Category Archives: Poetry

Halloween Visitor

Written for my children, and children everywhere … of all ages.

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‘Twas the first and thirtieth of October,
That occurred this story so strange and sober.
In his bed, not asleep, a young boy lay
On that Hallowed Eve, for his mind was at play.

His siblings around him were all long adrift
In that sea where one’s thoughts tend to wander and shift.
And in the next room his mom and his dad
Were getting some rest from the day that they’d had.

And in through the windows the clouds and full moon
Teamed up to make shadows like goblins and goons
And witches and creatures of horrible fright
Who only came out on a Hallowed Eve Night.

Then the night’s breezes, they blew and they blew,
Till the windows and curtains, all open they threw.
Thus came a chill o’er the children within,
And each pulled his blanket right up to his chin.

A full bank of clouds moved in front of the moon;
The room grew dark; the boy realized soon
That a chill settled in, from his head to his toes.
So he ‘rose from his bed, for the windows to close.

When all of a sudden, to his great surprise,
In climbed a young boy, right ‘fore his eyes.
“Excuse me,” he said, “this is my annual chance,
To be yet alive, and exit Death’s trance.”

You mean,” asked the boy, remarkably calm,
“You’re a spirit, a ghost, attaché from beyond?”
“Essentially right, though you’ve nothing to fear.
Please be still and listen to the reason I’m here

.

“I’ve a task this one night to be ‘mongst the living:
There’s a message, a story, for me to be giving.
All I ask is that you hear and receive it.
After that, it’s for you to dispose or believe it.

“Please hear me out, just let me start.
I’ll tell you a story that may break your heart.
See, there’s no way I’ll assume Heaven’s Glory,
Till somebody finds the end to my story.

“I’m stuck here between my death and my life;
It all has to do with an old whittling knife.
I’m just ten years old, the same as are you;
‘Though my last birthday was in ‘twenty-two.” (i.e. 1922)

Then the guest, he paused, and looked at his host,
He who was poised, and looked back at the ghost.
The living boy nodded in tacit approval.
He would not be asking for this guest’s removal.

He began: “I lived a youth full of bliss
Ten years in this town with my mom dad and sis
In a quaint little house at the edge of town.
It wasn’t fancy, but it was our own.

“To support the war effort dad worked the mines;
I seldom saw him not covered in grimes.
Then in ‘eighteen, in came the flu;
I seem to remember a sister named Sue.

“Mom brought in work, she cut and she sewed,
Earning some cash for the debts that we owed.
Oft’ my live sister was seen or heard,
With me picking fruit in the old orchard.

“Things got much better when the war ended,
‘Though it took a while till broke hearts were mended.
Dad left the mines and worked in a store.
He so much enjoyed those clean shirts that he wore.

“He then had some time to put Life in his life;
To do what he wanted: dote on his wife
And his two children that she bore.
‘Though they never said it, they wanted some more.

“He worked with my reading, worked on my writing,
And taught me how to walk ‘way from fighting.
And how to ‘preciate some fine things in life.
What I ‘member most was that old whittling knife.

“Dad had got it from his own dad,
At a young age and a time so sad,
When he’d left forever – the story was told –
To go and work building the new railroad.

“Dad taught me the safety, taught me the care;
How to oil the stone and always beware:
Whittlin’s mostly for your relaxation
Whilst playing around with your imagination.’

“And by the time my birthdays reached ten
I’d whittled all sorts of neat things for them.
And ‘though they weren’t great works of art,
I could see that my parents were proud from the heart.

“And then didst come that October so cold;
The wind was merciless, endless and bold.
We fired the stove up day after day
To stave off the cold; ‘twas the only way.

“Chilled to our bones came the thirty-first;
It seemed that then the wind was the worst.
Nearly overcome were we by our plight;
Dad chose to fire the stove through the night.

“We fell asleep slowly, with tumultuous dreams,
For all ‘round the house the devil’s breath screamed.
And then ‘round midnight it came down the flue
And into hot embers a new life it blew.

“It blew so hard it opened the stove’s front door
And that is whence the flames did pour.
It was then that I felt my small world shake;
Dad had us outside ‘fore I was awake.

“I watched in amazement. I watched our house burn.
Oh what a sadness! A terrible turn.
It was good, I remembered, that dad saved my life.
And then I remembered that old whittling knife.

“Without further thought I rushed in through the door
To my own place where my treasures were stored.
When I reached my room I heard a ‘crack’;
The roof was collapsing – my head was whacked.

“I was pinned underneath heavy oak timbers;
My face pushed into a floor of hot cinders.
I heard my dad’s voice; he’d come after me.
He lifted me up — … but it was not to be.

“The walls caved in, and exposed to the weather
And fire around us, we died together.”
The ghost stopped here, to catch his breath.
The host wiped a tear, saddened by death.

The lonely ghost then slumped right down to the floor,
Still donning those flannel pajamas he wore
On that fateful night, so long ago,
With burn marks and rips, all riddled with holes.

“I cannot enjoy all of heav’n’s pleasure,
Without knowing for sure the fate of that treasure.
It must be safe or I won’t go on
To be with my father in the Great Beyond.

“So always since then
I’ve been caught in between
The Heaven and Earth: Forever Halloween.
And once each year, on the Hallowed thirty-first,
My spirit takes form, and I visit the earth.

“I visit young boys in my old home town
To see if that knife has ever been found.
And insure its eternal safe use and care
As if my devoted dad were still here.”

The live boy shifted – looked away from the spirit.
“I’ve something to say; I think you should hear it.
‘Twas years ago that this land was cleared
Of a burned-out old wreck to build our house here.”

He quivered and shuttered, and wept as he talked;
While toward his bureau, ‘cross the bedroom he walked.
“ ‘Twas my uncles and dad who performed that work;
They rescued some odds and ends from the dirt.”

When he reached the bureau, he breathed a few sighs,
And cleared out some wetness from his nose and eyes.
“They found many things; several they saved.
Among them are two, later to me they gave.”

He pulled out a drawer, and reached therein deep
Where his few precious things he did within keep.
“It’s with some regret that to you these are shown:
An old whittling knife and well-worn whetstone.

“Now that your story by me has been heard,
I must confess: I believe every word.
You’re welcome to have this knife and this stone.
They surely are yours, as your story has shown.”

He held them out plainly for his guest to see,
And them take away into e-ter-ni-ty.
The guest’s eyes were wide with surprise and delight:
“I can’t take these along on a heaven-bound flight.

“All I ask is a promise, from you to me:
That always cared for, this knife shall be.
That you love your parents, respect and kiss them.
You’ll never know how much you may miss them.”

The living boy nodded, accepting the vow.
The ghost then said: “I’ll be leaving now.
I thank you for the great evening I’ve had.
I can finally go and be with by dad.”

He went to the window; waved a silent good-night –
Then slowly, slowly, faded from sight.
The wind ceased its blowing, and then the full moon
Resumed its glowing – Casting light in the room.

The boy closed the windows, and then shook his head –
Replaced the items, and went back to bed.
His mind ceased its playing, so soundly he slept.
To this very day, that promise he’s kept.

Joe Girard © 1994, 2017

 

Verse: of Fog and Snails

“Art is long, and time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act—act in the glorious Present!
Heart within, and God o’er head!”

— excerpts from “A Psalm of Life“, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

 

Hi again,

Just about finished going through old papers. And processing them mentally.

Here I present two poems that I wrote long ago.  I’ve put at least one up online before, but coming across early drafts of them has again helped me crystallize some “foggy” memories. These drafts were in that “folder of folderol”, referenced in “Wish I knew, ooh baby.”

As poetry should be, they could have many interpretations. Feel free to try your own. I won’t be offended.

Although they were meant to be ambiguous, the author also intended them to be very, very specific for himself. When you’re done, you will find those interpretations … far below the main texts. Thanks to my memory and those scribbles the thoughts and thought process at the time have become quite clear, yet again.

Crumpled up old poetry drafts

This first draft of the first poem (Foggy Sonnet Breakdown) was inspired in November, 1981. I was having some “issues”, as readers might have inferred from recent essays.  I took a day off work from Boeing (Seattle) to drive up into the Cascades for a solo hike.

Foggy Sonnet Breakdown
[The name is a twist on Foggy Mountain Breakdown, a banjo-based Blue Grass classic created by Earl Scruggs. It pretty much defines the Blue Grass style all by itself.  I learned to appreciate Blue Grass during my grad school years in Nashville, TN.]

Cascade mountain hiking. This is NOT a good idea for the Pacific Northwest in November.  The weather and road conditions matched my mood perfectly; it was very foggy, cold and drizzly. At least I had the roads and trails to myself.  During the drive up and back, and during the 9-mile “forced march” hike up and down Denny Creek (which left me near hypothermia and through which I endured multiple aggressive attacks by swooping Cascade Gray Jays when attempting to snack on my “gorp” — conditions I actually rather welcomed at the time), I composed most of these lines. My notes show that I originally called it “I-90 Fog”.

Later I transformed it into a “perfect” sonnet: not only 14 lines, but also 14 syllables per line.  Here you go.

Foggy Sonnet Breakdown

Praise the Fog around us now: Hides the vileness that we shun,
Protects us from other worlds till another day is done.
Curse the Fog around us now: Hides the beauty that we seek,
Causes us to lose our way and so makes the day seem bleak.

A Fog lies in our valleys, but ne’er upon our true peaks.
Fogs are chosen by the Prideful, as sure as by the Meek.

Fog can be the product of sympathetic tears that greet
The Victims in their own undoings when touched by Passion’s heat.

As for me, I am resolved; for who of us is to tell
If the path I’ve chosen leads to my heaven or my hell?

I wish that I could ask you Fog: “What makes you so damn sure
That we’ll lose sight of our goals, and our patience won’t endure?
For the day is very young and the Sun is rising fast;
Soon she’ll cauterize you canker: free from ourselves at last!”

— Joe Girard © original 1981; edited in 1993 (during another self-induced crisis)

_________________________________________________________

Ahem.  Well … chew on that a while, if you’d like.

The second and shorter piece, entitled “Snail People” was written in January, 1982.  I had — more or less — accepted defeat (although the Coup de Grace was some three months away).

Do I need to explain Seattle’s January weather?  It’s Dreary and Damp, with capital D’s. That’s D, as in fending off a Dark mood.  Defeats are singular … life is longer: spring and opportunity were on their way. Like Longfellow’s Psalm of Life, it was time to move on; wiser, stronger, bravely and more resilient.

Snail People

See Ye now the snail,
So timid,
It crawls upon the sand.
See Ye now the snail,
I grasp it,
And crush it in my hand.

Poor stupid creatures,
Not knowing
That living in a shell —
Poor stupid creatures
Not LIVING.
A corpse would do as well.

See ye now a man,
So lonely
Within his shell — how strange!
See ye now a man.
I wonder:
Why won’t he ever change?

Joe Girard © January, 1982

Ahem.  Interpretations?  Feel free.

They were written from lengthy and deep introspection.

Hint: There is acceptance of flaws … and determination to deal with them, through faith in self.

I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried
I’ve had my fill, my share of losing.
And now, as tears subside,
I find it all so amusing

To think I did all that
And may I say – not in a shy way
Oh no, oh no, not me
I did it my way

— from “My Way”; lyrics by Paul Anka, first and most famous English recording by Frank Sinatra.

Author recreates his interpretations, several decades later:

Fog covers parts of the Smoky Mountains at the break of day.

Well here goes. Fog is cluttered and clouded thinking.  It both shelters and obscures; it can be comforting or disorienting.  Mountain fogs tend to lie in valleys; at mountain high points the view is far and clear, for you are above the fog. (Fog is simply a cloud that reaches down to the ground). Climb to be your best self; and the fogs simply fall away.

Such obscuration can be caused by both pride and self-pity. Dwelling on your depths leaves you in the fog; dwelling on positives gets you up the mountain, above the clouds.

The fog, or clouded thinking here, abruptly turns to reference the tears of self-pity.  This is not true victimhood; not when a condition is self induced. The heat of emotion turns tears to vapor, where they re-condense into a fog.

It is of course, about me. I was the victim of my own in-doing.  I accepted responsibility.  Now what?

Yet, it is still early in the day (my life). The Sun is my own fiery self-determination, which can, and will, cure — even if it requires burning the wounds to cease their oozing.

Capitalizations.  No apologies.  Note that Longfellow did the same. These were to emphasize that the subject referenced is me, myself, or some quality of mine. I capitalized and made the S of sun bold, to make that (i.e. my self determination and  willingness to use it to cure, even through metaphoric searing) especially pronounced and memorable. A point of focus. To burn it into my psyche. The sun, like self-determination can both burn and heal.  Simultaneously.

Well, I think that’s it. That’s all I can recall for now about how, why, and when I first wrote it … and what it meant to me. What it meant about me.

Foggy Sonnet Breakdown …
[The idea of fog along mountains ranges and lying in their valleys also came from my years in Tennessee. Each spring a friend and I would make a lengthy vacation at the end of the school year in the Smoky Mountains to hike, camp and raft rivers.]

———————————–

Snail People is more about accepting self, dismissing isolation, and moving on. Acknowledging a large world beyond oneself.

Living a small, shallow protected life is a choice.  It can feel comfortable.  But it is self-limiting and leads to metaphoric death: a life void of meaningful interactions.  Yes it is safe, and life without a shell will — certainly, eventually — involve some pain.  Get over it.  Crush it. No one will ever feel sorry for you for long.

So, don’t be lonely.  Shed that shell. Have people in your life. Learn! Time to move on.

————————————

Until next time, I bid you Adieu. And, I wish you many heights above your fog.  And life out of your shell.

Peace

Joe Girard © 2017

 

On Paternal Ancestry

On Progeny and patrimonial lineage

A Girl named Poppy

CNN has been sporting quite a few interesting documentaries recently: Steve Jobs, Life Itself (Roger Ebert), the Sixties, the Seventies, The Black Panthers. Last month they aired a different kind of documentary; it was comprised of a dozen or so “shorts.” Each segment was a story by one of their news anchors on the topic “The Person who Changed my Life.”

Unfortunately, I did not see most of the segments. I did see the one by Poppy Harlow. I was moved by whom she identified as “the person who most changed my life”, and the story she told about him and their relationship. That person was her father, who died when she was still a young teen. It’s a very good production video of a touching story; a success story that is both likely and unlikely.

Poppy Harlow: CNN Anchor

Poppy Harlow: CNN Anchor

Likely: we all “like” to think that success can, in most cases and in some way, be traced from a parental influence. Unlikely: Poppy’s career turned out to be nothing like her father’s. You can watch the video here. Poppy Harlow: The Person who Changed my Life.

It reminded me of several other stories that I’ve been holding onto for no particular reason, except to maybe share them here. I won’t say these are similar to Poppy’s story, but they are not all that different either. I will limit them to a total of a mere three segments. (And a very brief fourth follow-up).

  1. “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”
    – Howard Beale (Network) –> watch the
    Mad as Hell Scene.

If you haven’t watched the iconic 1976 movie “Network”, then watching the scene via the link above is probably all you need in order to get an excellent cultural reference. It applies as much today as ever. It will probably always be “timely.”

Peter Finch as Howard Beale: "I'm as Mad as Hell! And I'm not gonna take it anymore!"

Peter Finch as Howard Beale: “I’m as Mad as Hell! And I’m not gonna take it anymore!”

Peter Finch’s (1916 – 1977) portrayal of crazed news anchor Howard Beale in “Network” earned him an Oscar: the Academy Award for Best Actor. The award was posthumous; he died suddenly – age only 60 – of a heart attack January, 14, 1977, two and a half months before that year’s Academy Awards ceremony. He was the first person to be awarded an Oscar posthumously for an acting performance.[1]  

Finch’s award for “Network” was no fluke. Before that he had earned five BAFTA awards for Best Actor (that’s British Academy of Film and Arts). He was also nominated by both the British and American Academies for several other prominent awards.

The effect of Finch’s patrimony is difficult to ascertain, but it is very interesting to investigate.

Australian George Ingle Finch had a very successful career as a chemist. Among his achievements: developed an improved catalyst for synthesis of ammonia; conducted groundbreaking research into solid state physics, surfaces and thin films, electron diffraction, electron microscopy; and the electrical ignition of gases. In 1944 he was recognized with the Hughes Medal of the (British) Royal Society. He was president of the esteemed Physical Society of London 1947-49. And yet, this is not what he is most known for, nor (probably) his greatest effect on young Peter Finch.

In 1914 Finch the elder was in London, where he was doing research at the Imperial College of Science and Industry. That’s where and when he met Alicia Fisher, daughter of a Kent barrister. Soon after World War I broke out he was assigned to the Royal Field Artillery. Sometime shortly after the start of his military service, in 1915, George and Alice were wed. [As an Australian he was still a subject of the crown, and duty-bound to serve].

While George was away, Peter was conceived. He arrived September 28, 1916 – with George obviously still away. Officially named Frederick George Peter Ingle Finch – perhaps in a way to honor Alicia’s absent husband – he went through most of his life as Peter.

When George returned there were some accounts to settle. He soon divorced Alicia and, with his sister, took full legal custody of Peter. Shortly thereafter young Peter was sent off to France to live with relatives, where he was mostly reared by George’s mother – Peter’s putative grandmother. In the meanwhile George had some dreams to fulfill. He wanted to be a mountain climber.

Those were still the days of the great British adventure; adventure as experienced by, and performed by, the privileged gentry. Yes, the British gentry, of which Finch was certainly not a part. Sailing the world, going to the Yukon gold rush, safaris in Africa, climbing mountains – these were things done with as much creature comfort as possible. Often smoking cigars, dining on quail and herring, sipping brandy, while attired in tweed – that was how to adventure. At least the British gentry’s mode.

That was not how to attack a beast like Everest. Finch joined the Alpine club and set out to join three attempts to make the ascent of Everest in the 1920s with the much more famous climber, the legendary George Mallory.

Finch was an outsider, a colonial farm boy. He had done some climbing in the Alps while studying in Zurich before getting his post at Imperial College. For the Himalayas he brought oxygen canisters, which came in at a hefty 16kg for eight hours supply. On the second British Everest attempt in 1924, Finch was allowed on the ascent team; he made the highest effort on Everest to that date, over 27,000 feet. (Everest tops out at 29,028 ft; that’s 8,848 m). He might well have summited, had he not felt compelled to assist an enfeebled novice companion back to safety.

Finch was, in the eyes of many experts, the best technical climber of his time, despite it being merely a hobby, and he not being a gentlemen. He was sneered upon as a country boy, a colonialist, and an outsider who would “cheat” by using oxygen. He was left off the other two ascent attempts.

In the end, Finch was right. [2]

And in the end, it’s hard to know his influence on his “son”. When Peter was 10, George fetched him up and took him back to Australia. Peter always knew that George openly denied that Peter was his biological son.[3] He also knew of his “father’s” attempt at Everest, and his contributions to science – although George was never much recognized for either until later in his life, when Peter was already well on in his acting career.

The younger Finch’s career started out as bumming across Australia during the Great Depression with a traveling troupe, picking up odd acting roles. During World War II he served in the Army, manning an anti-aircraft gun to fend off Japanese during the bombing of Darwin, and serving in the Middle East.

He didn’t let the war slow him down much: he produced, directed and acted in plays for the troops. When the war was over, his career only delayed a bit, he hit the ground running, took every opportunity, worked hard, and became one of the most famous actors of all time: British, Australian, or, of the world.

  • 2. “Tell yer uncle why there ain’t no snow in California”
    — “Don’t look at me! I didn’t take it!” – Cousin Peal and Jethro (Beverly Hillbillies)

 

1960s sitcoms. They were corny. Some were corny and popular. Among them, “The Beverly Hillbillies” was regularly the top rated TV show in America. During its eleven year run it was only occasionally bumped from #1, usually by The Ed Sullivan Show.

The adorable Donna Douglas, who played Ellie Mae Clampett on the show, passed on about a year ago (January, 2015) at age 82, leaving Max Baer, Jr (Jethro Bodine) as the last living member of the cast.

Both skilled and successful actors, Douglas and Baer would end up with constricted acting careers, as they were so very type-casted by their successful roles on Beverly Hillbillies. [Although Douglas made a 1959 pre-Hillbillies recording in The Twilight Zone episode “The Eye of the Beholder”, wherein she played a woman undergoing a surgery to have her appearance fixed so that she would look more normal. The surgery was a failure: she was just as beautiful after the bandages were removed. The episode was not shown until 1960. — Yes, Donna Douglas, even as Ellie Mae, was inherently beautiful.]

As a Beverly Hillbillies side note and question: can anyone provide an accurate description of the familial relationships between Granny, Uncle Jed, Ellie Mae, Jethro, and Aunt Pearl? (Whom did I forget? Was some sort of incest implied?)

Hopelessly typecast, Douglas more or less gave up acting when the series ended in 1971 and moved on to a successful career as a Gospel singer and inspirational speaker.

Baer, however, did not give up the camera.

Sports enthusiasts might recognize the name Max Baer as a former World Heavyweight Boxing champion. A big brute of a man, with a literally deadly right hand, Max Baer, Sr was indeed the Heavyweight Boxing Champion. That would be “Jethro’s” real life father.

Max Baer, Sr was one-quarter Jewish – acquired from his half-Jewish father. Although he rarely practiced Judaism, he eventually decided to embrace it as a public gesture, nonetheless.

Baer broke into worldwide recognition as a champion contender just as Adolf Hitler assumed the German chancellorship, and ultimately the dictatorship, of Nazi Germany. He became a bona fide contender when the beat the great German boxer, Max Schmeling, in June 1933. Schmeling was a recent (although not current) heavy-weight champion. He was the reigning German Heavyweight champion.

Max Baer, Sr, in his Star of David embroidered boxing trunks. I think this is the fight with Max Schmeling

Max Baer, Sr, in his Star of David embroidered boxing trunks. I think this is the fight with Max Schmeling

Baer was disgusted by the warmth and favoritism shown by the Jew-hating Hitler and the Nazi party apparatus toward Schmeling. Baer was willing to make a public statement, and so he began wearing a very prominent Star of David on his boxing trunks for matches. He started wearing the Star for the match against Hitler’s favorite, Schmeling. And he continued to do so. He was wearing the Star of David embroidered trunks when he won the World Heavyweight Title a year later, June, 1934, when he defeated the then current title holder, Prima Carnera.

And he was wearing the Star, 364 days later, when he lost the title in The Cinderella Match against Irish-American New York longshoreman, James (Jimmy) “Cinderella Man” Braddock.

Unfortunately the otherwise terrific movie about that fight (The Cinderella Man) casts Baer in an extremely negative light. However, it was based partly on fact: Baer considered part of the job of boxing champ to be an entertainer, and he could be pretty darned silly when in that role. The movie played up the goofy and obnoxious role-playing of Baer (in an obvious shallow attempt to get viewers to appreciate underdog Braddock all the more). The movie also failed to prominently show Baer’s trunks, and their plainly visible Star of David. (Blame that on the producer, Ron Howard — Opie).

Shortly after Baer Sr’s boxing retirement, World War II broke out for the United States. Baer served as a physical conditioning trainer for the US Army Air Force. He continued to sporadically act in films (he had started in 1933) and served as celebrity referee for boxing matches.

In November 1959 Baer was in Hollywood for several television commercials (they were done “live” in those does – very few 2nd takes). While shaving at the Roosevelt Hotel, Baer felt a chest pain. He called the front desk, asking for a doctor. They told him they’d send a “house doctor” right up. Ever playful, Baer replied: “No dummy, I need a people doctor.” In hospital later that morning he was joking with doctors when … a second attack hit him. “Oh God, here I go …”

He was only 50 years old. (I am often humbled by how people achieved so very much … and then died … far younger than I am now). His son Max Jr would be making his first appearance on TV in just a few weeks, under contract with Warner Brothers, with whom he would eventually star in The Beverly Hillbillies. Baer, Sr is rated #22 in Ring’s list of all-time boxers. He is among a very few boxers who’ve won by knock-out over 50 times. Two deaths are attributed to his mighty right arm. He was devastated by each.

Max Baer, Jr -- as Jethro Bodine on Beverly Hillbillies

Max Baer, Jr — as Jethro Bodine on Beverly Hillbillies

Max Jr’s career after the Beverly Hillbillies remained in the entertainment industry. Hopelessly typecast by his role as Hillbilly Jethro Bodine until 1971, his acting career was largely over. After that he wrote, produced and directed movies, including “Macon County Line”, in which he also played a rare serious role. That movie made $25 million for an investment of just over $100,000 – a record ratio that lasted until the Blair Witch Project (1999).

He also had the idea of turning popular songs into movies. It was Baer, Jr who came up with turning Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe”, a hit ’60s song, into a cinematic feature. [The lyrics are below… if you’d like to follow along while listening).

In retirement, Baer continues to make a few TV appearances and has long been attempting to develop a casino in Carson City on the Beverly Hillbillies theme. It has been fraught with legal issues and odd competition.

 

  1. Do I dare
    Disturb the universe?
    In a minute there is time
    For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
    – The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

William Greenleaf Eliot died January 23, 1887 in St Louis, Missouri. He founded the first Unitarian Church west of the Mississippi in 1837, at the corner of 4th and Pine – perhaps 1000 ft from where the famous Gateway Arch has stood since 1964. Outgrowing that location, in 1852, Eliot led the congregation in building and moving to a larger worship space at 9th and Olive. This is only a few blocks from where the stately Post Office and Customs House, and the Library, would be built decades later; those still stand. In 1880, Eliot again led the building of a new Church, at Locust and Garrison. This site was on the Register of National Historic Places. It unfortunately suffered a devastating fire in 1982, and was completely razed in 1987.

St Louis Unitarian Church -- on National Register of Historic Places, until its demise

St Louis Unitarian Church — on National Register of Historic Places, until its demise

That’s just the beginning of William Eliot’s curriculum vitae and significance to St Louis. He’s most notable for founding Washington University in St. Louis (initially called Eliot Seminary). He was influential and critical to founding many civic institutions, including: the St. Louis Public School System; the St. Louis Art Museum; the Mission Free School; the South Side Day Nursery; and the Western Sanitary Commission that provided medical care and supplies during the Civil War. He also contributed to the development of the Colored Orphans’ Home, Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home, Memorial Home, Blind Girls Home, Women’s Christian Home, and many other charitable institutions.

When Ralph Waldo Emerson visited St. Louis, he had the opportunity to meet Eliot and subsequently called him “the Saint of the West.” Besides founding Washington University in 1853, Eliot donated generously to its construction and served as chancellor from 1870 to 1887.

In 1859 William Eliot founded Mary Institute, a school for girls which he named after his daughter, who had died very young. It is now part of the co-educational Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School (MISLCDS).

Same Church, after the tragic fire.

Same Church, after the tragic fire.

It’s hard to know the further effect he had on American culture and literature. In fact, his effect on world culture and literature. Why? William Eliot was also the grandfather of Thomas Stearns Eliot, who was born the year after William’s passing. Going by his initials, T.S., Eliot is renowned in his own right as one of America’s and the world’s most acclaimed poets, essayists, playwrights and literary critics.

It’s hard to imagine young Thomas, spending his youth going between St Louis and New England (due to family ties in the Boston area) and not being very aware of his grandfather’s contributions to society. Frail as a child, “Tom” turned to literature, embraced it, and found inspiration in fellow Missourian, Samuel Clemens.

I’ve read, recited and committed to memory quite a bit of verse over my many decades. Poe, Frost, Longfellow … even Lewis Carrol. And yet, somehow, I’ve not connected much with Mr Eliot the younger. As an aerospace engineer and amateur historian, perhaps I can be forgiven.

As a sop to fellow enthusiasts of the 1904 World’s Fair: As a teen, young Tom attended the Fair – it was in his hometown, after all. The 47-acre Philippines Igorot “village” living exhibit inspired him to write some short stories and poems. This experience also probably influenced his decision to pursue anthropological studies at Harvard – where his grandfather’s name still stood large. [4]

Yes, perhaps I can be forgiven for not taking to Eliot’s writings. T.S. eventually turned away from much of what his grandfather was proud of. In 1910 he moved to Paris; then, in 1914, to England. And there he stayed. He eventually gave up both his Unitarian faith and US citizenship, becoming both Anglican and a subject of the crown.

T.S. Eliot won the Nobel Prize for Literature, as a British subject, in 1948.

  1. Depression Youth; Military Service

My wife and I think of, and talk about, our fathers quite often. They had a lot in common. Both grew up in humble households during the Great Depression. It’s easy to see that this helped make them thrifty, resilient and loyal. They both served in the US military in the ‘40s, Audrey’s dad in the US Navy – in fact a Pearl Harbor Survivor; my dad in the occupation of Japan. It’s easy to see how this helped mold them into the prototypical “Greatest Generation” male: the strong quiet type; able to lead and command; yet equally capable of following and taking orders: organization men. They each loved their family and country dearly, loyally, sincerely … yet often from a reticent and in-charge position and point-of-view.

For the rest of their lives, they felt it was a duty to stay very informed on current events, and they loved to encourage discussion that swirled around world events – including past and current.

I have no idea how our three children’s lives will play out … hopefully very long after we are gone. I’d like to think that there is something of the following in them, and that – in some way – part of it comes from their parents. Just as we received something in this regard from our parents:

  • Inner Strength and Self-Discipline
  • Loyalty and Love
  • Kindness and Compassion
  • Service and Simplicity
  • Living in the Moment
  • Honesty and Humility
  • Graciousness and Generosity
  • Patience and Perseverance
  • Forgiveness and Fortitude

 

Obviously no one is perfect. I certainly am not; neither is my wife. Neither were our fathers. Still – we cling to the positive influences and traits … and gently release the rest. Life is too short to be concerned with anything else.

And I wish the same strengths and virtues for you and yours.

Peace

Joe Girard © 2016

email joe: Email Joe (for addition to email list, or discussion not related to this post.  Comments can be added below)

 

Footnotes:

 

[1] Heath Ledger duplicated this sad/happy circumstance, passing on before he could be receive the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as The Joker in 2008’s Batman sequel “The Black Knight.” Ledger died from a prescription drug overdose (likely due to abuse from ongoing viral infections and insomnia issues). Ironically, both Ledger and Finch were Australian. Ledger was only 28.

 

[2] The air pressure at 28,000 ft elevation is only one-third that at sea level. That means 67% less oxygen for the lungs while working severely hard at steep ascent grades. Famed Kiwi Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, were the first humans to summit Everest, in 1951. They used supplemental oxygen, as have the vast majority of those who’ve successfully achieved the full ascent.
The first summit without oxygen was not until 1978. In 2013, a total of 658 climbers attained the summit; only 9 did so without oxygen. There were also 8 deaths.

 

[3] Finch’s biological father was Wentworth Edward Dallas “Jock” Campbell, an Indian Army officer. Alicia Fisher Finch later married Campbell in 1922. (what’s with the Brits and all those middle names?)

[4] The St Louis 1904 Exposition was huge. Hyuge. Just the Igorot Village living exhibit was larger than many famous World’s Fairs … e.g. The complete 1962 Seattle World’s Fair (which gave us the Space Needle and the Monorail) was only 32 acres … vs the Igorot village at 47 acres … the whole 1904 Fair covered nearly 1280 acres (two square miles)!

Final notes: You can watch The Twilight Zone episode online (The Eye of the Beholder). It’s easier to listen to Bobbie Gentry singing Ode to Billie Joe … one of my favorite Ballads (right up there with “West Texas Town of El Paso.” If you do, here are the lyrics so you can follow along.

 

 

And just for grins….

Ode to Billy Joe

(written, sung and performed by Bobbie Gentry)

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day.
I was out choppin’ cotton, and my brother was balin’ hay.
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat.
And mama hollered out the back door: “y’all, remember to wipe your feet!”
And then she said, “I got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge.
Today, Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

And papa said to mama, as he passed around the black-eyed peas:
“Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits, please.
There’s five more acres in the lower forty I’ve got to plow”
And mama said it was shame about Billy Joe, anyhow;
Seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge.
And now Billy Joe MacAllister’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

And brother said he recollected when he, and Tom, and Billie Joe
Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show.
And wasn’t I talkin’ to him after church last Sunday night?
“I’ll have another piece o’ apple pie; you know, it don’t seem right.
I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge
And now ya tell me Billie Joe’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

And mama said to me, “Child, what’s happened to your appetite?
I’ve been cookin’ all morning, and you haven’t touched a single bite.
That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today.
Said he’d be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh, by the way …
He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge,
And she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

A year has come and gone since we heard the news ’bout Billy Joe.
‘n’ Brother married Becky Thompson; they bought a store in Tupelo.
There was a virus going ’round, Papa caught it and he died last Spring,
And now Mama doesn’t seem to wanna do much of anything.
And me, I spend a lot of time pickin’ flowers up on Choctaw Ridge,
And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

 

 

My Head, OK

(With Apologies to Messers Rogers and Hammerstein)

 

I’m so glad that I don’t have a headache

All day I’ve hardly had a headache.

I’m feeling so lucky that I feel so fine —

Looks like Joe’s finally enjoying his mind.

—-

O what a beautiful evening!

O what a beautiful day!

I’ve got a beautiful feeling, the whole weekend will continue this way!

O what a beautiful day!

O, the grinding and pounding returneth.

The grinding and pounding returneth.

I’ll just have to greet them with a wink and a sigh.

A capetenter’s awl is stuck behind my eye.

O ’twas a beautiful evening!

O ’twas a beautiful evening.

Closing my eyes to imagine fine sights! We can have a beautiful night.

Oh what a beautiful night.

O what a Beautiful Morning — Stage Recording

Oh Antietam

The wind, she  blows cold across the hills of Maryland and West Virginia,

Scurrying clouds along their way, from northwest to southeast.

The sun seems like a furtive guest in the sky,

But it’s the clouds who are playing the game.

Antietam is different in March than in August, the last time I was here.

How long ago was it?

The trees are bare this time of year; the corn stalks are laid low; the bean vines are gone.

And yet …

The old Dunker Church still stands, marking the spot of Lee’s defense.

The land still falls away …

to the east, the creek …

to the west, and south, the Potomac …

and rises, after slight dips to the north, to Hagerstown.

The spirits still speak, betraying the secrets of the blood spilled here.

At Burnside Bridge we cross the creek, and take a moment.

We pause, reflect, take pictures.

The creek runs high from last night’s rain.

Just as it ran rich with blood, that September afternoon in 1862.

Twice might be enough; I many never visit you again Antietam.

Still, I carry your message, your pain, your story with me,

Ever onward.

We are here for a purpose.  God I hope so.

Joe Girard © 2013

[1] Essay, America’s Bloodiest Day, Girard