Looking Back

Foolish things

As I look back at some of the foolish things my friends and I did in our youth, I can only say, “What was I thinking???”

One of the pranks many of us pulled was calling people and asking, “Do you have Prince Albert in a can?” Without even giving them a chance to answer, we would say, “If so, let him out!” In case this product was before your time, Prince Albert was pipe tobacco sold in a can. I took part in this foolishness by calling my elderly neighbor who just happened to be on our two-party line. I got my comeuppance when I picked up our phone and heard her telling someone about the calls she had been getting. (Yes, you could listen in on other people’s conversations back then!) I continued to listen, rather nervously, as the person who was having a conversation with my neighbor asked if the young person on her two-party line might have placed the calls. The answer was, “Oh no, Mary Ellen would never do anything like that.”

You can be assured I never did it again. I had a reputation to live up to!

Kids definitely “follow the crowd” in many respects. Back in the 50s young teens used to sing out “The old gray mare she ain’t what she used to be” to the woman who operated an elevator in a downtown office building. I would say that I was probably the least likely kid to do something like that, but after being egged on, my friend and I chanted that song as I passed by her. I quickly learned that “the old gray mare” couldn’t have been all that old as she came charging after us waving her pointed umbrella! I ran down the street and into the drugstore where my father worked. As I was gasping for breath he asked what was going on. My Catholic guilt kicked in and I told him. I got a lecture about how it would feel to be on the receiving end of those words and I never did that again!

While I may have learned my lesson about “doing unto others,” I apparently didn’t get a whole lot smarter about some things. I used to spend time with a friend when her parents went out to dinner. We were probably 12 years old and capable of being alone until around 9 p.m. at night. On winter nights we always seemed to crave popcorn. We would get out the electric popper and add Crisco. We always burned the popcorn and would head to the back yard and bury it in the deep snow. We would make a second batch of popcorn and give it our total attention. We opened the windows wide and used a fragrance spray in the kitchen. Her parents couldn’t tell what we had been up to when they got home. However, when spring rolled around my friend’s mother found several mounds of burned popcorn throughout the yard. Our cover was blown!

And then there was my friend who had watched “The Christmas Story” and decided to stick her tongue to a street sign pole one cold winter day to see if it would really stick. It did and her tongue bled all the way home. I had told her it was a bad idea! Maybe I really was getting smarter!

And what kid doesn’t try smoking? My parents were wise enough to avoid that habit but the mother of my “popcorn buddy” smoked cigarettes. We decided that our shed would be a great place to give smoking a try. My friend stole a couple of cigarettes and into the shed we went. There was wood stored in there and I have no idea where we put the ashes, but I currently live in the house where this occurred and the shed is still intact. Fortunately, I could never see the thrill of pulling smoke into my lungs. I was getting smarter all the time!

Whenever I wanted to do some ridiculous thing that my parents knew was a bad idea, my mother would say, “If EVERYONE jumped off River Street Bridge, would you?” For those not familiar with the area, River Street Bridge takes you to the area where I went to high school–Mount St. Joseph Academy. Guess my mother thought I could relate to that spot!

As a senior citizen, I realize that doing foolish things when we are young is a part of the learning curve. Fortunately, as I got older I learned to treat others with respect and to be independent in my actions. That means I won’t be jumping off River Street Bridge any time soon.

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