It's Memorial Day and I'm thinking of the untold number of soldiers who died so that we could keep our beautiful country, families, friends, and communities living in freedom! This nation has its flaws and has always been filled with flawed leaders and policies, but it's the greatest nation ever known to mankind. I am thankful and grateful to be an American.
I'm thinking of my two favorite veterans today, both having passed on, and remembering how much I miss them. There's my father-in-law Ray, who served in major European-front WW II battles and survived -- he didn't think he would.
There's my brother, Tim, who passed in March. I still can't believe I'm writing that sentence ... Tim served in Vietnam.
I saw something about the history of our hometown on a Facebook page and thought instantly that I needed to talk to him about the cool post... I will miss him every day of the rest of my life.
His ashes were buried in my hometown graveyard, surrounded by plots containing our parents, my brother David, his wife Janet, and precious infants of nieces who have gone on before him. The day after Tim's service, we were told at the newspaper to go home and stay there, doing our jobs from home, due to the virus.
I didn't know if I could. Any success I would have with working from home depended on the kindness of people in the communities we cover. Would people work with me in returning calls to a phone number they didn't recognize? Would they take the time and energy from their own lives as either essential workers or while undergoing challenges of isolation to answer email questions for stories? What about take and send me photos to go with stories?
So tomorrow will be the first semi-normal day I've had since the day after Tim's burial. I'll be back in the office, assuming my normal part-time workweek schedule, although we are still to work via email and phone as much as possible for a while longer.
A couple weeks ago we visited my SIL Jeannie, Tim's wife. She handed us a plastic bag brimming with books. On the outside of the bag it read "To DONNA & BRIAN."
It was from Tim. Tim was an avid reader of all kinds of books, and he would make a selection from his vast library regularly and almost every time we saw him, we went home with a bag of books.
Tim had prepared a final bag of eclectic volumes for us at some point before he passed on ... it felt at once incredibly sad, and sweet -- bittersweet -- to take home those last books he wanted us to have. I'm saving the bag and took a photo of the selection so I would have it and remember Tim's thoughtfulness. Of course I will forever remember Tim. No photo is needed for that memory. But I have some to treasure.
When the NFL football schedule comes out each late spring, it's a big day for our family. All five of us mull it over, and come to agreement about how and where to continue our annual tradition of creating a mini-vacation built around an away game. Then we spend weeks researching our many options -- flights and hotels, sites to see, special places to eat, quirky requests (Bucc'ee's in Houston, for example).
Two years ago we braved 50-below wind chills to see our Indianapolis Colts defeat the Minnesota Vikings. Last year we lost to the New York Jets and this year, it was the Houston Texans that defeated us in a tight loss.
While the games get us there, they are merely a part of the overall trips. It's fun to experience the unique cultural climate of each stadium and fan base. There's Minnesota loyalists with their braided toboggan caps, uber-warm boots and Vikings Skol chants in a beautiful indoor stadium; New York Jets with former Gov. Chris Christy in the parking lot, sans any kind of enterage, a nondescript, working-class feeling to their basic outdoor stadium in New Jersey and less than creative food options, and The Texans with their LOVE for football, the electric feeling of the sturdy crowd, and their A-plus selection of Texas burgers, brisket, huge loaded baked potatoes and other yummo choices.
This year's game was special as we had the fortune of sitting among the family members of a Colts player, EJ Speed. We had our own little island of blue celebrating big moments in the game.
But the crown jewel of this trip was the next day's visit to NASA at Johnson Space Center. After looking around Space Center Houston, which is a museum loaded with NASA memorabilia, including authentic space suits, capsules, a tour of the Space Shuttle, orientation films and more, it's time to see our family's two highlights of the entire vacay.
You load up into an open-air tram and off you go down city streets to the working NASA campus, Johnson Space Center. The buildings are basic, appearing to have been built in the late 1950s or early 1960s.
Bikes and deer
A couple cool observations unique to the campus: vintage Schwinn bicycles are all over the place. Many of these date back to the 1960s when the company donated them to NASA so the astronauts and engineers could ride them from one building to another. Schwinn company pays an annual visit to the campus to make sure the bikes remain in good repair.
Second, deer are free to run the grounds with no fence to keep them in, as a space-age, if you will, nature preserve. It's humorous to see them all over the place, and one wonders if they ever go out into the surrounding traffic and get hit! They look perfectly content in their surroundings and unaffected by the humans and trams going by.
My favorite stop of the entire trip to Houston was a visit to the Apollo Mission Control. The building is a National Historic Landmark inside this nondescript, functional building.
Inside, those able climb the 87 steps to Mission Control. A few needed to take the elevator -- which I overheard a guide point out is the original elevator.
We're ushered into an auditorium complete with original seating, including built-in ashtrays. We're behind a glass wall where on the other side is where top engineers sat at then state-of-the-art computers (now antiques) and worked their engineering magic with the equipment that landed men on the moon, including that first walk on the moon of Neil Armstrong 50 years ago in July 2019.
After some housekeeping announcements about cell phones and the like, we were told to sit tight as we are about to view 1969 straight before us and hear the voices of the engineers and astronauts who made history. The room is perfectly refurbished and preserved to what it was in 1969. And suddenly, magic:
Only it's not magic. It's rocket science. Screens light up, as do the boards in the front of the room. We hear tapes played of the engineers giving the "go" signs for the mission. Then we hear the voices of Neil and Buzz Aldrin, we see man walk on the moon. We relive history. Not just history for the ages where 100 years from now people will likely still be touring this space, but our personal history, as most of us in that audience were alive when it happened in real time.
I've been personally touched by the moon landing and walk this year. First, I remember with clarity how important it was in that my mom insisted I stay awake and watch Neil take that stroll on live TV. Then that fall, in Jeanne Sipahigil's fifth-grade classroom, I wrote an essay about how touched I was by the experience. And to think! Jeanne today is my Facebook friend.
Also this summer, in my job as a New Castle Courier-Times reporter, an email arrived from a man in his 90s, Earl Thompson. Earl grew up in New Castle, but lives in Florida. Florida, as it turns out, is where he made his living as an engineer working on all the Apollo projects, specifically working in communications areas on the lunar modules and rovers. He worked directly with the astronauts, knowing all of them.
Earl and I worked together via phone and emails in detail after detail for a week or more on the two stories I would put together in conjunction with the historic 50th anniversary of the moon landing. I even went out and chatted with his New Castle siblings! Here I am with them from this past summer:
It was surreal to meet with Earl's family in New Castle, shown with The Courier-Times from half a century ago. Little did editors or reporters know then that one of their own from the city helped engineer this successful mission. It only came to public light this summer and I had the privilege of telling the story.
I also love it that Earl gave a special shout out to his New Castle High School math teacher who nurtured his natural bent toward math. The story of America: Ordinary people from ordinary towns everywhere do extraordinary things -- both that math teacher and her pupil, Earl Thompson.
All these things passed through my mind while touring Mission Control.
Then it was back to Space Center and aboard another tram. This one took us to a nondescript building, one we Hoosiers would call a gigantic pole barn, where we would step inside and see the rocket that was ready to launch Apollo 18 to the moon. This one never made it as the program ran out of money but the rocket remains. Holy cow:
I'll say it again: HOLY COW!
Can you imagine the POWER generated? The fire descending from those babies?
It was a day out of this world.
In fall of 2014 I had the thrill of spending 10 days in Israel. I have never been the same since. I will never be the same in the future.
Today, Israel is on my mind and in my heart in a special way. It's the 70th anniversary today in terms of world governments and recognition. But it is the eternal city of God. And today, the U.S. Embassy is newly located in Israel's capital, Jerusalem.
So many moments, images, sights and sites, sounds and sound bites come to mind when I think of this most unique country of Israel and its Holy City and capital of Jerusalem. Here's one moment. Our group, about 35 of us with my Ovid Community Church, walked along together toward our next stop in Jerusalem. In the opposite direction some Jewish men walked by. One man's eyes met mine and with neither of us stopping or even slowing down, he called out, "Where you from?" I said "U.S.A." His response?
"God bless the U.S.A. and Israel, together."
And that is where we are in a special way today.
We don't get too far into the Bible before we read this in Genesis 12:3: "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." NIV
Indeed, Jesus came through the Jewish people ... the whole earth blessed by Him.
Is there any place on planet earth more important to so many as this spot? It is calledThe Wailing Wall, the Western Wall, the Temple Mount. This wall is part of the mount, or platform, that once held two Jewish Temples before they were destroyed. Jews pray here and leave notes in the wall. See the temporary fence at left with the women looking over it? This is where many Jewish boys have their Bar Mitzvah.
Psalms 132:13-14: For the LORD has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling, saying, "This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it." NIV.
Israel is the size of New Jersey. Everywhere (EVERY-WHERE) you step, you are walking on history. In fact, I best describe this experience as one where someone dropped me into a Bible and allowed me to walk around there. Events of both Old and New Testaments merge and mingle.
Whereas the Bible was once in black and white, it is now in living color.
Psalm 122:6: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
"May those who love you be secure. (NIV).
As the man said in the crowd in the heart of Jerusalem,
"God bless the U.S.A. and Israel, together."
This week I interviewed a wonderful American.
She was born and raised in Australia.
Joy Baase of New Castle, Indiana is in her 90s, and our chat was about a story unrelated to this blog post. But during the course of the interview, we talked about many things, including how she is an English (Aussie) World War II bride, coming to her late husband's hometown to make a life together after the war.
We talked about her full life, which is still filled with faith, love, humor -- and patriotism.
Joy became an American citizen in 1953. And in her beautiful Queen's English accent, she recited The American's Creed by heart.
I am embarrassed to tell you that I did not know we had this beautiful statement of who we are. Did you? It took an immigrant to tell me, and I will forevermore be grateful.
Its original elements came from Thomas Jefferson, but it wasn't until 1918 that the creed, formally a U.S. House of Representatives resolution, was passed. The statement was penned by William Tyler Page in a contest displaying patriotism.
On this Memorial Day weekend, when we flippantly wish someone a "Happy Memorial Day," and perhaps enjoy a day away from the 9 to 5, I'm taking time to think about these words, about how no matter what an individual may think about any particular elected official, to consider that our great nation is so much bigger than any combination of temporary leaders.
It is founded on the blood of Americans who died for the freedoms we routinely take for granted. It is to them we owe our everyday, walking-around, going-doing-and- saying-what-we-please lives.
I will apologize to no one for loving this nation, its liberty, and its greatness, proven over and over in the words of the U.S. Constitution, which endures. May it endure forever.
Here is The American's Creed. Would you repeat it with me?
The American's Creed
I believe in the United States of America, as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon these principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.
I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.
Good friends are camping at a state park at a family-reunion. My sister-in-law is returning from Puerto Rico where she’s been on an educational consulting adventure. Son Sam is wrapping up a week’s vacation. What are you up to as we head into Memorial Day weekend?
Brian and I are off work for four straight days, and while there is no trip or amazing outing planned, I will say I’m looking forward to getting lots of things done around the home front.
I hesitate to start listing things in case they aren’t completed, after all. But I sure hope that come Monday night as I anticipate heading to the newspaper Tuesday, there will be more items crossed off my list than remaining on it.
First, I want to take time to remember all those servicemen and women who paid for our freedom with their lives. We owe them so much. And I want to thank those who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice as they currently serve the U.S.A.
I know that Brian is looking forward to seeing the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in real time Sunday on TV. It’s the first time the race hasn’t been blacked out in the Indy media market since 1950, is what I understand. This is a special treat given that it’s our state’s bicentennial this year as well as the 100th Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
As much as he looks forward to that, I’m hoping that we can cross off the list a very practical matter – that of trimming back our wild-and-crazy landscaping that has been growing like, well, like weeds with all the spring rain. This is something we always do in May and we’re almost out of May.
I have several different programs I need to work on for my little book-tour talks and it sure would be great if I could make some real progress on those. I don’t kid myself that I’ll get them all done but maybe a goal of two would be reasonable.
There’s also some banking to see to, bills to pay, the grocery store to visit, and little odds-and-ends chores as minor as stitching up a seam tear on my favorite summer sweater.
You know—things that you need doing around the house too.
Even with a list of chores, it all feels like a respite when pressed against the upcoming summer schedule. Don’t get me wrong: I look forward to it all, but there is a lot going on. Wednesday I’ll help judge a bicentennial cookie contest in conjunction with the annual National Road Yard Sale whose roots are in little Dublin, Indiana, and continues east to Baltimore, Maryland, and west to St. Louis, Missouri. The sale’s founder asked me to help. And while I’m there, of course I’ll write a story. I understand that members of the bicentennial commission will be stopping by as this is an official legacy project.
I’m visiting, for a story, Sue Saunders’ new antique store in Lewisville on Tuesday. Thursday is a book-related luncheon. The following week more book fun continues along with visiting the 70th celebration of the Teapot Club. These are English war brides who married American soldiers during World War II and returned with them to Henry County. I love those women, have written about them through the years, and look forward to putting them on the next cover of HER magazine!
If you’re curious about my upcoming book talks, look at the CONTACT tab and scroll down to WHAT’S NEXT. There’s a whole summer’s worth – and then some –of activities on my little tour. And there’s always room for more if your book club, Red Hatters or church ladies need a program.
I have a feeling that the ink on this piece will barely seem dry when I find myself writing a Labor Day post about how fast it all went.
But for now, during this home-based long weekend heading straight into summer, I’m working on a stout to-do list. I’m thankful for the freedom to make my own choices about how to spend my time because I live in the land of the free because of the brave. I love this country.
What are you doing?