29 May 2017

On Memorial Day

Memorial Day 2017

As is now tradition here in the Den, I repost my annual Memorial Day post written a few years ago:

Today is the last Monday in May, when the United States observes Memorial Day. As this day is a time to remember those who have died, millions across the country will pause to remember the meaning of the day and will honor those who gave their lives for the freedom of this nation.

It is a solemn day. So many gave their lives defending the freedom of this nation. They may have questioned the reasons why they were sent to war, but they went. They died defending our system of beliefs. They deserve our utmost respect and reverence.

I've often wondered how my generation would have reacted had we faced the cataclysmic events that catapulted the U.S. into World War II or had we been teenagers when the Towers fell on 9/11. My gut tells me the reaction would not have been as admirable as that of our counterparts in 1941 and 2001. I'm not proud of that. Perhaps that's why I have a particular obsession with the literature of war. From the Revolutionary War to Afghanistan, I have read a slew of books and I have been inspired and humbled by the sacrifices of those who were far less selfish than my generation. I mean what does my generation have to call its own? MTV. Madonna. The coke-addled 80's. We set the bar pretty low, people.

I'd like to share a list of some of the books that have had a profound impact on me as I've considered the actions of those who fought for this country. For your consideration:

  • Band of Brothers, Stephen Ambrose - actually anything Ambrose has written is worth reading, but this telling of Easy Company and World War II is amazing.  The HBO mini-series is an incredible companion and should be required viewing in any and all American History courses.
  • In the Company of Soldiers, Rick Atkinson - gripping look into the early days of the Iraq War
  • The Greatest GenerationTom Brokaw - the generation I wish my generation could be.  Read this and understand why.
  • Behind the Lines, Andrew Carroll - letters from the Revolutionary War to the Iraq War.  Deeply personal.
  • War Letters, Andrew Carroll - the first of two books that capture war from the eyes of those that fought.  Stunning.
  • One Bullet AwayNathaniel Fick - inspiring story of the making of an officer in the Iraq War.
  • The Heart and The Fist, Eric Greitens - second story of the making of an officer in the Iraq War.  Both are stories of very smart young men who could have been sitting in an office on Wall Street, but instead chose to fight for their country.
  • Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand - incredible story of a U.S. Olympian turned soldier turned P.O.W. and his story of survival.  I was so sorry I hadn't heard this story when I was in school.  But I went to public school in Arizona, a state where you'll do more time for knocking over a 7-11 than for killing a child.  I shouldn't be shocked about the quality of my education.
  • The Cat from HueJohn Laurence - a reporter's ground-level view of the war in Vietnam.
  • Final SaluteJim Sheeler - this is one of the most moving books I've ever read.  I wrote about it here.  I defy you to read this book without weeping for the lives that were cut short.  The subtitle of the book is 'A Story of Unfinished Lives.'  Is there anything sadder?
  • Lost In Shangri-La, Mitchell Zuckoff - while not about a battle field incident, this book is an epic story of survival and ingenuity during World War II.  Further proof why they were the Greatest Generation.
  • Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, Giles Milton - another perspective on the Greatest Generation but from the British. This is fascinating story of a British guerrilla campaign to disrupt HItler through epic bravery and cunning sabotage. 

    I would also invite you to find this movie on DVD and to watch it. Please watch "Taking Chance" as a part of your Memorial Day remembrance. It is a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made and the honor given to our soldiers. Please watch it today.

    Rather than commenting on the dumpster fire that is our nations's commander in chief/Russian pawn, can we pause to remember what this day, Memorial Day, is all about?

    It is a day in which we pause to remember those who have given their lives while serving in our nation's armed forces. In spite of our faults, which are myriad, this is still an amazing country. As so many have given their lives to protect our way of life and the freedoms we enjoy today, especially given the environment we are in, we should never forget just how precious those freedoms are. Never.

    I am profoundly grateful for the actions and sacrifices of those who gave all for the freedom of this nation.  May we honor their memory on Memorial Day.

28 May 2017

Mistakes were made and I blame 1979

13 year old me on the far left (but clearly not far enough left).
1979...I hate you.
In a post earlier this month, I wrote about my Aunt Robin who succumbed to the heinous monster that is Alzheimer's Disease. With plans now in place for her memorial, my cousin Leigh requested some family photos so that they can be displayed at the memorial. To help me with that project, she sent me the gem that I've included in this post so that I would have a flavor of what she was looking for.

In looking at the picture, one phrase keeps coming to my mind over and over again, "Mistakes were made," and to be fair, those mistakes were made by me. I've not been shy about sharing my long history of awkward adolescent horror that was captured on film and this will be no different. So let's parse this train wreck.

First a little historical context for you. Picture it, if you will...it's November 1979 and for the first time in many, many years, the Lyons/Kramer families have gathered from Florida, where my grandparents lived and Arizona, where we lived, in Durham, North Carolina for a Thanksgiving reunion. The turkey would have been evidence of the time of year but given that its beige color blends nearly perfectly with my suit, it's more than a little hard to see the bird.

To celebrate that long awaited reunion, I chose to showcase my own poorly developing sense of no style by sporting a three piece suit/explosion of beige. The short sleeve dress shirt and tie combo was a minor league error but an indication of things to come. I mean who was I? Sipowicz? Also, the tie, which looks like it was sewn into the suit for convenience but wasn't (I swear!), was of my own choosing. The jacket, mercifully unseen here, as I recall (but remember repressed memories may not be 100% accurate), had brown faux leather patches that every painfully awkward, late in puberty adolescent boy wants to have in order to pull off that "I'm a professor" look that was sure to make him a hit with the ladies. The best part about this suit was that it was made of, wait for it...corduroy. This was 1979 corduroy which meant it when you walked the corduroy rubbed together loudly enough to make noise as well as emit smoke from the friction. Awesome!

As I was trying to achieve that professorial look, it was clear that I was trying to adult the heck out of this event. I can tell that from my expression captured in the picture. You may see it and think, 'That's what happens when you try to pull a face in a family photo.' I say nay. I recall trying to capture something of a je ne sais quoi attitude about the gathering and you can see how that worked out for me, which is to say not well. Speaking of expressions, I've got to hand it to my sister for not hiding her feelings that day at all. When I shared this picture with her, she said, "Ha ha! I was mad at somebody here." I think she may have had a side order of rage with Thanksgiving dinner. To be fair, this has given us more than a few laughs in the past few days.

Now you may be wondering where I procured the suit featured in today's mini-lesson in my "Learn From My Mistakes" series. I've blocked it out, if I'm honest, but I'm going to go out on a limb and blame the good people of JC Penney and their 1978-1979 catalog. Methinks the travesty in beige I was wearing was found on page 247 of that catalog. Looking back on those catalogs is an invitation to some kind of post-traumatic psychotic event. That said, if you want to bust a gut laughing about that catalog, you need to read this right now. This legendary post is now nearly 10 years old but unlike the catalog that it skewers, it has not aged one day. It's genius!

Since 1979's epic fail, I've learned a thing or two. I've tried to avoid self-emolating by not wearing corduroy. I've steadfastly avoided short sleeves and ties, with the exception of two years on a bike in Miami as a missionary. You try trotting around Little Havana in long sleeves in August...I've learned that you can survive the horrors of your teenage years, no matter how awkward, and find someone who thinks you're pretty darn OK (it should be noted that the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML is a saint). I've learned family forgives things like that a beige suit.

To my family that I'll be seeing in a few weeks at Robin's memorial, rest assured, the suit will not be there. You're welcome.

14 May 2017

On Mother's Day

Courtesy of Benson A
There is a saying about motherhood, and its originator is unknown, that goes like this:

A mother is always the beginning.
She is how things begin.

It's a simple truth. Who we are begins with our mothers and today, we celebrate mothers. 

Today, I celebrate and honor my mother who taught me to serve others, to work hard, and to, to what I am sure is her eternal regret, speak my mind. I celebrate the gajillion chances she given me to improve. I'm grateful for our phone conversations that we have several times a week, even if they sometimes end at loggerheads (thanks Obfuscation Fox News for absolutely nothing on that one). I'm proud of my mom for how she's lived her life since my dad has died. She continues to surprise me.

Today, I celebrate and honor my wife, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML. The lives of our three children began with her. Those three are who they are because of her. They got the best of her in every aspect of their lives. Arguably, they got the best of me, too, but their mother's best parts helps them shine in spite of my contributions. Each one of our children are making their worlds better because of the example of their mother. She's amazing and I'm just grateful that she still wants to hang out with me.

Today, I laugh with my oldest daughter as she mothers her two children. Earlier this week, she shared with us the Mothers Day questionnaire that our nearly four year old boss of a grandson completed at pre-school. It is everything. It is the classic thinking of a pre-schooler.

In his mind, his mother is 17, which must be like 40 in pre-school years, because they don't watch TV to speak of in their house so I know he's not been sneaking old episodes of "16 and Pregnant." Also, I fear that my being 50ish is something he can't even comprehend. He must think I'm as old as dirt.

That he is always being told to "clean up stuff" and that when he doesn't obey upsets her is proof positive that his mom and his grandmother are cut from the same cloth.

The he doesn't think she's not good at "going upstairs" is proof that his mom is also just like me, her father. She would be wise to also master going down the stairs, as we know I'm seriously challenged in this arena.

That "she puts food on (his) fork for (him)" and that he wants to give her magnets is proof that a child's love for his mother is simple, beautiful, and just a little mysterious. Magnets? I've got to get to the bottom of this.

One thing I know is this - whether a mother has mastered loading up a child's fork with food or has told her for the billionth time to clean up her room or reminds her middle-aged son to remember who he is and to drive carefully, in spite of the fact that he's been driving for nearly thirty five years, a mother's love knows no end. I'm grateful for it.

Happy Mothers Day to all those who have mothered me. I'm better for it.

07 May 2017

A Farewell

My father and my Aunt Robin during World War II
One week ago, an insidious disease that our family is all too familiar with, claimed our Aunt Robin. As my cousin Leigh wrote so beautifully of her mother's long fight against Alzheimer's, Robin's fight was dignified.

Dignified. Classy. Kind. Loving. Those are just some of the words that describe my father's sister. Loving is the one that frames my memories most of Robin.

From my earliest days, I can recall my father speaking in the most glowing of terms about his sister. He called her "Pud," (rhymes with 'good'), and to this day, I wish I knew the origin story of that name, but to him, that's who she was. Because we lived in Arizona and Robin's family was in North Carolina, we didn't see each other frequently. I do know, though, that when we did get together in their Durham home, we were never strangers. We were family and even in my peek dork years - 13 years of age - when we all gathered for Thanksgiving, that feeling of family that my aunt worked so hard to create was ever present. As I got a little older, I had the opportunity to visit North Carolina several times as my late grandmother, Grandmommy, was in Robin's care. I have fond memories of attending church with Robin on those trips. She loved music and she was in her element, singing in that stately choir loft in that Presbyterian church in Durham. I was unfamiliar with some of the Presbyterian traditions and she always so kind in explaining how it all worked. Kind, welcoming, warm. Shortly after the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I married, I was thrilled that we were able to travel to North Carolina to see our family there. Again, Robin welcomed my sweet wife into the family, as if she'd always been a part of it. I have never forgotten that.

When my father died almost eight years ago, Robin was already fighting the monster that would one day take her life but she was able to travel to Phoenix for his funeral. I will never forget seeing her and my mom, sitting on the couch, holding each other by the hand and reliving memories of my father. The bond my aunt shared with my dad, even though he was now gone, was evident and clearly unbreakable. Family chains don't break and now they are celebrating their reunion, along with their parents who had gone on before them. Their family is together again.

In the coming weeks, we will gather to celebrate her life and to honor the legacy Robin has left in my cousins and their children. We will love, honor, and celebrate a woman who left a positive impact on every person she met.

I'm forever grateful for my Aunt Robin and the life she led. Would that we could all live in such a way that every one you met felt better for it. That's an incredible way to live.

Our family - the last time we were all together. Sweet memories.

Alzheimer's is a horrendous disease. If you'd like to donate to the fight to find a cure, go here.