"Roundheads and Ramblings"
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

absurdity

Charlotte or Charley? Whose Web Is It, Anyhow?




I have a curious l drama going on outside my window today involving a huge black and yellow garden spider . She has spun a wide web that spans the sidewalk and extends from the branches of my crepe myrtle tree to the hedge underneath the windows. I have resisted the urge to call her Charlotte, no matter how interesting her web is.

But today has been windy, and the crepe myrtle is shedding the last of its snow white blossoms. The little flowerettes have been drifting down and getting caught up in the spider web. It made a lovely blossom-decked veil and I found it charming, but my spider-friend apparently does not agree. She has been viciously attacking the flowers, one by one, pulling them off the web and dropping them to the ground. I can understand that, if she’s not a vegan spider. She hopes to catch a little insect meat, not a flower petal (maybe they taste like broccoli!). Still, it bothers me that she cannot appreciate the free room decorations.  

Or maybe she’s not a Charlotte. Maybe he’s a Charley, who does not want his man-web to be all gussied up.

Aunt Lola and Her Chickens

Neither my Aunt Lola McCaskey nor her husband Frank Connor were particularly sensible people.  Lola spent her entire life convinced that she  alone was responsible for keeping everyone around her happy. That effort led her to some very bad decisions.

But Frank was worse.  By day, he was an unhappy butcher in the local grocery store. By night, he was a fire-breathing evangelical revival preacher.  In either role, he scared me to death -- whether he was coming home still wearing that bloody butcher's apron or whether I was sitting in a revival tent listening to him describe the fires of Hell.  He scared Lola, too, and with good cause.  He eventually ended his days in the state mental hospital after attacking her because he mistook her for the devil.  But that's another story.

The chickens came much earlier in their married lives. One day Uncle Frank came home upset about the price of eggs. Who knows what it was?  -- Five cents a dozen, maybe. Anyhow, whatever it was, he informed Aunt Lola that if she wanted eggs from then on, she would have to get a chicken -- which she did, because Lola always did what she was told.  In fact, she bought a whole lot of chickens. She tried raising the chickens in the back yard, but the neighbors complained.

She couldn't get rid of them because Frank had told her to raise them,  so she moved them into the basement. Frank seemed not to notice they were there, but the rest of the family knew. Can you imagine what that did to the house? For years afterwards, the entire house smelled like chicken droppings. They got rid of the chickens eventually when they started to die off, but they never got rid of the smell.

And speaking of chickens, one of the family legends concerned a chicken dinner at which there was an unexpected guest, so that by the time the plate of chicken was passed to Lola, all that was left was the tail. She took it, uncomplaining as always, and professed to find it delicious. So from then on, everybody saved their chicken tails for her, and she ate them for the rest of her life.


                         The same story also spawned a famous family quote.

When she was asked how she liked the tail, her answer was "It was good, what there was of it." Then, afraid that sounded like a complaint, she added, "Oh, there was enough of it, such as it was."

The moral, I suppose, is that when you try to keep everyone happy, you end up pleasing no one, not even yourself..

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.

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.

Taking an Attitude Adjustment Break

This may be my only blog post for the next few days. it's a rough week.  A horrible, terrible stinky bad week.

As many of you recognized by sending greetings via Facebook, today is my birthday, and I'm feeling pretty old.  it was bad enough hitting the 3/4 of a century last year. Today I move beyond that, and the view is not pretty.  Of course plans have changed since my husband died in January.  We had booked a trip for this week.  We won a contest for couples who had met while in school at Kent State.  The prize: a night in the presidential suite of the university hotel, dinner in the hotel restaurant and chocolates and champagne at bed-turn-down. Not happening, of course.  I was able to pass the prize on to a family member, but my Lean Cuisine lunch was something of a come-down.  Then I spent the rest of the day doing paperwork, getting names changed on the house title and our Sam's card. Neither one was easy, but Sam's clearly won the bureaucracy award.

And it doesn't get better from here. This is the weekend of the Tennessee Lions' State Convention, starting Friday. I'm not going, of course, because it's on the other side of the world's widest state, and there's no one else going from here  -- so too far for me to drive by myself with only partial vision.  And that means I'm missing the state necrology service, where they will retire Floyd's Lions pin and put it on display for the coming year.  And finally, Sunday is Mother's Day -- a holiday I quit observing in 2000, when my only child died of cancer. 

So it's a horrible week, and I hope you'll forgive the lack of postings until the sun comes back out from behind this black cloud hanging over my disposition.  I think I'll go scrub the bathroom.  Might as well take advantage of a bad mood to get something useful accomplished.