Tag Archives: Holidays

The Beast

Lemme get this straight.

duncan-christmas-2016

Photo Credit:  Jacob

A big fat guy in a red suit

will come down the chimney,

And I’m Supposed to Let Him In?

HO, HO, HO!

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Filed under Bat-shit crazy, Crazy family members, Criminal Activity, Dogs, Duncan, Good Works, Holidays, Huh?, Humor, Love, Oh shit, Peace, Wild Beasts

This Really Gets My Goat

Do you ever want to pack it all in?  Shed these mortal coils?  Have an out of body experience?  Do you get so bored that you fantasize foreign travel, hanging out with a group of friends who won’t pester you with questions, eating a steady diet of fresh picked food, and drinking water from a mountain stream?

My inability to do that for a whole host of reasons, well, it really gets my goat.

But I think I can honestly say that when I consider having out of body experiences, when I think of packing it in, and when I contemplate shedding these mortal coils, I can’t even approach, neigh, fathom what Thomas Thwaite did.

Part of me sees the attraction.  After all, remember, I spent five years living in Switzerland.  And when you climb those mountains, your heart and soul expand.  You have what I dubbed Julie Andrews Moments where you want to sing with joy.  I can honestly say that I’d love to go back and spend some time there in those mountains.

But there are limits to how I’d like to go.  With whom I’d like to spend time.  And what I would like to wear when I get there.

For example, I do not want to imitate Thomas Thwaites.  He became a goat hung out on a mountainside.  With a herd of goats.  Eating grass.

There’s an article in the Washington Post about Thomas the Goat Man.  How he developed a prosthesis that enabled him to walk like a goat.  The challenges he faced.  The cold.  How he felt that human kind was progressing towards robotics, and he wanted to go a different way.  So he became a goat.

This video, read by a robo-caller, tells the rest of the story.  You can watch it and hear the story for yourself.  Or you can mute it, and watch a man in weird costume eat grass.  Your choice.

 

I can’t help wondering if the little goats used to laugh and call him names.  Did they let poor Thomas play in any goatherd games?

 

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Home For Christmas Again

Does your family tell the same stories, over and over again?  Mine does.  Or my Mom and Dad did.   Oh and in case you haven’t noticed, I do too.

My husband is no doubt rolling his eyes and thanking his lucky stars.  Because  since I started blogging, he is forced to hear fewer repeats of my stories.

To me, the heart and soul of Christmas is Love.  And repeating traditions.  That is what this story means to me.  And even though Christmas is a sadder day than it once was, this story warms my heart.  And I tell it every year.

Here.  If you haven’t read it before, you may need this.

Handkerchief 2

Don’t worry; it’s clean.Google Image.

***

She told the story every year with a warm smile on her face.  Sometimes her eyes got a little bit misty.

“It was 1943, and the War was on, and your father was in the Navy, on a ship somewhere in the Pacific.  We never knew where he was.  Like all the other boys I knew, he was in danger every day.  We lived for the mail, we were terrified of unfamiliar visitors in uniform.  A telegram sent us into a panic.  And ‘I’ll be home for Christmas’ had just been recorded by Bing Crosby.  It was Number One on the Hit Parade.”

That’s how Mom started the story every time.

Of course I’ll Be Home For Christmas was Number One that year.  Everyone, or just about, was hoping that someone they loved would, in fact, be home for Christmas.  That all the boys would be home for good.  But all too many people were disappointed.  I doubt there were many dry eyes when that song came on the radio that year or for the next few.

Mom and Dad got engaged right around Pearl Harbor Day, but the War lengthened their courtship significantly because Dad enlisted shortly after the attack.  It was to be a long war, and a long engagement.  But Mom was in love with her handsome man.  If possible, I think that Dad was even more so.

Mom, Circa 1943

Mom, Circa 1943

 

My Dad was drop-dead gorgeous, and I have heard that in his single days, he was a bit of a ladies’ man.  Every girl in town, it seemed, had a crush on Dad.

Dad, Circa 1943

Dad, Circa 1943

 

In fact, my Aunt Sally once told me that she had been manning a booth at a church bizarre one Saturday in about 1995, when an elderly woman came up to talk to her.

“Are you Freddie E’s sister?” the woman asked Aunt Sal.

“Yes I am.  Do you know my brother?” Aunt Sal responded.

“I did,she sighed.  “I haven’t seen him since we graduated from high school in 1935.  Sixty years ago.  He was,” she stopped to think of just the right word, “… He was dream-my.”

“He still is,” Sally quipped.

One day not long after after Mom had passed, Dad and I were looking at some pictures I hadn’t seen before.

“Dad,” I told him with wonder looking at a particularly good shot, “You should have gone to Hollywood.  You’d have been a star.”

“Nah,” Dad said.  “Mom would never have gone with me.  And once the war was over, well, I wasn’t going anywhere else without her.”

Dad circa 1935

Dad circa 1935

Dad never quite got over feeling lucky that he had Mom.  And he never stopped loving her.

But back to Mom’s story.

“It was Christmas morning, 1943, and I went over to visit Dad’s mom and dad.  Grammy E’d had symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease for seven or eight years at that point.  She could still move around (she was later, when I knew her, almost completely paralyzed), but she could barely talk.”

Mom continued.  But your Dad’s mom was singing ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas.’  Well, she was trying to sing it, any how. She kept repeating that one line, over and over again.  ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas.’  I thought she was crazy.”

“You see,” Mom would say, “Your father had somehow managed to get Christmas leave – he was coming home!  He wanted to surprise me and wouldn’t let anyone tell me he was coming.  He was expected any minute, and there I was, trying to leave.  But I couldn’t stay.  That song made me cry; Freddie was so far away, and in so much danger.  I couldn’t bear hearing it.”

So Mom left after a while, she had other people and her own family to see.  Later Dad caught up with her and they spent most of Christmas together.  Both of them always smiled at the memory.  Dad was home for Christmas that year, just like in the song.  It was a magical year for them both.

Mom was always touched by Dad’s surprise and by his mother’s loving gesture in fighting back the paralysis that was taking over her body to try to get her son’s girl to stay.  To sing when she could barely speak.

“I’ve always wished I’d stayed.”

We lost Mom on Easter of 1997, and Dad really never got over her passing.

The song and Mom’s story took on an even more poignant meaning in 2000.  Because on Christmas of that year, Dad joined Mom again for the holiday.  He went “home” to Mom for Christmas again, joining her in the afterlife.

Even through the sadness of losing Dad on Christmas, I always have to smile when I hear that song.  Because I can just see the warmth in Mom’s eyes now as she welcomed Dad home.  This time, I’m sure she was waiting for him with open arms.

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Filed under Adult Traumas, Christmas Stories, Dad, Family, Growing up, History, Holidays, Love, Missing Folks, Mom, Mom Stories, Music, Taking Care of Each Other

Psst! Need a Christmas Tree?

Since I was a tomboy/ragamuffin hybrid as a kid, nobody called me “Princess.” And the one time I tried to be a princess – the time when I was 4 and dressed up as a princess for Halloween and fell on my face in a Queen-size mud puddle – that pretty much cured me of any princess fantasies I might have had.

But there was one time, one time, when I really did feel like a princess. I felt that like a princess because I stood in an actual ballroom.  That’s where princesses hang out, isn’t it?

I looked around the room in wonder.  It was, of course, huge.  I easily imagined hundreds of beautifully dressed dancers waltzing around the floor. There were floor-to-two-story-high-ceiling windows all along the back of the room, covered in Scarlett O’Hara’s curtains. Thick, heavy green velvet drapes with gold brocade tassels holding them back. And through them, I could see to the sea. Long Island Sound.

I had forgotten my cell phone that day in 1965, so I had to use Google Images. Tthanks, Google!

This isn’t the actual room, although there are similarities.   You see, I had forgotten my cell phone that day in 1965, and couldn’t snap a picture.  I had to use Google Images. Thanks, Google!

A balcony surrounded the ballroom on three sides, and it too rose way up. The floor is what I remember most clearly, though: Black and white marble, a massive checkerboard, without a single scuff mark in the entire room.

As was true of all of my childhood adventures (or since it was a princess-thing, perhaps I should call it a fantasy), this one came to me courtesy of my brother, Fred.

You see, Mr. Richardson, the wealthiest amongst our very wealthy neighbors, had invited us to his house. And we were to use the front door! Because we — me and Fred (and our sister Beth) — were heroes.  Heroes always use the front door.

Wanna know what happened?

Well, one hot summer day, Beth and I were out in the backyard, when Fred came racing in from the outer limits of our yard, near “the fields.“ The fields was a tract of land owned by Mr. Richardson, located behind our yard.  It stretched for several hundred acres. Part of it was meadow, but part of it was made up of small, neatly spaced and impeccably trimmed pine trees.

The Fields Behind My House. I think. Google Image. So really, it could be anywhere.

The Fields Behind My House. I think. Google Image. So really, it could be anywhere.

“Tax haven,” my Dad said, rolling his eyes, when he realized what Mr. R was planting.  “A Christmas tree farm.”

Well, yeah. Probably. Whatever.

But Mr. R believed in investing in land, and he bought anything he could. (He was away when our house went up for sale, or according to my Dad, my childhood would have been spent elsewhere.  I will always be thankful for that trip of Mr. R’s.)

Anyway, Fred came running in from the fields, shouting “FIRE!” “THERE’S A FIRE IN THE FIELDS!!”

Beth and I didn’t ask any questions, but apparently we rushed into the house, called the fire department, grabbed brooms and blankets and rushed out to where Fred had seen the fire. That’s where the fire department found us. We had contained the fire, and there was very little damage. Without our intervention, well, who knows what might have happened.

So back to the Ballroom.

Mr. Richardson had invited us over to thank us. And he gave us a gift!

“I want to thank you for putting out the fire in my fields.  You were very brave, and I am very proud of you both.  And as a reward, from now on, for as long as you and your family live in that house,” Mr. R said, “You and your family may take any Christmas tree you want from my field.”*

 

Before becoming heroes, we had managed to get our Christmas trees for the $2 that Dad bartered with with for as long as we all could remember.  But our heroism took us to the upper crust of Christmas trees.  Because from that year on my family did, indeed, get our Christmas trees from Mr. R’s field.  We chose the biggest and nicest of them all, cut it down, and dragged it home.

But (and you know there’s always a “but” or a “butt” in my stories), it wasn’t strictly Kosher.

You see, not a whole lot of years later, in 1972, Mr. Richardson died. He willed the land to the Audubon Society, and ever since then, the Audubon Society has been selling those very Christmas trees. No mention was made, apparently, in Mr. R’s Last Will and Testament, for heroes who got free Christmas trees. No mention at all.  Naturally that didn’t stop us. But we also didn’t mention our prior claim to the Audubon Society.

And there was another issue.

If you guessed that my brother, accidentally started the fire, well, I will simply remind you that the Statute of Limitations is 7 years.  We’re way past that.  The Statute of Limitations is still 7 years on Christmas tree theft, isn’t it?

* I think there might have been other rewards; at least I hope so. Because I’ve always thought of Mr. R as a really nice guy. After all, he let me be a princess that one time, and, honestly, it was pretty cool even if I was more Cinderella than Snow White.  So I don’t want to think he was a skinflint who just gave us kids, who wouldn’t be paying for them anyway, free Christmas trees, for saving them.  Then again, it was the 60s.  Everybody didn’t get a trophy.

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Not Our Heritage

Like many of us, I’ve been wondering what I should say since I woke up Thursday morning to the news of the latest gun massacre, this time, in Charleston, South Carolina.

I often feel like I’m beating a dead horse here at FiftyFourAndAHalf.  Do you really need me to go off on another rant about sensible gun laws?  I didn’t think so.

Still.

There is plenty of outrage on so many levels  with this latest shooter.  The deed itself.  The fact that he sat in church with his victims for an hour and then killed them.  The after-the-fact suspicions of his friends that he had been planning this for a while and nobody spoke up.

There is plenty of outrage with the idiotic reactions on the part of just about every member of the GOP, particularly their presidential candidates. They stammer.  They point the blame on other things — Rick Santorum says it’s a “War on Christians” (huh?); Rick Perry says it was the fault of Big Pharma (huh?).  Jeb! says he just doesn’t know if racism played a part — in spite of the words of the shooter that he wanted to start a race war.

But I save my greatest outrage for Senator Lindsay Graham.  He hemmed and hawed at first.  And then he said it.

“The Confederate Flag,” Senator Graham said,  “is who we are.”

And you know what?  Lindsay Graham is nothing if not consistent.  Worse, he speaks for a whole swath of folks who still believe in the principles of the Confederacy.  Who believe in the symbol of the Confederacy, the Stars and Bars.  The symbol of slavery, of racism, of bigotry.  The symbol of resistance to integration.  The symbol of hate.

Senator Graham speaks for folks who didn’t get the news:

Google Image

Google Image

These folks have clung to their racist beliefs.  Their strong belief held fast in the 150 years since the Confederacy lost, in the mistaken idea that African-Americans, blacks, Negros, colored folks (depending on the era we’re talking about) weren’t “created equal.”

With all I’ve read in the last two days, one article, The Confederacy is Not Our Heritage, really struck home with me.

First, Mr. Sumner put to rest the lie that the states seceded over “States’ Rights”:

The Confederacy was launched not on a platform of slavery, but on a foundation of racism. That it maintained slavery as an institution was a feature. That it upheld racism was the design. Read the words of Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, speaking at the Athenaeum in Savannah, Georgia:

The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions—African slavery as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. … Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong.  They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races.  This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it—when the “storm came and the wind blew, it fell.”Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.

. . . look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgement of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws.

So much for States’ Rights.  That, like the Glory of the South (and proclamation that “The South Shall Rise Again!”) is a myth, belied by these words.

The author grew up in Kentucky surrounded by the vestiges of the Civil War.  Here in my adopted state of Virginia, they surround me as well.  But they are not the vestiges of a defeat and the lessons that should have been learned from it.  No, they proclaim the heroism of the Generals, the glory of the battles, the fierceness of the Rebel yell.  Here in Virginia, there is a state holiday in January — Lee-Jackson Day.  A couple hours south of here is the Stonewall Jackson Shrine.  All proclaim the glory of the Civil War, as if it, and the reasons behind it, were — and still are — worth fighting for.

If you don’t know the history of who won and who lost, well, you’re not going to find it in the South.

As Mr. Sumner says:

The Confederacy is not my heritage. It’s not anyone’s heritage. The Confederacy is our shame.

[…]

Is it part of our history? Yes, it is, to our everlasting shame. It’s a part of our history the same way that the apartheid state is a part of South African history. It’s a part of our history the same way that the Nazi Reich is a part of German history. It’s a part of our history that should embarrass us.

It’s the part of our history in which traitors who not only didn’t believe in the American union, but also didn’t believe in the basic ideals of America, formed a state whose core was nothing less than pure racism.

It should be no more acceptable to wave a Confederate flag in the United States than it is to fly a swastika. No more acceptable to proclaim yourself sympathetic to the Confederate cause than to proclaim yourself a supporter of ISIS. There is no moral difference. None. These are the banners of the enemies of our nation and of our ideals—enemies whose existence is based on inequality and subjugation.

President Obama is right.  It’s time to put the Stars and Bars in a museum.  It’s time to end the hate.

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A Phila — A Philan — A Good Deed Doer

A week or two back, on Gibber Jabber, I responded to a question (because that’s what happens over at Gibber Jabber, she asks questions and you answer them.)  I said that my dream job would be to be a philanthropist.  A good deed doer.

They're called ... (Google, natch)

They’re called … phila — philan — “Good Deed Doers” (Google, natch)

 

And of course, if I could, I would give the world a whole lot of good stuff.

But this week I’ve found myself to be the benefactor of a good deed doer!  Yup, Me!

A very generous, very wealthy man gave me, John and mostly Duncan a lovely hunk of land in Maine on Mount Dessert Island where we are right now.

For many years, we’ve been coming to this island with our various dogs.  Acadia National Park takes up much of the island, and it is an amazingly beautiful place to hike or just sit and watch the sea from a pink mountaintop.  Acadia is magical.

But there are leash laws in Acadia, as it is a National Park.  And while we haven’t always been strict adherents to that particular rule, well, the park is full of people, some of whom don’t really want to meet my dogs (imagine!).

Last year, we found out about Little Long Pond. It is a family preserve, owned by the Rockefellers, with hiking trails, carriage roads and a lovely, well, long pond.  Dogs were allowed to run free there.  In all 1,000 acres of the place.

Little Long Pond Boat house

And this month, David Rockefeller celebrated his 100th birthday by giving this piece of land to Duncan!  Well, and me.  And John.  And you!

FREEDOM!

FREEDOM!

To celebrate his 100th birthday, he donated the land which abuts Acadia National Park (much of which his family had also donated) to the nonprofit Land and Garden Preserve, so that they will keep and preserve it AND CONTINUE TO LET DOGS RUN FREE!

Thank you, Mr. Rockefeller!

Thank you, Mr. Rockefeller!

Thanks, Mr. Rockefeller.  We wish you many happy returns.  We know we will have many happy returns to Little Long Pond; and we will think of you and thank you each time we do.

*     *     *

 I am not a particularly good photographer, but I have a camera shy dog.

 

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Got History?

There is a restaurant I just keep going back to.  Sweetwater Tavern in Sterling, Virginia.  I don’t know why I keep going back, exactly because it was the scene of one of my most embarrassing moments evah.

Still, I return. Went there just a few days ago, as a matter of fact.  They have terrific food and good beer. So I guess that explains it.  Plus, it keeps me humble.  Humbler.  Yeah.  Humble-est.  Or at least quiet.

Nevertheless, if you go with me, I’ll tell you the story. Unless John’s with us. Because last time, when I tried to tell Jacob the story, John hushed me up. Imagine! Now why would he do that?  He looked around the room and kept saying “keep your voice down!”

Actually, if it weren’t for my husband, it would never have happened. Not at all.  So it’s his fault.

And, if it weren’t for our friend Rob, who was visiting us from Geneva, well, it absolutely wouldn’t have happened.  So it’s Rob’s fault, too.

Me?  I’m innocent.

You see, both John and Rob are Civil War buffs. When Rob was visiting a couple of years back on Martin Luther King Day and it was a beautiful, warm, sunny winter day, well, what else was there for us to do but visit a Civil War battlefield?

Luckily for us, we live in Virginia. Civil War battlefields are a dime a dozen, ’round here. [Fortunately, the fears I wrote about in Great Balls of Fire have not materialized. Yet.]

Anyway, the three of us decided that we would head off to visit the Manassas Battlefield. For those not living in Dixie (Civil War – Land for the non-initiated) I’ll just let you know that Manassas was the very first battle of the Civil War, on July 16, 1861. Folks from Washington made a day of it – they packed picnics and took carriage rides out there from the Capitol to see the Yankees whup the Rebs. They called it the Battle of Bull Run.*

Only it didn’t happen quite that way.

The Rebs won. And when they had a do-over  the next year  on August 28–30, 1862, well, the Rebs whupped us again.

Of course, that’s not how the whole war went, though, was it.  Nope.  The NORTH won the Civil War!

Actually, Google Wins

Actually, Google Wins

But when you wander around Virginia, and probably other parts of the Old South, well, you don’t really get that impression.  Nope. Not at all.

As it was, John, Rob and I should have been prepared for what we found when we arrived at the Manassas Battlefield that morning. Cars with Confederate Flags were everywhere. Mostly pickups and cars that were auditioning for the Dukes of Hazard.

 

There are more cars around here like this than you can shake a stick at. Google Image, Natch.

There are more cars around here like this than you can shake a stick at.
Google Image, Natch.

 

Because, unbeknownst to us at the time, here in Virginia, the weekend of Martin Luther King Day also includes a Virginia State Holiday:  Lee-Jackson Day. Yup. Nothing says “We Lost” more than having a holiday to honor the vanquished generals.  And one that just happens to coincides with the National Holiday honoring slain black civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr!  Folks can get up to all kinds of merriment!

All morning long, there were whoops all around us of “The South Shall Rise Again!”  Men sporting Confederate Flags on their jackets, their cars.  And they were there to honor Stonewall Jackson whose birthday (January 21, 1824) was nearing.  Oh boy!

You see, it was at the First Battle of Manassas, that General Thomas Jonathan Jackson became “Stonewall.” It’s where he earned his famous nickname when as put by Wikipedia:

[Confederate] Brig. Gen. Barnard Elliott Bee, Jr., exhorted his own troops to re-form by shouting, “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians!”

John, Rob and I had a nice time touring the battlefield. I’ve often said that we Americans do great battlefields. There are maps and audio buttons, knowledgeable park officials wandering around to answer your questions. Demonstrations of the firearms used, the uniforms. The works.  But it was clear from their words (and their bumperstickers) that folks around us, well, they didn’t really know their history.

 

My Picture. Take that, Google Images!

The answer, based on what we were hearing around us was: NOPE. My Picture.
Take that, Google Images!

 

As we wandered, and as we left, the three of us shook our heads constantly. Because you see evidence everywhere, not just at the battlefield, that Virginians haven’t heard the news yet — that that they’d lost the war.

Afterwards went for a late lunch at the Sweetwater Tavern. It’s a big, fun restaurant and bar, with great food and a terrific atmosphere.   We drove to the restaurant, crossing Lee Highway, John Mosby Highway. We passed the Sully Plantation, and took a wrong turn leading us towards Leesburg. The names of the Confederate heroes of the Civil War were everywhere. There is no Lincoln Highway as far as I’ve seen.  No Grantsburg.  No Sherman Boulevard.  Nope.

“Whoever said ‘History is told by the victors,’ has never been to Virginia,” John quipped.  You’d really never know that they lost, that they surrendered right there in Virginia, at Appomattox.  Because, really, they haven’t given up.

So how did that lead to my most embarrassing restaurant experience ever?

Well, we continued our conversation after we got to our table. We asked for a round of beers, placed our lunch orders, and continued commenting on all of the things in Virginia that, well, that you’d expect would be named differently. To be named by the Victors – The Yankees. Named by ME in fact.  Well, my ancestors.  Who were still in Ireland during the war.  But still …

Anyway, we talked about how, even today, folks in the states of the former Confederacy, don’t accept that they lost and are still fighting the Civil War. I mean, the War Between the States.

Our beers arrived, and, shaking my head at the bizarre attitude of folks in my adopted state, I raised my glass in irony:

“The South Shall Rise Again!” I said, my voice dripping with sarcasm.  With Irony.  With my superior knowledge of history.

And I said it, just as our African-American waiter placed a basket of bread on the table right next to me.

I stammered, shuddered, tried to evaporate.  I wished a cannon ball would fall on me – from either side, it didn’t matter.  I sincerely hoped that someone, anyone would run at me with their bayonet at the ready.  I wanted a quick death, not to be left dangling in my humiliation.

Because, really, what could I do?  I considered explaining myself to the poor waiter, but I knew it wouldn’t matter. That really, even a Connecticut Yankee like me couldn’t make reparations.

I stayed pretty quiet for the remainder of the meal.

We did leave a ridiculously large tip, though.

 

*     *     *

* For some reason nobody seems to know, streams and creeks in Virginia are called runs. I presume that’s because they run to the rivers and then to the sea. But still, if anybody knows why they are called that, I’d love to know. Because nobody I’ve ever known knows. It’s a mystery.

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