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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why the Poppy?

You’ve probably noticed a number of veterans on the street offering red poppies for a donation for Disabled Veterans.

Have you ever wondered why the poppy? Why not a white rose? A yellow zinna?
Why is it the red poppy was chosen as the symbol of the respect and gratitude we owe those who have fought and died to keep America the land of the free?
Why was the red poppy selected as an icon of Memorial Day, which was once called Decoration Day?

Poppies have long been symbolic of sleep and death; sleep because of the opium and death because of their blood red color. In Roman and Greek mythology, poppies were used as offering to the dead, as emblems on tombstones to symbolize eternal sleep.

Remember The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy, the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man ran through the field of flowers and went to sleep? A field of poppies.

The seeds of the flower can remain dormant for years, but if the ground is turned, they will blossom spectacularly. There are over a hundred types of poppies of all colors in Europe where they grow like weeds according to my encyclopedia.

But, how did the poppy become the symbol of Memorial Day?

During World War I, a great battle occurred in the fields of Northern France, near Flanders. The ground was literally turned upside down from the devastating explosions.

The first of the flowers to bloom after the fight was red poppies, creating a beautiful red carpet covering the rolling hills and hiding the war-torn battlegrounds.

Lt. Col. John McCrae was a professor of Medicine at McGill University of Canada before World War I. He had served as a gunner in the Boer War, but went to France in World War I as a medical officer with the first Canadian Contingent.

In 1915, McCrae served in a Canadian hospital on the Essex Farm at the second battle of Ypres. Overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness at the futility of the horrifying war, McCrae stepped out of the operating room for a breath of fresh air.

The beauty of the vast fields of red poppies blanketing the undulating hills suddenly struck him. Taking pencil and paper, he captured that moment of artistic inspiration.

He managed to incorporate the vigor of the red poppy, the sacrifices made by the wounded and the dead, and the intensity of his obligation to them on that scrap of paper.

He did it with a poem that lives still today, one we’ve all heard, ‘In Flanders Fields’.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row by row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard among the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If yea break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

McCrae’s poem gained instant popularity.

He died three years later from pneumonia and meningitis. He was buried in a military cemetery near Calais on the English Channel, thus becoming one with those of whom he wrote in his famous poem.

Now, recognizing a day of respect for veterans goes back to 1866 when both the Union and Confederate dead were honored, but according to ANZAC, by the time of his internment, John McCrae's verse had forever bound the image of the red poppy to the memory of the Great War.

The poppy was eventually adopted by the British and Canadian Legions as the symbol of remembrance of World War One and a means of raising funds for disabled veterans.

And down through the decades, as the name of the day has broadened from a limited few to include all veterans of all wars, the poppy, that tiny red flower, has remained a shining symbol of a country’s respect and gratitude.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Technology $32.44; Me-0

I’ve pulled more dumb stunts in my life than I can count, but one of the dumbest was forgetting my cell phone in the pocket of my jeans when I tossed them in the washing machine.

Did you know those little cell phones are not waterproof?

Yep, the engineers never designed those little suckers to swim. At least mine wasn’t. Maybe some of the more expensive models know how, but they’d be way too expensive for me.

Anyway, I took the phone apart, used a hair dryer to dry it out, put it back together, and clicked it on.

I really wasn’t surprised when nothing lit up. The screen was blank. I plugged it in to the charger and got a few lights, but that was all.

Next morning, half the numbers functioned. The others were deader than a beaver hat. I may be dense, but even I recognized there was no way I could get by with only half the numbers.

While I’d had the phone six years, the extent of my expertise was limited--flip it open, punch in a number, hit speaker, and talk. Oh yeah, and hope my brain wouldn’t short-circuit trying to adjust to the pauses between each exchange of conversation.
So, knowing the little phone was beyond resuscitation, I bought a new one.

My first cost thirty-five a month. Naturally, taxes, service fees, transportation fees, FDIC fees, bird hazard fees, and any other they could tack on brought it up to forty-five.

Since I seldom use the phone, I purchased the cheapest package, the thirty-five dollar one, which I knew would be forty-five. When I learned I could receive pictures, I decided I wanted to send pictures also. Another five bucks plus fees and charges for a tidy fifty bucks.

My first bill was fifty-five. The extra five was some kind of tax. Antidisestablishment cybersocial services or something like that. They get you coming and going.

With this phone, I did more than with the first. I learned how to put in a contact list (I told you I was a virtual idiot with them), take and send pictures, and do some texting, which has to be the most boring, wasteful activity in a person’s life other than listening to a Republican harangue or a Democrat’s promises. (an Obama self-aggrandizing speech with all his posturing would fit in here also)

I even learned how to send pictures to my or another’s email, a chore that took me a couple weeks to master. In the time I’ve owned this phone, I’ve become a pest with questions at the small store where I purchased it. First time in, I couldn’t get pictures. The clerk looked at the phone, his fingers blurred as they punched numbers before he announced with a hint of disdain. “You’re not online.”

I stared blankly at him. “Am I supposed to be?”

He sort of sneered. “How else can you send and receive pictures?”

“Beats me. Magic?.”

He didn’t laugh. “Well, you don’t have them.”

Brilliant deduction. “I know that. How do I get them?”

“Oh, I can do it for you. No problem.”

His fingers blurred once again. Moments later he announced the job complete. When I asked why I hadn’t been online, he replied “No idea.”

It took me a month to figure out how to put in periods, question marks, and other forms of punctuation. I still can’t figure out to change the ringer, but I did discover how to increase the volume of the ear set. So now I don’t have to turn on the speaker each time I use the phone.

And then I discovered I could go online with that little jewel. I couldn’t believe it. For only fifty-five dollars a month, I could talk, take pictures, send email, text, and go online.

You idiot, I told myself, look what you’ve been missing.

I took pictures of everything, even my Siamese cat sleeping in a dry birdbath, and sent them to everyone. When out shopping with my wife, I passed my time going online and keeping up to date on various current events.

All was right with this great big wonderful world.

The next month when I received my bill, my great big wonderful world exploded. $87.44!

Let me tell you, I lost no time calling the store and demanding why my bill was thirty-two dollars more than it was supposed to be.

The young lady was very patient. “Did you use any data?”

“Data? What’s that?”

“Did you take pictures, go online, or anything like that?”

Uh oh! The grim truth ballooned in front of my eyes. “Ah, well, yeah, I might have,” I replied weakly.

“You have to pay for that,” she said primly.

Technology-$32.44; Me-0, an all too familiar score whenever I take on the modern world.

My only consolation is the old saw, ‘fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.’

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Deliberate Deceit?

Are you as tired of hearing about the president’s birth certificate as I am? Probably. To be pragmatic about it, at this time in his term, it doesn’t make any difference one way or another.

Say convincing, absolute proof emerged he is not a natural citizen. So what will happen? You think the FBI is going to scurry into the White House and lead him away in handcuffs?

Get serious.

After the certificate of birth was made public, you probably noted many of the president’s supporters reminding ‘birthers’ with a smug I-told-you-so that President Obama was—oops, sorry, Freudian Slip, is indeed a natural citizen.

Some of the pundits even went as far as gloating over the revelation of the birth certificate.

And in all honesty, I understand their delight. Their beliefs are vindicated. Their man had been unjustly accused. Now he has been exonerated.

Or has he?

As far as I’m concerned, he answered the question of citizenship and nothing more should be said about it.

But, that just isn’t the way things are.

A couple days after the revelation, I received an email concerning discrepancies in the certificate. It sounded legitimate, and the truth is, the discrepancies were legitimate as far as they went.

The document was a perfect example of why one should never take for gospel what he reads or hears, especially online.

Here’s the story.

The certificate listed Obama’s birth as August 4, 1961. It also listed Barack Hussein Obama as his father and his age as twenty-five. It stated his father was born in ‘Kenya, East Africa.’

The author jumped on that. He said ‘Kenya did not exist until 1963, two years after Obama’s birth, and twenty-seven years after his father’s birth. Up until 1963, the country was called British East Africa Protectorate.”

His point was ‘How could the father be born in a country that did not exist?’
His second point is that Obama was born in the ‘Kapi’olani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital’. The problem says the author is that in 1961, there were two hospitals, ‘KauiKeolani Children’s Hospital and Kapi’olani Maternity Home’. They merged in 1978 under the name ‘Kapi’olani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital’, seventeen years after his birth.

The email seemed convincing, but I researched the data myself.

It’s true, Kenya did not become an independent republic until 1963-64, but even as the British East Africa Protectorate, from about 1939 on, it was called Kenya Colony.
The author was right. In 1961, Kenya, the independent republic, did not exist, but the Kenya Colony did.

The second question concerning the hospitals was much simpler to answer. In fact, I can’t see why there was ever a question in the author’s mind. In 1918, the Kapi’olani Maternity Home was established. Thirteen years later in 1931, it changed its name to ‘Kapi’olani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital. Now it is true there was a merger in 1978, but the name was already in existence.

I’ve run across a dozen different conspiracies concerning the birth certificate. It’s time to let it die a natural death, but that will never happen.

The third point the author made is one that I wonder about. I’m not going to lose sleep over it though he does raise a good question. “Why,” he asked. “Did it take over three years and 1.7 million dollars in court fights to keep the document from being released?”

Personally, I don’t care, but it does seem like a waste of taxpayer money.

On the other hand, look around. What else is new?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

I Remember Mama

I'm sure you won’t be surprised to know there’s over a dozen theories of the origin of Mother’s Day. They range from the ancient Greece festival of Cybete to West Virginia’s Anna Jarvis after the Civil War.

My Mom was special, just as yours. I mean, after all, where would you be if not for her? Okay, bad joke, but all mothers, real mothers and not simply birth machines, possess an intense, unique love for each of their children. It’s curious how there is no limit to a Mother’s love. She loves with all her heart, and when another child comes along, so does the love.

The only love greater than that of a mother is that of God’s, and hers is a mighty close second.

You know, poetry is almost a lost facet of literature. It’s a shame for some poetry contains nuggets of wisdom that are pure gold.

One of my favorite poets is Robert Frost. In his poem, “Death of a Hired Man,” a husband and wife argue over the return of their hired man, Silas, who jumped from farm to farm, but always returned to the home of Mary and Warren.

Warren doesn’t want Silas back because he is so undependable. Mary tells him, ‘he’s come home to die.’

“Home,” says Warren, “Is when you go there, they have to take you in.”

Mary replied, “I should have called it something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”
Every time I read the poem, I substitute the word, ‘Mother’ for home. To paraphrase Frost, ‘Mother is something we somehow haven’t to deserve.”

That’s true with me as I’m sure it is with you

Mom was a farm girl who, along with three sisters and four brothers, fed chickens, milked cows, slopped hogs, grained cows, pulled cotton, and any of another number of tedious farm chores from Montague County in North Texas to Wheeler County in the Texas Panhandle.

She was like all Mothers who put herself last. I wish I had a dollar for every meal she made for herself from her sons’ leftovers.

She was a true Texas girl, unwilling to back away from any challenge. When Dad was sent to Los Angeles during the war, she was right with him. From there it was Albuquerque, then Hutchinson, Kansas.

Finally, we returned to Wheeler when Dad went overseas. Mom planted corn on our five acres, harvested it, loaded it in the car, and drove to neighboring towns to sell it door to door. That we didn’t sell, we ate. She came up with dozens of ways to prepare corn.

There was no task she’d refuse to tackle if it had to do with the welfare of her children. I can’t count the number of jobs she held down, but always while we were in school. She was always home when we came in.

And, like all mothers, she was snoopy. There was nothing of mine private. I had no secrets. Fortunately, she never told Dad everything. Otherwise, I might not be here.
Of course, she thought her sons hung the moon, and if any other youngster proved to have more talent than Sam and me, she sniffed and said they were nothing but ‘shameless showoffs.”

One of the most valuable gifts she gave me was the opportunity to explore the world beyond the farm. That was all she had known, but through her travels with Dad, she realized there was a whole world out there for her sons.

When Dad had a job offer in the Fort Worth-Dallas area, she urged him to do take it. For me, it was like Bubba goes to town. I discovered worlds I never knew existed, worlds completely alien to rolling sandhills of the Texas Panhandle.

Mom wanted Sam and me to have the opportunity, and she didn’t rest until we had it.
I was fortunate to have a mother like that. Oh, we had our ups and downs, sometimes big ups and downs, but we managed to work through them to our own separate peace.

So, you can see why that whenever I read Frost, I think to myself, “A mother is something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”

She and Dad have been gone many years, but not a day passes I don’t think of them, grateful for their love.

Happy Mothers’ Day.