Archive for May, 2007

The Lost Art
May 25, 2007

Galatians 6:11   See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand!

Dad saved just about every scrap of paper that ever crossed his desk, and he carefully organized them all in his file cabinets. I’m not really complaining about it, because although it meant that we had to work for hours and hours to go through his papers when our parents moved from their home of over three decades, what we found was a magic carpet ride back in time.

There were letters from Capt. E.J. Fosha, 91st Illinois Infantry Regiment (1862- 1864), his great grandfather on his paternal side, and all of his mother’s diaries, letters, memorabilia, scrapbooks, etc. He saved all the letters his father wrote to him when he served in the Navy in WWII, and all the letters he wrote back. There were carbon copies of letters that Mom wrote to friends and family members, a billion loose photos, and every little thing that had to do with each of us six kids (report cards, fathers day cards, valentines, letters to Santa, artwork, doctor visit bills, college tuition bills, letters, IOU’s, test scores, transcripts, wedding expenses- from what I can see, he got off easy with me!). 

I would never have remembered that when I was seven years old in 1962, I wanted a little stuffed dog (as I indicated in a pencil drawing), a pair of slippers and a pair of play shoes for Christmas (Shannon will laugh about that, because I always ask her for a new pair of slippers every Christmas!). I carefully wrote in my best second grade script that I hoped that Santa would safely make it all the way around the world. 

In a letter back to New Orleans from a homesick little girl who was visiting her grandparents in Houston (1964), I wrote, “I miss you very much” at least three times, and that I also missed the dog, the rabbit and even the duck. But my letter reported that we’d gone to the Wee Wild West, the Briar Club, Hermann Park and the Putt Putt Golf course, so I must not have been TOO miserable! 

Three years later, I advised my sister, Tetot, to go see “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and that I thought it was hilarious! I also generously offered to share all the Mad Magazines that I had purchased with her. Later that same year, I wrote to Dad that we’d had car trouble in Lake Charles, and that Mom had had to rent a 1967 Ford Galaxy 500. I told him, “Real nice. Let’s get one.” I drew him pictures of all my new back-to-school wardrobe items, including the patterns of my stylish fishnet stockings! He must have rolled his eyes at that one. 

The most fascinating one was a three-pager I wrote to him about being in the 7th grade (he was stationed in Australia for six months at the time). Before I discovered this letter, I could not have begun to tell you the names of my teachers or the classes I took that year. But they all came back to me, in vivid detail, on the pages of this letter. What a treasure! Joel laughed at the part that read, “My allowance is doing fine. I only use 23 cents a day, since I make my own lunch and I have my budgets planned.” Dad taught me well! 

The letters go on and on through my college years and my newlywed days in Dallas. After that, there were cards for special occasions, and a newspaper clipping or two, but once I returned home to Houston for good, there was no need to write anymore. 

All the love I could possibly send was enclosed in those many letters over the years. Especially when Dad was far away in Australia, how he must have cherished them! Imagine being away from your family for six months at a time in the days before cell phones and e-mail. Mail call must have been a high point of his day (when there WAS mail!). 

It’s sad to me that few people take the time to write letters anymore. What a shame that the younger generation will have no written record of its history! E-mails, calls, text messages, and face book communications are the way of their world. When it comes time for them to recall the past, how will they?  

Thanks for saving our histories, Dad, and Happy Fathers Day! When I next come to visit you, I’m going to bring all the handmade cards I’d made for you over the years, with hopes of getting a laugh out of you! It would be music to my ears as we walk down memory lane together…

An Old Dog
May 16, 2007

An unlessoned girl, unschooled, unpractised;

Happy in this, she is not yet so old

But she may learn…

-William Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice 1596-8) 

Regular readers might think this piece is about Shadow, but it’s not; it’s about me! The other day I was back in the bedroom when I heard my cell phone ringing all the way in the kitchen. I ran to answer it, but it quit ringing right as I picked it up. I had to find my glasses to see what it said, which was that I’d missed a call. I hit the button and discovered that my brother, John had called me, so I called him back. As I listened to his phone ringing, I heard a beep, which I THINK means someone is calling me. Figuring it was John, I hung up (that’s a quaint way to put it!). Next thing I knew, I had a phone message, so I hit the buttons to figure that out, and sure enough, it was John. I called him again and discovered that we both were hitting buttons as we missed each other, not really sure of what we were doing.  

We laughed about it, and I made the comment that we were just plain OLD. This fact was only confirmed when I recently got an e-mail from someone who wants me to be his Facebook friend. I’m not sure what that entails, so I’m just sitting here wondering if I should. The young man in question is one of my youth choir ‘babies’, so I figure it’s ok, but I’m hesitating. What does a Facebook friend do? How does it work? Certainly I’ve heard of this site, but I’ve never been invited to be a part of it. Should I? Maybe I should ask Shannon about it first. 

And then earlier this week I had a pop up announcement on my screen that said it was time to renew my security software, so I began clicking on the buttons to do so. That is, until I got to a screen that offered me three options, and I didn’t know which one to select! Maybe I should ask Joel about it first.  

Because of my lack of technological skills, I’ve been debating with myself for quite awhile about whether or not I should continue working on our church’s website. They are about to get a new look with a new content management tool, which will mean I’ll have to start all over and learn how to use it. I’m dragging my feet for fear of being exposed as the techno-dunce of the century that I am!  

I actually offered to resign to give them the opportunity to hire a young, experienced and technologically adept person who understands all the lingo and how things work. But the minister to whom I was speaking basically said, ‘No, thank you’ to my offer. I guess I do have some redeeming qualities, but sometimes I just feel like the proverbial old dog that can’t learn new tricks! Maybe I should ask David about it first. 

I remember being amazed at the fact that my grandmother (Memaw) had no dishwasher or microwave. How could she live like that? I swore I’d never become as old fashioned as she was, and yet, look at me now!

Although I can finally turn on the DVD player, it’s only because I wrote down the instructions as dictated by Joel, and I must refer to them each time I do. However, I still don’t know how to turn on the television to watch network shows (not that I care!). I guess I’ll just have to muster it up to drag myself into the 21st century and get an Ipod or what is it called, an MP3? Maybe I should ask Sid about it first. 

Yes, John made me laugh that day while we were discussing our mutual lack of cell phone skills and how our kids know how to do all this stuff. But he let me in on a bit of sweet irony: he’s got a working rotary phone that his son Byron and his friends can’t figure out. He loves to point to it when they ask if they can use the phone. Maybe they should ask ME about it first! 

The revenge of the old dogs is sweet… 

Notes from Reunion
May 12, 2007

When Washington & Lee men fall in line…. The W&L Swing 

Every five years we make a road trip up to Washington & Lee in Lexington, VA to attend the reunion for Joel’s class of 1977. As the years pass, the reunions seem to come faster and faster! It can’t have been five years since we last saw our friends, but the calendar doesn’t lie.  

This year was interesting to me, because we finally are at the age where we could be the parents of the current students. Prior to this year, I could vainly hope to appear young enough to pass for one who wasn’t a geezer, but I have finally accepted the mantle of geezership with a comment by one of my daughter’s friends earlier this year.

We were making a Target run over to Kingston, NY and Sarah was in the back seat. She commented that it had been difficult to find a parking spot at Bard that day because a certain professor was giving a lecture and ‘all the old ladies’ loved him. She admitted that ‘he was ok looking for an older gentleman’ but that was as far as it went. I wondered how old this man was, and it turned out he was ‘in his late 50’s or early 60’s’.  

Although I’m not quite there yet, I do know that I’m far enough along to not be considered one of the younger generation. My friend Maria (who was also a fixture on the scene back in those college days) told me this weekend that she specifically remembered a point during the 10th reunion when I pointed out those who had returned for their 30th reunion and said to check out what we’d look like in 20 years. All I can do is shake my head and wonder where those years have gone! Did we look so old to the ones in the class of 1997 last weekend? Sad to say, I suppose so… 

Speaking of looking old, we encountered two cute young ladies talking to an ‘older gentleman’ (i.e. older than us), and overhearing their conversation, we discovered that they were FACULTY members. How can that be? They looked like current students! Are my eyes are getting dim? No comment! 

On Friday night, we all gamely took the shuttle buses out to Zolloman’s Pavilion (a dirt floored tin barn that I can’t believe hasn’t burned down yet). Those who have experienced Zolloman’s before knew to wear jeans and sensible shoes that were going to get muddy. We could tell who were new on the scene because they had on frilly dresses with heels! The rest of us were in our element and enjoyed a loud band and the rank bathrooms for old times sake. 

Alas, all our dance lessons went for naught, as the music was NOT conducive to dancing, and the crowd was pressing. It was enough to do the ubiquitous ‘radiator dance’ of times gone by. That means you just keep your feet planted (as if you are standing on top of a radiator at an old frat house) and move your upper body to the music. No skills required! 

One of the highlights of the weekend was visiting Joel’s favorite professor, now retired, and his wife. Along with another fun couple, we had a delightful visit, punctuated by much laughter. I guess we were talking about my visits up to see Shannon at Bard, or something, and Dr. Ray mentioned that some parents of W&L students actually purchase homes in Lexington to be close to their children! He called them ‘helicoptor parents’, and certainly wasn’t approving of them. I mean, how will kids ever grow up if their parents are there to do everything for them?

On the last night, there was a reception for Joel’s class, and it was there that I looked around and tried to capture the scene of laughter and camaraderie. You see, we had learned earlier in the weekend that one classmate had recently passed away of cancer and a wife of another one, as well. Five years ago, there they were, and now they are forever gone. Who will be missing five years from now? I am hopeful that we will all be blessed with good health and fortune, and I pray that we will all safely return in 2012 for another weekend of increasingly geezer-like activities!

My Heroes
May 3, 2007

 In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below. 

One of the things I get to do every other month at our church is to suggest a poem for our three Poet’s Corners. While I enjoy many modern poems, I seldom select them because I have to get permission from the publishers to do so (which is time consuming and not always successful). When it does happen, I am especially delighted, but because I have to think about obtaining permission so far in advance, I more often turn to the older poems that are in the public domain. 

  

This month, with Memorial Day looming on the horizon, I decided on John McRae’s “In Flanders Fields”.  One of the most memorable war poems ever written, it is a salute to all the brave men and women who have given their lives in our country’s service. Its three stanzas are reprinted within this posting.

In researching how the poem came to be, I found that the poet wrote it as a lasting legacy of a terrible seventeen-day battle in the Ypres salient in the spring of 1915. Major McCrae was a surgeon in the field and was particularly affected by the loss of a friend, whom he personally buried in a cemetery flowered by the wild poppies of the region.

  

This poem touches me in such a way that I can’t even begin to read it out loud. It brings to my mind two recent books that I’ve read, each with eerie similarities in that they were both written about brave young men in their early thirties, both fathers of two young sons less than five years old, and both who gave their lives in service to our country one hundred and forty years apart: Sullivan Ballou (1827-1861) and Todd Beamer (1968-2001). 

  

Sullivan was a resident of Rhode Island, an up and coming lawyer and statesman. When the call came to defend the United States against the Confederate secessionists, he had no qualms about defending the country that he so loved, even if it meant losing his life and leaving his beloved family behind. He wrote to his wife Sarah on the eve of the battle, “I am willing- perfectly willing- to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government and to pay that debt. But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows… is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?” 

  

He was mortally wounded in the first battle of Bull Run (or Manassas, depending on whichever side you are partial to) in July 1861, weeks after his enlistment. His story is told in the book, “For Love & Liberty” by Robin Young.

  

Todd Beamer was an up and coming businessman with a major computer software company when he found himself on United Airlines Flight 93, leaving Newark, NJ on September 11, 2001. As his wife wrote afterwards in her book about her husband, “Let’s Roll!”, she didn’t think that he would have chosen to board this flight had he known the consequences of it. He dearly loved his family, and in his last words to a telephone operator, he expressed as much. The operator said, “Then he asked me if he didn’t make it, would I keep that promise, and find his wife and children and let them know that he loved his family very much.” He told her that he and the others on the plane had decided to accost the hijackers, knowing what the consequences were. They recited the Lord’s Prayer together and then the 23rd Psalm (with others on the plane). And then they moved into action. Of course we all know the end of the story…

 We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

  

I don’t know why I happened to read these two books in sequence, but their similarities touched me profoundly. Would I be so brave? I’m not very sure I would be. I so dearly love my family, I don’t know if I could sacrifice myself for other strangers… and yet these young men did. I can’t help but think of Christ and his own sacrifice for all of us, and I am hopeful that there is a very special place in heaven for those who do likewise. All I can do is keep these things close to my heart and remember them should I be called upon to step up. 

  

On Memorial Day later this month, take a moment to remember the brave patriots who have paid the ultimate price for all the comforts and freedoms that we in this country enjoy! We are so blessed because of their courage, their patriotism and their sacrifices.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.