Voyages and Voyagers

Click to make bigly

Well, the Alabamans are electing their new Senator. I’ll be surprised if it’s much of a surprise, but that’s why they have the election.

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night and was listening to BBC Norfolk, as I usually do. The call-in show was discussing whether they should allow Trump to make a state visit. The host obviously (although I doubt he thought it obvious) favored not allowing it. I was surprised though, by the time I went back to sleep about five people had called in, all favored the visit, and several vociferously called out his obvious bias. Frustrated indeed, was he, and yes, it was a joy to hear.

The other day, you may have heard, NASA fired a secondary set of thrusters on Voyager 1. Yes, they worked perfectly. But let’s think a bit here. Voyager 1 and 2 launched in 1977, the year Star Wars came out. Voyager 1 is about 13 billion miles away now, well out of our solar system, it took 19½ hours to find out if the commands worked.

NASA back in the day was one of the glories of America and this is why, they simply did things right. Not cheap (even if built by the lowest bidder) they built for the ages and now the stuff simply works.

And now, I hear that President Trump has told NASA to prepare to return to the moon in order to mount a mission to Mars. I’m skeptical but pleased, remembering how it pulled us together in the sixties, so we’ll see.

You know overall, having him as President sort of reminds me of what Gordon Sinclair, a Canadian said back in 1972.

The United States dollar took another pounding on German, French, and British exchanges this morning, hitting the lowest point ever known in West Germany. It has declined there by 41% since 1971, and this Canadian thinks it’s time to speak up for the Americans as the most generous, and possibly the least-appreciated, people in all the world.

As long as sixty years ago, when I first started to read newspapers, I read of floods on the Yellow River and the Yangtze. Well who rushed in with men and money to help? The Americans did, that’s who.

They have helped control floods on the Nile, the Amazon, the Ganges, and the Niger. Today, the rich bottom land of the Mississippi is under water and no foreign land has sent a dollar to help. Germany, Japan, and to a lesser extent, Britain and Italy, were lifted out of the debris of war by the Americans who poured in billions of dollars and forgave other billions in debts. None of those countries is today paying even the interest on its remaining debts to the United States.

When the franc was in danger of collapsing in 1956, it was the Americans who propped it up, and their reward was to be insulted and swindled on the streets of Paris. And I was there — I saw that. When distant cities are hit by earthquake, it’s the United States that hurries into help. Managua, Nicaragua, is one of the most recent examples.

So far this spring, fifty-nine American communities have been flattened by tornadoes. Nobody has helped.

The Marshall Plan, the Truman Policy, all pumped billions upon billions of dollars into discouraged countries. And now, newspapers in those countries are writing about the decadent, war-mongering Americans.

Now, I’d like to see just one of those countries that is gloating over the erosion of the United States dollar build its own airplanes. Come on now, you, let’s hear it. Does any country in the world have a plane to equal the Boeing Jumbo Jet, the Lockheed Tristar, or the Douglas 10? If so, why don’t they fly them? Why do all international lines except Russia fly American planes? Why does no other land on earth even consider putting a man or a woman on the moon?

You talk about Japanese technocracy and you get radios. You talk about German technocracy and you get automobiles. You talk about American technocracy and you find men on the moon, not once, but several times, and, safely home again. You talk about scandals and the Americans put theirs right in the store window for everybody to look at. Even the draft dodgers are not pursued and hounded. They’re right here on our streets in Toronto. Most of them, unless they’re breaking Canadian laws, are getting American dollars from Ma and Pa at home to spend up here.

When the Americans get out of this bind — as they will — who could blame them if they said “the hell with the rest of the world. Let somebody else buy the bonds. Let somebody else build or repair foreign dams, or design foreign buildings that won’t shake apart in earthquakes.” When the railways of France and Germany and India were breaking down through age, it was the Americans who rebuilt them. When the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central went broke, nobody loaned them an old caboose. Both of ’em are still broke.

I can name to you 5,000 times when the Americans raced to the help of other people in trouble. Can you name to me even one time when someone else raced to the Americans in trouble? I don’t think there was outside help even during the San Francisco earthquake.

Our neighbors have faced it alone, and I’m one Canadian who is damned tired of hearing them kicked around. They’ll come out of this thing with their flag high. And when they do, they’re entitled to thumb their noses at the lands that are gloating over their present troubles. I hope Canada is not one of these. But there are many smug, self-righteous Canadians.

And finally, the American Red Cross was told at its 48th annual meeting in New Orleans this morning that it was broke.

This year’s disasters — with the year less than half-over — has taken it all. And nobody, but nobody, has helped.

As I write this California is burning, and fighting it is a huge effort. It is an American effort, as it always is. But not quite, there’s bunch of very brave men out there, who came to help, all the way from Australia. Friends indeed, as they always have been.

But the others should be a bit cautious, perhaps. As the Marines are wont to say, “No better friend, no worse enemy”. And our memories work just fine, why we remembered that the Voyagers are out there, still working, after all these years.

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Poppies and Political Correctness

Brookwood American Cemetery

Here in America, sometime after Vietnam, the wearing of Poppies seemed to die out without even a whimper, just over a few years, something that was de rigeur became optional and then unusual. It is something I miss, but maybe it is for the best.

If you are my age, you will likely remember the ladies from the American Legion Auxiliary (or the corresponding organizations from the VFW or the DAV) coming to your school, and passing out poppies, and giving us a talk about how important those men were. And the good works their organizations were doing (yes, it was, and it is, all true). Always, their talk included this, written by Canadian Major John McCrae at Ypres in 1915.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The thing is, for those ladies, who took the time to come and talk to a bunch of kids who were more interested in recess than history, it was their father’s and uncles at (well not Ypres for Americans) but at Chateau Thierry, and the Argonne. And it was their brothers and boyfriends and husbands who fought all across Europe and Asia a mere 20 years before. Even as grade school kids a good bit sunk in.

My guess is, it was much the same in Britain, but where in America, for some undocumented reason, the poppy has retreated to a much-diminished place, in Britain it has become a required marker. I’d like to think that a good thing, but I’m not sure it is. Sir Humphrey had some thoughts about this lately at A Thin Pinstriped Line. They are worth a think.

[P]oppy season is here again, that time of year when politicians, celebrities and others compete to wear the biggest and most garish poppy. The media are on tenterhooks, waiting to spot a public figure without one, or even better someone wearing a white poppy or saying how they don’t believe in poppy day. The Guardian and Independent will run articles decrying the event, which will have the effect of raising the blood pressure of people across the country who have never served but feel the need to be OUTRAGED on behalf of those who have. Frankly I think this garish spectacle is getting worse every year, and I wonder if the time has come to rethink it.

I come from humble roots. Looking back over 100 years of ‘Appleby’ family history and you will find coal miners on Tyneside and farmers in Essex, all living in relative poverty. One direct side of my family has a long history of service with the Reserves. My great grandfather was in the TA before WW1, mobilising as a Private in a TA rifle Bn in 1914, before being invalided after the Battle of Loos. My Grandfather joined the TA in 1940, serving as an anti-tank gunner  in a long series of campaigns from Africa to Western Europe in 1945. Growing up I heard his stories of the war and thought they sounded exciting and fun.  I was too young and naïve to realise the deep horrors he saw and experienced that lurked beneath the surface of his bravado about nearly being killed at Alam Halfa, entering the minefields on the first night of Alamein, or going toe to toe with Tigers at Villers Bocage. To my youthful mind he had spent his twenties having a bloody good adventure, not risking his life in circumstances he didn’t necessarily want to be in

There were no decorations or medals for my family members. A citation recommending him for the Military Medal was found after his death. The award was never gazetted, and it was likely that he was written up at least twice for a gallantry award, but family legend being that his falling out with his Platoon Commander saw the end of the matter. What was telling though was that he never spoke of the horrific and desperate circumstances that saw him being written up for the award, only the circumstances of it going no further.

The other half of my family history involves many who were conscientious objectors, and who did not serve for strong and deeply held religious beliefs. As a child I did not understand this, nor what it meant to be a conscientious objector in the UK during the war. It was only as I got older that I began to realise the strength of moral courage required to not serve, to say the unpopular thing and to not give into peer pressure and sacrifice your deeply held beliefs in order to conform. To listen to how lifelong friends would refuse to talk to you ever again over your views was humbling. I am as equally proud of my family on this side, and use their example of courage and standing up for what they felt was right in my own approach to life. The manner in which this blog is written, challenging the status quo and pushing unpopular views is in its own way a small attempt to continue this tradition.

That sounds like almost any American Family I can think of over the last century, although Conscientious Objectors were quite uncommon here, but they certainly have always existed, and we have mostly honored them, as we should.

I have no particular emotional attachment to Remembrance Day, and feel no reason to get morose or withdrawn over it. It is a time of year to pause, give thanks and look to the future. But in recent years I feel that something has gone awry with the whole process.

Growing up in the early 1980s it was about watching parades of men from both world wars come together to pay respects. There was huge and genuine admiration from the crowd and more importantly a sense of humility. It felt that the day functioned as a national coping mechanism for a nation where most of the population had in some way lived through, or been impacted by the legacy of the war.

Today very few are left who remember the war – even the youngest babe in arms in 1945 is today well into their 70s. The youngest UK veteran of WW2 will probably be about 88-90 years old, and much as with the end of the First World War veterans, their numbers will soon dwindle rapidly and then pass forever into memory.

Watching the parade in London now seems to involve an ever more eclectic combination of random organisations, people with ever more tenuous links to the military and a growing number of post war veterans who may never have seen an actual campaign, but who feel the need to vocally campaign for a medal anyway. At the same time the whole process of remembrance appears to have been caught up in a wider process of ostentatious displays of poppy memorabilia and ‘proper remembering’ (as ARRSE users call it).

I think we have lost sight of what the act of remembrance actually is – a simple pause for two minutes to reflect, give thanks and look forward, wrapped up in a simple service. The growing ‘remembrance industry’ seeking to milk every opportunity to raise funds or be outraged at some manufactured incident seems to have lost sight of this.

About that parade, Sir Humphrey is simply correct, I watched it last year (on youtube) and it had little to do with the stalwart men who kept us free, it was virtue signalling central. I wonder if the Queen agrees, there must be a reason why she has decided to pass it on to the Virtue Signaller in Chief, Charles, Prince of Wales.

Not that this is news, really. Jess and I did a comparison a few years ago. her thoughts are here, and mine here.

All that said, where will I be, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th months for the 99th time? Where I always am, at my local cemetery, remembering those I have known, in olive drab, in khaki, in pinks and greens, in tiger stripes, in woodland, in BDUs, and ACUs. That is the meaning of the day, to remember, not just for those two minutes, but in our lives and in how we live our lives, those who laid it on the line for us all. Sir Humphrey is correct, the ones from the Great War are all gone, the ranks from the second are thinning quickly, we need to learn the lessons quickly, although they are the eternal lessons that these men lived so well. Duty, Honor, Country says it all, really. But we need to try much harder to live up to them.

And then I will retire with my friends to the local Legion Hall, for lunch, and a few (usually cheap) beers. The first toast will be what it always is, just as we stole it from the Scots, long ago.

Here’s tae us;
to which the assembly replies:
wha’s like us?
to which the hosts replies:

Gey few, and they’re a’ deid.

Friday Change of Pace

Let’s talk about something completely different this Friday. There’s plenty of bad news out there, but it’s Friday, and I’m not in the mood.  Cheryl Magness wrote an article for The Federalist the other day, that tickled my fancy. Let’s have a look…

Robert Herrick, in his classic carpe diem poem “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” called upon youth to “gather ye rosebuds while ye may” because “having lost but once your prime / You may forever tarry.” With all due respect to the poet, I am not convinced “That age is best which is the first.” In fact, I have argued one’s fifties may well be the best, bringing with it an increase of wisdom, time, respect, and self-awareness that can lead to great contentment.

I realize I am painting with a broad brush and there are certainly exceptions. No age is immune to life’s crud. There is also undoubtedly at mid-life a certain sense of urgency, of time running short, that can lead to that phenomenon known as a “mid-life crisis.” It is often stereotypically depicted as the normally staid, dignified businessman who suddenly shows up on a motorcycle, freshly tattooed, with a much younger woman on his arm. But real mid-life crises, as opposed to those of the cartoon variety, are way more complicated.

Not a Mid-Life Crisis But a Mid-Life Launch

Looking at the many 50-somethings (and beyond) I know, I am not seeing mid-life crises as much as mid-to-late-life launches, manifested in renewed levels of personal energy, interest, and excitement. I know multiple people my age who are moving across the country, buying their dream homes, taking on new jobs, and immersing themselves in fresh (or long-delayed) interests, passions, and goals.

That’s not to say there aren’t struggles, some of them devastating and life-altering. But amid the struggles, there is a level of carpe diem I can’t say I’ve seen in my peers since my twenties. It is thrilling, and I love it.

Strikes me that there is a lot of truth in that. If I look back at my own 50s, that was when I started to not worry so much about the future but to again have outside interests. I must say though, it has accelerated in my 60s. I have my projects, that need doing on schedule, I have the blog, and have several things going on, but increasingly, if I don’t enjoy doing it, I don’t do it.

With exceptions, of course. I’m a better cook than I ever was, but mostly I grill a piece of meat – why? Because I can’t be bothered for one person. Things that must get done, get done, but there is also time to visit, and increasingly work (such as I choose to do) more resembles design and.or consulting. Part of it is the old eyes, that don’t see well in a box a foot off the floor, but more of it is a disinclination to do it.

It’s also fun that finally, I can buy some of the things I lusted after as a kid, not so much the Lotus, I could barely get in one when I was in college, no chance now, I’ve outgrown it. But I have scrounged around and put together an engineering drawing set that would have cost multiple thousands, in the 60s, and that I drooled over then in catalogs – now I have it, and yes, I enjoy drawing. Even if, as an artist, I’m a good engineer. But it is fun to draw with the drawing machine, especially with the engineering pens (yes, they are a bit of a pain as well). More fun, I think, than on the computer, although I enjoy both, I think better on paper.

There are other things I want to do, I’d like to travel some, especially to historic sites, and yet, I’m not very fond of travelling alone, so we’ll see. I’ve always wanted to live well out on a ranch or farm, increasingly I think neighbors should be kept a proper distance away, preferably at least couple of miles (Get off my lawn!) 🙂 I’m working on that, don’t know if it’ll happen, but keeps me occupied.

So, I think Cheryl is right. From the fifties on it just gets better. We no longer have to prove anything to anyone, more than ever before (since we were kids, anyway) we can follow our interests without thought of how they’ll affect our career, we’ve been there and done that, and bought the suits to prove it, jeans and t-shirts are more comfortable, aren’t they? And the suits are in the closet for when they are appropriate.

Don’t know about you, but I’m grateful to be in my 60s, can’t think of anything that would even tempt me to be in my 20s or 30s again, it’s better now than it’s ever been.

Have a good day!

Vegas

That’s from the White House moment of silence for the victims in Las Vegas. You can find a video of it if you want. It’s moving and appropriate. The video has a close-up near the end where Melania looks like she is about to cry, where the President looks sad and determined. Both are appropriate. Far more so than most of the reactions around the country or the world. As usual, I was watching British news yesterday morning, and the instant, insistent, and arrogant drumbeat for gun control angered me nearly as much as the massacre itself. It will be a long time before (if ever) I tune in again. From what I read the American media, and a good many politicians weren’t any better. It’s a time to mourn the dead, succour the wounded, and attempt to comfort the bereaved, then it will be time to see if we can figure out what happened, and what, if anything, we can do to prevent a  repeat.

I know essentially nothing. To me, it sounded too mechanical to be semi-automatic fire and too slow to be fully automatic fire. (Actually, it sounded like an old BAR). There are reports that he modified an AR 15 and/or an AK version to bump fire, or with a trigger device. Sounds about right to me. But there are reports out there supporting anything you want it to be. Nobody knows, but everybody is riding their hobbyhorses for all they’re worth. In sum, it is simply disgusting on all sides. Funny that of all of us, Donald Trump is nearly the only one to get it right.

I have little to add to that. In time we will know more, and perhaps there is a way we can make a repeat less likely. But it is also possible that, as Bill O’Reilly said yesterday, this is one of the prices we pay for freedom. Today, and as it was almost 250 years ago if so, it is worth it.

Eventually, the police will have more information for us,   as will the Federal agencies. The cause isn’t helped because they squandered their reputations one and all over the last few years, but that is where we are. God help us all.

God bless the victims, their family and friends, Las Vegas, and us all.

Bare Ruined Choirs

In Sonnet LXXIII Shakespeare wrote

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long

Not one of his happiest, but it accords well with my feelings, this fall. It hasn’t been a year I would wish on anybody, but this is the season when I understand why All Hollow’s is sometimes called Totenfest by those of German heritage. Tomorrow is the Feast day of Our Lady of Walsingham, and for me, that has significance as well. Six years ago, I had never heard of Walsingham, let alone this representation of Mary, but One summer day in 2012, Jessica became my dearest friend at almost the moment she lit a candle for me at the shrine. The main part of the story begins here. I have ever since found Mary a worthwhile conduit for my prayers. But for me, it’s specifically the Walsingham representation. Earlier this year,  Fr Matthew Pittam wrote in the Catholic Herald about his feeling for the Shrine.

 

Whilst visiting this year I met some other pilgrims who were unfavourably comparing Walsingham to other well-known European Shrines that they had visited. It is true Walsingham is no Lourdes or Fatima but for me that is part of the appeal of the place. It seems right that the English National Shrine is understated, reflecting the character of the English themselves.

The story of Our Lady’s Shrine and the meaning of its message demand a much tenderer charism than Walsingham’s more flamboyant European cousins. Above all Walsingham is a memorial to the Annunciation. The whole place speaks softly of Our Lady’s ‘Yes’ to God. Mary’s encounter with the Angel Gabriel was abundantly full of humility, generosity and peace. The quieter pace and rhythm of our National Shrine really can take us to the heart of this life changing and life-giving moment.

The location of Walsingham is also understated. It is not set amidst mountain grandeur but nestles within the pleasant rolling meadows of the Stiffkey Valley, echoing the gentleness of the shrine’s own spirituality and Our Lady. The whole place seems to be set apart for peaceful encounter.

He nails it for me. Without the slightest intention to be offensive, much of Roman Catholicism is too ornate, too baroque, and the decoration, like some of the verbiage, is over extravagant for me. That’s not a knock on it, it simply doesn’t fit with this working guy of Lutheran Scandinavian heritage. I’m no iconoclast, but enough is enough. Both the Roman Catholic and the Anglo-Catholic shrines at Walsingham have a northern European feel about them, which I find comforting. I’m still of my roots, I have found it comforting to talk with Our Lady, as Jessica once said, it feels rather like talking to Mom, which in a sense it is.

And then there is the relief, that I have felt on several occasions, after talking with Her, usually not the formal Rosary, although I do that sometimes as well, mostly sitting here, meditating silently directed towards Her. The old man’s knees aren’t really up to kneeling much anymore, anyway. 🙂

Strangely, it is only 3 years, nearly to the day, since the Abbess from Walsingham came to Jessica’s hospital bed to pray over her and sprinkle her with Walsingham water, giving her some ease, and then again a mere two weeks later, just after she received the last rites, she again prayed over her and sprinkled her. Two days later she was out of her coma, without pain and cancer free. A remarkable testimony to the power of prayer.

A year after that Mary Katherine Ham lost her husband,  Jake in a bicycle accident while pregnant with their second child. It was one of those things that shocked many of us, this young vibrant couple, and him suddenly gone. She wrote about it this week at The Federalist.

I love the idea of the divine spark. It crosses a lot of cultures and religions, the idea that you carry a bit of the Creator inside you, that it animates your life.

Jake’s life always brings to mind a spark and then some. Jake’s soul, to me, was a bonfire. He was here and he was in your face and he was warm and bright. He roared with enthusiasm at the beginning, even the hope of something new, sometimes a little too much. His glow was infectious, throwing sparks into the night air, silhouetted against a dark sky before they landed on everyone in his vicinity. He mellowed to embers as the night wore on, usually over a glass of bourbon or a beer.

I lived seven years of my life looking into a bonfire. I warmed my hands and found comfort in its flame. There were times when I damn near burnt myself or got a giant waft of smoke at exactly the wrong time.  Because that’s life. And that’s fire. It’s not all s’mores and sweetness.

Everyone who’s loved someone knows that light and warmth. Everyone who’s lost someone knows the feeling when it goes dark and cold one day.

When that happens at any time, it’s jarring. When it happens without warning, even more.

The light went out. This fire I’d stood next to for seven years just went out, like a flood light on a switch. Boom. Imagine staring into a fire, and then suddenly turning 180 degrees to survey the woods behind you. I couldn’t see. I was standing in what otherwise was my life, and I knew all the other parts of it were there, but I couldn’t understand its contours anymore. I was standing in my own life, blinded, blinking away those disorienting shimmery green spots.

Brilliant, simply brilliant. But you know when we lose someone we love, not even always to death, it’s like that as well. It was for me when my marriage broke up, and even though my sisters, parents and brothers-in-law lived full lives, in truth as much as could be expected, they have left a hole, that cannot be filled.

And so it was for me, a year ago today, when I received the last email from  Jessica, who as far as I know is healthy, happy, and busy. Too busy or some other unexplained reason, to maintain the friendship that turned to love on my part, more than I ever felt for another human being. And get your mind out of the gutter, yes she is beautiful, but I loved her before I knew that, far more a case of Agape than Eros. She was my friend, the best one I’ll ever have. And even Our Lady of Walsingham has found no way to comfort me. I’m reconciled that I must go on more alone than I have ever been, but have little appetite for it. Which is why that sonnet speaks loudly to me.

Walsingham, and Our Lady are her legacy to me, and I thank God for them everyday. But it does make me think of another poem.

Weepe, weepe O Walsingham,
Whose dayes are nightes,
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to dispites.

Sinne is where our Ladie sate,
Heaven turned is to hell,
Sathan sittes where our Lord did swaye,
Walsingham oh farewell.

But it is true that while Eliot was writing of Little Gidding, I’ve always thought that this applied as well to Walsingham

           If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

We merely have to trust God that Dame Julian of Norwich was correct.

‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’

Requiem for an Engineer

Well, you all know I missed much of the last week. It was not a restful break. I was back east, in Philadelphia, to bury my last brother-in -law. He had a good life, and I suspect he was ready to go. But you know, none of us is generous enough to easily believe that. We are selfish and want our heroes in our world, not the next, no matter how much better it will be.

Because of an unusual family structure, my sisters were about twenty years older than me, so in some ways, he was also almost my second father. To be sure I admired and respected him more than any person other than my own father, whom I respected more than any man living or dead. And I still think, at a remove of thirty years since his death, deservedly so. But Dan was much the same man.

By profession, he was a civil engineer, his early career with the Pennsylvania Railroad, through the sad period when money for maintenance was hard to find, as government interference of many kinds nearly killed the railroads, and after that with a railroad contractor, where I understand when the owner became ill, he simply took over and ran the business without fuss or muss. In fact, his family didn’t know that until last weekend. No doubt he would have said, it needed doing.

He was a published author as well, his memoir of the PRR being published in The Keystone, the main publication of the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society. It is a remarkable document, his memory for people, places, and things, reaching back into the 1950s was exact and as on point as if they had happened last week. And so was the PRR, itself. Essentially a mountain railroad that could haul goods on that great trade route, New York to Chicago, for the same price per ton-mile, and at the same speed, as the New York Central whose route was almost devoid of grades. It was done by ruthlessly good engineering in all departments.

He served in the Corps of Engineers during the Korean Conflict, although he almost never referred to it, perhaps because he was assigned to Paris. Not too shabby a duty station in my mind. But perhaps the army also thought well of him, his honor guard last week was commanded by a full colonel of cavalry.

He also at some point held almost every leadership position in his church, serving as treasurer for many years, and very rarely missing a service.

After a rather whirlwind romance ( a bit over six months!) he was married to my oldest sister for about 60 years until her death a few years ago. They were well matched; she’s still the only person I ever heard of who asked for extra homework – in math!

And so goes my last contact with what was. I had somewhere around 40-50 first cousins, now we are perhaps a half dozen, if that. In the time honored American tradition, we scattered to the corners of the country and lost contact amongst ourselves. I can remember family reunions with more than a hundred people, but that was almost 60 years ago, and I doubt we will ever see their like again. I surely won’t.

Like most of us who reach a certain age, I look back wistfully at what was, but mostly what I see is a collection of village graveyards. They are all gone, to be seen again only at the resurrection, but you know, they are here as well. We, in all we are and do, are their legacy, and it is a challenge to live up to them. It was Dan’s wife who first coined the saying about the men in our family, all engineering types: “If it’s not absolutely right, it’s completely wrong”. It’s how my dad lived his life, as did both of my brothers-in-law and me as well. Doesn’t make us the easiest people to live with, or so said mom, my sisters, and my ex-wife, but it is necessary in jobs dealing with forces that can kill you quick.

And so we go on, as before, but I will admit, I do so with a heavy heart, the best parts of my life on this earth are gone. It appears to be a very gray future, and I too am slowing down, and finding it not a bad thing to do so. There are still things I would like to do, but am pretty sure I won’t, both professionally and personally. The ambition to see projects through just doesn’t seem to be there anymore, and there is really no one left to impress, the last of those, living and dead, gone into the shade of death, or having found better things to do than spend time with the old man. And having taken much of his ability to trust people with them. But you know, Kipling still speaks for us.

THE Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and the troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary’s Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.

It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.

They say to mountains, ” Be ye removèd” They say to the lesser floods ” Be dry.”
Under their rods are the rocks reprovèd – they are not afraid of that which is high.
Then do the hill tops shake to the summit – then is the bed of the deep laid bare,
That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware.

They finger death at their gloves’ end where they piece and repiece the living wires.
He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires.
Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall,
And hale him forth like a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall.

To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till death is Relief afar.
They are concerned with matters hidden – under the earthline their altars are
The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth,
And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city’s drouth.

They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.
They do not teach that His Pity allows them to leave their job when they damn-well choose.
As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand,
Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren’s days may be long in the land.

Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat;
Lo, it is black already with blood some Son of Martha spilled for that !
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.

And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessèd – they know the angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessèd, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the Feet – they hear the Word – they see how truly the Promise runs.
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and – the Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons !

So it has always been, is now, and shall always be, as long as this is our world.

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