Everybody Has a Story: Having fun before video games

Growing up on 29th and H streets in Vancouver in the 1960s, the expectation that the kids walked to school was completely acceptable.

to a thousand While it was only uphill one way, it was literally a mile to walk from my front door to Hough Elementary. I do remember my mom driving the kids to the first few days of our kindergarten, but after that, it was grab your lunch bag and start walking.

I was the third born and my little sister would soon join us, so there was a brood of four kids, at least, wandering down to Mill Plain, crossing Main Street, passing the “old” Fort Vancouver High School and zigzagging our way to 1900 Daniels St.

Our next-door neighbors had a similar brood, almost identical in ages, so I started hanging around with the kid my age. Jimmy and I were in the same year and even at a young age wondered why the mascot at our table in kindergarten was a skunk. The wooden mascots on the other tables were a sheep, a bear and a puppy, but somehow we wound up with the skunk staring at us every morning.

After-school entertainment took lots of forms. I might have been the most mischievous of the bunch, so one Saturday when Jimmy invited me to go to the Interstate 5 overpass and spit on cars, that seemed like a great idea.

Timing and footwork had to be perfect to hit a car once, run across 29th to the other side of the overpass and hit it again. This feat was rarely accomplished, and only with southbound traffic that was slowing down for the exit at Mill Plain.

Much farther down 29th at S Street was a corner store. An entrepreneur had renovated a front room with a candy counter and not much else, as I remember. So, if we had a nickel in our pocket we would head down and get a candy. Red Hots were my favorite.

One day I saw Jimmy playing in front of his house with a small plastic airplane that he launched from a rubber band. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen so I went over and gave it a try. As I recall, the first couple of tries, all I did was shoot the small yellow plane directly into my thumb.

But I got the hang of it and asked where he acquired this low-tech but extremely fun toy.

“At the store down the street,” Jimmy replied. So, I made my way back into the house and I might have even asked for the nickel. In any case, I headed down to the store, nickel in hand, to get my own plane.

And owning one was just as much fun as I imagined. But eventually, the small plastic plane would wind up in a street drain or up a tree or broken, so I also remember shelling out a few more nickels to keep my flying habit satisfied. We would also fly balsa wood gliders if we had a quarter, but they did not fly as fast or as far the little yellow “jet,” as we called it.

Video games were 25 years away. Hard to believe.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or PO Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions

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