"Roundheads and Ramblings"
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Recent Posts

Have a Happy St. Swithun's Day
When All Else Fails, Try Behaving Like an Animal
Odd Memory of the Day: Meet Larry the Lizard
Some Companies Deserve a Round of Applause
Tragedy Recognizes No Boundaries of Time or Place

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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Have a Happy St. Swithun's Day

Today—July 15—is St. Swithin’s Day. Why is that important? because it allows you to get a weather forecast for the rest of the summer. Here’s the traditional rhyme:

St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithun’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ‘twill rain nae mare

For the historically-minded, St. Swithun was an Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Winchester who lived in the ninth century. His tenure as bishop ran from 853 to approximately 862. This statue of him used to decorate the west portal of Winchester Cathedral. Today, if you want to see it, you can visit him in the crypt.


For the superstitious, I must warn you that his weather-predicting ability has been rated considerable below that of Puxatawney Phil. You must admit that the probability of England’s weather being consistently wet or dry for forty days in a row is highly unlikely. On the other hand, the prediction often works for our southern states. Today, for example, the weather forecasters here are predicting bright sunshine and clear skies with intermittent thunderstorms. I’m assuming that if we get both, a prediction that the mix will continue for the next 40 days does not seem unreasonable. I’d bet on it. Thanks, Swithun, old chap.

When All Else Fails, Try Behaving Like an Animal

We tell a lot of jokes about cat pictures on Facebook. You’ve heard them.

Q: What’s the greatest technological invention in your lifetime? 
A: This small gadget that lets me watch cat videos, make phone calls to my cat sitter while I’m away, and take pictures of my cat.

Dog people aren’t blameless, either. I recently attended a small writer’s conference, where I visited with a few acquaintances, met some interesting new folks, and greeted Rosie and Luke as if we were old friends. Yep. They are both lap dogs who go everywhere with their owners. 

This morning, I was reminded of why this is not all as silly as it sounds. The past week, as you know, has been full of horrific news and much gnashing of teeth over how far our civilization has sunk into violence and hatred. I’ve shared in those feelings. If I let myself, I can literally tremble in fear of what we have become and into what disasters we are headed.  I’ve left my blogs sit idle, not because I had nothing to say but because I could not find adequate words.

Then this morning i opened Facebook and found myself smiling. There was my friend Bill, dangerously ill last week, now napping peacefully with a litter of colorpoint kittens. There was Ginger the Cat, pouncing on JoAnn’s covers to wake her up for breakfast. There was a happy dog prancing beside the gentleman who had just adopted him from a shelter. There was Keyboard the Kitten, balancing on the big cat’s food dish to steal a mouthful of crunchies. There was Watson, a wonderful Leader Dog rolling around in a patch of sun while his blind owner was safely seated beside him.

Best of all, Facebook had sent me two “Memories” of what I was doing one year ago. On this day, there was a raccoon who died in Toronto of undetermined causes. As he lay on the sidewalk all day, waiting for animal control to show up, strangers began leaving the raccoon little items to memorialize him—a flower, a childish hand-drawn sympathy card, even a small burning candle. And people walked respectfully around his body.

In Memphis on the same day, a young monkey escaped from his enclosure at the zoo and led his keepers on a merry chase. There were fears that he would run into traffic, get lost in the old forest that abuts the zoo property, or be washed  away if there was a sudden downpour and flash flood in the drainage ditch where he was thought to be hiding. While he was on the loose, someone opened a Twitter account in his name so we could all follow his exploits. The whole city rejoiced the following day when he was found safe and returned to Primate Canyon. My own comment on Facebook was that I was happy he was safe, but i was going to miss his tweets. The world, I said, needs more plucky little adventurers like him.

No, I’m not naive enough to believe that our problems can be fixed by a kitten or puppy, or even a plucky little monkey. But they can help, by putting a smile on our faces, if only for a moment. By reminding us that animals are colorblind—they know nothing of skin tones, or race, or religious dogma. By reminding us to judge people only by their actions and by their hearts. We would do well to follow their example.

Odd Memory of the Day: Meet Larry the Lizard

Technically Larry the Lizard is a blue-tailed skink. He's actually longer than he looks here. While I haven't caught him and measured him, I'm guessing that nose to tail, he measures a good eight inches long. Larry lives on my front porch and has become the favorite playmate of my youngest cat, Swizzle. She sits at the glass door, watching intently, as he does tricks for her on the porch. I often find him very close to the door, looking back at the little gray cat. I don't usually mind having him around, because in addition to providing feline entertainment, he eats the small bugs that would otherwise be eating my plants.

This morning, however, I was not fond of him.  I went out to pick some basel and noticed what I thought was a scrap of blue plastic newspaper wrapping in one of my planters. But when I reached for it, I discovered it was actually a blue tail (and yes, unlike the picture here, Larry's tail is a very vivid blue.) The close and slightly slimy encounter brought back a vivid memory from my long-forgotten past as a high school teacher.

I was all of 25 years old and was teaching an English class in a school located in the panhandle of Florida.  I was also training a student teacher from the University of Florida, and this was the first day for her to take over the class. I was observing from the back of the room when I "observed" a student pull a small green lizard out of his pocket and start to move his hand stealthily toward the neck of the girl sitting in front of him. Visualizing the chaos about to descend on the room, I moved quickly, without thinking, to his side, snapped my fingers at him and held out my palm.  Caught in the act, he had no choice but to hand me the lizard. I carried it out of the room and out of the building, tossing it away when I reached the lawn.

Only then did I look down and see that the  #$%$  lizard had chewed an L-shaped cut into the fleshly part of my palm at the base of the thumb. I was bleeding rather badly, so I went to the office, hoping to beg a band-aid from the school nurse. One comment led to another, and I was soon surrounded by people who had to hear the whole story. Our biology teacher happened to be in the office, and he added fuel to the fire by saying that our local lizards did not have teeth, so the one than had bitten me must have been a tropical lizard from a pet store. And then he pronounced gravely. "We'd better find it. It could be poisonous." Soon we had a small search party combing the grass where i had released the culprit--but without success. Poor little thing must have run for his life!

Then the biology teacher returned with a new report. He had looked up our local lizards, and had discovered that during mating season, the male lizard grows a horny plate on the roof of his mouth that allows him to bite the neck of his lady lizard. So the new diagnosis was that my bite was probably not poisonous. The lizard was just looking for a mate.  I had to live with that label for the rest of the school year -- "The Teacher Who Was Attacked by a Horny Lizard."


Some Companies Deserve a Round of Applause

It's easy for people to complain when they think they have been treated unfairly; not so easy to take the time to say thank you. So here's my nod at a company that provides outstanding customer service.  

Last week I ordered this case from an Amazon seller to cover my iPad Mini because I lug it around in my purse a lot. It seemed like a good deal. (1) It was on sale (reduced from around $36 to $12). (2) I have Amazon Prime, so I don't have to pay for 2-day shipping. And (3) I had just received a $43 credit on my Amazon account. Total charge: $0.00. I ordered it on Thursday, and received it on Saturday morning.

It was as cute as advertised, but it had a flaw--the hole to insert the charging cord was not big enough to allow the lightning plug to make contact. Alerted to that problem by a review on Amazon, I took a pair of toenail scissors to the case and enlarged the hole. But when Amazon asked me to rate the product, I gave it a so-so rating, explaining that I had had to chop it up a bit to make it work. 

I posted that review on Sunday. Yesterday (Monday), I received an e-mail from the contract seller, LittleMax, apologizing and asking me to send them a picture of the problem. I did so. And this morning, a second email from them arrived, explaining that they have since corrected the problems, and once again apologizing for sending me the wrong model. They attached a picture of the old and new versions to show me what they have done to fix it. And they are shipping me a new and improved case within the next two days. 

I did not ask for the new case. My "fix" is a little tacky, but it works. All I did was call attention to a problem. Their response was amazing, both in terms of the speediness of their reaction and the generosity of providing the new case. The world needs more businesses like that!

Tragedy Recognizes No Boundaries of Time or Place

Here's one of the things I've learned from the years I've spent studying history. The twenty-first century does not have a monopoly on horrible events such as wars, mass shootings, epidemic disease, or even the loss of a toddler to a horrible accident. Oh, we may be more aware of these events than people used to be, thanks to technology that speeds up the spread of the news. But horrible events have always happened. You can find them in any period of history.

This morning I read a Facebook post in which someone lamented that she wanted life to go back to being like it was when she was growing up. Did she grow up in a perfect era? Of course not. Was the world safer, saner, healthier when we were kids? No. It's only our own knowledge and awareness that has changed. And does it help to solve the world's problems by wishing for a return to a simpler time? It does not. 

Maybe we cannot always learn from history, but historical events may serve to remind us that much of what we struggle against is part of the human condition. Perhaps we all need to take a deep breath and then look at our world with a bit of compassion and sympathy. It should be possible to recognize the existence of tragic events without needing to point a finger at any one culprit. And then, perhaps, we can start taking small steps to make the world a better place.

What set me off this morning was the realization that my great-uncle James McCaskey died on this date--June 16--one hundred and fifty-four years ago. He was a Union soldier, killed in a botched battle during the first year of the Civil War. I re-read the letter his parents received, and I noted once again the stains on the paper caused by the tears of my great-grandparents. The letter reminds me that grief and loss are universal experiences.  Here's the letter:

Mr. Jn. McCaskey,
Dear Sir:

   General Benham appointed the morning of the 16th as the time for our forces to move on "Tower Fort" near "Sesesha" Ville, which is in sight of Sumpter, and about 2 miles from the City of Charlestown.
   We left Camp at 1 A.M. and at daylight marched up to the Fort under a galling fire of Grape, Cannister, Shot, and Shell. I was in Command of our Company. Men were falling on every side. Whilst near the Ft. a Shower of Grape came in our ranks, one of which struck your Son, James, and we think tore off one of his legs, near the body. He fell! This is the last we saw of him. The "Liter-bearers" of General Wright's Div. must, I think, have carried him off the Field.
   I have searched and searched for him but in vain. We all feel confident that he is dead. Jacob Leary fell at the same time and is also missing. James was a noble young man and a brave soldier—was beloved by all his associates. He was like a brother to me, and I lament his loss. You have my sympathy and prayers in your deep affliction.
   The loss in our Co. was 4 killed and 71 wounded. We fought with great disadvantages and in consequence lost heavily.
   If it can possibly be done I will send his Knap-Sack and traps home to you, as I have no doubt you would like to possess them. His Watch and what Money he had, were on his person.
   If any further intelligence of his fate can be had, I will inform you in due time.

Yours truly,
Lieut. Philo S. Morton

Note: His body was never found. His family erected a tombstone above an empty grave.