I'm a 64-year old father of three and grandfather of six with opinions on nearly everything. I believe in courtesy, common sense, and fair play. I love ballroom dancing, reading, gourmet cooking, and travel. While I'm opinionated, I'm not close-minded, and I welcome your constructive comments on my blog. My motto: "I have seen the truth, and it makes no sense."
One of my favorite poets is Robert W. Service, the writer known as "The Bard of the Yukon" for his fanciful tall tales of life in the frozen North. He writes with a wonderful cadence and choice of words and rhymes, and his stories are ... well ... memorable, to say the least. My favorite of his poems is The Cremation of Sam McGee (and it's a poem I love to read aloud) ... this one is similar ...
The Ballad Of Blasphemous Bill
by Robert W. Service
I took a contract to bury the body of blasphemous Bill MacKie,
Whenever, wherever or whatsoever the manner of death he die --
Whether he die in the light o' day or under the peak-faced moon;
In cabin or dance-hall, camp or dive, mucklucks or patent shoon;
On velvet tundra or virgin peak, by glacier, drift or draw;
In muskeg hollow or canyon gloom, by avalanche, fang or claw;
By battle, murder or sudden wealth, by pestilence, hooch or lead --
I swore on the Book I would follow and look till I found my tombless dead.
For Bill was a dainty kind of cuss, and his mind was mighty sot
On a dinky patch with flowers and grass in a civilized bone-yard lot.
And where he died or how he died, it didn't matter a damn
So long as he had a grave with frills and a tombstone "epigram".
So I promised him, and he paid the price in good cheechako coin
(Which the same I blowed in that very night down in the Tenderloin).
Then I painted a three-foot slab of pine: "Here lies poor Bill MacKie",
And I hung it up on my cabin wall and I waited for Bill to die.
Years passed away, and at last one day came a squaw with a story strange,
Of a long-deserted line of traps 'way back of the Bighorn range;
Of a little hut by the great divide, and a white man stiff and still,
Lying there by his lonesome self, and I figured it must be Bill.
So I thought of the contract I'd made with him, and I took down from the shelf
The swell black box with the silver plate he'd picked out for hisself;
And I packed it full of grub and "hooch", and I slung it on the sleigh;
Then I harnessed up my team of dogs and was off at dawn of day.
You know what it's like in the Yukon wild when it's sixty-nine below;
When the ice-worms wriggle their purple heads through the crust of the pale blue snow;
When the pine-trees crack like little guns in the silence of the wood,
And the icicles hang down like tusks under the parka hood;
When the stove-pipe smoke breaks sudden off, and the sky is weirdly lit,
And the careless feel of a bit of steel burns like a red-hot spit;
When the mercury is a frozen ball, and the frost-fiend stalks to kill --
Well, it was just like that that day when I set out to look for Bill.
Oh, the awful hush that seemed to crush me down on every hand,
As I blundered blind with a trail to find through that blank and bitter land;
Half dazed, half crazed in the winter wild, with its grim heart-breaking woes,
And the ruthless strife for a grip on life that only the sourdough knows!
North by the compass, North I pressed; river and peak and plain
Passed like a dream I slept to lose and I waked to dream again.
River and plain and mighty peak -- and who could stand unawed?
As their summits blazed, he could stand undazed at the foot of the throne of God.
North, aye, North, through a land accurst, shunned by the scouring brutes,
And all I heard was my own harsh word and the whine of the malamutes,
Till at last I came to a cabin squat, built in the side of a hill,
And I burst in the door, and there on the floor, frozen to death, lay Bill.
Ice, white ice, like a winding-sheet, sheathing each smoke-grimed wall;
Ice on the stove-pipe, ice on the bed, ice gleaming over all;
Sparkling ice on the dead man's chest, glittering ice in his hair,
Ice on his fingers, ice in his heart, ice in his glassy stare;
Hard as a log and trussed like a frog, with his arms and legs outspread.
I gazed at the coffin I'd brought for him, and I gazed at the gruesome dead,
And at last I spoke: "Bill liked his joke; but still, goldarn his eyes,
A man had ought to consider his mates in the way he goes and dies."
Have you ever stood in an Arctic hut in the shadow of the Pole,
With a little coffin six by three and a grief you can't control?
Have you ever sat by a frozen corpse that looks at you with a grin,
And that seems to say: "You may try all day, but you'll never jam me in"?
I'm not a man of the quitting kind, but I never felt so blue
As I sat there gazing at that stiff and studying what I'd do.
Then I rose and I kicked off the husky dogs that were nosing round about,
And I lit a roaring fire in the stove, and I started to thaw Bill out.
Well, I thawed and thawed for thirteen days, but it didn't seem no good;
His arms and legs stuck out like pegs, as if they was made of wood.
Till at last I said: "It ain't no use -- he's froze too hard to thaw;
He's obstinate, and he won't lie straight, so I guess I got to -- saw."
So I sawed off poor Bill's arms and legs, and I laid him snug and straight
In the little coffin he picked hisself, with the dinky silver plate;
And I came nigh near to shedding a tear as I nailed him safely down;
Then I stowed him away in my Yukon sleigh, and I started back to town.
So I buried him as the contract was in a narrow grave and deep,
And there he's waiting the Great Clean-up, when the Judgment sluice-heads sweep;
And I smoke my pipe and I meditate in the light of the Midnight Sun,
And sometimes I wonder if they was, the awful things I done.
And as I sit and the parson talks, expounding of the Law,
I often think of poor old Bill -- and how hard he was to saw.
Have a good day, and stay cool ... not necessarily frozen.
If you were looking for Poetry Sunday, don’t despair – because it's Father's Day and I have my traditional (if updated) tribute to fathers today, you won't get your poetry fix this week. My granddaughter thinks Poetry Sunday is lame, anyhow, so I guess at least one of you won't be disappointed. So let's talk about fathers ...
Today is Fathers’ Day, the day we honor the man who contributed half of our chromosomes and many of the life lessons that shaped us into who we are.
Fathers don’t always get the same degree of respect that mothers do. We work in design, rather than production, after all, and don’t earn the credit that mothers do for going through nine months of pregnancy followed by months of sleepless nights and years of worry. And truth be told, many fathers don’t earn that respect. For all too many men, fatherhood is an unfortunate side effect of good sex, and a child is an impediment to the enjoyment of life. For many men, fathering a lot of children by a lot of women is the imagined sign of a manly stud ... not of lives betrayed by a thoughtless ass who thinks with his man parts* instead of his brain and heart.
Luckily, though, there are many good men out there trying their best to be good fathers. It’s not an easy job, and not everyone does it successfully ... but fortunately, enough do.
I have often reflected back on the course of my life, and I've come to the conclusion I’ve been a much better grandfather than I was a father. This is probably normal. You’ve seen more of life, and had more experiences – good and bad – to share. If you’re the grandfather, you get to be the gentle, wise, let-‘em-do-what-they-want fellow the children love to see, rather than the grouchy, tired father who has to put bread on the table, crack the whip, and enforce the discipline. You get all the joy of holding and loving the children with none of the negatives ... when the baby needs changing, for instance, there's none of that messy fuss - you just give her back to her mother. What's not to like?
I think that, from the father's perspective, we have our children too early in life. We're still learning how to be adults, and all of a sudden we're fathers, responsible for teaching our children all the lessons of life that we haven't even learned yet. Our children grow up as much in spite of our mistakes as because of our excellence in parenting.
When you get to be a father, you look at your own father differently. It was Mark Twain who supposedly once said, "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."
A good father, as I came in time to understand, is a gift beyond all price. The gold standard for fatherhood is, of course, my own father. He fought the Nazis** in the skies over World War II Europe, ran his own business, raised four children and buried one, and cared for mom through the long years of misery as Alzheimer's gradually destroyed the mind of the dynamic and witty woman he loved. Dad left us more than a year ago, and I no longer get to hear his jokes and stories and learn the lessons he still had to teach, yet he remains the man to whom I owe whatever shreds of honor, decency, and ... well ... manhood that I can claim.
This was the man who battled for our freedom in 1944 ...
And here he is at the Mount Vernon Wine Festival in 2002, surrounded by admiring ladies (from left to right: our friends Susan and Nadja, our daughter Yasmin, and Agnes) ...
Here he is with my brother Mark and I, on the occasion of Mark's retirement from the Navy (our brother Paul served in the Army, but wasn't able to be there) ...
And here he is in December of 2013 at his 90th birthday party in Pittsburgh, surrounded by the friends and family members who came out to honor him in spite of some really ghastly winter weather ...
I'd like to think I made him satisfied, if not proud.
If you’d like to know more about the life of this wonderful man, you can read my remembrance here.
It's politically correct (bordering on mandatory) nowadays to say that a child can grow up just fine in a household with same-sex "parents," but you'll never be able to convince me that it's the same as being raised by a father and a mother who love each other, treat each other with dignity and respect, set a good example, teach their gender-specific life lessons, and subordinate their own dreams and desires to the momentous task of raising a brand new human being.
Have a good day. Honor your father. And if you're a father, be a good one ... preferably a better one than I was. Your children ... and indeed, the future ... are depending on you.
More thoughts later.
* As Missandei would say. If you're into "Game of Thrones," you'll get it. ** The real ones, the ones that murdered millions of innocent people and destroyed most of Europe, not the imaginary ones to which stupid people in this country compare their political opponents.
7: When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin.
8: Let his days be few; and let another take his office.
9: Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.
10: Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.
11: Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labour.
12: Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children.
13: Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.
14: Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the LORD; and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out.
15: Let them be before the LORD continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.
While I doubt that Senator Perdue actually wants the First Lady to be a widow, intemperate speech such as this is inappropriate for an elected official. In a statement issued after criticism of his remarks erupted, the Senator's office said,
“(Senator Purdue) in no way wishes harm to our president and everyone in the room understood that.” The statement went on to accuse the media of “pushing a narrative to create controversy.”
It seems to me that Senator Purdue did a fine job of creating the controversy himself.
For his insensitive and inappropriate use of a threatening biblical verse in reference to the President - a verse which he either didn't understand or ... worse ... understood all too well - Senator David Perdue is named our Left Cheek Ass Clown for June, 2016. Lemme hear you say hallelujah!
Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday, in which we will not threaten anyone.
More thoughts then.
* It should be noted that this verse is used so often in conservative circles that it has become known as "The Obama Prayer," which doesn't make it any less offensive.
Agnes and I are getting set to go on our long-awaited vacation! We'll be on the road for a while, but I will have periodic Internet connectivity and will try to post occasionally. Your regular posts (Fridays thru Mondays) are already written and scheduled to publish, and I'll post all the usual pictures and stories when we return. In the meantime, I thought this classic Willy Nelson song was apropos for the day ...
Have a good day, and check back periodically. More ... and more detailed ... thoughts when we get back.
Over the Memorial Day weekend Agnes and I drove up to my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to attend the high school graduation of my niece Elena and enjoy a modest family reunion. My sister and her family still live in Pittsburgh, one of my brothers lives not too far away, and we still have cousins in the 'burgh as well.
I have often remarked to Agnes that Pittsburgh seems a lot nicer place since I left, way back in 1973. The death of the steel industry was a mixed blessing, depressing the economy but allowing the city to be reborn and cleaned up as a center for medicine, banking, and high-tech. And as I get older, I find a lot more positive than negative memories about one of the worst cities in the world in which to drive.
But I digress.
In today's poem, Richard Newman talks about the bittersweetness of going home ...
by Richard Newman
I like my hometown more
the longer I'm away.
Memories, like trick candles,
flicker as I pull in.
The longer I've been away
the less I recognize. Stars
flicker as I pull in.
Where are the woods and fields?
I barely recognize the stars.
Home is where
my boyhood woods and fields
now offer beautiful new homes.
Home is where they said Leave now so we might miss you someday.
The beautiful new homes say We're better off since you left.
We might miss you someday—
yes, that would be my wish.
Home is where they're better off since you left.
Blow into town and blow right out.
Yes, that would be my wish-
that I liked my hometown more.
Blow through town. Blow out
memories like trick candles.
Have a good day. Go home when you can, even if it's in your head.
See you tomorrow for Musical Monday. More thoughts then.