The Call of the Old West

Note: In September, on a visit to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, I was enthralled by exhibits in the building’s second-floor Cattle Raisers Museum. It’s worth a trip if you have not been there.

The West lives on . . .

Although most of my adult life has been lived in large cities, much of it as a 101_0921transplanted Texan, a fair part — perhaps the better part — of my childhood was spent in Miles City, a small town at the confluence of the Tongue and Yellowstone Rivers in dusty Eastern Montana. It has a long and varied history, very little of it serene and comfortable, but it was nowhere near as wild as other early settlements of those early years in the Old West.

It was from a site near the rivers that General George Custer began his 1876 march into history at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. That same year, Fort Keogh was established there in a continuing attempt to subdue Indian tribes. The town, named for the original commander, grew up around the fort and welcomed the Northern Pacific Railway in 1881.

Cattle, armies and rail lines . . .

Miles City also became the northern terminus for cattle drives that originated in Texas, taking a huge toll on men and stock alike. During the final decade of the101_0917 century, the need for troops declined, and by 1907 they had all been reassigned. That year a second rail line was routed through Miles City. The Milwaukee Road became the last transcontinental rail to cross the state to the Pacific.

Partly because of the railroads, Miles City emerged as a primary U.S. Cavalry remount center in the years preceding World War I. In 1914, the Miles City Roundup was established, and the outpost city’s reputation as the most important horse market on the world stage was born.

It was renowned because of the surrounding open range, but also for the many banks and bars along its Main Street, and for other creature comforts, among them  both juicy steaks and comfortable beds in real hotel rooms. In the early days, it was a favored destination for cowboys and trainmen, some notable lawbreakers and a fair number of law-abiding citizens and families. As time passed and the world changed, Miles City survived, but it didn’t exactly thrive.

Saddling up for cattle drives . . .

Then in 1995, Miles City became the end point of the Great American Cattle Drive, a six-month historical reenactment “performed” by 300 head of cattle and 24 cowboys, along a route that threaded its way through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and 101_0925Wyoming on the way from Fort Worth north. The days of the open range were gone, but the long stretches of uninhabited land and the big skies remained, even though mid-90s cowboys closely paralleled the path of modern highways.

Today, Miles City is perhaps best known for its annual Bucking Horse Sale, held the last full weekend of May for the past 68 years. It is still the place where much of the nation’s rodeo stock gets a start. The reputations of legendary modern cowboys, broncs and bulls are sometimes born in Miles City. It’s a dusty, quirky small town in a state with few residents. It still retains much of its unpolished character from decades past, and that only adds to its appeal in my somewhat biased view.

The past intruded on my consciousness as I strolled through the Cattle Raisers exhibits. But it was the lifesize Longhorns, the talking bovine portraits, and the display of impressive, unique saddles that stole my heart.101_0941101_0935101_0932101_0931

The saddle that drew my attention was custom-crafted at Miles City Saddlery. My first pair of boots was made there, and the saddlery still exists in a prime location on Main Street, almost 110 years after it opened. I could not touch the saddle’s leather nor feel the embossed patterns, much less sit astride it. But it is a work of art, even though the documentation notes that it was probably much too fine to ever have been a working saddle, even for a well-to-do cowboy.

Moving on, moving west . . .

I read cattle drive descriptions and viewed trail maps, examined worn hats and well-used spurs. I learned the histories of huge Texas cattle ranches and the stories of the hard men who shaped the land and raised those cattle to build their legacies. I could envision the promise of those times.

My forebears were not cowboys; rather they worked the land and the railroads of the day, also the mines. They moved throughout the Midwest and West, from Virginia westward to Missouri; then on to Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, Idaho and Washington.101_0926

I still feel a kinship with the cowtown of my past, as well as with modern Fort Worth. That’s another reason why my recent visit to Wichita, Kansas was so memorable.  Whether I chalk it up to genes or early environment, old cowtowns feel like home!

If you’re interested in Cowtown histories, read about these three as a good start:

Wichita, Kansas

Miles City, Montana

Fort Worth, Texas

And if you want to know more about cattle drives in general, read this one.

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When will we learn?

I am crying for our country this morning.

I have seen my share of protests over the decades; I have witnessed horror – assassinations, riots, wars, campus uprisings and police brutality. Too many times. I remember when peaceful demonstrations in the past have turned destructive. As a people, have we all been too quick to forget the lessons we should have learned?

These widespread out-of-control demonstrations accomplish little, but I have the sense that this time the demonstrations will continue – to the point that recovery will be much more difficult, if not impossible. I hope I am wrong.

Because I love this country.

But I watched the morning newscasts with tears streaming down my cheeks, even though I had gone to sleep last night with hope that no more violence would erupt after curfews were ordered and relative calm had come to some cities around the country.

This morning, I could not help but gasp at shots of windows breaking, unrestrained looting in the darkness of night, scenes of streets filled with tear gas clouds and both police and National Guardsmen standing with weapons drawn.

I cried anew at the graffiti sprayed on churches, public buildings and shop walls all across the country, and the wanton destruction of retail stores and groceries just beginning to reopen after months of pandemic closure.

I listened carefully to the pleas of officials asking demonstrators to go home, stay home and remain safe, both from a killer virus and from the possibility of injury or death on the streets.

Too many people have already suffered and died on both fronts.

None of it makes any sense to me.

The way George Floyd died was unconscionable. The police officer who has been charged, and the three who stood by and watched must be brought to justice. The incident was horribly, terribly wrong. But what is happening now in more than 100 cities across this nation will in no way make anything right. These demonstrations, I fear, will only spark more hatred, more resentment, more discrimination, more divisiveness.

When will we learn? What can we do? Can we begin now to talk about it?

Those are the questions that haunt me this morning.

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A bit of deja vu . . .

I wrote this for a client a few years ago. When I recently came upon it in my file, it prompted memories, a bit of surprise and more than a little sadness. It was first published in an online magazine (which no longer exists) on October 10, 2014.

Beware of Men in Masks (and Hazmat Suits)

The journey of one Liberian man, in seemingly good health, to Dallas to die of Ebola has set off a firestorm of debate not only in this Texas city, but across the nation. The city today represents the epicenter of concern about infectious disease. It also is a center for debate about treatment protocols, hospital admitting procedures, care for the uninsured and for non-citizens, and about race relations, open borders and quarantine precautions.

There are more unanswered questions than there are answers now in Dallas. Dr. Tom Frieden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday called Ebola “a fluid and heterogeneous epidemic,” saying that in 30 years in public health he has seen nothing like it since the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

Thomas Eric Duncan traveled from Africa to Dallas the end of September. Apparently, he had no idea that he had contracted the viral disease that has killed nearly 4,000 in West Africa. Other facts are not so clear.

As unlikely as the chance may be that either has contracted the disease, two other men — one a county sheriff, one homeless — were transported to Dallas hospitals for testing by men in masks and full hazmat suits. The apartment where Duncan stayed was “sanitized” by a cleaning crew, also wearing head-to-toe protective suits and respirators, over a four-day period.

Dozens of “low risk” individuals are being monitored by health officials. Those who were in direct contact with Duncan prior to and during the early days of his illness, are in quarantine. Ambulances and vehicles used to transport the family to secure and undisclosed quarantine locations have been thoroughly sterilized.

Many in Dallas are on edge. Rumors circulate. News anchors and talk show hosts dutifully report the latest developments. Meanwhile, every headache and every bout of indigestion brings with it a passing thought: “Is there a way I could have come in contact with the Ebola virus?”

As that concern grows, fueled at least partially by some of the misinformation being circulated, sales of respirators and protective clothing are reportedly increasing around the country.

Is this the look of the future?

*Note: At the time this was written, a second diseased man was scheduled to arrive for treatment at a hospital in Omaha, Nebraska. As it turned out, only two people died from Ebola in the United States in 2014. Seven people with the disease were evacuated from other countries for treatment in the U.S., and four laboratory-confirmed infections were recorded. Nine patients recovered fully.

According to the BBC, during the 21-month period after the first case was confirmed in March of 2014, more than 28,600 people were infected, and 11,315 deaths were confirmed in six countries other than the United States: Liberia, Nigeria, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Mali.

**Update: As of December 19, 2019, more than 3,300 cases and 2,200 deaths from a new  Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) had been reported since mid-2018. The new outbreak was declared a “public health emergency of international concern” by the World Health Organization in July of 2019.

It was less than two weeks later that the first case of COVID-19 was reported in China.

Since September 2018, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the CDC, and several other government agencies, provided technical and financial support in an amount of more than $250 million for disease response in the DRC. In 2014, the U.S. led the response to the initial Ebola virus outbreak in 2014.

So the question remains: In a shrinking world with ever-increasing mobility, is this the new normal? Are more frequent outbreaks of contagious disease, with masks and stay-at-home orders the price we will all pay? Is this our introduction to the future?

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And now it’s personal . . .

Before the current Coronavirus pandemic ends, we will all be affected in ways we could not have imagined as little as a week ago. That has been brought home to me in a dozen different ways over just the past few days.

In many ways, for many of us, technology has become a lifeline. I find myself spending more time on social media that I would ever have thought possible. It helps me keep in touch with friends when I don’t really feel like talking. But it can also be a source of misinformation, false claims and skewed perceptions. Be wary.

We all cope in our own ways.

Whether your style is hibernation or virtual partying or dressing up in your Sunday best90403242_10219393911072811_7856556990493884416_o for an early-morning Walmart shopping trip, if it makes you feel better and restores your spirit, it’s okay. If such behavior prompts smiles from complete strangers, it’s even better.

Some, the braver souls among us, continue to work, out of necessity or by choice. Those who must, surely have their own fears,  but they push through them out of a sense of duty. I offer them my thanks, and pray that they remain safe and healthy.

Many are learning new ways of working from home, telecommuting, and reinventing their businesses. Others fervently hope that they’ll be in business when current restrictions are lifted.

Some of us write as a way of venting our emotions, and to record the realities of these times for those who might be interested a decade or two from now.

Saturday morning, my husband and I received word that a friend from our community lost his battle with COVID-19. He and his wife, sadly, had been quarantined in California after disembarking from a cruise aboard Grand Princess. She was ill, but recovered. I did not know him well, but somehow that made the loss even more poignant. I could not help feeling that I should have made time to get to know him (them) better. I cannot shake the feeling that they both should have been able to return home to Texas after what was, reportedly, a wonderful vacation.

But this virus does not play fair.

It is another dramatic example that health and life are fleeting, that nothing is promised to us, and that we really ought to live in a way that celebrates every moment, every experience and every relationship.

It’s harder now than it was last week, much harder than it was last month. It may not become easier for a long time. Is anyone else wishing for a more tangible lifeline? I feel as if we’ve all been set adrift on a stormy sea, with only a shaky handrail to hold on to.

Coping strategies vary greatly, from balcony concerts in Italian cities to a virtual — and unforgettable — performance by members of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. In Germany, a similar concert took place. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy has become a theme. It is amazing.

Just listen.

And watch and listen to this.

Learning to live again.

I refuse to believe that this is the new normal, and I hope the time will come sooner, rather than later, when we can greet family and friends with hugs, when we once again celebrate life and good times in large groups and in public places.

Some resist the directives of local governments and thumb their noses, figuratively and literally, at the authorities. Some retreat silently to their homes, while others follow the recommendations under protest. Some complain bitterly; others demand greater restrictions. There are the planners, the hoarders, the blamers, the fearful and the hopeful — we are a great mix of personalities, a patchwork quilt of individuals. For now, we must all just persevere, keep calm and carry on in our own way.

There are no easy answers, and lives will never be quite the same — not for any one of us.

But, still, life goes on.

 

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The wisdom of an older age . . .

There may be a crack in my armor, but I’m still in one piece. Truth be told, I sometimes feel as if I’m improving with age, like fine wine. I keep discovering things about myself, insights that took time to unlock, strengths that have grown over time, developed in part by the need to keep moving on when life’s little (or large) setbacks threatened to take me out for a time or even keep me down for the count.

I understand that I am fortunate to be able to say that. I understand that others have floundered and been lost encountering the same sort of setbacks and difficulties I have faced. I do not see myself as stronger than they; perhaps just luckier. Maybe it’s grit, or just old-fashioned mulishness. I also recognize that what I call trials and tribulations are, on a scale of 1-10, somewhere under 5, compared to what others have suffered.

Lessons taught, lessons learned

But I have learned some things along the way that may be helpful to others. And I have met many others who’ve shared some of their wisdom with me. I confess that most of what I’ve learned has been not in the classroom, nor even from books, but from the past and from my elders. It took a long time, but the messages passed down from previous generations have taken hold. I am now of an “older generation.” And I feel a bit wiser. For that I am grateful.

This, then, is nowhere near a formula to follow, but just some thoughts to consider. Each one of us walks a singular path. It requires balance and patience, fortitude as well as zeal, and the determination to get up each morning and get out of bed. After each stumble, one must push on and look ahead, without getting stuck in the muck. Take that literally or figuratively — it’s good advice. It may be particularly pertinent today, as our world seems to be imploding — or exploding — all around us. There is much to be concerned about right now, and many reasons to be fearful.

Disappointment about ruined plans — travel, graduations, celebrations, even sold-out groceries and toilet paper — is minor stuff right now. Concern about global health is far more serious, both human health and economic health.

Moving forward in difficult times

Wisdom, fulfillment, knowledge, self-control, patience, serenity, acceptance: Those are worthy aspirations. And those are the things that contribute to a sense of hope. Add in a lot of hard work, a belief that the current viral spread will be contained, and a mindset that we truly are all in this together. That’s a recipe for hope, a reason to move on, and a mandate to get out of bed and help one another in any way possible.

Wiser people than I have offered the way: We must change our daily habits,  take extra precautions, honor the directives of local, state and national governments, support our leaders, help our neighbors, take care of our families — and wash our hands!

We must look ahead to find ways to recover, rebuild and resume our pattern of life in a new way, a way that is kinder, more inclusive, more friendly and less confrontational.

Yes, we are all in this together.

Let’s resolve to replace despair with hope and hard work, to adopt the “can do” attitude that helped previous generations survive pandemics, depressions and wars, to cure diseases and put a crew on the moon, to explore the earth and its oceans, to discover new lands and build new nations.

The daily experience of living continues. Let’s all try to live as well as possible, despite — or perhaps because of — today’s challenges.

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The hug felt round the world . . .

Yesterday afternoon an improbable scene unfolded in Dallas. A young woman just sentenced to 10 years in prison and the tearful teenage brother of a slain man came together in a wordless, but very public, display of shared anguish.

It was the conclusion of a highly visible and seriously contested case. In September 2018, Amber Guyger, a white Dallas police officer, shot and killed unarmed Botham Jean, a young black man who had emigrated from St. Lucia

Stunned onlookers in the suddenly-hushed courtroom openly shed tears. And, I suspect, the description of yesterday’s moment, a momentous and unexpected hug, will continue to be shared on social media for a long, long time.

Two souls united in grief, wrapped in hope, showed that humans can rise to grace and greatness even in the most horrific of circumstances. What the world witnessed in that simple embrace was redemption, the possibility of healing, and a goal worth striving for in the best, as well as the worst, of times.

Read more about the sentencing, as reported by ABC News.

The shooting had prompted angry outbursts, a threat of potential violence, and national news coverage almost from the outset. Guyger was fired from the department soon after her arrest in September 2018.

Botham Jean died while quietly eating ice cream in his own apartment. Guyger, who was returning home after a long shift, still in uniform with gear in hand, mistook Jean’s apartment for her own, and fired two shots. She testified that she acted out of fear when she believed the man she saw “in silhouette” started moving toward her.

The brief trial was disturbing on many levels; facts were cloudy, testimony was charged with emotion. The jury was sequestered for the duration. Public opinion ran high. All that was certain was that two lives were irreparably broken.

On Tuesday, there were audible shrieks when the jury, after only five hours of deliberation, returned a unanimous verdict of guilty on a charge of murder. Under Texas law, the mandatory imprisonment could range from five to 99 years. The following day, there were audible gasps when the same jury returned a sentence of 10 years for Miss Guyger, with eligibility for parole after five years. Jurors discussed the sentence for just 90 minutes.

Inside the room, according to all reports, it was quiet. However, when the sentence was read, chants of “No justice, no peace” began almost immediately in the hallway.

It was Brandt John’s turn to address the court. Botham’s 18-year-old brother quietly told Guyger, “I forgive you,” ” I don’t want you to go to jail,” and “I don’t wish anything bad on you.” Then, in an unexpected and virtually unprecedented move, he turned to the judge, “I don’t know if this is possible, but could I give her a hug?” Almost pleadingly, he said, “Please?”

After a pause, Judge Tammy Kemp gave her approval.

Jean and Guyger met in the middle of the courtroom. They were, at that moment, totally alone in the world. And that hug, in its simplicity and its symbolism, might become a catalyst for change for the entire world. It was that powerful.

 

 

 

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Dear Children:

Some days are just not like all the rest. They can be different from all others for just one person, for a family, for a whole country, and sometimes for the whole world. Days worth remembering can be happy days or they can be sad days.

Often, good things happen even on sad days.

Today, on September 11, 2001, something terrible happened in New York City. You have probably heard people say, “Never forget.” On the world’s clock 18 years ago, time stopped for some people. The details aren’t quite as important as the feelings and the memories that people have of that day. It started much like any other, with families waking up, having breakfast, and getting ready to go to work, or to school, to take a trip, or to have fun with friends.

But then it all changed — and it changed very quickly from a normal day to one that would be remembered in a very different way. In New York City, and in Washington, D.C., and in a field in Connecticut, four separate airplanes crashed, three of them into buildings filled with people. Many people in those planes and in those buildings died.

It was, and it still is, a very sad day.

Never Forget

Your parents and grandparents who lived through that day and the weeks that followed have many different reasons for wanting to remember. Some want to honor their friends and family members. Others want our country to remember, so that nothing like this will happen again. Some look at the day as a piece of history that ought to be studied. Nothing quite like it had ever happened before.

It was a sad day. But it was also a time when many strangers helped and hugged one another, and when an entire city, a whole country, and most of the world came together in shock and sadness, and almost immediately began to take steps that would prevent something similar from happening again.

If you feel like crying today as you hear some of the stories, or if you don’t understand why all adults can’t just agree that it’s over and move on, or if it makes you afraid in some secret place in your head that something bad might happen to you, know that you are not alone. Adults sometimes feel all those things too. Everyone does! 

The truth is that people sometimes act badly, and life can be cruel. But more often, when truly terrible things happen, most people react differently; they act in really good ways. They try hard to keep others safe and to make them feel better. That is exactly what happened on this day 18 years ago. Some very normal people almost became superheroes on that day.

The adults who lived through 9-11 are getting older now. But their children, and the children whose fathers or mothers, aunts and uncles, grandparents, neighbors and friends were hurt or killed on 9-11, are growing up, and they continue to help other people and to help mend the world in ways they might not have done otherwise.

That’s what we should remember. So, when you hear those words, “Never forget,” know that sadness has another side, and hope and goodness really do exist.

Always.

It’s okay to remember the sadness of 9-11, but we can all go on, working to make all tomorrows better, brighter and happier for us all.

Note:  What prompted this? I  heard this morning from my grandson’s mother that he had a “pretty emotional reaction” to a morning radio show mention of losing friends on 9-11. She also noted that her memory of that day centers on morality and resiliency, and that she would share this video with him. I’ll share it too, for anyone else who needs something inspiring and uplifting today. 

Also see:  Another Year Has Passed, A Moment in time . . . , and September 12, . . .

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A ‘Revival of Spirit’

This morning I was moved to tears as I watched the 90-minute ABC News broadcast from Portsmouth, England. The 75th Anniversary tribute to D-Day veterans was filled with the kind of pageantry that the British do so well, attended by world leaders and surviving World War II veterans of the battle that raged on the other side of the English Channel, the invasion that was credited with changing the course of the war.

Tears also came easily in 2018 when I visited the Normandy landing beaches, the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, and the impressive Caen Memorial. I learned much about D-Day during that trip, and more about our country’s part in World War II. But I also learned how much I did not know.

I was born into a world at war, but I do not remember it. My father, who also was born into a world at war some 25 years earlier, left when I was barely a month old, not to return to the United States for another 18 months. He was in England and on duty on D-Day, stationed at Honington in Suffolk, with the 364th Fighter Group of the U.S. Eighth Air Force. He seldom spoke of the war, almost never of D-Day, but flyers from that group participated in 321 sorties from June 6 through June 15, losing only one plane, according to unit records.

Learning from the records

Early on June 5, a group of 50 P-38s took off from the RAF base on what was listed simply as a support mission. According to the unit’s history, what was then termed “Neptune,” was air support for an invasion fleet that had already left the English coast.

I had not previously realized that my father was actually a part of D-Day.

The average line pilot and the crews had little, if any, advance knowledge of the massive buildup of allied ground and sea forces being assembled in the south by General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander.”

The 364th Fighter group had arrived in England only in February; the first mission was flown about one month later, on March 2, 1944. The primary task was to escort bombers, provide air support, and aid with “bomber withdrawal.” But, early in June, things were different. A special briefing was held at 1 a.m. on the morning of June 6.

When the bombers and the planes pulling the gliders blanketed the skies over the base, the men were surprised and awed but quickly ‘caught on’ as to what was happening. It was a sight never to be forgotten by those viewing it.

“The Group’s three squadrons became an integral part of the invasion of the continent until regular missions resumed on June 16. ‘Neptune’ called for constant, around-the-clock air support of the sea lanes and invasion approaches to protect the allied forces from the Luftwaffe. To accomplish these area patrols, the squadrons divided their pilot rosters into sections and planned to fly three missions per day (nine total for the Group), weather permitting.”

Returning to “business as usual”

The Group’s mission log reports that on June 16, “Normal combat operations resumed,” and pilots continued to escort bombers to their targets all across Germany.

The massive D-Day assault was carried out with 1,200 aircraft and more than 5,000 vessels. Approximately 160,000 troops crossed the Channel on a single day. By the end of August, more than two million allied troops were in France; Paris was liberated on August 25. By the end of the month, the German Army had withdrawn to territory east of the Seine, and Operation Overlord was deemed complete. Although the war would not end for nearly another year, D-Day is considered the pivotal factor in allied victory.

It occurred to me as I watched the ceremonies in Portsmouth this morning that there is only one world leader left who has personal knowledge of World War II: Queen Elizabeth. She noted that her father and predecessor on the British throne, King George VI, had said in his address to his nation on D-Day that the undertaking would require:

. . . something more than courage and endurance.” He called for “a revival of spirit, a new incomparable resolve.”

She also added that “the wartime generation — my generation — is resilient,” but acknowledged that “the fate of the world” depended on the success of those young men who were a part of the D-Day assault.

Paying tribute to uncommon courage and resolve

How true. At the tribute ceremony this morning, it was said that approximately 300 veterans of the D-Day Landing were in attendance. There are not many left; those who are are nearly 100 years old. The battle cost a lot of lives, and the intervening years have taken their toll. Indeed, there are less than a score of men still alive who served with my father in the 364th Fighter Group.

The 364th was one of five fighter groups that made up the 67th Fighter Wing during WWII, and the last to actually arrive in England; it was officially disbanded after the war.

My father was not a pilot, but he loved those airplanes, and following his retirement from the U.S. Army, after almost 30 years of service, he obtained his private pilot’s license. He is not here to shed tears with me today, but I have no doubt that he would have watched this morning’s ceremony with great interest, remembering that day so very long ago, and those airplanes, with a mixture of pride and regret.

I remember it now — for him and for all the others who were called to serve in those troubled times, those who perished and those who survived.

* My information about the 364th Fighter Group comes from my father’s records and from the history of the group published in 1991 by Walsworth Publishing Company, Marceline, Missouri. On October 10, 1990, a memorial was dedicated at Honington, and there are additional memorials to the 364th Fighter Group at the Air Force Museum at Dayton, Ohio, and at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Spring, Colorado, as well as at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth in Pooler, Georgia.
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Rituals and memories . . .

One beautiful early spring day many years ago, while living in Santa Fe, I received an unexpected call from friends we had previously known in Dallas.

It was Friday, just as this year, and Easter was on Sunday. Preparations for the first Passover seder were already underway at our house. But old friends don’t arrive every day. We immediately invited them to join us, and we set two more places at the table.

I remember that celebration with fondness.

We had been busy chopping apples, preparing Haroset and bitter herbs, roasting a shank bone and setting the table. But most of the work was finished and we looked forward to an opportunity to share a meal and good times with dear friends.

They brought marshmallow and peanut butter-filled chocolate bunnies. They also brought beautiful white eggs and a dye kit, and gleefully set up shop in our kitchen, amid the Matzoh, the chicken, the vegetables, and the half-done dessert.

We were like children that afternoon, mindful of our separate traditions and eager to share news of our separate lives over the past months and years.

That evening we had colored eggs on our ceremonial Seder plate, along with the parsley, the horseradish and the other essentials. We shared the Passover story, and we repeated ecumenical prayers. We all had a wonderful time and somehow it seemed more than appropriate that we meld the symbols, the prayers and the traditions of our individual families and faiths.

We also celebrated other newfound rituals — our roast chicken was served with green chile on the side, and the rest of the menu was just as eclectic, made more savory because of the guests who trusted they would be welcomed with open arms even at the last minute.

This year, as the world is immersed in “separateness” and strife, and when the news seems less than joyous all around, I recall that other holiday — the joint celebration of holy days that seemed effortless and totally right — and I have hope that similar scenes continue to be played out in other households, even now.

One of my favorite authors, Robert Fulghum, speaks of rituals, saying “Rituals do not always involve words, occasions, officials, or an audience.” But when they do — as in the ritual of the Seder, or the rituals of Easter services, they are poignant. They deserve to be honored, held dear and celebrated with gusto.

No matter where you are, or who you are with this special weekend, I wish you well. It matters little whether you mark the occasion with a large family, or spend it in solitude. I hope you greet it with good memories from the past and the expectation of a pleasant future. If you are able, share the joy with good food and good tales, with good friends, and with a sense of celebration.

And, by the way, perhaps colored eggs on the Seder plate should become a tradition.

Life is, after all, a continuing celebration.

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And then the unthinkable . . .

One Saturday not long ago I attended an emergency response training session in my community. Offered by our local fire department, it seemed a proper way to update the First Aid training I had received a long time ago.

This session went beyond the splint and bandage knowledge that was required of a Cub Scout den mother, and the practical procedures I practiced when young children were in my household. Instead, the focus was on disaster response, ways to recognize and respond to medical distress, and what to do first at the scene of a serious accident.

It was eye-opening training.

Our small group practiced hands-only CPR, how to use an AED (the automatic external defibrillator commonly available in public places today), how to apply a proper tourniquet, and what to do prior to the arrival of trained emergency response teams. We were also instructed about how not to make a medical emergency worse by doing the wrong thing.

It was good information; I recognized a need to update my home medical supplies, and resolved to install life-saving first aid kits in my vehicles. I reaffirmed my desire to be prepared. It’s only sensible.

The disturbing part of the session came later.

A local police officer was our no-nonsense instructor. A member of our city’s well-trained emergency response team, the police officer who had once given me a ride home when my car stalled spoke about how to survive an active shooter situation.

She pulled no punches.

Public discussion centers around prevention rather than survival. Sadly, in the modern world, everyone is at risk, and no place is immune.

Awareness is key. Quick action is imperative.

I came away from that training session with an increased sense of vulnerability, but also with heightened determination. I no longer take safety for granted. Identifying escape routes is not paranoia; being watchful in public places is smart. Surviving extraordinary events, including airplane crashes and natural disasters, sometimes hinges on preparedness, immediate response, and will.

That is fact.

So, why this, and why now?

Last week, mid-week, in the middle of the night, my neighborhood was suddenly brightened with the flashing lights of multiple police cruisers. Officers patrolled the street and it was obvious that something uncommon had occurred. It was not until yellow police tape was strung at a residence across the street that a vague sense of foreboding became palpable.

Not fear exactly, but beyond curiosity.

A police barricade was set up at the end of our quiet cul de sac, and neighbors’ departures and arrivals were noted.

Later, when local news teams set up in my front yard, then knocked on my door with cameras and microphones turned on, we learned that a shooting had occurred, and that a neighbor had been transported to the hospital in serious condition.

No one in the neighborhood commented publicly; the incident was only briefly mentioned on one local television channel. Details were not forthcoming. Unknown strangers were apparently involved.

The yellow crime scene tape and street barricades were removed later in the day. The home across the street was quiet and empty.

It may never be quite the same, but life on my street has returned to its normal cadence. Neighbors come and go. We smile and wave, set the garbage out on the appointed day, check the mail, and walk the dog.

Although my neighborhood is pleasant, we are not well-acquainted with our neighbors. The family across the street was new to the neighborhood. Unfortunately, we had not even been properly introduced. We do not even know their names.

We honestly do not know what happened that night. We may never know. We do not know if the family has returned permanently, or if they ever will. They too come and go, sometimes at odd hours. We notice. We feel a loss. We do not know the condition of the man who was shot.

This lack of connection is perhaps the greatest loss, the biggest concern, I have a sense that in the not-so-distant past, residents of a neighborhood would have stood together in such circumstances. Neighbors would have comforted and consoled their neighbors. Perhaps that type of solidarity might have prevented the incident, whatever it was.

We do not know.

 

 

 

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Under a wandrin’ star…

There may be nothing new under the sun, as my grandmother was fond of saying. However, everything on the globe is new to you if you haven’t seen it before. Travel offers infinite possibilities — not only to see, do and experience, but to meet new people and to renew oneself.

So, when friends ask — as they sometimes do — “Don’t you ever stay home,” my reply has always been “As little as possible.”

Lee Martin’s raspy lyrics resonate with me still:

Home is made for comin’ from, for dreams of goin’ to . . .

Not that I don’t like the pleasures of home and hearth. I bask in the glow of the familiar, the comfort of friends, the joys of family, the lure of the comfortable and familiar. And then I hear the call: a new trip beckons or I feel the need to see for myself what others have spoken or written about.

And I’m off.

I was fortunate enough to marry a man who is also open to adventure, to travel that does not always involve firm plans and set itineraries. And, over the years, we have invariably followed our hearts, to the consternation of family and all but the best of friends.

Our travels have taken us to unexpected places in unusual ways, at odd times. And every trip has enriched us in ways we could not have foretold.

Today, it is cold, drizzly and dreary. Today I am dreaming of warm, sunny and inviting, with the prospect of good food and lively companions.

Unfortunately, I cannot simply pack my bag and be gone. But soon; soon, I say to myself, I will loose the ties that keep me here, and be gone again.

The problem is that the world is large and many destinations tempt me. Where the next journey will lead is a question still unanswered.

I have several trips in planning stages. Others are simply possibilities at the moment. I long to return to Cuba: Last year’s day-long visit to Havana was not nearly enough to whet an appetite so long building. I want to see New Zealand and Australia; Brussels and rural Belgium once again beckon. The Baltic as well. And Russia. Yes!

I am sure there will be time and opportunity for some as-yet-unknown-options in 2019, whether they are close to home road trips or journeys across the dateline.

It’s a new year, after all.

That’s the beauty of a calendar reset: The promise of new beginnings comes with the date change.

So, what are your plans for the coming year? I gave up on resolutions long ago. But I’ll not give up those travel dreams. Not ever!

And, as always, there will be many stories to tell.

 

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