Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

February 11, 1960: Take This Job and Shove It

When the folks at NBC decided to censor Jack Paar’s water closet joke, they must have known the Tonight Show star would be angry. After all, Paar was principled, emotional and a bit unpredictable. But evidently they didn’t gauge the depth of his anger and were certainly unprepared for his reaction. On the night after the joke was cut, February 11, 1960, the Tonight Show went on air as usual. What followed, within minutes, was one of the most unexpected and abrupt goodbyes in the history of television. After his introduction, Paar walked on stage for the live broadcast, announced that he was quitting, and walked promptly off stage, leaving announcer Hugh Downs in charge of the program with nearly 90 minutes to finish.

And he meant it. Paar was gone for three weeks, not returning to the program until NBC apologized and agreed to let him tell the joke on air.

 

The Water Closet joke

An English lady, while visiting Switzerland, was looking for a room, and she asked the schoolmaster if he could recommend any to her. He took her to see several rooms, and when everything was settled, the lady returned to her home to make the final preparations to move.  When she arrived home, the thought suddenly occurred to her that she had not seen a “W.C.” around the place. So she immediately wrote a note to the schoolmaster asking him if there were a “W.C.” around. The schoolmaster was a very poor student of English, so he asked the parish priest if he could help in the matter. Together they tried to discover the meaning of the letters “W.C.,” and the only solution they could find for the letters was “Wayside Chapel.” The schoolmaster then wrote to the English lady the following note:

Dear Madam:
I take great pleasure in informing you that the W.C. is situated nine miles from the house you occupy, in the center of a beautiful grove of pine trees surrounded by lovely grounds. It is capable of holding 229 people and it is open on Sunday and Thursday only. As there are a great number of people and they are expected during the summer months, I would suggest that you come early: although there is plenty of standing room as a rule. You will no doubt be glad to hear that a good number of people bring their lunch and make a day of it; while others who can afford to go by car arrive just in time. I would especially recommend that your ladyship go on Thursday when there is a musical accompaniment. It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the W.C. and it was there that she met her husband. I can remember the rush there was for seats. There were ten people to a seat ordinarily occupied by one. It was wonderful to see the expression on their faces. The newest attraction is a bell donated by a wealthy resident of the district. It rings every time a person enters. A bazaar is to be held to provide plush seats for all the people, since they feel it is a long felt need. My wife is rather delicate, so she can’t attend regularly. I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you if you wish, where you will be seen by all. For the children, there is a special time and place so that they will not disturb the elders. Hoping to have been of service to you, I remain,
Sincerely,
The Schoolmaster

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Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

February 3, 1882: You’re a Big One, Aren’t Ya

A rather large sales transaction took place on February 3, 1882: Flamboyant showman and circus entrepreneur P.T. Barnum purchased his largest performer, a single-named star who stood ten feet at the shoulders, Jumbo. Jumbo of course was an elephant, a very big elephant. He was born in the Sudan and took a rather circuitous journey north to Germany, France and finally England and the London Zoo, where he resided for 17 years, becoming famous for giving rides to zoo visitors.

Londoners were not happy about the sale. The Zoological Society was up in arms. 100,000 schoolchildren petitioned Queen Victoria to halt the sale. A lawsuit was filed against the zoo. The zoo attempted to renege on the sale, but the court sided with Barnum.

The deal was a bonanza for Barnum. He exhibited Jumbo to huge crowds at Madison Square Garden, recovering the entire cost of his investment in three weeks. With Jumbo as its main attraction, the circus earned $1.75 million for the season.

Jumbo’s circus career would be short-lived, however. In 1885, he was struck by a train and died within minutes.

What’s in a Name

While jumbo as an adjective is used today to describe everything from cds to shrimp, the word did not have that meaning when the London zookeeper association gave it to the big fellow. Its derivation could be Indian from jambu (pronouced jumboo) a tree that grows on a mythical island whose fruits were said to be as big as elephants or Swahili from jambo (hello) or jumbe (chief). It is safe to say it has no relation to jambalaya or gumbo.

He-e-e-y Abbott

Radio’s Kate Smith Hour was a mainstay during the 30s and 40s. On February 3, 1938, the comedy duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello made their first radio outing on the program and became regular performers. They first performed their classic “Who’s on First?” the following month.

abbott-costelloThe former vaudevillians quickly became major stars in radio, followed by movies and television. They left the Kate Smith show after two years to star in their own radio program, as well as a Broadway revue, The Streets of Paris, and their first film, One Night in the Tropics, in which, although cast in supporting roles, they stole the show with several classic comedy routines and cemented their film careers.

buck-privatesUniversal Pictures signed them to a long-term contract. Their second film, Buck Privates, made them box-office stars and in the process saved Universal from bankruptcy. In most of their films, the plot was not much more than a framework that allowed them to reintroduce comedy routines they had first performed on stage. Universal also added glitzy production numbers to capitalize on the popularity of musical films, featuring such performers as the Andrews Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, Martha Raye, Dick Powell and Ted Lewis and his Orchestra. The Andrews Sisters hits “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “I’ll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time” were both introduced in Buck Privates.

During the following years, Abbott and Costello “met” many other movie legends – Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, Captain Kidd, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Mummy, the Killer (Boris Karloff).  And they traveled throughout the world (and beyond): in a Harem, in the Foreign Legion, Lost in Alaska, Mexican Hayride, Mars, and Africa Screams, which featured both Clyde Beatty and Frank Buck as themselves. They made a total of 36 films.

On television, they frequently hosted the Colgate Comedy Hour and had their own syndicated television program.

In the 1950s Abbott and Costello’s popularity waned, their place atop the comedy heap taken by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Another reason for the decline was overexposure. They were reluctant to introduce new material, and their familiar routines were glutting the movie and television markets, with two films a year, re-releases of most of their older films; their filmed television series and live TV appearances.

They dissolved their partnership in 1957, with Lou making sporadic appearances until his death in 1959.  Bud died in 1974.

 

 

 

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

January 23, 1957: Toss That Pluto Platter

Fred Morrison and his future wife Lucille were fooling around on a California beach back in 1938 when Fred had a light bulb over your head eureka moment. The pair were tossing a cake pan back and forth when a bored bystander offered them a quarter for the cake pan. Fred started doing the math — it was pretty simple math — I sell a five-cent cake pan for a quarter and I get to hang out on the beach.

The Morrisons jumped right into their flying cake pan business, but before long a nasty war got in their way, including a stretch for Fred as a prisoner of war. It was the late 40s before he got back into the flying cake pan business. Cake pan prices had gone up but plastic was in, and so, in 1948, Morrison and a partner introduced a plastic disc they called “flyin saucer”to take advantage of the UFO craze.

Morrison designed a new model in 1955 called the “pluto platter,” and on January 23, 1957, he sold the rights to Wham-O. Later that year Wham-O added the name Frisbee. And eventually, the name pluto platter was put out of its misery.

 

Nothing in Moderation

He got his first job in television by showing up for an audition wearing apercydovetonsils barrel and shorts. From there his career took off during a ten-year period that carried him from obscurity to stardom, the ride getting steadily wilder and crazier. Although someone else held the title Mr. Television, Ernie Kovacs, born on January 23, 1919, certainly left his imprint on the medium.

Often referred to as television’s surrealist, the cigar-smoking, poker-playing Hungarian-American comedian could be counted on for the unusual if not the bizarre in any of his many television outings, including It’s Time for Ernie, his first network series; Ernie in Kovacsland; and The Ernie Kovacs Show, featuring characters such as poet Percy Dovetonsils, bumbling magician Matzoh Heppelwhite, Frenchman Pierre Ragout, and the Nairobi Trio. He also hosted the Tonight Show twice a week and had a short stint as a celebrity panelist on What’s My Line?, where he strove more for humor than insight. (When Henry J. Kaiser, the founder of the automobile company, was the program’s mystery guest, and the panel had established that the mystery guest’s name was synonymous with an automobile brand, Kovacs asked, “Are you – and this is just a wild guess – but are you Abraham Lincoln?”

Kovacs was at the peak of his career when he was killed in a late-night automobile accident on his way home from one of the many parties that had become part of his life in California. The inscription on his tombstone reads “Ernie Kovacs 1919 – 1962 — Nothing In Moderation.”

Mama eu Quero, Part 5 (Conclusion): Goodbye Cuba

About the only warning the black-haired couple had of the impending disaster was the  dancing of the olives in their martinis, a nervous samba in time to the music coming from the stage.  It was gentle enough at first, but then the table that gave cadence to the martinis above and shelter to the young lady below shook as energetically as a table at a three-ghost séance.  Delia was out of control.  Carmen Miranda finished her song, the audience roared its approval and Delia jumped to her feet, sending the table and its occupants reeling backward into yet another table and another couple like so many genteel but helpless dominoes.

cuba3The room hushed as waiters bobbed here and there to repair the damage.  Two large men left their posts at a doorway and headed toward Delia.  So did Carmen Miranda, who reached her first and stared at her without speaking.  The Brazilian Bombshell was a little older, a little heavier than the Carmen of Delia’s memory, but her brilliant eyes flashed – with anger, Delia thought.  But then she grinned and said:  “Zank you.  You are boodifool.”

She kissed Delia’s forehead, darted back to the stage and resumed singing as though she were trying to divert attention from the embarrassed young woman now being escorted away from the stage.

Even now, forty years later, observed only by Fidel, Delia’s cheeks reddened at the   recollection of her calamitous faux pas, a Cuban crisis every bit as important to Delia as the Bay of Pigs invasion years later.  Jorge had interceded that night and Delia was allowed to return to her table for the rest of the performance.  But she was watched carefully and escorted out as soon as Carmen finished.

Summer ended as abruptly as Carmen’s performance of “Mama Eu Quero” when her father was summoned back to the United States in late July.  And although Delia had known from the beginning that her summer would end too soon, this shortening of it was somehow unjust, and she said so over and over, but to no avail.  For she and Jorge, that last day together equaled any sweet sorrow of parting ever committed by a romantic to paper, film or television screen.  It was filled with lovemaking, tears and promises – promises to write or phone, to return, to visit, to never forget – all that stuff that tries but can’t take the sting out of the word good-by.

In the plane, somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico, Delia heard the words to a popular song:

. . .though other nights and other days will find us gone our separate ways, we will have these moments to remember.

And she knew, despite trying all she could to believe otherwise, that Jorge and the past two months would be memories and nothing else.

The last few days of July and the first few in August were endless hours of agony.  Her young life had ceased, after sixteen and a half short years, to have meaning.  She mostly listened to music – Latin and melancholy – and stared at the television set, not really watching.  Not until that night when Jimmy Durante had as his special guest, straight from her triumphant Cuban tour, Carmen Miranda.

Delia, cheered for the first time since leaving Cuba, even doffed a hat of fruit as she sat cross-legged in front of the television, watching the interplay between Jimmy and Carmen.  Delia may have been watching with 20 million other Americans, but only she a few short weeks ago had seen Carmen Miranda from underneath a table at the Tropicana, had been smiled at and called boodiful.

After the lights had dimmed at the Club Durant and the star of the show had bade goodnight to Mrs. Calabash, Carmen Miranda returned to her dressing room.  There, shortly after midnight, at 46 years of age, she died of a heart attack.

Ah, look what you’ve done, Fidel.  I hadn’t thought about that summer in a good long time.  For a few months, I thought of nothing else; for a few years, often.  For several Halloweens, I shamelessly dressed my daughter as Carmen.  And for one Halloween, her little brother was you, Fidel.  Delia laughed.  The face on the television screen was now a stranger, but she continued to talk to it.  Several years ago, we all watched that old movie on TV, and they laughed when I cried at the giant bananas.  My husband says I should visit Cuba, but I don’t think that’s allowed. All because of my international incident at the Tropicana, probably.  I hear the Tropicana is still there.  I thought they would have torn it down at once.  Jorge would have.

 Jorge.

Good night, Jorge, wherever you are.

 

“Mama Eu Quero” originally appeared in the literary magazine Dandelion.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

January 18, 970: The Mice That Roared

On an island in the Rhine River near the German village of Bingen am Rhein, there’s a structure known as the Mouse Tower which has a curious history if you choose to believe it. The tower was first erected by the Romans, and in 968 it was restored by Hatto II, the Archbishop of Mainz.

Hatto was not one of Germany’s nicer guys. Aided by archers and crossbowmen, he used his tower to extract “tolls” from passing ships, all in all a lucrative sideline to his religious duties. He also filled his barns with grain in anticipation of a future rainy day which soon came in the form of a famine. The nearby peasants ran out of food and you know who was ready to sell it to them at prices they could not afford. Naturally, the peasants were not a happy lot, and Hatto got wind of a possible rebellion. Hatto assembled the peasants at his castle and promised to feed them.  He sent the hungry but now happy peasants to an empty barn to wait for the food he would bring.  But when Hatto and his servants arrived at the barn, they were not armed with food. Hatto ordered the barn doors locked, and immediately set the barn on fire. Hearing the screams from inside, Hatto was said to have remarked: “Hear the mice squeak!”

Hatto’s amusement was short-lived. When he returned to his castle, he was set upon by thousands of mice. With the mice in pursuit, Hatto fled the castle and crossed the river to his tower, in hopes that the mice would drown if they followed. They didn’t. They swarmed the island, gnawed their way through tower door, and — well, as a poet described it:

They have whetted their teeth against the stones,
And now they pick the bishop’s bones;
They gnawed the flesh from every limb,
For they were sent to punish him!

The Kid’s Got Talent?

As the program began, the spinning of a wheel would determine the contestants’ order of appearance. As the wheel spun, Ted Mack would chant the magic words: “Round and round she goes, and where she stops nobody knows.” It was January 18, 1948, and The Original Amateur Hour, episode number one, was on the air. And each week, we would be informed how many episodes had aired. The final broadcast in 1970 was number 1,651.

Ted Mack brought the Amateur Hour to television from radio where it amateurhourhad been a fixture for over a decade under the command of Major Edward Bowes. Mack’s television version was one of only six shows to appear on all four major TV networks – ABC, CBS, NBC, and DuMont. (the others were The Arthur Murray Party; Down You Go; The Ernie Kovacs Show; Pantomime Quiz; and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet).

Contestants were often singers and other musicians, although acts included jugglers, tap dancers, baton twirlers, and such. The television audience voted for their favorites by postcard or by calling JUdson 6-7000. Winners returned for another appearance, and three-time winners became eligible for the annual championship and the chance to win a $2000 scholarship.

During 22 years on television, you might guess that the program would discover a throng of celebrities, but you’d be wrong. Gladys Knight, Ann-Margret, Irene Cara, and Tanya Tucker were a few of the handful of future stars. Pat Boone was a winner, but his appearances caused a bit of a tempest in a TV pot. After his winning appearances, it was discovered that he had appeared on the rival program Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, and was therefore not an “amateur” singer. He was booted from the program, but his fame was already a given, and within a few years he was hosting his own variety show The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom (and Ted Mack was never a guest).

Elvis Presley, on the other hand, was turned down for the show.

 

 

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

OCTOBER 15, 1954: I HAVE PEOPLE TO FETCH MY STICKS

I HAVE PEOPLE TO FETCH MY STICKS

Long before he debuted in his own television show on October 15, 1954, Rin Tin Tin had become an international celebrity. It was as good a rags-to-riches story as Hollywood could churn out. He was rescued rin-tin-tin_from a World War I battlefield by an American soldier who trained him to be an actor upon returning home. He starred in several silent films, becoming an overnight sensation and going on to appear in another two dozen films before his death in 1932.

Rinty (as he was known to his friends) was responsible for a great surge in German Shepherds as pets. The popularity of his films helped make Warner Brothers a major studio and pushed a guy named Darryl F. Zanuck to success as a producer.

During the following years Rin Tin Tin Jr. and Rin Tin Tin III kept the Rin Tin Tin legacy alive in film and on the radio. Rin Tin Tin IV was slated to take the franchise to television in The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, but he flunked his screen test and was shamefully replaced by an upstart poseur named Flame.

The TV series featured an orphan named Rusty who was being raised by soldiers at a cavalry post known as Fort Apache.  Rin Tin Tin was the kid’s dog. It was a low budget affair, filmed on sets used for other productions with actors frequently called upon to play several soldiers, Apaches, and desperadoes in a single episode. Although it was children’s programming, you might not guess that by the lofty literary titles of many episodes: Rin Tin Tin Meets Shakespeare, Rin Tin Tin and the Barber of Seville, Rin Tin Tin and the Ancient Mariner, Rin Tin Tin and the Connecticut Yankee.

Meanwhile, IV stayed at home on his ranch, fooling visitors into believing he was actually a TV star (and perhaps contemplating a run for President).

Rated P. G.

“Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle wodehouseempty.” One line from someone who had a great knack for them, which he displayed in over 300 stories, 90 books, 30 plays and musicals, and 20 film scripts. Comic novelist P.G. Wodehouse, creator of Jeeves the butler, was born on this day in 1881 in Surrey, England.

 

He had the look of one who had drunk the cup of life and found a dead beetle at the bottom.

Mike nodded. A sombre nod. The nod Napoleon might have given if somebody had met him in 1812 and said, “So, you’re back from Moscow, eh?”

I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.

She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say ‘when.’

The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.

Every author really wants to have letters printed in the papers. Unable to make the grade, he drops down a rung of the ladder and writes novels.

It was my Uncle George who discovered that alcohol was a food well in advance of modern medical thought.

And she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.

At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies.

Cheap Halloween Thrills: And Then There Were 31

Like yesterday’s Night of the Hunter, these three films feature children in danger and perhaps the source of danger. Poltergeist (1982) explores the dangers of watching too much TV, especially when the TV set is possessed. “I see dead people.” Nine-year-old Cole sees and talks to ghosts in the 1999 supernatural horror film The Sixth Sense. In the 1961 psychological study The Innocents, Deborah Kerr is a governess whose two charges are outwardly little angels but whose sweet smiles may hide something quite sinister.

1 The Shining

2 The Exorcist

3 Beetlejuice

4 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

5 Ghost Story

6 Ghostbusters

7 Freaks

8 Ichabod and Mr. Toad

9 Hound of the Baskervilles

10 I Walked with a Zombie

11 Diabolique

12 Alien

13 Rosemarys Baby

14The Birds

15 Psycho

16 Phantom of the Opera

17 Nosferatu

18 Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

19 Get Out

20 Frankenstein

21 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

22 Young Frankenstein

23 Edward Scissorhands

24 The Invisible Man

25 Dracula

26 The Wolf Man

27 Cape Fear

28 Night of the Hunter

29 Poltergeist

30 The Sixth Sense

31 The Innocents

 

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

OCTOBER 2, 1872: A FOGGY DAY IN LONDON TOWN

A FOGGY DAY IN LONDON TOWN

At exactly 8:45 pm on October 2, 1872, a rich British gentleman started out on a lengthy journey accompanied by his French valet, the purpose of the trip being to win a wager he had made with members of his club. To win, he would have to complete his journey before 8:45 pm on December 21.  The gentleman’s name was of course Phileas Fogg and his amazing journey is recounted in Jules Verne’s most popular novel Around the World in 80 Days.

Jules Verne was a French author known for several extraordinary journeys including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Five Weeks in a Balloon. He is the second most-translated author in the world (following Agatha Christie).

Fogg begins his journey by train from London to Brindisi in southern Italy on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Here he boards the steamer Mongolia and crosses the Mediterranean Sea to Suez, Egypt. Fogg has correctly calculated this leg of the journey at 7 days. Today the same journey would take just about as long.

The Almanac will check in on Fogg again after his arrival in Suez.

 

 

 

OPEN SAYS ME

It’s the time of year when gardening cooks are busily canning the fruits of their summer-long labors. The idea of canning foods for preservation is certainly not new; the Dutch were preserving fresh salmon in tin cans back in the 1700s. While its not used by home canners, the tin can has been the main method of food preservation for a couple hundred years now.

By the early 1800s, tin cans were in wide use throughout Europe and the United can1States. Trouble was they weren’t that easy to get into. “Cut round the top near the outer edge with a chisel and hammer.” read the instructions on one such can.  Or smash with large boulder, perhaps.

It wasn’t until the 1850s that can openers began to appear, various tools that pierced the can and sawed it open. One interesting device that appeared in 1866 was a tin can with its own opening device attached. Patented by J. Osterhoudt on October 2, it was a can with a slotted key attached. By inserting a tab on the can into the slot and continuously turning the key, the can would peel open. This ingenious and frequently frustrating can and key combo is still in use today, primarily for sardine and Spam-like products.

 

How He Got in My Pajamas I’ll Never Know

Groucho (Julius Henry) Marx was born on October 2, 1890. During his seven-decade career, he was known as a master of quick wit and rapid-fire, impromptu patter, frequently filled with innuendo.  He made 26 movies, 13 of them with his brothers Chico and Harpo, and many with Margaret Dumont as a stuffy dowager and the butt of Groucho’s jokes. The films included such comedy classics as The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, Duck Soup, A Day at the Races, and A Night at the Opera. He also had a successful solo career, most notably as the host of the radio and television game show You Bet Your Life.

groucho

Cheap Halloween Thrills

Michael Keaton is the demonic “bio-exorcist” Beetlejuice coming to the aid of recently deceased Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin as they try to rid their house of its insufferable new owners (Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones). Winona Ryder is a Gothic teenager in Tim Burton’s 1988 wild ride. Songs by Harry Belafonte add to the fun.

Michael Keaton is the demonic “bio-exorcist” Beetlejuice coming to the aid of recently deceased Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin as they try to rid their house of its insufferable new owners (Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones). Winona Ryder is a Gothic teenager in Tim Burton’s 1988 wild ride. Songs by Harry Belafonte add to the fun.

1 The Shining
2 The Exorcist

3 Beetlejuice

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

SEPTEMBER 29, 1913: AND THAT SPELLS GLADIOLUS

AND THAT SPELLS GLADIOLUS

“G-L-A-D-I-O-L-U-S,” said 11-year-old Frank Neuhauser with just a bit of apprehension. After all, eight of the final nine competing super-spellers had crashed and burned before Frank faced his inquisitor. His spellingspelling was right on; he was the winner of the first ever National Spelling Bee, the last kid standing out of some two million competitors. His victory earned Frank $500 and a meeting with President Calvin Coolidge. Fortunately, the President did not ask him to spell “executive privilege.”

It was a big time for a little boy. Folks in his hometown Louisville held a parade in his honor. Schoolmates gave him a new bicycle.

That was back in 1925. Today, the bee, now known as the Scripps National Spelling Bee, features 11 million children in local contests throughout the United States and abroad. The field is reduced to some 270 finalists who convene in Washington for two days of competition.

Frank Neuhauser who was born on September 29, 1913, went on to become a successful patent attorney. During his later years, he was frequently a guest of honor at the spelling bees. He died in 2011 at the age of 97.

The National Spelling Bee has certainly become more challenging over the years. One might argue that Frank Neuhauser’s “gladiolus” was a piece of cake — or, for that matter, “cerise” in 1926 or “knack” in 1932. Try “syllepsis” from 1958 or “esquamulose.” There’s “vivisepulture” from 1996 and “appoggiatura” from 2005 — words our spell checker couldn’t handle.

Sing Cowboy, Sing

If you were a cowboy with the name Orton Grover, you’d probably change your name. Orton did, and became a legendary singing cowboy gene-autry-quotes-2with the more melodic name Gene Autry. Born September 29, 1907, Autry became a major presence in the movies and on radio and television, beginning in the 1930s and stretching into the 1950s.

He was the ultimate straight-shooter — brave and honest with impeccable manners and good posture. He distilled his philosophy into the Ten Cowboy Commandments:

  1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
  2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
  3. He must always tell the truth.
  4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
  5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
  6. He must help people in distress.
  7. He must be a good worker.
  8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
  9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.
  10. The Cowboy is a patriot.

Autry was also influential in the evolution of country music, his movies bringing cowboy music to a national audience with hits such as “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine,” “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” “South of the Border,” and “You Are My Sunshine.” He also owned such Christmas classics as “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.”

And no, we did not forget his signature song:

 

Aunt Nancy’s Burden, Part 4: Helping Uncle Ed Along

On Tuesday, Uncle Ed sat alone next to the pool, drinking his morning coffee and reading his Daily News. Aunt Clara watched him from the shadows near the house, watched him all the way through the comics, the sports section and two gossip columns. Then she began to newsick3tiptoe purposefully toward him. As she picked up speed and began her lunge, arms extended in shoving position, her glasses slipped from her nose, and she just barely overshot her target. Her target looked up to see her sailing over him into the pool. He thought about trying to rescue her as she thrashed and screamed in the deep end of the pool but instead shouted: “Nancy, your sister’s in the pool. She may be drowning.”

After the lengthy resuscitation, performed with aplomb by the village rescue squad, Aunt Clara went to bed and stayed there.

Until Wednesday. On Wednesday, Aunt Clara watched Uncle Ed from her upstairs bedroom window. Aunt Joan and Aunt Nancy sat at the picnic table hoping she was all right after the ordeal of the previous day. Aunt Clara was just fine. She had found Uncle Stan’s old rifle down the basement, had figured out, over several cups of coffee, how to put bullets into it, and now gleefully aimed it at Aunt Nancy’s Burden. Having never held a gun, much less fired one, it isn’t surprising that Aunt Clara’s aim wasn’t the best.

Her shot rang out. Aunt Joan screamed and clutched her foot. Once again, the rescue squad performed admirably, scurrying poor Aunt Joan off to the emergency room, the other two aunts along for the ride, doing their best to convince all concerned that it was just a stupid accident and not worth reporting to anybody official. Aunt Joan was treated and released.

Thursday afternoon, the aunts sat sullenly and silently at the picnic table. Uncle Ed worked at his crossword puzzle. A new chill in the air said that summer would soon come to an end. Suddenly they saw Uncle Ed’s head list lazily to one side. The puzzle fell from his lap. His arm hung limply at his side, fingertips just inches from the pencil that lay on the ground.

“It’s happened,” whispered Aunt Joan.

“You mean . . .?” whispered Aunt Clara.

“Oh dear,” sniffed Aunt Nancy, a little knot in her stomach and tears in her eyes, even though a great burden was being lifted from her shoulders. Aunt Clara walked over and shook him a few times. He didn’t respond.

The village rescue squad was there in less than ten minutes hovering over him, employing their life-saving techniques. The aunts stood a few feet away, watching. Then from within the cocoon of paramedics, they heard Uncle Ed bellow: “What the hell are all you people doing on top of me?”

The chill in the air had been an accurate harbinger of summer’s retreat, and during the next few weeks, it became steadily more pronounced, so much so that Aunt Nancy went to the back closet to haul out winter blankets and wardrobes. Aunt Nancy prided herself on looking for the silver lining in the gloomy gray storm clouds of her pitiful existence. And staring into her closet she could at least be thankful that she already had Uncle Ed’s winter coat.

That was 2008. Aunt Clara joined Uncle Edwin in 2010, and Aunt Joan followed in 2011. Aunt Nancy is still fetching beers.

Aunt Nancy’s Burden is included in Naughty Marietta and Other Stories.