Archive for prompts

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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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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Winter’s Last Hoorah!

DSCN1870Snowflakes fall on my gloves and melt as I gently pluck a daffodil from the yard. I want to put the gloves up, coat in the closet. Spring, come soon, we need you!

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The Oregon Trail and the Modern World

The Oregon Trail

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 Bridge to Fantacy

We skipped down the sidewalk towards the waterfront. A long green lizard skittered across in front of us. Expecting to see only the beach, and hoping only for sea shells, my son noticed a red pyramid in the distance.

We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and sped up. up a bit. Soon, we heard music, it must be a carnival or festival!

“Gosh,” gasped my son, this sidewalk didn’t look THAT long!”

“Everything seems to take longer when we are excited, “ I said, rushing to keep up with him.

“Race ya, Mom!” He smiled.

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Mission Acomplished!

He woke up with a startled jerk. “Where the hell am I?” he thought.

 Realizing that he knew noting of his situation, he closed his eyes to a squint and played dead or at least asleep. Around him, he saw white sandstone walls, it reminded him of photos of terrorists camps hat he had seen on TV.

 He heard voices-foreign voices coming from the other side of he walls. Through a partially opened gate, he saw a group of men, dress in similar outfits, again, similar to those he had seen on news reports from new reports.

 He tried to listen for any word he might understand, any clue to where he might be, or why. He could hear the foreign voices, shouting, perhaps arguing, then, suddenly, one group disappeared around a corner out of his range of sight or hearing.

 Slowly, he rolled slightly to the left and observed a grove of trees surrounding the walls. He didn’t recognize the kind of tree, but the sky was soft blue, dimmed by a layer of thin clouds. No rain in sight, it seemed.

 He heard the sound of footsteps approaching and assumed his position of unconsciousness as they drew nearer.

 “I think we got ‘em” whispered a voice in English. Not American-type English, but European or Australian, he didn’t know which.

 His heart was beating out of his chest, yet he forced himself to breathe slowly and remain still.

 Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that one of he men had rounded he crumbling corner of the sandstone wall and spotted him. What should he do? His had could just reach his ankle, and he felt for the knife he always carried strapped to his leg. Good, it was there.

 “Good Lord!” said one of the voices as it gave him a gentle kick on the back. “I think its him!”

“Hey, Marcus, is that you?” The voice said. Marcus squinted and looked at the face hovering over him.

 Marcus nodded slowly, uncertainly.

“Well, I’ll be damned!” he laughed, “We did it.” We found the crazy bastard!”

 Just then, a loud explosion went off a few hundred yards from the walls. Marcus heard the sound of a helicopter landing on the other side of the grove of trees. A shout of joy went up among the men,as they lead Marcus to the helicopter and pushed him aboard.

 “Have you got it?” asked the taller of the men. Marcus felt a heaviness in his pocket and nodded, handing in to the man, with a smile. Suddenly, he remembered his mission, his last thought, and sighed with both relief and pride. He never said a word as they patted him on the back and welcomed him “home.”

 All he could think about was Wisconsin, his wife and young boy, and how nice that job at the training school sounded.

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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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Think Before You Speak

“You can have the whole farm, I don’t care.” He said in anger. It had been their most vicious fight ever.

She returned with a deed for him to sign the next day.That wasn’t what I meant.

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