Downtown Wichita Falls, Texas, in the mid 1940’s was a bustling metropolis for a boy of 7 just away from the farm and ranch community where he was born. My father, a cook and cowboy by trade, had just started as one of the first cooks for the Casa Manana restaurant in 1947. He moved us to an apartment on Ohio Street, right across from the Gem Theater, between 7th and 8th Streets. It’s here that we would stay for the next three years. The Gem Theater became a magic palace for a young mind. But it had to share that distinction with the rest of the magic that was Wichita Falls. I attended San Jacinto and Carrigan elementary schools, as well as Reagan Junior High, and belonged to the Boys Club on 6th Street. Please join, and share your stories and pictures through a Guest Blog, of early Wichita Falls - or your home town. Contact me at or leave a comment. We could use old pictures of movie houses, drive-in theaters, and other nostalgic pictures related to our youths.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Calvin's Beanie Cap

Calvin's Beanie Cap

            As we reach our so-called Golden Years, some of the simplest things can often bring back memories of our childhood; perhaps our inner child is just waiting beneath the cloudiness of our minds to come forth again, to relive a past still grieved for. The glory days of our youth.
            I experienced such a phenomenon a few years ago while reading the current story line of my favorite comic strip by Bill Watterson. For those that may not be familiar with Calvin And Hobbs, it was about a young boy and his imaginary friend, a stuffed tiger. Every mother would have recognized something in Calvin that reminded them of their own son, or perhaps a daughter. For the comic strip boy was a little of all of us.
            In this particular story line, Calvin has found an ad on the back of a comic book for a beanie cap, one of those ball caps with a propeller on top that would whirl in the wind as he ran. He sends off for this special cap, and now must wait for several weeks for it to come in. The story follows Calvin for the next several weeks, as he anxiously thinks about this special toy he has ordered.
            Whether Watterson intended it or not, the strip jarred a lot of memories. I know it did mine. I was ten years old again, and living across from the Memorial Auditorium in Wichita Falls. My older sister had just married, and her husband got me a job as pin boy at a Bowling Alley. Back then, they used small boys to set up the pins between the bowlers' turns because we were fast and could easily get into the pit. If I remember correctly, a little light would flash when our lane was to be set up, and we would drop into the pit, set the pins in place, then get out again before the next ball was thrown. At least that was the way it was supposed to happen. I worked as pin boy for a several weeks, until one night a drunk clobbered me with a bowling ball while I was still setting up pins. After tangling with that bowling ball, I quit. Remember, I was only ten years old. If that happened today, parents would be millionaires after the lawsuit.
Back then I was probably paid twenty-five cents a night. Or at the most, fifty cents a night. But it gave me some spending money. And this is where my beanie cap comes in. Well, it wasn't really a beanie cap, but the principle is the same. At the time, my favorite radio drama was a program called Straight Arrow, about a white cowboy in the West that dressed up like an Indian to fight outlaws. When Straight Arrow was needed, the cowboy would head off to a cave, where his Indian pony and outfit were hidden. When he rode out of the cave, he was no longer the white man, but an Indian. Remember the Lone Ranger always used silver bullets? Well, our Indian hero used arrows with golden tips!
Our main family entertainment at the time was radio. I remember listening to such great programs as Bobby Benson and The B-Bar-B, The Shadow, Lineup, Gunsmoke, and so many others. There was also a Straight Arrow (or was it Golden Arrow?) comic book, and one day I found an ad on the back of an issue; for twenty-five cents and fifty Popsicle wrappers, I could have my very own Straight Arrow bracelet with a hidden compartment! I asked all my friends to save their Popsicle wrappers for me, and when I had enough, I mailed them off with a quarter. For the next few weeks, I anxiously awaited my golden bracelet with the hidden compartment.
My excitement rivaled that of Calvin's when the package finally arrived, and I tore open the wrapping to find the cheap gold colored bracelet inside, and opened the secret compartment to find - a golden arrowhead! Well, it too was a cheap toy, but I was thrilled. I wore the bracelet until it was lost or stolen by another boy. Like Calvin, it probably didn't last me more than a couple of weeks.

I would fall for these gimmicks two more times. When my parents lost the small trailer house, we moved to Broad Street, between 3rd and 4th Streets, a half block from San Jacinto School, and behind the Boys Club. I was now eleven years old, and my remaining sister married and moved away, leaving me the only child left at home. Plus, I now had a room to myself, and a friend gave me a little plastic radio to listen to the many programs for entertainment. My next experience with mail order came when I found an ad on back of another comic book for walkie-talkies. My buddies and I were using tin cans with a string tied between them to talk to each other. But the picture on the comic book made these items look like the real things. So off goes my twenty-five cents. Sadly, a few weeks later, I received two tiny, plastic toys that were supposed to be walkie-talkies - attached to a thin string!
I should have learned my lesson with the second order, but youth is forever optimistic, and once again I was bitten by an ad on the back of a comic book. This time, no kid in their right mind could pass up this opportunity! For twenty-five cents, I could send off for a miniature spaceport that glowed in the dark. Oh, be still beating heart. The whole back cover of that comic book was devoted to the spaceport, and all the pieces I was going to get for my quarter. It didn't take me but a minute to fill out the order form and put it in an envelope. Oh, I waited and watched for the mail every day, until it finally came. But the package was so tiny, how could the spaceport fit in such a small box? Tearing into the wrapper, I found the little box with miniature objects that passed for rocket ships and launchers, and all the other stuff that a spaceport needed. I was heartbroken, but there was still hope. Tonight, with darkness, I could turn my lights out, shut the door, and surely the spaceport would light up my room, and I could see those tiny rocket ships. That night, the disappointment was complete when the spaceport barely made as much light as the hands and numbers on a wristwatch.
  That was the last time I ever ordered something from the back of a comic book. But I shouldn't be too critical. The items offered on the back of comic books were either for a dime or twenty-five cents. If I had kept those little toys, they would be worth hundreds of dollars now. Antique dealers and collectors sell these items for lots of money today. Even the comic books I ordered them from are worth a small fortune! Today I still listen to old time radio. Here is my favorite Internet station The programs are repeated three times a day, so I can pick the time to listen to my favorites.
Calvin, like Peter Pan, will never grow old. And as a little boy I never wanted to grow up. When I look back on the days of my youth, the little boy within me smiles, and I wonder if I ever did …

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