Come Celebrate America!

burmashave1by Anniel2/13/15
It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. – Anonymous.  •  World War II was finally over and my father was one of the first to get a new Ford truck. Gas rationing ended and he could once again indulge his insatiable wanderlust. The truck was a flatbed with stakes around the bed. Dad put plywood up around the sides and a raised canvas over the front of the bed so my older brother, my Grandpa Charlie, and I could ride safely in the back, but still be able to see (don’t try that today). Grandpa was a very shy and silent Swede who loved us quietly. It was the summer I turned 6, and my brothers were 9 and almost 3. American GI’s were returning from the war and going back to work. The times were booming.

We children were still full of war stories and warnings about the enemy, especially the Japanese, even though none of us had ever seen a real Japanese person. The most exotic people I personally had ever seen were a few Mexicans and Navajos. We were fearful of all other foreigners.

Dad packed us all up, put an armchair in the back of the truck for grandpa to sit on, and we took off to travel the full length of the West Coast. We started by driving up through Utah and Idaho to Washington State and then all the way south to San Diego, California and over into Nevada to see Hoover Dam before heading home.

Southern Idaho seemed like nothing but jack rabbits, sagebrush and cactus, but we saw our first Burma Shave signs there. Remember? They were a series of 5 or 6 red signs, words in white caps, each set far enough apart to be read as a series. I remember the first grouping we saw because the first three lines were momentarily so shocking:


My older brother and I giggled for miles because we thought for a few minutes that the signs were asking us to stomp out our Mormon neighbors.

We drove up through northern Idaho then over into Washington State to Spokane. Just as we spotted the Spokane City Limits sign there was a tremendous lightning bolt and thunder that rocked the truck. We didn’t even have time to shelter under the tarp set up behind the cab before we were in the middle of a cloud burst and drenched to the skin. The rain ended almost as fast as it started. Mom strung a line across the truck to hang wet bedding and clothes on, and we drove on through the evening, the wet things flapping in the breeze.

After a few days we finally reached the coast and saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. I still marvel at the power and beauty of the ocean. As much as possible we camped on sand beaches all down the coast. Lying awake at night and listening to the waves softly breaking on the beach was unlike anything I had ever heard or felt before.

Oregon’s ocean views were beautiful but the state had a more rocky shoreline with pebble beaches. We drove inland to a small town one day to gas up and buy food. Dad pulled off the road onto a grassy field and we all went flying out into the weeds as the truck tipped on its side into a ditch hidden in the long grass. The police chief, a small fire engine and a wrecker came to pull us out. Every resident of the town showed up to enjoy the spectacle. Some even brought food and lemonade for us. That was one exciting day for the town’s people – and us. Even grandpa thought it was funny.

The whole purpose of the trip was really to see California, where daddy had spent time as a hobo during the Great Depression. When we got to the California border it was a big day for us and we children really thought we’d see the Big Rock Candy Mountain there. Burma Shave kept delivering laughs:


We didn’t always stick to the shoreline. Dad wanted to show us not just the redwoods, which were pretty impressive, but beautiful Lake Tahoe and the Central Valley, and the Sierras. I nearly drowned in Lake Tahoe, but Daddy pulled me out. The most impressive place of all was San Francisco.

The first thing we did when we reached San Francisco was rent a shower and we all cleaned up. Mom made me wear a pretty dress and put a bow in my curls before we went exploring. And in San Francisco that meant leaving the truck and heading by trolley to Fisherman’s Wharf.

As we walked onto the shopping area of Fisherman’s Wharf a Chinese man suddenly stepped out of a shop, picked me up and began telling everyone how pretty I looked, and he wanted to give me a pack of Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum. He frightened me to death and I started screaming. I thought he was Japanese and was going to kill me. I took the gum though. Dad was upset and embarrassed by my behavior, and it took awhile to calm me down. The man was extremely kind and in a heavily accented voice apologized for frightening me. We parted with smiles and me chewing gum.

I loved Fisherman’s Wharf. There were so many shops and people everywhere. We bought a large Abalone shell that was still in my mother’s home nearly 60 years later. The mother-of-pearl interior was so beautiful.

I was overjoyed to see sailors in REAL sailor suits just like I had seen in pictures. They had recently returned from the Pacific Theater and were as excited to see fellow Americans as we were to see them. I can still hear their wolf whistles and “Hubba hubbas” when a pretty girl walked by.

My older brother mastered the “Wolf Whistle” in about ten minutes, but mom told him to “mind” his manners. We knew what that meant, so we saved the wolf whistle and Hubba hubbas for later.

I ate my first clam chowder on the wharf and some of the sailors picked me up and danced around with me. One told me he would soon see his own little girl. Oh, was it fun.

The next day we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, which is red, and then turned around and drove across again just so we could enjoy the view, then headed out to Fleishhacker Zoo and the giant saltwater swimming pool there. That pool looked so incredibly large to me, and it took awhile to get used to the icy salt water. The pool was built in 1925 and closed on December 1, 2012. The gorgeous buildings were all torn down, and the area was paved as a parking lot for the zoo. What a loss.

At last we left San Francisco and headed further south down the Coast Highway, to Monterrey and beyond. I could have lived always by the sea.

When mom and dad left us alone anyplace, my older brother cooked up a scheme where he would spot a girl, give a loud wolf whistle, then I got to yell, “Hubba, Hubba,” and we’d hit the floor of the truck laughing our heads off. Grandpa Charlie just smiled at us. Dad finally caught us and told us to stop it, but he was trying not to laugh.


We went inland to see the giant Sequoias and Yosemite, then back to the coast to Los Angeles, Hollywood and San Diego before heading to Death Valley and Las Vegas to see the great Hoover Dam, before making a run for home.

AT 75

Las Vegas. There was no place on earth like it. But was it ever HOT. 129 degrees in the shade. In the evening we walked around some and Dad and Mom played a few slot machines. They didn’t risk much. I will never understand how I became prone to compulsive gambling with folks like mine.

Hoover Dam was a wonder of the World. We went on a tour down into the bowels of the dam where there were huge windows and dynamos. It felt so good to be cool and we could look directly out from underneath into the dark blue-green waters and spillways.

We left in the evening to be sort of comfortable, and headed off through the Joshua Trees and cactus. Grandpa laughed when he heard me singing goodbye to everything as we drove home, but it was a nice laugh.


America, the truly beautiful.

* * * *
That summer began our family’s ramblings around the Western United States. I have traveled over roads that were merely arrows painted on red rock, over thick dusty tracks, up steep mountains that made us blanch, then turn white again on the way down. I’ve even been to Coffee Pot Rapids and Dead Horse Point and Douglas Pass, the most frightening road in America.

Daddy bought a new car/truck/station wagon every two years without fail, and I listened when he would tell my mother, Ruth, why we NEEDED a new car. I wanted to write a poem for my children about our travels and fumbled around some but finally knew one morning how to do it. Allow me to invite you into our travels:

Do You Hear That?
A Poem in Two Voices

His automobile, always new, was my
Father’s sustaining and one true passion.
It took some going, both uphill and down,
In order to fill his driving ration.

(Ruth, do you hear that? This car has a ping.)

His times of wandering were somewhat spent
As each new child joined in chaining him down –
But his summer journeyings were sacred
As he loaded and prepared to leave town.

(Listen, that sound, it’s the carburetor.)

He packed up the food, tarps and wool blankets,
Coleman lantern, stove and full Water Boy,
Then stuffed children in spaces remaining,
Everyone sharing in Daddy’s great joy.

(Did you feel those springs when we hit that bump?)

We drove high hills and deep river valleys;
Through billowing dust, and roads made of stone.
Dad always pushed on, through cloudburst and drought
And lung searing heat, all parched at the bone.

(Listen, my dear, it’s the radiator.)

Daddy wanted to see all that he could,
But driving was the ultimate reason
He kept on the move, speeding and shifting,
Braking and turning, throughout the season.

(Gas mileage is down. It’s time, Ruth, it’s time.)

We rode in autos, wagons and pickups.
Hair mangled by wind, skin dirty and beat,
As Daddy listened for clatter or squeak,
That meant a new car, all spiffy and neat.

(Let’s buy a new car and not hesitate.)

Oh, Daddy, listen, those sounds that your hear,
They’re the sounds of children in a new car,
Learning the world as they travel with you,
Learning of beauties that nothing can mar.

(Buy, before it dies and loses value,)

Those cars never died, they lived in our hearts,
And somewhere Daddy yet drives up a hill,
Twisting and turning, and showing the way
To little children who ride with him still.

(Time for a trade-in before it’s too late!)

Daddy, listen, it’s the wrong thing you hear,
It’s only some noise and not what it seems,
It’s the sound, the brief sound of forever
As children ride in the heart of their dreams.

* * * *
Come, Celebrate America! The land of the brave and the free. Tell your children and grandchildren of her beauties, and of the wonderful life you’ve been privileged to live here.

Hubba hubba! • (1581 views)

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26 Responses to Come Celebrate America!

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    All I have to say to that is this (although I’m a Ford man).

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I particularly like the way you placed the old Burma Shave adverts in between the various scenes.

    The story reminds me of the style of the Laura Ingles Wilder(?). How great was America after VJ Day?

    • Anniel says:

      The matter of the Japanese is vague in my mind, except for the war propaganda against them. Today my youngest daughter is fairly fluent in Japanese, although she is one of those who wants to be completely up-to-date in modern usage before she’ll let anyone know. When I was young if someone had told me I would have best friends who are Japanese I’d have laughed. Some things in the world do change for the better.

  3. Rosalys says:

    Love your story! About ten years ago, I took a cross country drive with a friend who was moving from Los Angeles to Memphis. All her worldly possessions in a rented Ryder truck with her car in tow, we traveled Rte. 10 to Phoenix where we spent the first night with friends. The next day we traveled north on Rte. 17 until we got to Rte. 40 which we stayed on all the way to Memphis. It took us four days and it was one of the highlights of my life! At the beginning of the trip, when the truck rental guy attached her car to the tow bar, he warned us, “Be very careful not to box yourselves in because you cannot back up without detaching the car!” I am proud to say we succeeded. Every American should travel and see what an incredible and beautiful country we have!

    • Anniel says:

      Rosalys, I have a request. Would you write about your experiences with Civil War Reenactments? I would absolutely love to know how you got into it, what it did for you or what you learned from it. Part of the great American history we all love to hear. Just think about it.

      • Rosalys says:

        Annie, I don’t do Civil War reenacting. Some fringe Rev War stuff, but since I really don’t like camping I never did much. I’ve always liked history though. I am interested in historic dress (that’s a grown-up way of saying I never outgrew my love of playing dress up!) I – along with many millions of Americans – became especially interested in reading about the Civil War after watching the Ken Burns series and also used it as an excuse to make myself an 1860’s gown with no actual idea where I would wear it. I did in fact get to wear it on several occasions. I also got to make a ball gown when the opportunity to go to a Civil War ball came along.

        My husband is also a history buff (and far more knowledgeable than I!) and belongs to an historic RI militia (founded in 1774 by none other than Nathaniel Greene himself, and at least officially, in continuous existence to the present day.) As soon as I met him and decided he was the man I was going to marry (which was almost immediately – and about three months before he decided I was the one for him!) I used the opportunity to make some colonial gowns and wear them to parades and musters. He also joined the Bourbonnais Regiment during the bicentennial to take part in the the reenactment of the March to Yorktown. I was not able to go but did go on a ten day “return to Yorktown” ten years later – which, since it was a camping trip makes for a good story! I could write about that if there is any interest. I am afraid my involvement can be seen as rather frivolous and superficial.

        • Anniel says:

          Never frivolous, bury the word. Yes, do write about camping on the “Return to Yorktown” trip. Everyone has wanted you to write articles for so long because your posts are so interesting and fun. Does your husband write? Or you could transcribe his stories (I think that’s allowed.)

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          …which, since it was a camping trip makes for a good story! I could write about that if there is any interest.

          Ahh…you’ve just touched upon the secret of this place, its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. I fall to the same thing myself. “Who really is interested in what I think?” And yet here we also have the freedom to write without any commercial pressures whatsoever.

          Positive feedback is nice to have and to some extent is necessary. But writing, for the most part, is about needing to express something. And if you have that, the subject matter pretty much takes care of itself.

          I’d love to hear about stories in and around reenactments, historical locations, trips to museums, all that kind of stuff. I’d love a travelogue sort of article telling about what it was like, for instance, at Mt. Rushmore. Not all of us have time to go to such places. Can someone describe to the extent where we felt we’ve been there? Does one have passing insights about how these places relate to what’s going on now?

          Do as you will, Rosalys. You’re always welcome here in any capacity. If you feel inspired in any way to write about history, I can’t think of worse ways to spend one’s time. After all, we live in a land now that is actively trying to forget its past. Can our small contribution turn the tide? Probably not, but I always had a penchant for spitting into the wind.

          Most of all, writing should be fun. No one’s being paid for anything, so it shouldn’t be a chore. But this place was designed in mind to tapping the untapped talent of fly-over-country Americans.

  4. Timothy Lane says:

    It appears that you, Jerry Richardson, and Elizabeth are about the same age (and a dozen years older than me). Of course, Elizabeth met plenty of Japanese both in the country itself before they came back (but she was probably too young to remember them) and later in the Arkansas internment camp where her father was a minister and her sister was born.

    We visited many of these same sites in 1959-60 when my father was sent to the Monterey Presidio to study Greek. We passed over Hoover Dam to overnight in Las Vegas (after touring the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, the Meteor Crater, and the Grand Canyon — and before visiting Death Valley, where our car radiator had to be topped up regularly from the roadside water containers, and the Giant Sequoia forest). Later we visited San Francisco. I never cared that much for touring, so I don’t recall much of that (or of the touring we did during our 3 years in Greek, for which I could kick myself now when I’ll never have such opportunities again).

    I don’t recall ever seeing Burma Shave signs, though I read about them in various places. Political consultant Steve Shadegg, in his 1960 book about campaigning, mentioned using them in his campaigns, though I don’t know if he continued using them in later years (he was Barry Goldwater’s regular campaign manager up to 1980).

    • Anniel says:

      The Burma Shave signs lasted until the early 1960’s when the Interstate Highway System encouraged higher speeds and the signs whipped by too fast. I read that they still have a few signs along the rebuilt portion of Route 66.

  5. GHG says:

    Great story Annie. Brings back fond memories. My Dad used to take us on “driving vacations” when we were kids. He used to say how he enjoyed getting out on the open road and I learned to love the same. I recall Burma Shave signs and of course there have been copycats where other advertisements or political campaigning or public service announcements are spread across multiple roadside signs. Some of my best childhood memories are those driving vacations where we had as much if not more fun on the journey than we did when we finnaly got to our destination. My brother and I would always keep our eyes open for a trading post along the way where my dad would pull in and we would get to pick out a souvenir. I generally went for something Native American (or Indian as we used to say). My best friend back then was a Potawatomi indian and he’d just laugh at me when I’d show him my indian trinket that I got on vacation 🙂

    The interstate system is wonderful … for getting from here to there. But there is so much fun lost by not traveling on the old US Highways that snaked their way through small town America. Nostalgia? Yes, I admit it.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I don’t remember much about traveling, but souvenirs I remember. In Spain (which we visited for 3 days on the way back from Greece) I picked up one of those water skins they sell, but I don’t know what happened to it. Today I’m likelier to look at books, and indeed many of my histories were picked up at the Visitors’ Centers of battlefields of the War of the Rebellion.

      • Anniel says:

        Timothy, yes, Jerry, Elizabeth and I are about the same ages. I’m getting a little crotchety in my dotage, but I think we all still have fun. You are still wet behind the ears, you young whippersnapper

    • Anniel says:

      Mr. Lesser, it’s amazing to go out on the highways today and see the new Prairie Schooners constantly traveling. The Alaska Highway is loaded with motorhomes every summer. We saw one pulled up in a Walmart parking lot here where the people had set up a small table and chairs and were being served by a fully outfitted maid. The butler was probably still inside.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        One of my favorite political insults (from 1896) involves prairie schooners: “You could drive a prairie schooner through a Bryan speech without scraping a hub on a solid thought.” It’s a great image of a stemwinding speech being nothing but flog.

  6. Timothy Lane says:

    A nice feel-good story that fits in with the theme of the title of this article showed up today at — a story about 30-year-old actress, activist, and model Jamie Brewer at a recent fashion event. What makes it appropriate for here is that she’s the first model in America with Down’s syndrome. Good thing her parents didn’t abort her, as so many do under those circumstances. For anyone interested, the link is:

  7. Anniel says:

    Everyone, here’s really good link to a great 50’s Retrospective:

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I want to go back. Transistor radios, the Rat Pack, and TV dinners. What more does one need?

      • GHG says:

        Don’t forget practicing in school to kneel under your desk to be prepared for when them dang Rooskies fired their missiles at us … as if kneeling under a desk would protect from a nuclear blast. LOL

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Yep. I’d want to eliminate Stalin before going back.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I don’t recall ever doing anything of the sort. I do remember the concern the nuns at Ursuline (the Catholic school I attended my first 2 years in Greece) expressed during the Cuban Missile Crisis. There was an installation (I think a radar set) on top of Mt. Penteli within easy sight of our house (which was basically on one its foothills), so who can say what might have happened to us if the crisis had led to a major nuclear war?

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I remember those drills very well. I also remember “bomb shelters” being displayed and sold in the parking lots of various shopping malls in the area.

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