On Veterans Day, Honor and Remember

On this Veterans Day, on the Main Streets of small towns across our country, banners honoring currently serving military men and women continue to fly from flag-decked lamp posts.  Typically, these hometown hero banners wave from May to November.  In the charming Eerie Canal village of Spencerport, New York, they had been newly installed when we visited family over Memorial Day.  As the leaves fell, the weather cooled and the time changed, I wondered if the banners were still in place.  My sister-in-law Julie told me that they were indeed there along Union Street, and she sent some pictures. 

Spring and summer have come and gone.  Fall has all but made its exit.  In upstate New York, as Thanksgiving approaches, a gray icy chill descends. Snow, and lots of it, is likely on the way.  And still the soldiers gaze down on the streets of the towns they call home.  They’re mostly young.  They wear their dress uniforms.  What’s in their expressions?  Hope, apprehension, dread, determination, courage, trepidation, resolve, regret?   

Here in Northern Virginia, Kiko and I spent some time in a small cemetery near our home on this unseasonably warm Veterans’ Day.  The customary sounds of a suburban autumn–the leaf-blowing, tree-trimming, power-washing, and traffic–they’d fallen silent for a while.  Kiko surprised me by not insisting on trying to venture out into the street beyond.  Instead, he settled on a hill.  Beside him, flags decorated several graves, as did one little pumpkin.  Except for the occasional rustling of a falling leaf, the stillness around us was deep and comforting, like a blanket.   

Veterans Day here in America evolved from Britain’s Armistice Day, first observed on November 11, 1919, to commemorate the cessation of fighting in World War I, which had occurred a year to the day before.  It has come to be known as Remembrance Day in Britain.  President Eisenhower changed the name of the US holiday to Veterans Day in 1954, designating it as a time to honor all our military men and women, including those who fought in World War II and Korea. 

Veterans Day serves as a reminder of the very human cost of war.  May we be resolute in our honor of those who have served and now serve in every branch of our military.   May we remember that, as the seasons change, our soldiers yet remain far from home, in remote and inhospitable locales, often perceived as the enemy even when their mission is dubbed a peacekeeping one.   Many hometown heroes banners are likely to be removed soon to make way for Christmas and holiday decorations.  Let us not forget the ongoing sacrifice when those bright young faces no longer look down on us from Main Street flagpoles.  And may we use the power of our vote to demand that we reflect on the past and learn from mistakes.  May we elect representatives who seek to comprehend, and when possible, avoid, the truly inestimable cost of war.   

Back in the leafy green of May, when the hometown heroes banners began to fly over Spencerport, NY

 For my Memorial Day post from Spencerport, see here.   

Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn, 2019

Last year, Slim and the pack managed to fit in a quick road trip to Charlottesville on Halloween afternoon to mix with the University of Virginia community during Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn.  This year, due to the threat of severe thunderstorms, the event was postponed until November 1.  While the Skeleton Crew wasn’t in attendance, our daughter was, and she sent some photos.  

The evening was clear, chilly and gorgeous in the wake of the previous night’s heavy rain.  It attracted a big crowd from the university and the town. 

Since the 1980s, the University has invited Charlottesville families to bring their children to trick or treat at each of the rooms on the Lawn and the West Range.  These are the historic student accommodations dating from Jefferson’s original plan for his University’s Academical Village.  Candy is donated by many student organizations.    

The Rotunda, glowing like a lantern in the dusk. 

Our daughter and a friend. 

The moon rises.  Twilight deepens.  Time for little ghouls and goblins to head home.  If my college experience counts for anything, I’ll assume that, for the students, Halloweekend festivities were only beginning.    

For last year’s post on Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn, see here

 

Congrats, Nats! (A Salute from Slim & the Pack)

On Halloween night, the storm held off here until our last trick-or-treater had come and gone.  The torrential rain and howling wind that followed only heightened Slim’s jubilant mood.  He gleefully deemed it perfect Halloween weather.  Well, it was too hot, he admitted, but that just made it feel more eerie. 

When Friday arrived with a crisp chill and glorious sunshine, Slim was equally bubbly.  “Now this is fall!,” he exclaimed.  “Feels like October!  Or November!”  And when my husband presented him with a Washington Nationals cap, he had yet another cause for celebration. 

Slim was thrilled to be out and about during such an unprecedented sporting event.  Did I know Slim had some amazing baseball stories?  Including some involving a few of his buddies who happened to play with the Senators during their greatest year in 1924?  I do now. 

He and the gang had been in a deep sleep in May of 2018 during the Capitals’ Stanley Cup victory, so this home team win was all the more precious.  When Slim learned that the Caps were playing in DC on Sunday night, with the triumphant and festive Nationals in attendance, he caught yet another wave of enthusiasm.  Soon he was outfitted in a combo of Caps and Nats gear.  He pleaded and cajoled to try on my husband’s hockey skates, but H, accommodating though he may be, had to deny the request.   He’s picky about blade maintenance.  Our daughter’s were off limits for the same reason.  I volunteered my figure skates, but Slim kindly said no thanks.      

Slim’s many talents do not include hockey, but he has been a superb skater, in the Hans Brinker style.  Some of his favorite memories involve skating on the frozen river, with my maternal grandparents, in Kentucky when they were teens.   One year it got so cold that they could skate from Bradfordsville to Louisville.  Oh, the bonfires along the banks!  Oh, how Slim (and Sam, my grandfather) impressed the pretty girls with their style and speed!   

Slim hadn’t seen a hockey game in decades, and the nonstop action had him on the edge of his seat.  He made us promise that, come spring, if the Capitals are in the playoffs, we must wake him up!    

 From Slim and the pack: 

Congrats Nats!  Fight finished!  And belatedly, congrats, Caps!  Rock the Red!

Halloween 2019 with the Skeleton Crew

Halloween dawned gray, warm and humid. Slim studied the forecast with a practiced eye.  He consulted the experts at the Capital Weather Gang.  Stepping outside, he remarked ominously, “Feels like tornado weather.”  But then, with a flippant wave of his elegantly bony hand, “I tend to exaggerate.  We’ll be fine.”  Much like my dear late father, whom he adored, Slim believes firmly in keeping on the sunny side of life.   

Yet with rain most certainly on the way, he summoned the pack for their annual Halloween joyride a bit earlier than usual. “Let’s get a move on for a morning ride, friends!  And Kiko, old man, how bout you drive?  I wanna sit up high and feel the wind in my face!” Kiko obliged and settled into the driver’s seat, where he typically feels most comfortable.

But Slim had to go back inside to search for his ball cap.  “Wish it were a red Nats cap!,” he mused.  Having stayed up late the previous night to watch the historic World Series win by the Nationals,  he was in a particularly buoyant mood.  Seated in the back of the VW, he remarked, “Hey look, we’re in the championship parade!  I’m Rendon!  No, I’m Strasburg!  No, I’m Kendrick!”  The pack looked up admiringly, delighted to bask in Slim’s glory.  Golly, they all felt like champions.  Slim has that effect on those around him.  That’s one reason we all love him so.  And why he reminds me of my father. 

But after our morning walk, Kiko was a tired champion.  He was already asleep.    

Of course, there’s no raining on Slim’s parade.  There would be a Halloween joyride.  And it would be exhilarating. 

May your Halloween be merry and bright, come rain or come shine! 

Skeleton Crew 2019

Like clockwork, every year on October 1, our old friend Slim and his pack of loyal pups emerge from a state of semi-hibernation in the peaceful subterranean depths of my mother’s basement.  After eleven months of repose, they traipse back, a bit unsteadily, into the light.  Gradually they ready themselves for Halloween, their Big Night.  Slim typically spends the first few days roaming the various rooms of our two houses.  He reacquaints himself with the familiar and notes even the most minimal changes in décor.  The old photos on the desk in Mama’s living room prompted him to hold forth with a wealth of amusing reminiscences.  He’s known our family for decades, and his memory is unfailingly sharp.  Slim’s a sentimental sort, but his keen wit keeps him from waxing maudlin. 

After their long period of introspection and slumber, the dogs take a renewed interest in neighborhood activity.   Champ, Elfrida and Rocky keep watch at their favorite front-window perch. 

Little Ruth has claimed a perfectly chihuahua-sized chair for her lookout post at the front door. 

Slim was so surprised at the mildness of the weather that he thought his dependable internal clock may need winding.  The gang enjoys the shade of our back porch on a particularly balmy afternoon.    

The pack is poised for the chase.  Squirrels, cats and all intruders, beware! 

Slim and the gang love mixing with the kids of the community and handing out candy at our church’s annual Trunk or Treat.  This year they had the pleasure of hanging with a friendly T-Rex. . .

and swapping tales of patriotic heroism with a young George Washington. 

Following a leisurely meal, Slim is persuaded to recount some of his favorite anecdotes of Halloweens past. 

And now, on this Halloween Eve, time to kick back for a few winks before the festivities begin!

For previous posts on our Skeleton Crew adventures, see here, here, here, here, and here

October, Masquerading as May

This October has felt, and until recently, looked, more like late spring.  Our pale pink climbing roses usually bloom sparingly after their all-out blast in May.  But this year, while the foliage is yellowing and fat red rose hips are plentiful, the flowers continue to pop.     

It’s odd to see pink rosebuds intermingling with ripening Nandina berries.

Along the fenceline, our red roses are far more plentiful than is typical for late October. 

The deep velvety red of this petunia contrasts sharply with its dry brown foliage. 

These candy-striped and purple petunias endure while their leaves wither.

Even our lilac has been confused.    

I’m reminded of the unseasonably warm year I spent in England during grad school, when I noted with wonder that the roses slowed their blooming as winter approached, but never stopped. 

And I think of Keats’s ode, To Autumn, that season of mists and mellow fruitfulness:

. . .how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run:

To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease. 

Is That the Light of the School Bus, or the Coming Apocalypse?

Another thing about the early-morning bus traffic outside our windows:  it has become a source of extreme anxiety for Kiko.  The school buses in our neighborhood have a white flashing strobe light on top.  I’m not sure if the light is new this fall, or if Kiko’s fear of it is new.  Whatever the case, the bright intermittent glare slices through the darkness, looking very much like lightning.   Kiko takes it as a sign that a monster storm is coming. 

Toward the end of the last school year, he typically snoozed soundly until well after full daylight.  It took a while to rouse him for the morning walk.  He tended to resist my various entreaties until I rattled my keys and told him, “OK.  You stay.  I’ll go on without you.”  It was only the threat of being left behind that prompted him to relinquish the warmth of his bed, stretch and amble slowly toward the stairs. 

So it surprised me, this September, to see my little dog wide awake in the pre-dawn darkness, alarmed and panting, in extreme go-time mode.  He’d pace rapidly on my bed, leap off to circle the room, stand on his back legs to peer between the curtains at the window.  Then he’d hop back atop my bed and attempt to settle in among the pillows.  During a storm, real or imagined, his usual place toward the foot of the bed offers no comfort; he has to be up near the headboard.  But even this offers no comfort, and he starts the entire process again.  Once I realized that he was seeing the lightning that presaged a powerful storm, I understood.   

At the start of the school year, Kiko’s trepidation began with the approach of the first bus and its flashes of light.  He’s come to anticipate the threat well in advance.  By 5:45 at the latest, he’s up and on the move, much the way he begins to fear a thunderstorm on a vaguely cloudy afternoon.  On weekends, when no buses are running, he’s making his anxious rounds well before 6 AM. 

It’s notable that Kiko has no fear at all of the school buses themselves.  On the contrary, he seeks them out.  For many years, our morning and afternoon walks began with time spent at the bus stop with my daughter, neighbors, and their dogs.  Still today, if given the opportunity, he settles in for a period of rest and observation near her old stop.  He seems to enjoy watching the bus doors open and the kids exit.  Many of the neighborhood children have come to expect to find Kiko waiting to be acknowledged and adored.  He’d sit directly in the path of the bus if I’d let him.  He has no dread of the thing that can actually harm him.   

I find it sad that my twelve-year old dog is discovering new causes for anxiety.  Shouldn’t he be growing wiser with age and experience?  As I considered this question, I found myself contemplating various scenarios in my life and that of my family:  what if this happens?  Or that?  Or, more ominously yet realistically, what will I do when this or that happens?  

And just like that, I knew the feeling.  My dog has outgrown the false invincibility of youth.  He’s grown into the vulnerability of age.  And so, I realized, have I.  A wave of pessimism swept over me.  Kiko is lucky, at least, I thought, in his faith that if he keeps searching, he can find a place of absolute safety.  He need never face the stark truth that there’s no hiding from many of life’s storms. 

In the last week or so, though, it seems Kiko has been a bit less worried in the mornings.  He continues to leave his spot near the foot of my bed well before daylight, whether it’s a school day or not.  But the pacing and jumping have lessened.  This morning, I awoke to feel his warm little form nestled in the curve behind my knees.  From my perspective, he was an image of perfect, cozy tranquility, curled up like a  fox.  Maybe his fear has vanished, I hoped.  Then suddenly, as the first bus of the day rounded the corner, the room was suffused with white flashes.  Kiko sprang to his feet, bounded off the bed and galloped from the room.

But he didn’t rush back in.  When I got up a while later, he was lying at the top of the stairs.  He didn’t appear to be alarmed.  He ran past me back into my room, where he found an overlooked mini-treat from the night before.  He gobbled it up, then looked at me expectantly, as if to say, “Got any more?”  He ran back to the top of the stairs in the way he does when he’s happy and frisky, anticipating the upcoming walk. 

At least today, my silent little dog, the four-legged reflection of my hopes, dreams and fears, is not gripped by terror of an unknown Apocalypse.  He’s just excited about the promise of a new day.  Suddenly, I felt the same way.  And from the window, I glimpsed a beautiful sunrise. 

Kiko does his power napping in the mid-day sun these days since he’s become such an early riser.

School Bus Sounds Summon a Long-Ago First Day

As of last week, school is in session here in Northern Virginia.  With my only child starting her third year in college, I’m no longer directly involved in the much-ado about back-to-school.    

But until I’m deaf, I’ll be well aware of the start of the new school year.  Once again, on weekday mornings beginning around 6:30 AM, the school buses make their loud, laborious way down the side street below our bedroom windows.  There are so many buses.  They swoosh, they roar, they sigh, they creak.  They emit piercing back-up beeping sounds for extended periods. We discovered, when we moved here nearly twenty years ago, that we had settled in a pivotal juncture in Fairfax County, a dividing line between two school districts. If we moved across the street, our daughter would have to change schools. There are buses for elementary, middle and high school students for both districts, as well as those for several magnet schools. There used to be a special Kindergarten bus in the afternoon, before the all-day program arrived. Some buses are picking up or dropping off; others turn around, having reached the end of their routes. 

The clamor and commotion of the school buses every fall brings back the conflicting and powerful emotions I felt on our daughter’s first-ever school day.  The day she started Kindergarten, when we sent her off, parentless, on one of those enormous, monstrous, heaving, yellow-orange vehicles. 

Our five-year old put on a brave face that memorable day.  My husband and I watched and waved, smiling with forced cheer, trying not to grimace, until we could no longer see her dear little blonde head peering from the window.  Then we turned away, avoiding other parents, fighting back tears.  H quickly jumped in his car and followed the bus to school.  At a distance, he waited until she was safely inside the building.  All that morning I wondered:  What is she doing now?  And now?  Is her class lining up to come home yet?  Just a few hours later, around 12:30, the Kindergarten bus dropped her off at the end of our driveway.  When our girl emerged happy, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  The after-school photo I took of her, sitting in our doorway, shows her confidence, her triumph.   

September 7, 2004.  All done with the first day of Kindergarten. 

Last week I looked back at that photo and compared it with the first-day images preceding it in the morning.   They told a different story.  The group photos struck me as especially poignant.  My daughter, like the other younger children, tries to express a sense of ease, but her anxiety and trepidation show through.  The bulky backpacks contribute to the littlest ones’ slightly awkward postures.  No one’s clothes seem quite right.  Wasn’t our daughter hot in that fall sweater?  All the other kids wear tee shirts.  And within the group, each child is a little island unto itself.  Even the older ones who appear more self-assured, even they look isolated and alone.  At least they do to me.  Maybe, in a fit of nostalgia, I’m reading too much into these snapshots from fifteen years ago.  But I don’t think so.    

During the morning dog walk with the pack, I heard the first-day stories from friends who still have kids in school.  Later, I saw the photos on Facebook.  There are the little ones summoning their courage as they hold up hand-lettered “first day of” signs.  There are the older ones glaring sullenly, attempting to shoot poison dart rays at a parent who insists they pose uncomfortably in the gray light of dawn. 

Several of my friends are dreading the college send-off that looms in the future.  I understand, and I remember.  But I will tell them this:  it will probably be less painful than that off-to-Kindergarten day. 

And it will be here before you know it.   

   

  

 

We Hold these Truths. . .

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

May our country continue to uphold and live by these words, as powerful today as when they were composed in 1776. 

 Let there be liberty and justice for all!   

A blog about motherhood, marriage and life: the joys and frustrations, beauty and absurdity, blessings and pain. It's about looking back, looking ahead, and walking the dog.