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Springtime in a Bygone Era



A year ago this week, I’d already partially tore an Achilles tendon playing softball, but this spring has been so wintry my back still aches from shoveling wet snow off the driveway and sidewalk.

So, I’m still coping with the delayed change of seasons by retreating to springs of my youth:

Do 21st century kids still have wonderful crap marketed to them when the weather warms?


Recent snows have seemed like Christmas in March, but surely there are merchants somewhere that have end-cap displays of kites ready to roll. Do kids still struggle with such magnificent airborne nonsense, tying tails out of rags.

(Do parents still keep rags?)

What about yo-yos?

Besides 1960s elementary teachers rolling in TVs to watch space launches, I remember occasional grade school assemblies with experts from Duncan or some other yo-yo corporation demonstrating their talent. For days, five-and-dime stores couldn't keep yo-yos stocked.

(Are there still such yo-yo professionals? Where are they credentialed, anyway?)

Is it warm enough for squirt guns? Are cap pistols still popular in this post-Columbine, -Newtown era?

And knives. Not the Swiss Army type, but small- and medium-sized jackknives with plastic sides molded to appear to be tree bark. Are they common or endangered in today’s zero-tolerance climate?

How about bubble bottles, or bicycle handlebar streamers?

Are wax lips made in the USA – and still chewable?

Speaking of chewable wax, what about those odd little paraffin snacks with super-sweet syrups squeezed into weird-shaped receptacles? Or the bubble-gum or chalky candy cigarettes with satiric names like “Lucky Lights” and “L&N”?

Where do we go to find out? The classic dime store chain Ben Franklin survives as a sort of Hobby Lobby crafts joint, a few generations removed from child customers. Besides, a web search turns up Illinois Ben Franklin stores in Carthage, Quincy and Moline.


I know, I know: “Spring forward.”

Maybe if I can find a decent kite.  

Bill Knight’s newspaper columns are archived at

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.