Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Things that make me go "aaahhhh"

Back in the day, it didn't take much to excite us Billheimer kids. Sometimes, all it took was for my dad or one of the older ones to drive down to Notter's Market, our little neighborhood grocery store and bring back a few cartons of "pop". That's what we called it in Ohio. It would usually be on a Saturday or Sunday evening when we were awarded this special treat. These were the 6 or 8 pack returnable bottles that at the time were worth 10 cents each. Everyone had their favorite one. Mom's was 7-Up. Dad loved Barq's Red Cream Soda or Frostie Root Beer. I remember Pepsi and Coke were favorites of some of the older kids but for me, Sun Crest Orange was my choice. When I was really little, I couldn't quite tolerate the "bite" of a carbonated drink because it burned my throat when I swallowed. I remember wanting so badly to drink something more "grown up" but I just drank my Sun Crest or occasionally a Choc-ola. Remember Choc-ola? (love that stuff!) I remember considering it quite an accomplishment when I was able to graduate to a more mature drink! 

On many of these occasions, we might enjoy a huge bowl of freshly popped popcorn... not the microwave kind. What in the world was a microwave, anyway? We made it a family affair...some made their drinks into a root beer or cream soda float and some drank right from the bottle...like me! Compared to what families do for excitement and entertainment today, I'm sure this seems pretty dull to some folks. We took nothing for granted. Special things like bottles of pop were actually just that ... special things

Ah, yes... those were the days! There was absolutely nothing that could cool you off better though, on a hot summer evening, than a tall glass of ice cold root beer poured from a frosty gallon jug - the glass kind - that came from our local "root beer stand". That's what we called it. I'm sure it had a real name ... I can't remember to tell you he truth. It was actually a drive-in type restaurant that had a ginormous revolving root beer mug on the roof where you get other things such as burgers or hotdogs. Root beer never tasted as good as it did back then! 

We lived in a area that was at one time a summer resort called Crystal Lake. The area was developed around two small lakes and at the main part of the lake was a swimming beach with a concession stand that was open during the summer months. Another treat that I remember thrilling me so was when someone would go down to the "beach" and bring back a huge box of Popsicles...the kind with 2 sticks in them that you broke apart down the middle. These were the real thing. I still remember the wrappers with red polka dots...every flavor that they ever made. Not just the cherry, orange and grape that come in most boxes today - we're talking blue raspberry, lemon-lime, and Dad's favorite, root beer!

Loading up the old Buick, also known as "Old Soapy" (I'll explain later) for a drive in the country on a Sunday afternoon was just about as good as life got. It was great fun. We would all pile in after Sunday dinner (that would be the noon-time meal) and Dad would drive us around to places not that far away, even though when I was little, any place other than our neighborhood seemed far away. Heck, just walking down to the end of our dead-end street seemed far away to me back then! Sometimes during our rides we would go by the houses where my parents had lived previously when my older siblings were youngsters....actually, some of the houses were their birthplaces as well. Out of eight children, Mom gave birth to the first four or five at home. I remember riding by a little house - not on the prairie - but way out in the country somewhere near Castown, Ohio comes to mind, and Mom and Dad referred to it as "where we went-to-housekeepin". That term of course, referred to where they lived when they first got married in case you didn't get it :) Or maybe we would set out for one of our aunt and uncles' homes to visit. We had tons of cousins because Mom and Dad both had large families of their own. Most of the relatives that we had the closest relationships with lived in small farming towns and rural areas not too far from Troy, Ohio....if you know where that is.

This isn't the real "Old Soapy". I couldn't find any pictures of her
but if she was still around today, this is what she might look like.
On these Sundays when we would go out riding, one thing was required of my dad - that he would find as many roads with the steepest hills as he possibly could and to drive down them as fast as he possibly could (safely of course). This was not an easy thing to do in the part of Ohio where we lived. It is pretty much flatter than a pancake around there and you can see for miles and miles in most rural areas. My dad was awesome though...he knew exactly where the hilly roads were! We didn't have amusement parks to go to - maybe an occasional visit to the Clark County Fair if we were lucky. Well, let me tell you...the thrill of riding down a semi-steep hill at probably 55-60 mph and losing your stomach at the bottom was all it took to satisfy our need for dare-devil activities! Stopping by Bobo's in New Carlisle on our way back home for a hand-dipped ice cream cone topped off the afternoon. Before I forget...the reason the Buick was named "Old Soapy" was because once upon a time, the transmission started slipping or something and my dad, the fixer of all things, put some Joy dishwashing liquid in the transmission fluid. Don't ask me how he knew to do this (Al Gore hadn't invented the internet yet :) but it fixed 'er right up! From that day forward, that's what he called her! A few years later, after there was no more life in her, Dad traded her in on a big old Ford station wagon the size of a Sherman tank. It had a third seat in it that faced backwards and Barbara, Janet and I had many memorable moments making faces at the people traveling behind us!

 The old ice cream freezer bucket
I couldn't mention sweet treats without including Mom's homemade ice cream. There was nothing like it. I remember the old hand-crank ice cream freezer with the wooden bucket...that bucket which now sits on the front porch of our cabin in the mountains! Later on, after getting enough of all that cranking (all the older kids took turns as well) it was replaced by an electric one. We would enjoy this white fluffy stuff quite often, especially when the family would get together to sing. 

I could go on and on but I would probably only bore you. These things I have described here are just a few of the simple pleasures from my childhood that have special meaning to me.... so if you are reading this, I hope that it sparks a special memory for you - to brighten your day and to remind you to ask yourself ...."What are the things make me go "aahhhh?"

Until next time.....

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Goodbye, Old Friend

It all started in 1960. Once a week, that familiar whistling theme song echoed throughout the Billheimer household. Yes, believe it or not, it was only on once a week back then.

When I was growing up, having a TV was kind of a luxury. The first set that I barely have memories of (actually, I think I just remember it from old photos) was a teeny tiny little box with a round screen! Later on we got a more up-to-date model with an oval screen...a little larger though! No color set in our house...it hadn't even been invented yet I don't think. All of the old shows were in black and white anyway, so it didn't matter. There were very few shows to watch back then, compared to what we have today and we only had three networks, CBS, ABC and NBC. Back in the day, there were a few TV shows that I was basically raised with, one of them being a story about a sheriff of a small town in North Carolina (who knew I'd actually be living there one day?) and a cast of characters that we grew to love...we almost considered them part of the family. 

Fast forward to Tuesday, July 3, 2012. This morning as I went through my usual ritual of reading the internet news pages, intermingled among all of the other bad news of the day was one story that stood out above all the others. I almost feel a sense of guilt that this sad story stood out. I mean, we are talking about terrible, out of control wildfires, horrific storms, record breaking heat with millions without power, etc., etc. And that is not counting all of the other negative stuff, including the awful stories of crime that has become the norm. But the one story that stirred my heart the most today was the story about the loss of one of the most admired men in television history - Andy Griffith. Now, this doesn't mean that my heart doesn't go out to everyone whose lives have been disrupted and torn apart due to these tragedies - it's just just that on top of all of the other "bad news", anyone that was a fan of Andy's ...well, I'm sure their hearts were broken as this news came to light as well. My brother, Jerry comes to mind. He loves Andy, Barney, Gomer and everything Mayberry. I think he has every season of the show on DVD.

There aren't many days that go by that I don't get to catch at least one episode of the Andy Griffith Show that plays repeatedly on TV Land and many local channels. On the days I am working, I get off at 5:00 and when I have the television to myself, which is about half of the time due to Jim's work schedule, one of the first things I do after I get home is turn the TV to our local Channel 2 and get set to watch "Andy" at 5:30...either before or during the time I am eating my dinner. I never seem to tire of watching those old shows. There was always an example to be set and a lesson to be learned....for the young and old alike. We even had a small group Bible Study at church called "Lessons Learned From Mayberry" that was based on right and wrong...something that too many people these days don't seem to relate to. It makes me sad that those types of shows aren't being made today - actually, they haven't been made in a very long time. Television shows reflect life. Is it any wonder why our airwaves are are crammed full of junk when we look at our world today? OK...I won't go any further with that one...but I could!

Anyway, back to Andy...and Mayberry. Out of all of the cast members of the show, there are only a few who are still living. Betty Lynn, who is the actress that played the part of Thelma Lou, Barney's girlfriend, is in her upper 80's and is living in Mt. Airy, NC, the town Mayberry was patterned after...also Andy's place of birth. Of course, most everyone knows it also as a well-known historical site for anyone who is an Andy junkie. Most of the others except for Opie and Gomer are gone now. Goober left us a few months ago and Barney and Aunt Bea have been gone for a good while now. Of course, Mayberry and everyone associated with it is fictional...we all know that. But what those wonderful actors portrayed was about life...life as we knew it back in a more simple and innocent time. I hope the Andy Griffith Show reruns will be played on TV for a long time to come.

Rest in peace, Andy. You and Barney are a team once again.