I have had a tremendous time visiting with my cousins Lorrie and David at their home in Laramie. We call each other “cousins” though technically David is my Dad;s cousin, but whatever the term really is– “cousin” just works.
It’s hard pressed to think of more lively, story-filled, warm people as these two, and their 6 kids and various family tree extensions from there on.
However, I was determined to try and pin Lorrie down to share some stories from a childhood and time I always found fascinating- her family was a performing act in carnivals in the 1950-1960s, the old style kind of life where they spent their summers travelling up and down the east coast, sometimes in the midwest to perform their high dive act.
Lorrie did more than oblige, she told me an hours worth of stories of this life and times; I will share some excerpts below. The photos were ones I took quickly using my camera on ones from Lorrie’s collection.
Her Dad, Billy Outten, was the main part of the show, diving from a 110 foot high board attached to a ladder into a pool of water 6 feet deep.
He was a championship diver (1935 AAU National Champion), and transformed his skill into an act that included his wife, Kay, uncles doing clown parts, and eventually Lorrie and her sisters. The family not only performed, but also was part of the process of transporting the equipment for the act and setting ti up/taking it down.
Lorrie described how over time, the promoters asked for more daring feats, so Billy did a double fire dive, lighting his pants on fire at 110 feet and diving through a lit hoop below.
Lorrie was put into the act at age 10 when her Mom, 6 months pregnant, could not perform any more. She describes herself as a “skinny little thing” asked by her Dad to do “pretty dives”- as she said, there was something enthralling to an audience to see a child dive, even from the lower heights she performed from.
And here is a great bit of history– video footage of Billy Outten’s dives (from Movietone news clips) were used in the movie The Right Stuff when the astronauts to be studied the bravery of dare devils.
How Lorrie shares it, the family never knew (Billy Outten was still alive at the time)– until they were at the theaters and Lorrie’s daughter shouted out, “That’s my Pop-Pop!”
And lastly, Lorrie gave me a lesson in speaking “Carny Talk” a language invented by carnival people– she described how her parents used it in fron of their kids when they wanted tot talk about a secret topic. The did not know that Lorrie and her sister had quickly figure out how to understand what they were saying!
I cannot thank Lorrie enough for recording her stories, and just listening to them highlights my interest in doing what I can to preserve stories (I made 10 audio CD copies for her to share with the family).
And I need to come back for more, as David is also overflowing with stories (and a gifted natural storyteller), like his efforts to break into professional baseball.
Stories ARE what its all about, IMHO.