The End of a Civilization

Another fall, the Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church convened at St. Paul’s church. I was allowed to go very often, and though young, about 15 years old, I enjoyed the services. The number of Bishops awed me and I recall even now some of the sermons. I knew some of the Bishops, Bishops Meade and Johns of Virginia both grand in mind, manner and appearance, Bishop Johns a fine orator, Bishop Meade unique in his simplicity and rugged strength. I remember Dr. Dix of N.Y. and Dr. Hodges of N.Y. whose wonderful voice and elocution held all spellbound. I recall these personalities distinctly, and the whole thing made a vivid impression upon me. Thank God for these beautiful memories. I never saw a convention that made a like memorable memory. I think it was the next summer I was confirmed at Old Beaver Dam Church. At that time our church, St. Paul’s, had no clergyman so the confirmation was held there. I recall a little circumstance — when I tried to untie my bonnet, the strings would not untie. The dear old Bishop Meade saw my confusion and said, never mind child, just push your bonnet back. My realife* at his considerate kindness gave me joy then and will never be forgotten. Venerable old Patriarch, I wonder how many hearts have been gladdened by your ministrations. Read more

To My Favorite Child, On Your Graduation Day

May 26, 2018

Dear Ben,

You’ve attended your last day of high school.

I’m sorry your dad is not here on this big day, to send you off to school with a good breakfast and a cup of strong coffee, not too much creamer…but if he were here I know that’s how he would’ve wanted to start the day with you.

I’m sorry he missed seeing all of your report cards, but I bet he knows how hard you worked even when things sometimes didn’t come easy for you. Your talents and skills are more like mine, and that would totally blow his mind had he lived to see it.

I’m sorry he was not here to answer your questions about women, but I’ve always told you the truth about what makes us tick. I’m super sorry he never met all the beautiful, wonderful girls who have been important to you. He would’ve been very proud of your choices in girl-friends and in girlfriends, and impressed with the qualities you find important in women. I certainly am. I sure loved them all, and most girls want a boy’s mother’s approval anyway.

I’m sorry Dad wasn’t the one to teach you about the realities of harsh consequences, but I was just as capable of making you answer for your mistakes like a man, and I think I did.

I’m sorry I was the one who had to drive you and your lawnmower to cut grass, but you learned your work ethic from me anyway, so it was fitting. I hope you inherited your dad’s ability to save money though, as opposed to mine.

I’m sorry I was the only one of your parents to watch you swim, and I tried to be careful not to scream too loud. I think Dad would’ve screamed his head off though, if he’d been there, and he would have clapped and rubbed his hands together in excitement when you raced. I know you can hear him and see him in your head doing this right now, just like I can.

I’m sorry I went through your texts and tracked your phone sometimes, but I promise you, your dad would’ve done the same thing if he’d been here. We always backed each other up like that. Except for when you needed a spanking. He could never spank you. He couldn’t take it, so I always had to be the one to do that.

I’m sorry you were the kid who didn’t have your dad at all the things where you needed your dad, but look at all the other dads who wanted to be in your life because of it.

I’m sorry you lost your favorite fishing buddy, but you are ten times the fisherman your dad was at your age, and he would be beside-himself-proud knowing that. That’s not an accident, kiddo, and you can’t fight those genetics.

I’m sorry you sometimes felt like you had to grow up too fast, but look how independent you are now. You’ve been a grown man for half your life. It’s one of the things about you I love most.

I’m sorry he was not here to help you tie your ties for Homecoming and for Prom, but I tied his for him anyway. I’m not sorry at all that you look just like him, but trust me when I say – those green eyes of yours – that’s all me. You are just as handsome as he was and when I see you, I see him. It’s remarkable, actually. But you know that already.

I’m sorry Dad can’t take you off to college, but he made sure there was enough money for you to go, and that changed everything for both of us. I pray you will take care of your children the way he has taken care of you.

I’m sorry your dad doesn’t know what incredible young men your best friends are, how they’ve made you a better man, a better son and the best kind of friend there is. But when he was alive, he had friendships just like yours, and he loved his friends like you love yours. And now, you’ve got his best friends, too.

I’m sorry Dad isn’t here to see this important moment. He would be as proud of you as I am. Even more. You are everything wonderful in a son that Dad and I talked about when you were a baby. You are everything good about the both of us, but with none of the bad. You were everything to Dad and you are everything to me. Quite simply, Benjamin, you are Everything. Happy Graduation.

Love, Mom

***

I gathered every single picture I could find of your dad and I together. This is a history of our life, and then your life with us. If you are ever out in that great big world you’re about to live in and you start to miss home, here is an easy place to come visit, especially when you need to be near your mom and dad. 
Always remember these things: Your parents loved each other very much, and when we were good we were better than everything in the whole world…and you came from that.
You were the best thing to ever happen to both of us. XO

Rock the Casbah

I met a friend at the bazaar in Casablanca, in 1996!

When I was 25 years old and finally graduating from college, my dad took me on a tour of Spain, Portugal and Morocco as a gift. Those were the kinds of gifts I usually got…no cars or laptops for me, and no regrets either. (Thanks Dad!) Still, I was young, so I didn’t even know what I didn’t know about what I was seeing at those places. I’ve always wanted a do-over of that trip, especially once I went on to become a history teacher of all things. Read more

Pilot of the Intruder

The A6 Intruder

My American History classes finished the upcoming epic American novel and hero memoir Accidental Odyssey yesterday, and it happened conveniently at the conclusion of the last lesson in American History that I will ever teach at Pace High School. I am still letting that sink in. What a way to go out!

To celebrate, we took a trip to the Pensacola Naval Aviation Museum and received a guided tour from the hero of the book himself, Capt. Allen Brady. We watched an incredible IMAX film about aircraft carriers, the might of the United States Navy and the military collaboration we have with other countries from all over the world. Make no mistake though, there is no military mightier than the United States!

Pops in Seville Park with my American History classes, May 3, 2018

Pops talked to them about three (of the dozens) of the planes he flew in his 32 years with the US Navy, including the AD Skyraider, the A4 and the A6 Intruder. They got a very in-depth explanation of his shootdown in the A6 over North Vietnam in 1967, and we learned more than we could ever imagine about “tail hooks” and “bolters.”  Then it was on to the Vietnam POW exhibit, where Pops is featured. Things that were so familiar: the pink and red striped pajamas, the rubber tire sandals, the 7-line Vietnamese paper they used to write letters home, and a replica of the Zoo prison camp. Those kids will never, ever forget the atrocities that happened at the Zoo.

We ended our day trip with lunch in Seville Park where our hero signed all of the kids’ manuscripts for them and posed for pictures

GO NAVY! 

Accidental Odyssey (formerly titled Where Do We Get Such Men?) is currently being published by Kent State University Press with an anticipated release date of January, 2019.

Capt Allen Brady in the A4 during Operation Hardtack, Eniwetok Atoll, Marshall Islands, 1958

Friends, Brothers and the Future King of England

We had a boat and often visited our neighbors. Nearly all lived as we did, on the banks above the canal. It was a most delightful life, so free from care. The servants (were) happy too, so lighthearted and devoted to us. When I was old enough I taught them to read and had Sunday school every Sunday afternoon, which some did not like to attend. I always visited the sick and read the Bible and sang hymns. They used to say, “Here comes that angel child to sing for us.” Read more

The Clutter Remedy

PC: Instagram @within_novaki

Remember the Nineties, when trendy new cable networks like HGTV featured reality shows about getting your life organized? A team of tough-as-nails psychologists worked with licensed neat freaks branded as ‘professional organizers’ to strategically put every piece of crap a person owned out on their front lawn for all of America to see. After those shows took off in popularity, our American lexicon included new phrases that changed our lives forever… Read more

The Fall of 1855

In the fall of this year, 1855, my sister and I went to boarding school in Richmond. Mr. Hubert Pierce Lifefors*, who was trained to the Jesuit Faith and destined for their ministry, by some incluence*, I know not what, departed from the religion of his fathers, escaped from his surroundings to Virginia where he soon rose from visiting master to the head of a female school (Mrs. Meeds.) He was a most accomplished and elegant man, being physically and mentally gifted. He was the best educator I ever saw. He left his Jesuit religion behind him in France and was a devoted Episcopalian. He had a wonderful school, having pupils from Southern states. When the Civil War came upon us, he moved to Montgomery, Alabama, but did not live very long. His first wife, Miss Mary Williams, was a relative of my mother. His second wife was a lady of Montgomery, who after his death moved to Baltimore, and had a fashionable school called Madam Lefebres*. My sister and I went together there and always stood at the head of the class, she first and I second. Our school days were happy and provitable.* I developed a fine voice, sung solos at all concerts and led choruses. My sister was a fine performer. We both played in all concerts. Excuse my part of this compliment, but alas, there is no one living to do it, so I simply tell the truth. After two years, my sister stopped school. I went two years more. It was the custom for girls to stop school at eighteen. Then when I reached the required age, my sister, Jennie, was out. We all three made many friends, some have been lifelong. Even now at 76, I have correspondents — Mrs. Charles H. Dummock, Lizzie Sedlen of Glancester County; Miss Sallie Coles of Albemarle, Mrs. Julia Randolph Sage — I have letters from them now in 1919. It would take a column to tell of my many friends there and probably interest no one but myself. Read more

Happy As a Seagull with a Cheeto

PC: Instagram @mvm_frankfurt

Spring Break when you live on the beach means you get to entertain a good bit of company. In my case, it was teenagers who live forty-five minutes and a quarter of a tank of gas away. I’ve had a lot of visitors this week…mostly sandy-footed shower-takers and sun-kissed beach-worshippers who need power naps, and yes I loved every minute of it. Read more

The Listmaker

PC: Instagram @jen.menard.victor

I’ve been thinking about becoming a runner pretty much all my life. At my age (46), isn’t it probably time to give up?

Like naturally talented singers, I think God gave runners a special extra “something…” discipline, maybe? When they’re born, they seem to have something equivalent to the drug addiction gene, only these lucky souls are addicted to something completely healthy. They’re born addicted to the “runner’s high.” What’s not to envy?!

Well, I didn’t get that gene. What I did get is a trait I call “Resolve.” I make lists and then I complete them, obsessively. I think up items for my list and then, sooner or later, I check them off. This can be as simple as get my car detailed, something more hobby-focused like learn to can vegetables, or it can be as intense as learn to speak Portuguese (all of these are actually real items on my List). Like the runner, I am addicted to checking items off this list, and it comes with a ‘high’ all its own. Some goals take longer than others, and some that I created way back in my past are taking a bit of an eternity, but I never give up on a goal once I resolve to reach it. Read more

What Jane Taught Me (Hint: Take the Weird Classes in College!)

Gombe, Tanzania – Jane Goodall watches as Hugo van Lawick operates a film camera. The feature documentary JANE will be released in select theaters October 2017. (Jane Goodall Institute)

On March 12th, National Geographic will premiere it’s new bio-documentary Jane, about the legendary and iconic Miss Jane Goodall, Ultimate Conservationist and Queen of Primatology. Thinking again about Goodall sent me spiraling back to memories from my college years when I first learned of her work, her pioneering studies on chimpanzee behavior. I can still rattle off a sizable list of absolutely useless things that I remember (the term ‘opposable thumbs’ comes to mind), nuggets of information that I still think are absolutely fascinating with regard to her life’s work.

View the trailer here: JANE.

…This was SO ME in my twenties!

 

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