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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

May 2015

What's That Noise?

Let me set the scene.  It's a rainy Sunday morning -- early -- as in before 10:00 AM. I haven't even turned on the TV, so it's very quiet. (And note: I'm getting more than a little deaf, so I'm used to a quiet world). My condo unit is at the back of the building, facing a row of tall and bushy cedars and junipers, which make fine insulation against the sounds from the street on the other side.

I'm alone in the house, except for the four cats, who were last seen still sleeping on top of the bedspread. (Note #2: Being alone in the house does not spook me, ever. I'm used to it now, and most of the time, I actually enjoy it.)

I do not hear phantom noises. Just the other day, my next-door neighbor was complaining that the yard men never trim her shrubbery away from the house. As a result, she hears the branches scratching against her window every night. "Doesn't it bother you?" she asked. "It always sounds to me as if someone is trying to remove the window screen."  Then she cocked her head and said, "Oh, you don't even hear it?"  She was right. I don't. But even if I did, I don't think I would imagine a prowler at my window screen. We're talking holly bushes here -- those with the stiff and prickly leaves. I wouldn't venture in amongst them for any reason short of a life or death emergency.

And yet, there's a noise. I can't tell where it's coming from. (That's another consequence of going deaf, I've discovered.)  It's a crackling noise -- not spaced out at regular intervals, but random -- the kind that make you wait, holding your breath, for the next one to come -- or not. My imagination -- used to coming up with logical explanations for most of the world's phenomena -- plays around the possibilities.

Fire? Possible, but it doesn't really sound like that kind of crackle. Besides, fire implies smoke, and there's nothing wrong with my nose. I'd smell a fire before I heard one.

Electrical sparking from wiring inside the wall? No, the smell argument still applies. There's no mistaking an electrical fire.

An anode tube getting ready to burn out? Oh, that one reveals my age! TVs and computers now run on circuit boards, not tubes. Even the so-called "lightbulbs" in this room are really full of florescent gas, not crackly wires.

A mouse? No way. Not in a house full of cats.  I can't even wiggle a toe under the bedclothes without somebody pouncing on it.

At last I look behind the desk, feeling more than a little silly at my nervousness. And lo, there is a cat back there -- a big, orange, 20-pounder -- and he's crouched over something, growling at it. I imagine a rat, a lizard, a snake, a huge palmetto bug, maybe even the chipmunk who lives on our porch.

Very cautiously I nudge the cat away with the toe of my shoe, thinking that if it's a snake, my bare ankle is a goner. And what do I find?

Bubble wrap!

Not Every "Dead Man Walking" is a Convicted Serial Killer


Facebook and other internet outlets have been full of controversy all weekend.  For the most part, I have stayed out of it, but before the next fight emerges, I have a simple observation to make:

Yes, this is the correct historical approach:
  • Memorial Day (May)  was established to honor those who died while fighting for their country.
  • Veterans Day (November) honors all who fought in one of the so-called “great” wars.

Moreover, the long- grieving families of those who died on a battlefield are justified in objecting to anyone who wishes them a “Happy Memorial Day.”  This day is meant to be somber and reflective.  It’s not about barbecued ribs or the kickoff for summer. It's about the dead.

But on the other side of the controversy are those who lived through the wars but who have been forever changed by the experience — "dead men walking," indeed.

On Memorial Day, should we honor the soldier who stepped on a land mine, but not recognize the soldier who came home from the war without so much as a Purple Heart?  One who (like my own brother) was so mentally and emotionally damaged by his experiences at Iwo Jima that he never had  the ability to get his life back on track. Hallucinations, nightmares, raging alcoholism, and unexplainable rages were his daily reality — and the reality for his family as well.

On Memorial Day, should we honor the sailor whose ship was torpedoed, but not honor the soldier who (like my husband) came home from his  war unscathed?  One who discovered too late that exposure to deadly chemicals in Vietnam had caused permanent and fatal deterioration of his heart muscle.   

So, yes, those of you who support the historical meaning of Memorial Day, you are literally correct — right up to the point at which you deny your recognition and respect to those who didn’t suffer a quick and immediate death. Death on a battlefield is devastating, but so is the living death of a man who lives for sixty more years with the ravages of PTSD — and as well as for a man who lives for forty-five more years with the hovering threat of dropping dead without warning.

As you can see, this is all personal to me. When you say this to someone — “You’re wrong. It’s not your day.”  — you are talking about my family. Both the men in the examples above are my veterans who now lie buried in national cemeteries, and yes, they both received their little flags this weekend to honor their sacrifice. But while they lived, they carried their war damage with them every day. Please — next year — before you criticize a living veteran for expecting to be honored on the “wrong” day, remember that a living veteran may well be a dead man walking.

Tears and Smiles for Memorial Day

Do you need a story about the true meaning of Memorial Day? Would you also like to be reassured that our world will be in good hands when today's children grow up?

I have to share this story -- no names, although some of you will know who this child is.  In our Lions Club we have two children, known as Lion Cubs, who come to the meetings with their parents and participate by doing things like passing out papers and leading the Pledge.  The little boy is also a Cub Scout, and this past Saturday he and his father joined other scouts in the annual placement of flags at every grave in the Veterans Cemetery

The boy always knew my husband as Mister Floyd and often sat near him at the meetings. He and his father sought out and found Floyd's grave. They made sure that he had his flag, even though his headstone is not yet in place.  But to this child, that was not enough. He took the patch he had earned that morning for his participation in the ceremony and laid it next to the flag. Before they left, the father took this picture.

No flower could be more beautiful.

A Brief Rant about Old Folks

Today’s paper carries a so-called story about the college at which I taught for the last 15 years of my academic career. Said college is not the #1 school in the country, but it is a fine institution, with a well-deserved reputation for its beautiful campus, for its tradition of teaching students to give back for the privileges they have received, for its innovative programs, its first-class faculty, its amazing athletic teams who all manage to carry high grade point averages without special attention from hired tutors. I could go on, but you get the idea. It’s a great school, and I’m proud of it.

So what have they done to capture the attention of the local paper this time? It seems they have announced that they are going to make changes in their adult education program. For thirty years or more they have invited people from the community to attend short classes taught by the faculty. They have offered the courses simply for the benefit of those who want to engage with fascinating people about interesting topics.

Now the college says they will be making some changes to integrate these courses more closely with programs that are happening on campus — lecture series, community roundtables, guest speakers of national reputation. They also intend to use emerging technologies to expand access to these programs nationwide. Did you realize what I wrote? They are going to CHANGE things.  (I’ll wait while you all gasp in unison.)

The bulk of the article consists of interviews with current partakers of this feast of information. I recognize most of the names.  And I know that most of them are old. (I’m allowed to say that  since I freely admit to being old myself. At 76, I can say what I like, although I do my best not to sound like an absolute idiot.) They’ve been attending these classes for thirty years, and “THAT’S THE WAY WE HAVE ALWAYS DONE IT!” 

Apparently no one has yet released the details of the new plan, but these folks already know that it’s not going to work. “We’re going to lose everything,” one cries dramatically. Another says, “Well, it’s certainly not good for me, so how can it be good for the college?” Doesn’t that just make you want to shake him and scream, “It’s not about you!”

I’m still trying to decide whether I’m more upset with the complainers or with the newspaper for giving them most of the article to vent their silly gripes. The college spokesperson gets the last word, but it’s only one sentence long.

Whatever happened to the idea that old age imparts wisdom and dignity? This morning, all I saw in this article was a bunch of old geezers who don’t want anybody to take their toys away. Maybe those adult education courses didn’t work so well after all.

A Little Love for a Three-Star Review

I just received a three-star book review, and I’m thrilled! Why? Because it’s a fair and honest review, and because its writer has understood what I was trying to do in the book.  So here are some lessons to be learned:

(may mean that your mother wrote it!)


%$&*#  (written by a troll or your angry next-door neighbor)

( probably means just what it says: a good book but not the reader’s favorite genre)


I’ll take the three star reviewer any day of the week.

This fellow was looking for battles and tales of comradeship, and he didn’t find them. If he had ever been in one of my history classes, he would have known that “I don’t do battles.”  I’m interested in the causes that lead people to war (in hope that we can learn from them about what not to do.) I’m interested in the effects of war (so that we better understand what happens when the battles are over).  And more than anything, I want to tell the “stories behind the history “— the stories of the people who don’t make it into textbooks — but who suffer because of what goes on in those battles. And I think he “got” that. Listen to what he says:

"This book is not an action-oriented tale of battlefield and comradeship. It is instead a thoughtful narrative, driven by dialogue between and among the characters as the war begins and continues in all its challenges and emergencies; these strains that the war placed [upon] the civilians, becomes the heart of this story. What action exists in the book is usually related in letters the family members receive from relatives and friends in the Confederate forces, or in local discussions of the events. The steady decline of food supplies in the South (the Grenvilles tirelessly tend their vegetable gardens to hold back hunger), and the inevitable decline of the South is told quickly in the last pages, which makes a nice metaphor for the painful defeat that no one wanted to face.
"Damned Yankee" is a good tale of the war from the perspective of the overlooked bystanders who bear no arms but suffer equally from the ravages of the conflict.