Thursday, September 20, 2018

Smith and Wesson 66 - a Range Report

I have more "old" weapons than new. Some of it is simply the comfort of those things that have been proven reliable. Then there is simply the sheer love I have for that which is history, of the acts of courage that defined a persons freedom, of the mechanical workings of objects which support self-sufficiency and strength. Planes, trains, steam engines, old tools, and yes, the gun. There's an attraction to old tools and old machines, the human values they represent. Nothing that withstands history gets built without the brilliance of design, a laboring effort and the dreams of man. Some say a gun is a killing instrument. Man is a killing instrument. A gun is only a tool, from which we have the pure mechanical force which can keep one alive or take a life. As a tool, it is as weak or as strong as he or she who holds it, as good or as bad as the collective soul that keeps it in working order. The guns I own are defenders of good, soldier's weapons, officer's weapons, my weapons.

The Smith and Wesson 66 was born in 1970 as a stainless, and therefore more corrosion-resistant, version of the already-popular Model 19 Combat Magnum. That particular firearm was produced from 1957 (first model number stampings) to November 1999

The Model 19 was produced in blued carbon steel or nickel-plated steel with wood or rubber combat grips, an adjustable rear sight, semi-target hammer (wide hammer spur with good checkering), serrated combat-type trigger, and was available in 2.5" (3" particular to the Model 66 being rarer), 4", or 6-inch barrel lengths. The weights are 30.5 ounces, 36 ounces, and 39 ounces, respectively. The 2.5- and 3-inch barrel versions had a round butt, while the others had square butts. I'm not a big fan of the Spongebob Squarepants gun butt from a "feel" standpoint, but they've got a nice crisp look to them.

The Model 19 was produced on Smith and Wesson K-frame platform (S and W refer to their frame sizes by letter) and was chambered for .357 Magnum. The K-frame is somewhat smaller and lighter than the original N-frame .357, usually known as the S&W Model 27. The Smith and Wesson no longer make the K-Frame, replacing them with the heavier L-Frame models, which include models 619, 620 and the model 686. The L Frames are a bit heavier, and for me, don't point as naturally as does the 66.

Stainless steel offers many advantages in a gun, outside of just "SHINY", including the fact that you can polish out minor imperfections without removing bluing. Additionally, minor rub wear doesn't affect the gun's finish appreciably as it would do to a blued finish.

The Model 66 is a double-action, six-shot revolver, retaining most of the characteristics of the 19. The one I have fired the most, like the 19, had a target trigger (featuring vertical grooves), target hammer (wide hammer spur with good checkering), fixed point sight and adjustable rear sight.

If you are on the lookout for one of your own, the first issued ones are easily identifiable with the stainless steel rear sight, pin barrel, serrated stainless trigger, recessed cylinder and the “mod 66” stamped on the frame. If you think you see one there just waiting to be purchased somewhere, it should have stamped on the left side of the gun the words "SMITH & WESSON" along the barrel, with the trademark S&W logo on the frame below the cylinder latch. If you have a S&W you would like to know more about you can send a picture and a form from the S&W Website to the Historian, Mr. Roy G. Jinks.

The gun remained virtually unchanged until 1977 when the 66-1 model came out which changed the gas ring from the yoke to the cylinder. The later 66-3 designation indicates design tweaks to delay development of cylinder end-shake as well as the elimination of the recessed cylinder. Future changes through the 70's and 80's slightly lengthened the cylinder and installed a new yoke retention system/radius stud package/hammer nose bushing/floating hand.

In 1994, with the 66-4 model, the rear sight leaf and drill, extractor and tape frame were slightly changed and Hogue grips were introduced. In 1998 there was a change in frame design and in 2002, with model 66-6, it introduced the internal lock. I believe the last one was manufactured in 2004 or 2005.

This firearm was a favorite of many law enforcement agencies in the mid to late 70's, some even carrying it into the late 90's (or later than that, if the rumors are true). The demise of the K-Frame (and with it, the 66) came as owners started to get a hankering for the lighter and faster 125gr .357 Magnum load as an alternative to the 158gr lead projectile that was the bulk of the ammo available in the early production years. The forcing cone on the model 19 is not as thick at the very bottom. The lighter bullets at very high velocity using very hot burning powders, apparently subjected the forcing cone to what I guess, in layman's terms, you could call metal fatigue, with resultant cracking of the forcing cone. Smith and Wesson have made the recommendation to not use the 125gr loads though I've not heard of any cone cracking issues with the 66 Model. Some 66 owners recommend alternating .38 with the .357 in the 66, others have shot nothing but 158gr for thousands of rounds and still have a nice, tight weapon.

The .357 Magnum is a story in and of itself, being probably the oldest handgun "magnum" cartridge. Its collaborative development started in the 30's, in direct response to Colt's .38 Super Automatic. At the time, the .38 Super was the only American pistol cartridge capable of defeating automobile cover and the early ballistic vests that were just beginning to emerge in the post-World War I "Gangster Era". ("Gangster" not to be confused with "Gangsta" as the future felons of the 1930's had the common sense not to wear their pants so low the waist is about knee level. It would have been hard to be a successful bootlegger in pants a clown wouldn't wear because they were too undignified.

Tests at the time revealed that those early ballistic vests defeated any handgun cartridge traveling at less than about 1000 ft/s. Colt's .38 Super Automatic just edged over that velocity and was able to penetrate car doors and vests that bootleggers and gangsters were employing as cover. Smith and Wesson's Dan Wesson agreed to produce a new revolver that would handle "high intensity" .38 Special loads, but only if Winchester would develop a new cartridge.

Though .38 and .357 would seem to be different-diameter chamberings, they are in fact dimensionally identical. 0.357 inch is the true bullet diameter of the .38 Special cartridge. The .38 Special nomenclature relates to the previous use of heeled bullets (such as the .38 Long Colt), which were the same diameter as the case. Thus, the only external difference in the two cartridges is a slight difference in length (the .357 having a .125 inch longer case). Those first revolvers referred to as the Magnum Models were completed by Smith and Wesson in April of 1935.

Retired Assistant Chief Patrol Inspector of the U.S. Border Patrol, and noted firearms and shooting skills writer, Bill Jordan consulted with Smith and Wesson on the design and characteristics of the Model 19. His idea? The Peace Officers perfect dream. A sidearm with a heavy barreled four inch K frame .357 Magnum with a shrouded barrel like the big N frame .357 and adjustable sights. After months and months of experimenting with improved strength steels and the latest in special heat treat processes, the result was the .357 "Combat Magnum" firearm (later designated as the Model 19). The first, serial-number K260,000 was presented to Jordan on November 15, 1955, and a legend was born.

So how does this "old legend" shoot? Flawlessly. With the weight of the K frame and the barrel, it points more naturally then a German Short Haired Pointer. Never having shot the weapon before, I still got a nice tight group, even with the bigger round, once I learned where it shoots with the sight picture. I can see why it was so popular with law enforcement.

The trigger was one of the smoothest I've tried, no stacking. Double tap didn't require me to do the "Dance of the Seven Veils" trying to get my hand back in position from recoil. Single hand holding with double actions pulls was not hard at all with this piece. It was accurate, it was tight, it felt really good in my hand (no ow!!! factor with multiple rounds and tender skin) and even better, it made a nice big HOLE right where I wanted it to go.

Now for the ammo question. Generally speaking, any .357 Magnum revolver will safely handle any factory 38 Special ammo (but do NOT attempt to load or fire .357 in your .38 special - BAD dog. . BAD!). The Model 66 should safely shoot both 357 Magnum and 38 Special ammo, including extra-hot 38 ammunition known as "plus-p" (+P) and "plus-p-plus" (+P+). Of course, check with your manufacturer if any doubt as to what rounds are the best to put in your newly acquired firearm. I've not fired it enough to recommend any particular type, so will leave it up to my readers to pass that information along.

The double action (DA) was not as quick as smooth as the Colt Python, but that's like saying Vanilla Hagan Daz ice cream is not quite as rich and tasty as the Coffee flavored. The feel was consistent throughout the pull, even more so than the Python, which to me has a noticeable change in the pull weight partway through the DA trigger travel.

You may have to hunt around to find one. But there are not a ton of good condition, clean ones available. If you have to chance to buy or borrow one, you probably won't regret it. The first one I shot, and one of those pictured here, belongs to a partner in squirrellville. It's what he carries when off duty and it's a beautiful piece.

The leverage is excellent for the size of the handgun. I've got really long fingers and a good sized hand. However, I think the hands of most women and men who are not built like Grizzly bears, would find a good grip with this. The trigger finger reaches the trigger with a minimum of effort, and the front sight stays on target if the target isn't a Bobble Head.

Cleaning is a snap. Remove the cylinder and clean with a little Break-Free. There's no side plate removal or detail stripping that's required on other types of guns you're used to cleaning. Even if you dunk the thing in salt water, it's just a field strip, clean with Break-Free CLP, rinse in hot water, spray with more CLP, wipe down and air dry.

Why salt water you ask? Seal Team Six used the Model M66 until the M686 came along, as did other Teams. The reasoning was that if lubricants washed off the weapon during the swim to the. . uh. . . objective, a revolver was more likely to function than a semi-auto. Blued finishes don't hold up to such exposure. Parkerized, anodized and stainless finishes do quite well. There was no special ammunition used, as the Winchester Silver Tips of the time were considered reasonably waterproof.

It's a wee bit big to be totally indiscernible, but with the right holster, it will make a good concealed piece for someone that's not hobbit sized. Dennis at Dragon Leatherworks has made several beautiful ones of the FlatJack type for the Model 19 (K Frame, just like the Model 66) and a J Frame (Chief's Special) including a couple that blogger Jay G. owns.

I was sold the first time I got my hands on it. It's light for what it packs and comes on target easily with a high hit probability. It's a legend, a true sculpture in stainless. Like my partner, I'd trust my life with it, and that says a lot.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Ask not -

I got a new front door mat. It's a little small so I laid it on top of the bigger mat which is in good condition, I just couldn't resist getting this.

 It made my mailman laugh out loud.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Eye on the Prize

Barkley lies on my dresser so I can say goodbye to him as I leave for work in the morning.  I put his all-time favorite toy on top of the box.  Mr. Squeeky was an infuriatingly loud toy but Barkley carried it everywhere. His doggie day camp had a purple one and they had a cam in the yard so we could see the dogs at play on their website and he ALWAYS had that toy so I found him one after searching about 87 different pet stores in Indiana.

So when I found this photo of him, I just had to place it here so he can keep an eye on Mr. Squeeky.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Compass Course

Here is chapter two of my 5th book - I'm not going to post each chapter as otherwise there is no incentive to buy a copy but just to give you a sense of what it is about, Chapter Two of "Compass Course" out in early Spring of 2019.
When I was growing up in the 60's Dad got me this toy that was a toy aircraft that could be flown from inside the car with a closed window.  With your control stick, you could make it climb and dive and shoot it's "machine guns".  The little control panel in front of you had airspeed, turn and bank, oil, and fuel information.  To me, it was the closest thing to flying I'd experienced except for one flight on Pan Am when I was six to go to my aunt and uncle's while Mom and Dad when to Hawaii for their 25th anniversary.

We did a long road trip every year to my and uncle's ranch in California (they raised almonds) to visit my two cousins and them. On that long, often hot, two-day drive, that toy was my freedom from "Mom, he's on MY side of the seat" as my older brother tried to pester me.  I'd get my hand on that little control stick and I felt relieved at once of a perceptible weight, well, as much weight as a 7-year-old could bear.

For my mother had cancer, she was diagnosed with it when I was only four and she was still fighting it, the first remission come and gone.  As a child, she and my Dad did their best to protect us from it, but she couldn't hide the ravages of chemo in a small house with one full bathroom.  We simply learned to cope.

In some ways, it was like something I learned later in life.  War.  It's something, whether you are living in the middle of it, or simply have someone you love away fighting in it, you learn to live with it.  Actually, you don't live WITH it, you live underneath it, as if it is a dark sky from which the air is so dark and thick it's hard to draw breath.  It's a tornado siren, it's a tsunami warning, it's imminent death from which there is no shelter, no safe place, and even if you survive it, it will touch you with cold fingers, discharging perhaps the physical fear, but marking you forever as one who had fought and paid a high price for the battle.

So Mom did what she could and even with a limited budget, there was money for a toy for my brother and this wonderous airplane.

I'd swoop and dive and bank it for what seemed like hours, no sound in the vehicle but my Mom's quiet breath and the soft rustle of the scarf that covered her head. The silence in the vehicle, merged with the silence of the sky, becoming one infinite boundlessness control by two small hands.

I found a similar freedom on my bicycle.  I grew up in those years where no one wore helmets, hills were not off limits, and we would take our bikes out as high and far as our legs would carry us.  It was usually up to the top of the hill high above a mint farm where you could get some serious speed going downhill.  A wipeout was going to mean a broken arm, but that didn't stop us, we'd sail down that slope in formation flight, the scenery a blur of green and blue.  One summer I broke my arm twice.  It's no wonder when I came home from high school and said "I want to be a pilot," Dad just put his head down into his hands.

I took a second job on the weekends in addition to the one I had after school, and I started lessons when I was 17.  I soloed in the bright surf of a September sky, stamping the runway like a rubber stamp with my little Cessna 150 on my third and final landing.

I have to admit I was pretty nervous, doing the world's longest engine check, hesitant to release my feet from the brakes.  Then the sky in my windshield as I stared at it coalesced into not just vision, but scent, the smell of the open air, filling that tiny hot cockpit with a whisper that I could only describe as freedom. I announced my intentions on Unicom and took the runway.

Only minutes later, I couldn't get the grin off of my face as sunspots kissed my face as if a radar blip from the heavens as I cleared the runway for the day. From the taxiway, my instructor, a father of 7 boys that had nerves of steel, watched silently. There will be more stories of that time, but in thinking of that toy airplane today, I couldn't help but think of that little Cessna that was the same color as the toy one and just as much fun to play with.

Such simple things, such simple pleasures. Just simply to fly, to be aloft in the air, the very substance by which I live and with its absence, I would cease to breathe.  Years later,  when Mom was long gone, I would sit in the cockpit of a jet at altitude, and just the feel of the yoke in my hand would take me back to those road trips with my little aircraft, wondering what happened to that little toy plane.

But then, of course, something brings me now back to today, a cockpit sound, the movement of a gauge, for an airplane at altitude has a way of bringing the irrational into every emotion, every fear.  I looked down, seeing what airports were near if indeed an engine ever quit, even if I'd flown years without having that experience. It's not being paranoid, it's those long moments of quiet, especially at night or over vast bodies of water where your imagination takes you to places you don't want to be.  The engines know this and will make those weird noises only in such places and times, a bluff, a lie, planned by the gods of maintenance and foiled by the steadfastness of the crew

Power and fuel adjusted, I took the plane off of autopilot, and put my hands on the yoke, a child again, trusting in my craft, and savoring the freedom that it brought.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

A First Responders View of Disaster Recovery

With everything happening with Hurrican Florence a post about being a post-disaster first responder from my third book, Gold winner of the Readers Favorite International Book Award for Fiction - Religious Theme.

A Chapter From Small Town Roads - Published by Xulon Press

We don’t have to speak for our intentions to be read.

Speech seems like a simple thing, a coordination of muscle and bone, nerves and tongue, something within us, just as the ability to control and guide both weapon and machine lay slumbering within the wrists and hands. We can stay silent, but the words are still there.

Man experiences things of great magnitude and cannot speak of them at all. An artist or craftsman creates something that was part of them, honed into art or machine. On completion, they say no words, they call no one, and they simply put down their tool, their brush, and stare at their vision, incarnate.

Veterans come home from battle empty of all words, bound together by only that identical experience which they can never forget and dare not speak of, lest by speaking of darkness, they are wrapped in its chains. First responders and law enforcement officers often relate as they too see so much death that never again, as long as they breathe, will they ever truly go to sleep alone.

Man experiences the mundane, the meaningless, tweeting and texting of it feverishly. It is as if, by doing so, inconsequential acts become more than the passing of time by the imminently bored. The words can uplift but they can also sting like so many insects, their incessant noise, finally dimming to a hum.

We speak in different languages, and even when speaking the same language, we often don’t communicate, and when we do, we often don’t truly mean what we say. Promises can be nothing more than words and oaths empty air, especially when election times near, wherein contests of fierce and empty oratory are somehow, retroactively, supposed to make us believe, any more than they can make us forget.

We speak in the language of the past, chants unchanged in generations hanging in the air as God is placed into a golden cup, there underneath the eyes of angels. We speak in the language of silent prayer, calling upon God and our reserves, saying prayers without words, as we draw near our weapon as we enter what could be hell on earth.

Words can support, they can heal, with gentle utterance after a nightmare in the still of the night, the soothing voice that smoothes the frayed edges of a day with nothing more than the touch of supple prose. Words can injure, cutting like a knife, discharging like a spark of electricity, those words, from someone we love, marking us always with their wounding.

Words, a movement of lips and tongue that can cause laughter or pain; that can divide or conquer. Even in a nation where English is the official language, in parts of our country, there are whole neighborhoods where you won’t hear it spoken.

Sometimes one doesn’t need to speak at all.

On any given day, tragedy and the earth collide, flood, tornado, the plunging of a mighty machine into a peaceful neighborhood. The details differ, but the response is always the same. When disaster strikes, the land itself turns mute and those that remain, stand simply as silent instruments unable to make a sound.

I didn’t fully understand that until the tornado came through our town last night, leveling several homes a mile or so north, leaving others, like mine and most of my neighbors, miraculously standing.  We were lucky, in that there were no deaths, the majority of the homes having basements and a good tornado warning system. But as we came up from our basement, our house untouched but for a tree that took out the front porch, it was as if what I viewed was a completely different town.

Harry, my elderly friend from across the street, was on the sidewalk, Evelyn holding on to him, shaken but unhurt. Ezekiel and Miriam waved from down the block, his shop roof damaged but the structure intact. But just down from Harry’s home, Betty, the widow that lives there stood in front of what remained of her house of 60 years. It was one set further back from the road than the others, the back portion of the house completely missing its roof and some walls, not even a photo of her failed dreams, left where the wind rushed through those rooms. She cried silently, in the faded robe she fled in, as one of the neighbors came over and put her arms around her. Behind all of the homes across the street from us, there were so many trees downed, limbs flung through windows, shattering them as if they were thrown like a lance.

A young woman, her face growing older by the minute, stumbled from the walkout basement of the home that had sold when I moved in, a solitary figure, clutching only a stuffed animal, making a path towards what is known. Her brother, off in military service, was letting her live there to care for the place while she attended a community college in a town not too far east of us. We beckoned her to come over to us, and though I am probably only ten years older than she, like Evelyn does with me, I hold her in a mother’s protective embrace.

The older couple from the corner of the block lost a brand new outbuilding they had painstakingly constructed behind their house. They now could only look at the work of their sweat and tears strewn about for miles by the force of nature, the wind thick and warm, like blood spilled, pooling around what little remains. A lone tree stood among so many that were downed, torn out by the roots, its nervous branches bent down as if hoping not to be noticed.

The first responders arrived, standing for just a moment, still and mute, hands unmoving beneath the invisible stain of what was, always, needless blood. For just a moment they stopped, as if by whispered breath or the movement of disturbed air, what little remains, would crumble.

They gathered, moving in and around, the firefighters, emergency medical personnel, law enforcement officers, wearing blue and black and yellow. Such garments, solemnly worn, exchanged for lives that used to be ordinary, worn as they shape something from chaos, coercing that terrible blood wind to give up a sound, the forlorn echo of someone who might have survived underneath the carnage. I waved at an officer I worked with, seeing the relief in his eyes that I was unhurt, feeling like I should be doing something more to help. I realized that I was still in shock as I held my neighbor to me to comfort as beneath my bathrobe my precious child lay safe.

It’s surprising how much noise there was in the silence, of hope, of grief, of disbelief. It was a sound which one could almost, but not quite, capture, receding like dwindling song until there were only the shadows and the quiet. And then a small voice, “Can anyone help me?” low and faint as the Vespers of sleep. It came from a home that didn’t have a walkout basement, and a tree had gone through the sunroom. I had been there, and that would have blocked the basement stairs. Hopefully, the person is fine and can get out once the tree was moved.

Survivors and saviors, moved without sound, sending a message as loudly to the heavens as if they were one voice. People were helped from the rubble, the injured accessed, the grief-stricken comforted as best as one could, if only by a touch that resonated straight to the heart, bypassing a brain that could not accept its fate. There were no Teleprompters, there were no cue cards, and there were no words for boundless grief and regret. There was no language for this, no word, no sound; it’s defiant and imminent life, holding on.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A Day Framed in History

In the frame, taken from a box in the closet, was a small photo.  It's a  group of men, two women, all eyes are up front, shirts pressed. I'd pulled it out of a box today, thinking back how long it had been. The men were all in ties, myself, wearing an outfit that, for me, was as comfortable as plywood and about as flattering. Smile! Cheese!

We were graduating from training, we look like we are intent on saving the world. But we are not even close to being who we expected to be seventeen years from then.

Expectations. That of a teen mother, who has read too many ladies magazines and envisioned a picture perfect world of happy baby, a responsible man, and sleep, when in reality all she wants to do is eat potato chips and cry, alone again while her child slumbers peacefully.

A young girl in her twenties at a grave, holding a carefully folded flag. While others were around she maintained her composure, til now, alone, holding all that was left, she wept, a meaningful and sustained sound no woman of 20 years should utter. The sound falls from the sky, like the cry of a solitary goose in the wild darkness of a September afternoon, and then is gone.

A couple in their early thirties, the young woman with a  deliberate smile and a hairdo that hasn't changed since college.  She'll hold that smile on her face for 10 years before she has the strength to walk out the door,  bruises hidden under her sleeves.

A man and a woman, leaving a nice restaurant in a big city after dark, as tall shadows appear behind them in the isolated parking lot.  Anyone else, certainly the police,  are far away.  He has nothing to defend against the utter fear in her eyes because the law in this city doesn't honor the rights he has everywhere else.

Expectations. Of what life owes us, or what life promises. Perhaps it's the age of TV where there is almost always a happy ending, the bad guy gets his due, the good guy gets the girl. Life isn't like that always, though there are moments in there that would put any movie to shame.

And so, from experience, my expectations are someone weathered, as we can't always control what happens around us. Evil does not operate according to logic, and ignoring won't make it go away. But we can exercise our right and duty for free will and decision, in the hard intractable world we find ourselves in. We are not trapped by those fears, hopes, and expectations that man calls his heart, but fixed by them, to endure. To stand guard and protect.

I look at the picture from graduation. I look at the TV, shattered buildings and memorials, flags and first responders, those walking symbols of American courage and indomitable commitment. I look at that old picture again, how young I look, and yet I look little different. One thing has not changed, we have a duty, a duty to be alive, to the terrible hurts, the red bitter blood that flows, to the honor we bear in the world's contempt. We endure so others can as well.

Seventeen Years. 2997 innocent victims.

I was wet behind the ears, living back East, not even unpacked from getting home from training on that sunny day in September. As we grabbed our things and planned "what's next", I could not get the picture out of my mind, that of the Pentagon in flames. For you see, my brother worked there more often than not. I thought about excusing myself from the team. I had no way to know if he was safe, I was beside myself with worry, but I did not. I geared up and headed out to do what was expected of me, what I was trained to do, what I'd taken an oath to do.

My first days "on the job" were not what I had expected. It's been seventeen years, but sometimes when I wake in the night, sweat on my skin, the ghost of smoke in my hair, time hasn't moved forward at all.

Seventeen years.

I look at the photos, so many photos, so many years. Years for reckless adventures, for daring launches into the blue, for growing old, yet never truly growing up. Time for finding yourself, finding the wild and ephemeral blush of love, that knows no age, innocent, fumbling and breathless. All too soon to be reduced to small, worn squares of color held in a shoebox, of fading faces and edgeless shapes that will someday inhabit the memory and not the flesh.

But still, though, a life lived. Something the victims of 9-11 were denied. A chance to live life fully, to laugh, cry, and leave their mark. The opportunity to die on their own terms, with dignity and surrounded by those they loved.

When my Mom died, I was filled with anger for her leaving us so quickly, but I was also filled with respect. Respect for her ability to chose her final days; to unplug the plugs and unhook the machines and even though in pain, to be with her family, cohesive, intact.

I put the graduation picture back in the box with some papers. Some were no more than scraps of history. Some had more personal memories, that seared into my soul, to return on late introspective nights. There are memories there and many photos. Of dust and disintegration, shattered lives intertwined with broken wreckage, of unseen footprints in the debris of the living, stepping from the ash on their way home, and the seen footprints of those that respond, tending those taken from us.

I'd not be honest if I said it doesn't sometimes follow me, as I knock on a door, tiptoe into a hospital room to ask questions I wish could be left unsaid; seeking answers, seeking closure. Because of it, I know what we once were, and where we all will be. Because of death, I know what I can be, what each moment that is the immortality of all that the flesh could desire and the mind is capable of, truly is. Every breath a gift, each moment, mine with God's grace, but MINE, to live as I choose, and as fully as possible, as only a wild heart can.

As a nation, we moved on, but many of us continue to remember.  Will Durant argued that "civilization is not imperishable. It must be relearned by every generation.' For that is the bleakest truth of all, the one truth we must never forget." That is the truth that sustains us. The truth that plays out in an image of a flame-haired woman holding her head in her hands, trying to keep it together amidst the images of tangled wreckage of metal and lives, an image of a flag, of an empty spot of ground where once stood thousands of dreams. Quiet truth that brings it back so that we never forget.

Seventeen years.

Today there will be only a moment of respect for those souls that were lost.  A moment in which I will look skyward, wishing them peace, as the light vanishes with a soft sigh, driving down for only a moment upon the musty smell of slain flowers, there in a vase. Flowers taken from gardens for so many reasons, for love, for loss, for the dead, now dying themselves.

As I look to an uncaring sky, I grieve for the way they left us, as much as the why.

We graduated that day, in the last days of summer 2001. It was not a life I would have expected but it was the only life I could live. On that day we charged out into the world, passionate, excited and only days later, damned forever of all peace. In what seemed to us like minutes, we stood with regret and anguish, the despair out of which the quietly mourning, enduring bones stand up that can bear anything.

Almost anything.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 8:12, NASB)

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Sunday, September 2, 2018


col·lat·er·al Pronunciation: \kə-ˈla-t(ə-)rəl\
1 a : accompanying as secondary or subordinateb : serving to support or reinforce
Have any of you seen the movie Collateral? If you haven't DO. It's been out about well over 10years but some streaming services likely still have it, and you can currently rent it on Amazon Prime.

I am NOT a Tom Cruise Fan but his performance in this piece is not only unusual for him, and extremely good. The plot in a nutshell? A cab driver finds himself the hostage of an engaging contract killer: Cruise as "Vincent" as he makes his rounds from hit to hit during one night in LA. I almost didn't recognize Cruise at first. He was perfect as a stone-cold killer, donning a sub-zero amoral nihilism as well as a suit with threads the color of the coyotes that roamed the LA streets that night. He throws out half rendered references to the I Ching and Darwin that reminded me a bit of Jules in Pulp Fiction. Jamie Fox, also in a role that surprised me with his depth, plays the cab driver forced to drive Vincent to his five hits, the body of the first mark ending up hitting the roof of his cab, giving his fare's profession away.

The interplay between two interesting characters is awesome, enough to make you overlook the plot holes that got a little larger as the film goes on, until finally the screenwriters just threw up their hands and started the action. By then I was not going to hit pause for anything. Cruise handled his guns like he had one in his hand his whole life, and the scene in which the two thugs steals his briefcase is one you won't forget. The speed reloads and Mozambique Drills are icing on the cake.

The main point I took from the film was not the action, and not the plot. It was a film that followed how people connect and react until the most adverse of circumstances. There's something in even the meek that comes out when someone threatens what they value.

I bet in the future, the cab driver in the film will carry a back up piece. I certainly do.

- Brigid

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

With a 9/11 Anniversary Coming Up - A Must Read from a Ground Zero Chaplain

If you are a proud American, read this book.

If you are a Christian, read this book

If you are a first responder, paramedic, fireman, or police officer, read this book

If you are too young to truly remember 9/11 read this book.

If you ever wondered whether God abandons us during times of deep loss read and evil this book.

Written by a former Chicago firefighter, rescue diver and chaplain who volunteered (5 tours)at Ground Zero this is the most amazing story of courage, faith, and humanity as I have ever read. I stayed up well into the night finishing it, even though I had to be at work early. I ended it with tears on my face and a renewed trust in God and the humanity of His children. Chaplain Bob Ossler and Janice Hall Heck have crafted and edited a book deserving of its accolades

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A Winter's Dying Flare

I got word last night through a family member that a long time dear friend of mine, one of our blogging community, lost his battle with cancer.  It was like a punch in the gut. Only 7 days prior he'd been given at least two years to live.  Difficult to accept, but two years is still time. When he and I  talked last Thursday,  he was complaining that the facility he was getting care in had him on a low salt diet because his blood pressure was a little high.

He joked, "Great - on my tombstone - here lies ____,  salt-free, but still dead".  So, at his request, I smuggled him in some cheddar bacon popcorn due to a very kind gourmet popcorn shop in his southwest town that offered to deliver it to him.  I used to hit his tip jar every few months with enough cash for a really nice bottle of Scotch.  Thereafter he called me the Scotch Fairy.

He didn't get a chance to try the popcorn.  He wrote that he was NPO (no food by mouth) for at least the weekend.

I expected a phone call Monday - since we didn't talk Friday as originally planned.  Our phone calls were fun  - we'd talk investigative stuff, crime, books, scotch, you name it.  Over the years and especially after I lost my older brother he became like family.  Honestly, he was family even if we're not related.

My husband provided what comfort he could but I cried throughout the day yesterday.

I don't have the permission of his family to announce his passing so please don't speculate who it is in the comments.   If that changes I'll update you.

I hope these words provide some comfort for any of you who have lost a friend or a family member recently.

An Excerpt From Saving Grace - A Story of Adoption 
I've heard so many people say: "I'll do that when I'm older, when I lose 20 pounds, when I'm retired." We go through life saying, "I would, but it probably wouldn't work out," or, " I'd like to but. . ." We too often base our actions on an artificial future, painting a life picture based on an expectancy that time is more than sweat, tears, heat, and mirage.

You can't count on anything. For out of the blue fate can come calling. My husband and I had recently lost our beloved black Lab Barkley after a brief but valiant battle against bone cancer and a weekend of pain we couldn't keep at bay for him. In a flash, life robbed even of the power to grieve for what is ending. I think back to when my brother Allen and I were kids: going down a turbulent little river with little more than an inner tube and youth, risking rocks and rapids and earth just to see what was around the bend of that forest we'd already mapped out like Lewis and Clark. The water was black and silver, fading swirls of deep current rising to the surface like a slap, fleeting and gravely significant---as if something stirred beneath, unhappy to be disturbed from its slumber, making its presence known. A fish, perhaps; or simply fate.

I think of the true story of the woman whose parachute didn't open on her first jump and she fell more than a mile and lived---to change her whole life to pursue her dreams. Did she sense something as she boarded that plane, looking into the sky at a danger that she could not articulate, that she could not see? Or was she unaware until that moment when she pulled the cord and nothing happened, as her life rushed up to her with a deep groaning sound? What was it like in that moment, that perception of her final minutes, what taste, what color, what sound defined her soul as it prepared to leave? 

I was in the paint section of a hardware store the other weekend, looking for a brick-colored paint to spruce up a backdrop in the crash pad’s kitchen. I noticed the yellows, a color I had painted my room as a teen. I noticed the greens, so many of them---some resembling the green of my parents’ house in the sixties and seventies, yet not being exactly the same color. The original was one that you'd not see in a landscape, only in a kitchen with avocado appliances while my Mom sang as she made cookies. I remember Allen and I racing through the house, one of us soldier, the other spy, friends forever; stopping only long enough for some of those cookies, still warm. Holding that funky green paint sample I can see it as if it were yesterday. Memories only hinted at held there in small squares of color.

What is it about things from the past that evoke such responses? For some, it’s a favorite photo; a piece of clothing worn to a special event; a particular meal. Things that carry with them the sheer impossible quality of perfection that has not been achieved since. Things that somehow trigger in us a response of wanting to go back to that time and place when you were safe and all was well. But even as you try and recapture the memory it eludes you, caught in a point in your mind between immobility and motion, the taste of empty air, the color of wind.

One morning while out in a hangar checking out a pilot friend’s home-built project, I had one of those moments. It was an old turboprop lumbering down the taxiway with all the grace of a water buffalo. It wasn't the aircraft that caught my eye, it being one of those planes that carry neither speed nor sleek beauty but rather serves as the embodiment of inertia overcome by sufficient horsepower. No, it was the smell of jet fuel that took me back---to years of pushing the limits, not really caring if I came home, only that the work was done without my breaking beyond re-use something I was trusted with.

Until one day, while my heart was beating despite being broken unseen beneath starched white cotton, my aircraft made a decided effort to kill me. It was not the "Well, I'll make a weird sound and flash some red lights at you and see what you do," an aircraft's equivalent of the Wicked Witch of the North cackling: "Care for a little FIRE, scarecrow?" No, it was a severe vibration that shook the yoke right out of my hand as we accelerated through 180 knots on the initial climb, as unknown to me, a small piece of metal on the aircraft's tail had come loose and was flapping in the breeze.

In that moment, as I heard the silent groaning of the earth below, I thought "I do not wish to die," and I fought back---in that moment of slow and quiet amazement that can come at the edge of sound, finding in myself a renewed desire to live, recognizing the extent and depth of that desire to draw another breath and share that soft warm breath with another.

Today is a memory that months from now could be one of those memories---not of fear but of triumph. You may look back and see this day, the friends you were with, the smile on your face, the simple tasks you were doing together. Things, so basic in their form to at this time simply be another chore: cleaning, fixing, an ordinary day while children played with a paper plane fueled by laughter and the hangar cat drowsed in the sunlight. It might be a day you didn't even capture on film---no small squares of color left to retain what you felt as you worked and laughed together, there in those small strokes of color, those small brushes of hope as you wait for your best friend to join you.

Twenty years from now you may look at yourself in the mirror, at the wrinkles formed from dust, time, and tears around your eyes, at the gray in your hair; and you will think back to this day, the trivial things that contain the sublime. On that day, so far beyond here, you may look around you, that person you were waiting for no longer present, and you want it all back. Want it as bad as the yearning for a color that is not found in nature, in the taste of something for which you search and ache, acting on the delusion that you can recreate it, those things that haunt the borders of almost knowing.

You touch the mirror, touch your face and wish you'd laughed more, cared less of what others thought, dove into those feelings that lapped at the safe little edges of your life, leaped into the astonishing uncertainty.
Allen spent years running silent and deep under the ocean, visiting places I can only guess at as he will not speak of it, a code about certain things I share with him. But I knew the name. Operation Ivy Bells. He understood testing the boundaries of might and the deep, cold depths to which we travel in search of ourselves.

On his last nights, Allen and I talked, but not of that, being aware of grave matters of honor but not speaking of them, not even with each other. I'd sit as he talked about Dad and how he hoped Dad would live to be a hundred; how he hoped he would be there to take care of him, even as I watched 120 pounds leave Allen’s frame as he went through that second round of chemo and radiation.

He talked until his eyes closed, only his labored breath letting me know he was still with me; the rise and fall of his chest as if he were trying to push up from the waters of the sea, unfathomed flesh still so buoyant if only in spirit as the cold water lapped against him.

I too have had more than one day where I stood outside on a pale crescent of beaten earth and breathed deeply of that cold. On those days I felt every ache in my muscles; my skin hot under the sun; the savage, fecund smell of loss in the air, lying heavily in the loud silence. Somewhere in the distance would come a soft clap of thunder; overhead clouds strayed deliberately across the earth, disconnected from mechanical time. I'd rather be elsewhere; the smell simply that of kitchen and comfort: the sounds only that of laughter. But I knew how lucky I was to simply be, in that moment, and alive.

I'd go home on such nights and pour a drink, prepare a small meal. I'd eat it slowly, letting the sweet and salt stay upon my tongue. For me there would be no quick microwaved meal eaten with all the detachment of someone at a bar, tossing back a handful of stale nuts with their beer. No, I wished to taste and savor the day, the warm layers of it, this day that had been someone's last.
You can't control fate but you can make choices. You can continue your day and do nothing, standing in brooding and irretrievable calculation as if casting in a game already lost. Or you can seize the moment, the days, wringing every last drop from them. Tell the ones you love that you love them. Hug your family; call an old friend you've not spoken to for months; forgive an enemy; salute your flag---and always, always give the dog an extra biscuit. Then step outside into the sharp and unbending import of spring, a dying winter flaring up like fading flame, one last taste, one last memory, never knowing how long it will remain. 
 - B.

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Places of Our Happiest Memories

Folks - After a little more than a year off from serious writing, I've started book number 3 (4 if you count the Novella with Old NFO's anthology).  It's going to be a look back on my flying days, not specifics of my career just the mindset and philosophy of flight in its varried forms and some of the both scary and esoteric experiences I had aloft.

Chapter 1 - The Places of Our Happiest Memories From "Compass Course" by L.B. Johnson

That Monday morning began with a distant rumble of thunder.  My husband was already up for work, I had a day off and just snuggled down under the covers while Abby snoozed on the futon  As the sky darkened I heard the click click click of her toenails on the hardwood floor.  She was headed into the narrow but deep closet where she hides when it storms.  I gathered myself up to go watch the sky, sharing something with the nature of that rumbling.  Such storms have accompanied me on so many nights out in the field, their power lighting the sky, laying bare all risks and renunciations, as I work in the echo of someones last whisper.

The storm rolled through fairly quickly and with more than a little rain. This has been quite the year for rain, setting a fifty-some year record.  The damage on the drives home each weekend was explicit - whole farm fields submerged, others dotted with large pages of dead vegetation that succumbed to days and days of standing water, The flat land was ridged and rutted with the marks of the centuries, the land passed over with wagons and guns, tears and tribulations.
That Monday I rose with the day and the sound of the rain and stepped out onto the porch to looked at the sky. The sun had come up in the east, the horizon gleaming as if lit by a candle within, my form only a solitary sentry who forever challenges it.

It was only a few years ago, we had a drought, the corn dying across the landscape. There is no pattern to it, no predictability beyond a farmer's almanac and the scattering of bones across the ground. I remember one hot day in that summer - a small farmhouse - an interview to be conducted. The woman that answered the door knew why I was there, even as she looked past me as if hoping I'd disappear. I'm supposed to say "I'm sorry for your loss". But I could not. I simply stood there as she grabbed onto me as if a lifeline, breaking into tears. She couldn't have been much more than 100 pounds and felt like a bundle of sticks against my muscled form as she cried - sticks that had weathered so much, for so many years, only to be tossed onto a fire, for which I could offer no healing rain.
For some reason, I think of that on that Monday morning, as the rain dripped down eaves that have wept the tears from above for well over a hundred years. The village itself was old, all but a handful of the homes a hundred years old or more, trees covering my shadow that had existed long before I did. It's a quiet place, a safe area to walk. Each morning my husband or I would take Abby out for her walk, passing a Pub, the Catholic Church, down past the school to my house. As I went that day to get her leash, a flock of Canadian geese flew overhead, causing me to look up to a gunmetal sky as I looked out across the neighborhood.

The wooden steps listed ever so slightly, as if tired, a project when the kitchen is done.  Branches of age-old trees moved in the wind, a flutter of birds released as they bow down upon the altar of a porch, The air within was still with invisible memories of the several generations who have lived in this home.

I wondered if I could instantly take myself to this spot 50 years in the future if it would be the same, if it would even be here. That's something I will never likely know, as the future, like beauty itself, floats fleeting, undefined, half hidden in the silent, still air, to be recognized only when we are ready.

As we returned from a short trip out to the grass, then a dash back to the house, I took my boots off, gliding quietly over polished floors, throwing my raincoat on the fragmentary curve of the chair.  The house empty now, I went down to the basement, ducking my head in stooped courtesy to the low ceiling, where I would take up a tool and hammer grief into a piece of wood.

I hope this is the last house I live in, having moved too many times in my life due to circumstance, choice, or sometimes just the ingrained habit to endure.  So many homes though stand in my memory - so many of them now gone.

My Aunts house, where I sat in the tiny living room and listened to my favorite Uncle, the Engineer, ask questions that made me view the world in a whole new way. It's gone, the house raised to joint the tall colorful homes that rise towards the sky on those small lots. All that is left is some glassware of my Aunts, my Uncle's engineering books, passed to my brother, then to me. There in the closet is the carefully tended uniform of a great War, the cloth itself assuming the shape and form of those who are our heroes, looming tremendous against that backdrop of books and tools, and a small folded flag, that fills a sleeping house.
On a corner outside of my hometown, stands the funeral home where I worked as a teen. It's now a structure that has been empty for years, the economy taking a toll, the form of a place where the dead were once prepared and grieved not the sort of place one wants to buy and turn into a Chuck E. Cheese. It's as grey and desolate as a tomb, the faded Realtors sign in front the only sign that anyone had been here in years. There is nothing inside, no future, no life, nothing but the echoes of shades within, impervious to time or alteration by their very weightlessness, no bodies left to be buried, just the shapes of memory, recollections that lie as dust by those that drive past, unseeing.

There in a city further away is a rental house I lived in as I started University. I shared the top floor apartment with two girlfriends from high school, the main floor housing one of their brothers and a roommate, as did the basement. It was owned by one of my friend's parents,  We got cheap rent, but it was NOT free, the house having to pay for itself.   It was so very tiny, two of us sharing one bedroom, one former bedroom, now the "living room", the really small one, mine, just enough room for a twin mattress on the floor and some pictures of musical instruments on the wall. In the tiny bathroom, a single antique claw-footed tub, as deep as desire.  It was a sanctuary where I would soak for an hour with Vivaldi playing, not the usual Queen or Led Zeppelin when I actually had the place all to myself.
I wonder if I drove past that old neighborhood today, that house would still stand, or would it have been razed, the lot it was on, being worth more than the dwelling placed upon it.

I opened up the window, the air breathing in and out, lightning flashes and with the weight of the dark, my breath quickens - blood running warm and quiet.  So many places, now gone or changed to where what I remember of them is more recalling a piece of music I've heard,  but for which I played no part.
Though sometimes you are surprised.

When I was in grade school, on the long walk home, there was this giant shrub, actually several that had grown together, dying parts replaced by new shoots, all trimmed in a huge square shape. But underneath, in the tangle of their bases, you could crawl through, on your belly, like you were in some sort of secret fox hole tunnel. There were lots of open branches and space so it wasn't EXACTLY like a foxhole, but we could pretend. Of course, I'd arrive home, the dress my Mom had made for me all dirty and she had NO idea how I could get that way from a "walk home".

So imagine my surprise when I was first back in town after university and saw that sculptured shrub was still there, all new pieces perhaps, but still a growing living thing. I could no longer fit underneath its form but I could see that image still, looking up through the dense shrubbery, the branches, the arms that protect, the leaves, guarding not just my form but my urgent heart as I thought that surely heaven must be this color green, that forever grows and will never die.
I think of the walls of my crash pad near work, a place that was only a spot to lay my head when I was on duty, my true home far away.  But what of the memories made there, the dinners and laughter, Barkley's attempts to get the little plush Chewbacca that was attached to Tam's purse, friends stopping by to see both of us, innumerable waffles, toast and toasts and always, books. There were tools and brass and puzzles and a question asked that made me look at the world in a whole new way. There was a dog bed, by mine, now claimed by a senior rescue dog, who will twitch in her sleep as she guards that which remains. 

Then there were the nights alone there, waiting for the phone to go off, even as it didn't.  My eyelids lids would twitch as I tried to sleep, the movement in response to my own brains thoughts or perhaps merely the cyclical movement of the earth and all of her watchers. In that place, there were memories made, and a life, perhaps forever changed. I wonder if years from now, I will drive past, just to see if it's there.

For these are the places of our happiest memories. They are scraps of time, like scraps of a note where your name once lay, a bit of stiff paper that means little of itself, yet still you keep it, will not burn it or throw it away because it means something, something you can hold even if the marks upon it are faded to white, something that says what you were, what you felt, even as you still are.
Years from now, oh so many years you hope, year to dream, to grow, there will come another night, with eyes that twitch with the minds flooding, even if the body is failing, the organs requiring the care of a Swiss watch even as time ticks down. The eyes are full of everything save consciousness and others gather around, looking on with knowing and unbearable eyes. The places of your memory are likely long gone, all they have here is the pictures of them in that brain that still sparks like a match, unspoken stories mirrored in the eyes of those around you.

Those places are never truly lost, they simply lie in whatever peaceful trail, besides whatever placid and assuring pond of spent years remains; in the mirror of days in which the mind still contemplates older desires and everlasting hopes. They are there, always, quiet, musing, steadfast, the joy still triumphant even if the actual place is now cinder and dirt. In that brain, is one final vision, a place perhaps, a person, someone for whom that spark exists even if they were years gone. The breath slows, the body remembers, the eyes finally close even as they embrace all seeing.
Far away, on a hill guarded by a small battalion of floral sprays, stands a grave marker. It was erected long before the soul's shroud that lays beneath would have believed, a life cut short without pattern, or prediction.  The stone has seen both sun and rain.  It has witnessed the dry heave of grief coming deep from the chest and the splash of tears against stone.  It will be here as the landscape grows, withers, dies, and grows again, generation after generation, even as those that visit fade from drought to dust.  It will be here when the night sky calls our name and doesn't look back.

From outside the basement window, the rain ceased as a flock of geese flew overhead, in the trail of a small aircraft that was skirting the storm.  Their sounds rose towards an astonishing crescendo, beyond the compass of hearing, as they flew upwards into a bright green sky.