Some believe and some say, and some even teach, that each of us is the captain of our ship, steering it and our lives through the gentle swells of calm seas and crashing waves of gale-lashed waters across oceans, some dotted with tropical islands and others filled with icebergs. The analogy of our journey through life as the master and captain of our ship is exemplified by this poem: Invictus Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from … Read More
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The comment that follows is one that I posted concerning a photograph of newlyweds my daughter placed on her blog. The middle one of three daughters, she is the one that lives, loves, laughs, labors and lingers with her husband in Northern Virginia (my favorite daughter and my favorite son-in-law, but don’t tell the others). Click here to see her original post entitled, After the rain . . .
Before making the comment I e-mailed her for permission to use the photograph and to provide an advance reading of the comment. This is the comment as I posted it:
I have labored long and strong to produce this comment. Brilliant poetry does not come easy for semi-literate persons—it takes a lot of erasing and changing, and I’m submitting it for your consideration. Depending on your decision—to keep or delete—that is the question.
I will either post it verbatim or I will return it to the bowels of my brain and save it for some other use, but mark my words: It will be published, somewhere for some reason, without photos, of course. I may submit it for competition in the search for the world’s best poem.
A beautiful bubbly bride in a gorgeous gown, a handsome, albeit hairless, groom with the Garden of Eden beckoning in the background—one cannot resist speculating on whether at the end of the ceremony the couple will go hence, as did Adam and Eve, into the Garden—into the bushes, so to speak—and if such be the case that gown, already precariously balanced and threatening to succumb to the effects of gravity, will quickly be weighted down with beggar lice and cockle burrs, and that weight added to the pull of the earth’s center and the predictable possibility of the groom stepping on the gown’s train, accidentally of course, will produce predictable results, and from that spurious speculation springs a poetical predilection:
Hark! What is that I see?
Is that an apple on yon tree?
And does a serpent nearby lurk,
Upon its lips an evil smirk?
And will that tale of Bible lore,
As in the long gone days of yore,
Perhaps repeat itself once more?
Hark! Not from that apple on the tree,
Nor from the serpent hanging ‘round,
Did life began for thee and me,
‘Twas from that pear on the ground.
Anonymous? Not really. I’m guilty. I wrote it. All by myself.
The poem includes one homonym—betcha can’t find it!
Just a tiny hint: It’s one of a pair of words that sound alike, but are spelled differently and have different meanings—note the word pair in this sentence and the word pear in the poem.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
Some believe and some say, and some even teach, that each of us is the captain of our ship, steering it and our lives through the gentle swells of calm seas and crashing waves of gale-lashed waters across oceans, some dotted with tropical islands and others filled with icebergs. The analogy of our journey through life as the master and captain of our ship is exemplified by this poem:
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance,
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley, 1849–1903
Rather than the captain of a ship, I consider myself to be the engineer of my train. I have no helpers—no switchman, brakeman, signalman, fireman, conductor, oilman and no mechanic. I am the sole occupant on the train, controlling its freight and its movements through life with the various switches and gauges and handles available to me—and trust me, they are many and varied.
My travel through life is not limited to any existing railroad lines or tracks. My train is capable of laying its own roadbed. No matter where I choose to go, the track will always be there and I travel on it at my own speed, without regard to other traffic or intersections or crossroads.
Rumbling and swaying behind me on the track is a string of railroad cars, a string that lengthens as life goes on. In that line are railroad cars of every description and function—coal tenders, box cars, flat cars, hopper cars, passenger cars, cars of every description and every color, cars capable of holding and hauling anything and everything ever owned, including businesses and cars and houses and pets and airplanes and even islands.
Those railroad cars hold everything ever taught, everything ever learned, every job, every action ever taken, every thought and every deed done, whether good or evil. They carry every love ever found and every love ever lost, whether love for a person or a place, or for an animal or an idea, and they carry every friend ever made and lost, every enemy ever made and every antagonist ever faced.
I’m reasonably sure that you, dear reader, have already deduced that my train is my brain. The cars that I haul are the compartments of my brain, and in those compartments repose every thought I have ever had—memories of everything that I have learned and done are being hauled by the railroad cars. They are always there, although sometimes some of them are not always available to me—that seems to be a condition that increases in direct proportion to age.
The poem that follows pertains to those that do not understand or are unwilling to accept the responsibilities of an engineer, believing that their own train is run—engineered, so to speak—by someone other than themselves. Since all life ultimately ends, those folks may possibly—with emphasis on possibly—be in for a surprise! The poem’s origin is unknown, at least to me, but it could well be titled:
Plaint of a Non-engineer
I’m not allowed to run the train,
The whistle I can’t blow . . .
I’m not allowed to say how far
The railroad cars may go.
I’m not allowed to let off steam,
Nor even clang the bell . . .
But let the damn thing jump the track
And see who catches hell!
After awhile—eventually, ultimately, inevitably, inexorably and conclusively, we will hand over the controls of our train and its cars, loaded with the thoughts and deeds of our lives, to the Central Dispatcher and we will arrive at our final destination—no, make that our penultimate stop, the one next to the last.
Our freight—our baggage, so to speak—accumulated over a lifetime will be off-loaded, weighed, categorized, tabulated and compared to established factors in order to determine our ultimate destination. Some of us may protest the final decision, but bear in mind that the deciding factors will have been available for consideration, beginning with our first breath and continuing to our last.
A brief postscript:
I have been criticized, constructively of course, for the length of my postings. Evidently some viewers are so busy loading their train and maneuvering it around various obstacles, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, that they have little time for reading. This posting is relatively short, so I’ll close it with a metaphor, an apology for the length of my stories.
In my writings I am somewhat similar to the drunk—similar to, mind you, but not the drunk—that made a bet with another drunk in the bar, with the loser agreeing to take a drink from one of the bar’s cuspidors, commonly called a spittoon.. The loser raised the spittoon to his lips and emptied it, and the shocked winner told him he didn’t have to do that. The loser replied that he had no choice because it was all in one piece—as are my postings.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
At some point during the time I resided at the house on Eleventh Street South with my family—three older sisters and one older mother—I stole a Payday candy bar. Yep, I casually strolled into Mr. Fuqua’s corner grocery store at the opposite end of my block, cruised around pretending to shop and purloined a full-grown Payday, perhaps the most exotic and tastiest candy bar in existence both then and now, and casually strolled out of the store undetected.
I stuffed the Payday into my pocket while the proprietor was busy with a paying customer and exited the store. Calendar points—days, weeks, months and years have dimmed considerably over time, but I can say with confidence that I was either six or seven years old when I stole the Payday, an age that most would consider a bit early for one to begin a life of crime. I hasten to add that shortly after the theft, on the same day in which I committed the theft, I reluctantly but firmly renounced that life—read on for the details.
I researched the history of Payday candy bars in preparation for this posting and learned that the Payday candy bar and I were born in the same year, an amazing coincidence. We’ve both grown since that time, but in opposite directions—I’m considerably larger—Payday, conversely, is considerably smaller and considerably more expensive—for a brief history of the storied candy bar, click here: Can’t get enough peanuts? Try a PAYDAY Peanut Caramel Bar, with sweet caramel and tons of salty peanuts.
As was Macaulay Culkin, the child actor in the Home Alone movies, I was alone at home that day and thus free to roam at will. My roaming took me to the store and started me on a life of crime, albeit short-lived. On that day I became a criminal—small time and insignificant in the overall history of crime in the United States but a criminal nonetheless, a doer of a bad deed—a lawbreaker and a thief.
I’ll fast-forward and confess that after hiding the candy bar, still in its original wrapper, its sweet caramel and tons of salty peanuts untouched by fingers, lips, teeth or tongue—at least untouched while in my possession. In retrospect, I felt that if my theft was discovered I could return the item, virginal in every respect and thus avoid prosecution and subsequent incarceration. I probably planned to plead guilty and hope for probation and community service at some place other than grocery stores with extensive candy displays.
I hid my purloined Payday in several places in my house. Each seemed logical at first but doubt soon set in and the hiding place was changed—none was satisfactory. I briefly considered hiding it in our outdoor toilet, but wisely rejected that location. At one point it spent some time beneath a bush in the vacant lot across the street from my house, craftily hidden under dry leaves.
I finally returned the Payday candy bar, that concoction of sweet caramel and tons of salty peanuts, to its original display shelf in Mr. Fuqua’s corner store, its wrapper a bit wrinkled from its unauthorized and illegal sojourn and covered with my fingerprints but with its innards pristine, ready for sale to and consumption by anyone with the necessary nickel.
I would like to believe that the proprietor of that corner store, a long-time friend of my family, was aware of my criminal act—that he witnessed its departure from and its return to the candy shelf and decided to overlook the incident, to consider it insignificant in the greater scheme of things but resolving to keep a sharp lookout any time I entered the store in the future. If he did reason in that manner, it was a good choice—I never took another item from his establishment—I was tempted, but I never again succumbed to that temptation.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
Oops, I forgot something—a few years later at some time during the conflagration of World War II, I rescued a turtle, a teeny tiny real live baby turtle with its one-inch-diameter shell sporting a painting of the American flag. I’ll save that story for a future posting, but as a teaser I’ll say that by my action I mercifully released the turtle from its display case in a five-and-ten-cent store, one of a chain that is now defunct. That little guy—or little girl, perhaps—such determination with turtles is quite difficult—lived a long and varied life following his—or her—release, rescued from and no longer subjected to the stares, giggles, anti-turtle comments and unlimited handling by untold numbers of an uncaring public. McLellan Stores were a 20th-century chain of five-and-dime stores in the United States. You can click here to read McLellan’s history.
The first image above shows the size of my turtle—no, that’s not my hand—I didn’t steal three turtles—I stole only one. The second image is a somewhat expensive representation of a turtle, size unknown—it’s available online for anyone with $995 to spare.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
She was one year behind me in elementary school. I first became aware of her in my fourth year of elementary school and from that point on I stalked her, all the way through the sixth grade. A blue-eyed blond with a curvaceous figure, long pigtails and bowed legs, she was always smiling and skipping instead of walking—that may, perhaps, have accounted for the bowed legs. I did not consider her figure to be curvaceous at the time, did not in fact know the word. I just thought she was really, really, really cute, and the curvaceous thought came along in later years.
Her older sister was one of my classmates through elementary school. I pined for the older girl from the first grade to the fourth, then in that year I became aware of her blond sister in the third grade. I guess I liked younger girls, even at that early age, and I was hooked—my pining for the older sister ended abruptly.
Oddly enough, my fourth-grade class learned the song, “My darling Clementine” that year, right after I noticed the cute little blond in the third grade. That song relates the death of Clementine, a girl that lived “in a cavern, in a canyon” with her father, a “miner, forty-niner, excavating for a mine.”
According to the song, this is how Clementine perished:
Drove she ducklings to the water,
Every morning just at nine,
Struck her foot against a splinter,
Fell into the foaming brine.
Ruby lips above the water,
Blowing bubbles mighty fine,
But alas, she was no swimmer,
So I lost my Clementine.
How I missed her, how I missed her,
How I missed my Clementine,
But I kissed her little sister,
And forgot my Clementine.
When I heard the line that said “But I kissed her little sister,” I knew God had smiled down on me and cleared my path to a heaven on earth—all I needed now was to make my case to the little sister.
I never did. She never knew how I felt. I just hung around where she happened to be and stared at her. I never even sat beside her at the picture show—yes, we called it the picture show. The term movie was not in vogue in those days. But I did sit as close as I could without appearing conspicuous. I would actually take the seat directly behind her and stare lovingly at the back of her head, only occasionally leaning to the right or the left in order to see the screen. She was always cordial, always said “Hi!” when we met, but she never invited me to sit beside her and I was too scared to ask. Had I asked and been rejected, my life would have been over—I could never have recovered, and I was not willing to take that chance.
For a period of several months we lived in the same neighborhood. I lived in the house on one corner of the block, and her house was on the other corner on the same side of the street. She played with her friends and I played with mine, and except for school days we were rarely in the same area.
I believe that I have explained the third-grade cutie phrase in the title to this posting, so now I’ll get to the chocolate-covered cherries. I somehow acquired a whopping total of forty cents, cash, to be spent on anything my heart desired, and my heart desired a one-pound box of chocolate-covered cherries, a gift for Clementine’s sister, the “blue-eyed blond with a curvaceous figure, long pigtails and bowed legs” that lived at the end of my block.
I don’t remember whether there was any occasion involved—I suppose it could have been Christmas or someone’s birthday, or Valentine’s Day or some other significant day. I bought the cherries, took the box home and stared at it for a couple of days, then at high noon on a Saturday I took it to the house on the corner, placed it on the porch near the front door, rang the doorbell and ran like hell.
I never looked back. I never knew whether anyone was home at the time, whether the doorbell was answered, whether the door was opened, whether the box was picked up by her or by a family member, or by someone that just happened to stroll by, and seeing a perfectly good box of chocolate-covered cherries lying on the porch, purloined it and slithered away into some dark recess and glutton-like devoured all the candy. No one from either end of the street ever mentioned the chocolate-covered cherries incident, and life went on as before. It may perhaps be hard to believe, but I’ve wished, many times, that I had eaten them myself.
After elementary school I saw Clementine’s sister only one more time. I was home on leave from the military service and I took a nostalgic drive past the school where I attended junior high and high school. She walked across the street directly in front of me and I turned my head so far to watch her that I got a crick in my neck and damn near wrecked my car.
Now for an anti-climatic disclaimer: When I was twenty-years old I met, fell in love with and married a Georgia peach, a blue eyed blond with a curvaceous figure, but no pigtails and no bowed legs. We are well into our 58th year of marriage and are still in love—and the beat goes on.
I neither dwell nor dote on my memories—I had to do a lot of remembering to recall the specifics of the chocolate-covered cherries for this posting, and the walk down memory lane was interesting, but I neither regret nor wonder about what might have been.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.