Fantasy Squadron

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As Veteran’s Day approaches, I remember my late “Uncle Shorty.” When the United States entered World War II, he answered his country’s call to military service. After basic training, the Army sent him to Officer’s Candidate School. Ninety days later he emerged as a second lieutenant preparing to ship out to the Pacific where he would lead an infantry platoon into some zone of hell he had yet to imagine.

Just as he stepped off the gangplank onto a troopship, he received new orders to report to the Pentagon where he spent the rest of the war writing training manuals. He finished with the rank of captain. I had another uncle who fought in North Africa, and another who served in the merchant marine service, but I didn’t see them much. Uncle Shorty was more visible because he served in the States and came home on furlough frequently.

So, Uncle Shorty wasn’t a war hero–but he was my hero. When I asked what he was doing to win the war, he would tell me he was “squirting ink” at the enemy. I was only eight when the war ended, so my imagination was fired up about what he must have been doing. By the way, his name wasn’t really “Shorty”–it was Elmer, after his father, but he didn’t like that name, so he went by “Bud.” I called him Uncle Shorty because he always called me “Shorty.” It was just a little transfer of identity between us.

After the war, many kid’s dads in my Cincinnati neighborhood came home and gave some of their military paraphernalia, such as sergeant’s stripes or a lieutenant’s bar, to their kids. During recess at Clifton School, we boys would spread our arms as though wings of an airplane, then run around the schoolyard like a fantasy squadron in combat. We would say “rat-a-tat-tat” in pretend dog fights shooting each other down. The kid whose dad had the highest rank was the squadron leader.

Now, my dad wasn’t in the military during the war. He was a supervisor on an assembly line at the Curtiss-Wright aircraft plant. We lived in Blue Ash just outside Cincinnati where there was a small airport whose runway ended behind our house.

I recall the scream when one of the Helldivers did demonstration dives at the airport, and another time when they brought in a B-25 bomber for a demonstration. It seemed like the pilot taxied almost into our back yard, then turned the plane, held it with his brakes while revving the engines to full throttle before thundering down the runway and into the air. I can still remember how the ground shook with the vibration of those revved-up twin engines.

By the time the war ended, we had moved back into the city, which is how I came to attend Clifton School. I soon found I had a problem with the squadrons in the schoolyard. Since my dad hadn’t been in the military, I had no rank insignia, so I was excluded from the flying aces during recess–that is until I talked to Uncle Shorty. Being a pretty quick study, he picked up on the problem right away.

Soon afterward he sent me a gift, an Army garrison cap with captain’s bars. Wearing that insignia on the school playground the next day gave me a chance to lead a fantasy squadron of my own.

 

Tranquility

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Snow blankets day-to-day turmoil with an aura of tranquility.  Of course, there’s always the frenzy that follows with clogged streets, slick highways, icy walking paths, and all that. But, for just a few moments, if we step back, relax and let it happen, a snowstorm can bring at least a brief tranquil respite.

Tranquility represents a sense of inner peace and balance that is essential to healthy living.  Another word for it is serenity. That brings to mind the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

My introduction to that prayer came from a pastor who was a recovering alcoholic. Sobriety brought a restoration of balance to his life, and that produced a call to ministry. He intentionally centered on the Serenity Prayer every day. It was part of his walk with Christ.

As snow falls today I recall Jesus’s words when he was preparing his disciples for the turmoil they would face as persons who had been deeply changed by their walk with Him. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” (John 14:27).

He knew they lived in a hostile world where they would need an inner resignation of worry through total trust in God after he was gone. How much we need this same inner peace and spiritual grounding in today’s world of lies, crudeness, bullying, and unbridled greed. When we are exploited by purveyors of fear, we need God-given tranquility to stay the course.

To be alive is to suffer sometimes. To be balanced is to cultivate a faith in our Creator that carries us beyond suffering to redemption, giving us hope and inner strength. The Serenity Prayer aids in that process.

Many people love snow at Christmas, even if they dislike it at other times. It somehow bespeaks warm legends of down-home joy and celebration that lie somewhere in the depths of our heritage. Christmas is near, and today it is snowing. The snow offers a chance, at least briefly, to slow down, take a deep breath, and relax.

I hope to so absorb today’s snowy tranquility that I will be able to call it back into my spirit when I hit the frenzy that awaits tomorrow. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

 

 

Rainy Day Dominoes

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It was raining yesterday morning when my wife  and I left the house for our round of Saturday errands.  We decided to stop at a doughnut shop.  After being served we took our sugary treats and coffee to a table where we settled into reading the newspaper.  In the background were the sounds of the bustling enterprise, and the conversations of families with children.  

Putting down a section of the paper I looked up to see a couple at the next table engaged in a game of dominoes.  As I watched, their interactions took me back seventy or so years to domino games with my Grandpa Harris.  He had a Double Nine set and always seemed ready to challenge me to a few matches whenever I visited.    

At the time, we lived in the Clifton neighborhood of Cincinnati.  Grandpa and Grandma Harris lived fifty miles east at Mowrystown.  He had a 16-acre farm where he rented out land to neighbors for grazing or raising crops.  He also kept some chickens and a milk cow, and had a pond where he taught me to fish.  A field behind the barn was perfect for flying kites on windy days.  

Several summers my folks dropped me off for a two-week “vacation” there.  I spent hours of free-range imagination time on a swing grandpa put on the branch of a large tree outside the kitchen.  We fished with a bamboo pole he made for me.  Sometimes we went shopping or took a picnic lunch and visited the Native American burial mounds.  But the thing I always enjoyed most were the domino games.

We’d start out vying for who had the highest number of dots on a single tile in order to go first.  We built roadways of linking numbers across the table, always looking for the double nine and a chance to play it.  We laughed at each other when we had no usable tiles and had to raid the “bone pile.”  It was fun.  I never tired of it, and it seemed, neither did he.

All of this came back to me in the doughnut shop Saturday.  It was obvious from their conversation that the man was playing dominoes with his grandmother.  In our hurried world, it seems rare to find someone unhurriedly and gently nurturing a caring relationship with a simple game at a table.  The rain poured outside, but the sun shone inside.

I spoke to the couple, “Would you mind if I take your picture?”

“No, go ahead.”

I did, and then asked if they would mind me sharing it on Facebook.

He said “No.”

Soon after that we gathered our papers and got up to leave.  I thanked them for sharing a little of their world with us.  He looked up and smiled…Grandma matched her six to the six on one of his tiles.  We waved goodbye.

Maybe we could all use a few more rainy day domino moments in our busy lives.