Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow  
In Flanders fields.

2 May 1915
Major John McCrae

I’m thinking of my father today: This Remembrance Day, this Armistice Day, this Veterans Day. This day that was set aside in 1918 to memorialize the end of World War I. The Great War. The War To End All Wars. Now this is the day we remember those soldiers who are no longer with us from all the wars 

Every year on the Sunday before the 11th of November my father and I would attend Remebrance Day services at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Veterans from US, British, Canadian and Australian regiments come to the cathedral and lay a wreath of peace at the alter.

At the end of the service the beautiful poem, In Flanders Fields is read and a shower of red poppies float down from the vaulted cathedral onto the people below. The poppies are a symbol of Remembrance Day because they represent the thousands of poppies that grew over the mass graves and torn up battlefield in Flanders in World War I.

Last year was the last service we attended together. At 91, he was one of the oldest veterans in attendance. This year I just couldn’t go without him.

Today, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month I will be thinking of my father.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Looking UP

I went back home yesterday. Again.  As a kid I couldn't wait to get out of my small town. Away from everything small town about it. I didn't get that far away, either physically or emotionally. Now I find myself drawn back to my old friends and old neighborhood more and more. To the pot hole pocked concrete and asphalt streets that have shifted and shimmied with daily earthquakes and to the sky there that is bluer and clearer than anywhere I have ever been. We ride our old fogey bikes and talk about who lived where and how come everything looks smaller than it should.

My old house is long gone. Burned to the ground when the new family who moved into it ignored our warning and built a fire in the 100 year old earthquake damaged fireplace.  A fabulous old farm house with stables in the back. A two block walk to downtown. Now there is a hideous duplex on the lot; a jarring reminder that few people preserve anymore.

I walked to the corner and looked up at the street sign. Fifth and West. The sign was newish and green but it was in the same spot where I stood with my Dad over 50 years ago, looking up at the sky for a glimpse of Sputnik. He said we saw it but it looked nothing like Captain Satellite's space ship to me, so I just took his word for it. Every lunar or solar eclipse we'd stand on the corner under the sign that said Fifth and West and look up into that clear sky.

I spent a lot of time looking up yesterday. Looking up at that beautiful blue sky peeking through the leaves of the same trees I saw as a child. I was looking through older eyes but the view was exactly as I remembered it and I pretended that no time had passed.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Kirby Vacuum 1959

 Yesterday the Kirby Vacuum Cleaner salesman came to the door. I stood behind my locked security gate, out of his line of vision and politely told him that I wasn't interested in him dumping a bag of dust on my carpet and then vacuuming it up with the new and improved vacuuming wonder for 2010. Hell, I have enough dust and dog hair of my own to contend with, and I am a suspicious of anybody rattling my caged abode without an invitation. He must not have done well on his pushy salesman course, because he backed away, sheepishly, and said, "Nice dog." Oh, yes, even though he couldn't see me through the security grate, he could certainly hear Hamish's rumbling warning of "don't get too close, Dufus".
But his visit reminded me of the guy who came to our door in 1959, complete with his own bag of dirt, and Wow'd my mother and the 5 year old me, with the wonders of the Kirby Vacuum. It was the first multifunctional appliance we had ever seen and guaranteed to pay for itself with every vacuuming. It had a slot in the back of the upright handle and all we had to do was deposit one thin dime into the slot each time we (let's face it, it was Mom) vacuumed. Mom was a fastidious housekeeper and figured that it would be paid off in a year. I can still hear the dimes rattling in the aluminum tube.
When it wasn't vacuum cleaner, or a bank, it was the newest thing in hairdryers for the ladies of the house. Take the bag and handle off, open the oven door, place the Kirby on the door and attach the hose to the optional hair bonnet, turn on the oven to 475 degrees, turn on the vacuum and reverse it to "blow" and you could sit in front of the oven blasting the entire kitchen with infernal temperatures until your Do was Done. I recall the perplexed look on my father's face the first time he came home to find my mom sitting in a chair with the oven door open, tethered to the beast. We soon found out that the wheels weren't really designed to withstand the blast furnace as they melted into flat plastic blobs, making it impossible to wheel anymore.
Mom purchased the Lifetime Warranty, and while it had to be rebuilt several times, it kept on sucking away. That Kirby stayed in the family for over 30 years, ended up with my brother's wife for a few years and eventually became my first vacuum when I moved out on my own. Mom finally replaced it in the late 1970's with their newest super, power train/overdrive version that was a $1700 piece of crap. A friend described using it to "dancing with Darth Vader".  
Mom had 2 vacuums in her lifetime. I've been through at least 6 in the past 20 years and not one of them could dry a decent curl.