Boomers Counted Down the Days

As boomer children, countdowns of various sorts were practically an everyday occurrence. There were seasonal countdowns throughout the school year; as the Space Race got going, the “T-minus …” phrase of the NASA countdown clock became household words; and Top 40 countdowns on your transistor radio played daily. The whole concept of countdowns is on Mister Boomer’s brain this week because a co-worker gave him a countdown clock to install as his screensaver. The countdown has now begun at his workplace for the time next year that Mister B joins the ever-growing number of boomers who have retired. Be that as it may, let’s explore what countdowns meant to boomers forty, fifty, or sixty years ago.

At the start of the school year, the students who couldn’t wait for the next summer vacation might set themselves up a countdown calendar until the next summer vacation, but for most boomers, countdowns became necessary as the holiday season drew near. About this time each year, countdowns cropped up as Thanksgiving approached. In Mister Boomer’s experience, while many boomers enjoyed Thanksgiving, it was more important as the beginning of the countdown to Christmas. Sometime between the Sunday following Thanksgiving and the first Sunday in December marked the beginning of the Advent Calendar for religious households. The Advent Calendar was itself a countdown device, in which the dates varied year to year and also might be of a different duration based on religious denomination. The point is, boomer kids were counting down the days to Christmas, when they could open their gifts from Santa Claus.

Of course, boomers watched the end-of-year countdowns on their family’s TV. For many years that countdown was delivered by Guy Lombardo, until boomer families could afford a second TV in their homes or finally convince their parents to ditch Mr. Auld Lang Syne in favor of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. A good many boomers watched that countdown for decades.

The drudgery of winter school classes after the holidays necessitated a reminder countdown of the days until summer vacation. Winter or spring breaks did little to replace the ultimate school year countdown to come. By the time May arrived, many a boomer “X’d” out days on a calendar that counted down the time until there would be “no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks.” As boomers grew, there was the countdown until graduation day. For many more boomers than generations before them, that meant resetting the school countdown clock with college attendance.

When it came time to launch rockets into space, NASA’s live narrated countdowns amped up the excitement of boomers like Mister B, who watched intently on a black and white TV set rolled into his classroom. The phrase, “5,4,2,1… blast off!” became commonplace, especially among boomer boys. NASA preferred “lift off” to “blast off,” as there is a technical definition difference involving using a rocket to “blast off” under its own power as opposed to “lift off” of a manned capsule into space on top of a rocket. NASA used countdowns even before the first manned space flights. In Mister Boomer’s research on the subject, as far as anyone seems to recall, the use of countdowns to mark the launch of rockets was first seen in science fiction literature somewhere in the 1920s. It may be interesting to note that audible countdowns were not employed in the early days of German rocketry prior to and during WWII, then later in the Soviet space program. Instead, silent counts were observed via a clock. The Soviet Union did adopt them after a time, possibly as a way to interest the Russian public in their early besting of the Americans’ space progress.

Countdowns were a regular thing in boomer-era popular music. Boomers listening to their favorite radio stations could hear countdowns of the Top 40, or a DJ could play a countdown of the most requested songs of the week. In 1970, when the last boomers were just six years old, Casey Kasem began airing American Top 40 as a music countdown radio show. The Billboard charts were used to create the countdown lists. The countdown show still exists, with Ryan Seacrest as the host.

Countdowns mark the passage of time, shorter or longer term. It seems only right that boomers, who have witnessed so many countdowns through the years, have faced or now face the countdown to mark the end of their full-time working lives.

How about you, boomers? What did countdowns mean in your lives? Was the countdown to Christmas the most important thing in your life at the time?

Boomers Loved Candy Apples

It’s Halloween time once again and you know what that means: pumpkin spice everything has co-opted the season. This year, it seems like the pumpkin spice products emerged around Labor Day. It wasn’t always that way, of course. In boomer years, the fall-leading-into-Halloween time was marked by the annual appearance of caramel and candy apples. In fact, for some people, candy apples were the go-to choice for giving Halloween trick-or-treaters. However, Mister Boomer did not appreciate this offering that added weight to his pillow case of treats. He was not a fan of the hard-shelled sugar candy coating, but the color and sheen — that was another story.

Candy apples were first made by Newark, New Jersey candymaker William Kolb in 1908. He was looking for a way to showcase his red cinnamon candy, and experimented with dipping apples in it. Displayed in his shop window, the shiny red apples with a stick in each one drew in customers, eager to try his new concoction. They were a big hit! The idea spread quickly to local and regional fairs, but early in the twentieth century, they became a popular giveaway treat for Halloween.

After the War, the Baby Boom began. Optimism was high in the country, and national mood was expressed by a series of heavily saturated colors. One of those colors was a rendition of that shiny red, inspired by candy apples. By the 1950s, a candy red could color could be seen on women’s handbags, footwear, jewelry and accessories, as well as home appliances.

It wasn’t long before the West Coast custom car culture experimented with methods of reproducing the color and shine that was pulsing through the consumer market. Mel Pinoli, of Pinoli’s Body & Paint Shop in California, is credited with creating the first candy paint color for cars — but it wasn’t red, it was green!

A couple of years later, around 1956, car customizer Joe Bailon built on Pinoli’s process in an attempt to create the color he saw on a set of Ludwig drums. Bailon’s method applied a metallic coat of paint (silver or gold) to the car, followed by a translucent dye layer, which was then covered with a clear lacquer. Sanding and polishing brought out the blends of each layer with a shine that mimicked Kolb’s original red cinnamon candy apple. Mr. Bailon called the resulting color, candy apple red. Voila! he painted the first car a candy apple red!

Mister Boomer remembers being wowed by the visual depth and beauty of a candy apple red finish on custom cars he saw in car shows and occasionally, in neighborhood parking lots.

In 1963, Fender guitars offered a candy apple red option for their iconic Stratocaster model for the added price of $15. The company offered the color only until 1974.

What about caramel apples? Not to be confused with candy apples, caramel apples are what the name says: an apple with a stick in it dipped in melted caramel, often rolled in crushed walnuts. Unlike its candy apple cousin, caramel apples were a true boomer-era invention, arriving in 1948. Mister B recalls Kraft caramels having as recipe for caramel apples printed on the back of the bag.

Mister Boomer much preferred the caramel apple variety, but not for Halloween. No way. To him, that was as bad as receiving a popcorn ball, or a plain apple! Nonetheless, Mister B concedes that somebody somewhere used to enjoy getting caramel or candy apples for Halloween, back in a time when homemade treats were an acceptable part of trick-or-treating.

How about you, boomers? Candy or caramel apple fan? Loved or hated the color?