John, Margie, & Bill McCurdy
Pecan Park, 1951
Two Years Past the End of the Radio Nights Era
Sometimes memories are like loose sheets of paper in an otherwise categorically organized mental hard drive file. They just float there through the mind in bright detail of ordinary events that never lose their richness over time. And maybe the reason they never get filed is simply the fact that they already exist as files themselves – files that already serve as the umbrella for any number of other specific memories that their general flavor already embraces.
We have one example for you here from personal experience, plus a few examples of items that follow behind it like ducklings trailing the mother duck. We call this one “Radio Nights”:
The Timeline. The year probably was 1945, but it could have been any night in Pecan Park from 1945 through 1949. I choose to remember this one event as “Radio Nights” and I have to place the time as being from 1945, our first year in the little house at 6646 Japonica Street in the Houston east end, to 1949, the last year we had no television in my childhood family home. Television reached Houston on January 1, 1949, but we didn’t get a set until the following year. After television came into our lives, our family evenings, like the evenings of most other Americans, were changed forever. Whether it was really one memory, or so many similar nights synthesizing themselves into one memory, we shall never know. It simply was whatever it was, but it was probably closer to 1945, when I was still young enough at age 7 to be crawling around on the floor as we listened to our favorite radio programs.
Our Parents. Dad is stretched out in his easy chair. His feet are extended into comfortable house shoes and braced upon what most fathers used prior to recliners, placement on the trusty foot stool. Dad was a voracious reader, so h always had a standing reading lamp behind him, plus a magazine/book rack on the left side of his chair plus a smoking table on the other side of him. Sometimes Dad smoked a pipe, but most of the time he spent the evenings chain-smoking Camels and depositing them in the large ash tray that he filled every evening. He was the quintessential archetype of the 1940’s father. He was gentle, but firm, and, if you were his kid, you tried not to bother him too much when he was busy reading. And he read a lot – about war, sports, history, and politics. – Mom was the stereotypical small town Texas girl – sort of like Lucille Ball, but with a South Texas twang. There wasn’t a song from the 1930s that I didn’t learn because of Mom’s constant singing of them at home. She would even use a song to answer our requests for bottled cokes, or whatever, from the store. “Please, Mom!” would be answered by Mom singing, “Please, lend a little ear to my pleas…” She could be so frustrating at times.
Mom and Dad both had short trips into fantasized careers as a singer and a composer. In fact, that’s how they met. Dad heard Mom singing “Paper Moon” in her ever so brief experience as a radio singer for a little station in our original home town of Beeville, Texas back in 1936. He drove over to the station to meet her. Two weeks later, they eloped to Mexico after a secret marriage they arranged through Dad’s songwriting partner, a young catholic priest named Father Dan Lanning. Mom and Dad were married for 58 years. They died five weeks apart in 1994.
And, oh yes, Dad’s songwriting career included only one published song that he and Dan Lanning wrote together. It was another song with lunar leanings called “The Moon Is Here”. The young writers even took it to New York City in the early 1930s, hoping to get Rudy Vallee to sing it on his radio show. They got through to Vallee’s “people”, but had to drive home with no commitment. A friend later told Dad that he heard Vallee sing the song over the air during their drive home, but there was never any corroboration from others – and more solidly – never any royalty check from Rudy Vallee for its use. “I’d like to think it happened,” Dad always said, when asked about Rudy Vallee’s use of the song, but Dad was always a practical man. He knew that it never got off the ground or over the air. At any rate, he and Mom still seemed happy with the simpler life they found together. With sons born in 1937 and 1941, and a daughter coming along later in 1949, my sweet parents had their hands full, raising their family on an ordinary workingman’s weekly wages as the parts department manager for the Bill Lee Motors Studebaker dealership on Lawndale near 75th in Houston.
The Moon Is Here
Dan A. Lanning and Bill McCurdy
We McCurdy kids were lucky. We all knew always that our parents were each there for us.
The Memory. Dad is smoking and reading away in his special chair. Mom is up and down between the living room and kitchen, usually singing along with anyone attempting a solo over the radio. My little brother John and I are all over the living and dining room hardwood floors, racing our little steel metal cars in what have been the first unofficial Grand Prix 50 house course race in Houston. We are also multitasking, listening to the stream of half hour radio shows as we play. We probably were not too quiet about our passionate pursuit of victory, but, when Dad was reading, he possessed this incredible ability to tune out noise, especially as it generated from the racket of his two rambunctious sons. My brother and I were OK with that condition too because we both knew the rest of the truth. – When we had Dad’s attention, we had all of it. Thanks to Dad, a former school boy and amateur player, we both learned to love and play the game of baseball – and also thanks to Dad – we connected with the Houston Buffs and even got to watch the Buffs take on the New York Yankees in 1951, when they had Joe DiMaggio in center field and Mickey Mantle in right. But that’s jumping way ahead.
On this evening, the transfixing object in our lives is a tall, wooden console model “Philco” AM radio. It’s amber dial contains a needle that is lighted for us all to see. And the glow of its illumination is a magical pass to some of the funniest, scariest, or most mysterious shows ever presented for fantasy visualization by the human mind:
Boston Blackie, “friend of those who have no friends; enemy of those who make him an enemy”
Duffy’s Tavern, “where the elite meet to eat; Archie, the manager speaking, Duffy ain’t here”
The Aldridge Family – “Henry! – Henry Aldridge!” ……. “Coming, Mother!”
Inner Sanctum, (a squeaking door opens slowly) “Good evening, friend! This is your host, Raymond, speaking, and also warning you! – Do not listen to tonight’s story of horror alone! – Make sure you have a “ghoul friend” with you for this story – ‘Hayride with an Axe-Wielding Driver!’ – HaHaHaHaHaHa! – Just remember – when the ride is all over – I’ll be back to tell you what I always do – ‘Goodnight, Friend! – And Pleasant Dreams, Hmmm?’ ….HaHaHaHaHaHa!”
So much more. Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Great Gildersleeve, Eddie Cantor, Abbott and Costello, Burns and Allen, Life with Luigi, Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen, Gangbusters, The Lone Ranger, Mr. District Attorney, G-Men, Lux Theater – and the beat goes on.
And they all lived behind the amber light on the radio dial in all of our homes – just waiting to dance through our minds – creating pictures that still play in our memories today – of another era in our culture – and for some of us – a very happy time in our early lives.
The world stretched out for us like an infinite lawn of garden fresh hope – and all things good in life seemed both right and possible – and much of what seemed attainable came to us younger ones through the stretches of imagery that filled our souls from the forces behind those millions of amber radio lights that once fed the theaters of the American mind with something other than bad news, political agenda quacks, and countless donkey-kong sports hosts who now fill the radio airwaves with nothing but sports crapola gossip and ignorant, often malicious “news” about famous athletes.
Have a nice weekend, everybody!