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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Clark??

For decades, my family has labored under the ludicrous belief that I am a bumbling goon. They have even taken to referring to me as “Clark”, not in reference to Clark Gable; no, it is homage to the fictional Clark W. Griswold, Jr.  To which I offer a hearty “Horsefeathers!”

I began this line of thought after wheeling into the bank-in-a-box to grab some quick cash. Of course, the person at the machine ahead of me was attempting to apply for a mortgage via the keypad of the ATM.  Twenty minutes later, I was on my way. This caused me to think of the absurdity of some things.   Not the least of which was the above assertion. Such a comparison leaps entirely over “Sublime” and lands squarely on its keister in “Ridiculous”

It certainly could not have been from the time I was striving to get our young daughters off to school. Of course, it was a time fraught with pleading, cajoling, even bribery, to get them all into the car at the same time. While backing out of the drive, someone announced they had left something in the house. I put the car in park, shut off the engine, and took the key. I told the girls to “wait here, I will be right back, and DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING.” I was a young father then; I did not realize “don’t touch anything” translates into “goof around, push buttons, do what you want.” One of the things our daughter Char opted to touch was the garage door opener. As the door was open at the time, its list of options of what to do next was pretty limited.

Now, this was not a “hip style” door, which is a series of horizontal sections, hinged to flex and roll up or down within the confines of its track; nice and orderly. No, this was a “Marquis De Sade” style door, a single piece of steel, slightly less formidable than an Abrams tank. It was not hinged; it did not roll up and down in a confined track. No, this monstrosity would swing out, up and back to open. Closing was the reverse; the mammoth slab of steel would move forward, down, and swing inward to close.

While walking at a pretty good clip, I suddenly felt a tremendous pain in the center of my forehead, saw a brilliant white flash, and heard the sound of the door continuing to close.  I sported a dandy gash and bruise in the middle of my forehead for some time.

Naturally this brought to mind the Great Luminaries Incident.

 Back in the late 1980’s softly glowing luminaries were quite the in things.  This was prior to the ubiquitous empty plastic milk jug being repurposed. These consisted of a nifty translucent paper bag, about the size of a brown paper lunch sack, some clean kitty litter and a votive candle. At times, various designs, such as snowflakes, or Christmas trees, would be perforated in the sides of the bags, making a charming display.

The children and I carefully assembled the bags, and set them gingerly along our walk way. In eager anticipation, I struck a match, lowered it toward the candle, and exclaimed “Golly gee! That is kind of warm!” or something to that effect; it was apparent, the candles were too low to reach with a hand held match or lighter. Attempts to extend the reach by grasping the match with a pair of pliers proved to be rather futile.

It was at that time I was seized by a flash of brilliance; why not use a propane handy-man torch?
In retrospect, I can give you a fairly sizable list of “Why not”, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. 

Seized by the prospect of a quaintly illuminated walkway, I cast all aside. Some of which included the basic laws of physics, and thermodynamics. 

Thrusting the brass tube and tip of the torch in the bag, I triggered the ignitor. I chuckled as I saw the needle sharp blue flame burst forth. I became a tad concerned when I saw the tip of the flame curling upward, riding upon the current of hot air rising within the chimney of the bag. I reached the “OH NO” point as the bag began to darken, smoke, and finally ignite. The kids arrived at the “DAD! It’s burning!” point simultaneously.  The unlit candle was nestled snug and secure upon its bed of kitty litter.

Did you know that burning paper bags can spread from one to another when they are placed in close proximity? Especially when a brisk December breeze springs up?  Neither did I.  What we did learn, though, was snow makes a dandy fire extinguishing media.  When it was all over we had the most picturesque pile of sooty snow, frozen kitty litter, and randomly placed candles you could ever hope to see.

This also brought The Christmas Tree Caper to mind.

Years ago, one of my customers was a Mom and Pop hot-dog and ice cream stand. In order to increase traffic and sales, the owner would sell colorful hanging baskets in the spring, perfectly shaped pumpkins in the fall, and Christmas Trees in December. Wanting to support one of my loyal clients; we loaded up our Chevy van and went to get our tree.

The van was a humongous white Chevrolet conversion van. I referred to it as Moby, an unaffectionate reference to Moby Dick, the great white whale.

After enjoying some hot chocolate, chit-chatting with the owner, we found our tree.  The young men working in the lot tied the tree to Moby’s roof.  With a beep and a wave, we headed for home. 

Turning on to the freeway, I accelerated up the entrance ramp. Thirty-five, forty, forty-five….suddenly a scraping sound from the roof of the van indicated that all was not well. Our daughter Aubrey exclaiming the tree had fallen off confirmed my suspicions.   Glancing in the mirror I saw the tree rolling and bouncing along, trying vainly to catch up to the van. Adding a bit of comic relief was a stream of vehicles playing dodge-em with the tree.

I pulled over, and carefully backed down the shoulder about a hundred feet until we were within a reasonable distance of the tree.  For its part, the tree simply lay there, beckoning us to come to the rescue.

LB decided it would be easier to thrust the tree into Moby’s rear-end rather than wrestle it to the roof.  She flung the rear doors open as Aubrey, Gabe, and I went to recover the tree. I didn’t realize Cleveland had so many friendly people; as we were dragging it across the on-ramp, so many folks beeped and waved as they sped past. I am not sure what or who they were saying was #1 though.

We trotted to the van, and began to jam the stupid thing in Moby’s open maw. If you have ever considered stuffing a pine tree into the back of a van, don’t do it. Trust me, it doesn't end real well.

The kids were providing forward motive power for the lousy bush while I was attempting to guide it between the captain’s chairs. At some point, the combined force of two overcame the calm, reasonable, analytical efforts of one. I found myself ensnared by the grasping tentacle branches of this vegetative monster, being pulled into Moby’s gaping rear.

Surely, I would have been lost, were it not for the back of my new leather jacket fortuitously snagging on a door hinge. With the gut-wrenching cry only ripping leather can emit, the brave jacket gave of itself to save me.

After much frenzied pushing, shoving, and cramming we got the bush from Sheol half-way in the van. We were encouraged by the cheerful honking and waving coming from the weaving vehicles passing us. We pulled the doors as closed as they would go, and then tied them securely with the remnants of the dental floss the lot guys had used, and went on our way. A snow squall roaring in off Lake Erie provided some additional levity.

Various events coursed through my mind;

The time I was on the platform at church and realized I had a pair of black and brown loafers at home perfectly matching the pair I was wearing…
.
The time I traveled to Florida for a week-long business trip on a Sunday evening. Imagine the smile of delight on my face come Monday morning when I discovered the only shoes I had were the deck-shoes  worn on the flight…

I recalled a business seminar in Chicago.  LB had accompanied me. Our plan was to meet with a friend at The Berghoff downtown. As I hurried along, saw what I thought was a hallway and did the old “bird-into-a-window” trick. Much like a bird’s, my beak was also broken.

LB and our friend were amused beyond words by the constantly changing colors of my nose and eyes. My heart was warmed to know I had provided them such joy.

My little mishaps also extend to the great outdoors. It is no secret that I am very fond of woods, mountains, and fields. My skill level is a very well kept secret. For example, while conducting a refresher course in black-powder for our son Gabe and son-in-law Eric, I decided to see if they were paying attention to the proper loading technique. I cleverly loaded in reverse order, placing the lead ball prior to loading the charge of powder. This was to test their powers of observation, which both young men failed miserably. The error was confirmed when the percussion cap "snap" was not followed by the rifle’s "boom".  They did learn the proper technique for tugging, yanking,and  pulling a stuck ball from the barrel of a muzzle-loading rifle.

I pulled my Jeep into the parking spot at work. I shook my head while chuckling at such a silly notion my family insists upon clinging to. I retrieved my coffee cup from the console between the seats. Bemusedly, I watched as the cup separated from the lid in my hands, splashing hot black liquid upon the console, the passenger seat, and my khakis.


You know…they may have a point after all.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I Still Got It

The other day while straightening up from the drinking fountain at the office, a young co-worker asked if I tweeted.

Somewhat embarrassed, I told her I was sorry- at times sounds do emanate from me, but no one has ever used “tweet” as a descriptive adjective.

“No” she said. “Do you Twitter?”

The light began to raise much like a Cleveland morning on a gray February morning. It took a bit for me to decipher the new terminology. I mustered up my most suave Sean Connery/James Bond smile and Marty Feldman eyebrows, patted her paternally on the shoulder, “Well, I am very flattered, but I am very happily married to my Lovely Bride.”

She gave me a forlorn look, and stomped off.

Poor lass, she couldn't help it. She had simply become ensnared in the “Ol’ Hopkins Mystique”.

See, for as long as I can remember, females have been drawn to me. Not in a “whoa-check-out-that-guy” way; it is more of an “Awww-that-poor-guy” way. It is the same response as seeing a baby bird which has fallen from the nest. They take one look at me, and BAM… the whole nurturing, help the poor injured bird thing kicks in.

While I certainly don’t attempt such an image, it is just sort of there. There is something about either my expression or demeanor which causes people, particularly women, to assume I am either in distress or hopelessly lost.

I recall being a youngster shopping at the Super-Duper Market with my Mom. You may remember the type, with a staggering 8 or 10 aisles. She was down the cereal aisle from me, pondering which jar of Kretschmer’s Wheat Germ to purchase. I was transfixed by the image of Tony the Tiger exhorting the greatness of Sugar Frosted Flakes. My hope was Mom would pick up my telepathic message, ditch the Kretschmer’s, and stock up on Frosted Flakes.

However, my concentration was shattered by the strident, nasal voice of a matronly woman saying “Are you lost, little boy?” Little? For crying out loud, I was ten!

I tried to explain that my Mom was right there, I wasn't lost. My words fell upon deaf ears. This do-gooder tried to drag me off to the store manager, so he could blab over the loud speaker to the entire store about the little lost boy who wasn't.

Fortunately, Mom heard the commotion, calmly told the woman I was not lost, although I tend to look that way.

We returned home, I carefully hid the wheat germ behind the spare tire in her Pontiac Tempest, and then sought out a mirror. With two sisters, the search was pretty easy.

It only took about 10 seconds to realize the problem.

See, I used to wear these super thick, pop-bottle bi-focal glasses. It had to do with having been a preemie, getting cataracts, having cataracts removed…blah, blah, blah.

The result was these ridiculously thick things gave me a wide-eyed, deer-in-the- aircraft-landing-lights look. I perpetually had an expression of extreme shock and dismay on my face; even when laughing hilariously at the Pink Panther.

Add to the above effect the fact my physique (until my late teens) would make a stick-figure look beefy. To top it all off, I was about 5” taller than all my peers until about 10th grade when I quit growing, and they didn't.

All combined, the net effect was that of a baby bird which had tumbled from its nest.

Oh it attracted females alright. Typically the girls who wanted to be nurses, veterinarians, or social workers; they all wanted to help, help me find my parents, help me find my home-room, help me find a book at the library.

It was disgusting. All this attention and not a speck of it like the Man from U.N.C.L.E. got from women. Of course, at 10 I had no idea what to do if that were the case. I guess we would walk hand-in-hand to Connor’s Ice Cream parlor to get a hot dog and chocolate phosphate. For years, I lived with this particular albatross about my neck.

I bugged my parents about getting me these new things called “contact-less lenses”, which could be worn in the eye! What a country! But, they refused, saying my eyes were still growing. Looking in the mirror, I would think “Good grief! They get much bigger, I won’t have a face! I will just be a big pair of eyes walking around!”

However, toward the end of my Senior Year of High School, my dad relented. We went off to my old eye surgeon, Dr. Kazdan, to be fitted for lenses. Finally the big day came; the doctor carefully inserted the lenses in my eyes, I looked in the hand mirror presented to me…. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. “Halloo, Ladies.” My appearance improved dramatically. Adding about 40 pounds didn’t hurt anything either.

Except….my face must have gotten stuck in that “Help! I fell out of my tree!” look.

While not being quite so alien looking, I still found myself being approached by females wanting to help me.

Was I hungry? We could go get dinner, she’d buy.
Was I lost? I could go to their place.
I looked worried, would I like a nice back-rub?

I responded with my ingrained suaveness; 
No, I am not hungry. 
No, I live a couple blocks from here. 
No, I don’t want a back rub. Are you weird or what?

And so it went. No matter where I went; it got to be pretty depressing after awhile.
Which is why I am eternally grateful on the day I asked the future LB to go out, she didn’t act like I was in immediate need of assistance, she simply said “Sure!” ,with a giggle, her blue eyes sparkling.

 I chuckled as I thought of the young lady at the drinking fountain; poor thing.


Say, would anyone have any idea why HR is calling me??

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Baseball and Honor

My…. What a summer this has been. It seems this could be the “Summer of Nothing Really Monumental”;  yet so many things have happened.  

Let’s see… Ike turned a year old in April. Ike has been with us nearly 14 months. Mimi will be 11years old in a few weeks. There have been no devastating floods in town, despite there being some real gully-washing rainstorms. Bess, my old Jeep, rolled 200,000 miles. She now sports a commemorative Chrysler 200,000 Mile Club license plate frame.

Our oldest Grandchild turned 22, and the youngest one turned 4.  

Just for chuckles, the artery in my leg decided to narrow again, necessitating a return to the hospital. Fortunately, like most summer sequels, this was not as intense as last summer’s original release, and I was home the same day.

Yet, to paraphrase James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams: The one constant through all the years…, has been baseball.

My Lovely Bride and I have been very fortunate in that we have been able to attend several games of our own Lake County Captains.

Yes, I know they are a minor league team. Yes, I know they are part of the Cleveland Indians farm system. I know players may be here this week, and traded or moved up next week. None of that matters.

See, I love baseball.

The Caps are our hometown team. They are part of the fabric of our town, as integrated as the Chagrin River flowing through town, as constant as the waves of Lake Erie upon our shores. Recently, the relationship between town and team has vastly improved.

All of which leads to LB and me to standing in a line with several thousand of our BFFs for hours before the ball park gates open; in the hopes of being one of the fortunate 1,500 people to receive a Jobu bobble-head. 

For a primer of who Jobu is, search the film Major League. You will also see a much younger Charlie Sheen as well, albeit I can’t make any claims for his emotional state at this time period.

While I have no warm feelings whatsoever toward Jobu (in fact, my feelings are rather cool toward Jobu), I did have a purely capitalist reason for wanting one. LB and I determined we were going to sell that sucker for the best price we could get that night!

But, I digress

As we entered through the gate, after each receiving a Jobu, we were handed a program by none other than Peter Carfagna, owner of the team. I have never attended an Indians or Cavs or any other game where the owner was at the gate welcoming people. But, that is the type of man Peter is.

For Peter, owning a team is not a mere business venture. It is a passion of the man’s. He sees more than people at the turnstiles; he sees young children coming to their first real ball game. He sees loyal season ticket holders, many the same who bought packages for the Captain’s inaugural season in 2003.  He sees families coming out for an enjoyable evening.

Peter knows baseball is the great equalizer, the great unifier of America.

He also knows baseball truly is America’s sport; as much a part of our nation’s fabric as the myriad of cultures that make America who she is.

Peter also has a quiet, reserved respect for the sacrifice of our young men and women who volunteer to serve in our armed forces. Volunteer; think of that for a moment. We have no compulsory military service requirement.  We have no involuntary draft. Our service branches are made up of men and women who volunteer to put their lives on hold for a period of time to ensure our lives can continue in peace. 

Therefore, no matter if every ticket is sold, an empty seat will be at our stadium. A seat, located directly across from the main gate, overlooks the batter’s box and the start of the third base line. Black in color, it stands out from its royal blue companions. A chrome chain extends around this particular seat. As one draws near, the words “Reserved POW-MIA” are seen.  In partnership with Rolling Thunder, Peter and the Caps have ensured that while these unfortunate ones cannot be at the game, they yet have a place of honor.

Amongst the give-away, the Cleveland Sports heroes of the past signing autographs and the News-Herald’s prize wheel (hint; go to www.media.news-herald.com look for Captains August 1 prize wheel photos. You just might see yours truly and LB), there was a more somber moment.

The singing of the National Anthem was somewhat more special than usual this evening. A young Marine, a local boy, who had been killed in Iraq on August 1, 2005, it was his sacrifice, his memory, and in his honor the Anthem was sung that night.

The Men’s Chorus from this young patriot’s home church gathered about home plate, his father standing ram-rod straight in the second row. As the first notes were sung, from our seats 14 rows above the plate, the man’s tears could be seen coursing down his cheeks. The father of two Marines, he sung on; strongly and proudly.  

I stood, trying to choke out the words as thoughts of “What If?” ran through my mind. What if… our son’s submarine experienced an unforeseen hull failure while submerged? What if…his boat (yes, subs are referred to as “boats”) had suddenly, inexplicably gone missing? What if… being a rescue swimmer, he was lost while trying to save a shipmate? Any one of the hundreds of ways a person can lose their life at sea danced evilly in my mind. Would I be as steadfast as this man before us was?

The strains “… and the home of the brave” echoed into silence around the stadium.  The crowd remained standing as the giant flag was carried from the field by a score or so of local youngsters. The umpire called “Play ball!” and life continued.

As the game progressed, I would think of that empty seat above us. I would think of a young Marine, who gave his all that LB and I could enjoy a Summer’s evening without fear of terrorist attack. I thanked God for America, and for the American Spirit which still lives on.

Following a fireworks display, we rejoined our BFFs making their way to the parking lot.

The Caps had won 8-1.


Oh yeah… we sold the two Jobu bobble-heads.  

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Ninety Candles

Recently, my Lovely Bride and I had the privilege of attending a 90th birthday celebration. No, it was not mine, smarty-pants.  Frank, my boyhood friend’s father had attained this milestone. LB and I were part of an exclusive gathering made up primarily of family and close friends. Some, like me, Frank had known since our childhood.

What can be said about “Mr. E”? Of course, there are the usual vital statistics. He was born and spent his early years in Indiana. Due to the turns of life, the family moved to Ohio. A veteran of WWII and Korea, he returned to get his college degree, and became a lifelong educator. He was the lifelong husband to Marjorie, and proud father and grandfather; the typical grist for the obit pages.

Somehow, to merely do so would be a disservice to the man.

Frank came into my life vis a vis my friendship with Bill. For more background, take a look at “Old Friends”, December of 2013. Frank was amongst the cast of bleary eyed parents.

Being a school-teacher, his Saturday s were sometimes spent grading papers, working on lesson plans, or that most dreaded of all…report cards. Bill and I will never know how many times his concentration was shattered by the sound of a machine gun cutting loose, or a grenade crashing against the side of the house.
Occasionally, he would emerge from the smoking ruins of the German pillbox, or Japanese gun emplacement to exclaim “Hey, you two! Take the battle to the woods for awhile!”  Off to the Ardennes we would go, determined to push back the German offense in our lines.

Mr. E was one of those men who rarely became angry. I can only recall him raising his voice a couple of times. 

  One time, Bill and I had committed an atrocity of some sort. From our confines in the holding cell, we could hear muffled voices; Frank’s at a higher volume than Bill’s Mom’s. Occasionally, we would here “Frank, calm down. They are just boys.” About six months later, the cell door swung open. Setting our comic books on Bill’s bed, we looked at the jaded, cold-eyed guard who ushered the two of us toward the Prisoner Transport Vehicle.  We rode in silence to a court in a new jurisdiction. To me, it was much higher court; my parents.

Standing upon quaking legs, and with voices choked by terror, we offered our ineffective defense. Court was recessed, the accused were removed to the holding cell of my room while the Justices conferred.  After only a three month wait this time, we were hauled back before the bar of justice. The sentence came down; we were both forbidden to play Army (or any derivative thereof), and not to spend Saturdays together for a period of two weeks. We were then remanded to the custody of our respective jurisdictions.

Many years later, I was witness to one of Frank’s more amusing losses of his normal cool.

LB and I were married while I was in college. We lived in Northwest Ohio, at that time a fairly good area for upland bird hunting. It was December; Bill, Frank, and I were all on Christmas break, they came out to visit and hunt for a couple of days.

Dog, guns, and caffeine fueled hunters ventured out early for a nearby hunting area. As we drove along narrow township roads, Frank asked Bill to check the map. Since Bill was a senior at The Citadel, it seemed only logical his military training would be put to good use. Bill fumbled with the map for several minutes, with no success.

 Frank pulled the van over to the shoulder of the narrow road, while exclaiming; “Bleep of a bleep! The bleep-bleep Army hasn't changed since I was in it! Just like in Burma and Korea; the bleeping officers would stare at a map for half an hour and finally hand it to the sergeant! Give me that map!” Frank looked about our surroundings, glanced at the map, and dug his old compass from his shirt pocket.

 In less than a minute, he pointed at the paper; “Here, we are here. This is where we want to be. Here is how we get there.”, while tracing the route with his finger. “Think you can remember that, Lieutenant?” he asked as he flipped Bill the map.   Frank was a Technical Sergeant in Burma, and a Master Sergeant in Korea. With a shake of his head, he muttered “Officers!” and we continued on our way. 

There was one other time Frank was a little upset. I was not a witness, therefore, were I to relate the event; it would be merely hear-say. However, if you see or speak with Bill, you may want to ask him about “The Moon Over Mayfield Incident.”

Frank and Marge formed a very significant part of my life. When I was seven, my mother passed away. The tipping of this domino set an entire succession of not-so-great events in motion. During it all, Mr. and Mrs. E still had room in their hearts and lives for a kid who pretty much hated the world, and nearly everyone in it.
I am eternally grateful to them for looking beyond the anger and self-loathing to see who I could become. They played a large, though subtle, part in my coming to Christ so many years ago.

We stayed in touch over the years. Our young family would join them in Western Ohio at field dog trials. Frank is an accomplished dog trainer and handler, having finished several Bench and Field Champion Brittany Spaniels. The dog bug continues on, as Bill and his son Brett train and work Munsterlanders.

A friend of ours from high-school works in the same building I do. I ran into Harvey a few weeks ago, and mentioned Frank was turning 90. Without skipping a beat, he related that Frank let him borrow the family car to take his driver’s license test. That seemingly insignificant anecdote encapsulates who Frank is.

The years have slipped past, yet we have remained in contact. At Marge’s passing, we shared our sorrow. We have celebrated college graduations and marriages. 

Most recently, we celebrated 90 years of an impactful life, complete with 90 candles on the cake. That alone was something to behold. And, he blew them out with no help.

May you have many more to come, Mr. E. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Anthems

Occasionally, I hear a satirical radio commentator who begins his daily musing with “You know what makes me sick?”  The editorialist then launches into a diatribe regarding his peeve of the day.

Not wishing to be accused of plagiarism, do you know what makes me sick?

As of late (defined by the advent of the know-it-all internet), it seems that every time the National Anthem is played, at least one person will exclaim at the end “Did you know the tune is an old English drinking song?”. Typically, this tidbit of can’t-live-without information is delivered with an air of superiority balanced with utter disgust at such a lack of Yankee creativity

Before, all you could do was to roll your eyes and nod your head. Until now…

As we observe our Independence from England today, let’s take a look at a couple of American anthems.
The song “America” also known as “My Country ‘tis of Thee” is another one which gets a bad rap.  Invariably, there will be someone who proclaims; “The tune is the same as ‘God Save the King’!” And right you are. It is also the same tune as the German anthem “God Bless Our Native Land”. Let’s take a look at this song.

Samuel Francis Smith, a young student at Boston’s Andover Theological Seminary, had been asked by the well-known composer of the day; Lowell Mason, to translate several German song books. One number in particular had quite an impact upon Smith; “God Bless Our Native Land”, which, incidentally, was set to the melody of “God Save Our King”.

He then set about writing lyrics to an original American patriotic song.  “America” was first performed on July 4, 1831 by a Boston children’s choir.

Smith hoped to convey the history of America (“Land where my fathers died/Land of the Pilgrim’s pride”) as well as her natural beauty and wonder (“I love thy rocks and rills/ thy woods and templed hills”)
This song became a tremendous success, and was considered the unofficial anthem of the United States until 1931 when “The Star Spangled Banner” was adopted as such.

Which leads me to another song…

Most readers are familiar with the background for Francis Scott Key’s poem “Defense of Fort McHenry”. The British fleet had moved into Baltimore Harbor in September of 1814. They had just come from a rollicking good time (for them) of burning the United States Capital, the United States Treasury, and the President’s residence; along with major portions of Washington, D.C.  Feeling somewhat emboldened by their latest escapade, what better place to inflict insult and injury than to Baltimore?  Somehow or another, a friend of Key’s had been sequestered upon an English warship in Baltimore harbor. Key, in a effort to negotiate his friend’s release, asked to come aboard the British ship. After nearly a week of haggling, the English agreed to free Key and his friend.

 There was just one little hitch; the two Americans had become aware of the English plans to attack the fort, and thus the city. While technically free, they were interred aboard an American ship under British watch, until after the hostilities began. They were unable to communicate with the fort, as there were means to communicate. Perhaps they could have used pig-Latin with semaphore flags; “Atch-way the Itish-Bray” but the chances were the recipient would just think someone was goofing around with the flags.

On the night of September 13, 1814, the English warships opened fire upon Fort McHenry. From the vantage point of a ship’s deck, it appeared as though the fort was being reduced to rubble by shot and shell. Throughout the night, Key agonized over the fate of the fort, the city, and the young nation.

However, when dawn broke on September 14th, the star spangled banner still floated over the fort; not the English Union Jack.  The Americans had won the Battle of Baltimore. Key and his friend were free to go. He set his thoughts to poetic verse. It was then decided to adapt the lyrics to a popular song at the time known by either “Adams or Liberty”, or its original name “The Anacreontic Song” the official ballad of the Anacreontic Society.  At this point, the reader is slapping their forehead, while exclaiming “Of course! How silly of me to have not noticed that!”

The Anacreontic Society was an 18th Century organization of London’s doctors, barristers, bankers and such, who all shared the common interest of being amateur composers.  The melody is attributed to John Stafford Smith, who wrote the tune to fit lyrics penned by the Society’s president; Ralph Tomlinson. The compilation was completed in the mid 1760's.  Due to the catchy tune, and ribald lyrics, the song soon outgrew the confines of the Anacreontic Society.

Other lyrics were set to the melody, both in Europe and America. One Robert Treat Paine composed the immensely popular “Adams and Liberty” to the tune in 1798.  This work consists of 10 verses of Colonial English, with awkward contractions and verb tenses. It is most definitely an ADD sufferer’s nightmare.

Before lam-blasting Paine, Key and Smith for having an utter lack of creativity and disregard for another’s compositions, let us consider the time in question. Songs and music were spread primarily through performances. Once in a while, one song writer would mail a composition to a trusted fellow musician.
There were no iPods, no radio, no MP3 players. There was no “Ben Franklin’s America’s Top 40” being broadcast from downtown Philadelphia. That most rudimentary machine for playing recorded music, the Victrola, did not exist at that time.

Music was carried from cities to towns to hamlets by travelers. These songs would be played and sung at community gatherings, church services, and most commonly; in the local tavern. Before we cast a critical eye at such a gathering place, taverns and public houses (“pubs”) served as the news gathering places of the day.
Before CNN and Headline News, before Fox , text and Twitter and all the other information disseminating venues, if you wanted to know what was shakin’ in the ‘hood, you went to the tavern.

In fact, that proudest of fighting forces, the United States Marine Corps, was birthed at Tun Tavern, on Water Street in Philadelphia. There, on November 10, 1775, Captain Samuel Nicholas began recruiting to fill “two battalions of Marines.”

But, I digress.

Setting words to melody is a very effective means of learning. Recite the alphabet aloud, do you hear the song in your mind?

Given the time and place, what better way to spread a new song but to use an existing melody?
The song “America” as set to a tune a nation of former British subjects would know; “God Save the King” Also, America was obtaining large numbers of Germanic immigrants, who would also recognize the tune.

With Key’s “The Star Spangled Banner”, again, it was put to a well known melody.  It is amusing to wonder if John Smith was somewhat flattered and chagrined to learn his tune was becoming more famous as a patriotic song for a former colony. One can only imagine what his reaction to Jimi Hendrix’ rendering of his composition would have been.

On this day, eleven score and eight-teen years after our fore-fathers set forth a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all Men are created equal; LET FREEDOM RING


May God continue to Bless America.

Monday, June 23, 2014

First Day of Summer


The first day of Summer was the other day, from an astronomical perspective. We have already reached 90 degrees, with a zillion percent relative humidity a couple of times; so from a meteorological perspective a calendar date is somewhat ho-hum.
At times such as this, writers extol the merits, joys, and delights of the season. This ain't one those.
Recently, I have been making some observations. Oh, I know, there are the usual run-of-the-mill observations we all make. Such as cats chase birds, dogs chase cats, angry cat-owners chase dogs. Things like when the needle on the fuel gauge drops about a quarter inch below the “E”, your vehicle will soon cease to function. You know, the little things such as testing 15 year old black powder by pouring some into a small pile and proceeding to drop a lit match on top, producing a POOF of flame and smoke. Perhaps the singed eye-brow look will make a come back soon. (NOTE TO SELF: there is no expiration date on black powder). These are just the normal observations of Life.
I have been noticing some BIGGIES.
For example, did you know people with OCD tend to do things in a certain manner? I am OCD, and never noticed this until grocery shopping one Saturday with my Lovely Bride.
As we meandered aimlessly about the store, placing various items in our cart, I was making a concerted effort to have some semblance of order. You know, the fresh produce over here, the eggs and other dairy go there, canned items have their place, cereals here... a very simple, straight forward approach. What does the woman do?
She grabs stuff from the shelves or the freezer section and chucks it anywhere!
Good Grief! I was appalled to see her toss a bag of frozen peas right on top of a bunch of bananas! Then, without a moment's care or concern, she plopped a bag of frozen broccoli on the peas!
Frantically, I moved these intruders to their proper space, when-WHAM- a box of waffles lands on the canned tomatoes!
My word, our cart was transformed from order to utter chaos within the length of the freezer section! Frozen fish for making dog-food was nestled by the butter. Mixed vegetables were cuddling with the cottage cheese. Somehow the London broil had slipped its moorings with the other meat and was getting cozy with a bunch of curly parsley.
Thankfully, the eggs were spared these indignities, being nestled in the kid's seat. They and the blueberries gazed upon the turmoil below with a sympathetic “there but for the Grace of God” expression.
I abandoned all attempts to restore order somewhere near the deli. I forced myself to repress the disturbing images; which is a classic coping mechanism, knowing the check-out line would offer a chance to set things aright.
I simply trailed LB, all the while in a near catatonic state. I cringed upon witnessing the atrocity of bathroom tissue being plopped atop the eggs and berries. I agonized in silence for the peaches when a miscreant jar of Vap-O-Rub tumbled upon them.
Finally, the check-out lanes beckoned; gleaming with their promise of Hope, Order and Decorum. Like the New World must have appeared to Columbus, they danced upon my sight.
With a great sense of relief, I began to happily arrange items in their proper spots; produce with produce (subdivided by type), cans with cans, frozen items with their kin and so on. I only regret there not being time enough to have all the can labels facing the same way. But....
Reality descended upon me. THUMP!! THUMP! BANG!! My Lovely Bride was-get this now- TOSSING stuff all OVER the moving belt!! I gave her an imploring look while whispering “Please, I can do it.”
Our private moment was shattered by the most grating of laughs. Looking up, I saw a Neanderthal man actually encouraging her! “Har-har-har! There you go, Lady! Just throw that bleep on there! Har-har-har!” Good grief.. talk about waving red in front of a bull! She giggled, all the while commencing to render my neatly arranged belt to a state of total dis-organization.
I could only stand by in stunned silence. I liken it to seeing a train-wreck, you don't want to watch, but you are too mortified to look away. I stifled a sob as canned good mingled with the lettuce and frozen fish.
Finally, we loaded our bags and left this chamber of horrors behind us. We headed to the safety and comfort of our home. I tried to ignore the cries of outrage and despair emanating from the bags in the back of the SUV.
I am making fairly rapid progress now. I can talk about the incident without hyperventilating . The prognosis is positive.

My therapist feels I will be able to enter a grocery store again before Summer is over.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Father's Day

The other day was Father’s Day. Or “dios de Padres” for some. This is the masculine equivalent of Mother’s Day, except with no frilly, lacy flowery stuff.

Have you ever perused the greeting card racks at these two commemorative days? Mother’s Day cards feature flowers, song-birds, pastel tints, soft-focused photographs, perhaps a close up of a toddler’s hand grasping Mom’s.   Such is the typical stock-in-trade for Mother’s Day.

The verses contained within Mother’s Day cards lean toward the “I-am-so-blessed-to-have-you-for-my-Mom. You-are-a-saint” sort; all written in flowing script. The typical Mother’s Day card is so sweet, it should carry an FDA warning for the potential of sugar shock; “Warning! If you are diabetic, you may want to get another card!”

Mother’s Day cards tend to be rather ornate, with frills, bows, and delicately crafted pop-up images contained within.

Father’s Day cards, on the other hand, tend to have a somewhat more limited color palette available to work with. Primarily, you will find browns, tans, blues, greens; the occasional red or yellow for contrast… that is pretty much the color range in Dad’s cards. Nothing gaudy to be found here, no siree Bob!

Images on Father’s Day cards veer off toward deer, pheasants, ducks, rainbow trout, fishing equipment, hunting gear, classic cars, boats, classic tools, or sports equipment, with golf items leading the pack. No cutesy soft focus photos here. I mean, Dad wants to count every tine in that buck’s rack.

The sentiments in Dad’s cards are somewhat shorter, printed in block type. There tends to be a preponderance of one and two syllable words also. The usual tone is something like this; “Thanks-for-being-my-Dad.  I-guess someone-had-to-be-since-Mom-didn't-hook-up-with-Batman.”  Sometimes, they are less mushy, more along the lines of “Glad-you-are-my-Dad. Thanks-for-teaching-me-to-belch-the-alphabet.”

Oh, one more little thing: the price. Mothers casually glance at the price (which is tough to do while fumbling for her reading glasses), and think “Well, a seven dollar card. How nice!” Dads will stare at those little figures, and think “Two-fifty? What were you thinking, Girl? That can buy a gallon of milk for the kids! Good grief.”

On Mother’s Day, Mom is “given a break”, and is treated to a wonderful meal at a nice restaurant in the company of 200 other Mothers with their families. Dear Old Mom gets some special time with her children gathered around her; all gazing upon her with rapt admiration. If one glances about the room, they are nearly blinded by scores of light beams descending from the Heavenlies upon all the Moms.

Dad’s day is somewhat simpler. All that is required is a trip to the grocery for some form of animal protein to slap on the grill. Add some home-made baked beans, slaw, tater or pasta salad, and the old boy is happy.
Being in the yard, standing at the grill while his family is enjoying a beautiful Spring day is perfectly alright by him. Toss in a nap, and Life is very good indeed.

Mother’s Day gifts run toward flowers, live plants, chocolates, cologne, items of apparel, and so forth. 

Dad’s day gifts gravitate toward tee-shirts, tools, fishing or outdoors stuff, maybe a book or DVD for the more cerebral Fathers out there. And, neckties…how can I forget? I have ties from 30 or more Father’s Days ago. Although I no longer wear ties on a daily basis (Thank you, Jesus!), I will periodically run my fingers along their silken length as a memory generated smile creases my countenance.

However, to me, Father’s Day is so much more.

I reflect upon the four little lives God saw fit to bless me with. If it were not for them, I would have no reason to acknowledge the day.

My greatest honor is being called “Dad” by Char, Shannon, Aubrey, and Gabe. I have been double blessed with my four “later in life” children; Bill, Eric, John, and Teri. They are not my “in-laws”; no, I feel for each of them as if they were my biological children.

And, the grandchildren; Dalton, Domenic, Dakota, Delaney, Bailey, Skeie, Gwen, and Rocky, all the way from the age of 21 to 4 years; they are the best grandchildren anyone could want. I don’t care what all the other grandparents say.

Thank you all for being my family.

And…an extra special recognition to my Lovely Bride, were it not for her, I would be a pretty lonely guy.

I just pray I can be the husband, Dad and Papa they all deserve.