Thursday, September 24, 2009

And so, we hear from Jack...

I’m Karen Bessey Pease, and I have a friend who’s an exceptional writer. Jack has authored some outstanding fiction, and I’ve had the privilege of reading two of his novels. Neither of them is a light-hearted read, but Jack most definitely has a fun-loving and playful side. He has a terrific sense of humor, and I’ve rarely met anyone I warmed to as quickly as I did to this Scotsman who is abiding Down Under. Jack is an occasional contributor to ‘Observations from The F.A.R.M. (Fresh Air and Room to Move)’, and I thought it would be fun to share his first column run by our little western Maine newspaper back in April of this year.


I’m Jack Ramsay, and I’m a gullible idiot.

There. I thought I’d best start with honesty. I’m also a husband, a writer (of the most frustrated kind), a pen-pal (to your very own, the magnificent Karen Bessey Pease) and an immigrant to Australia. But, back to the idiot thing, if you’ll indulge me.

An idiot, if dictionaries are to be believed, is a layman; a stupid person. But some definitions go further and describe me –sorry, ‘idiots’ – as having an intelligence quotient of less than twenty-five. Okay, so I might have an IQ slightly higher than that, but having the combined brainpower of six idiots, in my book at least, still makes me an idiot. ‘Gullible’, of course, isn’t in any dictionary.

Such claims are all very well, in a ‘Saturday night after a few beers with the boys’ kind of way, but I have irrefutable evidence stretching over many years to corroborate my assertion. The examples are many, and the good Lord knows they’re varied in the extreme, but let me take you back to the day I first realized just what it takes to secure the title of ‘idiot of all he surveys’.

I grew up in Scotland, on a farm that nestles in the foothills of the Ochil Mountains near Perth, gateway to the Highlands. Okay, truth time again, they’re Hills. But if you stand at the bottom and look up, knowing you have to get to the top, they’re pretty daunting in a grassy, rounded, picnic-on-a-Sunday kind of way. Sounds like Maine, though, doesn’t it? Looks like Maine, too.

Although I was still in school (junior high, I think you’d call it), after class I’d hang around the smoky little bothy where my dad and a few of the farm men retreated to fix their machinery when it broke, as it often did in winter when it’s too cold and rainy and mucky to be outside.

One afternoon at the end of March I was sitting on my favorite five gallon drum, ignoring the wrestling rats in the corner and trying my hardest to emulate my peers – drinking overly sweet tea that had been stewing on the fire since breakfast, laughing at the right times and nodding at the wisdom spouting forth from such admirable fellows – when something Grieg the Grieve said made my ears prick up (he was the foreman).

He was planning a haggis hunt! The very next day!

Sure, I’d eaten haggis before, many times – I’m a Scot, and there isn’t a Scot alive who doesn’t incessantly crave the succulently meaty flesh and sweet wood fired flavor of the most cunning prey on the moors – but I’d never been on a hunt. Platefuls of haggis had always magically appeared from my mother’s kitchen, surrounded by the ubiquitous guard of mashed tatties and chappit neeps (mashed turnips).

When I questioned the origins of our national dish the shepherds and drovers laughed at me, then I sat listening in awe as they told of the last great Perthshire haggii hunt (haggii is the plural of haggis, just for reference – say hag-eye) which had claimed the lives of four novice hunters in a netting gone wrong. The more they divulged of that fateful morning some ten years before, the more I found myself compelled to claim my right to hunt the haggii. I saw my chance to prove myself.

I, Jack Ramsay, would become the youngest haggii hunt champion in living memory!

And so, after one or two well-placed hints from me, the anvil played host to a whispering confab, and when the huddle broke up I was invited along to what promised to be something extra-ordinary: we were to stalk the (apparently) infamous snorkel-nosed pond-dredging mountain haggii – a very dangerous species, but the tastiest of them all. Barely able to contain myself, I leaned closer as Grieg the Grieve outlined in hushed tones the equipment we would need, and his plan of attack.

We were to leave for the ponds by sun up. My dad agreed to call the school and inform them of my absence – it wasn’t every day that a boy became a man, so a day out of class was acceptable, even laudable.

Next morning I rose before dawn, taking care to follow Grieg the Grieve’s instructions to the letter. After all, what idiot would squander his chance at infamy by failing to rendezvous at the meeting place or bring the essential tools of the haggii hunt or wear every last item of protective clothing necessary to tackle an amphibious horde of such devious beasts?

Not I! I’m Jack Ramsay!

In the next room I heard my father preparing himself for the hunt, talking in whispers with my mother and enjoying his first joke of the day – he was always such a considerate, jovial man – but my tasks were pressing and I had no time to share in that particular hilarity. I made a few final checks, zipped myself up and struggled the half-mile to the school bus stop, where I was to be collected by Grieg the Grieve in his Land Rover. Then to the hills, where we’d meet my father.

So it was that I found myself waiting impatiently by the side of the road in the farm manager’s tatty old wetsuit, his lead belt around my waist and his snorkel by my ear, ready to dredge every pond in Perthshire in search of my quarry. So it was that my knees came to buckle under my burden of fishing nets, wooden stakes, sledgehammers and oxygen tanks, a combination which, even on that cold April morning, brought sweat to my brow and a desert to my throat.

And so it was that, as the school bus rounded the corner and headed towards me, its occupants’ mouths agape, their fingers pointing, I realized without a shadow of a doubt – I’m a gullible idiot.

NB: No haggii were harmed in the telling of this story.


And, back to me...

I encourage readers of GAG who are interested in obtaining valuable writing tips or resources, or who would like to view first-rate photos from Scotland and Australia, to visit Jack’s website. Just click on his name under ‘Karen’s favorite links’ to the right of this posting. If you are an agent or publisher and would like to read a synopsis of, or sample chapters from, Jack’s completed works (Rohallion Dawn and Brogan’s Crossing), this same link will direct you to Jack’s contact information.

No idiots were harmed in the telling of this story.

** The photograph above is of Ben A'an, in Scotland. If anyone can spot the snorkel-nosed pond-dredging mountain haggii in this picture, please contact Jack. He is offering a reward for its capture, as it happens to be the one that got away...

Photo copyright Tina and Andrew Thomson.

Below are the words to 'Address to a Haggis', generously supplied to me by my pal Jack. To enter the contest for an autographed copy of Grumble Bluff (and the accolades of Scotsmen--and women--everywhere), just make a recording of yourself reciting this poem and email it to me at Yeah, it's takes a LOT of courage...but you can do it. I DID, and I'm alive to tell about it. (I just been banned from ever entering the country of Scotland, that's all...)

Address To A Haggis
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o' need,
While thro' your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn,
they stretch an' strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve,
Are bent lyke drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
"Bethankit!" 'hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi' perfect sconner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro' bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll mak it whissle;
An' legs an' arms, an' heads will sned,
Like taps o' thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer,
Gie her a haggis!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Grins for Silent Predator

Until my YA novel, Grumble Bluff, was published nine months ago, I never really imagined all that was entailed in being a published author. As an unknown, there is a lot of hard work involved in trying to direct readers to my novel. There are speaking engagements and book signings. Correspondence with fans. Networking with people in positions of power…purchasing power; because that is, in essence, what it all comes down to. An author needs to sell herself in order to be able to sell her novel.

It’s a lot of work, but it is FUN work, for an author enjoys nothing more than being able to write, and to talk with others about writing. It is a passion, and one that is not easily sated.

Thus far, the best part of this whole experience has been meeting other authors. Writers who, like me, have an enthusiasm for creating a tale that will engage, enthrall and even educate a reader. Each one of us is the sum total of our experiences and passions. We are as different as night and day. Tundra and tropic. East and west.

We are all just as human as can be.

I’d never before given consideration to the author of a novel while I was engrossed in the pages of his or her creation. Not only did the author seem to be out of reach, but almost irrelevant, too. After all, the author’s work was done by the time I held that bound treasure in my hands. It was his or her characters which were important, as well as the tale’s plot and setting. The author was just some shadowy figure whom I could envision pounding away at a keyboard under the light of a shaded lamp. A mystical conjurer of words, phrases and yes… a bit of magic, too.

But I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many other writers in the last few months. Added to that pleasure has been the opportunity to read their published works, as well as some of their unpublished ones, too. To know both the authors and their handiwork is a rare privilege, and it has allowed me to appreciate and respect the products of their talent and imagination more than ever. I’ve been a voracious reader all my life. And now, I’m finding that I have an even sharper desire to read a good book when I know the man or woman who is the mastermind behind the story.

And that brings me to the topic of this blog posting. I have just finished reading Silent Predator, a novel by Tony Park. Tony is a native of Australia who spends half of every year in southern Africa. He and his wife Nicola are living their dream, residing side-by-side with the natives of the ‘Dark Continent’…the four legged inhabitants, as well as the two. Tony has considerable writing experience--having been a newspaper reporter, a government press secretary, and a freelance writer. This man is not only experienced in assembling and arranging words to create a saga that is comprehensible and engaging, but he is obviously able to identify with the most basic of human sentiments. Sorrow and grief, lust and longing, expectation and despair…Tony infuses his characters with very real and believable emotions, and their actions and reactions are authentic and credible.

In my book, it takes genuine talent to pull that off.

Silent Predator takes the reader from the urban wilds of modern London to the primitive wilderness of Africa’s Kruger National Park, and back again. The author has driven these streets and hiked these trails, and his familiarity with these venues is apparent. Every page of Silent Predator percolates with realistic intrigue, plausible dialogue and credible conflicts and resolutions. It was a delight to read, and a bugger to put down when those responsibilities of home, farm, business and my own writing dared to intrude.

I am not a professional book reviewer, and Tony has a capable team assembled behind him to accurately synopsize his stories and promote his most exceptional tales. And so, I’ll let them take over from here. I encourage you to visit Tony’s website for summaries of his novels, including his newly released Ivory and his first non-fiction book written with Kevin Richardson, Part of the Pride. On his site you will also find information about how to acquire your own autographed copy. I purchased Silent Predator this way, and if I can do it, anyone can! (His link is over there somewhere to the right, as well as on my ‘links’ page on In addition, Tony’s blog is a hoot, with his Legion of Fans adding their own creative remarks, critiques and comical commentary. His frequent entries from the road are full of inspiring and graphic details about his life amongst the people and wildlife of Africa--a place that most of us only dream of experiencing first-hand. I was a fan of the Ballantyne Series by Wilbur Smith back in the 1980’s, and I lived my African experience vicariously through his books. Now, in a new millennium and thanks to Tony Park, I’ve returned to that continent. And I most certainly am not disappointed in the trip.

I'm kifing an idea from Mr. Park, here, and having a contest to create a caption for the picture in the top right-hand corner of my blog. Just create a caption for the photo and add it as a comment on this posting. The contest runs until October 31st (Hallowe'en) and the winner will be chosen by a very good friend of mine. This friend does NOT know a certain fellow by the name of 'Ali g', so if that lucky gentleman wins again, we'll know he won fair and square! The prize? A custom poem written by Karen Bessey Pease. It can be for you, for a friend or loved one, for a special occasion or just for fun. It can be a Christmas gift, an 'I love you' or an apology. The winner chooses the theme or occasion, and we'll work together to create a poem made especially to suit you. Sound like fun? I hope so. Please tell all your friends to take a stab at it-- the more, the merrier!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

And The Winner Is...

Bronson! An entry from Mr. Grahame Kent Dowling of Mudgee, NSW, Australia! We'll have an Aussie Newfie! (Will that mean he's a mutt? A mixed breed? Oh, they are the best kind!)

Thank you to everyone who entered the contest. My favorite name, I have to admit, was 'Bumble', submitted by a young Mr. Reid from Kingfield, Maine. I'd actually already thought of that name, so it was a nice surprise and coincidence when he submitted it. I think I'll send the fellow an autogrpahed copy of Grumble Bluff, just because! (Because they're mine, and I want to!)

To be fair to all the contestants, I wrote each name on a small piece of paper, turned them upside down and scattered them across my desk. I shut my eyes, licked my finger...and chose the name on the scrap that stuck to it. (Sorry, too much information? These details are vital in assuring you that the winner was chosen fairly. I don't part with spit for just any old reason!)

So! Grahame gets a Grumble, and his choice of Bronson will forever live on in a Grumble Bluff sequel. Thanks to all!

And remember...the paperback version will be out soon, and will sell for just $10.95! Tell all your friends.

The picture above is of my Newfoundland, Tender Titans' Giant Jordan, my oldest son Guy, and me, taken in 1992. What a dog. What a boy. What a good dog for a very good boy!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Birthdays and Botox

“What are you…in your early fifties?”

Seven words. Spoken without malice by a man with a pleasant smile on his face and innocent curiosity in his eyes.

Seven words. Not intended as insulting or hateful. But, wow…they packed a punch!

See… until I’ve lived through this coming Sunday, September 20th, I consider myself to be in my early FORTIES! This weekend I will turn forty-six, and I will have passed that half-way landmark and moved into another, darker part of that decade. I will be in my late forties.

Who made up these rules, anyway?

I tried not to let that gentleman’s comment get me down. I decided, instead, to blame my brother. See, Tom is a year and a half younger than I am, but his hair has been completely white for several years. And the gentleman in question-- whose mother had never taught him that it’s not polite to ask a maturing, adult woman HER AGE-- knew Tom. Knew my brother was white-haired. Which means old, right? And he knew I was older than that man with the head of snow white hair. So, instead of obsessing on my own graying hair, my wrinkles, and my seemingly excessive aura of maturity, I elected to be upbeat, instead.

I went to the store and bought little brother some hair dye. It’s the least he can do, after setting me up for such disgrace.

Ah, but then reality hit. The very next day I was in the local feed supply store, buying sweet feed and corn for the cattle. And no one in that store knows my brother.

Darn it.

I pulled out the ‘$5.00 off’ coupon I’d received in the mail; a birthday gift from the store owners to me. The cashier scanned the coupon, looked up at me with a grin, and wished me a hearty ‘Happy Birthday!’

I dimpled. It’s always nice to have someone wish you happiness. I thanked him, prepared to send a note to his boss commending him for having such a fine and pleasant employee.

The gentleman said, ‘You’re welcome’, and then stepped back and took an appraising look. From my head to my toes traveled his twinkling eyes.

‘Ooh,’ I thought. ‘I’ve still got it! I’m getting checked out!’

‘So…’ he asked. ‘What are you? Early fifties?’


My mouth fell open. Luckily, nothing tumbled from that chasm, for it would have been guaranteed to have warranted an apology. And I was no longer in the mood to be gracious.

‘No!’ I sputtered.

And then I saw the worry and embarrassment which flitted across his face, and my natural empathy took over. Darn it. I hate it when that happens.

I laughed. I touched his arm. I acted as if he’d just imparted the most amusing joke I’d ever heard. And I forgave him.


The poor man fell all over himself trying to explain why he’d guessed my age to be in the ‘fifties’. His best excuse? He was fifty-two, himself, and he just assumed we were of an age.

I found my own eyes assessing him. And…I was not comforted by what I saw.

Sighing inwardly, I paid for my grain and bade him a pleasant day. As the door closed behind my once-firm, but now-evidently-sagging buttocks, I heard him call out.

‘Well…Happy Birthday!’


So, now I know. I look to be almost ten years older than my actual age. Do I surrender gracefully? Or do I go to the salon for some brown coloring for my hair? Call the local plastic surgeon for a face lift, a tummy tuck, a butt boost? Should I start thinking about getting my face waxed, for surely there are bound to be stray hairs sprouting across my chin and upper lip! Botox injections? Support hose? What should I do?

It’s a bit mind-boggling, and not a little disheartening. I guess I’ll think on it for awhile before making a decision.

Besides, I’m busy.

I’ve got a letter to write to the owner of that feed store.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Nature's Bounty--And HOW!

Today, I pulled my first carrot from the garden.

This photo is provided for your visual pleasure.

For several years now, I’ve tried my hand at gardening. Each summer, I get a little more adventurous—adding another vegetable, trying another way of planting, of controlling weeds, of harvesting and storing. I am attempting to do my farming organically, for I care what goes into the earth’s soil. I want to be a good steward of this planet. I want to have a care for the life-giving plants around me, and I want to leave a world that my descendants can utilize and enjoy.

But while I love to garden…I’m not very good at it. I do not have a green thumb. I don’t even have a green finger or thumbnail. I look at a plant with love, and it trembles. I bend over to weed around it, and its leaves curl away in trepidation. When I approach with the garden hose, it’s as if I gave the vegetables an acid bath. I tend to over-water those plants which need dry conditions, and completely miss those which require a daily half-inch of precipitation. If a plant doesn’t shrivel up and die, it rots in place.

It’s a gift.

Because I am aware of my propensity for destroying all things green and good with my tender ministrations, I’m inclined to over-plant. I buy twice as much seed as I need to, and my bedroom is filled floor-to-ceiling with seedling pots in the early spring. I am always amazed by the large percentage of seeds that actually sprout, and my room is a veritable wonderland of verdant flora while the winter snows recede outside.

And then they meet me.

I sing to them and talk to them, just like the experts say. What the experts haven’t told me is what songs to sing or what words to say…because my baby plants begin their teenage rebellions before they’re even old enough to go outside and play. Before I can introduce them to the joys of unfiltered UV rays, many are wilting, bowing, turning brown and expiring.

It’s very ill-mannered of them, if you ask me.

However, despite the odds (and I stack them in my favor, as you can see) I generally manage to nurse a few seedlings through the trauma of planting and transplanting, and I wind up with a half-decent harvest. I can vegetables, I freeze vegetables, I dry them. I cold-store. I dry and save seeds for next year’s garden from some of the heirloom plants that I’d like to keep and which are no longer available at seed companies. It is hard and exhausting work, but it is satisfying. I know I am helping to provide for my family. I know that potentially harmful chemicals will not enter their bodies from MY vegetables. And I take comfort from gazing at my pantry shelves, filled end to end with colorful jars of vegetables, relishes, sauces and jams.

‘Look,’ I say. ‘Look what the earth and I can accomplish together!’

It’s a good feeling.

But it doesn’t compare to the feeling I got when I pulled my very first carrot from that raised bed this afternoon. I grasped the leaves at their base, wiggled the root a little to loosen the soil, and gave a gentle pull. I held the carrot aloft. I shook the dirt off and peered intently. One eyebrow lifted. And then, the other. The corner of my mouth twitched, and then the whole darned thing lost the battle for control and I guffawed. I sat on the edge of the garden and howled. My very first carrot of the 2009 growing season has brought me incredible joy. Immense hilarity. Spectacular amusement.

I need to get a life, don’t I?

In spite of the frustrations of a cold summer with over-abundant rain and a lack of free time on my part, my garden has not let me down. Once again, Mother Nature has rewarded me for my hard work and effort. She gave me a bountiful harvest, and she gave me a smile. Several smiles. A pulled muscle in my tummy, and a few new laugh wrinkles, too.

And the carrot? I ate it, of course. It is, after all, the first carrot of the season. How could I resist?

Carrot photo Copyright by Karen Bessey Pease 09-13-2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

The World Stopped Turning

Today is September 11th. It has been eight years since the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington DC. Sometimes, it feels like only yesterday…

Today many, many people will be writing about that horrendous day in this country’s history. We need to do that. We need to try to purge it from our systems, I think…although I’m not so sure we can ever successfully eliminate it altogether. The events were simply too tragic and unbelievable. The losses too unimaginable.

Today, rather than write about my own memories of that day, I am going to paste in a copy of one of the columns I wrote for The Irregular after returning from my trip to New York City in May. To those of you who visit and read, I bid you a warm ‘hello’ and a welcome. If you are an American, I am sending you a hug. If you aren’t, I could sure use one, if you’ve any to spare. The world is getting smaller, you know, and we’re all in this together.

During my recent trip to New York City, I was determined to see as many of the sights as possible. I had only two free afternoons in which to experience the biggest city in America. My friend Patty and I walked for approximately eighteen hours during those two half-days. I was sore, but I was happy. We traipsed up and down and around city blocks, rode the subways, and climbed more stairs than I could count. But we saw The Big Apple!

Times Square. Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and the Hard Rock CafĂ©. The Empire State Building. Trump Plaza and Central Park. Grand Central Station. Rockefeller Center, NBC and ABC Studios. Broadway, Park Avenue, and my favorite avenue, LEXINGTON! Hell’s Kitchen, the Garment District, the Diamond District, and the Financial District. We shopped in Swatches, ate in Little Italy and, in thrall, watched the indoor ferris wheel at Toy’s R Us. With a backwards ‘R’.

But two of the places that Patty and I visited made profound impressions on me. One was due to the sheer glory of actually seeing it in person, instead of on a television screen--and the other was for the feelings of deep respect and unimaginable loss that it engendered.

Patty and I took the ferry to Liberty Island. Across New York Harbor we cruised, topside in the open air, the Statue of Liberty shrouded in fog ahead of us. I snapped photo after photo of Lady Liberty, simply enchanted that I was looking at her with my own eyes--not on TV, and not in the pages of a magazine or a textbook. There she was! Proud, tall, and green!

Just as the ferry pulled up to the dock, the sun broke through the clouds, and the haze and murk dissipated. I could see her clearly. She dwarfed the small island, the Park Service Buildings and especially the tourists that strolled around her base. Families, students, friends like Patty and me…we were all there to see this wondrous gift bestowed upon our country in 1886 by the people of France, to commemorate our centennial. She was a larger-than-life symbol of friendship between Americans and those far across the very sea we were traversing.

We went ashore and made our way through the gift shop and out into the park proper. The grass was lush, and the deciduous trees created a canopy overhead that dappled the sun-tickled ground at our feet. The paved walks were spotless, the sea wall solid and well-built--everything was pristine. Perfect.

And The Lady. I can’t describe the feeling of pride I felt as I stood there in the early evening sunshine, looking up at this American icon. Through my mind flitted images of some of the movies I’ve seen in which this statue was torn from its foundation. Washed away by a gigantic tidal wave, zapped by an alien laser, uprooted by a tornado and targeted by a terrorist regime. And yet, there she stood, right in front of me. Torch lifted high, face serene, she was stalwart and unbending, watching over the harbor of the greatest country of free men and women in the world. I got goose bumps. A tear. And a smile.

That was the final tourist attraction that Patty and I visited while in New York. But it is not, in my opinion, the most important one. As symbolic as Lady Liberty is, she is just a bit of copper-sheathed steel. Inanimate. A thing of beauty-- but a THING.

Before catching the train to Liberty Park, Patty and I went to Ground Zero. The place where the World Trade Centers once stood—themselves proud and tall.

I’d had reservations about going. I wanted to pay my respects, and yet, seeming to be a tourist in a place where so many lives were lost made me feel… I don’t know. Cheap, perhaps. Like someone who got a charge or an adrenalin rush from being in close proximity to such a calamity. And that in no way was a reflection of how I felt. In the end, Patty and I discussed it, and we decided to visit the site.

There is little remaining that resembles the images that were flashed across television screens worldwide in the days and weeks that followed September 11, 2001. Images of smoke and fire, of twisted steel and debris-filled streets. The ruins are gone, and atop the firm bedrock of the plaza, new industry is taking place. Massive cranes, dump trucks, and laborers in reflective vests are all toiling to replace what was lost with something new--some other edifice that is proud and tall--and significant. Some monument to our strength of spirit, our resolve, and our willingness and desire to move forward with confidence and hope. And in the middle of that concrete jungle that is Manhattan’s Financial District, the sun shone through on that misty afternoon, illuminating the site of one of our nation’s newest battlegrounds. It seemed to shine just for me. My own beacon of confidence and hope.

We made our way to the Visitor’s Center. It is a small museum overlooking Ground Zero, and is housed right next door to one of New York City’s fire department substations. As we waited in line to enter the Center an engine pulled up, a firefighter jumped off the truck, and he moved to direct the driver in backing the rig into its bay. Painted on the side of the truck was a memorial. Ten members of that tiny station were lost on 9/11. My throat closed, my eyes watered. Ten men from just that one, close-knit company. How sad. But how proud I felt to be counted as an American alongside such men!

I’m not going to go into detail regarding what the museum has on display. Anyone who’s interested can easily find photos and information on the internet. I found I simply couldn’t stay inside for very long. In a small back room, two whole walls are covered with the photographs of all those who died as a result of the terrorist attacks on the two towers. I sat on a small bench and stared at those faces. There were smiling faces, hopeful faces, faces caught unaware by the camera and displaying surprise, uncertainty, chagrin. Human faces, just like mine and like those of my loved ones. Faces that belonged to mothers and sons and children and friends. As I sat there, I could hear the screams, I could smell the smoke, and see the flames and the twisted metal. I could feel the panic, the worry, the despair. These faces were never to be seen again, except in photos such as these, and in the memories of those who remained behind to carry on.

I wept.

I don’t often contemplate what it means to be an American. I’ve always been one. I take it for granted. I’m guilty as charged. But once in a while, I’m given a rare opportunity for a moment of reflection. A pause for thought. The WTC Visitor’s Center presented such an occasion. It reinforced my pride in country, but even more—it renewed my pride in my fellow Americans.

As I left that memorial site, I found myself humming the tune to a song. I haven’t heard it since1976, when my cousin Holly and I sang it at a celebration of our country’s bicentennial. It’s been thirty-three years, now--and I can’t remember all of the words--but these few came flooding back into my mind.

Here is a land full of power and glory; beauty that words cannot recall. Oh, Her glory shall rest on the strength of Her freedoms; Her glory shall rest on us all. But… She’s only as rich as the poorest of the poor. Only as free as the padlocked prison door. Only as strong as our love for this land. Only as tall as we stand! Here is a land full of power and glory. Beauty that words cannot recall. Yes, Her glory shall rest on the strength of her freedoms. Her glory shall rest on us all!

As I took one last look at the walls papered with the images of our countrymen and women, I realized that Her glory is resting very well, indeed.

God Bless America and the people who make Her great.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Innocent Until Proven Crazy

“Man Admits Crawling into Outhouse Pit–Again”

Hey, I don’t make these things up! I've been known to exaggerate once in a while—to use a little literary license--but pure fabrication? Nuh-uh. This is an Associated Press headline from Portland, Maine, dated September 3, 2009.

“A Maine man caught peering up at a girl from below an outhouse toilet seat four years ago stands accused of crawling into another pit toilet…’

Well, yes! I can see where, once a body has experienced wading through other peoples’ waste products, it would become addictive. Old habits are hard to break, and a thrill like that one simply begs to be repeated.

Ugh. With headlines like these…who needs tourists?

I suppose none of us actually ever INTENDS to use those rest area privies, but it sure is nice to know they’re there. Just in case. Because sometimes…you simply can’t wait.

Here is some incentive to do just that. This incentive is called, “There might be a REAL LIVE PERSON UNDER THERE!” Holy smokes…

The Privy Prowler initially said he “crawled into the waste-filled pit to retrieve a T-shirt…”

Okay. Let’s assume the man was telling the truth. I agree, it’s a stretch; but here in America a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, right? Therefore, it must also be supposed that a man is considered sane until proven to be a STARK RAVING MAD NUT CASE. Let’s say our accused really did drop his T-shirt into that small hole. That begs the question, why did he have his shirt off in the first place? Or, if he didn’t, what was he doing dangling his spare over the chasm of septic delight? Wouldn’t anyone with one iota of common sense say to themselves, “Hmm. Since I have to stand here holding my T-shirt aloft in a cramped, enclosed outhouse, perhaps I should close the lid over the hole.”?

However it happened, we are assuming our model citizen did, in fact, drop a T-shirt into the pit. My first reaction? LEAVE IT! It’s just a T-shirt! Lying in human poo! Run away, as fast as you can! And enjoy the heck out of yourself while recounting such a hilarious story.

But wait. We need to give our prowler every benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the T-shirt is special. Perhaps it’s one of a kind, or it has sentimental value. (Mutters Karen, “Then don’t take it into a public outhouse where there is a HUGE possibility that you’ll accidentally drop it into a small ten-inch hole!”) And, ah…for the record, I did NOT go and measure one. I relied on my husband’s excellent recollection of the mundane to give me that gem of lavatory trivia. I know for a fact that he once measured the posterior of someone very close to him while trying to craft a homemade toilet seat.

But that’s a long story for a different day. (Please stay tuned…)

So, the T-shirt was special. Irreplaceable. Then, here’s an idea! Get a stick! Rest areas are always tucked amongst the trees. Post a guard on the outhouse door and go find a branch. Poke it down into the hole. Pick up the shirt. Pull it very carefully out of the abyss.

And then throw it away, for crying out loud!!! Along with the stick! Good heavens! Where do these people come from?

Maine, you say? Ahem. Well. Excuse me for a moment while I try to think of a snappy comeback…

It really doesn’t matter where these people come from, does it? Really? That’s not the point. The point is, our hapless young man didn’t think of the tried and true Stick Retrieval Method. Not everyone is 'privy' to the wealth of knowledge that this country girl has amassed over the decades. (Pardon me, for I do love a good pun…) And without that primitive tool at his disposal, the lad had no other option. The T-shirt MUST BE SAVED! Throughout history, there have been tales of men just like him, who have tossed caution to the wind and dived into the trenches, sacrificing themselves for the greater good.

I hope caution smells better than a pit privy, but I’m standing up-wind, nonetheless. No sense in taking chances, after all.

And there you have it. One man’s battle to save his T-shirt. The back of the outhouse simply had to be entered. That great mountain, Old Smokey, was revealed in all its glory. (Of course, it only smokes intermittently and for a short while, and just on really cold days. Again…I haven’t witnessed this phenomenon first-hand, but relied on Mr. Grumble once more--this time on his experiences with taking the dog for her morning walk on our bitterly cold winter days…)

What? Some things are notable and worth documenting, that’s all! Sheesh.

Moving right along…

Voila. A completely believable story. The spare, irreplaceable and sentimentally valuable T-shirt was accidentally dangled over a small hole while the lid was inadvertently left in the 'UP' position. The T-shirt dropped like a stone, giving our hero no opportunity to take a pre-emptive swipe for it. A stick was not to be found within a half-mile radius of the rest area…for we all know such things are fairly scarce in the Pine Tree State. The local fire department, which usually responds to these public service calls of distress, was busy rescuing a fellow from underneath the head in a fishing trawler, where he had descended in order to retrieve his priceless gym socks. And so…naturally, our misunderstood gentleman had no choice. He had to reclaim his T-shirt by whatever means necessary.

Really…it’s what any one of us would have done.

Alas, our hero lost the battle, and emerged from the cesspool empty-handed. I think we, the benevolent taxpayers, should make it up to him. I think WE should give him a new T-shirt to replace the one he lost.

An orange T-shirt. With matching pants. I’m thinking he’d look good in orange.