"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The ends of July

This is the 21st post this month, and this July marks the fourth most visited month in more than three and a half years, with more than 3,100 hits.
A year ago, I wrote about my Dad's glasses.  I had 20 posts that month.
Two years ago, I carried photographs of my granddaughter, Liberty...who just this month became a big sister. I had 19 posts that month.
Three years ago, I carried photos of a lemonade stand that granddaughters Erin and Abby Bell and I painted. The first July of my blog , it had 70 posts, the second most of any month. The blog started in early May, 2009. There have been many posts and miles since then. I'm grateful that it's still going--thus in a minority.
The blog has changed, as I have, from almost complete writing to include photography, videos and artwork. More changes are in store, soon, as I mark the passing years, and explore the future ones.
The first photo on the blog, May 15, 2009
titled, "Three old Farts"--Hanebutt, Clark and Hickman

Monday, July 30, 2012

Portraits of the prof, as an old man

It's interesting to me that the young'uns think this is cool (including cool step-daughter Alexx Reger) while the older ones want me to shave.  And Dave Rhea of  the Journal Record, "Fear the beard." I'd quote my friend and mentor Ben Blackstock of OPA, but it would be profane, starting with an "F "and concluding with 'em!"
So here they are, post-Alaska, post type A:

"Global-ization"--blogging around the world

Just over a month ago, I counted people in 73 different countries on six of the seven continents have been clicking on this blog. That is fascinating, and shows how the world has changed with digital media, and how widespread English is as a language. I still  wonder who and why people around the world read this.  My goal is now to get at least one reader, not a penguin, in Antarctica. http://clarkcoffee.blogspot.com/2012/06/internationally-speaking.html 
But since that time,  readers in 12 more countries have joined in. Here's a list of countries where they live:
  • Europe--Norway, Hungary, Czech Republic
  • Africa--Burundi, Mali, Morocco, South Africa
  • Caribbean-Trinidad and Tobago
  • Asia--Taiwan
  • Mideast--Jordan
  • Central America--Guatemala
  • Oceania--New Zealand 

"All aboard!" in Fort Worth

Us kids always want to be the engineer.
I rode a big train (Amtrak) and a little train, Forest Park Railroad in Fort Worth this weekend, with Susan and friends Roy and Jill Kelsey. So much fun. This was my second trip ton the Forest Park train, about a 30 minute ride, cost $3,00. It was close to 100 degrees out there, but so what? Here's a video and a couple of views of what it's like to be a kid (still). More info and photos to come of the entire trip. Previous post is at http://clarkcoffee.blogspot.com/2010/08/all-aboard.html

Thursday, July 26, 2012

"Slide show" of memories

It's all about time and memories.
I thought it was about cleaning out the garage and tackling a long-postponed task--going through the hundreds of old photographic slides of my early adult family life and the lives of my wife and children.
They've been sitting out there in the garage for a decade, gathering dust.
Remember the slide shows? One of the first I remember was when my uncle Mike came to our Albuquerque home in the very early 60s. He'd been teaching in Ecuador, and brought some slides of his trip to Peru and Machu Picchu. We set up the slide project and screen in the front room, and watched slides until early morning. I remember because after midnight, Mom made scrambled eggs and bacon.
I'd forgotten about that until I started going through Mike's travel slides this week, sorting and discarding. I inherited them after his death, and they'd been in the garage. He had about 15 trays of slides out there, from his world travels.
Right next to them were the stacks of my slides, which I started taking just before I got married in the early 60s about when Mike was taking his. Slides seemed the obvious choice--they didn't fade and were cheaper than photo prints. Given turmoil and passing time, I've put off going through those slides, but I've realized as I age, that my children need copies of these, so today, I grabbed one tray and started going through them. I didn't stop.
Remember the slide tray carousels that held up to 100 slides? I couldn't afford the Kodak that held 80 slides, and bought a Sawyers that held 100, and fitted in vertically. Kodak's fit on top of the Ektagraphic projectors. Compared to today's projection systems hanging from the ceiling, and powered screens that lower from the ceiling, they were clunky. But unlike today's Powerpoint presentations, that commit blasphemy by using the term "slide show," very little copuld go wrong. Sure you had to level the projector on a table. Then you either hung a sheet from the wall, used a blank wall, or erected a clunky tripod based screen to show slides on. About the only worry was the projector bulb going out, and whether you can put the slides in right side forward and upside down. The remote was attached by a wire and always worked.
In recent years, Mike had to buy projectors and parts at pawn shops. Now they're cheap and available on ebay, labeled "vintage." I guess I'm "vintage." I gave away his last one recently, but I've got about 15 of his  carousels sitting in the garage, next to several of mine, empty now.
The memories aren't empty.
I brought all those slides in, and held each one up to the light, squinting away to see which ones to keep and not. I've found photos of my Mom and Dad and grandmother with our kids, my wife's parents and grandparents, our wedding, our moves to Iowa and back, places we traveled like Canada, New Mexico, Missouri, Texas, and our children, from a disproportionate share of the first born, but including them all, up until the last batch, when my daughter was a teen. There are glimpses of houses lived in and cars owned. When the world seemed simpler and full of hope and future.
"I guess I'm 'vintage.' "
I've tried to sort them, disposing of the ones that have faded or don't mean anything, writing some on the paper or plastic borders. I am reminded of why I chose slides, because, after 40 and 50 years,  most of them still have excellent color. Remember the terms on those borders, always neatly numbered in the paper or plastic cartons of 20 or 124 they came in? Kodachrome, Etachrome, Anscochrome. Made in USA, Made in England. And the labs that did the work, like Owl in Weatherford, and Fox.
Now they're in stacks or a couple of the slide trays. I'm getting ready to have them scanned to DVDs so my children can have copies of all this family history. They'll enjoy most, and perhaps grieve over some...as I have. I hesitate to send these off, to let them out of my hands to scan into digital form on a DVD, but it'll take me too long to handle more than 600 of them.
It won't be slides I'm putting in the mail...
It's time and memories.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Seaplane adventure

I first saw the DeHavilland Beaver float planes in Alaska, taxiing up to the wharf in Juneau, unloading and loading passengers and taking off again, past the crowded cruise ships to view the glaciers. I didn't get the chance to do that, but our ride in the little Cherokee into Skagway whetted my appetite. So when we visited Seattle a week ago, and I saw rides in float planes available off of Lake Union, I just had to do it, taking off and landing on water.
Here's what it's like, about 1,000 feet up, a little over 100 knots airspeed,, including a video of the landing.  The airline, Kenmore Air, owns several of the classic Beavers--with radial engines, and Otters, with turbine engines, and provides air service up into the San Juan Islands and  other remote places in Washington State and Canada. It has its own magazine, Harbors, and terminals at Lake Union in north seattle and at Bowing field in south Seattle, plus shuttles to Seatac airport. What a life. http://clarkcoffee.blogspot.com/2012/06/flight-of-fancyto-skagway.html

Ready for takeoff
Pilot over Seattle

Looking down at the float, and Puget Sound

The Space Needle from a different view
One of the Otters getting ready

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Backyard friends at 100 degrees plus

It's over 100 degrees out there, and our friends like our shady backyard.

Hitchhiker kit--fellow travelers--part 2

She stood in the shade of a tree near the bookstore, three medium-sized pet carriers strapped to the back of a two-wheeled cart by her side.
Inside were two cats. An almost grown German Shepherd puppy sat at her feet.
I went in the bookstore on an errand, came out 15 minutes later, and she was still there.
In her 30s or 40s, she was clean, average build, short dark hair. She wore walking shorts, a T-shirt, walking shoes and a fanny pack. And there was the cart filled with possessions and pets.
I hesitated, drove by, and almost left before I changed my mind. I came back, rolled down the window and asked a dumb question, “Are you a traveler?”
“Yes,” she said in a soft voice. She was from California and said she was going to Louisiana. Walking.
The day before, I’d replenished my hitchhiker kit because the week before I’d given one to a man from New Jersey.
He had a backpack and a dog too, and was headed for a secluded spot to spend the night in Oklahoma City. The sun was going down and he looked tired and hungry, as did the pooch. I passed him, turned around and stopped to give him the sack. He said. “God bless you.”
Now I opened the door to get the sack full of two Gatorades, two water bottles, peanut butter and crackers and toothpaste and toothbrush. I handed it to her.
“Thank you. I’m a Christian. God bless you,” she said. I said, “You’re welcome and God bless you too.”
“He already has,” she said, smiling.
Two hours later I returned to the bookstore to play chess with friends. She was still there, waiting out the heat of the day, drinking Gatorade and feeding the dog some crackers.
Inside, I told my friends about her and we watched through the window for a few minutes, as she tended to her cart and animals, watching storm clouds.
A young man sitting nearby listened to my story. He soon left, but 15 minutes later he drove up in his pickup. He got out and handed her two grocery sacks of items. Then he drove away.
When the chess game was over, I looked up and she was gone.
I lost the game, but it didn’t matter.

A hitchhiker's kit...fellow travelers- part 1

I call it the hitchhiker kit, though usually it's not for hitchhikers these days.
The idea came one brutally hot August day on I-35 a few years ago as I zoomed past three  people on the side of the road near Guthrie…man, woman and child--hitchhiking. They were suffering in the 100-degree plus heat, hoping for a kind soul. I had nothing to offer them, and today you just don't pick up hitchhikers, do you?
Of courses they're dirty and sweaty, and sunburnt and not in the best of clothes. You wouldn't be either if you stood alongside the highway with semis and diesel fumes blowing past every few seconds. "Blistered" is the word that comes to mind.
Back in my Dad's day, in the Depression,hitchhiking was "just another form of transportation," as he once said. No longer, considering the risks you put yourself to. (Actually, I've picked up two hitchhikers in my life, and lived to tell about it…one near Edmond heading north and a soldier at Lubbock, heading north, but that's another story)
But the sight of those folks changed the way I travel. I may not stop and give them a ride, but I can give them something.
So now I go to Target and buy four jars of peanut butter, an eight pack of Gatorade and bottled water, a box of saltines, a box of Poptarts or something similar, a package with cups of fruit cocktail, and four of those little traveling toothbrushes and toothpaste. Total cost, maybe $10-$15. With this I get free plastic sacks for my hitchhiker kit. Then I go to McDonalds and liberate some packages of plastic spoons, forks and napkins. At home, the ingredients are divied up into four sacks, tied at the top and put in the back of my car.
"I have been a sojourner in a strange land." Exodus 22:2
"Most of the time these days, I hand those bags out to people standing along the roads with cardboard signs saying they're hungry or homeless. Two of the most recent were travelers under an I-35 underpass in the rain, late in the day. Another was near the I-40 exit at Tucumcari to a woman traveling by herself. More have been to people standing along roadsides here in Oklahoma City.
Most of them say "God bless you," when you hand them something. I'm sure a few are repeat panhandlers, though I can usually tell the difference. Some only want money and may be scam artists. But usually, if they're standing on the roadside in blistering heat, you can tell they're genuinely in need.
I've figured something else out too. The opportunity to hand those hitchhiker kits out only comes when I need it the most. When I'm overly stressed and driving somewhere, or feeling sorry for myself, or angry at some injustice, or worried about something I think is major, I tend to happen upon these less fortunate folks standing at a corner. 
Sometimes I have to drive down to the next exit or around the block, and try to catch the stoplights right so I can stop the car in the lane of traffic, grab one out of the back of the car. Back in the car I go, roll down the window and idle up to hand the bag through the window to them, with words like, "Here's some food. Good luck."
"God bless you," is the usually response from a tanned or sunburned unshaven face, or a woman with scraggly hair, a worn backpack nearby, cardboard sign in their hands. 
Then I drive off in my air conditioned car, to my air conditioned house, with my job and family and credit cards and regular meals and a place to sleep and security---whatever was bothering me has disappeared. I so needed that gift.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Church Services--Grace in Grace's Kitchen

"Hey First Churchers,  Y'all still think you're the only ones going to heaven?" loudly joked rancher Pat  Shultz when Greg and Sue Caldwell and  others walked through the front door of Grace's Kitchen, late and sweaty because of Bob Bowen's rambling sermon in the church with the broken air conditioner.
Greg winced, and the raucous laughter of the other Methodists sitting at the two tables closest to the doors didn't help. Other members of the First Church tried to ignore the comments and headed for the back two long tables at the rear of the restaurant. Caldwell, owner of the newspaper who had to work with all faiths in town, managed a weak smile. He knew the best way to overcome that stereotype was to throw something back, but he didn't expect it on Sunday morning. He also knew knew that most of the other churches in town believed the same thing, but hadn't preached it.
Last to come in was Brother Bob, his short plump wife Ann, and slim church secretary Joanie "Blondie"  Johns, whose traveling salesman husband Ron was out of town again. Most of the members of First church were small business owners or retirees. The Methodists  were the town's professional people--bankers, lawyers, big ranchers, doctors, and richer retired folks. They included the mayor, school board and city council members.
The First Churchers had to navigate between smaller tables now occupied by Nazarenes in long dresses and and First Christian members, all of whom were please to have arrived before the First Church crowd, thanks to Bowen's long sermon. They smirk some, already getting their food from Blanche.
"Y'all gonna have a prayer first?" Shultz cackled back. Caldwell snapped back, "We don't need to, but you might consider it," bringing a roar of laughter from the Methodists, cringes from Caldwell's fellow members, and a tug on his arm to sit down from Sue, with a hissed "Shhhhh."
The Methodists just had too much fun, Caldwell thought, a fact resented by the First Church and other groups in town. Caldwell thought they just resented the Methodists enjoying and flaunting much social and political prominence in town.
"Being prominent in this town is like being a head latrine orderly," Caldwell had said to Shultz one time, drawing a frown, and then a laugh. Shultz responded, "Don't you drive a Dodge? I'd rather have a sister in a whorehouse than drive a Dodge."
Other First Church members were whispering about rumored wild parties some of the Methodists were having, including drinking and possible wife swapping. Then Blanche came up with a big pitcher of iced tea, and started pouring coffee for Greg, taking orders, "What'll it be?"
They all started to head to the buffet, but Greg ordered the chicken fry and pintos.
"Wait, we need to say grace," said Brother Bob, and the members hesitated.
"Hi, Graces," Greg yelled at the kitchen where Nancy and Bub Grace were cooking. "Now we've said 'Grace,' let's eat." The other members scrambled to the buffet line, the preacher and his wife didn't know what to say, Sue frowned, and the church secretary, Blondie, smiled.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Church Services"--Saying grace at Grace's Kitchen

Grace's Kitchen, "Where everybody says Grace," was owned by 260-pound cook Nancy Grace and her 120-pound husband Bub, a member of AA. She cooked, he helped.
The town's only Main Street Cafe specialized in chicken fried steak with pinto beans, and Nancy's homemade lemon meringue pie, but on Sundays they set up a buffet for church members, starting at noon and lasting till 2.
The cafe was in an old red brick building next to the Panhandle Index, the weekly newspaper office, 25 feet wide, with the kitchen in the rear in front of the one bathroom, a counter and open window facing the diners. The floor was bare cement, the walls bare brick except for photos of fishermen and their catches. 
Long folding tables for groups of six to eight and square tables  were covered with vinyl red and white checked tablecloths. Each table held salt and pepper shakers, a jar of catsup and of Tabasco sauce, a full pitcher of ice water, plastic glasses, paper napkins,  coffee cups, a single sheet laminated yellow menu, and a plastic  flower in a plastic vase. The chairs were plastic Walmart vintage lawn chairs. Yellow fluorescent lights, and two noisy ceiling fans hung from the ceiling.
Skinny Blanche Everson was the only waitress, gray hair rolled up in a bun on her head, thick glasses, stained apron, a pencil she never used for orders behind her ear, coffee pot permanently in her hand except when serving. It seemed she knew what every body wanted before they sat down and never forgot an order.
The Sunday buffet usually carried two "specials"--usually fried chicken and meatloaf, brown gravy, massed potatoes, pinto beans and green beans, plus the salad bar of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, relish, fake bacon bits, crackers, and ranch and Thousand Island dressing. The price had been $9.99 for as long as anyone could remember.
When church let out, the crowd was so thick you "couldn't shake a stick" at them, Blanche would say, and people lounged out on the sidewalk against a light pole in front of the diagonally parked cars or sitting in two benches, waiting for tables to vacate.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

"Church Services" -- Closing Prayer

Brother Daniel Bingham dozed in his usual spot, at the end of the pew seven rows back from the pulpit, next to the window.
Brother Bob Bowen, the pastor of First Church, was droning on  about some little known scripture, in a sermon he'd rehashed late last night from one of his Seminary research papers in Homiletics a year ago.
Most of the audience was fighting to stay awake, nervously looking at their watches, and the kids were fidgeting as mothers tried to keep them quiet with coloring books. Almost everybody was sweating and the ladies were all waving themselves with the cheap hand fans with a photo of the local funeral home on them, Wilmer W. Williams. Brother Daniel, the oldest deacon in the church at 79, was not alone with his head nodding now and then to his chest, where it'd touch and he'd jerk it up.
The air-conditioning had quit yesterday, so the windows were cracked while three ceiling fans silently wobbling high overhead in the auditorium, barely stirring the hot August air.
Brother Bob had been going about 30 minutes now, and the congregation was getting irritated. When he'd been hired five months ago, it was because his lessons were always 20 minutes or less, he was full of energy and young, and he'd take less salary and was willing to relocated to the small town, a long drive from the city. They were excited because they'd be the first of the Sunday church-going crowd to get to the only restaurant open, Grace's Kitchen.
Now, besides being hot and miserable,  they were going to be late again... they could hear the cars starting at the Nazarene church across the street.
At the last deacon's meeting, Brother Daniel and the other deacons had expressed their discontent with how Brother Bob had changed since he'd arrived. He usually played golf all day Saturdays and sat up late at night watching those talk shows, sleeping late in the mornings. And his sermons had gone from 15 to 20 minutes to well over 30 minutes--sometimes as much as 45 minutes. Their complaints had had no effect.
Yesterday when the air conditioner broke down, he didn't discover it until late in the day after coming in from the golf course to hastily rewrite his research paper into something of a sermon. It was too late to call a repairman.
 When they arrived at the stifling hot church this morning, the deacons needed all their Christian religion to keep from losing their tempers. They agreed to meet that evening, when it was cooler, to do something. Then the deacons asked Brother Daniel to lead the closing prayer for that day--in spite of being the oldest, he knew how to lead a short prayer.
But he'd dozed off, and beside him, his wife Sister Lucinda was patiently fanning herself with one of the funeral home fans, patting the sweat off her forehead with a lace hanky.
Just then, Brother Daniel started snoring, loud enough to be heard for several pews. Some of the nearby kids snickered, and the men smirked. It was all Sister Lucinda could take, and she jabbed him in the ribs with her free elbow.
Brother  Daniel jerked and jumped to his feet, eyes shut,  and began praying loudly in his strong baritone voice, interrupting Brother Bob in mid-sentence, to the horror of sister Lucinda and the amusement of the congregation.
"Heavenly Father, thank you for this beautiful day and the lesson from your word. Watch over  us this week. Forgive us of our sins and at last in heaven save us. In Christ name, Amen."
Then he opened his eyes. Brother Bob had stopped talking. The kids giggled. The other deacons  grabbed the opportunity and said "Amen," in unison and the congregation headed for the doors, with Brother Bob just standing in the pulpit.
Brother Daniel looked sheepish and Sister Lucinda scowled in embarrassment. Another deacon walked by, on his way out the door. Smiling, he reached to shake hands and said, "Great closing prayer."

Saturday, July 7, 2012

"Church services"--Introduction

"Give Brother Bob a ready recollection of what he has studied as he preaches your Word," Deacon Wayne, with eyes shut,  was praying from the pulpit when Harold Kelly slumped over in the pew, dead.
Sitting beside him, Sister Mary King heard the sound, opened her eyes and gasped. Deacon Wayne was still droning on at the front of the auditorium.  Her gasp caught the attention of another deacon, Samuel Lovett, who rose quietly, came over and checked  Kelly, and laid his head down in the pew. 
By this time, others in the surrounding pews had opened their eyes and were whispering. Deacon Lovett gingerly made his way to the podium and tugged Deacon Wayne's arm, interrupting the prayer and whispering that Kelly had died. Deacon Wayne then quickly recited, "Forgive us of our sins and at last in heaven save us. In the name of Jesus, Amen," so it would be properly heard on high.
Brother Bob Bowen had risen from his front pew in First Church, gone to the office to call an ambulance, and returned to tell the congregation that services were dismissed. Communion would be served at 6 pm that evening and that it would probably be best that the pot luck lunch be served as a dinner instead.
Kelly, 89 years old, had been laid on the cushions of the pew and Sister King was nearby weeping. Deacon Wayne was upset that his prayer had been interrupted, as was Brother Bob, who regretted not being able to preach today's lesson from the Sermon on the Mount about living today, and worried that the collection plate not being passed would hurt the church budget.
"At least there's no doubt he's gone to heaven," said Deacon Lovett. "I wish we could all go like that," said Sister King.
The children of the congregation, at first disappointed at missing out on the lunch, were already outside running around,  happy to get to go home early.
When the ambulance arrived, siren blaring and lights flashing, it interrupted the services of the Nazarene and Christian churches across the street, irritating those preachers as parishioners went outside to see what was going on.
Their children joined their friends across the street, laughing and happy to get out of boring church services. A few of the adults edged across the street as the First Church members filed out onto the lawn, asking in whispers about what had happened. As the ambulance attendants brought Kelly's body out on the gurney, adult scowls and  hissed "shhhs" silenced the children.
But as soon as the ambulance pulled away, the children were back running around, as the adults tried to shepherd them, complaining, back to their churches, and the pastors tried to coax the adults inside to the unfilled collection plates and unfinished sermons, even though it was almost noon.
To the relief and joy of the children, they all gave up as the First Church members headed for their parked cars, determined to beat the Sunday crowd to the town's only restaurant, Grace's Kitchen.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Astounding on July 4

"What was the most astounding thing you saw today," asked my wife Susan, about my drive into eastern Oklahoma County on July 4. I started to say nothing really...I'd gone to take photos of flags and a wooden caboose, and just to hunt. I came back with some photos, but nothing really remarkable, except time to myself to think and look.
But then it hit me. I was driving south on Sooner Road and turned west the wrong way on 36th Street. I went over the Canadian River bridge and came to something unexpected...a Buddhist temple. I drove by determined to turn around and take a photo, and at the corner, not a quarter mile from the temple was a Baptist church in Forest Park.
I thought... this symbolizes  what July 4 is all about... not a "Christian" nation, but a nation where people of all or no faiths can be welcome. People who are independent, and are free to follow their beliefs. Then I drove south to 23rd Street , through Spencer and Choctaw and east until I'd come to Harrah, giving up on finding anything else.
And there, getting ready to turn around, I saw the second most remarkable thing of the day in front of me. At the Harrah postoffice, Old Glory waves, but right under it was the POW MIA flag. It always attracts me, but you don't see many in this state...usually on homes of Vietnam vets who've lost buddies long ago. In New Mexico you see them everywhere, including over your head as you walk out of the Albuquerque airport. But here, in Harrah, some patriots have given the flag official designation.
Independence Day!

Road of memories

Wooden caboose at Choctaw, between the old Rock Island tracks and US 62. What stories could be told on what has now become a back road.. .

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Our flag

A door at Taos Pueblo


I can get in the car, drive several hours to Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico. Visit people. Camp out. 
No check points, no passports, no guarded borders.
I can buy a newspaper anywhere, go to bookstores, subscribe to magazines, turn on the TV to any channel, carry radios, my cell phone, access the Internet-- everywhere.
No questions, special forms, no suspicion.
I can stop at any church, walk in, and worship. I can gripe and campaign against or for about the governor, the courts, the legislature, the mayor, the school board, the police, the President, the Congress, the Supreme Court. No danger. No fear.
I can think what I want, and write it down. Publish it on paper or online. No worry.
So what?
People in North Korea can't can’t. Neither can people in Iraq. Nor people in China, Vietnam, Libya, Iran, other places.
I once toured Philadelphia, went to the old statehouse and Independence Hall. A really tiny room, with high ceilings and tall windows. Hot in the summer time. 
In this room, a group of men signed their names to a document. It could have been their death warrant. Treason usually is.
They tore down the English royal coat of arms. Members of the militia--armed for good reason--took the document outside and read it to the crowd.
Instead, it was a warrant for my freedom.
July 4, 1776.
“When in the course of human events....”
Independence Day.
Think about that as you read these words, as you pick up a book, go to church, turn on the TV, go visit relatives and friends, gripe about the government, or tot he lake, a fireworks show, a family dinner--all without fear.
Free, that’s what.
Free. It started with guts and words and conviction and commitment. It becomes real with blood and guts and more words.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Red, white and blue, and unhonored

They fought and died under the red, white and blue, but this July Fourth no flags will fly on most of their graves.
Part of Veteran's Rest Cemetery at Vicksburg,
where only 1,600 of 5,000 Confederate graves are identified
Yes, small American flags will decorate thousands of veterans’ graves in National Cemeteries across the country.
But in at least one city, less than a mile from such a cemetery, hundreds of white tombstones will not be honored, though they died fighting for their country. 
At Vicksburg in the National Cemetery, the Stars and Stripes decorates almost 20,000 Union graves rolling over the green bluffs above the Mississippi River, on part of the historic battlefield. Besides other veterans of all wars buried there, more than 18,000 men in blue who died in the battle and elsewhere rest there. An astonishing 13,000 of them are unknown.
Can you imagine not knowing what happened to your son, your brother, your husband—not where he was killed?
Yet only a few hundred yards away there is another military cemetery, with rows upon rows of uniform white gray tombstones, also of men who died in the battle. But no flags decorate their graves.
One of them reads “First Lt. John Roseberry, Mo. Vols., 1834-1863.” He was just 27 years old. 
Yes, overhead flies a red, white and blue flag…the Stars and Bars. A monument to a soldier stands in the middle…dedicated to “Our Confederate Dead.” A few of the hundreds of graves have tiny Confederate battle flags on them, but not many. 
Vicksburg fell to Grant’s Yankee siege on July 4, 1863—a day after Lee lost the battle of Gettysburg a thousand miles away.
For years Southerners didn’t celebrate July 4—for them it wasn’t Independence Day, but memories of a lost cause. Instead, the whitish-gray monuments went up at every courthouse, with lone soldiers looking north on perpetual guard.
In the North, especially New England, the DAR—Daughters of the American Revolution--keeps veterans’ graves decorated year ‘round. Go to any cemetery and small American flags decorate the resting places of veterans not just of the civil war, but the Revolution, 1812 and everything since. And flags and red, white and blue bunting decorates the porches and windows of hundreds of houses in every town.
The Yankees didn’t need a Sept. 11 to celebrate July 4 and fly the flag.
In Oklahoma, and most of the rest of the country before Sept. 11, car dealerships were about the only places, other than government buildings, where flags flew. Since, more and more flags are seen, hanging in windows, used as bumper stickers, and small ones flying from passing cars. Still though, in Oklahoma, they’re not as common as the red and white ones flaunting a college football team, or the blue ones for a basketball team.
We have something to learn this July Fourth, from both the Yankees and the South.
Independence Day should no longer just be a holiday. Defiance and pride are in order. The South—the only region of the country to lose a war and be occupied by enemy troops—can’t forget what happened—surrounded by monuments and unmarked and neglected graves in hundreds of private cemeteries. As time passes, and the UDC—United Daughters of the Confederacy--no longer decorates the Confederate graves as at Vicksburg, will the memory of the cost of the sacrifice fade?
The Yankees remember also, all the way back to the First July Fourth and how costly it was to raise the first Stars and Stripes.
This Independence Day, no veteran’s grave should be forgotten, and the flag that represents the travails and triumphs of a free people should be defiantly and proudly raised. 
What will you do about it, to keep July Fourth from just being a holiday?
Vicksburg National Cemetery

Gettysburg written in American blood

Barefoot and brave beyond measure, they stepped out of the trees into open fields of knee-high corn, forming ranks a mile long, a mile away from the enemy crouched behind a stonewall at the top of a ridge.
Fifteen thousand men, in butternut and gray, an army that had never tasted defeat, blood red battle flags raised high in the humid July afternoon.
A mile away, the blue-clad foe, battered by a two-hour long artillery barrage, gasped in amazement at the sight below them. The Army of Northern Virginia, advancing on the Army of the Potomac—the two best armies in the world. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. 

The "High Water Mark" where Virginians briefly crossed
that stone wall in Pickett's charge.
An hour and a half later, 10,000 Americans were dead and wounded. July 3, 1863. 

We give grand names to what happened: The High Water Mark, Pickett’s Charge, the Turning Point, America’s greatest battle. But there’s nothing grand about the carnage. About 51,000 Americans were killed, wounded or missing in three days, July 1-3. My eyes glisten as I think about all those men dying for their differing beliefs.
Pickett’s charge, which was also Pettigrew’s and Trimble’s charge, followed two days of terrible fighting with the outcome of the battle was still in doubt. Then General Robert E. Lee made the mistake. Confident in his seasoned veterans, he ordered the frontal assault.
Have you been there? I have, and seen the monuments and the graveyard, and walked the fields.  I don’t understand the courage of men marching to certain death, ironically toward “Cemetery” Ridge where the Federals waited. They walked into murderous artillery fire that obscured the field with smoke and dust. Point-blank artillery and rifle fire cut them to pieces. By the time they got within 25 paces of the stonewall they didn’t have the force to crack the Union line. They crossed the wall, but couldn’t hold. Two Pennsylvania units, suffering almost 50 percent casualties, met the charge and held.
Close up of the monument to the Pennyslvanians who met
and repelled the Virginians at The angle."
You’ve heard of the “Charge of the Light Brigade,” but that unit in another war lost 37 percent of its men. Paltry compared to American losses—on both sides—at Gettysburg and throughout the war. A Minnesota regiment lost 82 percent; a Pennsylvania unit, 75 percent. 23 Federal regiments lost more than 50 percent of their men. 
Three North Carolina Units were wiped out—100 percent. The 26th North Carolina had only 70 men left out of 895. The Carolinians lost one of every four people killed in the entire battle-- more than 20,000. Virginians? Sixty-seven percent of Pickett’s command of 5,500 men was gone. The others in the charge lost from 52 to 62 percent. 
In three days, Lee lost 28,000 men, more than a third of his army. Twenty of his best commanders were gone. The losses there were not unusual for the War…disease from wounds killed an alarming number. In four years of war, The Union lost 360,000 men—110,000 battle deaths and the rest to disease. The Confederacy, 94,000 in battle and 164,000 to disease. More losses for Americans than in all other wars combined.
Gettysburg National Cemetery, dedicated by Lincoln
with his immortal address...Only Union soldiers are
buried here.
After Gettysburg, Lee’s army never won again, never went on the offensive again, although the war lasted another two terrible years before the killing stopped. At Appomattox, he had only 26,000 troops left. 
Bravery beyond measure on both sides. Buford and Chamberlain saving the first two days for the Union, setting the stage of The Charge—raised from obscurity by the book “The Killer Angels” and the resulting movie “Gettysburg.” How can you not watch and cry? 
No wonder the South didn’t celebrate the Fourth of July for many years. Gettysburg, and the fall of Vicksburg a day later spelled a defeat and horror that lingered long.
Lincoln said it best, four months after the battle, dedicating the cemetery:
“…the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here….the world… can never forget what they did here….” 
Where Armistead died, looking back
over the mile of death after breaching the union
lines. Both flags honor him today,
and every July 4.
In spite of my Southern heritage, even though I automatically say “we” when speaking the Confederacy because my non-slave-owning ancestors wore gray, I believe the outcome from those bloody but heroic fields was best for this country. We grow freedom from defeats.
The red stripes on our flag are the blood of those who died at the Alamo, in the Bataan Death March, at Wake Island, at the Battle of the Bulge, at the Marine retreat at Chosin Reservoir, in Tet and at Khe Sanh, and in a thousand places…and at a place called Gettysburg.
As you celebrate your Independence this July Fourth, remember those thousands who died so bravely there 149 years ago.