The Summer of 1964
There was a clothesline in our yard where mom hung freshly laundered clothes. I loved standing between the damp sheets on the line as the wind blew them dry feeling that fresh laundry moistness on my sweaty skin. Everything in the world was green and alive, and nothing seemed impossible. Looking back on it now, I realize that summer was the direct result of some heavenly blueprint. God's loving smile and gentle breath brought the summer clover, the blue skies, the birds, the buzzing insects and the heat that kept the days, and myself, forever young.
The summer of 1964 wouldn't mean anything without Dusty Springfield's hit song Wishin' & Hopin'. Dairy Queen was new to the neighborhood that year, and to this day, whenever I hear "Wishin' & Hopin'" I think of Dairy Queen sundaes and Cherry Dilly Bars. We lived in a house directly behind Samuel K. Barlow Elementary School.
That was the summer that I first discovered plastic monster figures. They only cost a dime each, and were amazing. I bought as many of them as were available at our local Newberry's store at Eastport Plaza. Our house had three different fruit trees, apple, pear and plum, and was slightly girdled by a cyclone fence. I walked down to our local Food Fair store and bought a really cool set of plastic circus toys. They really had me spellbound, and I can still see myself sitting out there on the giant playfield behind Barlow school, playing with them.
During the springtime I could walk to the fenceline of the school property looking North, and watch the construction of Powell Park. Once the Powell Park construction was complete, and there was a new golf range, go kart track and Dairy Queen, the whole neighborhood seemed to be poppin'.
Among the other cool spots were the McDonald's just off S.E. 92nd and Powell, and a bit farther over on 82nd and Holgate, Dickie's Drive-In. Dickey's was where summer nights were alive and well. I recall one evening when they had a big promotion with a Paul Revere & The Raiders imitator band playing on the roof!. You could get a hamburger, fries, and drink for only 19 cents. All the muscle cars and vintage 50's rods were jammed into the parking lot, and the whole event was like a massive celebration. Guys were out, girls were out, and for us kids, we watched them, envying how cool they were, and the fact that they had their own cars to cruise in. Dickie's Drive-In remained my favorite hamburger place for years. As far as food went, I preferred Artic Circle to anybody else, but Dickie's had pure atmosphere and the memories were great even up until the 70's. The hamburger joints were fun and popular places to hang out at, but Dickie's was the most fun.
Dairy Queen became another summertime hot spot since they served soft ice cream. They served food too, but they were well known for their ice cream. There were almost always crowds at DQ, and it wasn't unusual to wait in line. One hot evening when my family was spread out on the lawn on a blanket, we made a Dairy Queen run for Banana Splits. That was the first time I'd ever had one.
Spending hot evenings outside on a blanket, or a cool porch, was one of the greatest things to do. Conversations seemed so elevated and far more stimulating in a relaxed setting. We weren't the only ones to do this. People were out when it was hot; our yards were social hubs. Bouncing back and forth from yard to yard was something that everybody looked forward to. This was a time when it was actually fun to spend time with your neighbors. Somebody always had something a lot more interesting to say than what could be heard on television.
My Life Without James Bond
There were many great movies out in the theaters or playing at drive-ins, but in the summer of '64, I barely had the opportunity to go see them. We didn't have a car, and for a time, most of our neighbors didn't go either, so I had to worship these movies from the allure of newspaper ads only.
Even if I'd had the opportunity, I was NOT allowed to go and see any James Bond. movies. It was all the Bond girls in lingerie that told my mom that I shouldn't be seeing these movies, therefore, I've never seen a Bond movie in a theater. I always felt that it was unfair, and I really wanted to see James Bond on the big screen. I just knew that there was so much secret agent action happening that I knew nothing about. Even the theme songs that played on the radio were enticing and only made me want to see Bond movies all the more. "Thunderball" sung by Tom Jones turned out to be one of my favorite songs. So, thanks to James Bond's advertising, his films were no dice for me.
A Hot Day's Night
By the summer of 1964 The Beatles had literally exploded in America, and their music could be heard on radios through open windows, cars passing by, or on small record players. The excitement of their album "A Hard Day's Night" is hard to describe, yet the songs on the album were like a long playing hit parade, each song seemingly better than the one that came before it.
"A Hard Day's Night" is a strong part of my memories of that summer, and our local radio station KISN was faithful in playing Beatles songs. That same evening that we were out on the blanket eating banana splits from Dairy Queen, KISN played The Beatles' "You Can't Do That" and all the kids and younger adults were simply thrilled by it. While older people shook their heads in bewilderment as to what we saw in them, we just enjoyed turning up the radio to play it louder.
Earth Vs. The Golf Balls
This is perhaps one of the strangest stories of my growing up, but, also one of the most delightful. A local entrepreneur opened up the first mini-fun center in our neighborhood. The Powell Park Driving Range, Go-Kart Track and Dairy Queen soon came to SE Powell neighborhood. The driving range's nets couldn't contain most of the balls. Therefore, the golf balls were launched into space by the powerful swings of anyone who had 75 cents for a "bucket of balls". They traveled upwards at light speed, flew over the nets with such ferocity, yet descended to the ground without just the slightest thud.
Hundreds of golf balls were found spotting the green pastures of backyards and on the yellowed grass of the Barlow School softball field. Naturally, these missing balls were of great concern for the owner of the driving range. He was losing hundreds of them a day. The only option: close down the range and build newer, taller nets, or hire local bounty hunters. The secondary option seemed to be the most economically efficient, and he did just that; he put a bounty on returned golf balls.
During the first week of operation, the man made the local kids an interesting offer: for every 3 golf balls that were returned, that person would receive a free Go-Kart ride. Needless to say, the Go-Karts were unlike anything we had ever seen before, and we were prepared to do just about anything for a ride. The Go-Karts became the local obsession; they were loud, fast, and steered around labyrinthine race tracks lined with tires.
The Go-Karts had a fifty-cent admission, far more than most of the kids on the block carried. Fifty cents bought two comic books, pop, and a dump truck load of penny candy. Fifty cents was half a monster model; a bag of army men; a movie admission, or several trips to McDonald's. To toss the whole five dimes on a two-minute Go-Kart ride was just plain reckless. Therefore, the new "deal" was by far the greatest thing that could ever happen in our little corner of the universe.
Soon the school grounds were filled with kids armed with baseball mitts. Like soldiers lying in wait for an enemy assault, we took our positions. The center of the ball field was the most ideal of all. I too took my place out in the field waiting for fly balls. I only caught a few, others caught many. Then something miraculous happened. A new discovery! Blame in on wind currents, aerodynamics, earth forces, or the luck of the Irish, but a fortune in golf balls landed in our backyard. They were everywhere, and nobody knew about them yet. I went out and scooped up perhaps a hundred balls and placed them in a box for safe keeping.
My sudden windfall then took a darker turn. It didn't take long for the golf balls to start hitting our house. My brother Pat was struck on the wrist by one while playing in the back yard. It was at that point that my mom took serious action. In order to avoid a lawsuit, the owner came to our house to strike a deal. Instead of 3 golf balls, it only took one to get the same deal everyone else got. Upping the ante a bit, he offered that each ball golf ball was also worth a nickel at the Dairy Queen.
Soon after that, newer, higher nets were being built. Naturally, a panic spread among the local kids; a valuable neighborhood resource was running out! The golf balls would eventually be gone. Greed and Golf Ball Fever set in. Kids were scaling our fence to get the balls in our yard. Our collie Bonnie usually scared them off, but other security measures became a necessity.
My brother Mike, who was in high school, had a good friend named Harold. Harold was tall; perhaps six feet or more, played football, and agreed to work security in our yard for some of the profits. The best part of all was that Harold was black, and hid in the shadows of our house. When kids scaled the fence at night, he rose up from the dark yelling at the top of his lungs "What are doing out here?!" It was hilariously comic to watch from a distance.
Until the great golf ball fever came to its sad demise, I was literally living in a Garden of Eden. I could buy soft ice cream cones at Dairy Queen using golf balls for money. We kept all of the balls we found in a large wooden box. When I asked if I could get an ice cream cone, my mom would reply: "go ahead and take one ball." Dairy Queen offered several sizes of cones at the time. Plus, you could choose from plain vanilla, or chocolate, cherry, or butterscotch dipped! The most incredible of all was the giant twenty-five cent cone. This thing was a monster! My mom would never let me get one of those.
I was practically drooling over the idea of a 25 cent chocolate dipped cone. So, one day on my way to DQ, I had my usual "one" golf ball for a nickel-size cone. Nearly hidden in the blackberry bushes halfway down the hill were two white objects! I then found a 10 cent pop bottle in the dirt which I cashed in at Food Fair. I finally got my 25 cent chocolate dipped cone at Dairy Queen. It proceeded to melt all over me halfway home due to the heat of the day.
And so it eventually ended that summer, the great epic that so forever changed our city. The invasion of man vs. commerce, of nets vs. go-karts, of earth vs. the golf balls was alas no more. Newer, higher nets were built that caught the high flying balls. All that remained was the scarred battlefield.