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First Weather Satellite Photo

First Weather Satellite Photo

Fifty years ago, in 1960, I recall the world’s first satellite weather photographs hitting the prime-time news. They revealed a grainy, black and white band of thin clouds shrouding the eastern coast of the United States. There was some detail thrown in there, a mountain ridge or maybe a shoreline?

But most of all, I remember the television interviews afterwards, the ones with incredulous scientists from all over the world discussing the images. Many of these people — like the viewers — were just beginning to grasp the implications of what the new technology they were witnessing could offer the world of the near future: advanced storm tracking, air traffic control, hurricane warnings, crop forecasting, military shenanigans, on and on and on.

Pretty heady stuff.

Long before the satellites came, I remember Grandpa Brandt stepping out the back porch screen door every morning, placing his hands on his hips and gazing along the horizon line and the tips of the trees, testing the Indiana weather. It was a routine he performed every morning. Sometimes he would wet a finger and hold it up to a breeze. Other times he’d lick his lips as if tasting something, or pick up a handful of dirt and crush it between his fingers, feeling the texture as it fell away. “Rain by noon. After that, it will be a hot one.” Done deal: the day’s weather forecast had been proclaimed.

This is NowThis morning, a friend called and suggested I flick on my computer and check the weather; that he had just had 5 inches of rain dumped in his driveway and it was heading my way. Within seconds I called up WunderMap, where I spent about 20 minutes cycling through the video loop options. Never once did I consider the technology I was using.

After a while, I stepped out on my patio, placed my hands on my hips and gazed along the horizon line and the tips of the trees. “Rain by noon. After that, it will be a hot one.”

* * * * *

Tim says: as I was getting ready to publish today’s article, I noticed the advertisement in the lower right corner of the WonderMap screen capture. I wonder what Grampa would have to say about all those hot cuties in the right hand corner vying for my attention?

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This is a tribute of sorts to “Uncle Ray Hall”, who wasn’t really my uncle, but a good friend of Dad, both of whom came from a tiny area in corn and oil field country, Indiana. Uncle Ray went on to become a Naval aircraft carrier aviator, while Dad became an officer in the Army, retiring as a full colonel, which, I can tell you, gave a whole new meaning to the yearly Army-Navy football games. That’s right. My sister, Pat, and I were Army Brats, but that’s not what this story is all about. Instead, this story is about how important people in one’s life have a way of slipping away from you in bits and pieces that are years until it is too late to tell them how important they really were.

Uncle Ray should have become a cartoonist — he was that good, but I can appreciate that the thrill of being a 40s, 50s, and 60s pilot who launches his aircraft into a stiff headwind off the end of a carrier was much more exciting; Uncle Ray could  have easily become an Indy race car driver, too. He loved the Indy 500. And he loved fast cars, because that’s the way most aviators are. Uncle Ray was the quintessential bachelor. I remember his fancy Alpha Romero sports cars, his sleek Jaguars, and other European screamers.

A few weeks ago I received a letter from a close friend of Uncle Ray. In it were several snapshots of my family, many of which I had never seen. The fact that Uncle Ray had held on to them all these years warmed my heart: maybe he got caught up in letting important people in his life slip away, too.

Dad. The only photograph I've ever seen of Dad being relaxed.

Dad.

One of only two photographs I’ve seen of Dad being truly relaxed. Most likely snapped during a commercial by Uncle Ray while watching an ARMY-NAVY game.

Probably taken around 1965, because I recognize our Norfolk, Virginia “TV” room and the comfortable, half-eggshell padded chairs you could get lost in. This is the same room I watched every Twilight Zone, Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Avengers episode. I — like every TV-watching male teenager in the world — was in love with “Emma Peel“. Maybe it was the tight leather outfit she wore. The one with the ZIPPER running seductively down the front, the same zipper that had a KA-zillion teenage virtual fingerprints embedded all over it. Maybe.

Me, circa 1962.

Me. Circa 1962, standing beside the Greek mini-villa my family lived in during Dad’s 3 years in Athens, Greece. This was probably taken by Uncle Ray. He had a way of suddenly appearing out of nowhere: “I happened to be in the neighborhood and decided to drop by.”

I can see Uncle Ray saying to me: “A little left. A little right. Put your right hand in your pocket. The other one on your hip…”

How about those rolled up Jeans legs? Can’t remember if that was STYLE or just Mom being frugal. White socks. Black shoes. An overcoat from hell. I actually WORE that stuff??!!

Yeah.

A typical Thanksgiving Dinner, with Dad carving the turkey. (The SECOND only picture of Dad I’ve seen with him looking relaxed.) That goofy kid front left is me. Still had red hair, but not as red as my sister, Pat, front right. Mom is behind Pat. She is now 93 years old. To the left of Dad is Claire. Uncle Ray’s lifelong “girlfriend”. Like Emma Peel, I had a crush on Claire back then. Back then I had a crush on almost every great-looking female I met.

This Thanksgiving Day photograph intrigues me: the wine bottle label I can’t read, and the empty place setting where Uncle Ray was sitting moments before standing up and taking this picture. Thank you, Uncle Ray. I will miss you.

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One of my Grandfather’s favorite places to find fishing worms was behind the old Freelandville, Indiana Mill, where tons of spent grain husks and chaff had piled up for decades. The resulting heap of decomposition produced layer upon layer of truly bizarre habitat, and one that to a small boy was downright frightening. Although “Papa” did most of the digging, he always brought along an extra small shovel and encouraged me to find my own worms. “Bigger fish will bite on worms you dig yourself,” he explained.

So, off I’d wander into the rank, steaming mounds of the old Freelandville, Indiana Mill, with coffee can, toy shovel, and teddy-bear in tow.

Whoa!

One day I had just uncovered a particularly nasty patch of compost. Underneath, was the biggest worm I’d ever seen. Even with small, kid’s fingers, the worm was twice as big around as my thumb. “Papa!” I shouted, grabbing hold of it. “There’s a great HUGE worm over here!”

Papa rushed over, thinking I had found a garden snake. He stared down at the worm. “Let’s see what you’ve got there,” he said, stooping as I let go of my discovery. The worm-thing began to pull itself deeper into the compost, its slimy coat glowing faintly as it contracted and expanded its body segments in an attempt at getting away. Papa grabbed it and began pulling on it. The worm tightened, giving up a foot or two, then broke in half, the severed ends exuding an awful smelling pea-green fluid. In his hand was a three feet section of— what?

The front end disappeared down the 3/4-inch diameter hole.

Papa examined the elongated tail section for several minutes. “I’ll be dog-gone if I know what this is!” he exclaimed, dropping the still squirming THING into my can, wiping his hands on his coveralls. (Meme wasn’t going to like that!) Then, we packed up our shovels, hopped in Papa’s 1950s  Ford, nicknamed “the Green Hornet” (based on the radio show series), and went fishing. Later that day I learned something very important to a fisherman’s way of thinking: not only do bigger fish bite on worms you dig yourself, even bigger fish will bite on BIGGER worms you dig yourself!

Thing in a Can Planet

Papa never mentioned the thing in a can again, and to this day, when I lie in bed, tossing and turning and unable to sleep, I sometimes think about the bygone Freelandville, Indiana Mill and wonder…

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FRIDAY FOOD THING

I’m probably one of the few kids who actually LIKED taking cod liver oil. I remember in the 1950s Mom lining up my sister, Pat, and me at the refrigerator door every morning while she spooned out our daily dose of the smelly liquid. Every once in a while Pat would manage  to “sneak” her spoon to me when Mom wasn’t watching. I’d lick off her cod liver oil and “slip” her my clean spoon and collect a whole penny(!) for the favor. (Nowadays, I look at this arrangement as having been more of a symbiotic brother and sister agreement than it was — blackmail.)

This is probably why I think of those good ol’ cod liver oil days every time I open a can of sardines, or find a penny on the sidewalk.

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One of my favorite 1950s childhood toys was a shiny blue record player that had a huge round arm with a stylus as thick as a pencil lead. For hours every day, I sat on the floor in a pool of sunlight listening to the 78 rpm “The Flying Circus” album over and over again. Although I can’t be sure this is the correct title (I’ve searched for hours and it is not the Monty Python version!), I recall a particular opening scene in which a pin is dropped from a high trapeze. Down, down the pin hypnotically plunges into the center of a three ring circus, where a sinister ringmaster whispers: “It’s so quiet you can hear a pin drop!”

With eyes tightly shut, listening, listening, listening, I would drift away. A rustle of movement, a gray hulk of elephant the size of a mountain, the scent of popcorn and fresh manure. Sunlight tries to pry past my eyelids, where grease-painted clowns chase themselves in figure 8’s until they catch up with their own shadows. In a swirling cloud of sawdust, the circus tent is sucked into a diminishing spotlight like a black hole until the tent vanishes completely with me inside. A little boy frog materializes and discovers an ox grazing in a field. Awestruck by the size of the ox, the little frog hops home to tell his bullfrog father what he saw.

“Was he bigger than… THIS?” asks Daddy Bullfrog, inflating his balloon-like throat sac.

“Oh, MUCH bigger, Daddy, but—be CAREFUL!”

“Bigger than T  H  I  S ?” puffs up Daddy Bullfrog, even larger.

“POP!” goes the terrifying sound of Daddy Bullfrog exploding! Then, a kid’s song while the little boy frog happily patches Daddy Bullfrog up with a Band-Aid. There was an important “be who you are” lesson about life in those lyrics:

“Who wants to look like an ox anyway?
Hippity, Dippity, Dox.”

Although The Flying Circus allure — like most childish things — eventually wore off and the little blue record player was tossed away, the scratchy sounds and crisp images still swirl upon occasion inside my merry-go-round mind. And sometimes, very late at night, as I lie awake and secretly replay scenes from my childhood — imagining those grooves spiraling towards the center hole of that far away phonograph record galaxy — the darkness becomes so deathly still I can almost hear a pin drop.

+ + + + +

Tim says: the above lyrics are what I recall. When I searched on the Who wants to look like an ox lyrics, I discovered several references to the bullfrog analogy, none of which, unfortunately, pertained to my forgotten childhood album.

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The only serious advice I remember my father giving me while I was growing up was: “Don’t stick your tongue on a cold pump handle.” I eventually discovered a dark green pump beckoning to me in Grandpa’s barnyard one Thanksgiving morning. The pump handle was dusted and glistening in a silvery blanket of frost.

“Oh, boy,” I thought. “Just one lick!”

So much skin peeled away from my tongue when Grandma rang the dinner bell I was unable to participate in the Thanksgiving feast. Since I didn’t want to tell anyone how stupid I had been, I recall excusing myself from the table — feigning a stomach ache — very soon after sampling a spoonful of Grandma’s tart cranberry sauce. Cranberry sauce, I discovered (and have never forgotten!), does not go well with gaping tongue-wounds.

Thirty years later Dad grinned when I related the story. “That makes THREE,” he chuckled.

“Three WHAT?” I asked.

“Three generations of our family DNA stuck on your great grandfather’s pump handle.”

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My First Painting

When I was about six years old in the early 50s, Mom took me along on a visit to one of her life long friends, Mary Buescher. Mary had a son named Joe, whom I admired and who was about five years older than I. He had a very cool DA haircut (also called duck-tail back then), one that Dad would never let me wear. On that particular afternoon I discovered a paint-by-numbers oil painting in the corner of Joe’s bedroom. I could not resist dipping the neatly arranged brushes in the pretty cups of numbered paint. Then I began to enhance Joe’s boring landscape. From that moment on, with the smell of oil paint infused forever into my being, I knew I was going to become a painter.

I heard a distinct GASP from the bedroom when Joe returned home.  Since the oil paint on my hands provided clear cut evidence of my first painting session, I decided to tell the truth.

“Yes,” I told them all as he brought the painting out to the kitchen and before any questions were asked. “Doesn’t it look GREAT?”

For a minute or two I thought Joe was going to strangle me. Or at least smear my face in the painting. But that was not Joe’s style. Instead, he said: “Let’s go fishing.”

Now, whenever I stand in front of a blank canvas contemplating the subject of my next painting, I can’t help thinking back to that thrill of discovery. And every time I crack open a tube of paint, that first intoxicating whiff of linseed oil reminds me of Joe.

Tim says: Joe and his wife, Connie have kept in touch through the years. About 10 years ago they stopped by Lake Gaston for a short visit. Soon after their arrival, I was able to repay Joe’s ancient offer: “Let’s go fishing,” I said. And we did.

(originally published and copyrighted© 1998-2010 by Simply Tim in the Recipe du Jour news letter.)

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