Man on the Moon

Today, July 20, 2019, marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. As many reflect on this historic event, I remember well the day of the blast off from Cape Canaveral on July 16, 1969.

My mother was visiting with me in my new home in the planned community of Irvine, California, on launch day. Before I left for work that morning, I showed her how to change TV channels so she could see the best views of the Saturn V rocket liftoff with astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins.

Televisions and radios were taboo at the Santa Ana bank where I worked on the lower floor of the three-levels with no reprieve even for this historic event. But we received glowing reports from what customers had told employees on the main banking level. My anticipation of watching a news replay kept me moving all day. That is, until the Santa Ana Freeway (Interstate 5 South) presented its evening snarl.

I pulled my car into the garage and scampered through the connecting door to the living room. I sat on the couch beside my mother just as a replay showed the rocket launch followed by Walter Cronkite’s words, “What a moment! Man on the way to the moon!”

“Those poor boys,” Mother said with a headshake. “That’s the fourth time they’ve sent them off today.”

 

 

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Whose birthday celebration?

My Independence Day memories zero in on waterside family picnics. Married brothers and brothers-in-law carried ice chests through weeds, across rocks, toward a flatter surface of gravel and gritty sand. Gladys, my oldest brother’s wife, stepped carefully while she guarded a homemade birthday cake for James, her third child. The other ladies carrying fried chicken, bowls of potato salad, plates of deviled eggs, and other picnic foods dodged children, including me, who were dashing unencumbered toward the gentle river. Children frolicked in the water while the ladies spread the food and shooed away the flies. A few fellas tried their hands at fishing upstream of the children, but a fish fry seldom happened.

One Fourth of July when James was about nine or ten, the family scattered different places, some with in-law families, some with friends. Some, like James’s father, chose to do farm work, then grill burgers and hot dogs in the evening. James was devastated.

“But what about my birthday picnic?”

“We’ll have cake at home after supper,” his mother said. “Just us.”

“But, school’s out for the summer, and the whole family always takes off work because it’s my birthday.”

Gladys shook her head in dismay. “Fourth of July was the birthday of the United States long before you were born. We don’t work on the Fourth of July because it’s a holiday.”

“You mean like Jesus’s birthday when we all eat at Grandma Carr’s on Christmas day? Not because July 4 is my birthday?”

         Find A Grave Photo

 

This Fourth of July, I decorated my front porch railing with wired flag ribbon and secured a hand-size flag to my metal security door with a white chenille wrap. I lunched alone at In-N-Out Burger. This evening, I watched the city fireworks from the sidewalk a half-block from home surrounded by people I don’t know shrouded in the darkness. My last thoughts as I returned home was how that simplicity might have been James’s choice if he were still living.

 

Happy birthday, America!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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June bugs, Little Orphan Annie, and Leapin’ Lizards

It is the month of June,
The month of leaves and roses,
When pleasant sights salute the eyes,
And pleasant scents the noses.

Nathaniel Parker Willis

Mr. Willis didn’t mention June bugs. Perhaps because he was a Yankee (no offensive intended) who spent much of his time in New York.

Wikipedia defines a June bug: “Cotinis nitida, commonly known as the green June beetle, June bug or June beetle, is a beetle of the family Scarabaeidae.”

My dislike of June bugs is not poetic. They left June, the month of leaves and roses, with an unpleasant sight to my eyes—devastation in my garden.

They hid in the daylight, waiting until I went inside in the evenings to can or freeze the vegetables I had harvested. They targeted me when I rested on the front porch swing. They swarmed toward the floodlight when I ventured to the back yard to dump the trash. But I finally rid myself of those pests. Not with pesticides. By moving to Northern California.

I propped open my front door to enjoy the fresh air. Leapin’ Lizards! James Whitcomb Riley never put Little Orphan Annie in danger like this. I am invaded by geckos. The late spring rains push the lizards inside to dry comfort. Not the cute little critter from the insurance company ads. Skinny, from babies to foot-longs, they slip through the smallest gap where my security screen door doesn’t reach the metal threshold.

I haven’t seen an alligator since I departed Louisiana. I’m grateful my insect-eating invaders are petite compared to this AP news article about a full-size Florida reptile with an appetite for red wine.

 

 

 

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Shaped by Choices

Writing a story begins with a choice. What does the writer-in-me want to tell? That is balanced with the question, “What does the target audience want to read?”

I’ve made a lot of good choices in my life—and a few that didn’t reach that level. Some of those decisions shaped me like homemade playdough in the hands of a preschooler. I was punched, squeezed, rolled, and manipulated. Just when I thought I had reached my destiny, slam, bam. More pounding.

Julaina Kleist-Corwin, a writing instructor, gathered short stories about choices for an anthology. She extended the competition to former students and writers who had been published in her previous anthology. She read each 500-word submission and suggested changes. No pounding, punching, or squeezing. Then the writers were given the opportunity to reshape their stories. Most were memoirs. A few were fictionalized.

My memoir, “Second Chance,” is about my submission to an anthology being published by a well-known New York publisher. The book theme was true stories about Christmas miracles. No problem there. I had a story to tell.  I submitted it. Hooray! It was accepted with minor suggested edits. The congratulatory email said the next step would be to sign a publisher release form. I waited a few days. No form. Instead, an email suggested I revise my story. Playdough again.

“But that isn’t what happened,” I wrote to the developmental editor.  She gently rolled my story into shape to keep the facts and told me to sign the forthcoming release.

Two days before the deadline to sign the release, I received an email from the main editor, the one whose name would appear on the book cover. He added more fiction. “It makes a stronger story,” he said.

Slam, bam. Playdough. Only this time, I had a choice. Accept the change or insist on keeping the story as I wrote it.

What did I decide? Read about it in The Choice Matters.

 

 

Disclaimer: Julaina doesn’t know I’m including her Amazon book link in my blog, but I’m sure she’ll be delighted. The print edition and e-book are on sale at introductory prices.

 

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Flying Holiday Flags

My father disliked holidays. My mother cherished them. My father’s rule was to treat every day equal. Mama made holidays something to remember. Not with elaborate decorations but from basics.

On New Year’s Day, we ate black-eyed peas and ham hocks with cornbread. Maybe because of Mama’s superstitious ways. Probably because there was no work for farm hands in the winter and that was the cheapest menu that would spread to two meals. I suppose the flag flew over the local post office and City Hall to declare it a holiday, but we didn’t venture out on that cold day.

The next month brought Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 and George Washington’s birthday on the 22nd. Flags flew again, on each day, declaring it a holiday, a day to stay home from school.

Spring brought Easter. Mama gathered eggs from our backyard chicken pen for several days. On Saturday, she filled an aluminum canning pot with water and carried it to the old gas range. She deposited the eggs one by one and hardboiled them. She rinsed the cooked eggs in the kitchen sink and spread them to dry on flour sack dishtowels on the mottled gray linoleum countertop. While the eggs cooled, she arranged a row of cups.  She filled the cups halfway with water, dropped one round colored tablet into each, and stirred until she achieved colors worthy of celebration. Hours later, the colored eggs rested in two Easter baskets, ready to be hidden in the yard for our personal egg hunt. Lots of fun but no flags.

On Decoration Day, we rode to the local cemetery with a brother-in-law to watch the somber task ahead. Young World War II veterans and a few survivors of World War I placed American flags on each veteran’s gravesite. A ceremony followed at ten o’clock. We listened to more somber words. Marines marched in precision, flower arrangements peeking between shined black shoes as they passed civilian graves along the paved route.

“Why, Mama?” I asked. “Why do those graves get flowers instead of flags?”

“Because it’s Decoration Day,” she said.

“It’s called Memorial Day now,” my brother-in-law said.

“Who named it that?” I asked.

“The gov’ment,” Mama said.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson established June 14 as Flag Day. Not a holiday, but our neighbors displayed flags from the size on veterans’ graves to five-footers angled from flagpoles on porches. We would have joined them if we had owned a flag.

“Why all the flags? Is this another Decoration Day?” I asked.

“No, it’s Flag Day,” Mama said.

“Who named it that?”

“The gov’ment,” she said.

Armistice Day on November 11, brought another federal holiday. A somber tribute to the end of World War I in 1918 brought more parades and flags.

Today, May 27, 2019, is Memorial Day in the U.S. I clipped a six-inch flag to my door. There are no parades in the city where I live now. A few people will gather at the local cemeteries for brief ceremonies, a few words from a city official, and a military-style presentation of flags. Boaters fill the lake south of the city. Picnickers lounge in the sun, if it appears on this cloudy day. On the west side of town bordering a neighboring city, the freeway and city streets near the premium brands outlet mall are jammed with cars and tour buses transporting shoppers, some visiting from as far away as Asia.

Wait. Who moved Decoration Day from May 30 to the last Monday of May and renamed it Memorial Day?

My mother’s words echo the answer.

“The gov’ment.”

 

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Discount Exclusions, Limitations, and Stratagems

Discount coupons abound. Most are accompanied by limitations such as “Limit one total purchase discount per transaction.” Some say “No photocopies” or “Reproductions not accepted.” Most say “Must be surrendered at time of transaction.” That fancy phrase means you have to give the coupon to the store associate. Then there’s the familiar phrase, “Excludes clearance items.”

But wait! It gets more complicated. There’s a list of other items that don’t qualify for the discount. Here’s a sample quoted from a craft store $5 off coupon (capitalization is theirs).

“Offer excludes clearance items; doorbusters; previous purchases; all gift cards; classes; custom & personalization services; Sample Swatches; all patterns; irons & steamers; AccuQuilt Go!® products; sewing machines & sewing machine department merchandise; remnants; all cutting and laminating machines & accessories; all Cricut® products; all cameras, film, printers & accessories; Hatchimals™; LEGO®, LOL & other kids’ products; all magazines; all As Seen on TV items; all Purchase with Purchase & Gift with Purchase items.”

What is that Purchase with Purchase tongue twister?

And don’t forget the “Taxes not included” disclaimer.

The stratagem ($5 off) is part of a battle plan to get me into the store. It’s similar to the first paragraph of a book that compels me to turn the page. Both are like fishing. I am lured by the discount. I’m hooked. Browsing turns to buying.

I’ve become a master of using discount coupons, (I used the $5 off coupon in the knitting department), but I don’t dare read beyond the cover of a full-price book.

 

 

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Doublespeak – Say what?

Goodreads credits Alan Greenspan, Chair of the Federal Reserve of the United States from 1987 to 2006, with this quote.

I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

Brainy Quotes shows this from Greenspan.

I guess I should warn you, if I turn out to be particularly clear, you’ve probably misunderstood what I’ve said.

I kept these quotes in mind while I read the news from the Associated Press (AP) website on Saturday, May 4, 2019. The doublespeak quotes are linked to AP. Common sense Say what? translations are mine.

When a chartered plane traveling from Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with military and civilians aboard overshot the runway and landed in the St. Johns River, Boeing said in a tweet Friday night that it was investigating: “We are aware of an incident in Jacksonville, Fla., [Florida, USA] and are gathering information.”

Say what? We’re waiting to see if it’s our fault.

AP reports that Warren Buffett speaking about the revenue loss from the joint purchase of Kraft by Berkshire Hathaway and the Brazilian 3G Capital said, “. . . he and 3G underestimated the challenges branded foods face from retailers and the growth of the private label products.”

Say What?  More people are buying store brands because they’re cheaper.

And the whopper of the day is about the anticipated birth of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s first child. It’s filled with words that reveal limited information. “ . . . Meghan said months ago that the baby was due in late April or early May.”

Say what? We’re not going to tell you until after the baby arrives.

This announcement is in the same article. “On Friday, Buckingham Palace postponed a planned May 8 trip by Harry to Amsterdam for ‘logistical’ reasons.”

Say What? Harry is staying close to Meghan because the baby is due soon.

See what Alan Greenspan meant about misunderstanding?

 

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