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A second letter to Janie in el cielo. . .

This is the second letter I’ve written to my wife Janie since she left this realm for another, a realm on a much higher plane, the highest level of existence, and I intend to write more similar letters from time to time. Click here to read the first letter I wrote to Janie in el cielo.

In reference to the method of correspondence I have initiated between me and my wife, I realize and acknowledge that it strains credulity, but a significant number of this nation’s population and the population of the world routinely talk to a celestial being—God—and all believe that their prayers are heard. Given that followers of every religion that exists now and that has ever existed features prayer, and that prayer is fervently practiced by those followers, I feel that the strain on credulity is considerably lessened. Such followers routinely call on their God to comfort those that have passed on to a higher realm as well as those that remain on this level—in effect, in using this medium to communicate with my wife I’m simply bypassing the Middle Man—the envelope is open and can be read by all, just as you are doing now.

My second letter to my wife Janie follows:

Hi, sweetheart,

This letter will be brief because there’s not very much new to talk about. Our daughter returned to her home in Dallas today with our grandson and granddaughter. They arrived in San Antonio early in the evening three days ago on Monday, and we have been pretty busy over the past three days. We packed a lot into that time, including dinner at our San Antonio daughter’s home—lots of great leftovers from her Christmas dinner with several new items added. We also managed a trip to the Ninety-nine Cents store across from HEB. Oh, and we also took in the Salvation Army Thrift Store on Wednesday—slim pickings but our daughter found some novels that she liked, and also a large book that claims to make learning to play the piano easy—I doubt whether the family dog will appreciate the sounds that the book will generate.

Over the past several days we had the requisite tacos and fried chicken baskets from Bill Miller’s Barbeque, and MacDonald’s pancake/egg/sausage/potato/biscuit breakfasts today. On Tuesday morning I served the kids thick-sliced bacon and soft-scrambled eggs for breakfast, and as usual they made quick work of making it disappear. Yesterday we had lunch at Jason’s Deli near Costco. Our daughter had a salad, the children had pizza and as you might guess, I had a bowl of chicken noodle soup—extra hot, and I managed to sneak out two cups of ice cream to bring to our daughter that lives near us. She has been under the weather for several days with allergies brought on by the norther that swept into San Antonio recently, bringing cedar mold and other pesky airborne afflictions down from our vaunted hill country.

We visited you at Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery yesterday. Your community is really busy—we estimated that at least one hundred more residents have been moved in since you’ve been there, just in the past thirty days. I read that an average of 13 burials are made daily, usually Monday through Friday. With few exceptions, Saturdays and Sundays are down days for interments.

We stopped at HEB’s supermarket, the one near our home, and the four of us selected sprays of flowers for you. The only flowers I can identify with any assurance are roses, poppies and tulips. I brought you tulips on your birthday last Sunday, but I don’t know what the sprays were that we brought yesterday—whatever species they were, they were fresh and bright and beautiful.

Workmen were busy in your community, placing floral pieces on recent arrivals and seeding and leveling the ground in the newly created area. Underground irrigation is already in place and by midsummer your community should be up to par with older established communities, with headstones in place. Creating and placing those simple marble monuments usually takes six weeks or so following interment. That should give you an idea of how busy the National Cemetery is, and that’s all year long except for holidays and weekends.

After we placed the flowers near your temporary marker and returned to the street, I told our daughter that I would like to tell the children what some people believe, and tell them that they could talk to you if they liked, but that you would not respond in any way.  Their mother seemed to have no problem with that and agreed to it.

I told our grandchildren that lots of people believe that persons that have ascended to a higher plane than on earth are still present in spirit, and can hear comments directed to them, and I told them that if they wished they could go back and talk to you. Both of the children decided they would do that, and spent some time kneeling near you. We don’t know what they said, but I’m sure you were listening.

I made several phone snapshots of the children and their mother placing the flowers, and of the children talking with you, but I won’t make them part of this letter. I’ll just keep them in the phone and let you look over my shoulder to see them.

That’s all for now, but I’ll get back to you with more news as it happens.

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

Sleep well in heaven, my darling.

Mike

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2010 in death, education, funeral, Military

 

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A smuggler’s greeting . . .

A personal message from a smuggler . . .

I began my career with U.S. Customs as a trainee—GS-7—at the port of Progreso, Texas and was upgraded to the journeyman position—GS-9—after one year. During that year I learned more from one officer at the port than from all the others combined. Not that they didn’t help me learn the ins and outs of the job—they were very helpful, but the port director and I became a team, both professionally and personally. I felt that our relationship was that of brothers, each of us looking out for the other’s back.

Some ten years older than I, he took me under his wing in the way a mother hen hovers over her chick—figuratively, of course. He placed me on the right path for success in my new profession and set me straight when I strayed from that path. He raised hell when I made mistakes, and he lauded me when I managed to do something right, such as making seizures and accurately documenting our various Customs activities.

He had been recently promoted and became the port director at Progreso when it became a port separate from the larger port of Hidalgo near McAllen, Texas. His name was Paul, and he died at Christmas time in 1973, just two years after I met him. His cancer disease was diagnosed in mid-1972 and a scant eighteen months later he was dead. He was buried in Brownsville, Texas. Click here for a posting of the relationship I enjoyed with the port director—my boss, my mentor and my friend.

Sundays at the port were overtime days, and the port director shared in the overtime pay and the workload created by increased public traffic on Sundays—commercial activities were suspended. Early one Sunday morning the port director called me to the secondary area and told me to check out the driver of a Ford station wagon that had been referred for secondary inspection, with particular emphasis on the white T-shirt the driver was wearing. The Ford Country Squire station wagon one of many made over a period of some forty years—this one was from the late 1960s.

The driver was a Mexican national with a tarjeta, a local border crossing card, an official Immigration document that authorized him to enter the U.S. with certain restrictions—he must stay within 25 miles of the international border and return to Mexico within three days. On the surface the driver seemed calm, but he was wearing a white T-shirt stretched tightly across his chest, and with each beat of his heart the area over his pectus excavatum—the depression in one’s chest—fluttered. He was probably thinking, be still, dear heart! Yes, I learned the term for a sunken chest from Wikipedia—three cheers for Wikipedia and the Internet!

I escorted him to the Customhouse and asked another officer to detain him in case he decided to return to Mexico—to make a run for the border, so to speak. I felt reasonably certain that he had something to hide in that station wagon, and in fact he did.

From Wikipedia: The Ford Country Squire was a full-size station wagon built by the Ford Motor Company from 1950 until 1991; it was based on the Ford full-size car line available in each year. The Country Squire was the premium station wagon in the Ford range, and always featured imitation-wood trim on the doors and tailgate. As a full-size wagon, it could carry up to 9 passengers with the unique side-facing seats.

The station wagon exuded a strong smell of glue when I opened the rear swinging door, and the cargo area appeared to be freshly carpeted. A cursory examination showed that the carpeting was glued down, restricting access to the storage area beneath. I removed the carpet and opened the area. The vinyl-covered cushioned seats and back rests had been removed from the steel panels and the storage area was neatly filled with marijuana compressed into blocks—smugglers used commercial trash compacters to process the weed, then wrapped it in foil and plastic hoping to conceal the odor of drying marijuana from detector dogs and inspectors.

One can always find humor in a situation if one looks hard enough and long enough—I didn’t have to look very long, and I started laughing when I raised the seat panels. Atop the load of marijuana was a large piece of cardboard with a phrase in Spanish written with a felt-tip marker. This was the printed phrase:

Chinga tu madre, Mike!

The tu madre means your mother, and the Mike is my middle name. Chinga is the imperative form of the Spanish verb chingar, a crude form of a verb meaning to have sexual intercourse with, a term extensively used in Mexico and particularly along la frontera—the border. It has many meanings, but in this case it was directed to a person named Mike, telling him to do the dirty with his mother.

I had no doubt then, and no doubt exists now, as to the author of the message. Unknown to anyone at the time, an employee of a local Customs broker was moving contraband across the border, and in due time would be caught, arrested, charged and convicted and would serve time in a Texas prison. His arrest and subsequent incarceration will be covered in a future posting.

Although I was the new kid on the block, I had compiled an unusual series of arrests and seizures—I say that in all modesty, but I have the letters of commendation and the in-grade pay raises to prove it. I have no doubt that the broker employee set up the illegal importation of a prohibited substance and left the message in case I intercepted the load.

I wanted to keep the cardboard message as a souvenir, but it was kept with the seizure and was destroyed with the other marijuana. As the junior member of our inspectional force at the port of Progreso, I was privileged—well, not exactly privileged—I was ordered to destroy marijuana seizures by open-air burning when the case was closed. That task is the subject for a future posting. In that posting I will either confirm or refute that smelling the smoke from burning marijuana—other than from a pipe or a hookah or a joint—will give one a high.

Stay tuned!

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

 
 

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A letter to Hattie, my sister . . .

Dear Hattie,

Writing to you is a bit awkward for me because I have no way of knowing your age, or even knowing whether you have progressed in age since your death. I believe you have, because I believe that we are all born without sin, just as was Jesus, even without the sins of our mothers and our fathers, and I would like to believe that still-born babies, and those that die shortly after birth as you did, are privileged to ascend to heaven and do ascend, there to grow into adult spirits in order to welcome their parents and other family members on their level when they arrive, not as unknowing infants but as adults and as understanding spiritual beings.

The only thing I know about you is what our mother told me. I know that you lived only one day, but I don’t know what went wrong with your birth, whether you died in the womb or after you were born, nor do I know where you were buried—in west central Alabama, of course, but I don’t know whether you were buried in a cemetery or near the house where you were born—in that day and age many still-born babies and those that lived only a day or so were usually buried on private grounds, often without  ceremony or a marker of any kind. That’s doesn’t mean that those involved were not sorrowed by your death—that’s just the way things were handled in those days, and I’m sure you understand that.

Had you lived you would have been to me another older sister, not a completely good thought—sometimes I felt that I was up to my shoulders in sisters. You are one of seven children born to our mother—five girls and two boys, and I am the younger of your two brothers. You, our brother and our four other sisters were all older than I, so I’ll guess that you have progressed in age accordingly. I have never known where you stand in age in relation to the others.

You could have been our mother’s first born, and that’s very possible—she married our father, a considerably older man, at a very young age, just as did many farm girls during that era and in that area—older men as well as younger men married young girls for different reasons, not the least of which was that they needed a young wife in order to produce lots of children, especially boys, to help out on the farm—some marriages were in essence an economical necessity.

First births were, and still are, often very difficult, while babies born in subsequent births were, and still are, in less danger, and of course you could have been born between  the births of our other siblings. However, this I know for sure—you are definitely older than I because I am the last born, delivered several months after our mother divorced our father—I am also the last one of our family still standing, and reasonably erect—in posture at any rate.

The others are all gone—our mother and our father, you, our brother and all four of our sisters. Oh, and also gone is a stepfather our mother married when I was nine. We understood why he was attracted to her, but we never understood why she was attracted to him. He may have meant security for her, but that’s not the way it turned out—if you’ve been watching the twists and turns their relationship took you’ll understand. The two were married, unmarried, then married again in a relationship that lasted, spasmodically, for a total of 29 years.

Just to bring you up to date—when I was born I had only four siblings—one brother and three sisters. You were dead, of course, and our sister Eulene was only ten years old when she died, the victim of a hit-and-run drunken driver. After she was struck by the auto her body was dragged for a considerable distance. Our mother told me that the drunk was arrested a few miles from the accident scene at a low-water crossing while trying to wash the evidence—our sister’s blood, hair and tissue—from the auto’s undercarriage.

I was only two years old at the time so I know nothing about her other than a few details of her death. She is buried in the cemetery at Pinhook Baptist Church, located in a small rural community in west central Alabama, a few miles south of the city of Vernon, the county seat of Lamar County.

Atop her headstone is a marble carving of a lamb, an apt monument to a young girl taken from this life at such an early age—I know, I know—she fared far better than you did, but that’s life—it has its up and its downs and is rife with inequities.

In addition to our sister Eulene, our mother and our stepfather—well, not your stepfather, but my stepfather—are also buried there. The same cemetery also contains the earthly remains of various relatives on our mother’s side of the family—aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. I didn’t know them very well, and some not at all.

I’m writing this because my three daughters—your nieces—want me to tell them everything I can remember about their parents and grandparents, their aunts and uncles and cousins. They have lived most of their adult lives away from those relatives and have never known them very well, and some not at all. They have assigned me a Herculean task, but I’ll do the best I can to comply—I understand their need and longing for more information on those that have gone before.

I apologize for not writing sooner, and I must admit that this letter did not come easily—it did, however, come from the heart. And if some feel that portions of this missive seem flippant, perhaps sacrilegious, the only thing I can say to them is, suck it upit’s in my nature.

I will close on a hopeful thought, one that may not be readily accepted by visitors to this blog. I accept the possibility—mind you, I said possibility, not probability—that souls may move at times between their universe and ours, so given that possibility, I plan to post digital letters on my blog, similar to this one, to our parents, to our brother and to our sisters, and perhaps even to my stepfather, so you might want to stay tuned.

With love from your brother Mike and your three nieces—Debbie, Cindy and Kelley.

Postcript: I found this information in a genealogical report researched and compiled by Jessie’s daughter Vicki, one of your nieces, a lovely lady now living in Montgomery, Alabama. I know now that you were born in 1917 in Fernbank, Alabama, a small town in Lamar County a few miles south of Vernon, the county seat. You were the second child born to our mother, some eighteen months after our older sister, Jessie, was born, and you were buried there in Walnut Grove Cemetery.

Had you lived, you would have been the second oldest of five girls and two boys born to our mother between 1915 and 1932, a period of just seventeen years, an average of three years between births. Remember what I said about farming families and the need for workers?

I would hope that our father was not too disappointed in the ratio of girls to boys—five girls to only two boys. Had it been me I would have been very proud, as witness the fact that I have three daughters and no boys, and I could not be happier with that ratio of girls to boys—of course I’m not a farmer!

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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