I Was Honored Today

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.

The Fallen: 2nd Lieutenant J.P. Blecksmith, 24

Los Angeles Times


Find A Grave



Flash Gordon

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.

Being a Big Brother

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.




Happy Birthday, Andy Lester

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.

Childhood Travels, 1946-1954

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.


Time for Changes

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)



Church and Research

Yesterday was All Saints’ Day, November 1. As many know, Halloween is actually All Hallows (Saints) Evening (hallow ‘een). All Saints’ Day is a day to honor all saints, past, present and future. For those who want to know more about the secular and religious background to All Hallows Eve and All Hallows Day, check out All Hallow’s Eve.

This morning’s sermon talked about all of us being saints in our own ways. We all do good things and don’t require any special veneration or feast day or approval by any church to be saints. He told more about one of the hymns we sang for the day, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God“, written by Lesbia Scott in 1929 to teach her children about the saints celebrated by the church, and to let them know that we’re surrounded by saints every day. Lesbia Scott was the wife of an Anglican priest and was active in local amateur and church theatrics. You can follow the links to learn more about the holiday, the hymn, or her.

The lyrics are in the link to the hymn. Although written in England, it doesn’t appear in the hymnal used by the Anglican Church in the UK, but does appear in the one we use, The Hymnal (1982) of the Episcopal Church in the USA. It is also now in United Methodist and Presbyterian hymnals in the USA, as well as the one used by the US military. Of course all hymnals have more songs than you’ll ever get to know, so even if you attend those churches, you may not know it.

Hearing the name of the author, “Lesbia” got me thinking about that name. I new the name from my study, some 40 years ago, of Greek and Roman literature, but couldn’t place it. I remembered the Isle of Lesbos, Greece, in the Aegean Sea, and that it was the home of the classical Greek poet, Sappho, who wrote poems of love to other women. This led to the term “Sapphic love” and in more modern times as “Lesbian love”. In addition, the name Lesbia was used in later times by the Roman poet Catullus to refer to his lover. After reading several web articles it all came back to me, both the name Lesbia and how it tied to the Isle of Lesbos. A little further research showed several contemporary women with the first name “Lesbia”, all apparently of Latin American heritage.

We have all sorts of interesting names being given to children these days. If you were a heterosexual couple, or a lesbian couple, would you name your daughter Lesbia? My daughter Lucinda has an “old fashioned name”, and is named after a woman who was born about thirty years before Lesbia Scott. But both 40 years ago when Cinda was born, and now, I seriously doubt I’d name a daughter Lesbia. Would you?

Today’s preacher, the Very Rev. Steve Brehe, also talked about his favorite saint, Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky. Although “St. Sam” is not an official “saint” of the church, Steve talked of his saint’s perseverance when, with advanced Parkinson’s, he typed with his one working finger, the entire Bible, which he had translated, into a Chinese dialect, making the scriptures available to millions of people. I can’t imagine that level of dedication, faith, and perseverance, but I try.

All of this probably shows you how my mind works, always asking questions, always wanting answers, even when there aren’t any. I can do my research in a traditional library, and did for years, but Google, Wikipedia, and other sources surely make it quicker and easier today. And I hope to keep asking questions, and in these ways and others, helping others with their faith and their lives.

The Road Not Taken

I think most of us have wondered, at many times in our lives, what it would be like if we could take a different path, re-live certain hours, days, or months of our lives.  What would it be like if you went to the prom with Bob instead of Bill, with Susie instead of Mary?  Would you have married the other one? If you took job A and moved to town A, instead of staying where you were, would you have had a bigger promotion, failed instead, met a different partner, or something else?  Robert Frost, the great American poet, wrote about that in “The Road Not Taken”, saying “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both”, which we all know.

Of course we can’t go back in time and take a different path. And I’ve learned not to spend much time thinking or worrying about it, just for that reason. And also not to worry much about things that are completely out of my control, like politics, war and peace, the economy, the “big issues” that many spend time and energy on.

However, one aspect of my life does provide that opportunity. In duplicate bridge, which I play almost daily, a given set of hands that have been dealt are played by 6 to 15 pairs of players.  The game is scored by comparing the results (number of points) achieved by each player. Since after the game is over I can see how I did with a given hand of cards compared to how others did, I can essentially re-live that several minutes of my life. What if I’d led a different card?  What if I’d taken my tricks in diamonds before the tricks in hearts? What if I’d been more observant of my partners signals in her play of cards?

In this analysis of hands of cards, which I do almost daily, I get confirmation of what I consider to be “universal truths”. First, there are times you couldn’t possibly do better, no matter what you had done. Second, there are times you could have done better if you’d done something differently.  Third, there are times when you did better than anyone else, and a different path would have produced worse results.  I try to learn from all of these situations.

I try to keep these “universal truths” in my mind in all situations.  All I can ever do is the best I can at any given time. Once I’ve done that, I need to accept the results and move on with my life, trying to improve when it is relevant and possible.