Boo for Holiday Booze

December 24th, 2015 No comments »

mymable“Oh no, Bill, not the boys!”

My grandmother, Mable Michael, had particular, peculiar, nearly miracle hearing. Let’s go with selective. She didn’t respond to all that much and seemed to lose the lower tones as so many older women do. And yet…

I recall a specific Christmas holiday in my college days in her home in the Eastern panhandle of West Virginia. Several of my friends from the area has joined me in her living room, filling the couch and chairs.

She had a clear relationship with alcohol, as in it was sinful, shameful and to be avoided. She was like a Jew who speaks of alcoholism as the shegetz disease, without the quirk of ignoring Jewish vintners or the dominance of Jews in the whiskey distilling trade.

Her hypocrisy was baser and plainer. Her husband (my beloved grandfather) might have two 3.2% beers (all that was legal in West Virginia) and he was on the road to hell. Yet, we all knew we had to bear our version of frankincense each Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas in form of Mogan Davis blackberry wine.

We never saw it. We never saw her or anyone drinking it. By the end of the vacation, somehow the bottles disappeared (and were concealed in bags or more in the trash). She arose about 5 every morning to spend time with The Upper Room devotional, her Bible, and likely a glass of the star of David.

I never saw my grandfather tipsy. Well, maybe once. He took my sister and me to the Burlington drive-in movie and tossed back a 3.2 or two. As we were leaving, he drove off with the speaker still attached to the front passenger window and the cord snapped. High or impatient? We’ll never know.

Anyway, he was no sot and no one ever likely got drunk on 3.2 beer. You’d pee yourself into fatigue first.

That particuar Christmas eve, we were in the living room. She as usual was laboring in the kitchen for her planned massive Christmas Day family feast. After all, her beloved only son would arrive with his brood of four, plus wife.

The ambient noise level was high. The TV was on, as they always were in the 1960s. Hell, they still are (why is that, writes the non-TV watcher?). Granddad came to me in the distant corner armchair. He bent down to my right ear (farthest from the kitchen and his vigilant wife) and whispered so I could barely make it out, “Would you and the boys like a little nog?”

In West Viginia terms of the time, that of course meant some store-bought sugary eggnog from a carton with a small splash of bourbon. I attended the University of Sourh Carolina, where bourbon was a sacrament and such splashes were better suited as aftershave than refreshment. Still it was a host-worthy query.

Immediately from the kitchen — how the hell could she even have the faintest sense of the query — Mable immediately bellowed, “Oh no, Bill, not the boys!”

To this day, I wonder whether she sussed the concept or exhibited some canine-level superpower. Though everyone in the living room was of legal drinking age, she’d have none of it.

Even then we laughed.

 

 

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The Brassiere Jungle

December 12th, 2015 No comments »

Woe was I (although I hardly knew or admitted it). Growing up, I was the token male in a mom-led with older sister household.

To my later benefit, I learned early to leave the toilet seat down. I also chose to become the best cook, with my maternal grandmother as the family star baker up to her death — another big plus come dating, single-life and marriage statuses.

Alas, there was 50s and 60s underwear.

After the questionable innovation of pantyhose — expensive, fragile necessity for working women and aggravation to lusty companions — the canopy in the bathroom was less lush. Yet I grew knowing a veritable orchard of lingerie.

In our various apartments and houses with shared bathrooms, I’d bushwack to the shower and sink. My fastidious mother and sister regularly washed multiple sets of what one neighbor, Mrs. Kidd in Danville, VA, still called unmentionables. Hanging from shower curtain tubes, towel racks and of course, the folding wooden Rid-Jid drying structure filling the tub/shower space were a Tarzan transit worthy set of vines comprising bras, girdles, stockings, garter belts, and underpants.

Certainly fighting this overgrowth to wash and shave was better than life with stinky mother and sister. Yet still…

Now as a long-term married, I remain pleased that my first and only uxorial unit does not try to make me relive my unmentionables past, the ghosts of brassieres that had been. Just today as I headed up after breakfast to brush my teeth, she hastened before me, saying she’d left a bra in the sink.

As it turned out she had in fact already rinsed it and hung it over a towel on her towel rack.

That got me thinking of how oddly proud so many are of what married types do in sight, hearing and smell of each other. Allegedly after a year of marriage, the couple are happy to defecate, pass wind (loudly and laughing), and do all manner of private business next to the spouse. Supposedly, that is intimacy.

I guess I’m too much of a prig. I don’t want her to perceive me as a flatulent, coarse, stinky animal. I think of Rose Sayer in The African Queen, when she said, “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

 

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Romancing the Diseases

December 6th, 2015 1 comment »

Cristobal_Rojas_37aSeveral physicians have told me how they used to dread the day of the month the new Reader’s Digest appeared. When I grew up, that formulaic and wildly popular little maggy featured an article on a disease. Within two days, docs would get calls from those sure they had it. That was crazy talk, but it still required diagnosis and much reassurance.

My maternal grandmother, an otherwise bright and witty human, played at that several times a year. In her defense, she lived in a small town in the eastern mountains of West Virginia. Excitement did not seek Romney out. Adding a bit of drama to a humdrum life is understandable.

Well, my grandmother, Mable, did have a disease. Several doctors had diagnosed her with nervous asthma. That is, her wheezing and shortness of breath were as real as someone reacting to physical or airborne irritants. She refused to accept that she might do something other than squeeze her nebulizer bulb. She found one GP, as they were known in the days before FPs and PCPs, who humored her and agreed that she had no control over her condition.

Wasting Envy

Her foible was small beer compared to Romantic Era poets, opera composers, painters and novelists. Check here, here, here, and here, and relish La Miseria by Cristóbal Rojas  above.) Numerous artists sincerely desired to have and die from tuberculosis, for its effects of paleness and weakness. I fear we still see such effects in thigh gaps, anorexia, obsession with wearing size 0, and countless young women who have bodies better suited to 11-year-old boys.

Being too thin, too weak, too wan sound frightful to me, conditions you should avoid through exercise, sensible diet and being sure you have good levels of hormones chugging through your veins.

And yet, a small part of me senses the glamor my grandmother sought to liven her rise-work-eat-sleep quotidian existence. For one specific for Mable, she was big boned (I inherited my big, honking feet and too broad chest from her). She truly wanted to be slight like her sister. They shared a dad, but Mable was the eldest and Anna, from their widowed father’s second wife, the youngest. They were physically unalike and Mable envied her little sister’s build.

Years later I recalled them on my first real full-time job. I went from college to be the editor in chief of the black weekly newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina. The race was important, in part because most readers and all the board members were African Americans.

So were the two everyday office staff, Ida and Jackie. They had been friends from elementary school, through college and now on the job. They were each other’s bridesmaids even. They were intimate and much of the day included personal chitchat mixed with work.

They talked a lot about each other’s bodies. They had the two stereotypical African-American women’s bodies — one short with large bust and bottom, one very slender. They each claimed regularly to want the other’s body. They would embarrass me with such talk as Ida saying her hubby, Thomas, would love to have a wife with Jackie’s sizeable breasts. While I lived with a woman, such intimate talk was not my norm.

Poetry of Illness

While not a drama queen myself (as the French might say, j’ai du sang-froid), I don’t totally lack sympathy with the disease romantics. In fact for a mild example, I recall being maybe 8 when my sister brought home one her many disease gifts. This was German measles as I remember it.

I laid n the bed febrile and covered with itching sores. I projected to various movies and Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion (a TV show my sister and I watched). There were deserts and heat and suffering and heroism. Blah, blah.

As an adult though, I am only disappointed when my body fails me at any time. I long ago accepted that only in kiddy land can doctors fix you. They are good with acute and obvious conditions. Faced with chronic or nebulous adult disorders, they fail more often than not. “Live with it” is the too frequent prognosis.

Recently though I had minor pleasure at thinking I had rare disorders. I was not aware that desire existed at all in my brain.

Straight up, I had not heard of either polymyalgia rheumatica or macular pucker. I got diagnoses or each of those in turn. Because I have a broad general knowledge and knew of neither, with each I figured I was pretty damned special.

Wrong.

Instant Claudication

For polymyalgia, I went to bed feeling fine, but woke so sore I could hardly move my arms and struggled mightily to walk 25 feet to the john. I got slightly better over the week and decided to wait it out. A couple of weeks slithered by before I called my doc.

He knows my mild disdain for his profession and was positively chipper in being able to tell me that, “Come in for a diagnosis, but I’m sure that you have polymyalgia rheumatica.”

I had never heard of it but clicked around the tubes to see that I had the symptoms. He confirmed the initial call and hooked me up immediately with a rheumatologist. Before visiting the latter, we spoke and like my internist, he was sure right away.

The good rheumatologist Bates has a lollipop face and is young enough to have a daughter the age of my grandson. He was both very compassionate and a regular pro with polymyalgia. He squashed my romantic, special image quickly by noting that old white women frequently get a mild form of it but typically Caucasian men from 55 to 70 get it hard as I did. It is kind of like sickle-cell disease for African Americans or any of that dozen or more Ashkenazim blood disorders, a curse specifically on old white people. Fair enough.

Dr. Bates said simply, “It’s not rare. If you know a bunch of white men in their 50s and 60s, you know someone who had it.” Sure enough, I have found several peers with the condition. They don’t brag about, but deal with it.

By the bye, it used to be that just had to be crippled for one to seven years and it went away. Nowadays, steroids, typically prednisone, fix it. It requires months of dosing and one to three years of tapering off. You can relapse, often worse.

Well, it’s neither romantic nor glamorous.

Eye Trouble

My recent chance at drama and uniqueness was macular pucker, a.k.a wrinkled retina. I had blurred vision in one eye and went for my regular eye exam with my self-diagnosis of cataracts. I’m that age.

My optometrist wasn’t playing. He didn’t have all the eye diagnostic gear the surgeons do, but he knew it wasn’t cataracts.

I wanted cataracts. They are a known status and the surgery is nearly 100% effective and immediate.

Instead after a couple of visits to one set of eye specialists and surgeons, and then a second opinion by one of the super doctors, I got the pucker punch. It’s built-up scar tissue from unknown origin on top the macular and retina. It has no relation to macular degeneration. There are no drug, vitamin or exercise fix. Queue the operating room. Moreover, unlike cataract surgery, going into the eyeball to clear out the cells may or may not improve the vision.

Lord, I miss the long gone days when Dr. Newman could poke my butt with penicillin and fix my swollen tonsils.

Regardless, it turns out that my ignorance of macular pucker did not make the condition unique or even that unusual. It’s not as common as polymyalgia, but it’s not rare or romantic or dramatic.

I’m not likely as many to long for the exotic and romantic diseases. Yet, I do have a sense of what that’s about.  I think medical stasis and boredom are better.

 

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The Mark of Cranium

December 5th, 2015 No comments »

aaareyeOoo, that’s yucky.

I’m an amateur at surgery. You can search this blog for tales of my sole operation, on a leg. I had only my second yesterday (yes, I have my tonsils, appendix and so forth; heck, I don’t even have tattoos).

A souvenir was this R. It’s not a pirate joke or even a parody of the letters on toddlers’ shoes as they learn left from right.

Instead, a good medical fad has become making damned sure surgeons operate on the correct side. Various nurses and doctors  (including the anesthesiologist) asked in numerous ways which eye was getting operated on that day. Even when they just heard someone do it, they iterated and reiterated it. Ask the question, get the patient to point to the eye, try to trick the patient with, “Are we operating on the left eye?” and wait until the drug cocktail was working to do it all again. Finally, even with a hard, clear patch over the other eye, ask again.

My surgeon, Peter Lou, is one of those so-called super doctors. He’s done thousands of this macular pucker operation. He is very precise. Yet, he’s happy to have everyone play this safety game. No foul.

Because previous health-related posts have had high readership and search hits, I’ll likely post a bit about the condition and operation. As a sidelight about it, I didn’t like that Mass Eye and Ear staff refer to an operation as a “case,” as in “We are ready for your case now,” meaning they are moving me from pre-op into surgery. Is operation an obscenity?

Back to the quintuple checking, twice in the process, first a nurse, then the anesthesiologist, marked my forehead within R. I assume that this is simply to indicate the right side and not the “right” eye to poke today. Whatever they used was like a permanent marker. They didn’t remove it and I couldn’t easily scrub it this morning as I changed bandages. My wife says she’ll take cold cream to it.

Originally I showed up for my long-time optometrist appointment knowing I had blurred vision because of cataracts. He’d have none of it and referred me to an ophthalmologist and vitreoretinal surgery office. They ID’ed the pucker with hotshot diagnostic equipment. I got  a second opinion, which confirmed and expanded on the diagnosis. I had been quite wrong about the problem.

I had been somewhat romantic about it all. Ah, wrinkled retina, macular pucker, what an exotic condition.

Not really. A few years ago, I got polymyalgia rheumatica and thought the same. It is even more common than macular pucker. No one is going to write medical journal articles about such mundane conditions. In fact, for polymyalgia, my rheumatologist put it in perspective by saying noting that it was a Caucasian, late middle-age disease. “If you know a bunch of white men over 50, you know people who have had it,” he said.

Not unique…nor even special….

I did make one mistake in surgery prep though, I went out to the tubes and read all I could. I ended up watching several videos of the operation. I would advise against doing that. It is, as the above image, a yucky procedure.

I’ll likely write a bit about the operation and recovery.

 

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Alter kakers, moms to the polls

November 8th, 2015 No comments »

Last week’s Boston election was a flapping wrinkle at least, while not a revolution. No ballot questions or major offices (mayor, governor, legislature, Congress or POTUS) lured the curious or civic-minded. However, we did revisit the 13 City Councilors.

Lackaday, only 13.63% of the city’s registered voters showed, according to the posted results. I could lament the lack of participation. Yet, it was right in the narrow range the MA Secretary of the Commonwealth predicted. I could also feel a barely justifiable pride that my precinct (18-16 in Hyde Park) more that doubled the city rate, at 28.08%. We had 1572 in our book and 442 cast ballots.

I’m the warden there, the minor official in this big pond with many inlets, as in 254 other precincts.

Instead, I noticed a few trends in my nearly 15 hours there. Election workers get to the polling place at least an hour before the 7 AM opening. We leave after breaking down, putting away, checking each ballot for write-ins, and accounting for each civically-sacred ballot.

It is no exaggeration that we are accountable for each ballot — received, cast, spoiled, or provisionally marked. We count them all day long, cross-reference the check-in and check-out books, and go a final great bookkeeping of them after polls close at 8 PM.

We’re on Fairmount Hill, a sub-neighborhood of Hyde Park rife with oldsters (including me) and breeders. Those are the sets that always vote and seemed to dominate again on Tuesday last.

Years ago, I was first inspector, then clerk (effectively middle management), then warden at the Woodbourne Apartments in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, 19-12. There are many disabled residents of that building, and many of those said that voting is a highlight each election day…solid participation, coupled with the rest of the precinct.

The seniors in 18-16 really believe in voting. Like I, they surely had both civics classes in school and expectations from parents that they had to participate in democracy.

In addition, we had a steady beat of babies and toddlers all day in 18-16. Actually that’s not precise. The moms (almost no dads voting with wee ones) were not queued up before 7 with their charges. Nor did they rush in before 8 and closing.

However, many 20-, 30- and 40-somethings came in with one to up to five kids on food, in carriers, in strollers (up to triplet). There were some grandmothers with several kids as well.

As my three did as little ones, most kids seemed to love the event, perhaps for its rarity and newness. Surely adults could say it was a joy disproportionate to the actual task. I did my nefarious part as well, keeping a steady supply of Halloween treats in bowls by both check-in and check-out tables for the taking. While adults grabbed the Reese’s Cups and 3 Musketeers bars, the kids who were allowed to pick almost invariably chose lollipops. I kept the handles within view and those went fast.

Some of the preschoolers also favored the other extra, the I VOTED stickers. As odd as the power of a parent counting down, stickers have their own magic.

Keep the kids coming. They are another reason for some to get to the polls. They are are spots of pleasure for the poll workers, with cuter and less dour, New England faces from the youngsters.

 

 

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Ruled by the vine

October 22nd, 2015 No comments »

Way back in Boomer time, the Coasters used to sing Poison Ivy, as in

Poison iv-y-y-y-y, poison iv-y-y-y-y
Late at night while you’re sleepin’ poison ivy comes
a’creepin
Arou-ou-ou-ou-ou-ound

Even now, many of us say we are sensibly terrified of the vine. Parents, Scouts and other taught us, “Leaves of three. Let it be.” Aaaaaaaaaah. Watch out!”

creeper3That came to mind, quickly and repeatedly a few days ago. After a neighborhood stroll, I noticed and shot some berried and colorful leaves, posting one pic on FB I identified as Virginia creeper. Several people corrected me. It was poison ivy.

Other than laziness and indifference, I don’t have an excuse. I’m a certified Master Gardener. I know lots about trees, veggies, herbs and flowers, about soils and propagation, blah, blah. I’m not a vine guy. More to the point, I got over poison ivy many decades ago.

A significance of that is in my childhood in Virginia and West Virginia, I was particularly sensitive to poison ivy. It seemed on every third of my countless trips hiking, playing or camping, I’d come back to get blisters and itching. Even working with my Granddad in his huge gardens, somehow I got the worst of it or the other way round.

I must have been 11 when that ended. We lived in Danville, VA, in an apartment above Dr. Samuel Newman and his wife Ida. They (really she) had a four-tier garden structure with the mansion that had belonged to the city’s first mayor.

That became important as they had a full-time gardener, a laconic black man, Nate. One afternoon, he was clearing the underbrush in the middle of the yards, burning the green and brown junk.I walked through the smoke. It turns out that among his trimmings were large amounts of poison ivy.

Think a shirtless upper body and bare legs covered with pustules. Think a blistered face and eyes shut with inflammation.

It was the next morning before the terrible itching, other torment and even fear of blindness started that Granddad picked my sister and me up to take us to West Virginia for the summer. My grandmother nursed me for a week or so through the anguish.

Poof! Since then, I seem to have an immunity to the oils that let poison ivy act out. After years of being easy prey, I simply don’t have any reaction. It’s to the point that I don’t even recognize the plant. We are indifferent to each other.

creepertreeThere’s the oddity. A pretty green to red leaf that I don’t plant or cultivate, I just enjoy for its color and veining. (By the bye, the actual creeper [right] is more visually appealing than poison ivy.)

However, I seem to be the only Boomer I know who isn’t somewhere between wary and terrified of poison ivy. That includes my wife, who sees it everywhere and sounds a figurative klaxon to keep us each and all aware and safe.

Thus, Scientology.

L. Ron Hubbard, science-fiction author turned huckster and founder of that maybe religion made his millions and billions off the engram. That irrational and emotional belief that if something bad happens to you it causes a permanent change in the brain, an engram, that you need galvanometers and tens of thousands of dollars of counseling to heal, a.k.a. go clear.

I call doo-doo on that. Yes, it makes perfect, very human, sense that we’ll avoid repeating bad experiences. No, every very bad experience does not permanently change your brain. You have to play drama queen and love being a victim to go with that.

As my mother used to say when she was annoyed or disgusted, “For crying out loud…in a bucket!”

So, there’s true and false incorporated in the assertions that permit the outsized profits and power of Scientology:

  • True: Humans avoid repeating painful and otherwise unpleasant experience (think the hand on the hot range burner; the proverbial once-burned-twice-shy cliché).
  • False: Our brains are permanently and physically altered by each bad experience. That is, without for-pay guidance, we can’t transcend such experiences.

One of the worst corollaries is that people don’t change. Of course they do. The least introspection or observation shows that. Research into psychological, sociological and even philosophical literature offers data and other proofs.

Each of us likely can provide our own evidence for another cliché — fall off the horse and get right back on. That can be difficult for some of us and each of us in particularly unpleasant experiences.

I climb in the WABAC machine decades ago around Scientology’s NYC HQ in Herald Square. A friend from out the country was visiting us as we tooled around. A Scientology type trolled and asked if we wanted a free audit (that’s holding the tin cans in hopes that one of us could be browbeaten into signing up for study. She had never heard of Scientology and wanted to try.

We followed him into a classroom and got the spiel. He asked if we had had a terrible experience, like a car wreck. The point was to prove that we’d be forever scarred and scared (hence eager for classes). I told my story of being hit as a pedestrian a few years before and having my head go into the car through the windshield. He lit up and asked gleefully for me to confirm that I was still terrified of cars, maybe of crossing streets.

I said honestly that, no, the impact was so severe and damage to the brain sufficient that I had no recollection of the wreck. Moreover, I had lots of effects I was still healing from, but paralyzing fear that affected my actions, thoughts and feelings were not among them.

He immediately fell to script and changed the subject back to the general “truth” that after a bad experience, each of us remains permanently engrammed.

I admitted then and do now that I know people who have been so goofed up by one or a series of bad experiences that they can’t fully function. Even drama and literature are filled with emotionally crippled characters playing off this trait.

Yet, that isn’t the norm. The vast majority of us can shake it off, even if it takes some thought and effort.

It’s worth it.

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South End Rife with Music, 2015 Edition

September 26th, 2015 No comments »

Yes, yes, it was the Boston jazz festival, the South End one, and since Berklee took it over, now the Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival. The music college close to monopolizes it with faculty and students. Hell, there’s plenty of superb music for all of us anyway. Play on.

I went to the latest iteration today. It’s still free. It’s a food, clothing/jewelry marketplace and ethnic food vendor paradise. The terrific range of jazz, blues (not enough any more), funk and more pours out of three stages simultaneously. Take your pick.

A few of my sights and judgments follow. If you haven’t been going, you’ve missed much. There’s no atoning, just planning. Do this.

 

Carlos Averhoff, Jr. and his group featured the more modern, hotter sax, drum and more jazz. carlos
stefonharris4 The remarkable vibe guy Stefon  Harris played with Omar Thomas’ Large Ensemble. He kept at it the whole time and was a huge hit (with me as well). He’s another I’d gladly pay to hear.
Caili O’Doherty was another charming lyricist and composer, well adept at promoting her new album. They were good. Caili
Alissa
The Berklee table offered earplugs. That initially seemed like hipster irony. Then I trotted over to hear Alissia & the Funketeers, who seemed to be playing at jet-plane decibels.
We Four was a Berklee faculty-centered tribute to John Coltrane. They had my number, particularly the famous Javon Jackson on tenor sax. javon2
felix Felix Peikli  and the Royal Flush Quintet was colorful in ever sense. They’re a wonderful throwback to the nights of hot clarinets.
The Chorobop trio performed pre-WWII Brazilian dance music that had people grinding. chorobop


jfoster4

My pick for the afternoon was unquestionably Jackie Foster. She stunned the audience while singing as a guest of Marty Walsh (not at all our mayor) and Total Plan. She’s not quite 20. I have no qualms about predicting a fabulous career for her.

More pix: These and additional shots are on Flickr.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

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Listen for the White Squirrel in Boston

September 12th, 2015 No comments »

This, the fifth year of the JP Music Fest, I caught the early (song)bird special bands. Here follow a few sample snaps. There’s a link at the bottom to a Flickr album.

 

Even early in the afternoon, Fur Purse was hard and powerful. Lead singer Eve left nothing behind the mic. furpurseeve3 - Copy
hstfdrums2 copy The Hyde Square Task Force was drum heavy and the best at getting the crowd moving (see below).
A huge hit for us jazz lovers was the (New England Conservatory’s) Alexei Tsiganov Trio. Alexei1
winshallbradford - Copy gtrumpetger for Daniel Winshall and the Walking Illusion,  Michael Bradford, kept pace with his kid maestro.
The very young and already highly acclaimed Daniel Winshall is a local favorite at places like Wally’s. winshall2 - Copy
junko4 - Copy Junko Ogawa was very original and self-possessed. Here she provides what she termed attitude in a send up of racism, “Oriental Rug.”
The Hyde Square Task Force inspired the locals to line and prance. hstfline1




jpfestwhite - Copy
It’s been a long time since we have seen a white squirrel, for real, at Jamaica Pond. They live in doll and t-shirt forms.

More pix: These and additional shots are on Flickr. It’s a set of 25.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

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Unflinching POW tale worth the angst

September 5th, 2015 No comments »

MCPJreadNothing like being slugged in the mouth by your dad…unless it’s always quaking in his presence because he was volatile and your any word or action might make him roar or threaten you. Nothing is good enough or right.

The relentless tone and theme of Cathy Madison’s memoir The War Came Home With Him both fascinates and exhausts. Of course, Amazon has it and it’s well worth reading, so long as you know what you’re committing to do, think and feel.

As a disclaimer, the author and I were wee childhood buddies, as in nursery/kindergarten time. Our mothers kept regular contact until their deaths. She and I reacquainted casually in the past few years. The pic above from right to left has mutual friend Jackie, my sister Pat, Cathy and I reading. We were at the Arden Apartments (see chapter 2) where her mother awaited word on Korean POW Doc Boysen.

Note too that my father also fought in both Korea and WWII France and Germany. As nearly all such soldiers who saw a lot of action, he didn’t talk about it, much less glorify war. That was for desk jockeys to do.

This memoir is a hard read, but not because of length (only 239 smallish pages) or turgidity (she’s a real journalist). Rather, she sporadically describes from her memory and mostly from her father’s written recollections horrors of several types. In fact, the book alternates its 26 short chapters. One recounts the vicissitudes of Army family life and then the literal and figurative tortures of being a POW, and the next speaks to the title in her memories.

The primary subject, Alexander Boyson, MD, known both as Doc and Pete, was beyond prickly. In Vietnam and later parlance, he had PTSD and has clearly changed personality for the worse during three years of Korean and Chinese imprisonment. As the eldest of three children and by the text the most sensitive, Cathy got the intermittent physical punishment and regular verbal abuse. Rather than responding to the martinet with disdain and hate, she seems to have gone the cowering and trepidation route, the survival mode.

As a writer, I was very impressed by the elegant interweaving of the two parallel memoirs. The time periods are not contemporary, but the interplay works superbly. Her own tales, while they can be jarring, act as breathing space for the reconstructed vignettes of the prison camps, forced marches, prisoner disorders, and deaths.

I suspect many readers will think of Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini. While the latter book and movie do not deal with war tragedy and horror, the harsh and overly precise dad character comes to mind.

I found some parallels and coincidences with Cathy’s story. Fortunately, I did not have a verbally and physically abusive home life. My parents divorced when my father returned from Korea to the rest of us in Japan  He quickly remarried and became a deadbeat dad, refusing to pay child support as he was assigned to Germany and had two sons by his second wife. Yet, my mother (who would have been 91 today) supported my sister and me as exec in a series of Red Cross chapters. That meant we moved every couple of years, as Cathy did in the military. Amusingly enough, she also spent time at Fort Sill, where my parents married, my sister and were born, my parents divorced, and my mother and grandfather had to retrieve us via a military court when my father and stepmother announced they’d ignore my mother’s full custodial rights and take us to Europe.

A current meme has been that we boomers are evil, sucking the financial blood from the American body. Yet, many or even most of us didn’t have cushy lives.

Cathy certainly didn’t. She grew up not fully protected by her mother, under the control of a neurotic, very smart surgeon dad. Here again I got the better of it with a single mom, where being from that period piece clicché broken home also meant I didn’t get beaten or shamed. Having two parents isn’t necessarily the ideal.

Even if I didn’t know Cathy, I’d recommend the memoir. I won’t delve here into the images of POWs’ bootless feet leaving blood and skin on forced marches over ice nor Doc’s sudden outbursts that were both irrational and cruel. Just be warned that some, no many, chapters carry harsh jolts.

For those who want the long view be aware that when you finish The War Came Home With Him Cathy comes to terms with a mother who smoked too much, drank too much and shielded her daughter inadequately, and with her often insecure self, and even with her understandably traumatized father. She does not deeply analyze her mother or herself, rather provides reportage and lets the reader do that.

In addition to her memories, her father’s writings, and a few interviews, she also includes some research on the aftermath of POWs and collaboration. As a whole, a war queerly called a UN police action, comes into focus through the experiences of Doc and his fellow POWs. If war is hell, prison camps were a whole deeper level.

Cathy’s memoir is a short, intense trip, well worth it.

The book is at once detailed and yet leaves out much. Her two brothers are very minor characters until the end of her parents’ lives; we don’t learn whether Doc’s abuse extended to them or to her mother and to what extent if so. We don’t know whether she turned to her mother to protect her and if so whether Cathy held her guilty for not doing so. We don’t read about her marriage, which she writes that her husband left. Was he in any real way like her father or did her relationship with Doc color and poison the union? We have to wonder whether the Doc who could record his memories and thoughts of the Korean year so fully analyzed his own treatment of his daughter and others.

In my many moves, I got to know numerous families under the command of an ex-military dad, and in a few cases a dad and a mom. I knew quite a few others who had abusive fathers who were neither POWs or even ex-military. Getting slugged in the face and beaten with belts and such was part of their lives. It wasn’t part of mine, for which I am grateful, and more so after reading Cathy’s memoir.

 

 

 

 

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Wee Beests to Boston

August 28th, 2015 1 comment »

After a very unsatisfying and crowded first go at the Strandbeests last weekend, we had a much closer, leisurely and just better time when the small versions arrived in downtown Boston today.

They brought the same pair of relatively tiny TinkerToy-style, wind-in-sail driven models as at Crane Beach. I write tiny because the videos and promo material for Theo Jansen’s fantastical constructions show titanic versions. Sure it makes perfect sense that they would not try to lug and reassemble the biggies everywhere. Just as sure, it’s disappointing to see 7-foot tall models rather than major-motion-picture-scale ones.

Nonetheless, I grew up on construction toys and bought more elaborate ones for my sons, ostensibly for my sons that is. What follows are some shots from City Hall Plaza this afternoon. Geeks and nerds only need look.

 

Don’t let the legs and feet fool you. They are under the Strandbeest to stabilize it. These are sail, wind-driven toys. Beest1
beest7 Dutiful intern types do quick assembly on Jansen’s critters, then pull them to a starting area and wait for a good breeze.
beest4 beest3
beest6 When top and side sails fill up and get some oomph, the beest takes off, the feet and legs churn, and it seems to be walking even running.
The legs and feet really do rise and fall as the beest races along. The illusion is of locomotion beest2
beest5 The worker bees are ever at the ready to do quick repairs (frequently needed) and if necessary to pull the beests back for another run and another wait for a breeze.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

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