Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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May 12, 2014

Ah, what beautiful memories

ASHLAND — If you, are like me, a person of a certain age, then you no doubt remember pop beads. They were all the rage back in my younger days, and I bet they’d sell like hotcakes if they came back out right now.

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, they were fat plastic beads that popped onto each other to create necklaces, bracelets, belts and other oh-so-fashionable accessories. As a kid, I was all about getting as many as I could in as many colors as possible and showing them off to my friends.

And showing up my older sister. She tended to spend her money on comic books while I’d squirrel away the bits of cash I earned for household chores. Thus my collection of beads was far larger, giving me a one-up in the jewelry department.

I realize that, like hula hoops, pop beads have never left. There’s probably some store or catalog center that sells them every day and I just don’t know about it.

I’m pretty sure, though, that smoking monkeys have gone the way of the dinosaur. Yes, I did say smoking monkeys.

Living less than an hour from the Toledo Zoo in Ohio, trips to see the animals were fairly regular. Sometimes it was a school field trip. Other times my parents took us. But I always had a few dollars to spend on souvenirs.

Even back then there were those machines that elongate pennies and stamp a design on them. Lost under the floorboards of my childhood bedroom are probably a half dozen of them, all with Toledo Zoo on them and most with an elephant or giraffe — my two favorites of the time — stamped on.

The zoo gift shop had all sorts of things zoo-related for us kids to buy. Once in a while I’d buy something like a pennant to hang in my room or an oversized pencil with the zoo logo.

Then I discovered the smoking monkeys and that was that.

Made of inexpensive plastic, they’d “smoke” whatever that stuff was that came with them. I’m sure it’s been declared deadly now and outlawed, but back then, you’d rub it between your hands and stick in the plastic monkey’s mouth and fake smoke rolled out.

OK, I wasn’t really sophisticated back in the day. That was the coolest thing I’d ever seen and my parents, who I’m sure often wondered why God had given them me, managed to withhold what I’m sure was a strong opinion about this favored toy.

Even way back then my aunt referred to her pack of cigarettes as “my coffin nails,” so I suspect they weren’t too thrilled with this glamorization of smoking.

Of course, my mother wasn’t overjoyed at the real monkey in the 5&10 cent store, either. I have no idea how old the thing was, but it was caged where the ladies’ clothing section gave way to toys.

That monkey may have brought people in the door, but it had a habit of spitting on the unsuspecting, which was one of the reasons my mother disliked it. Anytime we’d get too close, she’d yank us back and suggest we look at the dolls.

That monkey loved bubble gum and people gave it to the critter. When the monkey eventually died, I’m sure it was from old age. But the rumor — the “real truth” kids whispered to each other — was that monkeys can’t digest bubble gum and the poor thing died of a Double Bubble overdose.

CATHIE SHAFFER can be reached at cathieshaffer@zoominternet.net

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