Thursday, February 29, 2024

The bleakest season . . .

It's that extra day in the year, February 29th, one that comes only every four years. The last time it came I was in my sixties, and still within a distant last sighting of any of my 3 children more than a decade earlier . Now I'm in my seventies and my last sighting of any of my children has slipped to two decades earlier. The divorce you know.

This the the day the bleak third of the year ends each year, usually on March 1st, occasionally on February 29th. For persons estranged from their loved ones darkness often descends on Thanksgiving, the start of the holiday season, and ends . . . ? For me it's always at the end of February when my youngest child, now in his mid-thirties, has his birthday at the regular end of the month. The other two sons cram their birthdays in between the New Year and the youngest's birthday. Time moves on, you know?
Do I still care? Yeah, I guess so. Probably a lot. But less so now, as the years-now decades-march on. Their mother made a fine job of poisoning their tender minds back then against me and all Lambertons, none of whom have heard from them since they were mere children. She painted with a broad brush, and has made a lifetime work of it. She's truly extraordinary in her accomplishment, and the boys-now men-have an unnatural enmity hardening their hearts. I'm sorry for them. C'est la vie, or perhaps, c'est la guerre.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

The Phone Call

2023 in Review. August 2d. The phone rang at 6:30 AM her time, exactly two weeks after we’d tenderly kissed goodbye and I’d driven away at midnight, a fortnight filled with my phone calls not being taken because she was wiped, busy, buzzed, would call me later. “Are you sitting down?” the familiar voice asked.

For three minutes I wordlessly listened to how blessed she was to have known me and how kind and generous I was. How devoted and considerate I’d been when I’d taken care of her after her terrible bike accident when no family member had had the time nor inclination to come visit her during her two days in the hospital or during those first awful ten days of recovery at home, with her displaced front teeth splinted shut to save them, stitches in her eyebrow and from her lip to her nose to close gaping lacerations, her voice barely discernible from a blow to her larynx, contusions all over her body and her head wracked with pain from a concussion.

 She continued on about how smart and what a good writer I was, and how much she’d learned from me. I could tell she was reading from a list of bullet points she’d written down beforehand, a lawyer’s trick I’d taught her to do before she undertook any important phone call so she could unerringly stay on point and not be swayed from her main purpose. And she was unswerving in where she was going, everything was in the past tense.

 She was wrapping it up. But we were so different! Although we got along so fabulously and had always had such a great time together, now that she was established in her new life so far away, and a long distance relationship was so tenuous no matter how temporary it was, and given how opposite our outlooks and personalities were—her voice gave off a tiny little sob, a manipulative trick in her bag of feminine wiles that I knew well from having heard its use before to create an instant of sympathy and empathy for herself during a highly wrought moment—“We should each go our own separate ways now.”

She paused—it was my turn. I hesitated for a second as thirteen wonderful, blessed months raced in a jumble through my mind. I loved her deeply, and she had said many months earlier, while crying at the realization, that she loved me, but now she obviously wanted nothing further to do with me, I had somehow become a leper to her. In a sudden, three minute termination interview over the phone I had just been discharged.

 I remembered how she had definitely kept me sealed off in July from any of her friends back here that she visited when she came back for a week to see her dental specialist, although many of them had seen us as a couple before she’d moved away in February. I drove a thousand miles gallivanting all over with her that week, but I never met even one friend of hers except her friend in Charlotte for two minutes in the driveway in the dark while we unloaded her bags before I drove away to return home, because it had been made clear that there was no room for me in her friend's expansive house that night or by her side during the next two days’ activities either.

And except for her sister, whom I had contacted on the afternoon of her accident in September of 2022 to say that she was in the ER, I don’t think anyone else in her family knew that I existed or that we were in a “serious relationship” all those months, to use her own words to her sister. Or maybe they did, or perhaps they found out from her sister when my presence didn’t fade away after she had fully recovered and effected her move out west, and they were aghast that she was still in a “serious relationship” with a white, East Coast liberal who fervently believed in choice, sensible gun control, and that women or gay persons could serve as pastors or priests every bit as well as heterosexual or sacerdotally celibate men, stances which I had perceived over time to be anathema in whole or in part to some or most of her immediate family members her age.

I thought with an aching heart of the common grief we had shared those many months of close togetherness over our estranged children, a son and a daughter for her and three boys for me, as a result of our separate, bitter divorces and the pernicious influences exerted thereby upon each set of tender children by other, abusive adults (Parental Alienation Syndrome, or "PAS," is a form of abuse--towards children). Now a descent back into that yawning, lonely void, alone again without a friendly voice to share my sorrow with any more, was my immediate and probable long term or lifelong prospect once again.

 "Goodbye,” I said. A tiny voice came back, “Bye.” The connection was severed.

All reactioners


Thursday, January 11, 2024

The Visit

In July a friend visited me from out west and we had a wonderful time traveling about for almost a week. After she met with a specialist in the District for some followup treatment, we played pickleball in my town and then we travelled to Maryland where we feasted on a dozen crabs in Annapolis and spent a magical three days on the Eastern Shore. We shopped for art and she bought a southwestern piece to have sent out to her apartment, we rode bicycles, enjoyed an elixir by the harbor and explored Tilghman Island.

Next we jumped into my car and drove to Virginia where we visited a fabled postbellum hotel in Richmond. While my friend attended, in its grand lobby setting, a formal English tea which she had reserved at exorbitant cost, with some family members who naturally arrived late, I walked over to the Virginia War Museum down by the river to have a look at it and gaze at the water. When her desultory "family reunion" was concluded she called me back and we returned to Fairfax. There we hung out in our old haunts in Mosaic, saw a movie, did some shopping and partook in a happy hour at our favorite English Pub, where we each had a gin and tonic that turned to lavender from clear when we touched it. Afterwards we ate a dinner of fish cakes, shepherd's pie and had a sticky toffee pudding for dessert.

The next day we attended a service at a nearby church of my faith which had a cool outdoor altar, cross and labyrinth that I had wanted to show her, and then she attended a service at her former church and afterwards she had lunch with her friends.

When she picked me back up in my car late that afternoon, we drove down the Shenandoah Valley to North Carolina where I dropped her off at midnight in Charlotte and drove home overnight so that she could visit with a friend there for a couple of days and then fly home.

I had taken a photograph we both admired of a fiery sunrise on the Eastern Shore during our travels; I didn’t suspect then, being obtuse or perhaps blindly unaware, that as a result of her recent move I had somehow become merely a naive suitor of hers rather than something far closer just a short time earlier, and the picture better represented a fast approaching sunset rather than a grand burgeoning dawn.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Pickleball Wars

Pickleball Musings from a FB post I wrote in July. Here in September, this woman can't beat me, yet. We played to 11-6 recently (in singles, which is much different from doubles). It won't be long.

I'm creating a Frankenstein monster. For three weeks I have been helping a woman new to pickleball (she started 5 weeks ago she claims) who is younger than me by several years and much more fit (she runs for things but doesn't always get there) by practicing with her one-on-one for 75 minutes two or three times a week. Decades ago she played a little tennis.

She asked me to help her with her serve, which never went in, and her game which was all over the place. Serving rules in PB are dumb, so I dumbed it down for her. Just drop it (and then all the fussy rules don't apply) I told her, and hit it on the bounce up into that big rectangle over there diagonally and you'll instantly improve your game 100%. Because you can't score if you don't get your serve in, period.
But I want a deep serve (to keep her opponent back and on the defensive) she said. Just get it in, I said, and deepness, and a good shortness which is a tricky change of pace and can produce an ace, will come. That's what we did the first week; using my 8 practice balls I would demonstrate putting 22 of 24 soft serves in, and that was 22 serves I could pick up points on. She is a quick study, and being competitive, she simplified her serve by converting to a bounce serve and ditching the awkward high-shoulder drop, dropping the ball from waist-high instead (better control as to where the ball will bounce up to) and softened her service strike by foregoing smash or spin attempts, and now she never misses putting a serve in. And once or twice she gets an "ace" in each game because her serve suddenly bounces short and is unreachable.
Then we worked on rallying, off our serves. We don't keep score, we just serve to each other and hit it back and forth, back and forth and back and forth till it goes out or in my case, she hits a slant shot to the other half court on my side (she's good at those and never puts this "touch" shot out) that I eschew running for because I'm old, heavy and tired. She always pulls up short and cries, "Yes!" when she does this which makes me chuckle.
Then to get back, when she serves next I hit the return low and hard to the spot she just vacated as she moves towards the center of her court (i.e. behind her) and watch as she reverses, sprints for it, lunges and, barely missing it, cries out in exaggerated anguish. It's fun and funny.
So in two weeks she picked up serving, returning and rallying, and added her natural talent at slant shots (balls off to the side). But her backhand was weak and she jumped at the ball, waving at it in a backhanded stab that rarely made it over the net. Can't generate any power if your feet are off the ground, I told her. Plus she wasn't getting set for the shot, she was always moving towards the ball but never "arriving at it." So we worked on that this week and she came up with, on her own, incorporating a 2-handed backhand, which a few players have but not many. Her BH improved exponentially as we practiced (she got properly set by using the 2-handed technique) and today I watched as she played at Senior Drop-In games looking like Evonne Goolagong raking double-fisted backhands by Chris Evert, one after another. In only five weeks, I wondered?
I've been working for 11 long months to get to where I actually win occasionally, and I "only" lose 9-11 to the immortals now at Drop-In (being, of course, partnered with an immortal whom I cause to lose alongside of me) instead of 2-11. I've been getting backhanded compliments lately, Peter your game has really improved! Now I look at my "student" and wonder if I'll be able to beat her in August even. Didn't the monster creation kill Dr. Frankenstein?

Saturday, September 3, 2022

I read more than a dozen books in 2020 . . .

. . . and these are the dozen that I thought were the most impressive, in order of best to less significant.

1.    The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe 1944-45 V3 of the Liberation Trilogy by Rick Atkinson (2013). The conclusion of Pulitzer Prize winning Atkinson's opus on the Allied ETO war effort from the American POV. The trilogy reaches its conclusion with complete victory over Nazi Germany in this stunning denouement that details the end of WW2 in Europe, from the D-Day landings to the fall of Berlin (to the Russians) with the Anglo-American armies poised on the Elbe River a short distance away and Germany prostate and utterly beaten.

2.    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960). This book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and is a revered American novel, with small-town lawyer Atticus Finch fighting for justice in the Jim Crow south even as his two small children, Scout and Jem grow up in a racist town. Boo Radley, a reclusive figure who strikes fear in their hearts, saves them in the end in a morality tale that shows that often nothing is as it appears to be.

3.    An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa 1942-43 V1 of the Liberation Trilogy by Rick Atkinson (2002). This Atkinson book about Operation Torch, the American landings in Vichy French North Africa, won the Pulitzer Prize for history. Atkinson is a florid writer--it's almost like you're reading literature, no history--and using all sorts of metaphors he describes the North African campaign where: a) the Americans got into the fight against the fearsome German army for the first time; and b) learned how to take on the Wehrmacht; c) learned valuable amphibious assault lessons against feeble, half-hearted resistance that the Vichy troops threw up; which d) stood them in good stead for invading Sicily, then Italy and then the Big Show, Normandy.

4.    American Predator: The Hunt For The Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan (2019). This true-crime book is a page-turner (I stayed up all night reading it). Utterly fascinating and chilling.

5.    Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (2015). The sinking of this passenger liner (reputedly carrying munitions to the Allies) in 2015 almost brought America into the Great War a couple of years before Woodrow Wilson, a president too proud to fight, finally successfully petitioned Congress for a declaration of war against Germany in 2017. The narrative recreating the destruction of the great ship is memorable.  Interestingly, infected American troops going Over There in 1918 brought on the deadly "Spanish Flu"pandemic of 1918-1919 which killed 60 million persons worldwide, triple the number of persons killed by The War To End All Wars. The flu had originated in the cattle farms of rural Iowa, where it was a local phenomena of "pneumonia" which spread to the troop barracks on the East Coast then to the trenches of the frontlines in France and then to the world.

6.    Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution by Nathanial Philbrick (2013). A long version of the Bunker Hill battle, fought on Breed's Hill in Charlestown across the bay from Boston, and the people and events leading up to it and resulting from it.

7.    The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan (1959). The old standby reference for the D-Day invasion that liberated Europe from the Nazi scourge.

8.    Lincoln's Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers Home by Matthew Pinsker (2003).  An interesting book about "Lincoln's Summer Cottage," a little known National Historical Place on the northern edge of Washington which Lincoln rode to, usually alone, every evening during the summers because it was cooler there. He was shot at, accosted, and suffered a runaway horse before a guard troop was finally encamped there. The book touches on the emancipation proclamation, claiming it was largely written there.

9.    Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution by James McPherson (1993). The redefinition of liberal democracy expostulated at Gettysburg.  A new birth of freedom.  All those white national January 6th fascistic traitors should effin' read this book.

10. The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy 1943-44 V2 of the Liberation Trilogy by Rick Atkinson (2007). The Allied effort in the ETO continued with a leap across the Mediterranean to Sicily then Italy. But this was bloody war in a sock for the Allies because Italy has a mountainous spine and the Germans always had the high ground. The Americans on the left and the British on the right hammered away in frontal assaults on well-prepared and heavily fortified mountain strongholds for two years, lending little to the Allied success in beating Nazi Germany.  Vally after valley had a mountain range bristling with enemy guns facing it.  The idea was to tie down German divisions thereby helping the Soviets on the Eastern Front but the Allies expended more divisions in attacking than the Germans used in defense.

11.    Custer's Fall: The Native American Side of the Story by David Humphreys (1957). I'm a sucker for any book on Custer. I didn't find anything new here. Read Black Elk Speaks by John Neihardt (1932) instead.

12.    The Life of Johnny Reb by Bell Irvin Riley (1943). This has long been considered a classic Civil War exposition by this Emory University professor using local sources of how the hardy, emaciated Rebel soldier lived and fought but I found it to be long, boring, unilluminating and racist.  I gave away my copy of his subsequent book, The Life of Billy Yank.


Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Books I read in 2021, Part II

In 2021 I read 18 books, and earlier this month I posted the first six of the dozen that had the most impact on me. Here are books 7-12 on my list of favorites.

7. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams #1954. This play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1955. Big Daddy and the machinations swirling around his fortune and his alcoholic sexually ambivalent favored son, Brick and his dissolute wife Maggie. She speaks wisdom that is applicable to our polarized country one year out from January 6: "Silence about a thing just magnifies it. It grows and festers in silence, becomes malignant . . ."
8. The First Wave: D-Day Warriors Who Led the Way to Victory in WW2 by Alex Kershaw #2019. Extraordinary heroism at work on the five invasion beaches and beyond by men who were the tip of the spear that pierced the Third Reich and destroyed fascism in the world, at least until it reared its ugly head here on home ground during the last enabling, potentially fatal presidency. When I visited the five beaches with the aid of a paid guide in 2019 with friends, it cracked us up when the guide referred the three beaches (Sword, Juno and Gold) stormed by the Britsh and Canadians as "the Commonwealth beaches." When I stood on Omaha Beach, the bloodiest beach to secure and a very near thing, I was standing on a place of now-lost American exceptionalism.
9. Das Reich by Max Hastings #2013. The bloody tale of the blood-soaked trail left across France by this elite SS Panzer Division as it made its way from garrison duty watching the coast in Southern France to the raging battle in Normandy after D-Day. Traveling mostly at night to avoid Allied air interdiction in the daylight, it took 10 days to arrive at the battlefield because the division stopped to exact terrible retribution upon innocent civilians almost every time it was attacked in any fashion by the French Resistance enroute--expending murderous German fury over the lost war on the hapless and helpless French population.
10. 1776 by David McCullough #2005. The book dragged on a bit as it covered a bewildering cast of colonial characters while it described the important events of the fashioning of our nation like Lexington and Concord, the Battle of Bunker Hill and finally Washington forcing the British to withdraw from Boston by maneuver rather than battle.
11. Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the US Navy by Ian W. Toll #2006. An interesting account of the early growth of the US Navy from gunboats guarding the rivers and coastline of the nasceant United State building warships able to challenge British warships in proper one-on-one situations and to project American power overseas, especially against the Barbary Pirates.
12. "A Few Acres Snow" The Saga of the French and Indian War by Robert Leckie #1996. A French minister consoled the French king who was lamenting losing Quebec and the upper Mississippi Valley to the British during this war by describing the loss as merely a few worthless acres in a winter wasteland while France still controlled rich sugar-cane islands in the Caribbean. How did that work out for the French?
The other six books were hardly worth mentioning but I did glean a few factoids and interesting tidbits from each of them, I suppose.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

2021 Books--A half dozen

 I lost control of my blog in late 2020 and wrote about 60 posts in a nearby blog which now I can't locate.  C'est le guerre.  I seem to have found a tenuous route back to my original blog so copied straight from a FB post last year here are the half dozen most impactful books of the 18 I read last year.  I like summarizing lists.

In 2021 I read 18 books, the most I'd read since before I retired five years ago. In the next two days I'll list the dozen books that had the most impact on me.

Fifteen of the books were histories of some sort, focusing upon WW2 and the American Revolutionary War mostly but I also read a book on the Black Plague of the fourteenth century, the French and Indian War and the Civil War. One book was a play--I try to read a play a year--one book was a biography of an artist with lots of pictures of his drawings so it went down easy, and one book was literature, not fiction but literature as I try to limit any made-up story I read to be a classic as long as I usually only read one fictional tale (non-play) per year.
1. As I lay Dying by William Faulkner, #1930. I love Faulkner. Everybody should read Faulkner. Such scathing disapprobation of the racial inequities in the South, but also such love for its uniqueness. And its strong women, what depictions of them! There's subtle humor that's occasionally laugh-out-loud in them, like when the poor white trash family in this book can't afford to take an adult family member to the doctor when he breaks his leg, they try to fix it themselves by making him a cast out of concrete. But first they have to persuade the store owner to break open a 25-pound bag to sell them 10 cents worth of cement, which he finally does to get this noisy, smelly out-of-town riff-raff out of his store. Having a cement cast does not do the injured family member any good, it turns out. I suppose it was worth a try, in a poor-man's canny self-help sort of way.
2. The Conquering Tide: War In The Pacific Islands 1942-44 by Ian W. Toll, #2015. My Dad fought in the Pacific War with the First Marine Division at two horrific battles and was training to be in on the invasion of the Japanese mainland in 1946, with its projected one million American casualties, before we dropped the bomb which finally caused beaten Japan to surrender already. Sorry, but not sorry at all about that.
3. Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western Pacific 1944-45 by Ian W. Toll, #2020. The Americans ruthlessly and relentlessly brought the ruthless and implacable Japanese to the peace table just before the Russians' cynical, opportunistic and cheap land grab garnered a prized Japanese island for themselves and communism. The ensuing Cold War would never have been the same. The section on the peaceful occupation of Japan itself made the book fascinating and worthwhile.
4. The British Are Coming! The War For America 1775-77 by Rick Atkinson, #2019. Volume One of the Revolution Trilogy by the Pulitzer Prize winning author of the Liberation Trilogy (WW2, ETO), which I read last year. I can't wait for volumes two and three to come out.
5. Stars In Their Courses, The Gettysburg Campaign June-July 1863 by Shelby Foote #1994, 1963. This is a "book" lifted straight out of Foote's magisterial Civil War Trilogy and deposited whole as a history of the Gettysburg campaign, with all of its star-fated actors, Lee who lost the war on the afternoon of Pickett's Charge, Meade who steadfastly defended his high ground that couldn't be taken but just as steadfastly refused to come out of his redoubt and attack a defeated foe and therefore consigned the nation to another two years of bloodletting, Reynolds who died after setting the Union line in its winning position, Ewell who hid behind the words "if practicable" in Lee's order of the first day to attack the reeling enemy and knock him off of his dominant position and therefore failed to unhinge the Union line while it was still possible and assured the loss for the Confederacy of the key battle in North American history. I read the massive trilogy back in the nineties and still remember it as a great read, even if written from a Southern POV. Every American adult should know something, or more, about the Battle of Gettysburg, it is where slavery was doomed to die in North America.
6. The Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific 1941-42 by Ian W. Toll #2012. The desperate first two years of WW2 in the Pacific, at least until the Battle of Midway changed the course of WW2 in five minutes on June 22, 1942 when American dive-bombers from the US carriers Enterprise and Yorktown arrived simultaneously over the attacking Japanese fleet by happenstance from different directions and battle groups and sank three of the four Japanese carriers in the enemy's taskforce in the most momentous five minutes of WW2. Japan never seriously regained the initiative again during the war, just as Nazi Germany never seriously regained the initiative again after the Battle of Stalingrad was fought to a standstill in 1942, before the Russians annihilated the overextended and encircled German Sixth Army in January 1943.