July 16 has good and bad memories for me, and probably for all of us.
The good is that my mother-in-law, Irene Sutton Cunningham Laughlin, was born on this date. The bad is that she died in 1990, just six short years after I married her son. She lived in California and we lived in the Midwest, and then in Louisiana at the time of her death. Two trips to Pasadena weren’t nearly enough for me to get to know the woman who left North Judson, Indiana when she was still a teenager, to make her mark in Hollywood.
Her claim to fame was a few “extra” roles in Shirley Temple movies, and an ill-advised marriage to a vaudeville performer named Tink. She would never really talk about those years, much to our regret, because now she’s gone and there’s no one around to fill in the gaps.
She moved back to the Chicago area, met and married Charles Gause Cunningham. Their only child, Ken, was born when Irene was 28 and Charles was 49. I never did get to meet Ken’s dad because he died in 1972 at the age of 78.
They were, from all accounts, an interesting couple. She, a vivacious, free spirit, always ready to laugh, party, and socialize, but she took human rights, seriously, and didn’t have a prejudicial bone in her body. You didn’t, however, want to cross her without a good reason. The story of a turkey platter, that came within inches of crashing down on her husband’s head one Thanksgiving, comes to mind. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.
He was a tall, dignified engineer who enjoyed drinking a martini in his smoking jacket after a full day at Pratt and Whitney in Chicago. He also loved golf. One of his regular foursome was Charlie Weber of Weber Grill fame. If you have a Weber kettle grill, you can thank Charles G. Cunningham because he’s the one who drew up the blue print.
He was also the inventor of the traverse rod and the first electric toothbrush. Unfortunately, for him (and his heirs!) he wasn’t a businessman. Westinghouse and others simply blocked his patents until he got tired of fighting them and let the patents run out. The rest is history.
Several other events happened on July 16.
1st test detonation of an atomic bomb, Trinity Site, Alamogordo, New Mexico as part of the US Manhattan Project in 1945.
Our friend, Donna Sanger, was born on this day (I won’t mention the year, Donna).
Probably the most memorable event (no offense, Donna or Irene), Apollo 11 lifted off from Cape Canaveral carrying men to the moon in 1969.
And, an event that brought sadness to many. John Kennedy, Jr., his wife, Carolyn, and her sister, Lauren, were all killed when their small plane crashed off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in 1999.
So, here’s to Irene, Donna, all those souls killed and maimed in the atomic bomb blasts, the Apollo astronauts, and John-John. And to July 16.