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Newish Kinfolk

Some old friends visited with us recently. We hadn’t spent time with them for way too long, and it was a great evening. They have adult children, young grandchildren, and a relatively young grand-dog.

We can’t really match them story for story, topic for topic. Their grandchildren are close by and they have many stories about adventures with and because of the munchkins. All are entertaining. Two of the grandkids are in school and one is a toddler. The grand-dog is still a puppy and hasn’t really developed his own personality yet. Eventually he’ll have stories as well but for now, the kids are the story fodder.

They also shared a non-kid, dogless, child-free story with us that I found quite interesting. It involves one of those “find out your ancestry and ethnicity” services. We watch a lot of public television and at least one of those services is an underwriter, so I knew such things existed.

What I didn’t know was exactly how the process seems to work.

Let’s call the company WhoAmI.org. All they require is the same thing detective shows need to “eliminate you from our inquiries.” Just spit in a bottle or run a cotton swab around inside your mouth. Everything WhoAmI.org needs will be in the bottle or on the swab. Amazing!

OK, hold on, don’t leave. I’m getting to the cool bit.

One of our friends spat in a bottle and sent it off. The results came back fairly quickly.

‘You’re 22.5% Alsatian, 19% Aborigine, 7% Norwegian, 51.5% Hillbilly.’ ‘Other people similar to you are Betty Crocker, Benjamin Moore, Mozart, and Ralph at the muffler shop.’ ‘We include a list of living people, not including Ralph, who are certainly some kind of blood-kin.’

Several of the ‘certainly some kind of blood-kin’ were as expected, relatives already known: siblings, uncle, aunt, etc.; however, one of them was a total unknown. WhoAmI.org offered the ability to contact these ‘kin’ via e-mail, through the website. They do not expose the participants to trolls.

Our friend followed up with the unknown. Damn! Her efforts paid off. Turns out the unknown is the adopted illegitimate offspring of a relative. Nobody in the family knew about her and vice versa. She was understandably excited. Her birth-mother was over the moon. Biologic father wasn’t thrilled but has warmed to the knowledge. Cousins have come out of the woodwork.

Fireworks and felicitations all around.

What a cool thing. And all from “eliminating you from our inquiries.”

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Women in Search History

Today, I will both embarrass our daughter and again prove that I am naïve or foolish or both.

In March of the year our daughter was in fourth grade, her teacher assigned a one-page essay for Women’s History Month, but the subject could be historic, modern, or contemporary: any woman of significance from Eve the snake-lady all the way to Madeleine Albright, U.S. Secretary of State.

We owned, at that time, a used IBM 286 with a dial-up connection. There often was time to fix a meal while waiting on the computer to establish a connection with some distant, perhaps useful site. Neither my fourth-grader nor I knew anything about doing research with a computer and the internet. As the assignment was not for a particular individual, we also needed to find the subject for the essay.

February was Black History Month and here it was March, Women’s History Month, so we decided we’d find a lesser-known African-American women who should be recognized as significant.

In those dial-up days, those less-than-lightning-fast 286 days, we had no clue about search engines or how to search. I was as ill-informed as it was possible to be.

I typed in “Women in History.”

As quickly as was the norm (measured in minutes compared to nano-seconds), a page turned up with countless headings to click on. I started at the top.

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!

The page that loaded was photographs of women. All young. All naked. There were pictures for sale along with lists of services available. I QUIT without learning about the services and explained that we had found the wrong place.

I tried again. “Historic African-American Women.”

Another page with numerous headings appeared. Reading and trying to intuit, I clicked on a site labeled ‘Women of Africa.’ The difference proved to be only that each photo had country of origin of the naked young women pictured. QUIT!

Still clueless, I tried several other sites on that page. There was hardly a noticeable difference from one site to the next; however, none of them cared a jot that we wanted Historically Significant Women.

It was time to give up. Our daughter did her research at the library. The Williamsburg Regional Library is a wonderful local resource and the librarians are always helpful and patient. The resultant essay received a good grade.

The computer took longer to deal with. Every time a search for anything was attempted, we were offered pages upon pages of naked photographs from around the world. A tech had to make a house call, remove our search history and cookies, and let us start with a clean slate.

We finally have moved on from dial-up, but my mistrust of the internet has not gone away. I know there’s lots of informative, useful information on the internet about world-changing women. I worry about the people for whom women on the internet means the pictures and not the substance.

Tet: 50 Years Later

January 30, the 50th Anniversary of the 1968 Tet Offensive, should be remembered. This memory belongs to all Americans not just to old soldiers, veterans like me who were In-Country at the time. What began overnight on January 30, 1968 would become a seminal event in the Vietnam War.

Military historians tell us that the 1968 Tet Offensive was a defeat for North Vietnam despite how it seemed on the ground. Historically, militarily, it may not have produced the result North Vietnam desired, but from our bunkers, towers, sandbagged hooches, and previously secure bases, air-fields, and compounds, it was the enemy bringing the war to Americans.

My platoon was on perimeter guard duty that night near the end of January. For truckers on the wire in a division basecamp, it was an exchange of fire on a much larger scale than they had experienced. For mechanics and technicians in their shops or sleeping quarters, it meant the war had come to them. For real combat soldiers it would mean re-taking ground already taken.

Cities were invaded, military compounds were breached, and roads were rendered unusable in a coordinated offensive from the DMZ to the Mekong Delta.

Huế, an ancient imperial city and citadel on the Perfume River and on National Highway 1, was captured by NVA, National Front, and Viet Cong forces during the overnight hours of January 30. The blood of U.S. Marines, ARVN, U.S. Army, and countless civilians would be the price of wrenching the city back from the invaders.

While Huế, Khe Sanh, and Quang Tri are some of the names most remembered from those weeks, the offensive, which affected more than 100 locations in South Vietnam in the early morning of January 31, was effective to some degree in the entirety of South Vietnam.

The Tet Offensive and its aftermath brought truth to the American people. Politicians and generals had lied about southeast Asia, Indo-China, and South Vietnam since the mid-1950s. The lies told by the Saigon government and some U.S. generals to the administration in Washington and the American public were laid bare. There was no victory in sight.

Despite years of honorable and heroic service by thousands of U.S. men and women, the Tet Offensive exposed the war for the travesty it was. The cost in lives, in blood, and in treasure became more than the nation would continue to bear. The Tet Offensive may have been a military defeat for North Vietnam but it was an awakening for the American public.

U.S. direct involvement continued for five more bloody years. To those who fought during this time, we thank and remember you.

This post was published as a Letter to the Editor by the Daily Press, Feb. 3, 2018: http://www.dailypress.com/news/opinion/letters/dp-edt-letssat-0203-story.html.

An Afternoon at Quievremont

We had a book signing at Quievremont Winery on Saturday, January 13. It was a bitterly cold day in Rappahannock County but Quievremont was warm, welcoming, and we had a great time.

Note, it’s not pronounced “Quiver – mont” as I had suspected. It’s more like “Kev – re – moh”, and you can hear it said in this video from the winery.

The family that own and run the winery were well-represented by John (the boss) and son Nick, who is very knowledgeable about wine and the winery. The manager, Karl, met us well before opening time and set us up at one of the large windows overlooking the vineyards and surrounding farmland. While we had a prime spot in their facility, it wouldn’t stretch the point to say that it all seemed prime.

Quivermont

There was a steady stream of wine enthusiasts through the afternoon. A good few stopped to talk with us and buy a signed copy of Vietnam: Stories from a War and Stories from Potomac County.

Chuck at Table

There were several comments about the sub-title to Potomac County: Truths, Half-truths, and Lies from Rural Virginia and Someplace Else. The contrast in various levels of truth seemed to be the attraction. At least no one called anything alternate facts.

We have been invited back and certainly plan to do that.

Our local wine aficionado was very impressed with Quievremont’s wines and we brought a couple of bottles home. At least one of them is being saved for a special occasion.

One young ‘reader’ in the sunshine on their front porch captured Sharon’s attention.

Girl in Sun

 

A visit to Rappahannock County should be on your agenda in the near future. There are many interesting places to visit along the Rappahannock Artisan Trail.

Maybe we’ll see you there.

Sex and a Kitchen Sink

You need to have read last week’s post. If you haven’t done so, yet, you are going to be disappointed about the title of this. Go on, read it now.

If you’re back, I’ll assume you’ve caught up with the rest of us.

Having written a 17-page story for my teenaged son and being told it was too long, I attempted to shorten it and eventually wound-up with 434 pages of what I thought was a compelling story.

I had no guidance. No advice. Certainly no editor. I had an old IBM desktop and an extremely noisy dot-matrix printer. And I had confidence that I could do this.

My 434 pages had everything: sex, disappointment, angst, sex, war, anger, fear, sex, abortion, divorce, sex, love, travel, and more than one kitchen sink. There was probably a flood and fire in there as well. It had everything, that is, except for the elements that could make it interesting and readable.

This thing rambled, mostly directionless, from 1944 to the present day. It would still be wandering around causing mayhem, except I was fortunate enough to have someone slap me upside the head with a couple of truths. When you blunder into doing something without knowing how or exactly what, you need someone to beat you down with the truth.

My truth-teller had, during a long interesting career in various disciplines of what we call The Arts, been a professional manuscript reader for one of the big publishing houses. In addition to her experience in reading professionally, she was still an avid pleasure reader.

She was also a friend.

This reader, this friend, took that document that weighed nearly four pounds and had at least a hundred pounds of self-importance attached and read it. She read it again. This woman was a professional, a friend, and apparently, a glutton for punishment. Every effort was made to find some value in those pages.

It took a year to write it. It took my friend nearly six months to read it those multiple times. “Come up here and take us to lunch” was my summons. She and her husband lived some 60 miles away and all of us like Mexican food.

We had a nice lunch. Fried plantains in sweetened cream was dessert.

“The good news is that you wrote a romance, a bodice ripper. The bad news is it isn’t any good. There may be a story in there somewhere, but I’m not sure it’s worth digging it out. No one will publish this. Sorry.”

That story did my family little harm beyond the cost of paper and ink. I set it free. I hope over these past 14 years it hasn’t hurt any innocents. Sometimes, you just need a slap upside the head and sometimes the truth hurts. Thanks for that.