Category Archives: Community

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

 

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.

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!   

For the Hometown Heroes on Memorial Day

Over Memorial Day weekend we visited my husband’s family in New York state.  Early on Saturday morning, when we woke up in Spencerport, a picturesque village on the Eerie Canal, Kiko and I headed out for our first walk.  My little dog was even more headstrong than usual.  If I attempted to turn left, he was determined to go right.  When I preferred right, he insisted on left.  Occasionally his obstinance resulted in a dead stop, as he splayed his legs and I tugged, to no avail, on the leash.  Our progress was slow and laborious.  The constant battle of wills made it difficult to properly appreciate the gracious old homes of Spencerport.  I was annoyed with Kiko, who clearly cares nothing for architecture, or for beauty in general.  How disappointing.  I tend, however irrationally, to expect more from him.  And because I’d given in to his choices, we were heading in a direction that I didn’t intend.  But up ahead, on South Union Street, I began to see the entrance to Fairfield Cemetery.  We’d passed it yesterday driving in.  To me, it looked inviting.  Kiko evidently felt the same way.  For the first time that morning, we were in agreement.    

Except for the exuberant chirping of a great variety of birds, all was quiet.  No sounds of mowing, cutting or leaf-blowing disturbed the serenity.  

Many of the graves were marked with small American flags.  I realized, with some chagrin, that I’d almost forgotten, at least momentarily, the significance of the long holiday weekend. 

As Kiko and I wandered the shaded, grassy pathways between the rows of gravestones, I noticed that we now walked together in easy step.  My stubborn dog had managed to bring me here, against my will, to this peaceful spot, to contemplate the cost of peace.  I thought of the old poem of achingly sad remembrance, of poppies waving in Flanders fields, between the crosses, row on row.  And of the vast and ever-growing expanse of white markers in Arlington Cemetery.  Not long ago, passing by that hallowed ground on the way to Reagan Airport, we saw the solemn spectacle of a horse-drawn caisson bearing a flag-draped coffin. 

Memorial Day reminds us to remember and honor the many lives lost in service to our country.  Consider the teenagers, who, like my Uncle Bill, traded the drudgery of 1940s farm work for the unknown adventure of World War II. My Uncle returned from the war.  Too many others did not.  Think of the young people who drew a final breath in the swampy fields of Vietnam.  Be grateful to those whose civic duty cost them their lives in the Gulf War, in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in exotic locales most Americans would be hard-pressed to pronounce or locate on a map.  Acknowledge the sacrifice of those who died fighting a shape-shifting,  ill-defined enemy in our war on terror.   

And may we give some thought to those who managed to evade death on far-flung battlefields, only to return home to find the challenge of readapting to civilian life unsurmountable.  The deep wounds of war, mental, emotional, and physical, are near-impossible to comprehend for those who haven’t served.  Some who fought in Vietnam returned to a society that seemed to regard them as the enemy.   Let’s pray for those who survived the war but could not survive the trials of day-to-day life in the very towns they had once called home.   

As Kiko and I walked back from the cemetery, we were reminded that the service and the sacrifice continue today.  Along Union Street, every lamp post was decorated with a banner bearing the image and name of a current member of our armed forces.  Let us not forget the dedication and bravery of such hometown heroes, whether we know them personally, or not.  Every day, our brothers and sisters risk their lives in harsh conditions so that we may enjoy the day-to-day comforts of home and the fundamental, essential freedoms we often take for granted.  May we recognize the human cost of war and elect representatives who truly comprehend it, as well.  May our military men and women feel strongly supported during their deployment. 

That morning, I imagined the military men and women of Spencerport engaged in difficult, dangerous, uncomfortable work in a hostile environment.  I wondered if their families would gather soon in nearby back yards on this holiday weekend, keenly missing a son, a daughter, a father, mother, brother or sister.  I pray that our hometown heroes will be warmly welcomed back again in the near future, by a country that respects their service and provides the restorative care they need.  May we honor in memory those who paid the ultimate price in battle, and may we treat with compassion and dignity our soldiers who make it home. 

. . . Long may our land be bright with freedom’s holy light;

Protect us by thy might, great God, our King. 

America, words:  Samuel F. Smith, 1832; Music: Thesaurus Musicus, 1744

Vote 2018

For the first time, my mother and I went to the polls together.  She’s a new Virginia voter.  We spent three hours at the DMV in early October to trade her Georgia driver’s license for an official Virginia ID card, so a little rain on election day couldn’t stop us. 

Let your voice be heard.  Go vote! 

On Christmas Eve 2016, Our Live Nativity

May God’s light shine brightly in the darkness of the world this Christmas Eve. 

May you enjoy the company of angels, good shepherds, and friendly beasts alike.  You might find these at a local live nativity.  Or elsewhere, perhaps where you least expect them. 

Infant Holy, infant lowly, for his bed a cattle stall;

Oxen lowing, little knowing, Christ the babe is Lord of all.

Swift are winging angels singing, noels ringing, tidings bringing,

Christ the babe is Lord of all. 

–Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

Polish carol, trans. and arranged  by Edith Reed, 1926

Kiko vouches for the friendliness of this little beast. 

Of course, no camels or kings attended the birth of the holy baby; they arrived much later to pay their respects.  But there’s nothing like a camel to stop traffic.  And to remind passers-by that this is no ordinary night. 

Jesus, our brother, strong and good,

was humbly born in a stable rude,

and the friendly beasts around him stood,

Jesus, our brother, strong and good. 

All the beasts, by some good spell,

in the stable dark were glad to tell

of the gifts they gave Emmanuel,

the gifts they gave Emmanuel. 

–The Friendly Beasts

12th Cent. French carol

For posts on previous live nativities on Christmas Eve, see here and here

Funhouse Mirror Election Season Careens toward the End

Today a bizarre election season lurches toward its much-anticipated close.  Seems like we’ve been cycling through a long series of unsavory thrill rides at a shoddily maintained, near-derelict amusement park.  We wonder how we got here.  Our mothers told us not to go.  We’re ashamed to tell our children where we are.  The rides are rickety and clearly dangerous.  Why was the park ever allowed to open?  Is anyone in charge?  Seems like we’ve been stuck here forever. 

Unsettling funhouse mirrors abound.  Everything is weirdly distorted. Hard to tell what’s real, what’s an illusion.     

Watch out!, I yell to a friend.  There’s one of those evil clowns right behind you! He’s got a knife!   

That’s no clown, silly!, he says.  It’s Santa.  He looks so jolly, and he has great gifts for us! 

I feel sick.  I’ve lost any sense of reality.   I may be going blind.  I don’t know what to believe, or whom to trust.  How do we get out? 

Finally, the exit is in sightI see daylight and blue sky. 

007

It’s a beautiful day.  Go vote.  Maybe we can leave the decaying funhouse behind, at least for a while. 

img_5338

img_5363

A Look Back on Five Years of Wild Trumpet Vine

 

747

Five years have passed since I began writing Wild Trumpet Vine.  In the space of that half decade, there have been many changes, naturally.  We passed some major milestones, we faced some challenges, and of course we grew older.  Looking back on the last five years, it gives me comfort to see that our family coped.  Maybe we even grew a little wiser.  I hope so.  We’ll need wisdom.  More daunting challenges lie ahead. 

In the fall of 2011, our daughter was starting middle school.  Seven years of elementary school were behind her, and soon she would be a teenager.  Since then, she made the leap into high school.  She became a licensed driver.  Now, our daughter is a senior, and on the verge of an even bigger leap.   We’ve done our family college visits.  The ongoing process is in her hands now.  Our daughter’s future stretches before her. 

549

As for H and me, we’re all too conscious of seeming more elderly with every successive stage in our daughter’s life.  We could consider ourselves young when she was small and looked like a child.  Now that she will soon be out of high school, now that she looks like a young woman, our own youth, we realize, is largely an illusion. 

But we needn’t act old.  About a year ago, H began playing ice hockey once or twice a week, something he’s been wanting to do since he captained a rag-tag grad school intramural team at Princeton.  When windsurfing was his only hobby, his free time was spent mostly feeling sad because there was no wind.  Few opportunities for windsurfing arise in northern Virginia; it’s a sport that requires long stretches of time in an appropriately windy locale, such as Cape Cod or Aruba.  Hockey rinks are more conveniently located.  He’s a happier guy these days. 

And I’m happier, too.   I see good friends on a more regular basis now, and that can’t help but brighten the days.  Five years ago, Kiko and I usually began our early morning walks alone.  We typically chatted with many acquaintances along the way; sometimes we met neighbors and walked a while together.   About two years ago we began walking most weekdays with another neighbor and her dog.  Before long, another friend had joined us with her dog.  We were having fun, and evidently it showed.  A third friend soon joined in.  Now there are at least five of us plus our dogs.  Because we often run into other neighbors, the dog parade may swell to eight or so.  It’s become our morning social hour, one we all hate to miss. 

748

Five years ago, Kiko was four, probably in his prime.  Although no doubt it was already far too late, our family continued to argue about training approaches.  Overcoming his headstrong nature was still put forth as a real possibility by my husband and daughter.  His stubbornness was an ongoing source of family friction. (See An Evening of Discontent and The Joys and Travails of Walking our Strange Little Dog).   

In the language of dog food commercials, Kiko is now a senior dog.  He’s as determined as always in his absolute, driving need to go this way or that.  He has no idea that he’s by far the smallest member of our dog walking pack (which includes a Rhodesian Ridgeback, a Doberman, a Labradoodle and a Golden Doodle).   But Kiko is the unquestioned leader; he chooses the path according to the smells that beckon most keenly.  Yielding to his iron will is more pleasant that battling it.  He’s still fast, although his bursts of speed are shorter-lived. He continues to enjoy wowing the lady dogs with his fleetness of foot and incredible turning radius.  But now he’s very likely to plop down immediately afterwards, preferably for a lengthy rest, in the middle of the street, if possible.  He’s trim and svelte.  His appearance has changed very little.  Except for one detail:  on top of his head, above the center patch of dark sesame coloring, he has a blurred triangle of lighter fur, as though someone had smudged him with bleach. 

557

Five years ago, my parents were still frequently driving back and forth from Atlanta to our home in Virginia.  They were here watching D and her friends head out trick-or-treating, and to open gifts with us on Christmas morning, to celebrate Easter.  In attitude, demeanor and appearance, they seemed far younger than their actual age. 

Time started to catch up with my father about two years ago.  He had two major surgeries in as many years.  He’d always been fit and active.  He woke up feeling good; he rarely had an ache or pain.  But his last surgery left him weakened, almost frail.  He was becoming more and more sedentary.  When he stood up, he was dangerously wobbly.  And it was becoming clear that he was suffering from some form of dementia.  We tried to see it as no big deal.  It was his short-term memory that was primarily affected.  Did it really matter that he complimented me on my sweater every five minutes?  Or offered to get me a glass of orange juice even more repeatedly than usual?  The disease compounded Daddy’s graciousness.  He’d always made kind, sweet comments.  We simply heard the same ones more often.  But in recent months, the changes were increasingly profound.  During one visit he remarked that he couldn’t remember my birthday.  Another time he asked if I had any sisters.  And was I dating anyone interesting?  I told H it was time he got to Atlanta, before Daddy started actively matchmaking.  He had never been an overly protective father; he’d always wanted me to go out and have fun.  Throughout it all, he kept his sense of humor.  

For most of his life, my father had taken care of my mother, and the shift was very difficult for her.  He had done the driving, the grocery shopping, the bill paying, the handling of most paperwork, all the car stuff.  He had been there with his reassuring presence.  Suddenly Daddy depended on Mama to take care of him.  But he forgot that he needed her help, and that made it even more difficult.  It continually slipped his mind that there were many things he could no longer do.  Understandably, he didn’t want to remember.  He’d been used to doing so much.  Mama worried that he’d go outside without her knowing, that he’d fall on the steps or the steep front bank.  When she told him he couldn’t go outside on his own, he pleaded earnestly and poignantly, like a little boy: Why? Why can’t I go outside?  The thought of that exchange still brings tears to her eyes.  During our final visit in July, H, D and I were doing yard work.  Daddy appeared, as if from nowhere; he could still move surprisingly fast when no one was looking.  He was poised to climb the ladder, an old, rickety thing propped against the house.  We got to him just in time. 

553

It took Mama a while to adjust to shouldering the burden of being in charge.  I think she was only just coming to terms with it when Daddy died.  My parents would have been married sixty-one years this month.  For her, his absence is a deep and yawning void.   

So, what will the next five years bring?  I don’t like to speculate on the future.  Even when I was young, I hated that question: Where do you see yourself in five years?  In ten?  But looking back on the last five gives me strength to know that we’ll continue to deal with life’s changes as they come.  Like the wild trumpet vine inching along the fencerows, we’ll persevere, through grief, through joy.  My hope is that we will find the assurance that my father experienced.  We’ll see his smile and hear him say: Hey, no need to worry.  It’s all going to be OK. 

590