Another Voice in the Crowd

Monday, November 25, 2013

They say that there are a few events in history so unforgettable that everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing at the time. September 11, 2001 was one of them. But for my generation, the first was President Kennedy’s assassination.

There are many voices out there right now to tell you where they were and what they were doing at the time. But by the 75th anniversary of President Kennedy’s death, most of those voices will be gone, and mine could be one of them. So this is the time to record my recollections for posterity, or at least for my own descendants.

On November 22, 1963, I was an 8th grader at DeTour Township School in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. (That’s DeTour in the picture.) It was a small town, and the one-story brick building included all the grades. The elementary school classrooms were at one end, the high school classrooms were at the other, and junior high was sort of in the middle, although it shared some rooms with the high school.

I was in one of those shared rooms. Technically it was the home economics classroom, but it was also used for sex education (segregated by gender), and study hall. It was also the only room in the school with a television set.

I don’t remember the specific reason I was there that day, although I have a vague impression that it was a study hall. But I do remember the school secretary rushing in, crying. She said something like, “Turn on the TV. The President’s been shot.” We sat there watching the coverage until the principal announced that school was cancelled for the rest of the day.

School was also cancelled on Monday for the funeral. My first reaction was happiness. Not for the cause, of course, but because we had just recently gotten our first TV, and I was looking forward to watching the daytime shows.

But this was before cable, and all three channels showed the funeral procession and the funeral with flashbacks to and commentary on the assassination. I was totally bored. Now, that sounds callous. But at the time, I saw the world through twelve-year-old eyes.

It was, however, the first time I paid attention to national or world news. Even though I had lived in Jordon and Scotland by then, President Kennedy’s assassination changed “current events” from a school subject into a living one.

November 22, 1963. A day I will never forget.

Prepared for the Worst

Monday, November 18, 2013

At this time of year, the picture could show people lined up waiting for the door to open and the Black Friday sales to start. But in fact, this is a picture of people crammed inside a store waiting to get out. Or, in most cases, waiting to return to their shopping.

I wanted to get something from Target yesterday. The Chicago Bears game had just been suspended because of the threat of severe weather and tornados. Still, the satellite picture seemed to indicate that I’d have time to run my errands before the bad weather hit our town.

But the storm traveled faster than I did.

I had just finished checking out but was still in the store when the staff announced that we should leave our carts where they were and follow employees to a safe area. They had walkie-talkies and were monitoring them, and one employee led us to an interior hallway. More and more people kept coming, and soon we were packed in, not quite like sardines, but without a lot of personal space. You can get an idea from the picture, which I took with my phone.

The staff let us know when the threat was over, and we went back to our business. I doubt that the storm lasted more than half an hour, but when I left the store I drove through flooded streets, and the news was full of reports of tornados touching down in the surrounding areas.

Target had a plan, and the staff knew how to execute it. I was impressed.

And grateful.

Honoring America's Veterans

Monday, November 11, 2013

On this Veterans’ Day, I want to honor my two Navy men and all the men and women whose service has made this country strong. But I’m not going to use my own words, because Ralph Waldo Emerson said it much better than I can.

A Nation's Strength

Ralph Waldo Emerson

What makes a nation's pillars high
And its foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng? 
It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock. 
Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
Of empires passed away;
The blood has turned their stones to rust,
Their glory to decay.
And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
Has seemed to nations sweet;
But God has struck its luster down
In ashes at his feet.
Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor's sake
Stand fast and suffer long.
Brave men who work while others sleep
Who dare while others fly...
They build a nation's pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.

Thank you for your service.

Autumn in the Midwest

Monday, November 4, 2013

Saturday I drove to Indianapolis for a writers’ luncheon. On the way down, the sun was still fighting the darkness and a fine mist veiled the scenery, so I barely noticed the trees. But on the return trip, the sun highlighted the gorgeous fall colors.

That and a few lines in a poem written by a friend inspired me to write this one.

A Feast for the Eyes

Driving alone I-65,
The trees are a candy store assortment
Of cinnamon, tangerine drops, and butterscotch. 

Walking through a duneland forest,
The path is a farmstand cornucopia
With cranberries, walnuts, and butternut squash. 

Living autumn days,
The landscape is a Midwest banquet
That feasts the eyes while feeding the soul.