Saturday, April 19, 2014

Good Friday - Passings and Passages

In going through a box of assorted extra household stuff I had at the crash pad, recently I found some old photos of Big Bro and I.  I had shared this one with you all where he's watching over me, like always. Note how seriously pissed off I look to be wearing a dress and those shoes.  There's another, sitting on the table at the crash pad right now, at Christmas.  I'm on the floor, wearing another hated dress with some doll stuff.  He's next to me with this giant fire truck.  I am holding the doll stuff as if it might bite me, looking over at him and the truck with a look that definitely says "I was ROBBED!".  

Then, there were later ones, this one an adventure with a raft we built with our next door neighbor and Bro's best friend since they were toddlers, C, pictured there on the right next to him.
Here it is in all it's glory as we prepared to take it down to the lake for some secret soldier exercises. The transport medium was my roller skates which I leased to them (being the good military contractor that I was) for 25 cents for the day. Note their Rat Patrol style hats.  We watched Rat Patrol a lot, to the point even now, in heavy traffic, with idiot drivers, I daydream of a Jeep and an M2 50 cal.

Good times, though too soon they were grown up, Big Bro, growing like a weed to where he was as tall as C.  Soon everyone was off to the military or other adventures.  One sidebar there, C.was TERRIFIED of flying. It only stands to reason that when he had to take his FIRST flight on a plane, a transport, guess who the Skipper was?  I still remember him, with a look of horror on his face when he found out who was in the front left seat, blurting out to the amusement of all on board "Oh *@(!,  I helped teach her how to drive!"

He survived, and all these years later, he's still Big Bro's best friend, there for him when I can't be.

I didn't expect Bro to remember my birthday, but he did.
But Big Bro always remembers my birthday, even if a day or two late, with a funny card with a drawing of him being abducted by aliens, somehow explaining the delay. There are other holidays, and sometimes no occasion at all, as he remembers me, just a note that shows up in the mail, cards when I come back West to visit. I'm not sure exactly where it started, perhaps with the whole Pez dispenser collection that he also started giving me little "M and M" stuff, including a candy jar in the shape of one, I keep on my desk.

I realize from talking with my friends that not all sibling relationships are this close. A lot of kids grow up almost strangers, with personalities and interests so divergent they wonder how they're related. They get along as well as can be expected, playing politely at family gatherings, bound together only by being the children of the same people. I consider myself lucky to having a sibling who I would have wanted to be pals with, even if we weren't related. (who else find his Sis's original Christmas stocking and fill it with chocolate and ammo).
I remember him letting me tag along his paper route, not being ashamed of his little sister as most of his friends would have been, but teaching me the perfect curve ball of paper onto a porch.

I remember road trips where we would playfully bicker and play with toy soldiers in the back of the car, mine in my chubby little hands, his, more grown and nimble, moving on to my side of the station wagon seat with his troops, setting camp until I yelled "MOM". And we'd be told to be quiet, for at least 15 minutes, and we'd sit, in perfect stoic silence, shooting looks back and forth to each other, as if dueling with foils, plotting, planning, waiting for the laughter to burst out because we just couldn't hold it in.

I remember all the Sundays we went to Church, even those earliest memories of Service on Easter Sunday. I'm sitting as still and as tall as I can, but I can only see the backs of heads. When I was really little, Mom would give me a tiny little bag of cheerios, so if I got hungry and fidgety I could eat a few, one at a time.  My feet hurt and my new dress itches but I know mostly to behave, acting up only earning a brisk march outside for a swat on the bottom, as even Jesus looked down from the wall in the vestibule with an expression that said "you shouldn't lob a Cheerio at your brother".

Easter Sunday. he traditions rarely varied, we'd get up to find a small basket outside our bedroom door containing jelly beans and candy, and for me, one early Easter, a stuffed bunny. Oh how I loved that bunny, dragging it around everywhere, Mom occasionally having to wash it and hang it up on the clothesline by its ears to dry.  Over time, most of his fur was worn away, he lost his plastic eyes, his nose fell off and his ears were beyond floppy.  But I still loved him, keeping him even into adulthood, even if I couldn't always keep him safe from harm.

 I didn't much like the early hour or wearing a dress on those Easter Sundays.  But even to a child, there was something magical about the music, the organ straining with the sonorous tone of a parent, while the choir, voices freed from parental caution to play quietly, rose up in in a flurry of joy, heartfelt in their gathering volume, assuming the shapes of angels to my small form below. I'd actually  sit still for that, as the their voices faded away into the still air, as clear and delicate as struck glass.

After that it was Sunday as usual. Normally our folks made Sunday a family day of board games and books and music, but hyped up on Easter candy sugar, Mom was willing to forgo that to let us run off a little steam, so we donned our cowboy holsters and six shooters and headed out.  Big Bro gets out the door first and point his firearm at me with a stern  "you'd best get out here you lily livered coward" to which I simply stuck my tongue out at him through the screen.  It tasted like dirt.

He didn't look at all scared.

But somehow the play always evolved into us being on the same side even if all we had to be the "bad guy" was the neighbor's cat or a menacing shrub. I took more than one "bullet" for my big brother, even if I could barely keep up with him on my little legs. More than one knee was bloodied in my battle to save him. the scabs a Bactine infused mark of my sacrifice.

But it's hard for kids as they grow up, to keep the cohesion we had living in the same house. We are bound together by family, but often scattered by distance, dealing with our own tragedies, things much worse than a failed model contest, keeping it in and not saying much. Perhaps it's the Scandahoovian in us, perhaps it's the sense of protecting the clan.

As is inevitable, we did grow up, he leaving for Submarine Service when I was still in school

I missed him. I remember walking in the woods with Dad's old Savage and seeing an elk crash into flight from a stand of small trees, the sound curving around the whole earth it seemed. I couldn't move, frozen by the sound. I simply stood, open mouthed, gun at my side, incredulous as to how big he really was close up and all the thoughts flowing through my head, turning to follow his now invisible running. For lack of any other response to his leaving, I picked up a rock and threw it hard and deep into the forest in which he ran, the stone, glinting like a knife, disappearing into the last copper ray of sun before it dipped behind the trees.

"I don't want you to go" was all I could say, as I stood there in the fading light, sounding very small and alone.

But he came back; he always came back. And he'd call me when he could and I'd tell him about school and my misadventures in physics, both in and out of the classroom, and we'd laugh. We always both laughed, easily and well. We didn't worry about politics, or budgets, or deadlines or knowing that sometimes keeping your mouth shut had to be the better part of valor.  Even as I entered adulthood, we could still laugh and say "it's five o clock somewhere" as I raised my first glass of amber liquid in a toast to endless oceans and skies. It was a golden time, one in which we hadn't fully learned to look at everything in a critical eye of war or loss.

When he got married I was there at his wedding near the Naval base in California, wearing a lime green bridesmaid thing that I would not have worn for the Pope, The Queen of England or Marshall Dillon (though given how Miss Kitty dressed, Marshall Dillon would have liked it). But I wore it for him.
Soon, he and I were both grown, no longer to have imaginary gun battles with toy pistols.   But he knew as did I, that either of us would give our life for the other.

Though those early gun battles among siblings and friends were only child's play, they will be played out years later for many of us. For there will come times of fighting, of blood and prayer, of plunges into the deepest waters and ascents into unknown skies.  Moments where we approach nearest of all to God, just as on Sunday we drew nearer to Him, there in the peace and the fury that is both the promise and end of all faith.

With my Big Bro no longer living under the same roof, but always looking out after me,  we charged ahead, mindful only of our duty, to protect, to uphold, minds and hearts purged  then of sins that lay behind, summed and absolved by the formal fury of a ministers intonation from the pulpit, moving forward, sacrificing ourselves as need be, so that somewhere, someone can live for a little while beneath the safe, warm exhalation of faith and trust.

As the morning of Good Friday dawned, I was thinking of him, just as I was thinking of this upcoming Easter Sunday.  For it's not bunnies and eggs that Easter is all about, but a memorial to the death and resurrection of one who gave the ultimate sacrifice, laying down his life for us on an ancient cross. That Roman cross was a cruel tool of death, an aberrant form of capital punishment, a tediously painful process designed to magnify every last splinter of pain and abasement before death's relief.

Yet Jesus took up His cross and carried that burden, nails pounded through his feet and hands, his body clothed only in our reproach. Easter is that memorial to that sacrifice for love, even when not deserved. It's a love that never faltered when He saw us struggling with sin, simply loving us beyond it, beyond what we were capable of bearing. It's a love that never ended, was never rebuked, no matter how battle scarred we got.

Some of us got more battled scarred than others, Big Bro battling Stage Four Esophageal cancer, with chemo and radiation. He never complained,though he himself said he looked like a concentration camp victim ("and not even the guy on top of the pile")and with no disrespect to what those souls went through, no one argued with him.
His once red hair was gone, the beard, the round rosy cheeks that I might have suggested would have made for a good Santa Clause if he didn't have dirt on me about the Arc Welder incident, were sunken. Only his eyes looked the same, those light blue orbs which neither the defeat of years or this battle could dim. Picturing his gaunt form as he slept, it was as if all if him were evaporating, muscle, flesh, like water vanishing, til little remained but those deep blue pools. But what remained still saw with what pride upholds when the body fails, a frail hand held up briefly as he drifts to sleep, a not forgotten flag above a ravaged citadel.

We recently spent a week together, he and I, not one that I talked about, but one that was important as we know he might only have a few months left. We stayed up late each night, raising a glass of amber liquid and talking until he nodded off in the easy chair. Each time, I didn't know if I'd hear his voice again, quietly saying as his eyes closed, "I don't want you to go", as I have uttered silently to someone else not long ago. Words quietly released in that quiet tone of slow amazement, as if I had not known, until I uttered them, the depths from which those words came.
But he has gone, leaving us on Good Friday, right at 5 P.M. as if "it was five o'clock somewhere." I'd gotten the call a couple of hours prior that he had collapsed while taking out the trash for Dad and was on the way North towards O'Hare trying desperately to get a flight to say goodbye, when I physically felt him leave me. We'd been through foster care, adoption, the whole "mom caught us taking the TV apart", to an adult life spent serving our country, still as bonded as we were as small children, flung out to the wolves together before being saved. Minutes after I felt his leaving, a trembling in my chest like a released harp string, there and gone, the phone rang.  It was Dad's next door neighbor and friend, letting me know he had passed, there in that minute I felt him. I could only lift one hand up from the steering wheel for a moment towards the sky, a toast in tears.

No regrets, no anger.  From the very beginning we left it in His hands, one way or the other. That time comes for all of us where we cease to be, where "is" becomes "was", where those we love must weigh our empty body down under stone, as what we "are" is lifted up to Heaven. That wooden box that calls for all of us is too small to catch all of the memory of courage and love and so it spills out upon the ground to be gathered up like golden leaves. But that box is still big enough to be a shadow over what remains if we let it.  We did not, enjoying every bit of love and laughter as was possible til the end.

Bless you all, who have been here for us.  On this Easter Sunday, I will say a thanks for you, for the blessings I have, and a big brother who may not have been a saint, but was often my savior.
 - Brigid

Friday, April 18, 2014

Happy Birthday Mr. B!

It may be a bit early, but I have work through the night and I do NOT want to miss a Saturday Happy Birthday to Mr. B.

At 50  you are simply the best of Vintage Aircraft.
You may have a little trouble getting started on a cold morning,
and there is always a bit more in the way of maintenance
but you're totally classic, turning heads as you taxi by,
with a value that has increased greatly over time.

It's been an honor to be your friend, sharing your table (seriously, you need your own cooking show), range bench and all the adventures with you and Midwest Chick, assorted Ninja cats, and Schmoo and Barkley, who we miss so very much.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Quote of the Week

“Six mistakes mankind keeps making century after century:
Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others;
Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected;
Insisting that a thing is impossible

 because we cannot accomplish it;
Refusing to set aside trivial preferences;
Neglecting development and refinement of the mind;
Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.”

― Cicero

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Our Brothers Keepers - On Shields and Swords

Frank, what do you know? It's you and me again tonight.
 The rough riders, tearing up the streets, just like old times.
 This old bus is a warrior, Frank. I have tried to kill her, but she will not die.
 I have a great respect for that.
 Tom Wall - Bringing Out the Dead

An elderly man sits in front of a cold television set, the house is warm, but silent this day. There are plenty of homemade meals, frozen and put carefully away and labeled, things his daughter made for him, on hand. But tonight, he just wanted some canned chicken  soup and a generous  drop of amber liquid, something familiar and warm for his soul.

Outside the wind blows, some tattered leaves still clinging to barren limbs as fiercely as flags. Inside, the phone rings, it's the neighbors, a couple of "kids in their 60's", as he calls them, calling to check up on him across the little white brick fence.  For they'd not seen anyone leave the house for a walk in a couple of days. Beyond the simple expression of Christian caring, they were concerned. He was fine.

He was glad they noticed.
His son is sleeping, even early in the day, taking in little nourishment, but that which is needed for the pain. The two of them have had some adventures, when his son moved in after the chemo was done.   It was a a brief period of endless times, tearing up the streets, if only in the form of a road trip or two, a huge bottle of pickled herring, a six pack and a trip to the ER because someone got bad acid reflux.  Good times, times winding down, he think as he watches his son sleep most of the day, as if the heavens forgot to rewind him.

Tonight, the wheels are silent and he's alone with his thoughts and the past, hoping the phone will ring.  It would be his daughter, who lives so far away, who checks on him daily and visits when she has days off that allow for a quick flight out there and back.

He thinks of her, not as a grown woman, but always as that little auburn haired child who would sit on the couch for hours.  Her companions were the books she coveted, books that she did not so much simply love, but crave like an addict, the fire that flowed from the writers mind through fingertips to be burnt upon the page, then doused with the water of laughter or tears, and wrung out again.  He always said there was no interrupting her when she was like that, the house could burn down around her as she embraced the words among the flames.  She remembers him saying  "She'll  love everything that hard.  That will be both her blessing and her curse".  Why does she remember those words now?

He settles down as he waits for her call.
She, in turn, is glad he has neighbor's that check on him, and a son that is close by, even as he is fading.  He is a man that's already outlived a child and two wives, been part of a Great War and watched his friends die, limping back from battle in an aircraft punctuated with German greetings.  He's as tough as some hardy winter plant that can bloom under the heel of snow, unaware of the heart's unceasing combat with its own thinning blood

My next door neighbor at the crash pad is a police officer. I have his phone number, he has mine.  He's a fine young man with a strong, beautiful wife and two kids. He's a born protector.  If anything looks "off" at either of our homes, we would check. If Barkley was barking at length for no reason, if a door or window that's normally closed is open, little things, he would call me.  That's not being intrusive, that's being smart.

As I drove home from work tonight, I saw a teenager, a cute little thing, walking along the side of the road in a very isolated area, listening to tunes from the little buds in her ears, head down. I wanted to stop the truck and say "do you know how EASY it would be to snatch you off the road", not that it would change her behavior.  Some people don't have to even be snatched, they walk right into their fate with an apology on their lips. Ted Bundy lured women to their death with a cast on his arm and a shy smile, the women feeling too guilty not to help out this poor guy and they were brutalized and died for their efforts.
We are so afraid of getting into any one's business or even looking closely at our own, that we often fail to look around us, to watch for threat, even as we appreciate all the good that is still around us. Tensions builds, darkness threatens, yet there will always be someone, head down, not noticing , with a "lalalalala". It's scary when I see that in a young woman, prey for so many. It's even scarier when I see it in those, that by their power, are supposed to make things safer so when I am ready and willing to defend myself, it's against a manageable target.

It wasn't always this way. In my Dad's time, a nation attacked us without warning and we dropped a very large atomic bomb on them. Today, we apologize profusely to those who wish to kill us, closing the shutters so we don't see rogue nations continue to build their nuclear capability. We close our mouths, stopping our protests before they become sound.

Not all of us are like that, we watch, we are concerned and we're not afraid to speak up about it. I think of this blog community, many of you here that I have met, thousands I have not. Yet when a blog goes silent, usually because someone did the ring of salt wrong when setting up their new blogger template, someone always speaks up, checks with others to make sure they are OK. Others offer help if the issue IS technical; well wishes for the new parents, condolences for our losses, support during illness. Some cash in a tip jar for an unexpected emergency in a working family.  It is rituals from those who remember the divinity of rituals, a few minutes each day we rescue each other deep in the middle of an anonymous web.  When Barkley died, you all were my daily smile, here in this kitchen of sorrow, the pots all too full.

We read the news, we surf the web, just as we walk the streets, motion, stopping, pausing, looking, the whole world moving with the click of a heel, the click of a mouse, so much dependent on how quickly we come into view and move out again, how much we really are aware of in that moment. But we watch, we listen, we think, we prepare to survive, we prepare to defend. We are less strangers than you think, this tribe of bloggers.
Home from work tonight, I go for a short run, sweatpants and dark blue Citadel sweatshirt, trying to work on getting the knee back 100% and then some  It's a work in progress, moving always, finding the composition of lift and motion that will propel me forward, help me get past  pain that is more than a knee, scanning the horizon for anything unusual, gun on my hip under my shirt. I live in a little town some miles from the big city but close enough we have to be vigilant. It's relatively quiet, with some nice houses, a young neighbor I recognize walking a lab, his wife, pushing a stroller. But there are still a few homes that look like the only lab that have is of the meth variety. I see an older neighbor and stop and ask her about her grandchild, she asks about my brother and tells me she misses seeing Barkley.  I thank her, small connections, small reassurances.

I see someone on the bike trail that goes past my road. I recognize her, a city clerk, another volunteer at the food kitchen. She tells me of the volunteer in our group, a working single Mom that didn't show up last time, an illness in the family with an elderly parent that lives with them. I know that person's first name but that is about it. We make arrangements to meet up with some containers of homemade suppers to take over to her as the young lady on the bike knows the woman's address. I don't know her last name, I don't need to, I just know she is a hard worker and needs a little help.

We wave goodbye, and I head out into the open area. I see a movement off in the brush. Dog? Coyote? Now I knew I was in no danger from the coyote or his brethren, but I was in his world. To my eyes, his world was dark, every noise I make a threat or a promise. Where he could see, I was blind, where he could smell, my senses were mute. What he could hear eluded me completely. What drew him in, was as old as time and as uncaring. While I had intellect and size he had the grimness of infallibility, instincts honed through generations of survival in an ever dangerous land. Despite the scientific part of my brain telling me that logically I was in no danger there are primal forebodings that stir softly in our blood. Times, despite logic, that cause a less than subliminal sense of something lurking, watching. Something that stalks quietly, closer to our world than we want.
I see a young man I don't recognize, coming from the direction of town I tend to avoid. His eyes are binge drinking slits, downcast, his hands in his pockets, his whole movement, one of coiled tension and anger, at his parents, at life, who knows. I clear my throat and make eye contact and move across the street towards the gleam of a light in a window, walking head up, hand ready, determined in my movements, even if I still have a bit of a limp when I'm tired.  He moves away and past, paying as little attention to me as he does his own grooming, not knowing that had he moved with the intention of harm, I would have dropped the whole world on him.

I care, for people, for friends, even for strangers who, having lived lives of work and honor, just need a little support. And, as Dad surmised, I love deeply.  But I have a limited capacity for empathy for scavengers and predators, having seen in my travels around the world, some absolute realities beyond the billboard of illusion that the socially and politically naive never imagine.
Arriving back home, I open the garage door, expecting to hear the hiss and click of claws on the tile inside, missing that tremendous WOOF! that was Barkley ready to protect his home from burglars looking to harm either Mom or that 2 pounds of Amish bacon in the freezer. But the house is silent, and I turn on the TV, just to hear some signs of life.  There's nothing that's good news. There are parents grieving, and, on another channel,  Iran's fearless leader, spouting threats of attack for the world's sanctions even while proclaiming his lack of intent to use his nuclear capability for anything other than good. Words stated with fixed and deadening smile.

Maybe I am too cynical. Maybe we should apologize, maybe we should just care more. Send the man some love, a card, a candy gram, a really big bomb.

As I  go out to close the garage door.  I hear a comforting  sound. It's a familiar cop car pulling in to our shared driveway, little kids inside the house, squealing like tires, anxious to greet Dad. I smile and wave , even as I make sure the door is down and  secure before I go in.
Back home out West, someone is knocking on my Dad's door, with food, with care, making sure he's not alone tonight. He looks through the peephole, unlocks the door and opens his home and his heart, all that is left to him. In his closet is a military uniform, on his porch an American flag, within his reach, a shotgun that has fed and protected him for over 75 years. On the table, a photo of a tiny spitfire of a woman, years before her bones shrank inwardly, her mind and her flesh growing sparse in those last days that he never ever, left her side.

I go inside my own home, setting down on the table my own sword; one in the form of .45 acp, dropping the badge in my pocket on the table; my shield, one that grants access to grief but does not protect me from sorrow.

I go inside and pull out a photo that's not on display, someone in dark blue uniform, not here, but always present.  But I feel comfort in knowing, as I sit in this place alone tonight, that for now, this moment, our world is quiet. There's a certain warmth in knowing that someone you love is safe and well, even if they do not need to be present for that feeling to exist, the feeling, a wet finger on a burning wick, hot, but not scorching, possessing a slow deep solidity of heat that only the tragedy of time's cessation would truly extinguish.

We love with great depth, we defend with great pride, we protect with a generation's honor, even as we always keep our guard up, our eyes open equally to worry and wonder.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hair of the Dog - Scotch Night with Cù Bòcan

It was that time of the month again, Scotch Night.  A ritual among some flying squirrels I know, of which I get to share a bit of surreptitious fun if only with a quick toast or two and a cheap phone camera.

Monday's selection was as above  The group overall preferred the  Deanston  I've found it jut a tad too sweet for my taste, but overall, a very nice choice.  Of the four the guys selected, I like the Benriach, a wonderful inexpensive scotch for the new palate, nice, but more complex then some of the others in it's age and price group that are more well known names. The little bit of almond (marzipan?) undertone is a surprise along with the peat.

But it's always fun to try new ones, or old ones that seemed too expensive, until one day you realized you don't work your rear off and have people occasionally try and shoot at you, just to drink cheap hooch.

This is a group with some history.  This is a group that knows what's important.  Duty, honor and a really good scotch.
The one that got the most attention for the Monday Night Scotch Club, if only for the Donnie Darko style ghost dog on the bottle and it's somewhat unique original Twitter launch (seriously?  Twitter?) was the Cù Bòcan from the distillers Tomatin.  It gets its name  from the legend of a spectral dog, Cù Bòcan, who has haunted that Highland village for many years, his legend embellished by his increasing fractious behavior (I'd be cranky too if a peated beverage was only made one week a year).

Sightings are rare, once in a generation, it is said, and always terrifying. A distillery worker, out walking late, was once relentlessly pursued by the formidable black beast, steam spiraling from flared nostrils, fangs showing against a maw, dark as spilled blood, only to have the creature dissolve before his eyes, as he reached out a trembling hand in mercy.  He stood there, the taste of ash on his tongue, as all that was left was but a vacuum of  bitten silence as a dark cloud of smoke disappeared across the moorland.

I wish the beverage drew me in as well as the tale.   It's perhaps just showing it's youth, and at 8 years old, I'd be  happy to try it again in a couple of years  But it's very sharp citrus, almost too sharp, at first, though tempered with a bit of ginger.  Then there is the initial promise of burned love letters, drying down to overcooked popcorn and peppered ash. The feel on the tongue was the butter intended for the popcorn.  It wasn't bad, but for lack of better description, the Scotch Club simply labeled this one as "Chewy and Oily". 

The Hound of the Baskerviles, it wasn't.

Still we'll see how that old dog matures, it might be a nice surprise in a couple of years as the distiller was quite candid when they stated in the launch that the first batch was only 18,000 bottles and the peated element is only aged 8 years, even if in some nice virgin oak, bourbon and sherry casks. 

But I admit, I was suckered in by the ghostly dog story. What is it about a ghost story that draws one in? Few people truly believe that headless ghosts haunt Celtic castles, that restless spirits chase the shadows in every abandoned old farmhouse. Most of us go through life, not observing what was not meant to be observed.

But sitting in a darkening room, the light dancing on a glass bottle or two, the taste of smoke and the moors on one's tongue, one can't help but summon up the genuine wonder for those things that are never truly explained. I believe that despite our outward desire for explanation and logic, most members of the public would rather tell stories of haunted trestles than listen to a litany of logic.
For despite our modern conveniences, our science and technology, can we not be surprised that modern man still feels that shadowed belief in spirits, haunting those places in which they were once so affected, when we ourselves scarcely separate ourselves from past lives and past longing, ever hovering over bygone times and all their emotions, in late night, darkened hours, lingering in the past places in which we were loved. Hoping in the dark misty hills of our hearts, we will remember and be remembered.

For despite our technology, we are still dreamers. Certainly I know one woman that is, even if she is still a big kid at heart.

As Shakespeare said.: We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.

Whether our dreams are that of coherent order and forensic logic or haunting memory of those places we wish we could revisit, I can't help but think just how small my being is. How infinitesimal within the world's workings, the grand chaotic design. As the wind picks up a howl, across open land,, I'll light a small lamp.  For suddenly, I feel very insignificant. Insignificant and small, as moonlight flits amongst the shroud of tree branches, the wind tapping on the window like a ghostly finger, the night but one last lamenting kiss.
Off in the distance, comes the keening howl of a dog.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Wisdom That Should Appy To Everything We Do

Every man who runs a traction engine ought to know something of the magnitude of the force he is working with. 
He ought to know something about the strength of materials in his boiler and engine. He ought to know the exact construction of every part of his machine.
He ought to know how to make all the necessary repairs and make all necessary adjustments and he ought to be familiar with the scientific laws governing every operation of an engine or any of its parts.
-Steam Engine Guide, by Professor P.S. Rose

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Time to Make the Fastnachts

In Pamplona, there is the Running of the Bulls, but in England there is the slightly less lethal Running with the Stack.

This Running with the Stack (actually known as Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day)dates from medieval times, originally celebrated by coveys of apron-clad women racing each other through the streets flipping flapjacks high in the air at least three times as they head for the finish line at the church door.

The vicar decided the winner and awarded the prize, a prayer book. The church bell then signaled the start of this Shrove Tuesday festival, which originated to use up all the butter and eggs before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, with it's look inward and abstinence from meat and other rich foods  It was a fitting end to cold dreary February, a month so dull the Romans only gave it 28 days
One popular pre Lenten dish of Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is the Beignet.  It's good, but in the Range household the favorite pre Lent treat is German mashed potato based pastries, fried in deep fat and called Fastnachts (pronounced Fosh-knock and meaning Eve of the Fast).

The recipes and spelling of the dish may vary slightly but you do NOT want to call them donuts in Pennsylvania  Deitsch country. They may or may not have a hole or a slit in the center, but I add one, so my slightly larger sized ones cook completely in the center. But in holding with tradition, they are cut into squares, to represent the four gospels in the Bible.
Traditionally, on Monday, the day before Fastnacht, dough was put out in straw baskets for raising, then cut in squares and deep-fried in fat, not baked. Served with hot coffee at breakfast on Tuesday, the popular way to eat your Fastnacht was to split it in half and spread with honey.  Today, they're typically glazed and/or sugared. You will see many of them for sale in Pennsylvania, with many of the authentic Fastnachts made by many non-profit organizations (such as a number of Pennsylvania fire companies.)  Sure you can get a commercially made imitation at some stores, but none will be as good as those fire company ones, or those made from scratch at home, the smell as they fry banishing the last of  the winter blues and any loitering cardiologists.

was born and raised in Pennsylvania. While not in the "heart" of Pennsylvania Dutch country or Amish farms, near enough to know and follow the traditions of the land.
"Fasnacht Day," (pronounced Fosh-knock) more properly just called "Fasnacht," is also known as Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Literally translated, it means Fast Night.
Fasnacht is the established beginning of the 40 days of fasting during Lent - which officially begins on Wednesday, Ash Wednesday to be exact. It is a folk tradition dating to the Middle Ages, a Catholic custom that has survived in mostly Protestant Pennsylvania.
Traditionally, on Monday, the day before Fasnacht, dough was put out in straw baskets for raising, then cut in squares and deep-fried in fat, not baked. Served with hot coffee at breakfast on Tuesday, the popular way to eat your Fasnacht was to split it in half and spread with honey. (Today they often come coated with confectioners? sugar.)
In the old days, this was a chance for everyone to gorge on good doughnuts without reprise, for the lean days of Lent and fasting would now follow. The making of fasnachts helped use up fat and sugar prior to the fasting days of Lent.
But this year, that was a week in which there was no celebrating in my household, and they got put aside, until today. With an early morning call out, little sleep and fatigue, it was the perfect Post Lent Sunday Snack on my return (as the beer was remaining in the fridge for the rest of Lent).

However,  I avoided running, as a Scandahoovian Shieldmaiden with a plateful of hot fried Fastnachts is not a sight for amateurs.
Pennsylvania  Fastnachts

1 cup sugar
1 cup mashed potato (don't add anything to it, just the potatoes)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup lard
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp nutmeg
a pinch of Cardamom  (Optional)
2 packs yeast
1/2 cup warm water (use the warm potato water) plus 1/2 cup milk
5 cups flour

Cook 2-3 peeled chunked potatoes in water until soft.  Set aside potato water. Lightly mash potato and measure out 1 cup, reserving any leftover for another use.

Heat milk until scalded (just bubbling around the edges) and add cooled potato water (you want the mixture warm but not hot).

Add yeast to the warm liquid and stir until dissolved. 

Cream the sugar, butter and lard, and then beat that into the mashed potatoes on low, adding in eggs, salt, vanilla and nutmeg. Beat in yeast mixture on medium until smooth and then, with a wooden spoon, beat in roughly 3 cups of  the flour  Dump out onto a floured surface and knead in as much of the remaining flour as it takes (or not) so the dough is not sticky. Put in lightly greased bowl, cover with cloth and let rise until doubled.  Once doubled, roll out dough 1/2 inch thick, cut into squares and lay out on waxed paper about 2 inches apart and cover with a thin, clean towel.  Let raise in a warm place until doubled in size (about an hour)

Heat additional lard  (you want it about 4 inches deep) to 365 degrees F. and gently add the Fastnachts to the hot fat with a wire spoon, so they do not spatter. Fry until golden brown on both side, turning once. Drain on paper towel and brush with a glaze made of 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 Tbsp of milk and a small splash of vanilla.  When cool enough to handle, sprinkle with additional powdered sugar and serve. Makes a couple dozen large ones (and there might be some left for my team in the morning)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Where the Trinity is Intact

Last night was going to be a night out with friends, people with whom I share a lot of history and stories. After saying good night to Partner, out saving the day on the other side of the planet, I got as dressed up as much as is "dressed up" for me, in blue jeans and a brand new white silk shirt.  I managed to look quite elegant, I thought, seated at a nice quiet table in the corner of the pub.  I have back up and a designated driver.  I don't have to be on duty tomorrow.  I'm simply a dot, awaiting an adult beverage. As always, I had my eyes towards the doorway, backup available.  But like anything we never imagine, it came at me when I least expected it, my six foot two, 240 pounds of muscled and well armed backup unable to do anything but look on . . . as the world's biggest glass of red wine flew off the approaching waitresses' tray.

Merlot Missile lock-on, aimed right at the center of my new blouse.  

SPLOSH! I looked like someone on  the losing side on Game of Thrones.  My friend PA commandeers some extra towels and club soda, as I attempted to clean up, while half the restaurant suddenly seemed to gather round. Many apologies and some semblance of order later, our other friend arrived to be asked by the waitress "what would you like to drink?" I couldn't help but mutter, like a ventriloquist, "I'll have what she's wearing".

But you know, it wasn't going to ruin my dinner, as wine stains not withstanding, it was going to be an evening of good food and firearm tales.  It was the trinity of three friends, much history, together, safe and intact; something so special because it is never guaranteed.  We look at photos of our younger selves with a "I was in Bosnia when you took that", or "I was in Iraq".  The stories, then told, reminding us just how many thousands of weathered doors we've passed through, some a little more forcefully than others, and all of the rain and ice and deserts harsh heat our skin witnessed to get here, tonight, the flesh in one piece.
But too soon, it was time to go home, helping house guests get packed to head back east in the morning.  I bustled around, trying to forestall that moment when they said goodbye, taking in that big gulp of air as I looked at their gear, at the orange dog collar on the dresser, so still, so silent. One last breath, to hold me in the airless days ahead.

Still, with moments of laughter, embarrassment and sometimes tears, I wouldn't trade such moments for anything.

Look at what is precious to you, those people, those things that you trust your life and your heart with.  Is it something new and perfect? Is it something cheap and fleeting? No, it is likely to have a bit of wear and perhaps a small ding, there because it had strength to withstand such things.
If you are smart, you look past the dust and the scars as you gather that which is important to you around you. It's that giving over to our gut feeling as to the validity of something or someone, that often reaps the most reward. Look in your gun safe. Is what you treasure the newest or the shiniest? That which you prize the most may be that firearm for which the number of deer that had fallen before it were legion,. Your most treasured possession, a weapon in which you knew that the fierce heat of its holding, there in the blaze of a new autumn, would renew you better than that plastic fake camo looking one.

Look at the world around you, to that which has withstood time, things carefully tended. Stop at the gun show and talk to that 80 year old veteran about something more than the price of his brass. Chances are he won't just regale you with stories of the war, no riposte of sweaty storytelling of gunfire and noise which all war stories are composed of, no ragged lines of gaunt infantry beneath the tattered flags of courage. No, what he will tell you quietly, is simple This was my gun, it served me well, but I'm willing to sell it. Let me tell you about it. And what stories it can tell.
It was there in the case at the gun store, so many years ago, an old Belgium Browning 20 gauge. My first hunting firearm. I'd trained on the Daisy and up, under my LEO parents watchful eyes, but I was ready for something with more weight, more depth, something that was mine. It was older than me, older than my parents, perhaps, lovingly cared for and then up for sale, sitting forlorn in a locked case. Why? A death in the family, a household strapped and the only source of food the giving up of things carefully tended?

The gun had a long history of care, you could see it in the fine veneered finish the carefully tended and lubricated workings. Somebody deeply cared for this piece for more than one generation. But the gun could not answer from its prison of glass, the ghost of its presence simply asking "why".
It was a cold fall morning, a few months later. Across the ditch line came a young whitetail buck.  He moved slowly, without the inborn caution yet tested by a fading gout of black powder smoke. I watched the Browning elongate, rising to become a round spot against the light brown spot of a hearts location, a period on a page soon to be red.

To an outside observer, I would have appeared almost motionless.  But there is great activity in being the observer from above, standing in a stillness that smells of grass, breathing in so many scents in damp warm air. Sweat, blood and a flower that only blooms in the dark, the wind so scant it's like breath on a mirror. Each smell blended yet distinct, always overlaid with the copper tang of life spilled. The air hums along to the earths quiet as all I see, smell and feel forms into a substance I can almost feel on my flesh, capturing it, recording it there in the stillness. The truth is often still, inarticulate, not knowing it is the truth.

As my finger bent towards firing, he looked up for just a moment. It was a moment that passed with the semblance of a sparrow and a hawk in divine immobility in mid air, an apparition of death's hesitation. It is a moment between heartbeats.  Hesitation can not live there, nor fear or any other question of the spirit. It's a time for sure and certain knowing, somewhere deep within you, outside of rational thought, that by your hand, the deer will drop to a forested plain, the bird will fall from the sky. My finger stopped. Then he was gone, like a small lightning bolt on earth muddled hoof, striking through the underbrush with a crash.

He was just a yearling, and though for that moment I was tempted to fire, he had not lived long enough to fight for that life, and I was not ready to take that from him. For another time, perhaps, there would be that road.  For today, there is only the proof in the eyes and heart of a living woman of what happened that did not, but only for a touch of a finger and a word, which is our honor.
In the years since this hunt I have learned that there is an unspoken conversation with death between the hunter and their prey. Mors ultima linea rerum est, death is every thing's final limit. Just as it is with the wolf and the rabbit, the outcome of my hunt is settled there, in that first moment of eye contact between two adversaries. In that micro spasm of moment, there is a exchange of information regarding the propriety of the chase, of the worthiness of the kill. A conversation, of not just history, but of mortality.

So it is, outside of those pistols I have for self defense,  most of my firearms are antiques, guns with history, soldiers guns, police officers guns.  Go to the gun show and  tables of new AR15's are interesting, like a 20 year old in shorts is interesting. But give me the tables of Mausers, of Colts, of wood and flint and powder, the galloping thunder of guns which have fired through the fading fury of smoke into the night as somewhere a sparrow falls from the sky.

I don't care if my safe is full of plastic and shiny and new. Our lives are sublets anyway, and too quickly gone. Give me something with history, something of strength and purpose and years, that will give as much back as I can possible give it in return. Not everyone understands.
How do you explain to someone whose life is driven by "what will the neighbor's think", that there are just some things essential to you, that when you see them, you not only recognize them, you wish to experience. But I think it's probably the same thing I think when I see a woman's closet with a hundred pairs of shoes and think "why on earth would someone want a closet full of shoes?" If I won't ever understand that frame of reference, why would they grasp mine?

Of course, not everything that is used is useful, not everything of weight has measure. There will be things you find that end up costing you more than money. But you still seek those treasures that remain. You may find them on a table in a hall, you may find them in a house where they've been locked for far too long. You may find them just breathing, at that same moment in time where you are, two being on a small place on a planet spinning in space, destined to meet.

You realize then; that what you truly value, what truly makes ;you happy, is in such small moments, those places where the Trinity is intact, as if it had never been otherwise, simply tested by the bold fragility of youth and the passion of yearning. God lost and then found, postulated here in the open arms of our faith and need.
Too often we are blind to such moments, or we deliberately avoid them, with a deer in the crosshairs look, caught in that moment of life and motion, where if you do not do something, you will cease to live in that very moment between splendor and speed and the piercing of a heart.  And you choose to click on the safety and walk away, to thoughts of how it could have ended but for your inaction.

You choose and time passes. Days become weeks, becoming months and years. You think back to those places,  where those choices remained, looking up at trees that grew and bore  leaves, while others vanished, burned for warmth and need. But  you don't go back there.  It was just a place along your journey that exists only in the corner of your eye, as you try not and look.  Towards.  Always.

Then one day, you see something and your mind goes there again.  It may be on a table at a gun show, on the floor of a dealer, or simply there, viewed through an open door.  You look and remember. And like that moment in Jaws, where the camera looms in on Sheriff Brody, and the whole world focuses, it does. For just a moment. And you suddenly notice every little detail around you, the sun running straight and empty, like gash down the corridor, a tiny spider web there at the corner of the room, the sun piercing it, illuminating the empty spaces there between heart beats. And you see what it is you desire, held in that moment with conviction, that sense, that feeling of home.
And you know, you were meant to hold it, for just one moment, that small piece of your history, that large piece of yourself you never knew you needed. And you reach for it, one of those impulses, inscrutable yet unassailable which occurs at intervals in all of us, driving us to set down the known and the safe, and seek the possession of something rare, blind to everything but hope and fate.

Or you can just push it away, leave it behind, common sense taking over, and go home quietly to die.

You won't do that a second time.

For you are like I am, and some night when you are old, you will lay in that tent, that old firearm by your side, unable to sleep, but quiet and peaceful, listening to the nights whisper. The past was your future, but you couldn't taste it until, it too was past. Anything else was an illusion. You lay there without regret, for seeking that which you needed, that moment of time, when history and fate were held in your hand and you knew what you wanted. Perhaps it was just a moment, before you set it aside, perhaps you made it yours for a lifetime, but in that moment in which  you were joined, it was grace.

A need so necessary, part of the history that remains.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Never Forget

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
- Edmund Burke

I'm constantly amazed at the ignorance of man, not just in those situations which can get one killed, through acts of mental complacency generally fueled by alcohol or gasoline, but the seemingly willful ignorance of events that are occurring around them. I know people who have never left their home town, but what is more incomprehensible to me, is people who have never thought outside their home town.  I've heard as I keep tabs on the world on my days off, "Why do you CARE what's going on in the China Sea, in Iran?  The new Twilight movie is almost out!

I've come to the conclusion that there are simply some people who won't grasp the truth of the world until they see the truth of themselves.  Knowing yourself is a lifelong and sometimes acutely painful process, with your biggest lessons often emerging from your biggest mistakes. Truth about the nature of man and the world isn't always pleasant, some things we don't want to know  - what's really in a hot dog, how many calories there are in a piece of pie, and anything at all about anyone named Kardashian. Some things we cannot bear to know. But that knowledge of some things, no matter how hurtful to ones' spirit, is absolutely essential to our well being, for only with truth do we have the resilience, the capacity to continue on, alive in the moment, unbound by regret and willing to fight.

In disaster, in threat, to we as individuals, to we as a nation, the nature of truth, and how we face it, asserts itself.

Those who take charge do, those who choose to hide from things do, be it disaster, heartbreak, the economy, crime or a terrorist attack. After 9-11, I had one acquaintance who refused to watch the news, heading out on a planned vacation and pretending it never happened. Another watched sitcom TV non stop, staying home from work with a bowl of popcorn. Both of these individuals were in denial, afraid to accept the truth.

I look around the crash pad as my friends pack up to leave tomorrow.  It looks as if a testosterone bomb went off in here, guns, ammo, knives squirrel gear and more than one badge.  It's loud and it's messy, and sometimes it's bloody, but I wouldn't trade my life, my duty and my bond with these people for anything. We share the fidelity with people we are bound to protect, even if we don't particularly like them. We've slept on bare ground and we know the sound of a bullet as it comes at us, not next to us at some sunny gun range, that sound that breaks the barrier that most people live behind. We've discovered things that are not so much "shiny" as unearthing a grave with bare hands and sticks, revealing more than just the comprehension of bereavement and irreparable finality, but that which is visible only to each other.

I am going to hate the sound the garage door makes as it comes down as they drive away

On the shelf, packed from the trip to my Dad's, is a stone, full of fossilized seashells.  When I was home last, Big Bro told me about it.  It came from the quarry we did our target shooting at as kids. He squirreled it away when it was unearthed, knowing what a find it was, so many miles from the sea.  He told me he wanted me to have it.  He then quietly took me to Dad's garage and opened a drawer where he had hidden it as a child, picked it up carefully and gave it to me.  We've both seen a lot in our careers, that we can't discuss, even with one another. We don't discuss it now, we won't discuss it after we retire, we won't write a book about it.  There's an oath we took and we honor that. The rock was his way of acknowledging that what I do is important, that no matter how many years pass, he is still there.

It sits now in my office..

On another shelf, behind a desk, is another stone, one that many don't look it, it's just another rock to be collected to most observers,  displayed along with other artifacts of memory. 

The last weeks have been long, with time on the road, and fitful sleep. This is not quite the life I expected when I hung up my wings for another four years of education on top of two previous degrees and a return to service. But it's the life that fits what strengths I have. I've come home with brain matter on my shoes. I've come home with images a person should never see, playing in my head like a bad film, until sleep comes fitfully. Yet I come home with purpose. With resolution.  I've collected those moments of lives, of loved ones, in the minutes before they leave us. I collect what is left, carefully, gently and with reverence, cataloging the bare bones of all that is truly important, so that we can learn from it, so that it doesn't happen again. Then I usually go back to an empty room.

After 9/11 while flags waved on cars, and taps played,  I thought, now people have to see, finally see that truth is  fierce and unrelenting. But soon, most forgot. Truth  We cannot ignore it or change it, but we can change the way we live with it. The truth of 9-11 is that the world IS a dangerous place and being politically correct to the point of ignoring the facts of who hates us and who is quietly amassing nuclear readiness while we make nice and look good for the cameras, isn't going to end well.

I finished at the Academy in 2001 and September 11 occurred when I was still wet behind the ears, assigned some mundane tasks until "something happened".  It did. Looking at the images on TV of Ground Zero, we sat, stunned, waiting travel orders while I tried to not let it out that I had a brother who spent a lot of time at the Pentagon, there smoking on TV. There was no talk, just a breathing that bordered on keening, looking at one another, our team leader, with an alert, profound justice as though we had already seen through the flames to where we would be, the shape of the disaster of which we could not speak. That day was trial by fire.

When I look at that stone behind the desk, I can't help but connected to the event from which it came, vowing never to forget.  There is something about a physical remnant of such places, those hallowed spots in which the innocent died, that bears with it the same quality of  perspective as those who stood in its shadow, as though the object itself is speaking to us. It speaks to us in silent and profound significance, whispering its own truths.

When I'm out in the field I remember as well.  Around me there is only musing sound, as shadows hang aloft, as if from invisible wire, hovering above what remains for eyes to see. A place severed from the living, spectral shadow among that place of circumscribed desolation, filled with the voice of wasted lives and murmuring regret. There, only those left here, who remember history, who will gather what remains, cataloging it for infinity.

As I turn off the lights, the last to leave, I take one last look at a chunk of stone.

It sits in a small office, on a flat surface in bitten shadow. It sits near a place where work is done to keep many safe. Most don't see it. It simply sits, in dense stillness, filling the room, the dawn, the dusk, with silent voices. I don't hear the voices but I know they exist. Each morning to start the day in its shadow, warm and safe, we remember that no matter what heartache comes our way, it is nothing compared to what this piece of stone bears witness to.

Those that see it don't look at it closely. But it speaks of so much that our generation, and most of our leaders, will never, ever fathom.

In  the quiet of a shadowed facility where honor stands watch and oaths are kept, a small stone weeps.

Never, ever  forget.

- Brigid