The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival is held in Winchester, Virginia each year in late spring. This year’s festival, a multiday affair, took place from April 27 through May 6. You have missed the festivities for this year. Sorry I didn’t remind you sooner.

If memory serves me, when I was a child the festival was a three-day celebration beginning on Thursday evening and ending on Saturday night with a fireworks display.

The Thursday night event was some ceremonial speechifying by politicians and other self-important white folks. That constituted the opening of the three-night carnival, which offered rides, games, and ample opportunities for making a fool of yourself.

Friday was the Grand Parade with floats, marching bands, politicians in convertibles, Miss This or Miss That also in convertibles, fire engines, Shriners, and a Grand Marshall.

Most years my mom and I were invited to attend the parade with a local family, who went every year.

During some of those trips to the Grand Parade, we stopped at an old plantation between Front Royal and Winchester. There was an ancient white woman living there with an almost-as-old African-American woman who took care of her. The white woman was stooped and hump-backed and used a cane, while her caretaker was relatively tall, straight-backed, and walked as if she had someplace to be.

While they were obviously employer and employee and called each other Miss Olivia and Mrs. Branson, their mutual affection was obvious. The two had probably grown up from children in each other’s company.

The first time we visited the plantation, my mother and our benefactor sat and visited the two old ladies on the large front porch while us kids played nearby.

The second time there, the next spring or the following one, the morning was unusually cool for spring so we were invited into the parlor for hot chocolate and warm cookies. The two adults with us were nervous that one of us kids would do something tragic and not mendable involving chocolate, knick-knacks, antique furniture, or all three. We didn’t but easily could have done.

After our refreshments, Miss Olivia insisted on showing us the damage done by the “yankeh troops during the wauh.” The five of us obediently followed her and Mrs. Branson outdoors, where Miss Olivia pointed to the slanted bulkhead doorway into the cellar.

One of the two doors was only a framework of old wood surrounding more hole than whole. The other door was still intact but was held together with rusting screws and completely detached from its hinges. Small animals could easily get through either of two large openings.

Miss Olivia told us that the “yankeh soljah-boys broke down the cellah doah” when they came through in 1864. Subsequently, “the hawgs got into the cellah and et up all the root vegetables.” I was no more than nine or ten years old but even at that age wondered why they didn’t just fix the doors.

Mrs. Branson dutifully nodded through Miss Olivia’s show and tell of what the evil Union soldiers had wrought on the family.

Our parade-bound group trooped back through the house, dutifully thanked Miss Olivia for her hospitality (although Mrs. Branson had done all the work), loaded into our benefactor’s Plymouth station wagon and set off to the Grand Parade.

Almost a century after the American Civil War, it was better to complain about the damage caused than to repair the cellar doors.



Rules from a Younger Me

Walk on the left, facing traffic.

Look both ways before crossing.

Pick up after yourself.

I before E, except after C.

Wash your hands.

These are rules that were drilled into my brain when I was a young child. They have stayed with me and I still follow them. There is not a single one of them that isn’t as true now as when I learned it.


Never leave the compound without weapon and web gear.

Wear your helmet and flak jacket.

Keep your weapon clean.

Carry dry socks.

Don’t buy dope at the Baby-san Car Wash.

These are rules that I learned from smarter people while I was on my extended vacation in Vietnam. No doubt, all are still true and applicable. I remember them but mostly don’t need weapon, web gear, or flak jacket at present. I do still plan for keeping my feet dry. The dope, from Baby-san or anyplace else, is now a moot issue.

Inside our base camps — Long Binh, the Michelin plantation, Di-An, or wherever we happened to overnight — we slept on bunks inside of hooches. The enemy liked to wake us up occasionally with rockets or mortars. When that happened, we were to get into bunkers prepared to defend the compound. After a couple of nights spent in a bunker wearing only skivvies, web gear, helmet, and flak jacket without trousers, shirt, or boots I learned to keep everything together before bunking down overnight. So, fifty years later, I go through the routine of having clothes laid out to put on quickly (or grab on the way to the bunker). An uncomfortable and slightly scary lesson that has stayed with me.


And from trucking in the previous century, I learned to have change — coins, specie — for pay phones and vending machines. That call to the freight broker in Sawyer, Michigan, or the Cheezits and Pepsi at the Skelly fuel stop in Valparaiso, Indiana, required change. An ashtray on the dog-box was my change stash and I kept coins in my jeans pockets. Vending machines now take bills or credit cards and even locating a pay phone is difficult, but I still carry around a pocketful of change. A couple dollars’ worth, until I realize how much it weighs. I then empty my pockets, turn the coins into bills, and begin accumulating pockets of quarters, dimes, and nickels all over again.


Old habits, drilled into me by good teachers or beaten into me by war or learned in the cause of saving time and earning a living, stay with me.

Raise your hand to ask a question.

Ask before petting a strange dog.

Don’t pee on an electric fence.

They’ve worked well for a long time.

Learning to Read

Left to their own devices, children learn to read when they are ready. Unfortunately, some never get ready. Conversely, some are ready very young.

Our children were early readers. Sharon and I are both avid readers and luckily those attributes were passed along.

Our daughter taught herself to read using an old standard rote method. She had us read the same story over and over until she was word perfect on that story and we, the readers, were ready to scream. Then she took words from that story on to the next one, which, again, we would read over and over. It worked very well for her as she read far above grade level all through school. She still enjoys reading. Like me, she prefers fiction and extensive character development.

Our son, a couple of years younger than his sister, learned to read the way I did: theft. Word theft along with all the print material we had in the house. “What’s this word?” “It’s ‘elephant.’” An hour or a day later, “What’s this word?” Easy to answer: “Poachers,” etc. By pre-school, he was reading. Word theft.

No matter how each of us got there, we are a family of readers. When Sharon and I combined our homes and got married, each of us had shelves and boxes of books. Mine were mostly worn and dilapidated paperbacks that had spent many hours and miles riding around in trucks. Hers tended to be better kept and were a mix of well-kept paperbacks, soft-covers, and hard-cover books. Most of both groups were novel-length fiction.

By the time both children could read, Sharon had sorted our books, including all the ones we obtained in the meantime. Little kid books, heavy with pictures and easy with words, soon lost their allure for our young readers. A regularly asked question was “What can I read?”

The answer was, “Anything in the house. If you can read it, read it.”

While that was a good idea in the abstract, these were books written by adults for adults. Our second and third graders soon had questions. We came up with the rule that “you can read anything you are capable of reading but we won’t necessarily answer all your questions.”

That worked.

Occasionally we’d have a bit of brew-ha-ha concerning something we didn’t want to explain to our very inquisitive young readers, but they kept reading even while we avoided answering. Peace mostly reigned.

Twenty years later, they continue to read, we continue to collect books, and we all share books, ideas, thoughts, questions, and answers.

Read with your kids, grandkids, whatevers, and don’t be worried when their reach sometimes exceeds their grasp. You just may need to avoid answering the questions.


Let’s go visit the internet.

Wikipedia tells us that a troglodyte is essentially a cave dweller. Several other sites that showed up during my search suggested someone who lives in dens of sticks, and one said troglodytes enjoy the adventures of misbehaving dragons.

Several questions come to mind with that last characteristic: do dragons ever behave? if not, how does one know when they are misbehaving? Is the misbehavior really enjoyable to anyone? Can dragon misbehavior be safe to watch?

Why, you rightfully ask, am I talking about troglodytes?

It is a word that has come back into usage.

People, particularly people toward the left side of the political spectrum, are recently using the term troglodyte to describe those whose politics are further to the right. Lefties often use such terms to deride conservative voters: white blue-collar voters from the old rust belt, former union members in coal country, underemployed voters all over but especially in the ‘fly-over’ states, and anyone else who was responsible for handing over both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to the GOP.

Full disclosure here: since 1973 I have voted only once for a Republican. When I speak of the left or lefties, I’m talking about the crowd with which I most identify.

However, this is not a political diatribe, so please keep reading.

Our political divide, our disagreement, our un-civil discourse is tearing apart families, neighbors, friendships.

That bunch are troglodytes.

This crowd are commies.

All of them are liars.

The news is all fake.

Every one of those statements is true and each one is false.

Some on the right are cave-dwelling, knuckle-dragging racists, while on the left there are some folk who refuse to accept the result of the 2016 election. Both are aberrations.

Lies and the news they engender happen every day. Quit listening to obviously false stories. Don’t accept information without real verification. There is good information available but it isn’t coming from the left or right extremes.

Stop being led and lied to. Dig out the truth.

Let’s quit it.

No more name-calling.

I’m a leftie but I’d like to see dragons up close.

Call me when you’re going to come out of your cave and go watch them misbehave.

I’ll bring the beer.

Wine and Sign

OK, it’s that time again.

We’ll be signing books at Rappahannock Cellars winery on Saturday, June 9, 1-5 p.m.

This is a Second Saturday event in Rappahannock County, where I grew up.

We’ll have copies of Vietnam: Stories from a War and Stories from Potomac County and our host will have wine.

Fill the gas tank, get some cash (from the ATM or your spouse or from under the sofa cushions), bring your credit cards, and put your cork screw somewhere that you can find it when you get home. The cash is for books; the credit cards are for wine (although I’m sure they’d take cash too); and when you get home with your bottles, you’ll figure out what to do with your corkscrew.

We will be at their tasting room, located at 14437 Hume Road, Huntly VA 22640, from 1-5 p.m. The winery itself is open 11:30-6.

Your SatNav/GPS/cellphone can get you there. If you are less high tech, it is well marked on US Highway 522 between Flint Hill and Front Royal, Virginia.

My personal wine expert, who is very quick to tell you that she is not an expert, has visited the Rappahannock Cellars tasting room on a couple of occasions. We have wine glasses with their logo in our kitchen to prove it, and she’s purchased a few bottles of their wine. Good wine tends to be wasted on me, but my expert gives them a full “thumbs up.”

There are lots of enjoyable things on offer that weekend as there are for each of the Second Saturdays throughout the year.

If you’re looking for a place to eat, we’ve recently been in nearby Flint Hill and I’m happy to report that you have a couple of good choices:

  • Breakfast or lunch can be had at Skyward Café. Lots of options including vegetarian.
  • Lunch and dinner options at Griffin Tavern. Everything you’d expect from a tavern including a good bar selection.

Hope to see you at Rappahannock Cellars on June 9.