Monday, September 6, 2010

Battle of the Budge

After a long summer of excessive family togetherness, there were few sounds more beautiful than the squealing and rumbling of a bus carting my kids off to school. In my opinion, the early days of September were the best of the school year. It’s a time when my children launched out of bed, all shiny smiles and eagerness, ready to shed summer sloth for a busy school schedule.

But the thrill of new teachers and classmates soon fades like cheap calico. Inevitably, there comes a morning when kids remain fastened to their beds, like barnacles on a boat. Thus begins what I call “The Battle of the Budge”.

Picking them up is impossible. My sixty-pound son weighed 600 pounds asleep. (Would a physicist care to explain that to me?)

I tried pushing, but discovered it would take a team of horses to drag them out from under their fluffy eiderdowns. Unfortunately, horses loathe small two-story colonials.

Bribery is the easiest technique, the disadvantage being that it turns children into brats and brats into hundred headed, venom-eyed typhons.

Threats and extortion can be effective short-term methods but you have to deal with the guilt. I generally abhor violence, but tactics involving pain can be particularly gratifying if used on moody adolescent girls.

I finally found an animal-friendly, kinder and gentler tactic in my Battle of the Budge, which in the interest of good parenting and sane parents, I have elected to share with you.


That’s right. Go into your child’s room and sing any old song you like—preferably in an italliante vibrato soprano. If high C’s are a problem, just sing loudly and off-key. Try banging two pots together and threaten to keep singing until he gets up.

If the child refuses to budge and you’re quite sure he isn’t dead, calmly walk out of the room. Wait five seconds, then announce that his sister is about to eat the last waffle. It never fails!

Of course, this can sometimes lead to a raucous "Eggo War", but that's a battle to be discussed another day.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

My Wayward Muse

My creative fountains have slowed to a trickle
My flashes of insight are not worth a nickel
My once mighty pen is as good as a pickle;
Where art thou my wayward muse?

I’ve searched for her in every room in my head
My brain is a ghost town and everyone’s fled
Except for poor Whimsy who seems to be dead;
Where art thou my wayward muse?

Gone are my plots and my points of view,
My similes, metaphors, idioms too
Figuratively speaking I’m literally through;
Where art thou my wayward muse?

She’s been my radiant guiding light
My Shekinah glory in a doubt-filled night
Her words had wings, like angels in flight;
Where art thou my wayward muse?

Perhaps it was I who forced her to flee
Away from my cynical hyperbole
And recent obsession with my bloggery;
Where are thou my wayward muse?

I never deserved a One so sublime
I hope she forgives me for wasting her time
Some blogs should be a syllabic crime;
Where art thou my wayward muse?

Is that her dulcet voice I hear?
Such lovely tones, so sweet and clear
It isn’t her, I stand corrected
But Whimsy who’s been resurrected
Joined by Wit and Wisdom too
Wordsmithering begins anew
Where art thou my wayward muse?

Who cares.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bob's War of the Pacific

My father-in-law Bob received a letter a while back from a television production company. They wanted to interview him on camera for an HBO mini-series about the War of the Pacific. They knew Bob had been a young officer in the 1st Marine Division and had fought in some of the bloodiest battles of the war: Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, Peleliu and Okinawa.

They were too late. Bob was dead, having lost his final battle to cancer two years earlier.

He would have had a lot to say to those television producers. For 60 years Bob seldom spoke of the War; seemed reluctant to revisit the horror of it. But shortly before he died he was ready--even eager--to share his memories of his experience in the Pacific. Over dinner one evening, with his son and grandson listening intently, Bob shared the following...

When Pearl Harbor was attacked, he was a senior in college. He left to join the Marines because he could be an officer faster than if he joined the army or navy.

Sure enough, he received just 90 days of training, was commissioned a lieutenant, and shipped off to the Pacific.

On August 7, 1942, when he landed on Guadalcanal, he and most of his fellow marines had no comprehension of the fierce and indefatigable enemy they were about to face. Nor did they realize they would also have to fight disease and hunger.

Two days after the marines came ashore, their supporting fleet of naval transport and supply ships fled in the face of an oncoming Japanese convoy. The few ships which remained were attacked and sunk. The marines were abandoned and woefully under-supplied.

Bob said that to keep from starving, they were forced to steal rations off dead Japanese. After a couple months he grew thoroughly sick of rice and sake.

The Japanese preferred to attack at nights--with lethal bombings, grenade raids and bayonnet charges. The morning light revealed the newly dead--so many bodies, so much blood.

But daylight held danger as well.

He recalled once when he was using the “latrine” (a long narrow ditch) he noticed something glimmer in the trees. As an officer, he was allowed to carry a pistol. He fired it—killing the sniper who had been aiming at him. The jungle was infested with snipers.

Bob survived Guadalcanal—1600 marines did not.

The battle of Cape Gloucester was fought in thick jungles, mud, swamps and endless monsoonal rain. Physically, these were his most grueling months. He was constantly wet. The rain rotted clothes, disintegrated letters from loved ones, caused foot fungus, reduced K-rations to slop, and brought even more malaria and dysentery.

But this didn't prepare him for what came next--the horror that was the Battle of Peleliu. The Division Commander, General Rupertus, said it would only take four days to secure this rocky, black coral island. He was wrong. Dead wrong. It took two excruciating months to eradicate the enemy, who was well-entrenched in caves and unwilling to surrender alive.

To Bob, this was hell on earth.

Peleliu had the highest casualty rate of any battle in the Pacific War. There were 6500 casualites—one third of the entire 1st Marine Division!

The sad truth is that Peleliu turned out to be strategically unnecessary. Admiral Halsey had campaigned against it but was overruled by Admiral Nimitz and General MacArthur. Bob felt deep hatred for Nimitz and MacArthur for the rest of his life.

At Okinawa--Bob caught a break. For the first time, his battalion wasn't among the first on the ground. But he arrived in time to see plenty of death from suicidal Japanese men and women. This battle was the easiest for him, because he knew the war would soon be over; and after three long years he would be heading home—all he had to do was stay alive a bit longer.

Bob never saw himself as a hero, just a lucky bastard who survived and strived to take care of his men. He knew that to some of his commanding officers (and he named names) the men were just fodder. Although that wasn't the case with General Vandergrift, his Division Commander at Guadalcanal--a man whom he deeply respected.

Below is a photo of Bob with his men in Guadalcanal. (He's in the front row, second from the left.)

He brought the following things home from the War:

  • The rank of Major.
  • The ability to make a quick decision and never second guess it.
  • The Navy & Marine Corps Medal for heroism, as well as a Bronze Star.
    After witnessing a plane crash upon landing, he ran into the burning wreckage and removed the injured crew just before the plane exploded.(He said jokingly that he would never have done it if he’d know the damn thing would blow.)

  • A loathing for war.

  • However, the most precious "souvenir" was a tattered, blood-stained Japanese flag. It had fallen out of the helmet of the Japanese sniper he had killed on Guadalcanal. It’s framed and hangs on the wall of my son’s bedroom.

    This flag is important to my family because it represents that split second in time when the very existence of my dear husband and our children hung on the fate of a single bullet.

    We have been watching Tom Hanks' and Steven Spielberg's HBO mini-series "The Pacific" and wonder what old Bob would have thought about it.

    A young Bob driving his "limo"

    Sunday, February 7, 2010

    Nincompoops Anonymous

    This was one of the first posts on my other blog "Syllable Soup". Upon rereading it, I have determined it belongs on this blog, since Soup has evolved into something more political & pop cultured with lots of snippets and links.

    I've never been habitual. Is that so bad? I mean, who wants to live life in a deep rut, putting foot in front of plodding foot, never deviating from sameness and always? I like to think my unpredictable nature makes me fascinating and compelling. My husband calls it exasperating. In his opinion, I'm predictably unpredictable.

    For example, he says he can't predict where he'll find my car keys, but he can predict they won't be on the key rack. He postulates that there is no biological link between my brain and the hand the puts down eyeglasses, wine glasses, wallets, cell phones...and car keys.

    Well, the reason I may appear forgetful at times is because my quick mind is moving like a drag strip racecar, while my body follows on a moped. Those car keys were in the microwave because they happened to be in my hand when I was thinking about supper. Understand?

    Okay, I won't deny it. I'll spend $100 on groceries and not buy milk which is what I went to the grocery store to buy in the first place. Can I help it that friends always show up in the dairy aisle? I get distracted.

    Alright, alright, I admit that I forget to take shirts to the laundry, water plants, feed the fish and call my mother...Okay, so I'm slightly absentminded at times. My husband says it's beyond absentmindedness, it's "nincompoopedness".

    Nincompoopedness. What kind of word is that? Is it like being "brain dead" or just "clueless"? Why "nincompoopedness"? What's wrong with "absentminded"? Professors can be absentminded, why can't I? Would growing a beard help?

    Well, if I'm a nincompoop, it's God's fault. He made me this way for some mysterious purpose related to His Divine Plan. Who can understand why God does what He does--I mean, can anyone explain why He created mosquitoes? I wouldn't exactly call God unpredictable, but rather "predictably unfathomable".

    Actually, now that I think about it, which would I rather be? An unfathomable, predictably unpredictable nincompoop or a predictably predictable "creature of habit" like my husband?

    Oops, I better get the laundry to the dry cleaners before they close. Now where did I put those car keys?

    Friday, January 29, 2010

    Hula Dancers in Heaven

    Uncle Willy thought funerals were a silly waste of time. “When I die,” he was fond of saying, “just put me in big baggie and set me out with Wednesday’s trash.” But Momma had insisted on a proper burial.

    Little Julie Cahill wriggled in the pew like live bait on a hook. “Sit still!” Momma scolded her, giving her thin leg a swat.

    Julie couldn’t. The air conditioning had broken down and now the chapel was growing oppressive. Perspiration trickled down the shallow gutter of her spine. “It’s hotter than the hubs of Hades,” thought Julie, using one of Great Uncle Willy’s favorite phrases. She didn’t know what a hub was, but felt Hades described the chapel real well.

    From behind the pulpit, Pastor DeWitt’s heavy voice swung like a pendulum, rocking the congregation into further lethargy. Glancing about the steamy room, Julie noticed several people had nodded off, while the rest furiously fanned themselves with memorial programs.

    “Momma, isn’t it nice so many people are paying their respects to Uncle Willy?” Julie whispered.

    “Hmmmpf. They’re only here so they can pay their respects to the memorial luncheon,” Momma hissed. “Now hush up!”

    Pressing her lips into a thin line, Julie stared at the aluminum casket. It looked like a big tin can. She could imagine Uncle Willy looking around inside and saying, “What am I? Pork-n-Beans?” The thought of him suddenly brought her close to tears. The roly-poly old heart of gold was really gone. There would be no more funny Willy words and no more bone-crunching bear hugs.

    She doubted Momma would miss him. She said he drank too much, called him a hopeless dreamer. But Julie had loved his Crayola dreams. She remembered last week when he sailed through the front door, wearing a rubber band smile and waving a fist full of brochures. “Hey Jules, your Uncle Willy’s goin’ to Hawaii!”

    He hula danced over to Julie, lifted her up and plopped her down next to him on the sofa. He spoke excitedly about a paradise with sapphire seas and brown-skinned island girls, the color of coconuts. His breath smelled like cough medicine.

    “That’s where I’m goin’ first,” he said, stabbing a crooked finger at a photo of a crescent beach, fringed with palm trees. “I’m gonna plant my toes in that warm sand and wait for the sea to come kiss my feet.”

    Uncle Willy never did get to Hawaii. In fact, his feet never got farther than Ernie’s Bar. He was stiff as a rake before someone noticed him, face down in a bowl of beer nuts.

    Poor Uncle Willy. Julie sniffled and began to weep. As she wiped her nose with the back of her hand, her mother tapped her shoulder and handed her a Kleenex. Julie
    thought she glimpsed a hint of tenderness in Momma’s bone dry eyes.

    Her mother hasn’t cried—or laughed her beautiful laugh—since Daddy left town with a flame-haired waitress. It frightened Julie to see her once gentle momma became granite-faced and darkly moody, like a thundercloud in an apron. Uncle Willy reassured her that Momma still loved her. “Her heart’s harder than a tick’s back, Jules, because that’s her way of protecting herself after the powerful hurt your daddy done her. It’s only temporary…she’ll mend.” Willy gave her a bear hug and promised that with prayers and a little time, Momma’s heart would be “soft as a beagle’s ear”.

    There would be no more Willy bear hugs to sustain her as she waited for “beagles’ ears” and the sweet music of her mother’s laughter.

    Someone sniffled beside her. Julie noticed Momma’s eyes were now rimmed with black, gritty smudges.

    She touched her mother’s thin, rough hand.

    Momma yanked her hand away and used it to spank the air in front of her flushed face. “Lord, I’m thirsty! Hope this temperature ain’t an indication of which direction old Willy is going.”

    “Momma, he can’t have sinned good enough to pass muster with the dev—“

    “Hush, child!” She gave Julie’s leg a pinch.

    Julie rubbed her tender thigh and thought, “It’s going to be a humpty-dumpty day.”
    “Let us pray,” commanded Pastor DeWitt.

    While some people prayed for Willy’s soul and others prayed for a quick end to the soggy service, Julie prayed God would soften Momma’s heart so she could laugh again. Then she glanced at the casket and smiled. Bowing her head, Julie prayed, “Lord, let there be hula dancers in heaven. Amen.”

    To be continued

    Monday, January 18, 2010

    Snores and S'Mores

    “I hear a bear!” shouts a voice in the next tent.

    Screams pierce the night. Young girls shrieking their lungs raw, having the time of their life. There are no bears in these woods and my Scouts know it. They’re just following standard operating procedure; next they’ll let loose about the homicidal maniac who prowls the woods with a bloody hook for a hand.

    No amount of yelling is going to get me out of my LL Bean, hypoallergenic, mummy-style, portable bed of nails. As a seasoned veteran of many Girl Scout campouts, I know that the only danger in these woods lurks in the vivid little minds of my Scouts.

    “He’s out there!” someone declares with breathy drama, “He’s close, I can smell him!” More shrieks and giggles.

    I’ve recently developed a theory that the amount of yakking and yelling after ‘lights out’ is directly proportional to the number of s’mores consumed. And judging from the pile of empty marshmallow bags and Hershey wrappers, this was going to be a boisterous night.

    Oh well, I don’t come on these trips expecting much rest. Even after the girls finally crash, the nocturnal creatures pick up where my Scouts left off. All night long, winged insects buzz around my nose prospecting for blood, owls keep asking me “Who?”, and squirrels drop acorns the size of bowling balls on my tent.

    None of this seems to be bothering my parent volunteer who is sawing zzz’s through a green plank three short feet away. Good thing she drank that thimble of NyQuil (at least, that’s what she said it was) because she would be in full cardiac arrest if she saw that granddaddy longlegs crawling up her sleeping bag. God bless her. Few mothers are willing to jeopardize their French manicures by going on a wilderness adventure with their daughters.

    This campout has gone pretty much as usual. Colleen fell into the creek, Libby squirted bug spray in her eye, and I lost my Oakley sunglasses down the latrine. I briefly considered going after them with the fire tongs but fortunately came to my senses.

    Another ear splitting scream. No wonder the bear population is dwindling in Connecticut. They refused to put up with this racket and fled north. I pull my sleeping bag up over my ears and breathe in a heady perfume of bug repellant, campfire smoke, and sweat.

    Scrunch. Scrunch.

    Uh oh. Scouts on the loose. I hope it’s a trip to the latrine and not camper hijinks inspired by Disney’s The Parent Trap.

    “Mrs. Barnes?” I recognize the voice and peek out from my sleeping bag. Two flashlights shine into my eyes and out the back of my head.
    “Sorry about the last scream, Katie rolled over on my—“

    “That’s okay, Sarah. Who’s that with you?”

    One of the flashlights moves towards me and someone wearing crampon-compatible, heavy-tread hiking boots steps on my leg.

    “Oops! Sorry, Mom.” Sharp knees crush my chest and I feel a sticky kiss on my cheek. “I love you, Mommy,” whispers my daughter, “ This has been the bestest campout ever! ”

    “I love you too, sweetie.” We hug.

    The flashlights leave and I lay there listening to the overture of Tannhauser, which my tent mate is snoring with appropriate Wagnerian gusto.

    This is generally the time I start wallowing in self-pity, wishing I could be home sipping wine and watching old movies with my husband. But for the first time, I feel I’m right where I want to be. I guess I’ve finally realized that bug bites, backaches and latrines are a small price to pay for one sticky kiss.

    The snoring is receding. Strange. I feel heavy and light at the same time—like I’m floating in a sandbag suit. Surely I can’t be falling asleep--I never sleep at Girl Scout campouts. Maybe I was bitten by a tsetse fly and am slipping into an acidotic coma. A wonderfully…restful…coma.

    Yawn. As I drift into the open arms of Morpheus, I can’t help thinking my dear daughter was right. This has been the “bestest” campout ever. Only next year—no s’mores!

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    Methuselah's Mother

    “What’s that thing on your neck, mom?” asked my teenage daughter.

    I put on my glasses and looked in a mirror. There, nestled on the folds of my formerly swan-like neck, was a liver spot. No doubt about it, I was on the train to Wrinkle Town.

    I fingered the crevasses at the corners of my eyes and wondered who came up with the term “crow’s feet”. Why not “dove’s feet”? Why feet at all? I preferred to think of them as “smile lines”—being the joyful soul that I am.

    And why “liver spot”? What’s that brown splotch got to do with my liver? I detest liver. I don’t want it on my plate and certainly not on my neck. I’ve heard them referred to as “age spots”, which I suppose is more accurate, but hardly more appealing. Why not call them “sage spots”? Play up the older-means-wiser angle. Whether true or not, I need to believe there is something good about growing old.

    Aging isn’t easy living in a youth-obsessed society where our cultural creed is “young= good, old=bad”. Senior citizens are called “geezers” or “blue-haired curmudgeons” and are generally kept out of sight, except for those “old coots” on TV extolling the virtues of motorized chairs. HD TV isn’t kind to the elderly.

    Cataracts, hearing aids, nursing homes that smelled like cabbage and decay—this was my future. I wanted to wail and gnash my teeth. Instead I prayed. “Dear Lord, why?”

    Miraculously, I remembered a verse from Isaiah 46:4 –“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you.” It’s reassuring to know that God will sustain me in Wrinkle Town and beyond; but do I have to go looking like Methuselah’s mother?

    As I calculated the cost of getting lazered, lipoed and lifted, I suddenly remembered faces I’d seen, skin stretched so tight they resembled snare drums. And those old facelifts, with sagging cheeks that look like coats slipping off a hanger. Is that what I really wanted? A kind of youth that is temporary at most, superficial at best? Old guts are old guts. Underneath artificially smooth skin are thickening arteries, thinning bones and polyps.

    Polyps…not a good thought. Stay calm. Don’t worry. Fretting will furrow your brow like a John Deere Tractor. Help me, Lord. I suddenly recalled what that “geezer” Moses wrote in Psalm 90—“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” I got it. My number of tomorrows is shrinking, so I better greet each morning with profound gratitude. What I needed was an attitude makeover. After all, the only real solution to aging is death. Shudder. But what about that “heart of wisdom”? Does older really mean wiser?

    It can. Maybe God allows the infirmities of old age because it forces us to slow down, giving us more time to reflect on Him and His word. What we lose in physical power, we can gain in spiritual strength. Some of the strongest prayer warriors at church are elderly. They are also more joyful and fun than most of my contemporaries. They have skin like armadillos but a youthful spirit.

    Perhaps that’s the secret of staying young—cultivating a child-like ability to delight in everything, to indulge in a little silliness and to laugh at life’s absurdities. A good belly laugh is better than collagen. Time might steal our senses; like hearing, sight and smell. But it won’t take our sense of humor unless we let it. When a pair of eyes sparkles in good humor and fun, no one notices the “smile lines” or “sage spots”.

    “Thanks, Lord. You never let me down. I know I can face the shadowy future without fear now…although it helps to remove the glasses before looking in the mirror,” I said, squinting at my reflection.

    My daughter patted me on the shoulder, and smirked. “You look pretty good for an eighty-year-old.”

    Pointing at her face, I asked, “What’s that thing on your forehead?”

    She looked in the mirror and shrieked, “Oh NO! A pimple. It’s friggin’ huge! This is a major calamity. What am I gonna do? I can’t go out like this. I’m a freak, a freak!” She ran down the hallway. “Will somebody just shoot me?!” she declared and slammed her bedroom door behind her.

    Youth is definitely overrated.