Friday, October 31, 2008

A double whammy and some trivia for October 31st

Rather than linking you to Wikipedia (at least until the last paragraph), my post today uses information from The Writer’s Almanac entry for Friday, October 31, 2008:

“Today is Halloween. Halloween’s origins date back about 2,000 years, to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts lived in the cold parts of Northern Europe -- in Britain, Ireland, and the north of France -- and so for them, the new year began on November 1st, the end of the fall harvest and the beginning of winter. The night before the new year, on October 31st, the division between the world of the living and the world of the dead dissolved, and the dead could come to earth again. This was partly bad and partly good -- these spirits would damage crops and cause sickness, but they also helped the Celtic priests, the druids, to tell the future, to make predictions about the coming year. The druids built huge bonfires, and regular people put out their own fires in their homes and crowded together around these fires, where they burned sacrifices for the gods, told each other’s fortunes, and dressed in costumes -- usually animal skins and heads. At the end of the celebration, they took a piece of the sacred bonfire and relit their own fires at home with this new flame, which was meant to help them stay warm through the long winter ahead.

“First the Romans co-opted Samhain and combined it with their festivals, and then the Christians co-opted both the Celtic and Roman celebrations. In the ninth century, the pope decided that these pagan festivals needed to be replaced with a Christian holiday, so he just moved the holiday called All Saints’ Day from May 13 to November 1. All Saints’ Day was a time for Christians to honor all the saints and martyrs of their religion. The term for All Saints’ Day in Middle English was Alholowmesse, or All-hallowmass. This became All-hallows, and so the night before was referred to as All-hallows Eve, and finally, Halloween [or, more accurately, Hallowe’en --RWP].

“It was on this day in 1517 that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Martin Luther was a monk who disagreed with the Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences, which forgave the punishment for sins. Luther thought that God offered forgiveness freely without having to pay for it, and he wanted to reform the Catholic Church. He posted the theses as points to be argued in a public debate. He had no intention of creating a new branch of the Church, but that is what he did, more or less. He set in motion a huge rift within the Church, which eventually led to the Reformation.”

Now for the trivia (and the Wikipedia links). October 31st also happens to be the birthday of Chiang Kai-shek (1887), Dale Evans (1912), Barbara Bel Geddes (1922), Dan Rather (1931), Michael Landon (1936), and Vanilla Ice (1967).

If that isn’t enough trivia for you, here’s a little more. Dale Evans’s real name was Frances Octavia Smith, and her fourth husband, Roy Rogers, was really Leonard Sly from Ohio. Michael Landon’s real name was Eugene Maurice Orowitz. Vanilla Ice’s real name is Robert Van Winkle.

Just how many lists have you ever read that began with Chiang Kai-shek, included Dale Evans, and ended with Vanilla Ice?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Underwhelmed

As of a little past noon today, eight (8) people have responded to the test in yesterday’s Tuesday Ramblings. Two of the people didn’t even leave answers (well, Putz reiterated all of the possible answers, making it impossible to discern what his choices were). I am, as the title says, underwhelmed. Just think, Pioneer Woman would probably have received 3000 responses by now. I considered leaving the quiz open for one more day, but it turned out to be what it is and a day is a long time in the blogosphere. Be that as it may, for all six (and possibly eight) of you who are breathlessly awaiting the correct answers, here they are, along with the original questions:

1. Cauliflower is a good source of:
a. Vitamin A
b. Vitamin C
c. Vitamin D

The correct answer is b, Vitamin C. There are other benefits to be derived from eating cauliflower also. Since it is a cruciform vegetable (like broccoli), it has anti-carcinogenic properties as well.

2. Before the invention of the electric light, how many hours of sleep did an average American get each night?
a. 8 hours
b. 10 hours
c. 12 hours

The correct answer is b, 10 hours. Today, Americans sleep, on average, 6.9 hours per night on weeknights and 7.5 hours per night on weekends. I have no idea how they came up with these statistics.

3. How many pounds of potatoes does an average American eat in one year?
a. 10 pounds
b. 50 pounds
c. 127 pounds

The correct answer is c, 127 pounds. I know. I was shocked too. But even more shocking is the fact that for every person who eats only ten pounds of potatoes per year, there has to be another American who eats around 250 pounds of potatoes per year, which would require consuming almost five pounds of potatoes every week. It’s simple mathematics, if 127 pounds is the “average.”

4. True or false: In women who have had migraine headaches, the headaches tend to increase after menopause.
a. True
b. False

The correct answer is b, false. I got the right answer, but for the wrong reason. I thought a decrease might be related to blood circulation. But one of the triggers of migraine headaches is thought to be a high level or fluctuating level of estrogen. Ergo (as in cogito, ergo sum*), migraines tend to decrease in women after menopause.

So here are the class scores:
Ruth - 50%
Pat - 100%
Angela - 50%
Yorkshire Pudding - 100%
Jay - 100%
Egghead (Vonda) - 50%
Putz - 0%, seems to be exploring new ground in telepathic testing theory
dr.john - 0%, forgot the questions

Thanks to each and every one of you for participating. It appears that people in England (Yorkie and Jay) remember their lessons better than Americans, or at least are better guessers, unless you live in Arkansas.

It may be a long time before I try to do another quiz!

*I think, therefore I am. --René Descartes. I like my own twist on Descartes’ saying better: I am, therefore I think.

Tuesday ramblings

Yesterday Mrs. RWP and I went to the Cherokee County Health Department to get our annual flu shots. The shots are free if you’re covered by Medicare, which we are. Otherwise, each shot costs twenty dollars. That’s one of the perks of getting old, I guess.

Last year when we went for our shots, we were in and out in a matter of minutes. This year, however, we had to wait for over and hour, and while we waited we watched a television set that was showing a series of features on health. I try to learn something new every day, and I learned a number of new things sitting there watching that health channel for an hour. I thought I would put together a little test for you, dear reader, so that you might learn something worthwhile as you jump from blog to blog in search of entertainment. Here’s the test. Good luck, and no fair looking anything up:

1. Cauliflower is a good source of:
a. Vitamin A
b. Vitamin C
c. Vitamin D

2. Before the invention of the electric light, how many hours of sleep did an average American get each night?
a. 8 hours
b. 10 hours
c. 12 hours

3. How many pounds of potatoes does an average American eat in one year?
a. 10 pounds
b. 50 pounds
c. 127 pounds

4. True or false: In women who have had migraine headaches, the headaches tend to increase after menopause.
a. True
b. False

Put your answers in a comment at this post, and I’ll reveal the correct answers in my next post.

Our plan was to vote early yesterday after we received our flu shots. Four public libraries in our county have been designated as early voting places. But the lines were very long and the parking lots were full to overflowing at the two libraries we passed, and after already waiting for an hour at the Health Department we were not eager to wait some more. So we’ll attempt to vote later in the week. Oh, get this: The reason there was such a long wait at the Health Department yesterday was that only one nurse was on duty. When we mentioned to her that we were on our way to vote, she told us that most of the County Health Department nurses were at the polling places, providing flu shots to people waiting in line to vote! A “vote and vacs” (vaccinate) drive, she called it. A good idea, but too late to matter to us.

We did stop on the way home to buy dog food for Jethro, though. Just so you know we have kept our priorities straight.

Monday, October 27, 2008

But enough about me

Let’s turn the microscope away from moi and ma famille -- French is so confusing; I’m male so I would think mon famille is correct, but it turns out the French don’t care about the gender of the person speaking, only the gender of the noun in question, and since famille is a feminine noun (and why that should be, nobody has ever explained to my satisfaction) a feminine adjective is required -- for a change and talk about...what?

Autumn? Every second blogger and her cousin are now busy this week showing you photographs of autumn leaves in their neck of the woods. Well, although the leaves are certainly beautiful in my neck of the woods also, I will refrain in the name of overkill.

Politics? Um, no. That’s all we’ll be hearing or reading about until this quadrennial thing of ours is over for another six months or so, and I wouldn’t add to the cacophany on a bet.

Literature? Not unless I want to put you to sleep.

Sex? Not even on a dare.

Jethro? Now there’s a possibility. He is an inexhaustible supply of joy. He keeps us laughing. Take, for example, his stash of toys. No hard plastic ones for him. His toys are all soft, plushy ones that he throws up in the air whenever the mood strikes him. And he always brings one to us in his mouth to indicate that he needs to go outside and do what dogs do. We are well-trained; we attach his leash to his collar and off we go. He doesn’t take his toys very far, usually dropping them just beyond the patio and retrieving them on his way back. I think some enterprising doggie psychiatrist should write a doctoral thesis on why Jethro chooses what toy he chooses to take with him on his jaunts, because it constantly changes. Sometimes it’s Whitey, the white plush doggie that is either a Samoyed or a Siberian Huskie. Sometimes it’s Croaky, the green plush frog. Sometimes it’s Charlie, the brown plush gorilla. Sometimes it’s the long, blue, plush, Smurf-like surfer thingie. Sometimes it’s Squiggy Piggy, which looks and feels like a lamb’s fleece (plush, of course) except that it has a curly little pink tail. But, as Gilda Radner’s character Rosanne Rosannadanna used to say every week to Jane Curtin on Saturday Night Live, “It’s always something.”

He also likes to ride in the car. He doesn’t stick his head out the window, though. He likes to stand between Mrs. Rhymeswithplague and me on the console and put out one paw to balance himself whenever the car makes a turn. Left paw on my right arm for right turns, and right paw on Mrs. Rhymeswithplague’s left arm for left turns. He usually winds up sitting in her lap and going to sleep. But if he hears the click of the turn indicator, he’s up on his feet again with paws at the ready.

There must be a doggie parable in there somewhere. I will have to think further on the subject.

And now for the official portrait, which is almost one year old (the portrait, not the dog -- the dog is four, and handsome as ever):

Friday, October 24, 2008

One man’s family (continued)

And you thought I was through! Not quite yet.

In the last post, I didn’t tell you much about my wife’s family or anything at all about my Dad’s. I have posted previously about the Albanians and even their cooking (which see, or, as the research papers would put it, q.v.) but I didn’t tell you that Mrs. Rhymeswith-plague’s brother is named Michael, that he is married to Mary B. from North Carolina, and that they have two children, Rhonda and James.

Now we come to my Dad. He was born in Wisconsin in 1906, the fifth and youngest son of Elmer and Edith Lillian B., who moved the family to Iowa when he was fifteen. It has been there ever since, pretty much, except for the branch that moved to California. Dad’s four older brothers were Arthur (Art), John, Leo, and Daniel (Dan). He also had a sister who died in infancy. Art and John both served in the U.S. Army during World War I; Leo and Dad both served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Art and his wife Anna had six children (Richard, Shirley, Peggy, Isabel, Sandra, and Barbara). John and his wife Martha had three girls (Trudy, Elaine, and Daveen), and later in life John married Gladys. Leo married Genevieve, but they had no children. Dan, who died of a brain tumor at 32 in 1936, left Leila to raise their two small children (Donald and Evelyn). Uncle Art’s girls are scattered around; I know that one is in Oregon. One of Uncle John's girls is in Minnesota. In that whole group of cousins, there were only two boys, my cousin Dick and I, to carry on the family name. Dan’s wife, Leila, married again and her new husband adopted Donald and Evelyn and changed their last name to his. Dick was old enough to serve in the Navy in World War II; after the war he had a son named Donovan, who died in his thirties. Of this entire crowd, I met only John, Gladys, Leila, Sandra, Barbara, and Elaine.

Dad was married at one time before he met my mother, but his wife filed for a divorce while he was at sea in the Navy during World War II. They had no children. He met my mother in 1945 and was married to her for eleven years, from 1946 until her death in 1957. Then he was married to my stepmother, Mildred, for nine years, from 1958 until his own death in 1967. Mildred married John F. in 1968, and they traveled life’s road together for 35 years. John died in 2003 and Mildred died in 2004.

My genealogy software, Family Tree Maker, tells me it has information on file about -- brace yourself -- 848 people who are or were, in one way or another, related to me.

I never told it any information, though, about my biological father. By his own actions, he became irrelevant. He may have been there at the moment of my conception, but in all other respects pertaining to being a real father, he never existed. I know who my “real” father was. He never had any biological children of his own, but he raised me from the time I was four years old, he became a second father to my stepbrothers and stepsister during their teen and young adult years, and became a grandfather several times over. He once said to me, “When I die, don’t spend money on an expensive monument. I won’t need one. You will be my monument. When people meet you, they will know what sort of man I was.”

Now there’s a father a person can look up to.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

One man’s family

In 1875, Nathan S. was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Both of his parents had come to this country on ships from Germany. In 1878, Rose A. was also born in Philadelphia. Both of her parents had come to this country on ships from England. In 1898, Nathan and Rose married, and between 1899 and 1910 they had five children, Marion, Solomon (who was called Sol), Rachael (who died in infancy), Jacob (who was called Jack), and Ruth. I was born to Ruth in 1941, her only child and the youngest of a total of five first cousins. My biological father was not in the picture. When I was five, a different man married my mother, and my birth certificate was amended by the state to add his name where there had been a blank place. I believe he adopted me legally, but I don’t really know that for certain. There is no document that I am aware of. When I was six, the three of us moved to Texas.

Mama didn’t come from a warm, fuzzy family. Everyone pretty much kept to himself or herself. Geographically, we were far flung. My two uncles and my aunt died during the eighties. My cousin Philip married Virginia and moved to Illinois, had three children, divorced Virginia, moved to Colorado, and married Donna. Joan married Herman and moved to California. Eileen married Bud and moved to Connecticut. Jack Jr. married Sylvia, had twin girls, divorced Sylvia, and moved to Florida. Today I have no idea what became of any of them or even whether they are still alive. In 1963, I married Mrs. Rhymeswithplague in Florida. Her family was small like mine. Besides her mom and dad, she had one brother, one sister-in-law, one niece, one nephew, one aunt, one uncle, and three cousins.

We moved to Nebraska and had a child, moved to New York and had two more children, moved back to Florida for several years, then moved to Georgia in 1975. We have been here ever since. Our little immediate clan of five has grown to fourteen, having added a son-in-law, two daughters-in-law, and six beautiful grandchildren. Long may we wave.

But I want to tell you about another family.

Russ W. was born in a small town in central Texas in 1894. In August 1912, when he was fifteen, he married Pearl C., who was eighteen. They didn’t have to get married; they wanted to. About every two years for the next twenty years, they had a child. There was Cleo (1913), Mildred (1915), J.D. (1917), Margaret (1919), Russ Jr. (1921), Marvin (1924), Billy (1927), Faye (1929), Kenneth (who died in infancy, 1931), Freddie (1932), and Sue (1934). For a while Russ farmed and all the children who who were big enough helped him. Later he moved to the big city and became a bellman at the Adolphus Hotel in downtown Dallas. After Pearl died in 1951, he married Virginia who operated the hotel’s switchboard.

My mother died in 1957. A few months later, Dad, who worked at an aircraft factory in Fort Worth, met Mildred through Fritz, a co-worker who happened to be married to Margaret. Mildred’s husband Clarence had died the year before from a sudden heart attack. In June 1958, when I was seventeen, Dad and Mildred married. Suddenly I had three brothers and a sister. I went from being an only child to being the middle one of five children. There were also twenty or so first cousins living nearby because eight of Mildred’s nine brothers and sisters lived in Dallas County. Only one adventurous sibling had moved away to Houston. Every weekend there were lots of relatives around. If I had been in a shell, I came out of it really fast. Today Russ’s and Pearl’s descendants must number sixty or seventy. There were some interesting stories in there. Freddie married Martha; Sue married Jack; Martha and Jack were sister and brother, so the children of both marriages are what is called “double first cousins,” meaning that the two sets of cousins don’t share one set of grandparents, they share both sets of grandparents. Junior’s wife, Dorothy, is the aunt of Billy’s wife, LaWanda. So when Dorothy speaks about “Jewel and John” she is speaking of her sister and brother-in-law, but when LaWanda says “Mother and Daddy” she also means Jewel and John. Dorothy is not only the aunt of LaWanda’s children because Junior and Billy are brothers, but she is also the great-aunt of LaWanda’s children because LaWanda is Jewel’s and John’s daughter. It gets a bit confusing at times. Sometimes you can’t tell the players without a program.

Of the ten original siblings, only Junior, Freddie, and Faye are still living. We don’t get to see one another very often these days. My younger stepbrother and stepsister are both gone now, but my two older stepbrothers are still around. One is in Texas and one is in Arkansas.

I have been blessed. I was born into a family. I gained another family through my Dad’s marriage to Mildred. I gained still another family, an Albanian one, when I married my wife. And together my wife and I were able to have a family of our own.

God is good all the time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuesday ramblings

A camera is a wonderful thing. It’s really too bad that I don’t own one, because our front yard is awash right now in the brilliant pinks of our multitudinous (okay, nine) encore azaleas and our wonderfully full camellia bush that has more blooms and buds than you could shake a stick at (to quote my father). Our yard looks more like spring than fall. I would love to be able to show it to you but, alas, I cannot. I searched Google for a possible substitute photo to include in this post, but nothing I saw even came close to the splendor in our grass. Actually, I think no photograph would begin to do our blossoms justice, unless Ruth Hull Chatlien happened to be the photographer.

My first camera, a Brownie Hawkeye, was given to me by my Aunt Marion, my mother’s older sister, who visited us in Texas along with my thirteen-year-old cousin Philip the summer I was seven. They had boarded a bus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and after riding for three days, my aunt’s first words upon arriving were, “Now I know why they call it Greyhound -- because you feel like a dog when you get off.” That Brownie Hawkeye served me well for many years, until I married someone who owned a real, live, Polaroid Land camera.

In the interest of full disclosure, Mrs. RWP didn't spend any hard-earned money on her camera. She had entered a drawing at a supermarket and when they drew her name she won either ten thousand or one hundred thousand S&H green stamps (she can’t remember) and chose the camera, a chord organ, and a complete set of Corning cookware as her prizes. The Polaroid stayed busy until the company stopped making film for it and the chord organ was eventually replaced by a real piano, but Mrs. RWP is still using the Corning cookware.


When I was ten, my aunt and cousin visited us a second time, riding the Greyhound bus again for three hot, dusty days. My gift that year appeared to be a maroon -- I suppose it would be called burgundy today -- faux alligator-skin, attaché case, but when I opened the lid, it turned out to be a portable record player! Before then, we had a huge, wind-up Victrola monster that we had brought with us all the way from Rhode Island (I am not even kidding. My earliest recollections of listening to music from the Victrola include John Charles Thomas’s rendition of Albert Hay Malotte’s “The Lord's Prayer” and Gene Autry’s rendition, I think it was, of “The Mockingbird’s A-Singin’ in the Lilac Bush.”) Thanks to my aunt, I was able to play 78, 45, and 33-1/3 rpm recordings on my portable player for years, all the way through college.

[Update: You will get extra credit if you listen, right now, to a few songs from the most romantic LP ever made. Then come back here and read the rest of this post. And you guys in the back row, “rpm” is short for revolutions per minute, kind of like on the tachometer in your car. I will assume your grunting indicates comprehension. There was a 16-2/3 rpm speed, too, but that type of record is really rare. By the way, on the test at the end of the course, you will be asked to give an example of alliteration. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.]

Those two gifts from my aunt are among my favorite childhood memories. To be fair, though, my grandfather -- who also lived in Pennsylvania and whom I didn’t meet until I was fourteen -- sent me an enormous chocolate-covered coconut egg every year for Easter. I sent him cans of Prince Albert pipe tobacco for Christmas. Our family was (were?) really into the giving of gifts. Also the writing of thank-you notes.

So I’m sorry, but you’ll just have to use your imagination to picture those azaleas and camellias because I have yet to buy a video camcorder or a digital camera or one of those expensive all-purpose cellphones that can upload photographs to the Internet while simultaneously cooking your supper and waxing your car. And the longer I wait, the more expensive today’s gadgets seem to become. Instead of lowering prices, the manufacturers just add a few more bells and whistles to their products and continue to charge an arm and a leg. That just doesn’t seem right, somehow. At our house, we are concentrating more these days on paying our mortgage and buying food and renewing prescriptions. Acquiring more “stuff” is not a priority. Just in case you’re wondering, I composed this post on a kerosene-fueled personal computer with a monitor powered by a hamster running on a treadmill.

One thing that has gotten cheaper, though, is telephone calls. When I was young, long-distance calls were a rarity unless there was a death in the family. But every year on New Year’s Eve, at exactly 11:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, my aunt called from Pennsylvania to wish us all a happy new year. She was an hour ahead of us. Even after I was grown, telephone calls were not cheap. In 1969, when my annual salary was around nine thousand dollars, my employer sent me to Stockholm, Sweden, for a month and I remember that a three-minute call home to my wife cost sixteen dollars. I wish the camera-makers (and big-screen-TV makers, too) would take a note from those nice telephone people.

Speaking of notes, the choir director at our church has decided to include a piece of my music in this year’s Christmas program. I composed a new tune to “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” an eighteenth-century hymn written by John Wesley’s brother Charles, and combined it with the more-familiar tune called Hyfrodol. So it is partly old and partly new. The choir ran through it for the first time last Wednesday night and seemed to like it. The musical-composition software that I use is called Finale; it was given to me by my son.

It was an even better gift than my old Brownie Hawkeye camera.

Monday, October 20, 2008

How’s that again?

I recently discovered a book called A Year With C. S. Lewis that is now on my list of books to buy. It contains a year’s worth of daily readings from the non-fiction works of the aforementioned Mr. C[live] S[taples] Lewis. More about the book in a minute. But first, I want you to look at something:


Those, my friends, are limpets, or snails, if you prefer. The wikipedia article on limpets includes a sentence about them that says, “In the latest taxonomy the Patellogastropoda have become an unranked taxon as a separate clade.” I haven’t a clue what that might mean. But try to think of yourself as a limpet (or snail, if you prefer) for a moment.

Selah.

Now we can proceed. Below are entries for two days from that book of C. S. Lewis’s writings I mentioned. The material is copyrighted, of course, but since this blog is not for anyone’s commercial use, least of all mine, let’s sneak a peek at something I found quite mind-boggling. In your reading, the limpet (or snail, if you prefer) represents Man, and Man represents God. Put on your limpet-sized thinking cap, everyone, and dive in.

January 2
Imagine a Mystical Limpet


Why are many people prepared in advance to maintain that, whatever else God may be, He is not the concrete, living, willing, and acting God of Christian theology? I think the reason is as follows. Let us suppose a mystical limpet, a sage among limpets, who (rapt in vision) catches a glimpse of what Man is like. In reporting it to his disciples, who have some vision themselves (though less than he) he will have to use many negatives. He will have to tell them that Man has no shell, is not attached to a rock, is not surrounded by water. And his disciples, having a little vision of their own to help them, do get some idea of Man. But then there come erudite limpets, limpets who write histories of philosophy and give lectures on comparative religion, and who have never had any vision of their own. What they get from out of the prophetic limpet’s words is simply and solely the negatives. From these, uncorrected by any positive insight, they build up a picture of Man as a sort of amorphous jelly (he has no shell) existing nowhere in particular (he is not attached to a rock) and never taking nourishment (there is no water to drift it towards him). And having a traditional reverence for Man they conclude that to be a famished jelly in a dimensionless void is the supreme mode of existence, and reject as crude, materialistic superstition any doctrine which would attribute to Man a definite shape, a structure, and organs. (--from Miracles)

January 3rd
Not Naked but Reclothed


Our own situation is much like that of the erudite limpets. Great prophets and saints have an intuition of God which is positive and concrete in the highest degree. Because, just touching the fringes of His being, they have seen that He is plenitude of life and energy and joy, therefore (and for no other reason) they have to pronounce that He transcends those limitations which we call personality, passion, change, materiality, and the like. The positive quality in Him which repels these limitations is their only ground for all the negatives. But when we come limping after and try to construct an intellectual or “enlightened” religion, we take over these negatives (infinite, immaterial, impassable, immutable, etc.) and use them unchecked by any positive intuition. At each step we have to strip off from our idea of God some human attribute. But the only real reason for stripping off the human attribute is to make room for putting in some positive divine attribute. In St. Paul’s language, the purpose of all this unclothing is not that our idea of God should reach nakedness but that it should be reclothed. When we have removed from our idea of God some puny human characteristic, we (as merely erudite or intelligent enquirers) have no resources from which to supply that blindingly real and concrete attribute of Deity which ought to replace it. Thus at each step in the process of refinement our idea of God contains less, and the fatal pictures come in (an endless, silent sea, an empty sky beyond all stars, a dome of white radiance) and we reach at last mere zero and worship a nonentity. (--from Miracles)

(end of quotation)

I can only guess that Lewis goes on in Miracles to reclothe the idea and suggest that God is, in fact, the concrete, living, willing, and acting God of Christian theology.

I think he is saying that God is as inconceivable to Man as Man would be to a limpet. And perhaps he is also saying that the erudite, whom we tend to admire, usually get it wrong and the true prophet or mystic, whom we tend to ignore when we are feeling tolerant and kill when we are not, has a better chance of getting it right.

I don’t always find C. S. Lewis easy to understand, but I love reading his words, even when I have to proceed at a snail’s pace.

Friday, October 17, 2008

And a good time was had by all...


I hope you are not as shocked by this photo as I initially was. It was taken by Damon Winter of the New York Times about 24 hours after this year’s third presidential debate between Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. Here they seem happy to see one another, unless they are just putting on a good front for Archbishop Cardinal Edward Egan of the diocese of New York. The occasion was the 63rd annual white-tie dinner of the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation in Manhattan. Al Smith had been elected governor of New York four times when the Democratic Party tapped him to be its candidate for president in 1928. He didn’t become president, however. He was defeated by the man from Iowa whom radio announcer Harry Von Zell once referred to as “the president of the United States, Hoobert Heever.” You remember Hoobert. He helped usher in the Great Depression.

But I don’t want to make you any more depressed than you already are or raise your blood pressure even a notch. Chill out, already. This white-tie dinner in Manhattan, a major fundraiser for the school system of the Catholic Diocese of New York, is a “must attend” function for politicians wooing New Yorkers for their votes. Apparently Johnny and Eddy and Barry there get on quite affably in a social setting, when the hot lights of the television cameras have been turned off and the national television audience has gone to bed. Both candidates spoke at the dinner, and both got off some real zingers. The dinner guests were practically rolling in the aisles, even Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (who must have one of the longest Wikipedia articles around, complete with 343 footnotes). I guess it’s just us chickens out here in the hinterlands who get all tense and uptight over a little thing like a presidential election.

Check it out for yourself. Here’s John McCain telling jokes (Part 1) and (Part 2), and here’s Barack Obama telling some jokes of his own (Part 1) and (Part 2). They even manage to say a few nice things about one another. I truly hope such civility catches on with their supporters.

Since Jeannelle broke her promise not to blog about politics, I feel no compunction about letting you in on what happens when the debating ends.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Truth in packaging

The wedding was beautiful. Everyone looked gorgeous. The bridesmaids wore light-olive colored strapless, floor-length sheaths. The guys wore chocolate tuxedoes with light-olive vests. There was not a pimiento in sight. The bride dazzled us all in a dress that her great-grandmother had sewn by hand for the bride’s grandmother’s wedding in 1950. The reception at the country club afterward was, in a word, fabulous.

So now the new bride and groom, Meredith and Neil, are honey-mooning in -- eat your hearts out -- St. Lucia. And Mrs. Rhymeswith-plague and I have returned home from our whirlwind 48-hour trip to Alabama The Beautiful, as the sign says at the border, Bob Riley, Governor. Jethro is back from his brief stay at his favorite doggie-dude ranch. Everything is slowly returning to what passes for normal around these parts.

Normal.

Normal is when you realize at the worst possible moment that all the toilet paper is in the closet in the other bathroom. Normal is when some kid from a couple of blocks away decides to demolish your curbside mailbox, anonymously, of course. (It didn’t happen to me, it happened to our next-door neighbor.) Normal is when you say to your friend at church, “I see you’re going to be a grandpa again,” and the apparently stylish new clothing his married daughter wore that day to church is not a maternity outfit.

Normal. That last example is also an example of my severe “foot-in-mouth” disease. I seem to have been, as Texas Governor Ann Richards once famously said of George Herbert Walker Bush, born with a silver foot in my mouth. In fact, some days the only time I open my mouth is to exchange feet. You want examples?

When Debbie L. came to work wearing a bright yellow jacket and a dark green skirt, I said, “You look like a daffodil.” I meant it in the best possible way. When Ethel B. came to work wearing a deep purple outfit, I told her, “You look like a grape.” She actually got upset. When Katherine H. came to work in a black suit, white blouse, and shiny, black, high-heeled shoes, I thought she looked well-tailored, authoritative, decisive. So I said, “You look like the warden of a women’s prison.” She appeared to be in shock. I will never forget what my friend Tim R. said next. “Katherine,” he said, “don't pay any attention to him. You look stunning!”

Well, it took a long time, years and years, but I have learned my lesson. Never say what you actually think. Say what they want to hear. If you do it enough times, you may even begin to believe it yourself. I can’t count the number of times I have seen someone all gussied up, opened my mouth to make a perfectly natural comment, my life passed before my eyes, and I have caught myself in time and said instead, “So-and-so, you look stunning!”

Let’s try it now. You may be sitting there in front of the computer in your bathrobe and pajamas, with sleep in your eyes, with your hair up in curlers. You may be sitting there in jeans and a torn sweatshirt. You may even have brought something in from the barnyard on your shoes. I don’t care. I really don’t care at all.

If you are female and you are reading my blog, you look stunning!

If you are male and you are reading my blog, I wasn’t talking to you. But a word to the wise should certainly be sufficient.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The wedding is today!

The rehearsal and rehearsal dinner were last night. The church looks beautiful. Simple, but elegant. This morning, besides writing this post, I’m doing last-minute run-throughs on the piano of Debussy’s Clair de Lune and Liszt’s Liebestraum and Rachmaninoff’s Eighteenth Variation from “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” and Reverie (Debussy again) and Albert Hay Malotte’s The Lord's Prayer and Bach-Gounod’s Ave Maria on which I am accompanying one of the violinists (who are also playing Dona Nobis Pacem and Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and Pachelbel’s Canon in D, all unaccompanied). This is going to be quite a wedding. There are trumpets in there, too, when Meredith, the bride, makes her entrance.

I also need to run through some of the dreamy, romantic music for the reception one more time: Stardust, All the Things You Are, The Way You Look Tonight, Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing, The Nearness of You, When I Fall In Love, If I Loved You, and while we have the italic font all warmed up, et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum. I have to polish my black shoes to wear with the tuxedo (I don’t have patent leather), take the dog to his favorite doggie-dude-ranch (a 40-minute round trip) as we will be going out of town for three days early tomorrow morning, wash our clothes for the trip, shower, wash my hair (not much to do there), shave, and dress. The wedding is at 4:30 p.m. and the prelude music begins at 4:00 or thereabouts, so we have to leave home before 3:00 so that I can run through the piece with the violinist one more time.

For the rehearsal dinner, the groom’s parents picked one of the best restaurants in town. The building formerly housed a funeral home. I kid you not. We ate shrimp and grits (don’t laugh; it’s a southern main dish and it was scrumptious!) but the water smelled a little like formaldehyde (now you can laugh).

And I’m sitting here at the computer taking a fifteen-minute break from the piano. Mrs. Rhymeswithplague is working on her hugely intricate counted-cross-stitch that uses 53 colors. Fortunately, Jeannelle turned off comments on her blog today, so I can return to practicing the piano now with my “Must Reply” switch in the off position.

This has been One Day In The Life Of Rhymeswithplague (with apologies to Ivan Denisovich and also Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn), and it’s not over yet. In fact, it’s just beginning.

Well, my fingers are hardly what you would call rested, but I hear the ivories calling my name.

(Note to myself: Try to use fewer parenthetic expressions.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Missed the boat, dropped the ball, blew it

No Tuesday ramblings this week. We had an overnight guest on Monday, an old classmate of mine who was on the way back to Texas from North Carolina. This particular guest has been the editor of our “Class of 1958” Newsletter for the past five years (and has done a terrific job, by the way), served on a planning committee for the class’s 50th Reunion back in May, and even provided some of the day’s entertainment. So with all the housecleaning and cooking and welcoming and visiting and eating and, yes, the sitting-up-late talking that took place, Tuesday slipped by, blogwise.

Today all is back to normal. After not having had a drop of rain for more than a month, it’s raining and the weather folks say to expect at least an inch. Much needed, and long overdue.

The leaves are beginning to turn in north Georgia, the sky is blue (except today), and the air is cool and crisp. I love October.

Nothing earth-shattering is going on around here, except that since I will be playing for a wedding and a reception this weekend, there’ll be a bit of extra piano-playing going on for the next few days. Can’t promise I’ll get to the blog, and can’t promise I won't.

Carry on, world.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Most Romantic LP Ever Made

First of all, if you’re asking “What’s an LP?” you need to go find another blog to read.

This is just one person’s opinion, of course, and there’s no accounting for taste. De gustibus non est disputandum, and all that. I get it. For example, Mrs. RWP always used to enjoy listening to Johnny Mathis. But my vote for the most romantic 33-1/3 revolutions-per-minute long-playing (LP) vinyl record album ever made goes to one recorded in December 1956 and released in 1957. I got mine through the Columbia Record Club. With the Gorden Jenkins Orchestra doing the accompaniment honors, it was -- drum roll, please! -- Love Is the Thing by Nat King Cole. Back in those days, there were no videos to watch when you listened to music, and no CDs or DVDs or iPods or iPhones, either -- nothing, nada, zilch. You had to make up your own mental videos as you listened.

There was just something about the husky, grainy voice of the REAL king (Elvis, eat your heart out) coupled with those banks of cascading strings that got me every time. Wikipedia puts it this way: The singer’s “restrained vocal approach” and the arranger’s “unhurried string charts” combined to produce a romantic album of enduring popularity. You can say that again.

But don’t just take my word for it. Listen to these songs (they were all on that album):

“Love Is The Thing”

“When I Fall In Love”

“Star Dust”

Someone has put together a video of literal star dust with the last one, along with photos of the song’s composer. Can you name him? The composer, I mean, not the video maker.

You’re free to disagree, of course. De gustibus non est disputandum. But as a former pastor of ours used to say, “Can I help it if you’re wrong?”

Here’s further evidence that 1957 was a very good year:
Nat King Cole music, a brand-new turquoise ’57 Chevy, and the girl of my dreams in my arms. At the time, one out of three wasn't bad. Not bad at all.

Somehow my copy of the most romantic LP ever made, the one I purchased from the Columbia Record Club in 1957, took up residence at my son’s house several years ago as part of his extensive record collection.

[Addendum: Just for the record (no pun intended), I wasn’t personally in love with Nat King Cole. Just his voice. Somehow, when he sang, it was me singing. And he wasn’t singing to me. He, er, I was singing to my idealized, perfect, absent, non-existent girlfriend. I just wanted to make that perfectly clear! Oh, and one other thing: I would not want to go back and re-live my teenage years for all the tea in China.]

[Addendum #2: I tried to find a YouTube clip of the most romantic song on the most romantic LP ever made, but I couldn’t. I did find the lyrics, however. Here they are:

That’s All
by Alan Brandt and Bob Haymes

I can only give you love that lasts forever
And a promise to be near each time you call,
And the only heart I own
For you and you alone,
That’s all, that’s all.

I can only give you country walks in springtime
And a hand to hold when leaves begin to fall,
And a love whose burning light
Will warm the winter night,
That’s all, that’s all.

There are those, I am sure, that have told you
They would give you the world for a toy.
All I have are these arms to enfold you
And a love time can never destroy.

If you’re wondering what I'm asking in return, dear,
You’ll be glad to know that my demands are small.
Say it’s me that you’ll adore
For now and ever more,
That’s all, that’s all.]

[Addendum #3: As for my fantasy girl fantasizing about me, Peggy Lee singing “And Then My Heart Stood Still” tops the list.]

Saturday, October 4, 2008

An important day in (my) history

Fifty-one years ago today, something happened that affected everyone in the world, and something else happened that affected very few but changed my life completely.

On Friday, October 4, 1957, the Russians launched a rocket that put an unmanned satellite named Sputnik into orbit around the earth. It circled the globe once every ninety minutes and people were both amazed and frightened. The Space Age had begun, and the Russians got there first. A great emphasis on science and mathematics began in American schools, along with a great decline in the liberal and fine arts. Who would need music and drama and painting when the barbarians were at the gates? People were abuzz. The world had changed forever.

I didn’t find out about Sputnik for three days because on Friday, October 4, 1957, at about 7:30 in the morning, something else happened. My mother died. She had been in St. Joseph’s hospital in Fort Worth for nearly a month, the latest hospitalization in her eight long years of battling cancer. We had known for about a year that she was, as they say, terminal. She was forty-seven years old. I was sixteen. Nothing has been the same since. My world, like the larger world, had changed forever.

Some people say time heals all wounds. They are wrong.


Parting
by Emily Dickinson

My life closed twice before its close;
It yet remains to see
If immortality unveil
A third event to me

So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A serious question

Can anyone tell me why Blogger reduces the number of spaces after a sentence? And is there a way to override that particular (and particularly) annoying attribute of our not-always-dearly-beloved Blogger? I guess that’s two questions. Here’s what I mean:

This sentence has one space typed after it. Here’s another sentence.
This sentence has two spaces typed after it. Here’s another sentence.
This sentence has three spaces typed after it. Blah blah ditto.

Do you see any difference? I am frustrated.

All other ground is sinking sand

The American presidential election, held quadrennially, will take place one month from tomorrow, on November 4th. Millions of words have been written about both candidates and their running mates. I do not propose to add any of my own. I don’t erect signs in my yard or attach bumper stickers to my car. I don’t respond to probes from inquisitive poll-takers. I will vote according to the dictates of my conscience in the privacy of the voting booth. I believe in the secret ballot. Yes, this election is historic and we will soon have either our first black president or our first female vice-president, but what I think, as Billie Holiday used to sing, “Ain’t nobody's business but my own.” How in the world could I have become so un-American? As Yul Brynner once said in The King and I, “Is...a PUZZLEMENT!”

For a completely different take, all you have to do is read Sherry’s blog. She seems to prefer the shrill and strident approach in letting you know exactly what she thinks in political matters, being a graduate of the Joy Behar school of communication and all. I’m not going to provide you with a link to Sherry’s blog or a photograph of Joy Behar. I do try to maintain certain standards. (Sherry, if you’re reading this, I’m joking, sort of. Joy, if you’re reading this, I’ll be one very surprised blogger.)

But that’s not why I started this post. Here’s why: I think Dr. Scot McKnight, a professor at North Park University in Chicago, has written an excellent post today on the JesusCreed blog called “Where is our hope?” and I further think that every American who calls himself or herself a Christian would benefit from clicking on that link.

See, sometimes I do manage to say what I think.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Sam Walter Who?

My cyberspace friend, Jeannelle of Iowa, not to be confused with Eleanor of Aquitaine, made a trip to Nashua, Iowa, last Sunday to take photographs for a blogpost she had in mind. Today she posted it. She has written a wonderful account of The Little Brown Church In The Vale, complete with the photographs she took last Sunday. And Jeannelle, being the thoroughly thorough person she is, covered both the history of the actual church and the story of the composer of the old hymn, “The Church in the Wildwood,” which begins, “There's a church in the valley by the wildwood, No lovelier spot in the dale; No place is so dear to my childhood As the little brown church in the vale.” To see and read Jeannelle’s engaging presentation, click here. Be sure to click on her link to The Cyber Hymnal to listen to the hymn tune and read all the verses.

And so I am going to write today about Sam Walter Foss.

No, Sam Walter Foss is not the person who built the church. No, he’s not the person who pastors the church. And no, he’s not the person who wrote the hymn. So who is he? I will tell you who he is, or rather, who he was.

Sam Walter Foss was a librarian. He was a poet. He was an editor for the Boston Globe in the nineteenth century. He was born in 1858 and died in 1911. Many of us of a certain age had to memorize his best-known poem in school. Thanks to Jeannelle’s post, I now know that on the middle step of the three steps leading to the front door of The Little Brown Church in the Vale in Nashua, Iowa, is engraved a line from that very poem: “Let me live by the side of the road and be a friend to man.” His name follows, but it is misspelled. The line chiseled in the step is credited, strangely, to Sam Fosse.

The poem, in case you never heard of it (and I suppose many younger people have not), is entitled “The House By The Side Of The Road.” It is not great poetry. The critics would call it homely, homespun, folksy, sentimental, simple, maudlin, sing-songy and lots of other adjectives (vapid, banal), and even though many of their criticisms are true, I love it.

Here it is. Can you spot the Biblical references?


The House By The Side Of The Road
by Sam Walter Foss

There are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the place of their self-content;
There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze the paths
Where highways never ran --
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by --
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat
Nor hurl the cynic’s ban --
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I see from my house by the side of the road
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife,
But I turn not away from their smiles and tears,
Both parts of an infinite plan --
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead,
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
And still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.

Let me live in my house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish -- so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Actually, here’s the house I had in mind:
Photo © Benoist Sébire