Friday, July 17, 2015

Old School Crate

"Time's funny. When you're a kid, it passes slowly, and next thing you're fifty and your childhood fits into a rusty little box."—Bretodeau, The Box Man (Amelie)
 "Everything I write comes from my childhood in one way or another. I am forever drawing on the sense of mystery and wonder and possibility that pervaded that time of my life."— Kate DiCamillo

I’ve been asked to contribute to a nostalgia themed blogging project for Man Crates: a company that takes the customarily drab, neck-tie laden practice of gift-giving for men and turns it on its head. Man Crates ships uniquely themed and “brag-worthy” collections of gifts for guys in tightly sealed wooden crates that require a crowbar to open. The crates (fear not) come equipped with a laser-engraved crowbar for the unlocking of treasures. There's a wide range of thematically compiled crates filled with both eclectic and functional gifts to choose from: i.e. the Personalized Whiskey Crate, the Exotic Meats Crate, the Retro Gamer and Super Retro Gamer Crates, the Legends of Baseball Crate and the Zombie Annihilation Crate—to name a few. One of their most popular items is their “Old School Crate” filled with nostalgic items from decades past.

Man Crates: "Have you ever opened a present with a crowbar?"

Man Crates' nostalgia themed, "Old School Crate"
I've been asked to list the essential items that would be in my ideal old school crate (being a female notwithstanding). The idea is to explore and reminisce about the experiences and items that make a generation (or life) meaningful. And that's precisely what this blog is about. I've been writing here for 9 years: it's a place where I can collect memories and explore them at leisure. Being a child of the 70s/80s afforded those in my generation a unique window into the world. We were on the cusp of new technologies and ideologies while lingering in the norms and practices of the 50s and 60s. The world was changing and it was a brightly coloured, kitschy and often a fashion-challenged world, filled with all the beauty and trials of any era. And it was also a glorious time to be a kid.

Back then, we didn't live in a world absorbed with smart phones, internet, social media or digital downloads. People read actual books and newspapers for enlightenment and information. In the pre-blogging era, we had diaries and kept them carefully hidden (usually under our mattresses). To share our private thoughts with anyone let alone the world was inconceivable. We had 8-tracks, record players, cassette recorders and the radio to occupy our time. It was a glorious age of television replete with VCRs and remote controls. It was a time when you could watch a Shuttle launch into space and still find hours of joy in a cardboard box (makeshift spacecrafts, rafts or Gargamel fighting vehicles). The store bought toys were nothing to scoff at either: we were spoiled in terms of the quality and accessibility of children's toys, ephemera, books, films etc.

Categorized below, in no particular order is a long list of items that would be in my ideal crate of nostalgia. Since this is merely an idealized list, I've added extra items to each category. Any combination of items would make an awesome representation of things that mattered in my childhood—and things that still carry great meaning. Since my mother's passing in April, even the simplest bits of 70s/80s pop culture ignites a flurry of memories. My Mum was my world—even a simple board game or storybook reminds me of the love and humor that she guided us through life with.


Cereal: As a kid, I would often carry handfuls of Frosted Flakes cereal in a tissue in my pocket, for whenever I was hungry. I loved it so much that I couldn't believe it actually existed. And when my parents bought those multi-packs of cereal boxes (the mini-sized boxes), I was in heaven. That there were such cereals as Count Chocula, Franken Berry, Boo Berry, Dinky Donuts and Cookie Crisp made me giddy with joy.

I heart the Cereal Box Archive

Sweets and chips rocked my world as a child. I was partial to almost anything but couldn't always partake in their glory—being an asthmatic child came with strict nutritional guidelines. And it hadn't quite dawned on me while growing up that our "times" are even reflected in chocolates and potato chips. It's so easy to overlook how change can be reflected in both the significant and trivial.

Popeye Cigarettes: That spinach eating sailor who only smoked pipes inspired children in a less health-oriented time to indulge in candy cigarettes. Who needed rolled up paper or paper towels (as was customary in my household), when little dreamers, actors, playwrights, goofballs etc. were blessed with the opportunity to fake a "cig" and chew bubblegum all rolled into one—literally. The chalky sticks never lead me to smoke a real cigarette, as the adults had feared. They came equipped with red tips to further the illusion of a lighted cigarette. Sometimes when puffing upon one of these priceless relics the chalky substance from which it was made would release a "smokey" vapor-like effect. And thus, elderly aunties and grannies alike could be fooled if only for a few moments, soap operas could be reenacted, and super heroes and their evil counterparts could meet with a bit more panache. Or so it seemed. And that was the fun of it all.

Chewing Gum: Gum meant so much to me as a kid, I may have actually broke down into tears for the joy of it (and also the compulsion of it). I used to "beg" my mum for a piece of gum and once desperation lead me to peek into her handbag (that holiest of item, that no one  in our home dared touch) and look for a chew or two (three). Freshen-up, Juicy Fruit, Beemans, Mini-chiclets (the kind where you had to pour an entire packet into your mouth simultaneously), Doublemint, Spearmint, Winterfresh, Bubblicious, Big Red, Bazooka Joe, Dentyne and Big League Chew were some of my faves.

Ring Pops: I used to enjoy walking to and from school sucking on a Ring Pop. Back then, the novelty was just so charming, that it never occurred to me that they were more glorified pacifiers than schoolyard bling. I think my Mum warned me off of consuming them, not only for aesthetic reasons but also because she sounded the choking hazard alarm. Such was the vigour in which they were being devoured.

Cinnamon Toothpicks: I don't know what it was about toothpicks dipped in cinnamon oil but I adored them. They seemed like spicy, mystical treats conveniently offered by our friendly corner variety store (next to the bongs). Ah, the late 70s.

Chocolate Bars: There literally are far too many chocolate bars that I indulged in back in the day to list here. So I picked three sentimental faves: Caramilk, Coffee Crisp and 3 Musketeers. They remind me of those days in the early 80s when a treat added to your joy or provided it (a balm for those blasted real life Charlie Brown moments). Mostly, they remind me of my Mum. Every once in awhile she would pick up a Coffee Crisp for me and a Caramilk for my brother as a special treat from the Tuck Shop at the Nursing Home where she worked. She always knew what our favorites were even without asking. Dad would often get us a 3 Musketeers bar on his way home from running an errand or to bribe us into a state of calm (while he snored on the couch, you know dad stuff).

Potato Chips: I'll admit it, "sour cream" chips were a bit of a passion of mine back in the day. The now defunct Hostess brand potato chip made their sour cream chips with those lovely green bits in them and were delicious. I was also partial to their Ketchup and Salt and Vinegar. When I later discovered Marks and Spencer's line of chips, I became fond of both their Beef and Barbecue and Spring Onion "crisps". The sky's the limit.


Cabbage Patch Dolls and Care Bears: The ones that got away. As I wrote previously, I always longed for but could never manage to get my hands on a Cabbage Patch Doll or a Care Bear. Cabbage Patch Dolls were in greater demand in the 80s than Tickle-Me Elmo was in his heyday. Parents had spirited fights trying to obtain them for their kids. Intriguing insanity. Care Bears didn't inspire as much fervor but were just so adorable, plush and cheerful. I watched their cartoons religiously.

Thanks to my BFF Lara for the Care Bear pic!


Sometimes my dolls and action figures had multi-platform, intergalactic adventures across fandoms. Suffice to say Gargamel got his butt kicked on numerous occasions by Luke Skywalker and once Snoopy and Woodstock joined the Rebel Alliance. 

Southern Belle Bradley Doll: My iconic southern belle doll whom I conveniently named  "Belle" was given to me in the early 80s by my Mum's friend La Chance. It seemed to me that "Belle" liked being in the company of gentlemen callers and called folks darlin' while drinking mint juleps. She seemed 50ish and thus, would serve as a mother substitute for my other toys (mainly a crew of smurfs). She inspired many happy moments.


Blueberry Muffin: An independent spirit and my first BFF. I was inspired by the fact that she stood on her own two feet (literally) and was never overshadowed by the popular Miss Shortcake. She was with me through the "mean girl" scourge of elementary school and shucks, we made it through. She smelled heavenly.

Rankin and Bass figurines: An essential for any nostalgic crate (or even a holiday one) is a Rankin and Bass figurine based on the animators' stop-motion classics. The ones pictured below are from my collection and I can tell you have inspired thoughts of larceny by respectable coworkers in their thirties and forties. The figurines should come with some sort of alarm system to ward of potential office burglars. I've said too much.

Barbie Dolls: I enjoyed every minute with my Barbie doll in the late 70s/early 80s. Mum even bought me the requisite changes of clothes, fold out house and inflatable furniture. Since there was no Ken in our home, Barbie dated Luke Skywalker and perhaps a smurf or two. Darth Vader might have also been in the picture (but only once).

Doll House: Speaking of dolls, how I loved the houses they lived in. I had a doll house similar to the one pictured below. It was my most treasured Christmas gift. I literally played with it until it disappeared into that inexplicable dimension where beloved lost toys seemingly go. It came with a Brady Bunch type family: three girls, three boys, two parents and a dog. There were grandparents to boot but alas, no Alice.

The Smurfs: The Smurfs were so deeply woven into my childhood, I'm surprised I didn't turn a shade of blue. When I played with them, I escaped into new worlds. My brother and I even built houses for them out of old cookie and cereal boxes and even with those little green strawberry baskets.

Star Wars Action Figures: During the Star Wars frenzy of the late 70s, my brother received Kenner's C-3PO, Luke Sky Walker and Darth Vader action figures one Christmas morning. His joy was immeasurable. Like kids everywhere, we (for he kindly let me play with his toys) went riot with our imaginations. There were intergalactic adventures to be had and we had plenty of them.



Friendship Pins: These were both a fad and a sign of social status in the early 80s. Girls gave them to their friends as gifts. They were typically fastened to your shoelaces. The more pins you owned, the more friends you had or something like that. I liked them because they looked like candy and were pretty.

Slinky: After being hospitalized for surgery in the late 70s, Mum bought a Slinky each for my brother and I—on her way home. Not only were we excited to see her but had these wonderfully weird things to play with. Incomprehensible, they were a sensory delight.

Rubik's Cube: while the slinky ignited our senses, the Rubik's Cube challenged our cerebral side. Every home had one in the 80s. I could never solve the darn thing but still enjoyed trying.

Play-Doh and Peanuts Jigsaw: One of my earliest Christmas memories is receiving a jar of Play-Doh and a 500-piece Peanuts gang jigsaw puzzle. Play-Doh inspired our inner potter and was another sensory delight: the smell was surreal. Mandatory for every home (in any decade) and an absolute must for a nostalgic crate is a Peanuts jigsaw. I was weaned on the Peanuts, couldn't imagine childhood without them.



McCall's Dress Patterns: McCall's clothing patterns were popular when I was a kid (and still are). Their ads were everywhere. My Mum had a collection of patterns she either bought or saved from the newspaper (the Toronto Star featured them in their Saturday Comics). She made me many beautiful 80s inspired dresses for church or social gatherings. I love how the trends of the day were captured in their sewing patterns.

Flip and Fold Fashions: Created by Tomy, Flip and Fold Fashions was a toy which inspired one's inner fashion designer. It featured a "model" sans clothing affixed to a template. There was a covering lid to the template which enabled a child to weave multi-colored and patterned fabrics in and out of it which lead to the creation of unique fashion ensembles. It came with clip on accessories. I always thought I was fashion challenged as a kid but lo and behold here was a toy that encouraged otherwise.

Socks: I refuse to add leg warmers, clogs or brown corduroys (this goes without saying) to this list—owing to past traumas but I will include my favorite socks. Rainbow striped knee highs were popular with girls in the 70s. I had a pair similar to the one below (except mine had a blue band at the top instead of red) and enjoyed every minute of them.

Goody's Barrettes: They were a part of my daily grooming ritual in elementary school. I had a few dozen packets of these colourful hair accessories—a set to match every conceivable outfit (and I had some doozies). My mother lovingly stored them for me in a blue Danish butter cookie tin which also housed several beautifully patterned pairs of hair ribbons. Hair-wise I was set.

Clairol Herbal Essences: “Like washing your hair everyday in a mountain pool in a Garden of Earthly Delights.” So said the ads: and they were right.  What's a bunch of hair accessories if you don't have nice smelling hair? The 1970s version of this Clairol standby took care of that. It's my all time favourite shampoo.

Timeless: Avon's Timeless talcum powder smelled like heaven incarnate and was my Mum's preferred talc. It was one of the smells of my childhood. The name says it all.



I'm not sure when the sticker obsession began (especially with little girls) but it was a huge fad in the 70s and 80s. I became wholeheartedly consumed. Smelly stickers (Scratch n' Sniff), googly eye stickers, puffy stickers, all colours, shapes, sizes, creatures, characters and symbols. They were like drugs. We just had to have 'em. I had a full fledged photo album house my collection.

Wacky Stickers
Scratch n' Sniff

Googly-eye and Puffy Stickers


Give a child a pen and a piece of paper and you get a magical partnership. You could create worlds with such simplicity. And much like my sticker compulsion, I had a thing also for pens, pencils, crayons, markers (you get the idea) and pretty paper: notebooks, pads and stationery. The stationery fad of the 70s/80s occurred during the sticker craze. Needless to say, those were trying times for some of us (and mainly our parents). And as with most 70s/80s items, these products were colourful and beautiful.

Pencil box: After years of pining, I eventually received a Sanrio pencil box in the fifth grade (different from the one shown below). Anything Hello Kitty or My Melody was okay by me. Clearly I had far too many addictions as a kid.


Stationery: I loved collecting and trading stationery as a kid. My first set was a pretty Holly Hobbie collection. I also had some cute Kermit the Frog stationery as well.

Hilroy Newsprint Notepad for kids: I couldn't find the vintage version of this product but the current one is shown above. My brother and I spent hours doodling.

Crayola Crayons (and markers)

Laurentien Pencil Crayons


In the 70s, we had a lovely stereo/record player/8-track speaker sound system in our home (purchased from Radio Shack). And a tape recorder/player to boot. So music-wise we were set. My parents also had an eclectic array of albums and tapes to listen to. The albums below all featured in my childhood but I'd definitely go with John Denver as a representation of those days. Goosebumps.


“There's no use going to school unless your final destination is the library.”― Ray Bradbury. Listed below are a collection of books and comics that made my childhood a more creative and happier place. I've always thought the thing I was best at was reading. I owe that to my Mum who always read to us and encouraged us to pick up books or read the newspaper. Even during the sticker, stationery and Hello Kitty phases of childhood, my love of reading never subsided and decades later thankfully, never stopped.
Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

Peanuts Parade comics, Charles M. Schulz

Richie Rich Comics

Highlights Magazine

Cinderella (Disney's Wonderful World of Reading), Days with Frog and Toad (Arnold Lobel),
A Bear Called Paddington
(Michael Bond) and Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Adventure in Outer Space.


Hockey: Hockey was more my brother's (and mother's) passion than it was mine but being from Canada, it seeps into your being. I loved playing floor hockey and table hockey with my brother—we had spirited matches. I was always the goalie and loved it. My dad would buy both of us hockey cards and we'd spend hours organizing, trading, debating or arranging in order of mustache.

Coleco Table Hockey, Victoriaville hockey stick and Hockey cards

Jump Rope and Ankle Rope: As animated as our matches of Hopscotch and Orange Crush were, my friends and I took it to another level with our skipping ropes and ankle ropes in the fourth grade: every single day. I was over the moon when my parents bought me my very own florescent pink skipping rope. I later had an ankle rope with a strawberry on it. It was a great way to exercise and have fun, except for that one awful time when my pants fell down but that's another tale for another time.

Rubber Ball: Yes a rubber ball is in my sports section (if I could include Hopscotch into a nostalgic crate, then it would be listed here as well). I loved those blue, white and red rubber balls employed in school: we used them for handball, catch and for simple bouncing. My brother and I used to play tennis with them. Most importantly however, my friends and I would play mean games of Orange Crush with them. These matches would literally go on for hours. A tennis ball could be listed here as well (and for all the same purposes).


Transistor Radio: My Mum had a transistor like this one, only it was more beveled and the color of grape bubble gum. It was given to her by her father when she first moved to Canada. It was a Japanese make, so as a kid my brother assumed we could contact Japan through the radio! Compact, portable and functional it was one of those items we revered as kids.

View Master: Yes I'm including the View-Master in the technology section because it was both a toy and portable slide show. It's delightfully archaic in our smart phone world and yet the View-Master still thrives. My parents bought my brother a Scooby-Doo reel while I had a Happy Days one featuring scenes from "Requiem from a Malph".

Smith Corona: I learned to type on our turquoise-colored Smith Corona (similar to the one pictured below). It came with a matching case cover and could be stored away like a fancy little suitcase. A family staple, every member of our clan made use of its elegant powers. It carried us through the 80s until we ventured into the world of word processing—a mere hop, skip and a jump away from personal computers. A stepping stone into future technologies and a family friend, it was a thing of beauty. This could also be in a "nostalgic writers" crate.

Rotary and Push Button Phones: I love the convenience and capabilities of smart phones but damn I still love old school phones. Both the rotary and push button varieties were a joy to use. We had a red rotary phone and a green push button phone, similar to the ones below. I loved the sound they made: and not just the rings but also the dialing, the dial tone and the sound made from both lifting and hanging up the receivers. When I was kid we didn't have call waiting. That sort of technology was still a ways off.

Polaroid Instant Camera: Back in the day, photographs were for special occasions where people got together or dressed up. People never commonly photographed the minutia of daily life and we didn't know what selfies were. But things changed a bit when the Polaroid instant camera arrived. It was a window into a world where one could take unnecessary photos simply for the sake of observing them materialize instantly before one's eyes.
The Polaroid OneStep Land camera debuted in 1977.

Audio Tape Player/Recorder: Anyone who lived during the 70s or 80s will have a box of audio cassettes hidden somewhere in their attics, closets or secured in storage. Many will be store bought tapes featuring musicians of the day or they will be amateur homemade recordings of families talking, laughing, singing or as in our home, children staging radio broadcasts or standup. It was a must for families to have a "tape machine" in their homes. Our family had the same 70s Panasonic player/recorder featured below—a staple in our home for sure.



I'll admit it, my heart skips a beat when I see vintage 70s bedsheets. They were mostly floral in design with both bright and soft colours. The fabric was cool to the touch and could make a hard day better. Taken from our family photos, the first pic is comprised of two of my favourite bedsheets from the 70s. The first is a purple, pink and white striped sheet and the second is one of those fantastic 70s mod floral designs. My other fave (not pictured here) was a lovely green and white floral print with specks of blue. We not only used them for our beds but also for cuddling in front of the TV set or for making tents on the balcony or inside on rainy days. My mum was magical.

Glimpses of bedsheets from our family photos

 A lovely sampling from Flickr:

Vintage Sheets
Photo: Jeni Baker/Flickr

I never had Sesame Street bedding but this would have made me giddy with delight (it has that effect now to tell the truth).

via eBay


Any one of the board games featured below (Twister, Connect Four, Operation, Monopoly, Trouble, Spirograph, Trivial Pursuit and Chess) could be included in my nostalgic crate. I often played Twister and Connect Four with my friends. My brother and I had awesome rounds of Trouble and Operation. We often played Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit as a family and played Chess with Mum. Good times.


There are far too many retro/vintage sitcoms (The Twilight Zone, M*A*S*H, Diff'rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, Hogan's Heros and a host of Britcoms etc.) and movies (Goonies, Star Wars, Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang etc.), to list in this section so I'll narrow it down to my sentimental favorites. These sometimes crazy and endearing characters became friends early on:

The Brady Bunch

Gilligan's Island

The Sound of Music

Check out for gift ideas for the men in your life.

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