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September, 2008

"Get the Best! Get Sealtest!"

by Larry

About sixty years ago, in the post-war 1940s and new war early 1950s, polio was still a terrible scourge and televisions were as yet scarce. We did not have a set. On the few occasions when I had watched one, though, I found it captivating.

We lived in a nice, new suburban housing development on Marshal Street in Falls Church, VA, close to the Pentagon and Washington, D.C., where Dad worked. We lived there from when I was four to almost eight. My sister was born while we lived there, a few months before we moved to Omaha, NE. We had a small brick house on a lot that today would be considered spacious. The yard sloped down in back, which made for good sledding on wintry days, but the front was a good place for rolling up balls of snow and stacking them into snowmen. At the bottom of the little hill behind the house, Mom and Dad cultivated, planted, and tended a big and bountiful garden. My folks had gotten into the habit of growing most of their fresh vegetables during the rationing of World War II, when Victory Gardens were all the rage.

I played outdoors a great deal in the summer, on weekends, or after school and, one way or another, made friends with several of the kids on our block.

And there were paper drives, scrap metal drives, school fund drives, Trick-or-Treat, Christmas card sales drives, and... all sorts of ways and reasons to knock on neighbor doors and meet those inside.

So I got to know a little girl about my age who lived in the house across the street and over one to the left.

Linda was small for her age and hardly ever went out. I do not think she went to school. But she was cute, smart, and quiet. She did not even play much inside. She tired easily and didn't move around a lot. She had one weak leg a lot smaller than the other and wore a big brace but could not really walk by herself. Polio was pretty scary, but they told me I couldn't catch it from her. It had surely messed her life up, and for awhile they didn't know if she would live. Lots of kids got it and had to be in an iron lung just to breathe.

And so sometimes on late Saturday mornings I would go see Linda at her house. I think I would go partly because she had one of those early black-and-white TVs, since she just had to sit around most of the time. And on Saturday they had a great CBS program called "The Big Top." Every Saturday there was another live circus show, complete with lion taming, special new acts, elephants, people doing aerial acrobatics, horse tricks, magic, and clowns. We loved the clowns, among whom briefly was a young Ed McMahon, later to become famous on the NBC "Tonight" show as Johnny Carson's sidekick.

At first I think I went to see Linda because I felt sorry for her. But then I just liked her. Of course, the circus, Kool-Aid, television, and ice cream didn't hurt!

Often Linda's mother would bring each of us a cup of Kool-Aid. Once in a while, it would be a little bowl of ice cream instead. That was especially appropriate because "The Big Top" was brought to us by Sealtest Ice Cream. We liked their catchy jingle: "Get the best! Get Sealtest."

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