Thursday, August 20, 2020

Family Camping-Are We Having Fun yet?


Family Camping....what a romantic idea! Bonding—building teamwork-facing challenges together–getting close to God's creation....economical... well...

Preparations for our first camping trip as a family in 1964— destination Lake George, N.Y.— were almost as exciting as the actual trip. Very characteristic of my dad, (Mr.Sawdust) we were going to do this right! One Saturday he escorted my six brothers and me to a large Army-Navy surplus store in Manhattan, a forty minute drive from our home in Upper Montclair, NJ. These stores were equivalent in the 60's to the sports outfitters of today. Each of us was fully equipped with a comfy flannel lined sleeping bag, a denim duffel bag, a compass, a whistle and a flashlight. Every purchase was multiplied nine times-the clerk was loving it! We filed out of the store wearing matching tee shirts and white sailor caps. ...Now if that wasn't a classic scene for the makings of a great family musical!
We had collapsible canvas water buckets, even a portable toilet with a curtain for the utmost privacy. All we had to do was dig the hole.
After careful consideration, figuring how much room the nine of us (..and the dog) would need for sleeping, Dad purchased a tent that would house a circus. Tents back then were not made of lightweight nylon. They were made of heavy canvas so this tent was not only huge but weighed a ton! I remember the center pole was about nine feet tall when the two hardwood poles were assembled. But not to worry—dad and the boys had built a car top carrier that was so big it would easily transport all we had purchased that day...and much more. It extended the entire length of the top of the Dodge wagon. My dad's excitement was contagious! By the time we returned home that night I felt like I had already been on vacation.
The actual camping trip turned out to be much more exciting than that trip to the city for supplies; in fact, it was far more exciting than Dad could have possibly anticipated. That "great family musical" was about to become a hair raising drama.
Dad was always proud to have the family together, crowded into the big Dodge station wagon, along with the family dog. Our basset hound, Boots accompanied us on this trip, claiming his spot behind the driver’s seat. He’d position his stubby hind legs on the edge of the back seat and drop a paw over Dad’s shoulder. Hanging his head out the window, he’d let his long, pendulous ears flap in the breeze. He would rest his head on Dad’s shoulder when the ride became wearisome.
“How many kids have you got there?” attendants would inquire curiously as we stopped for gas. “Seven! Six boys and one girl!” he’d reply. “She must be treated like a queen,” they’d inevitably respond.
It is remarkable how many times I heard that growing up. I guess it was, in fact, true. Taking my place in the middle of six boys, with the understanding that any mistreatment of the one daughter would result in an unhappy situation, made me feel like somewhat of a princess in a strong fortress. I’m sure my “special” position was resented at times, especially on nights when Dad found an interesting movie on television. I would sit up on his lap eating popcorn, slide down from time to time and run up the stairs. “Now, you boys go to bed! We’re downstairs eating popcorn.” I’d skip eagerly back down the stairs.
They loved that, I’m sure.
Yes, we were well equipped, no doubt, but totally unprepared for the violent storm that blew up and threatened to relocate our enormous tent in the middle of the night. I can still see my Dad leaning the weight of his entire body against the massive wooden center pole, in an attempt to keep it standing. The large canvas tarp that had been attached to the pole at the peak of the tent was being hoisted by the winds. Lightning flashes revealed our frightened faces as we sat clutching pots and pans to catch the dripping water.
Thoroughly exhausted from the night, we left the soggy camp site for a site-seeing drive the following morning. The day was damp and chilly and it actually felt good to be back in the crowded station wagon—dog and all. Dad still had his sailor’s cap on, pipe in his mouth, clenched securely between his teeth. He was no doubt a bit shaken by the storm, but didn’t show it. He was still ….on vacation! We drove until lunchtime. “Well, what do you say we head back to….wait a minute—I know where we are! We’ve got to stop up ahead. We’re at the Ausable Chasm!” There was that whisper of suspense in his voice.

Note: See the USA the Easy Way put out by Reader’s Digest describes the Ausable Chasm as follows:

“Here sheer walls of rock rise some 200 feet above the rushing waters of the Ausable River. A tour of the chasm includes a 3/4 mile hike on dangling suspension bridges and winding walkways, past plunging waterfalls and raging rapids, culminating in a boat ride through the swirling waters.


We received a few instructions. I was to keep the dog on his leash, Mom had my youngest brother Chris close by her side. Bruce, Jeff, little Wally and Carl were to follow Dad. We climbed carefully down some boulders, wet and slick with moss, not an easy feat for a basset hound. We could hear the deafening roar of the mighty rapids, rushing furiously due to last nights storm. Soon we could see for ourselves why Dad had made the stop.
It was breathtaking!

This great photo of the Ausable Chasm
by Bryce Koechlin, (AddVision Studios) is as I remember it!

As we stood together looking warily down into the chasm, I recall my Dad’s words, “I seriously doubt a man could fall in there and come out alive. Let’s head back.” With that, he turned to leave. Seconds later, my brother Bruce, who had been mesmerized by the water, was falling headlong down into the rapids. It was one of those moments in time when you are awakened with a jolt from a terrible dream, so relieved—but this was not a dream.
“BRUCE FELL IN!!” I screamed, straining to be heard above the water.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Dad made his way to the edge and jumped in. I could see Bruce’s arms flailing out of the water as he was tossed around and pulled under by the rapids. Within seconds, my mother made her way to the edge, jumped in and was pulled down the river as well. I grabbed as many little hands as I could and walked along the chasm, hoping to see all three, remembering all too well my Dad’s ominous words. Would they come out alive?
What a wonderful sight it was to see my Dad, sailor cap still on his head, and—I kid you not—pipe in his mouth, standing beyond the rapids in an alcove of rocks, embracing Bruce and Mom.
It was a very tearful, thankful, crowded ride back in the station wagon. Bruce cried the loudest however. Thankful, yes, he had not lost his life, but a comparable tragedy to him — he had lost his harmonica.
We sat quietly at the picnic table in the stillness of evening, humbled by the day. “Do you see this frail little mantle in this lantern?” Dad asked. We gazed in to see the delicate mantle providing the only light in the campsite. “That is how frail our life is. In one second, it can be taken away!”
We were dirty. We were tired. We were sick of being on vacation. But the following morning we filed into the nearest church we could find, just to say, “thank you” that we would all be heading home.



This picture of Boots and me was taken while swimming
in lake George-the day before the incident at the Ausable chasm.
*No wonder my teacher thought I was telling tales when I returned in the fall and turned in my “What I Did on My summer Vacation” essay....and hard to believe there would be a second family camping adventure.



Friday, May 8, 2020

Growing up as a kid in the 50's was..."romantic"!

...not in the sense you might think of when I say..."romantic." For example—my kindergarten teacher's name was Miss Bowers. She was up there in years but I did not know it at the time because she smiled a lot and dressed so colorfully. Our bus driver's name was "Mr.Pickle." (I assumed he was old because he was bald) At the end of second grade, Mr.Pickle asked Miss Bowers to marry him. She said "yes" and she became Mrs.Pickle—the kindergarten teacher.

...see what I mean?

But back to kindergarten...early in the spring that year, my older brother Bruce went to his Saturday Cub Scout meeting dressed in his little blue uniform, yellow scarf around his neck, held secure by a little metal ring with a wolf engraved in it— (boy was he proud of that!)

While he was there, he found an injured bird hobbling in the grass. It was a gorgeous red bird with black wings—a Scarlet Tanager. Its wing was injured and it was unable to fly—easy prey for any lurking cat.

I remember him returning home with the bird in a Buster Brown shoe box. He named the bird "Flair" and over the next month Flair became a part of our family. Each morning we would wait at the end of our driveway for the school bus. Flair sat perched on top of Bruce's head. Mr.Pickle would stop, throw open the bus door and smile from ear to ear—delighted at the sight! Flair spent the school day on Bruce's shoulder, patiently watching as he worked. Now today I'm sure there would be a dozen reasons why Flair would not be allowed in school—"fleas...bird flue...the other children do not have a bird like Flair to bring to school..." but in the 50's Flair was more than welcome!
After school Bruce sat and watched his afternoon shows—Claude Kirschner and his Terrytoon Circus-cartoon show...the Mousekateers with Annette and Cubby. Flair sat on top of the television set perched on the rabbit ear antenna until they were over.



Weeks went by. Bruce hoped Flair's wing would heal and he would be able to fly again someday —until that day actually came. Each day we would take turns running across the yard with Flair perched on our hand, to see if he would try to fly. One day my brother Jeff took his turn and Flair took off! Bruce was not happy. He wanted to be the one to see Flair off. Flair sat high in a tree top looking down at us, then up toward the sky—hesitant, as if contemplating what to do. Then he was off! Though we always looked for him, we never saw him again.

I'll bet there are a number of Baby Boomers today who remember the year a Scarlet Tanager rode the bus to school with them and attended third grade.


....now tell me that's not a romantic thought!



(my dad with Flair-we all loved him!)


Update February 7, 2017

Thought it would be interesting to post an update on the little Cub Scout-Bruce Kunkel.
From the time he could hold a pencil, we knew that he was an artist. If you Google his name "Bruce Kunkel-Gibson Guitar" you will be able to see some of the stunning guitars he has created over the years at the Gibson Custom Shop in Nashville.
Here is just one of his many creations:




Sunday, April 12, 2020

Remember when permanents were....PERMANENT?

Home permanents had come a long way by the 50's. But not quite far enough!
This ad promotion from the 50's featured identical twins, with identical looking hair styles. One was done professionally, the other was done at home.

In his role as radio announcer for the long-running mystery series, Casey, Crime Photographer, sponsored by Toni, Bill Cullen would often deliver the commercial as if he was a character in the program. He would ask his radio audience..

"...which girl has the Toni?"


From my one experience as a child, I don't think either one of them did!

But before I take you back to the first time I saw my father cry— lets go back to 1909 and the day Karl Nessler's wife Katharine Laible had her very first home permanent. Her husband Karl had been working several years perfecting a method to curl hair using chemical treatments, electrical heating devices and brass rollers each weighing about two pounds. It was a complex system, using countering weights suspended from an overhead chandelier and mounted on a stand to prevent the hot rollers from touching the scalp. The process took at least six hours. History records him using a mixture of cow urine and water.
(urban legend? Perhaps!)
Now it's hard for me to imagine Katharine willingly subjecting herself to this process. But it is even more unbelievable that she allowed her husband to give her a
second permanent after the first one completely burned her hair off, scalding her scalp.
.....He didn't quite have it down the second time either–she lost all of her hair again.


He did eventually perfect the method and his electric permanent wave machine was patented in London in 1909 and went into widespread use.

Unlike Karl Nessler's wife, I had only one permanent as a young girl.
By the time it was my turn, Toni had produced a product that women could use at home for $2 (compared to $15 if done professionally at a hair salon)
The cow urine was gone-but it had its own distinct smell—not a big improvement.


In April of 1957 my mother was in the hospital after delivering her seventh child, my brother Chris—son #6. At that time mothers were kept in the hospital for at least a week following the delivery of a baby. A live-in baby sitter was hired to help take care of the other six children at home. My Dad thought it would be nice to surprise my mom on Easter Sunday morning with a visit from all of her children. We were not allowed in the hospital, but we could stand outside on the lawn and wave up to her at her window.

The babysitter, a very capable elderly woman, thought it would be nice to surprise my dad and give his little girl her very first home permanent. Wouldn't she look nice waving up at the window with all those curls?
The picture was not quite as dreamy as she envisioned. When the curlers were removed my head was covered with a mass of frizz and gnarled, kinky curls. When my dad arrived home he took one look at me, covered my head with a towel and escorted me next door. Mrs. McGrady was a nurse and she could fix just about anything.

"Marge! Can you do something?!

"I'll try Wally! I'll try!"



She did try. I remember standing in front of her full length mirror and watching her brush, and brush, and brush— and watching those PERMANENT curls pop right back up to where they were, springing about six inches off the top of my head.

My dad waited outside the door. But sorry to say I looked exactly the same when I walked out.

(ok...it's not an actual photo. There were no pictures taken of me that day)
I'm sure I'm not the only 50's Baby Boomer who had a bad perm experience!
We learned to do one thing when we caught a whiff of that pungent Toni solution—

.....RUN!

Update:  May 21, 2013
I have never seen this photo before today.  It is a photo from that day.  I think that my Easter hat is covering the rest of the FRIZZ!