In the United States today is Memorial Day. We set two days aside each year to remember the casualties, living and dead, of the wars Americans have fought. The other is November 11 originally Armistice Day but since 1954 Veteran’s Day. Both theoretically are somber occasions to be observed by the country as a whole, recognizing the sacrifices members of the military have made on our behalf. At our church service the Sunday closest to each observance ends with a prayer and a solemn playing of “Taps.” Yesterday I stood thinking about the effects of all those wars on the people around me in the pews.

But if not for that service I would be hard pressed to know why the day matters. Every headline announces “the start of summer,” “get out the barbecue,” “buy your pool for our special price,” and “be extra careful on the highways.” Apparently the day’s significance has been transformed into something else entirely.

I wonder if this has happened since we abolished the military draft. Growing up I knew many veterans of wars including the Spanish American, the first World War, the second World War and the Korean War. Boys my age assumed they would be drafted and sent into combat should there be another war. Then the conflict in Viet Nam pressed them into service.

There is no longer a national draft. Unless one chooses the military, it is possible to avoid any involvement in future conflicts. “Other” people can fight. Perhaps when those “other” people die a huge distance develops between us. In 2023 many fewer Americans risk their lives for our country. The idea seems foreign. Why think about war and its cost?

Most Americans seem ready to spend the day in leisure, not in remembrance. Maybe it’s time we retired the name “Memorial.”

“Dangerous Walks?”

The school bus stops at the corner near our house. Each morning and each afternoon cars line our street occupied by parents waiting to either drop their children off for the bus or pick them up from the bus. Only rarely does a child walk home from the bus stop. Even then he is often accompanied by an adult.

It is as if somehow parents have collectively decided that it isn’t safe for their children to walk the several blocks between the bus stop and their homes. This decision isn’t based in statistics but in some generalized fear of stranger abductions. I am not sure when this settled in among people. Most abuse of children takes place at home, not from some random stranger on the street. But the idea that children are easy prey outside seems to become a standard belief among both parents and, sadly, children.

I am saddened to think of this fear being added to all the others heaped on American school children. Perhaps, at least, parents might cooperate to let the kids walk home together. I could then again enjoy the banter and high jinks that such schoolchildren used to share as they walked by my house years ago.

“Unexplored Assumptions”

I love this cartoon because it perfectly illustrates that we don’t know what we don’t know. All of us generalize from our own experiences and often don’t realize that we have assumed much without realizing it.

A couple of weeks ago I was waiting to see my doctor and I was asked if I minded that a male medical student was accompanying her. I had to laugh. Until I had a woman doctor in my late 50’s I had only ever seen a male doctor. When I read about a doctor I still generally imagine a man until proved otherwise. I grew up surrounded by only male doctors. I had never seen a woman doctor.

Today my generalization might be attacked as a moral failing on my part. Why didn’t I think a woman could be a doctor? But that question misses the point. It wasn’t that I didn’t think a woman could be a doctor. I just had never seen one and therefore didn’t imagine one. Like the fish in the cartoon I had nothing with which to compare my experience.

I wish that we could all acknowledge that our experiences limit our understanding of the world. Instead of attacking each other for failing to respect another point of view, I hope that we could take a deep breath. We might then be able to learn why someone’s experience produced a different understanding than ours. Then we might take the opportunity, as I did, to explain why I was surprised at the question about a male in the exam room. And the 25 year old nurse learned that for a 75 year old woman having a woman doctor was the novel experience.

“Say It In Flowers”

Between the tag end of April and the start of June we celebrate five family birthdays. It makes for a lot of cake! In the middle of each May the “dwarf” lilac bush we planted about 15 years ago opens in full bloom. The scent fills the air, greeting anyone who comes to the door or settles in a chair or the porch swing for a visit.

I wish we had a “smell app” for WordPress so I could share the delight with you. By the time the last festivities have passed, the lilac will have dropped its flowers and sit, a quiet green shrub, next to the porch. It will, like us, return to its ordinary appearance, but not before it has showered us all with a floral “Happy Birthday.”

“Merry Month of May”

My husband is a true gardener. I have managed now and then to keep a house plant alive, but not much more. Charlie loves planting, weeding, watering, pruning and harvesting(blueberries, raspberries, tomatoes.) This masterpiece of our back yard is all his doing. In June he will plant the annual seeds I have ordered(zinnia, four o clocks, cosmos) in the dirt patch on the front left of this photo.

We had to take down the playhouse at the back of the yard after it succumbed to twenty winters, leaving a bare patch in back. So this past week we went to a nursery and I pointed to two lilacs, one azalea and one hydrangea plants which he has planted along the back fence. I know what plants and flowers I like but have minimal interest in maintaining them. Thank heavens for my husband.

Spring comes in New England later than it did in our Pacific Northwest home. Just when I think nothing will flower and the trees will remain bare forever, May comes along and proves me wrong once again. And it manages to show up in true splendor making the wait worthwhile.

May my friends in the Southern hemisphere enjoy our spring as your autumn unfolds.

“Why A Remake?”

I recently saw an ad for a film remake of Tom Jones. It sent me back to the Easter holiday of 1966 when I was a freshman in college. My roommate Zoe and I drove her little Deux Chevaux from Massachusetts to Virginia to stay with her family. I had never seen such a tiny car and felt huge inside it.

One night before we headed back to the dorm we went to the drive-in movie theater to see Albert Finney in Tom Jones. Although it was a couple of years old, neither of us had seen it. In those days sex, even implied sex, was not a feature in most movies for general audiences. We were both bowled over by the scenes of lust and longing and our imaginations ran rampant. It was an experience as startling for me as my response to the screen violence, seen for the first time, in Bonnie and Clyde the next year. These were definitely not our parents’ movies!

Now that I have clearly remembered that long ago movie, I will pass on any remake. But thanks for the chance to remember that evening to whoever decided they needed to redo Tom Jones.

“Tell and Show”

I generally avoid seeing film adaptations of books I have read. Too often I have a clear image in my mind of the characters and location and am either annoyed or disappointed as the fiction moves to the screen. But I made an exception recently when I went to see a visual recreation of Claire Keegan’s gem of a novel Foster. The 88 page work, originally published in 2010 was reissued in 2022 when I encountered it for the first time.

The film, The Quiet Girl, shown in the United States in 2023, had been nominated for an Oscar in the foreign language category because of its Irish dialogue. Fortunately for me, the film had English subtitles. I knew it was an interpretation of Foster and I hoped it did the novel justice.

At its center the novel conveys all that isn’t said but just absorbed by a little girl. Sent away for the summer to a house of distant relatives, she remains silent most of the time. Gradually, however, she comes to understand that all families are not like hers. This brief respite utterly, but oh so gently and sweetly, changes the child. The film manages to illustrate rather than explicate the novel. Scene after scene reveals the child, the farm, the house and the people she encounters. As viewers we slow down, taking in the scenes at the child’s pace.

For me this movie showed me it was possible to make a novel and a film equivalent while not identical. I encourage anyone to both read and view these two exquisite works of art.

“A Father Writes”

I first encountered the write Clint Smith in his nonfiction How the Word is Passed. I reviewed that in a post I wrote in August 2021 https://elizabethslaughter.com/2021/08/04/american-ahistorical-insights/ Above Ground(2023) while not his first collection of poems, was the first I have read.

Many mothers have written honestly about childbirth and child rearing. Smith was the first poet I have read that relates his experience as a father in the same time of life. Some poems are poignant as he writes of the dangers of raising kids in a violent culture. Some are funny.

My favorite poem speaks of the praise he gets from strangers when he is out in public doing routine errands with his toddler and infant. He accurately notes that his wife gets no such kudos for the same things. He made me realize that I am still pleasantly surprised when I see young fathers carrying their babies in front packs, playing with their older children in the park, picking them up from school and listening to them as they walk by on the sidewalk together. Fathers were nearly completely uninvolved when I was growing up. I can’t think of one who would have taken a toddler to the grocery store! I am probably one of the women who comments to Smith!

The poems are straightforward and unintimidating for anyone wary of reading “modern poetry.” Refreshingly Smith doesn’t try to flaunt his poetic skill, but rather puts down experience as poems, ones that are a true pleasure to read.

“Goodbye to Gordon”

Certain singer/songwriters have accompanied from my high school years. One such, the Canadian Gordon Lightfoot, died this week. The photo above captures how his image remained in my mind’s eye. I was quite startled, looking for a picture for this post, to see how he looked recently. Of course in my mind’s eye I am still sixteen, not 75!

I have always preferred music with minimal acoustic accompaniment so that I am able to hear and absorb the words. Not great for partying, of course, but excellent for such bygone times as listening in my dorm room in a funk over a boy. Gordon sang of love gained and love lost, so he was an apt companion no matter the state of my college love life.

We bought a new car just before my eyes went wonky, so I am just getting to drive it and explore its features. This morning, as I drove to see a friend, I was able to ask the car to play Gordon Lightfoot songs. The thirty minute ride allowed me to soak in his voice and lyrics, feeling grateful that he had devoted his life to song.

Thanks Gordon.