Sanity Break: Old-Fashioned Natural History

The Golden Treasury of Natural History by Bertha Morris Parker: Very Good  Hardcover w/ Jacket (1952) | JDBFamily

One of the glories of my childhood was The Golden Treasury of National History by Bertha Morris Parker, copyright 1952. That painting of the plesiosaur (above) is one of my all-time favorite pictures. Hours and hours and hours I spent in that book! And it left me with a lifelong fascination for animals past and present.

Patty got me a used copy for my birthday last year, and I resort to it sometimes when I’m feeling stressed, tired, or just hung out to dry. I did that today.

Okay, a lot of the science in the book–especially with regard to life in the distant prehistoric past–is hooey. Even as our science today will be tomorrow’s hooey. I don’t blame Bertha Morris Parker, whose work I admire very much. She had to go with the science that she had. But really, I doubt the giant ground sloths went extinct because they never found a comfortable place to rest their claws. Or that dinosaurs vanished because they just didn’t have enough sense to adapt to changing conditions. It was 1952 settled science.

What I love here is the vastness and the intricacy of God’s creation, the enduring mysteries of life on earth, and the overwhelming “Wow!” factor I find in giant prehistoric animals. And happy childhood memories are a plus–my Uncle Bernie reading to me from the book and having the devil’s own time trying to pronounce the dinosaurs’ name: and me not correcting him because I loved him and knew that he was reading to me because he loved his brother’s children.

And now I’m getting a little teary-eyed, so I guess I’d better stop.

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.

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: 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.

Culture Shock! Baseball Cards

old topps wax packages | 1950-1959 Unopened Packs (1950's) 1957 Topps 5  Cent Wax Pack #57T5CWP | Baseball cards, Baseball trading cards, Baseball  card packs

I was shocked when I went to the store yesterday and saw packs of baseball cards selling for $7.00 each. Seven bucks! And no bubble gum included.

As you can see by the picture, a pack of baseball cards used to cost a nickel–for half a dozen cards and a nice big sheet of gum. We traded them, flipped them, or clipped them to the wheels of our bicycles so they’d make a sound like a motor. It wasn’t until 1963 that I was able to collect a complete set, and it took some pretty hard-nosed trading to do it. And my mother threw them out when we moved!

Seven dollars–it made my head spin. And without Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn… yeesh.

Our money isn’t worth anywhere near what it used to be. You used to get 2,000 cards for $7, not to mention 340 sticks of gum.

I’m glad my memories are still free. Priceless, but free.

‘Memory Lane: Dr. Seuss Zoo’ (2018)

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No fun allowed! Dr. Seuss is banned!

This was before the Wokies started banning Dr. Seuss because everything is racist and no one should ever be allowed to have any fun.

When I was a kid, we had a lot of fun with these.

Memory Lane: Dr. Seuss Zoo

We didn’t know that by playing mix-and-match with these goofy little animals, we were perpetuating slavery.

Don’t you just wish they’d all dry up and blow away, forever?

Memory Lane: ‘Kukla, Fran, and Ollie’

This takes us a long way down Memory Lane. These days it’s hard to imagine that a little series built around a clown, a dragon, and a cheery young woman would turn into a major hit. Indeed, in 2009 the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring Kukla, Frank, and Ollie.

Kukla the clown and Ollie the dragon, puppets, engaged in gentle banter and funny songs with Fran Allison, the only live human in the show–and people just plain loved it. The show ran from 1947 through 1957. Watching it is one of my earliest childhood memories. But it was even more popular among adults than children.

And would you believe it was all ad-libbed? No foolin’. Fran had experience as a live radio comedian, so she was up to the challenge. I wonder if anybody could successfully do a show like that today.

Well, what could be more benign and harmless? I like benign and harmless–and we could use more of it. Lots more.

Memory Lane: ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’

Spring is here: and the sunny weather yesterday called up memories of the playground on a weekend morning, an afternoon by the pond–they kept calling it a lake, but oh-come-now–in Roosevelt Park, and… this. Hernando’s Hideaway.

It was on the radio a lot when I was a boy. This treatment by Archie Bleyer is only one of several. My father would have the radio on while he tinkered on his workbench, or cut his sons’ hair; and this was one of the songs you often heard. It comes from a 1954 hit musical, The Pajama Game… and is about a speakeasy–let me now quote Wikipedia–“where Al Capone hid out from the Chicago police before turning into a supper club.” Pretty neat trick, Al. No wonder they couldn’t find you!

There weren’t many songs back then that had castanets in them. Maybe that’s why I remember this one so well.

And somehow everything was cleaner…