Memorial Day, 2015


Some years after the American Civil War, some women went to the local cemetery, bringing flowers with which to adorn the graves of the war dead.  Over in a corner they saw graves of the soldiers who fought for the other side, all unadorned.  Almost with one accord they went over there and placed flowers on the graves.

“There are others, back at their homes, who mourn them and loved them,” someone said.  And the tradition of Memorial Day began.

Where did it start?  I’ve heard several accounts, all believable, and I have concluded that it was something spontaneous in its truth and its generosity.

          By the flow of the inland river,
          Whence the fleets of iron have fled,
          Where the blades of the grave-grass quiver,
          Asleep are the ranks of the dead:
          Under the sod and the dew,
          Waiting the judgment-day;
          Under the one, the Blue,
          Under the other, the Gray

          No more shall the war cry sever,
          Or the winding rivers be red;
          They banish our anger forever
          When they laurel the graves of our dead!
          Under the sod and the dew,
          Waiting the judgment-day,
          Love and tears for the Blue,
          Tears and love for the Gray.
 
Lincoln’s second inaugural address, given in 1865, the year he died, closes with this sentiment:
 

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

 
 

Love Never Lost


I was at a cat show this weekend.  It’s a long story, and involves my eleven year old cat, Frida, who also modeled for Harry Winston.  I kid you not.  She loved the attention, the petting, the fussing over her – and, as vain as all cats, she enjoyed the necklace.  This photo was in the catalog for Harry Winston for that year, and I had obtained a copy of it for myself.  No, I didn’t make any money for the sitting.  I hadn’t expected to.  It was a favor for a friend, and I was tickled to see her wearing a quarter of a million dollars worth of diamonds.  Apparently, she enjoyed everyone.

I brought the catalog with me to the show.  My dear friend who gave me Frida (for the sum of $1) was there, and I wanted her to see it. 

The catalog had a pocket in the back cover.  I found a folded piece of paper there.  I took it out, unfolded it, and saw my father’s handwriting:

Dear Diana,

It’s been a rough time for you, I know, and I’m sending you a little something to help you along.  There is more where that came from, as you know, and you only need to ask.

Your mother and I are proud of you.

Love,

Dad 

I had to turn away, a hand to my eyes.  I had not expected to find that. I remembered that terrible time, the economy at a halt, layoffs, no one hiring…  I remembered a lot of things.  Sternness when necessary, always there, always reliable.  Strike him as I might, he always rang true.  Perhaps the best gift I ever received.

I was remembering him just now, listening to this song:

The words to the second verse always speak to me:

          If heaven was a town, it would be my town
          Oh – on a summer day in 1985
          And everything I wanted was out there waitin’
          And everyone I loved was still alive

I thought of them as I folded the note and put it back in the pocket.  Often, what was never dies, but still is…



We always loved fireflies

Father’s Day,June 15, 2014


Someone commented once that my stories, no matter where set, or when, have a feature or theme in common: good fathers.

It is true, I think, mulling things over.  I have men who are good fathers, characters who were blessed with good fathers, characters who had men step in and serve as fathers to them…

It is not surprising.  I was blessed with the finest father anyone could hope for.  He was a very good man, and one of those rare people who remembered how it was to be a child.  We would go for drives on Sunday afternoons, and he would tell us kids to look for bears.  Once he bought some Native American arrowheads and ‘salted’ them in a place where he planned to take us.  We were too oblivious to notice them.

He would tuck us in to bed (Mom did, too) and tell us ‘Make up stories’, which were the absolute best.

He was unflinching in his honesty.  The ‘Right Thing To Do’ was what had to be done.  And he did not blink it, even as he understood and sympathized with his children when we found it hard.  I never in my life doubted that he and Mom were on my side, that I could always go to them when I was in trouble, and that while they would speak their mind, they would never stop loving me.

Years ago, Dad discovered computers.  He was a very bright man, but computers were mysterious and fascinating.  Maybe this was because he was in the first wave of radar officers in the U.S. Navy in WW II.  His talk of them bored me to death…for a while. 

I remember he phoned me once to go on and on (and on) about Ram and Megabytes and such, and I sat back, phone to ear, and rolled my eyes.

…and then it occurred to me, with the force of someone jabbing me in the ribs: there will come a day when you would give almost anything to have him beating your eardrums about computers.

I listened to the voice, and it was right.

Dad died two years ago this August.  He went quickly, and his passing was guided by  his own instructions, written and notarized.  No difficult decision was left to us.  No lingering doubts or regrets.  He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery (for those non-US readers, it is the cemetery for veterans – and Dad was one).
 
Not a day goes by that does not bring with it some reason to remember him and thank God that he was my father.  He is in good part a reason that I took the path I did.

As he was, so are other fathers, and I salute them this day.  It is a tough job but a crucial one.  I wish all can be as blessed as I was, and can bless their children as Dad did his.

Happy Father’s day!

Hail and Farewell


I was at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday, honoring my father at his funeral.



Honor Guard at the Caisson.  the riderless horse can be seen at Left

…and they move off to the gravesite.

It was stately, solemn, respectful and celebratory.  Dad would have loved it.  He would have loved it even more if there had been some little children to sit on his lap and have things explained to them, then told a bedtime story.

Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations…
There were those who ruled in their kingdoms, and made a name for themselves by their valor…
all these were honored in their generations, and were the pride of their times.

Some of them have left behind a name, so that others declare their praise.
But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed;
they have become as though they had never been born, they and their children after them.

But these also were godly men, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten;
Their offspring will continue forever, and their glory will never be blotted out.
Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on generation after generation.
                                      (from Ecclesiasticus)

Thoughts for the Season, Busyness, a Milestone and Remembered Love


I have been away for nearly two weeks. There is much going on and I am going to be spotty in my posting (though I have a great idea for the Insecure Writers Support Group, which posts the first Wednesday of the month).

Life has been a kind of mélange at this moment, with ups, downs, busyness and frustration.  Sorting things out, whether in the silence of my own mind or on paper (keyboard?) sets things in order.

Thoughts for the Season:
It is good to have a time where we sit back and take stock of the things that we are grateful for.  Counting one’s blessings has been used as a way to deal with the doldrums for centuries, though it does sometimes lead to the thought, Yeah, well with all these blessings can someone explain to me why I’m still feeling glum?  What kind of creep am I?  In my case, I have bunch of things to be grateful for and something coming up celebrating one of those major reasons and providing some closure.

Making haste to no purpose is a good way of describing the downside of busyness.  No idle hands, but little accomplished.  We have all, I am sure, had cycles where we rushed about and fussed about and accomplished nothing.  I have been in the middle of one of those, with too much to do and not enough time.  What do I propose to do?  Ride it out.  Accomplish what I can and not fuss too much over the answer.

A milestone is approaching.  Possibly the last milestone in this series.  My father’s funeral is set for a week from this coming Friday.  He died in August of 2012 and was cremated.  He was a career Naval officer who had accomplished a great deal in helping to organize the Judge Advocate’s Corps’  procedures and organizations.  He never spoke of that.  He went into civilian practice after he retired and worked for many years in Philadelphia.  He was a combat veteran from World War II, serving as a radar officer (top secret technology then) on a Destroyer.

Dad died over a  year ago and was cremated.  The burial in Arlington was put off for various reasons: 1. there are a good many younger, non-cremated casualties who need to be buried there.  Dad would not have objected; 2. You have to ask for a date to be selected.  My brother forgot to do so.

Well, the interment was requested and scheduled – caissons, buglers, a band marching behind, and a LOT of family attending.  Dad would have enjoyed it.  Dad’s ashes were requested from the funeral home, which has been storing it and Dad’s flag, which will drape the caisson. 

My older brother, whom I privately think of as a consummate doofus, phoned my sister to tell her to ask our long-suffering and very kind neighbor across the way to check the front porch and see if Dad’s ashes  had been delivered, since he didn’t want anyone to run off with them.  Uh…  You directed them to deliver the ashes to ME, Chuck?  Why not our other brother who lives in the same town as the funeral home?  You think he’d be inclined to forget to bring them to the funeral?  Kind of like forgetting to ask Arlington to schedule the funeral in the first place?  Did I mention that you’re a Doofus?  I did?  Well, it bears repeating, Doofus!

I arrived home from Thanksgiving after a long, grueling drive to discover that a package was, indeed, sitting on my front porch.  My sister opened the box, which was surprisingly heavy, and saw, inside, the flag, folded into a triangle (as we had done for years) and a small box, perhaps 10″ square.  “Dad’s in there,” she said.

Well, currently what is left of my father’s body is residing in my garage along with his flag.  It will be taken along to Philadelphia and then to Arlington in two weeks’ time.

The milestone is coming up.  People talk of ‘closure’, and while I haven’t been stewing over the fact that the funeral wasn’t scheduled (Dad wouldn’t have been, either), it will be good to have a public acknowledgment of his quality as an officer.  And yet –

If the funeral had not been scheduled as it was, I would still be acknowledging all the ways Dad influenced me.  Not a day has passed that has not brought with it something that gives me a reason to be very thankful that that man was my father.  He had a temper, he could be very pointed, and he was known to yell at us kids (never saying anything demeaning or insulting), but he always rang true, and everything he did for his children he did out of love.  Military families had access to ‘free’ medical care (a quid pro quo for the unrealized fact that if you are in the military you are on duty 24/7, no excuses.  Well, we went and got free shots – but when my family moved to a new town, Dad looked up the very best pediatrician in the area and took us to him or her.  (Now I am remembering the time I did NOT want a shot and fought the doctor, tooth and nail, and scornfully rejected the proffered lollipop after I lost the fight.  Dad said I was stubborn.  Hah!  I was all of six years old…)

Love remembered never leaves us.  It keeps affecting us and we reap its benefits all our lives.


Veteran’s Day


I come from a long line of people who picked up their weapons and fought for causes that they thought worthy.

An ancestor from Besancon, France, Francois Durand, came over and settled in the American colonies.  When the American Revolution broke out, he enlisted in the Continental Army and was tapped to serve as interpreter for the Marquis de Lafayette.  Personally, I suspect  Lafayette probably spoke better English than Francois.  Not sure, though…  Lafayette was reported to speak broken English when he returned to the United States early in the 19th Century.

Other ancestors fought in that conflict (and since my great-grandfather hailed from Hesse Cassel and came from a military family, I suspect we may have had a few Hessian mercenaries in the background.)

The American Civil war came along, and my great-great Grandfather, Theodore Wilder, a student at Oberlin College, signed up at the very beginning along with a company of his college friends to fight against slavery.  Yes, they actually said that: they wanted to see the end of slavery.  Great-great Grandpa ultimately died for that cause, though his wounds did not kill him until 1872.  He was badly wounded in the battle of Cedar Mountain in western Virginia (‘Slaughter Mountain’, they called it).  He was saved by a farmer and his fiancée, as the story goes.

(Serving years later as a docent in the Civil War Library and Museum, I encountered the memoir he wrote of that time.  He only used his initials; imagine my surprise when I learned that the writer with the dry, humorous tone was an ancestor.)

November 11 is called ‘Veteran’s Day’ in the United States now.  I suppose I could go on about the various other veterans in my family and the wars they served in, but I want to mention a veteran who is dear to my heart.  My father, who died a year ago in August.

I knew him for a wonderful father before he died, and I’m glad I did.  At every turn I find reasons to thank God that he was my father, that I had his kindly, stern and laughing presence in my life.

On this Memorial day, however, I think it appropriate to pass on something he said to me.

Dad joined the U.S. Navy during World War II.  He entered the top secret Radar program, and served as a radar officer during the war and afterward.  He attended law school and served in the JAG (Judge Advocate General) corps.  I did not know until after he died that he had helped to set up the system they have now.

At any rate, Dad was a veteran and a serviceman, retiring as the Judge Advocate General for a U.S. military district.  He then went into the practice of law as a civilian.  Not surprisingly, he had a few things to say about some of the crooks he encountered.  He also had a low tolerance for idiots.

A few years back Tom Brokaw wrote the book The Greatest Generation.  I had long thought that the people who lived through World War II, whatever their country, certainly had earned that title.  There was a time, for example, when the only thing that stood between Hitler and world domination were the stout hearts and determination of the people of the UK.

I said so to Dad – about his generation.

His words were typical:

I don’t know about that, Diana.
We did what we had to do when we faced what we were facing.
You, too, would do the same if you were in that situation.


Generous words.  Dad was wise, and I think he was probably right.  It is good, though, that we have not yet had to face that sort of test, though we have faced some others.

So, this Veteran’s day, I thank all who put their lives, their income, their health on the line in our behalf.  Those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and those who gave their whole lives and retired.

Thank you all.

They also serve… (thoughts on Memorial Day)


My mother phoned me, disgusted.  She had been talking with someone and my late father’s name came up.  Dad was a career Naval officer.  He was in the JAG (‘Judge Advocate General’) corps and retired as a judge running one of the Navy’s districts.  He went into the civilian practice of law after he retired, and rose in that arena.

“So,” the man said,  “He was just an attorney.”

Mom set him straight.  Dad was a combat veteran.  Not that he bragged about it.  There was a job to do and he did it, like many other veterans the world over.

Dad was an amazing man, and I could not have asked for a better father.  But when he retired, Dad decided to sit down and write his memoirs.  It was a double-spaced typewritten tome called Now I Come To Think Of It.  It contained some surprises.

Dad entered the Navy in 1942 as they were rolling out the top secret radio program.  He became, essentially, an Air Traffic Controller “MIGs coming in at nine o’clock high!”.  He saw fighting in the Pacific Theater of the war, participating in the battle of Midway and the big fight involving supply ships.  He was on a Destroyer, his ship was hit by Kamikaze fighters and he,  himself, was hurled to the deck by a wad of shrapnel.

He didn’t talk about it much.  Not that it haunted or horrified him, but because like a lot of WWII veterans, Dad did what he had to and came back to live the life of a citizen.  My first inkling was that memoir.  (I promised Dad, as he was dying, that I would type it up and publish it for him.  I’m working on that.)

Dad had ideas of duty and honor and I will never forget what he said once about something I witnessed.

I served as a docent for the Civil War Library and Museum in Philadelphia in the late ‘nineties.  I was interested, and I was able to do some research for a book I wrote set in the Georgia Theater.  (‘The Safeguard’)  I came back from a day there and told Dad what had happened.  It was told me by another docent.

“Hah! You should have seen the idiot!  He came in all puffed up about his great-great grandfather who served in the Union navy!    He had the name of the ship, and he was going on about how great his grandfather was!”

I asked what he had found.

“The ship was docked in Philadelphia through the whole war.  The man spent the entire American Civil War shoreside.  I told him so!”

I thought that was bad form, and I expressed that,  Then I told Dad.  His reply was characteristic.

“Why did he say that?  The man went where he was told to go and did what he was ordered.  So he didn’t go into battle – was that his fault?  He served where he was needed, and the fact that he was not discharged dishonorably says a lot.  He had the right to wear the campaign ribbon.  He was a war veteran, something to be proud of.”

He fulminated for a moment.  “What sort of fool was that fellow?  I imagine he never served!”

No, probably not.

I found myself remembering Milton’s poem:

WHEN I consider how my light is spent

E’re half my days, in this dark world and wide,

And that one Talent which is death to hide,

Lodg’d with me useless, though my Soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present

My true account, least he returning chide,

Doth God exact day-labour, light deny’d,

I fondly ask; But patience to prevent

That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need

Either man’s work or his own gifts, who best

Bear his milde yoke, they serve him best, his State

Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed

And post o’re Land and Ocean without rest:

They also serve who only stand and waite.
On Memorial day we honor those who served, men and women.  Some gave their lives, some gave their hearts.  All deserve our respect, admiration and gratitude.


Thanks, Dad (and Uncle Dick).

Old-Fashioned Advice


    Years ago, as I was getting ready to go away to college, my father came to me.  I was in the basement doing something or other that a pre-college kid might do.  He looked around, sat down and said, “Diana, I have something to say to you that I think is important.

     I looked up expecting something – I’m not sure what.  A talk about not blowing all my money, being respectful to elders, never to worry about calling him or my mother if there was a problem or I was in trouble – any of those.  Dad was a singular father, and aside from knowing that he called things as he saw it and did administer punishment as needed, and was always fair and to be relied on (my mother was the same way), I never could be sure what he might say.  There was a time, for example, when he told my brother and me that the Mayflower (ship that brought the pilgrims to Plymouth rock in 1620) was made of bricks.  But that is another story and will be told another time.
     But he threw me a curve ball this time.  “You are going to college, and if you’re like every other college kid in the United States, you are going to try drinking.  So this is my advice…”
     It was good advice, and I am giving it it’s own paragraph:
If you are going to drink, don’t drink sweet, sticky drinks like Singapore Slings or Pina Coladas, Mai Tais, or other such things where you don’t know what is in them. Drink Scotch on the Rocks, or Gin and Tonic, or an Old Fashioned. The best thing to do is mix it yourself if you’re at a party, then you know what’s in it. And if you don’t know the people around you, get your own drink, or stand there and watch as they’re mixing it. Or drink beer. You’ll get sick before you get drunk.
 
     I paid attention to that advice – it is very good advice, and while I did enjoy fuzzy navels, I noticed that they packed a wallop out of proportion to their ingredients.  And it was hard to remember what was in them.  My mixed drink of choice became the Old Fashioned.  I can nurse one of them for an entire evening, augmenting it with a glass of seltzer.
     For those who don’t remember them – they’re making a comeback – they consist of:
     A sugar cube with a dash of bitters muddled with lemon zest in the bottom of an Old Fashioned (what else?) glass.  You fill the glass with cracked ice, pour a (smaller) jigger of Bourbon or Ryeover, stir, and then add cold water to fill the glass the rest of the way.  You can add a maraschino cherry, if you want and a slice of orange.  Some people add a small spoonful of cherry juice.  It depends what you want.  I do put the orange slice in.  It helps to stave off scurvy.
     Did I say they were coming back into fashion?  They are, which means that for a while there, they were out of fashion, with servers not knowing what on earth I was ordering.  I remember one time – it was at Downey’s in Philadelphia – that I ordered an Old Fashioned.  The table had pina coladas, beer, wine and Long Island Iced tea (why on earth would you pay a lot of money for a drink that ‘tastes exactly like iced tea’,  and levels you like a bulldozer?).
       The server stared at me.  “And old fashioned WHAT?” she demanded.
       The attitude had come out of left field.  I lifted my eyebrows.  “It’s a mixed drink,” I said.
       I’ve never heard of it!”
       “Just ask your bartender to mix me an Old Fashioned.”
     “Yeah.  Right.”  She left.   She returned five minutes later, the pleasantness of her demeanor having improved somewhat.  “The bartender wants to know if you want your cherry muddled…”
       It was a good one.
       I was visiting family over Thanksgiving, and my mother said, “I wonder if you would make me an Old Fashioned…  Your father used to.  I remember you did, too.”
     Well, I mixed one. Two, actually – one for me and one for her.  And we lifted our glasses to Dad.
     Thanks for the advice, Dad.  And the recipe.

Dad


I’m not sure when I realized how lucky I was.  I think maybe I just assumed that everyone had parents like mine – stern when they had to be, always kind, straight-shooters  when it came to right and wrong, but who liked to laugh.  Maybe it was when I entered my early teens and saw other parents that were not like mine, that got me started thinking.

Dad was in the United States Navy.  He entered the (very new) Radar program in World War II and was a radar officer in the Pacific theater of that war.  He left the Navy after the war and attended law school on the GI Bill before he was called up for the Korean War in 1950 (right after marrying my mother).  He went back to war and stayed in the Navy for nearly thirty years, retiring as a Captain and the Judge Advocate General of the Fourth Naval District. 

Dad went into civilian law practice and finally retired for good around 1996.

We lived all over the place, from Newport (RI) to Aiea Heights (Hawaii) and a few places in between.  We were always piling into the car and going for drives, to museums (‘You have to understand, Diana – admission on Sunday mornings was generally free…)

Health care is free to Military dependants – or it was when I was growing up – but while Mom and Dad had their children to the the local military dispensary for their inoculations, the first thing they did when they went to a new location was to look up the finest pediatrician in the area and take us kids there.

Children grow up, and so did I.  My Dad (and Mom) somehow made the cross-over from Respected Parent to Greatly Enjoyed Friend. 

Dad lived to be 88 years old and he died this past Monday.  His family was close by.  I will miss him.