The Somber Reality of Life

We lost our neighbor yesterday.

Although we knew the end would be coming in a matter of weeks, the news still hit our hearts.

John was a Korean war vet, a rare bird in this day and age. I wkorean war vetould lovingly describe him as a curmudgeon but that particular adjective would not suffice to explain his complicated yet endearing personality.

We met merely three years ago as we began building our house next door to his. On a regular basis, he would drive over in his golf cart and inform us of the comings and goings of the construction workers as if to provide a documented run down on the events of the day. Obviously, he considered it his duty to maintain a watchful eye. We knew immediately we would be provided a detailed description of a “perp” should one decide to poke his nose where it wasn’t wanted.  After all, he often told us, “I have a pistol…and I can still see well enough to shoot.” His birdlike dark eyes missed nothing.

Once we moved it, he would pop in unexpectedly, his hair akimbo, a wide brimmed hat covering his forehead. His hands were a testament to earlier hard times, rough and weathered. He would gently dole ohydrogen bombut doggie treats to Charlie.

It was during the course of one of these visits he reluctantly revealed not only was he a veteran of the Korean Was but the last surviving member of a group of volunteers who found themselves used as guinea pigs during atomic bomb testing. Frail yet defiant, he would drop little hits of the experience until finally he decided to let me tell the tale, not only his but those of his fallen comrades.

Fortunately, his passing will not deter me from completing the journey. The stories he conveyed, the awe he felt witnessing the unbridled fury of a mushroom cloud and the detailed descriptions of his fellow sailors will live on. I only hope his faith in my writing, “The Boys on the Bow” does justice to their memory.

RIP John…rest in peace.

The Final Journey

Elderly_Woman_,_B&W_image_by_Chalmers_ButterfieldThe movie “Still Alice” affected me deeply as I’m sure it did many people. My fervent wish is a cure for this insidious disease which robs the very soul and dignity of those affected.

The Final Journey

     Loosely defined, a journey can take various forms. It can be a thousand miles or a thousand steps. A journey can be as simple as a trip to the neighborhood grocery store, as exotic as a trek through the Swiss Alps, as necessary as a pilgrimage from one country to another or as enjoyable as a trip down memory lane. My bittersweet sojourn began when I returned to my place of birth. It was my last opportunity to say both goodbye and pay homage to my mother, a woman who had traveled many paths in her lifetime and had taught me the importance of each little journey.

     As a young girl, this Lancaster Lass had left her country of birth, the United Kingdom. Traveling with her parents and two older brothers, she had crossed the vast of expanse of water to finally arrive in Canada and eventually enter the United States. Although she was a mere seven years old, the memory of standing on the deck, a biting Atlantic wind nipping at her cheeks and whipping through her auburn hair remained with her. When my sisters and I were young, she blushingly regaled us about the first time our father, the most popular boy in the school, walked her home to the rectory where they lived. She was fifteen and our father was seventeen. Picking the daisies and cornflowers blooming along the dusty path, he had presented the final bouquet to her at the bottom of the porch steps of her home. Her father, an imposing minister with an authoritarian air, was standing just behind the porch screen door, appraising this young man through wire rimmed spectacles as if examining an insect. Normally his haughty demeanor would send chills down the spines of the young men who displayed a fancy for his only daughter, but our father, she confided, simply tipped his hat with a disarming smile and continued on his way. It was the beginning of a lifetime romance. An old, crinkled, sepia colored photograph framed in pewter had held a special place on the family mantle for as long as I could remember. After their marriage, they had journeyed to Minnesota for four years where he completed his residency before returning to their roots and Illinois plains. Continue reading