Posted by 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. . . .
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. . . .
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. . . .
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.)
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. . . .
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.
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:
Were the Caesars
Instead of razors
They used tweezers
Before the hearse
Ben met Anna,
Made a hit.
She felt his chin.
Ben – Anna split.
Slow down, Pa
Ma missed signs
Four And five
The Sun Does Riz
The Sun Done Set
And We Ain’t Out
Of Texas Yet
[Author’s note: Ain’t it the truth.]
Don’t leave safety
To mere chance
Sold with pants
[My all-time favorite]
Means go slow
That old bull
[And a mournful valedictory]
Farewell O verse,
Along the road.
How sad to see,
You’re out of mode.
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
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.