Last week I was asked to serve the wine at the altar today, which I do every few weeks. Until the event was explained I didn’t have any idea what a special honor it would be. This is the Sunday that is closest to Veterans Day, and was that day chosen by Ed and Jane Blacksmith to honor the memory of their son James Patrick (JP) by giving a pair of silver chalices and patens (the plates that hold the bread) to the church. JP was a US Marine 2nd Lt. who was killed in action by a sniper in Fallujah, Iraq, on November 11, 2004, Veterans Day ten years ago. The two of us who served today were Ed and me, the first to serve from the beautiful new sterling silver chalices after their blessing for use.
I never knew JP, but I’ve provided links to a couple of articles that tell about him and his amazing life, and his death doing what he had always wanted to do, graduating from the US Naval Academy, and serving as a US Marine Officer. His father had been a Marine officer in Vietnam, and other family members had been Marines before that. His best friend and colleague in Iraq had this comment: “He had a code of ethics and morals and a presence about him… He was the old breed. Men respected him a lot, he was a great leader. It’s better to die a piece of broken jade than live as a piece of clay.”
By far the best and most complete article describing the man, and his father, with whom I was honored to serve today, is the first one below. It is well worth reading, and the one to read if you only read one.
No blog today.
And to go with it, to go with the silence from me:
The original Flash Gordon comic was published in 1934, 9 years before I was born. He was preceded by Buck Rogers and several others in comic form, and of course in science fiction magazines and books. Many were termed “space opera” in the same way western films were usually “horse operas”, with a good guy, an evil villain, assorted sidekicks, a favorite horse or vehicle, and so on. Of course there was always a girl along as a sidekick, a spouse, or a love interest. Although they are of much higher quality, even such acclaimed and superior films as the Star Wars franchise exhibit many of these same qualities.
In the earliest 50s in Phoenix, when I was 7 and 8 years old, I was taken to the YMCA on Saturday afternoons for activities like “swimming” (which I never learned to do), exercises, snacks, and several weekly serials (one reel a week of an adventure story of some sort). Many of the serials dealt with spies (with an evil German or Asian villain) attacking the USA during WWII. But we also got to see all 13 episodes of Flash Gordon, produced in 1936 and originally showing in movie theaters for Saturday matinees. The black and white films of course ended each week with a “cliff hanger” where it seemed that Flash was doomed; of course each week he would miraculously escape from the danger and continue on to the next one.
A couple of years later my best friend’s family got a TV and every Thursday evening at 7 pm we would get to see Flash Gordon on TV. They were both the original serial and a couple of the later serials made in 1938 and 1940. We eventually got a TV in late 1953, a 7 inch Silverstone from Sears. The screen was actually round with the top and bottom masked off. But the left and right edges were rounded. We had to sit very close to the TV to see it, and we kids would gather around closely to watch a show. The special effects on Flash Gordon were abysmal. You could sometimes see the wires that the “space ships” were on as they “flew” across the screen. The actual ships were simple metal or wood models with a sparkler in the back of them, with sparks falling down due to gravity (which they wouldn’t in space). But we still thought it was cool, even though even as children we knew they weren’t real.
Tonight we watch the 1980 Flash Gordon film that still had the same main characters with new actors and a similar plot line. Flash Gordon had to save the earth from destruction by the evil Ming The Merciless, who still looked like a stereotypical Chinese villain straight from the 30s. Of course it was in color and the special effects were slightly better, though there was no attempt at all to make it look as realistic as Star Wars or other high end films. There were lots of laughs and fun watching it. Gail of course hadn’t seen it, and somehow I’d missed it along the way too. An interesting way to spend a Friday night that brought back lots of old memories.
I’m the oldest of six, and am now 71 years old. My earliest memories of being a big brother are from when I was perhaps 4 years old. Diana was 18 months younger than me, and like any two year old wanted her way and knew how to say “No” if she didn’t get it. I’d be playing with a toy and she’d grab it away. I knew that if I hit her, I’d be in very big trouble. Little boys were NEVER allowed to hit girls, but it was OK to hit other boys when necessary. If I grabbed my toy back, she knew she was safe from being hit. To try to get it back she’d bite me on the arm. I mean real bites, drawing blood, leaving two sets of teeth marks on my arm. At least she never took out an actual chunk of flesh. Mom would take her away, give her what was not yet called a “time out”, and then later, or the next day, she’d do it again. Finally Mom cured her of it by biting her back. Mom actually bit her hard enough to make marks on her arm. After a few times of that Diana did learn not to bite me any more.
Throughout junior high school in Des Moines I was frequently the object of complaints from my sisters, and particularly Diana, since she was similar in age. For two reasons, being a boy, and being a year and a half older, I was allowed to do many things that she couldn’t. My friend and I could take the bus alone at night to go to a movie downtown, and even stay all night for a midnight triple feature science fiction show, full of flying saucers, the creature from the black lagoon, giant spiders, and so forth. We would take the morning bus back to deliver papers. She felt discriminated against, of course, and just knew that it “wasn’t fair”. Even when she was two years older a girl wouldn’t have been allowed to do the same things had she wanted to.
When I was in high school I was heavily involved in electronics in general, and ham radio in particular. I built almost all of my own equipment from separate components, which took lots of time to do. My brother Irv was exactly six years younger, so when I was 16 and he was 10 I was SURE he would want to learn about all the cool stuff I did and do the same as I did. Well, though he was slightly interested to be around sometimes when I was talking on the ham radio to someone far away in England or Texas or somewhere, he had no real interest in putting parts together, soldering them, building things, or learning much about the how it worked and why. After a few months I gave up on that idea. I learned that the younger siblings need to follow their own paths and not necessarily my path. I was reminded of this later with my children.
We all make our own way, often following the steps of those who’ve gone before, but often going off in a different direction, exploring new things. Actually, it would be boring if people didn’t go off in their own ways to explore new things. Here’s to doing our own exploring.
47 years ago today my son Andy (Andrew Ronald Lester) was born. We named him after my father, Andrew Lawrence Lester, and Marilyn Lester’s father, Ronald. At the time we were living in Chicago and he was born at Michael Reese Hospital. I was attending graduate school at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Library Science and Marilyn was working at the Municipal Reference Library for the City of Chicago. We lived at 7443A S. Coles, just off of 75th street about 3 blocks from Lake Michigan. At the time the neighborhood was racially and ethnically mixed. 75th street featured your choice of Chinese restaurants, Jewish delicatessens, and “Soul Food” restaurants. All were excellent. We would not want to live in that area these days, 47 years later. Within six months we’d moved to Bowling Green, Ohio, for a year and a half, before moving to Mankato, Minnesota.
As Marilyn and I both worked and/or went to school (usually both), Andy grew up with baby sitters, and later, daycare. We never felt bad about it, as he got good training and socialization that he wouldn’t have had if he’d been home alone with one parent or the other. Andy learned to read at age 3, and as we rode around town shopping or to and from daycare, he’d read signs like “S T O P says stop, daddy” or “that says pizza” or “if you spell S T O P it spells pots”. It was always an adventure watching him learn and figure things out.
When Andy was five I was working on a major indexing and publishing job in the library’s computer room every evening. Marilyn was in night classes or working evenings in the library. So, after getting him at daycare and a quick supper he and I would spend the evening by the computer. In addition to my major workstation there was an ASR-33 teletype terminal that had a keyboard and printed on a roll of yellow paper. There was a football program on the computer that provided a simulated football game. Andy understood football and could choose a 1 for a short run, 2 for a long run, 3 for a short pass, 4 for a long pass, and so forth. You would type your choice and the computer would respond with “3 yard loss” or “47 yard gain for a first down at the 20” or whatever the randomly chosen answer was. He enjoyed the game and would play it for quite a long time.
Andy also wanted to know how the computer worked, so I showed him basic commands in the BASIC language so that he could write a program to add two numbers and print an answer, and how to use the HELP command within BASIC. Soon he was writing programs to do more complicated math, print answers, and so forth. He also worked out how to “get answers to questions” from the computer, something like an extremely simple ELIZA program. Most of them were of the “Magic 8 Ball” type of answers.
From there Andy went on to use computers wherever and whenever he could, writing programs, and for the most part, teaching himself what he needed to know, although he did take some classes at various points. Today he is a full time programmer who has written books on various programming topics. He also speaks at conferences and is active in the profession.
I’m sure I’ll write more about Andy and my other “kids” (ages 35 to 47) as I get the inspiration and a chance. I’ll see what embarrassing stories I can come up with.
Growing up as the oldest of six children meant that we didn’t have a lot of money. Dad was a traveling salesman, gone about five weeks out of six for most of those years. He drove a company car and was only permitted to use it for business purposes. Mom had never learned to drive, and we certainly never had money for a second car anyway. That meant that when Dad was gone we relied on public transportation or the kindness of friends, either ours or Mom’s, usually hers.
I don’t remember moving from California to Arizona when I was 3 1/2, but I do remember trips back when I was 6 and 8. When I was 7 I spent two weeks with my paternal grandmother in Long Beach, mostly reading the Book of Knowledge (a multi volume encyclopedia). I rode with dad in his Ford sedan both ways. Since there was no air conditioning, and it was summer, people always traveled the 400 miles of two lane road across the desert at night, as straight through as possible. I remember stopping in several small town gas stations on the way, the kind that now appear on classic pictures in souvenir shops. We, of course, had a canvas water bag that hung on the front bumper so that it would be cooler, whether for us or for the radiator if needed.
Then a year later my grandmother died, and we went to California on the train to her funeral. I don’t remember the funeral, which I may not have attended, but do remember the train ride. Later that summer we took our one and only “family vacation”. Mom, Dad, and the four kids went for two nights to Oak Creek Canyon, near Sedona, Arizona. We stayed in a cabin near the creek, and spent time playing in the cool water under green trees. That was a real revelation to those of us who had always lived in the desert
When I was 10, in the summer of 1953, I went on the train to California to visit my Uncle Melvin and Aunt Rita, for what was scheduled to be a two week trip. I went on the train alone, and though I was checked on by the porter, I had no problems. The adventures while there are another future posting, but to finish the travel part, I got sick there and was sent home on another train, in a roomette. I was really pretty out of it much of the trip, but I do remember the porter bringing me food and water and regularly checking on me.
The following summer, August 1954, we moved to Iowa. Mom and the other five children flew, but I rode with Dad on the trip in the car. We were in a 1953 Ford sedan, and we headed east on US 60 through Globe to Socorro NM, and then north. The first night it rained as we headed north towards Colorado, and we stopped in Raton NM for the night. There were few motels then, so we usually stayed in hotels. They were in the middle of small towns, usually three or four stories. The next day we went on into Colorado where Dad had calls to make in Colorado Springs and Denver. When he was making sales calls to downtown camera stores, making sure they had the chance to stock the latest Graflex cameras, I would walk around town and visit stores. If he had appointments that were going to take a while, he’d give me money to go to a movie. Most downtown theaters had matinees every day.
We did take some side trips so I was able to see Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs, and was able to spend a lot of time in a large model railroad store in Denver. Dad bought some more kits. When we were in motels in the evening, we could listen to the radio or play with model trains. He always had some with him on the road. No TVs in hotel/motel rooms then, though in some cases there was one in the lobby. It took several days to cross Kansas, as there were many small towns with camera stores for Dad to call on. Eventually we got to Kansas City where we were a couple days, and then on to Des Moines where we met the plane that had Mom and my five siblings on it. Much more on Des Moines later.
I had no more trips more than a few miles from where we lived until I went away to college in 1960.
Yesterday was the day that most in the USA changed their clocks back an hour and “regained the hour they lost in the spring”. We happen to love daylight time and wish we had it all year round. But I’ll avoid any discussion on the pros and cons of DST since it is pretty common all over the world and my opinions don’t matter anyway. Certainly not an issue I’d get in a fight about, but there aren’t really any of those anyway. I don’t fight about politics, religion, or other contentious topics, being basically a live and let live kind of guy. In Utah there isn’t even any real point in voting in partisan political elections. But I’m not going to fight about the importance of voting, either. So I won’t.
We’ve had early seasonal weather changes as well. On Friday our high was 82, Saturday and Sunday were stormy, with squalls, rain, sun, snow in the mountains and a high in the low 50s. Tonight we’ll be in the 30s, with more snow in the mountains. Of course there has been rough weather all over the country and we’re hardly alone, so I can’t complain too much. We’re just spoiled with our beautiful high desert weather that is almost always beautiful and sunny, like it is today, though chilly.
Gail and I are also working on making time for other changes. We’re focusing on our eating with a goal of getting healthier and losing some weight. We’ve both been up and down in our lives, both in weight and in emotions. We both weigh about the same and it seems our bodies have this weight as a natural “set point”. If we get above our current weights, it isn’t too hard to get back to them. But getting below is a challenge, and keeping below them is really hard. We both know that we’ll never be at “normal weights” as determined by the antiquated and inadequate BMI scale. And that is OK. However, we know that any weight we lose will be a good thing.
Last year was tough with major surgeries for both of us, but we’re recovered mentally and physically. Fortunately our emotions and health are stable now, we have a happy home, happy dogs, and happy fish. So that just means we need to focus on eating the right things in the right quantities and getting more exercise. And all of us know how easy that is, since we all know how easy it is to lose weight and maintain it perfectly. Right? But we’ll give it a go and we’ll succeed this time.
The seasons are changing, the time is changing, and we’re changing. (Queue Bob Dylan)