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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day

            Memorial Day. I wonder how many of us even think about how this special day actually started? It's a day off work, or school. It's a cook out, a fun get together.
            Now, just imagine thay you are a southern woman just after the Civil War is over. Your world, the only one you have lived and known, is gone.Life as you knew it will never be the same. There is nothing and nobody left.Your towns are demolished. Your homes are destroyed. The land is barren. You have little to eat. You haven't seen new clothes for so long, you can't remember what they look like. Your Father, your husband, your sons, your friends are all gone, many buried in far away places where you will never go, some of them where you will never even know.
             The way you lived, the things you enjoyed, the gentleness of life, they are all gone. You have seen, heard, and felt things that you never would have imagined.When you go out, the streets are full of brash, rich Yankees. There are cemeteries full of your friends and your enemies. You hardly dare to go out to do your errands, to try to put some kind of a life back together for your self and your children.
              One day in May, you find some flowers blooming in the rubble. Flowers always come back, even after the travesty of war. You gather them up and bring them to where your men lie sleeping. Some you have dug up, to plant, others are just cut flowers to make the graves look bright and pretty. As you kneel there with your hands stained by the red clay, you pause to look around. The Rebel graves are all cleaned and cared for. The women have not much to do, but to mourn, and care for these simple stones. Your eyes wander over to the far side of the cemetery where the Union soldiers are buried. The weeds are tall, hiding the stones. No flowers bloom. No paths criss cross the ground.
            You think of your son. He sleeps in the north, far from family and friends. In your mind, you see that cemetery. That small white stone overgrown with weeds and thistles. No one to come and shed a tear. No one to whisper a prayer. No one... no one...
            You dig your plant back up and go over to the sad, weedy graves. You begin to pull weeds, and dig and scrape. The sweat drips off your nose, your knees ache, you hands are cramping. You have not made much progress. You put your red stained hands up to your face,, and your tears fall along with the beads of sweat. Is there some one there, in the cold North spring, who cares? Some woman who pulls the weeds? Some girl who plants flowers? Some children who run there, and make paths, and laugh and play?
            You take a shakey breath and go home. You begin to organize. It's hard to talk your friends into it. It's a touchy subject. This was a bitter war. You work hard to get around people, and finally the work begins to get done.
             This is how memorial Day started. With a woman who mourned and remembered, and was able to feel the pain of all the other women, no matter which side they were on. And one woman gave strength to another woman, and another, and another, and then the men took up the banner. Finally, after generations, even the government took up the cause, and gave us a three day weekend.
             Let's not forget. Let's go to a parade. Lets talk to some veterans, and tell them thanks. Let's tell our children how proud they need to be, of all this vast host of heros who march along beside us in  misty dreams.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


        I have been pondering this for awhile, I guess because after our friend Melvin died, so many times I was asked, "So, now, how were Boone and Melvin brothers?" And, no, there is no deep dark family secret that no one knew about. Melvin requested that Boone be listed as his brother in his obituary, because they were heart and soul brothers. The kind that love eachother without reason and without rules. They did have the same last name, but as far as genetics, they were not blood relations at all.
        My old tried and true friend, Mr. Webster defines brother as 1: a man or boy related to one another by having the same parent. 2: a close male friend who is like a brother. 3: a fellow human being. 4: a fellow member of the same race, church, profession or organization, or 5: any man. So really, it seems we are all brothers. And did you know that the Bible uses Brother 465 times?( According to Cruders Concordance.) In Proverbs 17:17 it says " A friend loveth at all times, but a brother is born for adversity."
          So, how are Melvin and Boone brothers?They were brothers who discovered each other when they were teen agers. They rode their first motorcycles together, finding they both loved the wind in their faces, the creak of leather jackets, the stomp of boots, the roar of the engine, the roll of the wheels, the iron horses between their knees. They worked together, brick layers, pointing out buildings the rest of their days - "right there, in that corner, me and Mel, we laid all those bricks" - stories unfolding about that day, and that time and those people. When Mel drove Truck, and Boone had a day off, they rode together, mile after mile, speaking all the things that lay in their hearts, good things and bad things and things that meant here nor there.   At the end of the day, when Boone would jump down, he would hear Mel say, "coming again tomorrow, Boonie?" . Because there was never enough days to say all that brothers need to say to each other. 
           There is no compiling how many hours they spent together in the sauna. Sweating and steaming out the dirt of the body and soul and coming out relaxed and cleansed from inside out. No measure of the tears they shed together, no gauge of their laughter. Mel was the quiet brother, Boone was the one who had to make rivers of words. They could disagree and still respect each others opinion. They could argue with out rancor. They could go on a two week trip on the bikes, sleeping in the same hotel room every night, eating every meal together, and not be sick of eachother, and not run out of fun and talk and adventure.
             When they lived thousand of miles apart, they were still as together as if they were side by side. Not see each other for months, but start right where they left off. Boone never knew a "birth" brother, being an only child. It sometimes baffled him that our seven sons could squabble and not want to be close in every thing. When they both had quit smoking, they made a pact that if either of  them knew they were dying, they would smoke with each other until the end. And, yes, when Mel knew he only had a few months left, they did. Boone in New Hampshire, and Mel in South Carolina every day, one on his porch , the other in his truck, (it was winter in N.H.), they talked on the phone until the butt was done. Laughing and crying and remembering their lives together, those two old white bearded men, blowing smoke rings around their hearts. 
           They weren't sad, those two brothers. They had taken each day that God had given them and lived it to the Lord. They  had seen their families raised and loved their grandchildren. They rejoiced in Mels good fortune. Free from pain and sin and sorrow, he waited to be gone, and Boone could only be happy with him, because, who would not want that for his brother?At last in the hospital 
they sit together, Mel in the bed, Boone in the chair. The crowd of visitors has left. "Are you afraid, Mel?" "No, Boonie, I'm not afraid. I'm waiting for Jesus."  Then, "come sit beside me, Boonie."  Those two old white bearded brothers, nestle up on the bed, in eachothers arms, promising to meet again, on a newer day, in a holy place. They hold each other up in great joy,and know they will never see each other here again. 
          Brother, where art thou? Gone on ahead, leaving behind you brotherly love, your trust in Gods faithfulness, all those unforgettable years.Even now, a year later,Boone hears  the whisper of your voice, the profound, the funny, the sensible things that you said. Sometimes he talks to you, in the sunshine or in the night watch, reminding you of your advice and thanking you for being his brother. I wish you all a brother,how Boone and Mel were brothers: from the heart and from the soul. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Of Lilacs and Granite

        New Hampshire is the Granite State. If you ever drive around any road here, you can see why. Every hillside, in the woods, any lake, even in peoples front yards, they are all strewn with granite rocks and boulders. You will wonder why those first hardy, desperate settlers ever thought they could farm here. Take a walk through the woods and you will still find traces of them. Mostly all the miles and miles of stone walls. These walls are every where, marking out sections of land. Land that obviously was at one time farm land. Places for grazing animals, growing crops and orchards, marking off property lines. These walls have withstood the hands of time, still wandering through our lives , just as strong and silent and formidable as when they were first made.
           One wonders at the man hours that must have gone in to building them. I have never seen one that looks thrown together. They all look like works of art, each piece put on with care, just the right size for just the right spot. Who were these men and boys, who worked from dawn to dusk to make these lasting monuments?  Then, there is all the old parts and pieces of foundations every where. Hand dug cellar holes with granite walls crumbling in to themselves. Still around them you will find old roses growing, and daylillies, and daffodils, and lily of the valley. And you will find Lilacs. Huge, old lilac bushes, now taller than houses, branching out over the crumbling walls, filling the spring air with that sweet , heady fragrance. Lilacs don't flower very long each spring, only a couple weeks . But you can cut huge bouquets to bring inside, or you can just sleep with the windows open. The night breeze will waft that loveliness through the house, and the dew and the rain will concentrate it, and you will dream as you sleep of the faint scent of lilacs.
          Oh, the clear granite strewn brooks and rivers! You can always see to the bottom, you can see the little native brook trout darting along, and under shady half hidden boulders the big lunkers are hanging around, thinking they can't be seen. I have lain on the banks and hung my head over , and spotted the greenish, silvery glint of their fat sides in the sunshine. In the shallow places the cold clear water spills exhuberantly over the rocks, laughing to itself, swirling and foaming inviting you in on a hot bright day. Take off your shoes, then, and wade gingerly in, for it still has the iciness of snowy ridges and the tang of  granite mountain tops. It a glorious feeling to skim over the stones and get to the other side. Warm your  cold feet in the sun warmed grass, where the violets grow and the little toads hop.
         You will find old wild apple trees growing here and there. They still fling out their ethreal beauty every spring, the trunks are old and gnarly, and they branches scaly and scabby, but they blossom , and the bees are still there to love them, and some intrepid wanderer will still come by and wade through fallen petals, and the worms will live in the apples, and the forest animals will eat them, and they will still be there when we are gone. Who were these far seeing folks, who planted apple trees for the future?
         Memorial Day parades, we have them here, every town, little or big. The old soldiers and the boy scouts, and the band and the babies in strollers, they all march to the cemetery. Speeches are made, the Roll Call is read, a salute is fired, with all the mothers covering the babies ears, and small chhildren yelling, the bouquet of lilacs is thrown in the pond, to remember those lost at sea, and taps are played, and echoed through the woods. Afterward we drift through the old graves, so many flying our countrys flag. Carved granite, so weathered and worn we can't read them anymore,mossy and ancient, and starkley beautiful  in the spring sunshine. Who were they all, this large company of brave folks who did what they had to do? Oh, don't lets ever forget!
            All the granite steps on all the old houses. Have you noticed them? I have one. It's smooth and glossy, and the sun warms it all day, and at night it stays warm, a warmth that goes from your bare feet to your heart, and stays there, tying you to this place strewn with lilacs and granite.