Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Walk on the Weird Side

I've taken many an interesting Sunday stroll, but this past one beat them all. We put the dogs on leashes and took a walk at Santee, the world famous lake in our part of the world, renown for its bass fishing.

Sunday, we walked ON the lake. I kid you not.

We're in a drought situation and the lake is 6 feet below normal. I never realized how much water that was until Sunday. Hubby's Mom use to have a house at the lake, so he took me there to illustrate that kind of phenomena to she-who-cannot-tell-distances. Hey, I'm a girl, it's genetic...unless you're an architect or something.

It's odd to walk across a surface that you visually only recognize as a body of water. In fact, it was like being on a Jacques Cousteau excursion... without the water. Rather than swimming from island to island, the deer are WALKING back and forth, as evidenced by the myriad of tracks we found. The raccoons are having a field day eating mussels that are so easy to reach...and the size of my hand. I'd never seen any bigger than 3 inches before. The deer are grazing on the lake bed...because there's grass coming up. Green grass. Like a wildlife buffet.
These piers are eight feet high and you can see the water marks on them. To the left is the mouth of Grimes Creek, although right now it looks like new real estate. Just so you aren't confused by the appearance of water here, someone tried to dredge out a small waterway and got stopped, apparently. It's not nice, [or legal], to mess with land owned by the State.

It's weird to see pontoon boats actually resting on their pontoons....on dry land! The islands in the distance are about 350 yards from the shoreline. The old shoreline. The one that was wet.

The island on the right is about 350 yards away...according to the hubby, not me. We walked all the way around it and past, for a total of about 1/2 mile of dry land that use to be water. Again, hubby estimates, not mine. Unfortunately he forgot about the camera until we got back to the truck so these are the only shots he took. He wanted to "document" where all the stumps were so when they go fishing, they dodge and weave correctly. He was amazed to discover that places they thought were clear and "open runs" had huge stumps, just waiting to reach out and grab a boat motor.

Wish we had gotten the camera out before the walk. Someone had actually laid out a line of fertilizer about 150 yards long [hey, it was only halfway to the Island, it's an educated guess!]. As we pondered why someone would mark a straight line, going out, in white fertilizer, my eyes happened to catch a large, white pile of something to the left.

Golf balls.

Someone's been putting this new real estate to use by utilizing it as a driving range. Wonder what kind of score you get if you clear the land and hit a gator?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Today's Road takes us...

...to Mom-in-laws for Turkey Dinner. And yes, having all those pecan trees has a draw back of sorts. I just baked the 3rd pecan pie this month.

Here's wishing you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Oh...and if you live across the pond and had nothing to do with our forefathers leaving for America in the first place, have a lovely day. ;)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Anti-Social Poet?

There are a group of local poets who meet at my Center once a month. Last night I'd been asked to judge a Poetry Slam. Unfortunately, there weren't as many as expected, so the contest bit the dust. But poets must share their work. So they did. And I stayed to increase the number of audience members. Besides, I work around lovely people but most are not interested in wrapping their brain around words not often bandied about. It was like a mental playground and I was happy to sit on a swing and watch them play.

I'll be the first to admit that I often write for me....or anyone who wants to read my written word on the page. I'm not the stand-up-in-the-spotlight kind of person. Nope, I'm usually the silent general behind the scenes making sure everything runs smoothly. So a part of me was awed by the fact I was in a room where everyone [except me] wanted to stand up and speak. One after another they stood at the front of the room, sending a wave of words our way. Deep emotions, painful experience, aching longing all floated on air in a silently respectful room. And when the words ceased and the applause came, the emotions still stood proud, as if waiting for their accolades as well....which they received in the form of discussion and debate. This lively repartee included a wide eyed youthful, "Are you kidding me?" moment. The youngest poet was gently teased about his pride in penning the phrase, "Knocking on Heaven's Door" , a concept musically penned by Bob Dylan years before this kid was even born. As if to assure the young man he wasn't being lied to, several in the room began to sing.

Given the number of people singing, or attempting to, I think he believed them.

Each poet did three poems. At the conclusion of one, a poet admitted the piece was 11 years old. Someone misunderstood and asked in surprise, "You wrote that when you were 11?" She laughed and repeated her sentence while adding, "Who would remember something they wrote at the age of 11?"

Inside the little kid in me raised her hand. Okay, so I was twelve. Close enough.

No, I didn't volunteer that information because there would've been an insistence that I share it with the group. I was actually sitting in a rocking chair...it was comfortable. Standing up to face them wouldn't have been. And then there would've been the discussion and questions about my mental state. Here, read my little written in 60 seconds poem...which was actually published in my Jr. High School's Literary magazine, much to my surprise.

"One day I found the world quite dead.
So I began one in my head.
And there was something I did find.
I'd rather live within my mind."

I remember how fast that little snippet of a poem had come to me. Then I re-read it. And it scared the shite out of me. To my little girl brain the words sounded like I had a mental disorder or was, at the very least, growing anti-social. Wasn't I too young to be a hermit? Who but the deranged withdrew from the real world to create one in their head?

Two kinds of people. Twelve year old girls afraid of the natural changes the body experiences under the control of a brain not yet wired to accept them.

And writers.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Truth in Advertising

While in the eternal hell waiting room we know as “HOLD”, do you ever feel like a business is trying to suck the life out of you? To make it worse, they bombard you with music not fit to be heard in an elevator. As today’s cheerful Customer Service Rep chirped, ”If you’ll just hold for a moment, I’ll check that for you”, I reminded myself that patience is a virtue. And it keeps your blood pressure down. Miss Cheerful’s voice disappeared, replaced by music. My ears and brain sort of whispered, “What the…?”

Remember the movie “Nosferatu”? One of the first vampire movies ever filmed, it features a scene where the Vampire is playing an organ. During it’s most ear grating and spine tingling musical moment, he whirls around to fiendishly glare at a woman who has just discovered her date isn’t Prince Charming.

Well, the fanged one was playing his song…while I sat captive on “HOLD”.

After the initial surprise of not being musically assaulted by The Captain and Tennille, I laughed. Which was really confusing to Miss Cheerful when she came back on the line and heard me giggling.

Hey, let her wonder. I always wonder what they’re doing while I’m staring at the phone. Now we’re even.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Here's who I look up to

Our old faithful gal, the ancient pecan tree. She's not only providing the crows, squirrels, woodpeckers and me with her bounty, she's giving us all an aerobic workout trying to gather up her gifts!

Oh sure, there are three other pecan trees in the yard
but none of them match her splendor.
Besides, how can you not love a tree with a bellybutton?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Country Critter

Sitting at my computer yesterday I heard a strange sound. In the country, sounds are both crystal clear and remarkably loud at times. This one was a savage, rhythmic chomping. An angry gnashing of metallic teeth which rattled the windows as it grew closer. Okay, so maybe I've read too much Stephen King this week. Since it was broad daylight, I peeked out the window. This is what I discovered.

Time to harvest the soy beans...which I jokingly refer to as "the ugly crop". A local farmer laughs at that, saying he sees money in the bank when looking at a bean field. I prefer the ripping waves of winter wheat or the summer fence of corn that blocks out all traffic noise.

I did feel a little sorry for the little red guy in rear of this picture...replaced by his new green brethren.
Guess that tractor now knows how the mule and his plow felt when being shown the barn for the final time.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Friday, November 9, 2007

For Gregg and Natalie: The Bracelet

Here's the story that began my journey towards sending the bracelet home. I appreciate that Gregg has been so understanding in answering my questions about his Dad. To Gregg and Natalie: I think your Dad would've been very proud to see who you've grown up to be.


My most tangible concept of war sits silently in a corner of my jewelry box, a cold band of silver metal resting comfortably on a bed of fake blue satin. It can’t hurt me, but seeing it still makes my heart pound. As soon as it was mine, I wanted to give it back. For returning it meant my nightly prayers had been answered. To be able to give that MIA bracelet back to the Captain whose name I wore around my wrist meant he’d returned home safely.

But it’s still mine.

The day I bought the bracelet, my heart swelled with all the patriotic pride a twelve year old can muster. Our town was home to Shaw AFB and as a child civilian, wearing a bracelet was my only way to serve our country during the Vietnam War. Silently I stood in awe of the student chosen to sell these symbols of American pride. When my turn came, he snatched $2 of hard earned babysitting money out my trembling hand and stated in a monotone, “This one’s MIA. We’re out of POWs.” Dropping the cold metal into my outstretched palm, he peered over my head at the next consumer in line.

I couldn’t keep my eyes off that shiny bracelet. It was so powerful. I had a person wrapped around my wrist that I now felt responsible for and I silently promised to leave it on until that Captain returned home safely.

In the hallway of my childhood home was a framed poem by Kendrew Lascelles entitled “The Box”, which began..

"Once upon a time in the land of hush-a-bye
About the wondrous days of yore.
They came across a sort of box
Bound up with chains and locked with locks
And labeled, “Kindly do not touch, it’s war.”

I’d been taught that war was a terrible way to settle arguments and the poem was merely reinforcement of that concept. But the first time I passed the poem wearing my MIA bracelet, the hair on the back of my neck stood at attention. I felt uneasy. Uncomfortable. Inexplicably sad. The poem was no longer mere words. Only something as horrible as war could reduce a person into a two line summation stamped into cold metal. My wrist felt like it was on fire. Yet with adolescent fervor, I memorized the minuscule bits of information in order to rattle off his statistics. For if you had to look down and read off this information, not only were you an embarrassed child, it meant you didn’t really care. I took my child civilian duties very seriously. After a week, he ceased to be just a name, for I’d promoted him to “MY Captain.“ And I truly believed that My Captain would come home if I never took off the bracelet.

A month later, my wrist turned green.

My parents declared it was time to take the thing off. No! I begged, I had to wear it! It wasn’t just my patriotic duty, I feared taking it off meant I’d let My Captain down, leaving him to face an unknown world all alone. A neighbor saved me by applying three coats of clear fingernail polish inside the bracelet. Soon, green wristed patriotism was the least of my worries.

Every night I asked God to bring My Captain home. I watched Garrick Utley on the nightly news because he had a calm voice and seemed trustworthy. I’d hold onto my bracelet the minute he came on the screen, as if the two were magically linked. And I‘d wait for him to explain things. But the stories were confusing. I was taught to be peaceful, so why did college students protesting for peace scream so angrily? Even at age 12, I knew you didn’t spit on people just because you disagreed with them. I understood war brought out the worst in people, but it wasn’t suppose to happen at home. Between Americans.

One night, I noticed Mr. Utley wasn’t looking so good. Only a child could believe that reporters were impervious to gunfire simply because their job was to report the facts to the folks back home. But there were ever growing dark circles under Mr. Utley's eyes, as if the job was just plain wearing him out. Because he’d grown so pale, his features drawn and the fire in his eyes on the verge of being extinguished, I was afraid Mr. Utley was going to die. A weariness crept into his voice that I’d never heard before, as if what he’d witnessed wasn’t just bad, it was sucking the life out of him. My polite requests that God watch over My Captain evolved into demands that He bring My Captain home. Right now. Before things got worse. The very next day, I saw My Captain’s daughter at school, her eyes bearing that same hollowness as Mr. Utley's. And then I realized My Captain wasn’t just a symbol of my patriotism, he was a daddy. Just like my daddy….except he didn’t come home every night. Maybe he never would.

And he never did.

The day came when everyone who was coming home had made the trip. It was time to take off my bracelet. As a ghostly refrain of “Taps” played in my head, I solemnly laid the bracelet to rest on that bed of fake blue satin. As my jewelry box momentarily became a coffin, a huge lump formed in my throat. The bracelet, devoid of my wrist, looked so empty lying there. As empty as I felt inside. I’d never experienced such a connection to a total stranger. We’d never met, yet My Captain was a part of me. I finally understood that war effects everyone…soldiers, family, reporters…and even strangers.

I optimistically hope that future generations will only know about war from reading ancient history books because we will have, somewhere along the way, found a better method for solving problems than by waging war. History is a great teacher and I’ll never forget the role My Captain played for his country…and for me. The nice thing about history is that we’re allowed to add the occasional footnote. My Captain did not live long enough to hear or see these words, but they were always a part of my prayer to God. Please watch over and guide all the men and women who selflessly serve our country. Take care of those who do the right thing, rather than the easy thing. And because it’s never too late to acknowledge what one human does to keep another safe, two simple, yet heartfelt words: Thank you.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Past Says Hello

Mondays. Yuck. I suppose no matter what day started the work week we'd all grunt or groan over it. Of course the three hour Staff Meeting this morning didn't help. When I got home, it was blissfully quiet...the hubby's night out with his hunting buddies and the dogs went along to bat clean up and take care of the leftovers. Yeah! No cooking. Peace and quiet. And e-mail.

The first was from NPR's site "This I Believe", which is, as I previously mentioned, home to the condensed version of "The Bracelet". I glanced down the list while opening snail mail. Laughing at the bank's "offer" to allow me to skip my December or January car payment if I'd just send in $25 with my "Thanks, I'll skip a month" coupon, I dropped said coupon when my eyes got to the last e-mail. Fortunately the offer landed in the trash can. I landed in my computer chair.

The e-mail was from the son of "My Captain".

Funny how your heart beats faster at the weirdest things. As I opened the e-mail, I found myself quietly praying that it wouldn't begin, "Hey nut case, leave me alone!" Instead it began with a cheerful, "Thanks for the letter!"

I began breathing again.

The son followed that up with how serendipitous my timing was, as his sister had sent him a family photo taken at Swan Lake. It was a photo he'd never seen before and was taken just before his father went to Vietnam, when he was just two years old. By the time he reached three, his father was MIA. He could've stopped there but he didn't. Thank heaven. I'm one of those "rest of the story" people who just HAS to know what happens next. And he told me. From his Dad's childhood in Michigan, to college, to finding Mom to marry. I actually laughed when he said he could go "on and on" but that what he'd offered was probably more than I'd bargained for. I shook my head, fingers poised to reply that I was thrilled he'd turned my childhood imaginings into a real person. Then I noticed an attachment and opened it. It was a picture of his father in his flight suit.

It took my breath away. Tears began to roll down my face.

The photo was like an exclamation point on the reality that here was the person I'd worried about, even though we'd never met. And there he was, smiling at me. To tell you the truth, for a moment it was a little emotionally overwhelming. I felt 12 years old again. At least this time, I know what to do with all those emotions.

I e-mailed the son right back, asking for an address to send the bracelet. He'd explained that he'd posted on the site in an attempt to obtain a bracelet for each of his daughters, who are currently 5 and 6 years old. He added that later on he'll be able to explain more to his girls about the man whose picture is on the wall. The man who flew jets.

As I hit SEND, it occurred to me how small the world really is at times. The son's original request for a bracelet was made two years ago...when his youngest child was the same age HE was when his father disappeared. I smiled at the NPR "This I Believe" e-mail as if its appearance was confirmation that doing the right thing for the right reason is still a good policy. Saving a copy of my reply, I glanced at the calendar to date it. Tomorrow is the 18th anniversary of my father-in-law's passing...he a son of Michigan as well, an Air Force Recon Pilot who flew two missions in 'Nam but returned home safely. And yet we lost him in a freak flying accident. But at least we had him in our lives for many wonderful years.

I hope by Veteran's Day I can say "Mission Accomplished" because the bracelet will be in the right hands. I envision another little girl looking with awe at a band of metal bearing the name of a stranger. But before she reaches my age, she will know all about the man wrapped around my wrist and forever entwined in my memories.

Now I can finally say to My Capt, "Welcome Home."

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Reaching into the Past

Last week, in honor of the upcoming Veteran's Day holiday, I posted a story on our local forum about the Vietnam era MIA bracelet I purchased and wore as a child. I've written many stories over the years, in fact this one was originally penned some time ago, but it's one of those stories I've always just felt a NEED to share. Maybe it was emotional leftovers of little girl me, overwhelmed by history that she didn't comprehend as it took place. Or adult me, who finally recognized the conundrum of wearing a bracelet pertaining to war when an anti-war poem graced the wall of our home. In any case I pulled it out, dusted it off and tried to share with the reader why this stranger touched me so deeply. Last year I "condensed" it to submit to NPR's "This I Believe", where it lives on at their website. On Veteran's Day, I will post it here.

To share this story is to take a chance. Vietnam was a touchy subject and although time has taken away some of the sting, it can't erase the unpleasant memories. And yet, some part of me always hoped it would. The best gift a writer can receive is for someone to read their work and mutter a soft,"Wow." You have truly touched someone's heart when they can feel what you have felt, to the point they are somehow moved...by the words of a stranger.

Posting the story on the Forum was my way of saluting veteran's of all eras. Another poster added a link for the POW/MIA site and I checked it. Sure enough, there was "My Captain", as I came to think of him. His son was listed as family looking to obtain a bracelet. My Captain was an MIA, so I still have his. I found a second site and once again I found the son. He was correcting a couple of errors in his father's bio. But it was his parting sentence which grabbed my heart and almost broke it: "He is the father I never knew and I think about him every day."


Looking at the bio I saw that our father's were born the same year. My Capt. and my father-in-law were both born in Michigan...my-father-in-law was also an Air Force Recon pilot. My Capt. disappeared when I was eight and appeared on my wrist when I was twelve. When Vietnam was "officially ended", I respectfully lay that bracelet to rest in my jewelry box. And I felt like a deserter, some how. I would even grow up to work with his widow at one point in my life, but I never told her. I was afraid of causing her pain somehow. Just the sight of that bracelet still catches me off guard, leaving a lump in my throat. Yet it's still there...a part of growing up that I have never had the heart to part with.

Until now.

I can't get the son's words out of my head. So I have sent an e-mail to the address left behind with the bio. It's two years old, but you never know. Maybe completing my mission of never forgetting My Captain means symbolically placing him back into his son's loving hands.