Sunday, December 31, 2006
It’s raining. This is Michigan and January is six hours away and it is in the low 40s and raining. I have to crack windows in order to enjoy a fire in the hearth. The ten day outlook has us only dropping below freezing four nights out of ten, and only once into the 20s. The average weather this time of the year has lows in the teens and a high around freezing. I haven’t bothered to dig out my skis and haven’t put the heavy winter tires on my truck. If it doesn’t start changing soon, I’ll start spring cleaning next week. I know some of you may think I’m crazy, but watching the pictures of Denver dig out of another storm makes me a bit envious.
It used to take me a good month to get use to writing the new (and correct) year on checks. As now almost everything is done electronically, I wonder how long it will take. I might stay in a 2006 time warp for years.
I’m not much of one for making resolutions. I suppose you can make the case that if I don’t make any, I’ll live up to my expectation! But I do set goals, just not resolutions. I’m not sure what kind of resolution I’d make. People resolve to exercise more, I’d have to quit my job or abandon my family to do that. The next six weeks or so will be trying at the gym as it’ll be filled with “New Year Resolutioners.” By mid-February, it’ll be back to normal. I’ll like to resolve to spend more time on skis, but nature ain’t cooperating. Maybe the best thing I could resolve to do is to recall the motto from my Boy Scouts day and do a good turn daily.
Poor old Saddam Hussein. He may have gotten what was coming, but do we really need to see videos of his hanging? The videos seem to be ubiquitous; everywhere you go somebody has a link to it or a “You-tube” type box with a start button. I would have thought security would have been tighter to keep cameras out. It is my belief that the untimely death of anyone, even a tyrant, is no reason to celebrate. And anybody who thinks that Hussein’s execution is a warning to tyrants needs to seriously reconsider. After all, Pol Pot and Idi Amin escaped the gallows and the nature of their regimes makes Hussein look like a kindergarten teacher. I’m afraid the real warning from Hussein’s death to the tyrants of the world is: “If you want to brutalize your own people, you better remain friends with the US or at least not be in our perceived national interest.” As for the videos, they’re just a form of pornography that cheapens life.
Okay, it’s time for me to update my profile picture. Since it should be too cold to wear sleeveless tee-shirts this time of the year, I’m going to remove the picture of me taken during a Utah canyon backpacking trip and replace it with a recent photo taken in my office. Out with the old, in with the new! Now, I don’t normally wear a Stetson while in my office, but I put it on for this occasion! I’m standing in front of one of my bookcases.
Just in case you're interested, which you're probably not, I'm still hanging in there with the old blogger!
Happy New Year! Thanks for reading all the stuff I write. I value your opinions and comments and look forward to reading your thoughts as we move into 2007.
Friday, December 29, 2006
Christmas Presents (or what kind of post can I put up in order not to look at Ford as soon as I open up my blog...)
Okay, about that last post… Every time I opened my page it, it was a blast out of the past. Looking at Ford behind in his desk made me feel like I was in a time warp, back in the mid-70s. So I thought I’d post a picture I recently took of the local courthouse decked out for the holidays. It would even prettier if we had a blanket of snow on the ground! But we’re in this weird heat wave; it’s barely getting below freezing at night.
Bone, down in Alabama, who really likes to receive cash for Christmas, has a neat post where you can complain about cheap or wacky Christmas presents you've received. I really don’t have any complaints this year. I got the following books for gifts (guess which one wasn’t on my list, even though it has been recommended to me?). I also got two gift cards for book stores. And, oh yeah, something else, that allows me to snap these pictures. What did Santa leave you?
Speaking of Ford, I’m not sure what to make over Woodward's revelation about the former President thinking Iraq was wrong, but not wanting to say anything until he was dead (I suppose it was to avoid speaking ill about a fellow Republican). On the one hand, this is upsetting for it seems that Ford was putting his political party of national interest. On the other hand, he was willing to let Woodward reveal this after his death, not after Bush's term is over, so they may be something good to come out of this if it encourages others to speak out.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Photo from the Huffington Post, blog by Richard Valeriani on Chevy Chase's role in Ford's 1986 defeat.
I was nineteenth years old in 1976, our nation’s bi-centennial, completing my first year of college. Gerald Ford was in the White House, trying hard to clean up the mess he’d inherited from Nixon. The nation was still smarting from Vietnam, the economy was in shambles, interest rates were going through the roof and there was a presidential election. Saturday Night Live, with Chevy Chase playing the part of Ford, was the one bright spot. I laughed as Chevy, impersonating the president, continually hit his head on airplane doors and terrorized golf-links.
Despite Chevy’s attempts to make Ford, probably our most athletic president, to look like a klutz, I liked Ford. When he came to speak to the North Carolina State Fair, I made sure I was there to see him. It wasn’t that I had anything against Carter (I heard him speak too, and was impressed). But for some reason I can’t understand completely, unless it was a weird attempt at youth revolt, I was a registered Republican. Along with Tom, a friend of mine, we volunteered to help his campaign. We spent afternoons manning phone banks. We sat in on strategy meetings, lead by some big-wig doctor in town, who kept thinking Tom, who was seated on the floor, had a question. Tom had a nervous system problem and would often twitch his neck. I wondered what kind of doctor he was not to pick up on this.
I meet Tom in the Student Union for lunch on Election Day. We talked about the campaign. We talked our first experience at voting, we’d both headed to the polls early in the morning, as if we might miss the opportunity. And we both talked about our feelings that our man was going to lose. Tom then complained about headaches and told me about going to the eye doc and they’d recommended him to see another doctor. I didn’t pay much attention to it. Then we parted for afternoon classes. That night, with interest, I watched the election results. I can’t say I was devastated when Ford lost. There was something nice about having a Southerner in the White House.
I never saw Tom again. I got a call a few days later. Tom was in the hospital. I called a few of our friends and we went up. They wouldn’t let us in. He had a tumor and they’d operated. He never regained conscience. We’d been friends for over three years, ever since we’d started working together at Wilson’s Supermarket. Although I no longer worked there, having moved over to the bakery that summer, Tom and I stayed in touch.
I also stayed interested in politics and as the 1980 election rolled around joined the John Anderson campaign. When Anderson switched from a Republican to an independent, I followed, switching my registration so that I could be his “elector” from the 7th Congressional District (if he’d won North Carolina, which was a real long shot, I’d gotten to go to the Electoral College). Of course, as a third party candidate, he didn’t stand a chance. After the ’80 election, having realized that the Republican Party wasn’t where I belonged, I registered as a Democrat. I’m not sure that’s where I belong either, but I’ve mostly voted Democratic, except for when I can’t stand either choice. Then I vote for some off the wall third party candidate with the hope that my protest vote will make both traditional candidates sleep a little uneasy at night.
Looking back on it all, I have to credit Ford encouraging my interest in politics. I still like the man. I admire his pardons (both Nixon and the Vietnam Draft Dodgers) which helped heal a hurting nation. I have to think that both Ford and Carter brought dignity back to the White House. It’s a shame he can’t be resurrected or reincarnated, for after this president on the heels of the one before him, we could use someone like him. As for Tom, I'll have to recall our adventures at another time. He was a good kid, who never had an opportunity to grow up.
Speaking of death, it’s also time to say good-bye to James Brown. It’s probably politically correct to say that you’re not a big James Brown fan, but I named my first Teddy Bear after him. The bear was given to me by a girlfriend twenty-some years ago. “James Brown Bear” sounded like a good name back in ’85—a bad bear that felt good! That was before it become well known that James Brown like to beat up women. It may have even been before he had one of attempts of out running the police. As far as music goes, we’ve lost a great one. "I feel good," I'm telling myself as I head down to the gym...
Sunday, December 24, 2006
I always dreaded going back to school after a long break, but the morning of January 2, 1972 was the worst. I headed to the bus stop, shuffling my feet like a man going to the gallows. I even made sure to wear a new shirt, with no rings around the collar, just in case. A pall had hung over the entire break. I boarded bus #23 and sat silently in the back as we traveled up South College Road to Roland Grice. Everyone got off. The seventh and eighth graders headed out to play while those of us who were ninth graders got onto another bus for the shuttle downtown to Williston. This was the first year of cross-town (actually cross-county) busing, which for me meant that the first hour and a half of each school day was devoted to riding or waiting for buses. The same was true for the afternoon, another hour and a half of waiting and riding, the price I got to pay to be a part of a court-ordered social experience. On January 2nd, the ride took even longer.
I don’t remember who made the first dare. Right before the fourth period bell, standing in the back of Ms. Gooden’s room, Abraham, Mike and I dared and doubled-dared each other to toss out the window some of the old outdated books stored in the shelves along the back wall. As it was with the first bite into Eve’s apple, after the first book flew out the window, the rest became easier and we’d all tossed a couple out into the bushes below by the time the bell rang and Ms. Gooden came in from the hall and began to teach. It was the last day of school before the Christmas break.
Our indiscretions should have ended then. But it didn’t. As fate would have it, Ms. Gooden had to leave the room for a few minutes during the class and we came up with another dare. In the back of the room was a filing cabinet where the former teacher, now one of our assistant principals, had stored years of test papers. I don’t remember which one of us was the natural litterer, but soon a file folder of papers sailed across the front yard. Someone joked about snow and we all got into the act. Wilmington hadn’t had a white Christmas in a hundred years and we were out to change that. A brief snow flurry ensued, blanketing Williston’s front lawn. The flurries died down as soon as we heard Ms. Gooden’s high-heels clicking down the hall. We jumped in our seats, covered our smirks with our hands, and tried to act like nothing had happened. A few moments later, the principal, Mr. Howie, stormed into the room. He didn’t bother to knock or ask permission. I’d never seen a black man so red.
“Who threw those papers out the windows?” he shouted.
Our smirks retreated in the face of his anger. The three of us, an unholy trinity, sat there praying that no one would rat us out.
“You’d better have their names in my office by the end of the period,” he warned his young teacher before stomping out the door.
Ms. Gooden walked back to our corner, her heels clicking with each step. Then she just stood there. There’s nothing worst than having a gorgeous woman look at you with big, sad, disappointed eyes. We immediately forgot that she was on the other side, a teacher, and confessed to our misdemeanors. After class we headed to lunch while Ms. Gooden went down to the principal’s office.
Our final two classes of the day were dreadfully long. The three of us walked around, looking rejected, kind of like the Pakistani soldiers who’d just been defeated in by the Indians in what is now Bangladesh. We kept waiting for that dreaded speaker above the chalkboard to call out our names and tell usto report to the office. Our prayers must have been effective or, more likely, Mr. Howie and company were looking forward to their holiday every bit as much as us. The summons never came.
Having safely made it through the last day of school, we all assumed our actions would catch up with us the first day back in school. We headed back to school, fully expecting to be sent back home, suspended for at least a week. But to our surprise, nothing more was said about the strange snowfall that December day. I often wondered what kind of conversation had gone on between Ms. Gooden and Mr. Howie, but I never inquired. It was best to let that sleeping dog lie.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
The other evening I watched part of the movie, “Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer” with my daughter. It brought back memories. I saw it when it first came out, way back in 1964. It was an event back then, for it was in color. We didn’t have a color TV back then. Most of my friends didn’t have a color TV. But there was one family in the neighborhood that had a color TV and they invited the whole block over. A hoard of us kids crowed into their living room, sitting on the floor in front of the television, rooting for the misfit reindeer as he fought with rejection and battled the evil abominable snowman. To a kid, it was scary. I have to smile the other night as I watched the terrifying parts. It doesn’t seem nearly as scary or nearly as real it did back then.
I’ve been cynical when I’ve thought about this show. After all, Rudolph was created for a 1939 advertising campaign for Montgomery Wards. It looks like the character might stick around longer the institution that created it. I know there are some who think there’s a major onslaught against Christmas in our culture and in some ways, they should use the character of Rudolph and this movie in particular as an example. After all, there’s nothing in the movie about the birth of a Savior. But watching a part of the show again, as a middle-aged adult, I’ve reconsidered my position and realize that I may have been a bit harsh. Yes, it is true that the movie takes the focus off Christ and places it in the North Pole. But Christ-like values are seen throughout the film. The misfits find a place to fit in. You have an elf that wants to be a dentist, a reindeer with a bright red nose, toys that are exiled on an island as misfits. In the movie, they all find a place. The dentist elf pulls the teeth of the feared abominable snowman. Rudolph’s nose allows Santa to fly in inclement weather. The misfit toys find homes. And even the feared abominable snowman becomes tame and is able to help out, decorating Santa’s large tree without a ladder. There’s a place for everyone. Yeah,, it’s a kid’s movie, but it’s also a movie about redemption which is at the heart of the Christian message.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Christmas 1966 fell on a Sunday. As had become the tradition of most American kids, we got up early. I think it was 4:30 A.M. We knew we had to get up early because we were leaving the house for our grandparents by 7 A.M. and we wanted to have to time check out our loot. My parents weren't up as early as us as they'd been giving Santa a hand the night before. In pajamas, we stood in the hall way as my father set up his Super-8 movie camera. Dad had a bank of bright lights that he turned on and called us to come into the living room, with the camera rolling. Struck by the lights, our hands jerked up over our eyes, making us look like we witnesses to a nuclear dawn. Every Christmas morning started this way, and every year we had hands over our eyes as if we were shielding our face from the flash. I don’t remember what I got that year, but after checking it all out, we got to select one gift to take with us and we laded up the car and headed to Moore County, 120 miles to the west. This was our first car trip with my little brother.
First stop was at my mother’s parent’s home. In their living room was a cedar tree that my granddaddy had cut out on the edge of a field. It was simply decorated with only white lights, red balls and silver tinsel and was one of the most beautiful trees I’ve ever seen. Under the tree were presents for each of us and in the corner, behind the door, was a box of oranges. Granddaddy always had oranges. They gave me a Kodak Instamatic camera that year. It came in a box and with a roll of film and a square flash cube. You got four flashes per cube, one on each side. But I didn't get a chance to try it out right away. My brother, sister and I had to put our presents away and head to church. I didn’t see this as being fair as it was only my family (less my mother and the baby), who were going to church. My cousins who were just beginning to arrive didn't have to go,. Neither the fact that Christmas fell on Sunday nor that fact that we were in church the evening before were good enough excuses for us to miss church. My father loaded my brother and sister and I into the car and we headed over to Culdee. After worship, we came back over to my grandparents house. By then all the cousins were there.
We ate a big lunch and then left the grown-ups inside to play with my brother, as the rest of us headed outside and ran around in the fields, climbed over my granddad’s old orange Allis Chambers' tractor, and pretended to drive the old junk cars that were out in the woods. There were still maps in the glove compartments from the 40s and it was fun to take a trip using the maps. As the sun was dropping low in the sky, my parents gathered us all in to get us ready to go over to my other grandparents home for dinner. But before we left, I coaxed my grandparents outdoors for a picture. They stood in front of the big holly bushes that sat on each side of the stoop up to the porch of their home. My grandmother was tall and slim, my granddaddy shorter and stouter. He sported a crew cut. They held each other by the waist and I snapped the picture. A few weeks later, when I got the roll developed, I realized it was a bit crooked and off centered. Yet, it was a sharp image and was probably the last photograph taken of my grandfather.
Two weeks later, on a Monday morning, we were again making the trip to Moore County. My granddad’s heart finally gave out. He’d been fighting emphysema for years, brought on by too many cigarettes and probably made worst by working as a welder in a shipyard during the war. He was only two years older than I am now.
I'll try to finish up and post another 9th grade memory before Christmas--Williston's White Christmas or how to extend your Christmas holiday to an eternity.
Kevin over at Silver and Gold has been doing profiles of folks in his blogroll. I feel humbled by what he said about me. I learned that he found me through our shared interest in mining history (something I’ve only written a bit about here, but is a field I have some knowledge of). From my blog, he branched out and read some others who regularly post here and has become part of this interesting community. In this post, he makes insightful and encouraging comments about Murf, Jadedprimadonna, Tim and, in the comment sections, Ed. I encourage you to read Kevin’s blog as he writes about lots of stuff. He’s one of the most well-read individuals I know and also writes with passion and compassion about his family and faith.
Kevin comments got me trying to recall how I met some of you. I think, but this was a long time ago, Murf came to my blog via Appalachian Intellect’s blog (AI). He’s now known as the Appalachianist and is about as far as one can get from those lovely mountains of our Southern Highlands, as he’s deployed in Iraq. Check out his reports from the war zone and wish him well. I think, but am not positive, I came across AI from Jadedprimadonna’s blog. I started reading Jaded’s blog early in my career and was attracted by her stories of growing up the Southern hills and how she’s now in a PhD program at Clemson. She’s a pretty good gal even if she’s from the lesser of the Carolinas (I know, that joke is getting old as I use it to describe anyone from South Carolina). I came across Tim’s blog from our shared interest in Honduras. Tim is one of the kindness bloggers I know and an incredible photographer who sees picture possibilities everywhere. He’s also now has a girlfriend. Ed and I got to know each other through another blog which took a far right-handed turn. Murf and I got kicked off for questioning statements and shortly thereafter Ed got booted too. It ranks right up there as the weirdest experience I’ve had in blogging and one of the weirdest in my life and you can read about it here. With a name like Ed Abbey (the name of one of our great western writers), I just had to like the guy.
I’ll post my Christmas memories of 1966 tomorrow. Some day I'll have to write more about others who post here (let that be a warning!). Have a blessed day and may you avoid the Christmas rush and have time to enjoy the season.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Okay, this picture is a couple weeks old, the tree has just been put up and it looks kind of bare without presents, etc. And I really should take a picture of it in the dark (using a tripod) with only the lights on the tree providing illumination (the flash wshes things out). With this meme, I needed picture of my Christmas tree, even if eventhing looks a bit faded.
I've seen this around, but picked it up from Nanners and Noodles.
1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? How about a Hot Buttered Rum? Of if someone else is making them, a Tom Collins?
2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? When I was a kid, he was lazy and didn’t wrap them, but since I had kids, he wraps all but the large ones.
3. Colored lights on tree/house? White lights, I grew up in a house with colored lights and rebelled. (of course, it was pretty bold of my parents to have colored lights in a white neighborhood--I didn't say this was a politically correct meme)
4. Do you hang mistletoe? Haven’t be able to find any up here which is why, I suspect, Yankees are bad kisses. Once when I was younger and living in North Carolina, I went out in the swamps and climbed a tree and cut out a whole bundle of mistoe to give to a girlfriend, the bunch of it was probably three feet in diameter with a peck of berries.
5. When do you put your decorations up? I start the weekend after Thanksgiving and still haven't finished which means some won't get put up this year which will only make them more dear next year.
6. What is your favorite holiday dish? Crab dip.
7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child: My grandparents gave me a Kodak camera when I was nine. I had to coach them outside for a picture. It was the last picture taken of my grandfather; he died of emphysema early that January. I haven’t seen that picture in decades, but would give about anything to have it. I can still see it, there are slightly off to the side and a bit tilted, standing in front of the holly bushes that grew on each side of the stoop up to their porch, with arms around each other.
8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? I learned this about the time my brother was born and was told that if I ruined it for him, it’d be all over and I’d really would get ash and coal, so I decided to keep believing. I stopped believing a few years ago after going to the World of Coca-Cola in Las Vegas and realized that the Santa we know and love is a trademark of a soft-drink company. That did it, I refuse to believe in a trademark.
9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? As a kid, I got to open one on Christmas eve, usually right before going to the Candlelight Service at church. The same tradition continues with my daughter.
10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? Standing on a chair, I string lights, then standing on the floor while my daughter stands on a chair, we hang ornaments. It's generally the two of us decorating the tree, but this year we had our Korean exhange student who got into the act.
11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? Love it, but looks like we’re having global warning, no white Christmas expected here.
12. Can you ice skate? Define skate. I can get around the rink without falling, but not good enough to play hockey (that’s for you Pergo) Now skiing, that I can do!
13. Do you remember your favorite gift? My first bike. I was seven.
14. What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you? Celebrating Christ's brith and remembering the reason for the holiday.
15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? My mother’s rum balls, which are pretty dang good for a lady who is a devout teetotaller!
16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Candlelight worship services on Christmas Eve, as for something around the house, it's the Morvarian star hanging out on the porch.
17. What tops your tree? As a kid, a star; now, an angel. Have you heard the story about how the angel got perched on top of the… oh, forget it. That
18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving? Giving (unless it’s a really good gift).
19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? “What Child is This” to the tune Greensleeves. Or maybe George Winston’s piano solo of the “Carol of the Bells” on his December album.
20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum? How about so-so. I’ll take chocolate anytime over candy canes.
A personal confession of bumbling around… Twice in my life I set out to watch a movie and ended up with the wrong flick. This once happened in a movie theater. I was working night shift in the bakery back then. We’d discussed two movies and I thought we’d settled on which movie we were going to see, I no longer remember what its name. Zombie like, for I’d been up the night before, I staggered in following others and we began watching what I thought was a long preview for some basketball movie. After about ten minutes, I whispered, “this is the longest preview I’ve seen.” I don’t remember the name of the movie we watched, but that was 25 years ago and I slept through part of it.
I had a similar experience recently. Having enjoyed Deepa Mehta’s movie, “Water,” I ordered from Netflix another movie within her trilogy, “Earth.” I sat aside an evening to watch it. I’d read the cover and knew that “Earth” was about the horrors along the Indian/Pakistan border during the late 40s, as seen through the eyes of a young girl. I put the DVD into the player, skipped all the trailers as I set up the ironing board, got out the spray starch, gathered hangers and hauled the recently washed shirts over to the couch. By the time I was ready to iron, the movie was on the opening page and I hit play. The film began with a skirmish in the woods; I assumed they were Muslim and Hindu partisans. It seemed like a natural beginning. Then the scene changed to that of beautiful scenery with a teenage girl singing. Was I watching an Indian “Sound of Music?” A musical about a serious subject? I didn’t think the movie was a musical and beside, the girl singing seemed older than the one the movie was suppose to be about. I kept watching and ironing. By the time I was on my second shirt, a car drove into this Indian village. It wasn’t a 1940 vintage. For a second I tried to rationalize, thinking that maybe the director was now in the present and would flash back into the past. But that only lasted for a second or two. I then accepted the fact that this wasn’t the movie I thought I was watching. I stopped the DVD, pulled out the disk, and checked. Sure enough, I was watching Roja, not Earth. Someone had placed the wrong disk into the slipcase. Since I had the time, I went ahead and watch it and am glad I did.
MY REVIEW: “Roja” is kind of hokey. I was shocked to later learn that it is based on a true story. The plot lines are predictable (except for when you are trying to make it fit into a movie about the ‘40s as seen through the eyes of a little girl). As often the case with Bollywood (and Hollywood), some of the acting is overdone (bodies doing back flips and people tumbling down the side of a glaciers). It’s also nationalistic, reminding me of some of Hollywood’s movies from World War Two. And it’s a love story. The movie suffers from too many different plots and themes, but I’m still glad I watched it. After all, I was intrigued by the concept of an Indian Nationalistic love story. Also making the movie worthwhile was incredible scenery and beautiful music (although one needs to brush up on their Tamil to fully enjoy the lyrics).
The first part of the movie is the story of Roja (Madhoo), a devout Hindu. She prays for her sister’s marriage as Rishi Kumar (Avind Swamy), a computer engineer from the city, comes to the village to be married to her sister. But her sister doesn’t want to marry him (she wants to marry her childhood friend who is the son of her father’s enemy). She persuades him to reject her. It is worked out that Roja sister will marry her lover while Rishi will marry Roja. Roja goes along with it, but isn’t taken with Rishi for she feels that he insulted her sister. Only after she learns the truth does she fall for him as she pledges to “treat him as a god.” (I fell in love with Roja at this point!)
In the second part of the movie, Rishi is sent to Kashmir to work on deciphering codes for the Indian military. Roja travels with him. They find conditions tense as terrorists wanting an independent Kashmir are active. Rishi is taken hostage and Roja does everything in her power to free him. There are a couple surreal scenes where Rishi tries to talk rationally to his captures, even appealing to their Allah, questioning if this is what their religion is all about. “Wipe away the tears of people,” he tells them, “instead of making them cry.” As with all good fairytales, Rishi eventually escapes and is reunited with his wife. The movie ends with a nationalistic song.
I recommend this movie for its wonderful scenery and music, and for its look at another nation’s nationality. By examining another national rhetoric, we may better understand how our own national ideology is seen by the rest of the world.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
After a few days my brother and mother came home from the hospital. D., having been born in December, came wrapped in a large red stocking. He also got to have the distinction of being one of the last kids to be born at James Walker, for that hospital was closing as the New Hanover County Memorial Hospital was being opened. I would like to say that we were excited, but that wasn’t really the case. It didn’t seem fair that we all had small stockings and D had this huge one! As it was winter when he arrived, with seasonal colds going around, Mom made us all wash our hands and wear a mask if we wanted to be close to little D. I found this insulting and figured I’d see plenty of him in the Spring.
At school, I continued my journey toward perdition. At wits end, Miss Freeman decided it was a time for an intervention. She got permission from my Mom to keep me after school. When all the kids left for the bus, she told me to stay behind. The buses left and there I sat, waiting for the lecture. She surprised me by asking if I wanted something to drink. She took me into the faculty lounge, which was like going into the holy of holies, and brought me a bottle of Pepsi from the machine. I now felt guilty for saying mean things about her. I was cheap; she brought me off with a dime soft drink. We talked for a while about my behavior and my friends, and then she gave me a ride home. As she pulled into our driveway, she asked if she could come in and see my little brother. “That’s fine,” I said, “but you gotta wash your hands and wear a mask.” Undoubtedly my mother wasn’t concerned about her germs, and overruled me, handing the teacher my little brother as soon as she walked through the door.
Afterwards, my mother scolded me for telling Miss Freeman that she had to wear a mask, implying that hospitality over-rules sanitation. She also began an lament about how the house was a mess when my teacher came by. The last time I heard her tell this story, a few years ago, she was still expressing her embarrassment. I think the reason she was so quick to give over the kid was to distract Miss Freeman, keeping her from looking around for dirt which, in my mother’s house, would have required a detailed search.
A few summers later, when my brother was around four, we pawned him off on grandparents and the rest of us (Mom, Dad, my brother and sister and I) went on vacation. Ten days later, we returned to learn that D had an epiphany into his early life. He told us fantastic tales of wandering around the old James Walker hospital, of talking to nurses and getting out of his crib and walking down to the kitchen and fixing himself a sandwich. If he was that self-sufficient in the hospital, why did he regress? Forty years later, I still wonder.
Click here for tales of my brother's birth on his 40th birthday
Friday, December 15, 2006
Thursday, December 14, 2006
I was nine years old, a forth grader in Miss Freeman’s class at Bradley Creek Elementary School, just getting a good start on the road to perdition. 1966 had been a trying year. We’d left Petersburg, VA, where we’d sojourned for a few years, that summer and moved down near the coast of North Carolina. I didn’t want to move. I had nightmares of tidal waves and jelly fish and sharks. I didn’t want to leave behind my friends and move to a place that was obviously so dangerous. And following this turmoil, D came along.
I don’t recall what I did that day in school. All I remember is that I went home with an extra assignment. For the first time in my academic career, as punishment, I had to write sentences. This seemed to be a favorite method of punishing wayward students in the fourth and fifth grade and by the time I’d gotten out of elementary school, having written thousands of sentences, my handwriting was ruined for life. I’m surprised I didn’t become an engineer as I had also manufactured tools that allowed me to write five sentences at a time. Instead of patenting my technology, I offered it freely to other students, which lead to our fifth grade teacher to expand the sentences to paragraphs. This quantum shift that called for new technological designs. But I digress. I was just getting to work on writing the sentences, sitting at the kitchen table, when my dad ordered us to get in the car and we all headed downtown to the old James Walker hospital. That afternoon and evening, sitting in the lobby of the hospital, I wrote a hundred times something about behaving in class. It was long after I’d finished my penance that my Dad finally came down to the lobby and took us home, without mom. It was strange, we knew she was pregnant, but at this point we learned that she hadn’t yet given birth. We woke that next morning and were told that we had a baby brother. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but life wasn’t going to be the same. Of course, credit should be given to my brother. His birth distracted my parents and I didn’t receive a second dose of punishment for my misdeeds. The double jeopardy clause in the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply to children; in this incident I got off easy.
D had a tough life ahead. My mother use to put him in my brother's and my room for his nap. If he was still asleep when we got home from school, we couldn’t go into our room. This we cured. One year for Christmas, we got a blacklight and some neat posters of dragons that we plastered on our wall. The room was naturally dark and when you shut the blinds and turned on the blacklight, the dragons glowed as if alive. After telling D a few stories about the dragons, he never slept in our room again. I also think that trick had something to do with my mother’s disposal of our posters. And then there were the stories of the danger of being flushed down the commode which, I’m sure, delayed his potty training. As D got older, he hung around with me a lot. I use to take him canoeing and fishing on Town Creek. We’d float down the creek, fishing the lily pads along the bank. When it was time to turn around and paddle back to the bridge, I’d tell him stories about how we were getting close to the falls and had to paddle hard upstream to save ourselves. D would paddle like mad as we made our way upstream.
With three older siblings who did their best to screw him up, it’s amazing that D made it this far without, as far as I know, any serious mental illness. Happy birthday D! With the exception of your politics, you seem to have turned out okay.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Our latest test was returned. I quickly took mine and put it under some other papers, shielding it from the new girl. “She looks smart and wouldn’t be impressed with my grade,” I thought. We were over the test, our teaching showing where I’d made mistakes in calculations. Then she handed out our report cards. Again, I snatched the card quickly and stuck it in a book. The new girl was the one person other than my parents that I didn’t want to see my grades. I promised myself I’d study harder and do all my homework this next term. She was worth such sacrifices.
As the class wound down, I was trying to think of a good line for when the bell rang and we went down to the cafeteria. But a few minutes before the bell, the principal, Mr. Howie, stepped in. He’d never been in this class and I thought this was strange since we’d be fairly well behaved that day. Politely, our teacher yielded to the floor to Mr. Howie, who informed us that our teacher was being promoted and would be our new assistant principal. At his clue, we all clapped, not sure what that meant. As a general rule, by this point in my academic career, assistant principals weren’t on radar. I was the type of kid that got to bypass the assistant’s office and head straight to the big guy’s door. After only six weeks at Williston, Howie and I were on first name bases.
After all the accolades for our teacher was over, the principal, as if he was introducing a political candidate, said it gave him great pleasure to introduce our new teacher, Ms. Gooden. As he was speaking, the new girl in the class stood and stepped forward. Mike and I slid under our respective desks. I swear, as she introduced herself to the class, she smirked every time she looked over to our corner. This was going to be a long year.
Like most school boys, there had been a few teachers who, because of their looks or kindness, had encouraged my fantasies. There was my fourth grade teacher who once brought me a soft-drink, and of course my seventh grade math teacher with her ten dresses. But in all those cases, my fantasies stayed where they belonged, deep in my psyche. I’d never said anything inappropriate to any of these teachers. But now I found myself with a new teacher that was not only a knockout, but one that I’d already been hitting on. Yes, this was going to be a long year.
Ms. Gooden was fresh from college. She was probably twenty-two, but could have easily passed for fifteen. I’m sure she was still being carded. She was beautiful, far more so than the rather plain girls in our class. And she knew who, in her class, to keep an eye on. I suppose it was to make the point that she was no “Mrs. Robinson” that Ms Gooden had her boyfriend drop by one day. He was a Marine, an officer in the Corp and was decked out in his dress uniform that including a sword engraved, if I’m not mistaken, with the words, “hands off my girl.” As he greeted us, he kept looking over at my corner. I’m sure he’d been clued about us. I don’t remember if it was he or Ms. Gooden that told us he was heading to Vietnam, news that upset everyone in the room except for Mike and me. We were secretly relieved.
I should say that nothing ever happened, but that wouldn’t be quite true. Certainly nothing romantically happened, but there were still adventures to come as we finished out my ninth year in school together. I’m sure nothing in Ms. Gooden’s teacher training prepared her to have a class like ours at such a time in history. Next I’ll have to tell you about Williston’s first ever white Christmas and how to extend one’s Christmas vacation. Add that to riots and other extra activities going on that year and you'll see that she was baptized by fire.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
The other end of the tree bailing process...
All sins are attempts to fill voids.
-Simone Weil, as quoted in "Sunbeams," The Sun, December 2006
The imperfections of a man, his frailties, his faults, are just as important as his virtues. You can’t separate them. They’re wedded.
–Henry Miller as quoted in “Sunbeams,” The Sun, December 2006
Final set of quotes from Moby Dick:
Aye, Aye, Aye... D’ye,... There she blows.
(for Bone's benefit who asked last week where were the aye's)
But by her still halting course and winding, woeful way, you plainly saw that this ship that so wept with spray, still remained without comfort. She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not. (Rachel is a ship looking for lost sailors)
Ahab is for ever Ahab, man. This whole act's immutably decreed. 'Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates' lieutenant; I act under orders. Look thou, underling! that thou obeyest mine.
Here's food for thought, had Ahab time to think; but Ahab never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels; that's tingling enough for mortal man! to think's audacity. God only has that right and privilege. Thinking is, or ought to be, a coolness and a calmness; and our poor hearts throb, and our poor brains beat too much for that.
and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag of Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it.
On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.
from Nan Graham's, Turn South at the Next Magnolia:
POOP: People’s Organization for Outhouse Preservation
While animals build their lives around smells, we act as if it were an optional sense.
In their own words they [jihadist] have said that the purpose of the attacks of September 11 was to goad the United States into an exaggerated retaliation against the Muslim world. Then they could frame the U.S. military response as a ‘war against Islam.’ The irony is that it didn’t work at first. The war in Afghanistan had almost unanimous support in the Arab and Muslim worlds, even from some of the U.S.’s staunchest enemies… Bin Laden’s plan hadn’t worked. Then, as wel all know, we turned around and attacked Iraq, and what bin Laden had hoped the war in Afghanistan would become, the war in Iraq became.
-Reza Aslan in “The War within Islam” by Arnie Cooper, The Sun, December 2006
Yes, it is too late for a do-over of the decision to go to war. It's too late to go back to the days when many fewer Americans dared to question the wisdom of the invasion. But it is not too late to make some distinction between those who were flat wrong, like the president and so many of his advisers, those who knew better and went along anyway, like former secretary of state Colin Powell, and those who argued against involvement from the get-go and have been proved horribly right, like Gore.
-Melinda Henneberger at the Huffington Post.
If you want more quotes, check out Kevin Stilley's blog. He normally posts quotes on Monday night and normally draws from more serious sources.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
A tree eating machine (preparing the tree for transport from the tree farm to the living room) The photo was taken the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Most families, I surmise, have some kind of Christmas tradition based on a gift that just keeps giving. It's often a fruitcake, that's nearly petrified after generations of being given and given again. But my family happens to like fruitcake, so another gift rose up to take its place. It’s a pair of leather anklets with a series of bells attached. You wear this when you are dancing as if you are American Indian at a pow-wow. Problem is, no self-respecting Native American, at least not one in his or her right mind, ever wore such an item. But my Dad made this when he was in the Boy Scouts, thinking he was dressing up like he was a real Injun, like the ones he'd seen in Roy Roger’s movies. And then, about the time my Dad moved out of his parent’s home, he gave his prize possession, this nerve racking anklet, to L., his much younger brother and my uncle. L. proceeded to drive their mother crazy. Then L., probably at the insistence of my Grandma, gave the bells to me so I could return the favor. For a time the bells were lost in my parents attic. Shortly after my brother and his wife had their first kid, I was going through stuff I’d left up in my parent’s attic and came across these bells. It was only natural for me to give them as a Christmas present to my nephew. The favor was returned when my daughter was three or four. And ever since, every year when we get the Christmas decorations out, she hears those bells ringing in a particular box and pulls them out and wears them around the house for an hour or two while I’ll gain sympathy for Cain, as I too have thoughts of doing in my brother. But this is about to change. Next to receive the gift is to be my youngest brother’s son. He’s at the right age to cherish such a gift and I’m sure this is just what the boy needs to send his dad over the edge.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Patrick McManus, The Deer on a Bicycle: Excursions into the Writing of Humor (Spokane: Eastern Washington University Press, 1997)
To atone for all my sins committed in high school and college English classes, I try to read at least one book a year on the subject of writing. Knowing I couldn’t fathom another serious book on the subject, I picked up a copy of Patrick McManus’ guide to writing humor. I’ve read some of his other books and always get a chuckle out of them and was shocked to see that he had a book published by a university press! McManus is the type of author you want to keep on your nightstand. You can read a story or two before sleep and have hilarious dreams. He was also once a college English professor.
There are two parts to this book, the first being the “how to” section, the second being a collection of some of his best writings with his comments on how each piece came about and what he was attempting to do.
“The basic purpose of the article was to amuse and entertain, not inform,” McManus admits following his piece “Wild Life in a Room with a View.” McManus claims (if you can trust a humorist) this to be his last “straight piece” before going strictly to humor. This truism goes for the entire book. Reading the book, I was humored. I laughed; sometimes I laughed hard enough to cry. The other night I was reading it while lying in my daughter’s bed so that she would go to sleep. I should have gotten up when I heard the first little snore, but the story was too interesting that I kept reading and when I got to the punch line, I laughed so hard she woke up thinking something was wrong and I had to find a more serious book to read while she tried to go back to sleep.
This book inspired my recent post about my 7th Grade Math teacher. Depending on whether or not you liked that story may say something about whether or not you’d want to read this book. I recommend it because I recommend anything that McManus writes, not because I think it’s going to help make us better comics. Another book that I found had a lot of helpful hints on humor, believe it or not, was Stephen King’s book, On Writing.
Christmas is here again. Last year, I never got out a Christmas letter. I had all the best intentions to do it on New Year’s Day, but I found myself then heading to New Orleans on a relief trip, riding the rails on the “City of New Orleans” with college students. Valentine’s Day came around next, but I didn’t want one of my friends to think I was copying her family’s tradition. I thought about April Fool’s Day, but I didn’t want to enhance any of your beliefs about me being a fool. Next up was Easter, but at least two of my friends send out Easter letters, and I didn't want to start a movement. Then I thought about sending it on the 4th of July, but since I wasn’t going to wax on about patriotism, felt I might belittle the holiday. Next up, was Labor Day, but it just didn’t seem right to write on a day reserved for rest. I could have done it on Halloween, but I was afraid someone might think I was being Satanic. I could have done it on Reformation day which is the same as Halloween, but most of you probably didn’t know that, nor do you care. And I could have written the letter on Nevada day, which is also the same as Halloween, but none of you ‘cept my Nevada friends know that, and even they probably don't care. Then there was Thanksgiving, and I’m really am thankful for you all, but it slipped up on me too quick, which means I’ve now covered a year and never got around to writing last year’s letter. As Sam Jones, the old southern revivalist of the 19th Century supposedly first coined, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Yep, he was a Methodist. You can tell, he emphasized work. And he probably never forget to send out a Christmas letter.
Monday, December 04, 2006
Photo of porpoises off Masonboro Island.
Last spring I wrote my memories of 1968-69. I was in the fifth and sixth grade then and ended those stories with a statement about how excited I was to be going to Roland Grice Junior High School. I still remember that excitement, but it hit a wall about the middle of the first week of school and thereafter Junior High became what it is for most students, a nightmare. But there were bright spots, as I try to show in this story of a 13 year old infatuation for his teacher.
“The older I get, the better looking older women get,” my father confided in me one afternoon after we’d caught glimpse the lady two doors down who was out doing yard work in a swimsuit.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My Dad had never talked like that about any other female except for my Mom. But I knew what he meant. I’d just been thinking the same thing about my seventh grade math teacher and she looked mighty fine even though she was ancient. I bet she was staring thirty right in the eyes.
Under Mrs. Numbers tutelage, not only had we learned about adding and subtracting, multiplying and dividing and fractions and so forth, but we were also introduced to probability analysis, although that was not in the curriculum approved by the school board. “What was the probability Mrs. Numbers would wear that short pink dress tomorrow?” we’d ponder on the school bus. Or “what chance did we have of her wearing that blue dress which caused her eyes to sparkle, accented her curves and showed as much cleavage that a teacher in 1970 could get away with?” By the end of the year, we had it all figured it out. Mrs. Numbers had ten dresses (two in particular that lit up the eyes of her male students) and she wore her dresses in a two week rotation, so that one week we had a Tuesday and Friday to look forward to and the next week we knew we’d be in a dry spell..
As a seventh grader, I hadn’t yet had the chance to learn the fine art of seduction. Like most new teenagers, I was a bumbling idiot with just two tricks up my sleeve. I could play the clown, which always got a few girls interested, but it wasn’t working with Mrs. Numbers. So I decided to try my other trick, to the play the bad boy. I was sure that Mrs. Numbers would be fall under my spell as she strove to save me from perdition. I’m not so sure why I thought this when she was married to a coach at the high school and I wasn’t even able to make the Jr. High team. But I’ve always set my goals high.
On this occasion I should have listened to Jerry’s admonishment at our six grade banquet that we not commit adultery during our Jr. High Years. That is, we should not be committing adultery if we wanted to stay on the straight and narrow. But Mrs. Numbers, like Eve’s apple, was just too tempting. I started playing the role of the bad guy.
A few days later, Mrs Numbers caught Mark and I doing something devious, probably shooting spitballs, and ordered us to stay after class. As this was the last class of the day and the buses left right away, we missed the bus. But this was okay, we thought, for we knew that Mrs. Numbers also lived down in the Myrtle Grove Sound area and we were sure she’d give us a ride. But she either didn’t want two aroused 13 year olds in her car or more likely wanted to make a point, so she sent us to the office to call our parents. Neither Mark nor I had a desire to make the point Mrs. K wanted us to make, so we cut out for South College Road and, facing traffic, stuck out our thumbs. For a long time, no one stopped which surprised us for we thought we were fairly innocent looking, not like the 7th grade felonies.
About the time it was beginning to look like we’d have to walk the five miles home, a brand new sedan flew by, then hit the brakes, screeching and throwing up dust as it pulled onto the shoulder and came to a stop. “It’s our lucky day,” I yelled as the two of us ran up to this car. Mark got there first and, looking back at me, had a worried look on his face. Immediately, I recalled those warnings about perverts picking up kids.
“Our luck just ran out,” Mark said as he started to open the door.
“Stop,” I said grabbing him by the shoulders, let’s just walk. That’s when I caught a glimpse of the driver. Mark was right, our luck had just expired. It was his Dad, and he didn’t look too pleased at the prospect of doing a good deed by giving us a lift home.
Mark’s dad was a car salesman and was test driving a new car that we’d not seen, that is we didn’t see it until it was too late. In that long drive home, which seemed to take as long as walking would have, he gave us a blistering lecture on how dangerous and idiotic our actions had been. But then, to our surprise, he dropped it and didn’t tell either of our mothers. I’m assuming this had nothing to do with benevolence; he just didn’t want to have our blood on his hands, or maybe the thought of his wife in the slammer for filicide would have weighed too heavy on his conscience.
As that six week term drew to a close in Mrs. Numbers class, the prospect of the unsatisfactory conduct grades on the dreaded report card loomed ahead, a fate just as scary as that terrible day of the Lord of which the Prophet Joel speaks. Mark and I began to make plans to run away from home. Our destination was Masonboro Island. We thought we could live like the hermit down at Fort Fisher, subsiding on a diet of fish and shellfish, and telling our story to those who pass by our way,
Living on Masonboro Island was going to take some ingenuity. There’s no fresh water on the island and I suggested we save saving scraps of plastic to make solar stills in order to produce fresh water. I’d tried this in scouts and figured that it’d take a dozen or so three foot solar sills to create enough water just to quench our thirst. We’d need another couple hundred to have enough fresh water for a shower. There were also other supplies to gather. We needed a tent and each a mess kit and some fishing gear and since it was baseball season, a radio with a season’s worth of nine volt batteries. We also needed some additional grub, as the spring of the year is about the worst time of the year to catch fish along the Carolina Coast.
By the time we figured out what we needed to set up for a lifetime of housekeeping on the island, there wasn’t a boat in Myrtle Grove Sound large enough to haul us and our gear across the waterway. We thought about commandeering the USS North Carolina, which was parked over in the Cape Fear River and wasn’t being used for much of anything but looks, but then we learned that it was stuck in the mud. That’s okay; we’d probably even have capsized it with all our junk. Mark never heard of downsizing and couldn’t be convinced to leave his baseball cards at home.
Soon the report cards came and we forgot about Masonboro Island and took our licks like men. As the azaleas started to bloom, I dropped Mrs. Numbers for a younger woman.
Other School Year Memories
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Photo taken at the junction of the Appalachian Trail and a railroad, near Brownsville Jct, Maine, August 1987.
Sage's Note: Some quotes should have been posted last week, but I didn't get around to it.
From Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, Freedom at Midnight (primarily Gandhi quotes)
Science should not order human values, he argued, technology should not order society, and civilization was not the infinite multiplication of human wants but their deliberate limitation to essentials that could be equitable shared by all. -Gandhi
We are toys in the hands of God, He makes us dance to His tunes.” –Gandhi, (I never knew he was a Calvinist)
We forget too easily that food was not made to delight the palate, but to sustain the body as our slave. –Gandhi
Stoning prophets and erecting churches to their memory afterward had been the way of the world throughout the ages. Today we worship Christ but the Christ in the flesh we crucify. –Gandhi, speaking to an English crowd
To know what is right, and not to do it, is cowardice. -A Confucius quote used by Gandhi
A fast, Gandhi believed, could be undertaken only under certain conditions. It was useless, he declared, to fast against an enemy on whose love and affection the faster had no claim. It would have been absurd ad against his theories for a Jewish inmate of Buchenwald to employ a fast against his SS captors…
If we remember that all life is one, there is no reason wh we should treat one another as enemies. –Gandhi
Bread obtained without labor is stolen bread. I have now started to take food, therefore I must labor. –Gandhi on returning to his spinning wheel after a fast
Nonviolence was the only force the bomb could not destroy. In an atomic attack, he would urge his followers to stand firm, ‘looking up, watching without fear, pryaing for the pilot.’ -Gandhi’s advice on nuclear weapons
Quotes from Herman Melville, Moby Dick: (I think I have 3 more hours of listening and there are so many great quotes I've missed and Ing is right, it's a very funny book)
Yea, foolish mortals, Noah's flood is not yet subsided; two thirds of the fair world it yet covers.
For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life.
For, d'ye see, rainbows do not visit the clear air; they only irradiate vapor. And so, through all the thick mists of the dim doubts in my mind, divine intuitions now and then shoot, enkindling my fog with a heavenly ray. And for this I thank God; for all have doubts; many deny; but doubts or denials, few along with them, have intuitions. Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye.
Ahab seized a loaded musket from the rack (forming part of most South-Sea-men's cabin furniture), and pointing it towards Starbuck, exclaimed: "There is one God that is Lord over the earth, and one Captain that is lord over the Pequod.,, "Thou hast outraged, not insulted me, Sir; but for that I ask thee not to beware of Starbuck; thou wouldst but laugh; but let Ahab beware of Ahab; beware of thyself, old man."
Brits (and children) love their bathroom humor almost as much as they do their slapstick. Oddly enough, Americans, generally thought to be much more vulgar than the English, seem generally not amused by bathroom humor and even put off by it. –Patrick McManus, The Deer on a Bicycle
Take some time and enjoy and appreciate and live your faith. Don’t hurry, scurry, hurry and scurry. Some of you are not getting all the vitamins and calories from your faith because you lives are so complicated. Live more simply and get rid of junk; you don’t need a lot of stuff and you don’t need to be entertained all the time. Spend some time enlarging the inner world of your life. How can the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit dwell in us if there’s no room? Clean out a bunch of stuff and make room. -Fred Craddock, The Cherry Log Sermons
Sometimes I think in all the world the saddest thing to be, old admirals who feel the wind and never put to sea. style="font-size:85%;">-Al Stewart, “Old Admirals” Past-Present and Future
Friday, December 01, 2006
What a mess. For centuries the British had controlled the Indian subcontinent. Then, at the end of World War II, with their economy ravaged by war, the British decide they can no longer afford their empire and is ready to grant India its independence. Louis Mountbatten, the former commander of the Allied troops in South Asia during the war, is called to be the last British Viceroy. His job is to give India back to the Indians, a task more difficult than it sounds. Freedom at Midnight tells the story of Mountbatten’s work in India as well as weaving in stories from the history of the subcontinent to explain the challenges facing Britain as she pulled out of India. Parts of the book are horrific (religious wars always are). Other parts are hopeful, especially the unfailing work of Gandhi in striving for a peaceful, nonviolent solution. Reading this book at this time in history, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps there are some parallels between British India and our occupation of Iraq. History does have ways of repeating itself.
I didn’t set out to read this book for insights into Iraq. A couple months ago I’d asked a friend of mine who directs missions in India to recommend one book on the country. I was getting ready to have a colleague from India working with me for six week and I wanted to prepare myself. Unfortunately, I didn’t get this book until after J. arrived. But I read most of it during his stay and learned enough to ask questions and as a result, learned more about his homeland. Although the book is about a political process, the authors give background information necessary to understand how modern India came about. They cover the development of the Hindu religion, the Mongols bringing in Islam, and the rise of a small but important sect, the Sikhs. They provide backgrounds to many of the key players in the British opposition and the early development of a modern India, especially Gandhi, Patel, Nehru and Jinnah (the father of Pakistan). And they provide interesting insights into the culture, such as Mountbatten’s blunder in setting the date for independence (he didn’t check the stars) or how others caught up in the upheaval depended on things such a palm reading and astrology.
Mountbatten came to India early in 1947. The subcontinent was already experiencing its trouble as Gandhi’s Congress Party (who wanted a united subcontinent) was pitted against the Moslem League (who called for a separate Muslim nation of Pakistan, meaning “land of the pure”). The Moslem League was willing to go to great ends to achieve their objective. In 1946, they called for a day of “Direct Action,” to show that if necessary, they’d resort to action to achieve their own nation. In Calcutta, Muslims pouring out of Mosques, hearing the call for action, went on a rampage in Hindu slums, burning business and killing those in their path. Soon, Hindu neighborhoods banded together and retaliated, burning business and killing bystanders in Muslim neighborhoods. Although Calcutta had had a reputation of being a dangerous place, it had never experienced this kind of carnage. Over six thousand people died in what became known as the Great Calcutta Killings.
At first Mountbatten wanted to keep the subcontinent intact, but it became clear to him that partition was the only solution. He tried to get all parties to agree with him and he contracted with Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a British lawyer, to draw the boundaries for the new countries. This creates difficulty as there were large Moslem majorities in both northwestern and northeast India as well as a concentrated pocket of Sikhs in the northwest. Doing the best he could, Radcliffe created what became known as Pakistan, a nation with two parts, separated by India (in the early 70s, East Pakistan became Bangladesh). The two nations received their independence in the midst of celebration on August 15, 1947, but the boundaries weren’t identified until after independence. The celebrations were short lived, especially along the western border, as millions of Hindus and Sikhs moved east into India as Moslems began to move west into Pakistan. All along the route, great atrocities were carried out as both sides attacked one another and sought revenge (Moslems pitted against Hindus and Sikhs). So great was the carnage that buzzards over ate and could no longer fly while dogs and wild animals feasted only on the choices parts of the dead bodies.
As bad as the atrocities were, it was a miracle it didn’t spread throughout the subcontinent. Thanks to the work of Gandhi, who was able to unite both Hindus and Moslems, Calcutta and Delhi and other places in India were spared the disaster that occurred in the west. Another interesting development is that the new Indian leaders recalled Mountbatten, admitting they could no longer control the country, pointing out that when they should have been learning to govern, they were in English prisons. For a period after English rule ended, an Englishman remained in control behind the scenes, directing Indian leaders.
It is obvious that the authors have great respect for both Gandhi and Mountbatten. The book ends with Gandhi’s assassination, (carried out by Hindu fanatics who felt he was too generous toward Moslems). Following Gandhi’s death, the worse of the atrocities ended even though tensions between India and Pakistan continue to this day.
I recommend this book if you are interested in how modern India developed. You’ll learn why Kashmir is still a confused state and why the tension continues along the Pakistan border. The book also provides insight into the work of Gandhi, especially the last year of his life and details in the conspiracy against him.
All my life, I’ve been told to sit up straight. I am a slouchier. I liked to lean back. I like recliners. I like to read in my office, with my feet on my desk, leaning back in my chair. As I written before, when backpacking, by leaning my pack up against the tree, I have a wonderful recliner and have taken many afternoon naps in such a position. Now, after a lifetime of being told by well intended but ill-informed do-gooders, I’ve finally been vindicated. I feel like a prisoner receiving the governor’s clemency. The medical community has finally learned what I knew all along, that sitting up straight is bad for your back, the best way to sit is at a 135 degree recline. If you don’t believe me, check it out. It’s a good thing that I was a defiant rebel growing up or I may be having serious back problems right now.
And one final bit of news, speaking of governors. Kenju, a fellow Tarheel (who still lives in the Old North State), a florist in Raleigh, and one who can read and understand recipes, was chosen to be on the decorating team for the NC Governor’s mansion. Check out her work here. Wonder if she’d want to go on the road and help decorate the homes of North Carolina expatriates?