Thursday, November 28, 2013

Memories of Thanksgivings Past .... Wishes for Thanksgiving Present

Thanksgiving 2013, Livingston, Texas – Rainbow’s End

My earliest memories of Thanksgiving are from Hackensack, New Jersey.  Dad was stationed at Ellis Island (Statue of Liberty) at that time and we attended the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in person for two years in a row.  I don’t remember our Thanksgiving dinner, as such; only that we attended Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and then watched the parade.

A few years later Mom and Dad decided to retire in California; since all our relatives lived on the East Coast, we celebrated each Thanksgiving – just the four of us.  Mom and Dad made all the ‘traditions’ for our family, especially for Jim and me.  Each Thanksgiving morning we attended a thanks-giving Mass at Saint Lucy’s Catholic Church in Campbell, California.  It was a small church, maybe a couple hundred parishioners, at most, and our pastor, Father O’Connelly.  Father O’Connelly, such an appropriate name for a priest, was from Ireland and spoke with a brogue - I have so many great memories of this gentle man and how he shepherded his flock.  We were in attendance every Sunday, every Saturday for catechism, all Holy Days of Obligation and special feasts, too; Thanksgiving was just one of them.

Each year, after Mass, Dad, Jim and I donned our red and white Campbell, California High School colors to attend the annual Campbell High School versus Los Gatos High School football game.  The rivalry between the two schools was fierce and we enjoyed every minute of every Thanksgiving game.  It was the only time I ever went to a football game with my dad, so it remains a special memory for me.  Throughout my childhood we listened to games on the radio and later watched many games on TV, but that one game a year was for attending ‘in person.’

While the three of us were cheering for our local high school, Mom maintained her management of the kitchen at home, creating our traditional turkey dinner.  For many years it even included a turkey raised on our little ranch.  Every year Dad bought some turkey chicks that Jim and I believed we were ‘helping’ to feed and watch grow – mainly we cuddled and played with them.  When Thanksgiving drew near, Mom would get requests for freshly killed turkeys from select customers of her year-round fresh egg sales.  So, in the days preceding the holiday, Dad would slaughter and prepare the most wonderfully dressed turkeys.   They’d been fed and pampered throughout their lives and were magnificent birds.

I marvel, these days, at how wholesome that era of my life was.  I knew at the time those chicks were purchased that they’d eventually become the special-ness of Thanksgiving.  I played with them and coddled them; but always understood their purpose and didn’t hesitate to be a help to Dad on the day they met the end of life.   From year to year I think there were even some who were so well-liked we gave them names.

That yearly Thanksgiving dinner, always served relatively early in the afternoon, always consisted of deliciously roasted turkey, homemade stuffing, creamy gravy, freshly mashed potatoes, mashed rutabagas (turnips), creamed pearl onions, jellied cranberry sauce, home-baked dinner rolls, a relish tray and fruit salad.  For dessert there was always Mom’s homemade pumpkin, mincemeat and apple pies.  Oh, the aromas emanating from that house when we returned, chilly, but not cold, and happy or a little disappointed, at the end of the yearly football rivalry.

One of my favorite recollections about the whole celebration of Thanksgiving was the wonder of LEFTOVERS.  Yes, I’ve always been more enthralled with the leftovers than the freshly made feast.  Because we dined relatively early in the day, there was lots of time to enjoy one, or maybe even a second meal of turkey sandwiches.  Those fabulous sandwiches were de rigueur for several days, excluding the next day, Friday (no meat that day!).  I could hardly wait for Saturday and usually made myself a turkey sandwich for breakfast!

I was married for 32 years and prepared Thanksgiving dinner every single one of those 32 years.  There are so many memories of those years; but that’s for another story.

This year I’m with Lacy and Eleanor in our new lifestyle, motor home living, in our temporary yard at Rainbow’s End in Livingston, Texas.  Yes, I will miss my family and all the tried and true traditions of this special time of the year.   However, I give thanks for all the blessings in my life and for all the memories I share with my family and friends.

I want to wish you all a wonderful holiday and hope the blessings of this day remain with you throughout the coming year.  My thanks and prayers to my brother, Jim and my family, my children:  Jeff, Kari and Spencer, their families, my grandchildren:  Quinn, Addison, Holland, Avery, Tate, Spencer, Malia and Samantha.  And I wish happiness to Rachelle in France.

Happy Thanksgiving America!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Oklahoma City ... American Banjo Museum

From Thursday November 21, 2013

I felt I had to publish the two museum experiences I had in Oklahoma City last week in separate posts.   After visiting the National Memorial and Museum I drove around exploring the neighborhoods of this city and tried to decompress for an hour or so.

I'd also wanted to visit the American Banjo Museum while in the City; so I finally drove into Bricktown, to the east of downtown, which used to be a major warehouse district, the Santa Fe Railroad passing right through.  Now it's the entertainment district, much like the renewed warehouse districts in many large cities like San Francisco, New Orleans, NYC, etc.  The major attractions of the district are the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, the navigable Bricktown Canal, the 16-screen Harkins movie theater, many restaurants, including Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill, and the corporate headquarters of Sonic Drive-In.......

And, my destination .... The american Banjo Museum
Once again, in the middle of a workday, I found a parking space right outside the front door of the museum.  Of course, the building is made of bricks!

The American Banjo Museum is a world-class facility honoring the "rich history, vibrant history and unlimited future of the banjo."  It contains the largest collection of banjos on public display in the world.  Included in the displays are 'primitive instruments developed by African slaves in the Old South, Minstrel Age instruments from the 19th century, post WWII instruments used in bluegrass, folk and world music, and a core collection of ornately decorated banjos made in America during the Jazz Age of the 1920s and 30s.'

I don't play the banjo, never have; but, after this visit I'm tempted to try.  What an interesting and fun time I had in my visit .... bringing back happy memories of my childhood, learning a lot about this interesting instrument and the people who play(ed) it.  This is definitely a great museum to visit for people of all ages....

Again, this 21,00 square feet of exposition space is divided into the history of the banjo and its mostly 'happy' sound.
                                                                    Enjoy .....

 As you walk through an era of banjo history the sound system plays the appropriate banjo music

This is just a sampling of the 70-some photos I took.  What an interesting afternoon.  As you can see, the 'banjo story' is described all around the rooms of the museum.  There are also lots of audio and video presentations by banjo great performances ..... Mickey Rooney (1942), Minstrels shows, Roy Smeck, Eddy Peabody on the Lawrence Welk TV Show, Earl Scruggs, J.D. Crowe, Don Reno, Steve Martin, Alison Brown, the Muppets .... the lis goes on.

Of course, my very favorites:  The Kingston Trio and the Limeliters.  From the movies, there's a video of Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman, playing, and the scene in the 1972 movie, "Deliverance," that I so-well remember ....  If you've not seen the movie, watch this video.  If you have seen the movie, watch this scene again .....

Monday, November 25, 2013

Patriotism and a Visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum

A little story to lead into my experiencing the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum ....

The day was cool, a typical San Francisco almost-summer day, Flag Day, June Fourteenth.  The parade ground at the Presidio was shrouded in the automatic air-conditioning we call ‘fog.’  Daddy was stationed there, having recently returned from Japan, where he’d been assigned during a portion of the Korean War.

Mom, Jimmy and I drove to San Francisco from the 'ranch' in Campbell early that morning to join Daddy, the personnel stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco, and many military families in honoring our American flag and for what it stands.  An Army family, our lives revolved around Daddy’s posts.  Jimmy and I had both been born during the Second World War; we were ‘military brats.’  Mom, had traversed the United States several times with Jimmy and me, to meet Daddy during the periods he’d be assigned stateside during that horrendous time in our nation's history.  Jimmy and I were indoctrinated, from the beginning of our lives, regarding the importance of patriotism towards our Nation and respect for the flag that represents it.

A few years after the WWII, Daddy retired, his last assignment at Fort Ord, CA; he and Mom decided to stay in California (both were easterners) and he went to work for the United States Post Office in Campbell.  However, when the Korean War broke out two years later, Daddy felt honor-bound to head back to his military life and the service of his Country during that war.

There are two things that stand out in my memory of that Flag Day so long ago.  First, the 48-star flag that was unfurled for the commemorative ceremony was gigantic.  As the corps of hundreds of men, each holding a foot-wide section of the hem around the flag’s perimeter, backed up from a center point, our nation’s flag became recognizable in a most impressionistic manner.  It literally covered the entire parade ground at the Presidio of San Francisco, as I recollect.  For the audience, made up of families, friends and patriots, it was probably the most impressive sight we’d ever seen.

That is the outstanding memory in my memory bank that engendered the emotionalism I feel when exposed to any display of patriotism.  It has stayed with me throughout my life.  I think, directly related to the personality traits I inherited from my father, I cannot contain my emotions during the singing of the National Anthem at a football game, the marching of the standard bearers in a home-town parade or simply witnessing a good deed by a patriot in person, on TV or at the movies (newsreels of GIs giving candy to Italian children during the invasion of Italy in WWII, a fireman saving a kitten in a tree, etc.).  I suddenly feel a glitch in my throat, am immediately unable to speak above a whisper or contain the tears that force their way out of my eyes.  The emotion is overpowering, like nothing else I can describe.

Daddy succumbed to cancer on Christmas morning of 1973; he had told me days earlier that he was ready to die and I remember being happy for him, as well as relieved that his suffering was over.  I did not cry.  Yes, I was sad, but the feeling of relief was greater.  On the day of his military funeral, when the military honor guard folded the American Flag that had draped Daddy’s coffin and presented it to my mother, there sounded a 21-gun salute and a lone bugler playing “Taps.”  That’s when I broke down, overcome by pride in my father, his example for me, and his devotion to his country.

I share this part of my life with my family of origin as an introduction to the story of my wish to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.  Ever since I’d known about the design and construction of the Memorial, I’d promised myself that someday I’d visit.  So many changes and interruptions have occurred during the beginning of my North American RV adventure; I wasn’t sure exactly when I’d make it to Oklahoma City, but I knew that I would get there someday. 

I was not disappointed.  This was the week.  This was the visit ....

Remember, you can click on the photos to enlarge them

The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building opened in 1977, named after an Oklahoman Federal Court Justice.  It was located in downtown OK City surrounded by other government, religious, healthcare and business structures.  It was comprised of nine stories and housed several federal offices, including the Social Security Administration, the United States Secret Service,  the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency and recruiting offices for the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force.  It consisted of nine stories and housed 577 federal employees.  Also located in the building was a Day Care Center for federal employees' children.

Oklahoma City is the largest city in the State, but, by large city standards it's not huge.  As I was nearing the Memorial I was surprised to find several parking spaces directly outside the Memorial.  Petunia waited for my visit to terminate in a space directly across the street from the view below...

The Memorial is located at the site of the bombing that occurred on April 19, 1995 at 9:02AM, in downtown Oklahoma CityThe outdoor memorial has been built on the footprint of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that was destroyed that day.  There are two of these "Gates of Time"

The inscription reads: 

We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever.
May all who leave here know the impact of violence.
May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.

Before walking across the street to the Memorial itself I stopped on the corner near my car to take a look at this interesting statuary.  There was no signage describing the scene so I walked up the steps to see the front of the white  sculpture

The inscription at the statue's feet says it all.  I found out later that this sculpture had been a gift of St. Joseph's Catholic Church

From the Jesus Wept  sculpture I walked across the street to the Memorial itself.  Before I entered I stopped to take a couple of photographs of this chain-link fence.  The fence was built to provide a barrier for demolition of the remainder of the building.  People from all over the World come to this fence and leave mementos honoring the victims.  The city decided to leave this fence for perpetuity.  Many of the artifacts, pieces of clothing, toys, etc. have been placed there just recently.  It is a living memorial. 

 From the same area I took a shot towards the downtown area.  The Catholic church on the right was used as one of the triage areas moving injured people to the correct care facilities

In the distance is the Devon Tower, the tallest building (50 stories) in Oklahoma City and the 39th tallest building in the United States - opened in 2012

As you walk into the Memorial through the gate with the inscription, this is what you see.  The central pond has been emptied with guard stanchions around it as they're remodeling it.  But you look to the far end of this central area and a duplicate gate.  Above the aperture in "9:01,"  referring to the fact that on April 19, 1995 at 9:01AM, everything was normal for a working day:  offices were opening, meetings were commencing, children were getting settled in day care, etc.

Then, as you look at the inside of the gate you've just walked through, you notice the inscription, "9:03."  Between the two time references is 9:02 when the bomb exploded and nothing would ever be the same.  The Reflection Pool area is the actual footprint of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Timothy McVeigh was a drifter; in the days before the bombing he 'crashed' at an apartment in the building you see behind the entrance Gate of Time, above.  His intention was to drive the truck into the underground parking lot and have it explode there.  He'd practiced driving into and parking in the garage four times in another truck and it worked "just fine."  But, the Ryder truck he rented and fitted with the bombing materials was too tall to get into the garage, so he decided to pull it up to the front of the Murrah building, park it as close as he could get, set the timing devices and quickly make his get- away.  He actually made a zig-zag escape, knowing that any straight-line escape might endanger his chances for  an injury-free getaway.

These are the Memorial Chairs, each inscribed with the name of one person who lost his life that morning.  Each chair has lighting in the glass base making an impressive sight at nighttime.  The chairs are arranged as to what floor of the nine-story building that victim was on at 9:02.  There are five chairs separated from the rest that name the five responders who also lost their lives in the aftermath of the explosion.
If you look closely at the photo above, you'll see a National Park Ranger, Skip, with whom I spent about a half hour.  He is a wealth of information and support for the Memorial.  On the back wall is a plaque with the names of all the survivors of the attack.

Most victims were on the first and second floors.  The Day Care Center was located on the 2nd floor.
There are orchards of trees all around the Memorial and Museum, all species having special significance.  The walkways are all constructed of rubble of the Murrah building

To the north of the Murrah building and above ground parking was the Journal Records Building.  It has been preserved, with its wounds, and is now the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum

Next to the Murrah building foot-pad is The Survivor Tree.  A promontory has been constructed showcasing this 80-year-old American Elm.  it was to be chopped down in order to retrieve materials that had lodged in its branches (to use as evidence); but the survivors and citizens quickly requested that it be preserved.
The Survivor Tree is a symbol of human resilience.  The inscription around the tree reads, "The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us."

The tree is healthy and is showing its colors at this period of the year - late Fall

The windows on this side of the museum have been bricked in with black bricks facing the Memorial

In front of the Museum is a Children's Play area.  See the painted hands children have left for display.  There's also a giant chalk board and colored chalk for kids to leave messages.

When I entered the Museum I was escorted to the 3rd Floor where the exhibit begins; you wend your way through the 3rd, 2nd and back to the 1st floor - the sequence of exhibits is in chronological order

A normal workday in Oklahoma City begins

There is a conference room set up with a recording of the beginning of a Water Board Meeting that commenced at 9 o'clock.  The secretary of the board is reading the minutes, when suddenly at 9:02 there is a loud explosion ......
This clock survived the explosion but stopped running at the exact moment of the blast

The Museum has many video broadcasts as they were recorded at the time

This photo was taken sometime in the days following the attack

There are many personal survivor stories.  This lady was a supervisor of several women, all of whom were lost.

One of the most moving stories was that of this Orthopedic Surgeon, working at a hospital about two miles from the scene.  He immediately went to the site to offer his help.  During that time, he amputated the leg of a young woman who was trapped under mountains of rubble.  His surgical instruments were a rope (tourniquet), a letter opener (scalpel) and finally his pocket knife when the letter opener broke.  There was no anesthesia but another rescuer had Versed, which has an amnesic quality.  The patient was to feel the pain at the time, but has no recollection of it.

Many of the displays are actual belongings of those killed and survivors - this one, watches

A sign posted by the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms

The Seal of the Alfred P. Murrah building

 The briefcase of a young woman killed

Shoes and clothing of victims 

Rooms of displays of the wreckage and carnage

Cities, States and Countries of the World sent flags as tribute to the people of Oklahoma City
The flag on the left is the County flag from Orange County, California.  The flags are displayed in all the stairwells of the Museum

Galleries of those lost

View of the Memorial and some of downtown from the Museum

It's taken me a while to be ready to put this post together and some time to do it.  The visit to Oklahoma City and the people who live there bring to mind, another time, the resilience, caring and patriotism of the people of the United States of America.  My personal visit brought back all those memories of the patriotism taught me by my parents - it has been a memorable time for me.