An Apple Core, a Toilet: Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood

Copyright Information


An Apple Core, a Toilet: Misadventures and Memories of a 1970’s Childhood


2013: Thomas J Purcell Jr.


The right of Thomas J Purcell Jr. to be identified as author of this Work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system, copied in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise transmitted without written permission from the publisher. You must not circulate this book in any format.






Nostalgic for your 1970s childhood? Me, too.


I am nationally syndicated humor columnist Tom Purcell ( My column runs in more than 200 newspapers across America.


In the past decade my readers have made it clear that they especially enjoy humor pieces that relive the misadventures of a typical 1970s childhood — so I wrote a book.


“An Apple Core, a Toilet: Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood” includes misadventures and fond memories that are relatable to millions of baby boomers, men and women alike.


It delivers 17 stories about bike jumps that nearly killed us, vengeance on the sledding slopes, 6th grade puppy love, the old wooden stereo console, the embarrassment of getting the first David Cassidy shag haircut, a beloved family dog that ran away, going through the old photo box as a kid and later as an adult with my mother, a baby sister left behind at the drive-in theater, a regrettable incident in which I clogged the family room toilet with an apple core, and many other tales from the 70s.


At times laugh-out-loud funny — at times poignant and sentimental — “An Apple Core, a Toilet: Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood” offers a romp through the things we loved and miss the most about a childhood that we experienced some 40 years ago. 


These stories total approximately 30,000 words — or 131 Kindle pages. Also, listen to my one-hour radio discussion about humorous ‘70s nostalgia at! And check out my collection of columns “Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!” also on


For more details, visit me on the Web ( or email me at [email protected]


Table of Contents


Dinner Bells

An Apple Core, a Toilet

Grocery Night

Big Buddy Puppy Love

The Stereo Console

The Window Fans

The Photo Box

My “David Cassidy” Hair

Don't Take Her for Granted

The Bike Jump

A Walk to the Little Store

A Reckoning with Jerry Gray

Praying for a White Christmas

The Dog that Ran Away

Good Old Neighbors

Left Behind

Our Snapshot of America


Dinner Bells

I long for the sounds of summer I knew as a kid.
In the '60s and '70s, you see, most of our neighbors kept their windows open day and night, allowing the outside sounds to come in and the inside sounds to go out.
I woke every morning to the birds chirping outside my window screen, a dewy chill in the air. I'd smell my father's pipe, which he smoked while he read the paper downstairs. I'd go down to greet him. Sometimes he'd make scrambled eggs and toast covered with butter, and we'd eat while the birds kept on singing.
The evening sounds were equally powerful: a dog barking; a motorcycle downshifting on some faraway hill; people out on their porches listening to the Pirates play on the radio; a baby crying; a couple talking; children laughing; a window fan humming.
Sounds carry far in the summer air. One family on the hill — they had three adult kids still living at home — entertained the whole neighborhood with their cussing and bickering:
"You're an idiot!" one would shout.
"No, you're an idiot!" said another.
"Shut up the both of youse!" the old man would yell. He told our next-door neighbor once he couldn't understand why his kids were so rude to each other, the lousy idiots.
The sounds I miss the most, though, were the shouts and chants and bells that families relied on to call their kids home for supper.
In those days, kids didn't participate in one adult-run activity after another. We didn't sit inside air-conditioned homes playing video games. No, we were out in the hills roaming and exploring and creating all day long.
We collected scrap wood and built shacks. We damned up the creek and caught minnows and crayfish. One summer, we built a motorized go-cart with some scrap items from a junked riding mower and a couple of two-by-fours. It was one of the great engineering feats in my neighborhood's history.
Occasionally, we'd fib to our mothers and ride our bikes 20 miles farther than we said we would. Or we'd pluck some baby pears off a tree by Horning road and whip them at cars. Every now and then, a car would screech to a stop, and we'd sprint through a creek aqueduct that ran 200 feet beneath the neighborhood.


There was only one major rule a kid had to abide by: you'd better be home in time for supper.
Every kid had a unique sound to call him home. My father went with a deep, booming, "Tom, dinner! Tom, dinner!" I could hear him a mile away or more.
When moms did the calling, they always used full names. They always sang, too, as my Aunt Jane did: "Miiiiiikkkeeelllll, Keeeeevvvviiiiiinnnnn, suuuuuppppppeeerrrr!"
The Givens boys, up on the hill across the railroad tracks, were called in by a large bell. The clanging sounded off at 6 every night, giving us the sense that a river boat was making its way up the Mississippi or a chow wagon was calling in the cow hands for some grub.
One family used a riot horn. The piercing "hrmmpppphhhhhh!" could be heard for miles. There was no way that kid, attempting to explain why he was late for supper, could claim he didn't hear it.
These mystical summer sounds have been gone a long time now. How wonderful it would be to bring them back.
At least one month every summer, why don't we cease every structured activity for our children, cancel every tournament, and end every adult-run event.


Let's turn off the television and computer. Let's shut down the air conditioner and un-shutter the windows and doors.
Let's allow our kids to go out into the hills to roam and play and discover all day long. That will require us to call them home at dinner.
And our shouts and chants and bells will breathe some much needed music into the sweet summer air.


An Apple Core, a Toilet



In 1973, when I was 11 years old, I flushed an apple core down the toilet, an action I’d come to regret.


It would cause my father to run around the house in hysterics, my mother to chase and try to calm him, our dog Jingles to jump through a Plexiglas pane in the kitchen door, not to return for several hours, among other unfortunate events.




My father, as was true with most fathers in our neighborhood — and most suburban fathers across America at that time — had remodeled our basement into a family room in the late 1960s.


He hired a retired carpenter, Mr. Bill, who attended our church. Mr. Bill would come over on weekends, when my father generated enough overtime money to buy supplies, to frame out the basement with 2x4s and run electrical wiring.


It took several weeks to nudge the project along. Eventually, they installed what every father installed in every suburban basement back then: inexpensive pine paneling designed to look like real pine planks.


When my father had saved up some more money, he and Mr. Bill moved on to the ceiling. They stapled inexpensive white panels — made from some kind of fireproof pulp — to the ceiling studs.


My father saved the most expensive project for last — the powder room, which would be the bane of his existence for the next 25 years, until 1999, when he and my mother would sell the house.


You see, my father, always looking to save a buck — he and my mother had six kids to feed on a single income, after all — bought the cheapest sink and toilet he could find. He found both covered in dust in the scratch-and-dent section of Daniel's Discount Hardware.


Daniel’s was a place people would drive to from miles away to tap the hundreds of years of accumulated knowledge of the cranky old fellows who worked there; no matter what household challenge you faced, Daniels had the parts and the expertise to repair it.


An amazing volume of materials — building supplies, plumbing fixtures, tools and appliances — moved through Daniel’s. The fact that the sink and toilet my father found there had stuck around Daniel’s high-volume operation long enough to collect that thick layer of dust did not speak well for the quality of either.


Nonetheless, my father negotiated with one of the cranky old fellows and walked out of the store with the “bargain” sink and toilet — a bargain that would, as I said, agitate him for the next 25 years.


For starters, both items were absurdly small — as though they'd been designed for miniature people.


The white sink had a small rectangular porcelain bowl — with a hairline crack — atop two chrome spindle legs. Its faucet and handles were tiny. My father, his hands as big as frying pans, was barely able to wash soap off his fingers and palms.


At least the sink worked, though. The toilet never did work right.


For reasons my father could never determine, the bolts that secured the toilet to the floor were forever coming loose. He tried every kind of lock washer to hold them in place, but to no avail. The toilet was forever becoming loose, and water was forever seeping from beneath its base.


Worse, it didn’t take more than a few pieces of tissue to clog it. My father spent much of his spare time unplugging it — and pleading with us not to use it.


“Use the upstairs toilet unless it's an emergency,” he bellowed. “And for goodness sakes, don't even think about number two!”


He was especially worried when we had guests over. During holiday events, while everyone else was talking and laughing, my father manned the bathroom door like some kind of sentinel. He redirected anyone who needed "to go" to the bathrooms upstairs.

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