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Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Save food and defeat frightfulness

Poster by Herbert Andrew Paus, 1917

Visit the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, and arrive around 11:00 a.m. on a Saturday. Try to attach yourself to a white-bearded guide named Erik. We spent two hours with Erik; he told us things that weren’t even in the museum, like the story of General Sir John Monash, an Australian officer. Erik choked up a bit when he told us about Monash, whose state funeral in 1931 brought out 250,000 mourners, many of them former soldiers. He pointed out a uniform identical to the one his father had worn upon joining the British Army straight out of college.

With Erik we visited the trenches, celebrated Christmas in No Man’s Land, examined a crater that had once been a farmhouse, watched the sinking of the Lusitania, and read x-rays of injured troops.

Then the tour ended. Erik blithely said good-bye and hurried off without a backward glance. Some of our original number had already wandered away, but the four of us still in his group had become so attached that we suffered brief separation anxiety. For a moment, we lingered in place as if uncertain how to continue on without him. At last the other couple drifted away, and Ernesto and I checked out some of the exhibits that we hadn’t yet seen. It was several minutes, though, before I could shake the feeling of having been in the trenches, knee-deep in mud and gore.

Fortunately, the museum contains a charming collection of propaganda posters, including the one featured above. I found it cheering. According to Learn NC, this poster “shows a Red Cross nurse with wounded and needy people, including a soldier and a mother holding a child, all gesturing toward the quote from Whittier.”

Frankly, these figures look like zombies. And why are they gesturing toward Whittier, when anyone can see that the best quote on the poster is the one at the bottom? 

 Save food and defeat frightfulness.

It sounds like a quote Miss Manners might have contributed to the war effort. Frightfulness seems just one short step up from mild unpleasantness. In fact, frightfulness seems perfectly applicable to the story of some friends of mine who took their 2-year-old out to lunch at a local restaurant. The waitress set Luke up with a fistful of crayons and a placemat to color. Soon one of the crayons hit the floor, and Luke climbed down from his chair to hunt it down and pick it up—just as his mom took a moment to have a quick word with her husband. When she turned back to check on Luke, she found him underneath the table, enjoying a largish chunk of cake that he had found under his chair.

Frightful, perhaps, but a nice example of saving food.

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Our garage

As a child in Cuba, Ernesto didn’t have his pick of a vast selection of toys. His parents would instead go to a large gathering within their zone in Havana, where a local party official drew numbers for each family. The number received dictated when they could go to their zone’s toy store to select three toys:  A great toy (called the basic toy, for some reason), a good toy, and a common toy (optimistically called the elective). Basic toys were things like bicycles and roller skates, and each store had a very limited number of each. Yo-yos, marbles, and spinning tops were examples of the electives.

Ernesto says that he never set his heart on a basic toy in advance of the assigned day, because the odds were that it would be gone. Why set oneself up for disappointment? His favorite toys from this era were an erector set (plastic, not metal) and a set of medieval knights, like toy soldiers. He says he always placed the knights back in their box, each figure nested in its individual plastic indentation, until he went to college. At that point he passed the set along to his girlfriend’s little brother. Of course, Cuban children often used found objects to create toys, including little rolling carts they made from wood and ball bearings, with a string to steer it and old shoe soles at the front as a brake.

All of it was a far cry, in other words, from the typical American toy experience. We had an opportunity to discuss the difference between communist and capitalist toy sales when we moved into our current home, with its little detached garage. The open rafters in the garage had been used for additional storage: Several old doors were laid across the beams. It looked as if they had simply been placed up there to get them out of the way.

One Saturday afternoon Ernesto decided to tidy the garage and hang some of his tools on pegboard he attached to the walls. I left for the grocery store. When I returned, he had an unusual tale to tell. I have attempted to transcribe his words exactly:

I was in the garage, and I saw more shredded paper. Remember I told you before there was shredded paper around? You don’t remember. Well, I saw the paper was falling from the rafters. There was a box sitting on top of one of those doors, and there was a hole in the side of the box.

Now. You see, there are birds that are making nests in the concrete blocks at the top of the garage, and they have been pulling pieces, you know, pieces out of the side of a big box that was on top of the doors. And now they have pulled enough that more paper fell from the box. I looked at the paper that had fallen, and it said “Adoption Papers.” I stood on the little ladder and reached up to the box, and pulled more paper from there. It said, “Birth Certificate.”  I thought, “Whaaat?”

There were other things in the box, and I could not tell what they were.  You know that on the little ladder, on the top is written NOT A STEP?  From the top rung I could not quite see what was in the box, and I was trying to see without standing on the “Not a Step” part, and then I felt hair! I thought, “Birth certificates? Adoption papers? Hair?  What is going on here?” It was creepy, let me tell you. And then I tried to pull the box down, and it was big but not so heavy so I got it down and there were those ugly dolls that are from the Cabbage Patch and the birds have used some of their hair for the nests.

I explained about Cabbage Patch Kids, and told him that in the 1980s they were a hot item, that people fought one another in toy stores to get them in time for Christmas. He listened with an expression  of mild disgust; he is no longer surprised by the things that Americans do. But the fact that these once sought-after creatures ended up abandoned and ravaged by birds says it all, really, in a Grimm’s Fairy Tales sort of way.

So, what’s in your garage?

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Wahoo Day

Overwhelmedness has been in my thoughts of late: folk being overwhelmed by life going too fast, by family or financial difficulties, by too much e-mail in their in-box. … I guess if Quakers are overwhelmed, then nearly everybody is overwhelmed. – Wendy Clarissa Geiger

I met Wendy when I attended Quaker meeting in Jacksonville, and I still receive her semi-weekly e-newsletter on life and poetry. This morning, when the news was filled with an overabundance of nonpeaceful things, she sent the message I quoted above, and added a snippet of information that I found fascinating. The Burmese, Wendy told us, “have Wahoo Day—an imaginary day falling between Wednesday and Thursday when one can get done what otherwise cannot get done during a given week.”

Today is my own Wahoo Day. My summer work schedule alternated a normal  work week with a week of four 10-hour days and Friday off. I used my free Fridays to read, write, sneak up on the laundry, poke around in the garden, and have lunch with Ernesto. Sadly, as the University cranks up for the start of a new academic year, today is my last Wahoo Day of the summer.

I believe that if we had the will, we could figure out a way to insert a worldwide Wahoo Day into the calendar. Ernesto was talking this very morning about how Leap Years are calculated, and other interesting problems that plague modern day-keeping. Time is fluid, after all, and what a source of peace it would be!

But until Ernesto can apply his mathematics and computer programming skills to devise a Wahoo Day without it requiring an act of Congress, I bring you Wendy’s poem about overwhelmedness: “The Want of Peace,” by poet-farmer Wendell Berry of Lane’s Landing, Kentucky.

The Want of Peace

All goes back to the earth,
and so I do not desire
pride of excess or power,
but the contentments made
by men who have had little:
the fisherman’s silence
receiving the river’s grace,
the gardener’s musing on rows.

I lack the peace of simple things.
I am never wholly in place.
I find no peace or grace.
We sell the world to buy fire,
our way lighted by burning men,
and that has bent my mind
and made me think of darkness
and wish for the dumb life of roots.

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