Follow by Email

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.



Monday, June 9, 2014

Confessions of a Movie Extra

This past weekend was somewhat unusual for my Lovely Bride and me.  No, the Lake Erie Monster didn’t wash ashore.  Gold was not discovered in the river at the base of the hill. And I am still waiting for those Publisher’s Clearing House people to show up with the balloons and huge cardboard check made out to moi.

Rather, we were extras in a movie. Honest to goodness.

LB has always loved to act, and one of her aspirations was to be in films. As so often happens, Life comes along, dreams get placed on the back-burner. From the back-burner, they are moved to the counter-top, and finally become nestled in the pantry of our hopes.  Rarely, is one able to breathe some life into those long dormant dreams.

We have both been fairly active in theatrical productions over the years. Still, it is not the same as being on camera.  She learned of a local website which posts auditions, casting opportunities and such for both theatrical and film. While perusing the site, she came upon an independent producer filming a short in the Cleveland area.  There was a need for extras to be in church service scenes.

The film, the title I will let you all know when it is finalized, is slated for inclusion in various film festivals, such as Sundance and The Cleveland International Film Festival; among others.

The film is a contemporary telling of the Old Testament book of Hosea. For those who may not be familiar with the account; let me provide an annotated Cliffs Notes version. (I wonder, are the venerable yellow and black Cliff’s Notes still published? If anyone knows, let me know.)

Hosea was a minor prophet of God in pre-Christ Israel. He is considered a minor prophet due to the brevity of the book which bears his name. He did not make his living by extracting minerals from the earth while proclaiming God’s Word, nor did his prophesying have less importance than Isaiah or Daniel or Ezekiel would have.

Essentially, the story goes like this:

Boy becomes man of God. Boy meets girl. Girl is a harlot (in today’s terms “a ho”). God tells boy to marry harlot, named Gomer. Boy says “What? Are you serious God?” God confirms He is serious. Boy marries girl. Girl keeps up same old same old. Boy and girl have children, a real Maury Povich “Who yo’ Daddy?” event. Boy tries to get girl to give up working it. Girl says “No way”, and bugs out. Boy finds girl on slave auction block, worn down, haggard. Boy purchases girl. Boy gives girl freedom. Girl and boy stay together. God uses this as object lesson to Israel about spiritual adultery caused by worshiping idols.

You know, just your basic love story.

All of which leads to our entering a small, converted storefront church on the near east side of Cleveland early on Saturday morning. LB and I saunter in Prince of Peace Missionary Baptist Church on East 93rd Street.  Immediately, we conclude we would be fairly easy to pick out in the crowd scenes.  We met the producer/lead actor Desmond. He introduced us to other cast members, telling us the premise of the film. We then took our seats in the small sanctuary with other extras to wait filming.

The scene we filmed initially was when Gomer (who is seeking the Lord), brings several of her friends to church, so they can give up the World’s Oldest Profession as well. The congregation was to respond in a manner representative of good church goers should a bunch of ladies of the evening come slipping into the Sunday morning service.  There are some  twists in this story, all of which add to the interest.

We filmed one take. The director didn’t really like that one, so we filmed another take. One of the speakers bobbled their lines. So, we did another take, and yet another take. Finally, about 10 takes later, the director was satisfied he had enough to work with. Glancing at my watch, I saw it was about 11 A.M. Great! We could get out of here and get some stuff done.  Besides, my back-sides were becoming numb from sitting in the same pew for so long. Other needs were making themselves known which required my urgent attention.

No, now he wanted to take shots from about a thousand different angles. When that was concluded, I was sure we could bug out. Au contraire, as now it was time for close-ups. Finally, at approximately 1:20, we broke for lunch.

We chatted with other cast members; LB got some very valuable networking accomplished. For my part, I made small talk with other folks.  Then, we were called back for another church service scene. And… much to our chagrin, we forgot to bring a chance of clothing for a “different Sunday”! I ditched my sport coat, borrowed a tie from another cast member, and rolled up my sleeves. LB borrowed a jacket from another lady, and Voila! A whole different look was accomplished. The magic of films!

We took one shot. Then another shot. That was followed by a third, and a fourth and a couple dozen more shots. Finally, we heard the final “Cut”, and were released. Returning the articles we had borrowed to their rightful owners, we bid our goodbyes to our fellow actors.Shaking hands with one young man, he stated; “Well, see ya in the movies”

Then it settled in. We are in a movie!

Six hours of our day may result in 30 or so seconds of total on screen time. I walked away with a much deeper appreciation of what is entailed in the production of a film or a television show.  I had some sense of what was required, having written, directed and been in many stage performances. However, as a stage director, I only have to be concerned with sight lines, vocal inflection, actors motions, lighting, sound, set design, costumes, scene continuity…yeah that is about it. A film director also has to take into account various angles of scenes, lighting for each angle and sound recording from various directions… so much more than I ever have to deal with. 

As well as the editing process. At least, they can edit out bobbled lines, things falling on the set, sounds from off set. What happens with a live performance, I have no control over. I have truly learned when opening night comes around; all I can do is let go and let God take over.
To all the film makers out there, I tip my hat.
Oh, yeah… see ya in the movies!





Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Fire of Time

The other night my Lovely Bride and I traveled eons in time.

Who would have imagined a short two mile drive could be so impactful?

We left the air conditioned comfort of LB’s SUV to begin our trek across the grassy plains. The deep forest primeval loomed before us. From the edge of the daunting woodland, Mankind’s first friend and foe gleamed.

With every step, the wilds of suburbia became transformed to another epoch. Finally, we gathered around the fire, family, close friends and dogs joining us.  Sure, we rested weary derrieres in comfortable lawn chairs while enjoying cool beverages.

We heard a turkey calling, watched the shadowy movement of deer through the trees with no worries about our place in the food-chain. We had no fear of saber - toothed tigers, cave bears or even over-sized birds of prey. We only had to contend with that nemesis of every continent on the planet; the blasted mosquito!

The fire was not a survival necessity; the evening meals had been prepared on modern stoves and consumed in comfortable homes. Fending off hypothermia certainly was not a concern on this pleasant late May evening. It was not required for illumination, as there was access to outdoor lights, flashlights, and candles.  To a pragmatist, there was no reason whatsoever for the fire to exist.

Others could (no, probably would) condemn the fire as a blatant act of global irresponsibility. With callous disregard for the planet, we spewed unknown amounts of carbon aloft, while destroying the Earth’s lungs by felling trees; with gas powered chain saws none the less.
It would be of little consequence to those of such a view to point out the trees which had been cut were American ash; killed by the non-native, invasive Emerald Ash borer.

As the evening shadows deepened into night, the fire became a beacon summoning grandchildren, their friends, and the dogs to its comforting light. Also, the siren song of s’mores, those delectable sugar laden treats. There is something about toasted golden brown gooey marshmallows, a slab of chocolate lightly melting between crispy graham crackers that are irresistible.  (Note to self: s’mores are not a good snack choice while sporting a full beard).

Soon three generations were gathered around; sharing stories, laughing, enjoying a small portion of life. It required little imagination for our little group to be transformed to a long ago time. Perhaps on this very spot, early humans gathered for a fire. Encamped in a deep forest, they could hear the river splashing over newly formed rocks. The crackling and snapping of burning tree limbs provided a comfort and security. Beyond the ring of firelight, eyes of wild animals glowed eerily in the darkness.  But, all fears were negated with the application of another branch to the fire.

Time slipped by, stars glistened through the tree leaves high overhead. A soft wind moaned, and a cry of lament went up as a marshmallow slipped off the weenie fork, to a fiery demise. Soon, the eyes of grand-children become heavy, marshmallows, chocolate bars, and crackers are packed up.  Our little band withdrew from the fire, all except for one keeping watch as it gently burned itself down..

The aroma of wood smoke lingered in the air, beckoning us to return soon.

I know we will.  

Friday, May 30, 2014

We

There has been something unusual happening in our town lately.

No, the river is not flowing backwards; Lake Erie has not wandered off. Nor have we been invaded by little green men in UFOs. As noteworthy and momentous as any of those events would be, what has been occurring of late is much more profound and significant.

In order to better appreciate what is happening, a bit of background is needed.

My Lovely Bride and I are long-time residents of our town. While we agree it has been quite some time, there is a minor difference of opinion as to just how long we have lived here. My contention is we arrived in town 3 or 4 days following the cooling of the Earth’s crust. LB insists it was right after primitive vegetation burst forth.  However, bear in mind just who the historian in the family is.

The town we found was active, people took part in events and festivals. The swimming pools were open; the Recreation Department had year-round programs available.  A new city hall replaced the former old mansion modified to office use. A weekly car cruise in at the memorial to the city’s fallen and veterans.
Our local government, business community, and citizens had a spirit of cooperation, working together to get things done.

Then, due to some rather poor decisions resulting in rather unpleasant outcomes, the Administration changed.  A radically different Administration came to City Hall.  Slowly, insidiously, the former attitude of “we” was replaced by one of “us vs. them”. What began as minor breaches grew into yawning chasms between the Administration, city departments, business community, and residents.

As the economy went South, in a Draconian effort to be fiscally responsible; everything came to a grinding halt. Relations with the business community soured.

In summation; it was not a joyous time.

However, Change took place once again. A new Administration came to City Hall.

Once again, “we” began to push aside “us vs. them”. Readers may recall the June, 2013 column Swimming Pools. Our city was faced with a summer of no pool. A particular Lovely Councilperson offered to work with anyone willing to explore other avenues; be it fund-raising, corporate sponsorship, grants or what have you. The Administration at that time turned a deaf ear.

Now, as a result of a co-operative effort by the city, the local YMCA, and a new member to our business community (Best Supply); Father’s Day will be the opening of the pool.
The Lake County Captains have held an Easter egg hunt for the children of the town on the ball field this Spring, the first ever. Thanks to the generosity of Peter Carfagna, the team owner, the City’s festival will be held at the stadium this year; another first.
Yet, the most telling was this past weekend. Early on a Saturday morning, throngs of people descended upon City Hall armed with shovels, pruning shears, rakes and work gloves. The grounds around City Hall had been neglected.  Flower beds were weed filled, shrubs overgrown.
With tools, donated flowers, shrubs and trees, and a can-do approach, the city property was transformed into beds of colorful annuals, fresh mulch, and trimmed shrubbery.  Five hundred new American flags (again, donated) snapped in the fresh breeze along the Boulevard of Flags.
Has our town become perfect, a model city? No; not by any means.

But, we are a better city than before.