Saturday, February 28, 2009

If you are ever in need of a laugh--enough mirth to make sit-ups superfluous, frankly--check out I've just re-visited the site, and spent more than 45 minutes giggling to tears, scrolling through a month's worth of current and past posts.

We had some homely birthday cakes coming up in my family, and I've seen other frosted disasters, particularly at weddings, but the photos and commentary in this chronicle of what can go wrong when food-colored icing gets into less-than-capable hands is priceless. And no, one needn't be a cook or baker to appreciate the amusing mayhem, just have a well-established sarcastic streak...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Revival, Recognition and Returning

Last night, I took Grandmommy and Granddaddy to hear a guest preacher at a Baptist church in Dudley, Georgia, some ten miles from their hometown. Dudley is a tiny hamlet, about six or eight square blocks in all, with one stoplight on the main (two-lane) road, and a railroad track. We arrived early, and the sanctuary was already full—Grandmommy’s sharp eyes spied an empty section on a pew near the front, though, so we had good seats—and while we waited for the service to begin, two women came up from either side of the room, about 5 minutes apart, the first greeting Grandmommy by name and the second Granddaddy. The first turned out to be a former coworker of Grandmommy’s from the Farmers and Merchants Bank—a young married woman then, she now has 10 grandchildren, but still works with several other people Grandmommy knew at another bank branch (F&M is long gone in multiple mergers). What I thought was interesting was the way this woman simply accepted Granddaddy as a given part of the furniture, so to speak, not to mention the way that she instantly recognized my grandmother after three decades’ separation. And that Grandmommy remembered details about the woman’s husband, and was able to inquire after him intelligently—yes, he still is at the Farm Bureau—was mind-boggling. I have trouble remembering how my own close friends are employed at present, much less how their spouses may be, and recalling the salient details over time—Gosh! Then, the second similarly middle-aged woman popped up at Granddaddy’s elbow and engaged him in conversation. Since Granddaddy only retired from public employment 18 years ago, this was not as chronologically-distant an acquaintance, yet Granddaddy’s memory is not as sharp as Granddaddy’s; he nonetheless managed to respond pleasantly, if somewhat confusedly, to this convivial onslaught.

The speaker was good—David Ring, a preacher with cerebral palsy—sharp and funny, with more mustard and fewer platitudes than might have been expected, given the old stereotype of revival ministers. The organist (or pianist in this case) did not play “Just as I am” for an altar call. Instead, at the end of the talk, she led everyone in a few verses of “Amazing Grace,” which was really the theme of the evening—not so much non-believing people becoming Christians, but confessing Christians becoming active in their churches, realizing what Jesus had done for them, and in gratitude getting off their “blessed assurance” (here Mr. Ring patted his posterior) and to work, sharing their gifts and their testimonies, living what they say they believe.

Besides Mr. Ring’s message itself, there were a couple of encouraging details in the attendance and conduct of the meeting. First, there were a lot of what my Grandmother termed “young people”—not just old and middle-aged, but actual youth, from middle schoolers to college kids—there. Secondly, there were several Black families there, and nobody was looking at them funny. Small-town Georgia has come along way when Christians of two ethnic groups as long-separated, forcibly and then voluntarily, as members of African-American and White churches will come together to worship spontaneously—I still remember going by myself to a Black church one Sunday in the summer of 1992 in a tiny town south Georgia and being looked at like I was an alien being (great sermon and singing, though!). And lastly, before he invited Mr. Ring to the podium, the pastor of the church asked all the men in the congregation to come forward to kneel at the altar to intercede with him to God for the message, the church, and their families. All three of these aspects of the event were so delightfully counter-cultural! Men being particularly and explicitly invited to spiritual leadership, to repent of passivity; Christians of every tribe getting together to worship; and kids and young adults who could have been at home frittering away their idle school-night hours instead in church listening to a 55-year-old man give his testimony.

We got home about 9 PM, too late to play Scrabble, and I hopped in the shower before kissing the grandparentals goodnight and toddling off to snuggle under half a dozen Grandmommy afghans (which, unfortunately, did not put me to sleep—I was up to the wee hours with bad insomnia). While I was in their room hugging Grandmommy goodnight, Granddaddy came around the doorjamb in his flannel PJs, and his eyes went wide: “What in the doust is that!?” referring to my volumous new nightgown. Grandmommy laughed and said that she’d thought I was wrapped in a sheet at first. All this jocund criticism, and I wasn’t even wearing my beaded Moroccan “harem” slippers with the curly toes...

This morning, I wandered outside as Granddaddy was finishing up his “inspection” of the yard (he’s roto-tilled several rows in the garden, where he hopes to have tomatoes, potatoes, and some peas—this is much reduced from the garden of yore, which had up to four kinds of peas, greens, and other vegetables, besides the several acres of corn he used to plant out at the farm—and these are in addition to the annual blueberries, pears, apples, figs and scuppernongs), and he started telling me some stories about his own grandfather, the Civil War veteran. He said he was ragged when he went into the Navy in 1936 about being a Southerner, a “rebel”, and he’d responded that the only reason they’d been able to whip the South was because his grandfather and six great-uncles had “gone North to help them out.” I had known my great-great-granddaddy was an abolitionist who answered Lincoln’s call for volunteers, but I didn’t know that after the war, even up to when my Granddaddy was a boy, his older brothers would all come in from their farms in south Georgia to the “old home place” in Wedowee, Alabama, and visit their youngest sibling each summer, sitting around “tellin’ stories” as Granddaddy put it. Granddaddy used to sit in his grandfather’s room and listen to the old man tell tales—“He was a pistol,” Granddaddy said. “I loved him, I wish he was living today.” His grandmother’s family didn’t fight in the war—they’d not owned slaves, but they’d just hunkered down and waited for the fighting to blow over.

I would have loved to have Granddaddy relate some of the Civil War stories he’d overheard, but he moved on to a more recent war, and went off on John F. Kennedy— whose path he’d crossed in the Pacific. He’d pumped up the torpedoes on JFK’s PT boat, while the latter, in contravention of sensible Navy regulations, had been in shorts, shoeless. Granddaddy said he’d helped pick up survivors off the USS Lexington and USS Yorktown that were flash-burned—which happened when bombs went off and one wasn’t properly clad. Granddaddy loathes the Kennedys, folks “with a good Irish name that aren’t worth 2 bits.” Happily, he didn’t get carried away on that topic, and we discussed how small a world it is—besides a rescued Lexington sailor that had been in grade school with him in Alabama, he’d run into a fellow in New York City when he was in the Navy that was from his hometown (the guy had yelled his name and “How’s Wedowee?” from across the street as he was striding along “like a big bottle of Coke-cola”. I reminded him that when I was in Russia the first time, I’d met a man who’d been a youth pastor at my home church—we knew the same folks. You just never know.

And then went in and had dinner. With devil’s food cake and apple pie afterwards (why have just one dessert when you can have two?). And then Grandmommy and I played Scrabble—I eked out a 5-point win after trailing most of the game, but we each finished with over 300 points. And then I had some more chocolate cake. And at last, I drove home. Where I played another game of Scrabble with Mums (lost badly to her) and ate two more pieces of cake—generous hunks of vanilla pound cake that had been in the freezer, and then nicely warmed in the microwave. Ummm.

I’m supposed to go all the way back to DC tomorrow. I don’t suppose any cake will be waiting for me when I get there….

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fight With Mums

There was much yelling from the stands of, "Use the knee! Use the knee!" and "Ref, get 'em up!" besides the usual, "Atta girl!" and "Come on, you can do it!" at the fight Saturday night.

It was not one fight, actually, but a slate of 13 (the 14th having been scrubbed because the intended opponent was injured in training) at Augusta's Bell Auditorium yesterday evening.

Mums had asked me a week or two ago whether I'd wanted to go with her to this ExtremeFightNight--Daddy couldn't, as he was on call for OB anesthesia, which waits for no man--and I'd enthusiastically assented. Quite a number of people she knows from kickboxing, including two women, were up for bouts, and she wanted to support them (and observe how formal fights were conducted outside the martial arts studio where she trains). I'd been to one such (smaller-scale) event before with Bob, my 2nd-degree-blackbelt brother, and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I figured this one would be fun. I was right!

Tattoos were much in evidence--Mums remarked that my sister and I would be unusual in our later years, as our contemporaries (including one of my two brothers) all have tattoos (in medical charts, we would be described not for the distinguishing marks on our skin, but for the lack of them). Indoors it was warm, and there were a lot of bare arms--a few minutes after we found our seats, Mums pealed off her shirt, leaving her firm biceps curving out from a lace-edged black tank top, and fitting in well with the crowd around us, except for her 'shroom-like silver hair--all she needed was a dragon inked into her shoulder. Lacking both the physical definition and the sartorial underpinnings of my esteemed parent, I left my longsleeved shirt on, which meant that I was parched by the third fight (I went and got us some Sprite during a combat break). However they were clothed, most of the other over-21 spectators were downing plastic cups of beer, and yet language remained generally mild and most people comfortably in their chairs.

Attendance was pretty decent--I'd guestimate the Bell seats about 3000 people, and between 750 and 1000 were there, all races and both sexes like the combatants themselves, though most of the women were with men--and we had good spots in a balcony about 40-50 feet from the ring. Mums recognized a lot of people from her MMA (that's "mixed martial arts") classes at tables on the stage and around the ring (those were the pricey places, but in my opinion we had a better view than they)--others were near us, including one early-20s Black guy behind me who kept bouncing out of his seat in excitement, saying, "Man, I should've fought!" Mums really doesn't have anybody to fight with, given she's one of the few women in the studio (frequently the only one in the early-morning class she attends--all the guys are at least 25-35 years younger, heavily tattooed and "very sweet" she says), and she's nervous about getting injured. But the two women from her studio--each of whom fought an opponent from outside the area--did a great job. I was really impressed, particularly by the short, powerful lady with red hair whom my mother says is 40 and never married (ah, a role model!). Modestly dressed, padded helmets strapped on, the "girls" didn't pull punches or kicks, and I overheard the four 30ish Harley Davidson t-shirt wearing heavyset good-ol'-boys in the seats in front of us remark to each other, "The women had the best fights of the night, along with the kids." (The men tended to go to ground in wrestling clenches, attempting to choke one another, which was boring to watch, particularly since the ref was usually bent over the struggling pair, trying to ascertain whether any illegal holds were being employed, and so blocking the view further. The women and children were much more representative of the classic "gentlemanly" kickboxing model.)

The second fight of the night was between two little boys--one is an 11-year-old World Champion--and they set to with hammer and tongs, plenty of bounce and action, which had the other little boy dissolving in tears after a particularly direct kick in the second round. The ref stopped the fight until the small combatant had recovered his composure, and both children were warmly applauded after the judges had reached the unanimous verdict that the World Champion had added yet another win to his record. Cordial hugs and handshakes were exchanged all around between fighters and coaches following each decision--there were only a couple of fights where this seemed insincere--the MMA world is a small one, and many people know one another (in fact, I recognized my old coach from the one summer I took kickboxing, 15 years ago! Neither of his fighters won).

Every fight was three rounds (two slightly skanky skinny little "ringtarts"--as I called them--pranced and swiveled around during the breaks with large beer-logoed signs announcing "Round 2" and "Round 3" while the sweating fighters were being sponged, watered and pep-talked by their coaches in the corners), and only three didn't last that long--the first when one middleweight guy with dyed red dreadlocks tapped out in the first round, the second when a hugely tall bald and goateed heavyweight guy who looked like Vladimir the Russian Hermit got a cut over one eye from an accidental knee to the head in the second round and the judges declared a "no contest", and the third in a horrifying moment when another heavyweight, curved painfully back over the stage-side ropes by his porky skunk-haired opponent--who didn't seem to have any skill other than throwing his 250+ pounds at the legs of the other fighter--went absolutely limp, either dead, paralyzed or unconscious.

The angle he was at the moment of sudden relaxation made me (and much of the audience) terrified he'd snapped his neck, and the aides and coaches immediately and gently supported his inert body down onto the canvas, attempting to bring him to. Turned out, he'd broken his right leg pretty badly--or had it broken for him--and had passed out from the pain. It was iced from the thigh down and when he regained consciousness he was carefully rotated onto a body board and carried out of the auditorium to applause. I could read his lips as the board-carriers maneuvered him under the ropes: "Don't drop me!" There was much booing when the opponent was declared the winner--after all, if the judges had stopped the fight and declared "no contest" for a little cut earlier, why was a broken leg to be treated any differently?

Mums and I decided to leave after that--not because of the drama, but because the announcer said they needed to tweak the ring-ropes or something like that which required an intermission, and it was already past 10:30. Mums is an early-to-bed girl. Usually around 8 PM. And after you've already worked out at the gym for three hours, and then watched three hours of physical combat, two and a half of which are past your regular bedtime, you are tired. As I am now, having only described it (although I did work out for an hour today, as well).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Haven't been able to blog of late because my home dialup gave up the ghost, and I've been spending a lot of time running from one place to another on foot and in the car. And the weather has been lovely, so I haven't wanted to spend a lot of time indoors typing.

Susan and I went hiking two weekends in a row--once up in Great Falls, MD, and the other (this past Monday) at Harper's Ferry. Nice to get out of town, in the woods.

I've had a couple of jewelry shows (nothing too spectacular, as everyone's feeling the economic pinch, but a little something is good), and returned to the Arlington Market one Saturday (ditto). I made an impressive number of pieces in preparation for these events, so my inventory is definitely ready for spring.

I've proofed the next chapter of Two Motherlands, and drafted my dissertation proposal (hope to have it in to my advisor by the end of the month). I'm shifting more away from infectious disease preparation and prevention and more towards the problems of limb-loss and post-injury accessibility issues. For one thing, this topic is quantifiable and the data should be extant and available; for another, this has direct relavence to the postwar lives of today's wartime amputees.

Should be heading home to GA in an hour or so, after I finish loading my car and get my oil changed. Plan to spend the night in Mebane, NC, with friends, but they don't know this yet!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

For the Wicked, Rest; For the Good, Nada

Just goes to show you that there is nothing like a healthy diet, hard work and thorough exercise to cause horrible insomnia. When I eat sweets and laze about, accomplishing little, I sleep the sleep of the just. It ain't fair. It's almost 5 AM, and I'm exhausted, but not capable of dozing. In the sleepless interim, I'm reading E. B. Potter's biography of Chester Nimitz. In Potter's opinion, the old admiral walked on water. It's been a while since I've read such an unabashedly laudatory history of anyone, but it makes for a nice change, given the less-than-laudatory observations I shall probably be making about everyone, including myself, if I don't get some shuteye soon. The book's also a good overview of the Pacific War from the perspective of the brass-wearing strategists, whereas Granddaddy's viewpoint of the same battles recorded in his memoirs was that of the grease-wearing machinist. I'm 130 or so pages into it, and probably will get farther still before light arrives or I finally fall asleep. Go Navy!

Monday, February 02, 2009


I finished the transcription of Granddaddy's memoirs at around 4:30 AM Thursday morning. At 7 PM Thursday night, I was in Bethesda, MD, meeting with a girl who runs a nice consignment store up there--the girl who'd emailed me about featuring my jewelry for a Valentine's show. I ended up leaving more pieces than I'd originally planned, because it's definitely a nice venue, far better than I'd dreamed. Anita did the same. The open house is on Monday, a week from today, and the two of us jewelry-making buddies plan to drive up to be there in person for at least part of it.

Saturday night, I went to a "Soylent Green" party over at a friend's house. We ate spinach dip, key lime pie, and cookies and cupcakes dyed green, and watched the cheesy Charlton Heston flick. It was fun. The two guys in the group learned a great compliment to lay on the women in their lives: "You're one hell of a nice piece of furniture." I think it was a result of our being all a little crazed by the quantities of emerald food coloring we'd consumed that suggestions made about the next themed movie night all centered on hue: one of the "Trois Couleurs" trilogy, the "Pink Panther," "A Clockwork Orange." I don't think we'll do the pink theme, because neither the Merry Marshwiggle nor the NPV (the two guys in question) are strawberry-eaters, and everything else would have to be dyed to fit.

Sunday, Susan went to a young singles Superbowl party for a couple of hours, while I skipped out on the old singles Superbowl party to which I'd been invited and went over to a dear friend's house for dinner. I ended up Wii boxing multiple rounds to entertain her 2 and 3/4 year old son, and then pretending to be Spiderman throwing webs while he responded in kind. Her husband was amused. I was tired but happy when I left at 8:30 (staying out late when I have to drive home is no longer fun to me), and I got back home just minutes before Susan did--she went directly to bed and I stayed up for a couple of hours to wind down in silent earring-making.

Today, I spent six hours on dissertation-proposal writing, went out and ran a mile (I'm a wuss) and walked four, and generally felt productive. The multiple ideas about military medicine in the Soviet Union are starting to take a unified shape. Watching an episode from the first season of M*A*S*H after dinner helped!