A Kix Cereal Box-top and Fifteen Cents for a Genuine Atomic Bomb Ring!

I recall as if it were yesterday: I had collected a Kix cereal box-top, enclosed fifteen cents, and sent away for an atomic bomb ring! Promotions involving cereal box-tops were common back in the mid to late nineteen-forties, but this one was special – this one really tweaked my boyish enthusiasms!

The ad beckoned: See Real Atoms Split to Smithereens Inside Ring!

This mail-order offer dates to approximately 1947/48 when I was a seven-year old living in Chicago, Illinois. That would have been approximately two years after the world first heard of the atomic bomb and its use on Japan.

Within a week after mailing in my money and box-top, I began badgering my mother every afternoon: Did my ring arrive in the mail, today? I distinctly recall my agony-of-waiting as the elapsed time went well beyond three weeks. Finally, a little brown box arrived at our Wrightwood Avenue address, and I was beside myself with happiness as I unpacked the jaunty little finger-bomb with its polished metal nose and snappy red-plastic tail assembly which could be removed to reveal a glass-covered “viewing chamber.”

A small sheet of directions told how to condition the “radioactive” material inside the viewing chamber by exposing the ring to a bright light and then retreating to a dark environment (my mother’s closed pantry) in order to view tiny scintillations of light in the viewing chamber – the result of atomic activity.

I recall that the scintillations were there, for sure, but that they were not brightly visible. It took a bit of “peering” to reveal them.

Nonetheless, at age seven, I was thrilled with the atomic bomb ring-thing even though the more sinister aspects it represented were lost on me and, I suspect, on most Americans who were busily forging a new future after the devastation of World War II. Atomic energy and nuclear weapons had only recently been revealed to the general public; this little ring represented the excitement and mystery of the “new” technology in the eyes of the public.

I fondly recall sending for many such cereal box-top/mail-order offers when I was a kid: the excitement of ordering the newest treasure, and the agony of waiting for it to arrive are still vivid in my mind’s-eye even as I approach eighty years of age…and I am glad to still have such vivid recollections! Of all the mail-order offers I recall sending for as a youngster, none of them can surpass my fond memories surrounding the Kix atomic bomb ring. Sometimes, in life, little things can mean a lot.

The Image of Jesus: In Need of Repair!

On this week of Easter Sunday, this blog post seemed most fitting. Our very good friends, Patti Jacquemain and her husband, Dave Gledhill, lead a most interesting and active life. Patti and my wife, Linda, go way back as best friends to high school days in Santa Barbara, CA – in the late nineteen-fifties. Patti is a well-known, successful artist who came to Santa Barbara with her parents from Detroit, Michigan, in the late nineteen-forties. Although specializing early in her art career in wood-block prints depicting nature and wildlife, Patti’s more recent body of work is with mosaics.

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During our visit two weeks ago, Patti and Dave took us to her studio to show us her latest (unexpected) project – a reclamation task on her first major mosaic which dates back to 1965 – a portrayal of Jesus Christ. This work, which has been displayed from the beginning at the local First Presbyterian Church of Santa Barbara, had begun to suffer from peeling tiles – a mosaic artist’s worst nightmare!

The two most pressing questions for Patti are: Why did this happen and how to fix the damage. Although mounted outdoors on a wall of the church, the mosaic was covered by a walkway overhang. Patti related that, at one time, a small piece of construction machinery doing work near the building accidentally bumped the framed piece as it hung in place; that could have jarred the tiles and begun the deterioration process. Also possibly germane, the tile adhesives available back then were inferior to those which are available to artists like Patti, today.

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Patti with the damaged Jesus (note the lower-left corner)

When the four of us left Patti’s studio to take a walk in the nearby local botanic garden, the question literally still “on the table” was how to proceed with the unenviable task of repairing the image of Jesus.

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Santa Barbara News-Press article on the mosaic dedication, Sept. 19, 1965

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                   Patti in her studio                                    Dave and “Moxie”

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Patti’s large mosaic tribute to the long-gone California Grizzly

IMG_3739 Enjoying our walk in the local botanic garden

After our visit to Patti’s studio and a beautiful evening walk in the nearby botanic garden, we four (plus poodles), returned for a fine “strip-steak” dinner served-up by Dave and Patti – a wonderful evening.

I have no doubt that our good friends will come up with a solution to the mosaic problem and that, soon, “Jesus will rise again!”

 Postscript regarding the mosaic problem: Patti is concerned that the mosaic might possibly be laid-down on marine plywood that is warped or otherwise damaged. Her challenge is to transfer the entire mosaic to a new surface without doing it tile-by-tile. If any mosaic expert is reading this who can offer suggestions, please E-mail Dave Gledhill directly at dave@missioncreek.com .

Cowboy / Western Music – from Santa Clarita

Last weekend, for the eighth consecutive year, we kicked-up our heels at the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival. The pilgrimage to Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch at Santa Clarita, California, never fails to rejuvenate its large audiences through music and cowboy “poetry,” all tantalizingly served-up by some of the best professionals in the genre – anywhere!

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This feast for the audio (and visual) senses takes place on the Melody Ranch movie lot, formerly long-owned by that most iconic of all movie cowboys, Gene Autry. There are several sizeable venues located around the scenic ranch whose central feature is the obligatory old “Main Street” of town, the scene of countless cowboy films and television productions. Many of Autry’s old films were shot there; the iconic and very popular television series, Gunsmoke, was filmed there as well.

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The very “best of the best” entertainment at Santa Clarita takes place on the Melody Ranch Stage, situated in a gigantic tent which is capable of seating a very large audience. There are several smaller, partially-covered venues scattered around the grounds which offer a rarely- encountered intimacy between performers and audience.

Our first time at this festival, eight years ago, triggered flashbacks in my memory of the very first cowboy/western music I ever heard – at six years of age, back in Chicago. Anticipating last weekend’s festival, I wrote of those impressions made by the Circle-J Ranch group, way back in 1946 (See my recent post of April 20, 2014, Cowboy/Western Music – from Chicago).

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The Messick family is one of the perennial favorites at Santa Clarita – a local family group that exudes both musicality and joy at each performance. That is the patriarch, Wayne Messick, on the bass fiddle, extreme right. He is in his eighties and still going strong. Being local and family, they perform only occasionally compared to the busy yearly schedules of virtually all the other professional acts. They lend such a nice touch to the musical festivities at Santa Clarita. It appears there are Messick grandchildren involved in music who may continue the tradition!

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The California Battalion is a period “band” from the days of the U.S. Civil War. The group specializes in re-creating the music and researching the traditions that are on display during their performances. They play authentic period brass instruments, and they do so in stirring and often humorous fashion. You might notice that the trumpets and other brass pieces seem to be pointing in the wrong direction – backwards! The battalion leader explains that, because the regimental bands always marched up-front of the troops, the instruments were pointed south for the benefit of the soldiers and their morale.

The trumpets also have rotary valves, not the “plunger” type valves we see today. My wife and I encountered one of the trumpet players and a few other band members who were strolling about the premises between performances. Being a trumpet player myself, I asked about their instruments and how they acquire them. We had a nice discussion on antique band instruments.

The point to be made, here, is the informality of the event and the venues. One often encounters even the “star performers” casually strolling about the grounds; we have often greeted them and engaged them in conversation. They have always been gracious and pleased to meet the public. There are few such venues anymore, sports or entertainment, where audiences can meet and even get to know the performers they come to watch.

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Main Street, early in the morning before the crowds arrive!

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“The Old Chuck Wagon” and “The Blacksmith” on Main Street

There is a lot to see at Melody Ranch during the festival. In addition to the live entertainment, one can stroll about and absorb the aura of a real western film location complete with numerous and eclectic movie props scattered about the premises. For a closer look, one can visit the Melody Ranch Motion Picture Museum located just a short stroll from the entertainment venues.

Cowboy Cobbler (peach) and Cowboy Coffee

They make a big deal over cowboy cobbler…and no wonder – it is absolutely delicious! Try to limit yourself to only one bowl per each of the two days of the festival…good luck! And we always opt for an endless, two-day supply of cowboy coffee by buying the mug for eight dollars. The coffee is served, cowboy style, from pots hung over coal fires – by authentic- looking cowboy volunteers. Note: fans of weak coffee need not bother! The mug in your hand is your endless coffee pass for the entire festival; each year the cup changes color. Great fun!

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The Steel Guitar is Back This Year!

This year we saw a group called “The Lucky Stars” which had not been at the festival since we started attending. They were great – a nice surprise, especially since they featured a swinging steel guitar. For me, nothing accentuates cowboy/western music like a steel guitar. The first one I had seen since the Circle-J Ranch back in Chicago so many years ago surfaced here, last year, in the person of Bobby Black, one of the venerable legends in western music on steel. He was not here this year, but Rusty of The Lucky Stars did a fine job on the instrument. Pure joy!

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We, once again, saw two performances that are an annual “must” at the Cowboy Festival. The “Sons of the San Joaquin” (as in the California valley, north of here) have resided at the top of the list of best acts in cowboy/western for some time. Joe Hannah joins with his younger brother, Jack, and Joe’s son, Lon, to produce the sweetest harmony this side of …anywhere. Jack and Lon play guitar, but Joe has relinquished his base fiddle to newcomer Dan Kahler. Rounding out the Sons is Richard Chon who plays the most beautiful fiddle accompaniment one could possibly image. Richard can effortlessly “saw” and stomp his way through the most challenging up-tempo pieces in the program, then turn around and play the most plaintive, singing fiddle imaginable; I think he must have a Stradivarius masquerading as a fiddle! When you listen to his musical interplay with the Sons on the slower pieces, it is difficult not to tear-up – it is that beautiful. Jack Hannah is the consummate voice and leader of the group. His deep baritone voice is truly something to behold. He is also a renowned songwriter with many fine ones to his credit.

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Last, and simply the best at what he does, is Don Edwards. His performances involve just him, his guitar…and the whole audience. His vocals always deliver a message, a message which connects with every person in the tent. That genuineness along with a great voice, diction, and superb guitar playing are the essence of Don Edwards. He chooses his songs carefully and well. He is never a “showman.” He is always a consummate professional who has researched much of the cowboy lore of which he speaks and sings. Seeing and hearing him perform on the big stage in the big tent – yet still up-close – is a memorable experience. One more thing about Don: He hates yodeling, but he does it well and usually inserts one short segment to please the crowd. Thanks, Don.

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Thanks also to our dear friends, Gil and Linda (on the right) for convincing us to attend our first festival. They waxed so enthusiastically about the music…and the cowboy poetry? That poetry part scared me off, initially. There are a few performers who deliver soliloquys on cowboys and life on the range. They tend to have ranching backgrounds and know of what they speak. Some of the recitals are very touching; some are downright hilarious. I will admit that I go for the music which predominates and cannot be beat. Thirty dollars per person will admit you for both days, allowing access to the several venues which operate all day. What a deal! Cowboy cobbler and cowboy coffee are extra!!

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Disclaimer: No, I am not a marketing front-man for the festival or for any of the performers or their products. I am merely a happy consumer of what they offer who would like to share the joy. That is my idea of what a blog should be. See you next year at Santa Clarita!

 

Hummel Figures: The Art of Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel

My wife collects Hummel Figures. You might say we have adopted an entire family of little German urchins over our 47+ years of marriage. Ever since 1935, when the W. Goebel porcelain works in Oeslau, Germany first created three-dimensional versions of Sister Maria Innocentia Hummels’ drawings, these little figurines have been avidly collected and displayed.

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Berta Hummel entered the Siessen Convent in 1931 as a Franciscan postulate, already possessed of artistic talent. When she received her habit in 1933, she took the name, Sister Maria Innocentia which related well to the youthful innocence radiating from the faces of the little figurines which her convent artwork inspired.

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Although the Hummel collection belongs to my wife, I have been an active enabler through lo, these many years. I like them too, and I enjoyed surprising my wife with the many gift additions she received on Christmas, birthdays, and Mother’s Day. Here is the very first one she ever received from me, on our first Christmas together, 1966:

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“Just Resting” (the girl on the fence) was purchased at Macy’s at the Stanford Shopping Center, December, 1966.

Another of our favorites was also purchased at the Stanford Shopping Center, only, this time, at the Emporium. One evening, around the year 1980, we rode the escalator to the second floor in the Emporium while doing some shopping. As we stepped off at the second floor, we passed a display of Hummels. We stopped and scanned the colorful collection of urchins, and we both commented on one in particular, “The Doctor.” We decided we were not ready for the $32 outlay at that point, so we moved on. Unknown to her, I circled back later to purchase it after I made some excuse about going to look for such-and-such in some other department of the store. When we got home that evening, we commented on “The Doctor,” and I suggested she take a minute to tally-up the total number of Hummels in her collection. Lo, and behold, she had one more than she realized… counting ‘The Doctor” which I had snuck-in on her shelf. That was fun!

The Doctor

The nicest piece of all is the one in the first picture of the post; it is named, “We Wish You the Best.” I stumbled upon this in a local antique shop many years ago. Buying it in used but perfect condition saved some money off of the “new’ price. I am glad I gave it to her, for this piece is rarely seen on antique-collectable shelves.

Over the years, Linda’s collection grew to the point where there was no curio cabinet space left for more, and she moved on to other activities and interests. The last two additions to her collection are the large versions of “Umbrella Girl” and “Umbrella Boy.” They make a good “last gasp.”

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Although Linda’s collection no longer welcomes “new faces,” we continue to enjoy the wholesome little urchins that have been with us for a long time. Occasionally, I will stop by the cabinet and take a few peaceful moments to survey each of those radiant faces, remembering still, the time and exact circumstance when each of them came into our lives. For many of them, that was a very long time ago, a time when my wife and I were both young, too. As little works of art and reminders/time-markers of various points in our married life, they are very special.