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A River Runs Through It: A Lament for Huntington, West Virginia, the Heart of Trump’s America, Part One

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The Ohio River is one of America’s majestic rivers and for nearly two centuries has been one of the nation’s vital waterways. Over those years cities developed along it, cities that were at one time the center of much American industry and transportation. However, over the years many of those cities have lost their manufacturing centers and cities like Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Cincinnati, fell, but have begun to rise again. 

Yesterday we traveled to one of the cities That hasn’t rose again, Huntington, West Virginia, to spend a week with a dear friend. However, unlike those other cities, Huntington has not only not recovered, but continues to slide into the abyss. For years I held onto hope that Huntington and the Tri-State area of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio would come back, but today I realized that it won’t come back for the foreseeable future. No amount of fanatical belief in a political Messiah who promises to Make America Great Again is going to change that, the facts don’t support it and neither do the social, political, and economic culture that has developed over the past fifty years. 

For those that don’t know, Huntington, Cabell County, and adjoining Wayne County are my ancestral home in the United States. My family on both sides were early settlers in the area. In fact I was the first person in my immediate family born somewhere else, thanks to my parents I was a Navy brat and was born in California and raised on the West Coast. My family for the most part has either died off or moved away. I have a few cousins still in the area but haven’t seen any of them in years. 

In spite of that I have always considered Huntington a home away from home. We used to visit my grandparents and other relatives, all of who are now long gone. Some of my earliest and happiest memories were in Huntington. After I finished seminary and my Clinical Pastoral Education residency in 1995 I got my first post-residency hospital job there while serving in the National Guard and Army Reserve. Even then it was a place that I felt safe and wanted to live. Though I went back on active duty in the Navy in 1999 still considered it a place that I might actually want to retire. It is a beautiful area. 

Twenty something years later I no longer feel that way. We arrived in town early in the afternoon and after we unpacked the car I had to pick up a few things at a local grocery store. I know Huntington like the back of my hand, every area, every street, and while the street names and the geography of the city have not changed, the city has fundamentally changed and though I had seen it coming I never wanted to believe it. 

Huntington used to be the largest and wealthiest city in the state, but back in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, things began to change. The heavy industry began moving out, especially in the 1980s when those industries imploded. Likewise in the 1960s the city council and business people decided that they didn’t want Interstate 64 to go through the city because they were afraid that it would negatively effect the downtown businesses. The interstate went around town and the businesses including the state’s largest mall moved to Barboursville in Cabell County. Downtown died and despite efforts to revive it, it has not recovered. 

Bad economic decision after decision, including the rejection of a Toyota engine plant with thousands of really good paying jobs not far from town in the late 1990s have doomed the city. In the 1960s and 1970s the population was close to 90,000, now it is under 50,000. Many people moved into the surrounding areas, but those too are beginning to suffer from many of the issues effecting Huntington which remains the heart of the Tri-State metropolitan area. 

The city infrastructure is crumbling, the ancient storm drain system is failing leading to flooding in areas previously immune from it, and causing flood insurance premiums to skyrocket. Its schools are underfunded, the educational outcomes are poor, its economy is failing, and society beginning to collapse, the opiod crisis is just a symptom of a larger decay. 

The city is still home to Marshall University but without it things would be much worse, as the University partners with business and the major medical centers. In fact if it wasn’t for the University, the medical school, and the hospitals there would be nothing here. Most of the industry including steel and chemical plants which used to supply auto manufacturers, make railroad cars, and other manufacturing goods are gone, and most of the derive industry jobs outside of medical care pay little more than subsistence wages and offer few or no benefits. The coal industry has downsized because the coal here is harder to get and thus more expensive than going elsewhere. Despite promises of bringing coal jobs back that is not going to happen. What is left of the coal industry in West Virginia, much of it owned by the state’s only billionaire and governor, Jim Justice,who by the way was a Republican and became a Democrat to run for governor in 2015, who just switched back to being a Trump Republican, is going high tech and not replacing miners. This is not because of environmental regulations but simply because the coal industry has already raped the state of the easily accessible coal, at a tremendous human and environmental cost. 


The city has some beautiful residential areas near Ritter Park which is a wonderful park that stretches for miles along Four Pole Creek. The homes through that area and in the hills that rise sharply above it are where the well off people live, the doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, corporate executives, and tenured university professors. But just a few blocks away people live in squalor. Boarded up homes and businesses, vacant lots, and barely habitable homes predominant what were once affluent middle class neighborhoods that I remember all too well. 

The once thriving downtown area is a shell of its former self. There have been a number of attempts to revive it, the latest being the very nice Pullman Square, but many businesses can’t make it there because people don’t have the money to spend. Even a Five Guys burger joint went out of business there, and I have never seen one of those places go belly up. 


The city is the poster city and epicenter for the opiod epidemic in this country. You cannot drive or walk down the streets without seeing someone with the wild-eyed or blank stare of an addict. Homeless people, often drug addicts, walk down the streets with their belongings, and sometimes their children in tow. It is quite sad to see. 

West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the country it is the seventh most poverty stricken state in the country. Most education ratings place the state in the bottom ten percent of the United States with one of the lowest success rates measured in educational attainment and earnings. It ranks 50th in life expectancy, it is second in obesity, and has the highest rate of opiod addiction and death in the country. I could go on but the drumbeat of negative statistics and outcomes gets too depressing after a while to go on about them. 

Until the past two decades the state was a reliable “blue state.” That didn’t mean the state was liberal in any sense, it was actually a lot like much of the American South which was reliably Democratic until Democrats began to support the civil rights movement, and other more progressive causes in the 1960s and afterwards. It stayed longer in the “Blue” column because most of its Democratic leaders such as Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller did not defect to the GOP like many leaders in the South who followed Storm Thurman and the Dixiecrats to the GOP. In fact many of the Democratic state office holders were solidly on the side of business and would be considered conservatives in any other state. But it was only after Barack Obama was elected to the Presidency that the state shifted to be almost solidly Republican, with all statewide offices with the exception of now endangered Democrat moderate Senator Joe Manchin being controlled by the GOP. 

In 2016 the state voted for Donald Trump with over 68% of the vote. Interestingly enough, West Virginia is one of the states that has benefited the most from the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Health Care Act, and since that legislation was enacted more people have access to healthcare, which if you look at the state’s health rankings is badly needed yet opposed by many Trump supporters. Last week a cheering crowd greeted the President at a campaign rally in downtown Huntington cheering “lock her up!” while jeering former FBI Director and now Special Prosecutor Robert Muller over the Russia investigation. In desparation many people here have pinned their hopes on a false savior, one who promises to Make America Great Again, but cannot deliver for their city. 

Socially it West Virginia is a fascinating state. There are strip clubs and pornography super centers littering the interstate highways and around the outskirts of town, yet the state is full of churches and socially one of the most conservative states when it comes to people’s religious views, especially when it comes to abortion or LGBTQ issues. Of course this is not unusual as the Bible Belt is also the the porn belt. But I digress, I got more into statistics than I intended but they provide a mosaic of what is going on in the state. 

Today I came home in a sense to a place that is no longer home. Since we have been military nomads for some 36 years, West Virginia is still my home of record for the military. When I went back on active duty in the Navy in 1999 it was our intention to return. I can’t do that now. Today, for the first time in my life I did not feel safe on the streets of Huntington. The poverty is the least of my concerns, and it’s certainly not a racial issue because Cabell County is 91% white. I’ve been poor and lived in crime ridden ghettos that were heavily black and Hispanic, but I hate to say I felt safer in those places than I did today. 


Please don’t take this essay wrong. It is not a polemic by any means, it is a way to process my grief for a city and state that is not going to be great again anytime soon. People can shout Make America Great Again all they want, but fervor and fanaticism do not change facts. I do wish that it was different, but people here are doing what they have been doing since the Robber Barons, Coal Kings, and Lumber Lords raped the state of its natural resources, destroyed the encronment, and for all practical purposes enslaved the people in “company towns.” 

Huntington’s crisis didn’t happen overnight, it is the product of decades of poor leadership by politicians of both parties, business leaders, and yes, even citizens and now many are putting their trust in a false savior who despite his words and their fervor will not change the course of their city or state. 

I think that today after I do my run and walk through Ritter Park, that I will be out taking pictures, not just of the nice areas like I usually do here, the riverfront and Ritter Park, but the blighted areas. I will post them as a photo essay as part two of this either tomorrow or Thursday. 

Until then,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under culture, economics and financial policy, healthcare, laws and legislation, Political Commentary

Sadness on Pentecost: Remembering South Side United Methodist Church

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It is Pentecost Sunday and I am a bit sad. Yesterday the process of demolishing the building that was South Side United Methodist Church in Huntington West Virginia began. The building has been boarded up since 2008 when the congregation merged with two others and became Community of Grace UMC. Not that there was anything wrong in that move, as South Side was no longer sustainable as an independent congregation. Thankfully the new congregation is doing well, and many of the former members of South Side are vital members of it, including my cousin Paula who serves as the music director. She has carried on South Side’s wonderful music tradition with the new congregation.

That being said for me, seeing the pictures of the building in its final days brought a sense of sadness. It was in a sense a part of my and my family’s spiritual heritage for close to 80 years. My grandparents on both sides of the family were members there dating back to the 1930s, my parents were married there and my uncle Charles who went on to become a Methodist minister had much of his spiritual formation there. My grandparents funeral services were all conducted there by Pastor Mike Chapman in the 1990s and 2001.

I was baptized there in 1960 when my parents took leave and traveled home to have that done. I got my first Bibles there, a children’s KJV and then my first adult bible, a Revised Standard Version which had a section in the back that traced the history of the ancient empires that existed during the time of ancient Israel and the early Church. When I returned to West Virginia in 1995 South Side, though not of my denomination, or my wife Judy became a center of our life.

We have so many memories attached to that building, which in its heyday was the home of a thriving congregation, and boasted one of the most beautiful sanctuaries in the city. The stained glass windows were amazing and thankfully I understand that they were saved. The sad thing is that so few modern church buildings provide so little in their aesthetics and design to inspire us, they are utilitarian and devoid of the touches that help draw people into the mystery that is God and faith. Those windows always gave me a sense of wonder as a child and as an adult, they provided comfort and inspiration. I am somewhat sad that so many people will be deprived of this sense of wonder as church becomes ever more detached from art and beauty.

However the church was a victim of demographics. The Fairfield area it was in went down and much of the area became business or hospital oriented, and the residential neighborhood became poor and crime ridden. As the economy of the city shrank as heavy industry was outsourced, many people who went there moved to the suburbs or had to relocate completely to find work. In a sense the loss of South Side is synonymous with the decline of the city.

So anyway, that is what I am feeling today. At least I am getting the chance to go to a ball game this afternoon with our. Norfolk Tides booster club, the Tidewatchers, to see the Baltimore Orioles take on the Oakland Athletics. I love both teams so it should be good.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve +

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Filed under christian life, Loose thoughts and musings

Reflecting on the High Water Mark of the Confederacy and the Importance of Our Union

Yesterday was the 148th Anniversary of Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. There is a spot near the Copse of Trees along Cemetery Ridge which is referred to as the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” It is the spot close to where Confederate Brigadier General Lo Armistead fell mortally wounded as the decimated remains of his command were overwhelmed by Union forces shortly after they breached the Union line. It is a place immortalized in history, literature and film. It is the place that marked the beginning of the end for the great evil of slavery in America.

My ancestors lived in Cabell County which in 1861 was part of Virginia. They were slave holders along the Mud River, a tributary of the Ohio River just to the north of what is now Huntington West Virginia. When war came to the country the family patriarch James Dundas and my great, great grandfather joined the 8th Virginia Cavalry Regiment in which he served the bulk of the war as a Lieutenant.  When it ended he refused to sign the loyalty oath to the Union and had his lands, which are now some of the most valuable in that part of West Virginia confiscated and sold by the Federal Government.  He was a believer in the “Lost Cause” that romantic and confused idea about the rightness of the South in its war against what they called “Northern aggression.”

Because he served I am eligible for membership in the Sons of the Confederacy. However it is something that I cannot do.  There are some that do this as a means to honor their relatives that served in the war and I do not make light of their devotion to their family, but there are some that take that devotion to places that I cannot go.  As much as I admire the valor and personal integrity of many military men who served the Confederacy I cannot for a moment think that their “cause” was just.

It has been said that the North won the war but that the South won the history.  I think this is true. Many people now days like to reduce the reasons for the war to the South protecting its rights.  Sometimes the argument is “states rights” or “economic freedom” and those that make these arguments romanticize the valor shown by Confederate soldiers on the battlefield but conveniently ignore or obscure the evil of the Southern economic system. The “rights” and the “economic freedom” were based upon the enslavement and exploitation of the Black man to maintain an archaic economy based on agriculture, particularly the export of King Cotton.  Arguments which try to place the blame on the North, especially arguments that attempt to turn the Northern States into economic predators’ intent on suppressing the economic rights of Southerners only serve to show the bankruptcy of the idea itself. The fact that the “economic and political freedom” of Southerners was founded on the enslavement of a whole race of people matters not because the “cause” is greater.

The fact is that the longer the South relied solely on its agriculture which was supported by the institution of slavery it deprived itself of the means of economic progress, the same progress that propelled the North to prosperity. The south lagged in all industrial areas as well as transportation infrastructure. The majority of non-slave owning whites lived at the poverty line and only enjoyed some elevated social status because the slaves ranked beneath them on the sociological and economic hierarchy.  The South depended on cheap imports from England, which then was still considered an enemy of the country. When tariffs to protect newly establish American industries were enacted in 1828 South Carolina attempted to nullify the Federal law even raising troops and threatened a revolt in 1832.

The Southern economic system was immoral and antiquated. It enslaved blacks and it impoverished most rural Southerners, with the exception of those that owned the land and the slaves. It was a hateful, backward and loathsome system which even the southern churches attempted to justify from Scripture.  Southern Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians would all break away from their parent denominations regarding slavery.

This does not mean that I think that the average Confederate soldier or officers were dishonorable men. Many officers who had served in the United States Army hated the breakup of the Union but served the South because it was the land that they were from. It was the home of their families and part of who they were.  To judge them as wanting 150 years later when we have almost no connection to family or home in a post industrial world is to impose the standards of a world that they did not know upon them. For those that gave up everything to serve one can feel a measure of sympathy.  So many died and so much of the South was destroyed in the defense of that “cause” one has to wonder just why the political and religious leaders of the South were willing to maintain such an inadequate and evil economic system one that hurt poor Southern whites nearly as much as it did blacks.

The war devastated the South and the radicals that ran “Reconstruction” ensured that Southerners suffered terrible degradation and that Southern blacks would have even more obstacles raised against them by the now very angry and revengeful whites.  It would take another 80-100 years to end segregation and secure voting rights for blacks. Thus I have no desire to become part of an organization that even gives the appearance of supporting the “cause” even if doing so would allow me to “honor” an ancestor who raised his hand against the country that I serve.

I was raised on the West Coast but have lived in the South much of my adult life due to military assignments. I have served in National Guard units that trace their lineage to Confederate regiments in Texas and Virginia. Despite my Confederate connections both familial and by service I can find little of the romance and idealism that some find in the Confederacy and the “Lost Cause.” I see the Civil War for what it was, a tragedy of the highest order brought about by the need of some to enslave others to maintain their economic system.

Today there are many that use the flags of the Confederacy outside of their historic context. They are often used as a symbol of either racial hatred or of defiance to the Federal Government by white Supremacist or anti-government organizations.  Many that use them openly advocate for the overthrow of the Federal Government.  The calls for such “revolt” can be found all over the country even in the halls of Congress much as they were in the 1830s, 40s and 50s. Some of this is based in libertarian economic philosophy which labels the government as the enemy of business, some based social policies which are against their religious beliefs and some sadly to say based in an almost xenophobic racial hatred.  The scary thing as that the divisions in the country are probably as great as or greater than they were in the 1850s as the country lurched inexorably to Civil War with neither side willing to do anything that might lessen their political or economic power even if it means the ruin of the country.

In recent weeks I have seen the symbols of the Confederacy, particularly the Battle Flag displayed in manners that can only be seen as symbols of defiance.  Tomorrow is July 4th and it seems to me that the flag that should be most prominently displayed is not a Confederate banner, nor even the Gadsen flag, a flag from the Revolutionary War which is used as a rallying symbol for many in the Tea Party movement but the Stars and Stripes.  Somehow I find the flag flown in rebellion to the country that I serve displayed in such an arrogant manner

For many of these people it is the Federal Government which is the enemy. Now I know that our system of government has its flaws. Likewise I cannot agree more about the corruption of many in political office, regardless of their political allegiance.  While it is true that the Federal Government has taken upon itself many powers some never envisioned by those that crafted the Constitution, it has done so because leaders of both political parties have consented to it and even worked to strengthen the Federal Government with the consent of the American people that elect them again and again.

Despite this much of this has been accomplished by the Federal Government has been for the good for the country and people no matter what the critics say. Many of the things that we enjoy today are the result of the work of the Federal Government and not business as much as those that deify big corporations want to believe. There are the National Parks, laws against child labor and for safe workplaces brought about by Teddy Roosevelt, the infrastructure built in the 1930s and 1940s by the Franklin Roosevelt administration. The Roosevelt administration also brought about Social Security and banking regulations to protect Americans from corporations and banks that violated the public trust. The Eisenhower administration began the Interstate Highway system which is the backbone of our transportation system.  Likewise the Space Program and yes even the military have led the way in technological, scientific and medical innovation including that thing that we all take for granted today the Internet.

Today quite a few people are calling for revolt or secession if they do not get what they want be it socially, politically or economically. For years politicians on both sides have fought to minimize such talk and enact compromises with the usual discontent that comes with compromise.  Unfortunately many of those compromises have had the effect of widening the political divide much as the various compromises on the road to the Civil War.  Jefferson said of the Missouri Compromise of 1824: “but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.”

We have allowed the issues of our time to become a fire of unbridled angry passion where those with almost no historical understanding and whose history is often based on myth stake claims and promote ideas that will destroy this Union if they continue. Unfortunately we have not yet reached the high water mark of this movement yet and I fear like Jefferson that the hatred and division will only grow worse as both radical on the right and left prepare for conflict.

Tomorrow we celebrate the 235th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence.  It is a remarkable occasion. It is the anniversary that free people as well as those oppressed around the world look to as a beacon of liberty. It has been paid for time and time again, especially during that cruel Civil War which killed more American soldiers than any other war that we have fought.

A few months after Gettysburg Abraham Lincoln a man much reviled by those that have romanticized the Cause and who is demonized by many “conservative” politicians and pundits today as a “tyrant” made these brief remarks at the site of the battle:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Today with so many radicals on both the political right and political left doing all that they can to plunge us into yet another civil war we should remember Lincoln’s word and rededicate ourselves to this Union, this remarkable Union.  Tony Blair the former Prime Minster of Great Britain remarked today:

“It may be strange for a former British Prime Minister to offer thoughts on America when the country will be celebrating its independence from Britain. But the circumstances of independence are part of what makes America the great and proud nation it is today. And what gives nobility to the American character.

That nobility isn’t about being nicer, better or more successful than anyone else. It is a feeling about the country. It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing. That ideal is about values, freedom, the rule of law, democracy. It is also about the way you achieve: on merit, by your own efforts and hard work.

But it is most of all that in striving for and protecting that ideal, you as an individual take second place to the interests of the nation as a whole. This is what makes the country determined to overcome its challenges. It is what makes its soldiers give their lives in sacrifice. It is what brings every variety of American, from the lowest to the highest, to their feet when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played.

Of course the ideal is not always met – that is obvious. But it is always striven for.

The next years will test the American character. The world is changing. New powers are emerging. But America should have confidence. This changing world does not diminish the need for that American ideal. It only reaffirms it.”

I think that the Prime Minister got it right.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

The Acrid Smell of an Election is in the Air: The Toxic Politics of Mutually Assured Destruction

Bloom County copyright 1988 by Berkeley Breathed. www.gocomics.com

Yes that pungent stench that is in the air is not the smell of fall, not the scent of freshly run over skunk but yea and verily the scent of yet another poisonously pungent election season. Yes this year stinks more than most because of the division of the country and the absolute enmity between political parties.   Pundits, ideologues, mindless drones and their allied television, radio and print media shills echo whatever their party’s leaders and pundits say regardless of its veracity painting their opponents in the worst possible manner without ever dealing with the issues in a constructive manner.  Back in the 1990s I think it was Hillary Clinton who talked about the “politics of personal destruction” but I think while that still goes on we have entered the realm of “the politics of mutual assured destruction.” Yes candidates will win and lose this election season but the ways they will win will do great damage to the country, regardless of their party that ultimately triumphs.  Since this is a mid-term election expect this to only get worse as the Presidential election of 2012 approaches.

What triggered this article was a visit to Huntington West Virginia my family’s ancestral home where I worked in the 1990s as a hospital emergency department chaplain.  Huntington is in Cabell County and used to be the largest and most prosperous city in the state.  Huntington is located on the Ohio River and is across that river from Ohio and adjacent to Ashland Kentucky.  As a result the local television and radio media carry campaign ads from all three states.  Thus in the week that we were there I was treated with an absolute deluge of negative political advertisement from candidates of both parties in US Senate, US House of Representatives, Gubernatorial and State Senate and House races.  I have lived in Virginia for 7 years and while political ads here are similar to those in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio I think they are a bit more tame due to the large number of people from the rest of the country that have settled here due to the military and government related employment.

With the massive amount of exposure that I had to the toxic radioactive sludge that filled the airwaves from the various candidates for office I realized that we have been standing at the precipice of a political cliff for several years with both parties doing everything they can to push us over it. I guess like political parties in Weimar Germany they see a benefit to the chaos of an electorate that no longer sees the opposing party as Americans with opposing beliefs, but enemies of the America that they envision. I guess in a Machiavellian sense whatever tactics that you use to gain victory are irrelevant as long as you win.

Back when I was growing up the statesmen of American politics treated each other with respect and maintained friendships with people on the other side of the aisle; I think that Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill epitomized the men of that era, fierce political opponents who remained friends until the end. George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton seem to have that kind of relationship as well.  But I detect little of that from the current crop of political ideologues in both parties and I think that they all share the blame for the mess that the country is in and I don’t see any change in political climate coming anytime soon.

Bloom County copyright 1988 by Berkeley Breathed. www.gocomics.com

I think that to use the Cold War term we have entered a phase of “Mutual Assured Destruction” regarding the tactics used by both parties in their attempts to keep or gain power. Issues are not discussed or debated they are reduced to sound bites and the opposition candidates views are usually taken out of the context that they were made. Both parties are doing this and when both politicians and their supporters in the media paint caricatures of their opponents using such methods truth suffers.  No one offers a positive vision for the country because I think they have stopped believing in it, all that matters as their party and their ideology truth and their opponents be damned.  What bothers me even more is how some religious leaders and churches have taken this same approach rather than simply preaching the Gospel and caring about God’s people. Even churches and pastors have become shills for political parties sacrificing the Gospel for a share in political power.

Bloom County copyright 1988 by Berkeley Breathed. www.gocomics.com

In spite of this I did my civic duty and voted for those who seemed behave with less rancor toward their opponents, politicians from both sides of the aisle as I have never been regardless of my political affiliation a shill for a party.  I voted for candidates that seemed to care more for my home state than an allegiance to their national party.  Now they may be just as bad and corrupt as the other candidates but as Tip O’Neill said “all politics is local” and my vote was cast in that light.  I am not an ideologue but think that somehow as Americans we need to find a way to work together as the problems of this country cannot be changed when the political climate is so toxic. Maybe I am just an idealist that believes that the people of this country are better at heart than our politicians believe us to be.

In the end I think that both parties, their respective candidates and media shills have decided to paraphrase a quote from the Vietnam War “that we had to destroy the country in order to save it.” God help us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under faith, philosophy, Political Commentary, west virginia

Padre Steve’s Highs and Lows of 28 Years Service

Ooops, this should have posted the 25th…all references in the post though it posted today are for the 25th.  The meltdown was the 24th, not my duty night.

Note: I think that I have pretty much recovered from last night’s mini-meltdown, though tired have has a good day working some stuff that is pretty cool that could be a positive thing for Navy and VA Chaplains.  I think success does help mitigate some of the effects of a meltdown.  If today had been crappy and I hadn’t had a good talk with Elmer the Shrink it might have continued.  Now with some sleep I could be cooking with gas even though my house is all electric.

On to the Post:

Soldier Once and YoungEnlisted in National Guard 1982

“So we’re all dogfaces, we’re all very, very different, but there is one thing that we all have in common: we were all stupid enough to enlist in the Army. We’re mutants. There’s something wrong with us, something very, very wrong with us. Something seriously wrong with us – we’re soldiers. But we’re American soldiers! We’ve been kicking ass for 200 years!” Bill Murray as John Winger in “Stripes” 1981

Well sports fans I am at the hospital tonight celebrating 28 years of service in the military. It really doesn’t seem like any more than 27 ½ but who’s counting right? And when I look back at the Army I joined I am reminded of Stripes.

I think that I have pretty much recovered from last night’s mini-meltdown, though tired have has a good day working some stuff that is pretty cool that could be a positive thing for Navy and VA Chaplains.  I think success does help mitigate some of the effects of a meltdown.  If today had been crappy and I hadn’t had a good talk with Elmer the Shrink it might have continued.  Now with some sleep I could be cooking with gas even though my house is all electric.

So 28 years ago today I went down and signed my name on the dotted line.  It was August 25th 1981 two months after the release of the movie Stripes and two months before I saw it with Judy at the $1 movie theater.  On that end of summer day I went down and signed my contract with the Army ROTC program at UCLA with the Chief Lord of Discipline himself, the Captain Bruce Lawson swearing me in.  He had just finished PT and though still in his PT clothes administered the Oath of Enlistment.  It was not much on ceremony but it was a start.  In fact most of my promotions in either the Army of the Navy have not come with much fanfare and I’m actually pretty okay with that so long as I get paid and get to do what I love doing which is being a Priest and getting to serve now as a Navy Chaplain.  So I followed with a trip down to the National Guard Armory on Victory Blvd in Van Nuys to enlist in the National Guard. Since I was not a scholarship student I was allowed to simultaneously enter the Guard.  So the 25th was kind of like a double header for me, I did the oath for the Guard later in the afternoon. It’s like Tommy Lasorda once said: “I love doubleheaders. That way I get to keep my uniform on longer.”

So I went in to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery and met the Company Commander, Captain J.J. Kramer, now a retired Colonel I believe and Major Charles Armagost, the Full Time Unit Administrator and Adjutant.  Wearing his green fatigues the good Major administered the Oath for the California National Guard, which differed from the Federal Oath in that it also included words about obeying the Governor of the State and the Laws of California etc…Following that I was walked down to the supply room where a rather rotund Sergeant began issuing me uniforms and field gear.  I got my first gift of US Military designer clothing and was told to report the Thursday after Labor Day for a “Battery Dark Night.”  So began my rather auspicious career.

I remember being in uniform in those early days without a single ribbon or medal to my name.  I’d look around and see all the guys who had served in Vietnam and some in Korea as well with all kinds of ribbons, medals, unit citations and qualification badges.  I would look at them and once I remarked to Judy that I wish that I would have a lot someday.  She accused me of whining, something that I feel is a mischaracterization of my attitude about not having anything and something that now with a full chest of ribbons, medals and qualification pins that she is not hesitant to remind me of and tell others about.

2LT Dundas 1983Look Mom One Ribbon

So what has transpired in 28 years?  Here are some of the highlights and a few lowlights of the of this adventure.

In 1981 it all began and things happened fast, within two weeks of enlisting I was driving an M-151A1 Jeep to Ft Irwin CA as part of battalion advance party and then spending the weekend learning to call in artillery fire. After going through hell and being destroyed and rebuilt by SFC Harry Ball, Drill Sergeant US Army like Richard Gere was in An Officer and a Gentleman I somehow got commissioned in part due to the forbearance of Major Lawson, the former Captain Lawson who has sworn me in.  Judy asks if I had my own “Puget Sound Deb” when she sees the movie with me that winter. However just prior to getting commissioned during my last annual training period at Camp Roberts I led team of Ersatz East German Kommando’s on raids against battalion rear area as the opposing forces.  I was almost run over in may M-151A1 by an M-548 Ammo Carrier during a strafing run coming down hills firing blanks from machine guns like the Rat Patrol and dropping Smoke and CS grenades in the vehicle’s path.  Later we captured the battery Operations Center during a firing mission. None of this made them happy but the Forward Observers and I had a blast.

After I got commissioned I attended the Medical Department Officer Basic Course at Ft Sam Houston TX and suffered for Jesus for 9 weeks in the Riverwalk Marriott hotel in downtown San Antonio. After this I spent 11 glorious weeks at Ft Knox Kentucky which by the way is in a “dry county” or at least it was back then  going through a 6 week course after being bumped by Saudi Arabian exchange officers.

557th comany command 1985Company Commander

From January 1984 through late December 1986 we were stationed with the 557th Medical Company Neubrucke and later Wiesbaden. Was a platoon leader and became company XO when our XO checked into a psych ward before Winter REFORGER. While in the field was promoted but o one realized that fact until we came out of the field in mid- February. In a late night hastily arranged ceremony which I had to drag Judy in from bed to see I was promoted and got my first real medal. In September I became a “relief pitcher” Company Commander when my new CO got fired. I was told “Lieutenant; clean up that Company.” After 7 months, and having to adjudicate close to 50 Article 15’s, and kicking a bunch of drug users out of the Army I was relieved by a Captain and I had my first and last Change of Command ceremony. Became a personnel officer at our group, pissed off the boss and had a miserable last couple months in Germany. However I completed my first row of ribbons made some really good lifelong German friends and learned to drive really fast and really good and developed a fine appreciation of good beer.

In 1987 I attended the Military Personnel Officer Course at Ft Benjamin Harrison which is in Indianapolis and continued on to Fort Sam Houston where I was assigned as the Adjutant for the Academy Brigade, Academy of Health Sciences.  I got promoted right after I got there and since Judy had not arrived I had the world’s best platoon sergeant, SFC Cynthia Carter help pin on my new Captain bars. Judy was quite happy that Cindy got to do this as she really liked her.  My Brigade Commander wondered what was up with that, but it was an honor to have her do the pinning. While there I worked on AIDS/HIV personnel policy and became “CINC AIDS” at the Academy. While there I collected my second Army Achievement Medal and an Army Commendation Medal.

Berlin WallBerlin Wall 1986

In 1988 I left Active Army to attend Seminary and was appointed as an Armor officer in Texas Army National Guard.  I was told by my boss LTC Jim Wigger that I was moving from the “frying pan into the fire as the chaplains were a cutthroat bunch” and that the “Medical Department was not even in the same league as the Chaplains.” When the Division Chaplain found out that a seminarian was getting ready to drive tanks he pitched a fit and had me enter the Chaplain Candidate program.  In seminary I attended  the Chaplain Officer Basic Course at Fort Monmouth NJ. As Deputy Course leader and Company “First Sergeant” pissed off lots of chaplains and seminarians. Thankfully I was backed up by LTC Rich Whaley who saved my ass for the first time and not the last time.  I met my friend Fr Jim Bowman who kept me from doing anything really stupid. In 1992 I graduated from seminary was ordained and become a chaplain and assigned to 111th Engineer Battalion in Abilene. That year I got thrown out of the Chaplain Officer Advanced Course when school changed a policy on Chaplain Candidates awaiting final approval to be chaplains to enter course. After Billy Martin style tantrum Rich Whaley saves my ass a second time.

In 1993 I went back to Chaplain Officer Advanced Course, made amends and did the appropriate penance.  Meet up with Fr Jim Bowman again. In the fall of 1994 finished the final phase of the Chaplain Officer Advance Course.  Happiness is Ft Monmouth in your rear view mirror. In the summer of 1984 I viewed the O.J. Chase live on miniature TV in M-577 Command Track with Lakers playoff game in split screen while at Fort Hood.

In January 1995 I moved to Huntington WV to take a job as a contract ER Chaplain.  I transferred from one former Confederate Unit to another going from the Texas to the Virginia Army National Guard.  In December I was promoted to Major and transferred to the Army Reserve and got rid of the 410 mile one way trip for a drill.

New MajorNew Major December 1995

In July of 1996 I got mobilized and sent to Germany to support Bosnia mission, lose job. While in Germany get to do a lot of cool stuff, got a bunch of medals and though the Chaplains there wanted me to be brought on regular active duty get told I am too senior to transfer to Regular Army. I actually think that the guy who made the decision remembered me from Chaplain School and did not want someone like me in “his” Chaplain Corps. Upon my return from Bosnia support the Reserves assigned to Ft Indiantown Gap PA as Installation Command Chaplain where in September 1998 I got to close down help close down the Federal side of things and transfer chapel and congregation to National Guard care. In October I returned to the reserves like a journeyman ball-player being sent back to AAA from the Majors. In December the Navy offered me a deal to play “in the show” on active duty and I took it, went from being an Army Reserve Major to Navy Lieutenant. My friend Father Fred Elkin was my first detailer and offered me a choice of East Coast or West Coast Marines when I asked for a ship.  We now serve together and get a good laugh about that now. It did turn out to be a good thing for me. One of the cool things about my time in the Navy has been since I have blown myself up enough in the Army and seen others do likewise that I know where the career “land mines” are and how not to step on them. This has been a great benefit to me.  It was like changing from one league to another in the middle of a baseball season.  The old stats don’t count for or against you when you start playing in the new league.

After Navy Chaplain School I was assigned to the 2nd Marine Division at Camp LeJuene NC. From then on my life has been going non-stop.  I was chaplain for 4 different battalions in the Division where Father John Kaul used me as a “relief pitcher” in situations where chaplains had either been fired for doing illegal or immoral things or replacing people who had to move on short notice orders. Did CAX at 29 Palms on multiple occasions and did a deployment to the Far East, Okinawa, Japan and Korea.  Collected more medals got my “old” version Fleet Marine Force Qualification. I was assigned to HQ BN 2nd MARDIV. 9-11 -01 attack happened. A couple of months later I reported to USS HUE CITY CG-66 in Mayport.

Dundas of the DesertDundas of the Desert 29 Palms 2000-2001

Not long after reporting went on the final work up exercises prior to deployment, deployed to the Horn of Africa, Northern Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman and Mediterranean.  Was an advisor for a boarding team in Northern Arabian Gulf and made 75 boardings of detained smugglers.  We almost got to see the Indians and Pakistanis get in a nuclear war, that was a bit sporty and we supported air operations in Afghanistan. After a period in the yards during following deployment as well as work with the great Marines who served in the Battle of Hue City I checked off the ship in October 2003, again collecting more medals and ribbons.

Boarding partyBoarding Party 2002

I went to Norfolk where I was assigned to the Marine Corps Security Force Battalion and my Commanding Officers, Colonel Mike Paulovich and Colonel Donald Rogers sent me about the world to care for our Marines.  Over that time I probably averaged 2 trips a month out of the area, many overseas to Japan, Hawaii, Spain, France, the United Kingdom and Bahrain, others to places far and wide in the Continental United States.  Colonel Paulovich and I probably worked more closely together than any commander that I have ever worked with and we went through many difficult times in that assignment. We are still friends to this day.  One of the cool things is the people that we work with. I was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in April 2006.  This meant that I had spent almost 16 years of my career wearing Captain or Lieutenant bars.  I again collected more ribbons and medals for the time with the Marines and was one of the first Navy Officers to get the Fleet Marine Force Officer Qualification pin while completing Marine Command and Staff College.

Belleau woodBelleau Wood France 2004

I then went to Navy EOD Group Two in Little Creek where I was the first chaplain assigned to EOD.  While there I got to go to Jordan to the Jordanian Army/UN Peace Operations Training Center and to Sicily.  I was snatched up to go to Iraq in July 2007 and served the most meaningful operational deployment of my career serving our Marine, Army, Navy, Air Force and Department of Justice and Homeland Security advisors to the Iraqi Army, Police and Border Forces in Al Anbar Province.  I came back from Iraq with a great case of PTSD, a gift that keeps on giving.  I checked out of EOD in September 2007 again with more medals and ribbons to my current assignment at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth where I get to do what I am passionate about as a Priest and Navy Chaplain serving in a teaching hospital.

My Tom Clancy lookIraq 2008

Looking back it has been a long and strange trip and it is still an ongoing journey.  People ask me how I keep going even with the PTSD and it’s like Tommy Lasorda says “Guys ask me, don’t I get burned out? How can you get burned out doing something you love? I ask you, have you ever got tired of kissing a pretty girl?” Speaking of which now that I am on the way home after 31 or so hours at work I probably need to do with Judy when I see her.

Steve Summer Whites 2008July 2008, Grand Admiral of the Ottoman Navy?

Peace,  Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, History, iraq,afghanistan, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, PTSD

My Home World Visit: Some things Change and some don’t….and the Terror of the Undead Tooth

The last time that I visited the Home World, aka West Virginia was before I left for Iraq.  While this is my family’s Home World it is only mine by default having worked there briefly after my residency.   Now because I was a West Virginia resident when I entered active duty in 1999 it is our home of record for all of my military administrative and pay purposes.  This means that we maintain our West Virginia driver’s licenses, vote in West Virginia elections and since we are out of state have no state income tax liability.

West Virginia, in the heart of Appalachia is an interesting place.  It was became a state in 1863 when the western counties of Virginia, which had seceded from the Union, seceded from Virginia and were recognized by the Federal Government.  My family goes back on both sides to the late 1700s in the state where they were early pioneers having moved west from Pennsylvania.  The Dundas side of the family had emigrated from Scotland in the late 1740s settling initially in Philadelphia where the early settlers served as suppliers of the Continental Congress and Army in the War for Independence and are buried in Christ Church cemetery near Independence Hall, the same cemetery where Benjamin Franklin and other notables from the early history of the United States are buried.  The family which settled in Cabell County owned a great deal of property along the Mud River and the James River Turnpike where they prospered by not necessarily being nice.   They built a plantation and owned slaves, the exact number I do not know.  They also sort of acted as highwaymen charging travelers along the turnpike to go through their land, in a sense they were the progenitors of the toll booths on the West Virginia Turnpike.  Their prosperity last through the Civil War in which they sided with the Virginians who seceded from the Union and not those that seceded from Virginia.  When the war ended the family patriarch decided that he didn’t like the results and as a Lieutenant in the 8th Virginia Cavalry Regiment refused to sign the loyalty oath when the Confederacy surrendered.  Of course Officers like Robert E. Lee did so, so the refusal was kind of stupid.  As a result the Federal Government seized almost all of the family land save for the homestead and a parcel donated to Mud River Baptist Church and the Blue Sulfur cemetery where as my cousin by marriage Betty says “all the good Dundas’s are buried.”  Thus my family became just another working family.  My parents were born in Huntington in the 1930s.  At that time Huntington was a booming city.  It was a rail hub as well as the site of many heavy industries including the manufacture of railroad cars, steel, nickel, glassware, chemicals and automotive parts.  It was also the home of Marshall University.   This boom lasted until the 1960s and early 1970s as industries moved out or shut down, the population which once numbered about 100,000 dwindled to barely 50,000 in 2008.  The city did nothing to help itself when it refused to let the Interstate Highway go down through the waterfront. The diversion of I-64 helped destroy the downtown and contributed to the move of many people to the outlying areas of the county.  As a result the areas along the Mud River gained both business and population leaving the city with fewer business, people and tax revenue.  Of course had my ancestor decided to sign the loyalty oath all of this would have been on our family land and the family would be wealthy.  The sins and stupidity of the previous generations do truly affect their descendants.  What a Dumb-Ass.

So my dad joined the Navy and I was the first one of my family born out of West Virginia.  Now we would go back often to visit my grandparents as well as other relatives and I have some fond memories of visits to Huntington in the 1960s and early 1970s.  Back then Huntington was still fairly affluent by West Virginia standards.  When I moved back after my residency in late December 1994 Huntington was a different town.  The city was smaller and areas that had once been nice were run down.  Gangs and drug lords from Detroit and Columbus made Huntington, which once had a very low crime rate a pretty sporty place.  Instead of industry service industries like telemarketing became major employers joining Marshall University, Cabell-Huntington Hospital and Saint Mary’s hospitals as the economic base of the city. The few remaining heavy industries were much smaller than they had been even a decade before.  Since I left to join the Navy in 1999 the city has continued its decline.  In spite of major expansions of the University, both Hospitals the opening of a new campus and University medical center a revitalized downtown much of the city is in disrepair and once nice neighborhoods are blighted.  There are signs of hope as the city and state are making concerted efforts to fight the drugs and gangs, while corrupt officials who allowed the infrastructure to collapse leaving the city in violation of EPA and other federal agency regulations.

The decline has affected everything, even churches.  The church that I was baptized at as a infant, Southside Methodist is shut down, the congregation merged with several others at another location.  Other formerly influential congregations of various denominations have shut down and in some cases the buildings demolished.   The city lost its Minor League baseball franchise in 1994 and it has not been replaced.  The population is now significantly older and poorer.  One only has to visit stores like Wal-Mart and see how poor people look and how bad their state of health is to understand how the city has fallen.

One thing that surprised me was walking down 3rd Avenue after departing the Marshall Hall of Fame Café and seeing two young let’s say late teens, early twenties girls wrapped around each other at a bus stop French kissing and pawing all over each other.   For a second I thought someone had turned on Cinemax, this was definitely not the West Virginia that I remembered growing up.  Now I know that Huntington is a college town but I still was not expecting this.  Had my paternal grandmother, God rest her soul been there she would have probably taken her cane and forcibly separated them while giving them a piece of her mind.  Granny was not to be messed with and even long haired men drew her wrath as what she would have termed improperly clad women who showed more skin than she thought was proper.   I’m sure the display of the two young women would have sent her into orbit. Of course I make no judgment on the young women, save perhaps their choice of venue to express their affection for one another.  Heck if they had been a hetro-sxcual couple I would have had a similar reaction and Granny would have at least accosted the young man had it been that situation.

Huntington has changed in a lot of ways, but some things remain constant.  For me these have been the parks, such as Ritter Park as well as eateries such as Stewarts Hot Dogs and the Frost Top Root Beer stand both of which take one back in time to when things were better.  I still like to go back; the pace of life is relaxing if you aren’t in pain.  Our trip this time was marked by a nice visit with our friend Patty a couple of visits to Stewarts and a visit to the Marshall Hall of Fame Café.  At least the beer at least gave me a bit of relief from the constant pain in my mouth.

As far as the matter of the “undead” tooth goes beginning Sunday night the pain was unmanageable.   I could not sleep and no matter how many 800 mg Motrin and Ultram that I took I was still in pain. I might have gotten two hours of bad sleep Sunday night.  Monday morning I got up, ate breakfast, took more medicine and went to back to bed.  After I got up at noon I went to the Hall of Fame Café for a salad, chili and beer, after which I saw the aforementioned Cinemax girls.  Monday night was more of the same and I was wishing for my regular boring insomnia.  Tuesday morning I woke up gave up and called our hospital dental clinic.  They referred me to the office that approves visits to non-military providers.  It took me a while to reach them but when I did they gave me permission and I went to the dentist who took over the practice of our old and recently retired dentist in Huntington.  I was x-rayed and the dentist said that the tooth was infected.  He wrote a couple of prescriptions, one for amoxicillin and the other for Darvecet a pain reliever.  Unfortunately they had no effect on Tuesday night and by the time that we left today I was in worse pain than any time previously.  The tooth was making groaning and popping noises throbbing and shooting out sharp pain.  By the time we got to the western section of Virginia I knew I had to get some help so I called our dental department.  The person at the desk told me to report to sick call in the morning.  About an hour later the pain was even worse so I called again about 40 minutes before the clinic closed.  I got the automated answering system that told me “thank you for your patience, we value you and you are number one in the queue.” I waited in the “queue” or 40 minutes, my call dropping twice due to bad cell coverage but each time I was still “the first in the queue.” Finally, after the clinic was officially closed I called m ICU and Stacie one of our Critical Care RN’s paged the on-cal dentist.  He called me back and told me to come in as soon as I got back in town.  When we finally got home we went directly to the hospital where the young dentist waited.  He consulted the on-call Oral Surgeon and the two decided to open the tooth back up and grind it down as well as give me a long lasting anesthetic that will take me through the night as well as some good drugs, Vicodin to keep the pain down not the Darvocet which was crap and didn’t touch the pain.  So tomorrow I go in early and the dentists will fit me in and excavate the remains of the tooth from my mouth and do some site preservation so I can get the implant later.  Thus, my saga completed I will try to get some sleep, unfortunately I am so wired from all the caffeine I took on board today that sleep, even if I am not in pain will be problematic.  Thankfully I have been assured that they will send me home when this is done.

Pray for me a sinner,

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, travel, west virginia

A Trip to the Home World, Tithing on the Speed Limit, a Tooth Joins the Ranks of the Undead and a Giant No Hitter

Yesterday we made a trip back to my family’s home world, also known as Huntington West Virginia. As far as home worlds go it is probably on no one’s top ten lists, probably ranking about as high as Qo’noS, the Klingon home world in terms of places that you would go to on holiday.  However it is my family’s ancestral home for the past 200 plus years since coming from Scotland, Ireland and France.  Now I was not born in West Virginia, though my parents were born there as were three of my four grandparents.  I was actually the first of my generation born outside of the state as my dad was still in the beginning stages of his Navy career and was stationed at Naval Air Station Alameda California and I was born at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in California.  Even so Huntington was a place that served as a touchstone for our lives as my dad was transferred from one place to another on the west coast.  We would return almost every summer, usually travelling by train in the days before Amtrack.  Back then three of four grandparents as well as one set of great grandparents we still alive along with a butt-load of aunts, uncles and cousins.  In 4th grade we lived there while my dad found us suitable housing in Long Beach California after being transferred from Washington State. That was the year of three schools and four teachers for me, but I digress.

It was during that year that my great grandfather died and my grandfather was diagnosed with a golf ball sized yet benign brain tumor.  It was also the adjustment form the kinder and gentler west coast schools to a much stricter standard in Huntington.  I was also as we had come in from Long Beach I was nicknamed “City Slicker” and had to fight for my life.  A couple of school yard brawls later which I cannot say that I won but in which I gave good account of myself I was accepted so far as a “City Slicker” could be.  The thing was though that I had lived in a town of only about 8,000 inhabitants for 4 years prior to moving to Long beach for just over a month.  The kids in Huntington were far more “City Slicker” than little old me.  I had poor penmanship because in Kindergarten my teacher took the pencil out of my left hand and stuck it in my right hand.  This was of no comfort when my teacher whacked my hand with a steel ruler since my penmanship was so bad.  What good this did I have no idea except to maybe set me back two more years.  I don’t think I ever left the dining room table due to the amount of homework that she assigned.  During my time in Huntington we lived across from the old Fairfield Stadium where the Marshall University football team played.  I saw the team work out in the spring practices of 1970, the same team killed in the plane crash on 14 November of that year.  We returned to Long Beach that summer where when I started 5th grade I was known as “Kentucky Fried.”  Despite that I was happy to get back out west.  After my Clinical Pastoral Care Education Residency in Dallas I got my first full time hospital chaplain job at Cabell-Huntington Hospital which I held as a full time contractor until I was mobilized for the Bosnia mission in 1996.  During this time and while I was deployed Judy got to know my relatives better than me.  I went into the Navy in West Virginia and due to this we remain West Virginia residents for Tax and Voting purposes.  We came back to get our driver’s licenses renewed and see our dear friend Patty.

The visit this time has been pretty miserable for me as last night the tooth which was recently excavated for the second time as discovered to be cracked beyond repair decided to come back from the dead.  I didn’t get to sleep until about 0230 and woke up again at 0415 before getting back to sleep at 0600. The alarm rank at 0700 and after getting Judy up, we talked and I went back to bed where I slept until 1230.  It took 2 Ultram, 1 800 mg Motrin and a couple of beers with lunch to get the pain under control.  Tonight I will probably do the same and go to bed early.  In the morning I will have to call the Dental Department at the hospital to see what they want me to do.  We don’t travel back until Wednesday and I don’t know if I can take much more of this.  It seems to me that my tooth has taken a page from Dracula and joined the ranks of the undead.  This really sucks like a Hoover.

The trip here was long, we had the usual snarl on I-64  from Newport News until past Williamsburg, and thankfully the HRBT was not congested.  We picked up more slow traffic between Staunton and Lexington.  Now I am bothered by people who drive slower than the posted speed limit in the fast lane.  I trained on the Los Angeles Freeways and the German Autobahn.  My view is that the speed limit is a suggestion for the less skilled drivers and those who have trained on high speed roads should be exempt from it.  Now I am not a total scofflaw. I do not drive unsafely, weave in and out of traffic or fail to signal.  Likewise I know about how fast I can go without drawing the attention of the State Police.  Since radar detectors are illegal in Virginia one has to become very adept at this cat and mouse game and I am amazed at the number of people who get pulled over because they don’t understand the simple art of nuance.  In most states you can safely drive about 10 percent over the speed limit on the Interstate without getting ticketed.  This is a little different on the major travel holidays in Virginia where there is about a 5 mph tolerance.  I do this routinely and refer to it as “tithing” on the speed limit.  Of course there are times that I need to give more than my tithe and go a bit faster.  Our GPS “Lilith” has a conscious about such things and would alarm when I did this forcing me to silence her.

There was also cause for rejoicing as the first half of the baseball season came to an end.  The Norfolk Tides are tied for fist in the International League South, the San Francisco Giants have surprised everyone by playing great ball with solid pitching and now are in second place in the National League West and currently have the 3rd best record in the league behind the Evil Dodgers and one percentage point behind the East leading Phillies.  To really make things great Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez pitched a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres.  It was almost a perfect game save for a booted ground ball and error by Giants Third Baseman Juan Uribe with 1 out in the bottom of the 8th and Center Fielder Aaron Rowland saved the no-hitter with a leaping catch at the wall for the second out in the top of the ninth.  Both of these show that even when a pitcher pitches a no-hitter it is a team effort.  I had seen the next to last Giant no-hitter in person with my dad and brother back on August 24th 1975 when Ed Halicki shut down the New York Mets at Candlestick.  Not a bad way for the Giants to go into the All-Star break.

Anyway it is time to self medicate for the night and try to get some sleep.  Pray for me a sinner.

Peace, Steve

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Filed under Baseball, healthcare, Loose thoughts and musings, star trek, travel

Where were You When…? The Death of an Icon and Its Impact in Our Lives

Note: This post is one where I invite readers to share any memories they have of Michael Jackson’s death or other events that involved the deaths of cultural icons as well as significant events that either affected you or made a deep impact on your life or that of people that you know.  I will approve all comments except those identified as spam by WordPress.

The death of Michael Jackson yesterday was one of those events in life that when they occur leave a lasting impression on people. Even people who were not fans of Michael will remember because Michael Jackson was a cultural icon.  When icons die, or tragedies occur they tend to leave a lasting mark.  You can be talking to anyone and if they were alive when one of these events happened and quite a few or most people will be able to tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing at the time of the event.

I am 49 years old, though patently I don’t really look my age, nor do I act it.  Being that I am nearly half a century old it means that I have seen a fair amount of life.  Since I am passionate about life and a keen observer of life, society and culture being a historian as well as member of the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park parish I remember a lot.  I’m told by some that I have one of those phonographic memories.  You know the kind where you get a thought in your head and it keeps going and going round and round at 33 1/3 RPMs.  I will remember this because we had just arrived at the Capital Hilton and were preparing to go out for dinner with Judy’s cousin Becki at Murphy’s of DC to celebrate our anniversary.  I had just checked the news when I heard that Michael had been found down and was in cardiac arrest.  Since I have seen a lot of these cases roll into ERs that I have worked in I knew that Jackson had very little chance of coming out of this alive.  Most news sites were reported that he was getting CPR and had been taken to UCLA Medical Center.  Then I checked the website of Matt Drudge, the Drudge Report following a look at CNN.  I opened the page and Drudge’s trademark old fashioned police siren light was flashing and below it in red was “WEBSITE: JACKSON DEAD!” and had a link to the celebrity gossip site TMZ.  TMZ actually reported the death over an hour prior to most of the networks.  It also turned out that TMZ’s report was pretty accurate.  Later other sites began to announce the news pretty much confirming TMZ’s initial report. I saw the report on CNN as we walked to get a cab to the restaurant with Becki.  It was kind of surreal as Michael Jackson, despite his eccentric actions and nearly continuous controversy surrounding his life, was a larger than life figure.

So events like this get etched on people’s memories like images of the Virgin Mary on grilled cheese sandwiches or pizzas.  These have been reported by the faithful and offered for sale on E-bay so they must be authentic right? They are something that you reallymust  remember. Talking with Judy and Becki at dinner we began to recount where we were at different moments events over the past 30 years or so.   For me the events are often linked to other seemingly inconsequential events going on in my own life. As I have said before we have lived a life  much like the characters in the show Seinfeld so some of these things may not be as funny to you as they are for me.

Some of the things that I remember which stand out include the following events.  If you remember where you were at these events please feel free to comment or add your own in the comments section.  This is one of those rare times when almost everyone has a memory that surfaces because a current event triggers the memory of that particular event.

For me I’m going to first each back to is the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King on April 4th 1968.  That was strange because we lived in the little town of Oak Harbor Washington where my dad was stationed.  The town was small and isolated by being on an island.  We saw the news reports that night this time I believe we were watching NBC’s Huntley and Brinkley give the news. This was way before Cable news and so it took a while to get the story out.  As a little kid I was astounded that anyone could kill a minister and I knew that Dr. King was a leader in trying get blacks the same rights that whites enjoyed.  The next day our teacher at Oak Harbor Elementary School, Mrs. Jackson talked about it with us.  This was follow just two months later by the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy following his California Primary election victory.  I remember the news reports the next day and how upset that my parents were about his death.

The next event was Apollo 11 Moon landing, the “One small step for man, one giant step for mankind” moment on July 20th 1969 where Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Lunar Module on the “Sea of Tranquility.”  I was a kid and on summer vacation still living in Oak Harbor.  We were at home watching Walter Cronkite report the event live when it happened.  That was an amazing event.

The next really big thing for me was the Marshall University Football team plane crash in Huntington West Virginia where at 7:35 Pm EST a Southern Airways DC-9 crashed into a hillside just short of the runway killing the team as well as numerous boosters, alumni and Huntington notables.  This was kind of person for us.  I had seen that team practice at the old Fairfield Stadium across the street from my grandparent’s house the previous spring before we returned to California to rejoin my dad after he had found us decent housing.  We were watching the evening news in Long Beach California when the local announcer interrupted the story he was working on and announced the crash.  My mom knew a number of people on the aircraft and was devastated.

I’m going to jump forward a bit, to the fall of Saigon on April 30th 1975.  This was a bitter day for me.  My dad had fought in Vietnam and I knew kids who had lost their fathers in the war.  I had experienced a Sunday School teach telling me that my dad was a “baby killer” for being in Vietnam in 1972 and I felt that we had let the South Vietnamese down and that it was the fault of those in the media, on the street and in Congress that had ensured that our men died in vain.  I think that was the point that I decided that I was going to enter the military.  I still cannot look at Jane Fonda and some of her fellow travelers without feeling a sense of anger.

Jumping again a few years I remember the fall of the Shah of Iran and the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran by so called “students” on November 4th 1979.  The takeover which lasted 444 days began in my sophomore year of college.  The humiliation of the country and the poor response of President Jimmy Carter confirmed that I would enter the military after college.  I won’t forget the nightly updates on ABC hosted by Ted Koppel which became the long running show Nightline. I would stay up every night to get the updates.  When the hostages were released this was cause for celebration, but the damage was done.  Of course we saw the pro and anti-Ayatollah  protesters on our university, Northride a big business school responded to a pro-Ayatollah by driving the protestors off campus.  So much for riled up MBA students and Science geeks huh?

When Elvis died on August 16th 1977 I was a getting ready to enter my senior year of high school.  In fact only a week before I had won a copy of a blue vinyl copy of his last album Moody Blue in a local pop radio station give away.  I was on a church high school trip when the news came over the radio.  The man driving the car a real estate agent who was a deacon in the church started to cry, I mean like really cry almost like Middle Eastern mourning kind of crying.  As someone who is less expressive of such emotions being a Romulan at heart I was mildly taken aback, after all it wasn’t like they had dated or anything.  I had seldom seen men cry before and this was some pretty emotional stuff.  My mom had the same kind of reaction I discovered on my way home.  I guess it was the generation thing.  He was the icon of his generation and changed both the style and the performance of music.  It was Elvis that I immediately thought of when I first saw the news of Michael Jackson’s death.  I guess the fact that both were known as the “king”, that both died young and unexpectedly and that Michael was briefly married to Lisa Marie Presley makes their connection a bit stronger than otherwise expected.  I wonder if there will be stories that Michael is really dead or if it was staged to get him some privacy.  I’m sure that conspiracy theorists will be looking into this as both a death and a disappearance.  On a side note I visited Graceland in 1983 on my way to Fort Knox Kentucky and sat in the “pink Jeep.”  Judy had a Tonka pink Jeep when she was a kid.

The attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan on March 20th 1981 stands out.  I was a junior at cal State Northridge and was taking my lunch on the lawn outside of the office where I worked as a peer counselor.  I was getting ready to go to class as I watched to really good looking girls go walking by me talking.  I didn’t notice anything unusual until the past me and continuing to watch I noticed that each had their hand down the back side of the pants of the other one.  I had never seen this before.  Of course having grown up in California I knew homosexual men and I had heard of lesbians but this was the first time that I ever noticed women of that persuasion like doing some affection or foreplay in public.  Since then of course I have had many friendships with both male homosexuals and lesbians but this was one of those moments that sticks out in my mind.  Anyway, as I walked back into the office to grab my books for class the office TV was on announcing the attempted assassination and what I will never forget is watching retired General Alexander Haig as Secretary of State have a news conference where he stated “I’m in control.”  Of course he wasn’t the next in line and though he thought that he was he was not in control, even of himself that that point.  I don’t think that then Vice President George H.W. Bush was very impressed nor were the actuals in the line of succession.  So the shooting of President Reagan is intermixed with my first view of lesbian touching and seeing a General go out of control to be in control.  As Mr. Spock might say to Captain Kirk, “Captain I find this fascinating.”

In January 1985 I was a young company commander in Wiesbaden Germany.  The Space Shuttle Challenger with 7 Astronauts aboard blew up shortly after launch.  It was already the close of the business day in Germany when this happened.  I had the First Sergeant release the soldiers a bit early and set the duty, the Charge of Quarters, the Assistant and the Duty Driver.  I was staying late as always to take care of maintenance management and personnel reports when Specialist Lisa Dailey rushed into my office.  Lisa was the Charge of Quarters or CQ that day.  She knocked on my door and said “Sir the space shuttle just blew up.”  She had been watching it live on the new AFN broadcast of live stateside TV news broadcasts.  If I recall this was the time slot of the Today Show, and yes it was when there was only one AFN broadcast channel.  I looked up from my mountain of reports and said to her, “Specialist Dailey, space shuttles don’t blow up.”  And she said, no sir it just did, I was watching it and it is on TV right now.”  So I got up from my desk and walked at a brisk pace down the hall with my spun up specialist and looked on in horror as I saw a replay of the launch.   I was stunned as like I had told Lisa “space shuttles don’t blow up.”  However this one did and it was sobering.  I should have believed Lisa, she was a great soldier and the last time that I heard from her is doing well working as an RN in Southern California.  I had an eerie reprise of this when the Space Shuttle Columbia blew up on re-entry.  At the time I was waiting for the arrival of General Peter Pace who was to be our guest speaker at the Battle of Hue City Memorial Weekend in Jacksonville FL. He was delayed a couple of hours by an emergency meeting of the Joint Chiefs.

Fast forward a few years to the bombing by Libyan agents of Pam Am flight 103, the Clipper Maid of the Seas over Lockerbie Scotland, on December 21st 1988.  I had left active duty for seminary a couple of months previously and was engaged in a nearly futile job search in oil and real estate busted Texas.  I had completed the share of my morning futility mailing our more resumes, making more calls and picking up more job applications.  As always I would take a football out and punt it as far as I could to relieve the stress.  I had already found out that breaking things that you actually need when being accosted by bill collectors is not good a good way to deal with stress.  In today’s current economy I suggest anyone is such straits pick up a football and punt the crap out of it rather than taking anything out on home appliances, electronics or loved ones.  Eventually things will work out as sucky as they may seem now; the Deity Herself has assured me of this.  Anyway, back to the plane crash.  This really was weird for us because barely two years prior we had flown the same aircraft back from Germany when we were reassigned to the states.  We remembered this because then they showed the photo of the nose and cockpit area we saw the name of the aircraft.  I looked at Judy and said, does the name of that airplane look familiar?  If I recall correctly she said something like “Oh my God” and I said: “Remember back in Frankfurt when I saw the name of the aircraft prior to boarding?” and how “l liked the way Pan Am gave pretty names to its aircraft.”  It was funny because we both vividly recalled waiting for our flight and what we said about the aircraft.  That was totally weird and surreal almost like an X-Files thing as I thought back to details inside of the aircraft and the trip home from Germany.

We were in Fort Worth for the first bombing of the World Trade Center and the destruction of the Branch Davidian Compound outside Waco.  Both times I was at work and watched the events unfold on the televisions of our ministry’s television production department.  The Branch Davidian stand-off and attempted seizure of by Federal Agents used M-751 Combat Engineer Vehicles from my National Guard unit.  The vehicles were not manned by Guardsmen but Federal agents.  Later that summer I saw a couple of the vehicles which still had white paint scratches on them from the Branch Davidian building.   In 1995 I was home getting ready to go to work in Huntington West Virginia when the Murrow Federal Building was destroyed by Timothy McVeigh.

There are quite a few others that I could mention but will finish with the destruction of the World Trade Center twin towers on September 11th 2001.  I had finished a couple of counseling cases and put out some other brush fires as the Chaplain for Headquarters Battalion 2nd Marine Division.  Leaving my office for a belated PT session at the French Creek gym I was closing out my internet explorer.  On the Yahoo home page there was a small news line that said “Aircraft crashes into World Trade Center.” I shrugged and figured that some idiot private pilot had flown his aircraft into is by mistake and when out to my car.  I got in my 2001 Honda CR-V and some guy on the radio was blathering about it being an airliner and then I heard a chilling line that I will never forget. “Oh my God another aircraft has hit the second building.”  I went over to the gym and stood staring in disbelief at one of the TVs with a bunch of Marines and Sailors.  I shook my head, ran back to the office and changed over to my cammies and when to the Battalion Headquarters where we were informed of what the command knew and then set to work taking anti-terror precautions as no one knew what might happen next.  Camp LeJeune became a fortress.  There were checkpoints at key locations throughout the base.  Patrols were set up and we remained in lock-down for almost 4 days.  That is a day that I can never forget, over 3000 Americans and others killed by Islamic extremist terrorists out to ignite a world war.

So those are some of mine.  What about yours?  Feel free to add your posts here and get a discussion of these and other notable events including the death of Michael Jackson going.  It will be interesting to see and I will approve all posts to this article, excepting of course spam posts.

Peace, Steve+

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Always on the Road…Memories of a Marriage Spent Apart Together

anniverary 200926 Years Together: At Murphy’s of DC

The 1980s super-group Journey had a song called Faithfully. It is to this day one of my favorite songs for though it is about the life a travelling musician the lyrics are quite fitting for a military family.

Highway run
Into the midnight sun
Wheels go round and round
You’re on my mind
Restless hearts
Sleep alone tonight
Sendin’ all my love
Along the wire

They say that the road
Ain’t no place to start a family
Right down the line
Its been you and me
And lovin’ a music man
Ain’t always what it’s supposed to be
Oh girl you stand by me
I’m forever yours…faithfully

Circus life
Under the big top world
We all need the clowns
To make us smile
Through space and time
Always another show
Wondering where I am
Lost without you

And being apart ain’t easy
On this love affair
Two strangers learn to fall in love again
I get the joy
Of rediscovering you
Oh girl, you stand by me
Im forever yours…faithfully

Oh, oh, oh, oh
Faithfully, Im still yours
Im forever yours
Ever yours…faithfully

If your read yesterday’s post you know that we have only spent 10 of 26 anniversaries together.  In those years we have often been apart.  In fact a mere 3 ½ weeks after we started dating I left on a 3 month tour with a Christian singing group called the Continental Singers and Orchestra.  Fort those that have heard me sing there is nothing to fear as I was the spotlight tech.  In this position I got to sing along without anyone having to hear me as I trained my Strong Trouperette III spotlight on the various soloists and while in Europe on the whole group.  This continued on multiple occasions after we were married during my military career, periods of 6-9 months were common, once a 15 month separation with a three week period together.  From May of 1996 until August 2003 we spent 43 out of 63 months apart.  This did not include the period of my hospital residency and civilian hospital chaplain jobs working many second shifts and overnights in addition to National Guard and Army Reserve exercises, training, official travel or schools.  Of course this put strain on both of us yet somehow we survived.

It is in the times like these that you find out what you as a couple are made of.  Both of us are somewhat independent spirits and though both natural introverts have strong personalities.  At the same time we both see the world through a somewhat warped prism and both have strong senses of irony which is strange because I take my clothes that need pressing to the cleaners.  I think a lot of what besides the grace of God, which the Deity Herself has seemed to has given both of us a lot of, many times in spite of me.

In the course of our marriage we have lived quite a few places and of course I have been to even more.  We were married in Stockton California, aka “Mudville” of Casey at the Bat fame or more recently the birthplace of the drive by shooting and 2500 square foot two story suburban marijuana farms and the highest home foreclosure rate in the country.  Stockton is a great place to be from and a nice place to visit family.  If the economy wasn’t so sucky and the crime rate so high it would be a really awesome place to live only a couple of hours from the San Francisco and the Northern California coast, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Lake Tahoe, the California Wine country, Redwood Groves, Yosemite and many historic or natural venues.

That rabbit chase we first set up house in a little town called Eckelhausen Germany in the Saarland when my first unit the 557th Medical Company (Ambulance) was based at a little Kaserne called Neubrücke.  Eckelhausen and Neubrücke  were ideal small bases in West Germany during the Cold War.  We lived off base in a small town overlooking a resort lake called the Böstalsee.  The town was so small that it only had a small Postamt (Post office) and one Gästhaus. The people spoke a strong dialect of German that approximated Appalachian English.  Not long after settling there the unit was moved to Wiesbaden, the state capital of Hessen.  We got our first dog in Wiesbaden, the little Wire Haired Dachshund named Frieda, or sometimes “Dammitt Frieda” or simply “little shit.”  In Wiesbaden The Deity presumed to started meddling in my life and renewing a call to ministry that I knew that I had back before I went on tour with Continentals.  I successfully parried the Deity’s call until we moved to San Antonio Texas when I was the Adjutant of the Academy Brigade of the Academy of Health Sciences.  This was where the Deity really began to rain on my parade and Judy of course was affected as well.  She was supportive of the call to ministry and what we hoped would be the Army Chaplaincy, but really had not signed up for this.  She had in fact signed up to be the wife of a regular active duty officer who would spend 20 or so years in and retire at a comfortable pay grade.  Nope, the Deity had other plans.

Seminary as I hinted in other posts was hell for us.  We lost pretty much everything and it was only the grace of God and the people of God who saw some glimmer of hope in me that we made it through.  Now true, I worked my ass off in school and always at least one job plus the National Guard, often more than one job.  We saw what only can be described as miracles as we fought our way through seminary.  Those are enough themselves for another post.  We did seminary in Fort Worth Texas and lived there and in the Mid-Cities of Hurst-Euless-Bedford.  The entirety of seminary and my hospital residency was spent at the poverty line and we often didn’t know where the next meal, tank of gas or tuition payment would come from.  We then moved to Huntington West Virginia where I was a full time contract hospital Emergency Department Chaplain following my residency.  We thought that Huntington would be the final stop as it was the city and area that my family came from, I being the first born on the West Coast.  That changed in June 1996 when I was mobilized the support the Bosnia Operation.  When that happened my contract was terminated and another minister of the Pastoral Care Department’s Chief was hired.  After the 9 month deployment I went on very little notice for 6 months at Fort Indiantown Gap PA.  This morphed into a civilian position during the transition of the base from the Active Army to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.  This position was a yearlong and I was able to move Judy up with me.  Following this it was back to unemployment and poverty in Huntington.

That changed in December 1998 when I was offered the chance to become a Navy Chaplain.  Now mind you back in our courtship Judy said that she would not marry me if I joined the Navy, so I did it without consulting her.  Now men this is not a smart move, if I had asked her nicely and explained things she probably would have signed off on it.  However, like an idiot I nearly blew the marriage apart by doing it my way.  I wanted to go back on active duty and the Army told me that I was too senior to go back on active duty.  It was like I declared free agency and was picked up by another team, like going from the American League to the National League.  It was nearly 8 months later that Judy finally relented and moved to Swansboro North Carolina with me.  I really don’t blame her, she had a life and friends in Huntington, in fact far more than me and to move was painful and what I did by not being gentlemanly and asking her was both unfair and stupid.  It is my biggest regret in our marriage. At the same time Judy rapidly adapted to the life of a Navy Chaplain on a Marine Corps base and even at a Chaplain wives meeting helped break into the chapel so that it could be set up for the meeting when a Religious Program Specialist did not show to open it up.  Never underestimate a Navy wife and her best friend and evil twin, though they might contest which one is actually the “evil” twin.

From Swansboro and Camp LeJeune we went to Mayport/Jacksonville Florida where I was chaplain of a guided missile cruiser.  I arrived just prior to deployment and Judy remained in North Carolina until I returned.  This was kind of funny because I was calling the US looking for an apartment from a port call in Croatia.  Making a call I found out that the place I wanted had already been rented.  I can’t remember my exact words when I got this news but be assured that they were a colorful metaphor.  I called Judy totally disappointed on to find it was she who had scored the apartment.  Our stay in Jacksonville was only about 13 months after the deployment ended when we moved to the Hampton Roads area.  It finally looks like we are in the place we will stay after the Navy.

Judy has been with me across country, and a lot of places in Europe to include Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, France, Spain and the UK. She made it to East Berlin as well as Guantanamo Bay Cuba.  We have met many people and seen many interesting things.  Likewise we have experienced the reality of God’s grace in our lives.

Ours has been strange journey to say the least, but every day I know that it is worth it.  Today we had or 26th wedding anniversary.  We drove to DC.  One of the cool things was that Judy is trying out a pair of new hearing aids, which she hopes that Tricare will purchase when the time comes due.  The hearing aids are remarkable.  For the first time in her life she can hear words in songs played on a radio or stereo.  She can hear conversations going on behind her without having to look and she has heard for the first tie sounds like the letter “S” a pen scratching on paper, rain dripping down a drain spout and the richness of her guitar.  It has been quite an emotional day for her.  She is continuing to notice the nuances of sound and every so often she is overcome with all that she has missed over the years.  One of the things that she is discovering as she hears the lyrics to songs for the first time without having to read them is that I am a hopeless romantic.  A lot of my CDs are compilations of my favorite songs, many of which were picked with Judy in mind.   It was quite an emotional ride for both of us as she really experienced what is that hearing people hear on a daily basis.

She is beginning to write about in on her blog, the Abbey Normal Abbess which is on my links menu.  We would both appreciate your prayers as Tricare eventually makes the decision as to whether she will get them.  Tonight we had dinner with Judy’s cousin Becky who works for the US Department of Fish and Game Law Enforcement at Murphy’s of DC.  While on the way there we heard that Michael Jackson had died quite unexpectedly not long after Farrah Fawcett had passed away from Cancer earlier in the day.  I guess that we will remember this anniversary.

Anyway, it has been a long day.  Judy has passed out a while ago and it is time for me to get some sleep.

Peace and blessings,

Steve+

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One Tough Poo…Memories of a Fearsome and Fat Wiener Dog

Mommy's Poo“One Tough Poo”  Drawn by Judy

If ever there was a little dog who took life seriously it was a fat little red smooth hair Dachshund named Greta, or Greta-Poo or simply “the Poo.”  Greta was the second of our Dachshunds, or as they are known in Germany Dackels.  We got Greta in 1988 when we were stationed in San Antonio.  We were visiting our friends across the street, Anthony and Kathy and they had visitors who had brought the remnants of a litter of Dachshund puppies over.  They were the products of a red smooth hair and a dappled smooth hair.  One puppy was already spoken for, Anthony and Kathy were looking at a second, and the third, the runt of the litter was in the arms of one of the visitors.

Judy immediately fell in love with the very sweet looking and pretty puppy. Looking at her in the arms of another woman Judy realized that she could not let the other person have the adorable little creature.  Judy immediately made an offer for the puppy which was accepted by the people who had brought her to Anthony and Kathy’s house.  Forty dollars later the puppy was curled up in Judy’s arms.  From that moment on we had the “mommy and puppy mutual admiration society.”  Greta quickly became “Mommy’s Poo.”  Greta’s sister “Miss-T” became the puppy child of Anthony and Kathy.  The two puppies though now living in separate homes still visited each other and played with each other.  Our eldest dog Frieda was sweet to the Poo.  She accepted the new addition to the family and after ensuring herself that Poo was trained appropriately in household security retired at the age of four years old.  Since Frieda lived to be 16 ½ this meant that she spend the majority of her life retired and complaining about our insufficiency in fulfilling her needs.

Poo was the most serious little dog that I have ever seen.  She took herself seriously and though a happy dog always was somewhat dour.  Frieda and Molly who we got towards the end of Poo’s life enjoyed being funny, but not Poo, and her very seriousness made her funny as hell.

Now Poo was a chow hound, in fact if you look under “chow hound” in the dictionary there is probably a picture of the Poo.  Poo seldom met a food that she didn’t like, or at least wouldn’t eat to keep Frieda from getting it.  As a result, though she was incredibly active she was fat.  She should have weighed about 18 pounds, but most of her life she spent between 20 and 23 pounds.  She looked like a red bratwurst and not a hot dog.  Poo’s first sin was a defining moment in her life.  Judy had left a freshly baked chocolate chip muffin on the arm of our couch and got up to refill her drink.  As she went back into the living room she saw Poo, now the little shit, charging off with the muffin toward our bedroom.  The very small and barely four month old puppy had the muffin in her mouth and was moving as fast has her little legs could take her.  Chasing her down Judy got the muffin back, but the incident was defining.  No food was safe if you left it alone where Poo could get it.

There were three other incidents of this particular “puppy sin” that came later in her life which are worthy of mention here. Both occurred when I was in seminary or during my Clinical Pastoral Education residency.  The first was when Judy put a cast iron pan which has the residue of freshly made refried beans on the ground for Frieda and Poo to finish off.  Now most of the time the two little shits would share whatever table food that we gave them.  This time Frieda decided that she did not want to share.  Now Frieda was a very strong animal.  She grabbed the pan by the handled and proceeded to run away with it, mind you this was a cast iron frying pan.  Poo was not about this prize get away.  As Frieda sauntered off with what she believed to be “her” booty Poo chased her down and tackled her.   They ended up sharing.  Another was when the “Free Dog” and the Poo were left at home when we left the apartment to take a blind friend to the store.  Now this was around Christmas and Judy had been baking cookies all the live long day.  Somehow we left the house with a couple of boxes full of Judy’s best on the coffee table.  How the hell we did that I will never know.  The coffee table was well within the range of both of our little shits.  As we pulled into our friend’s driveway we realized our mistake.  I rushed into our friend’s house and said, “Bert, quick, I need your phone.”  This was patently in the days before regular folks had cell phones.  I called our home number.  The answering machine went off, as I waited for my version of Bill Clinton to finish the message I wondered how many cookies the little shits had eaten.  My words, “Dammit, Frieda and Poo, you better not be eating the cookies or you’re both dead.  I’m coming home now!”   I ran back to the car and sped back to our place.  Dashing into the apartment I found that the cookies hand indeed been raided, but neither of our little shits was to be seen.  One was hiding under a table and the other; I think Frieda, was cowering behind the toilet.  I wonder what the look on their faces was when that answering machine went off with my voice telling them to get away from the cookies.  God if we had the money for surveillance cameras, it would have had to have been as funny as hell.  The third was when we had friends over for Saturday night pizza and Star Trek, the Next Generation.  I happen to make a very good large New York style pizza, thank you.  Anyway it was one of those nights when thunderstorms were crashing over the DFW Metroplex.  One of these boomers came over our area that night. I’m sorry, if you haven’t been through a North Texas boomer you have only been in the minors.  This was a cool one, we were under a tornado warning and the storms were bringing lightening, hail and massive thunder.  We and our guests decided to go out to the breezeway between buildings and watch what the Deity Herself was bringing upon the Metroplex in punishment for the firing of St Tom Landry by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.  As we gathered to watch the last piece of pizza sat defenseless on the pizza pan which lay on the coffee table which we had all been sitting around.  The piece of pizza was rather large and a combination with pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic and God knows what else. As we watched the storm the Poo saw her opportunity.  When I walked back in to grab a beer and I saw the Poo devouring the very large piece of pizza.  When she saw me she simply ate more frantically. It was if she was trying to shove it down her throat.  I called Judy and we both decided that it was hers.

The Poo was also serious about home defense.  She was committed heart and soul to defending the realm.  This was in stark contrast to Frieda who after her retirement would have watched Genghis Khan and his hordes march off with everything we owned provided that they paid her.  Poo on the other hand was devoted to the protection of her home and her mommy.  As a still very young dog of maybe a year and a half she surprised a Pit Bull which had come up on our lawn.  We were at the time living in a neighborhood near my seminary regularly featured on the TV program COPS.   We had gone out to check the mail and Poo came out with us.  The unwitting Pit Bull was in our front yard, which since we were both poor and without time to mow it ourselves it was rather high.  In fact it was higher than the Poo.  Our little shit saw her unsuspecting victim before we did.  She bolted off the porch and tore through the high grass barking up a storm.  The Pit Bull had no idea what was going on.  He couldn’t tell from where the ferocious roar was coming from.  Just before the Poo could reach him he bolted, tail between his legs down the street.  The Poo heeding Judy’s “Dammit  Poo get your ass over here!” returned obediently to the porch, satisfied that she had done her duty.

Well things progressed in the Poo’s life, she ate, got fat, and defended the realm.  While I worked in my parent’s hometown of Huntington West Virginia as an Emergency Department Chaplain in a local teaching hospital’s Emergency Room we frequently spent time with both of my grandmothers.   My parents had long before retired from the Navy in Mudville, sometimes known as Stockton California and it was by either chance or the Deity Herself and Her providence that I landed the job after my residency.  As it were it gave us the chance to spend a lot of time with both in their sunset years.  One day while visiting my maternal grandmother with Frieda and Poo we got ready to leave.  Now both of the dogs responded to voice commands so we would let them walk to the car when we left.  As we walked out the door onto the porch the Poo took off flying down the steps.  She took off across the yard and made a right turn into the side yard.  We heard a “yelp!” and then saw a black chow tearing out from the yard screaming as it raced away from my grandmother’s house.  Following close was the Poo.  It was like a Messerschmitt 109 diving on a B-24 and pumping it full of holes with its 20mm nose cannon.   As the chow raced away, the Poo heeded our call to turn around. As she ambled back our way we saw something in her mouth.  It was a huge mouthful of black chow fur.  Our tough little Poo had taken the fur off of a chow nearly 4 times her size and weight.

Mommy's Poo portrait rs for email“Classic Greta Poo…with every roll of fat shown” Drawn by Judy

After Frieda died in 2001 Poo continued her ways, she stayed active and when we got Molly she was determined to still be the Alpha-Poo but Molly wouldn’t be bossed around and the Poo had to make a grudging peace with the new little shit. Poo remained a fighter her entire life.  She would never back down from a fight and was determined to defend the realm.  We lost her in June of 2003 while stationed in Jacksonville Florida after she had battled cancer and paralysis.  She was one tough Poo.  She was her mommy’s baby and absolutely devoted to Judy.  We do miss her.  She and Frieda were there with us in our toughest times.  Now the tradition of a little red dog defender of the realm is carried on by Molly, as ferocious as Poo but nowhere near as obedient.

So life continues for us, defended by 15 pounds of hell and terror.

Peace, Steve+

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