Friday, July 14, 2017

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Glorious Fourth

[This post originally appeared on July 4, 2005.]

Flags in the Rain 07-03-14When I was a kid I was very outgoing in putting up displays for the holidays — Memorial Day, Christmas, the Fourth of July.  I liked the flags, the lights, the stuff. It was cool to make a big splash. But as I grew up I grew out of it, and today I don’t go much for things like that. I don’t have a flag to fly on national holidays, and the most I’ll do for Christmas is a wreath on the door because it has good memories and the scent of pine is rare in subtropical Florida.

I suppose it has something to do with my Quaker notions of shunning iconography — outward symbols can’t show how you truly feel about something on the inside — and more often than not they are used to make up for the lack of a true belief. This is also true of patriotism: waving the flag — or wrapping yourself in it — is a poor and false measure of how you truly feel about your country.

There’s an old saying that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. As Benjamin Franklin noted, no country had ever been formed because of an idea. But when the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1776 and passed the resolution embodied in the Declaration of Independence, that was what was being done: create a nation not based on geographical boundaries, property, tribalism, or religion, but on the idea of forming a new government to replace the present form because the rulers were incompetent, uncaring, and cruel. The American Revolution wasn’t so much a rebellion as it was a cry for attention. Most of the Declaration is a punch-list, if you will, of grievances both petty and grand against the Crown, and once the revolution was over and the new government was formed, the Constitution contained many remedies to prevent the slights and injuries inflicted under colonialism: the Bill of Rights is a direct response to many of the complaints listed in the Declaration.

But the Declaration of Independence goes beyond complaints. Its preamble is a mission statement. It proclaims our goals and what we hope to achieve. No nation had ever done that before, and to this day we are still struggling to achieve life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness goes on with no sign of let-up.

That is the true glory of America. Not that we complain — and we do — but that we work to fix those complaints. To put them right. To make things better than they were. To give hope to people who feel that they have no voice, and to assure that regardless of who they are, where they come from, what they look like, who they love, or what they believe, there will be room for them to grow, do, and become whatever it is that they have the capacity to be. It’s a simple idea, but the simplest ideas often have the most powerful impact.

This nation has achieved many great things. We’ve inspired other nations and drawn millions to our shores not to just escape their own country but to participate in what we’re doing. And we’ve made mistakes. We’ve blundered and fumbled and bullied and injured. We’ve treated some of our own citizens with contempt, and shown the same kind of disregard for the rights of others that we enumerated in our own Declaration of Independence. We have been guilty of arrogance and hypocrisy. But these are all human traits, and we are, after all, human. The goal of government is to rise above humanity, and the goal of humanity is to strive for perfection. So if we stumble on the road to that goal, it is only because we are moving forward.

I love this country not for what it is but for what it could be. In my own way I show my patriotism not by waving a flag from my front porch but by working to make things work in our system and by adding to the discussion that will bring forth ideas to improve our lives and call into question the ideas of others. It is all a part of what makes the simple idea of life, liberty, and that elusive happiness so compelling and so inspiring, and what makes me very proud to be a part of this grand experiment.

Go forth!

Photo: The Avenue in the Rain by Frederick Childe Hassam 1917.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Monday, May 29, 2017

Cary Gossard Dunn — 1906-1952

IMG_0101

Cary Gossard Dunn was my great uncle, the younger brother of my maternal grandmother. He was born in 1906 in Indiana, one of four children. He married and had two children of his own.

I never knew him; he died in March 1952, six months before I was born. I knew he served in the military and had heard that he had been part of the D-Day invasion on Normandy in 1944. I don’t have a picture of him, but I remember seeing one in my grandmother’s photo album: a young man with familiar family features and a smile that he shared with my grandmother.

In May 2011, my parents and my brother and sister-in-law went to Arlington National Cemetery to find Uncle Cary’s grave. For some reason, the cemetery administration has no record of his burial, but through his daughter Susan they located it and took some pictures.

After I saw this photo I wrote to Susan and asked for information about her father’s service:

He was with the 467th Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion and was in the original landing at Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944. His rank was Captain and he saw service in Northern France, the Ardennes, and the Rhineland before returning to the states in 1945. He was awarded the Bronze Star. He left the military for a brief period of time, but rejoined and was promoted to Major and taught ROTC at the University of Pittsburgh for about two years. He was transferred from the Army to the Air Force in 1949 and was sent to Okinawa in 1950 where he worked as an engineer at Kadena AFB. He died of cancer at Barksdale AFB, Shreveport, Louisiana, on March 12, 1952 at the age of 45.

I wish I had known him. Given his siblings’ long lives (my grandmother lived to be 95), I would have been able to learn about what his service meant to him as I was becoming aware of my own feelings about war and peace, and to put a real connection between the stories I read in history books and the lurid tales depicted in the Hollywood movies about the war.

Susan’s description of her father’s service captures the simple facts, but like the men who served and tell their stories in such tales as Band of Brothers, the simplicity does not tell of the pain and the burden these men and women carried in service to our country then and now, and the honor and pride they have in doing their duty without any other thought than protecting the rest of us.

Rest in peace, Uncle Cary. Thank you.

Memorial Day

I grew up in Perrysburg, Ohio. It’s a small town, a suburb of Toledo, and when I was a kid in the 1950’s and ’60’s, it fit all of the images that small towns in the Midwest have: tree-shaded streets, neat homes, lots of churches, and a main street — Louisiana Avenue — with little shops like the drug store with the fountain, the dime store, the barber shop, the hardware store, the bakery with the smell of bread baking and the sweet scent of icing, and the bank with the solid stone exterior. They’re all still there, just under different names now, and my parents, who still live there, still call the drug store by its old name, even though it’s changed owners and become a jewelry shop. In the winter the Christmas decorations line the street, and each Memorial Day there is a parade that starts at the Schaller Memorial, the veterans hall, and proceeds up Louisiana Avenue, taking a turn when it reaches the Oliver Hazard Perry Memorial (“We have met the enemy and they are ours…”) and marches down West Front Street past the old Victorian homes that overlook the Maumee River.

When I was a kid the parade was made up of the veterans groups like the American Legion and the VFW, and platoons of soldiers and veterans, including, through the 1970’s, the last remaining veterans of World War I. They wore their uniforms and their medals, and those that couldn’t march sat in the back seat of convertibles, waving slowly to the crowds that lined the sidewalks. They were followed by the marching band from the high school, the color guard, the Cub Scouts, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the drum and bugle corps, floats from church groups, all of the city fire equipment, antique cars, and the service groups like the Shriners, the Elks, and the Kiwanis Club. After the last float came all the kids on their bicycles decorated with streamers, bunting, flags, and all the patriotic paperwork we could muster. My friends and I would try to outdo each other, and it had less to do with patriotism than it did with seeing how many rolls of red, white, and blue crepe paper we could thread in between the spokes of our wheels.

I was about ten or so on one Memorial Day when I spent a lot of time getting my Schwinn Racer ready for the big parade. It was a perfect day; the sky was a sparkling spring blue and all the floats, cars, and fire trucks were gleaming in the sun as the parade organized on Indiana Avenue in front of the Memorial Hall. The high school band in their yellow and black uniforms marched in precision as the major led off with a Sousa tune, and as the parade slowly made its way down the avenue we could see the crowds along the sidewalks waiting and waving. As we waited our turn we wheeled our bikes in circles, just like the Shriners in their little go-karts, and finally we got the signal that it was time for the kids to roll. There was an organized rush to lead off, and then we were slowly pedaling down the street, waving to everybody outside the library, the Chevy dealership, even the people lined up on the roof of the pizza parlor. I looked for my dad shooting movies with the 8mm camera, but didn’t see him. Oh, well, it didn’t matter; we were supposed to meet at the home of friends who were hosting a post-parade picnic in their backyard. Their house was at the end of the parade route, so that was the perfect place to pull out of the parade and have the first of many Faygo Redpops that summer.

But for some reason I stayed with the parade, on down West Front, and then up West Boundary and past the gates of Fort Meigs Cemetery. The floats and the fire trucks were gone, but what was left of the parade — the color guard and the veterans — went through the gates and along the path. There was no music now, just a solemn drumbeat keeping a steady muffled tapping. The color guard turned at a small stone memorial, and then past it to a gravesite where a family was gathered; a mother in a black dress, a father in a grey suit, and a teenage son and daughter, looking somber and out of place. The grave was still fresh, the dirt mounded over, the headstone a simple marker with a flag. A minister spoke some words, and then the color guard snapped to attention. A volley of rifle fire, then Taps, and then a tall young soldier in dress blues handed a folded flag to the mother, who murmured her thanks and tried to smile.

I suddenly realized that I felt out of place there with my gaudily-patriotic bike and my red-white-and-blue striped shirt. No one noticed me, though, and when the people started to slowly move away from the gravesite and back to the entrance, I followed along until I was able to ride slowly back to our friends’ house, park my bike with all the others, and find my parents, who probably hadn’t even noticed that I was not there with all the other kids running around and playing on the lawn.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

This post originally appeared on May 25, 2009.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Felice Cinco de Mayo

19 Mexico

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the the victory of the Mexican Army over the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It’s a big deal in Mexico and in parts of this country with a large Mexican population, like California, Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico (where I had some of the best chile rellenos with enough green chile to take the top of your head off), although it meant more to some than others. I had a guy I worked with who was of Mexican descent who actually asked me, “Hey, when is Cinco de Mayo?” (We always suspected that he was a burrito shy of a full combo platter anyway.)

Here in South Florida, outside of Homestead with its large Mexican population (and some of the best food in the state), it’s not a big deal other than party time and a double margarita, the same way this multiethnic community deals with other national holidays like St. Patrick’s Day; we don’t really know why we celebrate it (as if defeating the French in a battle was like a huge military victory in the first place), but any excuse to eat and drink is good enough, so why fight it?

Pass the salsa.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

Friday, March 17, 2017

St. Patrick’s Day

If you’re Irish and it means something to you, then best wishes on St. Patrick’s Day. Here in America it’s another excuse to party, drink way too much, and contribute more to the stereotypes that the Irish all sound like Barry Fitzgerald (“Faith ‘n’ begorah, Father O’Malley!”).

According to my sources, St. Patrick’s Day is a much bigger deal here than it is in Ireland, and they treat it the same way we do when the French go nuts over Jerry Lewis; it’s an inexplicable cultural phenomenon more than the celebration of a saint. But if it’s all fun and games and no one gets hurt, hey, have fun.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Presidents Day

Today is Presidents Day, the federal holiday mashed together to honor Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday which used to be holidays on their own. This one generically honors all presidents and remembering the times when we had one, and it’s a mid-winter break for schools and a day off for those of us who work in them.

The only thing I have planned is getting the Pontiac washed and ready for the AACA national winter meet in Ocala next Saturday.

Things will be a little quiet around here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Monday, December 26, 2016

Happy Boxing Day

In many parts of the world, including Canada, today is Boxing Day and it’s a holiday, too.  This year in the U.S. today is the federal holiday for Christmas so you won’t get mail delivery and check to see if the bank is open.  Anyway…

The name derives from the tradition of giving seasonal gifts, on the day after Christmas, to less wealthy people and social inferiors, which was later extended to various workpeople such as labourers and servants.

The traditional recorded celebration of Boxing Day has long included giving money and other gifts to charitable institutions, the needy and people in service positions. The European tradition has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown and there are some claims that it goes back to the late Roman/early Christian era.

In the United Kingdom it certainly became a custom of the nineteenth century Victorians for tradesmen to collect their ‘Christmas boxes’ or gifts in return for good and reliable service throughout the year on the day after Christmas.[1]

The establishment of Boxing Day as a defined public Holiday under the legislation that created the UK’s Bank Holidays started the separation of ‘Boxing Day’ from the ‘Feast of St Stephen’ and today it is almost entirely a secular holiday with a tradition of shopping and post Christmas sales starting.

As mentioned, it’s also St. Stephen’s day, which, unless you’re up on your Catholic mythology, you only know about because of the Christmas carol, Good King Wenceslaus.

At any rate, today is the day to clean up after the holiday if you celebrated or head out to the mall if you want to exchange the mystery gift or use the gift card you got from a friend at work. Or you could stay at home and nosh on the leftovers from Christmas dinner, start writing your thank-you notes.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Sense of Christmas

I’m continuing a tradition I began back when this blog was new, which is another way of saying that I’ve posted this on Christmases past; this makes the tenth Christmas that I’ve shared this story. Again, like last year, we are almost all together as a family: three of the four kids are here with our parents, and we are also welcoming a great-grandchild to his second Christmas. So traditions are being observed and created.

Christmas WreathWhen I was a kid, our family lived in a house with tall ceilings so we always got a Christmas tree that was at least ten feet tall – maybe taller. (It could have been less, but when you’re six or seven, it looks a lot taller.) We had tons of decorations from our family history; gingerbread decorations held together with fine wire, bubble lights that never seemed to work right, and hundreds of ornaments. We always had a debate about tinsel – I hated it, my sister wanted it. Guess who won that one. Every year we put the tree in a different room – one year in the living room, the next in the front parlor, and then in the bay window in the dining room.

That was not the extent of the decorating by any means. While my family was not particularly religious, we went all out for the season in the decor mode that would have made Martha Stewart get out of the business. This was a tradition carried on from both of my parent’s families; my father tells how his father was a meticulous hanger of the old-fashioned lead tinsel, and my mother’s family did it up to the heights of giddiness that included the tree and presents magically appearing overnight on Christmas Eve. So we had a legacy to live up to. Lights on the front porch were interwoven in the cedar roping that looped down from the eaves. There was more roping on the bannister going up the front stairs, tied on with red ribbons, and roping again around the big mirror in the front hall. Candles in Christmas candelabra filled the house with the scent of candle smoke, merging with the evergreens, and on Christmas Eve, when the big roast was in the oven for the dinner with Aunt Margaret, the house was awash with homey aromas.

We had an old-fashioned hi-fi system with speakers throughout the first floor of the house, and as we put up the tree and the roping – usually the weekend before Christmas – we would dig out the Christmas LP’s. The perennial was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Joy To the World that began with “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” That would be followed by the Bing Crosby Merry Christmas album and anything else we had in the rack.

We had two fireplaces in the house, including one in the kitchen, so that’s where we hung our stockings with care. Christmas morning would arrive and the four kids would line up, youngest first, on the back stairs, squirming with anticipation until we were let into the kitchen and a breakfast of Christmas baked treats, including a Scandinavian stollen baked by a family friend. (Never one who liked things like that, I often wished the stollen would be stolen….) Then we’d line up at the appropriate closed door behind which lay the treasure. Nearly fainting with the anticipation, the door would be flung open – a four-voiced gasp of breath, followed by pounding feet and squeals of delight. We took turns, shredding the wrapping, opening the boxes, reading the tags – “From Mom and Dad,” “From Santa,” “From Grammie.” My mother kept a list of who got what from whom so that the thank-you notes could be written. There was always one Big Present for each kid – a bicycle, skis, a train set, a kitten – and lots of books and clothes, too. And each child was sure to give his sibling something, usually something oddly appropriate; like lavender bath beads from me to my sister.

When it was all over, the trash can was filled with the wrappings, the loot taken upstairs, and new clothes tried on. I would pore through the new books until I was nagged to get dressed to go to Christmas dinner somewhere else – with cross-town relatives or the Carranor Club – and the streets would be empty as we piled into the station wagon. We’d come home in the cold and dark, tired from all the excitement, ready to come down from the sugar-spiked high. The next day we’d pack up for our annual skiing trip to Boyne Mountain in Michigan, complete with its own set of sense memories.

These traditions were carried on as we each grew up and started our own families, adding our own touches; Allen and I merged some of each to come up with our own for fifteen years, including the tree (artificial, though – he’s allergic to pine) and music. (I’ve got the Bing Crosby CD on as I write this.) My sister has passed it on to her children, and my younger brother, with his three kids, carries on much as we did when we were young.

So while there may not be a whole lot of religion in any of it, there’s the strength of the ties of family and love that surpasses any denominational definition. It is a common thread that binds us all together whether we say “Happy Holidays,” “Merry Christmas,” “Felice Navidad” (which I immediately corrupted to “Fleas On Your Dad”), “Happy Hanukkah,” or “Good Kwanzaa.” It’s the sense of togetherness and hope that can be spread regardless of whether or not you celebrate the birth of the son of God, and the thankfulness that you feel that you have made it through yet another year and look forward to making the next one better.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

One Christmas Eve

Forty-eight years ago tonight — December 24, 1968 — the crew of Apollo 8 saw things that no human being had ever seen before with their own eyes, including the far side of the moon and the earth rising over the lunar horizon. So it’s understandable that the moment called for a little reading of some pleasant poetry from a book called Genesis.

HT to NTodd.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Card

I don’t go on Winter Break until Thursday but I’m going on the holiday schedule today because … well, I was going to say that I have a lot to do — and I do — but after the last couple of days of heartbreaking news from home and abroad, I’m more in the mood to put up soothing and happy pictures and music than dig into the manure pile.

Not to worry; I’ll still be posting but on the light and variable schedule that I usually follow this time of year, including the usual Christmas posts and year-end wrap-up.

Meanwhile, here’s Sam and Santa taken at the Twin Peaks Mall in Longmont, Colorado in December 1989 when Sam was almost a year old.  I have no idea who the Santa is.  Maybe he’s the real one.

with-santa-1989

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

I’ve been looking back through some of my Thanksgiving posts over the years for some inspiration and perhaps a perspective on the holiday. Taking a day off to express thanks and brace ourselves for the rest of the holidays is a good time to reflect and be grateful for some of the good things we have and the memories. The post below is from Thanksgiving 2007, when I was looking back at a special holiday weekend.

When I was a kid growing up outside of Toledo, we had some relatives in the area, and we also belonged to a local tennis and social club that served as a gathering place for a group of families like ours and we often went there for holiday dinners. It relieved my mom from cooking one of the two big meals at the holidays; if we had Thanksgiving at home, then we went to the club or another relative’s place for Christmas, or vice versa. We also would have the Thanksgiving meal later in the day — usually around the normal dinner time — because we had season tickets to the Detroit Lions football team, and we would go up to Detroit to sit in the freezing cold bleachers to watch the Lions play their traditional Thanksgiving Day game, then come home to the dinner.

It’s been a while since my family has gotten together for Thanksgiving. We’ve all moved on to different places and have our own families. It’s been many years since my entire immediate family — Mom, Dad, and my three siblings and their families — were together for the occasion.

However, there was one Thanksgiving that I’ll never forget: 1967. I was a freshman at St. George’s, the boarding school in Newport, Rhode Island (and also alma mater of Howard Dean and Tucker Carlson). It was my first extended time away from home and I was miserable. My older brother and sister were also away at school; one in New Jersey, the other in Virginia. My parents made arrangements for us all to get together in New York City that weekend, and they booked rooms at the Plaza Hotel. We saw two Broadway musicals — Mame with Angela Lansbury and Henry, Sweet Henry with Don Ameche — and a little musical in Greenwich Village called Now Is The Time For All Good Men…. We went shopping in Greenwich Village, took hansom cab rides in Central Park, had lunch at Toots Shor’s (and got Cab Calloway’s autograph), dinner at Trader Vic’s and Luchow’s, and saw all the sights that a kid from Ohio on his second trip to NYC (the first being the World’s Fair in 1964) could pack into one four-day weekend. Oh, and we had the big Thanksgiving dinner in the Oak Room at the Plaza with all the trimmings. That night we went down to the nightclub below the Plaza and listened to smoky jazz played by a trio and a lovely woman on piano…could it have been Blossom Dearie?

It was a magical weekend. To this day I still remember the sights and sounds and sensations, and the deep sadness that settled back over me as I boarded the chartered bus that took me back to the dank purgatory of that endless winter at school overlooking the grey Atlantic Ocean.

I’ve had a lot of wonderful and memorable Thanksgivings since then at home and with friends, everywhere from Ohio, Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, and even one in Jamaica, but that weekend at the Plaza forty years ago will always be special.

*

I’ll be on a holiday schedule until Monday.  Posting will be light and variable, but tune in tonight for A Little Night Music Thanksgiving tradition.