess there is something to be said for modern electronics, though. Without them I wouldn't have contact with all the good folks I have met through this little blog. But I admit sometimes I long for those simple times.

  13. BW...I had an aunt who knew what her neighbors were doing all the time. I'm pretty sure she got her information by listening in on the party line. You are spot on about trying to explain a party line these days. I suppose if someone had told my 1960's self about laptops and Skype and Tweets, I wouldn't have believed them either. :)

  14. Jenn...It is funny how being reminded of a time in one's life can lead to all sorts of related memories. Might just be my age. The older I get, the more I find myself on Memory Lane. Facebook - I just don't have the patience for "Type yes if you agree" or "Share this with everyone." I stay away from the political stuff and the games. My family uses the messaging, usually if we are planning a get-together..."where, when and what should I bring." Mostly I just keep track of kids and grands. I will own up to going on an occasional rant on this blog, though. Not often unless something really ticks me off. :)

  15. Ah the TV of old. Metro stations, 2 PBS, 4 CBS, 5 ABC, 9 Indy, 11 NBC, all programs off the air at midnight. Do you remember "Lunch With Casey Jones, Or Clancy and Willy, or Carmen the Nurse. I was on Clancy with my Cub Scout troop. Ah the memories of by gone days. The best radio station was 8-3-0 WCCO. Twins Baseball too

  16. Rob...I lived near Willmar then and sometimes the Twin Cities channels came in and sometimes not, depending on the weather. We mostly watched channel 7 from Alexandria. I remember the midnight ending of programming. The National Anthem was played then and again in the morning. I remember Casey Jones and Carmen, and also Howdy Doody and Kukla, Fran and Ollie. Geez, I'm old!! Mostly listened to the radio - the weekly serials where the hero always got himself into a bad situation and then we had to wait a week to find out what happened. Got a transistor pocket radio in my teens and much to my parent's chagrin, played a lot of Rock and Roll. Ah, the memories. :)

  17. Mu4-3067. Still remember that phone number from when I was a kid. And we were the third ring on the party line. We were lucky, my Dad built a TV from a kit in the late 40's or early 50's. Tom Corbett and the Space Cadets was a favorite back then. Remember those black and white cartoons of the mice with big feet and oh!, you must remember the Toonerville Trolley cartoons! Good, innocent times back then when we could ride our bikes all day long (without a helmet) and explore! And who could ever forget 'penny' candy, BB guns, slingshots and pea shooters??? :o)

  18. CM...WY5-4357. But I have trouble remembering what I ate for supper last nite. :)
    My grandma had one of those wooden phones that hung on the wall. You turned the crank on the side to get the operator who then placed your call. Her ring was two longs and a short.

    I remember Snagglepuss and Deputy Dawg and my favorite, Rocky and Bullwinkle. Especially the Fractured Fairy Tales segment. Found some Bullwinkle cartoons on Youtube not long ago. Sat here giggling like a schoolgirl.

    Our friends would have laughed us out of town had we shown up with a helmet to ride a bike. Do you remember that nearly every kid had a rollerskate key hanging around their neck on a string? And hopscotch squares drawn on the sidewalk with chalk. And playing Jacks on the sidewalk. Good times. :)

  19. And kick the can down at the elementary school with no adults to 'supervise'.
    Oh, and I was just a bit of a tom boy- tonka trucks and barbies easily mixed. And in love with Westerns and guns. Well, my dad got tired of buying toy plastic guns that would break quickly. So he went and bought an old M16, took out the trigger mechanism and I gladly carried that around the neighborhood. Can you imagine that scenario today?
    SJ in Vancouver BC

  20. SJ...How about all the games played in the summertime after dark. Or just the freedom of roaming the neighborhood unsupervised. My grands will likely never know how that feels.

    I love the M16 thing. If a kid did that today, the police would be called, the parents in the neighborhood would all have a case of the vapors and your parents would likely have to explain to a social worker or judge why their daughter was running around with one of those horrible " assault rifles." I found myself in the middle of many a squirt gun battle and these days that would be frowned upon as well. Oh for the days when "freedom" meant something.