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.

 

Clouds of Confusion

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Sometimes I feel bombarded by clouds of confusion that masquerade as communication.  It happens on those morning talk shows where co-hosts engage each other or guests in trivialities with increasing volume.  One speaks, the other interrupts to shift the focus, two or more people talking past each other.  Sound bullets fly randomly through the airwaves, striking unknown listener targets. 

I recall a live fire exercise during my army basic training.   Walking through a field with loaded M-1 rifles (I know, I’m an old guy!)  we were to fire at pop up targets when they appeared.  On one occasion a  guy behind me fired without a clear view of the target.  I actually heard the bullet whiz past my helmet.  The training sergeant chewed him out and a moment of confusion became an occasion for clarification.

Sometimes our words are like that bullet, flying right past someone’s ear.  Words aimed for effect, not connection.  Sound bytes rather than discourse.  One-up-manship.  Nobody listening.  Nobody framing fresh insights from cognitive clarity.  Perhaps this is the new normal for conversation.  We talk past each other.  We listen only to ourselves and our own thoughts.  We trade words and miss relationships.

For several years my wife and I have enjoyed Saturday breakfast at a local fast food restaurant.  We take our newspaper and read it while we eat.  Recent renovations resulted in digital kiosks where the staff prefers customers place their orders.  I tried it once, but found I still had to get in line at the counter to pay with cash.  So, I still go to the counter to place my order.

One Saturday when I stepped up it felt like the clerk dismissed my words.  She pointed to the kiosk.  “You can order over there.”

I replied, “Actually, I’d rather…”

“I can show you how to use it.”

I began to explain why I preferred ordering at the counter.  Mid-sentence she broke in, “It will take your card.”

“I understand that, but….”

Impatiently she interrupted again.  “It’ll take your debit card.”

Now I was the one getting impatient.  “Look, I just want to place my order here.”

With an exasperated expression she said,  “So, what do you want?” 

She entered my order in the computer.  I handed her the cash, and she gave me my receipt and a placard with a number on it.  “Put this on the table.  We’ll bring it to you.”

I went to the table and began reading the newspaper.  In the background I heard various numbers called as they brought orders out.   Suddenly I realized we should have been served by now, so I went back to the counter.

“Excuse me, can you check on my order?”

With a blank expression and flat tone she said, “You’ll have to get in line, Sir.”

I dutifully worked my way back up to the counter and handed her my receipt.  She took it, disappeared for several minutes, then returned.  “Your order was served.”

“I’m sorry, but it wasn’t.”

With a sigh, “They brought it out and called your number, but you didn’t respond.  They thought you’d left.”

“Perhaps I didn’t hear it then, but the placard was on the table in plain…”

“Your order was served,” she said, looking past me to the next customer.’

“May I speak to your manager?”

She abruptly left the register and returned saying, “What did you order?  We’ll do it over.”

I told her and she replaced the order, got it filled and handed it to me on a tray.  When I got to the table my wife noticed one of her items was missing.  Reluctantly I returned to the clerk who was methodically directing customers to the kiosks.  She gave me a bored look, then went and got the item.  As I took it back to the table another server approached, handing me a tray with the same thing.”

I smiled and pointed to my tray.  “Thanks, but we have everything now.”

Looking past me she said, “This is yours.”

“But I already have my order.”

“We owe you this because you didn’t get your order.”

And so it went.

Sometimes I find a lot of conversations going this way.  It’s like we’ve become a computer-programmed population of people who no longer connect brain with tongue.  We rattle off our word bullets randomly, primed by programmed responses, never connecting.  Then I wonder, is anybody really listening?  Do we ever really hear each other?

Perhaps the problem is that we’ve allowed ourselves to be programmed into the stratosphere of digital responses.  Desensitized, we’ve become lost in clouds of confusion.   I wish sarge was here…maybe he could restore some clarity.

 

 

Like Making a Quilt

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Mom was a quilter.  In my book about her life (When Love Prevails, Kindle Store) I recall her experiences with her Grandma Mary when she was a girl.  Quilting was one of the things she learned from her, and mom became known for her quilts later in her life.

Whenever my wife, Sharon, and I would visit her at the Bridgewater Retirement Community, mom would always show us the latest quilt she was creating.  Many of her quilts were auctioned at the annual Fall Festival to raise auxiliary funds.  She practiced this craft even after she lost much of her vision through macular degeneration.  Her fingers, and her memory became substitutes for her eyes.

One thing I learned about her was that she really was an artist with her quilting.  Gathering odds and ends of fabric, varieties of colors, sometimes containing images or designs, she would piece together a quilt that told a story.  Some of the story might be things or people  each piece of cloth brought to her mind.  My brother and I are both visual artists, and we got it honestly–our talent comes from the same genetic well that resourced mom’s quilting.

In recent years I have turned to writing as a primary artistic venture.  Crafting a novel is much like crafting a quilt, or a painting.  Novels are made up of bits and pieces of life that flow from people, circumstances, places and experiences over the years.  When I embarked on my fourth novel (a work in progress at the moment), my muse presented me with a story that turns around a mountain community instead of the seacoast.  “Dinkel Island Smalltalk” didn’t seem inclusive enough now, so I expanded my WordPress blog site into a new domain:  Wordquilts.com.

Writing a book, whether a novel or nonfiction, is like making a quilt.  I’m in the early stages of the new novel now, but I have a theme, and a design, and lots of pieces of life to work with.  I even have a current social issue around which to wrap my story.  The title may change as the wordquilt comes together, but for now it’s titled, “Fear No Evil.”

I’m excited!  Can’t wait to see how this wordquilt comes out!