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A letter to Janie in heaven . . .

Dear Janie,

Yesterday was the eighth day of January 2010, a supremely significant Saturday (ah, that alliteration—I cannot resist it). The entire world knows at least one reason why yesterday was significant. Elvis Presley was born on that day in 1944. Had the rock-and-roll star stuck to singing (more alliteration) and kept his distance from fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches he could have celebrated his seventy-sixth birthday yesterday—some say that drugs contributed to his early demise.

Yesterday Debra, our elder daughter—I use the phrase elder daughter because it carries far less emotion than older daughter—celebrated her fifty-seventh birthday. She and our granddaughter and their friend Sandy whiled the day away shopping in Austin at Sam Moon’s mercantile for Chinese-made items, primarily jewelry, and enjoyed a birthday lunch—probably at a McDonald’s outlet—no, not really—I’m certain that they went to a five-star restaurant, assuming that Austin has such.

I called Debbie on her cell phone and submitted her to the birthday song—I’m unsure whether she has recovered from that cacophony of sound. She has breezed past the half-century mark in age and added seven years, and she could easily pass for thirty—alright, she could definitely pass for thirty-five. I believe that her satisfaction with her work in one of San Antonio’s school districts is helping her stay young—that and her plethora—call it a gaggle—of close friends.

I believe that most of the credit for her youthful look can be attributed to the genes bequeathed by her mother, a lady that has always appeared far younger than her years. I would like to believe that I contributed to that youthful look, but I’m honest enough to give full credit to her mother for that.

Janie, if you’ll take a quick look at a certain spot in a certain section of Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery you’ll see a brilliantly white marble marker, newly erected, with a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers placed in front of it. The marker is etched with all the pertinent information required by military regulations, and the words Cry not for me, I wait for thee.

I have been unable to comply with the CRY NOT FOR ME admonition, but your statement that I WAIT FOR THEE has stood me in good stead and kept me from unraveling completely. That phrase is in the forefront of the multitude of reasons why I love you, and in the words of Emily Dickinson in her timeless poem, I shall but love you better after death.

The beauty of the flowers will last for several days in the cool weather of this December, but with the summer sun I’ll need to replenish them far more frequently, but I don’t mind—they are from our local HEB market—this is perhaps one of the best bargains that can be found in one of the finest markets in our city—nay, one of the finest in our nation.

Sweetheart, I’ll close for now. I have a photo of your marker taken by my new Sprint 4G phone, but I haven’t figured out how to get it from the phone to my computer. When I do I’ll add it to this letter.

Sleep well in heaven, my darling.

I love you more today than yesterday, but less than tomorrow.

Mike

Postscript: The marker photo was added today, January 10, 2011.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2011 in death, flowers, funeral, Military

 

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Barbara Frietchie and Robert E. Lee . . .

In January of this year I sent an e-mail containing John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, Barbara Frietchie, to a friend that lives in Alabama. She acknowledged receipt of the e-mail and replied as follows:

Wow! What a beautiful story of pride, loyalty and courage! Thank you for sharing this poem. I’m sending it on to several of my friends up in Northern Virginia.

She also asked who commanded the troops that entered Frederick, Maryland during the War between the States—I use that title because as yet I have learned nothing about the war that could be considered civil.

I responded to my friend with this e-mail:

Subject: Barbara Frietchie . . . . .

The troops in Whittier’s poem were General Robert E. Lee’s Confederates, led by General Stonewall Jackson. I was introduced to Barbara Frietchie in elementary school—not the real Barbara, just the poem—somewhere around the fourth grade. I’ve forgotten most of the poem, but for some reason these two verses took root: Shoot if you must this old gray head . . .  and, Who touches a hair of yon gray head . . .

And now for the benefit of anyone not familiar with the poem, here it is:

Barbara Frietchie

Up from the meadows rich with corn,
Clear in the cool September morn,
The clustered spires of Frederick stand
Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.

Round about them orchards sweep,
Apple and peach tree fruited deep,
Fair as the garden of the Lord,
To the eyes of the famished rebel horde.

On that pleasant morn of the early fall,
When Lee marched over the mountain wall,
Over the mountains winding down,
Horse and foot, into Frederick town.

Forty flags with their silver stars,
Forty flags with their crimson bars,
Flapped in the morning wind: the sun
Of noon looked down, and saw not one.

Up rose old Barbara Frietchie then,
Bowed with her fourscore years and ten;
Bravest of all in Frederick town,
She took up the flag the men hauled down;
In her attic window the staff she set,
To show that one heart was loyal yet.

Up the street came the rebel tread,
Stonewall Jackson riding ahead,
Under his slouched hat left and right
He glanced; the old flag met his sight.
“Halt!”—the dust-brown ranks stood fast,
“Fire!”—out blazed the rifle-blast.

It shivered the window, pane and sash;
It rent the banner with seam and gash.
Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff
Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf.

She leaned far out on the window-sill,
And shook it forth with a royal will.
“Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country’s flag,” she said.

A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
Over the face of the leader came;
The nobler nature within him stirred
To life at that woman’s deed and word;
“Who touches a hair of yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on!” he said.

All day long through Frederick street
Sounded the tread of marching feet:
All day long that free flag tost
Over the heads of the rebel host.

Ever its torn folds rose and fell
On the loyal winds that loved it well;
And through the hill-gaps sunset light
Shone over it with a warm good-night.

Barbara Frietchie’s work is o’er,
And the Rebel rides on his raids no more.
Honor to her! and let a tear
Fall, for her sake, on Stonewall’s bier.
Over Barbara Frietchie’s grave,
Flag of Freedom and Union, wave!

Peace and order and beauty draw
Round thy symbol of light and law;
And ever the stars above look down
On thy stars below in Frederick town!

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807—1892)

Some final notes:

Given the present demographics of Maryland, Barbara Frietchie could well have been an African-American. Could be—so much of our history is being rewritten that anything is possible (click here for George Orwell’s 1984). Future research online may find that the lady that made the first flag was an African-American—whether true or untrue, that would become part of our revisions of American history.

If the revisions continue, eventually George Santayana’s time-worn statement that Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it will take on new meaning—learning and repeating revisionist history will do little to advance civilization and our standing in the world order.

If I fail to learn history and I am doomed to repeat it, I prefer to repeat the history of the founding of our nation. I do not wish to fail to learn and repeat history that has been revised, and in the revision process has cast aside many of our basic values, and distorted and diluted others.

That’s my opinion—what’s yours?

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Parched peanuts and skin crawling . . .

In the fall of my sixteenth year I lived with a farm family in the rural western central area of Alabama. Their farm was one of the Reconstruction era land parcels that were passed out after the end of the Civil War. It originally consisted of 40 acres and a mule, and in 1948, having passed down through some four generations (not of the same family, of course), still boasted the same 40 acres and a mule—not the same mule but one that, without a doubt, remarkably resembled the original, with the same long ears and same surly disposition, but with the same desirable work traits.

The family was comprised of four souls—the wife (my first cousin), the husband (not related to me or to his wife, other than by marriage) and two sons, both under the age of five years. My mother had decided that it would be beneficial for me to live with them and help out around the house and the 40 acres, and in return for that help the family would house me, feed me, clothe me and educate me.

Such a deal!

I arrived on the farm with a small metal trunk, a pitifully small amount of clothing and a pedigreed  pit bulldog named Buster, a fine and faithful companion, registered with the American Kennel Club as Mars but my brother, the original owner, had named him Buster. I inherited Buster when my brother returned to active duty with the U. S. Army after an absence of several years. My trunk, my dog and I joined the family on the farm in September after the school term had begun.

No mention was made of my being enrolled in the eleventh grade, and I happily maintained my silence. The helping out, however, began immediately. A trip to the nearest town some five miles distant to a dry goods store outfitted me with two pairs of overalls—one pair to wear and one pair to spare, and a pair of sturdy work shoes known as brogans. Some folks referred to them as clodhoppers, and some applied the same term to the wearers of such shoes. Perhaps some of my readers are unfortunate enough to have never worn overalls and therefore may be unfamiliar with such garments. If that be the case, those readers can click here for a detailed description. That posting also tells a story featuring a blue-eyed snake.

And now to my original reason for this posting, namely the parching of peanuts and situations related thereto. The term parched in regard to peanuts may be unfamiliar to some—perhaps roasted would be a more familiar term. On many cool fall evenings and cold winter evenings, the family gathered around an open fireplace and ate parched peanuts. The peanuts, having dried since harvested, were placed on a shallow metal roasting pan and roasted in the shell in the kitchen stove oven, and afterward the pan was placed on the fireplace hearth to keep the peanuts warm and accessible. One needed only to scoop up a handful of peanuts, then sit back, shell and enjoy.

The lady of the house, my first cousin, had a habit of rustling among the peanuts searching for those with scorched shells, saying that they had more flavor. Her moving the peanuts around on metal, with her fingernails sometimes coming in contact with the metal, produced a really irritating sound, one that, as the saying goes, made one’s flesh crawl, a phenomenon that I communicated to my cousin.

I told her that I wished she wouldn’t do that, and she said, “Why not?’ And I took the bait she offered—nay, I took the bait and hook and line and sinker. I said, “Because it makes my flesh crawl.” Her immediate response was, “How did your butt smell when it passed your face?”

Bummer!

Pretty funny, huh? I plotted and schemed for the next several weeks, doing anything and everything I could to produce a sound that would make her flesh crawl, and I finally hit on one. I was cleaning a mirror—voluntarily, and by briskly rubbing the clean glass I made a loud screeching sound and she reacted as I hoped she would. She told me to stop doing that, and I asked her the same question she had asked me. I said “Why?” and she predictably said that it made her flesh crawl.

Oh, boy, oh boy! I said, “How did your butt smell when it passed your face?” She snapped back, “It smelled like it had been licked—how did it taste?”

Bummer again!

I left the family and the farm in late December and traveled some 35 miles by bus to visit my mother and sister in Mississippi. I returned early in January, and en route on my two-mile walk on the graveled road from the paved highway to the farm, I stopped to visit an aunt that lived in the house of my birth. She told me that my cousin’s husband had killed my dog soon after I left for Mississippi.

None of the family was home when I arrived. I packed my belongings and started dragging the trunk  back to the paved highway to wait for the next interstate bus. Luckily a neighboring farmer came along in his Model T Ford and gave me and my trunk a ride to the highway—had he not come by I would probably still be walking—that trunk was pretty heavy, what with the brogans and overalls.

There was a reason my cousin’s husband killed my dog—not a reasonable reason—but I’ll save it for a later posting of some of my exploits—and my exploitation—while playing the part of a farm boy. I have never been back to the house since that day, and I never saw the husband or the two boys again. I trust that they fared well and are still faring well—unless they grew up to be like their father.

I know he died many years ago, but I never knew how the boys may have fared in their lives. Many years later I saw my cousin briefly, just long enough to learn that she had divorced her husband  shortly after I left, and a few years later met and bonded closely—I mean, like really closely—with another woman and eventually became a suicide, taking her own life with a firearm. I don’t know how the other woman fared, nor am I curious about it.

There are many more titillating, interesting, educational, emotional, humorous and fascinating tales I will tell concerning my brief sojourn as an indentured servant on an Alabama farm, but I’ll save them for later postings.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2010 in Childhood, Family, Humor, Writing

 

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