By Tim “Shoe” Sullivan
I wish we could bring back 1960. Seriously — 1960 to a 12-year-old kid in Stevens Point, Wisconsin was cool, daddy-o, as Maynard G. Krebs used to say. Everything was peaceful. Vietnam was just a tiny little country about a million miles away. Nobody even heard of it.
1960 was just a great year to be a kid. How so? Well, Helen Schmidt, the nice neighbor lady next door, would bake her cookies every Saturday morning. The smell of fresh cookies was awesome. If you knocked on her back door and asked politely, you’d end up with some. And nobody ever locked their doors. No reason to.
There were plenty of fun things for kids to do. You could make $3 a week on your paper route. Honestly, I don’t even know if kids even HAVE paper routes anymore. You would get your newspapers, roll them up, stick them in your bag, hop on your Schwinn bike, and throw them at people’s front doors. And once a week you would walk into the people’s front porches and collect the money which would always be in the same place.
And every Saturday afternoon, you would take the $3 and spend some of it bowling at Wanta’s Bowling Lanes. And you would write down your scores on actual score sheets. If you had any dough left, you might spend it on a movie and Jujubes at the Fox Theatre.
Occasionally the Lyric, but usually the Fox cuz that was thee place to go. You could make money other ways, too. If you wanted two cents, all you had to do was take an empty pop bottle to Northside IGA. Or you could fill a little booklet with S&H “green stamps” and get $3. I still think licking all those stamps got you a little high.
By the way, if you wanted to mail a letter, the stamp cost about four cents. In the winter, a blizzard was welcome. You could take your trusty snow shovel and shovel folk’s sidewalks for a buck. Harold Frost once gave me $5 to do his driveway and I was on Cloud Nine!
Kids made their own fun. You could go to the library and take out a book, but if you were late in returning it, they socked you with a dime fine. That was one less dime you had to help fill your blue booklet by dates. I filled an entire booklet and blew all the dimes on pinball machines up north.
(Pause for a brief cry here). Trick or treating was always profitable. Especially at a corner house a few blocks away. You would knock on the door and a lady would smile and give you a full unopened bottle of Coca-Cola! That was like gold. Then you’d rush home and change into something else and go back for another one.
Nobody had cell phones, smart phones, computers, or played video games. If you wanted to talk to somebody, you used a real telephone. You picked up the phone and a lady on the other end would say “Number please?” Then you told her a number. One time, for the absolute hell of it, I called California and tried to get Bob Hope on the line.
After my parents got the phone bill, that ended my long-distance calls to California. A phone book was a big deal. I spent an hour looking up my buddy Roger Shibilski’s phone number once. Nobody told me it was spelled “Przybylski”. Sheesh. And pay phones were everywhere. Try finding one now.
There were always plenty of neighborhood kids ready to do stuff. One big thing was “sleepovers”. Your buddy would set up a tent in the backyard and you’d get to sleep in it. Your pals would run around shooting off firecrackers (not me, of course), and on occasion they might even swing by the A&P and permanently “borrow” one of the watermelons they always left outside. (Again, not me.)
And some of the lucky kids had tree-houses which they would hide in during peashooter fights. Another fun thing was pulling off the “hidden rope trick”. You’d have two guys on one corner and two kids on the opposite corner. When a car was coming down the road, you all would suddenly pretend like you were pulling on a rope and more often than not the car would come to a screeching halt. Then you’d hightail it out of there.
That was great fun until my buddies (not me) tried it on a car loaded with guys way older than us and they weren’t too thrilled with the rope trick and we’ll leave it at that.
And then there was the “camp”. Right in between our house and our neighbor Rossier’s house was an small area called “the camp”. Some rocks, bushes, a few trees. Nobody seemed to ever go in there. But I did. Once. I took my small bow and arrows with the suction cups on the end. Play arrows. Walked into the camp and saw two bees flying around. Took careful aim and zapped one of them. Was really feeling great until the other one stung me. That really sucked. (In Dan Houlihan’s Journalism class at UWSP, I wrote a paper about that incident. The title: “Two Bees Or Not Two Bees … That Was The Question”.}
In 1960, you could walk downtown and buy a “45” record to play on your little record player. Elvis, Dion, The Four Seasons, The Beatles, etc. You could even buy albums. There was no rap. You could take your cane pole and some worms and go fishing on the river for bullheads or northerns or catch carp off the Clark Street bridge.
You could go to a Little League park like Korfmann or Mead and watch great players like Jimmy Jamrosz, Jim Bourn, Gil Sether, Wayne Jinske, and Jim Menzel. Sports played a big part of our lives in 1960. On that amazing new thing called television, we watched Bill Mazeroski and the Pirates beat the Yankees in the ‘60 World Series. In black and white, you could see Bill Russell of the Celtics going up against Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain.
Or you could see the Green Bay Packers under that new guy Lombardi. Or catch the Milwaukee Braves with Aaron, Mathews, Spahn, Adcock, Logan, and Burdette on the radio. Then you could go outside and ride around on your bike after you put your baseball cards in the spokes. And there was a softball game going on right across the street almost every summer day. And pickup football games in the streets and parking lots.
And outdoor basketball games at Lincoln School. A great court. Tons of games at Lincoln. For variety, one could play hide and seek, but I stopped cuz nobody ever went looking for me.
Good Lord, 1960 was something else. We would watch “Lassie” and have chicken noodle soup every Sunday. Loved the stuff. Nobody ever heard of sodium. And sandwiches all the time. Another thing that tasted really good was kinda new. Pizza. Barb Bentzen swears there was a grocery store called Feltz’s Grocery. Maybe they sold pizza.
And your parents would take you to the Antlers or Country Spa or Sadie & Jerry’s for delicious dinners. And you could never walk into a bar or bowling alley without smelling cigar smoke. I kinda miss that. Yeah, I’d love to see 1960 again. Kennedy beating Nixon. Lots of things to do in the neighborhood.
Man, sure wish I had all those dimes I blew in the pinball machines. Could’ve bought a yo-yo, bowling ball, and some chicken from the A&W.