Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.
What a difference 59 years makes. Sure, a six year old today has a bat, ball, and glove—along with a portable gaming system not much bigger than a library book, with access to hundreds of games and hours upon hours of vegetative thumb calisthenics.
From my early days, I cherished Tonka trucks—so sturdily built you'd run the risk of a tetanus shot if you cut your finger on a fender—everything Davy Crockett, from pup tents to coonskin caps—and, anything cowboy, like pearl-handled guns in leather holsters, wide-brimmed felt hats, and backyard makeshift sawhorse ponies named Ol' Charley.
In the early Sixties, back before super stores when the local downtown merchants were still thriving, Waycross was a magical haven for younguns like myself. A Saturday trip to town meant mystical meanderings in and out of the toy departments in McCrory's and S. H. Kress and Co.—or as we called it, Kresses. Both stores fronted Mary Street with back doors spilling out on to Lott Street, enabling easy access from one five and dime to the next.
I was a six-year-old living in Tripoli, Libya in 1959, when the Hula Hoop became the toy craze of the year—Alvin the Chipmunk even wanted one for Christmas. 11
years prior,two young University of Southern California graduates, Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin, started a toy company in the family garage, calling it WHAM-O Mfg. Co., the name based on the sound made by their first product, the Wham-O Slingshot.
By 1957, they had acquired the rights to Fred Morrison's creation, a plastic flying disc called the “Pluto Platter”, which the two partners renamed Frisbee. The plastic disc was so popular, I hear, it inspired an entire religious sect—the Frisbeeterians—who believed that when you died, your soul went up on top of the roof and you couldn't get it back down.
The co-entrepreneurs next big product came in 1961 with the popular backyard water sensation, Slip'N Slide. Due to neck or paralysis injuries suffered by eight adults between '73 and '91, it's wise to note that, like Trix cereal, Slip'N Slide is for kids.
A few years later, in 1965, I took the short ride on my blue Schwinn bike down Mount Pleasant Road to Pic N' Save Drugs, Waycross's first super retail store, where I purchased a black, super-compressed Wham-O Super Ball for just 98 cents.
In 1972, the innovative toy company launched Silly String, much to the dismay of obsessive-compulsive grownups around the world and much to the enjoyment of kids, the gooey, colorful strands being popular at birthday parties, weddings, and even used by the military to detect tripwires leading to hidden explosives.
Hacky Sack, a crocheted footbag filled with plastic beads and used as a popular sport by many, among them the hip, stoner, grunge crowds of the early 90s, was purchased and manufactured by Wham-O, beginning in 1983.
Safe to say, with the successes of the Hula Hoop, Frisbee, Slip'N Slide, Super Ball, Silly String, and Hacky Sack, Wham-O was the universal favorite of children's toys worldwide.
Knerr and Melin constantly traveled the wide world to gain insight for their unconventional toys, bringing back from Australia a bamboo exercise hoop in '57. Taking the idea one step further, manufacturing the hoops out of colorful, durable, polypropylene and polyethylene plastic, the modern toy Hula Hoop was born.
Since then, the hula hoop has enjoyed phenomenal success among exercise groups, dance enthusiasts, and music festival attendees. My wife, Lynne, bought one from a music festival vendor in 2012 and became so attached to it, I thought we might need a bigger bed.
She has become quite good with it, whirling it adeptly around her hips—while dancing—working it up her torso and around her neck, and with a flourish, up into her outstretched hand, where she continues to twirl it freeform until she slides back into it again. She can go for hours.
After getting so many requests for lessons, Lynne naturally began making them herself—out of PVC tubing and plastic couplings she picks up from Lowe's—decorating the outside with multicolored duct tape, shiny baubles and sparkly beads, and scraps of cloth material—then, filling the inside with Waycross sand and rocks, humid south Georgia air, Uncle Ben's Converted Rice (uncooked of course), just the right amount of tap water, or sometimes two cups of magical Okefenokee Swamp water. Believe you her, the heavier the hoop, the easier it is to keep it aloft.
It's not that easy bein' married to a hula hoopster. A hula hoopin' woman is sexier than a dresser drawerful of red, white, and black lace lingerie and can attract a crowd. It ain't near as provocative; but, I've had to man up several times and prove to inquisitive onlookers that I, too, can do it.
When Knerr and Melin first started WHAM-O Mfg. Co. in a family garage in 1948, I'll bet they had no idea how many marriages they'd save over the next 60 years, with the sexy and suggestive Hula Hoop, the exciting and inviting Slip'N Slide, and the lewd, lubricious Silly String. I think I'd better quit now before I besmirch my reputation and my website.
American Spirit: Uncle Dave and The Younguns Download or Buy
Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin