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May. 13th, 2012

Four Mothers, One Photo


Mothers Day. The photo above, from sometime early in 1953, is an interesting one: It presents four generations of Duntemanns, including four mothers. Back row, L-R: Frank W. Duntemann 1922-1978. Martha Winkelmann Duntemann 1871-1967. Harry G. Duntemann 1892-1956. Sade Prendergast Duntemann 1892-1965. Front row: Kathleen M. Duntemann 1920-1999. Victoria Pryes Duntemann 1924-2000. Basically, my father, my great-grandmother, my grandfather, my grandmother, my godmother, and my mother. (And me. My godmother Aunt Kathleen is holding me to keep me from harrassing my mother's poor cocker spaniel.) I miss them all, and thank them all for various things, but mostly for just being who they were.

Martha Duntemann was a remarkable woman. She survived all four of my grandparents (including her oldest son Harry) and lived longer than anyone in my direct line of descent, as far back as I can see. (Only one person anywhere in my family tree lived longer, and by less than two years.) She lived in a second-floor flat, and went up and down the (outside) stairs without assistance until three weeks before she died at age 96. I didn't get a great deal of time with her (I was one of 19 great-grandchildren) and didn't appreciate at age ten or eleven that when she hugged me hello I was touching a living link to the 1870s.

I appreciate it now. And I can show Martha in a better light in the photo below, from 1900:

Frank Martha Duntemann Boys.jpg

The man is her husband Frank W. Duntemann (after whom my father was named) 1867-1936, and the boys are Elvin F. Duntemann 1895-1979 and my grandfather Harry. Frank was the postmaster of Orchard Place, Illinois (from which the abbreviation ORD for O'Hare Field was derived) and owned the little town's general store.

I guess people just didn't say, "Smile for the camera!" in 1900. The good news is that when I remember Martha in her 90s, I remember her smiling. If I live that long (and I certainly hope to give it a good shot) I intend to do the same.

Dec. 8th, 2010

Odd Lots

  • Needles to say, at 70 cents a minute I wasn't going to be doing much Internet research while we were on our recent cruise. So most of today's Odd Lots are from my tireless friends, whose efforts are very much appreciated. (Hey, next year let's all get together on a cruise, and experience Internet withdrawal around the stern pool with mojitos in our hands!)
  • During mealtime cruise ship chitchat, we learned that an enormous new cruise ship was so big it had a hard time getting under a bridge that blocked its maiden voyage from the shipyard in Finland to the sea. Aki Peltonen sent a nice news item on Allure of the Seas, which holds 8,500 people. The 200+ foot high boat cleared the bridge by one foot. Clearly, Allure might be considered a...brinkmanship.
  • My cell contract comes up next year, and just in time, Consumer Reports has published its January 2011 cover story on cell phones and (more significantly) cell providers and plans. Well worth buying the print magazine for. Right on the cover is the money quote: "Sorry, AT&T." (And guess which provider I have now? Changes are acumen in...)
  • Don Lancaster has released his TV Typewriter Cookbook as a free PDF. And speaking as I was of memoir the other day, here's a bio sketch Don sent me, Yes, he's a few years older than I am, but it's uncanny how much his story aligns with mine, right down to the planetarium, the acorn tube radios, Carl & Jerry, and much else.
  • Pertinent to my entry of November 30, 2010, there is apparently a term for memoirs written without the intent to publish generally: legacy writing, which is writing one's life story for recreational, family, or therapeutic purposes. The definition comes from this article, sent to me by Pete Albrecht.
  • Also pertinent to that same entry: A longish but very good article from Smithsonian about how memories form in the brain, and why they sometimes don't reflect precisely how reality happened. (Thanks to Dave Lloyd for the link.)
  • From the FB In The Original Sense File: Popular Mechanics mailed a box containing a thermometer and a three-axis accelerometer, both feeding a data logger, to see how much trauma a package would undergo from each of the major courier services. Summary here. (Thanks to Bruce Baker for the link.)
  • I've heard rumors of this, but now it's official: Borders is going to try to acquire Barnes & Noble. So we'll soon be down to one major national book retailer. Dare we hope that the doors will re-open to the knowledgeable one-off shop or local chain? Owned and run by people who actually read books? (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • Neat short article on other approaches to manned moon landings considered in the 1960s, some of which would have been cheaper and perhaps more sustainable than our historical use of the Saturn V stack. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • From the With Delegates Like These, Who Needs Skeptics? Department: A group of college students attending the UN's COP 16 climate change conference in Cancun this week circulated a hoax petition calling for the banning of dihydrogen monoxide, a widely used industrial solvent that, while harmless in liquid form, contributes strongly to greenhouse heating as a vapor. Video of delegates cheerfully signing the petition here. (Don't those people watch Penn & Teller?)

Nov. 22nd, 2010

Kiddie Phonographs, the Speed Lever, and the Nutty Squirrels

My sister complained a year or two ago that most of Katie's and Julie's toys talk. Some talk and sing songs, though a few--I remember a circus train that was one of Katie's first toys--actually play classical music. When most of your day is spent in the company of toddlers and their toys, I'm guessing silence is in short supply, because when the toddlers aren't make noise themselves, their toys pick up the slack.

Which brings me back to 1957. My parents had a record player, though it was old and cranky and built into a piece of furniture. I'm sure they didn't want me messing with it, so they bought a small, portable kiddie phonograph of my own. I had a few kid records, some that told stories, some that played songs, and some--like the Maury Bunin Puppets' "Foodini's Trip to the Moon" that did both. (Alas, none that I recall played classical music.) I enjoyed the phonograph a lot, and given that the single active component was a 117L7 tube (capable of 0.85 watts into a 4,000 ohm load) it didn't generate enough volume to bother my folks much--until I discovered the speed lever.

foodinimoon325wide.jpgLike most record players in that era, it could do 33 1/3, 45, and 78 RPM. Most of my records were 45s. (The older ones, including Foodini, were 78s.) Playing a 45 at 33 1/3 was interesting for a moment but ultimately boring: Small children run at inherently higher clock rates than adults, and slow music is not a big draw. 78, now: I had a Disney extended-play 45 containing music from the 1955 "Lady and the Tramp" and I loved it a lot. One cut in particular was my favorite: "Lady," the instrumental theme for the female cocker spaniel lead. It was bouncy (like me) and I quickly learned how to pick up the needle and drop it again at the beginning of the track, playing it again and again. And when that got boring, I nudged the speed lever up to 78.

Nirvana! I still remember the sped-up recording clearly, and I think it may well beat Khachaturian's "Saber Dance" as the most manic single piece of music in my experience. I got bored with the item before my parents could sell me to the gypsies (maybe--I wonder if the 45 simply disappeared one day) but I continued my experiments with the speed lever.

We had the 45 of David Seville's "The Chipmunk Song" (1958) and when I cranked the lever down to 33 1/3, I realized to my six-year-old astonishment that it wasn't chipmunks at all, but ordinary guys singing the song reeeeeeeeeeeal slow. My cousin Diane had another similar 45, of The Nutty Squirrels doing a scat song called "Uh-Oh." Same deal: Dial down the speed and it was just a couple of guys singing slower than I could imagine--or tolerate.

NuttySquirrels.jpgThis was a fad in the late 1950s, starting with Sheb Woolley's "Purple People Eater," which had a couple of sped-up spoken vocals ("I wanna get a job in a rock and roll band...") but no sped-up singing. That was a Seville invention, with his 1958 song "Witch Doctor," setting the stage for The Chipmunks at Christmas time that year.

The Nutty Squirrels (basically, jazz musicians Don Elliot and Sascha Burland) had their own TV cartoon show, which came out about the same time as Rocky and Bullwinkle but was not as brilliantly silly and by now is mostly forgotten. Their music was better, and not as kid-centric as the Chipmunks always were, which I'm sure doomed them.

I've often wondered how one learns to scat-sing at half-speed without muffing the tempo for the sped-up version. Of all the peculiar and now-forgotten human skills that you might name, that may be the most peculiar of all.