I found an image online that infused me with an irresistible urge to tell an off-color joke as a posting, one that would definitely be condemned by my mother’s family. All have crossed the River Styx, the stream that separates the living from those who have made the crossing, the latter of which includes my parents’ entire family, except for me, of course. Those who have gone before were my mother, father, one brother, five sisters, and a stepfather that I feel obligated to mention. Of the total of ten people in the family I am the only one still standing, and I’m hanging on for dear life.
Yes, life is dear to me in spite of the loss of family members, the political upheavals across the earth, the present declination of our country and its position and importance among the world’s nations, and in spite of the price of gasoline, movie tickets, popcorn and garlic bologna. In the words of an old song, “Please, Mister Custer, I don’t wanna go!”
In telling this joke I would be chastised by all except my brother and my youngest sister. Both enjoyed jokes, especially my brother, but my sister took an interminable amount of time in the telling. I believe she did that in order to dominate any conversation—to stay on stage, so to speak.
The image below is that of our current president speaking to an audience, accompanied by a woman signing his words for the benefit of those in his audience that are hard-of-hearing. Please trust me when I say that the image includes the off-color punch-line of the joke—it’s hidden, but it’s there. On the off-chance that the punch-line escapes you, I’ll will happily forward it to you in a brown-paper-wrapped e-mail.
The honeymoon was over and the newly-weds, a well-seasoned world-traveler and a sweet young thing unwise in the ways of the world, were beginning their new lives together. They were at breakfast and just before the husband left for work he asked his wife to practice a certain action that she steadfastly refused to perform throughout the honeymoon, explaining that she had never done that and knew not how to do it or even begin to do it. He suggested that she practice the act with the ketchup bottle during the day. She loved her husband and wanted to please him and she promised to comply. She practiced the action throughout the day, performed it obediently that night and promised to willingly and happily comply with future requests, and the couple lived happily ever after.
Postscript: On November 18, 2010 a unique lady, lovely in every mental and physical respect, beautifully loved and loving, crossed over the River Styx. We would have celebrated 58 years of marriage just 25 days later on 13 December, and her eightieth birthday on 26 December. She was and still is my wife Janie, a Georgia peach that I married in 1952. For awhile after her death, life was not dear to me, but I feel that I have overcome most of the sadness that the death of a loved one can create—not all, but enough to feel that life is still good and that happiness has many facets—one needs but search for it in different ways and in different places.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Tags: death, Georgia, honeymoon, husband, ketchup, life, newly wed, Obama, off-color, peach, river, styx, wife
Countless times over the years I heard my mother say that she was not afraid to die, that she had lived her life with love for her Maker and in deference to Him, and that she was ready to meet Him at any time He called her. My mother believed that if one had faith, even though that faith be no larger than a mustard seed, then everything would be alright regardless of the situation, whether it be sickness or hunger or severe weather or any other danger looming on the horizon. And if you’ve ever seen a mustard seed you’ll have a good idea of how much leeway that gives one regarding the amount of faith one must have as one travels through life in this realm—let’s just agree that the size of a mustard seed leaves a lot of room for error, for straying from the straight and narrow path.
In late November of 1980 my mother was hospitalized with an embolism near the heart and was scheduled for surgery. She was so thin and the embolism was so large that it was visible under the skin, expanding and contracting with every heartbeat. When I arrived at the hospital late in the afternoon she was in the Intensive Care Unit, scheduled for surgery early the next morning.
She was understandably fearful of the pending surgery, and I told her that her fear was normal, that anyone would be afraid, and then I reminded her of the oft-quoted power of the mustard seed, the seed that if faith were no larger than, then everything would be alright.
My mother’s answer? With tears flowing freely she said, I don’t want to die, and I don’t want to hear any more about that mustard seed!
My mother was a heavy smoker, beginning in her teenage years and continuing through adulthood and middle age and later. She never really became old—her body took her into old age and reflected that long journey, but her mind and her thoughts and her outlook on life remained young, right up to the end of her time here on earth. Somewhere around the age of fifty she enrolled in a course of mail order studies and eventually became an LPN, a Licensed Practical Nurse. She often nursed persons rendered helpless after years of smoking and she was well aware of the dangers of the habit.
In response to admonitions to quit smoking, she always said that she would quit smoking when she was eighty years old. She smoked her last cigarette on her eightieth birthday in 1977, and her death came in November of 1980, almost four years later. Her surgery was one of those instances, according to her doctors, in which the surgery was a success but the patient died—her heart was not strong enough to endure the invasive and intensive surgery.
One of her doctors told us that her lungs were remarkably clear, particularly considering some six decades of smoking. I’ve never believed that—his comment was probably meant to be some sort of balm in an attempt to keep her survivors for blaming her cigarette habit for her death. It was not necessary—none of us placed any blame on her—our blame was aimed at the cigarette makers.
That’s it—that’s the story of my mother’s surgery and her death, the only time that I was present when a member of my family died, although I was privileged to attend the funerals of several relatives during my boyhood days. One by one my family members fell—mother, father, brother, five sisters and my stepfather, not necessarily in that order, of course. From the age of sixteen I was far off from home and was able to attend only a few of the funerals, whether my immediate family or those of assorted relatives—brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, cousins—all gave up this realm for another as the result of accidents, disease, old age and in one instance, suicide—none was murdered, at least none of which I am aware.
Of my immediate family I am the last one standing. I’m not particularly proud of that, but I’m not disappointed either. I remain, I exist, perhaps due to the luck of the draw, the roll of the dice, or the turn of the wheel, or perhaps because of divine providence. Perhaps the Creator has a special purpose for me.
Hey, it could be—perhaps some day my WordPress musings, my ramblings, will be consolidated in a pseudo autobiography and published world-wide in numerous languages, and perhaps my tales, my escapades, my foibles and my frolics will influence someone to turn away from a life of sin and pleasure and become a monk and one day become the Pope, the holy keeper of the Catholic faith, the only living link with St. Peter, an apostle of Christ and the rock on which He built His house.
And perhaps not.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Postscript: I’ll be back later with more thoughts of my mother—stay tuned.
Tags: balm, brother, catholic, Christ, cigarette, creator, danger, death, embolism, faith, father, funerals, habit, horizon, ICU, intensive care unit, keeper, lapn, leeway, life, maker, mama, marlboro, monk., mother, mustard seed, nurse, pleasure, pope, Providence, seed, sin, sisters, st peter, stepfather, surgery
You, the reader, are about to be subjected to reading two odes, the results of my abject attempt at writing poetry. I apologize in advance to those that dislike doggerel masquerading as legitimate verse. And for the multitude that may not be familiar with the term doggerel, I tender the following doggerel attributes described by Wikipedia:
Doggerel might have any or all of the following failings: trite, cliché, or overly sentimental content, forced or imprecise rhymes, faulty meter, ordering of words to force correct meter, trivial subject, or inept handling of subject.
My poetry—and I use the term loosely—probably includes all those attributes, and poet laureates throughout history would probably wince if subjected to a reading of my efforts. However, if their wince meter measured humility, earnestness, love and forgivingness the indicator would go off scale in my favor.
Well, okay, I’ll back off a bit on the humility part. Hey, I’m a wannabe poet and let’s face it—even poet laureates had to start somewhere.
Ode to Janie
Your life has run its course
And now you have gone
To heaven as your just reward
And left me here alone.
I sail the seas without a mate
In weather foul and fair
But I fear the ship will founder
With my mate not being there.
And if the ship goes under
In life’s unruly sea
I’ll closely hold your loving words
That were I’ll wait for thee.
Ode to Janie and to everyone else
No one lives forever
At least not in this realm
And at best we’ll have a long life
With our Maker at the helm.
And when our life is over
And a new life has begun
Be it in that world of gladness
That waits for everyone.
But only if our time on earth
Is spent on doing good
Will we go to spend eternity
In that heavenly neighborhood.
That’s my Ode to Janie and my Ode to everyone else, and I’m sticking to both.
Postscript: When you, the reader, have recovered from exposure to this posting, click here to read my Ode to a Cheesecake, an excellent example of contemporary verse—oh, and it’s also an excellent example of doggerel. Hey, I do the best I can with what I have to work with.
Yes, I know, I ended that last sentence with a preposition—to paraphrase the words of Sir Winston Churchill, that is something with which you will have to up with put.
Tags: cheesecake, Churchill, cliche, doggerel, eternity, founder, healm, heaven, humility, laureates, life, mate, meter, neighborhood, odes, poem, poems, realm, sea, trite, verse, weather, wife, winston churchill
Recently various television news outlets discussed the existence of hell, noting that if heaven exists but hell does not, then everyone that dies must go to heaven. I submit that if a person believes in heaven, then that person must believe in hell. One cannot exist without the other. Heaven exists in the minds and beliefs of people, and hell exists in their minds and beliefs just as surely as does heaven. I am pleased with the way heaven is presented but I really dislike the current description of hell, and I believe I have a more acceptable vision of hell—if it exists!
Everything in our universe and everything outside our universe has its opposite. One cannot exist without the other. Form an image of a mountain in your thoughts, and you’ll find that a valley is included in the image. No mountain can exist, either in reality or in our thoughts, without the existence of a valley. Mountains and valleys must coexist if either is to exist, and while their existence can be verified, it cannot be falsified, and it is at this point their existence diverges from the discussion of whether heaven or hell exists.
I submit that heaven and hell also must coexist or not exist at all. We can cling to our belief that one or the other or both exist, but we can never know—we can only believe. True knowledge is reserved to those for whom life as we know it has ended, and they now exist in another world, either in heaven or hell if either exists. Their existence can neither be verified nor falsified by anyone living. Their existence depends on our beliefs, whether those beliefs are derived from the Scriptures or from our lifetime of living and observing humanity.
Just for discussion, let’s suppose that heaven is exactly as described in the Scriptures and that hell is not as described. Perhaps hell does not exist. Perhaps those not entitled to spend eternity in heaven do not go to hell when they die. Let’s suppose that the wicked have already been judged when they die—prejudged, so to speak—and they simply do not go anywhere. Their spirits do not go to heaven when they die—their spirit, their souls, that which gave them life simply cease to exist, and perhaps that is the hell foretold in the scriptures.
Let’s suppose that the spirit that exists in those of us who have been judged unacceptable in heaven dies when the body dies and remains dead through eternity. Our being barred from heaven therefore is our punishment for living our lives in such a manner that we did not qualify for heaven. Of course those of us that do not make the grade will never know that we failed, but we will have been spared an eternity doing the devil’s bidding while enveloped in flames and forced to shovel coal to keep the fires burning. Bummer!
Thus we have postulated a heaven and its antithesis, hell, without the necessity of describing hell as fire and brimstone ruled by a red devil with horns and a pitchfork tail. If the truth be known, had it not been for volcanic eruptions the ancients would never have developed the idea of hell, then invented the devil and located his kingdom at the center of the earth.
In all of recorded history only one person has returned to the earth after death, and the truth of that record resides in us as individuals. We can neither verify nor falsify that story of life after death, and can never know the truth of that return until we draw our final breath—until then we can only believe and hold to that belief in the hopes that heaven does exist and that our beliefs and our actions in this life will qualify us to spend eternity in heaven—not an easy task, that! And the beauty of my hypothesis is that even if we are denied entry into heaven, we will never know that we were denied because we would spend eternity in the nothingness of hell.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Postscript: This final image is my self-portrait from some five months ago, but as time has passed my anger has faded to the point that I no longer try to place blame on anyone or anything. I no longer fault God for not giving her doctors the power to lengthen her life, and I no longer curse the devil for the disease that took my wife away from me—even after 58 years of marriage I wanted more—I wanted our marriage to never end. If you like, you can click here for a posting that came from my heart and from the depths of my soul.
Tags: breath, brimstone, coal, devil, doctors wife, eternity, existence, fire, God, heart, heaven, hell, humanity, kingdom, knowledge, life, marriage, mountain, scriptures, self-portrait, shovel, soul, spirits, Television, universe, valley, world
Jesus Christ—the Son of God, or liar and charlatan?
My wife came to me in a dream last night. I awoke after the dream, then slipped back into sleep while savoring my time with her, repeating over and over in my mind what she had said. When I awoke and began yet another sad and silent day without her, only one phrase remained in my memory, a phrase that resounds in my thoughts now and always will. I don’t remember the circumstances or location of the dream or what prompted it, but this is what she said:
I have never felt better in my life!
Every word was enunciated succinctly, properly and clearly including the t in the word felt. The thought was voiced exultantly, jubilantly and joyfully, obviously and literally from the heart and from the soul—even the exclamation point came shining through. I am painfully aware that some of my readers may place this post in Ripley’s Believe it or Not category but please believe me, I am not making this up.
I have never felt that dreams were real because some of my dreams, particularly some of those I experienced as an adolescent, were so ridiculous that I usually was awakened by my own laughter. A recurring dream in my teenage years was one in which I could fly, just as did my comic book heroes.
One of those memorable dreams of flying was precipitated by my leap frogging over curbside parking meters, an unusual ability that few of my friends could match, even those much taller than I, and most wouldn’t even make the attempt, fearing the result of failing to clear the top of the meter and possibly sustaining irreversible damage to specific body parts. In my dreams, each time I cleared a meter I rose higher and higher before returning to the sidewalk, and ultimately I was in full flight, soaring over the earth from dizzying heights.
Some of those dreams were so real that although I was aware that I was dreaming, I eagerly looked forward to my awakening so I could show everyone that I could fly. At this point I must confess that I had many other dreams as a teenager, many even more fantastic and even more improbable—nay, more impossible—than flying, but I refuse to discuss them in a family-oriented venue such as Word Press—there is a time and place for everything under the sun, and this is neither the time nor the place for that.
So what does last night’s dream mean, given the belief that dreams mean something? I am of the opinion that what my wife said is an indication that life exists after death, perhaps not as we know life on earth, but life in another realm.
It is an immutable truth that every person that has ever lived, every person that lives now, and every person that will live in the future wonders if there is life after death. Many of us reject the thought of a life after death, and hold to the belief that first you’re born and then you die, and that’s the alpha and omega of humanity—the beginning and the end. I unashamedly but humbly admit that I was a non-believer until a recent event changed my mind. If you are interested, you can click here for a detailed explanation of that life-altering event—it’s a good read, beautifully crafted and presented, as are all my efforts to communicate on Word Press. I say that in all modesty, a trait that is the only fault in my character—were it not for that fault, I would be perfect!
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending. No, not me—those are the words of our Lord, given to us in Revelation 1:8 in the King James version of the Holy Bible. Whether we believe or disbelieve the Scriptures, neither non-believers nor believers can reject the fact that we exist, that we had a beginning, whether as the work of a Supreme Being, or through eons of change we are risen up from the depths of primeval slime to our present humanity.
It’s the Omega part of Revelation 1:8—the ending of life—that divides us into different groups of believers versus non-believers. Some of us consider the ending of life as simply a new beginning, a transition from the physical mortality that began at birth to a spiritual immortality that begins with death and continues throughout eternity.
None of us reject the Alpha, the first beginning, but we are not unanimous in our belief of a second beginning, or second coming, if you will—just as Jesus will have a second coming to earth, ours will be a second coming to heaven. While we universally accept one beginning, acknowledging that it is real, many of us refuse to accept the possibility of a second beginning.
I can postulate the possibility that each of us is born with an empty spot, either placed in our body or in our heart or in our thoughts by a Supreme Being or by accident as we ascended from the primeval slime to our present humanness, and the only thing that will ever fill that empty space is a belief in life after death, that death is nothing more than a new beginning. For the inimitable few of my readers that have progressed this far in my efforts to entertain and enlighten, the following quote is offered:
Either Jesus Christ was who he said he was, the Son of God and the savior of man, or he was the greatest charlatan and liar that ever walked the face of the earth.
Can you guess who said that?
The Reverend Billy Graham said it—I couldn’t find it online, but trust me—he said it. I memorized it many years ago from a text book required for a University of Alabama speech class, back in the days when I was still rising up through that primeval slime. At first I thought it was, as the British are wont to say, a bit cheeky, but then I realized that the reverend is telling us that we cannot accept Jesus partially—He must be wholeheartedly accepted by body and mind and soul, without a shadow of doubt—therein lies salvation.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Tags: accident, adolescent, Alabama, alpha, believe it or not, billy graham, British, category, character, charlatan, Christ, comic book, curbside, death, dream, eternity, God, heroes, holy bible, humanity, immortality, jesus, King James, laughter, leap frogging, liar, life, Lord, meter, modesty, non believers, omega, parkingmeters, primeval, realm, revelation, reverend, ripley, salvation, scriptures, sleep, slime, son, Space, supreme being, trait, venue, version, Word Press
I recently received an e-mail from my nephew in Mississippi that included a copy of a letter written by a Union soldier on the eve of a battle early in the War Between the States. Click here to read that soldier’s final written words, beautifully written in a fashion that is largely lost to us in this day and age. My posting of the letter garnered a comment from a reader, a comment to which I responded at some length.
This is the reader’s comment:
I was educated in the British system and for a long time, the Civil war meant either the War of the Roses or Cromwell’s war. It was as an adult that I started to understand our own Civil War. It is a sad thing the young man did not survive, consigning his small children to the very horrors of an orphaned existence. That said, I have always been struck by how beautifully young men wrote 150 years ago.
My response to that comment follows:
Thanks for visiting and thanks for the comment. Your observation that the written word was beautifully constructed 150 years ago necessarily invites comparison with today’s pitifully penned letters. Cursive writing is a lost art, soon to be consigned to the graves of history, along with Egyptian hieroglyphics and prehistoric cave drawings.
Our children are not learning penmanship. At best, they learn the art of printing letters, then graduate from there to thumbing letters and numbers on digital devices and clicking on an infinitesimally huge host of pictorial characters that represent thoughts, locations, ideas and emotions, expressing themselves silently without leaving any sort of footprints for the future, other than those captured and held in digital form.
Should the unthinkable occur—nuclear war with the resulting loss worldwide of the atomic movement of electrons, neutrons and protons through electrical circuits, whether land based or hand held—without access to that method of communication mankind will eventually regress to its original system of grunts, groans, hand signals and facial contortions to communicate, and millenniums later will probably advance from there to crudely drawn pictorial representations on rocks and on cliff sides and in various caves around the globe—that is, of course, if anyone remains after the holocaust of nuclear war. Civilization is by far the worst for the deficiency in communication wrought by binary bits.
And finally, just to wrap up this response to your comment, I will quote an unknown contributor to our language:
What goes around, comes around.
That astute observation, obscured in the ancient mists of time, may be reversed without any loss of its meaning, namely, What comes around, goes around, a truism equal to another obscure saying:
There is nothing new under the sun.
It’s useless to Google that affirmation—there are endless variations that effectively say the same thing, whether or not shown on the Internet. Somewhere on our planet, probably penned on a cave wall or on a stone buried in the rubble of some ancient civilization, there is undoubtedly a series of identical crude pictures or symbols. That series ends and continues with unrelated pictures or symbols, and then centuries later, perhaps millenniums later, the original series is repeated.
And even that is not the origin of that contribution to our language. It was undoubtedly expressed in the grunts, groans, hand signals and facial contortions that were used to communicate with others of the human species, and even before humans appeared was expressed by the physical appearance and the sounds and poses adopted by non-humans, the so-called lower orders of animals.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Tags: air, battlefield, brand, breastm omnipotence, breath, breeze, British, buttet, caveman, cheek, children, Civil War, civil war Mississippi, country, day, dead, death, debt, digital, divine, earth, egyptian, electrons, freight, God, government, hankie, hankies, herrick, hieroglyphics, hours, janie, kleenex, letter, life, marriage, nephew, neutrons, night, penmanshipp, poem, poet, protons, Providence, revolution, robert herrick, rosebuds, scenes, soldier, spirit, spot, storms, tears, temple, union, war between the states, wife
I received the following e-mail from my nephew in Mississippi, the nephew that toils lovingly and highly successfully in his chosen profession of designing and renovating churches of various denominations. The e-mail included a copy of a letter written by a Union soldier on the eve of a battle early in the War Between the States—I refuse to refer to it as a civil war—there was not a trace of civility in that bitter conflict. The letter was untitled and is reproduced in its entirety following my nephew’s e-mail, exactly as I received it.
Note: Letters to and about Janie can be found here, here, here, here, here, here and here. My not-so-humble opinion is that all are worthy of being read—I wrote them and published them to commemorate Janie’s life and to serve as a reminder to all that life is fleeting—in the words of British poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674), Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying. Click on that excerpt to read the entire poem and more about Janie.
This is the e-mail I received from my nephew:
Your most recent posts, your letters to Janie, have reminded me of a letter I learned about from a public television series done by Ken Burns. The series documented some of the history of the American Civil War. Specifically, the program included parts of a letter written by a Union soldier who later became a casualty of that war. Although the letter was written before his death, the spirit of the letter, for me, transcends life and death. I believe your letters do the same. A copy of the text of the letter is attached.
This is the Union soldier’s letter to his wife, written on the eve of battle:
July the 14th, 1861
My very dear Sarah:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.
Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure—and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine 0 God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.
But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows—when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children—is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?
I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death—and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.
I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and “the name of honor that I love more than I fear death” have called upon me, and I have obeyed.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.
The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar —-that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.
Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.
But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night – amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours—always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.
Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.
As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God’s blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.
A special note: The soldier, Sullivan, did not survive the battle—he died, but his letter and his spirit live on.
That’s the story of my nephew’s e-mail and the letter written by a Union soldier, and I’m sticking to it.
Tags: air, battlefield, brand, breastm omnipotence, breath, breeze, British, buttet, cheek, children, Civil War, country, day, dead, death, debt, divine, earth, freight, God, government, hankie, hankies, herrick, hours, janie, kleenex, letter, life, Mississippi, nephew, night, poem, poet, Providence, revolution, robert herrick, rosebuds, scenes, soldier, spirit, spot, storms, tears, temple, union, war between the states, wife
Yesterday was December 25, the Year of Our Lord, 2010. That day was Christmas, the day that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, hailed, revered and worshiped by Christians as the Son of God and the savior of mankind, One of the Christian Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. It was the seventy-eighth Christmas of my life, and the fifty-eighth Christmas since I met and married my wife near the mid-point of the past century—1952.
I spent all but five of those 58 holidays with my wife. On Christmas Day in 1961 and 1962 I was in West Germany helping my country during our cold war with the Soviet Union, a war that ended in a cold stalemate. That stalemate continues to this day under different names and titles. I was in South Viet Nam on Christmas Day in 1970 and 1971, helping our country lose the war against North Viet Nam.
Just as an aside, I spend Christmas Day in 1950 and 1951 helping our country lose another war, the one ineptly labeled the Korean conflict, a conflict that cost more than 40,000 American lives over four years of fighting, a conflict that ended in a stalemate that exists to this day. Apparently stalemates run in our national history.
Yesterday was the fifty-eighth Christmas since I met and married my wife, the love of my life. It was only the fifth Christmas that I did not spend with my wife and my family. My wife died last month on the eighteenth day of November, and I spent most of yesterday alone in the house we have lived in for the past twenty-two years, alone with the furniture, decorations, artwork, various collections and photographs, my wife’s clothing and other personal articles, and our memories we accumulated over the past fifty-eight years of our marriage.
I spend most of Christmas day at home, but I accepted an invitation to enjoy a Christmas dinner with one of my three daughters and her family that live nearby. Earlier in the day I visited my wife at Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery. I had planned to place a beautiful plant that our neighbors to the west, the finest next-door neighbors in existence, brought over as a Christmas gift, a beautiful poinsettia. I wanted it to grace my wife’s grave, and I intended to tell her how kind and thoughtful the neighbors were to give us the plant.
I wanted to believe—no, I did believe—that she would know the flowers were there. I realized that the plant would last longer in the home than in the open, subject to heat and cold and lack of moisture, but I felt that its brief life in the open would be better than watching it age and wither in our home—frankly speaking, I do not have a green thumb, and it’s a given that any potted plant will not last long under my tutelage.
I visited my wife without the poinsettia. My previous perfectly plotted perverted poinsettia plan (I really do love alliteration) was abandoned when I stepped outside to check the weather . The air was bitterly cold and a strong blustery wind was blowing, and I realized that the tall poinsettia plant would be lying flat and frozen even before I left the cemetery. I decided to let the plant remain in the home and take its chances with me, with the firm resolve to take flowers to my wife the following day, December 26, the day of her birth in 1932.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, but I’ll get back to you later with more details.
Tags: age, american, artwork, birth, cemetery, century, christians, Christmas, clothing, cold, conflict, country, daughters fort sam houston, december, detatils, Family, flowers, furniture, grave, green thumb, heat, history, holy ghost, House, invitation, korean, life, Lord, marriage, moisture, national, National Cemetery, north viet nam, plant, poinsettia, potted plant, son, south viet nam, stalemate, trinity father, tutelage, war soviet union, west, west germany, wife, wither
Dempsey was one of my many first-cousins, born in 1928, the younger of two sons born to Ellie, one of my mother’s sisters. Aunt Ellie was married to my Uncle Esker, a hard-working land-owner that lived with his family in a rural area some five miles south of Vernon,the county seat of Lamar County, Alabama. He was a highly successful landowner, farmer, store keeper, blacksmith, syrup-maker, grist mill operator, auto mechanic, self-trained veterinarian and a husband and father.
He died under the wheels of a farm tractor, his head crushed by the lugs of the left rear wheel with his younger son, a boy of ten years, at the controls of the tractor. For the edification of anyone unfamiliar with lugs, they are the huge metal spikes on the rear wheels of some tractors, designed to allow the tractor to find traction in mud and loose soil. One can still see highway signs in rural areas prohibiting vehicles with lugs from operating on paved highways—for obvious reasons, of course. Those spikes can cause significant damage to asphalt pavements and bring death to living flesh, whether animals or humans.
It was an unfortunate and horrible accident, and it was impossible to know with any certainty how and why it happened. The tractor had a power take-off, and its broadband drive belt was hooked up to operate the grinding machines of grist mill at the time. Families came from farms and small communities from miles around to the grist mill with wagon loads of raw corn and grains and returned home with cornmeal and flour. The old-time tractor had no starter—its engine was started by a hand-crank from the front, as were many vehicles in those days, a procedure that often required two people for success—one to turn the crank and the other to operate the throttle and choke to provide the proper mixture of gasoline and air to start the engine.
Obviously the gearshift had to be in neutral when the engine started—otherwise the tractor would lurch forward when the engine started, with predictable results for the person cranking the engine. The tractor should have been rendered immobile—that is, secured with safety chains or with barriers in front to keep it stationary while it was hooked up to the grist mill—it was not secured in any manner.
This was an accident waiting to happen, and it happened. The tractor was not secured, and when the engine started the tractor was in gear and it lurched forward. My uncle slipped and fell and the left rear wheel crushed his head. His son either failed to place the gearshift in neutral before signaling his father to turn the crank, or by accident put the tractor into gear after the engine started, and before his father could move out of harm’s way—he was said to have died instantly.
I don’t know my uncle’s age or the year he died. There is no record in the Social Security Death records because this was just a short time after Social Security was established in 1935—I doubt that my uncle ever had a Social Security number. I was a little feller at the time, somewhere around five or six years of age, but I have vivid memories of my uncle’s casket in my aunt’s house—the casket was closed, for obvious reasons. His casket was one of three that I remember seeing in that same room in a period of perhaps five years when I was a small boy. The others were those of my grandmother (my mother’s mother) and another uncle, one of my mother’s brothers. The life and unusual death of my mother’s brother is recorded in one of my postings. It involves my uncle, another patient in the asylum and a metal bedpan. Click here for that story—it’s worth the read.
In those days the deceased lay in state at home for a time, at least overnight, before being interred. This gave friends and relatives time to bring in flowers and food for the family and for the other mourners, and to tender their respect for the dead and condolences to the grieving family members. There were lots of flowers and lots of food at Aunt Ellie’s house—my uncle was a highly-respected man in the community, very active in his church in addition to his business activities, and people came from many miles around to attend his funeral.
I had big ears when I was a little boy—still do, as a matter of fact. I don’t mean that my ears are larger than normal—they aren’t. It’s just that I am unable to tune out conversations around me. I dislike dining at cafeterias because I am tuned in to every conversation at every table within earshot, and that becomes a bit overwhelming. As I moved around at my uncle’s wake, in the room and through the house and on the porch and in the yard, anywhere that mourners gathered, I gleaned information from people talking in low voices about the accident, going over the details and wondering how such a thing could have happened. I took in all the solemn voices and speculations and conclusions, and because I am blessed—or perhaps cursed—with a fairly decent memory, I have retained many memories of the event.
One of my most vivid memories of my Uncle Esker is of his huge barn across the highway from his house. I went with him one morning to feed the animals and to see the foal that he told me had been born the day before. It was a beautiful colt, brown with white markings. I stood in awe of the foal and my uncle asked me if I would like to have one like that. I answered in the affirmative, of course, and he told me that the colt was mine, but that I would have to wait until it grew up a bit before I could claim it.
No way—I claimed that colt that same day, and I could hardly wait to tell all my friends about my pony. I was the only kid in my circle and on my block and maybe in the entire city of Columbus, Mississippi that could claim to be the owner of such an animal, and I got as much mileage as I could with the information. My uncle died soon after the gift was made, and since he and I were the only ones that knew about the transaction, I laid no claim to the colt but I still feel, even to this day almost three-quarters of a century later that I once owned a beautiful white-faced and white-footed pony—that’s a very satisfying feeling—not many kids can make that claim!
I was not around Dempsey very much, and I didn’t know him well. I have no way of knowing how well he coped with the knowledge that he was complicit in his father’s death. He died in 1977 at the age of 69 so whatever he felt and how he coped with his part of the accident is of no consequence now. We were four years apart in age, and few ten year old boys have much in common with six year old boys. I may have seen him three or four times in later years, but it would have been for very limited periods. The only concrete knowledge I have about him is that he worked in Birmingham, Alabama for Bama Foods, a company that produced jams and jellies for home and commercial consumption, as did most of my relatives from that period. I and my family have used their products for many years and I can highly recommend them—and no, I do not have any stock in the company!
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
Tags: accident, Alabama, asylum, bama foods, blacksmith, Columbus, corn, death, death records, farmer, father, foal, grains, grist mill, hand crank, highway, husband, Lamar County, life, lugs, Mississippi, pony, Social Security, tractor, uncle, veterinarian
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?”
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?”
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.
Tags: Alabama, american kennel club, army, aunt, brogans, butt, Civil War, clothing bulldog, cousin, deal trunk, december, dog, face, Family, farm, farmer, father, fingernails, firearm, fireplace, flesh, glass, grade, House, husband, january, kitchen, land, life, metal, Mississippi, Model T ford, mule, pan, parcels, parch, peanuts, postings, response, september, shell, shoes, snake, story, stove, suicide, taste, term, town, wife, winter, year