Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Uncle Don

Back in the mid-1930's - when times were especially rough in the world, my grandmother turned her home into a boarding house. It helped make ends meet financially - and also made it possible for me to meet some very unique people. Most of them worked in New York City and commuted back and forth by train. They usually got home about suppertime. By the way, dinner was announced by ringing a series of old Chinese gongs after which the residents (and my family) would come trooping down the stairs and take their reserved space at a huge dining room table. Our maid (and cook) Odie would bring huge servings of wonderful food to the table. Except for me.

I never sat at the table with the adults. My dining place was on a drop-leaf front of a huge old Atwater Kent radio which was placed in the opening of an equally huge bay window. While the adults at the table talked about events of the day I listened to my programs. Especially "Uncle Don" Carney who might be considered the 'Captain Kangaroo' of the 1920's and '30's. For over 20 years he told stories, read pre-teen oriented poems, was a master at pig Latin, and was described as able to play the piano standing on his head while singing silly songs that little kids gobbled up. For instance, his theme song went this way:

"Hello, neighbors, nieces too, mothers and daddies, how are you? This is Uncle Don, all set to go; with a meeting on the ray-dee-o. We'll start off with a little song; to learn the words will not take long. For they're as easy as easy can be, so come on now and sing with me: Hibbidy gits has-ha ringboree. Honi-ko-doke with an ali-ka-zon, Sing this song with your Uncle Don."

Uncle Don would come up with special words describing the behavior of children: 'Crytearians', 'Leavearounders', 'takechancers', and 'scuffyheelers,' none of which Uncle Don wanted as members of his club. He sometimes would talk about children who did and said things wrong - especially scolding those who failed to brush teeth, cried at bedtime, and threw temper tantrums.

But the biggest thing of all was when Uncle Don would read a name of a child who had been good and was celebrating a birthday. He would say, "Now, I understand that little Brucie has been especially good this year and if he looks behind the piano he's find something very special just for him on his birthday. Seems to me that when Brucie looked behind the piano he found some special Uncle Don promotion but it was wonderful - Uncle Don had read my name out to everybody in our seven-state area and they knew I had been a good little boy.

I never thought about it at the time, but an old-time radio book says that all this was done in collusion with my mother or grandmother. But who cared at the time - Uncle Don was right there behind that Atwater Kent dial.

But wait - there is one more story about Uncle Don that may or may not have been true, It involves an announcers worst fear - saying something with a live microphone when he thinks he's off the air. It has happened to the best of them and was especially challenging when programs were live and not pre-recorded. The show ended. Uncle Don sighed, and said, "Well I guess that takes care of the little 'bzzxzxxzs' for another day." As I understood at the time, that also took care of Uncle Don and his program. He spent the rest of the years in denial.

Meanwhile, the Atwater Kent died, I grew in stature, finally was allowed to eat at the dinner table sitting alongside my real-life Uncle Ralph who over the years turned out to be a better friend than Uncle Don.

1 comment:

  1. You might be interested in this: http://www.snopes.com/radiotv/radio/uncledon.asp Gives a little detail about Uncle Don and the infamous incident.