Mid-Century suburbia was overrun with pint size gunslingers. After all, toy guns protected cowpokes on the dangerous back yard plains. Ricocheting bullets, exploding grenades and caps firing were the soundtrack to the suburbs of my youth.
No gift was more welcome at Christmas time to a young sharpshooter than a firearm.
Whether shooting out harmless corks or safe plastic pellets, there were rifles, handguns, and shotguns for every taste and pocketbook. With its realistic rat a-tat-tat, a sparkling electric sub machine gun that fired 1 to 840 shots a minute while shooting bright sparks, would be sure to light up any Xmas celebration.
What was new in guns for the mid-century playground crowd? Pump action shotguns were popular-“ a shot-gun that bangs out with authority and ejects genuine shells when it’s pumped” or maybe a jet automatic rifle, a 6 shot repeater that fired hollow plastic balls one right after the other as far as 40 feet.
Toddlers weren’t left out of this bonanza of fun. For young “sheriffs and “vigilantes” there was a toddler set complete with roll caps, designed so the smallest member of the family “Can be part of the gang” promising to make any tiny buckaroo happy!
With so many options available for the young gun enthusiast, Christmas time 1959 found Santa quite busy filling all these gun orders…and best of all, no permit was ever needed. Christmas morning would find cowpokes from coast to coast loading up their shooters with metal cartridges with harmless soft plastic bullets.
Up and down my suburban street, homes were loaded for gun fun…for cowpokes and commandos.
Having recently received a new cap pistol for Hanukkah, the much coveted Mattel Shootin Shells 45, my brother Andy was just itching to strap on his just like-rawhide-naughahyde holster, load up a roll of perforated greenie caps, those little green circles of gunpowder with adhesive on its back, stick ’em on the base of the bullets and squeeze off a burst.
Despite the word SAFE clearly printed in bold type on every box, Mom had read him the riot act -there was to be no gun slinging in the house. “The living room” she warned repeatedly, “was not the OK Coral, Pardner.”
Clearly, Andy, was too yippee-yi-ya trigger happy for his own good. When my parents eventually discovered the small burn holes in the living room carpet, holes which, my quick- on- his- feet brother tried to pawn off on one of Moms many Parliament cigarettes, his arsenal of caps were promptly confiscated, including the recent jackpot of repeater caps he had gotten from our grandfather.
What my clever brother forgot to take in to account in his false finger-pointing, was the lingering, slightly acrid smell of gunpowder that filled the air after shooting off a roll of caps, not to mention the dozens of gray, peanut sized authentically ejected shootin’ shells that were scattered all over the floor.
You can tell its Mattel…. its swell!
Having to hand over a gift, a token of love from our doting grandfather was not easy for Andy. Much to our delight and Moms dismay, my grandfather had recently given us cartons filled with dozens of smaller green boxes of Stick-Em-0n…Peel em’ off Greenie Stik-M-Caps.
What my pawnbroker grandfather was doing with this huge cache of hot caps we never asked; his often bizarre offerings seemed to just arbitrarily fall off the truck.
One week it would be a windfall of Topps Baseball Cards, another, boxes loaded with jars of Hellman’s creamy mayonnaise, and emerald-green pickle relish. Oily tins of sardines from Norway would end up stacked up in our dining room next to unopened cartons filled with staplers fresh from the Swingline Staple factory near his pawn shop in Long Island City ensuring we would never be without a supply of hefty shiny black all steel Swingline staplers for my entire childhood.
Now that a temporary ban had been called on all explosives, my parents were satisfied that they had defused the situation.However, unbeknownst to my parents, my brother had burrowed away a secret stash of caps. Hidden beneath a stack of Superman comics, Boys Life and yellowing Sporting News magazines, was a bulging Buster Brown Shoe Box, the words Keep Out, Private!, boldly marked in red crayon across the picture of the little boy with the Dutch boy hair cut and his dog Tige.
Who knew a winking Buster Brown really had something to wink about. Buster Brown was not the only one living in that shoebox.
Mixed in with crumpled bazooka bubblegum wrappers, the ones with the tiny comics printed on them, and scraps of decades old unused hotel stationery filled with my brothers meticulously recorded lists of everything from baseball statistics to the top one hundred songs, were rolls of repeating caps, that he had been stockpiling for years. Bazooka Joe and his black eyepatch stood guard over a huge arsenal of suburban ammo.
Of course Mom would never dream of letting Andy have a dangerous Daisy BB gun.
Those iconic All American guns that Mothers feared could “cause you to go blind”, advertised every chance they got on the backs of comic books from Little Dot to Richie Rich. The ads boasted that their guns provided good father son bonding, claiming their BB range was “for boys who are growing up to be men, and for fathers who want their boys to be men.”
No, no real guns for my cowpoke brother.
So for the remainder of the holiday season, my brother would have to content himself with his Mattel Thunderburp the one with the biggest noise in guns. It was a submachine gun with vibrasonic action of real machine gun. Whether single shot or automatic fire this beauty was able to handle any situation a second grader found themselves in.