My Worst Christmas: 1961

My History
By Don Taylor

I’ve seen several blog posts from folks about their best Christmas family experiences. So, I thought that I’d go against the grain and write about my worst Christmas. It was 1961.

It had the potential of being the best Christmas ever. My mother married Budgar on December 8, 1961, and the two returned from a short honeymoon on December 10th. For Christmas, we were going to have a family get together. Budgar’s daughters, my new stepsisters, were coming and my grandmother was cooking a turkey with the fixings. Eleven-year-old me, had a hard time waiting until my stepsisters got to our house, but we waited so we could open presents together.

We opened our gifts and everyone was pleased. I’m not sure I remember exactly what my big present was. It might have been a “Paladin gun with holster,” maybe it was a toy “Rifleman cap gun,” I’m not sure which year I received which. I’m sure though I received new army men to play with; I received army men every year for several years. My stepsisters, ages 11 and 10, were especially excited about their new Barbie dolls and a Barbie game – The Barbie Game: Queen of the Prom – “A fun game with real-life appeal for all girls.”

After a short while, my stepsisters wanted me to play their new game with them. I said, “No.” I was 11 and enjoyed playing with my toys by myself, as I had done in previous years. Besides, I wasn’t about to play a “girlie game.” They insisted and then whined to their father, Budgar, that I needed to play with them because the game “wasn’t any good for just two.” They needed at least three players. So, Budgar took me away from my new toys and made me play the Barbie Game with his daughters. I was mortified.

Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and my grandmother’s cake put me in a better mood later that afternoon. She was an excellent cook and an amazing baker.

 

 

Memories – My First Pet

Memories – My First Pet – Ginger?
Me playing with Ginger
Christmas Morning c. 1958
I was recently asked about my first pet. I thought immediately about “Ginger,” a ginger colored cat we had back in the late 1950s. Not only did Ginger love to play, but she liked to “hang out.” She was a great cat. I knew that I had a couple photos of her so I decided to find them. When I found photos of Ginger I realized a previous blog I wrote was wrong. When I wrote about my first television a couple weeks ago I completely forgot about having a television while we lived in Fridley. There, in the background of me playing with Ginger, was a television. Oh my. 
Ginger “hanging out” in my
tent. c. 1960
I then thought about memories and how we often need triggers to recall them. Because of that photo with Ginger, I knew that we had a television years earlier than I had recalled before. I don’t recall watching it, but now I know we had one. That makes me wonder about what was my first pet. I know about and remember Ginger because I have photos of her and me together. I remember that Christmas and her being totally freaked out by the electric train set I received that year. However, I believe that I remember Ginger, that Christmas, and the train set because I have reinforced that memory through seeing these photos over the years. So, was Ginger really my first pet, or did I have pets before her that I don’t remember because we don’t have any photos? Certainly, it is possible.
Donna with “Wolf” & a cat, c. 1951
I have a photo of my grandmother with a dog, Wolf, and a cat. It is from about 1951. My grandmother lived with us then so we must have had pets then. I just don’t recall either of them. The photo makes me wonder just how long we had Wolf and that cat. Were they replaced when I was a child and I just don’t recall them because we don’t have any photos of them? Maybe, maybe not, I just don’t know because I don’t have the photos to trigger those memories.
I guess the take away from this is that there is a need to take photos of family members, particularly young ones, with their pets. Those photos may be the basis for warm memories for their entire lives. Memories like my playing with Ginger on Christmas morning or memories of Ginger hanging out in my tent.

Pets of my Family

Aunt Barbara says: I grew up in the Chicago Julia Lathrop housing project and pets weren’t allowed…ha..ha..ha..I had a pet it was a little turtle I called him Turtle. He would get loose every so often and be gone for days

My niece Kerresa: Oh so many pets I guess the first pet of mine would be Dee Dee the extra furry pony when I was around five. I don’t remember how it got named Dee Dee maybe because she/he walked soooo slow. But my mom and aunt have always been into horses so naturally I loved it.

My sister-in-law Libby: Growing up we had a family cat named Meow Pinkel Purr. [The name] came from a book of poems [which included “Pinkle Purr” by A. A. Milne.] The first line was, “Tattoo was the mother of Pinkel Purr.”

My sister-in-law Liz: The family has always had either a couple of cats or a dog. Sunbug and George were the cats I grew up with and Tesha was our dog, My own cat wasn’t until I got Casey for Christmas when I was living in the Brookside building in the 90s. That cat went everywhere around the old Down East building with me.

My great niece Maggie: The first pet that I remember was a cockatiel named Amadeus. I was 6 or 7, I think (maybe [Libby] can confirm that), living in Indiana. I chose that name because I had recently seen the movie.

Future Actions 
Take lots of photos of family members interacting with their pets and print those photos for permanent use.

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Television in my family

Television in my family

Old Philips television set We did not have a television while I was growing up. I remember listening to the radio a lot when I was young. When I was in the second grade (1957), we lived in upstairs of a bakery in downtown Anoka, Minnesota. Next-door was a bar (beer joint) that had a television. Actually, they had one of the earliest color televisions. I remember my grandmother, Donna, taking me there to watch special events. I specifically remember watching the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Rose Bowl in color there. It was amazing.

We did not have our own television until I was in the fifth grade (about 1960) and were living in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota. It was a black and white TV. I remember watching morning cartoons a lot and my favorite TV show at the time was “Have Gun Will Travel.” At the time, I thought Richard Boone and my grandfather, Dick, look a lot alike. I think they had the same kind of mustache.

In 1961, my mother married Budgar and in 1962 we moved to North Minneapolis (1502 Fremont Ave No.). While there, Budgar purchased a color television. “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” and “Route 66” were my favorite television programs then (although I still loved “Have Gun Will Travel” but it was only in black and white). It was the first television I recall having a remote. I could change channels by clicking my cap gun (with a Paladin holster) – I guess TV remote was ultrasonic and the clicks of my cap gun made the TV change channels.

RCA Indian Head test pattern
RCA Indian Head test pattern

About 1965, we, my mother, younger sister, and I, lived in Detroit for a short time. In Detroit, we had a weird television. Rather than the standard clicking channels, the TV had continuously tuning through the VHS band much like UHF channel selector did in those days. Between channels six and seven there were a multitude of things that could be received. FM radio stations were there along with amateur radio and some, as I recall, police/fire radio communications. It was a cool television and the only one I’ve ever seen with that type of tuner in the VHF band.

Television notes from other family members via Facebook:

My sister Glennis says: “We got our 1st TV when I was 7… an RCA Victor. For many years we only had one channel, our own local channel 4 (then an NBC affiliate.) a second channel came in a few years later when they built a repeater for the Eugene ABC affiliate. Our second TV was also Black and White. We got a Magnavox color TV when I was a senior in high school. By then, we had three channels.”

Aunt Barbara says: “I think we got our first black and white TV in about 1949/1950. It was a gift from my Uncle Bob. We loved it and him too.”

My nephew Luke says, “We had a TV already when I came along. My first memory of television was color, a little 12″ or so screen with green backlit pushbuttons down the side of the screen for channel selection and a roller wheel for volume control. It was undoubtedly a Sony. We had it in Roseburg Oregon and I remember only two channels. My mother (Glennis) had a black and white TV after the divorce, a yellow plastic housed unit with a tiny little knob on the bottom right for on/off and volume control. This was in Eugene, I remember at least three channels.”

Personal Memories – Fifth Grade – Parkview & Spring Lake Park Elementary

Parkview Elementary School, Fridley, Minnesota

Fifth grade was really good for me. We had lived in our tiny house on Second Street in Fridley, Minnesota. I had attended Parkview Elementary School throughout my third and fourth grades. At that point, we, my mother, my grandmother, and I, had lived on Second Street longer than we had ever lived anywhere else. I was glad to have stayed put. I had many friends and I did extremely well in school. My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Peterson, was the most influential teacher I ever had. She got me excited about science, mathematics,

An Inspector Badge for the
Fridley Junior Fire Dept.
Source: eBay.

and learning in general. In her class, I studied and passed my Junior Fridley Fire Department examination with the best grade in the school. Because I was the only student to “ace” the test, I received a gold colored badge with the title “Chief” at the top. The other kids all had silver badges. Hmmm – I wonder what ever happened to that gold Chief badge.

I also didn’t miss a single day of school during my fourth-grade year, so I received an attendance award for that. So, going into fifth grade was exciting, I was sure it was going to be another great year, but first, summer vacation.

Summer Vacation
Mark and Rodney Sabo (?) were my closest friends. They lived six or so houses down from me on Second Street. One summer day Mark, Rodney, and I were “messing around” in an old abandoned house on the block. We knocked down a hornet’s nest and ran as the hornets chased us. (I don’t know, they may have been yellow jackets.) Anyway, Rodney fell as we were running and hornets were all over him. They stung Rodney a couple dozen times and he was swelling up like a balloon. Mark and I got him home and his mom took him to the hospital. He was all right, but we all got into trouble for “messing around” in that old house. I’m pretty sure I heard my grandmother tell me to “wait until my mother gets home. My mother was the disciplinarian in our household and she knew how to use the hairbrush….

Another really good friend in the fifth grade was, Patty Hopkins. She lived on Main Street. Her back door was across a vacant lot from the front door of my house. She and I were kind of nerdy/smart, we just didn’t know it was “nerdy” at the time. We’d studied together, played with the telescope I had gotten, played with a chemistry set, practiced magic tricks, and did other nerdy/geeky things together.

I was also in Little League during the summer between fourth and fifth grades. A teammate, Wally Gregorson (I think), was hit in the face by a baseball. It broke his glasses, which cut his face pretty badly. Glasses were actually made of glass in those days and they weren’t shatterproof. Anyway, blood was everywhere. The next day, his eye was badly bruised, all black and blue, and he had a couple ugly black stitches below his eyebrow and a couple more on his cheekbone, but, he didn’t permanently injure anything. That was my last year in Little League for a number of reasons, but I think Wally’s injury and potential to have lost an eye affected me more than I care to admit. I never did play baseball again. I did play softball years later, when I was in the service (and that’s another story).

Parkview Elementary - Fridley, MN [c. 1957]
Parkview Elementary – Fridley, MN [c. 1957] Photo: Fridley Historical Society via Facebook

Fall arrived and I entered the fifth grade at Parkview Elementary. Mrs. Anderson was my teacher. As I recall, she was young, tall, blond, pretty, and very nice. I think I had a crush on her. She saw a lot of potential in me and encouraged me to excel in school. I received great grades in both academics and citizenship from her. As an example, most of the school patrols were sixth graders, but Mrs. Anderson nominated me to be one of a handful of fifth graders to be on the school patrol. I’d leave class fifteen minutes early, put on my school patrol belt, pick up a stop flag, and hurry off to my designated intersection with another kid. We’d help the younger kids cross the streets safely on their walk home. After the school rush, we’d return our stop flags back to the school, leave our school patrol belts in a locker, and head home.

Don wearing School Patrol Belt
Source: Personal PhotosIn the mornings, I’d usually get to school early, pick up both mine and my compadre’s patrol belts and our stop flags, go back to our designated intersection a good half an hour before school started, and have everything ready when my partner arrived. We’d flag the traffic as the other kids walked to school. It was a great responsibility. I am saddened that today we have adults doing school guard duties and we don’t foster that type of responsibility in our youth as we did in the 1950s and 60s. As I think about it, being a school patrol may have been the start to my being an early morning person. I became used to getting ready for school, leaving early, and always being where I needed to be long before I needed to be.

Our house was about ¾ of a mile from school. I had to cross the very busy University Avenue on my way. I had to walk an extra block to cross at 61st Avenue in order to cross at a signal. Other than waiting for the light to cross University, it was always a nice walk. Of course, the dead of winter was an exception. As I recall, 61st Avenue was one of the few places that had sidewalks in those days, but many folks didn’t shovel them shoveled before we walked to school. I didn’t live in Fridley the entire fifth-grade school year.

Some time in the spring we moved about four miles north to 83rd and Monroe in Spring Lake Park.

Spring Lake Park Elementary (Twin Cities Arsenal)

Highway Expansion Joint
Photo Courtesy US Dept of Transportation



Spring Lake Park didn’t have enough schools in 1961, so we were bussed from Spring Lake Park across Mounds View to the Twin Cities Arsenal (TCA) in Arden Hills. It wasn’t a long bus ride, maybe about 15 minutes down US Highway 10. Sitting in the very back of the bus was the coolest thing. The “ca-thunk, ca-thunk, ca-thunk” from the highway construction expansion joints almost sounded like we were riding on a train. The bus’s shocks were pretty worn so every cement expansion joint on Highway 10 got the bus to bounce. A bunch of us kids would jump up and down in unison with bus’s road bumps. By doing so, we could get the whole back of the bus bouncing and have a pretty fun ride.

The school classrooms were in an old building at the TCA. It is my recollection that the ground-floor windows still had bars on them from when the building was an armory. Years later, I worked at the (then) Honeywell facility on the TCA, called the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP). While working there, I had the opportunity to go to the old school building for training. The Army converted most of the schoolrooms to offices, but many of the old classrooms looked much as they had twenty years earlier.

Steps to a building at the TCAAP 
Photo by Ruin Raider – (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

If school officials had known then what we know now about ammunition-related heavy metals; copper, lead, and mercury, and depleted uranium contaminating the soil at the TCA, they would probably have sent us somewhere else. Anyway, the TCA site was cleaned up in the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s using a lot of EPA Superfund money. The buildings of the old TCA are mostly gone today.

Interestingly enough, Spring Lake Park built Park Terrace Elementary School only two short blocks away from where I lived on Monroe. Had Spring Lake Park built the school ten years earlier, I may have never learned how to play poker. (See my earlier post: Memories – Kid Shows and Poker with Grandma.)

I continued with Spring Lake Park Elementary at the TCA for about half of the sixth grade. My mother married “Budgar” in December 1961, and we moved from the little one-bedroom house on Monroe in Spring Lake Park to a three-bedroom house on Fremont Avenue in North Minneapolis during the winter of 1961-1962. There, my mom and Budgar could have a room, grandma could have a room, and I could have a room of my own. It was the first bedroom that I remember having to myself. In Fridley, my bedroom was a closet and in Spring Lake Park, it was an unheated breezeway.

Fridley Community Center Today
Source: Google Maps
Today, Parkview Elementary is the Fridley Community Center and the building at the TCA that housed the classrooms for Spring Lake Park is gone.

My thanks to Randy Seaver and his blog, “Genea-Musings,” for the suggestion of writing about our fifth grade experiences. I found it fun to remember and reminisce. I haven’t thought Mrs. Peterson and Mrs. Anderson in decades, let alone Mark, Rodney, and Wally.

Memories – Kid Shows and Poker with Grandma.

By Don Taylor

I’ll admit it. I grew up with television.  Every morning it was TV time.  During the summer, and other times when there
wasn’t school, it was TV for lunch (“Lunch with Casey” comes to mind), too. And, of course, after school was filled
with more kid programs.  It was the golden age
of television and kid programs of early 1960s were wonderful. 

House at 8316 Monroe still stands (Modern Picture)
Photo by Don Taylor
Probably my fondest memories of television were when we
lived in Spring Lake Park (A suburb of Minneapolis), Minnesota.  It was a tiny little one-bedroom house, about
780 square feet.  I didn’t have a bedroom;
rather, my bedroom was the “breezeway” between the house and the garage. In the
summer, it was glorious, but in the winter, the unheated room, without
insulation, which had louvered windows was a bit chilly. So, when I’d get up in
the morning it was quick into the main part of the house to warm up.
I was 11 or 12 years old – fifth and sixth grades – when we
lived there. I was an early riser.  Most
of the year, I’d have cold cereal, but in the winter my grandmother (Donna)
would make hot Purina or Cream of Wheat for me. Thinking about, it we were
pretty much a Ralston Purina household. 
We ate Chex, for the most part, when it wasn’t hot cereal. However,
mostly morning was getting ready for school, watching cartoons, and playing poker.
I was usually up by 6:30AM when “Siegfried and his Flying
Saucer” came on WCCO. Siegfried wasn’t really a cartoon; he was a drawing that
was put on screen.  No animation, just a
drawing. My memory is a bit fuzzy about if he even had a voice but his drawing
was better than the test pattern that was there before the show began. On Siegfried’s
there was also “Wallace the Weather Bear.” Wallace was also nothing but a
drawing on the screen, but he provided the expected high and low temperatures
for the day.  I think there were rain and
snow stickers they added to the drawing of Wallace when appropriate.
At 7AM came “Clancy the Cop.”  John Gallos was the host of the show and was just a nice guy.  I recall he was originally a Keystone Cop but metamorphed into “Clancy the Space Cop” and got a more up-to-date uniform. Fitting for the show that followed Siegfried.  In those days, cops were nice and were there to help people much more than to “protect” as they do now-a-days.  Anyway, he had help on the show from a nurse, Carmen the Nurse.
This early morning time was when my grandmother, Donna,
taught me poker.  We had a couple jars of
pennies, one for her and one for me and played penny poker every morning.  She taught me five-card stud, seven-card
stud, and five-card draw.  I think five’
stud was our favorite game. Years later
I was talking with my mother about my learning poker from “Grams” and she didn’t
recall it.  Maybe we didn’t begin until
after she left for work.  I don’t think
it was a secret, I think that it was just the way the morning were and poker
didn’t occur until I was ready to catch the bus to school.

School was a five-mile bus ride to the Twin Cities Army Ammunition
Plant (TCAAP), also known as the Twin Cities Arsenal.  Spring Lake Park didn’t have enough schools to
support the ballooning boomer generation. Rather than building new schools,
they rented some facilities and the Arsenal was one such place.  It was an odd place, even for its time.  I’m sure they couldn’t use such a place today
as, I recall, it still had bars on many of the windows left over from its World
War II factory days. Interestingly enough, I returned twenty-some years later
when I got a government job with the Defense Contract Administration Services
(DCAS) and inspected the Area Denial Anti-personnel Mine (ADAM) bomblets made
there.  Occasionally, I needed to go to
another building at the facility which was same building I went to for
elementary school twenty years earlier. They had taken the bars off the windows
by then.

Life in Spring Lake Park was great. Kid shows morning, noon,
and evening. Axel and his Dog broadcasting from his “tree house” on “Magic
Island” was the highlight of the afternoon. I think my sense of humor from his
closing poems which, continuing in the Robert Louis Stevenson tradition, always
began with:
“Birdie with a yellow bill, hopped upon my window sill,
cocked a shining eye and said:”
and finished with Axle’s punny endings such as:
“What is that in the road – A Head?”   
“What did you do in Saint Louis – Park?
“What did you do with the light bulb, socket? 
It was a memorable time with many pleasant memories.  Nevertheless, I think the fondest
recollection I have of the Spring Lake Park years was learning poker from “Grams.”


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