Saturday, December 31, 2011

Stepping Into The Past

Perhaps it is a matter of age, or generation.  Or, perhaps I’m just a weepy old man.  As I walked down the gentle incline, into the earth and back into time with the polished black granite just a foot or two from my right shoulder I could see the names passing by, and the little identification numbers on each panel.  It’s all very organized and tasteful.   Just names of young men and fewer young women.    Alan W. Andrews, Thomas E. Johnson, and over fifty-eight thousand more, all cut into the stones from a very few in the beginning, to large panels, full from top to bottom near the middle and tapering out again to the last names, the last Americans killed in Viet Nam. 

It should be easy to walk down and back up again.  But if you find it easy I wonder it you are really all right.   I was on a mission to find a name, the national reminder that a young man had lived among us and died far away.   The well-worn, plastic-laminated directory at the entrance to the Memorial showed the panel number I was to look for.  As we got closer my feet got heavier.  I wanted to find his name, and yet I didn’t.   Then, my guide pointed up and said, “There it is, right there.” And, so it was, LEO A. REMONDINI Jr *, clean, clear, precise.  He didn’t go out that way.  Nothing was clean, clear or precise because, after all, it was war. And the “fog of war” in Viet Nam stuck to their boots and splashed on them when the incoming got too close. 

I never met young Leo, but I knew his family for all the years I lived in Michigan.   The young man was remembered in a shrine on the wall of the Caspian City Hall.  

This was where the weepy old man popped out.   As I laid my hand on his name, touching several other names above and below his the power of The Wall hit me hard. You can’t convince me that the spirits of men do not linger and watch.  In front of my grown daughter, my friend Doyle and his young niece this gray-haired fellow had to wipe his face as The Wall volunteer made a rubbing of the name, and handed it to me with a smile.   

There is a stone channel along The Wall at ground level.  It is there to retain the offerings that people leave.   I looked, but there were no letters, books, teddy bears, graduation rings, bottles, keys or any of the millions of items that have been collected there in the past.  It seems that much of what is found simply appears there early in the mornings, as people can come at night and ponder, and pray, in private.  There is no magic lantern to show us the tear stains on the walkway.   If there was, I suspect it would glow with love and memories in a million little puddles.  Park employees collect the offerings daily and document the location, time and date, and everything collected goes to the National Archives for eternity. 

Speaking of eternity, I guess that’s why The Wall is there.  Lest We Forget and all of that.  Nearby, and facing The Wall is The Viet Nam Soldiers Memorial, a painted metal sculpture depicting three “grunts”, in jungle gear, actively looking over at the names of their comrades.  It is a beautiful piece and it would look good in any downtown city park.  This near to The Wall it appears “lightweight” by comparison. 

When my feet stopped looking too blurry, we slowly walked back up out of the gash in the earth, leaving the black granite Wall behind us, as much of America has left Viet Nam and it’s memories and significance behind. 

Leo and you other men, if you really are there watching, we are still thinking of you.  Our generation will be wiping our eyes forever.  

    Friday, December 30, 2011


    February of 2011 found me doing some nearby travel and short visits to interesting places.   Here is a short narrative of two places I got to visit.


    When at home, which is most of the time, I live in a simple 1960’s era brick ranch-style home.   Humble by most modern standards, but certainly suitable and, importantly, affordable. 

    On two consecutive weekends in February I got away and stayed in “camps” which may be opposites in the broad spectrum of accommodations.  

    For simplicity, let’s refer to my gracious hosts simply as Pete and John.   I arrived at Pete’s place after driving about seventy-five miles on a variety of State, Parish and County roads in both Louisiana and Mississippi. 

    Pete’s place is reached only by finding the right dusty turn-off from a county road, (“Watch for the big pine tree with the little oak tree next to it.”), and then driving in almost a mile on a very narrow lane, occasionally dotted with a mobile home or tool shed.  At the end of the lane there is another mobile home, with chain link fence around the yard, and a large collection of dead automobiles and trucks, both inside and outside the fence line.   You pass by that place into the beginning of an open meadow, fenced with wire, charged to keep the cattle away from it, and a large swinging steel gate.  Open the gate, drive in, get out and close the gate, drive ahead across the meadow, being careful not to bump the cattle and one old horse who thinks you just might have something to eat in the passenger side seat.  At the far side of the meadow, amongst the trees there is a matching gate, that is, steel and partly rusty.   Same drill as before.   Get out, open the gate, drive through, stop, go back, close the gate, get back in and drive slowly forward.   This time a short 1/8 mile drive on tall grass will bring you to Pete’s camp.  

    You’ll know you are there, as the grass shows no indication of having been driven on past the two old and rather experienced looking mobile homes.  Set in an L-configuration, they are joined by a wooden patio deck structure with a tin roof over the top  and no walls.   

    The patio, or porch, or breezeway, or dog-run shows that this is a hunting camp for men.  Racks of antlers hang in the open air, with old hats hung on them and there are several beverage cans balanced on small tables that don’t match.   A large picnic table, a smoker and a gas-fired deep fryer are close by.  In the yard, just a can’s throw away is a section of 48” diameter steel pipe on end that serves as a well controlled fire pit.  Men have been here….a lot… signs of a woman’s touch in sight.   According to Pete, the policy is, “NO GIRLS ALLOWED”.    You can’t quite smell the testosterone here, but that’s probably because of the open breeze that comes down out of the trees. 

    While there is a regular bathroom inside, the tub does show signs that the well water is rich in minerals.  The red glow on the bottom would seem to indicate iron in the water, which is probably a healthy thing.  In truth, almost any tree and most spaces in between may be used for relief and the trees would appreciate it.  It was really dry when I was there. 

    The woods invite tenting and hammock camping, and the whole forty acres are available.   Two steps in any direction give a different view of the sky, the trees and the rolling landscape.  Picking the ideal place to spot a hammock may take 2-3 cups of coffee.  The better of the two mobile homes has several bunk rooms and the old couch folds out into a bed, too.   The fellow sleeping on the couch is in charge of morning coffee in the kitchen area, as he is just about two steps away from the sink and the coffee maker.  Now, that’s what I call convenient design.  The floors in the mobile home are a patchwork of vinyl tile, carpet and plywood and require very little attention to keep them looking their, um…best.  A simple sweeping once in a while are all they need.  Most of the light switches for the living room, hallway, kitchen and dining area as well as the patio are all in one line on the wall near the door.  Again, simple designs are best, no walking around looking for a light switch, they are all together.  There are no covers on the boxes and all the wires are showing inside, so you have to be a little careful to bump the switches with the edge of  your hand as your fingers might get too involved otherwise.   I guess leaving the covers off makes it easier to change the wiring pattern if that ever seems to be necessary 

    Sitting on the patio, feeling the clean Mississippi air, and watching the hawks and other birds, one can look up a gentle hill, just about a hundred yards of cleared field, to more trees where the foxes and coyotes may be seen at times, and white tail deer at other times.  Thus, the racks of antlers on the patio.  The open field makes a great place to set up targets, and that is just what we did.   The geezers I was camping with all shoot air rifles, some very seriously.  Others, like me, are can-poppers and shoot paper targets mostly to prove or dis-prove combinations of pellets and rifles and to provide fodder for discussion around the evening campfire.  

    As you  might expect, Pete’s camp is a great place to unwind, relax, share stories and some of the best camp food in a lifetime.   I’d go back in a heartbeat and can’t wait for the next chance to do just that. 

    A week after leafing Pete’s  place, my wife and I were invited to use a condominium belonging to John.  It is on a “Key” in the Gulf of Mexico and since about 1750 has been a part of what we know as Florida.     Lots has changed there since the Gulf pushed the sand into piles and God made the first grass hold it all together.   Where there was once a long sand strip with water on both sides there is now an asphalt highway serving a long string of tall and valuable buildings which house condominiums and restaurants.  

    One of those buildings, actually a matched pair, ten stories tall, with nice windows on the highway side, and truly wonderful windows on the Gulf side was our destination.    We arrived, parked in the spacious parking lot, and simply took a breath, overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the neighborhood.   Modern, beautiful brick structures, engineered for the best views and hurricane protection both, jutting skyward, competing with each other for the most sunning appearance.  

    We carried the keys with the seemingly magic plastic button which opened the exterior door.  The elevator waited inside.  (Elevator?  We live in Ponchatoula.   There isn’t an elevator for ten miles in any direction.)  We pushed “9” and we were carried immediately to our floor, over one hundred feet above the glimmering waters of the Gulf. Our key opened the door, and we entered not really knowing what to expect. 

    If you can imagine walking into a page of “Better Homes and Gardens”, then  you can imagine what we felt as we crossed the threshold.  The doorway led us into a hallway, tastefully decorated with dried flowers in oriental vases, on a delicate side table with a framed mirror on the wall.  The polished marble floor was the perfect shade to accent the wallpaper.  Could it get any better? 

    We found the living room, furnished with fluffy and comfortable couches and recliner chairs, a world class entertainment center with the largest television set I have ever seen outside of a sports bar.  The master bedroom was sheer heaven, and a total floor to ceiling window gave a bird’s eye view up and down the beach, far below and the Gulf itself.   We found that both sunrise and sunset were visible through this window.  The huge French doors in the living room opened onto a tasteful and comfortable open air balcony with a table and two chairs. 

    Everything, and I mean each and every thing in the condo had been chosen and placed for it’s visual and practical effect.  The paintings and prints, the mirrors, flower arrangements and “table trinkets” all worked together to project a calm and quiet effect.  As the waves rolled in below we could sit in a recliner, read our email on our laptops and actually feel our stress slip away. 

    Of course the bathrooms were marble.  Need you ask?  Of course there were motion sensors in the lighting so that even a stumbling, late night visit was tastefully lighted for safety and convenience.  And the Masther Bedroom shower….I’ll just let you imagine it.  

    The kitchen exhibited every modern appliance and function needed to produce meals of the best local seafood or anything else, for that matter.  Granite countertops chosen for their warm color, framing the stainless and black stove and three door refrigerator.  The most modern coffee maker, the best of toasters, and on down the line….all reflected in the totally mirrored walls under the finely finished and polished hardwood cabinets.   Somehow it seemed a bit underwhelming to shuffle into the kitchen and make instant coffee and a bowl of cereal. 

    Never in my dreams had I imagined being allowed to stay in such luxury, even for the two nights we were there.  

    Yes, this has been a tale of two camps.   One, a wonderful spot with fresh air, all the creature comforts and a great view, and the other, a wonderful spot with fresh air, all the creature comforts and a great view.   What an honor and a pleasure it was to experience them.     

    New Day, New Year, New Blog

    Here it is, the end of another year, 2011.     I'll be happy to see it go for the simple reason that writing any date all year, e.g. 11/17/11 has been less than clear when i mash pen to paper.  Just having a real digit at the end will help to clarify things a bit.  There have been way too many plain LINES.

    My old blog disappeared when Old Mackinac Press disappeared, so I'll recycle some of those old posts here and have lots of new ones too.    There's nothing too earth-shaking, just my view of things and events, sometimes dosed with what someone called "lateral thinking".  

    Thanks for stopping in, and be sure to come back.    Keith