Keeping Track Of Uncle Mack

10502429_944538671533_2387090454819837848_nFacebook obviously has its faults, but it’s got one huge virtue — it makes it so much easier to keep track of what your friends and family members are doing.  Take Uncle Mack, for example.  What’s the lawyer/saxophonist/actor/occasional Webner House contributor in the family up to?  It turns out he’s been working on a film called The Orangeburg Massacre.  Calhoun ‘da Creator’ Cornwell is the motivating force behind the movie, and his Facebook page has lots of information about it, including the photo above in which Uncle Mack is prominently featured.  A trailer for the film is due in the near future, and I’ll post it when I see it.

The Orangeburg Massacre is the name given to the incident in which South Carolina Highway Patrolmen opened fire on students at South Carolina State College, who had been protesting in an effort to achieve desegregation of a bowling alley.  Three African-American students were killed and and 27 people were wounded in the shooting, which occurred on February 8, 1968 — more than three years before the much more well known Kent State shootings.  Does anyone doubt that the relative notoriety of the two incidents has at least some relationship to the race of the students who were victims?  It is wonderful that a film is being made about the Orangeburg Massacre, 45 years later.

Some people retire and do nothing except work on their tans and frequent Early Bird specials at local restaurants; others use their newfound free time to explore new interests and expand their horizons.  Uncle Mack is squarely in the latter camp, and I think what he is doing is pretty cool. I don’t know anything about the movie or his role, but I am proud of his willingness to tackle it and, we can hope, contribute to greater awareness of a shameful, racist chapter in American history.

The Sounds Of A ’60s Summer

There was the ever-present throb of fans, because no one had air conditioning.  Square fan units that fit into the bottom of a window that you could yell into and have your voice emerge, chopped and distorted, on the other side.  Rotating fans that whirred from side to side, with streamers tied to their wire covers blowing in the breeze.  Standing fans in the corner that sent air circling around the room.  They didn’t make the air any cooler, but they helped the “circulation.”

Screen doors creaking open and slamming shut with a bang as kids came and went and exasperated Moms said:  “In or out?”  Baseball cards attached to bicycle frames with a clothes pin that were strummed by the spokes of the rear wheel and made a bike sound like a motorcycle.  The hum of riding lawnmowers, as the neighborhood Dads cut the grass on their acre-sized lots.  The fat from cheeseburgers sizzling on hot charcoal.

And, as the evening arrived and shadows grew long, boxy Zenith and RCA radio units were turned on.  The sounds of ’60s music floated out the open windows through the screens into the humid summer nights as the adults gathered on patios and kids ran around, waving sparklers or catching lightning bugs or playing flashlight tag.  Martha Reeve and the Vandellas and Dancing in the Street.  Frank Sinatra and Strangers in the Night.  The early Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Four Seasons.  Dionne Warwick and Petula Clark.  And, most of all, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, whose music perfectly captured the ’60s summer mood.  Happy, bopping music, light and upbeat, infused with optimism, as the adults talked quietly and laughed about last night’s Tonight Show or reenacted one of the bits from the latest great Bill Cosby or Bob Newhart comedy album.

When bedtime came, the beat of fans was still there, accompanied by the chirping of crickets and the buzz insects in the sultry air.

The Smells Of A ’60s Summer

The smells told you it was the high summer, too.

When you ran outside in the morning, the temperature was already above 70 and the humid air had a sharp tang and crackle to it.  Somewhere a Dad had mowed the lawn within the last 24 hours, and the spicy odor of cut grass salted the air.  This always brought a sneeze and made my eyes water, because I was allergic to cut grass — particularly when it came time to mow our own lawn.

In the woods surrounding our neighborhood the smells told of dampness and decay.  Fallen trees were slowly rotting, covered with fungus and mold, and the forest floor was carpeted with a layer for decomposing leaves and branches that sank into the soil when you stepped on them.  At the creek bed there was the clean, sharp scent of water and mud and stones slick with algae and moss.

But the smells I most associate with those long-ago summers were of the Kool-Aids, the frozen lemonades, and other drinks that every savvy neighborhood Mom had ready to pour out to the sweaty boys who might track dust into their kitchens at any moment.  When the manufacturers of those drink mixes said they were flavored, they weren’t kidding!  The smells and tastes were overpowering.  No need for subtlety!  Even a person whose taste buds and olfactory lobes had been disconnected couldn’t fail to detect the “flavors.”

The flavored drink mixes had the most intense scents, with grape and cherry being the most pungent.  If kids in the neighborhood had set up a lemonade stand and had mixed the concoction themselves, you had to brace yourself.  Just smelling a pitcher of grape Funny Face drink made you feel like you’d been immersed in a can of Welch’s, and even a small sip of the sugary liquid would cause severe mouth pucker.  No one could drink it without immediately chasing it with a glass of cool water.

The Feel Of A ’60s Summer

When you woke up to the thrum of the window fan, the day was full of possibility.  There were no plans, or schedules, or adult-supervised activities on the calendar.  There was no calendar.  It was July, and high summer.  It had been weeks since school ended and would be weeks before school began again, and the summer felt like it would last forever.

You pulled on a striped t-shirt and shorts, because that’s what everybody wore, and laced up your Red Ball Jets, because everyone knew they made you run faster and jump higher.  You raced downstairs and ate some Frosted Flakes, happy that it was summer and hot and your Mom wouldn’t make you eat a “hot breakfast” like oatmeal.  Then you and your brother said “Bye, Mom!” and charged out the back door, looking for your friends in the neighborhood.  They weren’t hard to find.  It seemed like every family had three, four, or five kids.

00019750So you’d round up the gang, and then talk about what to do.  The days were immense and wide open, ready to be filled by whatever you could think of.  Maybe you’d play baseball, or “army.”  Maybe you’d work on that fort you all were building in the woods behind the Shantzs’ house.  You could climb a tree, or see who could throw a crab apple the farthest.  Maybe you’d go exploring down by the creek and hunt for crawdads.  You could take your bike to the top of the Leahys’ hill, which had to be as tall as the Rockies, then coast down, feeling the momentum build until you were really flying, and see how far you could go without pedaling.  And if it was especially hot you could always take a dip in one of those plastic above-ground pools people kept on their patios, or drink cool water straight from a garden hose and maybe spray your friends while you were doing so.

You felt the sun on your scalp.  You felt dust on your skin and dried mud from the creek bed on your knees and the cool grass between your toes.  You felt the sticky drippings from a cherry Popsicle on your hands and the residue of bubble gum on your cheek.  When twilight finally came, and the lightning bugs came out, you felt the cooler air and the goosebumps on your arms because it was just so much fun to be outside with your friends in the gathering darkness.

And when bedtime finally came, you fell asleep to the thrum of the window fan, hot and happy and hoping that tomorrow would be another day just like today.

Direct From the ’60s, I Give You The Light Blue American Express World Travel Service Bag

When we cleaned out Mom’s condo to get it ready for sale, we removed a bunch of stuff that had been stored in cupboards and closets and ignored for years.  The paraphernalia was distributed among the five kids, to be examined later.

Among the boxes and bags that I received were two very old movie projectors, an old slide projector, slide carousels, a Super 8 hand camera, and lots of old movies from the ’70s.  They are found in two light blue, high-quality plastic American Express World Travel Service bags.

IMG_3727Richard and I are going to have to figure out how to work the projectors, but for now I want to focus on the American Express World Travel Service bags.  They are chock full of maps, passport cases, American Express travel tip booklets (one is entitled “Priceless Travel Secrets” in Laugh-In era typeface) and other items that harken back to a day when travel was a great adventure, something that you dressed up for and anticipated.  In those days, you went to an American Express travel agent to help plan your trip, and the agent gave you “free” stuff that made the impending journey even cooler — stuff like these little blue bags.  They reek of the ’60s and early ’70s, these little blue bags, like props you might see to set the time period on Mad Men.

The American Express bags belonged to my grandparents, who loved to travel and paid careful attention to every tip and suggested technique.  I can just imagine them holding this bag stuffed full of cameras, film, itineraries, and booklets as they boarded a Pan Am prop plane for the transAtlantic trip, both wearing hats and dressy attire, passports secure in their passport case in one suit coat pocket, American Express Traveler’s Checks carefully stored in their special holder in another pocket.

It was a different time then.

Into The 60s

I think every ten-degree increment has its own, distinctive personality.

IMG_3354The teens are cruel, and the 20s are unforgiving.  The 30s are bone-chilling, and the 40s are gloomy.  The 50s are hopeful, and the 60s . . . well, the 60s are joyful.  When the 60s come after a long winter, giving us an early — albeit brief — taste of the spring to come, the effect is magical.

We took a leisurely afternoon stroll today as the thermometer hit the 60s, and it was as if a sleuth of bears had awoken after a long, cold winter of hibernation.  People were out jogging, riding their bikes, and skateboarding in the unfamiliar sunshine.  People clad in shorts were washing their cars, with the radio playing in the background.  And children’s toys had been removed from basements and garages and put outside where they belong, to add some color and fun and shouts to the suburban milieu.

The 60s will be gone tomorrow, as our temperature once again plunges downward.  But I sure enjoyed today’s brief glimpse of warm weather.

His Way Was “My Way”

NPR has been running a series on “Mom and Dad’s record collection,” where celebrities and average folks talk about a record their parents had that was associated with a particular memory or otherwise had a special meaning.

In the Webner household of my youth, Mom and Dad had an eclectic album collection — including some 78 rpm records — that featured classical pieces, swing, big beat, and the OSU marching band.  They didn’t often listen to music, but when they did, one song stood out ahead of the rest:  Frank Sinatra’s recording of My Way.

My father was by nature a quiet person, but give him a drink or two and My Way would be taken from its place of honor on the record rack and played like it was the national anthem.  If my Uncle Tony were in town, he and Dad were likely to stand up, spread their arms wide, and belt out the song with great gusto.  The lyrics, about a dying man who reflects on his life and the blows he’s taken but is proud that he did things his way, obviously spoke to something deep within them.  To others, the song might seem like a maudlin and over-the-top bit of self-congratulation by a stubborn egotist.

What was it about My Way that has such resonance for a car dealer and a stockbroker?  How many shopkeepers, pharmacists, accountants and other members of the corporate culture of the ’60s and ’70s similarly identified with the character in that song?

I think the attraction of the song was aspirational.  These were men who had their jobs and did their jobs, providing for their families and, in the process, undoubtedly making countless compromises.  They might go out for a drink after work, but for the most part they played their well-defined role in the world.  They identified with the rugged individualist in the song who insisted on doing what he pleased, even if their lives didn’t necessarily permit them to be that person.  When the song was played, it was a chance for them to let that tamped down inner individualist roar, in a way he never could in real life.