Friday, November 11, 2011
Saturday, October 29, 2011
My big sister drove down from her home in Oklahoma today for a weekend visit.
She called me at work this afternoon tellin' me she'd gotten to Waco, so as soon as I got home from school I turned around and headed to Momma's house.
The plan was for the three of us to go to BJ's Brewhouse for a big celebratory dinner (Denise is slapped up in a nice condo near Orlando, Fla. with her brother and his wife, sittin' inside, bummed out because of the rain, and the Rangers). Today is my big Sis's birthday, so it was an extra special day.
We got there just in time to avoid the rush, got a nice booth near the front (mom doesn't get around too well any more, so we always want to get a close table) and ordered drinks and appetizers.
Mom went for the usual; a Top Shelf Margarita on the rocks with salt. Sis went for a spicy Bloody Mary, and I had a beer. Just a beer. Nothin' to write home about.
The appetizer was our usual; the Santa Fe Spring Rolls. "Crispy spring rolls filled with tender chicken, black beans, fire-roasted red peppers,
cilantro, sweet corn, jalapeños and Monterey jack cheese. Served with our Santa Fe
dressing and avocado cream sauce, then garnished with green onions, fresh red
peppers and red cabbage." Wonderful stuff. I always get a dish of honey mustard to dip them in. Everything's better with honey mustard.
For dinner, mom decided to go for the New Orleans Jambalaya, which is a wonderful, spicy dish that's sure to clean out your sinuses if you dare to go there. "Our distinctive jambalaya combines blackened chicken, shrimp and chicken-andouille sausage, sautéed with bell peppers, onions and tomatoes in a spicy sauce. Served over a rice pilaf and topped with green onions." Yea, momma dared. When the waiter asked her "You know that's a little spicy?", she responded with "Oh yea, I know." She ended up takin' about half of it home to finish in a few days, but she always does that, so it wasn't due to her high voltage selection.
Sis went for the Fish-n-Chips. "Fillets of Pacific cod in our special light batter made with Brewhouse Blonde® beer. Served with your choice of crispy-thin or wedge-cut seasoned fries and tartar sauce." I think she loved it, even though she tried to get mom to eat about a third of it. She always does that, gettin' everyone else to try her food. I think she was concerned that mom's dish was too spicy for her. She started chokin' at one point, and we figured it was the spices getting to her, but she claimed it wasn't. She took a sip of my beer while we got her some water, and she was good to go.
I went for the boring old (HARDLY!!) Spaghetti with Meat Sauce and Meatballs. "Hearty meat sauce with Angus ground beef, Italian sausage, tomatoes, garlic, herbs and spices."
I've been on a Spaghetti kick lately. Good thing about that is that I've found out where the really good stuff is. For instance, the stuff at BJ's is WAY better than the same dish at the Olive Garden. Go figure. After dinner, we decided to take a drive down 190 and have a look at the little town mom grew up in.
Thing is, I haven't driven down that way in AGES, and it turned out they've finished a new highway bypass in the last few years. By the time I realized something was up we were in friggin' Rogers, which is the next town down the road. Sheeeit! So I backtracked through the country, finally getting to Heidenheimer as the sun went down. Sis noted the little building down town that once served as the town post office.
My grandfather ran that operation back in the 1950s and 60s. That's him there in the picture, taken in the front yard in the 1940s (my mom is the girl in the middle). My cousin Bob (his mom is on the far left) still talks about going to work with Papa back then, back when he was still just a little nipper, and watching him bag all the mail, hang the bag on a hook and swing the arm out so that the passing trains could snatch it. He says Papa used to have him watch closely so he could see it disappear.
Most of that fun was over by the time I was growing up. I was the last grand kid born to the family, and Papa was older by the time I grew up enough to remember anything. That's what mom and sis tell me anyway. I always figured the reason why he never wanted to do anything with me was just that he didn't give a shit. But I guess it was mostly that we were just never around. Bob got to live there for a while when his dad went to Taiwan. He started school there in Temple, so he got to spend a lot of time with the old man.
Mostly, I remember Papa sitting in a chair in front of their big black & white TV and chewing tobacco, spitting it into an old coffee can at his feet. The smell of that tobacco is still wafting through my mind now. After he died I found a little brick of the stuff on his gun rack and saved it. I eventually got his pocket knife too. It was a cheap dime store blade, heavily used and sharpened down to a nib.
As we turned North off the main drag I drove us up the road passed very familiar old houses, some still looking good and others not. We crossed over the rough, uneven railroad tracks that I used to walk over to go visit the little general store in town, and all the old memories began to hit me. But I knew what we'd see.
The house my grandparents owned back in the day is gone now. It was finally bulldozed a few years ago by the guy that bought it after my grandmother went into a nursing home. He runs the mill there that ships produce on the Santa Fe railroad. He rented it out to migrant workers for years, but it steadily fell apart until someone made the decision to flatten it and let some farmer plant corn in the field instead.
I turned and parked on what's left of the gravel drive that used to pass down one side of the house to the back. We sat there for a little while, the engine running and the headlights of my car illuminating the plowed field. My sister was sitting in the back seat, and we were passing a little cigar between one another and blowing smoke out the sunroof. The sun was setting, and a thousand memories were flashing through my head. I couldn't help but get emotional, but I did my best to hide it from the others. They didn't need to have me turning into a blathering fool and ruining the party.
That little house in the pictures (this one is from 1970, when we came home from England) was all I ever had for a real home during my early years. That's my grandfather there, and my mom at his side, and me with the buzz cut and bare feet. Bare feet were a tricky thing back then. That front yard was always loaded with hard, dry grass and burrs, but you could go barefoot in the house with almost no worries (almost... there were occasional scorpions).
As my family moved from place to place, taking all our stuff with us like gypsies, that little farm house in Heidenheimer was the only constant in our lives. It was our family home, filled with all the love and melodrama of a real home, with memories built up from over two generations of my mother's family living there. By contrast, as exotic and interesting as they may have sounded to others, the places we lived in were just temporary stops where I had to endure being the new kid in school again. By the time those places began to feel like home we'd be packing up, saying good-bye to our friends and moving off to start all over again somewhere else.
So, sitting there, looking out at that empty field, it hit me pretty hard. I remembered again how much I miss the place, and how much I miss the people who are no longer around who used to be so very important in my life. It's as if there's a parallel universe somewhere with all of those familiar times and people, still somehow moving about their lives, but we've been shut off from them forever. It's all still there in my head, clear as day, but looking out on the field through the headlights, there's nothing to tell any passer by that any of it ever existed. That blows me away.
We drove off again after a short time, and then stopped for treats at Dairy Queen before going back to Mom's place. The plan is to sleep late tomorrow and then drive down to Austin for another big celebratory meal at Pappasito's. So, if the food pics in this post didn't do it for ya, just stay tuned.
Update: No new food pics. The trip to Pappasito's was nixed. The girls didn't want to make the drive to Austin. So we hit the Olive Garden in stead. It was really good. I take back what I said about their Spaghetti and meatballs. It was good, as was the salad and bread sticks. Tomorrow, we're gonna go to visit my one remaining aunt in her nursing home, and then Sis will maybe decide to drive home. I think she wants to get home, check on her cats and sleep a few nights in her own bed before she has to go back to work. I can understand that. It's been a great visit.
Sunday, September 04, 2011
Denise and I took mom to BJ's last Friday. It was her turn to pick a spot, and she'd let me to believe we were going to the Olive Garden. But in the end, she changed her mind (I wish I had a dollar for every time the women in my life have done that). I think she prefers their Top Shelf Margaritas, and I know she loves their pasta. She got no arguments from ether of us. We love it too, so we headed to BJ's.
You can still see a hint of the black eye mother got a week or so ago when she fell out of her chair trying to get up. When we came over to eat her fried chicken last weekend, the shiner was still fresh. She looked like I'd had to beat her to get her to cook that wonderful chicken. We did a lot of joking about it all, but it worries me to death. The last thing she needs is to fall and break a hip.
I'd love to see her get her hip joint replaced, solving the issue of her having pain when she walks and tried to get up from a chair, but she's decided not to do it. She fears the pain and trouble of healing, and fears that the operation would never really heal. She was all ready to have it done six months or so ago but changed her mind. So there you go.
Anyway, the trip to BJ's was fun. I left mom and Denise out front and went on to find a nice shady parking spot. When i got into the place, I was expecting them to be over at the bar, ordering drinks and waiting for a table. But the hostes was already leading them to our table. The waiter arrived shortly thereafter and I ordered the drinks, appetizers and entrees. We knew what we wanted.
For mom, it was a top shelf margarita on the rocks with salt. For Denise, a Brewhouse Blond and Sprite, and an empty glass to mix them in (the waiter was amazed), and for me, the special. An Oktoberfest off the tap. "This traditional seasonal lager has a malty, toasty character with a mild hop bitterness in the finish. Amber in color, medium-bodied and very smooth from a long lagering process." Good stuff
As for the appetizers, we went for the traditional stuff we usually order. Mom and I love the Santa Fe Spring Rolls. "Crispy spring rolls filled with tender chicken, black beans, fire-roasted red peppers, cilantro, sweet corn, jalapeños and Monterey jack cheese. Served with our Santa Fe dressing and avocado cream sauce, then garnished with green onions, fresh red peppers and red cabbage." I have the waiter bring me a little cup of honey mustard, because everything goes better with honey mustard.
Denise loves the Potato Skins, but was only willing to order them if I promised to help her eat them. So I fell on my sword there, and we got to enjoy some wonderful little spuds.
"Shredded jack and cheddar cheeses melted over lightly fried potato skins, topped with Applewood smoked bacon bits and green onions. Served with sour cream dip and ranch dressing." It's like they start out with a twice baked potato, scoop out the inside of the tater, and then decorate them with all the cheese and goodness, and then toss them back in the burner to melt the cheese.
For the entrees, Mom went for her favorite thing; the Angel Hair Toscana with Cajun Shrimp. "Our delicate angel hair pasta," a HUGE pile of the stuff, "tossed with olive oil, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, fire-roasted red peppers, fresh basil, feta cheese, pine nuts, Roma tomatoes topped with fresh Parmesan cheese and parsley." One reason why mom loves it is because they give her enough, with a take-home box, she can have it two days in a row. I've tried it myself, and while I do love it, I like more sauce with my pasta. The dish just seems to me poor when it comes to sauce. I feel like I'm just eating, filling up on pasta. Having said that, it's a wonderful dish. Just order extra sauce if you decide to go there.
Denise ordered one of her favorites, the Parmesan Encrusted Chicken. "Our marinated chicken breasts coated with Parmesan cheese and crunchy Panko bread crumbs, lightly pounded and pan fried to a golden brown. Served with white cheddar mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli, and topped with a lemon Chardonnay butter sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil and Parmesan cheese." It's wonderful, and ordering it gave me a chance to check out their version, as compared to mine. I tried to make it a week or so ago, and did a great job. But looking at their version, I saw that they'd cut or pounded their chicken thinner. I'm sure that helps cook the chicken faster.
For my pleasure, I chose the Spaghetti with Marinara and meatballs; Basil tomato sauce, slowly simmered with garlic, onions and herbs," with chunky meatballs tossed in. I LOVES me some spaghetti, and I'd been jonesin' for the store bought version for a few weeks. I made myself some, and liked it well enough, but there's something about the way they put it all together in a good restaurant. Hmmm, maybe it's the fact that I don't have to clean up the kitchen after. Yea, that might be it.
One of my fondest memories of my childhood is a two week long bus trip through Italy, when I was about eight or nine years old. It was an eighteen day trip from Munich to Naples and back. dad had to work, so it was just mom and sis and I, and a bus load of other yanks. We flew from England to Germany, got on the bus and headed out.
I've already told you how I LOVES the pasta. Well, when we got into Italy, the waiters started bringin' me spaghetti for lunch and dinner EVERY DAY. I was in heaven. Not only was I walkin' around all these cool Roman ruins (I was and am a HUGE junkie when it comes to the Romans).
That's mom and I, standing on the platform of the Temple of Apollo at Pompeii. Zoom in and you can see the plaid pants she's got me wearin'. Those were the days. Funny thing, it was summer, and I don't remember it being rainy that day.
I went back there in 1990, when I was teaching on the USS Thorn, and realized what was up with the past thing. Whenever you're on the bus tours, they take you to some local restaurant and they give you the choice of ether pasta or veal. Not that I don't object to the way they make veal, but I just don't enjoy the taste of it. So I pick the pasta, every time.
Anyway, dinner Friday night was wonderful, and it was great to spend some time with mom. Denise and I hit Dairy Queen on the way home, for her a strawberry Sunday and for me, a dip cone. And that was it.
Now, we're getting ready to go see The Debt at the local multiplex, and then we'll see about eating out somewhere. Ya'll be good. W'ell do this again some time. Cheers.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
Been gettin' reacquainted with my old buddy Jim lately. He's a senior project manager for a company that installs communications equipment and radio towers around the country. He's and old, treasured friend, who's usually off, livin' in another part of the country for years at a time while his wife, a Nurse, keeps the home fires burnin' there in Ft. Worth. But he's between assignments these days, workin' on projects around the house and lookin' for things to do.
About a month or so ago he called me, proposing that I drive my old Toyota up to Ft. Worth so that he could replace the timing belt and a few other things. He's really smart when it comes to stuff like that. He'd already worked on his own Solara and Tundra, so I said OK. Even though I didn't really have the money for the parts, the work needed to be done, and he was gonna save me hundreds of dollars in labor costs. Plus, the idea of going up there and spending time with my old friend was a shot in the arm that I was really needing.
I met Jim when, after getting out of graduate school, I went back to my old canoeing coach and talked my way into going on a few floats. Jim was taking the class at that time, and when I showed up at the college to join the group, I ended up riding up to the river in his truck. We became friends at that time, and have been close ever since.
I got my job teaching on Navy ships soon after that. Whenever I was between gigs, we'd try to go camping, backpacking or canoeing. Over the years, as we both got busier in our professional or personal lives, the number and frequency of those trips declined. We both had the money to do whatever we wanted. But there was no time.
Now and then, we'd find the time to make an run to Enchanted Rock. But our biggest and best trips were in 2003 and 2005. In '03, he and his wife Terry talked me into joining them on a rafting and hiking trip in the Grand Canyon. It was a huge blast. We ran half the river in '03, and then went back and finished the canyon in '05.
Over the last twelve years or so, whenever we'd go camping, Jim would usually bring his dog, Sydney. I remember when he got her. I may be wrong, but I think she was a pound puppy. He trained her right, getting up at the crack of dawn and taking her out in the back yard every morning.
Before long she was following his commands, staying in the yard and and guarding our camp sites now and then from inquisitive racoons. When he was home, he'd get up every morning and work on her training, taking her for a run to a local city park. She wanted to go wherever he went, jumping into his car and curling up in the passenger side floorboard.
I'll never forget one time at Enchanted Rock. We were walking back down to the camp site after climbing the rock. All of a sudden, Sydney bolted up and over some scrub and into the bush after a rabbit. She gave chase for a while, but soon ran back when Jim called.
She was a natural hunter. Jim used to giggle his ass off, tellin' me stories about her terrorizing the squirrels (Jim calls 'em "tree rats") in their back yard. He'd always laugh when he took her to the little park near their home for a run and she'd tree all the squirrels in the park.
When I went up to Ft. Worth the other week to let Jim work on my car, I was surprised to see how old Sydney had gotten. I guess it'd just been a while since I'd been up there. Jim and Terry both told me she was gettin' close to the end. She was mostly deaf, but still wanted to follow Jim everywhere.
While he worked on my car, Sydney would sit in the grass, or find some shady spot in a bush, or in the garage, always keeping him close by. When the time came for me to leave, she even jumped up and took a seat in the front passenger seat floorboard of my car, just like old times. She didn't want to miss anything.
A few weeks later, I went back up to Ft. Worth to join Jim on a three day road trip to Arkansas. We were gonna pick up an item he'd purchased on eBay, and just get away for a while. Sydney wanted to go on that trip too. It would have been good to have her. The first night, camped out at Devil's Den State Park, the Racoons were up to their old tricks.
After dinner, as I sat at the picknick table under a gas lantern, reading and trying to cool off, I heard a faint noise on the other side of the table. Looking up, I saw a big bandit-eyed face staring back up at me. It had lifted itself up on it's hind legs to see if there was anything worth dragging off the table. Sydney would have been goin' nuts, chasin' that poor critter into the dark.
It's been a week or so since we got back from that trip. I've been busy, tryin' to get ready for the online classes that are gonna start soon, and tryin' to figure out what the University of Phoenix means by "facilitation". I was surfin' through Facebook yesterday when I read a post that had been put up by Terry's son Kevin, who lives and works in New Hampshire these days.
"Well my mom just called and told me that my dog died today, it really sucks. I will miss u Sydney we had some great times together."
I was shocked to read those words, but not really surprised. I picked up the phone and gave Jim a call. They were driving back from their property out on the west side of town, where they'd just buried old Sydney. Jim was shocked to hear that I knew, and then we both laughed about Facebook, and the times we're livin' in.
He said Sydney's decline had accelerated over this last weekend when she'd apparently had a stroke. She'd lost the use of one leg, and had stopped eating. She was still game though. Still wanted to follow him everywhere, but the writing was on the wall.
So Jim and Terry found themselves in the sad position that all loving pet owners eventually have to face. They took her to the vet and put a humane end to her suffering. And you know, I bet she jumped into the floorboard for that trip too.
So, rest in peace Sydney. You were an awesome companion. We'll all miss you, and treasure the memories you left with us.
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
When I was about ten years old, runnin' in the woods of Eastern Missouri, I wanted to grow up to be this guy.
I think I found this picture in a big book on natural history. He's got it just about made, doesn't he? All the critters you could ever hunt, resulting in a casual, unhurried existence, and all those wide opened spaces to live in. And I mean WIDE OPEN. There were maybe less than 300,000 people on the whole planet when this dude was lookin' for a good spot for his deer stand. Imagine that.
Before that, I remember wanting to be one of these critters. No, not the guy. The Allosaurus. Sheesh!
A savage beast, I would'a been. Blood thirsty. Nobody would'a screwed with me at all. Nobody. We're talkin' APEX predator.
Later on... OK, at about the same time, I also wanted to be one of these dudes. Seein' as how this is the Battle of Hastings, and the dudes on the left won and then got to divide up all the land in Britain and live like kings for generations, I guess I'd be on that side. Having said that though, the dudes on the right were pretty cool too.
They should've won. Some of their buds didn't get the memo though. They broke their shield wall one too many times and went runnin' down the hill, thinkin' everything was over. Not! Next thing you know their chief is takin' an arrow in the face and gettin' hacked up. And I mean professionally hacked up. It just wasn't his day.
I also wanted to be this guy. Hell, I'd still love to be this guy. That headdress is so friggin' cool. They had a pretty nice life too, livin' larger in the great wide open spaces, back before the White folks spread like a pestilence on the land and screwed it up for them. Too bad about that, but what are ya gonna do? Again, Apex Predators, us White folks is. Apex!
Then there was the time, when I was a teenager, when all I wanted was to be able to ride around in one of these big dudes. Battle of Kursk, field of Prokhorovka, goin' muzzle to muzzle with some Mongolian draftee in a T34. I was gonna join the army after high school and see if they'd let me drive an M60A3, but dad talked me out of it. He was probably right. It would'a been a tight fit.
I guess I had a vivid imagination back in the day. Guess I still do. Ya think? Cheers.
Monday, June 06, 2011
Proctoring 9th Week Exams in a Math class. Easy peasy. It was a two day gig. Second day, there turned out to be no late class for me to test, so I went to the office to see if they'd let me go. Some schools will. This one didn't though. They sent me to the library to wait out the day, just in case they came up with a need for someone to sit in a class for a while.
So, I sit there and try to read my book, but the reading starts to put me to sleep. I get up and wander around, checking out the selection in the library. Did I tell ya it was a middle school. I was subbing a 7th grade class.
Anyway, I find a set of books on Dinosaurs. I LOVES me some Dinosaurs. I flip open the second book and this is what I see.
Mmm, hm. In the fog of my the-day-is-almost-over-and-I-wanna-go-the-fuck-home dementia, I'm thinkin' "Daym! That poor bastards got his junk on his face. I bet he was bullied in school. Ya think?"
Upon further research, the dude in question is a Hadrosaur from China, called a Tsintaosaurus. Some artists renderings show him with his junk... That is, his nads, on his face.
Others don't. But he's always got that, er, horn. Turns out, what looks to the layman (snif) like a respectable boner, and an uncomfortably hefty set of jewels, was probably a large sinus cavity and horn, used for signaling and communicating with other critters.
Yea, I hear ya. I think we know that signal, don't we fellas? He's "signalin'" the girls that it's party time down in the ol' late Cretaceous period.
Sunday, June 05, 2011
I met Gen. Burris once. He visited our house in Ft. Worth back in the early '80s. He was one of my dad's old commanders, and the source of many great stories. He and his wife Jo were staying with other old service chums of dads, the McSparrins, and they'd all come to the house for an informal party.
I remember him distinctly. He was a jolly little guy, sittin' on the side of my bed, a drink in one hand, checking out my new aquarium. I was in college then, and someone had given me a Siamese Fighting Fish. I'd gone out and gotten a ten gallon tank and was buyin' other fish to put in it, just to see the belligerent little dude chase 'em around the tank.
To me, the General was mostly indistinguishable from any of the other friends my dad had accumulated during his almost 33 year career in the Air Force. Dad told me he'd started out as an enlisted guy and worked his way up the ladder. He'd been a Staff Sargent Gunner in a B-17, serving in the 8th Air Force, 486 bomb Group, 833 Bomb Squadron during the Second World War.
Mom remembers now that dad always spoke highly of Gen. Burris. He respected the fact that he'd risen up through the ranks, served bravely in the war, and that he'd been a great boss to work for. I wish I knew some of the old stories that dad and his buddies laughed about back then, but I was too young to realize how short a time I'd have to get them down on paper.
Dad was still too vigorous back in the early '80s, playin' golf three or four times a week (even with his new knee), for me to think about him passing and the importance of saving that history. By the time I started asking dad to write those old memories down, many of them had faded, and he was unable or unwilling to do it. I think he couldn't imagine why anyone would want to remember it all. I'll always regret not forcing him, or tricking him into doing it, but there you go.
What brought all this up?
Mom got a letter a few days ago, addressed to dad, from Gen. Burris' brother Tom. The letter told us that the General had passed away in October of 2010. His brother, who also served in the Air Force (his older brother swore him into the service in 1951), is trying to get his brother's old friends to tell him some old stories about the General. He says he has his 201 file, but needs some old stories from his friends. He wants his kids and grand kids to have a full history of his brother's life.
Mom showed me the letter when I went over there Saturday evening. I immediately remembered the name, and that long ago day in my room. But mom couldn't remember any of Dad's old stories. She just remembers the deep respect and affection that dad held for the General.
So, I took the letter with me, telling mom that I'd send the man an email, responding to his questions. After sending the email, with my curiosity energized, I Googled the General, looking to see what I could find on the net. The search took me to a book, Air Force Gunners, page 135. What I found there knocked me out.
Apparently, Gen. Burris left a note at the Vietnam Memorial Wall on July 16th, 1993. Here's the text of his note, with his punctuation and capitalization, copied from that book page.
"Bud, your mother and I are here, with your friends from the Air Force Gunners Association. We're here to pay our respects and to remember.
We've been told lately that we should put aside the memories of Vietnam and forget for the sake of harmony.
In behalf of all the Veterans of Vietnam that I have had the privilege to speak to and all those that cannot speak for themselves, I have a message. We came back from hell and you spit on us. You looked upon the face of treason and you turned your head. You brought us back in body bags. You assaulted us in the Colleges and Universities. You gave solace to the enemy and thereby put many more names on the Wall. You do high honor to those who would not serve and for all that you ask us to forget. Well, I'll tell you. Here's my message. WE'LL FORGET, JUST AS SOON AS THE FALLING RAIN, LIKE MOTHERS TEARS WASH ALL THOSE NAMES OFF THE WALL."
I was 14 years old when the war ended. I can only imagine what it must be like to look on that black reflective surface and see the names of old comrades or family members staring back at you, and to know from your own experiences the way this country's government, the media and many of the mindless protesters shit all over you. To serve your country and your brothers and sisters with honor, and then be so utterly disrespected, and then for those who were some of the worst offenders to tell you to forgive and forget... Bullshit! I'll never forget, and I didn't even serve. I just grew up watching it all happen on television.
This country is poorer with each passing day. Every day, on average, we lose something like two thousand tough old bastards. Men like my dad and Gen. Burris, who served honorably and never expected anything more than an acknowledging smile and nod for it, and to live a good life, enjoying the freedom they'd fought to protect. Those men and women, who'd grown up during the depression and served in at least one, if not three or four wars, knew the cost of securing freedom, and had too much integrity to ever think of running away when their name was called.
There are some who wonder if this country can still produce such people. Living here in Killeen, surrounded by young people who have served through multiple deployments, in multiple wars, I know we do. These kids serve today with the same honor that I used to see in my dad and his friends. It warms my heart to know that we still produce men and women with that kind of courage.
So, thank you General Burris. Thank you for your service. I wish I'd gotten to know you better. And thanks to all you others too. Cheers.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Monday, May 30, 2011
Sunday, May 29, 2011
I was watchin' old war movies this weekend, put on to celebrate the Memorial Day holiday. I saw that TCM was gonna show The Story of G.I. Joe again, and I teared up a little. Made me think of this old post, and of my daddy, and all the times he told me about his buddy Waskow. So I've decided to re-post it for the holiday. I hope you like it.
The local VFW post and high school in Belton are named after him, and every time we drive by the place, going South on I-35, he starts to tell the stories again. He's at the age now where he does that a lot, telling old stories over and over, as if he's culling out all the extraneous memories and fixating on the few that really matter to him.
The guy he's told us about over and over was a friend of his, Henry T. "Snort" Waskow, who he says he grew up with and went to school with. He says they played football together when he went to high school in Academy in the late 1930s, and that being a few years older, Waskow would take the younger guys under his wing, protecting them from trouble.
Dad says they'd get togethar with others and go to local "honky tonks", which Waskow, being older, could get them into even though they were too young to be there. He says that Waskow would look out for them, and herd them out of the place before the fists and bottles started to fly. It seems he had a talent for taking care of other guys, which obviously served his men well as he led them through nasty, muddy combat in the war. Dispite his youth, he indeared himself to his men, as if he were their father, until he was ultimately taken away from them. He was killed on a mountain top in Italy on December 14th, 1943.
After his death, his story was told to the world by the famous war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who was "embedded" with the troops in World War Two, before there ever was such a term.
In stead of reporting on grand strategy and famous personalities, Pyle reported on the lives of average soldiers, following them into combat and living with them as he told their stories. He was a reporter with the Scripps Howard newspaper chain, with his articles went out in syndication to thousands of papers across the nation. His writing won a Pulitzer Prize in 1944. He was in Italy in December of that year, reporting on the men who were stuck in the slow, slogging fight to drive the Germans out of the mountainous, rocky peninsula that Winston Churchill had once glibly referred to as "The soft underbelly of Europe" (What an Idiot!).
When it comes to telling you about Henry Waskow's death, I can't do a better job than Ernie Pyle, so here's the text of his story;
AT THE FRONT LINES IN ITALY, January 10, 1944 — In this war I have known a lot of officers who were loved and respected by the soldiers under them. But never have I crossed the trail of any man as beloved as Capt. Henry T. Waskow of Belton, Texas.
Capt. Waskow was a company commander in the Thirty-Sixth Division. He had led his company since long before it left the States. He was very young, only in his middle twenties, but he carried in him a sincerity and gentleness that made people want to be guided by him.
"After my own father, he came next," a sergeant told me.
"He always looked after us," a soldier said. "He'd go to bat for us every time."
"I've never knowed him to do anything unfair," another one said.
I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Capt. Waskow's body down. The moon was nearly full at the time, and you could see far up the trail, and even part way across the valley below. Soldiers made shadows in the moonlight as they walked.
Dead men had been coming down the mountain all evening, lashed to the backs of mules. They came lying belly-down across the wooden packsaddles, their heads hanging down on the left side of the mule, their stiffened legs sticking awkwardly from the other side. bobbing up and down as the mule walked.
The Italian mule-skinners were afraid to walk beside the dead men, so Americans had to lead the mules down that night. Even the Americans were reluctant to unlash and lift off the bodies at the bottom, so an officer had to do it himself, and ask others to help.
The first one came early in the morning. They slid him down from the mule and stood him on his feet for a moment, while they got a new grip. In the half light he might have been merely a sick man standing there, leaning on the others. Then they laid him on the ground in the shadow of the low stone wall alongside the road.
I don't know who that first one was. You feel small in the presence of dead men, and ashamed at being alive, and you don't ask silly questions.
We left him there beside the road, that first one, and we all went back into the cowshed and sat on water cans or lay in the straw, waiting for the next batch of mules.
Somebody said the dead soldier had been dead for four days, and then nobody said anything more about it. We talked soldier talk for an hour or more. The dead men lay all alone outside in the shadow of the low stone wall.
Then a soldier came into the cowshed and said there were some more bodies outside. We went out into the road. Four mules stood there, in the moonlight, in the road where the trail came down off the mountain. The soldiers who led them stood there waiting. "This one is Captain Waskow," one of them said quietly.
Two men unlashed his body from the mule and lifted it off and laid it in the shadow beside the low stone wall. Other men took the other bodies off. Finally there were five lying end to end in a long row, alongside the road. You don't cover up dead men in the combat zone. They just lie there in the shadows until somebody else comes after them.
The unburdened mules moved off to their olive orchard. The men in the road seemed reluctant to leave. They stood around, and gradually one by one I could sense them moving close to Capt. Waskow's body. Not so much to look, I think, as to say something in finality to him, and to themselves. I stood close by and I could hear.
One soldier came and looked down, and he said out loud, "God damn it." That's all he said, and then he walked away. Another one came. He said, "God damn it to hell anyway." He looked down for a few last moments, and then he turned and left.
Another man came; I think he was an officer. It was hard to tell officers from men in the half light, for all were bearded and grimy dirty. The man looked down into the dead captain's face, and then he spoke directly to him, as though he were alive. He said: "I sure am sorry, old man."
Then a soldier came and stood beside the officer, and bent over, and he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but awfully tenderly, and he said:
"I sure am sorry, sir."
Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the dead hand, and he sat there for a full five minutes, holding the dead hand in his own and looking intently into the dead face, and he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there.
And finally he put the hand down, and then he reached up and gently straightened the points of the captain's shirt collar, and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of his uniform around the wound. And then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone.
After that the rest of us went back into the cowshed, leaving the five dead men lying in a line, end to end, in the shadow of the low stone wall. We lay down on the straw in the cowshed, and pretty soon we were all asleep.
It's hard to imagine a more compelling story, but the annals of war are filled with such tales. The special love men develop for one another in combat has been chronicled by historians since Herodotus, three thousand years ago. The wars and weapons, and nations change, but these older, deeper realities never change. Men, and now women, become one through the experience, and share a bond that the rest of us can only try to imagine.
My father was 18, had graduated early from high school and was attending Temple Junior college when the war started. His father prevented him from joining after the attack on Pearl Harbor, but his buddy Henry, being several years older and already a college graduate, was taken right up. Later, after he spent some time in California working at an aircraft plant, dad came back home to Belton and joined the army with his friends. Because he'd had a year of community college, he found he was qualified to be taken into flight and officer training.
He's told me a story many times, of what happened when he and a few friends came back to Belton after graduating from flight training and getting his wings (that's his graduation picture above). He must be about 19 or 20 in that shot. I don't even want to think about what I was doing with my life at 19. Men like my dad and Henry Waskow had fixed it so that my generation could relax and take life easy. I grew up in a time when that fact was still widely realized, but I'm not sure it is anymore.
These young guys, full of themselves, officers and gentlemen by act of congress, were anxious to test out the power of those shiny new wings. They were legendary for their power over the opposite sex, called "leg spreaders" by the guys in the service. When they got to Belton, they walked around the down town area, getting a burger at the local joint, and checking in with old employers, showing off. Soon though, they began to notice other uniforms in the downtown crowd. The shoulder patches were easily recognizable. Veteran enlisted men from the 36th division, Waskow's division, were home on leave from the war.
Dad says he and his buddies ducked into stores and alleys, getting out of town as soon as they could, avoiding these older guys. When I asked why, he looked at me and said that he and his friends knew that they were just young punks, and they didn't want to be embarrassed to have these heroes salute them just because of their new rank insignia. They knew that these men had been through hell, loosing most of their number on one horrible day as they crossed a river in boats against German machine guns. That image, and the humility it represents, always stuck in my head over the years, and has been one of many things that made me very proud of my father.
Of course, dad and I go out to Belton to watch the parades now, on the 4th of July and Memorial day, and he tears up as he remembers those old times. I've gotten to where I tear up as I see the units from Ft. Hood marching by, knowing where these volunteers have been, and where many of them are soon scheduled to go back to.
It's wrong to think that we should never use military force unless we are directly attacked. The days of hiding behind those two oceans are long over. We have responsibilities in the world, but we've got to try to do something to make sure, somehow, that when we leave the blood of our young men and women on foreign shores, sacrificing their future generations on the battlefield, that we do it for a damned good reason, and that we do it whole heartedly, willing to do whatever it takes to win. No screwing around any more. The price is too high.
Eventually Hollywood made a movie of the Ernie Pyle story, with Robert Mitchum in the generic role of the tough but fair leader of men. In other words, the Henry Waskow role.
Ernie Pyle left Italy after Waskow's death, and later shipped off to the Pacific theater, and died along side the soldiers he immortalized when his position was raked with fire from a Japanese machine gun nest. He died on the island of Lejima, off the coast of the larger island of Okinawa, which was under attack in the biggest and bloodiest battle Americans fought in in the war. He's buried in Hawaii, shoulder to shoulder with soldiers he honored with his reporting. I couldn't begin to tell you who the modern Ernie Pyle is. I don't know if a reporter could do what Pyle did back then, without being viewed as a government propagandist. Times HAVE changed.
So, enjoy the weekend and the holiday this Monday, and maybe go out and find an old man or woman and tell them how much you appreciate what they went through. Their generation made it possible for us to sit around in comfort, so it's the least we could do. I'll give dad a big hug for all of you, and mom too, and we'll have a happy Memorial Day. I hope you do to.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
It's been a week of that. 6th graders, 2nd graders and then a high school today. Just peachy. It's stunning, getting a closer look at the generation that is coming up.
Anyway, I'm in the middle of showing a movie to these little treasures when mom calls. I tell her I'm in class and I'll call her back. When I do, she tells me that Wilson Moon, one of my dad's cousins and great old friends had passed away. He was 99 years old! Daym, that's just inconceivable.
That's Mr. Moon in the middle, and daddy on the left. I took this at the Reunion in 2008, about three weeks before daddy died.
I took this one, of Wilson and his lovely wife Dorothy, at the last Reunion in March.
The obit in the paper says he was born on Oct. 28, 1911 in Holland, Texas. That's where the Wilsons, Moons and Rampeys, all descendants of W.S.S. Wilson and his children, all lived.
"He graduated from Holland High School and Texas A&M University, where he played baseball. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. He married Bess Thompson in 1942. She preceded him in death in 1997. He married Dorothy Graham on Sept. 2, 2000. He worked for the Soil Conservation Service in Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico and Indiana and retired as state conservationist in Iowa after 40 years of service. He operated a farm near Holland. He was a Mason, and a member of the Aggie Club. He was a member of the First United Methodist Church and the Dawson Sunday School Class."
The last time Denise and I saw the Moons was at the Wilson Family Reunion last March. We talked about getting together for dinner, or just a visit after that, but it never happened. He and his wife lived in a nice house out by the Chinese food place daddy and I used to frequent.
I always intended to stop by, but it never happened. I guess part of me was reluctant to go over there for fear of having to tell him about all this stupid, humiliating drama with the college. Loosing my job, my career, over something so stupid and contrived. But now I wish I'd driven over there.
Of course, now it's too late. Sucks how that kind of thing happens. There are no do-overs. I guess there's a lesson in that.
So here's to him, and to all the others from his and fathers generation who are leaving us so fast. I'll miss him, and I sure as hell don't know how we're ever gonna replace him. Cheers.
The funeral was nice. We gathered there with his widow, her children from her previous marriage, and the rest of Wilson's family. He had a beautiful, wooden coffin, flag draped, and there were a few nice words from his preacher. The word was that he'd been declining for a month or so, but that in the end, he went quickly. That's a blessing.
The consensus was that he'd been a wonderful man, of impeccable honesty and integrity. The preacher said that he'd passed by the ranch where Wilson keeps his cattle, and the cow hands had put a wreath of flowers on the gate. Nice. He was loved and respected by everyone who knew him. What better thing could be said after someones passing?
Monday, May 16, 2011
Yep, I'm alive. Still kickin', and eatin', and tryin' to have a good time.
For instance, decided to try somethin' a little different today for dindins. Pork ribs, with butter and pepper rubbed in and sliced bacon laid out on top. Then I slid it into the oven at 350 and forgot about it for a few hours.
Then, after a few hours, I took the ribs out, sliced 'em and slathered 'em in BBQ sauce. Then I put them back in for another 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, the baked beans were on the stove, heatin' up.
In the end, there was good vittles all around. Good stuff, and easy to do.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
You might be thinkin', "What kind of a shut-in nut job would waste his time makin' a mini crossbow?" Er uh, well...
The little fucker works too. Can't find any of the darts any more. They were filed down match sticks with sewing needles glued to the ends. Made it back in the '80s, from match sticks and a bit of frame plastic from a model kit. Hours of time pissed away with a cardboard nail file. Aaaaah, those were the days (he says sarcastically, now realizing all the other stuff he should have been doing back then).
Lookin' at it now, I'm also struck by the realization... I had a lot more patience, and better eyes back then. Cheers.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Thursday, April 07, 2011
With a different school and kids though. At one point the teacher read the kids a story about a caterpillar eating it's way through a pile of food, and then turning into a beautiful butterfly. Then they watched a little video of the same story displayed for them on a computer. Sitting there, listening to the story, I flashed back to England, about 1968, when I used to sit at home on rainy days (they have a shit load of those in Britain) and watch a cool TV show for kids called Jackanory. British TV, stage and movie stars would read kids stories. It was awesome. Here's a sample.
Anyway, that was a cool show. I used to love British TV back then. Doctor Who, The Prisoner, The Avengers, etc. But just about everything else on British TV back then that interesting to me was really an American show. Stuff like High Chaparral, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Lost In Space, Star Trek, Mission Impossible, etc. Man, those were cool shows. No doubt about it.
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
Was a skills aide again at an elementary school I worked at last week. That means I spent the day with a teacher, another aide, and about ten little kids with various learning disabilities or handicaps. Last time I was there it was only a half day assignment. This time it was 7AM to 3PM. There were times when I had a hard time keeping my eyes open, but then there were other moments I'll never forget.
There was one wheelchair bound kid with some sort of issue that keeps him from being able to use his limbs the way he needs to. He can use his hands, for the most part, but can't really use his legs or speak clearly. Thing is, he's a tough little boy, and you can see the drive in him, in his eyes and expressions, to get deep into everything the rest of the kids are doing.
We went out to recess this morning, and I was pushing this kid, with him saying "Faster, faster," all the time. I'd pop him up in a wheelie and go as fast as I thought was safe, and he'd always be bummed out when I had to stop.
When we got to the playground, he said he wanted to be put on the swing set. I hesitated at first, but then I saw that one swing was set up with a huge plastic seat with support that comes down over the riders shoulders and locks in place, like on a roller coaster. That allows handicapped kids like this one to swing like the rest of the kids.
So, the teacher and I loaded the kid into the seat and I started pushin' him. He's gigglin' and yellin' "Faster, faster," so I grabed him by the swing seat, pulled him as high up as I could and let go, keeping him going by pushing on his back as he swung up in front of me. You should have heard him squeal and giggle. He was lovin' it, and so was I. Next thing I know the other kids are all yellin' for me to push them. Never fails. They all know a good thing when they see it.
Later on, during PE, they brought these handicapped kids into the gym with a few classes of other kids, set some soft rubber balls down in the middle of the floor and played what looked like a modern twist on Dodge Ball. In stead of throwing the balls at one another, the kids ran around the gym and tagged one another with the balls. Once tagged, the kids had to hand the ball over to someone else on their team.
Of course, the kid in the wheelchair was desperate to play. So, I unhooked him from his chair, hoisted him up, face down, in my arms (he couldn't have weighed more than 40 or 50 pounds). His chest was in one arm and his legs in another, the ball extended out in his hands. We ran around with the other kids, lettin' him tag a few, gigglin' his head off. When he was tagged, I took him back and put him in his chair. Next time it was his turn I just rolled him around fast in the chair. Hell, I was beat by then. I think I got a better workout than the kids. At least, a better workout than I'm used to. It was a blast.
By the end of the day I was ready to go home. I took the boy out to his bus and watched as the driver lowered the lift so he could roll himself on. Then it was my turn to head home. Fer sure, teachin' college never wore me out like that.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Got a pass to drive on Ft. Hood yesterday afternoon and worked as a librarian at an elementary school on base today. Again, I had a great time, learning all kinds of new things and meeting new people. That's become the standard operating procedure with this substitute teaching gig.
Part of my duties included sitting in a nice big rocking chair and reading a book to a few classes of kindergartners who were sprawled out on a rug in front of me. I've done that before, back when I spent two and a half weeks as a kindergarten aide at another school.
The book I read was a cute little story called Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! It's about a guy who decides to build a vegetable garden so he can eat all the veggies, and then ends up with endless trouble from rabbits. They sneak into his garden every night, no matter what he does. He builds a low wire fence, but the bunnies just jump over it. He builds a taller wooden fence, but it doesn't do any good. He builds a friggin' MOAT around the wooden fence, but the bunnies swim it, climb the wooden fence and eat his carrots anyway. Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!
In the end, he builds a jail around his carrots, with razor wire and spot lights. The bunnies can't get in, so they trick the guy. They climb into his basket when he's not looking and he ends up taking them in himself. So, the story ends with the gardener giving up, sitting down with the bunnies and sharing the carrots. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, seems to be the moral of the story. Weeell, after my second reading, to the second group of kindergartners, I was just DYIN' to freestyle my own ending to the story. Somethin' about a pump action .22, or better yet...
"Hey kiddies, do you know why the gardener is having so much trouble with those pesky bunnies? Well, boys and girls, the reason he's having so much trouble, waistin' all that time and energy buildin' moats and runnin razor wire... It's because he's a CITY BOY! That's right boys and girls, country folks know how to deal with pesky little bunnies who try to steal food they haven't worked for."
"Do you know how the country folks deal with the pesky bunnies boys and girls? That's right, it's called a LEG TRAP! Set out a few of those spring-loaded little wonders boys and girls, and Snap! Snap! Snap! The bunnies would end up gutted and skinned, cooked up nice so the farmer has something else to go with his carrots."
"And what's the moral of the story," I'd continue. "That's right boys and girls, don't steal shit from country folks!
Anyway, I was just thinkin'. But it would'a been hilarious to hear them all squeal.
"Snap! Snap! Snap!" Aaaahahahahahaha!
Oh, and Mushy, no Ferdinand in the school library. The other librarian said she'd heard of it. Remembered reading it as a kid, but it's not in their catalog. I looked. Cheers!
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
2nd graders. The teacher had them do a writing assignment early on. "What's your most valuable possession?" I look over one kids shoulder and he's written "PS2, my family, my skateboard."
I wanted to sit them all down and tell 'em "Hey, pay attention. The toys and stuff you guys are all thinkin' of are nothing. The most valuable thing you own, the only real thing you own is YOURSELF!" But that would'a gone right over their heads. It's the kind of stuff I used to hit the high school kids with back in the day.
But to see the one kid include his family in with his PlayStation 2 and his skateboard, I though that was pretty cool for a 2nd grader.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Took a subbing gig at an Elementary school. 4th graders. By the time I got there the teacher was part way through a math lesson. Geometry. I took over and finished that, and then it was time for the kiddies to go to lunch. After lunch, we finished the math lesson, and then it was time for the kiddies to go to PE. That gave me an hour off to plan my lecture.
That's right, I got to lecture today. The topic was Transportation Changes. I told the teacher Ii used to teach history, so she told me to forget about the text and wing it. The kids would love it. So that's what I did. Took 'em from Hunter-gatherers walkin' around, to the Industrial revolution and Steam Power. It was a blast.
I told them about Cottage Industry, and personalized it by pointing out that 200 years ago, kids their age, the boys anyway, might be contracted by their parents to be an Apprentice to a Master Craftsman. Told the girls they were out of luck. No apprenticeship for them. Just marriage and about fifteen kids, unless they take a job at a cotton mill.
You should have seen their eyes get wide. I told them about the Transportation Revolution in the 1800s; steam power used in paddle wheelers and trains, changing the way people work, how they travel, ship their goods, and where they live. people moved from rivers to towns that were lucky enough to have the railroad built through them. Other towns died out as people moved to where the action was.
Then I told them about cars. 2000 cars and 150 miles of paved road in America in 1900, 25 million cars and 650, 000 miles of paved road in 1930. Henry Ford did that. And people started moving away from the town centers, to the roads highways, and now the town centers are mostly dead and we all live along highways in suburban developments. People blame Wal Mart for towns dying. Nope. Henry Ford and Ike (the president who built the interstates).
By the time I got up to where their text book was gonna take over, it was time for the little wigglers to pack up and go. I left a note for the teacher, so she can pick up the pieces tomorrow. Good times.
On another note, I got an email from one of my former Florence students today. You might remember John Yaeger and his Nova? He graduated years ago, went to college and became a Marine officer. Now he's married, with a new car rebuild in the works. He says...
"I'm working with a civilian contractor out here who works in the processing center. He's a personal trainer in the states, so he's been keeping me plenty occupied as his workout buddy. I'm gonna start the build on my '55 chevy as soon as I got back - my father in law procured a 454 for me, so if you thought the Nova was something, this is really gonna be great."
The "out here" he's talking about is Afghanistan. I told him I was gonna send him a care package. Denise's idea, but I jumped on the bandwagon immediately. I did it once before. My buddy Russell and his wife were livin' in England eight or ten years ago. I found out when I visited them that while they could get great salsa, they couldn't get decent corn chips. So I blew about fourty bucks on postage sendin' them a few bags of the good stuff. What are friends for?
John's wife tells me he needs stuff to help him eat up the time. Books and movies. Also, lots of snack food. I figure maybe some good cigars too. If he doesn't smoke 'em, he can always trade 'em.
Anyway, anybody out there have any ideas about what I should send the man (can't call him a boy any more, even in jest)?