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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.