Monday, May 28, 2012

Keepers of the Memories

Our veterans tell the story of their dead. They carry the stories to us.

I once saw the Traveling Vietnam Memorial wall at Ocmulgee Indian Mounds. My husband, newly minted in the Marine Corps League, stayed with other veterans guarding the tribute the entire time it was here. The Indian Mounds wore the memorial like a holy salute to the dead.

I saw all kinds of Vietnam veterans at that monument whose reflections in the wall made the blackness come alive.  Every time I looked into those shiny black walls, I saw another veteran carrying another story of another who died whose  names grace its Wall.

I finally visited the real Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. My experience at this wall was so different. The most overriding factor determining my perceptions was the refections in the wall weren't grieving veterans. It was my own curious face,my mother, brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew. We didn't look anything like someone who carries on their soul a war for which an excuse has yet to be found.

The memorial for World War II was not so starkly insightful about who I am and am not. It was a gloriously large airy arena where we all wanted to hang out and bask in the grandeur of the views, the magnificence of the sculptures, the skillful transmission of the its largeness in world history.

We strolled back by the Vietnam memorial as we left. I explained my feelings to my niece. The Vietnam Memorial is like a scar on the land, reflecting back to us who we are. It announces with great solemnity that we acknowledge our dead, who fell in commission of the wars waged by our politicians. We acknowledge in its entire geometry the rise and fall of the American War, as the Vietnamese call it. It honors these men and still tells the truth of an unjust war, one that was waged on the Vietnamese people and our own young men, their families and friends.

We are connected to all of these memorials and to each of these names whether we realize it or not. I choose to honor the history and the men and women who sacrificed to create the republic for which I am a citizen. I am proud of our warriors. I am proud of the truth telling of our memorials in Washington. I have great respect for those who serve. Their stories are the reason we acknowledge and mourn with them the great losses and sacrifices they and their fallen comrades have made on behalf of the rest of us. Also I honor  those who have fallen in war anywhere at any time. May the nonsense of war cease.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Death By War, a Memorial Day story

Memorial Day is set aside to remember those who died in war. Most often, it is the survivors of war  who keep the memories for us.

My husband, Carl, is one such survivor. He is a combat veteran of the
Vietnam War (or as it is called in Vietnam - The American War). He carries memories very specific to the week in which Memorial Day occurs.

On May 27th, 1969 near dusk, Carl, who was the squad leader, and his first Fire team leader, Gary, and a member of Gary’s fire team sat in their 3 man fighting hole on the company’s perimeter when a helicopter landed to resupply the company with food and men. Carl distributed the C-Rations among the fire team leaders of his squad. It had been over 24 hours since they had any food.

Carl was called up to the CP (Command post) and was assigned troops “fresh from the world,” which means these men were landing in Vietnam straight from the US. He took the men back to the fighting hole and as they got settled, he wolfed down his spaghetti and meatballs - a meal he had to be hungry to eat. He saved his favorite, ham and lima beans for later.

The area came under attack, the fire brought in by the helicopter giving away their location. Incoming recoilless rifle rounds, highly accurate small artillery pieces, were shooting rounds in the fighting holes up and down the perimeter. Carl and Gary put the two new guys and the fire team member in the fighting hole.

The sun was near setting and therefore firing would soon stop because it would give away the NVA position. Carl watched several men who had left their positions on the perimeter during incoming and were walking on the ridge line back to their hole. Suddenly these men were running. Gary and Carl looked at each other and Carl said, “let’s get down, just in case.” The two of them resumed their positions on top ofthe other three guys, just barely inside the parapit of the fighting hole.

Carl’s entire right side exploded. There was a cloud of black gun powder smoke where Gary had just been. Carl’s flak jacket and and helmet protected his internal organs and head, but his right leg and arm were very nearly blown off. Gary was dead.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine, Schmallentine

Valentine's Day is a wonderful day to make art. My granddaughters participate with me in labors of love for this day allowing me to use pictures of them and then they tell me their Valentine sentiments.

This year, the girls seem to not be on the love vibration.  No ballads of love from these girls. Thank you Higher Powers of the Universe! They are sending a different message!

The handshake valentines came from a series of photos I did to illustrate commitment and community for my church's pledge drive. My the small handed model wanted to see these photos re-purposed in a valentine. 

I admit, the pi one was my idea. I mean anyone who can draw a mustache like this on her face is definitely a natural, must be irrational and very important to boot! You have to love a kid like that!

And Buddha, of course, has his bit to say about all this love stuff.

On last year's Valentines, Buddha wasn't as grumpy.

The girls and the goats had plenty to say.

And romance was the purview of roosters and chickens.

The goat girls figured prominently in last year's designs, teaching me much about love in unexpected places.  So does the girl in the heart below.

I take comfort these two goat girls still have each other, and my three granddaughters also have each other, loving parents, grandparents and beyond. 

Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, January 30, 2012

A morning trek with my old camera

I found the charger to the old camera, the go-anywhere-, even-under-water camera. It is a beat up and shabby looking, but I am so happy to be able to use it again. I love the pictures it takes, the richness in the darker colors, the way it interpolates pixels.

I took pictures this morning trying it out. Take my morning trek with me.

This is where I sit to write this blog and work on my novel. I have a migratory work space. I'm a laptop warrior. This is the center of operations for now, in the junk room. I like to create from a place of mass chaos. What can I say?
This is our garden. We had a fire yesterday burning the roots and ground cover from the plot we are preparing for corn, beans and squash. The three sisters, I squeal. Carl C shakes his head and says something sounding as if he wants to thwart or change my plans. Gardening with a partner takes compromise. The burned spot will be the next place we dig.

Here is the corn plot we are preparing.  I've taken to circle gardening. I like to dig out a circle, marking the cardinal directions and put plants aligned with the directions. This is no science behind my madness, only a slightly ODC plan to make earth compasses all over the land. Carl C likes directions, so he has conspired with me on this latest patch, helping me to exactly delineate the directions. The yellow duct taped bamboo pole in the right corner of the photo is south. The chair is in the north, though slightly east. I have woven with bamboo branches a retaining wall for the low end of this small piece of ground where we will grow corn, for sure. Carl C has dug out roots, master minded the pole construction and exact circlitude.  It is definitely a joint project now.

Look, look! The bamboo in the northwest from which our poles come.  And see the measly little circle gardens I did by myself, and thereby proved this would be a great way to feng shui our handicapped garden.
There is cabbage, swiss chard and collards in these. I also have lettuce and spinach in another unseen circle to the right. It has picket fences and sharp bamboo twigs to protect it from the chickens. We ran out of chicken wire.
Back inside, my old/new camera itches to take a look at the mantle above our fireplace. Here, dust and all is what our mantle piece harbors.

The camera and I walk over to the house shrine and take a peek. 

Since this buddha seemed fine, we went to check on the outside buddha.

We found him checking out his reflection in the bird bath.

I know where the wild chickens lay! It is hard to emphasize what a victory this represents. I have been searching for their laying place for months, and finally they started laying in a place I had made receptive for their laying needs.

They ignored it for months while the yard cat lounged in it, but when I changed where I fed the pets, the cat migrated back there. Another month went by and then, yay, an egg. Two days later, another egg. I began writing the dates on them and gathering the oldest one everyday. Day before yesterday, two eggs were laid. I can identify at least three separate egg layers  by color and shape! I only have four wild laying hens.

Here sits Buddha. He hasn't moved since we looked at him a minute ago. He's really enjoying the day, I can tell.

So are our two loyal, loving dogs, though if I'd go on a long walk in the woods with them, they would find it an even better day.

And a final look at Buddha bathed in sunlight, keeping the company of a bottle tree and some irises who will bloom in spring.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

In the Land of Milk and Honey

Dearly Beloved, we are riding out the last day of the year with a wee hour insomniac session and wish to memorialize 2011 as the year of the goats. It was actually the last year and a half, but I will generalize.

I am learning to say the goats instead of my goats. For an aspiring Buddhist, I use the word my entirely too much. And the goats no longer live here on my land with me. There is the word my again.  The land we co-inhabited is now minus the two goats who once stayed in the back yard. 

The darlings are happier now - I believe I can say this with certainty. They were born in North Carolina on a magical goat farm. My family packed them up from a scenic wonderland and brought them to Juliette where there were no peacocks strutting around or seventy or so more goats to herd around with.

They weren't my goats in the beginning anyway, but still the idea of them gave me a sly goat grin. My Capricorn heritage prepared me to compare myself to goatiness long before the goat girls ever graced my presence. I became responsible for the girls because I have legs which work. Because they had needs which needed to be met - twice daily feeding,  browsing in the woods, hoofs to trim and water to fetch. If there is a possessive pronoun to be used, perhaps the operative phrase would be: I became their human.

When I visited them at Salamander Springs last week four days into their new living arrangement; I discovered the goats are not loyal like dogs. They already had adopted a new person to be their human. They were in goat heaven with acres of honey-suckled bottomland to graze and a farm full of humans, dogs, chickens and ducks.

And then again, six days later I visited them and they had been bad goats; escaping their acres of  fenced land and meddling in human areas. This landed them in the chicken coop, a virtual Hawaii vacation compared to my over browsed back yard. Their sly goat grins still hung in the air with a Cheshire quality as they lounged with Bantams. To these goats, a banishment into the chicken coop is like throwing them in the briar patch. In my yard, they often sat outside the chicken coop watching all the chicken drama as if this was the finest entertainment on the planet. 

I miss the girls, but I am glad they have gone to a real homesteading and teaching farm. Wwoofers come and go there - young people who will always fall in love with the goat girls' beauty and charm. These goats are with good  and responsible people, earth dwellers like the goats themselves.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

How I Exercise

After approximately 10 years of VERY little physical exercise, I've begun swimming laps somewhere between once and three times a week for thirty to forty five minutes.  It feels wonderful. Endorphins, flatter stomach, and a weight drop of about ten pounds are some of the most obvious rewards. 

Swimming is one of the most joyful activities of my entire life. I learned to swim well as a child. (Thank you, Mama and Daddy and Camp Martha Johnston and the Elks Club). I even took water ballet my fourteenth summer and some of the flips and twists and turns I now enjoy come from  these lessons.

The last time I exercised my body steadily was from 1996 to 2000 where I journeyed from a klutzy white belt to a disciplined powerhouse of a brown belt in Okinawan Karate.
This has influenced everything in my life.  

I exercise my goats some, but not enough.
 As you can tell, they are quite fat.

I exercise going to the chicken coop several times a day looking for eggs. Then I get even more exercise as I look all over my yard for the undisclosed destination where the wild chickens lay. Their eggs are a real delicacy. I haven't seen any in two months or more, but I look almost every day.

I exercise my temper on occasion. Too much, I am sure, because it is quite fit.  Lately I've been trying exercise silence or at least letting my husband have the last word.

I exercise my right to vote every chance I get.  I've exercised my right to peacefully assemble to protest the war in Iraq several times.  I've yet to exercise this particular right in the Occupy Movement, but they have my attention.  Police violence against peaceful protestors isn't exactly my idea of how power should be exercised.

I exercise my freedom of religion, attending the 
church of my choice most Sundays.

I exercise my right to free speech, but I try to use it judiciously. My intention in writing is not inflame others, but for my words to help people find common ground. My purpose also involves helping others' voices be heard, especially my husband's voice. He is a common sense genius and he is a catastrophically combat wounded Vietnam veteran.

Back in my younger days, being just a kid in the sixties, I watched our country burn, I saw riots in the streets, saw presidents, would be presidents, and civil rights leaders assassinated.  It made a deep impression on me, as did rock and roll. Believe me, growing up in Macon, Georgia, home to the Allman Brothers, there has always been a judicious amount of rock and roll.

I'm a child of the sixties and came to age in the seventies which left me a rebel without a cause. I never used to look twice at military types, having decided early on I was a peacenik.  Then in my thirties I began meeting all kinds of Vietnam veterans and listening to their stories. Then when I was thirty five, I fell in love with one who, to me, had the most riveting story of them all. I pledged to tell his story. He agreed to let me. I exercise this agreement all the time. 

I don't much exercise the right to bear arms. I don't like them, don't trust them. I trust my self defense techniques I learned a decade ago much more than I trust myself with a gun.  I did get a rifle,  for home defense or in case a rabid animal gets in my yard, but I hope to never use it.

All and all, I exercise a great deal. I hope you do too.

all art by Carole Dixon

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why Thank A Veteran?

by Carl C
spoken Nov. 13, 2011

Welcome to my church. I signed the book here 20 years ago.

Will all military veterans please stand.    
Let us honor those among us who were and are willing to lay their lives on the line for the rest of us.

My name is Carl C and I served as a United States Marine Corps Rifleman, mostly in the mountains of the Demilitarized Zone, Vietnam for almost a year, between July 1968 and May of 1969. I joined the Marines in 1967 and was put on the Permanently Disabled Retired List in September 1969.

A young Veteran of our recent WARS who was being interviewed on PBS last Friday night was talking about how great it was to be in uniform when people would come up shake his hand and thank him for serving his country. Now, out of uniform, the armed service and homeless, all he gets is: oh you were in the military, that's nice, that will be 5.95 for that coffee.

What it means to be a veteran to a lot of people is once you take off your uniform, you are just another American living in a world without structure or respect while often carrying a mindful of experiences that have no place in civilized society. There is no use for the many skills that are second nature to the military person. Once you are out of uniform you have to learn to channel this energy into something useful.  

I can't speak for other veterans whose experiences are different from mine.  I was catastrophically wounded. It changed what was attainable for me and what wasn't. I went from being a physically fit 19 year old to being a mutilated 20 year old. I had to depend on others to do the smallest things for me. I had to become independent again, by learning such things as how to walk with crutches, climb up and go down stairs without falling or injuring my already damaged body and how to to drive a car with my left foot and left hand.  

Catastrophic injuries are very common for the veterans of our latest wars.

I don't know the answer to help these veterans. I don't see what is out there for them as far as opportunities are concerned. A career and or educational goals can often go a long way in keeping the effects of PTSD at a manageable level. But if the past is a predictor of the future, our Congressman and Senators will continue to cut and nibble away at our hard earned compensation and benefits for military veterans.  

A thank you is real nice, but these veterans need more than a thank you.  So if you have an opportunity to help a veteran in any way to show your appreciation, please do so.

I will say though, it is nice to be thanked and this is something we can all do - thank a veteran. It is the least any of us can do and it always makes my day when I am thanked.

We stopped at our favorite place to eat in Metter, GA on our way home on Veterans Day after visiting with my son on his birthday, November 10th,. which by the way, he shares with the United States Marine Corps. Taped to the door of the restaurant was a sign that said "free buffet for veterans." Some chain restaurants offer a limited free menu on Veterans Day, but at Bevricks, everything was free. This was a nice surprise; I was going to eat there anyway.  It wasn't cheap for the restaurant. Lots of veterans were eating there. Their tables were full of veterans. It was a great gesture and made me feel appreciated. They even took my picture and said they would post it on Facebook. This unexpected free meal is something I won't forget. 

I usually go to a local cemetery to attend a memorial service on Veterans Day. The services are nice and it is great to be thanked, but our lives were changed irrevocably by our service every single day and alters the way we see the world.  I see Memorial Day as the day to honor the dead and November 11th as the day to honor our living veterans.  

No matter how we might feel about our country's policies, most people join the military with honorable intentions to protect the common good of all of us. Let's keep these veterans in our thoughts all year long, not just on a designated day in November. And yes, a thank you goes a long way in honoring their sacrifices any day of the year.