Old Diary

Where are the searchlights?

Excuse me in advance for a little reminiscence…

beacon at night

a small airport beacon at night… you know the sort… you see them out in the country at little airports all the time.

We were driving home (to Coon Creek Campground) on Friday night after a delicious supper and even more tantalizing stories.  Our route took us past the Shelbyville airport.  Not a large airport by any stretch of the imagination,  but oh boy did it set off a chain reaction of reminiscences.

I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, and after hearing some of the stories around the table at Angus Bailey’s resto the sight of that airport beacon just got me thinking about all sorts of other things.


Ok — so these are file photos, but they tell a story of a day gone bye…


Ok — so these are file photos, but they tell a story of a day gone bye…


Ok — so these are file photos, but they tell a story of a day gone bye…

Suddenly I was young again — 12, maybe 15 years old — on the near north side of Milwaukee with my dad.  He was going to look at a new Chevy station wagon at Hall Chevrolet.  It was probably October or November — about this time of year, and it was new model introduction time.  Some of you may not remember the days when there really were such things as ‘model years.’   When suddenly everything bright and fresh from one year became old and stale as the new model year cars were brought out in style.

Do you remember the days when searchlights roamed the sky announcing the arrival of the newest iteration of Detroit wonders.

I say “in style” because that was a different time.  In Milwaukee at that time most of the car dealerships I knew were individual buildings in the middle of a block of retail establishments and the showrooms were about big enough to fit one, possibly two automobiles.  There weren’t lots of cars on the lot — heck, there were no new car ‘LOTS’ as we know them today.  Most people I heard my dad talking about actually ordered their car and had to wait a few days, a few weeks, a month or more for the factory to build their car to specification.

And on that night I can still remember two of those old  army carbon-arc searchlights parked along the curb shining into the sky to announce the arrival of the newest model year cars.

All that from driving past a tiny little airport…

The passage of time

I’m sure that every generation goes through the same thing.  We all remember the world the way it was when we were young and there can be some degree of regret that times have changed.  Not so much for yourself as for your children, and your children’s children; all because there are experiences they will never share; experiences that meant a lot to you and me — to us — and which our children and grandchildren will not have.

Now, not all the experiences I had are times to be cherished. I did NOT like time it took to memorized multiplication tables.  But then, even today, multiplying and dividing are still simple and I don’t need a calculator.  Nor did I like the time it took to memorize the prelude to Evangeline and today I still have a few of those words roaming around in my noggin — sometimes spurting forth at the most unexpected times….“This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pines and the hemlock…..”  We don’t even need to talk about the really tough times; occasions that tried our souls and tested our stamina.

Our hardware store didn't look much different from this.

Our hardware store didn’t look much different from this.

When I was young (pre-kindergarten through 2nd grade I guess) my parents owned a hardware store.  It wasn’t much of a store; and with the advent of chains like True Value there came a time before 2nd grade that they had to sell the store at auction because they were losing money. (And I am told there was nothing on our pantry shelves to eat — but I honestly don’t remember any of the tough times).

In a small neighborhood store, being the only child, I spent a lot of time wandering the aisles.  There were time I’d help my parents — dad had a 40 hour a week job with Wisconsin Electric, so there were lots of times that mom manned the store by herself.  And she wasn’t above asking me to run down an aisle to get something for her that a customer couldn’t find.  As a kid I knew that store inside and out — it was almost my playground.  And the thought comes to mind… where can kids play today?  As we sat around the table last night — the 5 of us — we all had our stories of fun childhood times that simply are not available to kids any more.  Those were gentler times in spite of what people may say about statistics.  We never locked our doors, we knew all our neighbors, no one worried about whether the kids were outside playing unattended — that’s what kids did…. we spent as much time outdoors playing as we could.  And there was never anyone there to watch us for fear of being kidnapped or abused.  Heck — half the time when I was out playing beyond the age of 4 — my parents didn’t even know where I was — and all the other kid’s parents were just the same.

I’m sorry that parents have to be so careful about children today.  That’s not progress in my book.   I am sorry that kids today don’t get to enjoy the freedom of a safe world.  Many of the things I did in my youth would get my parents arrested for child abuse today — not because anyone touched me, or because I did anything wrong — but because they allowed me to go off without supervision and do what my imagination wanted.  I wasn’t policed by my parents.

I wasn’t destructive, so it wasn’t a problem — but then again I didn’t have any destructive role models to follow.  TV didn’t have murder and mayhem at that point.  The cartoons I saw were so simple that even the comic violence was clearly make-believe and no  one I knew ever really thought that the roadrunner harmed  Wiley Coyote one bit.

I’m sure my grand-kid will have her own fond memories when she’s my age — she too will remember life as it was in her youth, and regret the things she could do that her grand kids never got to do.  That’s the circle of life.  We all go through it.

That said, let me return to where I began this post;  to the story of a man and a boy and new cars on display.   it’s hard to believe that kids will never again know the innocent excitement of carbon-arc vapors tinging the air, and icy fingers of light pointing their way through the evening sky, they may never stand in a tiny showroom squeezed to the side by adults eager to get up close to that rubber and steel behemoth that just arrived in the showroom. cars The abundance of the 2000’s was unknown in the 50’s.  There were things to be bought, but you couldn’t afford them all and so  there was a lot of window shopping.  Nowadays we can go catalog shopping…. wait…. no one prints catalogs anymore.  No undried ink coloring your fingers, no smell of freshly printed catalogs.  No, today you have to let your fingers and the electrons do your shopping.  I suppose you can take your iPad out on the beach and try to leaf through the electronic catalog, but then again the glare might make it hard to read and the wind surely won’t blow your pages or the sand get stuck between the pages to fall out on the carpet 6 months later.

It’s a different world.  There were no RV’s like we have now.  I’m glad the 50’s didn’t hang around till the 2000’s.  I like what we have now.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t miss some of what we left behind.

Most of my time I spend looking forward to what we are doing, to where we are going.  Or going to go.  But once in a while I pass an airport.  And once in a while that beacon captures my imagination, and my brain is off on a flight of fancy to places unknown and destinations only dreamt of in the quietest times of one’s life. I like that now I have the time to let my brain take flight; to pursue some of those fancies — and just see where they might lead.

I’m enjoying the heck out of retirement.  But I’m also a person who thinks about consequences.  Everything we have today exists because of what someone before us has done.  And I wonder for my grand kid what world she and her generation will inherit.  I hope they  can look back with as much joy as I can — when her time comes.

And maybe all this is on my mind because it got down to 30-some degrees overnight and it’s only going to rise to the low 50’s; the deer are gamboling in the field; fishermen are arriving to spend one of the final pleasant Saturday’s on the water and life is good.  And when life is good I think good thoughts (well, I’m usually thinking good thoughts — I don’t have room for negativity) and smile to myself that I have lived long enough to retire (a few of my friends didn’t) and that we’re having such a ball.

Thanks for stopping by and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.




2 thoughts on “Where are the searchlights?

  1. This was a great post. As a child of the same era I totally relate. Thanks for a walk through”the good times”. Not that today isn’t great in its own way but it really was a simpler time. My granddad owned a garage and sold Pontiac’s and I remember the excitement of the arrival of that year’s new car to take its place on the showroom floor. I loved visiting him at the garage. So many memories of that place.


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