Wednesday, July 31, 2019

And God planted a tree in the midst of the garden

I don't mean in the Garden of Eden. I mean on the hill behind our house. This crape myrtle tree (or crepe myrtle tree, if you prefer) suddenly grew this year where one never had grown before.

Whether a seed was carried by the wind or dropped by a passing bird I have no idea. I only know we had no pink blossoms there before and now we do. It's a small miracle, an unexpected gift, and we are grateful.

For some reason I cannot fathom, the sudden appearance of the new crape/crepe myrtle put me to thinking about my Dad’s family. You remember my Dad -- I blogged about him earlier this month. When this photo of him was taken back in 1963 he was 57 years old:

That photo is cropped from a larger picture that was made on the day Mrs. RWP (okay, Ellie) and I were married. Here's proof:

Ellie's parents are on the left. On the right are my Dad and his third wife Mildred, my stepmother. My mother had died five years earlier.

Here he is at the right of another photo that was made in the mid-1930s in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. On the left are Dad's parents, Elmer and Edith Brague. The young man behind them is either Dad's oldest brother Art or his brother Leo. The woman at Dad's side is his first wife, Hildred (with an H, not an M), a woman I didn't know existed until I was an adult. My mother, Ruth, was Dad's second wife, in-between Hildred and Mildred. Ted Brague was not my biological father but he was the only one I ever knew.

Dad was the youngest of five brothers -- Art, John, Leo, Dan, and my dad Clifford Ray, known as both Ray and Ted but never as Clifford. Go figure. Stranger things have happened, I'm sure.

Here is Uncle Art's family in the mid to late 1940s. He is with his wife Anna and daughters Shirley, Peggy, Isobel, Barbara, and Sandra. The oldest child, a son, Dick, was already married by this time.

Uncle Dan died of a brain tumor at age 32. In the photograph below are Uncle Leo, Grandpa Elmer, and Uncle Dan's widow, Leila, with Dan's children Evelyn and Donald. Leila later married again and the children became Routsons instead of Bragues.

Here is Uncle John with his family -- wife Martha on the left, and daughters Elaine, little Daveen, and Trudy (really Gertrude). On the right in the traditional Ted Brague spot is Grandpa Elmer. This photo is probably from around 1938-1940 after Grandma Edith (also called Lillian) had passed away.

Here's another picture of Uncle John's girls with their mother. By the time I met Uncle John in 1962, Martha had been long since divorced and he was married to Gladys.

Here's another photo of Uncle Dan's family (Leila, Evelyn, and Donald).

And this post happened all because of this:

P.S. -- In the fall of 1966, three years after the wedding photo was made, my Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died five months later on March 3, 1967, a couple of months before his 61st birthday. At the time of his death he weighed about 90 pounds.

P.P.S. -- It occurs to me that perhaps I have been like a tree planted in the midst of the Brague garden. Or not. I must think on this further.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Could it be? (Dear FBI/CIA, this is what is called political satire)

Exhibit A, U.S. President Donald Trump:

Exhibit B, U.K. Prime Minister-designate Boris Johnson:

Exhibit C, 1960 horror film Village of the Damned:

Your reaction:

A. Suspicions confirmed.
B. Worst fears realized (U.S.)
C. Worst fears realised (U.K.)
D. We may be on to something.
E. They may be on something.
F. Separated at birth.
G The end is near.
H. All of the above.

My prediction: We will all go to H.

Friday, July 19, 2019

I learned a new word this week



Without googling it or looking it up in an authoritative reference source, give us a guess as to what you think siniristilippu means.

I'll give you a hint. It has something to do with Finland.

Is it A, the Finnish flag?

Is it B, this Finnish favourite, a delicious split pea soup?

Or is it C, this charming Finnish folk dance (3:09)?

Go to the comments section and state your choice, along with your reason for choosing it, now. Then come back and read the rest of the post.

I have met two people from Finland in real life, and a third person whom I knew only through cyberspace.

The first was my French teacher at university, Mme. Deschner. She was from Helsinki and had studied French in Switzerland. She was a lovely woman whose accent when speaking English was quite charming. To me she sounded like Ingrid Bergman. I was sure that when I spoke French it would be with a Finnish-Swiss accent. At the end of the semester Mme. Deschner told me I sounded Parisian, quite cosmopolitan. I wonder why.

The second is a man in our church, Wayne Rasku, who moved to Georgia from Pompano Beach, Florida. Turns out we know some of the same people.

The third, my cyberspace-only friend, was Dr. John Linna, a Lutheran pastor from Neenah, Wisconsin, who died several years ago. His blog was charming (there’s that word again) because it contained not only talking dragons but also a whole village in his basement. Dr. John wove wonderful tales and I miss him.

Now to reveal the answer to our little quiz. It will be obvious when I tell you that in Finnish sini means blue, risti means cross, and lippu means flag.

Blue Cross Flag.

The answer is A.


For your information, the split pea soup is called hernekeitto and the dance is called rihmarulla.

Now we are completely Finnished, er, finished.

Friday, July 12, 2019

I'm a Yankee Doodle dandy

Not me. I'm referring to George M. Cohan, a vaudevillian from long ago who was born on the Fourth of July (2:38).

In much of the world, Yankee means American. In the American south (the former Confederacy), however, Yankee means anyone from up north.

This post is going to be an unflattering but realistic and possibly even affectionate portrait of my father.

In the small town in Texas where we moved when I was a child, my father was called Yankee by many people. Some of them didn't even know his real name. It was a nickname that stuck. He talked funny -- different from them -- because he had grown up in Wisconsin and Iowa. He didn't say "yes, ma'am" like everybody else, he said "yes, mom". That alone was enough to raise eyebrows. He said crick instead of creek and ruf instead of roof. He had lots of non-Southern phrases such as "quick, like a bunny" and "in two shakes of a lamb's tail".

The thing he said that I remember most is "Don't cry or I'll give you something to cry about."

Billy Ray Barnwell (not Sheriff Billy Ray Barnwell, a role played by actor Muse Watson in the film Morgan's Ferry, but someone I made up who rents space inside my head the way Donald Trump does with the mainstream media, and vice versa) included a long passage about my father in Chapter 2 of his book/blog Billy Ray Barnwell Here because my dad is, in a manner of speaking, his dad too. Billy Ray is known for his long, rambling paragraphs and unusual punctuation. If you have seen it before, it simply can't be helped. You're about to see it again.

Here it is:

Chapter 2

Billy Ray Barnwell here, in one of these little chapters or vignettes or whatever they are I absolutely positively must get started on a poem or essay or something really literary, boy it sure is hard being an author, there are so many possibilities to choose from that some days I can’t focus at all, maybe I could find me a pill I could take for that, but I sure wouldn’t want to become dependent on drugs like Udella Mabry’s cousin Virgil Abernathy did, that was a really sad case, but after he finished doing his time he went to school and became the town pharmacist, so all’s well that ends well, to coin a phrase. I do know this is not going to be a novel because if I were going to write me a novel the characters would already be saying things like “It don’t make me no never mind” and “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” things I would never say in real life. I wish I could think of something interesting to write about today, nothing ever happens in this one-horse town, I will just keep pouring the words onto the paper and maybe something good will come of it, I have faith in the process. Mr. Morris said the only way to become a writer is to write, I don’t know why it took me so long to actually do it, Udella said the other day just think this is how Ernest Hemingway got started and I said I like William Faulkner better, then Udella’s buddy Juanita chimed in and said she didn’t care for Faulkner and I asked her why not and she scrunched up her face for a minute like she was trying to decide why herself and finally she said “too many words” well let me tell you I was flabbergasted, it was just like that scene in that Amadeus movie where the Italian composers tell the king or duke or whatever he is that Mozart’s music has too many notes, well in my opinion we should all have too many notes like Mozart or too many words like Faulkner, even though he did tend to use words like “scrofulous” and “phylacteries” and “lugubrious” and “mendaciously,” Faulkner I mean, not Mozart, which always sent me scurrying to the dictionary, wait a minute, hold the fort, that isn’t Faulkner I’m thinking of, that’s Thomas Wolfe, talk about a man who used too many words, O by the lost and wind-grieved ghost come back again my eye, why couldn’t he just write about simple things, a stone, a leaf, a door, that’s a joke for all you literary types, I’m sure it will bring great guffaws in English departments at universities all across this wonderful land of ours, and for those of you who don’t get the joke, I don’t want to ruin your concentration by explaining it, the joke I mean, not your concentration.

I wouldn’t want to think the well is running dry or anything, but all I can think to tell you about right now are things my father used to say, such as using a condom is like wearing socks to take a shower, or when you eat beans if you also eat macaroni you will get a pipe organ effect, or the ever popular pull my finger, he was a real delight to know, I didn’t think so then and I don’t think so now, in fact I prayed many times for him to be gone and now that he is I miss him more than I like to admit, damn was his favorite adjective and hell was his favorite noun, he smoked Chesterfield cigarettes like they were going out of style and between him and Mama the ashtrays at our house were always full and the air was always blue with smoke, and in spite of all of that or maybe because of it he started teaching the men’s Sunday School class at the Methodist church, you couldn’t make this stuff up, truth is stranger than fiction, I guess I should cut him some slack, he was a good man trying to do his best, he served in the U.S. Navy during the Second World War as a machinist’s mate, whatever that is, on a ship called the PCE869, which PCE stands for Patrol Craft Escort, I know because he talked about the Navy every single day of his life and it is emblazoned in my brain along with the Great Lakes Naval Training Center and the Panama Canal Zone that has towns named Cristobal and Colón and when you say Colón it is not like the part of your body that is somewhere between your stomach and your anal sphincter, it is like the cologne that a man might want to splash on various parts of his body before going out on a big date so that if a person got close enough to smell him that person would end up smelling the cologne and not the body parts, oh by the way Cristobal Colón means Christopher Columbus in Spanish, he drove me absolutely bonkers, my father I mean, not Christopher Columbus, but he did have what every man wants and what every woman dreams about, Udella please tell Juanita she can stop laughing, I’m talking about a weekly paycheck, he was a good provider, for nearly twenty years he worked at Consolidated Vultee Aircraft which changed its name to Convair and then changed it again to General Dynamics Corporation, he was a turret lathe and milling machine operator, he helped build the wing assemblies of the B-36, B-58, and F-111 airplanes with guys named Jim Hodges and Ike Pemberton and Finn Wahl, and he rode thirty-four miles each way to work in a car pool with guys named Bill Poe and Wayne Harmon and Hubert Beard, his round dark green plastic-covered badge said he was employee number 183473, Daddy’s badge I mean, not Hubert Beard’s, not that I ever really noticed, then he got sick and died about a year and a half before he would have been eligible to retire and it’s a damn shame, pardon my French, that he died of pancreatic cancer, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone so be careful what you pray for because you just might get it, and it is way past time to end it for now, this is Billy Ray Barnwell your roving reporter signing off.

(end of Chapter 2)

Okay, so it's not Remembrance Of Things Past by Marcel Proust, but it is what it is.

Saturday, July 6, 2019


...was not only a very interesting year -- the list of shipwrecks alone is staggering -- it is also the number of posts (including this one) that I have created since this blog began in September 2007.

I wonder if I will make it to 2000 posts.

As an example of how interesting 1761 was, here is the entry for August 11th:

Two years after his marriage to Martha Custis and his move to Mount Vernon, retired British Army General George Washington advertises a reward in the Maryland Gazette for the capture of four fugitive slaves, named Cupid, Peros, Jack, and Neptune, averring that they had escaped "without the least suspicion, provocation, or difference with anybody."

Yes, friends, our beloved George Washington was a slave owner.

Live and learn.

I am now 78 years, 3 months old, going on 78 years, 4 months. If my wife and I are both alive on February 20th next, we will have been married longer than her parents were, namely 56 years, 9 months and 1 day.

Mrs. RWP, who was/is a registered nurse with years of hospital experience, says that you can tell when men are getting old when they stop talking about sex and start talking about constipation.

I talk about neither.

I must be timeless.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

From the archives (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.

[Editor's note (July 3, 2019): I was looking at some old posts yesterday -- I like to scroll down through the labels in the sidebar and click on things that tickle my fancy -- and ran across this one. Ten years have passed since it was written (we have now lived in this house 16 years, not six), and things have changed a bit. No longer do the people on our street look up at the neighbors' houses on the other street or they down on us because Mother Nature, as is her wont, erected a veritable forest of pine trees on the hillside between us. There is now a modicum of privacy, even in the winter months, that we didn't enjoy before. Also, and I say this to my shame, there is a factual error in what I wrote. Yes, friends, rhymeswithplague can make mistakes. There is -- I struggle to say it -- no "side yard drainpipe" installed by the developers at all, just the one drainpipe further back. What I thought was flowing from a side yard drainpipe is actually the natural flow of water coming off the hill from the neighbors on the higher lot beside us. The effect is still the same, though. The natural Monongahela River still merges with the drainpipe's Allegheny River to form the Ohio River in our back yard every time a torrential rain occurs. One other change that also occurred is that Peggy and Rube, our neighbors on the Monongahela side, are now in their nineties and decided to move into an assisted-living facility. The house is now occupied by their grandson and his wife and a teen-aged great-grandson. It is still the Nelson house but the Nelsons are different. Time does march ever onward, and the Ohio River apparently goes on forever. --RWP]

Monday, July 1, 2019

Carpe diem

Apropos of nothing, today -- July 1st -- is the 156th anniversary of the beginning of a little something that heppened in 1863 that we now call the Battle of Gettysburg. That battle lasted three days, involved the largest number of casualties of the entire U.S. Civil War, and is often described as the war's turning point.

My cyberfriend kylie-sonja in Australia wrote a post in her blog yesterday about attending the retirement service of Amanda, a friend of hers who recently completed a 37-year career as a minister in the Salvation Army. She didn't mention the Salvation Army but I recognized the uniforms. At the end of her post, kylie included a quotation from Nancy H. Kleinbaum's novel Dead Poets Society:

“We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

Kylie said that Amanda's verse is love, joy & service and that she doesn't see retirement changing that.

Since the title of kylie's post was "What will your verse be?" I thought about the question a long time and left the following longer-than-usual comment:

Back when I stopped coding and testing computer programs for IBM for a living and began writing their technical manuals instead, one particularly frustrating period made me ask myself this question:

At the end of my life, how important will putting books together for IBM have been in my long list of accomplishments?

I am now 78 and I know the answer to that question.

Not very.

I have been blogging now for nearly 12 years and the answer about that particular endeavor is probably the same.

Not very.

Nowadays I am grateful to see that my children's lives and accomplishments and my grandchildren's lives and accomplishments are the verse that I have contributed. I know that the powerful play does, indeed, go on and on. And I am grateful to have been a part of it.

"The Harvest of Death": Union dead on the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, photographed July 5 or July 6, 1863, by Timothy H. O'Sullivan. Public domain.

<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...