How Oo Began

Written September 30, 2002

I was a bright kid; Dad taught me to read when I was two, and I could tell time when I was three. When I was four years old, my dad recorded my voice on tape. I sang songs and spelled various words. Years later, I copied the recordings from the original reels onto a cassette. I still have the tape. Besides hearing my own voice, I can hear my dad talking and occasionally “cutting up.” Other family members can be heard too. In one portion of the tape, a hammer and nails are heard at close range—our house, built by my dad, was still under construction.

The earliest known reference to my childhood nickname “Oo” (pronounced OO-oo) was on this tape. When I was 12 years old, I wanted to know the exact date on which the tape was recorded. My mom recalled that it was in the fall of the year, and that the recording was done over two days: Sunday and Monday. I had (and still have to this day) a vivid memory of entering my dad’s bedroom one evening with excitement and anticipation of more fun (I enjoyed doing the recordings). The sun, a deep orange-red, was just setting on the western horizon. The bedroom clock, which was always kept accurate, read exactly 6:30 p.m.

For years I observed “Oo’s Day”—the anniversary of the recordings and probably the beginning of Oo—on October 7, based on published sunset times for my hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin and taking Daylight Saving Time into account. Only this year (2002) do I believe I have actually determined the correct anniversary date. This is how I arrived at it:

  1. The year isn’t hard to figure out. On the tape, Dad asked me, “How old are you?” and I quickly replied, “Four!” Since I was born in February, 1958, and this was fall, the year was definitely 1962.
  2. Sunset at 6:30 raises the question of Daylight Saving Time. Nearly all of the United States observed it from 1967 on, in accordance with the Uniform Time Act of 1966, but what about Wisconsin in 1962? I asked Dad about this during the closing year of his life, and he recalls it being observed here since about World War II.
  3. Which night was the sunset at 6:30? Almost certainly Monday, because on the first day of recording (Sunday) I wouldn’t have been so excited, since I didn’t know what fun awaited me.
  4. Using the U.S. Naval Observatory’s Web page entitled Sun or Moon Rise/Set Table for One Year, I determined when sunset occurred in Janesville on Mondays in the fall of 1962. The first few, adjusted for Daylight Saving Time, are as follows:

    Sunset is defined as the moment when the upper edge of the sun’s disk slips below the horizon, assuming level ground and a clear horizon (like at the ocean). In the city, even with only a few distant trees and almost no houses (like in south Janesville in 1962), sunset would appear a few minutes earlier than stated.

    Clearly from this information, the sun was invisible at 6:30 on October 8, and still nowhere near setting on September 24. This leaves October 1 for the Monday in question, meaning that the recordings were made on September 30 and October 1, 1962.

    By the way, without Daylight Saving Time, the sun would set at 6:39 p.m. on August 27, which was before the start of school and definitely in summer, not fall.

So now we have the date with some degree of certainty, but where did the “Oo” come from? That has always been a mystery, except for the fact that I made it up myself.

Just this morning (September 30, 2002), I realized the truth about this matter. My parents had a cuckoo clock which cuckooed every hour—once for each hour. It cuckooed once at one o’clock, twice at two o’clock, and yes—twelve times at twelve o’clock! In addition, it cuckooed once every hour at half past! Do the math: that’s 180 cuckoo sounds in a 24-hour period.

As a little boy, I heard that sound a lot, and I loved to imitate it. But to my ears, it didn’t sound like “cuckoo,” but “Oo-oo”—I never heard a “k” sound. I suppose I spelled it with only two letters (Oo) because that was the impression I got of it: two syllables, and so two letters.

Soon I was calling myself Oo—Tiny Oo, to be exact. This set me apart from Dad, who was Big Oo. Now Dad is gone, and I guess that makes me Big Oo now. My son, Joe, likes the Oo and appears to be carrying on the tradition.

We listened to part of the tape this morning at breakfast; it was quite an experience. “Grandpa sounds just like you!” he exclaimed when he heard my dad’s voice on the tape. Jokingly I asked him, “Is that good or bad?” “Good,” he replied without hesitation. “I miss Grandpa.” I do too. I’m very glad that he recorded these sounds for us to remember.

There’s a footnote to this: four days ago, I nearly changed the pronunciation of Oo from two syllables (OO-oo) to one! Wendi and Joe convinced me to leave it alone; for more details, read my page entitled One-Syllable Oo? Never!!

October 24, 2002 — there’s a second footnote now! I discovered the following entry in our family journal for October 1, 2001:

Today was Oo’s Day, the first ever to be observed on this date. On August 31, I discovered that my earlier calculations of the date were off by a week; the sun sets in Janesville at 6:37 CDT on October 1, which is about right for an apparent 6:30 sunset, assuming a few distant trees at the horizon. We marked the time at 6:30 this evening, and Wendi and I wished each other a Happy Oo’s Day.

So it turns out that I arrived at the correct date last year but forgot about it since then. That’s no surprise; my dad passed away on August 31, and the terrorist attacks occurred only 11 days after that. Events like those tend to overshadow the Oo.

Two discrepancies should be noted:

  1. Last year, we celebrated October 1, the day I saw the sunset. This year, we celebrated September 30, the day the first recordings were made. If we’re aiming at the beginning of Oo, this is probably the better date.
  2. Last year, the time of sunset for October 1 was given as 6:37. This year, I went to the table for 1962, so I arrived at 6:38 as the time of sunset. There is sometimes a difference of a minute or so from year to year.