Burma Shave Signs, a Brief History
     

You're riding along a back-country road towards Dunnsville Virginia. It's mid-June, 1952. Peering out the side window from the right-hand back seat of Dad's dusty green Buick, nose against glass, you're bored and itchy from the long ride. Dreaming of the lazy Rappahannock, three miles wide at the summer place. Lindan, named after you and your sister. She teases you that it has all the letters of her name and just the last of yours. Anticipation is no longer enough to make you forget car cramps and stir craziness that wind up an 8 year old on the long ride from Richmond. You argue. It's three-letters each. You're right.

Ahead in the tall grass along the roadside, you see a red sign with white letters. The steel sign is about three feet long and eight inches high, fastened to a steel fence post driven into the sandy roadside. You can't make out the weathered lettering. As you get closer you read it.

DRIVERS WHO SPEED

That's all it says. You wonder, chin hard against door sill. It makes no sense. The fields are filled with watermelons and sandy vines beaten bright by the sun. The melons are almost black. Fat. Silent Buddas. Sometimes hand-lettered signs offer them for sale. Five cents. Those signs you understand. This one ... you are stopped in space and time. A mile of grass and hot watermelons pass you by.

Suddenly ahead you spy a second red sign, the same shape as the first. This one leans crazily towards the road. It's fainting in the heat. Interested now you strain to make out the words before Linda reads it aloud.

TOO FAST DOWN THIS ROAD

Oh! It's a message, broken across miles of steaming summer road. Excited now you watch carefully, anticipating, staring intently through the heat waves shimmering up from country asphalt.

Another mile. There! Nailed to a huge old oak tree, always on your side of the road, white letters on red:

WON'T GET WHAT THEY NEED

You're in the rhythm of the trip. Imagination compresses miles. Dust billows up behind the Buick while you work out what might be the next rhyming line. A mile. A minute to rhyme. Seed. Bead. Succeed. Bleed? Toad. Blow'ed. A great game. Fantastic! There it is! The whole family is reading.

AND MIGHT WRECK THEIR LOAD!

Dad slows down a bit. It's an agreeable change since the kids are quiet for a moment.

BURMA SHAVE

reads the last sign.

Forty years later, dust, heat, and watermelons in mind, you can see the red and white signs. And you know about time compressed.

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