Monday, May 30, 2016

It's Complicated

Every generation has its war, it seems. For my parents, that war was World War II (I was born two months before the end of the war in Europe). For me, that war was the Vietnam "conflict" (although, of course it was a was not so called at the time).  Today, it is the extended conflicts... Afghanistan, or Iraq.  

Perhaps the reason for a war, and the way it is fought, influences how we think about war, and warriors. Of course, today as Memorial Day is a day during which we think of war, especially those who fought and died. Or at least we SHOULD think of them. (Instead too many people are thinking of barbecues, beer, and beaches.)

When I think of war, I think of the waste, the sadness, the sacrifice. Oh, of course I think of the "good" reasons that wars are fought. I can't imagine the world which would have existed had Hitler and the Axis powers won World War II. Go further back in U.S. history and imagine what things would be like had President Lincoln NOT insisted on preserving the state of the union as a UNITED States. 

But, I also think of the wrong reasons that political leaders commit troops to battle. We need go back no further than the "second" Iraq war...fought for? Well, name the reasons.  Was the world preserved in any way for a better future?  And, my generation's war--Vietnam--so many young people died that most of us who were alive in the 1960s most likely know someone who either died there or was injured.  When I went to the Vietnam War memorial "the Wall" I found the names of two young men I knew who had died there.

So, it's complicated. I never want to detract from the sacrifice that young men (and women) make when they answer their country's call.  But I do question why the call is sounded.

On this Memorial Day, I honor those who sacrificed to make the world a better place. And I question those who march young people off to battle for specious reasons.

Monday, May 23, 2016

(...take a deep breath) AH! Smell that?

Herewith three vignettes about memories evoked by a smell.
I am in 10th grade in high school. This school is new to me, having recently been in a school system in another country. I have never been in an American high school before.
 As best I can, I settle into the routine. First, the relatively long bus ride. Just enough time to check out a couple of guys who get on the bus after me. They're cute.

Then school. We all hurry inside. And make our way to lockers, then homerooms. Soon the school bell sounds and we dutifully rise and "pledge allegiance to the flag." This is new to me, but I get the hang of it. And now classes begin. I have the usual round of classes--English, history (Pennsylvania history, I think), math (I get a pass on algebra having taken that in my prior school--not that it did any good--so business math for me), phys ed, and Latin. Of course, Latin. I don't remember much from that year but I remember Latin--oh, I suppose a bit of the language seeped through to me (I know many of the Latin words that helped shape the English language). But I do remember how to wolf whistle. Yup--learned that in Latin.

The one break during the day is lunch. And with it, foods that, though not unfamiliar, were not the common fare I had eaten in boarding school. You could tell by the smell what was for lunch that day. Barbecue sandwiches, pork and sauerkraut, hot dogs. I don't recall all, but even now--the smell of barbecue or sauerkraut transports me back to 10th grade.


As I enter the large room, I can immediately smell the touch of mold, mingled with lingering bath soap, laundry soap, perfume. And occasionally a whiff of food--probably from a covered dish supper. There is also the smell of books, and well-worn wood. The whole room is over-heated but that gives it a welcoming feel--like being enfolded in the arms of a grandparent who loves you and hugs you tight.

The room is dimly lit, and very quiet. There is a light buzz of voices, but mostly whispering. As I sit down, I look around.  There are some of my uncles and aunts, and my cousins. Probably my Pappap as well. Grandma must have been there, but I don't remember that.

I am in the small church where my mother grew up.  And now today, when I enter a small country church, all those smells hit me, and I am once again in that church from my childhood.


Late at night the plane landed. I had flown from the U.S. to London, then had a long lay-over at Heathrow (I over-estimated how much time I would need to connect planes).  Since the plane departed a bit later than scheduled, I missed the opportunity to see the sun set over the Sahara.  

With the usual delay in deplaning, my anticipation builds. I am going to see my daughter who is in a four month internship working on an art project.  The coolness of the airplane begins to dissipate. And as the cabin door opens, it becomes clear that the weather is not the same as Pennsylvania in November (from where I had departed), nor London. In fact, it is down-right steamy.

As I step off the plane, and down the ladder (no connecting tunnels at this airport),  I am immediately hit with a wave of intense humidity. And that smell.

I breathe deeply--wood fire smoke mingled with sweat of humanity. I take another deep breath--hold it, and then say (in my mind at least) -- AFRICA. After a more than 40 year absence, I am back.


Monday, May 16, 2016

The Power of the Word

Yup!  The topic for this post is superstition...and when I prepared the prompt (for our group of Comeback Bloggers) it was Friday the 13th. So superstition seemed like an obvious topic.

Then I got to thinking...what would I write about on this topic.

I am basically NOT a superstitious person.  As Ginger (one of our intrepid bloggers) said: the typical superstitions--"don't open an umbrella in a house, don't get out and about too much on Friday the 13th lest harm should befall you; watch out if a black cat crosses your path, cross your fingers for good luck, and don't break any mirrors"--are silly. 


Of course, we could all expand the list above...all based on various origins and "explainable" within a context.  But even other examples of superstition do not move me. After all, the whole point of superstitions is that something has some power over you--it predicts disaster or bad luck.  Except for those superstitions that bring you good luck.

So, what was I going to write about?  Then I recalled--there is one thing that I think of as predictive: the spoken word.

Let me explain--there are times when I absolutely will not voice a thought because of my deep-seated sense that SAYING something makes it a reality.  Maybe I have this sense because I am basically an intuitive person. I can look down the road and envision what could happen.  Thus by extension maybe my saying "it" causes the event to happen.

Understandably most of the examples that I could give you involve some level of disaster. So all the more reason not to voice them--does saying word call forth the event?  Maybe not, but I am still sufficiently "superstitious" of the possibility that I keep mum.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

“African flowers”

Almost a decade ago, I visited Ghana where my daughter was working in an internship.  Everywhere we went the Ghanaians we encountered were welcoming enthusiastic people. They constantly asked—so, do you like Ghana? Well, yes.

I was struck with a booming trade economy…street side. As we rode in the unusual taxis in Accra, we saw street side markets. We witnessed sellers going door to door…except that the doors were the car doors. Everything imaginable thing being sold by vendors walking up and down the median strip in highways. And to give the customer whatever purchase, a plastic bag is produced.

Ah, the ubiquity of plastic bags.  Hence, the title—African flowers. When the plastic bags drift away, having been carelessly cast aside, they float about. And then they catch in the branches of trees—there they stay and earn the name of “African flowers.”

Clearly, while the invention of plastic has produced many helpful products, plastic has also become a curse. And it is threatening the future of our planet…as well as threatening the present of our planet.

A recent story caught my eye, and left me gob-smacked. Sperm whales have been washing up on beaches in the North Sea. The article that appeared in National Geographic  revealed the cause of their deaths of some of these animals. “After a necropsy of the whales in Germany, researchers found that four of the giant marine animals had large amounts of plastic waste in their stomachs.   As the story notes, among those items were plastic fishing nets, plastic parts of auto engines, bits of broken plastic items.

So, this is the “fouling the nest” issue that makes me crazy. PLASTIC.

So, what do I do? Eschewing plastic altogether is not possible, and maybe not desirable.  Of course, like many people we use reusable bags for grocery shopping.

Another way to do something is recycle. My husband and I have been recycling plastics, glass bottles, cans AND newspapers since 1970! We began recycling before our first child, our son, was born—and, yes, we began with an eye to the future this child might inherit. In those days, recycling meant collecting the items and once a month trudging them to some nearby location where volunteers from civic-minded organizations collected all the items.

Eventually local government based programs became the norm, which also meant everyone had to do what we had been doing for years. Only difference now was that the recycle truck came through the neighborhood to pick things up.

And there’s one other way I try to do a small bit to help. I pick up trash in most public spaces. On my daily walks with the dog through our nearby cemetery, occasionally I spot discarded bottles, cans and other trash. I usually pick up an item or two and dispose them in the big trash bins provided. Why can’t everyone do that?

I have even been known to pick up trash in women’s bathrooms in public spaces. I work on a corollary assumption to the “broken window” theory. I reason that if people see trash on the floor they are more likely to drop trash. So, I pick up the paper towels and discarded unused toilet paper. Then, of course, I wash my hands.

Just today, I spotted a plastic bag floating along, so I picked it up, tucked it in my pocket and brought it home to our plastic bag collection for recycling. As I did that small task, I thought—one less African flower.

Want to know more about plastic bags and what some countries are going? Check out this website: .
The photo of plastic bags above comes from this website.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

All Fall Down

I have now started this blog post three's not that I have writer's block (I don't). And it's not that I had something in mind when I shared the prompt of "falling" (I didn't).

It's just that thus far I have read the falling entries of some fellow bloggers...and I almost feel as though I have little left to say.

So what I’ve settled on for the prompt of “falling” is to recount two personal experiences.

It is no wonder that fear of falling is one that many people have. And, for some of us that fear is coupled with a fear of heights.  Stands to reason—when you are somewhere high, falling seems so much more likely.

But some times, we fall in the most prosaic of ways.

I did. While I have fallen more that twice, two stories will have to do.

Since I recently wrote about a portion of my childhood, you know I went to boarding school. By the time I was ready to enter Form 1 (roughly equivalent to 7th grade) I was attending a government run boarding school in Bulawayo.  This was my first steps into “adulthood.”  Not really, of course but it seemed like it. Each of the dorms in which we slept were somewhat self-governed. And to head up the internal governing of each dorm was a head prefect—a girl elected by her dorm classmates.  By some fluke, that girl was me…for a short while.

We all made our own beds, tidied our own space, stored our clothing in footlockers.  And on Saturdays we changed the sheets.  One such day, with the beds stripped, we got to being the children we were. We were giggling and bouncing. Jumping on the beds. Until.

Until one of the beds broke. The metal springs simply gave way, and crashed to the floor.  When the house matron came around to investigate, she zeroed in on me. I have no idea if I was really to blame, but as head prefect, I was the one who was blamed.

What I remember most clearly is the house matron’s verdict: You’re demoted.

I was stunned. How could something my fellow classmates picked me for be taken away? And how was I the only one to blame when it was a group activity?  Never mind—I alone was the one who fell from grace.

The second story about falling happened just last Hallowe’en. In our township, there is a designated night for “Trick or Treat”.  With the doorbell ringing periodically, my husband and I switch off between one of us answering the door, and the other keeping the dog calm.

Since my husband had answered the door several times in a row, when the doorbell rang again—I jumped up and said: I’ll get this one.  I went hurrying to the door and—yes—caught my foot on an end table. In an instant, I was falling, completely unable to stop. I fell SPLAT into the entry way of our house. The front door was open with only the glass storm door between me and the outside. There stood a young child and her horrified mother.

While I was lying face down, my husband rushed to me and asked if I was OK—my only response was: just get the door.

Of course, that fall was foolish and painful. I thought I must have broken some bones, but somehow I had not. Oh, I had a fat lip from banging my face. And a few weeks after, my one shoulder began to stiffen. I sought the help of a physical therapist who put me through a series of exercises (which I still do).

Now as a woman of a certain age, no longer a school girl, I understand that falling is a hazard.  And, I try to walk very carefully.