Tuesday, March 10, 2015

ABD and such

So much time has passed since my last post on this blog. I went back to school. My mother passed away. I grew older and hopefully wiser. My husband began a battle against cancer. This past Friday I achieved a personal milestone: successfully defending my comprehensive examination here at the University of Texas at Austin. As a doctoral candidate and ABD, I may truthfully say I am nearing my goal of a Ph.D. in journalism.
In light of this, I feel writing regularly will help inspire me to complete the research and writing that is a dissertation. For the next several months, I will post more poetry and short essays, and of course, photos and art. This is an outlet that stretches the thought process in a different direction and may spark that kind of innovative curiosity which will inform my research. Surprisingly, it seems others like the term Mistress of Ephemera, which for me is defined as a woman who is the caretaker of the little things in life.  I coined it and with me it will stick. Accept no substitutions.
MOE is back.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Waiting for Christmas.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Back to the Fold

It has been a while since I have posted here. Happy Father's Day to all the fathers in my life, past and present.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Conversation With War

My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty

World War II, you are personal. First foe. Now awkward friend? You thrive in this new century, I admit, to stop others from erupting like you once again. First a demon. Out of control. Hungry for lives not yours. You are not doing as fine a job at that as we expected you to in 1945. Keep trying. You are not just a stream of facts but an entity, undying now, born swiftly of the life flow of many near and dear as well as those unknown except by casualty. You are a spirit made whole and sustaining from the sacrifices of those who came to fight in your name. To clear it of the heartache blood for blood. And as each new energy, created by the Earthly passing of one of these aging champions finds its way to you, brought like a dandelion seed on the winds of its own rebirth, you edge always farther away from the darkness of heart that spawned you and closer to the light of truth that holds you as a beacon of countless wills, girded to set the going straight again.

Of thee I sing

My father and mother were born in February 1929, days apart, 10 miles apart, social worlds and cultures apart and true Depression babies. Each was no stranger to calamity, just a teenager when you knocked on their doors in Chicago, bearing an invitation that could not be RSVP’ed away. Several of Mom’s brothers and one sister brushed their hair and changed their clothes and left home with you. Why do I mention clothes to you? You changed how everyone looked, didn’t you? Military colors. Navy blue and camouflage. Wools and flannels. Yellow stars. Stripes and thin cotton. Dad’s half-brother, new buttons, new shoes, toe crampers.
My Uncle Bud, today in a nursing home, still fine in his late 80s, he chose Army green, and wore it to Italy. Dusted it off in Anzio. The dust followed him home, unshakeable.
Mom, well she put on work gloves and planted a Victory Garden, each vegetable grown, a breathing organic bullet against what had rocked her world. One day as she harvested her crop, she picked a carrot that had taken you into its own being, dividing into that ubiquitous V-shape, a Victory spurt of orange ferocity. A monumental harvest of hope. The photographer from the Chicago Daily News posed her holding that carrot just inches above a table, her teeth and lips bending back into that uncomfortable but proud smile. “This is for my family. This carrot will bring them home so they can dress in church finery or weekend dance clothes. This carrot on its own by my hand will win you.” Mom wearing her best for church garb listened one day to Margaret Bourke White, the war correspondent and photojournalist when she came to speak at my grandmother’s ladies group in Beverly Hills, Illinois. Her outfit had changed too. She was the first woman to wear it during your so-called Glory Days. Her cameras sought out the threads of others who could barely call what they wore clothes in the concentration camps of Europe. If lens glass could be permanently transformed by what was passing through it, hers was I am certain. Ghost glass. In 1946-1947, when dad wanted to go to the University of Michigan the returning veterans had their hard-earned claim on housing and other benefits—as was right. Caps and gowns, and oddly shaped freshmen beanies to replace helmets and battle ribbons. Dad suffered with the regret of that lost dream, unspeakable until years later because it was not right to complain in your presence. His life’s scope tilted. He loved music, built pipe organs and dabbled in the oh so 40s, 50s craft of writing, taking time-defeating outs to clean the type on his firsts, a Royal or two and later his IBM typewriter partner in unfinished crime. He met mom and RCA, attending a school where you could learn about this thing called television in Washington, D.C. All consuming, it would fire his inspiration and burn him up inside. On May 1, 1986, at just 56, only 41 years when you drew to a halt, he left old ambitions and regrets to the rest of us. Partly, I do blame you for that.

Land where my fathers died

My husband’s father left the U.S. to join the Royal Canadian Air Force prior to Dec. 7, 1941. He may have seen you coming. We never met. So I cannot know for sure. Edward Crickmer, who was on the shorter side, was sent to the U.S. Army Air Corp and the 15th Army Air Corps where he trained to be a ball-turret gunner in a B-17. Short guys fit those tiny spaces. On a mission over Germany, his plane was shot out from under him and he parachuted into enemy territory minus a flight boot, just not tight enough to cling to his foot and leg during that fall. He was captured and spent the rest of the war in various Stalags, the Nazi camps for military prisoners. Lots of uniform changes for Mr. Crickmer. Toward the end of the war, the Germans were moving him and other prisoners of war around from camp to camp, and the marches were horrific. He would tell his little son the stories, and the son can only recall now that that it was likely British tanks that liberated his father from the terrors of those ending days. A blanket his only warmth as the men trudged from holding spot to holding spot, wondering if they would have the energy to keep on walking. Like Robert Shaw’s character in the film, “Jaws,” Sam Quint, hating the last moments before help came, because to last so long and not make it was the most miserable kind of irony. But the tanks did come. In time, he got to come back to America where his family were miners in West Virginia, on the management side. Not him, he went underground and got his face dark with the soot of hard labor. A strike and illness thwarted his success in reclaiming a life that once included classes at Duke University in mathematics. He died way too young. Always hating black bread and potatoes. I definitely blame you for that. His son misses him so.

Land of the Pilgrims’ pride

His brothers also served. Harold was in the U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific. Another brother, called Uncle Waddie, a nickname for Walter, (lots of Walters in the Crickmer family tree) was a tail gunner on a B-17 with the 8th Air Force. He survived all his missions. No prison camp. His life gave way to a more normal kind of playing out. A job. A house. Children who got to know him. Thank goodness. On the other side of my husband’s family, his mother’s brother, Frank Roberts, was in the U.S. Navy, enlisting before the start of the war. When his turn came for assignments after basic training, there were two ships that beckoned his way. In his class, every other person went to duty on a battleship, an assignment that would take them eventually to Pearl Harbor. Palms and ocean breezes. Paradise Navy style. Those men proudly shouted, “I got the Arizona.” Frank went to another ship. Uncle Harry, Frank’s brother, was a pharmacist’s mate in the U.S. Navy. Harold, Harry, Edward, and Frank are gone now. As are my father, Jean Paul Audet, and his brother Joe Rettich, who served in World War II and Korea. Joe told the funny war stories, of stolen jeeps and KP duty gone awry -- the kind that often turned up in issues of the Reader’s Digest. He died years later in the emergency room of a Kansas City hospital waiting, mostly unnoticed, to be treated for chest pains. It was a massive heart attack. Joe and my dad had just begun to reconnect after years of on again, off again brotherhood. They had different fathers and that made all the difference. My grandmother Gertrude asked for and received an annulment from the Catholic Church because she said Joe’s dad would not let her take her children, Joe, and my Aunt Eileen, my godmother, to Mass. They were older when she married again. That is why dad wasn’t old enough for you, but Joe was. He left dad when he was perhaps needed most, to go to war. Dad’s handsome older brother who would never really come back to him in the same way. Eileen, his sister, tall and elegant, flapped her way through the Twenties, never married and went to work in Chicago advertising. Cancer after cancer would make nests in her body and she died one day, like a war victim, while I was a college student. She had been too young when the soldiers left and too old when they returned. And when the time came for dad’s service, he did it as a member of the Illinois National Guard. He had been drafted both by the United States and Canada. My grandfather, Jean Hector, died a Canadian citizen and this meant that dad had the cross the border dilemma. Back then, they wouldn’t let him declare dual citizenship, which is tragic. So, he chose this side of the border and donned his Guard uniform with pride. Without the prestige of being a World War II veteran, he lacked the credentials and bona fides that made the generation right before him, golden. He always felt just a bit tarnished, I think, as a result.

From every mountainside

Both my mom’s brothers came home. Uncle Robert, my godfather, lost a recent battle to Alzheimer’s. He used his G.I. Bill to go to Northwestern University and study accounting. He got a job working for J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I. First in Detroit and later, Washington D.C. He had six children. Was a Knight of Columbus. A good Irishman. Uncle Bud, on the other hand, had seen darker days. The G.I. Bill was not band-aid enough for him. A picture of him back in Chicago from that time shows a wiry, de-muscled man. He seldom talked or talks about the war except with my older brother, Jim.
Jim, 58, a retired electrical engineer, understands you better than most. It is his knack to know you; he is one of the mid-Baby Boomers, the generation that made Revell models, started in 1945, a must-have item. As a child, Jim excelled at building these, including the U.S.S. Arizona and the U.S.S. Iowa. I learned about the makings of a ship from watching that building exercise/compulsion played out over and over while I was growing up. Later, I stood on the original and oh so much larger Iowa with Jim soon after the death of our father and that still sends chills up my spine when I contemplate the moment. I stood on the U.S.S. Alabama, too, this time with my mother one afternoon in Mobile. Outside, a gently curving and robust garden of roses highlighted the ship’s approach. How appropriate for my mother, the Victory Carrot woman, Rosemarie, who like, Robert, is fighting Alzheimer’s, to be greeted that day by a bounty of flowers that shared her name. She and I walked onto the ship together. I was pregnant that day. Not showing much, but more than enough for my mind to make the connection that the child inside me was mine, and you and others like you, were not going to have him or her. How bold we mothers are in your face. And others like you. How hard we try to keep our children safe from those that see you and others like you, as a means to their end.
Before the war, Bud was hitting effortlessly into the stratosphere of baseball immortality. He made it onto a major league farm team. You corrupted that dream. Upon his return, he would move to Albuquerque, New Mexico, with my grandmother and there he would find an outlet for his baseball in his spare time -- coaching children of the Pueblo nation. He lives today with his older sister, 91, in Delaware, one of the few now who remains, who changed for you. All around him, his fellow combatants are leaving. Dying. Like the chiming of bells, souls breaking free in a constant rain of infirmity.

Let freedom ring

As a child I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, a veterans' haven, knowing you were different, exceptional. War movies were my babysitter. I saw and imbibed the notion that the people who served in you had crossed into another plane of existence, that they had gone to sleep one night only to wake up the next day into a world where their personal contributions, all actions and activity, had an immediate and direct effect on everyone else. Whether it was the garden you grew or the grease you collected on the home front. Or the photographs you took of survivors watching liberating soldiers enter their living cemeteries. Margaret did that. It altered her. While she was taking pictures of those lost and found souls, my husband’s father Ed, was liberated, shy of a boot, and wholeness. Journalist Ernie Pyle walked with soldiers such as my Uncle Bud through Europe and it altered him. He gave his life to it, perhaps so Bud would not have to. Going to your Pacific Theatre when it was not required, except that he was honoring a commitment to those soldiers, those tropically trapped G.I. Joes who loved him from afar. Just one more trip and he could come home. Iwo Shima. Where was that? Edward R. Murrow, radioman and then, TV man, broke the airwaves of its virginity of war when he, like Margaret, tried to capture the horrors of what those death camps looked like when he arrived there. It altered him. Maybe he smoked a little more. Maybe he cared a lot more when he came back and wrestled with migrant needs and the political savagery run amuck of Joseph McCarthy. Maybe you did that, too. As a teenager, I religiously sought out these people, these journalists. Their war stories. I had to know.
People like to talk about your numbers. Your morbid resume. You demanded more lives than other of your brethren. Some estimate as much as 78 million. The Russians especially suffered. Perhaps 26.6 million people, approximately 13.7 percent of its total population. The genocide of Jews and Romas across all of Europe. The disruption and eradication of culture and family, home and hearth. Neighbor against neighbor. The disabled. The politically or behaviorally different. Shutting my eyes, I imagine an immediate loss of New York and Chicago and Los Angeles. Still not enough to match your toll of us. And yet, we continue to agonize and argue about what now to you must seem so ridiculously trivial.
So what do you mean after all? In this year, 2011,where death from war is all around us still? Why have we not benefited more from the sacrifices of all who are named here? Those ripples of your being are everywhere and it is now 66 years past your prime. Like the Big Bang theorists who strive to see that particular moment of creation, followers of your impact on our lives seek to reach into the origins of a conflict that decimated us of so much. Each of us lost a portion of our humanity during those years of you, either by being there or being born to those who were. That is not retrievable. That was given up never to be reclaimed as a reminder of our complicity in letting it happen. Payment was made and continues to be made, as one by one, the veterans of you pass away, memories intact. And perhaps, time and God-willing, Rapture or not, we who are left behind to ponder it will understand the lesson of you more in the days that come.

Friday, February 4, 2011


On Feb. 6, I will take a moment to remember the life of King George VI, father of Queen Elizabeth II, who died on this date. He is the featured subject of the recent film, The King's Speech, and I find a man who deserves remembering. Great Britain owes him more than they can ever repay.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Godspeed Commander Adams

It blasted into my childhood with the force of a supernova. Science fiction film. There was my first love, Rod Taylor, in "The Time Machine," "Them," with its crawling gigantic ants, and "The Day the Earth Stood Still" where a man called Carpenter was more than a man -- he had come from a distant world to save the Earth.

Always, there was "Forbidden Planet." The 1956 MGM film starred the legendary Walter Pidgeon as Dr. Edward Morbius; Anne Francis as his daughter, Altaira; a robotic wonder to covet, Robby; and a charming and managerial space commander, J.J. Adams, played by a young Canadian, Leslie Nielsen.

Nielsen made the film work in so many ways. He was believable.

I suppose I watch this film at least two or three times a year. Maybe more. Each time with a new appreciation for the design of it, or the music, or the fascination with the film's ultimate message, that even the most gifted of civilizations is not immune from the disease called overconfidence. Now when I watch, I'll admit to giggling when Adams pulls out his communicator to talk to crewmen in the ship and there is a wire attached to it. I did not laugh as a 10-year-old. Then I was ready to hitch a ride on the United Planet Cruiser C57D in a stellar moment. Ready to swish my hand over a beamer that could send lead curtains flying down the windows of my space hideaway. Mesmorized by the sheer expanse of Krell technologies, the substance of my childhood in a way that other youngsters visioned Playdough and dolls. I knew if I put my mind to it that someday, I could do something just like that. I was certain of it. Take the mind-machine test and enlarge that cranium capacity. And survive like Morbius not die like the Doc.

Tonight, I see that Nielsen has died in Fort Lauderdale at age 84. He changed course in his cinematic career and let his humorous side lead him into other universes. I laughed at his Airplane role and of course, The Naked Gun series. For me, he will always be my favorite space hero, taking me along on a glorious journey through those ultimately final frontiers of space. I wish him well on this latest journey and look to see stars just a bit brighter in the sky from now on.