This article wasn't written in the format that most of you here at R.J. are probably used to. It's not a "Top 10" or "Best of" (which I love, by the way), and the categories are a little more sporadic. I decided that instead of picking one subject from my childhood, I'd try and cram as much into the article as I could, covering many different types of memorabilia along a linear time-line of my youth. Hopefully it won't be boring, and maybe you'll see something on this list that had eluded your memory for some time. I hope you enjoy it.

The Early Years:

I was born in July of 1984 in Carroll County, Maryland. My older brother was two at the time, so I was set with a playmate from the get-go. My first memory is from my third birthday party. We had pizza (my first recollection of the tasty baked goodness), and I got my very first action figures: John Rambo and Colonel Trautman from the RAMBO movies. If that wasn’t cool enough, the best was still to come: My very own Big Wheel tricycle! I remember riding it right out the front door. I didn’t care about the porch steps; this was my new ride, and I was pimpin’!





Little did I know it, but this would be the beginning of a lot of memories that would carry me through the years. Please bear with me, as I will probably be a little more enthusiastic and nostalgic about some of these items than the average reader, but hopefully I'll find that a lot of you share similar experiences or memories. Here's to a hopefully non-lackadaisical stroll down Memory Lane.

It was 1986-87. Can anyone guess what one of the most sought after toys was, by children under 10 and parents alike? If you guessed Teddy Ruxpin, then we're going to get along just fine. :)





What a genius idea! For anyone who might not know, Teddy Ruxpin was an animatronic stuffed bear created by toy company Worlds of Wonder who, when you put a special cassette tape into the built-in player on his back read stories and sang songs! What was better was that you could connect him via cable to his caterpillar-like pal Grubby, and the two would interact with each other. We didn't have grubby, but our friends did. We definitely got plenty of play from him. Years later we used one of the tapes as music for an improvised game of "musical chairs". I remember it was called the "Polar Bear Polka", and even though I haven't heard it in about 15 years, I can still hum most of the tune. I couldn't know it at the time, but this toy was a huge technological leap in the right direction, and it has been reintroduced to new generations multiple times, most recently in 2005.


1988-1990
I hope you used the restroom before we left, kiddies, because this trip could take awhile.

My family was living in a different house by now, and one of mine and my brother's favorite treats was to go to Hardee's and get their cinnamon raisin biscuits. (Small side-note: THOSE THINGS WERE DELICIOUS!) If that deal wasn't sweet enough, it got better. Our first collection: The California Raisins PVC figurines:





These were sold as a promotion with the Hardee's biscuits. I don't know why I loved these so much, but I did, and still do. Maybe it was the diversity of the figures and what sport/activity they were participating in. Sadly, this picture isn't of my collection, but I wish I had kept them over the years. We never quite got all of them, but we had just about all of them, plus a few that weren't part of the Hardee's promotion. I still have a few of the originals, but they are certainly showing their age. The most vivid memory I have of these is from January 1989, coming home with my grandmother and older bro after we had just been to the hospital to see our newborn baby brother, and walking into our room to see a bunch of these little guys lined up on our dresser, ready to be played with. (I'm still trying to figure out who got to eat all the cinnamon-raisin biscuits needed to get them.)


I was 6 in 1990. We wouldn't have a computer or video game system for a couple more years, but we did rent an NES from the local video store, West Coast Video (I was too young to ask why they were named that when they were located all over the northeast United States). My dad also had a friend who always had the latest computer and video games, so we might as well have had one for all the time we spent playing. Following is a short list of the first Nintendo Entertainment System titles that got me hooked on gaming in the early nineties:


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:


This one is by far my favorite game for the NES, mostly because of the memories that came along with it. I loved how you could switch between any of the 4 turtles at any time. The switch between the top-down over-world view and the side-scrolling level views were also really cool (just watch out for those daggone steam-rollers!). I would play this game with my brother for hours. We never got past the bomb-diffusing water level (which was about 20 minutes into the game, I think) but I loved using Michelangelo and Leonardo to destroy Foot Soldiers and bugs/pesky robots. Raphael had too short of an attack range, and Donatello's was too limited, although his bo staff was great for getting hard-to-reach enemies. I can still hear the Mores Code-esque "beep-beepbeep-be-be-beepbeep" sound when Splinter or April gives you advice. There was also less gravity in this game than on the Moon, for some reason. Colorful graphics, catchy music, and great fun for a 6 year old.


Boulder Dash:


Mine for jewels, but watch out for falling boulders! A tricky game for a little kid, Boulder Dash was yet another source of hours of entertainment at my dad's friend's house. Me and my older brother would play this and other games with his two boys, who were our ages. I don't remember all the details about this one (dig, get diamonds, avoid boulders?), but like most things from my past, the music sticks with me the most.


Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers:


Are you surprised that I loved this game as a kid? I watched the show constantly, and it was a pretty simple platformer. I also loved that fact that you could pick up objects and use them as weapons. You could even pick up the other player's character. This let to plenty of fights between my brother and I, as the only way to get free was if the offending carrier showed mercy and let you go. Again, I never got past the 2nd level, but I played this over and over when it was out.


Dynowarz: Destruction of Spondylus


If you're beginning to see a pattern here, I wasn't good at video games when I was little. Again, I never made it any further than 10 minutes into this game, but I was 6, and it was a video game about dinosaurs. If it had smelled like candy I would have eaten it. You begin as a 1/2'' tall "spacetronautic" hero of some sort, running around shootin' and platformin'. If you make it past the 1st level, you come across a gigantic dinosaur-mech. Once you hop in, you're back out on the mean streets of the Moon fighting other robotic lizards. Not too user-friendly if I remember correctly, as the controls weren't the most responsive, but dinosaurs and video games, remember?


Of course, there was also the given Super Mario Brothers trilogy, but who wouldn't have guessed that? I actually spent more time with the above games than I didn't with Mario and Luigi. Later on we'll delve into some more video and computer games that left an impression on me, but let's switch lanes for a few minutes, shall we?


Favorite T.V. Shows

We only had cable for a short period of time when I was young (from age 5-6), but the shows I got to watch when I had them were some of the best I can remember. We watched a lot of the Family Channel (Which was way before it was turned into ABC Family), which is where most of the following shows came from. Hopefully I can remind a few people of some shows they forgot about...


Gerbert:



Good grief, did I love this show. I'm not ashamed to admit it, even though it gets a lot of flak for being "cheesy"; the target audience was barely out of diapers, for Pete's sake! Gerbert was a little orange puppet-boy who always seemed to have problems, and the show was about seeing how he dealt with them. It was a Christian-based series, the purpose of which was to teach kids how to deal with their feelings, such as anger, sadness and jealousy, as well as how to be a good person. Again, people like to make fun of it for this, but Gerbert had a lot of substance for being a little kid's show. Although annoying when he got loud, Gerbert's voice is probably one of the funniest that I've ever heard.


Starcom



I cannot believe how many people either didn't watch or don't remember it. Many would say it was just a half-hour commercial for a toy line, but Jurassic Park was a 2 hour commercial for a dinosaur Theme-Park, and I still enjoyed [u]it[/u]. The U.S. Space Force is in the midst of an ongoing battle with the evil Shadow Force, and as usual, it's up to about 5 people the save the galaxy. Interestingly enough, the show was more of an advertisement for NASA, attempting to gain children's interest in the U.S. Space Program. Of all the dirty tricks. The show only lasted for 1 season, but that's why a VCR is a 6 year old's best friend. The toys are a much bigger story than the cartoon, but we'll go over that in a bit. You can find episodes on YouTube if you want to see a pretty decent 80's space cartoon.


Record Breakers



This show is so widely unknown that I can't find a single mention of it on the net. The only picture I could find is of the Hasbro toy line that it was based on. These cars were motorized, and ran on 3 AA batteries. The speeds they reached were unbelievably fast, and they had interchangeable body kits of all sorts of colors and shapes. The show was pretty much a pinewood derby for the nineties. They would set up huge tracks inside various shopping malls and kids would bring their customized cars in to race against each other. I could've sworn that one of the hosts was "Macho Man" Randy Savage. I bet it only aired for 2-3 episodes in 1990, but I would love to find someone who was bored enough to record an episode so I could see it again.


Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue



More of a 30 minute PSA than a cartoon, All-Stars to the Rescue was a delight to watch as a kid. This movie debuted on all 3 major T.V. networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) in 1990, and featured more cartoon icons than you could shake a stick at, with characters ranging from the Muppet Babies, ALF, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, the Chipmunks, Winnie the Pooh and more. The story follows Michael, a troubled teen who begins experimenting with drugs. His little sister Corey suspects that something bad is going on, and is soon aided by a plethora of recently animated...animations. With the help of the cartoon heroes, Michael finally realizes that drugs are bad (Mmmkay?), and returns to a better life. With such a variety of toons, one felt like they were watching 12 television sets at once, and what kid didn't dream of doing that?! I just watched this one for the first time in 15 years on YouTube. Check it out if you get a chance.



Dumbo's Circus



Even though they were made in 1985, the show spread out it’s 120 episodes over a decade. Using humans in puppet suits, trick photography and animatronics, this Disney show kept me and my brother occupied for many a Saturday morning. I can't remember a whole lot about it, but I know that the characters flew around to different places putting on shows and learning valuable life-lessons. It was captivating for me to watch, as I was always fascinated with larger than life puppets and the like. I'm sorry I can't remember more details about this one, and screens were hard to come by as well.

Please keep in mind that this list includes only titles that I rarely, if ever, hear about anymore. If I listed every cartoon I used to watch, you probably would never want to read another one of my articles. Actually, if you're still with me to this point, I feel honored.


Fun Foods

Almost more fun to look at than to eat, who can forget children's foodstuffs of the 80's and early 90's? These snacks were only around for a limited time, and most were attached with familiar child imagery to sell product, but that was enough to make me crave them again after a few years. Did you ever eat any of the following with a big smile on your face?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Cookies



They're fun to watch, to play with, and to impersonate; they must be good to EAT, too! I don't remember getting these too many times, mostly because my parents weren't dumb enough to buy into cheap marketing ploys. (Why did I have to get the smart ones?) These came in chocolate chip, vanilla, cinnamon and peanut butter.
They were made by “Delicious”, so what more did you need to know?

“Quit asking so many questions and just buy the cookies. We want our $1.75.”


Freshen-up Gum



Usually my mom would make me take my gum out of my mouth before I had a drink, but this gum made that impossible. I remember getting this stuff on the way to my grandparent’s farm to visit. As you can see, these were oversized “chunks” of gum that were filled with a sweet syrupy goodness. I can’t remember all of the flavors, but I’m sure it was your basic strawberry, cinnamon and peppermint-type stuff. I know they’re still around now, but they were one of the first plays-on-gum experiences I had. I remember putting it in my mouth and trying to wait 5 seconds before chomping down into liquid-gum heaven.

…I had a boring childhood, people.


Crunchabungas



Now we’re getting somewhere. These were almost a new invention, instead of another version of the age-old scheme of taking a 100 year-old product and slapping some cartoon character’s mug on it. Crunchabungas were crunchy, pizza-flavored puffed snacks in the shape of pizzas…Or sewer plates. I never could tell. I thought they looked like the Honeycombs cereal…Oh yeah; don’t put milk on these things. Ever.


Pop Qwiz Popcorn

So elusive to the rest of the world’s memory is this item that there is almost ZERO information on it, let alone pictures. Back in 1990-91, Pop Secret released a popcorn for the rest of us. (Yeah, I thought all popcorn was the same, too, but you’ll see.) The gimmick here was a little bit of trivia mixed with every kid’s friend: food coloring. The game was that each bag of ‘corn contained a certain food coloring that turned the unstable grain/vegetable/grass kernels into a rainbow of fluffy, buttery fun. Your job was to guess which color would come out (‘cause the bag certainly wasn’t going to tell you). These came out at the same time as a cheesy commercial for them, where a goofy game-show host quizzes your usual cross-section of American youth (white girl, white boy, black boy) on which color they think is in their bag. It was 30 seconds that I’ll never have back. I only had these once or twice, but they stayed with me over the years as one of my favorite edible memories.


Turtle Pies



The crown goes to these succulent oozing pies of pastry. Released around ’91 in time for the second movie, these were just the bomb-diggidy, yo! I was already in love with Hostess’ chocolate pie, and that crust wasn’t even green! Plus, who didn’t want to eat radioactive ooze, like Leo, Don, Raph, and Mikey did? That’s right; only losers. If I remember correctly, they were pretty tasty, just like you’d expect from the people that brought us the Twinkie.


This is the End of Side One

It’s funny how little things like toys and snacks leave such an impression on us over decades, but I guess that’s about all you have when you’re a kid: Toys and food. They’re our prized possessions; our “fast cars and hot girlfriends” of the younger years. Shame how when I look back, I can’t help but lose a little of that excitement that I once had for the things I’ve discussed in this article. But being older means being able to realize that that’s just what they are: Things. It’s the memories associated with them that make them special. While my current past is truly delightful to look back on, I want to make sure I keep my focus on the here and now, so hopefully I’ll have even more great memories in my future’s past.

I hope you guys enjoyed my first article here on R.J. Let me know what you thought of it, and if you like it, I’ll be back for the 2nd part, in which we’ll check out my favorite toys growing up, as well as the second half of my childhood: the mid-nineties. Stay nostalgic, everyone.