A Year of Change

That smell of wet, burnt wood from a large fire bristles in my memories.

1971. I was fourteen. Dad had just returned from an overseas military assignment and took me in, a refugee from an unhappy time with Mom and her husband then. We lived in Dayton, Ohio, first in an apartment, and then in Wright-Patterson AFB base housing, in a place called Page Manor. We lived there from the beginning of July to the end of August. Then, an opportunity came up. He retired from the military to start a new chapter to his life.

He and I moved to West Virginia and he began his new job. Housing was limited so Dad bought a mobile home. A space was found for it in a trailer park. School started. A month later, the trailer burned up. Days were spent trying to recover what we could from the trailer. I carried a smoky odor around my clothes for months.

Dad’s co-worker let us crash at their place, but it was crowded, and the co-worker had a young wife and a new baby. Goaded by her disenchantment to be rid of us — nothing personal, and I understand it — we found a new place to live within a month.

Coincidentally, that was the same time that I met the girl who would become the woman who would become my wife. We married in 1975, less than four years after meeting. We’ve been together since then, although we’ve had separations and struggles. Amazing to think that I’ve known her since 1971 and have been married to her since 1975. It seems like a lot longer… Bet it seems even longer to her.

It’s all sharp in the head, strong in the memories, that period, a time of destruction, change, and beginning. I can’t say that I don’t look back; I’m always looking back, then turning around and looking forward, re-establishing where I’m at, and moving on.

Or trying to.

Tuesday’s Theme Music

A rough night culminated in late slumber that ended with a dream and music.

I’ve posted “Highway Star'” by Deep Purple here before, but it was in my dream, so I thought I’d stay with it. It was the live version from their Made in Japan album, 1972. I had that album and used to listen to it at ear-bleeding levels. It’s a damn intense, unrelenting song, an eruption of unapologetic rock, almost to such levels that it’s parody.

Here it is, the looonnng live version, fresh from ’72.

A Moment of Reflection

Trump and his Pentagon are shutting down the independent military newspaper, The Stars and Stripes. One hundred sixty years old, working on a fifteen million dollar budget, it’s a bitter end to a venerable institution.

I was in the U.S. Air Force for over twenty years. Overseas, we looked to the Stars and Stripes for laughs, information, distractions, sports scores, and a touch of home. You could usually walk into an office and find a copy of the latest daily sitting on a table or desk, pick it up, and check it out. Sometimes the Jumble word puzzles were done, or the NYTimes crossword puzzle was half-finished, or the Sudoku was begun. In Europe, it was the source for finding out what events were planned, such as festivals and volksmarches. Everywhere, it told us what was happening at other theater bases, and when college registration and terms were beginning. It also carried the AFRTS television and radio schedules and highlights, and the show times for the movie theaters.

This all helped keep us connected and grounded. That was (pause to absorb shock) over thirty years ago for me. (Another pause to absorb shock.) Satellite entertainment was just becoming available, and we were watching tape-delay productions of ‘live’ shows. The Internet and web were just beginning to stretch and flex. Phones were still tethered to walls and desks by long cords.

So, yeah, as Zimmerman sang, the times they are a-changing. I usually look forward to change, hoping that we’re advancing our technology in ways to improve our lives and conditions, or defeat diseases and advance cures. I’m in favor of change that levels the field and delivers justice, equality, freedom, and opportunity for all. Perhaps the time has come for the Stars and Stripes to cease, because its purpose has been overtaken by advances. In memory, though, I’ll recall it fondly, and think of its passing with a sigh.

But then, that’s what happens with so much of our things, isn’t it? We outgrow them, and they fade away.

Broken Memories

Having this broken arm stirred memories and prompted realizations.

  1. My broken wrist, broken neck, and this broken arm, my only three breaks, involved the summer months. I wore the halo from June through August (yeah, in the Okinawa humidity — we lived off base and didn’t have A/C) and had the wrist pins and cast July and August (central Germany).
  2. Worst thing about the halo was that I dislodged it. I’d talked everyone into letting me return to work. Yes, I was clever, charming, and quick back then, a deadly combo. Barely at work for an hour, I sat down in a chair, leaned back, and flipped over. The halo held my head immobile with four screws. I’d managed to knock my head out of them. Blood everywhere. This was about eleven at night, the mid shift. Commander, paramedics, ambulance all arrive. My CC and the paramedics enter an argument; my CC wants to ride with me. They wouldn’t let him.
  3. After that night, wife, friends, boss, doc. were all of the opinion that I should just stay home.
  4. When my halo was removed, my head felt weirdly light. (Guess I was light headed…) My wife and friends said my head would start bobbing during the first few days. They worked hard not to laugh. I never noticed it.
  5. My CC then, Col. Mike Kerr, was one of my favorite commanders, but I was fortunate to have several good ones. He’d had twenty-four staples in his skull. This all happened in the Vietnam era. He was a forward ground controller, but had additional duties on base. There’d been a mortar attack. His job was to go out, find unexploded ordinance, mark it, and call it in. The enemy knew this routine, so they put snipers in trees just outside the base. One was shooting at Kerr, so Kerr hunted him down. Hand to hand combat ensued. Kerr received his injuries.
  6. My splint is off. My arm has shrunk. Dry skin and wrinkles abound. I’m wearing a removable wrist brace. Elbow movement is very good but hand, wrist, and fingers need work. The healing continues.

I believe I posted most of this stuff before.

Hope you’re all surviving and thriving, wherever you are. Wear your damn mask, please.

Friday’s Theme Music

I entered the kitchen to brew coffee. The wife was in the dining room, exercising via Zoom. The instructor ordered, “Walk forward.” My brain replied, “Walk like an Egyptian.”

It’s a fun song. It’s a repeat (it was the theme music on April 15, 2017) but it’s fun Friday somewhere.

Selected a recording of a Pittsburgh performance because Mom and three sisters live there, and I also did for a few years. Poor Debbi, though, doing the tambourine while a machine ‘plays’ the drums.

Here’s the Bangles with their 1986 hit.

All Day

Great grandma McCune always talked in a cracking, laughing voice.  My five year old eyes padded her age to the neighborhood of a hundred.  Mom corrected me later.  We just called her Grandma or Grandma McCune, if clarification was required about which woman was being referenced.  Great grandma McCune was just eighty-six when she died, a petite woman with bright eyes and red lipstick who smelled like an unidentified powder and barely stood taller than me.  That’s why I liked her.  Despite her age, she was almost my height, never issued the usual adult intonations, and always canned and offered the best sugar plums around.

Walking down the cracked sidewalk in front of her Pittsburgh brownstone one June day, she seized my hand without a word.  Such an action alarmed me.  Mom always grabbed my hand to protect me.  Moving closer to Grandma McCune’s blowing white apron, I looked for the danger around the tree shaded street.

“Do you feel that?” she asked.

I didn’t know what she meant.

“Feel the air.  Smell it!”

Her commands kept me lost.  Beginning to think she might be the threat, I edged back.

She was smiling.  I never saw her not smiling.  Mom said that was an act for the children.  Betsy McCune, Mom told us, was a drinker, gambler, and cardshark.  She loved playing games and betting on the outcome, especially poker and pinochle, but she was known to throw dice.

Great grandma McCune bent down to me, a small effort.  “This is an All Day, a day when all the seasons are there.  It’s special, magical.  Don’t you smell the air?  Can’t you smell the winter?  Doesn’t it smell like it’s about to snow?  This is a special day that sometimes happens, when your mind knows it’s supposed to be summer and it’s summer sunny but the wind feels like fall and the air smells like a snowy winter but all around you are the full blossoms and greenery that only spring gives us.”

I didn’t know what she spoke of, being too young to understand her differences, but her comments marked my consciousness.  Her voiced words rose in me as I walked today.  “It’s a special day,” she’d said, “when all the weather is present, even if you don’t know it.  That makes it magical.  Close your eyes, turn in a circle and make a wish and your wish will come true.”

Back then, I did as told, wishing for her sugar plums.  I told her that after I’d finished the ritual.  Laughing, she seized my hand anew, tugging me forward.  “Then let’s make that dream come true.”

I would’ve wished for something more then but nothing came to my young mind.  I didn’t seem to have dreams.  War raged around the world and Mom and Dad were separated.  Protected by Mom and the family, I didn’t know those things and didn’t know I should wish for them, didn’t know that the woman with me that day would be dead a month later, didn’t know her sweet little dog, Brownie, would die a week after her, all things that I might have wished against.

Smelling the air today with its tingle of snow in my nose and fall’s feel in the wind despite the summer sun and the spring surroundings, I thought of many All Day wishes I could make.  Having never heard of All Day since my great grandmother told me about it on that early summer day, I thought I’d Google it.

The words had barely been typed in when I found myself on the street.  A powder fragrance teased my nose before a fall wind blew it away.  Struggling with orientation, I looked up and around as fabrics moved beside me.  “Did you make a wish?”

The female voice was high, old, and close.  Jerking as I heard, I whirled to see great grandma McCune.  She took my hand.  “Yes,” I said.  “I wished for sugar plums.”  How did I get here? I wanted to ask.

Grandma McCune laughed.  “Then let’s make that dream come true.”

A few minutes later, we finished the climb up the crumbling cement steps and across her narrow porch with its swinging chair.  Brownie arfed a greeting as she scrabbled down the hall.  The outside screen door creaked protest as Grandma McCune opened it and she told Brownie to get down and behave.  Feet thumping on the wooden floor, we stepped into the cool front hall where the air smelled of dust.  Framed photographic portraits hung on the wall above my head, photos I’d seen many times but would never see again.  Her husband, who I’d never met, a police offer who died of a heart attack, was in the largest portrait, encircled by the rest.

“Let’s get you those sugar plums,” Grandma McCune said.

Excited, I ran ahead of her into her tiny sunsplashed yellow kitchen with Brownie at my heels.  I knew where the glass jars were kept in the pantry but knew I was not to touch them, for Grandma McCune feared I’d drop it.  Stopping at the white door, I held still and looked back at her.

“Can you get a jar for me?” she asked.  “Do you think you’re big enough?”

I nodded an answer.

“Okay, then, get me a jar but please be careful.  Get back, Brownie, give him some room.”

Using utmost caution, I opened the door.  The handle was a reach for my short arm and the tarnished brass handle dwarfed my chubby fingers.  Pulling it open was an elaborate ritual of hanging on and backing up until I achieved enough clearance to push the door further back.

Ahead were the shiny, dusty Ball jars of stewed tomatoes, green beans, bread and butter pickles and sugar plums.  Finding one of the last, I hauled the quart jar carefully forward, wrapping my arms around it and bringing its cool surface into my chest to safeguard the treasure.

“Good,” my great grandmother said.  “Take it over to the table.”

I did, precariously managing to push it up and onto the surface.  Grandma McCune took over, opening the jar, telling me about how she’d learned to can sugar plums when she was a little girl, learning at her grandmother’s elbow.  Finding spoons and bowls, she gave us each a serving.  “Sit down and eat it,” she said.

I did, relishing the taste as I spooned it into my mouth —

“Hello?”

Blinking, I looked up and around the noisy coffee shop.  Jim was grinning down at me.  “Where was your mind?  I’ve been standing here for about three minutes.”

I looked at the Google page on m computer screen.  No results found.  “I was just remembering something,” I said.

“Well, whatever it was, you were deep in thought.”  He touched the side of his grinning mouth.  “You have a little something on your face.”

Putting my hand up, I found something wet, pulled my fingers away and stared at the little juicy fragment on my finger tip.

“What is that?” Jim asked.

Smiling, I replied, “It’s a little taste of magic.”  I put it in my mouth, holding it on my tongue before swallowing.  “Just some sugar plums I had earlier.”

“Sugar plums, huh?  I haven’t had one of those in years.  Well, see you later.  Go back to your memory.”

Jim wandered off, leaving me to gaze out the window.

Some days really are magical.

 

– originally published June, 2014.

An Old Post – Out with the Old

Visiting my Red Room archive, where I posted for a while, and read one of my final post. It’s from June, 2014, but it remains valid. As soon as the pandemic lockdown began, my wife began cleaning. The thinking remains the same…

Here’s the post.

My wife has been on a continuing project.  Starting in March, she selected a room and cleaned it.  Emptied the closets.  Drawers.  Each item and article was examined.  Subjected to investigation.  Do we need it, do we use it?  Bag after bag was filled.  Trips to the Salvation Army and Goodwill were executed. I helped a little but she made it a project, creating lists, planning and executing foot by foot.

We’re down to two spaces she wants to clean:  the garage and my office.

My office.  My sanctuary, my Fortress of Solitude plus one and two cats. See, although it’s my office, that’s just a title.  She has begun calling it the snug.  It’s the warmest room in the house in the winter.  Heat attracts her.  It also has the best wifi connectivity and excellent natural light.  She urged me to buy a larger television for my office, then a recliner….  Despite being an experienced husband, I fell for both. She makes the recliner her home for reading, surfing the net, watching television and talking on the telephone.

Most stuff in the office is mine.  Much is writing or work related.  Clearing her throat in early June, she cautiously suggested we clean the office and get rid of some ‘accumulated junk’.  “Junk!” my heart cried.  She was calling my heritage junk.  Oh, the wound.

“You said you wanted to clean the garage,” I countered.  I’d been waiting for this strike.  “You can start there.  After all, most of the boxes in there are full of things you’re storing.”  Aha, take that!  En guarde!

The negotiations entered a tricky phase.  “I will admit that most things we store in the garage are mine,” she said, tiptoeing through words and tone, “and we should go through those boxes but I’m not ready to do it yet.”

A chink in her logic.  Riposte.  “I understand what you mean,” I replied.  “I’m not ready to go through my office…yet.”

Negotiations were at an impasse.  Weeks passed.  She returned with a counter offer.  “How about we each take out five things from the office?”

“Okay,” I answered.  “And two from the garage.”

She grimaced.  “If we get rid of things, we make room for new things.”

“Assuming that we want new things.  What if I’m happy with the things I’ve already acquired?  Besides, if that’s the case, there’s more junk in the garage.  If we want to make room for more things, shouldn’t we then start with the garage, where more things currently reside?”

My wife launched a rant about the junk we’ve accumulated.  I let her rant until she’d spat it all out.  Silence fell.  She sank her shoulders.  “Okay.  How about five from the office and two from the garage?”

“Okay.”

That’s where it was left, five days ago.  I’m no fool.  She’s not forgotten.

Tick, tock.

 

Thursday’s Theme Music

Had entertaining dreams last night that energized and inspired me. As I shaved and thought about them this AM, I thought, “That’s the way I like it.”

That thought inspired my brain to start singing “That’s the Way (I Like It)” by KC & The Sunshine Band. Released in 1975, the song was major background music to my young adulthood. My wife graduated from high school that year, and we married. I was in the military and experienced my first permanent duty assignment at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB) where I worked in the AF Logistics Command in the Command Post. The next year, I was reassigned to the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing, Clark Air Base, in the Philippines.

This song was played everywhere in those years, and was a song that drew everyone to the dance floor. Good times.

 

Sunday’s Theme Music

Went out at eleven last night. Cool and clear under a sharp moon and a starry blanket, it was the type of night that prompts enthusiastic prose.

A shooting star whizzed past, gladdening me. I always view them as a good omen. Back inside, I fed cats and replenished food and water bowls. Then, putting away the laundry, a 1967 Boyce & Hart song tottered in.

Yes, this was my Saturday night. I don’t know why “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight” came out of the memory jukebox.

You might know of Boyce & Hart as the duo behind much of the Monkees. It’s a convoluted pop episode involving TV and Bob Kirschner, but this is definitely a song from another era.

Maybe that’s why it spoke to me on a quiet Saturday night.

 

Tuesday’s Theme Music

Up early. (Well, early-ish.) (With le chats.) Opened the back door and ventured into the cool air (well, coolish, low seventies, but it’s a relative thing, innit?) and clear blue sky (well, clear-ish and blue-ish, save for the marring brung in by wildfire smoke to the south and east, gentle nudges to check the wildfire updates). Birds were speaking but it was quiet (well, quiet-ish, as cars’ motoring punctured the mo’ — again, again, again). Thought of the world sit, rolling into longing for where I was and where I preferred to be.

Here’s a song from another time which I think evokes those senses, “The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley and Mike Campbell, with Campbell on guitar, from 1984. By coincidence, it captures the sense of summer, 2020: “Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach. I feel it in the air, the summers out of reach. Empty lake, empty streets, the sun goes down alone.”

Hmm, seems like an -ish kind of day…

 

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