These Brownies weren’t chocolate

Published 1:47 am Saturday, October 29, 2016

Do you remember Brownie cameras? Or, depending upon your age, you might even ask, “What’s that?” Brownies were box cameras made by Eastman Kodak. My parents and I recorded many happy memories through Brownie snapshots. We either had the rolls of 120 film developed at Birmingham drugstores or mailed them off in a special envelope to a company in South Carolina. I started watching the mailbox the day after we posted the film. When you forgot to advance the film, the result was double exposures. It was always a disappointment to find several of those when I ripped open the return envelopes. Somewhere in one of our family photo album are snaps of my cousin Betty taking my picture with her camera, while I was taking a picture of her snapping me.

A friend e-mailed me a video with Brownies and other things I had forgotten. If you are anywhere near my age (and a pack rat as well), you might even recall green S&H stamps we collected to turn in for some special items.

I drifted right into the past viewing that video. There in front of me were Tinkertoys spilled out of a round container. The contents included a bunch of various-sized sticks and pieces of round wood. The round pieces had holes every 45 degrees around the perimeter, but they did not go all the way through—only the hole in the center did. Depending on how creative you were (I wasn’t) you could build things like cars, airplanes, houses, barns, fences, even animals.

One year when I spent the summer with my younger cousin Harold, who really was creative, we spent a lot of time playing with his Tinkertoys. It was an incomplete set, but he did well with it. His daddy traveled for a living and always brought us each a present on his return from a trip. I had gotten so absorbed with Tinkertoys, I secretly hoped that he was bringing me some. Harold’s package held a new set, but my gift was a doll. I was disappointed, but I held back the tears.

I laughed out loud when one of those metal roller skate keys popped up in the video. I constantly misplaced mine—no skate key, no skating—because there was nothing else to secure my skates to my shoes.

When I saw that key, it reminded me of another metal object; a bottle opener Mother used at the grocery store she managed. It was near the bottom drawer of a meat case she used to keep soft drinks ice cold. Naturally, thinking of those luscious almost frozen soft drinks brought to mind my favorite penny candy. A dime’s worth of penny candy back then stacked up well in the smallest brown paper bags available. Mother often patiently waited as a child clasping pennies in his or her hand selected candy piece by piece from the showcase.

That video was an eye opener—things have changed a lot in my lifetime.


Nina Keenam is retired from the newspaper business. Her column appears on Saturdays.