J. KARL MILLER: Take time out from agitation

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:49 a.m. CST, Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The once precious festive period between traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas is, for me at least, a perfect time to enjoy a respite from the current bitter wrangling over cliff diving, same-sex marriage, legalizing of pot and the pernicious rehashing of the Presidential election. I realize there are legitimate concerns needing response — but, give it a rest, picking at it won't solve a thing.

Accordingly, once again, I have willed myself into the wonderful world of nostalgia — that delightful time of black and white films in which we were treated to the Movietone News of the day, selected short subjects, a cliff-hanging serial, a cartoon and the movie. As neither television nor the Internet was available, we relied on the radio and heavily on our imagination for entertainment.

Who of the senior or seasoned generation can forget the radio commercials: "Duz Does Everything," "LSMFT (Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco)," "Waterman's Pens and Waterman's Ink present Gangbusters," "Rinso White, Rinso Bright, Happy Little Washday Song" and bellhop Johnny Roventini's "Stepping out of Store Windows all over America" with his Call for Phillip Morrisssssssssssssssss?

As one who neither tweets nor texts but has fallen for a smartphone, I suppose I am as hip as the next geezer. Of course, the smartphone is far smarter than I, as are most electronic gadgets. It was intended for use by 10-year-olds. Learning the mechanics of initiating and answering phone calls was almost beyond my capacity.

Nevertheless, I soon became sufficiently proficient with the gadgetry to discover and navigate the roads and rivers of eBay. This finding unearthed a veritable treasure trove of almost but not quite forgotten material from a period now popularized by the 1983 movie "A Christmas Story" and Ralphie's quest for a Red Ryder BB carbine.

Among my first eBay search subjects was for Captain Midnight and the Secret Squadron. I struck paydirt here with the find and purchase of a 1946 Captain Midnight Decoder Badge with a working alphabetic dial. With this device, one could decode the message and learn of the peril facing the good Captain and his squadron on the morrow.

If you will recall, the Captain Midnight Secret Decoder device (there was a new one every year) was available only to the applicant who mailed an Ovaltine Label along with 25 cents in stamp or coin to a mysterious Battle Creek, Mich. address. As I had two brothers, this required three jars of Ovaltine. And, when I left home for the Marines, all three jars remained minus three tablespoons of the not-so-tasty mixture.

Captain Midnight was one of about six 15-minute radio serials airing from 4:30 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. They included Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, Tennessee Jed, Hop Harrigan, Terry and the Pirates, and Tom Mix. I was fortunate to find on eBay also a complete set of Tom Mix's Ralston Straight Shooters pins, the back of each containing a code word such as "danger ahead" to signal the next day's peril for Tom.

Yet another treasure I rediscovered through the magic of search of the world's largest Internet marketplace was a source for the pin back buttons once provided in each box of Kellogg's Pep cereal. The pins' faces, adorned first with U.S. World War II military unit symbols and later with the faces of comic book characters (Dick Tracy, Herbie, Superman, etc.), were extremely collectable in the 1940s. They were also the source of much infighting between the Miller brothers — whoever got to the cereal first got the prize.

Serious collectors with interests in this era might be interested in Harry "The Cat" Breecheen (St. Louis Cardinal lefthander) and Phil Rizzuto (Yankee shortstop) baseball gloves, vintage Hubley cap pistol and holster sets, Boy Scout pocket knives,  Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, Duncan yo-yos and, for the more affluent, antique Lionel train sets.

Finally, for those who cannot surrender their political persona, there are hundreds of available presidential campaign collectibles. Be the first of your persuasion to sport an "I Like Ike" or "Madly for Adlai" button. For the really dedicated denizens from the right, there are "Dewey and Bricker," "Wilkie and McNary" and "Landon and Knox" pins. For Democrats, there are "Roosevelt and Garner," "Roosevelt and Truman," "Roosevelt and Wallace" and "I'll take Roosevelt again" buttons.

The message is clear — life is too short to dwell morosely on dashed election hopes or gloat overbearingly over your side's victory. This was not "the election to end all elections" — there will be more, and the shoe has an established habit of transferring to the other foot. Let us enjoy the remainder of 2012 while also maintaining faith in the American people to ride out the storm.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Skip Yates December 13, 2012 | 12:45 p.m.

Merry Christmas to all authorized personnel!

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