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A Hundred Year Story, Part 24

By Elton Camp One of the radio programs that I especially liked in my younger childhood was Big John and Sparky. Big John was a man and Sparky seemed to be a boy, but with a squeaky voice that sounded more like some type of fantasy creature. It was never explained. The two (actually one man doing both voices as I learned decades later) talked back and forth after the introductory song, “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.” The delightful child’s song went like this: If you go out in the woods today You’re sure of a big surprise. If you go out in the woods today, you’d better go in disguise. For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain because today’s the day the teddy bears have their picnic. Picnic time for teddy bears, the little teddy bears are having a lovely time today. Watch them, catch them unawares and see them picnic on their holiday. See them gaily dance about. They love to play and shout. And never have any cares. At six o’clock their mommies and daddies will take them home to bed because they’re tired little teddy bears. If you go out in the woods today, you’d better not go alone. It’s lovely out in the woods today but safer to stay at home. For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain because today’s the day the teddy bears have their picnic. Every teddy bear that’s been good is due of a treat today. There’s lots of wonderful things to eat and wonderful games to play. Beneath the trees, where nobody sees, they’ll hide and seek as long as they please. Today’s the day the teddy bears have their picnic. Each Saturday Big John and Sparky announced that children were having birthdays, but only rarely mentioned a name and then with a disclaimer that it wasn’t normally done. I assumed those few were children who were in imminent danger of death. Then they played a song that went like this: Today is a birthday I wonder for whom. I know it’s for someone who’s right in this room. So look all around you for somebody who is smiling and happy. My goodness, it’s you! Happy birthday friends, from all of us to you. Happy birthday friends from mommy and daddy too. We congratulate you and pray good luck follows through. Happy birthday friends. May all of your good dreams come true. 1

The only other radio program that I liked was Captain Video, which later moved to television. It was exciting and I eagerly looked forward to it each Saturday. I can’t recall any of the story lines, probably because the far more dramatic television version has wiped them from memory. It was from the TV Captain Video that I first learned about hyper light travel (called “high lin”), space helmets, and force fields. His space ship was called the “Galaxy.” It landed on planets, tail downward in an exciting blaze of fire. Of course, it reversed the process on takeoff. Wimpy transporters hadn’t yet been imagined. The crew was only two–Captain Video himself and Ranger, his young assistant. Ranger was only several years older than I, so I identified with him. The program didn’t try to stick to reality as to the size of the Milky Way. Both Captain Video and aliens regularly and quickly traveled among galaxies.

Ranger & Captain Video

The Galaxy

The films for the entire set of science fiction episodes were later destroyed to obtain their silver content. The only survivors are scattered episodes of the very earliest years when it was cheaply made and silly, not a serious science fiction show. When it abruptly vanished, without warning or explanation, I was terribly disappointed. For weeks, I tuned in at the regular time with the hope that it would somehow reappear. Because they were the only ones available at home, my favorite light fiction books were the Nancy Drew series. My cousin, Nancy Camp, occasionally brought me her copies as she finished with them. The first one I recall reading was The Mystery of Red Gate Farm. I was carried away with the robed characters with their hideout in a cave. Because I liked them so well, I did something unusual for me. I asked my parents if I could buy some more of the series, but was told that I couldn’t. The handful of times I directly asked for something, the requests were routinely refused. I was disappointed, but didn’t ask again and made do with discards from my cousin. I didn’t know about the Hardy Boys books. They were the equivalent of the girls’ books and would’ve been a far better choice for me. If I’d been aware of them, I doubt that I would’ve been allowed to get any. Thanks to Maria, I’ve read a number of that series in my late sixties. They’re predictable, but I actually enjoy them even now. I hope

it’s not a manifestation of beginning to enter my “second childhood.” I think of Shakespeare’s observation “A man is twice a child” and hope it doesn’t yet apply to me. Apart from that, my all-time favorite childhood fiction book was The Riddle of the Hidden Pesos. It’s about a group of teenage boys who went on a road trip to Mexico in a convertible. Unknown to them, fake money had been concealed inside the upholstery. I got it from the Guntersville library and checked it out periodically to read again and again. In my imagination I can still see its blue cover and bold title letters. I wish I had a copy of it even now. The author is Roger Baxter, but he wrote also under the pseudonyms Martin Colt and Charles Strong. I’ve searched the Internet, but without success. As to comic books, Batman and Robin were my favorite since I could identify with Robin at that age. Of all the superheroes, they were the only ones that could possibly be true. What they did was based on science rather than supernatural powers or being from some other planet.

Batman and Robin

Superboy

I liked Superman to some extent except when kryptonite was involved. He wasn’t supposed to be vulnerable. The Superboy series appealed to me more than Superman since I could identify with the young Clark Kent at my age. Donald Duck was good, especially when Scrooge McDuck was featured. His money vault in which he swam in money was a fantastic concept. I still remember some of the story lines. Occasionally appearing was Lucky Gander, a cousin of Donald, who was always winning prizes, but I’ve not seen anything about him since.

Uncle Scrooge & Donald on a Boat in a Sea of Money

Mickey Mouse was far down the list of comics I found interesting. I preferred issues that also featured his pal, Goofy. At that time comic books were costly at ten cents each so I was selective. As to songs that I liked as a child, I’m vague since I heard the same songs at various points in my life, partly because my father sang them around home. Songs that I recall from my teenage years include Hey There, Secret Love, Slowpoke, Wake Up Little Suzie and Moonlight Gambler (my favorite song at the time). (TO BE CONTINUED.)

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