From A Distance

From a distance the world looks blue and green, there is harmony, we all have enough and you look like my friend. From a distance. When you take in the big picture it’s easy to see this. A soft blur. The devil is in the details though. And looking closer often reveals something totally different, even though in many cases it shouldn’t.

The words come from a song aptly titled “From A Distance” which was written by Julie Gold and first recorded by Nancy Griffith. It has also been covered by Kathy Mattea, Donna Summer, The Byrds, Richard Clayderman, Fairport Convention, Riva Taylor, John Barrowman, and in a Norwegian language version by Ingebjorg Harman Bratland. Of course the most famous version is probably the one done by the Divine Miss M herself- Bette Midler. All of this attention speaks to the song’s broad based appeal. That is, the appeal of it’s ideals.

I was reminded of this song on a recent trip to Cuba and the simultaneous, but unrelated, reaction of Donald Trump to relations between the United States and Cuba. From the distance of Mar A Lago, Cuba looks like it is thriving. Bigly. Thriving so much that it needs to be stopped dead in its tracks as Mr. Trump suggested in his statement that the improvement of relations between Cuba and the United States begun under the Obama Administration would have the brakes slammed on it. I got in and out just in time.

My political views are not often a topic of my posts. In fact, this may be the first time I’ve revealed them, but reading between the lines of other posts may have given my kind readers a hint. There is a great deal of meanness in the world, and the anti-Cuba stance is fueled by a lot of mean people who harbor a nearly sixty year old grudge and politicians courting their vote.  Mean people suck.

I’ve been to Cuba.  And seen it up close. In detail. Donald Trump hasn’t.  From a distance it looks like a tropical paradise with beautiful colonial architecture, a grand European flair, and of course those fabulous 1950s American classic automobiles. From a distance…

Up close you will find that after fifty years of neglect, those beautiful colonial buildings are crumbling with decay. Beautiful facades, hollow inside. And the cars, up close they sometimes look like they may not make it around the corner. They sound even worse. Cubans are not legally allowed to own an American car newer than a 1959 model. Getting parts for these vehicles is pretty hard, and you will find all variety of foreign parts under the hood.

Color abounds. Bright yellows and blues, soft greens and pinks. It’s paint. On buildings and cars. And in many cases it looks like the paint is what holds the thing together.

The people can’t be painted, but they seem to be hanging together ok. Everyone I met was very nice, and curious about America. They did not speak of Castro, or Trump, but images of the Revolution and it’s heroes are everywhere.

There is great poverty, with old women begging on the streets, in the back alleys away from the tourist centers. People sitting in doorways doing nothing but watching, waiting for something.   Rotting garbage, and it’s stench, in open containers in the streets. It’s definitely a third world country, but there is great promise there.

There are people working in shops, on public works projects, in restaurants, bars, offices, farming, shipping, banks, museums, as police and every other line of work. Internet service sucks, but there are computer repair shops. The people are resilient and looking forward to improved relations.

The majority of Cubans today were not alive at the time of the Revolution. They were born into the Cuban predicament.  The didn’t create it. But they are the ones being punished. A trade embargo with Cuba hurts the people, not the government . And hurting the people is not helping anyone.  I don’t know if the President is worried that a middle aged, well educated, well off, white male like myself would rush to emigrate to Cuba, or that a person such as myself would go there and see the needs that exist and demand action.  I know he loves “stupid people” because he said so.  But the rest of us he can’t control so easily.

From a distance Cuba may look like a threat to America, but in the details, they need some help. Not American developers or capitalists to take over and make money, but humanitarian aid. The Cuban people can decide for themselves what they want the future of their country to be. This isn’t 1898, although some of the technology there suggests otherwise. Instate free trade, let the markets decide. Power to the people.  My opinion… And I’d like to see this post go viral, and for people around the world, people with a soul, to stand up and make the Earth great again…

And that’s part of my story. What’s yours?

www.personalhistorywriter.com

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The Picture

Sometimes it takes a while for the reality of something to sink into our brains. It may be a matter of coming to a place where you can accept the reality when it’s much easier to deny it, or it may just be that something hits you that says something like “remember that event? It’s real.”

After thirteen months, it’s finally beginning to sink in that my mother has died. Not that I was in denial or anything. I knew she had died. I saw her in the coffin. And the coffin in the ground. But I didn’t really accept that the person I had seen was my mother. Looked like her, but it wasn’t the woman I knew as my mother.

She died at age 90 of complications from dementia. Complications is a nice way of putting it. Basically, even though she had some memory issues, she knew she was alive, and what her quality of life was like, and would be like. And she said the hell with it, I’m done. After twenty six days of a self imposed starvation diet, she died. My father was with her. But I was nine hundred miles away.

She had been struggling for several years. It started gradually with, with small difficulties in finding a word when she was speaking. In the end most of her words were just a string of gibberish. It made sense to her, but no one understood what she was saying. And you could see her frustration.

For several years I was afraid that every time I visited her would be the last time I would see her alive. Finally I was right. It was one thing when she and my father lived in their own home. The place they lived for thirty eight years. But when they moved to the assisted living facility, which is really very nice, she went downhill fast. There was no more running on autopilot because she no longer knew where anything was. She stopped cooking, cleaning, making coffee, washing dishes. And her speech capabilities faded.

The last time I saw her I walked out of the room and knew I’d never see her alive again. She was sitting in a chair, babbling about something, looking very, very fragile. She had lost a lot of weight in the assisted living facility. She was my mother. At least she resembled her in appearance, and sounded similar. But the life I saw sitting in that chair was not the woman I knew as my mother.

My mother was vibrant and intelligent. She graduated from college the year before I did after having sacrificed for many, many years to raise her family. Her degree was in Far Eastern Art, and she got a job in an art museum working with Japanese wood block prints. Spoke Mandarin. She loved art and history and was widely travelled. Politically active with an eye toward power to the people. She was really something.

So, when she died I wasn’t surprised, and it wasn’t devastating. I lived nine hundred miles away so I hadn’t seen her as often as I would have liked. And after all, it was this new person, not my mother who had died. I went home, helped my dad and sister with the arrangements, went to the funeral and that was that. Sounds cold, but I loved my mother tremendously. She inspired me in my thirst for knowledge and deep thinking. But the woman who died was not my mother. Not in my mine.

As the anniversary of her death approached I thought about the facts. But they were just cold facts. She was dead. But in my mind, my mother, the person I knew as my mother, had been gone a long time, replaced by an imposter.

Then it came time for my own birthday. Just a few days later. And my wife was putting together a big party for me. Milestone birthday and all. She put out a lot of pictures of me as a kid and teen and young man and then as husband and father and whatever. At some point I looked glancing at one of these pictures and it captured my attention. A closer look revealed that my mother, my real mother, was in the picture. She was old, but vibrant, smiling, aware and active.

I had just completed the Philadelphia Marathon and she and my father had come to see me cross the finish line. My father took a picture of her hugging me as I wore my finisher’s medal and warming blanket. I was happy. She was happy. My father was disappointed I hadn’t won the race. He was convinced that being an overweight forty five year old white male was no excuse for not winning.

When I saw the look on her face in that picture, I recognized my mother. And then realized that my mother is gone. I can accept that. In a way it’s sad now, But I will always remember her as she was in her prime.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

www.personalhistorywriter.com

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Earth Day

It’s not too late, because as we keep track of time, it’s not quite midnight so it must still be today. And today is Earth Day. I planted a tree.

I know, Earth Day is about a lot more than planting a tree. It’s loving the Earth, and working toward her protection. It’s using her resources wisely and wasting nothing. Solar power, hydroelectric. Do away with fossil fuels. And plant some trees. I know all of that.

About ten years ago I wanted to celebrate Earth Day at the college where I worked. So I planted a tree. I was the only one to come out for the ceremony. It was a birch tree. Beautiful. Last time I checked, it had BEEN CHOPPED DOWN. BUT guess what? That is not gonna stop me.

Today I planted another tree. Don’t misinterpret. It wasn’t all about Earth Day and saving the world. I had a small sapling that I had bought at a nursery, and it needed a permanent home. Just so happened that I found that home and planted it on Earth Day. Or was it a coincidence?

I think that the stars aligned and the spirits of the universe came together to tell me- plant that tree today.

Earth Day is a day for celebrations and statements. But a love of Mother Earth is a daily thought, without thinking. Its something we do if we really believe. Yes, the climate is changing. Its April and 85 degrees. Those among us who deny, or disbelieve, are passé. Or stupid. Or motiveated in some strange way by money to deny the facts. I think its all bout money, and the folks who don’t believe have some reason to believe in cash.

Whatever. I believe. And I planted a tree. To clean our air and give us oxygen. So when I am choking in the soot and smoke of coal fired energy plants, or burning carbon monoxide of combustible engines, I can say, damn, if only those bastards had believed in global warming I might live to see another sunrise. Peace out folks!

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

www.personalhistorywriter.com

 

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The Little Submarine that Changed the World

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Archeologists from the Piedmont Historical Center in Athens Georgia announced a discovery today that may forever change the way we know naval history. While construction crews were busy clearing land for the construction of a new parking lot in the rural part of nearby Oconee County, a small pond was partially drained. What they found in the pond was startling.

Historians had known for decades that the during World War Two the Germans had sent U-Boats to the east coast of the United States, and that they had ventured as far as the mouth of the Mississippi River near New Orleans. And on the West Coast the Army had found evidence suggesting that the Japanese had sent one man mini-subs to port cities in California. But what was found today had never before even been considered a possibility.

In the pond, which is fed by a stream and has an outlet to the Oconee River, construction crews discovered the rusted remains of a Japanese mini-sub from World War Two. There is no evidence of the crewman still being on board so his fate is a mystery. More mysterious however, is how the sub came to be in a pond in Georgia, and why it was there.

Speculation is that the sub was headed for the University of Georgia Cosmic Science Exploration Laboratory in Athens in order to disrupt progress being made by researchers investigating the possibility of harnessing the power of interstellar light for weapons purposes. In 1943, several scientists were conducting top secret research at the University of Georgia and had made significant headway in creating the first light ray weapon. This would have changed warfare forever. Not to mention the impact it would have had on the political dynamics of Planet Earth.

The submarine crew presumably was under orders to destroy the lab, and the research documents housed there. That mission was a failure.

However, another seemingly impossible mission was completed. The fact that the submarine was able to navigate from Tokyo Japan to Athens, Georgia is truly incomprehensible.

Across the vastness of the Pacific Ocean to the coast of California was one thing, but to continue the journey south past Mexico and through the Panama Canal, closely hugging American ships in order to avoid detection, then up the coast of Florida to Georgia and the mouth of the Ocmulgee River was a seafaring adventure comparable to Captain Cook’s first circumnavigation of the globe.

Entering the river mouth, the sub would have moved upstream to increasingly narrow and shallower waters. Apparently it reached the end of the road in this pond where it has remained for nearly seventy-five years.

Researchers from the Piedmont Center have been working around the clock to stabilize the sub so that it can be moved to their research facility. There may still be evidence on board providing insights into the mission, the crew and the fate of both. Pictured is the mini-sub.

You gotta be kidding! Ha Ha. April Fools! The picture shows a rusty old propane gas tank located adjacent to an old homesteads that was recently torn down. In the construction of a new parking lot. I couldn’t resist.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

www.personalhistorywriter.com

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The Phantom Camaro

 

Early Spring here in Georgia feels much more like mid Summer with temperatures hovering near 80 degrees and the sun shining brightly. Such lovely weather has a way of making people feel like being outdoors to have some fun. Some folks like to walk, others ride bicycles. People put the top down on their convertibles. And me, I go for a ride on my scooter.

Riding always makes me feel free and alive, but this special day for some reason I felt powerful. I’ll admit, my scooter is no Harley Davidson. Not a Honda, Kawasaki, BMW, Triumph, Indian or any other big motorcycle. It’s a scooter. But bigger than those little bitty things you see zipping in and out of traffic in the French and Italian movie scenes.

Full throttle, on a flat stretch of road, I can hit 60 miles per hour. And at that speed this day I felt good. I waved at other riders, always glad to see fellow two wheel enthusiast out enjoying a ride.

I try to keep my eyes on the road ahead, but I do take time to look in the rear view mirrors as well. And that’s where I saw it. It was bright red and it was trying to catch me. Wide and low I could hear it’s engine roaring. You know, the sound that a five million cubic inch engine will make. And it was decked out with air scoops, and air dams, and bright lights. In my rearview mirror it looked like a sinuous wisp of red smoke charging toward me.

But I soon realized that it wasn’t blasting past me at a thousand miles and hour. It wasn’t even getting any closer to me. A red sports car that you can’t drive fast because the police are always looking for any excuse to pull over a red sports car that might drive fast. I was racing a Camaro, and winning!

Shortly thereafter I noticed that the Camaro was slowly inching it’s way toward me. He must had had his pedal to the metal. HaHa! And then, as we rolled along up a slight hill, he cruised very slowly past me. Checking me out. What beast was this that could keep up with his Camaro!

And as he rolled past me and I looked over, fully expecting to see Steve McQueen driving, I took a good look. Funny looking Camaro I thought. Because it turns out it wasn’t a Camaro. Chevrolet yes, Camaro no. It was a Chevrolet Spark! This thing was shorter than my scooter! I was greatly humbled. But went on to enjoy the rest of my ride.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

www.personalhistorywriter.com

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Where oh Where

Location, location, location. That is the classic real estate mantra. The other is buy the worst house in the best neighborhood you can afford. Of course, these things have different meanings for each buyer.

Location means a hot area, that is, popular. Or at least a good area. Obviously you don’t want to buy a house next to a landfill or sewage plant. Or nuclear reactor. And if you can, it’s a good idea to buy in an area with a low crime rate. And good schools. And good weather and nice people. You have to consider the resale potential of anything you buy.

For me, location meant outside of a subdivision. A place with a little bit of land. And a water feature. Lots of storage. Maybe even a separate building for storage. Of course, a run down shack on two acres with a drying up swamp and old shack of a barn qualifies for all of my wishes there. But that’s not what I would buy.

Then there is the geographic location aspect. How close to the city did I want to be. Very rural county? Bedroom community outskirts?

What I was looking for was a relatively updated house on several acres, not too far out in the boonies, with as small a yard as possible, and as much water as possible. Pond, lake, creek, river, oceanfront. Water.

As time went on and I continued to look, I became discouraged. What I was seeing was old shacks with overgrown yards and dried up creeks. The further away from the city I went, the more I could afford. More land, bigger house (though not necessarily a nice house!), more water. But I didn’t want to be too isolated. I’m a loner, but not a hermit.

I started to rethink everything. What about an urban loft? Or at least an in-town condo. There are a number of old cotton mills in this area that have been refurbished into lofts with a nice industrial feel. Old wooden floors, brick interior walls and iron bedecked ceilings. And there are plenty of condos.

Looking at several of those, I realized that living in one would be impossible for me. I needed some space between me and my neighbors. Lots of space. And some storage. So, back to the drawing board in the country.

I began to think about real fixer uppers. If it had four standing walls and an intact roof, I could remodel. Needs a little paint. Or landscaping. But maybe at my age I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life ripping out walls and painting the new ones.

Then it dawned on me. The housing market is like the job market. You can look all day and night at the want ads and job boards and company websites and apply for jobs until you are blue in the face, but it’s the hidden market that holds the gems. The jobs that never get advertised. Jobs that are created for friends of friends.

In the housing market, the best sales are word of mouth and unless you are in the right circle of mouths, all you can do is wake up one day, see that a transaction has occurred and say to yourself, “damn, I wish I had known about that!”

So, with the increased aid of my realtor, I developed a net that covered a wider area. And one day, bam, it was going to have that perfect house in it! And I would leave the whole community saying, “damn, I wish I’d known about that!”

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

www.personalhistorywriter.com

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A Moving Idea

Sometimes an idea will simmer in your mind for a long time before you get the details worked out. Or even begin to take it seriously. Then some sort of trigger gets pulled and you feel compelled to act. Even obsessed with bringing this idea to fruition.

When I was a child my father’s employer transferred his job to another city. Another state. He loved his job, so he was going. And so were we. He was moving from the sprawl of Northern New Jersey to a manufacturing town in Pennsylvania. Not far from the Amish Country. He wanted to live in a rural area.

He and my mother looked at houses to make their new home. One of them was a farmhouse on a large hunk of acreage. In the middle of nowhere as farmhouses with vast expanses of land tend to be. He liked it. My mom, not so much. She was afraid that she would be isolated from the rest of humanity. And that her two young children would be stranded far from friends. Eventually they built a house in an upcoming new subdivision. Close to town, and shopping. The best schools in the state. A one-quarter acre lot.

This particular area was still considered to be in the country, and there were vast cornfields behind the house. And across the street, in the still undeveloped portion of the neighborhood, there were open fields. Up the road was the farmhouse and red barn to which all of this land had once belonged. So my father got a little of what he wanted, and my mother got everything she wanted.

That’s where I grew up. From age five until I graduated from high school. The day after I graduated, my parents moved out. They had bought my father’s dream home. An old stone farmhouse on ten acres of land. With a barn. They lived there for the next thirty-eight years and although I had grown up in suburbia, I have ever since considered this second home, Shadowlawn Farm, to be my real home. Like my father, I too loved the country life.

Fast forward to twenty years ago. My life takes many turns similar to my fathers. My wife and I had started a family and were living in an urban subdivision. The schools were failing and we wanted more for our children. We started to look in the neighboring county. Which happened to have the best schools in the state.

We looked at existing subdivision homes. We looked in the country. Every Sunday we would drive out to the country and ride around looking. One neighborhood had particular appeal to my wife. Best one in the county. We had always heard that you should buy the worst house in the best neighborhood you could afford. That was her plan. I was still holding out for the farm.

Finally it was my father-in-law who caused me to take action. He shamed me into it. What he said to me one day was that my kids needed to move. They needed to be near other kids. And I should get off my wallet and do right by my family. Of course I was going to take care of my family, but I didn’t have to do it at the expense of my life. But I did.

Time was passing and a new school year was approaching. If we bought a new house, or piece of property in the next county we could enroll the girls in the best schools available. There was a vacant lot for sale in that best neighborhood. So I bought it. And my wife and I got together with a builder and proceeded to construct a new house. It was exciting, but a story for another time and blog post.

Fast forward once again. This time to 2016. For the past twenty years I have been poring over real estate books looking at houses. Moving has never been a consideration. The kids were still in school. Then college. My wife was content. I was antsy. Then my back failed. Two surgeries later and I was having real difficulty with the stairs in our three story house. And walking. Moving suddenly became a consideration. But where?

To be continued…

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

www.personalhistorywriter.com

 

 

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