You may have read about my friends, Frank Cullen, and his partner, Donald McNeilly before: They are writers of great repute with their Porridge Sisters mysteries. These books take place at about the time of World War I, or The Great War. Sisters Florrie and Lavinia run a boarding house for entertainers who are on a circuit. They provide clean beds and wonderful dinners—all vegetarian. The series has given birth to an excellent vegan cookbook. As a meat lover from Iowa, I go on record as saying I am convinced most of this lifestyle might just be for me. I love to cook, and I have tried the recipes; they are wonderful.
The characters in all these tales are fascinating. Frank is a little older than I and he grew up in Boston where the action happens, whereas I am from Iowa where nothing happens but “Music Man.” Frank knows the area; Boston’s motto in Latin is: “Sicut patribus sit Deus noblis,” or “As God was with our fathers, so may He be with us.” A true sentiment today.
“The Murder at the Tremont Theatre” is written about the city in 1916 when the U.S. went to war and the Spanish Flu killed more people than the war did. Frank and Donald have made this time period come alive through their storytelling.
When we think of Boston, we remember the Boston Tea Party or the Battle of Bunker Hill. It was very important in our Revolution, but there is another side to Boston. It was a virtual hub of entertainment for singers, actors and Vaudeville acts. Before television and radio, people went to the theater, and acts traveled from venue to venue just like country western and rock bands do today. Frank and Donald’s books are a thrill a minute to read and relive those days. And as if that series of seven mystery books isn’t enough, they also wrote “the” Encyclopedia of Vaudeville.
This is enough talent, yes? No, guess again. Frank and Donald host the Movies in the Mountains featured at the Tijeras East Mountain Library, a monthly showing of classic films. If you wish to be on the email list, send a note to email@example.com. When Movies in the Mountains can resume the program, you will be notified. And you thought that was enough? Oh, no!
Frank and I were swapping stories about our Dads. Mine was born in Iowa on a farm. When the second world war came along, Richard (Dick) Ramsden joined the Navy as the song says, “I joined the Navy to see the world, but what did I see, I saw the sea.” My Dad couldn’t swim—not enough water in Iowa. He was in San Diego for basic training, but he got chicken pox, measles and mumps during that time. He couldn’t swim, but they needed sailors so badly, he was passed anyway. He lost two and a half ships in the Pacific. He was assigned to a Merchant Marine ship and twice they were torpedoed and sunk. He put on a life vest and jumped overboard. They floated in a life raft until the Navy picked them up. My Dad was 15 when he joined and 16 when he was trained to be a radio operator with Morse Code. They counted on him to send the message of where they were. Brave men. He lost a half a ship in dock. It caught fire and they deserted ship. Our Marines met them with guns drawn and said, “Sailors, put out that fire. The ships on either side of you are full of ammunition.” The Captain ordered the decks flooded and they sunk the ship in the harbor.
Frank’s Dad, Bernard Cullen, was a from a family of 13 of Newfoundland, Canada. He left school in the fourth grade and went to sea as a Cabin Boy at 11. During the 30s Bernard married a young English gal, Hilda. Frank, born in 1936, was an only child. He is grateful to his Father for not naming him Aloysius. Instead he was baptized Francis. His dad got Frank interested in the theater, watching his Dad tap dance and recite.
During the war, in the 40s, Bernard joined the Merchant Marines. While my Dad, Dick, was in the Pacific, Frank’s Dad was in the Atlantic carrying troops to Marseilles. All in all, Bernard made five Atlantic crossings. At the end of the war they carried 5,000 war-weary, disoriented troops home. Bernard was responsible to cook, feed and clean up after them all. The American military was not integrated at the time and the Captain wanted the white troops and the black troops fed separately. According to Frank, his father “was disgusted by segregation and the notion that any race was inferior to his own.” Bernard singlehandedly refused, on the grounds that you could not logistically feed six meals a day on that ship. In 1948 President Truman desegregated the military after the war, but Bernard Cullen was the first to get the job done. We are very lucky, Frank, Donald, and the Roaring Mouse, to come from a long line of hard working, responsible thinking forefathers. Roaring Mouse, keeping safe and reading lots at home. Heroes are everywhere.