WACO-fm was the fine old radio station Karen listened to while she worked at her desk at the mortuary. Mr. Milman didn’t mind as long as it wasn’t on when there were any bereaved around. The station played some classic rock, C&W, local news, and the “Traders’ Corner” where folks called in to offer freebies like old furniture or excess firewood or kittens, while others sought ranch equipment or home help or cheap rooms to rent. Karen really liked that show, liked hearing the Texan accents, liked the occasionally oddball offers and requests. It’s real neighborly, she thought.
On a slow Tuesday afternoon Karen was listening to a Clint Black song on WACO-fm as she worked on scheduling and prepping for two viewings/receptions for the next day. Mr. Milman came out of his office in the back and sat down on one of the three overstuffed chairs in front her desk. He looked a little tired. Mr. Milman, whom Karen was fond of like a favorite uncle, sat and shot the breeze with her maybe a couple of times a week.
“Karen, I’ve got a proposition for you. You can say ‘No,’ but think about it some first, okay?” Mr. Milman smiled at her and put his fingertips together in front of the dark paisley tie Karen really liked. I’ve got to get one like that for Kurt, she thought. “Okay. Shoot, Mr. M.”
“WACO-fm’s new advertising director is my wife’s nephew. He’s all fired up to get new accounts, freshen up the whole advertising feel over there. You know, shake the tree. He’s offering 30-second spots cheap to all kinds of local businesses who’ve never advertised on radio. Like that guy on Jubilee Trail who repairs computers and cells, and the drive-through Dairy Barn next to Kroger’s.” Mr. M. paused to wave through the window at the mailman who was across the street.
“I think I see where this is going, Mr. M. I’ve never heard a mortuary ad, but you want me to write one? No snappy jingles or slogans, I guess.” Maybe we could have a casket sale or offer discounted embalming to the first ten callers, thought Karen.
“Well, a tasteful catch phrase might do. Anyway, would you help me? Thirty seconds isn’t that long. You listen to the radio more than I do. You know WACO’s wide audience.” Mr. Milman looked hopeful (as he butters me up, Karen mused!).
“Sure! When do you need this? Probably ASAP. Do you think it’ll bring in biz? I wonder if Gloryland or Howard’s Funeral Home will be advertising.” Karen almost said they just might make a killing on this but thought wiser of that. I can see a lot of discarded material with writing this ad, she thought.
“Does a professional reader make the recording, Mr. M.? What kind of voice are we dealing with? Do you do it? Save some bucks probably that way.” Karen was raised frugally in Illinois and was on the same frequency as Mr. M. when it came to thrift.
“I suppose I’ll do it. The old family-owned-over-50 years kind of spiel? Somber but warm voice and words. Like ‘Ol’ Grandpa Milman helping you out?’” He cocked his head slightly, mock serious and concerned!
“You’re not that old, Mr. M.” Karen swiped a hand in the air once in front of her face and shook her head “no.” “We’ll write something mature but welcoming and reassuring like, ‘We’re here for you,’ or ‘Dignity, quality, service when it really counts.’ Sincere but corny!”
“Karen, you’re going to be good at this. Give it a shot. I’m counting on you.” Mr. M. grunted a little as he stood up. “You want a Dr. Pepper?” he asked with a smile.
It was a long-standing rivalry at MM: Dr. P. vs. Coke. The two of them “argued bitterly” over it, Karen laughingly told Kent. Born in Waco and loves his Dr. P., she told him about Milman. However, we all know, she opined, Coke is IT. It is indeed the real thing. “No thanks, Mr. M. I’d rather have flat 7-Up with castor oil!” As he left the room he muttered, “You can put the gal in Texas, but you can’t put Texas in the gal.” Karen snickered and shooed him out.
By the next afternoon Karen had produced the ad copy with the slogan “Milman’s Mortuary — a trusted name in difficult times for over fifty years.” She and Kurt had cracked themselves up the night before with tack-ons like, “You can depend on us to let your loved one down,” “There with you past the end,” “Service you don’t want,” and their favorite: “You’re next!”
It was only a week later when Mr. Milman came back from WACO-fm and announced to Karen (cleaning up after a large viewing for which many grieving loved ones had brought their flasks. The place was a mess!) that he had done worse than poorly in the studio. “I’m too slow, too ponderous. I froze up, and we tried it six times. I couldn’t get it to flow or even sound like I’m a native speaker!” Mr. M. threw both hands up and grimaced. “Would you be the Voice of Milman’s, Karen?” He looked theatrically piteous, she thought.
Holy Moly! Me on WACO-fm! “But don’t I sound too young and kinda high-pitched for this?” Karen then raised both her hands palms-up and shrugged quizzically.
“I’m not worried about that. In fact, it may be more ear-catching and inviting by a young woman! Please do this, Karen. I won’t ask Clyde; he’s a good egg and does a lot here at work, but he’s just not the Voice of Milman’s!” Mr. M. jingled the change in his trouser pocket and turned to leave saying, “Just think about it.”
Two days later at the studio of WACO-fm Karen was a little jittery, but not so much as she thought she would be. There was, after all, no audience. She just had to sit and read her own words into a mic. She’d rehearsed alone and to Kurt at least twenty times! She bumbled a word or two the first time, but she nailed it on the third take. “So, let Milmans’ be there for you in your difficult hours. Our family helping yours,” came out as smooth as warm honey.
And then it happened! The first time was at Kroger’s supermarket when the cashier with whom Karen always had little chats said, “Are you the Milman’s lady? That ad with all the ‘sweet slumber’ and ‘heart-felt service’ almost makes me want to kick the bucket!” Karen saw her wink as she pushed through a bottle of fudge sauce in Karen’s order without scanning it. Karen was flustered and simply said, “Thank you?” She felt guilty later eating the stuff on ice cream. Kurt razzed her that “celebs get perks all the time!”
Then, the mechanics (who always had WACO-fm on at the garage) washed her car unbidden after a routine oil change. (Hastily, granted, but still cleaner!) They never did that before! They called her the Milman Mouth and even gave her a bogus “Thursday Discount!”
When she had her hair cut, Trudy did a really spectacular job and gave her a “free sample,” full-sized bottle of salon shampoo. Karen was riding high a few days when WACO-fm called her to ask if she would do more ads. Slice of Life, the pie shop, wanted her to peddle their fresh peach tart. The roller rink wanted her to push skating party packages. Bowman Insurance wanted a sincere but amusing spot with Karen’s warm, excited voice.
So Karen did these and also went on to read for Helen’s Hemming Shop, “shortening skirts for over twenty-five years! Alterations and tailoring just like Paris (and we mean France, not Texas!). When your friends ask, just tell ‘em go to Helen!” Karen had not written the copy (which she thought was cute!); Mr. M’s wife’s nephew had turned his hand to writing ads, but some conservative listeners objected to this humor. Then when Pete’s Perfect Plumbing heard “Your plumbing is down the drain with Pete’s!” Pete was not pleased. Everyone was appalled by “Doesn’t fit at home? Cram it in your Flicken Storage unit!”
Karen was just a voice, but her fame turned to dust. “Don’t shoot me! I’m just a talking head!” She wailed to Kurt one night after ribs and slaw (a gift from Smoky Bob’s B-B-Q, the last of her beneficences!). But shot she was and down in flames.
Mr. M. patted her on the back the next day saying, “Well, Karen, you had your fifteen minutes of fame, and I must say I’m glad you still work for me and aren’t bound for big-time radio in San Antone or Los Angeles. You’re the Voice of Milman’s every day right here, and that’s enough for you, I hope.” Then Mr. M. handed her what he had been holding behind his back the whole time: an icy can of Coke.
“Thanks! And, you know, Mr. M., we didn’t get a single customer from that ad. Wouldn’t that have been weird, anyway? Some businesses don’t need drummers!” Karen rolled her eyes.
Mr. M. nodded in agreement on his way out, and then paused in the doorway. “By the way, my wife’s nephew was fired and is moving to Brownsville. He sold too many botched spots too cheaply. Hope he does better at his brother Taylor’s roofing company.”
“‘Asphalt, tile, or metal, we’ve got you covered!’ ‘Let us handle the roof spots!’ ‘Safe for Santa and his sleigh!’ Boy, it’s hard to stop once you get going, Mr. M.! I’ll just ‘put a lid on it with Taylors’!”