Monday, May 26, 2008

Sibling Assignment #64: White Elephant in a Snowstorm

This week the sibling assignment comes from InlandEmpireGirl who gave us this prompt:

Taking in the strong fragrance of lilacs today reminded me of Spokane, " The Lilac City". Write about a memorable time from childhood that was spent in Spokane.

When my sisters post their pieces, I'll create links to them.

I think it was my twelfth birthday. So, let's say it was December 27, 1965.

Our family loaded up the Chevy, piled in, and headed off to Orofino, Idaho. Orofino is Mom's birthplace and her mother, Grandma West, and I both have December 27th birth dates. We were heading off for a bash.

Instead, we got bashed. We got bashed by a blizzard. When we tried to head south from Coeur d'Alene to head toward Orofino, the state patrol turned us away. The highway was closed.

We decided to go to Spokane where Grandma Woolum lived. At Grandma's house, Dad either had to or wanted to park outside Grandma's backyard garage, but the snow was so thick he couldn't get the car in the spot.

He and I had to shovel it out. The temperature had increased. It was starting to rain.

Each shovel of snow weighed about ten tons.

We finished shoveling and Mom and Dad let me choose where I wanted to go to shop for a birthday gift.

I couldn't believe my ears.

To me, Spokane was a boy's heaven for shopping. I remembered when I was a really little kid and faithfully watched "Romper Room" with Miss Florence. "Romper Room" was sponsored by J. J. Newberry's and all the toys on "Romper Room" came from J. J. Newberry's.

On one of our visits to Spokane when I was a really little kid, Mom took me and InlandEmpireGirl to J. J. Newberry's and it made me dizzy. I had an allowance to spend and I nearly threw up trying to decide between buying a paratrooper whom I could eject from a cockpit and watch him float to the ground or a new Dr. Seuss book or a fun board game like Chutes and Ladders or Uncle Wiggly or a Superball or some Silly Putty or a plastic baseball and bat set.

But, at twelve, I didn't want to go to J. J. Newberry's. That was for little kids.

I didn't want to go to Northtown and shop at The Crescent because we always did that and I wanted to go somewhere new. Besides, The Crescent was not really a kid's store. It was more Mom and Grandma's store.

I suppose a few years earlier I might have wanted to go to Northwest Seed. They sponsored the afternoon children's program "Mr. Wallaby and Jack" and I had it my head that I could see the show's eponymous kangaroo. Can someone tell me -- was there a real kangaroo caged at Northwest Seed?

On some television show I watched back then, commercials appeared for a place called the White Elephant Surplus Store. Or maybe it was that every time we went downtown on Division Street, I saw the flashing neon"Toys" sign.

Something had lured me to the White Elephant Surplus Store and that's where we went.

I walked in the White Elephant Surplus Store and I was shocked.

I'd ignored the fact that The White Elephant Surplus Store was Spokane's Original Source for Sporting Goods.

I had imagined a Toyland, a bright celestial wonderland of shelf upon shelf of Coleco Electric Football games and cool new Table Hockey sets and boxes of Strat-o-matic Baseball and rows of imaginatively designed cribbage boards and maybe even Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots.

The White Elephant Surplus store was not celestial. It was dim.

Rather than Hasbro or Ideal or Remco or Kenner toys, everywhere I looked were Remington rifles, blaze orange vests, Coleman camp stoves, Shakespeare fishing tackle, not to mention Wooly Worms, Nymphs, Scuds, Dry Flies, Streamers, and Shrimp.

"Mom, where are the toys?"

She asked a burly man wearing a Carhartt canvas duck hunting vest and smoking a Viceroy where the toys were and he looked over his glasses, stifled a chuckle, and pointed to the back of the store.

Among the imitation GI Joes and knock off Chatty Cathys, I found some board games. I picked out Clue.

We left.

My spirits sagged. No trip to Orofino. Shoveling wet snow. Toyland was more ToyTundra.

I walked in Grandma's house and could hear chicken sizzling and could smell bacon frying: a fried chicken and green beans and bacon with mashed potatoes and gravy dinner.

My spirits raised.

Underneath the smell of dinner, a sweet fragrance rose.

"Chocolate birthday cake?"

"Yes, Billy," Grandma smiled. "With German chocolate frosting."

Dinner. Cake. Candles. Ice cream. A fire in the fireplace. A marshmallow roast.

Sated, InlandEmpireGirl, Mom, and I went upstairs to figure out if Mr. Boddy was killed with the dagger by Col. Mustard in the Conservatory.


Anonymous said...

Hi Bill,

I certainly remember the Wallaby and Jack, and my father took me to Northwest Seed to see him on several occasions. They also had monkeys back then, and my mother had a wonderful knack for backing up to their cages, only to have one of the chimps grab her purse handle or her hair. You can't imagine how hard my dad and I laughed at her misfortune before my dad finally summoned a clerk to rescue my mom. Thanks for this post! It brought back great memories for me as well!! (I also watched Cap'n Cy and kids trying to bite into the cream filling of a Hostess cupcake to win a prize)
Take Care!

Dean said...

I was a big NWSP person back in the days. I remember going to Spokane with my Dad and stopping to look at the pets and animals. I believe they had a kangaroo there for quite some time. By the way I was on the Wallaby and Jack show with my brother. He got all the coverage and I can remember our friends asking why I didn’t speak up when Jack asked me questions. Do you remember who Jack was and what he did at the station? I also had two close friends who were on Starlet (sp) Stairway. One played guitar (Berry Vetter) and the other bent over backwards and picked up a dime with her mouth. Very flexible, her name was Karen Franklin. Wow, how do you remember those names? Keep posting Mr. Pert and I’ll keep smiling.

Thomas Miller said...

Thanks for your interesting narrative of a day in Spokane in 1965. At that time, I lived in north Spokane and was 10 years old so I know very well all of which you speak here. I now live in Australia and think about Wallaby and Jack whenever I see a wallaby at the side of the road as roadkill--and how dearly I wanted to see that animal before someone in about 1968 (?) broke into the KXLY studios one night (used to be on E. Sprague (I think) and killed him. I remember that host was a man by the name of Danny Murphy. I went to elem school with his son--I thought he was a celebrity on a par with a movie star. One day Danny Murphy was found dead--he'd drowned in a mud puddle drunk--on the way home from a bar

I can remember how Division St was a magical place with all these companies that advertised on TV. NW Seed, Boyle Coal and Oil. I loved it when my parents would go to Shadle Center rather than Northtown--there was a very cool toy store there. It even had a slot car track where the older boys would bring their cars from home and race them. At Northtown, when my parents dragged me there, I'd just wander the aisles of Payless Drugs. Can you remember the smell of drug stores back then? Especially around Halloween?

Thanks for the memories!!

matt said...

I would go with my Mom to NW Seed and Pet quite often to look at the puppies, back when pet stores had puppies.

I love the White Elephant, it was dingy, but there was something I liked about it. I doubt I would like it as much now as I've been to similar places and the magic is lost.

I remember Newberry's was pretty gross around my time. I remember the one downtown and I think there was one at University City but we never went into that one.

However, I did like the South Hill Giant-T, we would go there to get ice cream quite often. It was like 35 cents for a single scoop. Crazy.

John said...

White Elephant in a Snowstorm:
Saw you posting from May 2008, just wanted to give the White Elephant a fair review. Those were not imitation GI Joes or Catty Cathy dolls those were the real thing. White Elephant at that time was one of the larger distributors of Hasbro Toys in the nation. The toys have always been the real thing and found there way under most of the Spokane Christmas trees for the past 60 years. To put it into perspective Toys-R-Us pulled out of Spokane because they couldn’t compete with the White Elephant.

There have been some lean years with the influx of Wal-Mart ant the other big box companies. This seems to be changing however because the White Elephant is coming back strong as folks clue into the true nature of these corporations.

BTW in 1967 you were about 10 years early expecting to find Coleco Electronic Football…. Next time through town drop into 1730 North Division I have a feeling you will be pleasantly surprised…..

jbainter602 said...


Jack was John Richard Bainter I, and went by the nickname, "Jack". He is/was my grandfather and died at age ~40 of a heart attack. Good man from what I hear of him and I wish he was sill around.

John R. Bainter III

Tom Schultz said...

I well remember watching Mr. Wallaby and Jack as a boy in Richland. As I recall the show came to an end when it was discovered that Mr. Wallaby was a Mrs. -- I remember the Joey poking its head out of the pouch on TV.

Tom Schultz, Fulton, Missouri

Unknown said...

I lived in Spokane from 1959 until 1964 or so. I was on Romper Room with Miss Florence (she never saw me in the mirror afterwards!) I was also on the Wallaby and Jack Show with my brother and our cousins from Pennsylvania. Jack had my little brother center stage at the mike and said he'd heard my brother had a special talent...he could talk like a frog. It's a good thing my brother was cute, because "froggy talk' was no big deal. We were also on the Captain Cy Show. After all these years, I could never remember the name of that show, until now! I remember we had to walk over a little bridge, but Captain didn't stop me to talk. The other big deal was that they threw mini loaves of Wonder Bread and Twinkies into the audience. On reflection, it seems so weird that my mother got us on all three shows. It doesn't seem like her at My other Spokane memories are the smell of the city bus and how high we had to step up to get on. Woodrow Wilson grade school, A&W Drive-In, and some kind of amusement park on a hill with a small roller coaster. I believe the last time I was there was in 1974 for the World's Fair.