musings . . .

From time to time, this page will be updated with thoughts, as they occur to me, and which I think are maybe suitable to share with others. I really do have such thoughts every now and then. These started when the Priest at my church, Martha Sterne, asked me to write a monthly column for the church newsletter. They continued only a short while until I was hospitalized at Christmastime in 2004.

Numerous requests by church members for me to reinstitute the column has caused me to restart them in May of 2005.

Well, because of health and other reasons, I no longer manage the church websites, and got out of the habit of writing the musings on a monthly basis. Now, the requests have come again . . . so from time to time . . . I shall continue. I've arranged them with the latest one first, so you don't have to scroll all the way down to get to the newest one.

 In everything give Thanks

September, 2011

musings . . .

Aprons . . .

Grandma's Apron

Oh, for the good old times!

I received an e-mail from Katy and Fred Sjostrom that really set me to thinking (and remembering) of what I like to think of as a few years ago . . . when, in reality, it was a very long time ago.

The e-mail was about Mother's, or Grandmother's, apron. And then there was a disertation on the same.

What memories. I am going to repeat it here with a hearty thanks to Fred and Katy!

Remember all the girls had to make an apron in Home Ec?

Well then . . . just read below:

The History of 'APRONS'

I don't think our kids know what an apron is.

The principal use of Grandma's apron was to protect the dress underneath because she only had a few. It was also because it was easier to wash aprons than dresses and aprons used less material. But along with that, it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven.

It was wonderful for drying children's tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears.

From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven.

When company came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids.

And when the weather was cold grandma wrapped it around her arms.

Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood stove.

Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron.

From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables. After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.

In the fall, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees.

When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds.

When dinner was ready, Grandma walked out onto the porch, waved her apron, and the men folks knew it was time to come in from the fields to dinner.

It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace that 'old-time apron' that served so many purposes.


REMEMBER:

Grandma used to set her hot baked apple pies on the window sill to cool. Her granddaughters set theirs on the window sill to thaw.

They would go crazy now trying to figure out how many germs were on that apron.

I don't think I ever caught anything from an apron - but love...

				A Celtic Prayer

			Blessed are you, O Child of the Dawn,
				for your  light that dapples through creation
			on leaves that shimmer in the morning sun
			and in showers of rain that wash the earth.

			Blessed are you
				for the human spirit dappled with eternal light
			in its longings for love and birth
			and its pain-filled passion and tears.

			Blessed are you, O Christ,
				For you awaken me to life.
			Blessed are you
				For you stir me to true desire.

			Be still and aware of God’s presence . . . within and all around.
 In everything give Thanks

August, 2011

musings . . .

I Must be Shrinking . . .

Binky Shirt

When I was a child my mother made most of my clothes, shirts, pants, shorts, etc., so I didn't know very much about sizes. At the present time I am a size 40 regular suit, 32 waist, size 14,32 shirt, etc.

I'm sure she bought cloth for the pants and shorts, but most of my shirts were made from the material from empty flower sacks. Some of you may remember those . . . it was mostly very prettily patterned cotton.

Well, recently I had been wearing a 'binky' long sleeved brown shirt that I was very, very partial to. What's a 'binky' shirt (you ask)?

Well, in most homes with little ones it is known that a 'binky' is the baby's pacifier, and if it becomes suddenly lost (or even if the laws of gravity just causes it to drop out of the mouth) everyone knows it and frantically looks to immediately remedy the situation.

Therefore, in my language, a 'binky' piece of clothing is one that is so comfy and well-liked that one wears and wears it until everyone else gets particularly sick of seeing them in it (especially my oldest daughter).

Well, I had a one-such shirt . . . brown, long-sleeved, very, very light wool, and very, very soft to the skin. Very, very 'BINKY'!

A couple of summers in the closet, however, resulted in a number of moth holes (maybe thirty or forty), and some early spring and late fall work in the yard resulted in a couple of rather larger holes in the elbows, and I shall readily admit 'binky' became rather scandalous.

You know how it is though with binkies. In my mind it was more scandalous to do away with it. Finally though, I shudderingly, entered the men's department at Wally World and looked around. I imagine I spent probably thirty minutes gazing at every rack of shirts in the place. No long sleeve. No soft wool. Nothing anywhere near it. So, I finally gave up and decided to go on to the grocery department and get what I needed.

In going I travelled through the children's department . . . and, lo and behold . . . there in front of my eyes was a gorgeous light green, long- sleeved, soft thingy that I jerked off the hanger, held to my shoulders to ascertain the fit . . . and then put it in the cart.

When I got home and looked at it again . . . it shouted out at me: "Size - 2 1/2 XL" ! Wow! Am I shrinking?

				A Celtic Prayer

		May there be peace within you today.
			May you trust God that you are 
				exactly where you are meant to be.

		Recall the events of the past and pray for the life of the world.
 In everything give Thanks

July, 2011

musings . . .

We Are the World . . .

Bobby and me

Once upon a time . . .

long, long ago . . .

when I was very young, very ambitous, and a mite creative... I won a contest. The only contest I ever won in my life.

I was the Circulation Director of the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Sarasota Journal. The Tribune was Sarasota's morning newspaper, and the Journal, the afternoon one. On Sunday it became a combined paper and carried Parade magazine as a supplement.

Parade decided to run a nationwide (there were only 48 states at that time) contest between their subscribing papers, having to do with the best promotion campaign advertising their magazine. It ran for about two months.

The newspaper carrier in each state who sold the most new subscriptions to the paper was awarded a 10-day all expense paid trip to South America, and the paper which did the best promo job was honored by having its Circulation Manager being the chaperone for the 48 winners of the trip.

I just so happened that my newspaper had a small offest printing press that was ideal for turning out beautiful leaflet promos, and which I commandeered for the campaign. For the next couple of months I cranked out numerous flyers urging my carriers to sell new subscriptions using Parade as a customer benefit.

At the close of the contest my winner was a bright and personable young 12-year-old. Surprizingly my Publisher called me to his office and introduced me to a vice-president of Parade magazine who informed me that my promotion was the best in the nation, and that I had won the right to chaperone the boys on the trip. Wow!

We had one marvelous time . . . Rio, Recife, Quintanchinia, Brazilia, Sao Paulo, and others. Fantastic!

When we arrived back in New York via Varig Airlines, the same VP from Parade, along with my Publisher, met the plane, took us to The Four Seasons for lunch, and announced to the entire group that, further, I wasbeing awarded a two-week all expense paid trip back to South America for myself and my wife, Midge, along with a thousand dollars cash that we could spend. Woweee!!

Our trip was outstanding. We not only visited the above mentioned places in Brazil, but also visited Buenos Aires in Argentina and Santiago in Chile.

One of our excursions was meant to be from Rio to Brazilia, the capitol city of Brazil, and then return to Rio. We flew there, toured the city for two days, staying at a hotel that the exterior walls were constructed entirely of water glasses, then boarded the plane to return to Rio.

On the flight we experienced the worst storm I ever had flown through. I have no idea how large the hail was that pelted the fusilage of the plane, but it sounded as though someone was beating the sides and top with a sledge hammer. An updraft would soar the plane a two or three "g" rise of 50 or a hundred feet one minute, then plummet us 150 feet the next.

We could not return to Rio. Instead they re-routed us to Sao Paulo to land and sit out the storm.

Probably two hours later we were all sitting around, bored to death listening to the the raging storm outside, and wondering when we would ever get back to the Copacabana Palace on Copacabana Beach, when suddenly we heard the most angelic voices we had ever heard.

At that particular time there was a group of a hundred or more children,aged probably six or seven to teen-agers, travelling the world and putting on concerts in places like Rome, London, Tokyo, Oslo, Edinburgh, and many, many others.

They were sponsored by Coca Cola and their concerts lasted over an hour. Their opening and closing song in the program was:

		We are the world . . .
			We are the children . . .

And, it was beautiful!

We looked around us and those marvelous archapella voices came from those children . . . black, white, yellow, red, and all shades in between, who were from countries the world over. They were spread out over the balcony and partway down the stairs to the main floor of the airport. Their plane had also been diverted to Sao Paulo.

For the next thirty or forty minutes they caused every person in that storm beleagured building to totally forget about the thunder, lightening, rain and hail outside. We just listened . . . and were enthralled.

It was the highlight of our trip.

				A Celtic Prayer

		May there be peace within you today.
			May you trust God that you are 
				exactly where you are meant to be.

		Recall the events of the past and pray for the life of the world.
 In everything give Thanks

June, 2011

musings . . .

Buddies

Grandma's Apron

Kathy Wilbanks and I are buddies . . . Gooood Buddies . . . and we actually go way back.

Of course, I'm older than she, but my older sister and her mother were friends when we were growing up, and both families were living on Cecil Street in Knoxville, and both families went to Gillespie Avenue Baptist Church. So there is definitely a precedent there for us to be close. John is tolerant of us.

Kathy and I take advantage of that and go out to lunch a couple of times a month. We try to make it a discovering experience by going to different places, some of which we have only heard about. But, for the most part we've been lucky with it. We've even taken a picnic lunch to some of the park sites. What a treat!!

One of the nicest things she has done for me is to plan a birthday picnic for me the past several years. This is my birthday month - and I am so looking forward to that!

Last year it was at the recreation park at the Top of the World (right on the Foothills Parkway (almost), and I think maybe we're going there again this year. It is a great place, and if you haven't been there . . . then it's a must visit.

						An Indian Prayer

					Oh Great Spirit, 
						Whose voice I hear in the winds;
						And whose breath gives life to all the world,
						hear me! I am small and weak. I need your
						strength and wisdom. 

					Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes
					ever behold the red and purple sunset.

						Make my hands respect the things you
						have made, and my ears sharp to hear your voice.

					Make me wise so that I may understand the
					things you have taught my people.

						Let me learn the lessons you have hidden
						in every leaf and rock.

					I seek strength, not to be greater than my
					brother, but to fight my greatest enemy . . . myself.

						Make me always ready to come to you with
						clean hands and straight eyes.

					So when life fades, as the fading sunset,
					my spirit may come to you . . . without shame.
 In everything give Thanks

May, 2011

musings . . .

Disappearing Rusticana . . .

Steam Train

One of the things that my children and grandchildren have not had the privilege of enjoying is the sound of a steam train whistle early in the morning or late in the evening.

When I was a child it was a common sound that you heard all day long (and even during the night), and if you listened closely, and the engineer of the train was a local, you could usually tell who it was that was pulling the chord that made that wonderful sound.

Some were bright and breezy . . . some were mournful . . . and some were just plain bored. But all of them portrayed the mood of the man pulling the chord.

I've always thought it a shame my children and grandchildren have not experienced that.

Fodder Shock

Another bit of missing Americana since the days of modernization, conglomerates, and the extension of bedroom communities into rural farm areas is the sight of fodder shocks in fields along the highways.

You don't know what a fodder shock is?

Well, it is a stack of cut, tied and browned grain stems, most usually corn, after the grain has been harvested and dealt with. When the corn stalks are stacked they look like miniature indian teepees, as pictured right,and, as a child, I played in many of them with neighbor kids. (As a matter of fact - that is exactly where I learned at a very early age, and with several of the neighborhood young ladies, the difference between boys and girls). Ahhhh! What an age!

Where in the world did that name come from - fodder shock? Well, the dictionary says that fodder is food for animals, primarily cows and horses, but it didn't explain where the word originated. Nor could I find any explanation for shock.

I understand there is a class at one of the Universities (I believe they said in Vermont) that the primary purpose is to study the origin and meanings of words. I'd like to attend that class. Particularly since the television presentation's reason for telling about the class was the explanation as to where a four-letter word came from."

It seems that in early days there was a rather large business of gathering manure, packing in wooden boxes, loading those boxes on sailing ships and shipping the stuff as fertilizer to far off places. Now, sometimes, these ships leaked water. And, the leaking of water in around these boxes caused them to get wet, resulting in methane gas accumulating . . . eventually exploding and sinking the ship.

Sooooo . . . someone came up with the bright idea of labelling the boxes . . . in large first letters of the phrase . . ."Store High In Transit."

So, in view of that,I suppose that 'shock in this sense- means: "cut, tied and browned grain stems, most usually corn, after the grain has been harvested, then stacked together in an upright position, until they look like a teepee in which little boys and girls can discover important things about each other - furthering their necessary education at that stage of life."

'Nuff said!

				A Celtic Prayer

			Before me in the planned shape of this day
				I look for unexpected surgings of new life.
			Around me in the people whom I know and love
				I look for unopened gifts of promise.
			Within me in the familiar sanctuary of my own soul
				I look for shinings of the everlasting light.

			Before me, around me, within me
			I look for your life-giving mystery, O God,
			Before me, around me, within me . . .
			
			Be still and aware of God's presence within and all around.
 In everything give Thanks

April, 2011

musings . . .

Everlasting . . .

Piper

I had been to the doctor's office for my semi-annual checkup (which was great, and I was feeling good) when, on the way home, I passed the 'La-de-da Funeral Home' next to the hiway (I use La-de da to not antagonize a local business firm). On their lawn the marquee brazenly displayed: "La-de-da Cemetary . . . A Lasting Experience'.

Well, duh . . . I guess it is! But, I didn't particularly want to experience it anyway soon so I, unconsciously, reduced my speed and drove a little safer.

I don't believe in burials anyway. I'm going to be cremated, and my ashes spread on the banks of Little River, a place where I've spent a great deal of pleasurable time, and would just as soon that it would be there that I would have an everlasting experience.

Little River is a scenic river which drains a 380-square-mile area containing some of the most spectacular scenery in the southeastern United States. The first 18 miles are all located within the borders of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The remaining 33 miles flow out of the mountains through Blount County to join the Tennessee River at Stock Creek and Fort Loudon Lake in Knox County.

It rises in Sevier County inside the national park on the north slope of Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee. The Dome is located directly on the Tennessee-North Carolina state line, which parallels the Appalachian Trail along the crest of the Smokies.

The Townsend "Y" is created by the confluence of Little River (flowing from the east) and Middle Prong of Little River (flowing from the west), which create a powerful stream that flows north. The Townsend "Y" is a favorite swimming hole in the summer and is generally packed with cars and people. Many tubers use the Y as the jumping off point for a mile long float down the river and past my house. That's the bank of the River I'd like to forever rest on.

	
				A Celtic Prayer

		     My genesis is in you, O God
			my beginnings are in Eden,
				my origins are those of every man and woman.
		     Renew me this day in the genesis of my soul,
			the beauty of Eden deep in each created thing.

		       Be still and aware of God's presence within and all around.
 In everything give Thanks

March, 2011

musings . . .

Paying the Piper

Piper

This is the month of my mother's birthday, and I recently wrote a musing about her being a saint. She was also determined to raise us children with manners, obedience, and the difference between right and wrong.

We had moved into a house on Jefferson Avenue in Park City which was nicer than in what we were presently housed and was closer to mother’s work at the Standard Knitting Mills.

The house was in a very nice neighborhood, and a good mix of upper class, blue collar and general labor people. The lawns were kept neat and trimmed, many of them with hedges to delineate their boundaries. To earn spending money, I mowed a bunch of them with an old-timey reel mower . . . ten cents a yard . . . if I trimmed the hedges I received a quarter. Times sure have changed. Large oaks and elms lined each side of the street, and there were sidewalks along either side. There were plenty of children to play with.

It was a weekend . . . I had my chores to do . . . and mother intended going to town to do her weekend shopping. She informed me that after I did my chores I could play, but not to go further than my Uncle Raymond’s house (which was about a half block to the right) nor to the Davis’s house (about the same distance to the left). I was definitely not to leave the immediate neighborhood.

Now the Gherkins lived directly across the street and they were both older than I (three or four years at least), but they wanted to get up a game of baseball and came by the house to get me to go to the Park City Junior High playground which was several blocks away and two streets to the east. The temptation (being asked by the older boys to be on their team) was too great, so I went . . . barefoot . . . dressed in shorts and tee-shirt.

We met others and a game was started. The Gherkin boys wore metal-cleated baseball shoes, and when it was our turn to be in the field, and a ball was hit in my direction, I ran for it. So did the larger Gherkin friend.

He stepped, with the metal cleats, on my ankle tearing a huge gash down the back of my leg and under the heel an inch or so. I was bleeding like crazy, and it scared all of us half to death. Wrapping a towel around my foot, they got me home, left me on the porch and went home themselves . . . saying nothing to anyone.

When mother finally arrived home and saw how badly I was hurt she rushed me to St. Mary’s Hospital. Twenty-three stitches later (with no local anesthetic admitted - I don’t even know if it had been introduced at that time) she carried me back home.

She (and my sister) nursed and made over me forever. I was really and royally taken care of.

Finally I had healed . . . the stitches were removed . . . and the memory was almost a thing of the past. Mr Gherkin, when he found out what his son had done, and had failed to tell him, had given him a terrible whipping, and Greg had even forgotten about that.

One afternoon after mother had come home from work, she called me into her bedroom. She stood there holding a leather belt, and she said: “Son, remember what I told you to do the day your ankle was cut at the baseball field?” And, it dawned on me . . . it was purely a rhetorical question that I need not answer. My mother had not forgotten anything.

I couldn’t sit down for a week!

					A Celtic Prayer

			Thou Lord God of the angels, spread over me Thy linen robe;
			Shield me from every famine, free me from every spectral shape.
			Strengthen me in every good, encompass me in every strait,
			Safeguard me in every ill, and from every enmity restrain me.

			Recall the events of the past and pray for the life of the world.
 In everything give Thanks

February, 2011

musings . . .

Beautiful Things . . .

Schoolhouse

I think as we age we must live more in the memory time than we do when we are younger.

Did you ever notice that it is easier to forget the bad times? The good times come to the fore every now and then in your memory . . . But the bad times kind of linger there in the darkening of your mind.

Oh, we remember the bad. One that keeps popping into my mind (and has for about 70 or 75 years happened when I was in the third grade. I had been asked by the teacher to read aloud to the class from the book we were studying, and when I came to the word Arkansas . . . That is exactly how I pronounced it . . . Not Arkansaw as it is truly pronounced. Well, the class broke out in a roar of laughter (even the teacher, I think) and I was embarrassed as I never had been in my life. That memory, as small an event as it was, is one of the bad memories that has lasted my entire lifetime. Many others, much . . . much worse, have long been forgotten.

Think, then, of some of the best memories of your life. We remember every sensation of the time. How warm or cool it was, the feel of a breeze on the skin, the sound, maybe, of rustling leaves or the whisper of running water. Or, the quietness were we indoors. All of the detail is there.

I have been fortunate, so far, to have had a span of 83 years in which I could use my eyes and ears to record scenes . . . and I've seen beautiful things.

And, now there is time to sit . . . gaze into the past . . . and remember.

One of the things that comes into my mind often is the birthing of an island in the black midnight of the South Pacific. Red, volcanic explosions from the bed of the sea, spiraling splendidly into the ebony sky.

Not far from there, a couple of days later, we came to Green Island, a jewel in the Pacific, that I once described as "a donut in the ocean . . . that someone had taken a bite out of". It was glorious. The highest elevation on the island was about 15 feet, but the water around it so deep that it was almost purple.

Then there was Guadalcanal. Nunu, or Banyan, trees are absolutely humongous, growing to 90 to 120 feet in height, and roots can extend from upper limbs to the ground and spread as much as a couple of hundred feet in diameter. They are absolutely magnificent, but can make a man feel terribly insignificant.

On the other side of the world, I remember Sword Beach. It wasn't beautiful (at the time) . . . but it certainly was memorable! Leaving there I traveled to southern France, and at Port de Bouc, where our ship entered a one ship harbor, an ancient castle perched on the right cliff as we entered . . . beauty of a long, lost past.

Back in our own country there was the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco. Not the longest, nor the highest, but when you had experienced being away from the country for so long . . . it was the most beautiful.

Later I sailed up the west coast to Seattle and entered Pugit Sound between the USA mainland and British Columbia just at dawn. The sound was perfectly flat, a mirror, not a ripple anywhere, but reflecting the pale pink of the morning sky. A duck rose from the calm, still surface shedding pearls of sea water that hit the sound and rippled outward in ever widening rings of splendor.

The picture above was in the far north on the big island in Hawaii, I travelled up, up and up from Hilo at sea level to the heights of volcanic Mauna Loa. About three quarters of the way up I passed thru their cattle country, where the goucho-like cowboys sported leis of beautiful orchids as they rode by. Higher I saw red-hot flowing lava, slithering seaward through troughs carved in solidified black lava. There were also, a short golf shot distance away, orchids growing in that solidified ebony . . . a shock to the senses.

I was on a tanker in the northern extremeties of the Philipine Sea in 1944 when Typhoon Cobra hit. That event scared me as much as anything else that happened to me in WWII. The raging, wide-spread storm that struck on December 17, found us operating about 300 miles east of Luzon.

The Navy lost three destroyers, and a total of 790 lives. Nine other warships were damaged, and over one hundred aircraft were wrecked or washed overboard; the aircraft carrier Monterey was forced to battle a heavy fire caused by a plane hitting a bulkhead. Search efforts eventually rescued 93 men.

Our vessel would ride the crest of the 50 to 60 foot waves, the propeller completely out of the water and shaking us like a dog shakes a toy . . . then falling into the valley between the towering crests when we could see nothing but water above us. Even in the midst of danger, the waves were a thing of beauty.

The war ended, and the beauty caused by violence ended (mostly), and there came about quiet scenes of spectacular wonder. I was working as a reporter in the newspaper industry in upper East Tennessee, and also was a stringer for NEA News Service when a snow storm hit Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia, and steeped the ground with about 14 inches of the white stuff. The flakes were wet and about the size of quarters that piled up on trees and bushes until they were sparkling jeweled statues of wonder. My pictures, taken with a 4x5 Graphlex, and including one of a snow laden covered bridge over the Doe River in Elizabethton, appeared in papers all over the country. I still have some of the originals, though they have yellowed over the years.

I've also seen portions of The Appalachian Trail, Maggie Valley in North Carolina, Duxbury in Massachusetts, and Vermont in the wintertime . . . Lord, what beauty in all those places!

The Everglades held beauty, as did the sails of the 100 foot Water Gypsy in the afterglow of a setting Florida sun as we sailed her to the Keys. The Water Gypsy was a schooner-rigged two master we owned.

And, there is no way that I could forget Rio, Quintanchinia, Brazilia and Sao Paolo. Speaking of Sao Paolo . . . we had flown there from Brazilia, and had intended flying directly to Rio, but had encountered one of the worst storms that I had ever experienced while flying. We were forced to divert to Sao Paolo and while spending the night in the airport there, were suddenly surprized by the most beautiful singing we had ever heard. It was the youth choir that was travelling around the world singing "We Are the World". They had also landed there in the storm and were standing around the balcony and stairs of the airport. They serenaded us for over a half hour while the lightening and thunder raised a terrible din in the atmosphere outside.

There was the incredible scenery of the Dutch East Indies, and Plaza de Cinco de Mayo in Panama.

I have been three quarters of the way around the world eight times, but have never seen anything more beautiful than Scotland . . . especially the Isle of Skye. Water so blue that it boggles the mind, and mountains of granite soaring spectacularly into the heavens that absolutely strains the imagination . . . and I could go on and on and on . . . but I think you get the general idea.

We are surrounded by it! Each and every day! All we have to do is open our eyes and enjoy.

				A Celtic Prayer

			Glory be to you, O God,
				for the gift of life
			unfolding through those that have gone before me.

			Glory be to you, O God,
				for your life planted within my soul,
			and in every soul coming into the world.

			Glory be to you, O God,
				for the grace of new beginnings
			placed before me in every moment and encounter of life.
					
			Glory, glory, glory
			for the grace of new beginnings in every moment of life.

			Be still and aware of God's presence within and all around.
 In everything give Thanks

January, 2011

musings . . .

School Daze

Schoolhouse

I once attended a one-room schoolhouse . . . just temporary . . . not on a regular basis.

In my day school started immediately after Labor Day in September. and ended around my birthday in June. We didn't know what snow days were. If it was four foot deep, we went . . . and walked . . . schools hadn't adopted coddling us with buses as yet.

Our neighborhood on D Street in Elizabethton was on a three-block-long hillside which leveled out at the bottom into a great wide valley. To the west was the railroad tracks that ran north and south from somewhere in Virginia down alongside the main highway between Elizabethton and Johnson City in Tennessee. West of the highway sat two huge plants, the Bemberg and the Glandstoff. Just south of these two giants was Mussel Shoals, the historic site of the first independent American settlement west of both the Eastern Continental Divide and the original thirteen British colonies in America. This was a place characters like Daniel Boone, Sam Houston and James Bowie trekked to on deerhide mocasins. My Dad worked in the Bemberg plant, better known as the North American Rayon Corporation.

We had five acres on the hillside, but at the bottom of the hill were about five houses, one of which housed a couple of my best friends, Willie and Helen Sams. Willie was a year older than I was. He was red-headed, and had a face full of freckles half the size of pennies. Helen . . . well Helen was a couple of years older than I was, and we discovered each other in a hollowed out fodder shock in the corn field just west of her house. We discovered each other more than once.

The Samses moved to the country south and east of Elizabethton, and when my mother had to go to the hospital for some reason, my Sis stayed with one of her friends, and I was sent to the Sams's to bide the time. I was only about 5 years old, not yet in school, but both Willie and Helen attended every school day. For the short while that I was there I went with them. Mrs. Sams wasn't real anxious to having me under her feet all day long.

As I stated . . . it was a one-room school house . . . with one teacher . . . a dirt road in front . . . and in the back, two one-hole privies with quarter-moon sawed air holes in the door, one for boys, the other for girls.

In the morning, providing the weather was decent, the students all gathered in the big schoolyard, and at a certain time the teacher appeared in the doorway ringing a medium sized brass bell. Everyone sat in the one big room and the day started with a bible reading, a prayer, and a pledge of allegiance to the flag. Fortunately, the Civil Liberties Union hadn't been thought of as yet. The teacher gave the assignments for that day for four different age groups . . . then she pulled a large curtain across the room from east to west, and two smaller curtains from north to south . . . dividing the room into four segregated sections. Another type of segregation hadn't birthed either in those early days.

She started with the youngest students in one of the sections, working with them on their ABCs and basic numbers. She seemed to spend a little time with each student . . . of course there weren’t very many . . . so that no one felt left out. While she was doing this the other three sections were reading their assignments or working on problems.

After a while she would leave the first group and go to another and repeat the process. Somehow, I don't think Aristotle or Plato were high profile topics in any of the four partitioned rooms.

About midway in the morning, she rang the bell, and everyone scraped chairs on the planked floors and raced outside for a fifteen minute recess. Even out there the inside-the-room segregation seemed to hold sway. Cliqueiness was in . . . even back then . . . even back there.

The bell brought all back to the classes and the process continued until noon . . . when there was a thirty minute lunch period. There was no lunchroom . . . we all had brown-bagged it with a couple of sandwiches each, a fruit of some kind, and either milk or buttermilk in a pint fruit jar. Each fruit jar had the students’ names pasted on it, and it was each one’s responsibility to put their milk in the ice box that sat in one corner of the schoolhouse.

At twelve-thirty the bell called everyone back to attention to studies, and the routine started all over again until about three in the afternoon.

I don’t suppose that occurs anywhere in the US today, but in those days it was necessary.

I wonder where they ever found the woman that was dedicated enough to fulfill that tremendous task.

And, I'm glad I had the opportunity to witness it.

				A Celtic Prayer

			I have seen beauty of spirit
				in the face of a child seeking learning.
			I have seen gentleness of soul
				in a dying woman's calloused face.
			I have seen a willingness to be merciful
				in the life of a people who have been wronged.
			Let these be remembered in my heart this day . . .
				Let these be remembered.

			Be still and aware of God's presence within and all around.
 In everything give Thanks

December, 2010

musings . . .

Odd Jobs

Cleanin' Up

Most of my life has been spent in either the newspaper business or in the Real Estate - Contracting - Financial Advisor sector. However, because of my always doing more than one thing at a time . . . I’ve had some odd jobs here and there. I’ll relate just a few.

I once worked in a bakery . . . making donuts! I was young, helping to support the family, and worked several odd jobs at the same time, including the bakery, delivering for a grocery store, and mowing lawns for a dime. It was Ron Fuqua’s bakery on Winona Street in Park City, Knoxville. I found him murdered there about 5:30 one morning. Beat to death with one of the lead weights used to measure the amount of dough we put in things. They never did find out whether it was get-even-time for something or just robbery. Though Ron never kept much money on the place.

Another oddie I had was training as a buyer for men’s clothing at the old George’s Department store on Gay Street in Knoxville. My boss was married and had two kids. He was also the first guy that ever propositioned me (he fit right in with the name of the street). I didn’t stay at George’s long.

However, I did wear out a couple of pairs of shoes selling life insurance for South Atlantic Life Insurance Company, a Delaware outfit if I remember correctly.

I was a cowboy for a while. A real cowboy . . . not playtime. My best friend in the Navy in WWII was Cecil Chance. His dad owned a ranch just outside Fort Arthur, Texas, and I visited there to waste some time just after the war, because I didn’t know where to go or what to do. I was there at roundup time, and they taught me how to rope and ride and brand cattle . . . the works. I think they tried to kill me . . . but it was good natured killing.They just needed to razz the greenhorn. I learned considerably more about life than how to rope and ride during that time.

Back to civilization and the next odd job I had was when I was Promotion Manager of the Bergen Evening Record in Hackensack, New Jersey. Low wages, child on the way, expensive area to live . . . so I pumped gas at night at Rein’s Gaseteria in South Hackensack, New Jersey for extra income. This was memorable because of an altercation I had with Tony Bennett, who lived up the hill from Rein’s in Hackensack.

Tony was a womaniser and a smart a . . . Married, he used to drive his car to the back of Rein’s, park it in the dark, rent a car (Rein’s was also in that business) so his wife couldn‘t tell how far he had driven, then go pick up some broad for a night on the town. I’m sure he had proper excuses for momma who stayed at home.

Well, I was on duty one night when he came in: We had two kinds of cars - Chevys and Fords, and Cadillacs and Lincolns. If you rented a Chevy or Ford, there was a deposit of fifty bucks. For a Cadillac or Lincoln, it was a hundred. That was pretty good money in those days.

He wanted a Caddy. I pulled out the papers to file, and asked him for the C-note. He said: “I don’t pay a deposit.” My reply was: “Then you don’t drive the Caddy.” (I was a bit of a smart a… as well.

He got a little heated, and said: “Do you know who I am? I’m Tony Bennett, the TV star!” And, Just as heatedly, I replied: “I don’t give a d…. who you are. Without the up-front you don’t get the car.’

“You just lost your job, Kid. You’re outta here!”, and he left in a huff by the front door. The thought ran through my mind that maybe he didn’t have the cash.

Next night . . . enter Mr. Rein through the front door. “You Gentry?” he asked. “Yes sir” was my reply, but my thought was: well, here comes the sack. He came back with “Tell me your side of the story.” And, I did. When I had finished, Mr. Rein looked at me and said “Good! The next time the sonofa b… comes in, tell him the deposit’s two hundred.”

I’ve respected Mr. Rein ever since.

Yeah, I know Tony’s still alive and appearing every now and then, but if he wants to chin over the past, I can hack it. I happen to have a witness.

Those are probably the oddest of the odd jobs I held. I did, however, put together a Cleaning Service Company one time. It was in Sarasota, Florida, and I was in the real estate business and had apartment houses and strip stores to look after, so I bought a lot of equipment, a couple of trucks, and decided to expand.

I ended up recruiting several attorney and doctor’s offices, an accountant, a bank, a dry cleaner, Federal Credit Union, and a multi-office building. Getting the jobs was easy . . . keeping help was the problem. I spent half my time apologizing to people for no-shows and discounting their bills, and ended up several nights, many more than I wished, dusting desks, sweeping floors, cleaning toilets, and waxing on week-ends. This really didn't go well with my fairly high profile Brooks Brother suit-and-tie day job. But, I was clearing three or four thousand a month.

I finally got tired of it though and gave it to an alcoholic brother-in-law. He rode it into the ground in less than a year.

All in all I gained wide experience, and an extra dollar every now and then.

					A Celtic Prayer

				In the wonder of thy marvelous creations
					that grace this earth,
				In every shining of the world's inwardness
					and the warmth that moves my everliving soul
				your glory glows.

				Be still and aware of God's presence within and all around.
 In everything give Thanks

November, 2010

musings . . .

Me and Teddies

Teddy

One of my very favorite pieces of clothing for women . . . is teddies.

Now that’s a bold statement if ever there was one, but I think they are about the sexiest garment that was ever invented for the faier sex. Somehow, they seem to make them even fairer.

At one time in my life, I lived next door to a single gentleman who had a kind of steady girl friend that came to his house all the time to clean the place up, wash for him, and generally keep the place halfway decent. She was a looker . . . and sweet as mornin’ clover. Southern, she was . . . milky skin with freckles here and there. And, a voice as smooth as dark velvet (or Southern Comfort - your choice).

Well, one day I heard the lawn mower chuffing, and I thought it was my neighbor. So, I strolled around the drive to maybe chat and ask how he was getting along. Finally, clearing the trees, I looked up and going away from me, guiding the mower, was (I’ll call her Betty) Betty . . . barefoot, and wearing nothing but a teddy. The yard was completely hidden from the road and the house next door, mine.

It didn’t take but a second for me to realize this could be an embarrassing situation, so I turned and started back to the house. At the same time, Betty had gotten to the end of the row and turned the mower. She saw me and yelled: “Hey, Clyde!” She turned off the mower and said: “Want a beer?”

I answered “Sure” and came on into the yard and sat on a rock in the front lawn. I wasn't about to follow her inside . . . in case my friend suddenly arrived home, ya' know. Betty had gone into the house, but the screen door banged shut as she came back out in a very, very short time . . . she came down the steps . . . handed me a beer . . . and sat down on the steps about five feet in front of me . . . still in the teddy.

We drank beer and chatted for about thirty or forty minutes.

My neck started getting sore from moving from side to side and up and down, trying to look as though I weren’t staring directly at her, and she had a knowing, almost teasing smile on her face. I think she was enjoying my apparent discomfort. I know I was enjoying my view every now and then. She not only was good looking . . . she really had a body.

About five or six months later, my friend introduced me to a new girl friend. And, I never saw Betty again.

I’ve never forgiven him for that! And never will.

				A Celtic Prayer

			Glory be to you, O God,
				for the gift of life.

			Glory, glory, glory
			for the grace of new beginnings in every moment of life.

			Be still and aware of God's presence within and all around.

 In everything give Thanks

October, 2010

musings . . .

Colour . . .

Fall

In a book I recently read . . . I think it was by Nelson DeMille . . . the author had one of his characters say “Autumn is here. I used to like the season, but as one gets older, it’s the Spring and Summer one looks forward to”. Well . . . even though I count eighty plus years I guess I’m not yet old. Autumn is one of my favorite times of the year! How could it not be living here in the mountains of East Tennessee?

I look out the windows of my home office and see the reds and yellows and golds . . . and even the browns . . . and I am almost mesmerized by the beauty thereof. Some of the colors, of course, are of domestic plants, such as crepe myrtle, old man’s beard, and so forth, that I have laboriously tried to plant and take care of over the years. Others are volunteers, such as Virginia Creeper, some hostas, and a myriad of wild plants that have just appeared and now sport colors. I’ve particularly noticed that I have to fertilize, water, and generally coddle the domestic plants. The weeds and wild things grow rampantly and profusely, even when I try my level best to kill them. Cest la vie!

I stepped onto the back deck early this morning; dew was still on the bushes and grass. As I sat in the deck chair to drink my coffee I saw a very large dew-laden spider web between two of the azalea bushes. It glistened like diamonds as the morning sun just began to peek over the mountain, and made me think of evil in a glittering and tempting package . . . I don’t like snakes or spiders.

Leaves on the deciduous trees were now colored and some wavered in the breeze preparing to turn loose and flutter groundward. That makes me think I’ll have to mulch them with the riding mower several times between now and the end of Fall . . . or the beginning of Winter. Hmmnnn . . . there’s two diametrically opposed psychological mind pictures. . . . Fall brings to mind warm colors . . . Winter is stark and frigid. Amazing, isn’t it?

Now’s the time to transplant some of the iris. Just prune the leaves to one-third their size, dig them up and put them where you want them. They need to be close to the top of the ground (some of the bulb or rhizome showing), then covered with some leaf mulch to help preserve through the Winter.

Most folks believe that between now and December is the time to prune back your roses. A neighbor expert on this subject, however . . . who has dozens of beautiful rose bushes in her front yard . . . assures me that you should wait until the first week in May to do this chore. Her summer yard makes a believer out of me.

My oak leaf hydrangea is now donning it’s Fall vestments and it is gorgeous. The oak leaf is a native plant that has bold white flowers. This hydrangea is beautiful in a wooded setting as an understory shrub. At 6-8 feet tall and wide, it is a knockout in summer bloom as well as in fall and winter. Its huge oak-shaped leaves turn deep red in fall and drop to reveal a beautiful exfoliating bark. Wow . . . I sound like a botanist . . . Which I’m definitely not. Just love flowers . . . and trees . . . and colors.

And, what I’ve been talking about is viewed just from the back of the house. The front is another story, for if I should sit on the front porch and gaze down the sloping yard to the river, the view starts with the yellowing of the huge maples, the multi-colored leaves already on the ground, Virginia Creeper in the big hemlock and some of the maples - that stuff goes everywhere and almost impossible to get rid of. There’s still some Joe Pye weed in bloom down by the river, though that’s a very late in the season happening. Golly - I love this place! The only place I can think of that I love as much is Scotland - the Isle of Skye in particular.

Sitting here thinking about it, I really don’t know whether the Spring is more colorful, or the Fall.

In the Spring the colors are rather spread out. First, there’s crocus and bleeding heart, then that goes away, and there’s jonquils. By the time the crab apples and cherry trees start to bloom, the jonquils are fading. And on and on. But, it stretches out over time.

The Fall is full and continuous color . . . for a couple of months. Earthtones, warm, subtle and blatant as well. Different plants have taken on absolutely different nuances. Bright green foliage turns red, russet, orange and brown. White, pink and purple flowers have turned to orange and red berries. It’s a different world.

Can anyone really look at these miracles . . . and believe there is no God?

					A Celtic Prayer

				In the wonder of thy marvelous creations
					that grace this earth,
				In every shining of the world's inwardness
					and the warmth that moves my everliving soul
				your glory glows.

				Be still and aware of God's presence within and all around.

 In everything give Thanks

September, 2010

musings . . .

Paesanos

Typical Italian Family

When I was in the newspaper business I became an Ay-rab . . . mounting my camel and traveling from paper to paper up and down the east coast of the US. In that time and place should you want a raise or a step up the ladder, becoming a traveler became a necessity. Otherwise, you sat there and atrophied. I suppose there are other businesses that were that way . . . but newspapers were notorious for it.

The picture to the right is used only as a depiction of an early typical Italian family. It is of no one that I know and I got it by Googling for a "picture of a typical Italian family." But, I can tell you something about it just by looking at the picture. Papa is in the dominant position, but Mama - next to him - is where the power is (look at her face); eldest son and heir is in the center , and son-in-law, who is nowhere near as important as the rest of them, is standing, center rear. The girls do not really matter, but baby is prominent.

Buon giorno . . .

In one of those rolling side to side, desert journeys, I ended up in New Jersey. I lived in River Edge, in a Joseph J. Brunetti apartment complex that was the same concept as Levittown, and worked in Hackensack at the Bergen Evening Record, which was owned by the Boy Wonder of Wall Street - Donald Borg.

We were about fifteen or twenty minutes from Times Square in NYC, either by the George Washington Bridge or the Holland or Lincoln Tunnel. You certainly couldn't do it in that time today.

I had been working at the Florida Times Union in Jacksonville along with Edward L. Bennett, and when he accepted the job as Circulation Manager of the Record, he talked Mr. Borg into taking me on as Promotion Manager. It was time that both of us traveled and we were friends. I dragged my brother-in-law, Jay Goins, along with me as a District Manager in the Circulation Department. The local opposition even ran an editorial about us, saying that Borg was loading his staff with “carpetbaggers in reverse”, whatever that meant.

I did learn an important lesson in my first venture into the northland though. I finally realized that southerners disrespected negroes as a race, but loved them as individuals ( I had some great colored friends . . . most of them in some servile or service-oriented capacity); whereas, northeners (particularly in that area) seemed to love them as a race, but hated them as individuals, and treated them as lesser people. What a topsy-turvy world! I hope it has changed today. I know my attitudes have.

Well, I learned more than one lesson there . . . I learned to love Italians! I believe they’re totally different than any other creatures on earth.

Even should they be fourth or fifth generation on this side of the pond, they still have an accent, or rather, a distinct mode of pronouncing words. I think I’ve heard it termed as Brooklyn English. And, en famiglia, they speak Italian.

Incidentally, family is everything . . . alpha, omega . . . everything . . . capisce?

On the surface it is a male dominated household. Don’t you believe it! Mama may be a little chubby and quiet . . . but her panties are bigger than Papa’s . . . and the respect she gets from everyone is greater than Papa’s. I don’t even exclude the Don Papa’s.

Speaking of Dons, I saw the execution of one, or rather, the scene and body of one that had just been executed Mafia style on October 4, 1951. Four hitmen took Willie Moretti to lunch (at Joe's Elbow Room Restaurant, which was located on Palisade Ave. in Cliffside Park, New Jersey), and I just happened to be driving by in a company car with the newspaper name printed all over the doors. That gained me entrance. It wasn’t pretty. They used pistols to the head. Guarino "Willie" Moretti was an underboss of the Genovese crime family and a cousin of family boss Frank Costello.

Of course, I called the newspaper on the car radio right away to report what was happening, which made me points with the editorial department of the paper, but warnings from other co-workers in other departments: "No, no no . . . you don't ever wanna get involved with nothin' . . . if you see somethin' . . . just walk away".

I had one other experience with the mafia when I was subpeonad to testify to Tampa newspaper data in the trial of Santo Trafficante, Jr. He was one of the last of the old-time Mafia bosses in the United States. He allegedly controlled organized criminal operations in Florida and Cuba.

BUT . . . back to my story . . .

Two of my closest friends were the Gaeta’s, Anthony and Angelino. Tony was the youngest, and Angelino was capofamiglia (father figure) of the extended clan, because Papa had gone on to his casa in the sky. Mama was still alive and dowager queen.

I don’t think Italians embraced plain old southern country boys . . . except on very rare occasions, but Tony and Angelino adopted me. They loved to teach me bad and even rotten words in Italian, and then laugh at my Tennessee accented expression of them.

I spent a lot of time in their homes, and learned a considerable amount of their customs and way of life. I was treated like a member of the family.

I think I have explained the hierarchy, but there are other factors. The children were something else. They were spoiled, of course, but they didn’t show it. They dressed properly, had great manners (by and large), and comported themselves, with respect to all - even each other, in their own particular strata of the hierarchy. The older children were treated with more reserve than the younger . . . except for the baby of the family . . . which was another strata altogether.

I remember one disruptive incident in Tony’s home when one of the male teenagers, in a moment of complete amnesia, evidently sassed his mother. Tony and I were sitting in the den on the lower level of their split-level home sharing cannoli and beer. The teenager and his mother were on the second floor balcony. Voices were raised and comments were heard in the den. It happened so fast I didn’t even see Tony get out of his chair. The next thing I heard was a slap and a body hurtling down the stairs . . . and the words: “Nobody . . . NOBODY . . . and particular you . . . doan speak to MY WIFE like that”!

Not “your mother”, but “my wife”. Wow! The teenager was extremely humble for at least a month by which time the swelling had gone down. I watched my mouth for a while as well.

I gained a little weight during that episode in my life. Pasta, arrangini (rice balls), calamari, and the evils of cannoli, chocolate biscotti and miscellaneous other don’t-dare-turn-down (providing you wanted to come into Mama's presence on any other occasion) temptations.

That was the only time in my life (other than the very present) that I had love handles. Then it was caused by overeating. Today’s are caused by the capitulation of muscle tissue.

There are definitely times and places that I would like to revisit. That time and place is one of them.

Ciao.

				A Celtic Prayer

			Glory be to you, O God,
				for the gift of life
			unfolding through those that have gone before me.

			Glory be to you, O God,
				for your life planted within my soul,
			and in every soul coming into the world.

			Glory be to you, O God,
				for the grace of new beginnings
			placed before me in every moment and encounter of life.
					
			Glory, glory, glory
			for the grace of new beginnings in every moment of life.
				

			Be still and aware of God's presence within and all around.

 In everything give Thanks

August, 2010

musings . . .

A Remembrance

Paris

When someone mentions France . . . most people immediately think of Paris, the west bank, The Eifel Tower. I don’t. I think of June 6, 1945, and Sword Beach . . . or just off it. And, the noise, and the rain, and the confusion. Frustration too, for we were ordered not to fire our guns unless directly attacked. Oh well . . . they ordered - you obeyed.

After that little sojourn was ended we were ordered back to England where stevedores stripped our ship of the wooden troop accomodations below decks and loaded us with ammunition and a deck cargo of English motorcycles, small diameter tyres ( as the British would spell it) mostly BMWs. Oh well . . . they ordered - you didn’t question - you obeyed.

From there we went south around Spain and up into the Mediteranean to the Southern coast of France to a very small harbor west of Marseilles by the name of Port de Boc. This was a scary trip, because, heretofore we had travelled in convoy. We now travelled alone, no one in sight all the way. Oh, we saw other vessels, but always at a distance, and it was the vessels under the water that concerned us most.

On arriving, Port de Boc turned out to be a one ship harbor with it's entrance between two 75’-100’ high cliffs. The cliff on the starboard (right) side entering the harbor was graced with a large, stone, medieval castle. Inside the entrance on the port side was a small wharf to which we tied up.

The land rose rather steeply from the water and to the right of the wharf on the hill was a bar, still owned and operated by a Frenchman and his two daughters. The land beyond the bar for a half-mile in all three directions was covered entirely by German pillboxes. That was all that was there. No houses, no town . . . nothing.

It turned out that the nearest town was about twelve kilometers away. I think it's name was Martigues (or something like that). At any rate, there was no one there to take possession of the motorcycles. We spent our time exploring the pillboxes, the castle, and drinking cognac at the bar. We discovered that the castle had been an ammunition storage dump for the Germans and was absolutely full of ammo of all kinds, including land mines and what looked like thirty caliber (of course they would have been something millimeter) bullets which had wooden heads. These wooden heads were painted either red or green. The Frenchman explained to us the Germans used them because lead was in short supply and the wooden bullets were even better because when they hit you they would shatter into splinters and pierce all through the body.

Crazy as we were, we spent a good deal of our time carrying land mines out to the cliff and dropping them to the rocks below just to hear the explosions. It's a wonder any of us ever got back. In exploring the pillboxes I found two things of interest. One pillbox had been occupied by an artist, and he had painted on the walls inside everything that he could see on the outside. He was good.

In another pillbox I found a Spanish made 9 millimeter Astra luger that I carried with me the rest of the war and kept after the war until someone stole it out of my bedroom closet in Sarasota, Florida. The next day two British soldiers arrived, and after consulting with the Captain of the ship, asked for volunteers to ferry the motorcycles into Martigues. They told us anyone who helped would be given a day’s liberty in Marseille. Naturally, everyone volunteered that they could ride. I had never been on a motorcycle in my life.

Now, these were British bikes and, as mentioned before, had the small tires. And, the surface of the road from the dock up the hill, around the curve, and all the way into Martigues were little rocks. After some quick and brief instructions from a few of those who had ridden bikes, we got on, started them, and headed up the hill. I made it fine until the curve. When I started round the curve the rocks were loose . . . I was going too fast . . . I never straightened up, and the bike went off the side of the hill and rode me all the way to the water's edge. Bruised and bloody, and with the help of buddies, I got it back up on the road, cranked her up, and, this time made it on into town. Trucks were there to ferry us back to the ship for another ride. As well as I remember, I made sixteen or seventeen trips that day.

We had been promised by the Britishers that after we had ferried all the bikes, their truck would take us into Marseilles for liberty. They never showed up. The Frenchman had an old car in a garage at one end of the bar, but he had no gasoline. We had gasoline on board the ship. So, my two buddies, Ronnie and Cecil and myself talked the Frenchman into letting us use his car with the promise we would leave him enough gasoline to last him for his own use for a while. Well, actually, we talked the daughters into it, and they convinced the old man. I've still got pictures of us tooling around Marseilles.

When we left Port de Boc, the little inlet was so small there was no way to turn our vessel. Consequently, we had to change the portside hawser to the starboard, let go aft, and with the ship in reverse, warp ourselves around so we could leave port. It was an interesting exercise, and it's a good thing the hawser didn't part while we were revving it up in reverse, or the good old John Hope would still be buried in the mud of France instead of being on the bottom off Siapan. But, that's another story. We left there and headed around the Horn and back to Oahu and Pearl.

You'll notice I didn't say anything about our experiences in Marseilles. Well, some of it wouldn't exactly look good in print, so I developed selective recall.

That seems so long ago and far away . . . and it is.

				A Celtic Prayer

			In the light of the high heavens
				and the infinity of dawnings in space,
			in the darkness of ocean depths
				and the sea's ceaseless waves,
			in the foreign places we've trod and left our imprint,

			In every shining of the world's inwardness
				and the warmth that moves my everliving soul
			your glory glows.

			Recall the events of the past and pray for the life of the world.
 In everything give Thanks

July, 2010

musings . . .

A Day at the Cape . . .

Lighthouse on the Cape

I once read a book by Nelson DeMille called The Gate House where the scene of action is in New England (actually Long Island), and it so much reminded me of my travels there.

Both my girls ended up in New England, Stacy in Connecticut and Debe in Massachusetts, I usually visited them at least once a year.

When I visited Stacy, (which was exactly a 12 hour drive from my driveway to hers in Connecticut, I was about 30 minutes from downtown Big Apple, and I had seen most everything worth seeing there, because I had lived in River Edge, NJ and worked in Hackensack for a number of years, and went to NYC often. Had the choice of going over the George Washington Bridge or tooteling a little south to go under the Hudson river by taking the Lincoln Tunnel. Either way was about a thirty minute ride to the Port Authority Building and parking within walking distance to Times Square.

Another three hours took me to my oldest daughters place in Massachusetts and it was totally different. Debe and Charlie lived in Duxbury (which was across Duxbury bay from Plymouth) and there was a lot of history to see in that area. Duxbury was about halfway between Boston and Cape Cod. For instance, I went to breakfast most mornings at a little restaurant on the ocean in Brant Rock, and each time I passed the office and home of Benjamin Franklin. Just two blocks from Debe’s house were the graves of John Alden and his family. Myles Standish was also an important figure there. After all . . . Duxbury was inhabited by people as early as 12,000 to 9,000 B.C. who were the ancestors of the Wampanoag Indians.

I roamed all over that area, visiting every historical thing I could find. I decided I needed to see the Cape as well as Martha’s Vineyard etc., so one day I put it in cruise control and slipped south on US3 toward the Sagamore bridge, the bridge across the Sagamore Canal. The bridge, along with its sibling, the Bourne Bridge, was constructed beginning in 1933 by the Public Works Administration for the US Army Corps of Engineers, which operates both the bridges and the canal. Both bridges carry four lanes of traffic over a 616-foot (188 m) main span, with a 135-foot (41 m) ship clearance, and opened on June 22, 1935. The canal is big enough and deep enough to weather ships from the Atlantic’s Cape Cod Bay to Buzzard’s Bay and all points west that are navigable.

Once across the bridge it felt different . . . for some reason I felt I was in a unique place. I realized why when I pulled into Sandwich. The Town of Sandwich is a seaside community of 23,000 residents located in the northwest corner of Cape Cod in Barnstable County and was Incorporated in 1639. It is the oldest town on Cape Cod and one of the oldest towns in the United States, settled by European immigrants nearly 150 years before the American Revolution.

Driving down the main street there were dozens of quaint little shops, a lot of them antique dealers. I knew I had to spend some time in them, but I put it off to see how my day went. It was still early enough in the morning part of my little adventure.

There actually were a lot of small hamlets and villages like Sandwich, and I decided to cut off Route 6 and connect with Hiway 29 heading south on the island. Went to Falmouth (North, East and West versions), and saw the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. I became curious . . . the Kennedys, Chappaquiddick, Dike Bridge . . . Dike Bridge became famous on July 18, 1969 when Mary Jo Kopechne, passenger in a car driven by U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy drove off the bridge (sometime in the wee hours of the morning) . . . and she died. The bridge crossed Poucha Pond on Chappaquiddick Island (a smaller island connected to the Vineyard and part of Edgartown). As a foot bridge, it was intended for people on foot and bicycles, as well as the occasional emergency vehicle when conditions warranted. Really, the bridge wasn’t all that worth seeing after I had actually eyed it, so I went back to the main island and continued my tour of the olde, olde (they add a lot of e’s to words up there such as olde and shoppe, etc.) towns along the shore, including such as Hyannis, Barnstable, Yarmouth and Chatham.

I couldn’t stand it any longer, so I stopped in Chatham, had a fish sandwich and a beer and headed for the antique shops. Actually this was a mistake . . . BIGTIME! There was one shop, front to back, wall to wall, and ceiling to floor with maritime oldies. As I finally walked out the door I was loaded down with a circa 1750 brass telescope, a circa 1700 (pristine condition) sextant, and a model of the Cutty Sark. My credit card was considerably heavier when I returned it to my wallet.

I drove on north visiting (wide-eyed most of the way) all of the villages right on out to Pilgrim’s Point, viewing some light houses, olde, olde Victorian Cape Cod homes and farms. One such had a great two-story white clap-board farm house with a cupola right on the roof that had a three or four foot deck all the way around it where they could scan the ocean for returning sailing ships in the olde days. Must have been built by a merchant or a sea captain around the mid 1800s. Behind the house I could see vegetable gardens and to the left of it, toward the beaches and sea grass, were grape vineyards. There was just a little breeze. I could smell the sea, and I caught a whiff of the grapes that had fallen to the ground in the vineyard. This truly was a unique environment of sea, farm, and vineyard that was a most unusual combination, rarely found.

I drove right to the end of Route 6 at Herring Drive Beach, and just sat for a while . . . taking in the sights and the smells that were all around me.

Some time later I started the olde Lincoln and headed back to Duxbury.

Northbound on Route 3 I started seeing Plymouth signs, one in particular. Plimouth (not a mis-spelling) Plantation. I hadn’t been, so decided to get off at Exit 4 and see what it was like.

Plimoth Plantation is a not-for-profit museum supported by admissions, contributions, grants and generous volunteers. It is a bicultural museum, offers powerful personal encounters with history built on thorough research about the Wampanoag People (the Indian tribe of the area) and the Colonial English community in the 1600s. Their exhibits, programs, live interpreters, and historic settings encourage a new level of understanding about present-day issues affecting communities around the world. They appear in Colonial dress, and it really is a learning treat.

I still got home for dinner, taking Exit 5 and driving along Duxbury Bay into Duxbury, and had enjoyed a perfectly wonderful day on the Cape.

					A Celtic Prayer

				In the gift of this new day
					in the gift of the present moment
				in the gift of time and eternity intertwined
					let me be thankful
						let me be attentive
				let me be open to take unto myself the beauty of new,
					unseen places,
				in the gift of this new day,
				in the gift of the present moment,
				in the gift of time and eternity intertwined.

			Be still and aware of God's presence within and all around.

 In everything give Thanks

June, 2010

musings . . .

A Good Friday Feeling

Christ

Not long ago I had the opportunity, one third Saturday morning of the month, to attend the St. Andrew's Men's Club breakfast at the church. Because of my deteriorated condition caused by massive treatments for lung cancer, I had not been able to attend this joyful event for some time.

I saw a group of old friends, and sat at a table with several of them during breakfast. Joe Wilson, sitting next to me, said: "I'll never forget the time you carried the cross down the aisle and nailed those nails into it. The sound of the hammer hitting the nails was so overpowering throughout the church."

Well, that brought to mind my own exprience with that event.

Good Friday is the Friday within Holy Week, and is traditionally a time of fasting and penance, commemorating the anniversary of Christ's crucifixion and death. For Christians, Good Friday commemorates not just a historical event, but the sacrificial death of Christ, which with the resurrection, comprises the heart of the Christian faith. Some of the celebrations portray Christ carrying the cross to Golgatha.

Martha had asked me if I could make a cross that could be carried in a service at St. Andrew's.

I set out to construct it. It was made of four by fours, whittled down some at the sharp edges to make it look old, and stained with a couple of different stains so it wouldn't look so modern. It was heavy. I made it so that it could be taken apart and used over and over again.

After the congregation had gotten in and seated that morning, I had carried the cross into the back of the church, and at the proper time, I shouldered it and started down the aisle.

As soon as I took the cross on my shoulder it lost the weight that I had felt, but where it touched my shoulder and my hands there was a warmth . . . no, a heat . . . not a hurtful heat . . . but a comfortable, healing-feeling heat. I had given a bit of thought as to how I would conduct this event and gain the effect that Martha had wanted . . . but, as it turned out, I had no need to have done that. As I started down the aisle, the control of my body no longer belonged to me. I felt as though there was a glow around me, and I was walking on air. The timing was not mine . . . the action of laying of it down in front of the altar was not mine . . . the nailing into the wood for those long nails was not me . . . and picking it up and laying it leaning against the altar was commanded and directed by another source.

As soon as I walked away from it I was exhausted . . . while I was doing all that, I had felt no pressure whatsoever. It was strange to say the least.

That Sunday is a memory to Joe, and maybe to some others. To me it was a once in a lifetime experience. I have felt close to God on a number of occasions . . . but never any closer than at that time.

The picture above is "Christ Carrying the Cross" by El Greco.
					A Celtic Prayer

			Thou Lord God of the angels, spread over me Thy linen robe;
			Shield me from every famine, free me from every spectral shape.
			Strengthen me in every good, encompass me in every strait,
			Safeguard me in every ill, and from every enmity restrain me.

			Recall the events of the past and pray for the life of the world.
 In everything give Thanks

May, 2010

musings . . .

A Mother’s Care

Noby Pudgy

Noby was considered an old dog when she died, but to me she was the essence of exuberant life and pleasure itself. She was white with brindle markings (a round spot on her back near the tail, and a brindle head that had a white muzzle coming up between her eyes and ended in a perfect exclamation point on the crown of her head).

Noby is on the right. Her daughter, Pudgy, is on the left.

I think she was about four years old when I was born. If I am not mistaken she was purchased as a pet for my sister, but when I came along she became mine. We were inseparable.

My Dad got into a lot of trouble over that dog. Because of his quirky sense of humor, he named her “Nobody’s Business.” We called her Noby for short. However, you can imagine the reactions that happened when someone would ask Dad the dog’s name, and he would invariably answer: “Nobody’s Business.”

Noby was what, at that time, we called a Rat Terrier . . . now termed a Jack Russell. She was faithful to her breed. Across the street from our house was a corn field, and in the fall that corn was cut and stacked in shocks called “fodder shocks”. They looked like Indian teepees, and were always full of field rats. Noby would go on a hunting binge every now and then, dive into a shock, and come out with a rat in her mouth. She would shake it sharply and break its neck . . . then dive into the shock for another.

She and I played together, ate together, slept together, and if we went anywhere she couldn’t go, we had to lock her in the basement or she would try to follow the car.

Well, when I was about eight (and she was about twelve) she had a litter of puppies. There were eight of them, and she had gone to the barn in the valley where she had made a nest of straw and had the pups. The barn was a good half-block down the hill from the house.

I suppose the birth was just too hard on her at her age. At any rate, one afternoon my mother heard a scratching at the back door and went to see what it was. Noby was there and she whined and went down one or two of the nine steps to the ground. Mother didn’t immediately understand what she wanted, but she opened the screen door and watched Noby.

Noby whined again and went another couple of steps toward the ground. Mom decided the dog wanted her to follow her so she took off her apron and went down the steps. Noby would go several steps, stop, turn around and whine for mother, then continue on to the barn. It took her a while to get there, but when she did, she looked at my mother, then she licked each one of her puppies . . . lay down beside them . . . and died.

A mother passed from this world . . . but she had brought someone she knew would take care of her babies after she had gone.

The memory of it can still stir me to tears.

One of the puppies was marked exactly like her mother except for the white exclamation point between her eyes. Instead of the top being round, it was cut like a scimitar. We kept her and she became my constant companion thereafter. Her name was Pudgy.

				A Celtic Prayer

			Bless to me the bed companion of my love,
				Bless to me the handling of my hands,
			Bless, O bless Thou to me, O God, the fencing of my defense,
			And bless, O bless to me the angeling of my rest;
				Bless, O bless Thou to me, O God, the fencing of my defense,
			And bless, O bless to me the angeling of my rest.

			Be still and aware of God's presence within and all around.
 In everything give Thanks

April, 2010

musings . . .

Clarence

Mule

I was about ten years old. Mom and Dad had divorced the previous year . . . Mom, Sis and I had moved back to Knoxville from Elizabethton . . . and I was becoming a somewhat independent young character. After all I was the man (male) of the house, and a little bit of the Scotch nature, I’m sure, prevailed. I wasn’t afraid of anything . . . (I thought).

Most of my mother’s family lived in Knoxville, but Aunt Lou, Belle and Roe, and Uncle Bill, Aunt Gertrude and my cousin Reva still lived in Jefferson County . . . in Strawberrry Plains.

Well, it was summertime. I was on vacation (school was out). And, I decided I wanted to visit my Uncle Bill.

I knew Uncle Bill smoked Lucky Strike cigarettes, so I went to the store, bought a carton, and without telling my mother or sister, I got on the McCalla Avenue Street Car, traveled to the end of the line . . . and started walking.

I walked and I walked. By this time it was dark, and I was still on the Asheville highway walking east. Strawberry Plains was on 11-E turning north off Asheville Highway. You have to remember this was in 1937 or 1938, and there wasn’t very much traffic on the highway at that time of night. However, bright lights came up behind me rather rapidly, then started slowing down . . . and then stopped. It was a Greyhound Bus. The driver opened the door and asked me where I was going way out here where there wasn’t anything. I told him I was going to my Uncle Bill’s in Strawberry Plains, and after a moment’s thought, he said: “Get in.”

He had me sit on the big box to his right that held the gear shifts, the meter box, and the door handle, and we talked as he drove. He kept asking me questions about my Uncle Bill, where he lived, where I lived and so forth, until he pretty well knew just about everything about my trip.

After a bunch of instructions about what to do if I got lost, he let me out at the main road turning off 11-E to Strawberry Plains. I was still five or six miles from Uncle Bill’s. By this time it wasn’t just dark. It was dark, dark. The road was still a dirt road, and they barely had street lights in downtown Knoxville. Strawberry Plains was in the country!

Remember me saying that I wasn’t afraid of anything? Well, as I was walking I started hearing a noise. So I looked over my shoulder, but couldn’t see anything . . . walked a little faster . . . and the noise got louder. So, I went a little faster. And, it got louder. So, I ran. And, when I had run as far as I could until I was literally gasping for breath, I stopped . . . and the noise stopped. Well, it finally dawned on me. I was wearing corduroy knickers and calf-high boots, and as I walked the corduroy rubbing together made the noise. So much for not being scared of anything.

Finally, a little after midnight, I reached Uncle Bill’s. After waking them, giving him his cigarettes, and going through a myriad of questions, I realized they were pretty put out with me, but having no telephone, they had to wait until the morning to go to one to let my mother know where I was. Their house was small, two bedrooms. So, I slept with Reva.

When Uncle Bill returned from phoning mother he said she had agreed I could stay awhile.

In spite of all the trouble of getting there, it was a great vacation. However, one incident still stands out in my memory (well, more than one) and it had to do with Uncle Bill’s mule, Clarence.

Clarence was big and strong . . . But willfull. What I mean is: he was stubborn and just didn’t want to do the things Uncle Bill needed him to do.

One day we took him to about a five-acre field that they had already plowed, and we hooked him to a harrow to harrow the ground. The harrow was triangular shaped, built of big timbers, through which spikes had been pounded so they would break up the earth and make it soft for planting. Uncle Bill walked along and drove the mule, and I sat on the harrow. We worked all day long.

Next to the barn was a pond, and on the way home we stopped at the pond to let Clarence have his drink of cool water, Uncle Bill taking off his bit, reins, hames, etc.

When Clarence was through drinking, he looked up, started for the barn, broke into a trot around the back of the barn, turned behind it and by the time he cleared the barn and returned to our sight was running at a pretty good speed. He ran all the way to the corner of the yard, turned, and started back for the barn.

Now, next to the entrance to the barn was an oak tree, maybe two and a half/three foot in diameter. Just before Clarence got there he lowered his head and went straight for the oak. He killed himself, and left Uncle Bill in no doubt that he resented being worked with the harrow all day.

The next day we had to dig a huge hole to bury Clarence in. It made quite a tale to tell at the local country store. No one there had heard of a mule committing suicide before.

				A Celtic Prayer

			Bless, O God, the thing on which mine eye doth rest,
				Bless, O God, the thing on which my hope doth rest,
			Bless, O God, my reason and my purpose,
				Bless, O Bless, Thou them, Thou God of life;
			Bless, O God, my reason and my purpose,
				Bless, O God, Thou them, Thou God of life.

			Recall the events of the past and pray for the life of the world.
 In everything give Thanks

March, 2010

musings . . .

My Mother

My mother and I

My mother was a saint . . .

This is her birth month. She was born on March 7th in 1903 and died in January of 1995. Part of her ashes are in my flower garden just off the deck, so every now and then I just sit out there . . . and remember . . . and be thankful that I was a part of her.

I was born in Knoxville, on Copeland Street, but before I was a year old we moved to Elizabethton in Upper East Tennessee, where I spent the first nine years of my life remembering my mother cooking, canning, sewing and keeping a perfectly orderly house for her husband, my sister and myself.

We had about five acres on the hillside, but in the valley below was our barn where we had a cow and a couple of Poland China hogs, some chickens, and until Dad bought a tractor, an old mule. Mother would go down every morning and milk the cow. Our dog's name was Noby, and one day I'll write a story about Mother and Noby that can still pain my heart in remembrance.

The house always smelled sweet with baked goods, and there was a pie chest in the dining room that was forever filled with cakes and pies. My favorites were caramel cake and dried apple pies. Well, blackberry cobblers really held first place. We had a Warm Morning cooking stove in the kitchen (it burned coal or wood) and the warm-oven storages over the range top always had food ready for a snack, or a meal if one was required. Parched corn was a favorite.

She had gardens . . . vegetable and flower . . . and both were famous in the neighborhood. The vegetable garden was behind the house, but there was about a half acre of flowers on the north side of the house which people would just drive by on weekends to see. Sick people, whether sick at home or in the hospital, got a closer look, for she was always cutting bouquets and taking them to the shut-ins. And, if they were friends they probably even got a jar of something from the vegetable garden that she had canned.

Without getting into details, Mom and Dad were divorced when I just turned nine, and mother moved she, Sis and myself back to Knoxville so she could be close to her brothers and sisters who all lived there. She had three brothers and two sisters. She was Scotch and her ancesters were members of the MacNaughton clan. Her younger brother's name was Earl Condon Lee Oater McKnight. That's very Viking, and has history in the western Isles of Scotland.

That was in 1936, and divorced women at that time were looked upon almost as fallen women, and they didn’t have the easiest time getting along in the world.

We moved into a small house on Sixth Street in Knoxville at the end of the Sixth Street streetcar line and a block up the hill from Cecil Street.

Mother got a job at Standard Knitting Mills sewing the fly in men’s underwear, and I think she got six cents per dozen for sitting at the machine all day doing that. It was the closest thing to slave labor that I’ve ever witnessed. But, she was glad to have the job. She kept us housed, well fed, clean and clothed properly.

And though she couldn’t afford the flower gardens any longer, she was always, to her dieing day, managing to give a basket of food to “someone who is less-well-off than we are.” This was especially true at holiday times such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, and many times my sister and myself were trudging through the snow on those eves delivering baskets of food.

But, both of us learned from her what love was . . . what humility meant . . . and the warm feeling that came with the sharing with others.

It was good!

And, she would have approved of the following Celtic prayer . . .

				A Celtic Prayer

			Bless, O God, the moon that is above me,
			Bless, O God, the earth that is beneath me,
			Bless, O God, my children,
				Bless, O God, myself
					who has care of them;
				Bless to me my children,
			And Bless, O God, myself who has care of them.

			Be still and aware of God's presence within and all around.
 In everything give Thanks

February, 2010

musings . . .

I Remember Joe Namath

Joe

A few days ago I watched the game between the Colts and the Jets, and it brought fond memories to me of a chance meeting years ago.

It was October (I think), but it could have been in November, and the year was 1968.

I met Joe Namath . . . in St. Loius.

I was teaching for the Realtor's National Marketing Institute at the time, and had been sent to St. Louis by Ruth Ellis of RNMI as the senior instructor for a 5 day tax course for CCIM candidates. CCIM stood for Certified Commercial Investment Member, and was an intensive regimen of classes, tests and interviews.

I had planed out to St. Louis from Sarasota, Florida on a Saturday, and had checked into a rather modern hotel directly across from the Friendship Arch in downtown St. Louis. I remember the hotel was not a rectangularly built building, but was arched so that the hallways were not straight, but slight;y rounded, and the doors to the individual rooms were nested by twos, and they opened toward each other. In other words, were you in room 310 and someone else was in room 312, and you each opened your doors at the same time . . . you would be face to face with each other.

That is exactly what happened to me and Joe Namath on this Saturday afternoon. I never have been bashful, so I said "Hi there, Joe", and he answered immediately "Hullo'.

We closed our doors and turned to walk to the elevators where we had to stand for awhile until one came along that was headed down. I introduced myself. We shook hands. And, finally the elevator came. The door opened, and I held it to allow Joe to enter first. Joe said "You go ahead, I have to wait for my baby-sitter. I'll see you in the bar". So I did.

I got a small table across the aisle from the bar itself, ordered a bloody mary and some shrimp and cocktail sauce, and, sure enough . . . here came Joe and another gentleman entering the bar, coming to my table, and sitting down.

Joe introduced the man, and I learned he was an assistant coach. I also learned that Joe was so popular and was followed everywhere by women, and the team rules required that Joe could not have a room by himself, but had to have an assistant manager with a connecting room (the door between them had to stay open all the time) assigned to him whenever the team went on the road.

We all had a great laugh about that, but I think Joe was a little embarassed.

They won the game in St. Louis . . . and went on to the Super Bowl and won it in early 1969.

Super Bowl III was the third AFL-NFL Championship Game in professional American football, but the first to officially bear the name "Super Bowl". (Although the two previous AFL-NFL Championship Games came to be known, retroactively, as "Super Bowls".) This game is regarded as one of the greatest upsets in sports history. The heavy underdog American Football League (AFL) champion New York Jets (11-3) defeated the National Football League (NFL) champion Baltimore Colts (13-1) by a score of 16–7. It was the first Super Bowl victory for the AFL.

The game was played on January 12, 1969, at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida – the same location as Super Bowl II. Entering Super Bowl III, the NFL champion Colts were heavily favored to defeat the AFL champion Jets. Although the upstart AFL had successfully forced the long-established NFL into a merger agreement three years earlier, the AFL was not generally respected as having the same caliber of talent as the NFL. Plus, the AFL representatives were easily defeated in the first two Super Bowls.

I'll never forget my meeting, by chance, with the great Joe Namath (and his baby-sitter).

				A Celtic Prayer

			Bless, O God, the thing on which mine eye doth rest,
				Bless, O God, the thing on which my hope doth rest,
			Bless, O God, my reason and my purpose,
				Bless, O Bless, Thou them, Thou God of life;
			Bless, O God, my reason and my purpose,
				Bless, O God, Thou them, Thou God of life.

			Recall the events of the past and pray for the life of the world.
 In everything give Thanks

January, 2010

musings . . .

"Mornin', Darlin' . . ."

Check-out Clerk

We live in one of the most amazing areas there is.

The scenery is out of this world, especially in the Spring and in the Fall. The weather is usually fair, the schools are pretty good, and the roads are tolerable . . . but it is really the people themselves that are so amazing. For instance:

I've lived and visited up north a considerable amount of time, Massachusetts (the coastal area, including all the way from Boston to the Cape area), Connecticut (where the towns change name from one side of the street to the other). I lived and worked in New Jersey for about three years . . . lived in New Milford and worked in Hackensack, each about fifteen minutes from NYC. And, I've spent time in California, particularly around San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Hollywood. I’ve also spent time in Seattle, D.C., Detroit and Chicago.

Well, in those places, when you go to the grocery store you're downright lucky if the check-out clerk says "Good mornin'", or "Good Eve'nan" when it comes your turn . . . or even looks at you, as a matter of fact. But, that just isn't the case here.

Let me see if I can give you an example.

In '98 I had open heart surgery. They cut me from the top of my chest to my pelvis, broke the breast bone to get at the heart and wired it back together when they were finished. They closed me back up with a whole passel of those shiny little silver lookin’ staples that they use now-a-days. I was in the hospital about four days before they kicked me out (insurance was blamed for the quick expulsion). In the check-out lecture they gave me, the doctor said: “I don’t want you driving for at least a month”.

“Why”, I asked.

“Well, should you have an accident, it would throw you forward and probably open up that incision, and maybe even breaking that breast bone apart again. We wouldn’t want that, would we”?

Well, I could imagine that, because whenever I moved I could hear in my inner ear the breast bone scraping back and forth. “What would happen were I just a passenger”?, I asked.

The doctor laughed and answered “Probably the same thing”.

So, a couple of days after I got home, I crawled into the car and drove to Kroger’s because the cupboard was a little bare and needed replenishing. Got into the store and did my shopping which included a couple of relatively heavy cases (dog food and Dr. Pepper), and when through, headed for the check-out counter.

When it was my turn, she looked up, smiling, and said “Mornin, Darlin’, how ya doin”?

“Oh pretty good”, I replied. “Would you mind scanning these two cases in the cart? I just got out of the hospital a couple of days ago, and I really don’t want to lift them any more than I have to“.

“Glad to”, she said, hopping around the counter with the scanner in her hand so she could get at the scanning bars. “How come you was in the hospital”?

“I had open heart surgery”, I replied.

“You did what?”, her voice raising about two octaves. “Lord, child, last year I had a hysterectomy and I was so sore down there I didn’t get out of bed for three or four weeks”. And it didn’t end there. In the next couple of minutes I had a great deal more information than I ever wanted to hear from a complete stranger.

See what I mean?

There aren’t any strangers here.

We’re all of a kind . . . some a little more sophisticated than others (maybe) . . . still . . . all of a kind.

I like it!

				A Celtic Prayer

			In the beginning, O God,
				when the firm earth emerged from the waters of life
				you saw that it was good.
			The fertile ground was moist
				the seed was strong
					and earth's profusion of color and scent was born.
			Awaken my senses this day
				to the goodness that still stems from Eden,
				to the goodness that can still spring forth
					in me and all that has life . . .
				In me and all that has life.

			Be still and aware of God's presence within and all around.
 In everything give Thanks

December, 2009

musings . . .

Christmas

The Wise Men

Christmas has had a long and varied history. It was been celebrated for centuries by different people, at different times, in different places, and in many different ways.

An Ancient Holiday

The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.

In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter solstice, through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take as many as 12 days. The Norse believed that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year.

The end of December was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe. At that time of year, most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter. For many, it was the only time of year when they had a supply of fresh meat. In addition, most wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking.

In Germany, people honored the pagan god Oden during the mid-winter holiday. Germans were terrified of Oden, as they believed he made nocturnal flights through the sky to observe his people, and then decide who would prosper or perish. Because of his presence, many people chose to stay inside.

Saturnalia

In Rome, where winters were not as harsh as those in the far north, Saturnalia—a holiday in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture—was celebrated. Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time, when food and drink were plentiful and the normal Roman social order was turned upside down. For a month, slaves would become masters. Peasants were in command of the city. Business and schools were closed so that everyone could join in the fun.

Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome. In addition, members of the upper classes often celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, on December 25. It was believed that Mithra, an infant god, was born of a rock. For some Romans, Mithra's birthday was the most sacred day of the year.

In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Unfortunately, the Bible does not mention date for his birth (a fact Puritans later pointed out in order to deny the legitimacy of the celebration). Although some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring (why would shepherds be herding in the middle of winter?), Pope Julius I chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia. Today, in the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated 13 days after the 25th, which is also referred to as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is the day it is believed that the three wise men finally found Jesus in the manger.

By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders increased the chances that Christmas would be popularly embraced, but gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated. By the Middle Ages, Christianity had, for the most part, replaced pagan religion. On Christmas, believers attended church, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere similar to today's Mardi Gras. Each year, a beggar or student would be crowned the "lord of misrule" and eager celebrants played the part of his subjects. The poor would go to the houses of the rich and demand their best food and drink. If owners failed to comply, their visitors would most likely terrorize them with mischief. Christmas became the time of year when the upper classes could repay their real or imagined "debt" to society by entertaining less fortunate citizens.

An Outlaw Christmas

In the early 17th century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe. When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they vowed to rid England of decadence and, as part of their effort, cancelled Christmas. By popular demand, Charles II was restored to the throne and, with him, came the return of the popular holiday.

The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident.

After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America's new constitution. Christmas wasn't declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.

Americans Reinvented Christmas

It wasn't until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas. Americans re-invented Christmas, and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia. But what about the 1800s peaked American interest in the holiday?

The early 19th century was a period of class conflict and turmoil. During this time, unemployment was high and gang rioting by the disenchanted classes often occurred during the Christmas season. In 1828, the New York city council instituted the city's first police force in response to a Christmas riot. This catalyzed certain members of the upper classes to begin to change the way Christmas was celebrated in America.

In 1819, best-selling author Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent., a series of stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house. The sketches feature a squire who invited the peasants into his home for the holiday. In contrast to the problems faced in American society, the two groups mingled effortlessly. In Irving's mind, Christmas should be a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday bringing groups together across lines of wealth or social status. Irving's fictitious celebrants enjoyed "ancient customs," including the crowning of a Lord of Misrule. Irving's book, however, was not based on any holiday celebration he had attended – in fact, many historians say that Irving's account actually "invented" tradition by implying that it described the true customs of the season.

A Christmas Carol

Also around this time, English author Charles Dickens created the classic holiday tale, A Christmas Carol. The story's message-the importance of charity and good will towards all humankind-struck a powerful chord in the United States and England and showed members of Victorian society the benefits of celebrating the holiday.

The family was also becoming less disciplined and more sensitive to the emotional needs of children during the early 1800s. Christmas provided families with a day when they could lavish attention-and gifts-on their children without appearing to "spoil" them.

As Americans began to embrace Christmas as a perfect family holiday, old customs were unearthed. People looked toward recent immigrants and Catholic and Episcopalian churches to see how the day should be celebrated. In the next 100 years, Americans built a Christmas tradition all their own that included pieces of many other customs, including decorating trees, sending holiday cards, and gift-giving.

Although most families quickly bought into the idea that they were celebrating Christmas how it had been done for centuries, Americans had really re-invented a holiday to fill the cultural needs of a growing nation.

World Traditions

Christmas as we know it today is a Victorian invention of the 1860s. Probably the most celebrated holiday in the world, our modern Christmas is a product of hundreds of years of both secular and religious traditions from around the globe.

				A Celtic Prayer

			Blessed are you, O Child of the Dawn,
				for your light that dapples through creation
					on leaves that shimmer in the morning sun
				and in showers of rain that wash the earth.
			Blessed are you 
				for the human spirit dappled with eternal life
					in its longings for love and birth
				and its pain-filled passions and tears.
			Blessed are you, O Christ,
				for you awaken me to life.
			Blessed are you 
				for you stir me to true desire . . .
			And Blessed is the day of thy birth . . .
			Blessed is the day of thy birth.

			Recall the events of the past and pray for the life of the world.
 In everything give Thanks

November, 2009

musings . . .

November

Chrysanthemum

In the past, when it came to November, I have always written about Thanksgiving. This year I am going to change that . . . and write about November.

It's the 11th month of the year in the Gregorian calendar and one of four Gregorian months with the length of 30 days. November retained its name (from the Latin novem meaning "nine") when January and February were added to the Roman calendar.

The birthstone for November is either topaz, citrine, or aquamarine (take your pick). The birthflower is the chrysanthemum.

November starts on the same day of the week as February in common years, and March every year.

Events in November

Month-long observances

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, National Novel Writing Month, Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, American Diabetes Month, Lung Cancer Awareness Month, National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, and the month dedicated to the Holy Souls in Purgatory in the Roman Catholic calendar.

It is quite common for some males in Australia (especially in the city of Melbourne), and New Zealand to sport a moustache during the month of November. The custom being known as Movember (Movember is a portmanteau of the words 'Moustache' and 'November'.), and being a fundraising event for men's health issues. One's fashionable appearance often comes second to the calling of Movember. A similar observance in the United States, called No Shave November, involves a full beard as opposed to a mustache.

Movable events

First Tuesday
In Australia, the Melbourne horse race is held annually on the first Tuesday in November.

Tuesday After the First Monday
In the United States, elections are held on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November (between November 2 and November 8). In even-numbered years, members of the House of Representatives are elected to two-year terms, and about one third of the U.S. Senate are elected to six-year terms. The President of the United States is elected in years divisible by four. Most U.S. states, counties, and municipalities have some part of their election cycle coincident with this date.

Third Wednesday
GIS is held the 3rd Wednesday of November during Geography Awareness Week.

Third Thursday
The Great American Smokeout sponsored by the American Cancer Society occurs on the third Thursday of November, one week before Thanksgiving. Smokers are encouraged to quit smoking for these 24 hours, in hopes that they will quit forever.
International Philosophy Day.

Fourth Thursday in the USA
Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November.

The day after Thanksgiving in the USA
A famous day for shopping known as "Black Friday”.

Monday immediately following Thanksgiving Day in the USA
Cyber Monday.

Most of the above I plagairised from History.com.

SO . . . November is one busy month. But, for me, it's when the golds, and reds, and browns slowly and individually turn loose from the gray limbs of the maples, sycamores, poplars and other decidious plants, trickling earthward in their twisting, swirling descent to open up the nuded landscape and let us see what has been hidden all summer long. Squirrels busily jump from limb to limb, carrying nuts to their secret hiding places for the expected winter's feedings, and larger wild animals mysteriously dissappear from the mountainside.

And, suddenly I think, "Lord, it's so short a time until those gifts need to be thought of . . . hunted out . . . bought . . . wrapped . . . and on and on, and what's worse, it'll soon be collllddd!"

				A Celtic Prayer

			The rhythm of life is yours, O God,
				the changing of the seasons,
		the busyness of the day and the night's stillness,
				youth's energy and age's measured pace.
			For daylight followed by hours of darkness,
				for the time of letting go
		and of taking off the clothes of the day,
			for the time of laying down
				and being covered by the night's intimacy,
			for the overlapping of the seen and the unseen,
		heaven and earth,
			flesh and angels,
				body and spirit, 
					rest and dying and new life
			all part of your rhythm, O God,
			Thanks be to you.

			Be still and aware of God's presence within and all around.
 In everything give Thanks

October, 2009

musings . . .

Gathering of the Clans

Scot

There was a Gathering of the Clans in Scotland this year . . . Evidently the Gathering of the Clans is an upshoot of the Jacobite Risings from 1715 and ‘45:

	Aug 1715 - The earl of Mar returned to Scotland in August 1715 and he 
	began to call up the clans. While the Jacobites were thus assembling, 
	news came of the death of their good ally, the King of France and this 
	news could not have come at a more unfortunate time. Meanwhile, the 
	government became aware of the gathering of the clans in the north and 
	had appointed the Duke of Argyll as commander in chief of the German 
	King's forces in Scotland and Generalissimo of the Stirling castle . . .

The first Clan Gatherings (and continued down through the ages) were called at a certain place, usually hidden glens deep in the Highlands. The clans camped on the sides of the mountain fastnesses, their fires dotting the hillsides all round about the central council place in the glen where the Chieftans met for debate (and there was plenty of that).

At some point, after such a day of agreeing or disagreeing (usually the latter), and after darkness had fallen . . . evening quieting of the belly rumblings, and a bit of the ouisge beatha (water of life or whiskey) to settle and soothe their minds . . . there was a bonfire built in the central council place, and the chiefs, one by one, would grab a burning faggot from their own campfire . . . stroll down the mountainside to the central fire . . . toss in the burning brand . . . and announce that his Clan was “here”. The tradition is held to this day, and what a sight it is!


	Can ye no see it? Hundreds of wee fires winkin’ on the braes, and lines of high-held torches 
	bobbin’ down the paths to the bonfire below . . . and as each Chieftan hurls his brand into the 
	conflagration, he calls “the Frasers are here" . . . and another, "The Gordons are here" . . .  and 
	another, "the Forbeses are here" . . . and still,  "the MacNaughtons are here"! Lor’ the blood is hot 
	and rare for livin’!

If you’re a Scot, or just love Scotland, then you cannot be but moved at this stirring event.

The Gatherings in the US were first celebrated when the country extended no further west than the foothills of the Alleghanies, and were held mainly in what was then the North Carolina territory where most of the transported Scots had settled.

The gathering of 2009, however, was held primarily in Edinburgh, and was a once-in-a-lifetime celebration of Scotland’s culture, both contemporary and traditional. They planted 10,000 trees to commemorate Scotland’s greatest ever international gathering of the clans. They planted them at Teaghlach Wood, situated near the beautiful village of Comrie, in Highland Perthshire, Scotland. It lies on the banks of the River Earn nestled on the edge of the Scottish Highlands. The Wood aims to play its part in restoring Scotland’s landscape back to its traditional woodland state. Teaghlach, in Gaelic, means family.

What is hoped that will have come out of the gathering, is an intelligent and informed sense of how the clan and kinship which is shared by millions of Scots can find expression and purpose in a world utterly different from that in which the clans first appeared or evolved.

Definition of the word 'Clan'

The Gaelic word for children is more accurately translated as 'family' in the sense in which the word 'clan' became accepted in the Scottish Highlands during the 13th century. A clan is a social group whose core comprises a number of families derived from, or accepted as being derived from, a common ancestor. Almost without exception, that core is accompanied by a further number of dependent and associated families who have either sought the protection of the clan at some point in history or have been tenants or vassals of its chief. That chief is owed allegiance by all members of the clan, but ancient tradition nevertheless states that 'the Clan is above the Chief'. Although Gaelic has been supplanted by English in the Lowlands of Scotland for nearly a thousand years, it is an acceptable convention to refer to the great Lowland families, like the Douglases, as clans, although the heads of certain families, such as Bruce, prefer not to use the term. Allegiance was generally given to a father's clan, but Celtic tradition includes a strong element of descent through, and loyalty to, a mother's line. In reality, the chief of a clan would 'ingather' any stranger, of whatever family, who possessed suitable skills, maintained his allegiance and, if required, adopted the clan surname.

Today, in the United States at least, the calling of the clans is held once a year in many of the Anglican churches across the nation with representatives of each clan (dressed in kilts and plaids, and bearing signs or flags of his or her clan), march into the church to the skirl of bagpipes. Rites and proper blessings follow. I've attended a few of those in my time, representing the MacNaughtons.

A lot of my friends from the Tranter Group descended on Edinburgh to celebrate with other clan members. My dear friend, Robert Dudgeon, from Cannon’s Creek in Australia could not go because of illness. Neither could I. But, the other members (from France, England, the U.S., Estonia, and other places) kept us informed of the events.

The following is a squib from "Rampant Scotland", a great monthly electronic magazine that I and most of my Tranter friends receive:

"The Gathering" in Edinburgh on 25/26 July was the major event in the Homecoming Scotland calendar this year. In addition to a major Highland Games, pipe band performances and nearly 125 clans and family societies in the tented pavilions in the Clan Village, there was a range of events in Holyrood Park, in the shadow of Arthur's Seat and next door to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

But the highlight of the Saturday (attended by over 30,000 people from Scotland and abroad) was undoubtedly the march in the evening by nearly 8,000 clanspeople from over 125 clans, walking from the palace up the historic Royal Mile to Edinburgh castle. Billed as one of the largest clan gatherings on Scottish soil in modern times, the clans were also accompanied by a number of pipe bands. An estimated crowd of 20,000 bystanders lined the route to cheer on the marchers.

The Publisher of Rampant Scotland has an illustrated account of the day which can be found at http://www.rampantscotland.com/diary/diary_gathering.htm. It's very interesting!

There’ll be other Gatherings, and perhaps Rabhairt and I will be able to attend.

				A Celtic Prayer

			You satisfy the thirsty
				and fill the hungry with good things.
						Psalm 107:9

			Recall the events of the past and pray for the life of the world.
 In everything give Thanks

September, 2009

musings . . .

A Tribute

Teddy

In August of 2009 Ted Kennedy died. He had been suffering from brain cancer for the past year, and finally succumbed.

I had not been a fan of Ted Kennedy. Although a loyal Democrat all my life, and an admirer of the Kennedy Clan (especially of Jack and Bobby), when I thought of Ted . . . I thought of Chappaquiddick . . . or of a drinking binge in Florida. I even visited the bridge in Martha’s Vineyard once.

I didn’t know the man.

As I listened to the remembrances of friends, on both sides of the aisle, I, at first, was fascinated, then amazed, then humbled . . . and then, tearful . . . lots of them. Especially when his son, who had lost a leg to bone cancer when he was a child, related an experience with his Dad on the hillside somewhere up there.

Ted, Jr. said they were at the foot of a snow- and ice-covered hill at the back of their house and his Dad asked him if he wanted to go up the hill and sled down the drive. In trying to walk up the hill with his new prosthetic leg, he fell. And, he started crying, and told his Dad “I can’t do this . . . I’ll never be able to climb that hill. He said: “Dad, took me in his strong and gentle arms and said ‘I know you can do it. There is nothing you can’t do. We’re going to climb that hill together . . . even if it takes all day.’ Sure enough, with him holding me when I needed it . . . we made it all the way to the top “.

I heard that . . . the tears flowed . . . and I finally knew the man!

After that, I listened to the dozens of other stories, from friends, family and, co-workers, on both sides of the aisle. And, I learned respect.

Ted Kennedy seems to have spent most of his life in the Senate working for the little man.

And today, I am sure, that somewhere up there, is an Irishman . . . asking around if he can help.

I wish I had had the privilege of knowing the man personally.

				A Celtic Prayer

			Glory be to you, O God,
				for the gift of life.

			Be still and aware of God's presence within and all around.

 In everything give Thanks

August, 2009

musings . . .

Aunt Lou's . . .

Aunt Lou's

My Aunt Lou lived to be 102 years old . . . and spent her life in a house built by a dusty country road in Strawberry Plains.

I often think of Aunt Lou and that old place, because I dearly loved to go up there for a week or two in the summer time, spending a part of my vacation with Aunt Lou, Uncle Roe, and Aunt Belle. Aunt Lou was my great Aunt. Uncle Roe and Aunt Belle were brother and sister, Aunt Lou's children.

The house sat on not exactly a hill, but an incline coming down from the base of the hill, with a big front yard facing the road . . . and across the road . . . at the beginning of the big meadow sat the barn . . . two big sides with an open aisle in the center that ran all the way through. One side had three stalls in it . . . the other side had two stalls and a tack room. Overhead of each was a loft, a ladder leading up to each . . . and each filled with hay. It smelled of barley and lespedeza, and was an absolutely fantastic place to just lay and daydream . . . or sleep in the musty warmth of a summer afternoon.

To the left of the house was a work shop with a tool shed full of strange and mysterious (to me) tools that Uncle Roe used to fix things when he got ambitious . . . which wasn’t very often. He liked the quiet life . . . settin’ on the swing on the front porch smokin’ his peep. Between the house and the toolshed was the well . . . maybe three, three and a half, feet in diameter, rock built, and maybe three, three and a half, feet high, topped with a wood shingled cupola to deter the leaves and other debris from fouling the well.

To the rear and left of the workshop was a larger storage shed (which I wasn’t allowed to explore). Behind that, a ravine swept swiftly downward to meet a bubbling creek that ran through the bottom before it rose again to the high, tree covered hill at the other side. Straddling the creek was a springhouse (the creek running through the center), and inside were crocks of milk, buttermilk, butter, cheese, and other wonderful items, kept cold as ice by the tumbling stream of crystal mountain runoff. Dusty path and rock steps led from the back of the house down to the spring house, and just south of there were the grapevines, anchored high in the tops of towering poplars, that Uncle Roe had helped me cut away from the trunks of the trees so I could emulate Tarzan by swinging like a monkey over the whispering creek and from one side of the ravine to the other.

The front porch of the house was almost totally hidden from the unpaved road by purple-flowered wisteria that hung like drapery from the eaves. The house faced west, and the evening sun sent slivers of gold streaming through the wisteria, painting the swing and the porch a lovely, shining hue. Along the road was a split rail fence that outlined the extent of the yard.

Inside, the heart of the house was the kitchen . . . eternally warm and smelling of something ecstatically delicious . . . like cornbread . . . or blackberry cobbler, fresh greens, rabbit stew, or wafting smells coming from the wooden churn as Aunt Lou or Belle created more butter and buttermilk . . . to fill more crocks . . . to carry down the path . . . to set in the cold, cold stream . . . to become succor to the palate.

My favorite room, however, was the bedroom on the front, left side of the house . . . three rooms away from the kitchen and across the hall from the formal sitting room. It was occupied by a very large, canopied bed, dresser, table with lamp . . . AND . . . a foot-pedal organ that Aunt Belle could play, and that, every now and then, she would let me pump and try. This was the room I usually slept in when I visited. The bed had, not one, but two feather beds and was so tall off the floor that it was necessary to have a couple of steps that were built into the sideboards of the bed so that one could get into it. There was no way that insomnia could have ever visited that room. However, the early morning smell of cooking bacon, biscuits and gravy that permeated the entire house was better than any alarm clock ever manufactured.

Uncle Roe loved to walk, so we did it often. Sometimes we just roamed the fields, or else climbed the high hill behind the house. But, every now and then we took to the road and walked to the country store that was a couple of miles north of the house, or to Uncle Bill McKnight’s, two or three miles to the south (I’ll write a musing about a strange visit to him one of these days).

The store was something else. You could find just about anything a country family would need there, but it was the hangers-on that made it so interesting. Men sitting around a pot-bellied stove (unlit because it was summer), but still the social center of the establishment. A basket of crackers and a round cheese of some kind sat near the stove, and everyone helped themselves from time to time, that is if they weren’t eating a moon pie and drinking an RC cola. I was fascinated by the stories . . . some of them bawdy enough. After a couple of hours of this, and a purchase of whatever we had come for as well as a couple of pieces of hard candy for my sweet tooth (and Uncle Roe’s), we’d start the journey back home.

This is only an inkling of the memories that were engraved on the recesses of my mind during those times. It would take pages and pages to record all of them.

But, I do so miss that wonderful, archaic world of innocence . . .

				A Celtic Prayer

			I seek your presence, O God,
				not because I have managed to see clearly
					or been true in all things this day,
				not because I have succeeded in loving
			or in reverencing those around me, 
				but because I want to see with clarity
					the memories of days gone by
			when innocence was truly a part of me.

			Be still and aware of God's presence within and all around.
 In everything give Thanks

July, 2009

musings . . .

Our Desk . . .

Old Desk

The last couple of musings reminded me of a piece of furniture that sits in my library on the second story of this old house.

It is a desk . . . a roll top desk . . . in perfect condition. It must be oak that it is made of, because it is so tremendously heavy. At least it comes apart in two pieces so that it becomes easier to move.

I know it is at least 170 years old, but I don’t have an inkling of an idea how much older it is. It belonged to the very first settler of Sarasota, Florida, and was handed down from one family member to another through the ages. Here is a part of his story:

William Henry Whitaker (1821 - 1888) was his name and he was an American Seminole War veteran and pioneer who, under the provisions of the Armed Occupation Act, established the first permanent settlement in what is now Sarasota, Florida. There he traded mullet with Cubans to bring the first groves of economically important oranges to the state. He later married Mary Jane Wyatt and with her raised Nancy Whitaker, the first child recorded in the new county of Sarasota. His father-in-law, William Wyatt, was a constitutional delegate who helped to originate, and signed, Florida‘s first constitution. At the end of the Civil War he helped Judah P. Benjamin escape to London. Whitaker was an eighth-generation descendant of Jabez Whitaker, brother of Alexander Whitaker, the Jamestown colonist and theologian who baptized and performed the marriage of Pocahontas to John Rolfe.

Early Life

He was born in 1821 in Savannah, Georgia, to Richard Whitaker and his second wife, Frances Snell. At the age of twelve, he left home with ten dollars and a gold watch and went to St. Marks, Fla., then the primary seaport of Florida's west coast. He worked there in the fishing trade and in time crossed paths with his half-brother Hamlin Valentine Snell, who later became President of the Florida Senate, Speaker of the House and later, Tampa's 8th mayor. Living in Tallahassee, Snell committed William to a formal education, arranging lodging and board. It was in Tallahassee that he met his would-be wife Mary Jane Wyatt. In 1840, at age nineteen, Whitaker enlisted in Florida's Mounted Militia for three months to fight in the second Seminole War, for which he was compensated $70. The occupation entry on his enlistment papers read "school boy". Whitaker served with his Regiment at Fort Macomb and other wartime camps where illness plagued him. As the war was concluding, Whitaker traveled Florida's Gulf Coast and to Havana, Cuba, working in the fishing trade.

Sarasota

Although the area had long been explored by the Spanish, few permanent settlements were established south of Gainesville. Taking advantage of the Armed Occupation Act, Whitaker was given six months of provisions and the right to 160 acres (0.65 km2), provided he built a home there and defended it for five years. In December 1842, he and his half-brother sailed to what is now Yellow Bluffs overlooking Sarasota Bay; the high ground, the freshwater springs, and evidence of burial mounds proved the land would be ideal for a home. There he built a simple log cabin and began fishing and farming. For a penny per fish, he traded with traveling Cubans, saving enough money to travel to Dade City to purchase cattle. It was from the same Cuban traders that he secured oranges and guavas, planting the first commercial citrus groves in the state. Florida now provides 75% of the country's oranges. William experimented with grafting oranges, dubbing his the "Whitaker Sweet".

He was active in civic duty in this period, serving as the Clerk of Elections for the 5th Precinct of then Hillsborough County where all of six voters were registered; he was later elected Sheriff. He purchased his cattle in 1847, two years after Florida achieved statehood, taking "47" as his brand to mark the date of his venture. He weathered the ’46 hurricane and the Great Gale of 1848 in his cedar log house, calling the latter "the granddaddy of all hurricanes." The hurricane ripped a path through Pine Island creating a new pass, lazily named by Whitaker "New Pass", a name it still retains. In 1851 he married sweetheart Mary Jane Wyatt, who moved to the cabin to begin a frontier family. Their marriage and child were the first of each recorded in Sarasota's county record. In that same year, with land warrant number 56934, he purchased 144.80 acres (0.5860 km2) from the state, buying at the same time an additional 48.63 acres (196,800 m2) for $1.25 each. In modern-day Sarasota this land stretches from Indian Beach Drive to Tenth Street, what Whitaker called Azarti Acres. The path he struck from Yellow Bluffs northward would become part of the Tamiami Trail.

Seminole Indians.

The Whitakers were sympathetic to the local indians and escaped slaves, in one case ferrying the fabled Seminole chief Billy Bowlegs across the river to their home where they brought him back to health from malaria. When Whitaker's wife asked the chief if he would kill her in times of aggression, Bowlegs assured her that if he did, he would do so quickly. That fragile relationship soured in early 1856 when Bowlegs became angered at the destruction of his gardens by United States troops. Soon after, the Indians attacked Braden Castle, and hostilities increased. Whitaker, securing his family at the fort in Manatee County, headed seventy miles to Peace Creek, the closest military detachment to convey the news of the attack. Not long after, the Whitaker home was burned to the ground with a friend inside, and many more homes followed. The Billy Bowlegs War lasted until 1858.

Civil War

After rebuilding, the Whitakers were largely uninvolved with the raging American Civil War, despite Florida being the third state to secede from the Union. The Union push to destroy Confederate blockades succeeded in restricting goods to the frontier settlers, and union excursions inland from the Gulf of Mexico became more frequent. The blockade forced Whitaker to take the difficult three to four week journey to Gainesville to buy grain for community use. Whitaker was one of three locals who had gristmills hidden deep in the woods. These became important to the community after Union troops destroyed the steam-operated one.

As the war was nearing an end, Judah P. Benjamin, Secretary of State to the Confederacy, was being pursued through the Southern states. Making his way to Florida's west coast, John Lesley of Tampa escorted him by boat to the Sarasota area. Whitaker, neighbor Captain John Tresca, and Benjamin made plans for securing a boat to be used in the secretary's escape. Though most boats had been destroyed or confiscated during the war, after two weeks a yawl was secured and stocked. Benjamin pushed off from Whitaker Bayou making it to Bimini, safe from Union reach, and later to Nassau. From there he made it to London where he went on to serve in the Queen‘s Counsel.

Later life

William Whitaker restricted himself to the homestead in his later years. His wife had borne eleven children, nine of whom survived. After a long life on the frontier he died in 1888 at age 67 from injuries related to a fall from his horse. Mary Jane died in 1909. He and many of his descendants rest in the Whitaker Cemetery on 12th Street adjacent to Pioneer Park. The cemetery, surrounded by an Italian Renaissance Ballustrade, was given a marker, dedicated by the Daughters of the American Revolution, honoring the family's local history.

Nearly all of Whitaker's estate has been replaced by offices, homes and condominiums along the Sarasota coast. The inlet running through his family's homestead is still named Whitaker Bayou, and Whitaker Gateway Park exists in their honor.

His great-great-great grandson worked for me in my real estate office, and when his father died, Whit gave me the desk, a rocking chair (with a family crest of mother of pearl imbedded in the solid back), a book case, his mother’s petite secretary, a game table, and a wooden commode. You lift the top of the commode and hidden inside is a slop basin. It is just the right height for use. In it's day it was a luxury that saved running outside in the cold nightime airs to the privy, and served as a bedside nightstand on which sat an oil lamp (I have one of those, too, the glass chimney so thin, light, and fragile that I am most afraid to handle it). The furniture, eventually, had passed down to Whit's father, a doctor, who lived in Tampa when he died. Either my daughters, or myself, still have all the pieces and wouldn’t part with them for anything in the world, even though there has been a great amount of pressure from the Sarasota Historical Society.

Incidentally, there’s a cigar box full of old, old medicine bottles, some with the dates of the 1800’s on them, and containing dried up residues and powders of such things as black-widow spider venom, arsenic, blood wort, and other such items. There are all kinds of pigeon holes, little drawers, etc. There’s also a hidden drawer somewhere . . . my eldest daughter found it as she was playing at the desk when she was a wee thing. Over the years I lost track of it, and now we can’t find it again.

At any rate, I’m proud to have the desk . . . and all its history.

				A Celtic Prayer

			In the temple of my inner being,
				in the temple of my body,
			in the temple of earth, sea, and sky,
				in the great temple of the universe,
			I look for the light that was in the beginning
			and shines down on those thru time and the ages.
				I look for the light.

		     Recall the events of the past and pray for the life of the world.
 In everything give Thanks

June, 2009

musings . . .

Remembering . . .

With Dad My First Car

This is my birth month.

Yeah . . . I’m a Gemini . . . one of those people who start a million projects, and never finish one. Well, I’ve worked on that little detail most of my life, and have pretty well conquered it. For the most part, whatever I start, I finish, and I really don’t believe in astrological charts, etc., but I think the pull of those distinctive attributes probably contributed to influencing my life’s journey in that I have never just done one thing at a time . . . it has always been two or three.

A cowboy Scout

As a child I was a race car driver, a cowboy, a wilderness trekker, a pilot, a sailor, an engineer, all those things my imagination could conjure. I soared through the rainforest on grapevines, and through the ozones in a tri-winged Fokker (hunting the Red Baron). Once I galloped my pie-bald pony away from outlaws until I escaped by hiding him, and jumping into the basement window of an abandoned apartment building where I discovered a Dutch statue of a boy and girl (not fantasy this time) wrapped in a Turkish rug , rolled in an oil cloth, and buried in the dirt floor of that building. It had an engraved inscription on the base that proclaimed “First Love”. Eighteen inches high, the paints now faded, it sits on a shelf of one of my living room library panels, and is a dearly loved remembrance.

War Days Primetime

There are so many memories of this nature that I can sit for hours and just revel in the thrill of them. There’s the adventures of my young life as a reporter for the Knoxville Journal, and four years and three months of WWII, when I lied about my age . . . and grew up very fast.

After that I tried at university . . . but didn’t have the high school background to really be a success in that environment. So, I retreated to what I knew . . . the newspaper industry; became an ink monkey in a flatbed shop of a small town in upper East Tennessee, and a photographer for NEA Services, where some of my pictures (taken with a 4x5 Graphlex) appeared in papers throughout the country. Over the next few years I held every job on a newspaper except that of publisher . . . I even wrote Society for almost a year under the pseudonym of Miss Post. What fun!

Sailor The Scot I am

Golly, what adventures . . . I’ve been a pilot, a sailor (owned a hundred foot Chesapeake Bay Bugeye - Schooner rigged), trained as a buyer for men’s clothes at the Old George’s Department Store in Knoxville, worked in a gas station, rented cars, tried painting (as an artist) for awhile, a real turn as a cowboy in Port Arthur, Texas, drove a large truck (not a semi), built swimming pools, sold real estate, became a financial advisor, took a law degree, built houses, apartments and shopping centers, taught for almost 16 years for the Realtor’s National Marketing Institute, wrote software for computers, and then retired to become a remodeler of homes, primarily old, historic places. I also learned to write code for websites on the internet.

I have experienced being close to death more than once, but have survived . . . there is something yet to do.

I have become a gardener, and a lover of all kinds of flora. I’ve been an avid reader all my days. I have loved (and still do) some of the most beautiful women in the world.

	And then . . . I write . . .
		and write . . .
			and write.

A Celtic Prayer You show me the path of life, O God . . . In your presence there is fullness of Joy' Psalm 16:11 Be still and aware of God's presence within and all around.
 In everything give Thanks

May, 2009

musings . . .

My Den (A Place of Wonder)

Computer

This room has almost become my world . . . well, on a rainy day it has!

It is where the computer is, and I can sit and glory in the surroundings.

In front of me is the computer desk with discs going all the way back to 1954 and my first computer. The discs were 12” by 12”, and the computer was bigger than the entire computer desk is now. It took up half the space of my office which was one of the first computerized offices in Sarasota, Florida. I sat and wrote software for other computers. That wasn’t my regular business . . . it was my hobby! My business was threefold: Real Estate, Construction Company and Investment Advisor. I also taught (about one week out of each month) for the Realtor's National Marketing Institute out of Chicago. We taught in about 18 regional cities in the US. That was long enough ago that a lot of the memories are dimming.

Surrounding the desk are book shelves (there are bookshelves in every room in the house), and they hold books on Technical subjects, Language, Gardening, Travel, a dictionary that is 5 inches thick, and some books by seafaring authors. There’s also 21 huge albums of stamps. I’ve been a Philetalist since I was nine years of age. There’s enough there to occupy the mind for fifty years . . . and that’s only one wall in this room. To the left of the desk is a period cradle telephone that still works. Being old myself, I like old things.

Lately I have added a Logitek camera and Skype to my computer so that now I may talk to my friends in Australia, France, England and Scotland ( as well as people in the US who have Skype) and it is truly delightful. Just last evening I talked to Robert Dudgeon (Rabhairt to his friends) in Cannon's Creek, Australia for about two hours (and with Skype-it's free).

To the right, above 2 large horizontal two-drawer file cabinets, is a wall of various pictures; an oil of a quaint village in the mountains of Italy, a still study of wine, bread, cherries, books and a violin by Frank Ledal, a beautiful young child in the middle of a field of daisies, a charcoal portrait of each of my two daughters by a personal Sarasota friend, a centerpiece painting of me in my kilts by Anita Stanhope, a painting of a snake by Martha Sterne’s sister, one (of apples) by my eldest daughter Debe, and one by a dear love of mine - Marian Franz. There are a dozen others of my daughters and scenes from Scotland. In addition, sitting atop the file cabinets are about ten years of National Geos in specially made filing boxes. Another couple years of study.

Behind me, on a windowed wall, sits my work desk . . . One that I made myself by constructing a three-drawer cabinet on each side, topped by a door, all of it covered with a brown mahogany-like formica. Good-looking if I do brag a bit of my handiwork. Surrounding that is my memory wall. From ceiling to desktop and side to side there are pictures, cards, and special memorabilia I have gathered over the years. My only regret - that the wall is not larger so that it could hold more.

To my left is a two windowed wall where I can look out onto some of my gardens and just dream of times gone by . . . and times yet to come. Between the two windows is a huge bird cage that was made in Austria for Methuzelah, a 75 year old parrot with the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus. He died in 1974, and I was given the cage. I’ve filled it with silk ivy and small faux birds.

There’s a carpet on the floor that smacks of continental Europe, and warms the room for good living.

I love it here!

				A Celtic Prayer

		     Rekindle in me the sparks of learning
			that I might be part of the splendour of this moment.
		     Rekindle in me the sparks of your beauty
			that I might be part of the blazing splendour.

		     Be still and aware of God's presence within and all around.
 In everything give Thanks

April, 2009

musings . . .

A New World

Michelangelo

It rained today.

Earlier, in the wee hours of this particular point in time, the sun came full across the mountain, and turned everything bright. The greens were emerald, and the peonies, the iris, and the azaleas every hue of the rainbow. But, then it darkened.

Suddenly it was a downpour. So violent that the trees at the side of the yard vanished from sight, and only the streaks of torrential and seething, racing drops slanted down the windowpane. Seconds, minutes, hours passed with only the sound of beating raindrops.

Now it has gone, traveling to another valley, and the world around me is an entirely different place, not as warm as before the cloudburst.

I sit on the sheltered front porch . . . slumped in a cushioned chair . . . staring through the slats of the banister at a chastened vista.

Fog is on the river, water hidden, unseen neath its blanket. A whisper of a breeze roils it, moving it round the curve of its bed that flows toward the flatlands, and the edge of the property is a solid door of its cottony makeup, making what is beyond a mystery.

My world is an area of only a couple hundred feet in each direction.

But, I don’t feel alone.

God is here.

				A Celtic Prayer

		     In the morning light, O God,
			may I glimpse again your image deep within me . . . 
				the threads of eternal glory
			woven into the fabric of every man and woman.

		       Be still and aware of God's presence within and all around.
 In everything give Thanks

February, 2009

musings . . .

Books

books

I’ve been surrounded by books all my life.

Long before I started to school I was reading adventure stories . . . particularly about sled dogs in Alaska such as White Fang or Kazan, Dog of the North, or pirates on the high seas . . . loved Long John Silver.

Even back then I was able to become an unnamed character that strode along side by side with those in the book, living the adventure as it developed, and even anticipating, sometimes, the things that were to come. They had Little Big Books then . . . paperbacks that were very small, but very thick, and they portrayed all the adventures of Tarzan, Red Ryder, Tom Mix, The Perils of Pauline, and many, many others. By the time I was ten or eleven, I had a great collection. Now I wonder what happened to them all. So many of my treasures of younger years have disappeared . . . and, I sometimes mourn for them.

One place we lived on Jefferson Avenue (Park City) in Knoxville, I had a loft in the garage where I read, built models, and was sometimes allowed to sleep at night . . . a small boy’s paradise.

Thousands and thousands of books later (and I keep a bibliography of those I read) I am currently engrossed in reading Diana Gabaldon. I am so envious of her overwhelming ability to paint such word pictures that trap my consciousness and make me burn midnight oil almost nightly engrossed in one of her stories.

My eldest daughter entrapped me in this joyous dilemma by telling me I just had to read this woman who wrote about a female doctor who time-traveled from England in the 1940s back to 18th century Scotland and the 1740s by stepping through some standing stones (like those at Stonehenge). Well, I really wasn’t interested in time-travel and so I picked up her first novel, Outlander, with trepidation. Five or six hours later, red-eyed and extremely sore from sitting in that awful wing chair, I allowed her to call me to a late dinner. I was irretrievably hooked.

She’s written six novels (which require to be read in sequence) concerning this one set of characters. She’s also written three or four novellas, but be warned! Her novellas run 35,000 to 40,000 words (between four to five hundred pages), and her novels are about seven to eight hundred pages. Should you get hooked , as I am, of course . . . you don’t want them to end. I’m sure she is incapable of writing a short story. In chronological order her novels are: Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, and A Breath of Snow and Ashes.

I thought I would never find an author I liked as well as Nigel Tranter, who wrote 73 novels about Scotland, but I finally did.

If this sounds like a commercial for her books, so be it. I think they are fantastic. To just give you an idea of her talent, here is part of a prologue of one of her efforts:

When I was small I never wanted to step in puddles. Not because of any fear of drowned worms or wet stockings; I was by and large a grubby child, with a blissful disregard for filth of any kind.
It was because I couldn’t bring myself to believe that that perfect smooth expanse was no more than a thin film of water over solid earth. I believed it was an opening into some fathomless space. Sometime, seeing the tiny ripples caused by my approach, I thought the puddle impossibly deep, a bottomless sea in which the lazy coil of tentacle and gleam of scale lay hidden, with the threat of huge bodies and sharp teeth adrift and silent in the far-down depths.
And then, looking down into reflection, I would see my own round face and frizzled hair against a featureless blue sweep . . .
I am so jealous!

				A Celtic Prayer

		     Like an infant's open-eyed wonder
			and the insights of a wise grandmother,
				like a young man's vision for justice
			and the vitality that shine's in a girl's face,
				like tears that flow in a friend bereaved
		     and laughter in a lover's eyes,
		     you have given me ways of seeing, O God,
			you have endowed me with sight like your own.
				Let those be alive in me this day,
				Let those be alive in me . . .
		     and erase from my being jealousy and enmity and ego.

		     Recall the events of the past and pray for the life of the world.
 In everything give Thanks

January, 2009

musings . . .

Winter Wonders

Michelangelo

It has been a mild winter.

Snow has fallen around the house only once so far this year, and was gone in two days. But, it’s different further up in the mountains.

Taking a ride toward Newfound Gap at the top of the Smokies finds an extra inch of snow on the ground for every forty or fifty foot you climb . . . and the incline of the road through the Park is fairly intense.

Little River looks colder than whiz, and eight miles from my house toward the top of the Gap, the edges of the streamlets that enter the river are solid ice. The current is too fast for the middle to freeze, but the edges are jagged crystal, brilliantly echoing the wan winter sun. What evergreens that have not succumbed to the diseases that have plagued our area for the past few years, sport downy white fur-like coats, the shorter ones like wee gnomes along the streams.

The deciduous trees have all shed their summer finery and their nudity allows vistas unseen during Spring, Summer and Fall. The scenery isn’t like it was when I was a child. At that time, the workers for the Park service kept the fallen trees and other debris cleared so that the land was pristine almost to glowing. But, that was all ended when the environmentalist do-gooders who lobbied for laws that prohibited fallen trees and debris from being disturbed so that cockroaches and centipedes would have places to breed. Good Lord . . . cockroaches have been here before man . . . and will be here afterward. They don’t need extra protection!

Park and sit by the side of the road for a while, and, before long, you’ll see deer rooting in the snow, foraging for grass under its cover. And, rabbits and other small game such as Raccoons quite frequently show themselves in the stillness.

Further on you’ll see a waterfall; white, cascading liquid falling from distant heights . . . icicles dangling from the rocky edges.

Oh, how I love it here.

	I sit and watch . . .
		I sit and watch . . .
			I sit and watch.

				A Celtic Prayer

		     My genesis is in you, O God
			my beginnings are in Eden,
				my origins are those of every man and woman.
		     Renew me this day in the genesis of my soul,
			the beauty of Eden deep in each created thing.

		       Be still and aware of God's presence within and all around.
 In everything give Thanks

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 In everything give Thanks