On the postwar road: “Tourist Rooms to Let — Reasonable Rates.” (Axe murderer not included.)

The Permanent Family Record

Sis (“Big Eek’s spinster sister”) writes: “Subject: A family affair.

“When the Second World War ended and fuel restrictions lifted, war-weary families were encouraged to go on car trips.

“Our family of five climbed into my father’s second-hand coupe for an automotive adventure.

“The three (father, mother, brother) sat comfortably on a bench seat in front while my sister and I perched uncomfortably on a narrow padded bench behind. In fact, we had to sit sideways, trying to figure out how to position our legs for comfort and to alleviate cramps.

“On the plus side, I could stare out the window and read the Burma-Shave ‘jingles,’ one line at a time, as they appeared on fence posts along the roadside.

“Gripping the steering wheel, my father turned into a ‘demon driver’ loath to stop for food or bathroom breaks. Only he had in his head the number of miles he wished to cover before stopping in some hamlet overnight.

“In the car culture at the time, motels were slowly emerging but only near big-city centers. In smaller communities, lighted signs on lawns announced: ‘Tourist Rooms to Let — Reasonable Rates.’

“In one town, my 8-year-old sister pointed out a sign in an enclave of neat-looking homes. Dad pulled into the driveway, and we extricated our road-weary bodies from the car. A pleasant-faced woman answered Dad’s knock.

‘There are five of you!’ she exclaimed. ‘Oh dear, we usually rent to couples.’ Pause. ‘Never mind, we can accommodate. The gals — mother, teenage daughter and youngster — can have the second-floor bedroom. You and your son can bunk in the room above the garage next to the chicken coop.’ She pointed east. ‘Park your car in the church lot. It’s only busy on Sundays and funerals.’

“Father paid for the rooms on the spot.

“We gals were shown to a second-floor living space with a big brass bed —plenty of room for the three of us.

“We had had a long drive that day and were in our pajamas by 9:00. By 9:30 we were all fast asleep.

“One o’clock or thereabouts, I was awakened by something hitting the bed. Next a boot hit the floor, kerplunk. The second boot hit the floor, kerplunk again. Moonlight streaming through the window silhouetted a broad-shouldered male form peeling off suspenders.

“Suddenly a hand gripped my arm. My mother whispered in a frightened voice: ‘There’s someone in the room.’

“Being a brat, I whispered back: ‘I know. I think it might be an axe murderer!’ Oops, I shouldn’t have said that. I planted a seed in my mother’s already-worried head.

“The silhouette heard the whispers. He slapped the wall, feeling for the light switch. Standing at the foot of the bed was a burly, plaid-shirted figure with a bushy black beard.

Surprised, he snapped: ‘Who are you?’

“No reply.

“’Why are you sleeping in my bed?’ He reached over to grab his jacket from the coverlet.

“The abrupt move startled my mother. She opened her mouth and emitted a piercing, high-pitched scream. The wild wail was enough to wake the dead next door.

“My father heard it, too. Jumping from his garage bed, he fled down the stairs, barefoot, flew past the chicken coop, rounded a big white truck, then slowed to navigate a gravel-encrusted driveway, arriving at the second-floor door panting and limping.

“The owners of the house were already there.

“The woman explained pleasantly: ‘This is our son, Will. He lives on the West Coast. Will is a long-haul trucker and was on a cross-country run. He wasn’t sure just when he’d visit, so we never mentioned to him about the rentals.’

“A tired-looking Will managed a weak smile. He grabbed his boots. saying as he disappeared down the stairs: ‘Don’t worry, folks, I’ll sleep in my truck.’

“The bewildered crowd dispersed.

“I fell asleep immediately. My sister, and I assume my brother, had slept through the whole ordeal. I suspect my mother sat, bolt upright, for the rest of the night.

“The next day on leaving town, my father deliberated: ‘Any comments?’

“My brother asked a rhetorical question: ‘Dad, if chickens get scared, do they still lay eggs?’

“I chipped in: ‘The axe murderer was kinda nice.’

“My sister’s eyes bugged out. ‘What axe murderer?’

“My mother spoke up: ‘I’ve had it with tourist rooms. Drop me off at a motel as soon as we find one.’

“Father pondered the remarks, then added: ‘I think we’ll hole in early tonight. My feet are killing me.’”

Then & Now

Big Eek of Southeast Minneapolis: “Fifty years ago, I received a catalog in the mail from a trading-card company. It was near Christmas, so I told each of the four oldest to pick out a set for a Christmas present. Each of the sets cost three or four dollars.

“To please me, The Oldest Daughter chose the 1963-64 Parkhurst hockey set of 99 cards. The other three went their own way. The Oldest Son picked out the 1958 Topps Zorro set of 88 cards. The Middle Son took the 80-card 1961 Nu Card Dinosaurs. The Middle Daughter opted for the 66-card 1961 Fleer Pirates Bold set.

“I am the guardian of their choices, each card put away in a plastic card holder in albums on my bookshelf. Recent prices: $2,000 for a full Zorro set.

“Pirates Bold, $400 for a full set.

“$400 for a #55 Gordie Howe Parkhurst card.

“And $600 each for several of the Nu Card dinosaur cards.

“Who would have ever thought this could happen?”

Those magic moments

The Gram With a Thousand Rules: “When I reminisce about the past, it isn’t the big moments that capture my fancy as much as those little vignettes stored away in my brain. Here are some random childhood moments I would love to live again:

“Shelling peas with my Aunt Ethel.

“Riding with my brother Johnny when he drove the neighbor farmer’s big red milk truck.

“Seeing Mom’s smile when Dad asked for ‘another piece of your DEE-licious lemon pie.’

“Watching the meteor showers from the dock on Crystal Bay with my sister Nora.

“Laughing at Dad when he did his rendition of the thank-you speech he would give if carpenters received Academy Awards.

“Dancing in the living room with Nora as we played our 78-rpm records over and over again.

“Seeing Mom’s smile when she completed a difficult jigsaw puzzle; when she finished crocheting a bedspread; when she beat one of us at Scrabble; and every single time one of us walked into the room.”

The Permanent Unclely/Niecely Record

Zoo Lou of St. Paul writes: “Subject: A Canis lupus by any other name.

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved classical music. One of my favorite pieces is ‘Peter and the Wolf,’ Sergei Prokofiev’s marvelous and enduring symphonic fairy tale for children.

“Years ago, when my niece Brooke was about 6 years old, we were listening to a recording of ‘Peter and the Wolf,’ narrated by Leonard Bernstein. The famed composer/conductor was explaining how Prokofiev used a variety of instruments to represent the different characters in his musical tale, like a bassoon for the grumpy old grandfather, an oboe for the duck, a clarinet for the cat, kettle drums for the hunters shooting their guns, and French horns for the wolf.

“When the symphony began, I challenged Brooke to see how many characters she could name after hearing their instrument. She was doing quite well, until the ominous sounds of the French horns filled the room. With great sincerity and confidence, Brooke said: ‘The fox!’

“I put my hand over my mouth to stifle a laugh, but my amusement was obvious. Brooke gave me a puzzled, ‘What’s so funny?’ look, until I pointed out the horns were for the wolf. Then Brooke began to laugh when she realized her little faux pas.

“Even though the fox is related to the wolf, I told Brooke that Prokofiev’s masterwork wouldn’t have quite the same dramatic appeal if it were titled ‘Peter and the Fox.’

“As another example, I brought up the Disney cartoon ‘The Three Little Pigs,’ and the song ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?’ I began singing: ‘Who’s afraid of the big bad fox, the big bad fox, the big bad fox?’ Brooke soon joined in and we had a grand time, even dancing around like the little pigs. And for weeks afterward, I remember Brooke going around singing about the big bad fox.

“Every time I hear ‘Peter and the Wolf,’ I think of that beautiful moment between me and Brooke, and the wonder-filled innocence of a little girl. It was a true classic.”

Dept. of Neat Stuff
Magnetic Spinning Wheel Toy Division

Gregory J. of Dayton’s Bluff: “Many of the neatest toys from the 1950s were also the simplest. A good example is the Whee-Lo. It consists of a red plastic wheel with a magnetic axle, a wire track it runs on, and a yellow plastic speed control on the handle. The instructions were also simple: Place the wheel on the track, hold the handle, tilt up and down with smooth wrist action, and adjust speed by moving the speed control and controlling wrist motion. The details were left up to the operator.

“Besides being a toy, it also demonstrated scientific principles such as kinetic energy, potential energy, rotational energy, magnetism and gravity. However, kids didn’t care, and this was not how it was marketed.

“The Whee-Lo was advertised as many things — but, to its credit, never as a perpetual-motion device. However it ‘Goes uphill and goes downhill and goes over and under.’ It had ‘No Strings! No Springs!’ It was sometimes called ‘The Magnetic Walking Wheel’ and ‘The Stringless Yo-Yo.’ It could be used as a ‘Contest Toy * Sick Room Toy * Outdoor, Indoor, Backseat Toy.’ It was ‘Fun for all! Boys and Girls. Great for Mom & Dad Too!’

“The original Whee-Lo was introduced in 1953 and cost 79 cents, manufactured by the Whee-Lo Division of Maggie Magnetic Inc., New York 1, N.Y. I probably got my first one in the late ’50s, but it was one of the toys my parents didn’t save in the garage. I bought a replacement Maggie Whee-Lo from eBay for considerably more than 79 cents, but it is an original and still works. There have been many versions of the Whee-Lo created since 1953, some of which are still being sold today. Neat Stuff stands the test of time.”

“Here a couple of YouTube videos that show the Whee-Lo in action:

Our birds, our wildlife, ourselves

The Astronomer of Nininger: “Subject: Clever critter.

“Living outside city limits affords homeowners some different styles of comfort and leisure not afforded to their urban counterparts. Some people are comfortable leaving their automobiles unlocked when parked in the driveway, and some people even go so far as to leave personal items outdoors, on their lawns, etc. I share with you a true story from one of my neighbors who solved a puzzling problem last week.

“Vicky loves to feed the birds. They sort of are ‘her’ birds, and she provides more than adequate rations to tempt their palates. Lately she has been feeding the hummingbirds. Daily she would mix sugar, dissolving it in water and coloring it with red food dye. It made a delectable nectar that the hummers thoroughly enjoyed. But rather suddenly her hummingbird feeders, hung with care from branches of back-yard trees, started disappearing. Now, who took my hummingbird feeder? Checking around, she could not find them anywhere.

“The wind did not just blow them down. It was surely a deliberate act on behalf of a mischievous villain. But why? This went on for several days, and Vicky had to replenish her store of nectar feeders. Then, one evening she got the idea to go out and see what might be happening to her feeders. Surprisingly, she looked in another tree, not too far from where her feeders had been hung. There she saw a chubby raccoon sitting on a limb, resting back against the trunk of that tree. In its hands it held tightly on to Vicky’s hummingbird feeder, with one end elevated while the other was in its mouth. It looked to her like the coon was drinking from a baby bottle and enjoying it as much as Jove’s nectar.

“They are indeed clever critters.”

Come again?

Another episode of creative hearing, reported by LeoJEOSP: “Subject: Elephants.

“My better half and I were listening to local news on TV. I was reading a book and half-listening. There was a story concerning Keith Ellison, our state attorney general, who was ready to file charges against someone.

“A few minutes later, on another channel, was an advertisement for an organization attempting to raise money to prevent the killing of elephants for ivory.

“After the elephants ad, I asked M.B.H. what Keith Ellison had to do with free elephants. The close of the ad was the narrator pleading with everyone to send $12 a month to ‘free elephants’ from their terrible plight.

“Keith Ellison . . . free elephants . . . never mind.”

Then & Now

John in Highland reports: “Subject: Time flies.

“Looking through a stack of old vinyl record albums, I ran across and played two from 1975. (Yes, believe it or not, I still have a working turntable!).

“‘Northern Lights, Southern Cross’ by The Band and ‘Blood on the Tracks’ by Bob Dylan were great albums that some say were the best ever performed by the respective artists.

“After 46 years, the themes which they promoted are timeless. The Band sang: ‘You’ve got one life that you’d better not waste.’ Dylan posited: ‘Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast. Oh, but what a shame if all we shared can’t last.'”

Then & Later

Jay Clemens writes: “Subject: Gee, my old Studebakers ran great!

“In the picture, it looks like the 1913 Studebakers came with left- and right-hand steering. Does anyone have any idea why?

“That was our house in the background. It looked bigger when I was a kid.”

“Picking and eating”

That is the caption (and the entire text of an email) from Richard Rivard:

Our theater of seasons

Mounds View Swede has sent us several photo-essays: (1) “Thanks to two dying computers and a loss of phone and Internet service, I haven’t sent anything in for a few weeks.

“We are now trying to do the things we used to do.

“I have paid attention to what nature is doing around me and in Ardan Park, though, so here are some of the photos I’ve taken.

“The rains we had were most welcome. The droplets on the leaves caught my eye with their clarity and whiteness.

“Some of the trees and shrubs had a lot of blossoms on them.

“Some of the blossoms seemed quite unusual to me.”

“More to come.”

(2) “Here are more of what was blooming around the north pond in Ardan Park.

“These geese walked ahead of me for a while as I made my way around the pond.

“They flew off after a while, even though they kept a lot of distance
between them and me.

“More soon.”

(3) “The last 1-inch rainfall added fresh water to the ponds in Ardan Park and created some open water in the green scum growing there. I felt dismayed at how early the ponds were getting covered by this growth, but don’t know enough about it to understand if it is a good or bad thing.

“A mother mallard and three ducklings just swam along as usual, which made me think perhaps it isn’t too bad to have this green growth.

“A few houses away from Ardsn Park are the serious gardeners who have a nice display of different iris plants in full bloom now.

“This is one similar to some I have.

“I thought this one was rather stunning in its complexity of color and shape. Not the run-of-the-mill iris blossom usually seen.”

Fun facts to know and tell
Goiter Division

Waldo Windmill: “Attending rural one-room schools in Wisconsin in the 1930s and 1940s meant that pupils’ report cards not only informed parents of our record of attendance, deportment, and performance in the ‘Three R’s,’ but also our success in keeping the dreaded goiter at bay. Goiters, defined as enlargements of the thyroid, were quite common in certain Midwestern states at the time because of a paucity of iodine in the soil and consequently in plants grown in that soil. The extent of the problem is illustrated by the fact that in 1918, during World War I, 30 percent of draftees from Houghton, Michigan, were rejected for armed service because of goiters and hypothyroidism.

“In 1924, iodized salt first appeared on grocery-store shelves in Michigan and was heralded as the most effective way of adding iodine to the human diet. It proved to be very successful in protecting users from developing goiter problems, but was not immediately available nor even sought-after nationally. As a result, when I started school in 1936, goiter pills, which provided supplementary iodine, were routinely passed out to pupils as a protective measure. And teachers, when preparing report cards to be taken home to parents, dutifully recorded a grade of ‘satisfactory’ or ‘unsatisfactory’ for our achievement in Goiter Prevention. I assume a quick glance would have been sufficient to grade each of us in that regard. And I’m happy to say that I never flunked that subject!”

Till death them do part

Email: “Granny of White Bear Lake extends congratulations for celebrating 75 years!

“I receive an email almost every day from my 94-year-old Uncle Kermit. That is really an accomplishment for his age, but what is really special is that he and my Aunt Betty are celebrating 75 years of marriage.”

Know thyself!

From Eos: “Subject: My body.

“I weigh the same as I did when I was a slim and trim 5’6″. Now I’m 5’4″. Apparently, bodies have a redistribution plan as you age. The ‘slim and trim’ has turned into a small tire around my middle. Same body . . . two inches shorter. (It had to go somewhere.) I’m still comfortable in this body. I find it amusing sometimes, but I’m still comfortable. 🙂”

The highfalutin amusements

Kathy S. of St. Paul reports: “Subject: Having fun with a work of art.

“The Minneapolis Institute of Art has pictures of its art on its website. Tonight I cruised around some modern items on the Third Floor and found Telephone stand, c. 1927′ in Gallery 379. It is a small desk/table with a tiny chair — in ebonized walnut and maple marquetry ‘with mechanized doors.’ Huh?

“So I read the description and found: ‘The doors of the cabinet are wired to open when the candlestick telephone, housed inside, rings.’ Cool! Unfortunately, the picture doesn’t show the inside of the tabernacle-type thingy built onto the top of the little table. I would love to see how it works.

“The cellphones we use now are boring, compared to this work of art. On the other hand, we don’t have to stay near it to wait until it rings and the doors open. Many of of us who remember phones wired into one place in the house can appreciate carrying our phones around in pockets.

“Live and learn!”

God is in the details (and so’s the devil)
Or: Everyone’s a critic!
 (responsorial) (responsorial)

Friendly Bob of Fridley: “Subject: Mad Magazine.

The recent submission from T.S. of St. Paul about Mad Magazine’s spoof on ‘The Fugitive’ reminded me of my teen years, when I was quite addicted to the magazine. I never had the money to ‘waste’ on that tripe, so I had to count on second-hand copies passed along by a friend, or on a few occasions an actual latest issue provided by my sister.

“I liked almost everything in there — even the mindless rantings in the letters. About the only thing I did not care for was the ‘Spy vs. Spy’ feature, which I thought was junk. I was surprised to learn that a few of the ‘idiots’ who provided content way back then are still with us, and I still remember most of the names. Al Jaffee just turned 100 in March. Two of my favorite features were the movie and TV spoofs, and the inventions.

“While much has faded over time, some things still stick in my mind. (Is that a Midwesternism?) One was a bit on inventions for bad drivers. Mad was always great at making up ridiculous names for the characters that appeared in any of the strips. I especially remember the invention (not far off the beam!) for drunk drivers. It sensed alcohol on the driver’s breath, and screw-jacks automatically descended under the vehicle, raising it up so that it would not move. It was surmised that the driver would eventually fall asleep (or pass out), thus protecting others. The character this was invented for was ‘Daryl Drunkenslob.’

“The other invention I remember well was for ‘Zelda Bumperthumper,’ who had the annoying habit of bashing other vehicles fore and aft as she tried to maneuver out of a parking spot. This device retaliated for these vehicle strikes by emitting an embarrassing loud noise (‘posterior breeze’), accompanied by a suitably foul smell. This would supposedly remind dear Zelda to drive better and avoid such situations in the future.

“The movie/TV spoofs, I always read, whether I had seen the target of the take-off or not. Again, the details have faded away, but I still remember ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (‘Flawrence of Arabia’), which I did see, and ‘High Noon’ (‘Hah! Noon!’), which I did not. In the first, Mad had moviegoers stampeding the refreshment stand at intermission to get something, ANYTHING to drink (because of all of the desert scenes). In the second, there was an exchange which I could only imagine, because, as I mentioned, I had not seen the film. I assume Will Kane (Gary Cooper) was going to abandon the townspeople as he left with his new bride, Amy (Grace Kelly), leaving them to the designs of the approaching baddie, Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), who was seeking revenge. A back-and-forth something like this ensued: ‘I’m a-leavin’.’ ‘But you can’t go!’ ‘I’m a-leavin’.’ ‘Mr. Bad Guy will kill us all!’ ‘I’m a-leavin’.’ ‘You can’t leave your friends behind!’ ‘I’m a-leavin’.’ ‘I’ll blow your head off!’ ‘I’m a-stayin’.’ Maybe one day I’ll rent the movie and watch it. I hear it is a classic.

“A few years ago, another sister blessed me with a stack of old (mostly 1970s) Mad and Cracked magazines. Strangely, I did not find them nearly as entertaining as in my younger years. For one thing, they had gotten WAY too political, and I get plenty of that these days from many sides. But Sergio Aragones’s ‘Marginal Thinking’ single-frame bits, not surprisingly sprinkled throughout the Mad Magazine pages in the margins, still produced a few gems.

“Thanks for the memories, T.S.

Our times
Baseball Division

Donald: “Subject: Almost a complete game — what an achievement!

“The top of the front page of the June 1st Pioneer Press had a picture of Jose Berrios and this all in caps: ‘BERRIOS PUTS ON A MASTER CLASS.’ Followed by: ‘Starter throws into the 9th inning in Twins’ 3-2 win over Orioles.’

“Which got me wondering:

“With this much excitement over his eight-plus innings, has Berrios pitched any complete games in the majors?

“Which active pitcher leads the two leagues in career complete games?

“Who is the all-time champion in complete games?

“Google supplied the answers:


“Justin Verlander, 26.

“Cy Young, 749.

“749? Wow! They should name an award after that guy!”

Out of the mouths of babes

King Grandpa: “My son Jake, a thin, young-looking 37-year-old, just scratched an itch and bought himself a OneWheel. It is a very cool merging of a skateboard and a Segway. He mastered it very quickly.

“One day while he was escorting his elementary children to school, a 10-year-old boy was eyeing him suspiciously while he rolled through the neighborhood. The young boy mustered up his courage and approached Jake and asked: ‘Are you a teenager, or a full-grown adult?'”

Band Name of the Day: Iodine and the Goiters — or: Three Little Pigs

Website of the Day: Mad Magazine

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