Monday, December 24, 2012

CHRISTMAS THOUGHTS

Today is a loss.  I had plans to go over to Chilhowee Lake and rummage around on the old Scona Lodge site and maybe stir up some old Indian Haints.  The rain fell so hard during the night that it awakened me at 3AM.  I loved it.  Happy was sleeping stretched straight out pressing against my chest and Chestnut hound laid against the length of my back creating much appreciated warmth.  I just dropped my head back down on the pillow and enjoyed the beating of the rain and their sleepy breathing.

So, this is the day before Christmas.  It doesn't seem that long ago when the last Christmas came and went.  I guess the older one gets, the quicker that time passes.  I've been in Tennessee ten years now.  Its unbelievable.  I never thought I could stick in one place so very long and I think its safe to say the environment here suits me.  Christmas is a time for reflection on life, people and places past and of course, its alright to reflect on things to come.  The holiday of Christmas for me has changed enormously over the years.  Note how I stated the previous sentence.  I said the "holiday of Christmas" and not Christmas.   The meaning of Christmas will never, ever change in my mind.  The political term holiday, however, has lost the intended purpose for which it was instituted and has been diminished to nothing more than a sales tool, reason to buy stuff and overall a detriment to the mental well being of the general public - of which I have little interaction with.  That all being noted - my thoughts at this time of year usually, no, always fall upon memories of yesteryear when life was truly good and the guy at the ESSO station pumped gas into the Packard and later on the 49 Ford Coup for Mom and Dad on Sunday morning.  That gas would last all month.  We later got our own fuel tank buried on the farm to service the tractors and the family car.
So, I guess the reader has an idea where this is going by now.  Its not to late to bail out and watch TV.  I'm in a mood to write and this thing could get lengthy.  

I guess I'd have to say that the last "real" Christmas that I can remember was the one just before I shipped off to Army basic training.  That was 1966.  The first one, however, was when I was 5 years old in 1950.  What a Christmas!  I can just remember parts of it - the parts that were exciting to a five year old.  Mom and Aunt Josephine attached candles to thin wooden squares with melted candle wax and wired the squares with the candles to limbs on the huge Christmas Tree in the living room.   These candles were lighted twice during the day and only for a short period of time.  The first lighting occurred very early on Christmas morning when dad and my Uncle got up to milk the cows.  They stayed with us that morning until Aunt Josephine and my mother got all the candles lit.  I think there were only ten candles on the tree.  My Uncle Jewell read from the bible that morning, a scripture I can no longer recall.  He no sooner finished when mom said, "OK, pinch the flames out."  

I only wish there could have been one photograph of that tree.  It was the last time candles with flames were ever used on a Christmas Tree in our house.
Dad and my uncle left for the barn and their precious cows while mom, Aunt Josephine and I opened presents with our names on them.  I can't remember what they got but, I got a John Deer Tractor.  I'll not ever forget that toy.  The rest of the day is foggy and not too much stands out in my mind.
Those two big ornamental candles fascinated me for years.  They were the staple decoration at the farm house for as long as I can remember.  I wonder what has become of them.  As for the tricycle - I last saw it in the attic just before going to the Army.  It was just laying there where the roof slopes down to the floor.  I remember hesitating for just a second at its sight.
Above is my precious mom.  She and dad saved my life - literally.  But, that's another story.
Anytime anyone wanted to take any kind of picture at Christmas -  it had to be taken between the two candles on the porch.  This was the case in all Christmases I can remember.  "Now, stand between the candles - a little to the right.  Hold it and - got it!"
Year after year it was the same old thing procedure.  Don't believe me.  Look below:
Above:  "Move the hobby horse just a little to the left so the candle shows in the picture.  That's good.  Sweet and click - got it."

It wasn't until I went to the military that I realized how precious mom and dad were to me.  Why is that so?  Why aren't the vital things realized by young people earlier on?  My dad, quiet and withdrawn, worried about me so very much and yet, never showed a concern.  The information came from mom.  I was too caught up in the fast times to notice him.
The above picture shows dad, Lassie on the left and Laddie on the right.  I wanted a dog and mentioned it to dad one day the year before and he showed up with Lassie.  Laddie is her puppy.  Just like that.  He filled that wish I had - just like he tried to fulfill every wish I ever had.  A farm is a great place for a dog but, it is a dangerous environment for them also.  One day in the hay field, Lassie chased rabbits in close proximity to the hay mower that my uncle was operating and the sickle bar cut three of her legs off.    My uncle handled that situation and I never forgot those terrible moments.  The following year Laddie met much the same fate with a disk pulled behind the tractor.  With his passing there were no more dogs on the farm.
You think I'm kidding about the big candles on the porch?
That's Jim and Stella Tallentire in the above shot by the prestigious Christmas porch candle.  Stella is my Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jewell's daughter.  Yep - it was a big house and two families were raised there simultaneously over the years.  Jim served in the army and fought at the Battle of the Bulge and even at Korea.  He passed away twelve years ago, I think it was,  leaving Stella alone.  Stella is 87 years old this year.  She was a gorgeous woman back then and like a sister to me all my life.  We are still close to this day.  She's all that's left of the old family.  We are it!
Wonder why it is that people who had their picture's taken back in the 50's always seemed to be looking out into space or up at a mountain top.  Now, where could mom be looking?  Funny.

The Christmas in 1967 was a memorable one.  It was the year I was going to Vietnam.

There aren't any photographs.  We didn't go in for that sort of thing much on the farm.  Just a couple pictures before or after dinner.  But, I remember that Christmas!   Andy Williams and Tennessee Ernie Ford were on TV.  Dad loved those two guys.  Mom liked them but preferred Perry Como.   Everyone laughed at Jimmy Durante.  All verbal communication stopped and the room grew quiet when Johnny Mathis sung White Christmas.  He was the best of the best according to mom. 

A first year in Vietnam came and went and I brought home a friend while on leave,  I met over there.  He was given an old Pennsylvania Farm Welcome.  Larry stayed at the farm house for an entire week with us.  Then he went on to his home in Michigan to visit with his folks before having to return to Vietnam with me for our second tours.  By the way - Larry is one reason I have never visited the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC.
Ha - I found this old shot of a really good buddy I met in Vietnam.  We hit it off from the beginning.  Darrell was from the Ozark Mountains and he was a mountain boy with stories and more stories about mountain life.  Unfortunately, he played the guitar, or should I say, tried to play the guitar.  We spent a few tense moments together during the 1968 Tet Offensive where the North Vietnamese launched a massive, human wave of Communist bodies against the South.  The terrible, bloody battle of Hue fought by the Marines and Army as well as the horrible onslaught against Saigon where bodies were stacked upon each other like cords of wood.  Darrell is the second reason I won't visit the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC.
Mortars fell on Cholon and we all mobilized.  Vietnam was a time where all sorts of characters were tossed together in the salad of men (boys) used to confront the enemy.  Some were shy and withdrawn and some were bold.  One such bold man was SSGT Spitaro.  He was a man one wouldn't want to cross.  He was not a big man but he was very competent and someone you'd definitely want at your back.  He was my friend.
And - he is the third reason I won't visit the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC.

But young men are resilient and the thoughts of home were food for the soul.   We, an entire company, laid along the runway at Taun Son Nhut Air Base in South Vietnam waiting on a TWRA jet to arrive to take us the hell out a there.  We were filthy, just returning from the field.  Couldn't believe it was true.  Finally it was over.

Suddenly four days later I was walking up main street in Scottdale, Pennsylvania with a duffle bag on my shoulder.  I was offered rides but I refused.  It was only four miles to the house.  I was savoring the feeling of home.  HOME!   I walked to the crossroads that bordered our fields and continued on up the road that went past the house.  Up the porch steps I went and knocked on the door.  I remember how odd it felt to knock on the door to the house that I have lived in all my life.  The door opened and mom looked at me and, well - I'll let your imagination take it from there.

I don't know what any of that has to do with Christmas but I thought about it as I was writing this.  That little war has stuck with me all these years.  Its something a guy can't quite forget about totally.  No - can't ever forget it.  Never.

And so, here I is in Tennessee.  I moved down here after working as a plant manager in Pittsburgh.  When first mom and then dad passed on and the labor to earn never enough money became a burden - I said the heck with it and headed for Tennessee - a place I've been infatuated with all my life.

New friends were easy to make for me here.  There are a few who are near and dear although, not too many.  Those friends that I do have are precious and vital to my existence, both old and new friends..

In all this mess of life came dogs.  They materialized from some smoke filled dream and became reality.  Dogs;  no - Douglas, Shade, Happy, Chestnut, and Sigh have awakened something in me that must have been dwelling deep within my psyche or soul all my life.   I have found their characters to be pure and their allegiance and dedication unending.  They walk where I walk and would follow me through orange, fiery hot coals to and through the gates of Hell itself if I asked them.  Each is a treasure.

And finally - if they read this.  Jim, John and Bart - that interview could have gone a lot of different ways but, you all decided to pick me.  I appreciate it more than you can ever know.  I am proud to serve this fantastic agency and am ever grateful.  I assure you  - you will reap what you have sewn.  Paul - its all your damn fault.

So, my readers and friends - I wish you a Merry Christmas.  Thank you so much for your interest in the blog.  I'm not a writer or a photographer by any stretch of the imagination but I am passionate about "our" wilderness and I'll continue to try to bring it to you through this blog.  Don't forget to put cookies beside the chimney. 

And Douglas -  You will always be the eternal flame in my heart.  I miss you sweet boy.   



MERRY CHRISTMAS