Monthly Archives: November 2011

Homeward Bound

Yet another Simon and Garfunkel song seems appropriate here, with certain word changes:

I’m sittin’ at the airport station, got a ticket for my destination, mmmm,
Suitcase and guitar are safely stowed
And I know soon it will be time to go–

Homeward bound, I wish I was, homeward bound,
Home with my thoughts escaping, home where my music’s playing,
Home, where my love lies waiting, silently for me…

The part about the guitar is a poetic fiction–ain’t no way I’m going to check any of my guitars without a $400 air travel case, which would be worth more than half the guitars I own. And then I’m not at the “airport station”:  I’m 35,000 feet up on Delta Flight 1125 from Atlanta to Dulles about 40 minutes out.

My bro Ron got me to the airport about 10:20 this morning, and I was through checking my bag and experiencing security by 10:30. I had time to get a sandwich, eat it and sit at the gate and read some until we started boarding about 11:50.  Hartsfield is a big honkin’ airport but Ron told me which way to go and my gate was on A Concourse so I didn’t have to ride the Love Train very far. (“The Love Train” is my name for the little concourse tram thingie that shuttles people between concourses, from the O’Jay’s song of the same name:

People all over the world (everybody)
Join hands (join)
Start a love train, love train
People all over the world (all the world, now)
Join hands (love ride)
Start a love train (love ride), love train

I heard  “Love Train” the other day and it sounds like as good an idea as the day it came out.  And yes, I do think music can change the world for the better.)

So I am “homeward bound.” I had a great trip and a wonderful visit with my brother and sister-in-law, but I am glad to be going back to where I live. The people and the places there make it where I belong.


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Going Home

Packing up my winter clothes and wishing I was home,
Going home…

Discerning readers will recognize that line from the Paul Simon song,”The Boxer.” I’m no boxer but I am going home today.

I’m writing this from my brother Ron’s house near Atlanta.  We have had a terrific couple of days visiting, having wonderful meals, going to guitar shops and bookstores, taking naps and playing on the computer. This has been a much-needed break for me, and I appreciate everything Ron and Sherry have done to make it happen. I hope this will become an annual tradition.

So, we’ll see how today’s trip goes. It’s raining hard here, and that should affect travel. I didn’t bring an umbrella, so I’ll have to pick one up on the way to the airport.

Yesterday was my birthday (“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?”) and I want to thank everyone who sent birthday greetings.  A number of these came via Facebook, which is one great way to keep up with what’s going on in other people’s lives. Thanks to all of you, my friends.

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Travel Is Sometimes a Blessing

I’m writing this from about 28,000 feet aboard Delta flight 1093 to Atlanta to visit my brother Ron.  Now, Ron, who was a pilot for Delta for 27 years until his retirement in 2004, likes to say “Travel is a curse,” and he certainly traveled enough as a member of a flight crew to have enough bad travel experiences to be convinced of the veracity of his saying.
Sometimes, though, travel can be a blessing.  So far into this trip (about half an hour into a two-hour flight) everything has gone swimmingly.  I left for the airport fours hours ahead because I was having to travel in rush hour traffic and one never knows when there might be an accident. It took 45 minutes to get to long-term parking (normally it takes half an hour); I got a shuttle bus immediately, checked my bag and got in the security line at 7:30. That took half an hour and I was at the gate by 8:00. I got something to eat and waited for boarding to begin around 10:00.
During the flight, I was seated next to an attractive,  nicely dressed  lady and found out she was a psychologist. The blessing part came when I told her I had taught English in high school. It turns out her first husband was a professor at Belhaven College in Jackson,  Mississippi. The Southern writer Eudora Welty loved the college and lived many years in a house across the street from the campus.  My seatmate knew her, one of the icons of American literature! She said Miss Welty was genuine and unpretentious and made people from all walks of life feel comfortable.  And of course, she was an amazing writer.
Sometimes, when we’re just going along, doing something ordinary, like traveling on an aircraft, magic happens.  It happened to me today, and I am still in awe of talking to someone who knew Eudora Welty.  Travel today was indeed a blessing.

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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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