Burma Shave: A Post in Three Parts

 

 

Posted by MK Waller

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Prepost

On March 1, I posted “To March,” a poem by Emily Dickinson, on my personal blog, Telling the Truth, Mainly. I post it every year. There’s no such thing as too much Emily Dickinson.

© MK Waller

© MK Waller

Then I happened across another poem she wrote about March, and it seemed a shame to keep it to myself, so I prepared to post it on the 2nd.

Like “To March,” the new poem celebrates nature, specifically the natural light that appears in early spring. Unable (after an extensive search of several databases) to find a suitable photograph of Dickinson’s Central Massachusetts in springtime, I settled for a picture of a Texas landscape covered in bluebonnets. . . .

Then I added a few paragraphs about bluebonnets. I wrote about the annual tradition of driving around looking for bluebonnets, the different species, the history of the bluebonnet as the state flower. I put in pictures from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. . . .

© MK Waller

© MK Waller

That reminded me of the time Fannie Flagg wore a big flowery hat and did an impression of Mrs. Johnson, way back in the ’60s, when Lady Bird was pushing highway beautification. (“Whenever I see a candy wrapper on the ground, I stop and pick it up. . . .  Lyndon collects candy wrappers.”)

I think I saw it on the Garry Moore Show–I was about twelve at the time–and I thought it outrageously funny.  So I decided to include the memory in my post. . . . 

© MK Waller

© MK Waller

But first I had to write about the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, which meant I had to do some research, and that got to me thinking about Mrs. Johnson herself, which led to remembering her memorial service and the lovely words her oldest granddaughter, Lucinda Robb, spoke there–that woman is a fine writer, and I say that in all sincerity–and that prompted me to pull up a video of the eulogy. Of course, I had to listen to it to make sure it was as good as I remembered, and it was, so I decided to add a link, but before I did, I had to listen to the tribute (Parts I and II) given by Bill Moyers, a string of touching and humorous stories about Lady Bird. . . . And by the time he finished, I was all teary and had to get out the crying towel. . . .

© MK Waller

© MK Waller

And then I remembered something really funny, a conversation broadcast on local TV news between a reporter and one of the Johnson Ranch hands, a man who’d worked there since he was a boy. He said Mrs. Johnson woke up one morning and looked out her bedroom window and saw that overnight, deer had grazed on the vast and expensive bed of pansies she’d laid out the day before. She came to him, all fired up, carrying a rifle, and said, “Can you drive?” He said he could, and she said, “All right, get the truck. You drive, and I’ll shoot.” He didn’t go into detail about the hunting trip, and I have a feeling they didn’t bag anything.

Well, anyway, my mind then turned to the East Texas roots Moyers and Lady Bird shared, which took me back to all those people meandering around the Texas backroads every April, looking for bluebonnets, and that reminded me of William Humphrey‘s memoir, which I read in a master’s class in Texas literature, and in which Humphrey refers to Texas’ romance with the automobile. I’d forgotten the title, so I had to look it up. (Farther Off From Heaven.)

© MK Waller

© MK Waller

Thinking about the romance with the automobile reminded me of how my father loved to drive around just to see what he could see, and all the Sunday drives we took, during which I generally had my nose in a book and so today I know a lot of local place names but have no idea how to get there, and then I thought about the many trips we made from Fentress to Houston, and we always took the old highway and stopped in Schulenberg at something that wasn’t a Dairy Queen but was close, and that had the absolute best hamburgers I’ve ever eaten to this very day, and how somewhere just north of Schulenberg, or maybe south of it, there was a series of Burma Shave signs. That was just before the interstate highways came through, when major roads in our area were still junky but interesting and even entertaining, and then I remembered my favorite Burma Shave jingle. . . .

© MK Waller

© MK Waller

So I googled Burma Shave and found Burma-Shave.org, which appears on FrogCircus.org, and the Burma Shave page on Fifties Web, and, of course, the Burma Shave page on Wikipedia. (Unfortunately the Eisner Museum of Advertising and Design, which is cited on Burma-Shave.org, is now closed.)

Finally, I decided to postpone bluebonnets and write about Burma Shave instead.

Then I remembered I was scheduled to post here on March 3rd.  

And that’s how we got to where we are now.

***

Post

 

Set of signs promoting Burma-Shave, on U.S. Ro...

Set of signs promoting Burma-Shave, on U.S. Route 66. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Released into the public domain by author Ken Koehler.

 

For those too young to know–and I never thought I would use that phrase–Burma Shave was a brushless shaving cream. The company advertised with jingles displayed on roadside signs, one line per sign. They entertained drivers and kept children busy on long jaunts (Who’ll be first to see the next Burma Shave sign?). 

I don’t know for certain, but I’d be willing to bet that at least 99.44% of travelers who encountered Burma Shave signs were constitutionally incapable of passing by without reading them aloud, at least when a second person was in the car. 

Some of the jingles touted the product. Some promoted safe driving. Some were just fun.

Here’s a sample:

*

Hardy men
Were the Caesars
Instead of razors
They used tweezers
Burma Shave

*

Drinking drivers–
Nothing worse
They put
The quart
Before the hearse
Burma-Shave

*

Ben met Anna,
Made a hit.
She felt his chin.
Ben – Anna split.
Burma Shave

*

Slow down, Pa
Sakes alive
Ma missed signs
Four And five
Burma-Shave

*

Display of Burma Shave advertising slogans

Display of Burma Shave advertising slogans (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Photo by Peter Merholz, modified by anetode to fix skewed perspective [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

*

The Sun Does Riz
The Sun Done Set
And We Ain’t Out
Of Texas Yet
Burma Shave

[Author’s note: Ain’t it the truth.]

*

Don’t leave safety
To mere chance
That’s why
Belts are
Sold with pants
Burma-Shave

*

[My all-time favorite]

Cattle crossing
Means go slow
That old bull
Is some
Cow’s beau
Burma-Shave

*

[And a mournful valedictory]

Farewell O verse,
Along the road.
How sad to see,
You’re out of mode.
Burma Shave

***

Postpost

The country said farewell to Burma Shave verses in 1963. Automobile travel hasn’t been the same since.

For more about the history of Burma Shave and its jingles, check the links cited in the Prepost.

*****

More about Ken Koehler’s photograph: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/byways/photos/62366

“Set of signs promoting Burma-Shave, at the back of Hackberry General Store, Hackberry, Mohave County, Arizona, United States. On U.S. Route 66.”

*

The photograph by Peter Merholz also appears on Flickr.com.

*

Photos accompanying the Prepost have nothing to do with anything. I needed to break up the text, and I didn’t want to search for appropriate pictures, so I just dropped in whatever showed up on my hard drive.

*********************************

MK Waller–who used to be,
and still is, Kathy Waller–
has published stories
in Austin Mystery Writers’
Murder on Wheels (Wildside, 2015)
and on
Mysterical-E,
and memoir in Story Circle Network‘s
True Words Anthology and Journal.
She blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly
and at Austin Mystery Writers.
She’s also on Facebook.
Her story “I’ll Be a Sunbeam” will appear
in Kaye George’s anthology Day of the Dark,
to be released by Wildside Press
on July 21, 2017,
exactly a month before the
August 2017 solar eclipse.

 

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10 Responses to Burma Shave: A Post in Three Parts

  1. kathywaller says:

    Reblogged this on M. K. Waller and commented:
    Remember Burma Shave signs? I do. They’re the topic of today’s post at Writing Wranglers and Warriors. Come on over and remember with me. Or, if you’re too young to remember, let me educate you. They were a lot of fun.

    Like

  2. Neva Bodin says:

    I loved Burma Shave signs and remember reading them out loud in the car just as you said. What a shame they faded into the past. They were done by clever writers. I loved your blog also. It reminds me of the All in the Family cartoons when little Billie takes a meadering route to run an errand. HIs is physical, yours is mental. And I can totally relate once I get on the computer and into research.

    Like

  3. I like the way you wove Bchrma Shave, Mrs. Johnson, and other unrelated entities into this post. It gave me a good laugh, just what I needed while recuperating from a cold.

    Like

  4. S. J. Brown says:

    Your blog reminded me of my day. One minute I was doing one thing then the next it was off to something else. I loved the stories about Lady Bird Johnson. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  5. Doris says:

    You know, you perfectly put into words my weekends of reseach. What a truly delightful post. (I always love the Burma Shave ads. and thank you for including them.)
    Wishing you well on the next post, I for one can’t wait. Doris

    Like

  6. Gayle Irwin says:

    I don’t recall Burma Shave signs (guess I was too young) but out here in the Wyoming/Dakota area, we have something similar: for Wall Drug in South Dakota. Signs galore to advertise the tourist attraction, with cutesey short reads. I’ve stopped at Wall Drug a few times, and Dad took us there on vacations through the Badlands and to the Presidential Faces more than once. Amazing how images and meandering thoughts can make one remember childhood days and special places and sweet memories. Delightful post, Kathy!

    Like

  7. Mike Staton says:

    What a fun, meandering column. Loved it. Don’t recall the Burma Shave signs. Back when I was a kid, we’d travel U.S. 66 (and then I-40) to Ohio to visit the relatives. We’d drive through the Texas Panhandle and would stop for the night in a motel in Amarillo. There’s the same kind of signs along I-95 near the North Carolina/South Carolina for a Mexico-themed roadside attraction — Pedro’s South of the Border.

    Like

  8. I love the Burma Shave signs and the creative idea behind them. It’s too bad we don’t have signs like that anymore, although maybe drivers these days are too distracted with texting, talking on their phones, etc. Fun entertaining post, Kathy.

    Like

  9. Wranglers says:

    Such a fun blog, I remember the commercials, and I ramble around just like you do. I have a loved hate relationship with research, and end up spending much more time in search, othe r than research. Cher’ley

    Like

  10. Nancy Jardine says:

    Kathy – They sound fun and the sort of thing that young readers love to pit their wits to. I do love what I’d call your ‘stream of conscious ‘ process in the post: those meanders sound exactly like me when one thing leads to another and especially when I should be getting on with the main new work.

    Like

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