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Friday, August 11, 2017

I met a woman named Yvonne recently and asked her where she got her name. The answer brought this bizare, long-forgotten story to light again.

Yvonne is not a 'today' name so I asked, "Were you named after Yvonne De Carlo," an attractive mid-20th century  movie star with acting roles that ranged from "The Ten Commandments" to credits with John Wayne, Bob Hope and as Lily Munster in the popular old TV show, "The Munsters."

"No," she said. "I was named after Yvonne Dionne of the Dionne quintuplets." (Ah, now I know how old you are.)

And that's what I'm talking about here. (Remember, this was before 'Octomom' Nadya Suleman who gave birth to six boys and two girls with the help of in vitro fertilization in 2009 and others who have used this fertility process to make the birth of quints almost a sidebar today.)

Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Emilie and Marie Dionne

 Notice how happy these young quints look? That's because, they aren't. The Dionne quints were born in Ontario, Canada in 1934, near the peak of The Great Depression, and a world so thirsting for any good news that was available.

The quints were the first to have survived from infancy to adulthood and became instant celebrities. Their remarkable births (of that day) and the years to follow pushed them into unnatural circumstances that shaped their lives.  They were dubbed, "The most famous babies on earth," and became the next thing to "circus freaks" on the world stage.

Four months after their birth, the quints were made wards of the King (Quebec, remember) by virtue of the Dionne Quintuplets Guardian Act of 1934 enacted just for them, as you might guess. What followed allowed the government and those around the girls to exploit them for profit. It provided tourist revenues in the millions of dollars rivaling even Niagara Falls.

Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Emilie and Marie were put on exhibition and used as a tourist attraction for Quebec. Think I'm exaggerating?

"The province of Ontario swooped in and took them from their parents," reported the New York Times, "declaring that they had to be protected from exploitation. Then it exhibited the children three times a day in a human zoo called Quintland, to be raised as a sort of science experiment. Three million visitors came in the 1030s"

Quintland offers a most fascinating and complete story. This site is a must it if you are curious of what happened from there.

The Dionne sisters were constantly tested, studied and examined with records being taken of everything, notes Wikipedia. While living at the compound, they had a somewhat rigid lifestyle. They were not required to participate in chores and were privately tutored in the same build where they lived. 

Cared for primarily by nurses, they had limited exposure to the world outside the boundaries of the compound, except for the daily rounds of tourists, who, the sisters' say, were generally heard but not seen. They also had occasional contact with their parents and siblings. 

Every morning they dressed together in a big bathroom, had doses of orange juice and cod-liver oil, and then went to have their hair curled. They then said a prayer, a gong was sounded and they ate breakfast in the dining room. After 30-minutes, they had to clear the table. They then played in the sun room for 30-minutes, took a 15-minute break and at 9 o'clock had their morning inspection with Dr. Dafoe. 

Every month they had a different timetable of activities. They bathed every day before dinner and put on their pajamas. Dinner was served at precisely 6 pm. They then went into the quiet play room to say their evening prayers. 

Each girl had a color and a symbol to mark whatever was hers. Annette's color was red and her design, a maple leaf. Cecile had green and a turkey. Emilie had white and a tulip. Marie's was blue and a teddy bear.  Yvonne's was pink and a bluebird.

There is one story of exploitation that the girls were all dressed in Girl  Scout uniforms for a photo shoot and press release, then the uniforms were taken away and never part of their lives. They were on exhibition at fairs and gatherings where their presence could draw a crowd. They were the subject of songs and together, made several movies.

Not all of their recollections are dire but their circumstances controlled their early years and treatment more as commodities than young girls. They were moved from normal to not in a mother's heartbeat.

The girls were finally returned to their family at age nine and 9-year old normal was not really normal at all.

Today, only 83-year-old Annette and Cecile survive. They were recently interviewed for the first time publicly.  This is their story looking back with heavy hearts and seeking little.

"I want all the problems and wars to pass away," Annette said of their birth house, which the city plans to move to a fairgrounds nearby without any mention of its heritage. "It should become a symbol of peace and happiness, respect."

Cecile added, "Especially respect."  

Reader hint: The two links in this post open to a very interesting story of the miracle of birth turned into the tragedy of being a "freak."

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

How to get rich on someone else's money... and how to get poor on your own.

Years ago when my job took me to New York City regularly, I would often ride the subways and read the advertising banners posted along the top of the cars. There was an ad for a court stenographer like this one promising "f u cn rd ths... " you could really "mk mo $" if you just learned to misspell words correctly. Well, I was cursed with a good grasp of spelling so I was out of luck. But my desire to have more money stuck with me, a young father with a growing family. It isn't that easy to find extra cash, as we all know... or is it?

A gold mine
In the seat cushions of America's couches, there is estimate to be as much as $100 million in spare change. So after a fervent search of my couches, I am well on my way with $3.17. (I'm a big tipper.). Yes, I know it is probably my money, but it feels like pure profit.

Actually, it does seem a little absurd, but if you figure there are 350 million people in the United States, then even counting for
families an the homeless, there are easily 100 million couches. And if the average change lost per couch is say one doller--5 dimes, a quarter, two nickles and  15 pennies--there's your $100 million! But there are, no doubt many more couches and old chairs out there. And some, like mine, are gold mines.

Well, how easy is that? All I need now is more seat cushions. Now that's how you get rich!

Our gold mine gone!

A confession: Before we were that smart, we sold our old couches and chair to this lovely couple for $100. Yes, it was a concession but they really needed these and didn't look like they could afford much more. HOWEVER, they are now probably very rich with all the couch money that we just said good-bye to. Silly us.

OK, here's how you get/stay poor:

We recently had to replace our refrigerator and dishwasher. And because we were swept away in an appliance-buying frenzy, we also replaced our double oven and we SAVED more than $3,000. (Am I missing something here?)

Anyhow, my clever wife had, over time, put aside almost $4,000 anticipating this need to purchase. Believe me, she had to look under many couch cushions to find that much. (See how easy it is!) To pay off the balance, we took advantage of a 12-month, no interest payment plan.

Our first invoice--showing the total amount before our down payment--stated that if we chose, we could pay as little as $100/month for 23 years. How simple is that?

Then there was a chart showing that if we chose the minimum payment, we would actually wind up, including interest, of paying $23,254. And that is just to pay off $6,645.18 at 26.24% interest! So, if you are not good at math like I am, we actually saved the original $3,000,,, PLUS the interest charges of $16,608.82 or $19,608.82 in total savings!

Hmm, looks like we are rich. I just didn't think of it that way. Our check, I'm sure, is already in the mail.

But sadly, paying the minimum is a terrible burden to those have to. It's called "Death of 1,000 cuts" OR "Death by paying $100/month for 276 months, at which time your appliances are 23 years old and themselves, dead."

It's no secret that the rich get richer easily and the poor, well they can just as easily get poorer,  simply by living. And we wonder why lottery tickets sell so well in those parts of town.

Wisdom from the ages: 

"Money is not the only answer but it makes a difference" Barack Obama

"A fool and his money are soon elected" Will Rogers

"A rich man is nothing more than a poor man with money." W.C. Fields