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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Reichley: The old Burma Shave signs are remembered

  • Schools are ending across the land, making thousands of school kids here, and all over the country, happy.
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  • Schools are ending across the land, making thousands of school kids here, and all over the country, happy. After basking in the thought of no more classes for a few months, attention will turn to the family's vacation.
    A friend sent an email that brought back memories of my family's annual trek to Grandma's ancient home in rural west Louisiana. In the late 1940s and mid-50s the old Chevrolet headed southwest from Birmingham, Ala., to De Ridder, La., each summer.
    That was long before interstate highways, cars with TV sets, electronic games, and other of today's seeming necessities for travel by car.
    There was cow poker, or counting cows on each side of the car, or seeing who could find all letters of the alphabet in highway signs first. And there was lots of boredom.
    But every now and then, at no certain interval, came the highlight of an otherwise boring ride. This was the Burma Shave sign, which was actually six signs, red rectangular wooden signs with white letters.
    The first five signs had a few-word message, and the last always had Burma Shave, as if we weren't aware of that already. They certainly brightened up an otherwise long (12 hours) ride as I was too young to drive.
    The recent email sent some of the now ancient Burma Shave sign sayings, which are below. They went the way of the horse and wagon and buggy whip when the interstates began in the mid-1950s. Commas separate words that were on each sign.
    Hardly a driver, is now alive, who passed on hills, at 75.
    Don't stick your elbow, out so far, it may go home, in another car.
    Trains don't wander, all over the map. 'cause nobody sits, in the engineer's lap.
    She kissed the hairbrush, by mistake, she thought it was, her husband Jake.
    Don't lose your head, to gain a minute, you need your head, your brains are in it.
    Drove too long, driver snoozing, what happened next, is not amusing.
    Brother speeder, let's rehearse, all together, good morning nurse.
    Cautious rider, to her reckless dear, let's have less bull, and a little more steer.
    Speed was high, weather was not, tires were thin, X marks the spot.
    The midnight ride, of Paul for beer, led to a warmer, hemisphere.
    Around the curve, lickety-split, beautiful car, wasn't it?
    No matter the price, no matter how new, the best safety device, in the car is you.
    A guy who drives, a car wide open, is not thinkin', he's just hopin'.
    At intersections, look each way, a harp sounds nice, but it's hard to play.
    Page 2 of 2 - Both hands on the wheel, eyes on the road, that's the skillful, driver's code.
    The one who drives, when he's been drinking, depends on you, to do his thinking.
    Car in ditch, driver in tree, the moon was full, and so was he.
    Passing school zone, take it slow, let our little, shavers grow.
    These are all that were in the email. Somewhere in one of my myriad of boxes of books is a whole book on Burma Shave signs. When it turns up, I'll share more of these historical gems in the future.
    And I suppose for those readers under 50, you never got to see a Burma Shave sign. Happy that you got to read at least a few of the nostalgic old goodies.
    John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.

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