A Downton Abbey Anachronism?

My daughter and I both had projects to work on last night and, wanting some familiar, companionable television in the background, decided to put on Season One of Downton Abbey. (Love that show 🙂 )

Around about the third episode, the one with the little fair in the village, William (the second footman) is sad because Thomas (first footman) knew he wanted to ask Daisy (kitchen maid) to go to the fair with him and thus swooped in and asked her first, just to be mean. Later in the show, William is in the servants’ hall playing a sad-sounding tune on the piano, just a few bars, before Mrs. Hughes (housekeeper) puts a hand on his shoulder and kindly offers her sympathy and wise words.

As William played the tune, I realized: hey, I think know that song! The tiny little snatch of melody he played was the only part I knew, and I was pretty sure the words were (and they were the only words I knew): “After you’ve gone.”

Was it the song I was thinking I knew? I had my phone handy so did a quick search for those lyrics and found that yes, that was the song. You can hear the original recording in the video clip below. The “after you’ve gone” lyrics don’t come until one minute and eight seconds into the song. (I’m very patient when I’m on a quest 🙂 )

But wait!

Season One of Downton Abbey ends with Lord Grantham informing everyone attending the garden party that the UK was at war with Germany. According the Wikipedia article on “After You’ve Gone,” the song William plays at some point prior to the start of World War I in 1914 wasn’t published, even in sheet music form, until 1918, the year it was recorded.

Really, really surprising to me, as the Downton production team was meticulous in their historical accuracy.

Then I started to wonder: How do I even know this song?

I had this weird sensation in some cloistered alcove of my memory of a woman singing just the words “after you’ve gone.” She is kind of swaying, and her voice is nasally and loud. I was trying to describe it to my daughter, thinking maybe she could help me out.

“Somehow I associate it with ‘Hazel,'” I told her. But we knew it wasn’t from a “Hazel” episode, because we both know the “Hazel” oeuvre pretty thoroughly. (Maybe that’s a post for another day 🙂 ) “A woman is singing, and I think she’s auditioning for something, but the people don’t like her. Like ‘go away.’ And she has this really grating voice, like Ethel Merman.”

The “Ethel Merman” reference was all my daughter needed. “I think it was Ethel Merman,” she said.

But where would I have seen her singing just that line? When would she have been auditioning and nobody liked her?

And why would I have associated Ethel Merman with “Hazel”? (More to the point, how did my daughter even know who Ethel Merman was?)

Then I remembered.

Sony didn’t release the “Hazel” series on DVD until really late, long after lots of other old television shows had been released. So I had my old VHS tapes that I’d recorded from TV back in the early ’90s, and when I had time I’d watch them with my girls. When I was taping them I occasionally left the VCR running and accidentally recorded whatever show followed my “Hazel” episode.

Ethel Merman was in a “That Girl” episode once. And I was pretty sure I had accidentally recorded it on one of my “Hazel” tapes.

Thanks to YouTube I was able to find that episode. Yep, it was Ethel Merman! I’ve included the entire episode here, because it’s such a cute show. Ethel Merman sings shortly after the 19:25 mark (and then again at the end of that scene). Judge for yourself how accurate my little whisper of memory/sensation was 🙂

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When you forecast the weather in Wisconsin

img_2757Milwaukee’s Fox 6 meteorologist Rob Haswell walks the talk😄


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Drinking the Kool Aid

It still kind of shocks me to read or hear people using that phrase to describe positive buy-in to a new idea. As in, “We’re extremely excited about our company’s new product. Everyone has been drinking the Kool Aid, and the entire sales team is really pumped.”

Apparently it takes fewer than 40 years for a phrase’s original meaning to be lost. On this date 38 years ago (November 18, 1978), more than 900 Americans died in a mass murder-suicide after drinking cyanide-laced Kool Aid at a religious commune in a Guyana jungle. More than a third of these people were children. Although some drank it voluntarily, many others, including babies, were forced to drink the poisoned liquid. We know the details because of the few people who managed to escape into the surrounding jungle.

The photos of the dead still haunt me. Bodies scattered like litter around the compound. I don’t want to post any of the pictures here. They make me too sad. But you can find them online easily if you do a search for “Jonestown.”

What was going on in America during the late 1970s and early 1980s that led people to join religious cults like Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple [sic]? I’d forgotten all about this strange period of our history before thinking about the Peoples Temple today.

I can personally recall seeing people selling flowers all summer at the northeast corner of Water and Wisconsin in downtown Milwaukee during the early 1980s—haggard-looking young men and women surrounded by white buckets of flowers, chanting over and over: “A dollar a bunch, a dollar a bunch, any bunch one dollar.” They were in a cult, everyone told me, Hare Krishna.

And who could forget the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his Unification Church and the mass wedding ceremonies he performed (like the 1982 Madison Square Garden wedding of 2,075 couples).

The various” cults” (which was the word used in the media; perhaps it would be more accurate and less biased to call them “churches” today?) were very aggressive in their proselytizing. In fact, “brainwashing” was a term commonly associated with cults.

The movie Airplane! (made by Milwaukee natives Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker 🙂 ) is funny even if you don’t get any of the many, many satirical references. But to really appreciate it, you practically need footnotes—like reading a Shakespeare play. There are the homages to the 1970s-era airplane disaster movies and way-too-many-to-count references to popular culture (Saturday Night Fever), to politics (Howard Jarvis and the Proposition 13 tax revolt in California), and to cults and their aggressive proselytizing.

One “cult” reference is found in the inclusion of two Hare Krishna passengers on the plane (one of whom is David Leisure, later famous for playing Joe Isuzu in television ads and Charley Dietz in the television comedy “Empty Nest”).

The other is in this introduction to Robert Stack’s Capt. Rex Kramer, a no-nonsense tough-guy called in to help land the plane after the pilots are sickened by bad fish. Although the impatient, violent responses establishing his character no doubt elicit laughter on their own, only knowledge that public places in the 1970s were rife with such aggressive proselytizers provides the context that elevates slapstick to satire.

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Umbrella Graveyard

It rained all day long in Milwaukee yesterday—so windy that umbrellas turned inside out or were wrenched away. Lots of people, like me, gave up and decided to brave the elements in raincoats alone. Yes, I felt like an idiot walking down the street getting drenched while carrying my highly noticeable, very large, unfurled umbrella. But my bumbershoot, though battered, should be good for a couple more showers. So there’s one good thing. Because others didn’t make it 🙂

wrecked umbrellas in trash can

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A Windy Autumn Day!

I actually prefer some of my other attempts in terms of composition, but in the end I decided to go with this photo because of that lone leaf whirling into the frame at the very moment I snapped the shutter. (Or whatever term is correct for the “Enter” button on an iPhone when taking a picture 🙂 )

distorted office windows and a single leaf

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Texture – Damp Crabapple Bark

First of all, is it “Crabapple,” “Crab Apple,” or “Crab-Apple”? I grew up thinking of it as a one-word tree name, but I see it spelled all three of these ways and could probably find even more variants if I searched for them. I think I’ll stick with “crabapple.”


It stormed last night in Milwaukee. If you were watching the Wisconsin–Ohio State football game on television (or, would that be the “Ohio State–Wisconsin” game?), you saw the rain passing through Madison and Camp Randall Stadium (which is built on the site of what actually used to be a Union army camp named for the governor at that time, Alexander Randall, during the Civil War). Speaking of the WI–OSU/OSU–WI game (I have divided loyalties😄), what a hard-fought contest that was!

crabapple-1Anyway, back to my tree bark. As I was taking out some recycling a few minutes ago, I noticed how strikingly textured and colorful the crabapple trunk looks while partially damp from last night’s rain.


So I took a few pictures and decided to put them on my blog. Hope you like them!


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Evening Beckons

Seen as I was leaving work last night.

This is the changing quality of light that people talk about in northern climes. At least some of what they mean. The light slants from a lower place in the sky as the Earth’s tilt positions us farther away from the sun. There’s less moisture in the air to refract the light, and a different color palette in nature (trees, flowers, grass) to filter and reflect it.

Autumn is my favorite time of year. The air may be cool and crisp, but the light becomes warm and soft.

When my daughters were young, a picture book we checked out of the public faithfully every fall was When Will the Snow Trees Grow, by Ben Shecter. Such a sweet, gentle story of a boy and his bear friend doing autumn chores to prepare for winter in what looks like rural New England. My girls tracked down a copy a couple years ago and gave it to me as a Christmas present.


I think it’s about time for me to warm up some cider, wrap myself in a quilt near the fire, and lose myself in this book’s enchantment once again.

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