Monthly Archives: November 2011

All My Bags Are Packed

Readers of a, uh, certain age might remember this phrase from the John Denver song, “Leaving, on a Jet Plane.” I first heard the song when I went to see the Chad Mitchell Trio in high school at the old Cellar Door nightclub at 34th and M Streets in Georgetown. Denver was the replacement for Chad Mitchell, who had left the group to pursue an individual career. It was quite clear that John Denver was far more talented than the other members of the Trio. He sang like a bird and played a fabulous Guild 12-string.

At the time I thought “Leaving, on a Jet Plane” was the saddest song I had ever heard. I used to play and sing it myself, and, like most of the songs when I sang them, it was a big lie. First of all, the song supposes that the singer has a girlfriend whom he is leaving. I did not have a girlfriend to leave, and if I did I wouldn’t have left her.  Secondly, I didn’t go anywhere, on a jet plane or anything else. As a high school and college student, I couldn’t afford to go anywhere and actually had no place to go if I could have afforded it. Now that’s sad.

I was interested that the song had a resurgence of popularity in the late 90’s when Alyssa was listening to it and actually learned to play it on guitar. (She has since gone to the ukulele, saying the guitar hurts her hands. Well, the uke is a cute little instrument ideally suited to her size and she uses it with her children’s choir.) If you’re not familiar with the song, here’s a link to Denver doing it in concert: (The video quality is funky, but it has a good audio.)

Anyhow, all of this is to say I’m headed today for Atlanta to spend a few days with my brother Ron, a retired Delta pilot and all-around good guy and his lovely wife Sherry.  This is a break for me since my dad and I have been through a difficult year with his leg bypass operation last November, infection of the wound, falls, hospitalizations, rehab stays, move from a senior living center to an assisted living facility, countless doctor and emergency room visits and taking down his household. If you have care of an elderly person (and many of you do), you know how exhausting (and fulfilling at the same time) it can be.

I’ll be back Wednesday and am looking forward to the time to hang out with Ron, visit some guitar shops and book stores and eat in some of his favorite restaurants. He and Sherry have been a big support as we have dealt with my mom’s illness and death and my dad’s health problems. I should be able to report on our activities and my trip back. Pace.


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A Gathering of Eagles

My dad and I went to the viewing of a lady who used to be his neighbor in Loudoun County, where he lived in a kind of semi-rural enclave with about ten other families.  He moved from there in 2003 and hasn’t seen much of the community, or what’s left of it, since then.  The viewing was a typical occasion to remember the deceased and also to see people that he hadn’t seen in a long time.

At one point in the gathering, I looked over at him standing with some of the men from the old neighborhood.  With their shocks of white hair and craggy countenances, I was reminded of nothing as much as a gathering of some old, wise eagles.  And indeed, these are people who have soared far above the ordinary.

I think that for most of us, including myself, an end to civilization would be the end of me as as well. I am dependent on the complex infrastructure that we all use for food, shelter, water, clothing, security, services, and so on and so on. But for people like my parents and their neighbors, I don’t an end to all that would make a difference.  They lived in a loosely-knit community that depended on each other. They knew how to raise animals and crops for food, to prepare and preserve them to eat. What one of them couldn’t do, there was someone in the neighborhood who could, whether it was welding or canning or pulling a recalcitrant calf out of a mother cow.

I think it is not coincidence that these people are, by and large, a part of the Greatest Generation, having weathered the Depression and World War II and come to home to raise families and to build a world power. On this Veteran’s Day, I salute them, those who served in the military, and those who also “stood and waited” and served thereby.  They are passing rapidly from us, and I hope you will take the opportunity to recognize them for what they have done for all of us, if you know any of them, and to thank them for it. The eagles may have gathered in this life for the last time.

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All in the Family

Yesterday, I wrote that I had made an interesting discovery about my family.  No, it’s not that we were once circus performers or have a secret country that we run.
My mother had an ambivalent attitude toward genealogy. On one hand, she told me when I expressed an interest in our ancestors that they were probably low lifes who never amounted to anything and not worth finding out about and that if we had ancestors who fought in, say, the Civil War, they probably fought on the side that was winning in the area at the time. This was a possibility since most of my family is originally from east Tennessee, a part of a Confederate state that was strongly pro-Union.
On the other hand, aunts and uncles and cousins and family stories and names were important to her and I learned about them just listening to her talk.
Then this Monday I made a discovery that both credited and discredited her views on family history. I was noodling around on Ancestry. com, not wanting to get too much into it, know that genealogical studies can suck up tremendous amounts of time and energy. I was seeing how far back I could take both family trees. My father’s side went back to his grandfather and that was it. But my mother’s side blossomed with all the names I had heard over the years, the aunts and uncles and cousins I had met or heard mentioned. And the line kept going back, particularly the Dillards. My maternal grandmother was a Dillard and her ancestry traced back to a Martin Nalle, who was born in England around 1675 and came to Virginia as an indentured servant in 1702. His grandson was Captain Thomas Dillard who was in the Virginia militia and took part in George Rogers Clark’s campaign during the Revolution. Suddenly these people seemed real and vital to me and I wanted to know more about them. Here is some of what I found that I wrote up for our daughter who teaches Virginia history in the fourth grade:
Martin Nalle (b. 1675 in England, d. 1728 in South Parnham Parish, Essex, Virginia, United States) arrived in the Colony of Virginia about 1701. He was listed as one of 62 persons transported to the colony by Chcheley (sic)  Cornin Thacker, for which Thacker received 3080 acres of land. Martin was most likely an indentured servant, working off his indenture and possibly receiving a tract of “tobacco ground.” Married to Mary Aldin (b. 1681 in Christ Church Parish, Middlesex, Virginia, d. March, 1738 in Essex County, Virginia) in 1722 in Old Rappahannock and Essex Counties.


Captain Thomas  Dillard (b. 1732 in Essex, Virginia, United States, d. 23 Sep 1784 in Erwin, Washington, North Carolina, United States )

Listed as part of the 14th Virginia Regiment of 1777-78. Inducted as a corporal; rose to the rank of captain.

In January 1778, Pittsylvania sent several companies of militia again to the frontier. Captain Thomas Dillard and Lieutenant Charles Hutchings commanded a company that marched direct from Pittsylvania to Isaac Riddle’s house, twelve miles above the Long Island on the Holstein; thence to Boonesboro, Ky., where they were stationed three months. While in Kentucky Moses Hutchings, one of the company, acted as Indian spy. In July David Irby, James Irby and Thomas Faris, other members of Captain Dillard’s company, were transferred to Captain Montgomery’s company and marched with Colonel George Rogers Clark’s regiment into the country known as the Illinois, of which they took possession.
And there it is, history made personal.

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Fun Facts about American Literature

I’m interested in history, especially American history, which I obliquely taught as American literature in high school for about, I would guess, ten years.

Through that study, we learned that Edgar Allen Poe married his thirteen-year-old cousin (though he claimed she was 21 on the marriage application) (marriage to cousins was legal and even preferred at that time since one knew the wife’s family), left both the University of Virginia (gambling debts) and West Point (deliberately provoked a court martial), and possibly wrote “Anabel Lee” about a love lost to death about his wife who had died of tuberculosis two years early. Poor Poe.

We also learned that ardent conservationist Henry David Thoreau, in the words of a Boston Globe article,

“…started a  blaze in the Concord Woods (on April 30, 1844), scorching a 300-acre swath of earth between Fair Haven Bay and Concord. The fire was an accident, but the destruction of valuable woodland, the loss of firewood and lumber (it was the town wood lot), and the narrowly avoided catastrophe that almost befell Concord itself angered the local residents and nearly ruined Thoreau’s reputation. For years afterward, Thoreau could hardly walk the streets of his hometown without hearing the epithet ‘woods burner.'”

Another fun fact that attracted students’ attention was that Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West to this day is home to 40-50 polydactyl (six-toed) cats, (Cats normally have five front toes and four back toes.) presumably descended from one polydactyl cat given to Heminway by a sea captain.

Fascinating facts all, I’m sure. Tomorrow I’ll write about my discovery of some facts related to my family and American history.

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Small Poem for Autumn

Today from Sudley Road
The near mountains cold blue in the
Clear air’s distance.
Closer, turned maples, yellow and red,
Against the blue.
Winter follows fall.

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Three Words

Watch this. Please.

Well, more than three words. I’ve been doing Biscuit City for about six months now every weekday, and as much as I love coming up with topics, researching (if that’s the word) them, writing the post, and seeing your kind and insightful reactions, I’m going to have to go to an occasional post, maybe twice or three times a week. I hope you’ll keep reading and responding; in return I’ll try to give you some posts that will inform, amuse and maybe even befuddle.  Especially befuddle. Thank you for your kind offices and for being a Reader.

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In a Handbasket

Now, I’m not one who thinks young people are any different now than they were back in the day when I was a lad and dinosaurs roamed the earth. Basically, I think they’re about the same, and as someone who had worked with young people in one capacity or another for about 43 years, and loves them as a group, I’m here to say that they’re a lot brighter than we ever were and are able to do things we never even thought of. You know what I mean. Still, there are some things about them I just don’t understand.
Cisco, the software/whatever company and maker of the router than makes this blog possible (or was that about three routers back? I can’t keep up) did a survey of nearly three thousand college students and young professionals. Here is a summary of their findings, taken from the “Cisco Connected World Technology Report.” (To read the complete report, which is impressive in its methodolgy and findings, go to .)
The survey focused on two basic questions:  Is the Internet a fundamental human necessity? and Is a workplace with flexible mobility policies as valuable as salary?
 The study revealed that one in three college students and young professionals consider the Internet to be as important as air, water, food, and shelter.
 In some cases, the respondents call it more essential than owning a car, dating, and going to parties. Also, one in three would prioritize social media freedom, device flexibility, and work mobility over salary in accepting a job offer.
 Study Highlights:
  • Many respondents cite a mobile device as “the most important technology” in their lives
  • Seven of 10 employees have “friended” their managers and coworkers on Facebook
  • Two of five students have not bought a physical book (except textbooks) in two years
  • Most respondents have a Facebook account and check it at least once a day
    • Half would rather lose their wallet or purse than their smartphone or mobile device.
    • More than two of five would accept a lower-paying job that had more flexibility with regard to device choice, social media access, and mobility than a higher-paying job with less flexibility.
  • At least one in four said the absence of remote access would influence their job decisions, such as leaving companies sooner rather than later, slacking off, or declining job offers outright.
    • Three out of 10 feel that once they begin working, it will be their right- more than a privilege -to be able to work remotely with a flexible schedule.
You’ll note, perhaps, that I didn’t comment much on these findings. that’s because they leave me speechless. I just wonder what effect all this will have on society as we know it in 50 years or so. Something to think about, anyhow. Have a good weekend. I plan to get outside, work on my fence, take a walk, talk to some people, do some reading, fix some meals, go to rehearsals, got to church and watch the Redskins lose. Again. Take care.

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Secret Gardens of the Heart

My aunt Shirley recently sent me a link that stirred up all kinds of memories.  She is my mother’s younger half-sister, the youngest of the family of four girls and two boys. They are all gone now except for Shirley and my uncle Paul whom I have not seen in decades. 

The link Shirley sent was a real estate listing for my maternal grandmother Satterfield’s house in Tennessee, close to Ducktown. Here’s the picture from the listing:

 Seeing it, I was instantly transported back to the summer weeks we spent there as children.  My parents made the long drive back to the Tennessee mountains every summer and every Christmas.  It was the only vacation we got, but the memories I have of it are indelible.  Shirley is just a year older than I, and my uncles Wayne and Paul were always willing to play with my brother and me.  The house was small but we all fit in and had the most amazing times together.

We hiked in the mountains surrounding the house, splashed in the creek in the back of the property, swung from a rope there dangling from a huge tree, walked the railroad line that ran in front of the house, going to blackberry fields down the line, gathered up the candy and newspaper thrown out by trainmen as they passed.  They always waved at us. At Christmas, there was loads of food, and piles of presents. I never understood how Santa Claus managed to find us when we were away from home, but he did.

My parents never left us at home, but they went off to visit relatives when we were at my grandmother’s,leaving us to get into all sorts of mischief. One time Ron and I went to the creek bank and got gloriously muddy and then realized we would be in deep trouble when my mother returned. Our grandmother cleaned us up, put the muddy clothes into wash, put clean clothes on us and said, “We won’t tell anyone about this.” She had our back. 

She of course is gone, although her house is still there. Seeing the real estate picture, I was reminded of the incredibly beautiful and insightful Judy Collins song, “Secret Gardens of the Heart.” It begins,

My grandmother’s house is still there
But it isn’t the same
A plain wooden cottage
A patch of brown lawn
And a fence that hangs standing
And sighing in the Seattle rain…

It continues,

…I still see the ghosts
Of the people I knew long ago
Inside the old kitchen
They bend and sigh
My life passed them up
And the world passed them by


Secret Gardens of the heart
Where the old stay young forever
I see you shining through the night
In the ice and snow of winter

But most of all
It is me that has changed
And yet I’m still the same
That’s me at the weddings
That’s me at the graves
Dressed like the people
Who once looked so grown-up and brave…


(Here’s a link to a somewhat dated movie from 1979 made with the song as a soundtrack:

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Gift from the Parking Lot

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of aviator Charles Lindbergh, was an author in her own right and penned a lovely book entitled Gift from the Sea that contained much wisdom. In the book, she wrote this:

I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable.”

Anne and Charles certainly knew about suffering since their infant son was kidnapped in 1932 and his body found not far from their home two months later.  The case was covered to excess, but it did result in Congress passing a law making kidnapping a federal crime.

This post has nothing to do with beautiful writing or the tragedy of kidnapping,and I know it is trivial by comparison.

Someone gave my dad and me a gift in a parking lot by coming along and creasing the upper right wheel well area on his 2007 Impala, which I drive now because he has stopped driving. Whoever did this didn’t leave a note, of course.

Here’s a picture of the damage:

Not a pretty sight, and since I’m cheap, I haven’t taken it to a body shop which will charge more than I want to pay and less than my insurance deductible. Then I was watching television and thought I found a solution. And here it is!

Now, I was sure that since I saw it on television it would work. When it arrived, I read the directions and there are about 200 exceptions to the kind of dent the kit will take out, including “creases and lines such as fender wells.”  Hmmm.

Being nothing but hopeful, I’m going to try it anyhow.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.


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Long Thin Dawn

The title of today’s post is a reference to an early Gordon Lightfoot song by that name, in which the narrator sings of catching a ride with a long-haul trucker through the night and experiencing “that long thin dawn” over the plains.

I had to admit that I did some hitchhiking, in college, although the very thought of it makes me cringe now.  Things seemed safer pre-1970, and seemed to take an ugly turn after that. In any case, you don’t see people “hitching” any more, and that’s probably a good thing.

I was thinking about Lightfoot’s song last week when I was filling my car’s tank, and one of those big gas tankers was at the station, filling the underground tanks with hoses that were easily six to eight inches in diameter.  The driver was watching them carefully, and when I caught his eye, said hello. I said hello back and went over and asked him how many gallons he carried on his truck.

“About 9200,” he answered. If gas weighs what water weighs, that’s 73,600 pounds or about 36 or so tons of gas.

“That’s a lot of weight pushing on you when you go to stop,” I observed.

He allowed as how improved braking and steering systems made the big rigs easier to handle than in the past.  “Actually, an empty tanker can be a bigger problem.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Well, if you have an explosion with a full tank, there’s a big fireball and everything is destroyed. If an empty tank blows up, it throws pieces of metal all over. It’s much deadlier.” He stopped for a moment and said wryly, “Either way, I’d be the first to know.”

I asked him what his biggest problem was driving and he said drivers of cars who follow too closely or cut in front of him suddenly. “I can’t stop this thing on a dime,” he said.

I said goodbye, got into my car and drove off, thinking that none of us would get very far without people willing to do difficult, dangerous jobs like deliver gas.


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