School days

A little trip down memory lane…

I was sitting in my classroom at one of those desks with a fixed work surface that slanted down toward the student. Perhaps you’ll recall they had a little groove cut into the desk, a short distance from the top, where you could place your pen or pencil.

When I picked up my book or paper that day, my pencil started rolling toward me. Probably because my hands were full, I did not catch it. However, as it fell toward my lap, I brought my legs together to keep it from hitting the floor.

It worked.

The pencil came down between my legs and was caught in the squeeze, eraser on my left leg, the point on my right. I might have squeaked a bit when the pencil lead dug into my thigh, but nobody said anything. I didn’t like drawing attention to myself back then.

It didn’t appear to bleed, so I waited until I got home to check it out. The only visible evidence was a dark spot, the approximate color of pencil lead, the skin giving it something of a blue tint.

Today, more than 55 years later, the spot remains on the inside of my right thigh, a few inches above my knee.

Here’s the point.

That was probably the most dangerous thing I experienced during fourth grade at Pine Tree Elementary School in Longview, Texas.

The most bothersome thing for me was never getting up the nerve to tell Wendy I liked her.

But absolutely no school shootings.

One more thing

Per everytownresearch.org, firearms are the leading cause of death for American children and teens.

Important stuff

What are you, Team Amber or Team Johnny? I can’t say, as I’ve not paid any attention whatsoever to the goings-on.

However, I have some thoughts about the length of the trial.

Back in my reporter days, I covered a handful of murder trials. I suspect none of them garnered headlines outside our area. No celebrities, not even any local heroes. (There was one man convicted of murder who was in a wheelchair, having lost his legs several years earlier; that might have gotten some attention somewhere.)

Here’s the thing.

These murder trials – involving punishing someone for causing the death of another human, involving the question of putting someone in prison for maybe the rest of his life, involving the most basic offenses of humanity – were all conducted and wrapped up in a matter of days. As I recall, only one extended into the second week and lasted only one or two days more.

Yes, almost all of the murder trials were conducted within four or five days.

Meanwhile, this celebrity civil trial is entering its sixth week.

Why?

Because defamation is more complicated than murder? More heinous?

Because rich people are more deserving of a carefully considered verdict?

Or maybe because they make “better television”?

I don’t know, but I am confident our judicial system is being misused, if not outright abused.

One more thing

Why do judges wear black robes? According to classroomlaw.org:

“Upon the founding of the United States, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson disagreed on the attire judges should wear. Adams wanted judges to wear red robes and wigs as English judges did. Jefferson wanted judges to simply wear suits. A compromise between these two points of view was reached in which Adams and Jefferson agreed that judges in the United States would wear black robes without the wigs.”

Memorializing

A memorial in Lyons, N.Y. Photo by Steve Martaindale

When is Memorial Day in the United States?

Blindside a Baby Boomer with that question and you might initially get the answer May 30. That’s because, until near the end of the Vietnam War, such was the case. Until it was moved to the last Monday in May.

Why the move? Well, a glance at your local grocery store ads this week might give a clue. I can almost guarantee they will feature hot dogs, chips, charcoal briquets and a wide variety of drinks. And you are familiar with the thought the Memorial Day holiday weekend is the kickoff of summer.

Not everyone loves the idea of making a party weekend out of a day designated to honor … honor whom, exactly?

That’s another question that will trip up some people. In this case, I’m guessing, it might more likely be younger Americans.

“Memorial Day honors our veterans!” they might say. Many folks believe so, or at least they treat it as such.

No, Memorial Day has a distinct purpose, as is described in President Joe Biden’s proclamation issued Friday:

“On Memorial Day, we honor and reflect upon the courage, integrity, and selfless dedication of the members of our Armed Forces who have made the greatest sacrifice in service to our Nation.”

Truly recognizing that “greatest sacrifice” means death and understanding that nobody being honored on Memorial Day is able to share in a cookout or a softball game … or a hug or a laugh … certainly should put a damper on festivities.

According to The HISTORY Channel, until his death in 2012, Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii took up the cause of veterans groups opposing the last Monday date, introducing legislation at the beginning of every congressional term for more than 20 years. It shouldn’t surprise anyone moneymaking endeavors win out.

If not opening the community swimming pool and grilling meat byproducts, what is the best thing we could do to honor those who have been lost to war?

Maybe …

Maybe try a lot harder to avoid war.

‘No more wars’

When my wife and I walked the Erie Canal Trailway in 2016, we took off on Memorial Day, which happened to be May 30 that year. All along our route, we saw memorials and monuments to war and its victims, dating back to the American Revolution. We were in Herkimer, N.Y., and walked downtown for a good, old-fashioned parade and speeches.

The highlight was a few words offered by Annemarie Hansel, age 96, who served as a WAVE during World War II.

The first of what she said I didn’t pick up on, but she spoke loudly and clearly with her parting remarks: “No more wars. We’ve got to stop this. Use your brains.”

Working in the Hospital Corps for the Navy, I’m left to assume she had seen enough of the results of war.

What is it good for?

That’s a question asked repeatedly in the counterculture hit “War,” written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for the Motown label and ultimately released as a chart-topping single with a powerful performance by Edwin Starr in 1970.

It is not fair to history for me to immediately follow a discussion about World War II with one about Vietnam. War against the Axis Powers and their drive for world domination can hardly be questioned. Vietnam, on the other hand, could not be adequately justified for Americans, who sacrificed at least 58,318 lives. Some 3 million Vietnamese died, two-thirds of them civilians.

But that, I believe, is what drove Annemarie Hansel’s cry for peace. After seeing at least 60 million deaths during World War II, how can civilized nations enter another war?

Absolutely nothing

But Americans don’t have to go far to see the truest horrors of war.

According to Department of Veterans Affairs, 498,332 American military – Union and Confederate – died in the Civil War, eclipsing even the two world wars.

A friend asked me this past winter to read through a book he wrote. It was amazing and, if and when he publishes it, I’ll let you know. He heavily researched the life and times of his wife’s great-uncle, who fought for the U.S. through much of the Civil War, only to die from wounds suffered at Deep Bottom Run.

As I carefully read through the book, the abominations of this war that pitted brother against brother continually screamed out at me.

War … what is it good for?

Memorializing

This Memorial Day, honor those who gave their lives in military service.

It matters not whether the cause of the conflict was justifiable. There is nothing the fighting man or woman can do about that. However, we can and should attempt everything possible to prevent another person dying in war.

That would be the highest honor.

“All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.” John Steinbeck in “Once There Was a War”

Close to home

“We are grieving with you, as well.”

My wife had her phone on speaker while talking to a friend about the shootings in nearby Bryan, Texas.

“Are you OK?” she asked. I tuned in and it was obvious the woman was crying. Later, she sent me the link to a local newscast, shown above. She said that was what caused her to lose her composure.

It all hit close to home. Our friend termed it a time “when news gets real.”

We do not yet know anything about why the shots were fired. Witnesses have been quoted as saying it appeared obvious the shooter was targeting certain individuals. We know nothing about that, either.

But those types of questions are seldom answered to our satisfaction following senseless brutality.

The point right here, right now, is this shooting may seem more real to locals than other mass shootings in places further removed.

But that is an illusion.

Any act of inhumanity is always real. Some people simply have a closer look at it.

When we all are able to feel the realness, then maybe we’ll become motivated enough to do something about the problem.

Why are we here?

Why are we here? No, I’m not speaking of deep philosophical matters … that’s for other days … but examining the purpose of this site.

While I originally conceived it to display information about my series of novels — “The Reporter and …” — I fully intend to unload, and upload, all kinds of information. There will be pieces from my days as a weekly newspaper columnist, photos and thoughts from my time working in Antarctica, Yellowstone and exciting places yet to come. And I can never get away from offering up commentary on what we come across in our day-to-day lives.

My greatest desire here is to stimulate conversation, so please converse and goad your friends into participating. (One warning: I will insist, as well as possible, that we stay on topic with each post and that we do not delve into stirring up hatred. I’m kind of sensitive to that.)

Image

Now, let’s have fun.

Oh, the photo? It’s looking over my wife’s shoulder at Lake Livingston north of Houston. Why? Well, it’s cold here today and the image made me feel a little warmer.