I Don’t Remember

People are good about saying “hello” to the dogs and me. We have lots of first-name acquaintances in our neighborhood and a few streets in adjoining neighborhoods. Some of these folks want to have a conversation, tell me about their grandchildren, talk about our dogs, and there’s always the weather.

The dogs like almost all these first-name acquaintances and that endorsement is good enough for me. If the border collie and terrier say “you’re OK,” I’m in.

Lots of neighbors are retired, some from the military. I have just enough exposure to the armed services and service members to carry on a reasonable exchange with the former E-8 Master Sergeant, Air Force Major, Army Colonel. These folk, by and large, are pleasant and intelligent. Without exception, they like dogs.

There are the few Super Patriots. All rah, rah, USA bumper stickers, decoration on doors and mailboxes, and flags for federal holidays. These show-the-flag holidays include Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans’ Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and all the Hallmark card days for mothers, fathers, grandparents, and, of course, Valentine’s Day. Any excuse to display the Stars and Stripes. Good folk and dog approved.

One neighbor, however, has me in a muddle with banners (yes, multiples for different seasons) that read “Never Forget.” That’s fine except I can never remember what it is that I’m supposed to Never Forget.

Remember the Maine? Remember the Alamo? Remember Pearl Harbor?

Keep the battle of Concord bridge right at the front of your mind? Ticonderoga? Lake Erie? Breed’s Hill? The Muse-Argonne? The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory? Shiloh or Gettysburg? Cu-Chi? New Market? Tet, 1968? Khe Sanh? Hue? The Gulf of Tonkin? The massacre at Haymarket Square? Bloody Mingo?

There’s too many.

These folks with the banner are friendly people and I would never disrespect them. So, that’s great, put out the Never Forget banner, but please include more information. Which event do I need to remember? And for how long? And please remind me when it’s time to change events. I’m so muddled I really do need help.



Out-of-Season Election

My editor, Claire, told me, “No soapbox.” She is smart, savvy, and not given to idle threats. So, no soapbox.

This is the year Virginia elects the governor, lieutenant-governor, attorney-general, and members of the house of delegates. Too few of us bother with these off-year elections. I’ve long believed that we hold our elections during these odd years because the machine that once defined Virginia politics did not want a large turnout and never wanted any coattails.

The entire country and a good portion of the western world are worn out by the last presidential campaign and election. The damn thing ran all of 2015 and right up until November 8, 2016. It felt like a form of water torture and ended in a bloodbath. Whether your candidate won, lost, or was drowned in a sack, the only important thing was, for a while, that it was over.

Then, holy-moly Batman: the hand-off happened in January and we’re back on the treadmill or, maybe, if the administration can be believed, Campaign 2020. Someone’s appointed. He’s fired. The Russians did it. Go away. Go to work and insult everyone in sight. Get fired. Fix the White House. Have a schoolyard shoving match with the insane teenager running North Korea.

It never stops and we’re getting tired of it again. It is like being locked in the trunk of a low-rider with a 500-watt bass speaker. You know there’s something being said but you can only hear the thumps.

Take a breath. Virginia politics can be just as insane and dirty as anywhere else. But, state elections have more of a direct effect on our day-to-day lives than does the insanity of D.C. Don’t ignore this year’s election.

Read what the candidates say. Don’t read what is said about the candidates; any fool can make stuff up. Pay attention to real news media. Avoid the screamers and obvious demigods who only want to present their opinions.

Become involved.

I have gotten involved because I believe we need two-party governance. The state senate and the house of delegates are controlled by one party. The legislative majority enact laws and bills we neither need nor want while denying citizens of the Commonwealth needed services and rights. Single party governance, left or right, allows too much power to reside in one place backed by one ideology. Not a healthy situation, in my opinion.

Put yourself out there. Be informed. Get involved. On Tuesday, November 7, go vote.

Not Conscripted

Like many males of my generation, I was drafted. Conscripted soldiers tend to avoid worsening their situations by volunteering. Most draftees of my era kept their heads down, did what needed doing, finished their active duty, and went back to civilian life. With some of us, that reluctance to join has become a lifelong habit. Except for trade/labor organizations and becoming an employee, I have avoided requests to join up, become part of something, step up, and sign on the dotted line.

However, America and the world need volunteers. A poorly recalled phrase from one of author Kurt Vonnegut’s commencement speeches notes how important everyday volunteers are to their communities. I’m paraphrasing but his meaning is clear: ‘volunteer firefighters and emergency medical people are the 20th century (modern) equivalent of the Minutemen (from the time of the American Revolution).’

This was true where Vonnegut lived and it is still true, no matter where.

Volunteers are what makes a nation more than the sum of its parts. This nation is greater than the Right and the Left, better than mean-spirited slogans on bumper stickers, far more than the partisan bickering and verbal sniping in our various state and federal legislative bodies, and more important to who we are than is the chief executive. We are a nation of volunteers.

Our neighborhood is mostly blue-collar and seems comfortably diverse. We are black, brown, white, native born, immigrants, college professors, contractors, factory workers, nurses, students, members of the military, and a fair cross section of society. It’s a good place to live, to raise children, and to walk dogs.

A couple of times each year our Home Owners’ Association holds a neighborhood spruce up. While these are for the betterment of all who live here, there’s nothing mandatory. Depending on weather or other distractions, each time they plan one of these there’s hope for a good turn-out. “Many hands make light work.”

Any size society can and does, with little provocation, become divided into the extremes, but on a recent spring day the members of our neighborhood displayed their better selves. There was nothing heroic, no disasters averted, and no lives saved. It was simply spring cleaning our community park.

A disparate bunch of neighbors came together for the common good. A roof was replaced, a playground was clean and made safer for the children who will slide, swing, climb, and enjoy it. Most of us didn’t know each other before 10 a.m. We (yes, even I joined in) were old, young, female, male, racially and ethnically diverse, and, on that occasion, totally apolitical. That day, we volunteered.





Announcement: New Book Coming!

Ready or not, we’re putting together another short story collection. We plan to have this in print and in the e-formats before the beginning of November. Of course, you should buy a copy for yourself and several as gifts. Just like Stories from Potomac County, the price will be reasonable.

OK, that was a sales pitch.

Similar to the drug ads on TV, there are disclaimers. These do not include side effects like vomiting, inability to sleep, ringing in the ears, or death. But pay attention, anyway.

This next collection are stories about the military, about Vietnam, about the aftermath of a long running, distant, often divisive conflict that cost the U.S. more than 58,000 mostly young people. These are not war stories. These are not stories of heroics on the battlefield. They are stories that are set in the milieu of the Vietnam War and in the years since the U.S. military pull-out.

Now, here’s the warning for my readers: If you were at all offended by Stories from Potomac County, do not read this next book. If the language contained therein bothered you, every one of the new stories will upset you.

These are stories of soldiers, truckers, drunks, and drug users. They tell of situations that none of us should have to face, circumstances that a 19-year-old is unprepared for, and judgements that are more about humanity than morals.

With this foreknowledge, watch this space. Keep your wallets and credit cards handy. Ready or not, there’s another one coming.

Green Stuff

In 1996, we went to England as a family: my wife, Sharon, our eight-year-old daughter, our six-year-old son, and I.

We stayed our first several nights at Victoria’s Spa, just outside Stratford-Upon-Avon. Our hosts, Drean and Paul, made us very welcome. The rooms and gardens were lovely. Breakfasts, including pressed coffee, were delicious.

The thing about a Bed and Breakfast is that the guest must make his own arrangement for meals beyond breakfast. Cheese and bread or a plowman’s from a public house served us well at lunch but we needed a suggestion for supper. Drean suggested The Mary Arden Inn in Wilmcote, just three miles away. They gave us perfect directions, including arriving early enough to visit the Palmer House and Mary Arden Farm if we wished.

The Mary Arden Inn is a public house with bar, restaurant, and overnight accommodation.

We were seated in the public dining room where that day’s offerings were on a clearly visible chalkboard. One child ordered cheese ‘n’ pickle (hold the pickle, please) but the rest of us ordered fish and chips. Service was prompt and on each plate was a large piece of lightly breaded cod, a pile of what we would call French fries, and a significant mound of what appeared to be green mashed potatoes.

The fish and chips were excellent and we could easily have done with nothing else but there were those green mashed potatoes. I was the adventurous one and tasted them. Well, they weren’t potato at all and, while I couldn’t identify them, they were delicious. Our server happened by while I was attempting to get the others to join my culinary exploration and I asked, “What’s this green stuff?”

Looking at me as though I had just wriggled out of the river Avon, he said, “Mashed peas.” He offered no further explanation and we were so dumbstruck we didn’t ask.

In Canterbury, several days later, we treated ourselves to another pub meal of fish and chips and sure enough there was the green mound again. When our server cleared away and asked if things were all right, I complimented the food and especially the ‘mashed peas.’ Our server put me right, while they are mashed peas, they are called mushy peas and universally understood to come with fish and chips at any proper English pub.

Sharon now makes mushy peas as special treat to have with codfish, proper chips, and a pint of stout. Thanks Mary Arden for the playwright and the mushy peas.