Sunday, June 29, 2008

It looks even more like Cair Paravel from this angle

My friend in France, Papy Biou, told me about a website with lots of information about the castle ruins I showed you in my post entitled “Remind you of anything?” on June 21st. (The ruins, whose official name is les Ruines du Château du Vivier, are located in Seine-et-Marne. The photo above is the view from the inside looking out.) The only bad thing is that the website is in French and my French is, as they say, ne pas bon (not good). So I used altavista’s babelfish online translator to turn the information into English. Below is the translation, and although I can sort of figure it out, someone ought to tell altavista and the babelfish folks that their product could have used a little more work before they rolled it out. Still, the information is charming and the history, what I can make of it, is fascinating.

“Discovered at the time of excavations carried out in 1830, the currencies with l’ effigy of various emperors Top and Bas-Empire attest l’ prolonged existence d’ a “villa” with hillside of this laughing small valley of Bréon.

“The oldest documents concerning the Fish pond go up in the middle of XIIIe century. The seigniory belongs then to an important family of the area, OF GARLANDE, which have also Châtellerie de Tournan.

“C’ with them qu’ is; it is necessary to allot the construction of the oldest parts of the castle strong (keep and turns of l’ principal enclosure).

“In May 1293, Jean de Garlande sells the Fish pond to Pierre de Chambly, chamberlain of Philippe IV the Beautiful one. But this one yields it almost at once in October, in Charles de Valois, brother of the King, who enjoys to reside at it, with l’ to embellish and to increase the field. It makes build the parts d’ dwelling qu’ one calls the royal manor and the fact of decorating by Evrard d’ Orleans. In 1316, it founds, with l’ authorization of the Pope Jean XXII, a vault dedicated to Saint-Thomas of Canterbury.

“The king Philippe IV fact several stays with the Fish pond between 1301 and 1311. His/her son Philippe V Length also comes there, on several occasions, in particular in 1319 and 1320, years when it promulgates the three famous ordinances in relation to with the Room of the Accounts and the Parliament of Paris. In his turn, Charles IV the Beautiful one remains there in 1322.

“In 1325, before dying, Charles de Valois, “wire of king, brother of king, uncle of king, father of king. . .never king” bequeath the Fish pond to his/her son, the future Philippe VI of Valois. This one comes on several occasions between 1328 and 1344, this last year during eleven days consecutive. It makes gift then with his son of it the Jean future It Good.

“In January 1352, the Innocent Pope VI promulgates a Bubble authorizing the dolphin, the future Charles V, to found collegial there.

“In February of the same year, is celebrated in the royal vault of the Fish pond, the marriage of Jeanne de France, girl of king Jean the Good, with Charles de Navarre, that l’ history named the Bad one.

“In October, with the course d’ one of its stays, the Charles dolphin constitutes a chapter of six canons, assisted of four vicars and four clerks. In 1357, it exempts this chapter of the right of catch and makes him d’ important donations.

“In 1360, king Jean the Good, income of his captivity in England after the unhappy battle of Poitiers (1356), confirms the donations made by his son. After the death of his father in 1364, the king Charles V the Wise one remains on several occasions with the Fish pond; on March 23, 1368, it makes place on l’ furnace bridge of collegial reliquary containing a piece of the true Cross. This one had just made build the Royal Vault on 2 floors. It remains there during six days in October, then remains there again in 1376.

“As of the death of his father in 1380, Charles VI the Beloved comes to the Fish pond on October 26; one l’ there finds again in 1381. Following its tragedy meets in the forest of Mans, on August 5, 1392, which shook its reason, an often pointed out tradition wants that, during some of its accesses of insanity, his/her uncles who s’ were seized the capacity and the Isabeau queen Bavaria l’ relegated to the Fish pond. To distract his royal patient, the doctor of the Court played with him with the charts which came d' to be known in France.

“C’ is thus all during the XIV’ century that the castle of the Fish pond, which saw then successively becoming seven kings de France in its walls, lived its “richer hours” of magnificence.

“From Charles VII, of which one does not raise qu’ a passage in 1456, one does not find qu’ a stay of François 1st in 1546. But, if the kings preferred the Loire ch4ateau then, its chapter remained. Louis XI, Charles IX, Henri 111, assure him successively all the royal privileges granted since their grandfather Charles V.

“The discipline is slackened starting from Henri IV, collegial the n’ being honoured more with the presence of the kings; the abandoned castle n’ is maintained more. In front of this state of the things, Louis XIV decides, in 1694, the translation of the Ste Chapelle of the Fish pond and his chapter to that of Vincennes.

“From this moment, c’ is l’ complete abandonment: the canons rent the grounds and the buildings. In 1791, the field is sold 25,000 books like good national and transformed into farm, the vault in barn.

“In 1830, Main Parquin, lawyer of Paris repurchase it with a carpenter who had paid the buildings 1,200 francs to demolish them with the mine. It releases these beautiful ruins, arranges a park with very romantic taste; then it was again an abandonment moreover d’ one century.

“Aujourd’ today, thanks to l’ happy initiative d’ friends of l’ art and of the past, shaking the yoke of brambles, of the insane grasses which choked its walls, the castle of the Fish pond reappears. More than ever, this quatrain engraved at the XIX century remains true its frontispiece: “Of t’ to cut down, Time n’ could come to end, Your face proud s’ hurl with the stay of the storms, You live to become twenty kings in the torrent of the ages, Their thrones collapsed… Seul, you remainders upright”

(end of translation)

I don't yet fully understand three things, however: why the Innocent Pope VI promulgated a Bubble in January 1352, how the insane grasses managed to choke the walls, and what became of the Fish pond.

Cookie Monster has seen the light

It seems that Cookie Monster, our old friend from Sesame Street, has had a change of heart. In an appearance on Stephen Colbert’s television program recently, Cookie quoted the Bible, sort of, adapting Deuteronomy 8:3 to “Man cannot live on cookies alone.” According to Christianity Today magazine, he told Stephen, “Me now know that cookie is sometimes food. . .Me have crazy times in the ’70s and ’80s. Me like the Robert Downey, Jr. of cookies.”

In other show-biz news, Mr. Snuffleupagus is reported to be suffering from elephantiasis. . .

Friday, June 27, 2008

A loaf of bread, a gig of ram, and thou...

I don’t mean to go all nerdy on you, but I added a gig of ram this week. Not in the way this post’s title implies, that it is the main dish at some ongoing feast, but RAM, Random Access Memory. In my computer. A “gig” of it. Let me explain for the non-techie crowd, the uniniated, those of you who are still sane.

The computer basically has two states: off or on, no or yes, or as the mathematicians put it, zero or one. This is called binary arithmetic because it is based on only two possibilities, as opposed to decimal, which is based on ten, from our fingers. Each little bit of storage space that can contain a 0 or a 1 in a computer is called a “bit” (clever, huh?), which is short for “binary digit.” People figured out very quickly that this could soon become very unwieldy, so someone came up with a shorthand concept (a “bigger bucket,” if you will) called the byte, which consists of eight bits. (Years ago a byte contained only six bits, but never mind.) A thousand bytes is called a “K” and a million bytes is called a “Meg.” Well, not really. Actually, a K, or kilobyte, is 2 to the 10th power, or 1024 bytes, and a Meg, or megabyte, is 1024 times 1024 bytes, because everything in the computer is a power of 2, remember? The abbreviations “K” to mean a thousand and “M” to mean a million are just approximations for the general public (and have something to do with the ancient Greeks). With me so far? I will assume that glassy-eyed look is a yes.

Okay, class, so if K stands for a thousand bytes, more or less (that is, a kilobyte), and M stands for a million bytes, more or less, (that is, a megabyte), then what do you think a gigabyte might be? You there, in the back, did I see your hand raised?

That’s right, a gigabyte is a billion bytes (more or less), 1024 times 1 Meg, or 1 G, not to be confused with the gravitational pull astronauts experience when blasting into space from Cape Canaveral.

The main difference in my computer’s having 256 Meg of RAM, which it used to have, and having a Gig of RAM added this week (it now has 1.25 Gig of RAM--more or less) is speed. It used to take at least four minutes to boot up my computer and now it takes only a minute and twenty seconds. Everything, all day long, is significantly faster.

Ah, speed in the computer wilderness were paradise enow!

Next time, if there is a next time, we will discuss hexadecimal notation.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer

Today Ellie and I are staying with Elijah and Noah all day while their parents tend to some activities of their business. We got up earlier than usual, loaded Jethro into the car with us, stopped at the golden arches for a drive-through breakfast, and by 8:15 a.m. had arrived at our destination. Since Elijah is 12 and Noah is 10, we are by no stretch of the imagination babysitting; we are merely “around” in the way chaperones at a high school dance are “around”--keeping our eyes and ears open and our mouths mostly shut. The boys are at that time in life when they don’t need as much watching as they used to (or will need again when they become teenagers).

The day is warm and sunny, clear and bright, a “10” on the Mellish-meter (Curt Mellish is an award-winning meteorologist on Atlanta’s big WSB radio station--Welcome South, Brother!) The lavender crape myrtles are in bloom. Blue hydrangeas have taken over entire neighborhoods. Last year’s drought seems to have wiped out the entire mosquito population. Perhaps we will sit by the pool later. Perhaps we will take the boys out for lunch. Summer, the perfect season.

As a character in Voltaire's Candide said, it is the best of all possible worlds. But we know that it cannot last. We will seize the day, carpe diem. We will treasure our time together. We will make lasting memories. Too soon it will be past.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Birthday greetings and feline CPR

Today, according to the trusty old Writers Almanac, is the birthday of Erich Maria Remarque, Ann Morrow Lindbergh, and Billy Wilder.

If you never heard of any of these people, you are obviously much too young to be reading my blog. (Hint: But if you are curious, you can click on “The writers almanac” over there in the sidebar to the left and find out more about them. Curious people are what this blog needs.)

My mother used to say, “Curiosity killed the cat.” Ellie has always added, “But finding out brought it back.”

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Remind you of anything?

I’m indebted to my French blogger buddy, Papy Biou, for his photo of these gorgeous ruins (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) that are somewhere, I suppose, in France. I hope Papy will let me know in a comment as to their exact name and location. Perhaps the ruins were only someone’s chateau and not a royal castle, but when I saw the photo, two words leapt to mind: Cair Paravel.

Readers of C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia will know what I'm talking about. Not in all its glory as in Book 1 (or 2), The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but the ruins found many Narnian centuries later by the returning Pevensee children in Book 3 (or 4), Prince Caspian.

My son-in-law and I had a difference of opinion about the numbering of The Chronicles of Narnia books when the first movie came out. He wondered why the producers decided to film the second book first; I said that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first book out of the six, not the second. He said there were seven books in the series, not six. I discovered that it depends on your age and when you were first exposed to Lewis’s Chronicles. Originally there were six volumes, but nowadays a seventh, written last of all, is included. To make matters more confusing, however, the current publishing strategy puts the addition, The Magician’s Nephew, at the beginning and calls it Book 1 because it occurs first chronologically. The original Books 1 through 6 have been renumbered and are now called Books 2 through 7. If you ask me, that’s adding insult to injury.

I suppose nobody cares except older readers like me who remember the world the way it used to be (and ought to be), or people really into publishing trivia (not that I am).

C. S. Lewis is best known for his non-fiction books, but he also wrote a science-fiction trilogy for adults, not children, that might pique your interest. The titles are Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. Any time you read anything by C. S. Lewis, don't be surprised if you find yourself further up, and further in.

Friday, June 20, 2008

On the advice of counsel

Well, not really, but Ellie, my wife of forty-five years, has expressed her opinion, and it is always wise to listen to one’s wife, especially one you’ve had for forty-five years. Based on what she said, I have decided to return the blog to its original format. The new look, she said, is “in your face” but the original look (the one you're seeing now) was “warm and welcoming.” The witness may step down.

I did receive two written comments. Pat, an Arkansas stamper, likes earth tones, brown and burnt orange and green. Ruth, an Illinois rose-grower, said the new format was very sleek and clean but it had a technology sort of feel; she added that for my content, which often includes history and retrospectives, the old format was a better fit. And the “number one” reason I have changed the format back: Ellie liked it better. As we say here in Georgia, if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

I decline to make further comment or answer any more questions on the grounds that I may tend to incriminate myself.

Get ready to party, people!

Over at the National Geographic Society’s website today is a fascinating and timely article by Brian Handwerk. One of the most fascinating things about it is that almost every paragraph consists of a single sentence. Be that as it may, here is the article for your reading pleasure and edification:

Summer Solstice Facts, for When “the Sun Stands Still”
by Brian Handwerk for National Geographic News
June 19, 2008

On Friday, June 20, the summer of 2008 will begin in earnest across the Northern Hemisphere, with the longest day of the year.

Before the sun sets on the June solstice, get the facts on why it occurs and how people throughout history have celebrated the event.

Celestial Science

—The word solstice’s Latin roots mean “sun stands still,” an apt description of how the astronomical event appears from Earth.

Since ancient times people have followed the movement of the sun as it rises, crosses the sky, and sets along a path that changes incrementally throughout the year.

For a few days surrounding the solstice, however, our star seems to rise and set at the same locations. It also hovers at the same noontime spot, pausing before its trajectory begins its incremental shift until year’s end—the December solstice.

—The “summer solstice” should be called the “June solstice,” because it is actually the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. Despite the reversed seasons, the event has long been observed south of the Equator as well.

—Winter and summer occur largely because the planet is tilted on an axis running through the poles at an angle of 23.5 degrees. As the planet orbits the sun, each hemisphere receives varying amounts of light and warmth determined by the direction in which it is tilted: summer when tilted towards the sun and winter when tilted away.

On June 20, 2008, the North Pole will tilt most directly toward the sun, so that the noon sun appears at its highest point in the sky—nearly directly overhead. This is the year’s longest day in terms of daylight hours.

At the same time, in the Southern Hemisphere, the pole is tilted farthest away from the sun, and the June solstice falls in winter, marking the shortest and darkest day of the year.

—The Northern Hemisphere soaks up more sun on the June solstice than on any other day, but the period surrounding the solstice is not as hot as the later months of July and August when daylight hours are actually waning.

That’s because at solstice time the hemisphere is still warming up after a long winter—just like a summer day is still warming at noon and will be hotter in midafternoon.

In June some ice and snowmelt continues, and ocean waters are still warming, as the hemisphere moves toward the truly hot days later in the summer.

—The sun's movements are especially pronounced in the polar regions.

North of the Arctic Circle the solstice heralds the arrival of 24-hour sunlight. The effect lasts longer the further north one goes—culminating at the pole itself.

At the North Pole the sun rises on the spring equinox—around March 21—and does not set until the fall equinox on or near September 21. As elsewhere, it climbs to its peak at the June solstice.

—The solstice occurs at the same moment all over the planet. But because earth is divided into some two dozen time zones, people experience it at different times of day.

This year’s event occurs on June 20 at 11:59 p.m. (23:59) Universal Time Coordinated (Greenwich, England). [Note. This is 7:59 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time in the United States.]

—The solstice has not occurred before June 21 since 1896. This year’s early arrival—albeit only by a minute—is due to a complex quirk of the leap-year calendar. [Note. I think the “complex quirk” Brian is talking about is the fact that although an extra day, February 29th, is added every four years, it is not added on years ending in 00, unless the year ending in 00 happens to be divisible by four, in which case the day is added. Because 2000 was divisible by four, the day was added in the century year for the first time in 400 years.]

How the Ancients Marked the Day

—The solstice is commemorated in stone on Egypt’s Giza plateau. The summer solstice sunset, as viewed from the Sphinx, sets precisely between the two Great Pyramids.

Egyptian adepts were attuned to the solstice because it often coincided with the annual Nile River floods that were so critical to agriculture in the river valley.

They learned to predict this annual event by tracking astronomical signs, including the rising of the bright star Sirius.

—North American Indians celebrated the solstice at sites such as Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park near Little Rock, Arkansas. There the solstice sun sets directly behind a ceremonial mound constructed some thousand years ago.

—The Nazca Lines, a mysterious series of shallow trench designs dug in the Peruvian desert between 500 B.C. and A.D. 500, include features aligned with both the summer and winter solstice sunsets. This discovery gave rise to the disputed theory that the massive designs, which include the figures of animals, plants, and other beings visible only from the air, were dedicated to astronomical observation.

—The solstice was particularly meaningful for the Inca, who believed that they were descended from the sun god Inti. Their two major religious ceremonies were held during the solstices.

The June solstice was celebrated with a ceremony called Inti Raymi in which offerings of food, animals, and perhaps even people were made.

Since the 1940s the holiday has again become a major celebration in Cuzco and is popular with vacationers—though the sacrifices are not what they used to be.

The famed ruins at Machu Picchu also include a semi-circular structure called the “Temple of the Sun” that was constructed around a large boulder. During the June Solstice, the sun shines through a temple window and aligns with both the boulder within and the tip of a nearby mountain peak.

The arrangement may have formed an ancient sighting device. It also links the sun, mountains and ancient rock as important aspects of Inca religion.

—Stonehenge has been aligned with the solstice for some 5,000 years. Observers in the center of the famed circle can watch the June solstice sun rise over the Heel Stone, which stands vertical just outside the monument.

Thousands of New Agers, Druids, Wiccans, sun-worshipers, and party people still congregate at the monument each year to mark the solstice.

(end of article)

The title on this post is strictly tongue-in-cheek. It was inspired by the last sentence of Brian's very informative article. After reading the entire article, you are hereby entitled to proclaim to one and all that you are smarter than a fifth-grader.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

All in favor say "whatever"

I felt it was time to experiment with a new look for my blog. Maybe it’s the summer solstice thing again. Do you like the old format or the new format better? I’m really undecided. So all you frequent and not-so-frequent commenters, please vote! And all you lurkers, too--especially you lurkers--who have never made a single comment on my blog but still check in here and read it from time to time, here’s your chance to make a difference.

All the years I spent in technical writing predispose me to prefer a serif font like Times Roman (the old one) for its readability, but I’m willing to go with a sans-serif font like Arial or Helvetica or whatever this new one is if that's what the majority of you prefer. If that sentence was gibberish to you, be thankful. But please vote!

Jethro is 4, plus a footnote to history

Today, June 19th, is the birthday of our dog, Jethro. His real name, the one on the AKC papers, is Linyear’s Florida Cracker. We showed you his picture last November, but here he is again:
Jethro is a member of the Havanese breed (as in Havana, Cuba). Havanese are said to be “in the Bichon family,” which includes Bichon Frisé, Maltese, Bolognese, and I don’t know what else. Sometimes he reminds me of a Shih-Tsu, only cuter. Sometimes he reminds me of a Lhasa Apso, only smaller, and with a perkier tail. All I know for sure is that Jethro has brought joy and sunshine to our lives ever since Rose and Frank S. gave hime to us in October 2006. Happy birthday, little guy--I mean, big guy! For a close-up of Crown Prince Jethro, just click on the picture.

In a more serious vein, June 19th is also the day slavery really ended in the United States of America. Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but Lee didn’t surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House until 1865, in the month of April. News moved much more slowly in those days, and the last battle of the Civil War was fought six weeks later in Texas on May 30, 1865. Even after the Texans learned that the war had been lost and they were going to have to free their slaves, they didn’t announce it to the slaves for three more weeks. So every June 19th (or “Juneteenth” as it came to be known) is still a day of rejoicing in many Southern communities.

If you’re a midwesterner or a northerner, maybe you heard it here first.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Let’s hear it for Ira Gershwin

Of all the song lyrics Ira Gershwin ever wrote (and he wrote many, including such great songs as “Fascinating Rhythm,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “I Got Rhythm,” “Embraceable You,” “The Man I Love,” “Summertime,” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”), these are my all-time favorite:

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Moon
by Ira Gershwin (1931)

“Blah, blah, blah, blah, moon,
Blah, blah, blah, above;
Blah, blah, blah, blah, croon,
Blah, blah, blah, blah, love.
Tra la la la, tra la la la la, merry month of May;
Tra la la la, tra la la la la, ’neath the clouds of gray.

Blah, blah, blah, your hair,
Blah, blah, blah, your eyes,
Blah, blah, blah, blah, care,
Blah, blah, blah, blah, skies.
Tra la la la, tra la la la la, cottage for two,
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, darling, with you!”

And what better time could there possibly be to bring them to your attention than during the romantic and easily rhymeable month of--what else?--(moon/croon/tune/swoon) June!

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?

Yesterday’s post bordered on the ridiculous. Today’s post should trend a little closer to the sublime. I admit to lifting it from Michael Spencer’s blog (he calls himself the Internet Monk even though he’s Baptist), and Michael got it from Trevin Wax (who quoted Phillip Yancey and Karl Barth) and from Bill Kinnon (who got it from John Armstrong who quoted Thomas Merton). This is what is known in the trade as “research.” So much for the non-plagiarizing life of a blogger/writer.

Here’s the part Michael got from Trevin Wax/Phillip Yancey/Karl Barth:

“I have learned one absolute principle in calculating God’s presence or absence, and that is that I cannot. God, invisible, sovereign, who according to the psalmist “does whatever pleases him,” sets the terms of the relationship. As the theologian Karl Barth insisted so fiercely, God is free: free to reveal himself or conceal himself, to intervene or not intervene, to work within nature or outside it, to rule over the world or even to be despised and rejected by the world, to display himself or limit himself. Our own human freedom derives from a God who cherishes freedom.

“I cannot control such a God. At best I can put myself in the proper frame to meet him. I can confess sin, remove hindrances, purify my life, wait expectantly, and--perhaps hardest of all--seek solitude and silence. I offer no guaranteed method to obtain God’s presence, for God alone governs that.” (Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God, pg. 121)

And here’s the part Michael got from Bill Kinnon/John Armstrong/Thomas Merton:

The mystic Catholic, Thomas Merton, once noted that: “If you find God with great ease, perhaps it is not God that you have found.”

This statement underscores one of the deepest problems I have encountered over the course of my own life. I settled for thinking that I knew God, or God’s will or purpose, when I am quite sure that I was overconfident many times. The ease with which I spoke, and the ease with which I processed this knowledge, should have warned me but I was too dull oft times.

Theologians rightly speak of the deus absconditus, or of the God who absconds, or is absent. The Psalmist knew this reality and so did Mother Teresa. Great mystics have known it and so have ordinary saints. Luther and Calvin knew it too. Just when we think we have God, or we have figured him out, he is absent from us again. He will be sought but finding is on his terms. He will be known, but not because we are so wise. His grace is for all, but not all find it unless they seek it. Ours is an age for “easy” this and that. Knowing God will never fit into the category of something called “easy.” (from

That phrase up there in the title of this post is also a quote. It's Jesus asking from the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” In His case, though, the Father's absence was a fact and absolutely necessary (Christ became sin for us, and God cannot look upon sin), even if only temporary, so that God could henceforth forgive us of our sins and receive us to Himself forever.

I would be interested in your comments.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Bloomsday and other oddities

(1) Today, June 16, is Bloomsday, a day celebrated around the world by admirers of author James Joyce. The events in his novel Ulysses take place on a single day, June 16, 1904, and the novel’s chief character is a man named Leopold Bloom; hence, the name Bloomsday and the date June 16. I have just told you absolutely nothing about either James Joyce or Ulysses or, for that matter, Bloomsday; if you want to know more, you will have to find out on your own. I don’t want it said that I influenced people in a negative way.

(2) I once wrote a poem called “Glossolalia, or The Gift of Tongues” after the manner of Joyce, sort of, although I didn’t realize at the time that that’s what I was doing. Here it is:

Glossolalia, or The Gift of Tongues

Not like a finely crafted poem of old
with much attention paid to rhythm and rhyme,
precision sought within a rigid frame,
and fourteen lines to do the will of God;

More like an explosion of heat that whooshes into the room
so quickly that it takes your breath away,
shattering the cold silence of December,
a sudden Presence where none was before;

More like a young girl bursting into the house
with news of great importance, unexpected and unplanned,
but completely welcome,
because she is
Yes Yes


I wish I knew how this blamed blog thing works; the 5th, 10th, 14th, and 16th lines of my poem (“No” and “Yes” and the other “Yes” and “Yes Yes”) are supposed to be indented, but I can’t figure out how to make it happen.

(3) The strangest sentence I have read today, or lately, or maybe anywhere in my liftime, is found in next Sunday’s online edition of The Writer’s Almanac in a thumbnail sketch about the German author Erich Maria Remarque who wrote All Quiet On the Western Front. How I know what’s going to be in next Sunday’s online edition of The Writer’s Almanac is, as they say, a mystery (and just who are they, anyway?). I present it here for your perusal, consideration, amusement, and consternation:

“He worked as a test-car driver, a gravestone salesman, an organist in an insane asylum, and eventually got a job writing for an athletics magazine.”

(4) I think I missed my calling. I would have made a great organist in an insane asylum.

(5) Don’t mind me today. I’m always this way before I have my morning coffee. But I think I’m being adversely affected by the approach of the summer solstice. (If gamma rays can have an effect on man-in-the-moon marigolds, why shouldn’t the approach of the summer solstice have an effect on me? Plus it takes a little while for me to recover from a week in Alabama.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Out of the mouths of babes

Yesterday was game day here in our little corner of Alabamistan. We played “Go Fish” and “Old Maid” and “Deal or No Deal.” Sawyer was in no mood for making deals, even when only two of the original 26 briefcases were left. He rejected the banker’s offer of $525,000 with the board showing $1 and $1,000,000 and then discovered that the $1,000,000 was in the briefcase he had chosen! Sam, on the other hand, accepted the first deal offered to him, and the deal he made was a good one. He pocketed $100,000 (in play money) and there was only $75,000 in the briefcase he had picked.

I was Howie Mandell, and Nana and I made up names for the invisible girls who opened the briefcases. I picked names like Marjorie and Jane and Tina Louise. Nana, however, decided that one of the girls was named Fluella. Sawyer and Sam were practically in hysterics. So were we, but for a different reason!

After the game, Sawyer offered to bring out the “Monopoly” set but we decided against it because it takes such a long time to play. I said that on our next trip we’ll try to remember to bring our Mexican Train Dominoes with us. “Do you have dominoes?” I asked, and Sawyer nodded in the affirmative, but Sam replied, in all seriousness, “We don't have Domino’s, we have Pizza Hut.” When we all laughed, he insisted he was right. “We went to Pizza Hut on Sawyer’s birthday,” he said, “and we went to Pizza Hut on my birthday.”

And we had to admit that it was true.

Don’t you just hate it when people tell you what their grandchildren said?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What is so rare as a day in June?

The answer to poet James Russell Lowell’s question up there in the title is, of course, a whole week in June spent with grandchildren in Alabama, or as the signs say on all roads entering the state, Alabama the Beautiful, Bob Riley, Governor. And it is beautiful, with huge white magnolia grandiflora blossoms decorating almost every yard, the crape (crepe?) myrtle marching down the medians dressed in demure white or pale lavender blooms that give no hint that their bolder fuchsia and cranberry cousins will arrive later this summer, and the ubiquitous and copious (look it up in your dictionary) mimosa trees (roadside-ditchia nuisancium) displaying their
fluffy, pink, come-hither blossoms as wispy and diaphanous as any negligée. If I were a bee, I’d go absolutely bonkers at the sight of a voluptuous mimosa. Here’s a picture of one that’s pretty voluptuous that was sent to me by my old classmate, Bill Bob Earl and his wife Fluella Sue. I can’t decide which is more startling, the mimosa or the amount of rust on Bill Bob’s pickup truck. But I digress.

We have returned to Alabamistan for a few days to help our busy daughter and son-in-law with two of the finest young men in the entire world, Sam (7) and Sawyer (9). Yesterday we took them into town to the Sonic drive-in, where our order consisted of one root beer float, one Butterfinger Blast, and two banana cream pie shakes. When we came back home we spent a couple of hours at the subdivision’s Country-Club-quality clubhouse and beach-entry pool. Today we plan to take them to a matinee showing of the latest Hollywood epic, something called Kung-Fu Panda starring four-time Oscar nominee, Jack Black. Oh, wait, that was Katherine Hepburn. More fun awaits tomorrow and the next day and the next, until we bid them a fond farewell and return to Georgia on Saturday.

Grandparenting is a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A little Texas humor: Bill Bob and Fluella Sue

My high school class (Mansfield, Texas, 1958) held its fiftieth reunion a couple of weeks ago. Ellie and I were not able to attend, but each member of the class had been asked to return a biography page to Glenda F., who was going to create a memory book. Yesterday I received a package from Glenda that I will treasure, a three-ring binder memory book containing our graduation program, our school song, photos of our class in first through fifth grades, and individual pages about each member of the class with our senior portraits from the 1958 annual. There were even memorial pages to those who have passed on.

Forty-three of us graduated together, according to the printed program. The first grade picture shows 28 children sitting on bleachers. Mr. R. L. Huffman, the school superintendent, is standing on one side and Miss Alice Ponder, the teacher, is standing on the other side. I recognized twelve or thirteen children in that picture who went to school together for all twelve grades. Our family moved to Mansfield when I was in the second grade, as did a couple of others with whom we graduated. By the eighth grade we totaled 66, and in the ninth grade we got all the way up to 92 because kids came to our high school from outlying areas that didn't have a high school such as Rendon, Venus, Webb, Britten, Bisbee, and Kennedale. Well, Kennedale had a high school, but that doesn’t count. By graduation night, however, because of dropouts, early marriages, people moving to other places, and so forth, our class had shrunk to 43.

Smack dab in the middle of the memory pages was a page that made me laugh out loud. There, between Johnie Mac D. and Glynn E. was a page for Bill Bob Earl. The photo of him looked just like James Dean. I don’t know who wrote the text, but since it isn't copyrighted, I’m going to share parts of it with you (leaving out the seamier sections):

Bill Bob Earl
Red Light Trailer Park #666
Los Altos, CA 94025
Spouse: Fluella Sue Surles Earl from Venus
Work Phone: I don’t work much
Cell Phone: It don’t work no more

You may not remember me, but I remember you. I attended school with you for ten days our senior year. That’s longer than I ever went to any other school so I consider Mansfield High School my alma mater.

Bill and Fluella Sue have fourteen children: Bubba, 49; Bubba II, 48; Fluella Sue II, 47; Pearlie, 46; Skeeter, 45; the twins, Homer and Jethro, 44; Agatha, 43; twins Gertie and Bertie, 42; Mabel, 41; Earl 40; twins Vaso and Vasoline, 40. Earl and the twins Vaso and Vasoline were born 10 months apart.

I had an accident cutting up wood and gave myself a free vasectomy or I would have had more kids. I loved to have a new crumb snatcher or two every year and that way I never had to buy Fluella Sue a broom or a vacuum sweeper. Fluella Sue loved having kids too. She was real fertile. I attribute that to the Venus water she grew up on.

Bill and Fluella have been blessed with numerous grandchildren. There are too many to remember their names and ages, but at one time they had 110 and still counting.

Bill works at the Los Altos Cattle & Feed Lot. He has been unable to work steadily at any one job due to partial disability from the cutting accident. On good days he shovels manure at the feed lot.

Bill has received several awards. He won third place in the 1988 Tobacco Spittin’ Contest, first place for beer guzzling at the 1980 Beer Fest, ninth place at the Bumper Car Crack-Up in 1974, Finalist in the National Clearing House Sweepstakes Contest in 2007, and an AARP member since 1995.

I want the Biography Book. I want one for the Double-wide and one for my truck. Send two and I’ll send you ten when I get the books.

Sorry we will not be able to make it to the reunion. Fluella Sue is in poor health. Her hips went out on her some time back and she is bed-ridden most days.

Well, I was in stitches by the time I finished reading. What a hoot! The only thing that would have made it any better would be if Bill Bob and Fluella Sue’s home and that Feed Lot where he works were in Waxahachie (and therefore more true to life).

Friday, June 6, 2008

Today in history was the start of something big

and, no, I’m not talking about D-Day in World War II in 1944 (though that was really, really big). I’ll let the history buffs tackle that one. I’m talking about something else altogether.

On June 6, in the Year of Our Lord 1958, two marriages occurred. One was real and one was only play-acting. The play-acting one took place on a fairly new but extremely popular soap opera called “As The World Turns” when Eve, I think her name was, finally married Dr. Doug Cassel, or Castle, or something. Later that afternoon, the real one occurred when my father married my stepmother in the Methodist Church in Coppell, Texas. Here’s the backstory:

In October 1957, after a long bout with cancer, my mother died. Several months later, through a co-worker of my Dad’s at the aircraft factory in Fort Worth where he was employed, Dad met the co-worker’s sister-in-law, Mildred H., in the spring of 1958. Dad was 52; Mildred was 43 and had been a widow for about a year following her husband’s heart attack. Dad and Mimmie (that’s what I eventually called her) knew almost immediately that they wanted to get married. But I was a senior in high school 30 miles from where she lived. So they decided to wait until I graduated to have their wedding. I graduated on May 19th and the next day my Dad and I moved to Coppell. Two weeks later, on June 6th--fifty years ago today--they tied the knot and left for a honeymoon in either Hot Springs, Arkansas, or Monterrey, Mexico. It happened so long ago I can’t remember. And I, uprooted from familiar surroundings, suddenly went from being an only child to being the middle one of five. But it was real life, not a soap opera.

Dad and Mimmie were married for nine years, until his death from pancreatic cancer in 1967. Mimmie later married for a third time to John F. and that marriage lasted thirty-three years until John's death made her a widow once again. Mimmie passed away in 2004 in Carrollton, Texas, at the age of 89.

Just about the only thing my mother and my stepmother had in common was that they both liked to watch “As The World Turns.” I have no idea how long Doug’s and Eve’s marriage lasted.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

My one and only political comment of 2008

George Will, the pundit whose name is invariably followed by the words “Conservative columnist,” has made some memorable statements in his time. This is the man who once wrote, “You really don’t want a president who is a football fan. Football combines two of the worst features of American life. It is violence punctuated by committee meetings.” This is the man who once wrote, “In the lexicon of the political class, the word ‘sacrifice’ means that the citizens are supposed to mail even more of their income to Washington so that the political class will not have to sacrifice the pleasure of spending it.” He is a younger version of the late William F. Buckley.

George made an appearance on the Good Morning, America television program this morning, and during the course of the interview he said something not only a little less memorable but also, I think, intellectually dishonest. It was a typical mainstream media comment if I ever heard one. This is the latest from George Will: “Barack Obama is more or less liberal; John McCain is more or less conservative.”

He probably figured he was talking to the millions of Americans who don’t pay any attention to politics whatsoever but who do watch Good Morning, America. The Great Unwashed, in other words. Well, as someone who watches television but also bathes occasionally, here’s what I thought. Saying that Mr. Obama is more or less liberal is like saying the flood in Noah’s time was more or less wet. And saying that Mr. McCain is more or less conservative is like saying snow is more or less green.

If Mr. Will was being facetious, my facetiousness detector is definitely on the fritz. Either George is slipping or he’s just not a morning person.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Hugh Jarrett

A friend of mine, Hugh Jarrett, died on Saturday morning at the age of 78 in Kindred Hospital in Atlanta. We were members of the same church, but he and his wife Jeanne had not been able to attend services in several years because of health issues. Back in the early 1990’s, Hugh narrated several Easter and Christmas cantatas for our congregation; he was asked to do it because he had such a great, resonant speaking voice and had worked in radio.

But that doesn't begin to tell the story of Hugh Jarrett at all. Back in the 1950’s, when he was in his twenties, Hugh sang bass for several years in a gospel quartet called The Jordanaires. That’s him in the center of the photo below.
They sang at the Grand Ol’ Opry, sang backup for Eddie Arnold on his TV program, and then started singing backup on the road for a young singer out of Tupelo and Memphis whose name you may have heard before: Elvis Presley. When you see old black-and-white clips of the from-the-waist-up-only Elvis singing on The Ed Sullivan Show, those are The Jordanaires backing him up in their plaid jackets. Hugh is the tall one on the right in those clips. Of the nine Elvis hits in Billboard magazine's list of the 100 All-Time Top #1 Hit Records, Hugh's bass voice was on several of them, including “Hound Dog,” “Don't Be Cruel,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “I Can't Help Falling In Love With You,” “Love Me Tender,” “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” “Are you Lonesome Tonight?” and others. Just mentioning those titles brings back memories of my teen years. Hugh was friends with and made recordings with the likes of Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Dottie West, Eddie Arnold, Patsy Cline, Wayne Newton, Tommy Sands, Sonny James, Willie Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ricky Nelson; the list goes on and on.

Hugh left the Jordanaires in 1958 and moved back to Nashville, where he got a job at radio station WLAC. He soon became known all over the mid-South as a DJ and the emcee of something called “Big Hugh Baby’s record hops.” Someone on a blog this week called Hugh one of the five most successful disc jockeys of all time. Later, when he and Jeanne moved to Atlanta, he worked at WPLO, WXIA, WSB, and WFOM over the years. He was still working, doing Sunday morning programs at a Christian station, WWEV, when he was injured badly in an auto accident a couple of months ago.

He appeared with the Jordanaires in several of Elvis’s movies, but more recently Hugh did voice-overs in commercials and was a member of Actors Equity. He was chosen for a role in the TV-movie Murder in Coweta County that starred Johnny Cash, as well as a film with Andy Griffith, and also appeared in several episodes of Carroll O’Connor's TV series, In the Heat of the Night. Oh, yes, and one other thing. Hugh had been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, and the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame.

The funny thing is, you would never have known any of this from talking to Hugh. He was happy to talk about his career if someone else brought it up, but in all the years I knew him I don’t think he ever mentioned the subject first. He was funny, and modest, and humble. For the last couple of years we ate together on Thursday evenings at a local restaurant with a group of seniors from our church. I knew Hugh as a friend, not as a part of show-biz history. I saw him as a kind and loving husband, father, grandfather, and recently, great-grandfather. He and Jeanne were married for fifty-seven years.

Jeanne has asked me to play and sing two of Hugh’s favorite hymns, “He Touched Me” and “There’s Room At The Cross For You,” at his funeral on Friday. I told her that I would consider it an honor.

<b> Mundane is also a word</b>

My blogger friend Rachel Phillips is currently in the midst of a series of posts (three so far) about a trip she took with her friends Liz...