When I was a little girl, my parents took me to visit the Little Brown Church in Nashua, Iowa. The church was built during the Civil War (makes sense, given the uptick in prayer around that time), and it still stands today. I was immensely excited to explore a building that greeted humans all the way back in 1862. I marveled at the candle-lit, cozy space, imagining the decades’ worth of things that had transpired there. The weddings, funerals, family gatherings, baptisms, prayers, tears, and laughter. Even as a little girl, I felt such strong ripples of history inside that church. It was the oldest building I had ever stood in…
…Until I went to New York City about fifteen years later. There, I visited St. Paul’s Chapel of Trinity which was built in 1766. Back then, it was the tallest building in New York. Alexander Hamilton (“we are waiting in the wings for youuuuu!”) drilled troops on the lawn for the American Revolution. George Washington visited the church on his inauguration day, and he frequented St. Paul’s when New York served as the nation’s capital. While I stood in that building and looked out the window, I marveled at how the view must have changed over the years. What must it have looked like when George Washington, sitting in his pew (preserved still today), stared out that exact same pane, turning his wheels about our new nation’s trials?
Where are my fellow Californians at? It’s a crazy place, we know, even when we aren’t in the midst of a global pandemic. Especially in Los Angeles where I live. Between crowds, traffic, and overall LA crazy, there isn’t much peace and quiet to be had. And this year has seen a significant uptick in noise because of a very particular problem – fireworks.
It wasn’t just the 4th of July, although that proved to be quite a spectacle. Covid saw the cancellation of all the city’s official shows. But that didn’t stop pyro enthusiasts, professional or otherwise, from blazing up the night sky with flashes and booms. The minute the sun went down, the fireworks went up, and they didn’t stop all night. Our neighborhood sounded like Flanders in the First World War. My husband and I watched from our windows, and said our prayers more than once, when our neighbors fired off some top-shelf explosives from their balcony. So many Angelinos went nuts with fireworks that the Los Angeles air, already nothing to boast of, was declared the most polluted in the world on July 5.
It’s time for a poetry break. I know you’re used to my series “Let Me Tell You How I Died,” exploring the sacrifices made by soldiers and civilians in various military conflicts. However, I’ve decided to put that on hold for awhile. With everything going on, I just don’t have the heart to post it these days. The good news is I’ve been using the time to work on a new poetry series that’s a bit more upbeat for these troubled times. As an avid traveler, I’ve so been enjoying everyone’s recent posts about their past trips. It’s helped me travel all over the world without ever leaving my desk chair, and I can’t tell you how much these posts have made me smile over the last few months. They have inspired and comforted me so much that I decided it was time to return the favor.
A while back, I posted an article about a visit to a place call Talbot House in Belgium. This cozy space, and the kindly Priest who ran it, provided ample comforts for the troubled soldiers of WWI. In these troubling times of my own generation, I’ve found my thoughts wondering to Talbot House quite often. Since I can’t go there (or anywhere overseas) for some time to come, I decided to do the next best thing and put pen to paper, reliving my memories of this wonderful place. Here for you is the very first installment of my new poetry series, “Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been.” Inspired by all of you, these are poems about some travel gems that have meant the most to me over the years. I do hope you enjoy it.
“Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been” – Talbot House
There’s a place tucked away in Belgium in the charming town of “Pop”
A place where all the crazy in the world really comes to a stop
Where it’s very quiet and peaceful, where the grass seems extra green
Where there’s a sun-filled room with tea and cakes they like to call “the canteen”
Welcome yourself to Talbot House, a friendly priest once said
It’s how he greeted the many soldiers who fought and cried and bled
He took them in with open arms, regardless of rank and file
He showed them compassion and gave them a shoulder, a place to stay awhile
A friendship corner helped lonely soldiers locate family or a friend
A music room and theater provided laughter without end
There were plenty of books for soldiers to borrow and pass away the day
Or they could stroll in the garden, where a petting zoo let them play
In the writing room they could post a letter after waiting so long
They could go to the sun-filled canteen room, for tea, cakes, and song
And a narrow ladder atop the stairs led to the best room in the abode
A quiet, humble chapel, where troubled warriors could take off a load
But the best part about Talbot House was the priest who ran the place
With his casual uniform, stocky build, and oh-so-friendly face
The boys all called him “Tubby” and he felt like one of their own
And for the happiness of those boys, Tubby worked himself to the bone
He broke strict army protocol to reunite brothers one last time
He lugged his portable organ to the trenches with all their danger and grime
He talked with boys and helped them process their overwhelming pain
He took them in and gave them a home, a place to stay dry in the rain
Hundreds and thousands of people walked through Tubby’s door
And he made every single one of them feel important and well cared for
All in his wonderful “every man’s club” in its quiet corner of Pop
It became its own cubby in history, that house where time seems to stop
A small corner of the big old world where peace reigned instead of war
Where soldiers could relax, make new friends, and escape all the blood and gore
Where a friendly priest who cared so much helped them with their needs
Who showed them compassion with soothing words and even better deeds
I never thought I’d see such a place with my very own eyes
But there came a hot summer in Europe where I got a most welcome surprise
I found myself ringing the bell of Talbot House, and a priest came out to greet me
He gave me a tour of the entire grounds, and there was so much to see
He showed us the garden, the theater and book rooms, the peaceful chapel too
The friendship corner, the old piano, and even the old petting zoo
Afterward I took a seat at a table in the canteen room
I enjoyed a warm cup of tea while the sun cast away all the gloom
Even after so many years, I felt old Tubby in the place
I heard his voice bellow a welcome, I felt him through time and space
I heard the soldiers singing and laughing, and banging those piano keys
I felt their happy smiles, I heard them whistle and tease
Tubby’s spirit is alive and well, you can feel it there all around
In Talbot House, where things slow down, and only smiles abound
And while I sat in his lovely chapel, he taught me something grand
Kindness will always win in the end, even when the world’s gone mad
For more photos from Belgium and Europe, click here.
To plan your own visit to Talbot House, or to donate to the upkeep of this incredible piece of history, visit their website
M.B. HENRY ON FURLOUGH – I’ve been writing up a storm lately between this website and a lot of intense work on my newest novel, which I have just begun querying. It’s time for a bit of a summer break! While our world travels for this year have been cancelled due to Covid-19, my husband and I will be taking a Quarantine-Friendly road trip in the near future, probably involving some nice tent camping and hiking in the wilderness. Feel free to follow along on Twitter and Instagram – handle @mbhenry1985. Posts, and visits to your amazing blogs, will continue in July. Until then, my friends!
Has anyone ever told you you’re crazy? You hit them with an idea you’re super stoked about, only to have them slap it down with a callous wave of the hand. I’ve received plenty of this as an aspiring writer, and those wave-offs can hurt. They can chip away until the doubt creeps in and hijacks your passion and creativity. It takes a strong person to block all those “no ways” and “it can’t be done” chorus lines. Someone who believes in the power of their vision and what’s more, they believe in their ability to accomplish it. It takes someone with confidence, someone with smarts and boldness …. someone like George Ferris.
Once upon a time, eight or nine years ago in fact, a young woman with a flair for history left her cramped, leaky studio apartment and drove to the Burbank/Bob Hope airport. She had fallen on some incredibly rough times. Only a quarter tank of gas powered her car, and she didn’t have much money to fill it. Groceries in the cupboard were sparse. She worked in movies as an assistant, but most months she barely made rent. The only real outings she could afford were trips to the library or the hiking trails.
But when the Collings Foundation, a touring historical group, announced that their B-17, B-25, and P-51 planes from World War II would swing by Burbank airport, the young woman had to see them. World War II had been a lifelong passion, especially the aviation angle. Her father took her to EAA Airventure in Oshkosh every single year as a child. She loved it when those big planes rumbled down the runway and put on the most thrilling airshows a history enthusiast could ever imagine.
She had a lifelong dream to ride in one of those planes, but being so down on her financial luck, that wouldn’t be an option today. Those rides were expensive, more money than she even had to her name. But she could go see the planes, and maybe they would let her take some pictures at least. So, the girl collected her camera and drove to the airport.
Animals – the beautiful, elegant, and cuddly creatures we share our humble planet with.
As a student of military history, I’ve come across many spots in otherwise grim battlefield memoirs about the love and kindness of animals. Baby rabbits who turned fierce World War I fliers into maternal care givers. Wounded forest critters who cracked through the hearts of grizzly foxhole dwellers. Dogs who served as honorary mascots to their regiments, warning their human friends of impending danger. Birds who carried messages which saved entire battalions. Cats who provided good luck and giggles aboard battleships.
In this crazy world of darkness and pain, animals have a way of steering us toward the light. Perhaps that’s why people turn to them to fill the void, and not just in our souls. You’d be surprised how many times, even in recent history, humans turned to animals for leadership. Honest to God leadership in the form of an electoral ballot. Think I’m crazy? Here’s just a few examples. Read More
Hello Dear Friends of WordPress and beyond.
Like the rest of you, I am disturbed and troubled by the outbreak sweeping the globe as I sit here and type this. It’s a bit overwhelming, almost paralyzing. As the days go by, it feels like things go from bad to worse. There’s an ever present tingling and tension in the air. I go through the world (or rather, my house since I’m under shelter in place orders) with stooped shoulders and an upset stomach.
In times like these, it feels hard to keep writing, reading, making art, taking pictures, and going about my routine. However, the writing muse still crackles in my veins and it will not be ignored. It tells me that as hard as it is, now is the most important time to keep doing those things. Because art and literature are powerful human sun rays in a storm like this. More than that, they can bear witness for a future generation, those who will look into the hearts and minds of people like us, locked in this scary time and unable to see the other side.
The year was 1851, and it was a still, silent night on the Harvard Campus in Boston, Massachusetts. Dew beaded the spacious and lush grounds. Night birds sang and crickets chirped. Most students and faculty were sound asleep in their cozy dormitories.
Suddenly…. KABOOM. An earth-shattering roar split the air. Students rolled out of their beds. Some stray dogs barked and windows rattled. In the Cambridge arsenal on campus, smoke rose from a cannon that hadn’t been fired since the War of 1812.
And that was how a scrawny, ornery student named Francis Channing Barlow entered the national arena with a bang. Meant as a harmless prank, the cannon incident drew the ire of many a Harvard authority figure. However, Barlow was well-known for pranks. A favorite was when he arrived at a writing and debate meeting adorned with brightly-colored plumes and curtains. He caused the biggest uproar of all when he graduated first in his Harvard Class of 1855.
Call Me. Be Mine. True Love. Kiss Me.
Don’t get any ideas, I’m not flirting with you. These are just some of the most common sayings found on everybody’s favorite valentine candy. Except… well, they’re not quite everyone’s favorite, but they are one of my favorites. Sure, it’s unclear what they’re really made of, and I get massive heartburn when I eat them, but that doesn’t always stop me when it comes to certain things. Valentine Conversation Hearts fall into that category. Although many wish they didn’t exist, I am definitely in camp L-O-V-E when it comes to those chalky little hearts.
Back when I was single, they were the only thing to boost my spirits around Valentine’s Day. Not only are they delicious, but they are also perfect little projectiles to whip at those oh-so-happy couples (I NEVER did that…). They come with a real sense of nostalgia too, because they’ve been around forever. I really do mean forever. The company that first cranked out these hearts was the oldest candy company in America. It was so old that I can finally talk about the Civil War during one of these confectionary posts.
What’s the coolest present that you’ve ever received for an anniversary? My husband and I do anniversaries a little bit different. We don’t really buy each other gifts. Instead, we pick out something nice for the two of us to enjoy, usually a trip of some kind. Of course, he always sends the obligatory (and gorgeous) flowers. He has also slipped in some very unique trinkets along the way, because he spoils me way more than he should (shhhh – don’t tell him).
Anniversaries can certainly see spouses outdoing each other for gifts, and here is a whale of an anniversary tale (Yow! Pun alert) that I discovered last summer on the Historic Route 66. It was a road trip packed to the gills (zing!) with so many quirky stops. One of the most unique was the Catoosa Blue Whale. It’s exactly like it sounds. In a tiny lake by the side of the road in Catoosa, Oklahoma, there resides a gigantic blue whale. You don’t have to go out of your way to find it either. It’s right off the 66, and that neon blue gentle giant is pretty hard to miss.