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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Entry 9: Grant Town Halloween Roundup, 1974

March 25, 2014

Re:  Entry 9

Dear Friends:

 (Note:  Some names, places and various facts have been changed to protect me, mostly)

5-6 pm:   Parade from Grade School to town hall led by fire truck. Main Street closed to traffic.
Coal Company gives out bags of candy from the back of the 1946 Dodge Power Wagon
Mayor awarded prizes for best costume, by age group. As I am dressed in a Green Lantern costume that was my brother Mike’s in 1969, I lose. Again.  Town gave bags of candy to all attendees

6-8 pm:  Fire whistle blows.  Linda Lou, being right across the street, gives out candy to first wave, provides double Reese Cups to insiders/family.  Proceed up Straight Street, Gorman’s give out homemade popcorn balls.  Go around the loop, Fairview Street back to Straight.  Avoid Pig Alley, name notwithstanding, go out Church Street to Kupranik’s pond. Too far to Tarney Run houses, with too much space between houses to waste the time.  Back down Church to Floyd, up and around to Hilltop and then back down past the church. Priest giving out palms and Jordan almonds in a little bag. We save them for the slingshots.  Back to Meline’s house, he’s sitting on a lawn chair, then up Main to the Garage, Johnny giving out candy.  Go up View all the way to Fisher’s, who are giving apples.  Throw apples over the hill by Tucker’s house.  Back to Main Street and up Grant, all the way to Verge’s who give out the best candy because it’s so far to the edge of town, no one goes there.  Go back up Grant to Main, Vasil’s sister Magdalena’s light is out, so is Willie’s. Head past the Dodge Garage and up Ballah.

8-10 pm:  Fire Whistle blows at 8 pm, right as I get to Vasil’s other sister’s house.  Stop at every house on Ballah anyway, and neighbors proceed to give me the rest of their candy.  Vasil turns out light but gives me one pack of Smarties as he is headed back down the sidewalk.  Arrive home, where I find out that Jackie Martin and Sonny Harvey have been arrested for setting a burning bag of cow manure on Mr. Neebler’s porch. Tony the cop has taken them to the town hall where Pee Wee is letting them sit, making them think they’re going to Pruntytown.  Discussion at home centers around whether my brother Pat was involved. My father using his “trust but verify” approach (later adopted by Reagan), with significant metaphorical references to his miner’s belt. I still don’t know if Pat was involved.  Proceed out to Main Street where I put an old purse on fishing line and attract several cars to stop before pulling it away. Tony the cop is still holding Jackie and Sonny, which is like the arrest of the decade, so there is no police presence to speak of.  Find the Shenlosky boys walking up Ballah, along with Beckish and Stiles. Stiles, being older, had a great idea.  Take the fishing line, throw the purse in the creek since it isn’t needed, attach piece of tape to the end, tie small threaded nut about a foot from the end. Tape line to Vasil’s window and extend line about 50 yards.  Tap on window until light comes on, pull string and run back down the alley.  Upon arrival home, because of telephonic communication between Vasil and my father, I now become the focus of the discussion thereby relieving my brother Pat of the third degree.  Meanwhile, my brother Mike has evaluated and confiscated the desirable parts of my Halloween candy leading to conflict, resolved somehow by me getting paddled and sent to bed (I think the Vasil thing contributed to this, but no one took time to explain it to me).

10 pm:  Johantz the dachshund came into my room smelling like Reese Cups.  Thus ended Halloween, 1974.

I remain,


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Entry 8: The Grape Vine

March 11, 2014

Dear Friends
Re:         Entry 8

Several years ago my parents moved from the house where I grew up, and the week that they moved the grape vines that had been torn down after my grandfather died in 1973 sprouted through a crack in the driveway along the wall.  If they had been growing all that time-- if indeed they were the same vines--that was quite remarkable; I lived there until I was 23 and had not seen them since we took them down in the summer of 1974 when we turned our backyard garden into a yard (another sad thing, in retrospect).  What is more likely was that it was not the same vine or was an old seed re-sprouted after all those years, and while one day I may ask a botanist as to the how and the why of it all, I was and am more focused on that it made me remember him again for a time. I only vaguely remembered having a grape arbor, but seeing that vine brought back all those memories of him.  It is funny how he still looms large in my life though I was relatively young when he died; perhaps it is what I remembered, perhaps it is the reality, perhaps it is the family story of him the myth, both of those now difficult to discern as different.  My sons may, under intense psychotherapy, remember the day I took them to my grandfather’s grave when they were complaining about this or that in their lives being hard, or difficult, or a burden.  As we stood there, I pointed out that he came alone to this country when he was 17, and buried himself in the earth every day for over 50 years, was covered up in rock falls more than once, lost wives, children, lost a house in foreclosure in the Depression when he was 50 (don’t tell anyone, as it is a family secret), had black lung, but overcame all of this and persevered and kept moving forward.  
I on the other hand, had not ever missed a meal for lack of food, had never even approached anything resembling hardship, and everyone—including my father, me and my two sons, stood on my grandfather’s shoulders, and continue to do so to this day.   So before complaining about algebra, or sports, or some other “hardship”, as I told them, get a little perspective.  Two years ago I was in a meeting with a state official who asked me if I was related to my grandfather.  “Yes”, I said, very surprised that someone would ask me this, “Did you know him?”  He replied that he did not but that his father had worked with him, spoke of him often, and never forgot how hard he worked.  Forty years later and people remembered.  What a legacy, I thought, and think.  My grandfather and my father both, whether they knew it or not, had the future on their minds, and I watch both of them willingly sacrifice themselves to that future, that their children might have it better than they did.  They did not shrink from this duty, they embraced it.  They never had to go off and find themselves, they never had that luxury.
Will we be remembered by the things we leave behind?  Will someone find two torn halves, dog-eared, pages missing, of William Shirer’s “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” and wonder who read this book so many times and why?  (This is a joke around my house, how I cannot bring myself to throw this beat up old book away).  What will that mean?  Will they think it was my Bible?  My wife keeps a menu board in our kitchen, on which I am forbidden to write; she will put on this board the menus for every day of the week.  Now lest you think I command such a feat, it is not so.  She wants to do this.  She likes to do it.  She will, in fact and oddly so, go back and change menus after dinners if they were written incorrectly, or if she altered the entrĂ©e, or if we had something different.  She is a home economics major and teacher and I am sure there must somewhere be a Home Econ Audit Bureau which governs such things, requiring such diligence under pain of sanction.  I have told her that I picture a distant time, far into the future, at an archeological dig over our house, as futuristic grad students slowly, painstakingly sift and brush away 10,000 years of dirt and overburden, some Indiana Jones-type in a metallic Fedora finds that message board and announces to the world:  “These strange people worshipped two gods:  Mac….and Cheese.”
A friend once said he could not envision the end of the United States. It will last forever (SPQR for you Roman scholars out there).  Nothing is forever, to paraphrase Isaiah, not the flowers, not the grass, not the buildings, not the trees, nothing except for the Word of God.

I remain,

Monday, March 3, 2014

Entry 7: Ce Qui Est Un Chef De File?

March 3, 2014

Dear Friends

RE:          Entry 7

George Washington.  Thomas Jefferson. Andrew Jackson. James Polk. Abraham Lincoln. Theodore Roosevelt.  Woodrow Wilson.  Franklin Roosevelt. Dwight Eisenhower.  Ronald Reagan.  My top 10 presidents, in historical order (feel free to rank them yourself).  I have reasons as to why each is on the list, and while really a coincidence is fairly balanced as to political party.  I would be happy to argue the merits of each of these men, their leadership or their ability.  There are others I could include (Harry Truman, for one) but I limited myself to ten.  Each has particular characteristics which commend them to my august list.  Three were generals (Washington, Jackson and Eisenhower), who curiously were not wartime presidents.  Four were presidents during the time of recognized, declared war (Polk, Lincoln, Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt).   Two were recognized for peacetime militarism (Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan), but were both presidents in times, to paraphrase Teddy:  So long as you carried a big stick, you could walk softly (this was particularly effective for Ronald Reagan in the age of true mass communication).  The only one I have not put into a neat category is Jefferson, who simply defies categorization—truly he is the one on the list who, for good or ill,remains a paradox.  The rest have been set, rightly or wrongly, into an historical down-through-the-ages pose, even Ronald Reagan whose name is invoked more often than the Lord in some conservative circles.

What makes a good leader?  The truth is, we—I at least—do not know.  It often depends on the circumstances as they dictate what “good” means.  We often recognize wartime leaders as great simply because in the desperate times of war, strong bold leadership is usually more effective than sullen, plodding inaction (there are rebuttals to this last contention, if you want, go read about Joseph Joffre of France).  Sometimes strong bold leadership is disastrous as well, but those people never make it into such lists.  Give me a minute to make the following around-the-barn analogy:  They say that hospital personnel attribute more birth activity to a full moon; policemen often are heard to make the same claim, that criminal activity is lunar-driven (hence the term “lunacy”—really!).  Statistically, it just does not hold up, and more often than not those making that correlation of the moon’s phase to some activity are simply associating particular events incorrectly.  A cop coming off a particularly zany shift full of crazies, looking up and seeing the full moon may make a connection that would not be made if he did not see a moon.  As such, you never hear anyone claiming a Gibbous Moon (it is really a phase) causes such activity, because no one makes that connection.   Our minds like to search for patterns even where they do not exist.  And so, arriving back again to the barn door, it is such with leadership.  We tend to associate decisiveness with some event and not some lack of an event (Calvin Coolidge—any thoughts?).   So my main contention here is that a truly great leader is usually a person able to pick through and read the times and know when to act, so that when opportunity meets that person, he is able to succeed.   In addition, I have always listed that there were two fundamentals to leadership:  knowing the right thing and doing the right thing.  Neither alone is, nor both together are, easy.

But do not discount luck.  Or War.  A friend once talked with Chuck Yeager who said that had it not been for World War II, he would have retired as a gas well tender in Lincoln County, West Virginia.  Obviously he was in the right place for the right time for the right circumstances.   And the rest, as they say, is…

I once read a book about France in the 1930’s.  France has always fascinated me.  Not the Fox News view of France as a comic caricature, croissants with wheels, but the France that won World War I.  It won that war but in many ways never recovered.  The most fascinating part is the leadership in that war. One in particular was a man named Georges Clemenceau.  Go read about him yourself, but this man spanned ages in time and space—he was present at the parading of the Union Army through the streets of Washington at the end of the American Civil War—and was still around and relevant fifty (5-0) years later to take over France at it is truly darkest time.  Most American school children are taught that World War I was a schoolyard fight until we got there, but it just wasn’t so.  In fact, France was very nearly beaten, bankrupt in 1917—and almost lost the war in the spring of 1918. We helped, that much is sure, but France was bled white.   The reason I am writing this is because in the 1930’s the generation of French politicians, many of the war veterans for sure, utterly failed France.  When the time came for the need for leadership, it was not to be found, bound up in fractious politics, interparty rivalries, petty grievances, things that made the enemy seem better than a rival countryman.  I suppose the best of that generation of French leadership was buried under the sod in the 1914-1918 war, never having the opportunity to later stand for France at the point of it is most vital need.  We have been very fortunate in America to have had the right leadership at the right time, but it is not always so in the history of the world.

I remain,