Archive for memories

Every War Has Brought Us Here

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The times and experiences of today may differ, however, when we take a close look, they often easily add up to the situations we find ourselves in today.

The Revolutionary War was a victory for the obvious underdog-US-the United states of America. There were celebrations all along the East Coast of the Colonies, now States of a new Country. No doubt, the world found its self in a bit of shock. Citizens shouted that we were free. We were of one soul, one mind-freedom. We read the declaration of Independence, the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, even with the knowledge that the fight was far from over, we felt victorious. But who among us, was really “free.”

Women? People of color? The poor, illiterate immigrant? No. On paper, we had freedom of (or from) religion, freedom of taxation without representation and so much more. The document that stated these things was beautifully written. Unfortunately, those old prejudices lived on. Many still do.

We had another war with Great Britain in 1812-again, the United States of America “won”.

About 85 years after the Revolutionary War,, we were fighting amongst ourselves. Was it about “states rights” or“slavery” . Most likely, it was about much more. A new and restless nation, part which had become a leader in world industry and another which had become an agrarian based society with little modern industry. It had found itself dependent on slave labor to make the growing and harvesting of it’s crops profitable. In Europe, such differences in culture and life-style generally produced a new “kingdom. Here, many saw the power of a nation of such size being “one country” as vital to being a world power. Among these men was Abraham Lincoln.

My great-grandfather spent three years without this “freedom”, as a Confederate Officer during the War between the States. He was called up to serve, went with quite a few family members to sing up and was later captured in what was written up as a cowardly surrender by his superior officer near Chattanooga, Tennessee. The letters that he wrote to his wife and children are still tucked in a drawer in my mother’s cedar chest.

This man did not have slaves, he fought for hearth and home, as the average Southern man did. He, in fact, went to court to support a “black” woman’s claim to freedom, and helped her win. He was not wealthy. Neither was the common Northerner who got caught up in this horrible tragedy. My Southern family had its homes burned, crops destroyed, women raped, cattle stolen. Does this make slavery right-absolutely not. Brothers were fighting cousins and uncles. Neighbors, who had gone to church together were suddenly enemies.

Over 500,00 Americans killed-still, we have to pay attention to the question that brought our country into being-are we free yet? The Civil War, The War Between the States, which ever one might call it, it was a tragedy that was not healed by the war, not necessary by any means and set our country back decades from what we should have been doing-upholding the constitution that we fought the British Empire to gain.

It is 1918. World war I has just ended. The Unitted States had tried to stay out of the war, sending supplies, money and support but not troops. Finally, seeing Great Britain and France falling, we were forced to enter this war with our troops. Then, as the war ended, our troops come home to confetti parades, electrically-light arches built in cities across the country to celebrate the end of “The War to End All Wars”. Were we “free” yet?

A terribly written and enforced “Peace Treaty”, The Treaty of Versailles” humiliated Germany, Italy and its neighbors, setting the stage for yet another unthinkably horrible war, only 30 years later. These people were ripe fr anyone who would help them regain their dignity and place in world power. Unfortunately, the “men” who showed up to help with this cause were those like Hitler and Mussolini.Even our “Allies”, such as Stalin were to become a scourge to freedom very soon after a war we fought on both sides of our country was ended in a most unthinkable way-the race for the creation of the atomic bomb. We “won.” Were we now “free?”

I think of slogans, some made popular in earlier wars, that each war fought was “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight”. Throughout history, the poor, the weak, slaves, simple farmers have fought and died while the wealthy, for the most part, sat it out, making plans that cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

There were wars across the world, the Greek Revolution, the “Cold War” with the Soviet Union, the chill of the Korean war, the steaming jungles of Viet Nam, they all haunted the concept of freedom. The violence over human rights and dignity here at home have only gradually began to find some answers. We still have a long way to go. Again, the idea of freedom for all is more a hope than a reality, even in the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”.

I look at the use of religious beliefs as a cause of war. It is not a topic that many like to address. Yet, it is true,historically, many battles have been fought over religion, many people tortured and killed for holding the “wrong” beliefs at that particular time. There are fanatics in every faith. That makes no sense. If we are Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, Catholic, Judaic or any other in our belief, why can we not just live in peace and have respect fr the views of others? Will we every find this illusive “freedom” as long as fighting over just about any difference of opinion continues?

How many rows of graves, or ancient crypts will it take to obtain peace? This is a question without answer. I humbly remember and deeply respect all of those who gave their lives in the quest for what some leader demanded was necessary to finally procure “peace’. I will never understand how we can, “fight for peace”. What a horrible oxymoron. There has been so much loss, over and over. This essay may be too long, but it barely touches the history of war.

Why can we not coexist-live in a world where everyone is free from war and hate? The first step is to simply live our lives in a way that is respectful of others, moral, and honest . To continue to repeat the mistakes of the past is entirely useless.

 

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On a Stormy Night

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As I listen to the rain spattering against my cabin’s window,
I think of that night when we were stranded here.
The roads were washed out and the creek overflowing,
but I was in your arms , safe, warm, a long-awaited dream.

I saw the lights blink on the alarm clock, the bang on the transmitter.
I smiled, we were alone, you and I , no one would check on us.
I tugged on grandma’s quilt and you tugged back-asleep.
I listened to the sweet sound of your breath, soft, even.

When I awoke, stars glimmered in the window, the clock was flashing.
Darkness still surrounded me, along with your strong, hard arms.
I wanted this night to last forever, the moon seemed satisfied with just a peek at us.
You and I, finally in a place where life brought a freshness-alone, together.

 

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The Ephermals of an Appalachian Forest in Spring

As a teen, I often wandered in the forest and grassland of my grandparents pasture. The sight of the ephemeral flowers of spring always brought me great joy. It seems one dy, in late February, I would notice a tiny Spring beauty growing below the deciduous tress deep in the woods. Then there wold be another and another. I would round a curve on an old logging road and discover a bank filled with Bloodroot. I felt as though I had found a treasure, as all ephemeral rise up, bloom and disappear within a few weeks, before the leaves are much more that a pale green bud.

There are “arguments” among locals as to which wild flowers of early spring really qualify as ephemeral-meaning flowers that appear, bloom, fertilized each other (sometimes themselves) and disappear within a very short time. I never really cared. I knew which ones fit that category in “My woods” and that was all that mattered. After the first flowers had begun to disappear, others wold take their place. There were Clinton Lily’s. Pink Orchids, common violets, Pipsisewa, May Aapple and many more as spring progressed towards May. Between mid-April and mid-May, the forest was covered with these small shy flowers. I found them to be fascia ting, often getting down on my knees to explore each leaf and bud.

I always enjoyed the sounds of busy squirrels and chipmunks, I loved the way that the sound of the creek became louder as I got closer to a small pond that someone had long ago built for cattle drink from. Occasionally, sight of a foot-long ground snake, would surprise me. We would stare at each other, her head held high,and then she would slowly crawl off into the brown leaves still littering the ground. It was always exciting to pick up a stone and find a resting lizard, remaining still underneath. I often had to put the rock back down right beside the creature for fear of crushing it.

I was raised in the woods. My mother, aunt and grandmother would go on walks with me. We knew where natural springs flowed from depths of the earth, with water as fresh as a spring shower. We would lift rocks with a hoe from the creek where the cattle drank and catch crawfish (who, of course shoot backward when disturbed and were easy to catch.) DON”T argue, crawfish is what we called them! Salamanders would hide in the s shallower areas near the edge or the water plants swishing near the edge of the creeks.

By mid June, blackberries were starting to ripen, and the chiggers that lived on and around them were waiting for a dog, person, any creature that spelled “food” to walk by. When I was 12 years old, my parents made me go pick blackberries and I got 103 chiggers bites. I swore that I would never go again, and I didn’t, until I was a young adult and had to decide on my own whether the seedy berries were worth the briars and chiggers.

The fields are gone now, either grown up or a mansion has sprung  up in the middle of a big “lot”. It should have never happened. It breaks my heart that only my mom cared enough to want to save it and she was out-voted.

Times have changed over the decades. The big houses have chased the bears, wild turkeys, coyotes, even bobcats down into the valleys. There, they have found easy meals from scraps and trash cans. My grand kids will never see the world I knew. I take them to the Botanical Gardens at the University or the Bird Sanctuary at the man-made lake.

There, they can see mallards and red-headed ducks, turtles resting on logs, frogs jumping into the slim-filled swampy areas, birds of all kinds. That is as good as it gets near my home any more. I have always hoped to one day convince an old farmer that what I could offer him to save his land was worth more to his descendants than the crowds of houses the developer wanted to build, smiling and offering him an exorbitant price to destroy his land. I have about given up hope, it seems the green on money means more to even the old farmers than the lush, lovely green of trees.

Perhaps someone with more money than I have will come along, or some old timer with a mind that loves nature like I do, will donate his land to a nature conservancy. In the meantime, I will go to the edges of the woods , when it has just started to sprinkle rain and the fragrance of soil and plants fills my senses and remember what this place was like before the leaders of surrounding towns turned paradise into pitiful.. The Singing Group called the Eagles wrote a song when I was a teenager that said, “Call a place a paradise, and kiss it goodby.” How sad, how true. But I have my memories. Please take time  listen to the song that plays on this blog.

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A Special Place

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Not far from my son’s high school, sits a mansion, Biltmore House, which was built by George Vanderbilt in the 1880′s. This was during the time when the wealthy seemed to be having a contest to see who could build the largest house. Many were in new York and on Cape Cod.

For some reason, this picture reminded me of the trees lining the way to the front of the house though to  see the beauty of nature leading to a comforting barn rather than a mansion was much more of my taste.DSCN1812

However, I must commend Mr. Vanderbilt and his family for their appreciation of nature, to help in starting Pisgah National Forest and the Forestry Movement as a whole. There are museums and fish hatcheries open to the public along a beautiful stretch of mountain highway, filled with the wonderful rumble of waterfalls, trails lined with wild flowers and nature preserves where we can still see what the beautiful Blue Ridge looked like before the retiree with money filled so many hillsides with their homes.

A line of deciduous trees is particularly beautiful in autumn when the leaves put on their grand show for a few weeks. Often, in spring, wild flowers decorate the area around the trunks, enhancing their beauty.

When I see a photo that reminds me of a location so very different than the red barn and the Biltmore mansion, it makes me realize that, in our hearts, the rich and the poor, the have and have-nots are not all that different in what they find attractive to the eye or soothing to the soul.59100010

I try to appreciate those, like the Vanderbilts, who saved thousands of acres from development (this was before income and property tax days, of course) donating and helping develop these areas that will be kept wild forever. The sound of a bubbling brook, the quiet of a deep green forest, unusual rock formations, accidental encounters with wild animals, all enrich the days of both the young and old.

It is doubtful that money will allow me to fulfill my dream, yet I keep dreaming.
“If I could just let this farmer know that I would not develop his precious farm before the developer comes up waving tons off money to a man who raised a family on $20.00 a week… If, if, if. I will keep trying, a will my children, and who knows, one day there may be a grove of trees and a barn, perhaps an old farm house with my name on it and my heart in it.

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The Oregon Trail and the Modern World

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History Majors are an ever-smaller group at our university it seems. If we aren’t finishing a degree in Computer science, business, accounting or the like, there is little need to get in line at the job fairs held on campus or at the mall. In my mind, that of a Public History Research major from the 1980;s, our “learning” is s far out of date we have little chance of being noticed. Yet, as I see my youngest son, obsessed with his computer and coding, never picking up a book to read, unless it is required, I see more and more need for courses to be required in subjects that teach us not only about the future, but how we got here. Who we are, where we came from and the process of learning are just as important to a Computer major as to one of us poor “do you want fries with that’ majors we used to joke about 30 years ago.

I may be wrong, but this photograph looks like one I once saw of the Oregon Trail. It was amazing to me that over a hundred years later, the ruts from the hundreds of wagon wheels traveling somewhere west of where ever the settlers had begun were still visible on the tall grass prairies which led settlers not only to Oregon, but many other places which, today, are as crowded and crime ridden as the ones these brave souls were escaping when the trails were made.

As a historian, genealogist and general lover of the studies of past places, countries and ways of life that lead us to the unbelievable places we can go today, I find learning about these cultures and how they thrived and often ultimately died of fascinating interest.

I admit, I almost agreed with some of my older children when they called the “Humanities” courses “Department Funders” In other words, they had no real use in the modern world. But as I get older, I have changed my mind. Hear the news about Vladimir Putin taking over the Crimea reminds me quickly of the horrors of Sevastopol during the wars with Great Britain in the 1850′s. It reminds me that thinking an event, or one similar to it will never happen again, is not only foolish, it is simply wrong.

I encourage all Universities, colleges and Even Technical Colleges to require students to have some knowledge of world history so that they can have a basis on which to prevent the errors of the past from repeating themselves.

And, lastly, I would like to see today’s children understand why they have the technologies they now possess and what their ancestors endured in order for them to live their lives of luxury, or at least,lives of hope.

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Winter’s Fate

She wiped the tears upon her dress.

“I’ll take no more.” She did confess.

As he stood staring at the sky. He whispered to her, “Darling, why?”

“You leave when autumn’s just begun with furs, and grains and many guns. You stay until the melting snow drives you back home, more crops to grow.”

“I must.” he told her, gun in hand. “to sell our furs and crops again.”

“It does not take four months of cold to travel there and back, I’m told.”She glared at him with angry eyes as clouds approached in autumn’s skies.

“But weather makes the trip back home to dangerous to make alone.” She listened not to his protest, and brushed the dust from her worn dress.

“The children need you, so do I.  I cannot bear to watch one die, the way I did this season past, with no one here to help the rest.”

“I know.” He bowed his ruddy head. “I’ll find some other way instead.”

“John Griffith takes the trail nearby.” She told him through her misty eyes.

“Then I will ask if he will go, with me, through ice and cold and snow.” He walked to her, the children came. They gathered there, out of the rain.

“Tomorrow, I will go to town and look until I hunt him down.” He smiled and drew her near his chest.

She felt the heat of his warm breath, and knew this winter, they would stay, but not alone, sick and afraid.

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The Most Difficult Job

DSCN1871In my 58 years, I have had six kids. Raising them, loving them, being their mom was the greatest joy of my life. Sadly, I lost a son at age 15 from a sudden heart event during a baseball game. But this is not about him, it is about all children.

I look at my grandchildren now, and see their innocence, their joy at pleasing me, their “Beebee”. I walk in parks with them and their moms, along with my youngest son. It brings back such wonderful memories. We laugh, I take pictures of them climbing fallen trees, seeing fish or turtles or a red-headed ducks out on the lake. A bug skitters by and elicits a squeal from one of them. A snail, slowly making his way across the boardwalk delighting a grandson.

Besides the horror of loosing a child, one of the most difficult things a parent has to do is teach them to be adults, to allow them to grow up. When your child can fix his own lunch or lay our her own clothes(and they match!) is one of our first lessons in letting go. Of course, even before that, going to the potty alone or cleaning up a mess is a step in that direction. Believe me, it gets more difficult.

When your life has been centered on being the best mom that you could be, it is a tearful adventure to hear your youngest child talking about his plans for his future. For 38 years, I have had our own form of home-school on Saturdays, in summer, or even on school vacations. We have walked the paths of Gettysburg and splashed in the waves of beaches from Santa Barbara to cape Hatteras. It gos by so fast.We have been on educational trips, anywhere from the mountains at our doorstep to the Grand Canyon or Washington D.C..

Suddenly, the oldest will not come along and a new one will ride in a stroller. Perhaps some of the older “kids’ will meet you at your vacation spot with a car full of their friends. For a while, it is simply a milestone, and then your little group becomes smaller and smaller. They choose what they want to do on the trip, even where they want to go. You realize that the best days, the most precious days are rushing by, and a tear often trails a mothers cheek.

I have been through a lot, I will not try to put these ordeals, good or bad in numerical order. I will simply say this to those of you who still cuddle sleeping babies, go to “Kindergarten Parents Night”.

gently stroke feverish heads with a cool damp cloth-to breathe in every second, every sleepless night, every leap of joy when the school bus comes home, because, soon, they will be gone.

I picked up my teen at school today with a stomach virus, all ready to comfort him, bring him cool drinks, obsessively check on him, all those “mom” things that we learn to do, and realize that the ride home was all he really needed. He will get his license soon and independence is on the horizon.

Oh, he appreciated the kind words, the stokes of my hand through his hair, the cold drinks or peeps into his room, but I could tell that his smile of appreciation was more for my benefit than for his.

One feeling that I know I will keep with me forever is the joy of being needed, loved, appreciated by a child. There is nothing like it. I will still talk my teen into taking the grandchildren that I keep after school to the store and let him hold their hands and escort them to the toy section while I shop. I will ask him to go with us to the park and go to the grocery store with me. But I know, that it is my son, now, who is going for my pleasure, rather than me going for his. It is his joy at seeing me smile that that makes the day so fine. It is his reaching for the keys as we get in the car that makes me smile back.

I look at him with pure pleasure, 6 foot 3 inches tall, (taller than his father),shaving on occasion, his low-pitched voice asking me which store to go to, and know that I was one hell of a mom, and am now one hell of a grand-mom, and if I succeed in the hardest part of all-letting him grow up and be the man that I have worked so hard for him to be, that I will have done the hardest, most wonderful, rewarding, frustrating job in the world-be a parent, and one day walk with him as he skips through the park with his child.

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Night Sky

She sat in the dim light of the moon and stars, looking – no- pondering the thoughts that entered her mind as she thought of the memories that the scene brought to her.

It was a summer night at the beach. She and her father had brought towels and laid in the sand, listening to the thunder of the waves and the sharp wind It made talking nearly impossible. They had simply, quietly taken in the majesty of the night sky against the backdrop of the wild yet calming ocean.

She was fifteen and her mother had died of cancer three months before. In what he had thought was a futile effort to help her heal, her dad had brought her to the place. It had been her favorite place to spend with her mom. His friends had thought that he was crazy, opening that wound and watching it bleed, but he knew better, had experienced something much like it in his young years.

She felt his strong hand grip hers and hold it gently as tears flowed down her cheeks and rolled onto the towel. He let her lie there until she sat up and picked up the box. In it were her mother’s ashes. He stood up and grabbed her hand to help her stand.

He took the box and they walked hand in hand to the edge of the water where the tide was going out. He lifted the lid from the box and they each gently took a small portion of ashes, strewing them into the waves.

“I love you, mom,” she whispered. “Julie, you were my life’s great love.” Dad said quietly as he, too scattered some ashes. Dad handed her the box and she let out a pain-filled poignant yell as she twirled and let the rest of the ashes float away in the waves as they tickled her toes.

She ran into her father’s arms and sobbed. He spoke not a word. Soon, they were walking down the shore with the midnight stars sparkling above them.

No, it didn’t heal her pain, but it allowed he to share it with the only other person who was hurting as much as she was. Forever, this would be a sacred place. One that they would visit often, maybe light a candle and sit and cry.

Her father knew that sharing grief was even more important than sharing joy. Even though the ashes and the ocean brought back his own grief of his father’s death in Viet Nam, he remembered how his mom had put aside her pain to let him have a time, a place to remember him and their days together.

They walked into thee darkness together, a cloud covering up the fullness of the moon.

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Tomorrow May Never Come

Andre sat on the grass at the edge of the field. The last game was almost over and they were tied for the championship. His mother, Shawna, came over and quietly put her arm around him. “It’s ok, baby.” she whispered, “you are playing great!”

Andre got up, threw his baseball glove on the ground and stomped away. Tears rolled down his dark, refined cheeks as he put his hands to his head ad let out a loud, angry roar. His mom knew when to back off, Andre was like that. When he got too upset, the best thing to do was just to leave him alone.

She walked back to the bleachers, waiting for the long game to end.

Sitting in the grass again, Andre tossed a baseball from hand to hand. “Why?” he said to God, himself, maybe no one. “Why John? He was everyone’s friend, a great sport, a talented player.” Taking a deep breath, Andre slammed the ball down, and shouted, “Dammit, he was 15 years old!” Andre didn’t cuss. He took himself very seriously, he had plans, class, he had been raised right.

John had been his best friend. They had played ball together since they were 5 years old. Three weeks ago, the team was in the next to last inning and John had made a terrific double and stole third. When the next boy struck out, John had walked into the dugout and told Andre that he didn’t feel good.

“Just sit this last inning out, John.” Andre had suggested. Nothing happens in right field anyway and we are way ahead.

“I didn’t come to sit.” John smiled and headed out to practice throwing the ball with Andre before the inning started.

Suddenly, a mom on the bleachers touched Shawna’s shoulder and said, “Is something wrong with John?”

Shawna looked out on the field to see John running towards home, his mom running to him. Suddenly, a cloud of dust rose up as John collapsed and fell.

His mother was screaming . “Call 911! Call 911!”

The ambulance took forever. It must have gone to the wrong field, the Fire Department was right above the field. No one seemed to know what to do.

Now it was the championship, without his best friend.

Andre tried to block out John’s big family sitting at the hospital, rocking back and forth, praying, crying, waiting at the hospital, then the a doctor calling them into a private room.

When John’s family came out, holding hands, they were crying, holding hands. “Hes gone.” John’s mom whispered. “Gone.” She was in shock.

Andre looked at the scoreboard as he walked to to home base. He was the last hitter in the tournament. The championship was in his hands. He swallowed the tears that had choked him, took a deep breath and nodded that he was ready.

“This one’s for you, John.” he whispered as the ball sailed over the fence.

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Your Obituary

The dark, cold, loneliness of rejection still fills my soul. A part of me will always be dead. Over thirty years later, reading your obituary still brought tears of rejection to my eyes.

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