Memory Lane: A Sunday in the Summer

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Back when I was 12 years old and could stand the heat, Sunday was a big day for our family in the summer. Uncle Ferdie usually dropped in with a platoon of cousins, and that was the signal for two of my favorite family events–a backyard cookout, and horseshoes in the school playground next door.

I loved the clang! the horseshoes made when they struck the metal stake. It went so well with the crack of the bat. Ferdie, by then an inventor with RCA, had been a U.S. Marine. I always thought of him as a Marine recruiting poster come to life. So did the Marines, who shipped him off to Puerto Rico to be an admiral’s chauffeur. It wasn’t quite what he’d signed up for, but he had no complaints.

Hamburgers and hot dogs, with harmonica music, generally followed the horseshoe games. We had a large family, very close. My aunts would join us later on and show us slides of their latest journeys to almost everywhere in the world. For us a summer Sunday was like Christmas, but without the tree.

Oh, I wish we had our horseshoes back, and all those travel tales!

Thank you, Lord, for all those golden memories.

Memory Lane: Travels With My Aunts

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Throughout my childhood, one of the sure signs of summer was my aunts taking off for faraway places–Gertie, Millie, and Joan. Grandpa and Grandma always went to Florida; and even that was an exotic destination, back then. But my aunts went just about everywhere.

This was the late 50s, early 60s. You weren’t allowed to go to communist countries, and the Iron Curtain cut off half of Europe. So they went everywhere else.

Listen, people didn’t do that, back then! Just get on a plane and light out for the ends of the earth. My aunts could have easily become celebrated travel writers, had they wanted to.

Adventures? Yeah, they had adventures. Their tour came unraveled once, somewhere in the middle of Uganda. They had to eat at a place called The Black Cat Cafe. And you had to be very careful about that!

Another time, Aunt Millie had a panic attack deep in the bowels of the Great Pyramid–heckuva way to find out you’re claustrophobic.

These were single women with ordinary jobs. They weren’t rich. This was how they liked to spend their money; they worked hard for it and saved up for their travels. Travels (at least, as far as I can remember) to Norway, Iceland, England, Germany, Peru, the Caribbean, Australia, Venice, the Alps, Spain, Egypt, East Africa, West Africa, Greece, Labrador, Alaska (hardly anybody went there, back then), Ireland… And I’ll bet I’ve forgotten a few more. They always brought back really cool souvenirs and lots and lots of slides, show the family first and then the church. Every summer, another adventure.

It was a lot bigger world, back then. And my aunts knew it better than most.

Memory Lane: Drive-In Movies

Sean Connery in Zardoz | Considerable

Behold Sean Connery in hot pants and, I guess, go-go boots, starring in the 1974 science fiction classic–they kept saying it’s a classic–Zardoz. Good grief.

I turned to Patty yesterday and said, “Y’know what I’d like to do this evening? Take us to a drive-in movie.” Only of course that was looking back into the past; today the nearest drive-in is some hundred miles from here. All the ones we used to have–and enjoy–have been replaced by pack-’em-in housing and strip malls. Progress, don’t you know.

One night in the 70s we went to the dear old Amboys Drive-in to see Zardoz, which was supposed to be a classic. My brother Mark brought the beer. Patty watched the opening credits. “Oh, boy! John Alderton is in it!” She loved him in Upstairs, Downstairs. By the time Zardoz was halfway over, it was “Poor John Alderton!” With Mark in the back seat uncontrollably guffawing over the dialogue (“The ***** is evil. The ***** shoots seeds.”) Incredible, that Connery’s career survived this.

Every now and then you caught a good movie at the drive-in. But some of the bad ones were… well, indescribable. Like Caligula impersonating the Goddess Dawn. But if I listed just half a dozen of those and admitted I saw them at the drive-in, you’d think there was something wrong with me. Yeah, there was: I was in my early 20s.

We can’t go to the drive-in anymore. It’s been stuffed into extinction. People under a certain age have never seen one.

I call it a loss.

By Request, ‘Invisible Hands’

My wife requested this one–Invisible Hands, by Hank Snow. She remembered it from her childhood, heard it on the radio–on the Hit Parade, no less. Snow, a Country & Western star born in Canada, had scores of hits and was No. 1 on the charts several times. Some of those hits were Christian songs like this one.

A Peek into Another World

What kind of music was I listening to, when I was in college?

Well, a lot of stuff like this: Isle of Islay, by Donovan.

Don’t get me wrong. This song is at least 500 times better than anything we’re cranking out today, and I still like it after all these years. Really, it’s pretty fair poetry.

But the trappings! Oh, the Flower Power! Such a vast amount of twaddle never could sustain itself, and it sank into a swamp of Far Left Crazy. Oh, the price we had to pay for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi! Run screaming back to the Fifties.

The simple beauty of the song endures. It had nothing to do with the imagery that surrounded it at the time. All that poop has passed away. Oh, to think I was contemporaneous with Hippiedom! I must be careful to seek out all pictures of myself taken back then, and burn them. And everything I wrote–burn that, too.

So where were you in ’66?

All those of you who weren’t born yet are excused.

Sanity Break: ‘Mr. Froggie Went A-Courtin”

Before we plunge into any–ugh!–news, here’s a little something I remember from way back in my childhood–Mr. Froggie Went A-Courtin’, sung here by Burl Ives… with a lot of guitar-work used to make puns. Very clever!

This is an old, old folk song and there must be a zillion different versions of it. Each and every one of them is better than the nooze.

‘Memory Lane: Regimentation’ (2018)

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When I was a boy going to school in the 1950s, THE big thing was “regimentation”–making like the kids are in the army. Unless they had a plan to stage some bloody great 18th century-style infantry battles with children, I never saw the point to that.

Memory Lane: ‘Regimentation’

I mean, everywhere you went but Sunday school it was “Tennnn-hut! Dress right, dress! Count off by fours, count off!” If the idea was to instill in my generation a habit of discipline… then how in the world do you explain the Sixties?

I think my father’s generation sent a mixed message: spoiled us rotten, while at the same time treating us like army recruits. You can’t do those two things at once and expect anything good to come of it.

Parrot Sings What My Daddy Sang

I couldn’t resist this–a parrot singing You Are My Sunshine. My father used to sing this to me when I was a toddler having a bad night: pick me up, rock me, and sing this song. Never mind that he had to punch in at the Ford plant at 6:00 in the morning. His children always came first.

Better even than Gene Autry, Dad. And certainly better than this parrot, who is not to be blamed for his musical difficulties.

Memory Lane: A Pause in the Cold War

Nina Khrushchev – Yousuf Karsh

Nina Khrushchev

I was ten years old in 1959. The Cuban Missile Crisis still lay three years in the future, but this was the middle of the Cold War and the threat of a nuclear war kept a lot of people up at night.

And suddenly we learned that the head bad guy, the Russian bear himself, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, was going to visit the USA.

There were giants in the earth, in those days. Eisenhower and MacArthur. Haile Selassie. DeGaulle. And Winston Churchill, the greatest of them all. But Nikita loomed just as large. He could blow us up. But first, a visit. Thirteen days touring America.

My mother called him “the butcher of Budapest.” People made rude gestures when they saw him on TV.

And then America fell in love with Mrs. Khrushchev.

There was always something of the rough Ukranian peasant about Nikita; and Nina Khrushchev reminded you of your grandmother who grew up on a farm and could still drive a tractor if she had to. But the payoff was this:

“Nina will never let Nikita start a war and blow up the world! Never!”

And as far as we knew, she didn’t. Not even with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I also seem to remember her chastening her husband, “We don’t make jokes in church!” Nina’s heart was always in the right place. And as sweet and motherly as she seemed to be, we also had the feeling that Nikita had better behave himself, or else.

She is a nice memory in a bad time.

God was not going to let us nuke ourselves into oblivion. He still isn’t. Signs abound. And I think Mrs. K. was one of them.

 

Memory Lane: Water-Powered Rocket

Now that the weather’s warming up, here’s an outdoor toy–you’ll soon catch onto why you shouldn’t play with it indoors–that was heavily advertised on TV when I was a boy: the water-powered rocket.

Whoosh! Look at ‘er go! I want it, I want it! This was back at the beginning of the space program when we were bringing TV sets to school to watch the latest launch from Cape Canaveral. So much cooler than plain old lessons! When those first astronauts went up, the whole country went up with them. But oddly enough, I never got one of those water-powered rockets, nor did I know any kid who had one. The fulfillment of this dream had to wait till I grew up.

Finally! I bought a water-powered rocket. Mine, all mine! I took it out to the schoolyard and hoped it wouldn’t fly so far away that I couldn’t find it. Pump, pump, pump the launcher, build up that pressure. And then, and then… Launch!

It gave this sort of little farting sound and mostly just fell off the launcher. Even as a little kid I could have thrown the fatzing rocket farther than it ever flew from the launcher. Again and again I tried. Its best effort was about four or five feet. Not exactly a moon shot.

I do wonder if everybody’s water-powered rocket was as big a disappointment as this. Nowadays you can get these huge, elaborate water-powered rockets, YouTube is full of them and they probably cost a fortune.

But I think I’ve learned my lesson.