FRIDAY FOTO: DEATH AND HOPE


 

A couple of weeks ago we went out to Freer to celebrate my brother-in-law’s 92nd birthday.  It was a beautiful clear crisp day with just enough warmth to make you want to soak up the sun after being hunkered down at home.  Then we saw the vulture perched defiantly on a light pole as if waiting for something to die.  Yet to its right and just below was an equally defiant bird – a male cardinal resting on a dead limb.  Neither flew away as Husband took a photo.

The tranquil scene seemed to me a perfect relection of this time in the middle of a pandemic.  Yes, there is death and the threat of dying, but along side the darkness there is hope.  While a vulture conjures up thoughts of death and decay, the cardinal is seen by some as a sign of a departed loved one or at least a good omen or good luck.  My mother always told me to make a wish if I saw a cardinal.  That day I put two fingers to my lips, made a wish and blew it a kiss as my mother had taught me when I was a child at this same place.

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FRIDAY FOTO: CAT IN A CAR


 

On one of my walks this week I had to stop and see who was driving this car parked in front of a house.  No, it was not the cat and the car was not running.  The window was rolled down.  The cat turned to look at me and seemed to pose as I took my phone from my pocket to take this photo.  It just calmly looked at me as I continued on my way.   When I came back that way it was gone – the cat, not the car.

Cool cat!  I wonder where he wanted to go?

 

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA


“Love in the Time of Cholera”
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The title of this book by a Colombian Nobel prize author has been running through my head like a song ever since this virus hit our shores.  Weird, I know.  Of course,  it is not cholera or a plague but it has become a pandemic.

Published in Spanish in 1985 and into English in 1988, it is not about cholera at all and cholera was not even mentioned until late in the book.  Rather is is about love, marriage, aging and the inevitably of death as the destiny of us all.  Two young lovers, platonic only, are pulled apart by family and the girl eventually marries an older man.  They never completely lose touch over the years and reconnect when the husband dies.

It is not an easy read, but perhaps I should go back and read it again since it seems to haunt me in this life in the time of OVID19.

Husband and I are doing well as we hunker down at home in Briar Cottage.  We have the usual stock of groceries and are prepared as we would for hurricane season that starts June 1 .  I may have slipped in some extra bottles of wine.

This virus has touched all of our lives with a common thread all across the country and even to the rest of the world.  Suddenly we all face the same threat on a global scale.  The OVID19 knows no borders.  There will be pain and loss.  Life will not go back to the way it was when this pandemic ends.  Yes, we are apprehensive about the unknown and fearful about the financial impact too.  That is normal.  But we are strong together and will get through this.

May we learn from it and never take even the ordinary and routine for granted:  handshakes… hugs… going to work…enjoying a concert… sitting down in a restaurant…visiting a nursing home… exploring a museum…dropping kids off to school…shopping at Macy’s… grocery stores filled with everything we need…  gathering with friends and family in any number… and the list is endless.

Perhaps we did need a time out to be shaken from our complacency to look around and be grateful for what we have.  May the divisions that have been dividing this country be replaced with civility and the acknowledgement that we are all in this together.

Maybe love is the answer in the time of OVID19.  Take care of yourself, help others when you can and don’t lose hope or your sense of humor.  Cheers!

RANDOM RAMBLINGS


Basil in my kitchen window.

My last post was December 1 when I posted a poem by Ron Koertge to mark World Aids Day. So it seems I have experienced my usual  winter blogging slump even though it has been a very mild winter for us.  March has arrived and tomorrow will be in the 80s again so I have no valid excuse.  Here is my offering of random ramblings.

“If voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.” – Mark Twain

Texas is now one of the fourteen states that  holds its primary elections on “Super Tuesday,” March 3.  In Texas if you are over 65 years of age you are allowed to mail in a ballot.  Husband and I decided to take advantage of our senior status and voted by mail for the first time.  At first we were reluctant; mailing in a piece of paper was too easy; it was our duty to go down to the polls even if we had to stand in long lines (we seldom had to do that!); we would miss the civic pride being there with our neighbors as we cast our votes at the community center.  Of course, during a primary election, the Democrats would line up for the room on the left: the Republicans went to the right.  At least that is the way it works in the booming city of Portland.  Yes, we vote on the left.  One advantage in voting by mail was that we hadplenty of time to see who is on the ballot and research any candidates down ballot that we were not familiar with.

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Yesterday I finally planted the herbs (basil, oregano and cilantro)I bought a week ago in pots for the patio.  Part of my death cleaning was getting rid of some pots.  Most were in the process of passing peacefully, but some I simply had to abort.  All of my plants are on the patio and under shade and usually only get nothing but rainwater until about late August when sometimes my rain barrels run dry. 

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Have you done your taxes yet?  I am volunteering again through United Way of the Coastal Bend for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA).   Last tax season I went in four days a week.  This year I am only volunteering one day a week and am grateful to be able help provide free tax preparation for those with a certain level of income.

“In an age of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” – George Orwell

CHEERS!

ON WORLD AIDS DAY 2019


While I was in my death cleaning mode I found a copy of this poem I had printed out from Garrison Keillor’s “The Writers’ Almanac” from National Public Radio (NPR ).   It  was dated Saturday, December 27, 2003.  It seems appropriate for this World AIDS Day 2019.  Funerals can unite us.

1989
by Ron Koertge

Because AIDS was slaughtering people left and right,
      I went to a lot of memorial services that year.
There were so many, I’d pencil them in between
      a movie or a sale at Macy’s. The other thing that
made them tolerable was the funny stories people
      got up and told about the deceased: the time he
hurled a mushroom fritata across a crowded room,
      those green huraches he refused to throw away,
the joke about the flight attendant and the banana
      that cracked him up every time.

But this funeral was for a blind friend of my wife’s
      who’d merely died. And the interesting thing
about it was the guide dogs; with all the harness
      and the sniffing around, the vestibule of the church
looked like the starting line of the Iditarod. But
      nobody got up to talk. We just sat there,
and the pastor read the King James version. Then he
      said someday we would see Robert and he us.

Throughout the service, the dogs slumped beside their
      masters. But when the soloist stood and launched
into a screechy rendition of “Abide With Me,” they sank
      into the carpet. A few put their paws over their ears.
Someone whispered to one of the blind guys; he told
      another, and the laughter started to spread. People
in the back looked around, startled and embarrassed,
      until they spotted all those chunky Labradors
flattened out like animals in a cartoon about
      steamrollers. Then they started, too.

That was more like it. That was what I was used to-
      a roomful of people laughing and crying, taking off
their sunglasses to blot their inconsolable eyes.

DEATH CLEANING AND MORE


No, I am not dying.

It all started with having the outside hurricane roll-up shutters removed; then all the windows were replaced with double-pane hurricane windows.  Some of the window sills inside in the living room and dining room needed repair which would require painting.   We might as well have those rooms painted; if we did that we might as well have the kitchen and cabinets done and that led to the entrance, hall, bedrooms and bathrooms.  OK, the whole house needed painting inside.   Before we could have it painted, we needed to address a couple of cracks in the doorway of the bathroom in our bedroom.  That required foundation work according to an engineer. 

Thus began our adventure in home repair!  Remember the movie, The Money Pit, with Tom Hanks?  Two weeks!  Some days we felt as if we were living in that movie.

A crew came to do drywall repair inside before the painters came.  For that we took everything off the walls, moved small furniture to the garage and pulled the furniture that was left to the middle of the rooms.  I also had to unload my book cases and box a lot of stuff.

That brings me to death cleaning . In  Margareta Magnusson’s book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning:  How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, she explains that in Sweden “there is a kind of de-cluttering called döstädning, meaning ‘death’ and städning meaning “cleaning.”  It implies disposing of a loved ones things when he or she dies but also means making life easier for yourself by keeping less and realizing possessions may not be that important.

After forty-two years in the same house, we have accumulated a lot stuff!  It has been like moving in place as we evaluate what we want to keep and what should go.  I am sentimental and want to keep everything yet I truly want to de-clutter. Two bookcases and one wine rack were the first to go.  Daughter and Son will each take one of my father’s clocks.  Who will want that wooden art that I brought back from Nassau years ago?  They will probably fight over it.   I let go of some books but can’t l can’t part with most of my old friends, especially my collection of Victor von Hagen and John Lloyd Stephens books.

The house was new when our family of four moved in forty-two years ago.  It  now has new windows, a stronger foundation and new paint inside.  And perhaps less clutter and a fresher look.  But the memories will remain – holidays, birthdays, challenges, loss, triumphs, laughter, tears, dreams, anger, rebellion, love, joy, peace and most of all hope for the future.  Cheers!

(In her blog, “Muddling Through My Middle Age,” Ann Coleman  wrote about helping to move her mother from a home with generous space to a one bedroom in assisted living.  She titled it:  Moving Forward.  Getting rid of “stuff” was not as easy as she expected.)

 

CAMELS ON THE COAST


The Texas coast town of Indianola  was once a major port and the county seat of Lavaca County.  Incorporated in 1853, it was a port of entry for many German immigrants and at its height had a population of 5,000.  In 1875 a hurricane destroyed the town and killed several hundred people; those remaining rebuilt.   Just over ten years later in 1886 another destructive storm struck the recovering town.  This time the residents did not rebuild but scattered as the county seat was moved to nearby Port Lavaca.

Today if you visit the area you will not find much of this ghost town left other than a stone marker for the courthouse and a Texas Historical Marker for the town of Indianola.  And there is a rather strange rustic metal sculpture of a man leading a camel.

This photo came from the Calhoun County Historical Commission website.

A few feet in front is a state marker with this title and explanation:
THE GREAT CAMEL EXPERIMENT

No immigrants arriving in Indianola were quite as exotic as the seventy-five camels that came ashore in 1856 and 1857 from Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey. As early as 1836, politicians, diplomats and the military were considering the importation of camels for use in North America’s desert wastelands. In 1853, secretary of war Jefferson Davis, a man familiar with harsh desert conditions, proposed to congress the use of camels as pack animals in the desert southwest. Congress approved the request on March 3, 1855. After a three-month voyage from the Mediterranean, the Fashion entered Matagorda Bay on May 13, 1856 and landed the camels at the wharf at powder horn. Thirty-four camels, ranging from Bactrians (two-humped variety), Arabians (one-hump variety) and a hybrid-cross between the two, came ashore. Many residents of Indianola recalled the unusual sight of the camels being led through the streets. By February 1857, a second government shipment of forty-one camels arrived in Indianola. Military camel caravans carrying supplies became more common in the Texas Hill Country between the camels’ home of Camp Verde and San Antonio. The camels, along with traditional livestock, were used in the summer of 1857 to survey the great wagon road between Arizona and California, now known as Route 66. The camels were also used in 1859 and 1860 for reconnaissance in west Texas, surveying routes to the U.S./Mexico border. In 1861, upon the outbreak of the Civil War, all U.S. military assets, including the camels, came into possession of confederate troops and, after the war, the camels were auctioned off. (2013) Marker is Property of the State of Texas”

There is not much left of the old Camp Verde  facility, located between the towns of Kerrville and Bandara in the Texas Hill Country, except for a stone marker.  About a mile away is the site of a store on Verde Creek established in 1857, mainly to supply the fort.

The original store was was washed away by the creek.  Today it is the site of Camp Verde General Store and Restaurant, a rustic Hill Country attraction.  Outside is a rather abstract metal camel sculpture as a nod to its past.   Husband and I would like to visit both sites in the fall.

Photo taken from Camp Verde General Store and Restaurant website


 

BOOK: “THE TRAIN TO CRYSTAL CITY”


Here is a quote from the jacket of the book, The Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboe Russell.

“From 1942 to 1945, secret government trains regularly delivered civilians from the United States and Latin America to Crystal City, a small desert town at the southern tip of Texas.  The trains carried Japanese, German and Italian immigrants and their American-born children.  The vast majority were deeply loyal to the United States, were never charged with any crime, and did not understand why they had been forced to leave their homes.

The only family internment camp during World War II, Crystal City was the center of a government prisoner exchange program.  During the war, hundreds of prisoners in Crystal City, including their children, were exchanged for other ostensibly more important Americans – diplomats, businessmen, soldiers, physicians and missionaries – behind enemy lines in Japan and Germany.”

Growing up in South Texas about one hundred miles from Crystal City, I had visited this small town with my parents but never knew that it had been home to an internment camp that some called a concentration camp. 

Those internment camps for the Japanese got more attention in the history books.  These immigrants had committed no crime but were still detained and held behind a 10-foot high fence as if they were prisoners.  In time it came to resemble a small town with stores, churches, schools, libraries, a hospital and a swimming pool.  Families lived in small one-family cottages.  While the detainees were treated well, they were still the equivalent of prisoners.

 Russell interviewed more than fifty survivors and gained access to private journals, diaries, FBI files, camp administration records and more.   Through her research she follows the camp from opening to closing and provides detailed descriptions of daily life in the camp.   One focus was on two American-born teenagers, one Japanese and one German, and how they were affected by the camp, their repatriation to Japan and Germany and finally the choice they made to return to the United States.   

During the war some were released, paroled or repatriated; others were kept for the duration of the war.   The camp was finally closed in 1946.  

The author  has also written a  biography,  Lady Bird:  A Biography of Mrs. Johnson.

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After I learned of this little known part of the history of WWII and the part this remote Texas town played in the drama, I wanted to visit Crystal City again after all these years.   Husband and I drove to Crystal City one cold November day and on our way passed through the small Texas town of Freer where I grew up.  The first stop was in Crystal City at the Popeye statue; more people probably know that the city claims to be the Spinach  Capital of the World than that there was once a camp for alien enemies outside of town. 

Since the former camp is not exactly a tourist attraction, we stopped at the local library to ask directions.   A young woman gave us directions and informed us that there was not much to see but there there some markers.  We followed the directions toward the edge of town and passed several public school campuses.  The pavement ended and we were on a dirt road.

The area was marked by these simple wooden information signs describing the site; I had expected something more than these humble, almost reluctant, reminders of history.  Although we did not find it that day (it was cold!), there is a stone marker that reads, “World War II Concentration Camp 1943-1946” installed in 1985.  In 2014 the site was listed on the National Register  of Historic Places.  Wikipedia has a photo of the stone memorial and more information.

A marker with a “you are here” on a map of the former camp.  Note that it was described as “American Enemy Alien Internment” while photos appear to  more like people at  a summer camp enjoying swimming, diving and other activities.

Description of the reservoir that was converted into a swimming pool.

This seemed to be a tank used to mark a reunion of survivors of the camp and the site of the swimming pool.

The area is quiet today with nothing but a few foundations to remind us of what had been outside this small Texas town south of San Antonio.   It is rough flat country with heat and sun and dust, just miles from the border of Mexico.  What must have those families have thought when they arrived?  How did they face the unknown with no control over their fate?  How did they feel about the  government of the United States?

There are lessons to be learned from this period even today as the loyalty and patriotism of some immigrants is sometimes questioned.  We saw the reaction when we were attacked on 9/11.  Some of that fear still lingers.

Related books:
The Crystal City Story:  One Family’s Experience with the World War II Japanese Internment Camps by Tomo Izumi (non-fiction written by a survivor of the camp)

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner (historical fiction)

 

BLUEBONNETS AND TAXES


 

  About a week ago Husband and I drove to Freer to visit my brother-in-law on a cold, wet and dreary day.  Winter seemed to be winning over spring in the seasonal tug-of-war that often plays out in South Texas this time of year.  Cardinals were grateful for the treats provided in a bird feeder in the his back yard as we watched from the warmth of the house.  As we left we stopped to enjoy the Texas Bluebonnets that appeared to have been scattered carelessly by the side of the dirt road and clustered together as if to defy the 39 degree temperature.  Perhaps it was a sign of an early spring and a good year for wildflowers.

Yes, it is tax time!  I am volunteering again with Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) four mornings a week at the United Way office in Corpus Christi.  The site opened in the middle of January when the government, including the IRS, was partially shut down.  The IRS website used for processing tax returns was up and running, but we could not communicate with our IRS contact as he had been furloughed.  Eventually some employees were called back to handle tax returns.  Getting refunds out was deemed essential!  Even when the government was opened  back up, people who came in were still apprehensive about another shutdown and were anxious to get their tax returns done.  Gratefully, that has been avoided with the compromise passed by both houses of Congress and signed reluctantly by President Trump.  There were some surprises in refunds/taxes due from last year due to changes in the tax laws but that is another story.

                                                               CHEERS!