Friday, August 28, 2009

Not so fast...

The old guard may be gone, but there’s still





and we simply must not overlook




and what surely must be a few hundred others.

So whether you loved or hated the Kennedy clan (family tree here), rest assured that their familiar facial features and their forceful personalities will still be around in American public life for quite some time.

Can you, without cheating, identify the nine individuals above?
(Hint: The names Grumpy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Happy, Bashful, Doc, Ricky, Lucy, Fred, Ethel, Sonny, and Cher are all incorrect.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A family remembered

This young man, Joe, was born in 1888. When he grew up he married Rose, the mayor’s daughter, in 1914. Here she is around 1918 with their first child, whom they named Joe, Jr.

Over the next few years, Rose and Joe had several more children. Here are their eight children in a 1928 photograph.

From oldest to youngest, their names are Joseph, John, Rosemary, Kathleen, Eunice, Patricia, Robert, and Jean. In 1932, a ninth sibling, another brother, will join them. Joe and Rose will name him Edward, but they will call him Teddy.

Here is the whole family in London in 1938, after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Joe Sr. as ambassador to Great Britain. Joe Jr. is 23. Jack is 21. Bobby is 13. Teddy is 6.

Later, the names Skakel and Bouvier and Smith and Shriver and Lawford will become associated with the family through marriage.

Photos abound. Some from 1960 and 1963 and 1968 are frozen in our collective memories and burned into our national psyche. You can find them elsewhere.

Several of Joe’s and Rose’s children grew up to be famous. One spent her entire life in complete obscurity. One married into British royalty. One married a Hollywood movie star. Several died tragically. Two weeks ago, Eunice, who founded the Special Olympics, died at age 88. Edward, a United States Senator for nearly 47 years, died today. He was 77.

Only Jean, 81, a former ambassador to Ireland, survives.

Thomas Gray said it best, I think, in perhaps the best-known stanza of his “Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard”:

“The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour: --
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”

It is a sobering statement, and one worth pondering.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Speaking of serendipity

(which I mentioned a couple of posts back), here’s a poem I wrote several years ago:

An Amplified Catharsis

Uncontrollably (ungoverned, not hindered),
unbidden (unplanned, spontaneously),
rivulets of salty tears ran down her cheeks
in trenches (gullies, arroyos, canyons)
of pain.

Later (subsequently, eventually, after a time),
when the tears had subsided (lessened, abated, returned
to their banks), she emerged from the dark cavern of
herself to find (perceive, discover, learn) in the

that although her inner wound (injury, hurt, pain, agony),
which she tried (attempted, endeavored) to hide (conceal,
suppress) from her companion (partner, significant other),
had been lessened (diminished, shrunken, made smaller,

her soul (mind, intellect, ego, inner self) was enlarged
(increased, expanded, made greater than before)
by the experience, but not necessarily cleansed;
a truly surprising (unforeseen, unexpected, serendipitous)

(c) Copyright 2007, Robert H. Brague, in Billy Ray Barnwell Here (The Meanderings of a Twisted Mind)

Friday, August 21, 2009

A beach umbrella, a lifetime supply of suntan lotion, and a mirror, naturally

On the fourth hour of the Today show this morning, the one hosted by Kathie Lee Gifford -- yes, that Kathie Lee Gifford -- and Hoda Kotb, someone had sent in the following question: If you were going to be stranded on a desert island, what three items would you absolutely need to have with you? Kathie Lee knew instantly. “My cell phone, lip gloss, and the Holy Bible,” she said.

I understand the Holy Bible. I even understand the cell phone, because even though there would probably be no cell tower anywhere near the island to transmit and receive phone signals, the particular “cell phone” Kathie Lee was holding had been revealed earlier in the program to be a cleverly-disguised flask. But lip gloss? Holy self-absorption, Batman!

So, what three items would you absolutely need to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island?

A few rules: People who are tempted to say marijuana, calamari, and Sasha Baron Cohen need not bother to enter. Same thing for people who are dying to say Regis Philbin, Kelly Ripa, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. And if you name something other readers might consider bizarre, please explain why you selected it. Oh, and keep it clean, please.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I’m as corny as Kansas in August?

So sang Mary Martin in South Pacific on Broadway, and Mitzi Gaynor in the movies. That’s all well and good, but Kansas is more of a wheat state. The corn in the photograph is not from Kansas. It’s Iowa corn, courtesy of our blogger friend Jeannelle of Iowa, not to be confused with Eleanor of Aquitaine, mother of Richard the Lion-Hearted.

Corn is not just a food. It also makes great building material. Here’s the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, in the year 1907.

The building itself has changed over the years, but it is still going strong. According to the Wikipedia article on Mitchell, the building is used for several purposes, including a basketball arena, the local high school prom, trade shows, staged entertainment, and the Shriners’ Circus.

Nebraska may be called the Cornhusker State, South Dakota may be the home of the Corn Palace (God help us all), and lots of states grow corn (Illinois? Ohio? Minnesota?), but I still think of Iowa when I think of corn. Maybe it’s because my Dad grew up in Iowa, or maybe it’s because of this scene in Kevin Costner’s 1989 film, Field of Dreams:

What’s that you say? You rarely, if ever, think of corn? You must be kidding!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Or, as Vice President Dan Quayle once said, “It’s a terrible thing to waste one’s mind.” I think he gave us his garbled version around the time he said, “Why, yes, thank you, I believe I will have another potatoe.”

The older I get, the weirder I get. I admit it. (Honesty is the best policy.) One day a couple of weeks ago I woke up with “Jambalaya” running through my head and posted about it, as the few faithful readers of my blog may recall. Where it came from, I have no idea. Since today is Sunday, the Lord’s Day, you might think I would wake up thinking of “Holy, Holy, Holy” or “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” or even “Jesus Loves Me,” but no. Instead, I woke up with the lyrics of Irving Berlin’s “You’re Not Sick, You're Just In Love” playing inside my head, sung by Russell Nype and Ethel Merman.


I hear singing and there’s no one there;
I smell blossoms and the trees are bare;
All day long I seem to walk on air;
I wonder why,
I wonder why.
I’ve been tossing in my sleep at night;
And, what's more, I’ve lost my appetite;
Stars that used to twinkle in the skies
Are twinkling in my eyes;
I wonder why.

You don’t need analyzin’,
It is not so surprisin’,
That you feel very strange but nice.
Your heart goes pitter-patter,
I know just what’s the matter,
Because I’ve been there once or twice.

Put your head on my shoulder,
You need someone who’s older,
A rubdown with a velvet glove.
There is nothing you can take
To relieve that pleasant ache,
You’re not sick, you’re just in love.

Then he (Him, Russell Nype) and she (Her, Ethel Merman) started singing their parts in counterpoint, which means they sang two different tunes at the same time, interweaving the melodies, and it was all very impressive. Eventually Ed Sullivan came onstage to announce next week’s rilly big shoe. I think these particular memories are circa 1950 -- Irving Berlin’s Call Me Madam and TV’s Toast of the Town combined, all tucked away in black and white in the recesses of my gray matter.

Please believe me when I tell you that I didn’t look up any of the lyrics to create this post. I didn’t have to. They were just there, inside my forehead, waiting to spring forth full-grown like Athena from the forehead of Zeus.

It’s not like I went out of my way to memorize the lyrics to that song or anything, any more than I went out of my way to forget what I ate for dinner last Tuesday evening. It’s just how things are. I can remember Ethel and Russell from 60 years ago. I can’t remember what went down my gullet last week.

As I said, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

I have a theory. Nothing we ever say or do or hear or see is forgotten. It’s all stored away in our brain somewhere, awaiting the Judgment Day, when everything will be brought into the light. Before that day arrives, however, God in His mercy allows us to purge ourselves of some of the nonsense we’ve collected on our way to the big event, much like Mrs. RWP often skims the fat off the top of the chicken soup she makes. Out with the bad; in with the good, and all that. Not that chicken fat is bad. It does have its uses. You just don’t want too much of it in your soup. And the more gunk we remove from our insides, the more room there is in there for God. Either we remove it voluntarily or we will have it removed forcibly from us later. Finally, in the end, I think, we will hear nothing but Him.

It’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

I also believe in serendipity. For example, I just discovered this clip on Youtube wherein Kristin Chenoweth and Nathan Lane sing this very song. In keeping with the changes that have occurred in our world, Kristin sings Russell Nype’s part and Nathan sings Ethel Merman’s part.

One thing I do know for sure. Nathan Lane is no Ethel Merman. Okay, so she’s a little long in the tooth in that clip. So for you show-biz purists out there, here is the one, the only, Ethel Merman, a bit earlier in her career. One gets the feeling she could have kept on singing for hours.

Let J. Danforth Quayle try to top that! Politics only cloud the mind. Nothing clears the cobwebs away like a good Ethel Merman medley.

What was I saying again?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A river runs through it.

Last evening, after Mrs. RWP and I had finished eating our meal -- kielbasa, buttered noodles, and a vegetable medley of broccoli florets, baby carrots, and snow peas, as I recall -- we sat through Wheel of Fortune with Pat Sajak and Vanna White on the telly, and had just begun watching Jeopardy with Alex Trebek when all of a sudden the skies grew dark and the winds increased -- the natives around here nod knowingly at such times and say, “It’s comin’ up a cloud and it’s fixin’ to rain” -- and a tremendous amount of rain fell in a very short period of time. The wind blew every which way. It wasn’t quite Hurricane Ivan, but almost. I thought of part of an old vaudeville routine: “The lightning flashed, the thunder roared, and the rain came down in sheets.” (Those of you who know the skit are now laughing and clapping appreciatively, and those of you who don’t know the skit (a) are scratching your heads, (b) have quizzical expressions on your faces, and (c) are thinking old rhymeswithplague may finally have gone off his rocker. Fat chance.)

At the kitchen window, I could see water gushing out at a rapid rate from the downspout at the corner of the house, and also from two drainpipes that the developers of our neighborhood thoughtfully installed at the base of the hill next door. Right on schedule, our old friend the river began to form in the back yard. Let me explain.

When we bought our house six years ago our lot was at the end of Phase 1 of our subdivision and there was nothing behind us but a field of wildflowers that stretched away into the distance, rising slowly all the way to the edge of the development property some distance away. I called our place “Little House on the Prairie.” Because we live in the foothills of the southern Appalachian range, there isn’t a lot of flat land hereabouts. Our subdivision is built on several hills and the homes march down their slopes in a series of terraced lots on several streets.

When Phase 2 of the subdivision began, the developers brought in big earth-moving equipment and trucks full of new dirt and began moving it around right behind our house. I began to call our place “Little House by a Strip Mine.” Eventually the developers created a large, long, flat-topped hill behind our house and erected several houses on a new street behind us. The foundation of every house on the new street is several feet above our roofline. After the houses were built and vegetation began to cover the hillside, for a while the people on our street and the people on the new street sat on their respective patios and looked up and down at one another, but desire for privacy prevailed and tall wooden fences now surround most of the houses behind us. All in all, it turned out not to be so bad, except that I do miss seeing the lovely sloping field of wildflowers that we used to enjoy.

Anyhoo, since the street behind us is elevated, the runoff water from the storm drains has to go somewhere, and where it goes is out two drainpipes, one in our side yard and one in our back yard. When the occasional monsoon rolls through north Georgia, a river runs through our back yard, down the hill through several more back yards, and eventually into what the developers call “a retention pond” at the bottom of the hill. Every yard on our street slopes upward on one side of the house and downward on the other side of the house, giving the whole neighborhood a sort of waterfall appearance to people driving cars up and down (literally) the street. The side yards are landscaped with pine trees, cedars, cypresses, ivy, various ground covers, juniper bushes, several kinds of flowering shrubs, and, in some cases, retaining walls. Even though the houses are fairly close together, the waterfall effect of the different lot elevations provides each home with a measure of privacy.

When we receive a lot of rain in a short period of time (for example, yesterday, when the rain gauge on my patio contained almost two inches of rain in less than half an hour), the water from the side yard drainpipe turns into a moving stream that crosses my side yard, where it joins the outflow from the back yard drainpipe. Yesterday we watched the Ohio River formed by this convergence of the Monongahela and Allegheny drainpipes move across our yard, deepening as it went. Eventually a real waterfall spilled down the hill into my neighbor’s yard, and onward it went from yard to yard, until it reached the retention pond at the bottom of the hill, eight houses away.

This was no rivulet I’m talking about. In our yard, which is contoured nicely so that the water avoids the house, our river yesterday was easily six or eight feet wide and at least six inches deep, and it moved along at a pretty fast clip. In my crazier moments, I have thought about having a small footbridge built and perhaps a gazebo.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t quite this bad:

but I swear, on scout’s honor, I could hear Andy Williams singing “Moon River” in the distance.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Leaf by Niggle

J.R.R. (for John Ronald Reuel) Tolkien -- you know, the English guy who invented hobbits and Middle Earth and One Ring To Rule Them All and everything else in The Lord Of The Rings, which was voted the most important literary work of the twentieth century, and I won’t even mention the three blockbuster movies based on it that were directed by Peter Jackson and filmed in (hello, Katherine) New Zealand -- also wrote a wonderful little short story called Leaf by Niggle. If you can figure out what it is about from the title alone, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din. No, you must actually read the story, and even then you may not know what it is about.

Here it is. I’ll wait.

Leaf by Niggle

So now that you have finished reading it, and without referring to someone else’s ideas somewhere online or in an actual book, tell me in a comment what you -- yes, you -- think Tolkien meant to convey.

I’m hoping for a lively discussion.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

As they say in Louisiana, “How’s bayou?”

Today I woke up with this song running through my head:

Goodbye, Joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh,
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou;
My Yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh,
Son of a gun, we’ll have good fun on the bayou.

Jambalaya, ’n a crawfish pie ’n a filet gumbo,
Cause tonight I’m gonna see my
ma chere amie-oh,
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.

It was a popular song way back when in the fifties, and although the performer I remember hearing sing it was Jo Stafford, it was a Hank Williams song.

Jambalaya, for the uninitiated, is a Cajun dish, a version of paella. Perhaps you heard Justin Wilson (“How y’all are!”) talk about it on his PBS cooking show or saw him make it on more than one occasion (“I gar-on-tee!”). Perhaps not. Jambalaya is also, as it turns out, the name of a Canadian racehorse.

If you want to know more about Jambalaya, the song, click here.

If you want to know more about jambalaya, the dish, click here.

If you want to know more about Jambalaya, the racehorse, click here.

If you don’t want to know more about Jambalaya (the song) or jambalaya (the dish) or Jambalaya (the racehorse) or Jo Stafford or Hank Williams or Justin Wilson, you may now return to your colorless life relatively unscathed.

You were expecting maybe Maria Callas?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

It cannot possibly be August 1st

But it is. Where does the time go?

Even old Mother Earth is confused. This past week the temperature reached 103 degrees Fahrenheit in Seattle but only 78 here in Atlanta. Global warming? Global cooling? Global climate change? Are we ushering in a new ice age? Are we all going to be burned to a crisp? I wish the experts would make up their minds. In the meantime, I plan to sit here in the shade with a nice glass of iced tea.

I spent the summers of my youth in Texas, where many consecutive days above 100 degrees were (was?) the norm. Hot and dry and brown they were, too, because the grass had been dead since June.

August was originally named Sextilis in Latin, because it was the sixth month in the ancient Roman calendar, which started in March about 735 BC. It became the eighth month either (a) when January and February were added to the beginning of the year by King Numa Pompilius about 700 BC or (b) when January and February were moved from the end to the beginning of the year about 450 BC. August was renamed in honor of Augustus Caesar in 8 BC because several of the most significant events in his rise to power fell in this month. August had 29 days in the Roman Republican calendar, but Augustus took two days from February and gave them to August when Sextilis was renamed in his honor. And just so you know, July was originally called Quintilis in Latin, since it was the fifth month in the ancient Roman calendar, before January became the first month of the calendar year. It was renamed for Julius Caesar, who was born in that month. And that, kiddies, is why our ninth through twelfth months (September, October, November, and December) are based on the Latin words for seven, eight, nine, and ten, respectively.

My Dad used to sing a little song in German: Ach, du lieber Augustine, Julgustine, Augustine, Ach, du lieber Augustine, something something something.

He also would say something in what he said was Czech that supposedly meant “Nice girl, give me a kiss.” It sounded to me like Hesky hokey damey, hubiscu.

I’m hallucinating. The August heat must have gotten to me. All the way from Seattle.

P as in Predicament, B as in Barbiturate, O as in Ophthalmologist

Somewhere in the back of my mind I think we may have talked about this before, long ago perhaps, but we're going to talk about it again....