Dagmar Booth

“When Atari came out… we used to stay up, especially on a Friday night.  It got to the point where I had tupperware, and I’d put the cereal in the tupperware containers … so [the kids] could get up … and fix their own little breakfast, ’cause we were up playing Atari… We never grew up.”

Dagmar is the wife of John Booth, whose interview was posted a week ago.  If John has the gumption of a horse, Dagmar has the gumption to race him.  They were adorable to talk with together.  Dagmar is completely caring of her husband, while still getting his goat when she could.  I’m sure you can see it pictured in her eyes, though in person the twinkle is much brighter.

Dagmar Larieu Booth was born October 10, 1945 in New Orleans, LA and has lived in the area her entire life.  She recalls her childhood was great fun.  She grew up next door to her grandmother in a double shotgun house.  There were 10 children (cousins and siblings) in the family that would all congregate on Saturday evenings when the adults would gather to play cards.  The children would play up and down the street, getting reacquainted and inventing new games, eventually crashing on the floor around their parents in the evening.  She laughed remembering the lack of air conditioning, wondering how in the world they lived without it.  New Orleans is famous for its heat and humidity in the summers.

Dagmar loved to roller skate when she was younger.  She told me of the games that she and the kids would make up and play.  They weren’t allowed to be in the streets, but a broken section of sidewalk forced her and her friends to circumvent it into the street for a moment.  Dagmar describes how the neighbors would watch and care for the children, including calling a child’s parents when they saw wrongdoing.  In this clip, Dagmar concludes that our society is in need of the discipline that came so readily in those days.

A standard question I ask is what has changed since childhood, especially in relation to technology.  Dagmar took us in a wonderful direction.  She started to tell us about when the television came to her neighborhood, and what it was like to get one in her family.  She told of the chores that the kids were expected to care for in the morning, that they couldn’t just roll out of bed and watch their favorite shows.  From there she told us what she thinks about children’s use of technology and how it’s changing our social structure.  Finally, she speaks to the telephone.  She recalls what the Party Line was like, what it was like to get a private line, then how the cordless phone changed ones ability to do household chores.  This leads to household appliances and how they have changed and affected daily life.  (The audio cuts in a funny place as we boiled down into chit chat about lawn mowing for a moment.)

One of my favorite portions of this interview was talking about the advent of the microwave oven.  It’s something I’ve largely taken for granted, even though I don’t use one myself, anymore.  I don’t have a family of my own, so I’ve never considered the impact it can make on a group of people under one roof.  Dagmar describes how great it was to get that microwave so she didn’t have to make John’s meals when he would get home after second shift.

Dagmar also describes the changes she saw in baby care.  Her three girls were born during a major time of change in the field.  She talks about the impact of the dishwasher, as well as cloth versus paper diapers, and formula.  She is still in awe of the things that came about that made life easier.

Many of my interviewees discuss the loss of cursive writing.  There have been jokes about how one might sign their cheques or give an autograph.  But Dagmar really brings the impact on our history home by describing an experience she had with her teen grandson at a museum.

Dagmar speaks to the changes in our society.  She states that we don’t get together with each other anymore.  She then tells a story that really cements the notion that we should be gathering with our friends more often, because you never know what will happen.

Dagmar’s interview eventually boiled down into chatting about life and growing up.  To end the interview, she tells us about when video games entered hers and John’s lives.  Dagmar bought Atari for John when it came out, and they stayed up all night playing it.  John then gets a jibe in about how long they’ve been married, ending the interview in laughter.

“They used to go ahead and put my lunch in that liquid nitrogen [at NASA] and freeze it.”

John is definitely one of the badasses in my life.  I met him five years ago during my second term in the National Civilian Community Corps, stationed in Chalmette, LA, for Katrina recovery support.  John is the self-appointed tour guide for all volunteers that set boots in St. Bernard Parish.  He came into Camp Hope (the volunteer camp) each week with a box of doughnuts or a bag of kumquats from his tree to give to the latest group, and invited them on a five hour tour of the area.  The first time I went on one of his tours, I apprehensively wondered how might we fill a full five hours.  Would we get bored?  But John has the gumption of a thousand men, and we soon found ourselves laughing and enthralled in his stories.

John Wilkes Booth, Jr., was born February 17, 1942 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Upon giving birth, his mother developed a blood clot in her leg which made care taking difficult, so John was raised by his grandmother and aunt on an island in Chef Menteur Bayou.  She didn’t pass at that time, but later in life the clot came back in a sudden way.  In his words:

John was always a sort of prodigy to me.  It seemed like he’d done everything there was to experience in life.  He explained growing up with the land and sea as his teacher and friend outside from school.  He passed time fishing, crabbing, hunting, trapping, and anything else he could do.  In High School he worked for Beaux Brothers building roads in the Parish.

John was in the Air Force during the Vietnam War as a mechanic, which he excelled at.  He started with one plane in his care, and ended his career with two rows of 20.  That job gave him the experience he needed to work with Boeing after his discharge.  There he worked on the NASA Saturn V as the Pneumatic and Cryogenic Technician – that’s the rocket that took our men to the moon.

He finished his career as the Car Knocker at the railroad.  He coupled the cars when they came into the yard as well as had opportunities at other jobs there such as manning the crane.  Here, he tells all this in his own words.  He had me laughing when he talked about playing with liquid Nitrogen at NASA.

In all, John worries about technology and how it’s been affecting our culture.  One thing he highlighted is the things we’ve done with weapons – the plus side of splitting the atom with the power we’ve achieved, but the sheer danger of the weapons it enabled.  He believes that children are smarter today, based on the number of books he sees kids carrying to school.  But he sees them staring into their cell phones, even when spending time together, and feels the loss of the closeness people once had.  He admits, however, that science really has come far.  Here he explains both:


John is a card.  At the end of his interview, we started talking about colors.  I hope you enjoy listening to our wind down.


Stories of Elders
Episode 34 — Dagmar Booth

b. 1945
New Orleans, LA

Dagmar Booth was an early adopter of technology, and has the interesting perspective of its advancement across the birth of her three daughters.  At first, the work to keep the clothes, bottles, and diapers clean was enormous.  But as microwaves, dishwashers, and disposable diapers came between each of her daughters, the work lightened.  Dagmar also was an early adopter of Atari, and she and her husband, John, stayed up late playing the video games.

Listen to John Booth’s interview here:

Stories of Elders
Episode 4 - John Wilkes Booth

New Orleans, LA
Born 1945

“[I] worked on the Saturn V.  That was a rocket and a half.”

John Wilkes Booth is by far one of my favorite people.  He has a twinkle in his eye and is always trying to make someone laugh.  He is the self-proclaimed volunteer tour guide for those who came to the Greater New Orleans Area to help after Hurricane Katrina, and is full of fascinating knowledge.  In this Podcast, John tells us about the myriad experience he has had.