The year was 1851. A still, silent night blanketed the Harvard Campus in Boston, Massachusetts. Dew beaded the spacious, 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. He once 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 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. Things like Valentine Conversation Hearts. Although plenty of people hate them, I definitely fall in camp L-O-V-E when it comes to those chalky little hearts.
Back when I was single, they always boosted my spirits around Valentine’s Day. Not only because they are delicious, but also because they are 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. These hearts actually originated in the oldest candy company in America. So old that I can finally talk about the Civil War during one of these confectionary posts.
What’s the coolest anniversary present you’ve ever received? 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. That road trip was packed to the gills (zing!) with so many quirky stops, one being 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 sits right off the 66, and that neon blue gentle giant is pretty hard to miss.
Once upon a Holiday season in 1885, some generous folks put up a Christmas tree in a Chicago hospital. As everyone did back then, they illuminated it with lit candles, for the coming of the light or the Christ child, and to make the tree look oh-so-pretty. It must have been dazzling… until a candle fell off the tree and landed on the floor. Since evergreen is quite catchy when it comes to fire (you’ve all seen that Christmas tree fire video right?) the blaze quickly flared out of control. Mass panic ensued as personnel scrambled to evacuate patients, and the building burned to the ground. As the incident gets scant mention on the world wide web, I couldn’t learn of any deaths or serious injuries. Hopefully a Christmas miracle prevented any, but that wasn’t the case with many a Christmas fire back in the day. Fires from Christmas tree candles claimed a lot of unwitting victims and caused serious burns – especially for children. Read More
You know, I was so excited to post this yesterday for 11/11, but sometimes things don’t go as they ought! I took a bit of a tumble off the kitchen counter (always use a step ladder, folks) so I spent yesterday dealing with a broken wrist instead! However, my thoughts still often turned toward the day itself and what it means to me. Not just the overwhelming debt I feel towards all veterans, but also the end of WWI. When my husband and I went to Belgium last year, we visited the Menin Gate. Seeing all those names struck me to my core. I couldn’t even say a word the whole time we were there. I could only look at all those names and think of what each one represented. A family shattered. Hearts broken. So many tears. And the questions. Because many times in WWI and a lot of other conflicts, loved ones don’t even have the closure of knowing what happened to their fallen soldier. So, as part of my ongoing poetry series, this one is for the missing.
LET ME TELL YOU HOW I DIED
PART II – SEGMENT 4
Try as you might, but you won’t find me
Because when I died, there was no one to see
I was just one soldier in this sea of death
Just one in a million, my dying breath
You’ll find my name on some lists here or there
“Missing in Action, but we’re not sure where”
You’ll search and you’ll search, you’ll scour the ground
But there wasn’t a trace of me left to be found
You’ll go to an office and bang on the door
You’ll sit in a waiting room, you’ll pace the floor
You’ll pour out your heart in a letter or two
But they can’t really tell you what you should do
No closure is hard, I can sure understand
But this was a war that consumed the whole land
Every battlefield was covered in bones
So many men from different places and homes
And I was just one that passed through those years
Your sobs count for few in an ocean of tears
Because I’m just one name on a huge roll call
One Unknown tomb will have to count for us all
To Be Continued…
To Read Part II segment 1, click here.
For Segment 2, click here.
Segment 3, here.
And remember… always use a step ladder!
Once upon a late night in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, two college administrators threw in the towel. It had been a long day at Old Dorm – one of the few original buildings on the campus of Gettysburg College. The fourth floor was a busy place, with paperwork to file, admissions to check, and records to store. It made for a lot of work, and the women found it easier after the students left for the day. So, they clocked some overtime in exchange for the peace and quiet. However, quitting time had long-since arrived, and now they headed for the elevator.
Let’s set the mood before their bizarre tail unfolds. The corridors were probably dark. The few lights left on flickered with a quiet hum. The women, chatting and happy to be going home, stepped into the elevator. One pressed the button for the first floor. With a jolt, the box began its slow, creaking descent.
I first read the Grapes of Wrath in junior high. Perhaps a bit young for such heavy content, but sneaking “grown up” books was a favorite childhood past time. I’m glad I got my hands on this one, because it remains one of my favorite novels ever written. The dramatic struggle of the family Joad hooked my attention (you’ll never forget that ending), and so did the story of the “Okies” in general. In the Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck unfolds the trials of the Dust Bowl at large, making it human with his family Joad.
But Steinbeck also introduced me to a road. A mother road, a road of flight. A vital artery for Westward travelers spanning most of the United States. “Route 66 is the main migrant road,” Steinbeck wrote in his novel. “…66 is the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land… they come into 66 from the tributary roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads… Cars pulled up beside the road, engine heads off, tires mended. Cars limping along the 66 like wounded things, panting and struggling… People in flight along 66. And the concrete road shown like a mirror under the sun…”
I bet you’ve been wondering where I disappeared to over the last several weeks. Well, I’ve been a little bit of everywhere, if you want the honest truth. Sometimes, we all just have to refill the old well – both the spiritual well and the writing well. As for my husband and me, one of our favorite ways to do that is with a road trip. Usually, it’s just a short jaunt to somewhere close, like Solvang or Santa Barbra. Maybe if we have some extra time, we’ll do Big Bear or Yosemite. For this road trip, well… we went a little grander in scale.
Both of us have had long-time dreams to do Route 66. Not just a state or two. We wanted to do the whole dang thing. I had wanted to try it ever since I first read the Grapes of Wrath (which was much longer ago than I will admit here!) My husband’s parents went several years ago, and he had always wanted to follow in their footsteps. Read More
A while back, I wrote a post about a big explosion on the Ypres Salient in WWI. It had an impact, you might say – oh, the puns. Many of my friends here said it reminded them of a similar incident that occurred during the US Civil War. So I thought, why not make that article a two-parter? Here for you is the story of the Petersburg Mine of 1864. My readers correctly pointed out that the two stories follow a very similar path, right down to the horribly tragic ending.
It’s been awhile since we’ve checked in with this incredibly long poem, hasn’t it? I figured it was time to post another segment.
In the First World War, poison gas saw its first large scale use on the Ypres Salient in 1915. It was a very potent chlorine gas, and it caused hundreds of casualties and almost 70 deaths. As the war advanced, so did the cruelty of this particularly barbaric weapon. Phosgene and Mustard gases were introduced, both of which rotted the lungs and caused blisters and burns on the skin. Some variants of these gasses were invisible and hard to detect by smell, which meant soldiers wouldn’t know they were exposed until they were already symptomatic. I’ve read many accounts of gas attacks on the Western Front, and it’s hard reading to get through. Poison Gas became one of the most infamous aspects of the first world war, and one of the most feared weapons. Although it’s difficult to read about much less write about, I felt I had to include it in this poem. Here for you is the third segment of Part II of the “Let Me Tell You How I Died” war poem series. Read More