In Country: Spirit, Two

copyright © 2008. Jerry Northington.  campaign website or on the campaign blog.

Originally penned November 10, 2006

The mind is a very personal part of each one of us.  We all carry our memories, our personality, and the very heart of our being in our mind.  Wartime touches that special piece of who and what we are in ways that are sometimes difficult to ascertain without the lens of history.  Every war affects those who fight in different ways and yet all share some similarities.  Every individual has a story of their personal stuff.  I have pondered this subject once before here.  This time at the risk of repeating what may have already been said I offer the following story.  Follow up the street, around the corner, and across the field for another rendering from the possum’s personal tales.

Recently I was reminded of some real differences between those who are involved in the action of war and those who only stand and watch.  In the course of time in Vietnam with an infantry company in the Central Highlands, I experienced so many different times and thoughts.  News reports one morning included pictures of a wounded Marine being aided by his comrades.  Even though wounded, the soldier held his rifle in both hands across his chest as he himself was being dragged across a road and out of further danger.  The attention paid to one’s weapon, no matter whether that item may be a pistol, rifle, or some other is peculiar to soldiers exposed to danger where the weapon may make the difference between life and death for the individual as well as for comrades.  Other soldiers in support positions and not exposed to the daily rigors of combat and civilians often handle weapons with careless regard, leaving hand prints on the exposed surfaces or holding a rifle by its barrel.  Never would a combat infantryman do any such.

When the company was on the move, we each carried our rifle at the ready.  Most weapons were  loaded with safeties off, but with a round in the chamber.  Only a few carried their weapons without a round already loaded.  Whether we were on the march or on patrol, danger lurked around every bend in the trail.  Every person had different ways of accomplishing the proper posture, but all remained prepared every moment for whatever the next moment had to offer.  The constant state of high alert wears on the mind over the course of time but such is the plight of the infantryman.  We knew we not only had to remain in a posture of readiness, but we had to be truly ready to perform our duties at any given moment.

All the men in my company were young with very few exceptions.  Even the NCO’s (non-commissioned officers, sergeants) were no more than about 30.  All the rest of us were much younger at the time.  We swaggered and talked bravely, but each of us feared the next moment.  Any given moment could be our last on this earth.  The pressure was ever present even though we were reluctant to make any mention of that fact.

We lived for the moment, planning only for our last day in country.  Every man knew exactly how many days remained in their tour.  In the final days, most knew the number of hours remaining in their assignment.  In those years, rotations were limited to a finite time, unlike the rotations of today where extensions are so common.  We knew exactly which day we would be headed home.  Not one of us ever admitted openly to any chance of not going home.  Such an admission would have been a psychological blow none of us was prepared to accept.

The pressures of war come not only danger, but in real boredom.  The bulk of any soldier’s time is spent waiting.  We waited for orders, for transportation, for food, for any news of current events, and mostly we waited for our turn to leave the field or to go home.  Waiting time was often occupied by idle chatter or card games.  The nature of the time spent depended as much on the individuals involved as the surrounding circumstance.  Waiting brought boredom and weighed heavily on every one’s mind.  Any diversion was always welcome relief.  Jokes and stories of life back home were common.  We called one another nicknames to lighten the atmosphere as well as to keep some measure of barrier between ourselves.  We used cigarettes and chewing tobacco as diversions.  

Very few of my company were destined to remain in the military.  I was unusual in that I had some years of college education prior to joining the Army.  Most members of the unit were draftees with a high school education at most.  We were from all parts of the country with no particular connection one to the other beyond our service of the time.  We came and went at odd intervals without allowance for any real connection in terms of service.  Most of us had only a few short weeks together-too little time for real unit camaraderie such as might have been seen in earlier wars.  Barely knowing each other left us alone in so many ways.  Even though we spent time together, we kept our own counsel in nearly every instance.  In effect, we remained almost as lonely as if we had indeed been all alone.

The words of Christian Stroud in IRON BRAVO tell it all

War is a nasty thing.  The people who start them are hardly ever the people who end them, and the people who end them are never what they were at the beginning.  No one gets out without being touched by fire, and that fire changes everything, changes it forever.

Some men get to enjoy the feelings of battle with a sense that approaches sexual lust.  That feeling was never mine to share.  I came home with a bitter hatred of all the war meant to the men on the ground.  Until this day, I have held those feelings inside.  Today I have returned to the active state of opposition.  If I have any opportunity in this life to keep any more from suffering the trauma of war, I will exercise that chance at any cost to myself.  

The effect of war on the mind of the troops is sometimes overlooked in our society today.  Soldiers themselves may suppress the memories and civilians are often unprepared for the stories.  Civilian populations not only stand and watch during times of war, but stand in support of the troops who ARE involved.  While each group has different obligations during the time of war, it becomes the duty of each and every one of us, veterans and civilians alike, to remain supportive of the returning troops.  Only by sharing our feelings and experiences on both sides (inside and outside) will any of us find the healing we all need so desperately.  This is one more in a series of my personal sharings.  More will come as time and energy allow.  As one of so many who were actively involved I am responsible for continuing to inform those who by virtue of choice or circumstance only stand and watch.  

Crossposted at Daily Kos.

Down Home: Black Annie

copyright © 2007 Jerry Northington.  campaign website or on the campaign blog.

“Black Annie” is the name of an oldtime tune the origins of which I do not know.  The name was taken for a woman in childhood to protect both hers and my ongoing anonymity to whatever degree that is possible in these times.  So many people contribute to the care and education of all us when we are children.  Black Annie was one such woman in my childhood.  Her story reflects the human rights abuses that were prevalent in our society only a few short years ago.  Follow down the trail, around the curve, and over the hill for another of the Possum’s tales.

The story of Black Annie is tied to the story of my hometown.  The town was in the southern part of the USA.  My youth was around 1950, so the story begins in that time.  My family lived outside town where we had no real neighbors.  Until the time of my high school education we were driven to school or to town as need be by my parents.  On the way to the public high school we passed the local black school.  In those times black students were allowed to attend the local public schools but such attendance was so very much discouraged that most chose not to do so.  By the mid-sixties only 4 black students attended a school of about 400 students.

The black school held both elementary and high school students in a ramshackle, three story, red brick building next to a railroad track.  There was no semblance of a playground and no provision for any athletic activity.  Only classrooms were built into the structures.  The neighborhood on that side of the railroad track housed only black families.  White neighborhoods bordered but did not mix with the black areas.  As children we were taught by our parents that this situation was the norm and the status preferred by the black residents.  We children were not taught to question, simply to accept.

Black Annie grew up and still lived in the black quarter of town near the railroad track.  She had only minimal education and could not read at the standard of even us young children in those days.  Annie was brought to our house by my father on the times when we needed extra help in the household.  Annie cooked, cleaned, ironed, and generally worked very hard at all the domestic chores Mother found for her.  Annie’s appellation as we heard it was not Black Annie, but was Nxxxxx Annie.  We were teens heading for college before we had a chance to realize with certainty that Annie’s first name was not Nxxxxx.

Annie cooked a fine meal, but always stood in the kitchen while our family sat to eat at the table.  Her dinner was taken after the main meal from whatever leftovers there may have been in the same standing position in the kitchen.  We children asked repeatedly why she didn’t eat at the table with the family, and were always told the kitchen was her preferred place to eat.  Somehow in the light of today I find that difficult to believe.

Annie’s life was restricted far beyond her schooling and housing.  She lived in a society where “White Only” signs were posted on water fountains, public restrooms, and store windows.  Lunch counters admitted no blacks to their facilities in those years.  The distinction between races was stark and ever present.  The difference between the facilities offered to black and white residents was severe.  Water fountains offered to blacks were often inoperable.  Restroom facilities offered were mostly so unacceptable in condition that most people would avoid their use at all costs.  Blacks coming to town or shopping or business planned to be back home before needing any public accommodation.

In those days of my childhood black people were not given the status of human in most respects.  The society that surrounded blacks in those days saw them as somehow animalistic as the various epithets used as adjectives clearly showed.  Today we see the same degrading behavior toward the various foreign populations both in and out of this country.  One satellite radio channel uses derogatory terms to describe the opposition fighters in Iraq.  Many such epithets were applied in Viet Nam as has been discussed here already.  The abuse of human rights has a long history in our country.  We have much work to do to reverse the effects of our past action in this area.  Progress is being made, but we can never forget our history lest we fall back into old patterns once again.  

Vietnam: A Personal Recollection, Part II

copyright © 2007 Possum Tales.  Sedalia Tales

Part I of my story was posted earlier as a crosspost from Daily Kos.  [You may also wish to read Part I at BeThink.]  I am humbled with gratitude for all who took time to read the previous posting.  The support for one another so often expressed here in BlogLand takes my breath away one more time.  You cannot know how much that support means until you, too, have been a beneficiary.

This diary picks up just where the first part ended.  Travel down the yellow brick road and over the fold to the second part of the possum’s tale.

Once I left the field misery struck the company three more times.  One patrol called in air support that hit the patrol by mistake.  Several men died.  A lone Kentucky boy (I remember him best because were from the same home state) was killed by a sniper while on daytime sentry.  Another man was killed as he awakened a sleeping soldier for a change of the night sentry duty.  I learned of each tragic event from fellow soldiers out of the field and had no opportunity to discuss any of the episodes with fellows from the field company.  The dead men were all folk I knew superficially in the field.  Their deaths were just taken as part of the war and not given any special attention at the time.  The pure lack of emotion at the time seems remarkable today.  Just one more aspect of war that defies easy explanation or acceptance.

Endless days dragged by spent on a helicopter loading zone.  Long, boring, hot days punctuated by the occasional loading.  One memorable day included a helicopter flight as the lone passenger.  I held a security clearance high enough to deliver code books to field units and this was one of those days.  The pilots were having a fun time as we zipped along following the course of a small river part way.  When we left the river a man working his rice paddy with a water buffalo became the target of mischief.  In accordance with giving locals no respect the man was buzzed by a very low flight.  He dove into the water and the water buffalo left the scene running scared.  I always wondered just how that man recovered and what he lost along the way.

There were so many stories along the way.  Christmas was officially celebrated when the artillery ceased firing for 24 hours.  The sudden silence was deafening.  The children who were employed as drug runners near the helicopter pad were an interesting bunch.  They were chosen to carry drugs from seller to buyer since the MP’s were less likely to arrest or harm them in any way.  Most times the police just ran the kids off.  Today those children who survived might be in their 40’s an 50’s. 

Food in the field was always a challenge.  C-rations came in various incarnations, most of which would be considered inedible in our society today.  We managed to concoct different ways to make the stuff easier to consume and heated our meals on fires of burning C-4 (a plastic explosive very effective for making large explosions if struck or detonated by a spark).  We all carried a personal supply of C-4 for cooking.  After watching a landing zone being cleared with explosives we went about our mealtime without a single thought.  One day on sick call found me in a front line hospital unit.  The sights and sounds of that tent were a far cry from the TV show, M*A*S*H. 

The wounded were everywhere in the tent.  Medics were working feverishly to stabilize the members of both Vietnamese and American forces for transfer to other hospital units.  The scene was one of controlled chaos from which I quietly retreated, taking my aches and pains back to my unit.  Isolation was nearly complete.  We had very little news of the outside world.  An occasional Stars and Stripes came our way, but no real outside news was available.  We only had our daily struggle in a very limited world.

The time to go home arrived at last.  I remember a very different trip altogether than the trek over.  We were alive and well.  We were going home.  Happiness reigned.  I remember no real war stories on the return trip; although some such might have been a natural occurrence at the time.  Many of us were finished with our tours, while others were going home on leave before returning to some other duty.  The plane landed in Alaska in deep winter.  Disembarking from the plane dressed in jungle fatigues we faced a winter wind blowing snow across the tarmac.  Even though we went inside quickly, I still remember the cold shock of that landing.  Once back at Fort Lewis I got my new uniform with all the patches earned on the tour.  Traveling home in that new uniform with the serious suntan from days on the helicopter pad made me feel very self-conscious.  No one else seemed to take any special notice.  One airport layover had TV scenes of one early moon walk.  I was so disconnected from the real world that I had to be reminded later that the show was live and not a science fiction movie. 

Entering society once again was traumatic.  The transition from an all male war zone to family life was difficult.  For many months I was startled and would duck by reflex at any loud noise.  My family took many days to get over their concern at my reactions.  After time those automatic responses of mine died away. 

My two younger brothers were both facing the potential of being drafted.  By the time I was home my opposition to the war was deep.  My parents and I discussed the possibility of sending the brothers to Canada.  Luckily both were assigned lottery numbers that kept them from the draft.  To this day I am grateful we as a family did not face the decisions that tore so many families.

For years after coming home I tried to be a good citizen.  Voting in every election and keeping relative track of world news has always been important to me.  Still I kept my own counsel and did not speak out other than to the closest of friends.  Then came the first Gulf War with live coverage on a daily basis.  The memories of Vietnam began to come back in a flood and I came to believe that we as a nation were repeating the mistakes of history.

9/11, the run up to Afghanistan, and the subsequent invasion of Iraq solidified my worries.  At the time I remained opposed to the war and all it meant at home and abroad.  Learning that the administration outright lied about WMD’s and other facets made me really angry.  I found Delaware Pacem in Terris on a march commemorating an anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.  I found many new people with similar views of the war.  These new friends along with the regular vigils on the bridge in addition to a lengthening series of letters to the editor became a new way of life.  Not venting my anger and disappointment ceased to be an option.

Today I live in real fear of what world we are leaving behind.  Today I feel obligated to act in all the ways available to me as an individual to end the senseless violence that is war.  To that end I am grateful for the opportunity to share my personal story.  Nothing I might say can convey the reality of war.  To say that war is ugly is very much an understatement. 

To get some grasp of the reality that is war, put yourself in country.  Think of the fear.  Live in abject fear for a few moments.  If each minute as a single day in your life.  Remind yourself each moment that some people in the room may have just died.  Remind yourself that each minute might just be your last one on this earth.  Remember all the time the true face of war is ugly.  Think of living the fear of each and every day without admitting to any such thought.  The psychological trauma is the worst part.  No person can return from war without being changed inside.  The outside may be the same, but the inside always changes.

Today I do not know how to end the ongoing occupation of Iraq, or how to avoid such conflicts in the future but I do know with great certainty what many of our troops in Iraq today are going to feel in 30 years or so.

Two quotes to end.  These people said it all much better than I ever could.

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.
~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

Wars are rarely fought for the reasons that are claimed.  Those reasons amount to nothing more than bogus excuses, ways to hoodwink the gullible public, and the vilest propaganda designed to incite people to sacrifice their children for a supposedly glorious cause. 

The defense of freedom and democracy is one false claim that we often hear in this country.  This shameful claim could not be further from the truth. 

No one ever bothers to explain how our freedom and democracy are at risk in some obscure little country halfway around the world.  That’s because the sad and dirty truth is that wars are fought for empire and the financial gain of the few.
–Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, two time medal of honor winner at the time of his death the only such person.

Crossposted from Daily Kos.

Vietnam: A Personal Recollection, Part I

copyright © 2007 Possum Tales.  Sedalia Tales

The raccoons tale is bushy
The possum’s tail is bare.
The rabbit has no tail at all
Just a little bitty patch of hair.

Encouraged by other people and after the example of so many in BlogLand I offer my story.  Every person who spent time in Vietnam has a story.  Every one is different.  This is my personal story related to the best that memory serves today.  If you are so inclined follow over the fold and down the yellow brick road as the possum tells his tale.

My war experience was very easy in comparison to so many others yet I had more than enough for one lifetime.  The overall pain of the war has been diminished somewhat by the passage of time.  My time in country (in Vietnam) began in the summer of 1969 and ended in March, 1970, for a total of 179 days.  I celebrated a 23rd birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s in country.  I was assigned as communications chief for an infantry company in the central highlands.  We called An Khe and Pleiku our base camps but spent more time in the field than in camp.

I began my military experience by withdrawing from college.  My not being a student took away all deferments and I was soon 1-A and ready for the draft.  I joined the US Army in an effort to at least have a degree of choice in training.  Active duty in March, 1967, in Basic Training at Fort Benning, Georgia.  Training as a tank driver and gunner continued at Fort Campbell, KY, (the result of failed training choices and an army assignment instead).  Eighteen months in Germany with a tank battalion followed.  More training in Europe qualified me as a communications chief by the end of the Germany tour.

I started off to Vietnam after a thirty day leave at home.  Parting from family was a solemn and sad affair for all of us.  Airports are cold places at such times and Lexington, KY, was no better or worse than any other.  The first stage of my journey started at Fort Lewis, Washington, a gathering point for outgoing and returning soldiers at that time; although the two sets were kept well separated.  By the time of my assignment I knew enough about both the war and the American military to believe that no good could come from the situation.  My going to war was a final choice between getting on the plane or facing a court martial.  At the time I truly saw the going as a better option.  Today might bring a different choice.  Jail may not be so bad in contrast.  Hindsight is always a better vision. 

I remember a very quiet trip from Ft. Lewis.  We were all young, all male, and traveling on a military charter flight.  Some few saw the event as an adventure fueled by testosterone and the desire for some measure of glory.  I, like most, just wished to return home alive one day.  Fear and uncertainty about the future ruled my life that day.

The flight stopped briefly in Hawaii and in Guam.  At both places we disembarked for a short time before continuing our flight.  We arrived at Cam Ranh Bay in daylight hours.  My first sight of Vietnam included snow white beaches  landscape bordered by a lush, green landscape.  Vietnam is a semi-tropical country and is really quite beautiful if one is only a tourist.  I remember wondering if and when I would ever see those shores again.

Dehumanization began quickly?in time of war every individual becomes an object.  All the slang terms about the opposing forces were introduced in the first few minutes of welcome.  The enemy and the allies all become in many ways the same in how the opposition is seen.  On the weapons ranges we fired at targets that were vaguely human in shape.  In Vietnam I remember targets with cartoonish human torsos painted on.  The entire process was aimed at producing soldiers able to kill other humans without a single thought.

I had no real friends in my group.  The realities of war precluded any close attachments among us.  The danger of losing a friend kept most of us to acquaintance without real relationship.  Conversations were kept very superficial.  We complained about the food, the heat, the trek, the equipment, and so on.  Fear was not part of the conversation.  Not one of us ever admitted aloud that he was afraid, or at least not that I ever heard.

Mere days before my assignment to the company in the field the group met an ambush.  Several men died.  I cannot remember a single time when anyone in the field at the time ever mentioned that event to me.  Those deaths were just more lost objects.  The reality of the moment took over each and every day.  Not one of us could dwell on the death of a comrade for that would remind us of our own precarious position.

In the field we were on the move most days.  Sometimes we would camp for as much as 2-3 days but more often we were moving 2-3 days at a time.  On the march we carried all we owned along with food, water, ammunition, weapons, and communications gear.  The loads were heavy and often difficult to manage in the heat.  As communications chief for the company I carried our secure radio gear and extra batteries.  The total including provisions, rifle, ammunition, and extraneous gear likely weighed in excess of 80 pounds.  I found the moving all day with such a load an extreme physical test.  My body was just not made for such.  Every day we marched was a real test of my mental and physical endurance.  Each of those days was a nightmare to be endured.  Time encamped was time to be relished and enjoyed to the limits of the circumstance.

My company operated in an area that contained farm land with rice paddies along side serious hillsides.  We walked right through whatever terrain we met with the company in single file, spaced 5 meters apart as a safety precaution.  As a group of about 80 at any given time we caused quite a bit of damage in passing through when we walked through a rice paddy, but there was never any concern expressed by our officers about what we injury we were causing the locals.  The local citizenry was given no thought at all as we moved about.  By the same token we were similarly ignored for the most part.  We remained vigilant at all times since we were not able to distinguish combatants from friends.  Even children were said to be recruited to deliver live grenades in soda cans.  At least I was not exposed to any such incident.

We often moved through jungle areas to find an area of defoliation.  Agent Orange was very effective at removing leaves from all the trees.  We passed craters caused by bombs dropped from the B-52’s.  Those craters were large enough (often 20 meters or more in diameter) that detouring around the perimeter was sometimes our chosen path.  Our path on any given day was often unknown until the night before.  Other times we had an assignment that lasted as much as 2-3 consecutive days.  Maps were not always as accurate as the satellite guided devices of today so we often found ourselves on a hilltop different from the one we thought. 

Any time the company was set in place sentries were kept on duty 24 hours a day.  During daylight hours patrols explored the surrounding countryside.  Only one time did I volunteer for such a patrol.  Being in a completely foreign zone with such a small number of people gave me a feeling of abject fear such as I have not felt at any other time in life.  Other members of the company took such patrols at regular intervals as a part of their assignment in country.  How they managed to do so I still cannot quite fathom.

One of the daily patrols encountered locals who may or may not have been armed.  In accordance with accepted procedure the patrol opened fire.  No return fire came.  No weapons were found.  The only artifacts in the area were clothing and household goods in a nearby cave.  Apparently the people were just living in the mountains and taking no part in the war.  From our perspective, all who were not in American uniforms were seen as enemies. 

About halfway through my tour, my time in the field ended.  I returned to a base camp and moved on to a fire base as part of my communications duties.  The fire base accommodated an artillery company along with two infantry companies.  My group was assigned to dig and build a bunker large enough for a complete command communications setup.  That meant a dig several feet in each dimension deep, wide, and long.  The bunker was not completed before we were moved once again; although we did manage about 4 feet deep, 8 feet wide, and perhaps 20 feet long before we were relieved of the duty. 

During our time on the fire base sniper fire from the surrounding jungle was a regular event.  The artillery made an attractive small arms and mortar target.  While my comrades stood to see the action I always found a place at the bottom of the bunker.  I wished only to go home alive.  I felt none of the seductive effect violence so often engenders in men.

Down Home: The Mountain Lion

copyright © 2007 Possum Tales.  Sedalia Tales

Storytelling is a fine art in the part of the country where I was raised.  We often visit those same places in our travels today.  Tall tales are told in various events often called a “Liars Contest.”  The stories are most often told in the first person and are very often either humorous or scary.  Most stories are passed down from one teller to the other by the oral tradition.  Many of the stories also had some moral or philosophical teaching attached to the tale.  Most of the ones in my memory had something to do with animals like the family story about my grandfather and the mule. What follows is a traditional story heard in recent days at a music festival in West Virginia.  The story was told by a contestant in the Liars Contest at the festival.  Follow over the fold and down the trail to Possum Valley for another tale from possum and his friends.

The possum family travels at regular intervals to various points mostly inside the United States.  One recent trek took us to California just about 30 miles inland from the ocean in a mountainous part of southern California.  We stayed in a small cabin as part of a larger contingent of folk attending a convention of sorts at the site. 

One morning I took it upon myself to take a walk for health and refreshment.  Trails led from the back of the convention site into a large forested area.  The first sight along the trail was a bulletin board with various rules and regulations for the forest.  In the middle of the postings was a computer generated picture of a mountain lion with the warning:  MOUNTAIN LIONS SIGHTED IN THIS AREA. 

hacker, Flickr, Creative Commons

The poster went on to suggest actions one should take in case of face-to-face confrontation with a mountain lion.

alexstaubo, Flickr, Creative Commons

The first thing to do is to make one’s self look as large as possible.  Well, that is pretty tough for a guy like me who as a teen could turn sideways and hide behind a small sapling.  Time has expanded the girth a bit, but not so much as to be very noticeable.

The second recommendation is look the animal right in the eye.  “Stare with focus and intensity,” the sign said.  OK, that seemed like a fine idea and one that could be managed without real difficulty.

Last, but not least, move backward away from the mountain lion.  Well, for a change there was some real sense in this thing.  Moving away with all alacrity seemed to me to be a reasonable idea, but the sign suggested moving slowly.  Food for thought I thought.

I took the trek in spite of the warnings thinking that this was too beautiful a day to be in any sort of danger at all.  The trail twisted and turned along a mountain ridge.  The river could be heard not far away down the slope.  Just around one turn I came face to face with the world’s biggest, meanest, fangs hanging down, saliva dripping, chipmunk.

ogwen, Flickr, Creative Commons

And right behind that chipmunk was the world’s biggest, meanest, fangs hanging down, mountain lion ever seen in those parts.

guppiecat, Flickr, Creative Commons

That mountain lion took one look at me and must have thought to himself that here was a better breakfast than one little chipmunk.  As soon as that chipmunk saw the mountain lion looking at me, he took advantage of the situation and headed off into the underbrush alongside the trail.

I thought of the poster back at the beginning of the trail, lifted my T-shirt and tried to look as big as possible.  The effect was more of one large pop tart than of any real threat to the mountain lion.  He continue to stare while I stared back and tried to back away slowly.  All the while my mind was whirring with ways to end this standoff without my ending my days on this earth.

A vision of Tarzan came to mind.  Whenever a lion attacked Tarzan, he ducked down under the leaping cat, reached up and grabbed the lion in midair, twisted him around and caught the animal in a full Nelson over his shoulder.  The technique always seemed to work for Tarzan so why not for me?  Now just remember that large pop tart and think how afraid you’d be if a pop tart attacked you in the kitchen one morning before breakfast.

The mountain lion soon tired of staring and leapt.  I ducked down, reached up and caught the creature in midair, twisted him around, and caught him in a full Nelson over my right shoulder.  There we stood.  The mountain lion was restrained, but was beginning to be pretty unhappy at his circumstance.  The situation was not helped one little bit by the presence of the chipmunk who had returned to say, “Nanny, nanny, boo-boo” to the mountain lion. 

My mind continued to whirl.  What was I going to do with a live and angry mountain lion?  I could not let him loose for fear of another attack nor could I hold him this way for very long.  Suddenly inspiration struck like a lightning bolt.  I was once a preacher.  For several years I delivered a sermon every Sunday.  I learned people were affected one of two ways by such sermons.  Either they were saved or they went to sleep.  I began to preach with all my might.  Pretty soon that mountain lion was sound asleep and snoring.

That brought a new dilemma–what to do with a sleeping mountain lion?  I was afraid to put him down for fear he’d wake up and attack again.  I could not hold him forever either.  The idea of a baptism came to mind.  After all if he were saved he might just begin to find a new way of life and not attack me after all.

Off to the river I headed.  Now my preaching was in a church that sprinkled folk, but I didn’t really know about the lion.  I thought he might be from a different line of thinking and maybe a real dunking would be a better way to go.  We reached the river and I waded in.  I dunked that mountain lion right under the water.  When we came up for air he was mighty miffed.  In fact that wet cat was downright angry all over again.  I had forgotten how much cats dislike water.

Then I remembered that cats have nine lives.  That meant he needed to be baptized nine times to save all of his lives.  Back to dunking I went.  We dunked about seven or eight times when a voice from the bank rang out, “Unhand that mountain lion!”  On the bank was this vision of long golden hair in the sunlight.  Closer examination revealed a woman wearing a uniform.  She held out a wallet with a badge and underneath fell a foldout of various membership and identification cards.  She was an officer of the California Department of Natural Resources and a card carrying member of the Audubon Society, the Tea Drinkers of America, Yogurt Consumers Association, and about a dozen other nature and natural resource societies.

Without even thinking about what I was doing I let loose that wet and angry cat.  He went off to the right toward the bank while I headed to the left.  That was the last either the mountain lion or I saw of each other.  And that is the end of this tale.

Moral:  Experience is what you get most often just after you needed it.

Down Home: Grandaddy and the Mule

copyright © 2007 Possum Tales.  Sedalia Tales

Family stories are as varied and individual as are lives and families.  In some families stories are a rite of passage handed down by oral tradition.  My grandfather was a man of few words.  Even so as a child I heard him tell this tale many times.  Each and every time my grandmother was present for the telling.  The significance of her presence was not evident to me until my adulthood, and even now I wonder if I got it right.

Follow one more time down the yellow brick road, across the river, and over the fold for one of the possum’s favorite family tales.

My grandparents were farmers living in far western Kentucky during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  Their wedding likely took place around 1910.  Grandaddy and Grandmother were married in a small country church not far from their home.  The trek home meant a mule and wagon ride as they were too poor to own anything so fine as a horse and buggy. 

But back to the story.  Mules are known for having a certain degree of stubborn resistance to being told what to do.  The trip home began without event.  All was well until the mule stopped and refused to move any further no matter the urgings from the driver’s seat.  Grandaddy said in a quiet and calm voice, “That’s one,” dismounted, walked to the mule’s head, and whispered in the mule’s ear.  Upon Grandaddy’s return to the reins the mule set off down the road with real alacrity.

No too far down the road the mule halted again, refusing to move in spite of all Grandaddy’s exhortations from the buggy seat.  The distance home remained significant.  Once again Grandaddy spoke more loudly than was customary for him saying, “That’s two,” and  dismounted to whisper in the mule’s ear.  The mule  responded to the command of the reins and the journey started up one more time.

They hadn’t traveled much farther before the mule stopped right in the middle of the road.  This time Grandaddy spoke in the sort of gruff tones that were rarely ever heard from him, “That’s three,” dismounted, went to the mule’s front end, and taking his favorite pistol shot shot the mule right between the eyes.  Grandmother, being an observant woman saw the reality of their situation, newly married, far from home, and nothing to do now but walk the rest of the way.  Life was not going the way she anticipated that day.  A defining moment in life came as Grandmother took real exception to Grandaddy’s action complaining, “That mule was all we had to get us around.  Now we have no way to get home.  What are we going to do?”

Grandaddy returned to the wagon and spoke quietly to Grandmother saying in his usual way of simple and direct speech, “That’s one.”  For the next 50 plus years of life together both of them agreed they never had another argument.

Crossposted from Daily Kos.

Sad Conversations With Bushies

copyright © 2007 Possum Ponders.  Sedalia Tales

One recent morning as twelve of us stood on the sidewalk for our regular Saturday morning vigil, a young (thirty-something) man approached.  He smiled and seemed friendly enough with his greeting.  He said he’d seen us there the week before and just wished to see what we were about.  Our signs made very clear just what we were about.  We mourn for those who have died and protest the war in an effort to end the ongoing succession of deaths.  Signs always include the number of Americans killed in Iraq to date and today included at least one with the “T” word.  We are pretty outspoken overall and even at that do practice measured restraint in our messages.  More beyond the fold.

Recognizing our hats (mine says Vietnam Veteran) and the uniform shirt of another man, he stumbled over the words “so you are veterans.”  Not all of us are, but two of us right in front of him just happened to be.  Then the one way conversation began with “What do you think we should do about terrorists and what about the Buddhist terrorists?”  (his words, not mine).  No amount of explanation of either fact or history was to deter the young man.  He continued to be polite but misinformed through a several minute conversation.  One member of the group gave him a DVD to review and we all invited him back next week to continue the interaction.

Hard as we tried, none of the three of were able to penetrate the right-wing slogan spouting ideas the man posited.  We simply could find no common ground from which to begin a real conversation.  His ideas were set in bedrock and we had no drill strong enough to penetrate the barrier.

Today’s episode reminded me of last weekend spent with my creationist, fundamentalist Christian, right-winger, war supporting son.  He is an adult who lives with a wife in North Carolina.  We spent a weekend as father and son in Virginia Beach.  Our goal was to find some of the connections we had when he was younger.  Just as we have so many times, we were forced at last to keep the conversation to light subjects for complete lack of common ground.  Saturday was spent hanging out in the hotel room while he watched TV and I followed a childhood story diary of mine on Kos.  Our only meaningful conversation had to do with creationism.  Even there we had no middle ground.  At least he agreed to read a book on the subject.  I mailed the book early this week.  Will be interesting to see if he finds any place for the book in his life.

How do we approach these closed minds.  I am at a breaking point in frustration.  So many are so misled and continue to ignore facts in the face of the fiction being put out from the administration.  Finding common ground is sometimes outside my reach even though I pride myself on being a somewhat sane and very rational human being.  Whatever are we to do indeed?

Crossposted from Daily Kos.

Responding to Life Today

copyright © 2007 Possum Tales.  Sedalia Tales

Life has a way of taking twists and turns that most of us don?t really expect.  In recent days we have seen a Democratic Congress fail to oppose ongoing spending in Iraq in spite of what so many of us in blogland expected.  On top of the continuing toll of American deaths and the damage to our economy as a result of war spending the toll is being taken on our psyche.  Add in all the other concerns like global warming, the various costs of living, and so on and on and life becomes a very complex issue indeed.

Most humans tend to react almost spontaneously when events come to their life.  Road rage is one class example.  A driver cuts us off and we immediately rise to anger and often speak or act in ways that demonstrate our feelings.  The same happens when other events touch our lives.  We tend to react in opposition to those events which cause any measure of discomfort.  Anger, striking out, resentment, unhappiness and so on begin to consume our lives.

The Buddhists teach a different way which is not an area of expertise of mine, but is an interesting perspective for sure.  Some teachers recommend reaching inside our own self for that place of peace and tranquility that resides deep within each of us.  My thinking suggests that is a part of our soul, but that is just my way of seeing this.  To reach that point of peace we can take a few deep breaths and a few moments of quiet contemplation before acting.  At that time we are likely to be better able to act in ways that are productive in changing the course of events or at least in meeting the situation head on without damaging ourselves in the process.

The current issues with Congress and the apparent Dem failure is a fine example of a threatening outside event.  We can rant and rave and call them all the names we wish to assign or we can reach deep inside and find peace in ourselves and get back to work.  We can write, call, and Fax our Congress critters to let them know our disappointment and our annoyance.  Action to a positive end has its own rewards.  We may not always attain the goals set by our thoughts and actions, but at least we have the personal reward in knowing we were active.

As always action is the best medicine available in my life today.  I write letters to the editor, call my Congress critters, and stand a pair of weekly vigils for peace as described here and here.  No longer am I able to sit and stew.  I must reach inside often to find inner peace and serenity.  Action helps me reach that place and helps heal the hurts inflicted by so many events of today.  Life may continue its twists and turns, but it seems to me we must all keep ourselves alive and well by acting in the best interests of our overall society.  In the end that will assure the twists and turns of life lead to a better future for all of us.

Down Home: Childhood Travels

copyright © 2007 Possum Tales.  Sedalia Tales

Traveling is always such sweet sorrow.  New places, new people, new lodgings, new food.  So much to experience.  So many very varied experiences along the way.  Not all of those times were good ones.  Follow down the road, around the bend, and across the fence to another of the possum’s tales.

When I was a child my family traveled two times a year nearly every year.  One trip was around the state where we visited various historical landmarks and state parks.  We most always drove in those days as air travel was expensive and by the time of most of my memories there were three growing boys in the family.

By age 10 or so all recollections of car travels start with the sickness bag.  Every time we went more than about one hour or so my stomach began to rebel.  We tried a wide variety of changes along the way in an effort alleviate the issue but nothing seemed to work.  Food.  No food.  Crackers and clear soda (Mother really believed that colored sodas caused stomach upsets).  Milk.  In the middle of the seat.  By the window.  Window open.  Window closed.  Front seat.  Back seat.  All were failures.  I was simply doomed to being sick most all day as we wandered about.  In response to my gastric condition our moving was often interrupted so I could empty the tank by the side of the road.  Once all stomach contents were safely deposited, we went on our way while I held a bag for minor issuances. 

One memorable trek took us through the mountains of eastern Kentucky.  The curves and hillsides did nothing nice for my GI tract and those steep roadside cliffs aggravated my vertigo.  The situation was hopeless for me.  One time we stopped to view a swinging bridge that crossed a deep gorge.  The bridge was the sole connection to the highway for the locals.  My brothers were happy to run right to the middle of the bridge.  During a few moments of gastric calm I managed to approach the bridge.  By about 10 feet out I was reduced to crawling on hands and knees to return to the safety of land.  The motion and the height both acted to make my experience miserable.

We always stopped along the way at restaurants that seemed to have the right kind of character.  There were very few restaurant chains in those days so we tried to find local places with busy parking lots.  At least one time that idea worked to our distinct disadvantage.  The restaurant was moderately full and the seating arrangements were fine.  The first signs of trouble came with delays in getting menus and water delivered to the table.  The situation went down hill as we finally placed our order and began an interminable wait for food.  After about an hour in the place, my usually placid and intractable father announced we were leaving.  He canceled the orders and we walked out to begin the food search over again.

That same stop was plagued with trouble.  Dad left the car at a gas station trusting them to fill the tank.  When we retrieved the car and started down the road the gas gage still pointed to empty.  Dad, now hungry and frustrated really spoke harshly to the attendants at the station.  As they all protested that gas indeed was put in the tank, he pointed to the gas gage as contrary evidence.  The attendant showed him the fill level of the tank.  It was then we discovered the gage was dead and for the remainder of the trip we relied on mileage as a sign of need for gasoline. 

Our trips did not often entail much in the way of worry, but aside from the food and gasoline troubles we had motel trouble one time.  The parental figures used AAA as a recommender for motels.  We would pull in to any place that had an AAA sign out front if we needed a place to stay.  One evening we did our usual and took a pair of rooms for the night.  Dad left travelers’ checks for payment and off we went to settle in for the night.  Trouble struck early.  One room was just fine, but the second was very small and had a sloping ceiling that put one of us boys sleeping with his face just about on the ceiling.  The same room had air conditioner problems and no TV.  After having several discussions with the desk personnel, Dad decided were leaving for some place else.  He picked me to announce the decision to the desk and to retrieve his money.  I still remember the abject embarrassment of going to the clerk for a refund.  I was a shy child in general and that interaction mortified me.  Only my hearty respect for Dad pushed me into going without a real fuss.

On very long trips my parents took turns driving.  Dad did the most, but when Mother drove he often took advantage of a split back seat and slept with one side of the seat folded down.  The car in those days was a Pontiac station wagon, so Dad slept with two brothers beside him on the seat while the lucky brother rode in the front.  To this day I can see my dad asleep while we kept moving down the road.  I can also hear the squawking as we boys tried to decide who had the next turn in front.  We never seemed to remember whose turn was next and each of us always knew it was his own. 

I am grateful to this day for all the traveling we did in my childhood.  We saw so many new places an met so many new people.  Not all may have been perfect, but the overall was very good indeed.  Traveling by car remains a favorite experience of mine today as the car sickness of childhood went away in later teen years.

The Local LTE Writing Group

copyright © 2007 Possum Tales.  Sedalia Tales

Letters to the editor may be the simplest and cheapest way available today to send any message you choose to a selected population of people.  Apparently readership of the editorial page of the newspaper is the second most highly read page of all. 

A Siegel in a recent diary asked what folk were publishing these days.  In the past week I have had the privilege of publishing a pair of LTE’s (letters to the editor) in our hometown newspaper.  One of those letters carries my name and the other is signed by a member of a local letter-writing group formed for the expressed purpose of getting letters published in the local newspaper.  Follow down the hall and into the pressroom for a description of the possum’s letter writing group.

The letter-writing group formed as an outreach of our local peace group.  One member of the group noted how seldom letters of an antiwar nature appeared in our hometown newspaper.  She proposed we start a group to encourage the writing of appropriate letters to the editor.  Several people joined the group immediately and others have since been recruited.

The way the system works is very simple.  Some person in the group writes a letter (most often in our group I am the author and usually letters are 200-300 words in length) and submits the letter to the group by e-mail.  Any person in the group can claim the letter, edit to their own tastes, and submit through the newspaper website.  We include the web address and contact information in the original letter posting like this:

Please consider the following letter for submission to the xxxxx or other newspaper of your choosing.  If the newspaper confirms the letter please do not mention the ghost writing aspect.  Once you claim a letter, make your own edits.  With submission the work is fully yours.

To submit to the local paper,
(website here, but omitted for the very public nature of this diary)

To submit to any other newspaper, just follow that publication’s instructions.  In that instance please let the other folk in the group know so we can avoid multiple submissions of the same letter.  Any single person may make multiple submissions to different news outlets.  We just don’t want the same letter appearing over different signatures.

Thanks, Possum

Over the past many months we have been doing this we have averaged 2-3 letters published per month.  The newspaper does not choose many letters and some are not taken for submission by anyone in the group.  The more letters that are submitted over different signatures the better the chance seems to be of someone getting a letter published.  Today our newspaper limits any single person to one letter per month.  Before that time our publication record was even better with multiple letters published by the same person.  The same or similar idea should be valid for most any area of the country.  This is not original with our group.  Even the local Dem committee apparently has some similar process. 

Letters shared by e-mail the way we do today can be shared around the country for publication in various places so long as the issue of multiple authors submitting a single letter is avoided.  Whatever happens along the way any message can be spread easily and effectively with letters to the local newspaper editor.

See also the following dKos diaries for tips, hints, and general advice on writing the letter itself:
By daulton here.
By bb10 here.
By mymuspolyglottis here.
See this linkto locate a newspaper near you.  Just plug in your Zip code and go.

Crossposted at Daily Kos.