Monday, July 27, 2009

Our Killdeer Family

I've gained a new companion as I work in the yard, a killdeer. If you aren't a bird lover, a killdeer is a smallish brown and white bird with distinct brown bands around its head and neck. I'm not really sure why they haven't become extinct since they nest in a shallow depression on the ground in fields and rural yards.

We have a pair here every year so as soon as I see one in the spring I know to start watching very carefully when I mow. Thankfully the young ones are usually out of the nest and able to fend for themselves before my husband takes the tractor out to cut hay.

This year there were initially four chicks, tiny replicas of their parents and unbearably cute. Soon there were only three; no wonder since they are such easy prey. The three chicks thrived and grew for a couple weeks, but then they discovered grass across the road and, since they prefer to run rather than fly, one was hit and crushed almost beyond recognition by a vehicle. The father bird has long since left, but the mother bird stood vigil on the roadside calling to her dead baby all day long. I felt so sad for her.

I've always talked to her (I know it's nutty) as she feigned a broken wing to lure me away from the nest, and later as she tried in vain to keep up with her chicks. Now that she doesn't have to be with them all the time, she has apparently decided it's more fun to hang out with me than with those darned kids who drive her nuts. Every time I go outside she comes running and stays with me until I go back in the house. I still talk to her and she seems content just to be near me. It's probaby a coincidence (she has to be someplace after all) but I feel like she's doing this purposefully.

And I thought it would be lonely and boring living in the country! I can hear her calling loudly right now; probably wondering why I'm indoors on such a nice day.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pres. Obama and the New Haven Police

One thing I really admire about President Obama is his ability to be reasonable and calm in the face of criticism. His recent remarks about the New Haven Police Dept., Sgt. Crowley in particular, and their arrest of Prof. Gates are further proof of this.

I considered his initial remark that the New Haven police had "acted stupidly" to be a lapse in judgement. This kind of statement could only inflame the situation and alienate police departments all across the country. As Obama stated at the outset, he wasn't there and didn't have all the facts at his disposal; for that matter, neither did anyone else who wasn't there.

Now he has acted to defuse the situation and he will meet with Gates and Crowley to have a calm, rational discussion. He hopes this will teach us all something. First, it should teach the president that even when it is a friend who is involved in a controversial act, he should weigh his words very carefully. This could have set off a firestorm of racial conflict. Thankfully, President Obama had the good sense to back down and bring the parties together for a discussion.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Frank McCourt is Gone

I see Frank McCourt has died. It was only last year that I finally read "Angela's Ashes," his memoir of his childhood in Ireland. I had picked up a copy at a book sale, and soon discovered why it had been such a bestseller.

Since I had grown up in a stable midwestern family in a middle class environment, I couldn't imagine how Frank and his brother Malachy had survived the hunger, lack of even the most basic necessities, and neglect of their early years. I read most of the book alternately gasping in horror and laughing in delight. Perhaps it was that Irish wit that saved them after all.

As a writer I greatly admired McCourt's ability to put the reader squarely in the scene, for instance when the first floor of their house was flooded and stinking with the overflow from the shared toilet so they moved upstairs to their "vacation home" where they heated bits of food over bits of fuel. (And as a writer I shouldn't indulge in such a run-on sentence.) He also remembered that they passed the time telling wonderful stories. His father, when sober, told them fantastic, and totally incorrect but very entertaining, tales of history.

It's almost too much to believe that in the end Frank McCourt was brought down by a skin cancer, even though it was the deadly melanoma. Ah, but I'm sure he would find the humor in it and look forward to a roaring Irish wake. At 78 he was most certainly blessed with long life and the knowledge that from such tragic beginnings he had made something of himself. I hope Malachy won't be too lonely without him.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor

In the past few weeks I have developed a true admiration for Sonia Sotomayor. Throughout the game show otherwise known as confirmation proceedings she has maintained good humor, dignity, and a firm refusal to let anyone get under her skin.

Personally, I would have told a few senators where to get off, especially in the past four days. I don't know how she managed to let them get their air time, insulting her, badgering her with the same question over and over about her "wise Latina" remark, and insisting she is something she isn't without losing her cool, calm demeanor.

I was particularly impressed when she said that she could not sit there and tell them she was for or against issues at this time knowing that the Supreme Court, presented with those same issues, would study and debate the constitutionality involved for months before coming to a decision. What kind of a justice would have all the big issues of the day firmly decided in her own mind before hearing any sort of specific case or debate? It surely wouldn't be a justice I would want on the court.

Having said that, though, we are all a product of our individual backgrounds, education, gender, and life experiences. The fact that she doesn't come from a wealthy WASP family and that she is seemingly a down-to-earth realist I think bodes well for her decision making on the court. Her coolness and poise since being nominated bodes well for her ability to judge cases without bias.

Oh yes, and she was a Nancy Drew fan as a young girl. I guess it doesn't hurt my opinion that I was too.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"Public Enemies"

We saw a movie, "Public Enemies," last weekend that I want to encourage people to see. Most critics seem to think the movie fails in some way. As far as I can tell, they want it to tell more of the story of the 1920s and all about the gangster scene in Chicago and on and on: in other words they want a documentary. I have news for them. If this were a documentary, no one would pay to see it.

I should admit at the beginning that I've been a Johnny Depp fan for many years, ever since he was a young star of the TV show "21 Jump Street." I think he's one of the best actors in the business. He's a chameleon who can have fun playing an outrageous character like Capt. Sparrow in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies and then absolutely nail a character like the 1920s Chicago gangster John Dillinger.

I was born and raised in central Illinois and although I was born long after Dillinger was killed coming out of the Biograph Theater in Chicago, everyone knew a lot about him when I was a kid. There was an abandoned old house just off Route 66 south of Springfield, in fact, that was pointed out to everyone as having been one of Dillinger's hideouts. Now I wonder if that was true, but it was certainly common knowledge in the 40s and 50s.

People were fascinated by Dillinger - his wisecracking, his cocky grin, the fact that he robbed banks but let the customers keep their own money, his frank enjoyment of the life he led. In the movie they show crowds of people lining the street to see Dillinger being taken in by the police and that rings very true. He was a celebrity in Illinois.

This movie about the end of Dillinger's life is really worth seeing, despite what the critics say. And Johnny Depp is terrific as usual.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bluestone Country

I live in the upper reaches of the Appalachian Mountains. This area is rich in bluestone, a beautiful, nonflaky stone with various shades of blue and blue-gray popular with contractors across the country.

For the past several years quarry owners in the area had enjoyed a boom in business. Quarries that had been closed for many years suddenly opened and thousands of tons of stone left here every week to be used in landscaping and home building projects in NJ, NY (especially Westchester County and Long Island), Conn., even as far away as California.

Tourism folks promote this as the Endless Mountains, but for a while there it looked like it would become the Endless Flats. Then the bottom dropped out of the market. Most of the quarries are closed, silent. No more unexpected dynamite blasts, no more rumble of stone trucks passing by, and a lot of out-of-work quarrymen at a time when there are amost no jobs to be had.

As a writer, I enjoy the peace and quiet but I'm concerned about all those people who don't have jobs. The help wanted ads in the newspapers used to fill 3-4 pages. Now they barely fill 2-3 columns of one page, yet another blow to struggling newspapers.

What about the young men who went straight from high school to the quarries? They didn't see any reason to go to college or train for a skilled job. Now many are married with young children.

We had escaped big problems from the recession around here. We had few foreclosures, lost jobs, or homeless people. That's beginning to change with quarries closing, companies just across the state line in New York laying off many PA residents, and the cancellation of the presidential helicopter project at Lockheed affecting us as well. My husband's machine shop business has been affected and many other small businesses here have downsized or closed.

Apparently we were one of the last places to be hit; I hope we won't be the last to recover. I'm retired from full-time work as a medical transcriptionist and my husband is about ready to retire, but we're just a lucky exception to the norm here. It's very sad.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Political Suicide

Doesn't it seem like the annual number of politicians throwing away their careers increases with each year? The last two to commit political suicide have reminded us there are many methods of cutting short a promising career in public service. The only question is why they do it.

Gov. Mark "Holier-than-thou" Sanford chose the most common suicidal impulse: sex. Like an adolescent boy he apologized and apologized ad nauseum for his affair, but then added to the immaturity of his conduct by admitting to "crossing the line" (whatever that means) with other women. Reminds me of teenagers bragging about conquests, of the real or wishful thinking sort.

Most men in the throes of midlife crisis are content to buy a fancy sportscar or some other mild act of rebellion. Sanford, forgetting that the aphrodesiac involved here is power, threw away his marriage, the respect of his sons, and his career in one fell swoop. Or, as my father used to say, one swell foop, which actually sounds more appropriate in this case.

No sooner had Sanford finally, thankfully dropped out of sight again, this time to be alone with his family in an attempt at reconciliation, we see Gov. Sarah Palin before a microphone. Yikes, this can't be good.

I'm not real sure what Palin said except that she's resigning. Her little speech was so full of mixed metaphors and Palinisms that the rest is all a blur. Something about dead fish? Oh I don't know.

Regardless, as if she hadn't already turned herself into a joke and embarrassed her family and her constituents enough, she is now jumping ship because the waves are getting too high. See? I can do it too. If this doesn't end her hopes for 2012, I don't know what more she can do to guarantee she won't be our first female president or vice president or anything else in D.C.

Now that's good news!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Fourth of July in a Small Town

Our country's birthday is a real big deal in Susquehanna County, PA. Oh you might go to Scranton for St. Patrick's Day or someplace else for a Christmas parade, but if you aren't in Montrose, PA for the Independence Day parade, you're nowhere.

Last night we drove down to Wyoming County to Tunkhannock High School for the opening salvo of our holiday. That town has the best fireworks show around in our estimation. We found a huge crowd already gathered when we arrived early and it grew until the football field and surrounding lawns were packed with people of all ages. There were also people lined up along Route 6 and on porches in neighborhoods with a good view. Kiwanis volunteers collected donations ensuring that next year's show will be just as spectacular as last night's extravaganza.

I've often wondered what it would be like to fly over a fireworks show. Last night some of the rockets went so high I wondered if any small planes were nearby. Guess not. Other fireworks just to the left of those rockets were new to me, swirling, pulsating, screaming streaks of color and the pop, pop, pop of blinding lights. At 69 I was sqealing and cheering just as much as the children around us.

Today was the big parade in the Susquehanna County seat of Montrose. It's a lovely town with many large old homes built in the early 1900's by wealthy Philadelphia people who discovered how beautiful it is here in the summer. It's a staunchly conservative Republican area. The people are religious and they maintain old-fashioned values. As a Democrat I'm part of a tiny minority here but I love the people so I just keep my mouth shut. When I was a reporter for the weekly paper, it drove the county commissioners nuts that they couldn't figure out where I stood on things so they actually looked me up in the voting records to find out. Imagine their shock!

Anyway, we're as patriotic as they are and my husband was in the Marine Corps as were many of our neighbors. We always show up for the parade. It lasts an hour these days with all the typical ingredients for a good country parade: veterans, high school bands (2), Dixieland bands, Cub Scouts, local clergy in golf carts (there's an excellent course here), old tractors, classic cars, fire engines, floats, and politicians. We also have a local group reminiscent of "Stomp" who we all love, gorgeous horses (one carrying George Washington this year), dirt track race cars, Ronald McDonald, and queens of this and that. Bringing up the rear every year is Charlie Chaplin with a janitor's cart.

The crowd is unbelievable. Everyone brings the kids and grandma, and we see people we haven't seen for months. The parade ends at the town green where there are craft booths and food stands, barbecued chicken at the firehouse, and wonderful smells.

This evening we'll see fireworks at our high school on the hill but most of the out-of-town visitors will have gone home by them. The population of Montrose swells by thousands during this day as folks drive in from New York, New Jersey, and other parts of Pennsylvania. Then they go home and the town easily slips back into normal quiet days. Well, that is until the Blueberry Festival next month. You ought to see the crowd then!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Senator Franken at Last!

At long last the courts have decreed that Al Franken is Minnesota's junior senator. I must say, if I lived in that state, I wouldn't be so much relieved as I would be angry that it took eight months to get this decided.

It really doesn't matter which party they are affiliated with, the citizens of Minnesota have been denied half of their voice in the U.S. Senate. In the months since the November election momentous issues have been under consideration and where was their juniot senator? Oh, that's right, he was on tenterhooks waiting out all the vote recounts and court proceedings.

Mr. Coleman should be ashamed. For the sake of his own ambitions he kept the outcome of the election up in the air. Since he has been that unconcerned about the interests of the people of his state, it tells me he wouldn't have represented them well if he had been elected.

The vote count was very close but at some point the loser must put the people first. Perhaps Senator Franken can find the humor in this situation as he did so successfully as a comedian. I can't.

It's President Obama

Is it just me or does the media have a real preference for calling our president "Mr. Obama?"

I realize that our first president established the precedent that we never refer to our leader in royal-sounding forms of address. It's "Mr. President" not "Your Highness."

On the other hand, the media referred to former presidents as "President Bush," "President Reagan," etc. They even called Bill Clinton "President Clinton" when they weren't calling him "Slick Willy."

Okay, so the Obama administration is less formal, more down to earth. I love that and I think the Obama family is more representative of who most of us are. But, he is our president, arguably the most powerful man in the world. He deserves the respect due the leader of our great country.

It should be "President Obama."