IN SEARCH OF PEACE ON EARTH

The New Year is well underway and do we see anything different than previous years? Has “old acquaintance” been forgotten? I guess it never is. The following ran a year ago on SERENDIPITY and still applies today.

The Same Auld Lang Syne, by Rich Paschall

Another year has begun and we can see it is not exactly the same as days gone by. If “old acquaintance be forgot” as one year passes into another, then we would certainly like to forget the past year, not to mention the year before. The global pandemic which blasted forth in early 2020 was carried forward throughout 2021. If there were new divisions over the vaccine, old divisions remained too. Old hatred, old disputes, old ethnic and racial divisions, old border wars, and old religious battles carry on as if they will forever be remembered. Are these disagreements worth fighting over? Dying over?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
and never brought to mind? 
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
and days of auld lang syne?

In our neighborhood, just as in many around the world, we conclude our year wishing “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”  It is on our greeting cards and in our songs.  It appears in Christmas stories and is heard from pulpits and lecterns around the world. The invocations I used to read on Christmas Day, to those assembled at noon mass at a nearby church, included a call for world leaders to truly seek world peace. For this intention, I would say to the congregation, “We pray to the Lord.” They responded to my prayer by rote, since we have the same response to all our intentions, “Lord hear our prayer.”

The Lord may hear our prayer but I think He surely means for us to work at resolving the conflicts that plague the world, not to mention the pandemic which is a plague on the world. I am convinced not many really heard the intention or remembered it by the time they hit the pavement an hour later. Do we want a new beginning or will things continue in the same direction? Our history of this sort of thing suggests the answer.

Sometimes our world leaders do indeed seem to be making strides for peace, but these strides often suffer reversals when conflicts begin anew as they predictably do. While Presidents, prime ministers, and even royalty call for peace, how many are actually plotting retaliation and wars behind the scenes? In fact, we would all think our leaders were careless and irresponsible if they were not prepared to take up old battles at a moment’s notice or begin new ones if need be.

Even the current Pope, revered for his concerns for the poor, has condemned violent groups and urged the world not to be indifferent to the suffering they have caused. If we are not to be indifferent, then what are we to do? Is it a call for those facing conflict to continue the fight? Is it a call for outsiders to join in?

There are no easy answers to what is left of the Taliban, the warlords, and terrorist groups. If there had been, I wish we would have employed them by now. How about closer to home? What about racial profiling, police brutality, gun violence, and large prison populations? What of the street gangs and drug cartels? What of “organized crime” and the violence they are willing to commit? How many marches in the street will it take to rid us of the same old acquaintances we know through these oft-repeated scenes? Will marches alone bring peace to our homeland?

The sad truth of starting each year with a call for peace on earth is we end each year needing to renew the call again. Perhaps it would be best if old acquaintances could be forgotten, so we could start with a new and clean slate. There are, however, those who can not let go of the hate. They perpetuate the cultural divide. They do not wish to give up the fight or extend a hand across the aisle, the border, or the battlefield. Is this what we were taught? Did we say “Peace on Earth” when we really meant “Don’t let our enemies get any peace?” What messages are we really sending when we learn that the greeting card verses are more fiction than fact?

“Should old acquaintance be forgot and never be brought to mind?” Perhaps. And perhaps we need to start believing in the simple verses of seasonal songs and bring peace to the earth. The answers to our problems are actually there in many of those simple holiday songs. They have always been there. It is contained in a four-letter word we are afraid to use, especially when it comes to those we perceive as our enemies. Do you know that word?  Love, as in Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself. They know on the streets we can not continue to live with the past wrongs, some streets anyway.

Auld Lang Syne, or “old long since” is a Scottish poem by Robert Burns.  It was subsequently set to traditional folk music.  The modern question for us is, “Will we ever ‘take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne’?”

And there’s a hand my trusty friend! 
And give me a hand o’ thine! 
And we’ll take a right good-will draught, 
for auld lang syne.

TAKE THE MULLIGAN

Last year when the world was in the grip of a global pandemic, I discovered my trip planning need a “Mulligan.” The following appeared a year ago on SERENDIPITY.

Do-Over, by Rich Paschall

Friendly games may be a reason to bend the rules a little. After all, you and your friends may not want to search the woods for your lost golf ball. You may also resist the temptation to fish a ball out of the water. “Mulligan” will be your friend in time of need, but only if you are playing for fun. Usually, you will ask if it is okay. There once was an orange golfer who took many Mulligans without even asking, but I digress.

Sometimes we get the opportunity in life to do something over. Your teacher may have called you out when you were little for doing a bad job on an assignment. “If you don’t want a bad grade, I will give you the chance to do this over.” How many students were saved by understanding teachers?

If you want to eat, try again.

Life is not always that way, of course. You do not always get the chance to do things over. Your boss at work may not be so forgiving. If you screw up a project on the job, you may get the opportunity to do it again. On the other hand, you may get invited to take your talents elsewhere.

Artistic endeavors may often give you the chance to do something over. If I write a truly awful short story, let’s say, I can usually just start again or employ major rewrites. If something slips through, Marilyn can send it back to “do-over land.” The days of her fixing my errors have ended, methinks, and I must do over my mistakes.

If you sit down to draw your local landscape and it does not come out the way you want, you can sit down tomorrow and start over. Some things are perfect for do-overs. Other stuff isn’t.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Pencil Drawing

Relationships don’t always fall into the category of a do-over. In fact, you may not want to start again with a previous mate. It works for a few people, but most folks shy away from starting again with the same mate.

When you look back on your life, you will see many things you wish you could have done again. Since there are no mulligans in life, many find their past full of regrets. If you had it to do over, would you spend less time at work? Would you make more time for family? For travel? For adventure?

Chicago O’Hare International airport

Many do not take the opportunity to call for a “Mulligan” even when Mr. Mulligan is standing right next to them.

Seize the chance. Start again.

Recently I mentioned that I wanted to take the opportunity at least one more time to visit my friends in France. The question was “To Travel Or Not To Travel.” It’s a serious issue in this era of the global pandemic. I found I needed far more planning than I normally required. I detailed the new obstacles I faced when I asked “So You Want To Travel?

I was unsuccessful in planning the trip in what would have been enough time earlier in the year, so I decided to call for a Mulligan. I looked at all the problems that made my first effort a failure and decided on a do-over.

“A new attempt or opportunity to do something after a previous attempt has been unsuccessful or unsatisfactory. – Merriam-Webster”

My French health Pass arrived. My German entry papers are filed. My ticket is ready. Since I am not an “immunized” football player, I even found the time for the all-important COVID-19 booster shot.

Eat local, drink local

My friends have planned all the things we have not done on any of my previous visits. This isn’t s a “do-over.” It’s a new adventure. The trip planning needed a do-over. but the vacation will be fine.

Frank Sinatra had a number of “do-overs” in his long career. This song was adapted by Paul Anka and Sammy Cahn.  Perhaps if I am going to France, I need this version:

MEMORY LIGHTS THE CORNERS OF MY PHONE

The following appeared last year on SERENDIPITY. By the way, the task chair I mentioned below is not up to the task and has to go.

Hello Moto

As early as last fall I was thinking that I should buy or replace everything I need before I retire. In other words, I should get what I need now while I am still working. Social Security is inadequate in the long run. I don’t want to have to buy “stuff” later. I purchased a car with the thought it could be my last one. It mostly sits in front of the house. I will put less than a thousand miles on it the first year.  At that pace it should last a while, right?

Chevy Malibu

I recently bought a desk chair. Since I have worked from home since March of 2020, I wore out the cheaper one I had. I needed something more durable. After all, I will be sitting here writing wonderful essays for you long after retirement. I have not made up my mind yet if the latest addition is a good one, however. After sitting on it a few days, I think it may not be meant for an 8-hour day. It is called a “task” chair. I guess it is only for certain tasks.

An eye exam was on my list. I was hoping the result would be the same as the pre-pandemic exam. I literally picked up my current glasses the week everyone was shutting down. If I needed new glasses I thought I better do it while I have vision insurance. Medicare does not cover glasses and many supplemental plans don’t either. Now I understand why my grandmother had her glasses for such a long time. I don’t think they did her much good in her final years.

A phone was also on my list. I kept getting messages that I was running out of storage. I didn’t store much on the phone so I deleted apps, pictures, text messages, and voice mail. I went through the apps I used and cleared the cache, but my good friend Moto kept telling me I was low on storage. I bought this particular phone because it had a lot more storage than my previous phone. In fact, it has more computing power than the Apollo Guidance Computer that was used to land men on the moon. And yet, somehow it is not enough!

I bought the Moto e5 at Best Buy when they carried phones for Virgin Mobile USA. I had Virgin as a carrier for many years. It was really the Sprint network. My first phone did not do much more than make phone calls and send text messages. It did not even have emojis for that. Now my “smart” phone is not smart enough.

Virgin Mobile customers were sold off to another carrier, and I either had to buy a phone online or go to one of their many phone stores. Best Buy was no longer an option. I was too impatient to read through everything online, so I went to the store to ask a bright-looking millennial to help me find the right phone. Actually, I am just guessing he was bright-looking. He wore a mask and his appearance was more like a bandit, but I digress.

“I need a phone with more memory,” I told the phone geek. “I think a lot more memory would be best.” One can never tell when someone will need enough computing power to run the Starship Enterprise, so I wanted a good upgrade now. “I think I have just the thing,” Captain Kirk’s assistant said as he led me over to the Wall of Phones.

I was looking at phones of about the same size, but the Starfleet lieutenant was shaking his head. “This phone is probably what you need,” he said  He pointed at something much bigger than I what I had. I explained I did not want to break the bank or buy something bigger, I just needed more memory. The alien from the United Federation of Planets was sure he took me to the right phone.

“The younger generation is looking for something with a larger screen for watching movies,” he said. Well, of course! The same people who want a six-inch screen on their phones to watch movies and play video games are probably the same people who would be mortified if their parents had anything less than a 50-inch LED 4K Ultra High Definition smart television, but I digress…again.

“I am not going to watch movies on my phone. I have a television for that. I am not going to watch YouTube videos either. I can see those on my 21-inch computer monitor or my television. I just want a phone with more memory.”

My phone wizard must have been a graduate of the Starfleet Academy. He quickly explained all of the features of the new Motorola I should buy. “Your phone probably has 16 GB (gigabytes) of memory. This has 128GB,” he declared with a smile. Well, I think he was smiling. “You will have two days of battery life, four cameras, a faster processor,  a fingerprint sensor, and a stylus.”

“Stylus?” I queried. At that, he popped the little metal stick out of the phone to show me that we could write things down on the phone. Yes, we are so advanced, that I could take a metal stick and scratch out notes on a 6-inch surface. Now that’s progress!

L to R: AT&T phone, Virgin Mobile Super Slice, Moto e5, Moto g Stylus

The phone was triple the price of the previous phone. If I wanted something the same size as I had but with more memory, like a Samsung Galaxy, for example, I would have to pay at least 3 times the price of the new Motorola g Stylus. So I agreed to take the one with the little metal stick.

My new phone friend asked for my phone number before going back to the flight deck where they keep new phones. He set up the phone and copied everything over from the old phone. Before I left he assured me the phone would also receive text messages and make phone calls. Now that’s progress, I think.

BOB, BOB, BOBIN’ ALONG

The following appeared last summer on SERENDIPITY.

Running Around The Backyard, by Rich Paschall

We didn’t care too much about the backyard last year. Perhaps you hear about the Pandemic of 2020? We weren’t going to have yard parties and a lot of extra yard work did not seem worth it. I did make my usual attempt to kill off weeds, which included the pervasive clover. I might “be all in clover,” but that does not mean I want the backyard to be as well.

This year has become the year of the drought in this part of the Midwest.  With less than 7 inches of precipitation this year, we are around 9 inches below normal. If this keeps up much longer, we will be calling the local rainmaker.

Robin and Clover, over and over

Despite the dry conditions, some plants, birds, and small animals seem to be doing quite well. The clover is back in full force. Hostas refuse to die. Roses are blooming for the first time in several years. The barberry bushes are a thorny issue. The daffodils did well and now daisies are coming to take their place. And we have some very nice flowers that I have no idea what they are. Perhaps you can help identify them.

Unidentified flowering object
Draught resistant?

On my many trips to clean up all the seed pods and other things the hundred-year-old tree wishes to throw at me, I am often accompanied by a robin. He seems to have great luck finding just the right insects and worms for his diet. Sometimes during the day I look out the back window and see a starling attempt to run him off some tasty treat, but mostly he does quite well.

Bobin along

Usually, I do not have my camera with me when the robin is searching very close to me. I did remember to bring it a few times to catch him in his bug quest. I confess I never heard him throbbing his own sweet song.

I’m just a kid again, doing what I did again, singing a song,
When the red, red robin comes bob, bob bobbin’ along.

Songwriter: Harry Woods.

NO LONGER WILL THEY COME

The following appeared last year on SERENDIPITY.

AMERICAN SOIL IN A FOREIGN LAND – RICH PASCHALL

 A few years ago on V.E. Day, Armistice Day for the end of World War II in Europe, I visited the American cemetery at St. Avold. It is the final home for many of America’s Greatest Generation. It was quiet then. This year, it was even quieter, not just because of a global pandemic, but because they are gone now. No parents, no spouses, no siblings, or army mates will attend any remembrance day.

How a field in France became the resting place for thousands of Americans

In September of 1944, the Third US Army resumed its push across eastern France to drive opposing forces out of France and back across the border. The Seventh US Army, after landing in southern France, was joined by First French Army and drove northward.  The US Air Force provided key tactical support.  On September 21st the Third and Seventh armies joined forces providing a solid line through France to the Swiss border.  On Monday, November 27th St. Avold, France was liberated by the US 80th Infantry Division. This becomes important to our story today.

By December the eastern front was being pushed toward Germany. On December 19th, the Third Army moved northward to counterattack at the Battle of the Bulge. The many months of fighting throughout this region brought thousands of US casualties. A temporary US military cemetery was set up at St. Avold on March 16, 1945.  The struggles to hold territory and move forward were paid for in the lives of much of the Third and Seventh Armies.  By the end of the war, the rolling fields of the Lorraine region of France at St. Avold held the remains of over 16 thousand US soldiers.

st avold cemetary france
St. Avold cemetery, France

The burial grounds of the US soldiers at St. Avold as well as four other places across France were given to the United States in perpetuity as military cemeteries. Today the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial is the largest World War II cemetery in Europe. It is bigger than the more honored and remembered memorial at Normandy. Ten thousand four hundred eighty-seven of America’s finest generation lie across this 113.5 acres of land.

There are Medal of Honor winners, ace pilots, 30 sets of brothers, and 151 unknown soldiers.  In addition, 444 names are inscribed on a wall to honor those who lie in unknown graves across this region of Europe. Their bodies were lost and never returned home or to one of the hallowed grounds in France, England, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy, or Luxembourg.

When you include those in the Philippines and North Africa (Tunisia), 93,236 American soldiers found their final resting place in World War II on foreign soil that became American soil over time. The ground we visited in France was handed over without charge or taxation by a grateful nation that did not forget the sacrifice of American soldiers who fought a bitter war to win freedom for others and keep the aggression away from our shores.

72-Lorraine-StAvold-ADJ-B

On Armistice Day in France, or what we call VE Day (Victory in Europe Day), May 8th, we walked the hallowed grounds of St. Avold and paid our respects to the greatest American generation. The rows of crosses and Stars of David fill the landscape and remind the few who remain that freedom came at a high price in 1944 and 1945. Americans were willing to stand beside people of another land to win freedom, and now many lie there in eternal rest.

I signed the guest book at one in the afternoon. I noticed I was the only American who had signed in. There were signatures of a Romanian, a German who added “in honor and respect” in German, and two French. One wrote, “We will never forget the sacrifice of their lives.” I asked myself if the sacrifice will indeed be remembered or forgotten in time? Will this become, over the years, just another historical curiosity? A footnote? Ancient history forgotten by many if not most people?

Taps at St. Avold cemetary, France
Taps at St. Avold cemetery, France

It is easy to understand why no Americans kneel and pray in the tall chapel, no relatives to decorate the graves, or loved ones to shed tears. Many at St. Avold were too young to have children when they answered the call from Uncle Sam. They were barely more than children themselves.

Many had no remaining families. If they had siblings after the war, most have passed by now. Anyone who remains alive to honor them is likely at home, in America. Sad that the national holiday in France saw the honored dead receiving about as much attention as our honored dead will receive here at home on this coming Memorial Day. What are your holiday plans?

PACK UP AND GO HOME

It is now over two years since we were sent to work from home. The following appeared last year on SERENDIPITY. I have since “retired” but continue to work part-time for the airline from home. Do you know anyone who wants to work in air freight?

One Year On, by Rich Paschall

Sunset at O’Hare

It was just one year ago when our boss called the whole group into the conference room for a meeting. The odd thing about it was that after a year at the airline, I don’t recall the boss ever having a meeting with our whole group in a conference room.  Nevertheless, we all headed over there.

It’s a nice conference room. It seemed to get more use as a place to gather for milestone birthdays and milestone work anniversaries. We had gone there for cake or pizza or other goodies. Some actually used it for work meetings, I hear. We were not a group inclined to have meetings. This was going to be different.

After a few opening remarks that I have since forgotten, the boss told us to pack up and go home. The global pandemic seemed to be getting much worse very quickly and we were going to try working from home for a while. Although we did not know how long it would last, we were assured we would be called back in a short time. “Take whatever you think you will need, laptops, docking stations, cords, monitors, anything else to do your jobs.”  Yes, we had to give the company tag numbers to the boss for the computer equipment and then get out. It was Friday, the 13th.

At the end of 2019, the office had been redesigned and remodeled.  The airline was doing well and some assets were being improved for future use. Walls were moved, and new equipment was purchased. Everything looked great. We were to have a grand re-opening celebration in April 2020 when the weather improved. The plan was to invite the freight companies that did business with us. The celebration went on permanent hold.

While the remodeling work was being done, we temporarily moved to an office formerly used by another airline. We had more than enough room to work for a couple of months. The irony was that when we moved equipment to the temporary space and then moved it back, we worked from home for a couple days. We used some new processes that eventually became a lifeline. Microsoft teams were a way to share files and chat with one another while we were out of the office. We learned to use company websites remotely. We figured out how to work from home in an emergency. No one could have imagined in late 2019 that a worldwide emergency was knocking at our collective door.

The Monday through Friday staff left. We went back on March 14th for one more day. At the end of a Saturday, I moved my car as close to the outside door as possible and loaded up some items from my desk. I had a large workspace in the office, I was not sure exactly where I was going to work at home.

By the end of March, some people had been given what was planned to be a two-month furlough. It was hoped that by the end of May things would start to improve and the airline business would start getting back to normal. When two months passed, things were worse. Planes were grounded, staff retired or left the country, and others had to be let go. As each month passed we had hoped it would just be another month or two and things would improve. We could then go back to that nice office at the airport.

By mid-summer talk of returning had stopped. We had successfully worked at home for months, why hurry back? We did hope that by the end of the year passengers would return and the airline would be back to around 50 percent capacity. Later that wish turned into 30 percent. It was about 10 percent as the year ended and is no better now.

While many were waiting for things to return to “normal,” and some still are, it became apparent that there will be no return. There will be a new normal someday and we are getting a glimpse now at what that might be. Technology has led to more remote working. There are virtual meetings and shared files, all online. People don’t have to sit in traffic. Companies may be wondering now why they need big offices when much of the workforce can work from home, or from Starbucks for that matter.

One member of our group lives in Hawaii. Another went down to Texas for part of the winter. They can book freight from Chicago O’Hare International airport just as easily as from an office in Chicago.  In fact, we do take care of much of the country.

We may all go back this year when everyone is vaccinated and the company feels it is safe. We have a nice workspace to return to. On the other hand, another year may go by and I could retire. In that case, I would only be returning to bring back the computer and monitors. It’s going to be a somewhat brave new world.

A GLANCE BACKWARD

This article appeared last year on SERENDIPITY. We wanted to know how would we address a certain point in our past? Do we have regrets? Would we have good advice for our young selves now?

Your younger self, by Rich Paschall

A few years ago another blogger suggested a book to read (The Letter Q) that is a collection of letters certain writers would send to their younger selves, if only they could. Some letters are just a couple of pages. Some are a bit longer. Some of these writers may be well-known to you. Others may be interesting just as a study of what an older person still recalls of his younger life. Some of these letters really touched me. I can feel the emotion they must have felt as they looked back. I suspect that is because I am looking back over my shoulder at the same time.

If you were to write a letter to your younger self, at the age you are now, to what age would you send it? Would it be you at 12? 14? 18? Older or younger?  When would you need your advice the most? I guess it should be no surprise that many of these letters were sent to teenage years. Perhaps that is when growing pains are the sharpest. Maybe it is when young love hurts the most. It could have been when you were terrorized by bullies, parents, or supposed friends the most. It might be at the time when you wanted advice the most, but you trusted no one to give it to you. Would you even have taken it if it came from a more experienced you?

It seems pointless to me to send a letter back to a good time in life. What would you say? “I am glad you had such a great time at the picnic?” No, that has just melted into a fond memory. At your current age, you would probably want to send yourself advice to help see you through a problem. You might want to send words of encouragement for times when you may have wanted to give up, or worse. An early letter in the book is sent to a child alone and crying in a park. She hopes to be murdered there because she thinks it can not possibly be worse than the hurt she is feeling.  Of course, you would go back and comfort that child, if only you could.

Few people fall in love with their high school sweetheart, get married right out of high school, and live happily ever after. Even Cinderella had a tough life before her prince came along, and so it is with fairy tales. Most of us may have thought that we were falling in love in high school, but we are really just falling and needed to get back up. It does not look that way in the isolation of your teenage room, however. What words would have helped you then? You received little comfort from the one you longed for and had little or no desire to tell your parents, teachers, or anyone more than 25 years old. Do you now have the words for your younger self? How would you help yourself through teenage angst?

Younger self

If the thought of living without your “true love” was scary, I suppose that our lives after the high school held a bit of panic for many as well. “What will I do? Will I make enough money? Can I support a family? Can I support myself?” What answers can you send back to those questions? Somewhere between 10 and 20 lie the years that produce emotional changes, doubts, and questions. Can you write the letter today that could have helped you then?

In looking through those letters, I think it is fair to say that people are writing back to what they see as a defining moment in their young lives. While some may see that as 12, others are writing to 18. Perhaps they only wish to send letters to a time that today’s knowledge could help. Maybe we can not even find the words for certain moments in our young existence. Some can only say that he or she will have to work through the problems with the knowledge from your older self that it gets better.

Awkward, yet emotionally charged, are those that struggled through their sexuality, the questioning, “Am I loveable?  Am I attractive?  Am I gay?” We may spend many youthful hours looking in the mirror and asking questions. We may spend many more avoiding the mirror because we do not like what we see. Some years ago I spent a lot of time reassuring a handsome teenager (not me, btw) that he was indeed handsome. I am not sure he believed me then, but he is much more self-assured now. What could you tell yourself about those self-doubts?  What would I tell myself?

This book was not just for those who “made it through the rain,” and came out the other side a stronger person. It is also for those who are struggling now. “The Letter Q” gives half of its royalties to The Trevor Project to help reach youth in crisis. There are those that desperately need advice. Let’s hope they make it to send word back to their younger selves that “It gets better.”

I AM HOME

This short story originally appeared on SERENDIPITY. It was also previously presented here. I must confess that it is one of my favorites.

A piece of home alone fiction by Rich Paschall


The alarm went off at 6 am as usual.  Instead of hitting the snooze bar, George turned off the alarm and got up.  It was Wednesday, trash collection day in the small Florida town.  He no longer had Ethel to push him out of bed so he had to muster the resolve to get up and take care of the chores.  Jack, the faithful terrier, got up as well and was running around George’s feet as he tried to go through his morning routine.  Terriers do not lack morning energy.

96-Rockers-NK

After he got dressed and made his way to the kitchen, he started the coffee.  Ethel used to take care of this while George took care of the hyperactive dog, but his wife of 40 years was gone now.  George had to make his own coffee. George had to do all the chores, had to eat his meals alone.  It was not the retirement George had envisioned.

A little over two years earlier, George retired and moved from a big Midwestern city to a small town in a warm climate. This was the retirement George always wanted. He was no longer going to cut the grass. There was an association for that.  He was not going to do major repairs because there was an association for that too. And he certainly was never going to shovel snow again. Before he moved south, he sold his snowblower, gave away his shovels and winter coats, and vowed never to return north in the winter, if at all.

As the coffee was brewing, George set down a fresh bowl of water for a disinterested terrier. Then he went to the kitchen door that led into the garage.  As he started down the two steps to garage level, he reached for the button that opened the garage door. At that Jack came racing out the kitchen door and when the garage door was open just enough, he ran under it and onto the front lawn. There he ran around in a circle for a couple of minutes before looking to see what George was doing.

George was busy dragging the plastic trash can down the driveway to the street where he parked it right next to his old-fashioned mailbox.  After that, he walked back to get the recycle bins.  One bin held old newspapers and magazines and the other had some cans and bottles.  He put one on top of the other and then maneuvered them onto a two-wheel “hand truck.”  They were too low and too heavy for George to drag down the driveway.  When this task was complete, George went back inside to get his American flag, which he promptly took down to the post that held his mailbox.  On the side of the post, he had affixed a flag pole holder so his flag could be seen as he came down the street.  George would never admit that it was a reminder of where his driveway began so he could find it easily when he returned from a drive, but that is why it was there.

“Come on, Jack,” George called and the dog raced halfway to George and stopped.  It was a game and Jack expected George to play.  George was well aware of this game, every time George would move, the dog would race around in a circle and stop.  There he would wait for George to make another move and the race was on again.  George was too old for the game today and went into the garage and headed toward the kitchen door.  Jack watched carefully from the driveway.  When George hit the button to close the garage door, Jack raced inside.

On their return to the pale yellow kitchen, George put down a bowl of food for Jack.  Then he fixed some toast and took that, a cup of coffee and a newspaper he collected from the front porch and went to sit on the screened-in patio.  Jack came and laid down at his feet.  George liked reading the local news each morning.  Everything about small-town America seemed exciting to him.  He read about civic improvements, about events at the library, and about meetings at the town hall.  He read about the plans for the upcoming year and even the New Year’s party at a local hall.  George survived Christmas on his own and guessed he would not even be up at midnight on New Year’s Eve.  Without dear Ethel, he had no desire to stay up late.  While ringing in the New Year at a party might help bring back fond memories, they would also recall his dear wife who was gone too soon.  He was not sure he could bear that.

When the news had been devoured, George got up slowly and took his plate and coffee cup to the kitchen sink and placed them there.  He looked all around the room and could not decide on another thing to do so he thought he would go lay down awhile.  It was 10 am.  At that moment, the phone rang.

“Hello,” George said with a hint of surprise that anyone would call him.

“Hello George,” Ethel said softly.

Soon after George and Ethel moved to Florida, Ethel’s father had passed away.  He left her the big family house in rural Iowa.  It was the sort of house Ethel always wanted.  It had a big front porch where she could rock away the summer hours in her own rocking chair and a nice fireplace where she could get warm and read good books all winter.  George had no idea this is what Ethel had wanted for years, just as she had no idea he would take them to Florida on his retirement.  When she got the big Iowa house she announced to George she was moving there without him, and soon thereafter she was gone along with virtually every personal effect she could take.

Once every few months she called to see if George was OK, nothing more.

“Please come home, Ethel,” George said with a heavy dose of sadness in his voice.

“I am home,” she said and quietly hung up the phone.

A TRIP TO ALSACE

You may have read on SERENDIPITY recently that I was planning a trip to France for the first time in two years. It was canceled because we could not get the necessary papers. It seems these trips now take much more advanced planning.   I will try again before the year is out. Meanwhile, we can revisit some highlights I had posted before.

Along the French and German border, a photo gallery

It’s time for a new adventure to France and Germany so I thought I would revisit a few of the pictures from the last trip.  I have made similar trips in recent years to sites in the Alsace region of France.  The reason for these trips is not just the scenery or historic sites.  It is something even more important.  This was explained on SERENDIPITY in “Where Would You Travel?”

The last trip went from Chicago to New York with a five-hour layover.  I explained to my friend that spending a vacation with him was the only reason I would spend 5 hours at JFK airport.  From there it was on to Frankfurt, Germany, and a two-hour layover waiting for the Lufthansa bus to Strasbourg, France.  The bus arrived near the Strasbourg train station two and one-half hours later.  There my friend collected me for our trip back to his town.

You can go to Paris and connect by train to Strasbourg.  The trip is just as long and I did not believe the connection would be as easy.  Now there is a train from Charles De Gaulle airport direct to the Strasbourg station which means I would arrive at the same spot.  They did not have this train until recent years so perhaps it is a better way to go.  I let price and connection time determine which airport to use to go to Alsace.  Another time it was American Airlines to Frankfurt via Charlotte and a return on Aer Lingus via Dublin.  All of this is on a British Airways ticket.  I guess there is no good explanation for how the travel industry sells us airline tickets.

Click on any image for a larger view and go through the gallery.

BODGES? WE DON’T NEED NO BODGES!

Last year I recounted a little episode I had regarding my airport badge. I work for an airline and at the time, they thought a badge was necessary.  I work at home.  This piece of my time appeared last year on SERENDIPITY

From the battleground, by Rich Paschall

You have probably quoted, or misquoted, the famous movie line. In fact, I would bet you have done it often. Do you know where it comes from? Have you seen the movie? If not, you have missed a gem.


“Bodges? We ain’t got no bodges. We don’t need no bodges. I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ bodges!”


The 1948 western film, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, stars Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, and Walter Houston. It was one of the first Hollywood films to be shot on location in a different country. They used many Mexican actors and extras. When our main characters are in the mountains prospecting for gold, a ragtag group who look like bandits comes across the Americans. The leader announces they are the police. This causes Bogart to say, “If you’re the police, where are your badges?”

Well if you want to know what happens next, you will have to check out the movie. In fact, I have not seen it for decades and need to watch it again myself. It’s directed by John Houston who also directed Bogart in The Maltese Falcon. Houston won an Oscar for Best Director for Sierra Madre. His father, Walter Houston, also won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. The American Film Institute named it one of the best films of all time.

I was thinking about this recently after I got an email from the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA). That was immediately followed by an email from my employer, an airline I have mentioned to you in the past. The topic of these emails? Badges!

Technically I have an airport job, although I had not been to the airport since March 13. On that date, we were told to take whatever we thought we needed to do our jobs from home and not come back. Our group packed up and left.

 

The cargo building has a nice office that was remodeled at the end of last year. It is not near the terminal buildings and is in fact outside the fence along the east side. I had a very nice view of the east runway from where I usually parked my car.  Since the building is on the City of Chicago airport property, we of course needed airport badges!

My current “office” is a small table that is mounted to the wall in a corner of my kitchen. I guess it was meant for cozy little breakfasts since only two could sit there at a time. It is perfect for my computer because there is an outlet underneath the table and it is just big enough for what I need. It is not as big or as nice as the work station in the cargo building, but it is away from a public building where people come and go all day.

At home, I have not been expecting the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), or the CDA to show up in my kitchen to ask to see my badge. (“If you work for the airline, where are your badges?”) This is something that could happen at the cargo building and the TSA does make the rounds, as does US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). If you are in a building that handles air freight, they really would like to know you belong there.

The problem with the official airport badge is that it has an expiration date. Every year! All of the people who work in any capacity at one of the world’s largest airports must go to the Badging Office in Terminal 3 every year to get a renewal. My time was up. I needed a new badge Even if I work from my kitchen for the next entire year, I needed to renew in case the TSA, FAA, CDA, or CBP showed up one morning for coffee (or covfefe) and asked to see my badge.

If I said I was not pleased with the thought of going to the cargo building to pick up my papers (“If you work for the airline, where are your papers?”) and then to a passenger terminal to get my badge, I would understate the obvious. But at the appointed hour one Friday this month, I got ready to go with my backpack filled with pills, water, mask, hand sanitizer, picture ID, and stinking badge. Off I went on a trip I had not made in 4 months. I picked up the papers, chatted with a colleague a bit, and headed out.

I was told the Badging Office would not be crowded. That was true since they only let in a few people at a time in order to maintain the mandated social distancing. This meant we had to stand in a line in the hall outside. A long line. Fortunately, I got in the line before it ran all the way to the back wall where a cluster of people was milling about.  I kept 6 feet behind the guy in front of me, but the woman behind me kept creeping up close behind. We were both wearing masks, but even so.

The “gentleman” in front of me never turned around so I did not see his face. He was wearing a camouflage baseball cap with an American flag on the back. He had “salt and pepper” hair, and dressed conservatively like he would be going hunting afterward. After standing in line for 20 to 30 minutes we were near the door when a TSA agent came up to the “gentleman” and said, “Excuse me, sir, do you have a mask?”

“Mask? We ain’t got no mask. We don’t need no masks. I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ masks!”

The agent walked away but came back in a few minutes. I believe other uniformed people were lurking near the door when the agent said, “Excuse me, sir, step out of line.” I thought we were going to have some additional entertainment at that point and I was prepared for some video. The gentleman was given two options. They could get him one of those single-use masks, or he could leave. I guess there was a third option. You may have seen their TV show, Chicago P.D. (CPD).

When I was leaving I saw him in the waiting area. He had pulled the mask off his face and it was down around his neck. This sort of thing is the reason some of us prefer to just stay home. Now, if the CPD, TSA, FAA, CDA, or CBP ask, I have my stinkin’ badge.