Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Colony

"Where are you?  What do you see?"  Doctor Ferris asked Joel.

Joel, lying in a contoured memory foam rack  had his eyes closed.  "Black - Nothing.  Wait, there are specks of white light, for an instant, then they streak by me."

Ferris glanced up at the observation dome overhead.  A hundred grim faces looked down on her from the circular stadium seating surrounding the dome.  She asked Joel, "Are you moving?"

The response was immediate.  "I don't know.  I might be, but I don't feel it."

"Joel, do you see any speck color other than white."

The pause took thirty seconds.  "Yes, I see a red one at 10:00 o'clock."

"Good, focus on it.  Concentrate on the red one.  What's happening?"

"It's growing in size.  Not streaking by like the others."

Ferris took a thermometer from the table at her elbow and wiped Joel's forehead with it and read the digital readout.  102.8 F.  1.2 degrees to go before withdrawal.

"Doctor Ferris?"

"Yes, Joel."

"I'm there.  I just landed.  It's beautiful."

"Describe it.  Is it habitable?"


The stadium observers broke out in a cheer, slapping high-fives and hugging one another.  Ferris raised her arm with an open hand and waved it gently.  The crowd immediately went silent.

Joel, as though he sensed the jubilation paused, then continued.  "I'm in a plain ringed with ruddy rocky outcrops.  Looks like the floor of a meteor strike millenniums old.  The sky has clouds and the color spectrum is right for oxygen.  Wait."  Joel turned the palm of his hand toward his feet.  Water began to bead on the back of it.  "Yes, I feel water.  Not to deep; maybe 18-20 thousand feet.  This will do.  Launch the environmental pod. I can do the rest."

Ferris looked up as a dozen men and women streamed from the stadium.   A few minutes later she heard a whirl of hydraulics as storage bay doors opened.  Seconds later a man reappeared and nodded.  But Ferris had already turned on the camera array and saw the geometric dome floating along the ship.

"Joel, it's out." 

"I'm going to send a cloud of dirt from the planet to cover and insulate it."  As he spoke Ferris and the others watched as red dust, then sheets began covering the dome.  In no less than five minutes it was obscured. 

Ferris wiped his forehead again. 103.4  "Joel, we are running out of time."

Joel's eyes whipped back and forth under his lids.  "No problem.  Is everyone ready for transfer to the dome?"

Ferris looked up and everyone was back in their seats.  "Yes."

Instantly, everyone disappeared.  Ferris looked at Joel.  "It's just me, now."  She wiped his forehead again. 103.9


"It's okay.  I have them."  He raised his arm over his head as if holding something up. 

The camera display showed the red swirling cloud was gone. 

"Yes, they’re right over me.  I have to set them down before you bring me back." 

She could see the straining of his arm as he brought his empty hand back to level with his waist.

"It's done."  He dropped his arm.

Ferris drove the plunger on the hypodermic into the I.V. line and wiped his forehead again. 103.4.  She sighed.

Joel opened his eyes and looked at her.  "Well, is that all I had to do to get you alone?"  He grinned.

She hugged him.  "Let's head back."  Kissing him, she said, "Well, we don't have to go in suspense right away.  We can snitch a few months of a hundred-year trip for ourselves." 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Flash Fiction

My name is Spindly Crabback.  I was skimming along the surface like any other day shaking up some delightful fish eggs,  in a pleasing fog of mud, that went down in a bite or two.  Looked like I was in a good spot for a change.  Of course, I had to dodge a number of fat stocks that seems to always be in pairs that kept shifting around in the atmosphere to plant themselves in the mud only to shift again.  You couldn't see the tops of them as they went up through the atmosphere to disappear beyond the transition showing a pinkish or black haze that seemed to float around in sync with the stocks; more pinks than blacks.  From curiosity, I had scrambled like the dickens one time to try and reach the top of the transition only to get buffeted back down by the churning of the atmosphere cause by the stocks moving.  Some friends that went with me made it to the top and I've never seen or heard from them again.  

Well, I wasn't going to let that bother me today.  I was in pincer heaven when I found a fresh sack of eggs.  I was so engrossed with digging into them that I didn't see it coming.  Squish… That dang stock pushed me a good hundred of my little feet into the mud.  

That really upset me, mad at myself for not watching better.  Not only did I lose my egg sack it's going to take me three days to dig myself out of here.  

Ego and Writers Groups

Roland Boykin, a Fantasy writer, blogged an article about Critique Groups: A Slice of Life that sparked my thinking on egos.  He looks to an even bigger picture by equating the small writers group as a reflection of society as a whole.  I'm not there quite yet, so I just want to shell out a few thoughts on ego.  Here is Roland's link:   https://rolandboykin.blogspot.com/2016/06/critique-groups-slice-of-life.html?showComment=1466694796209#c5816437649711390468

There is a difference between a overly large ego and being filled with confidence.  I think, that at first blush, it is hard to tell the difference.  With time and exposure, the large ego rears its ugly head or the confident person emerges.
 Image result for ego and writing
I suppose it could be argued that they go hand-in-hand where the ego and the confidence coincide.  Perhaps, that is true, but I think not.  I think they exist like the right and left arm; a part of the whole, but doing their own thing and come together occasionally to collaborate.  The ego tends to be fragile, easily offended and hurt.  It resists criticism which in a writers group setting comes in the form of critique. Confidence on the other hand is tough and resilient, where critique is considered against an existing base of knowledge and experiences and acted upon accordingly.

New aspiring writers have a low level of confidence, not a large ego.  I don't think that, as most arguments would have you believe, it takes a huge ego to be a writer.  If you wonder if your ego is unhealthy give yourself this test.  Do I get upset when that other person, the testy, cranky, insufferable person in the Writer's Group publishes a gosh awful work and you don't?  Do you secretly wish they would slip on the tire iron when changing a tire and break a finger?  Does the steam build In the back of your head when someone says about your perfectly crafted prose that they don't understand it, or it's preachy or telling or clique and you defend it, of course?  Answer yes to any of these and you probably have a overly large ego.  An over-sized ego breeds envy.

Image result for ego and writing

Ann Lamott wrote in her book on writing, Bird by Bird:
If you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with [envy] because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know—people who are, in other words, not you . . .You are going to feel awful beyond words. you are going to have a number of days in a row where you hate everyone and don’t believe in anything. if you do know the author whose turn it is, he or she will inevitably say that it will be your turn next, which is what the bride always says to you at each successive wedding, while you grow older and more decayed.
It can wreak just the tiniest bit of havoc with your self-esteem to find that you are hoping for small bad things to happen to this friend—for, say, her head to blow up.

From <https://killzoneblog.com/2012/09/a-writers-ego.html>

 That takes me as to why write if we are not confident and our ego isn't overly large.  I for one, like to express my thoughts and feelings in print.  It may be for myself, solely (which is actually rare) or for the convincing of  others as to my point of view or to be thought provoking by providing an interesting piece that someone would like to read.

If, as a writer, we want to provide work for people to read.  Then, I think that we have to be respectful of the audience.  We, over time, have a responsibility to write in such a manner as not to put off the reader.  Foremost, this comes in the form of good construction of the written word.  Now, on to content;  to present interesting material that draws in the reader and builds on the argument or plot, if you will. 

I think that there are very few of us that are looking for a place in history like Poe or Hemingway to be read, studied and remembered for all the rest of time.  I, for one, would like to spin a yarn that a reader would enjoy as much as I enjoyed writing it.  I don't care if Hemingway thinks writing, at its best, is a lonely life (as I sit here in the dark by myself, when everyone else in the household is in bed).  I am comfortable with myself, I'm my second best friend after my wife.  I would feel successful if my book was in the bottom of the barrel at Goodwill for Twenty-five cents.  But, I have to write it before it gets there.  Perhaps, the best validation of our writing is if someone gives us some money for it, from time to time, and we transition from amateur to professional.

Already, in the few sessions I've attended at the Kitsap's Writers Group, I like to think that my writing has grown and/or matured.  Insights given are spot-on.  The time and effort put into the depth of the critiques I have received is not to be under appreciated.  In times past I have had a series of epiphanies that brought me to the realization that I am flawed.  I don't always have the right answers to any given topic regardless of how passionate I am about it.  I think disjointedly and truncate my writing as though I'm doing an "Operators Manuel" rather than a robust descriptive piece with depth and emotion.  The aggravating thing is I can't see it until it is pointed out to me by the group. Then yippee… I can fix that. 

As I read posts by published authors(on Google+), I smile when they comment about a discussion or debate they've had with their critique group on, say, Point-of-view, or Tense, or author intrusion, or whatever.  I agree fully with those that feel a group is important; birds of a feather do flock together and everyone who writes would write better when swimming in the pool with other writers. 

Ego is okay if healthy.  Confidence is even better and if the confidence level is low, study, practice, and more practice will grow and strengthen it.  So much the better for building confidence when a group of like minded souls lovingly contribute their two-cents.  If you are a fledgling writer like I am, join a writers group.  If you are seasoned and at the top of your game, join a writers group and share. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Princess and the Apprentice by Roland Boykin

I am not one for book reviews for several reasons; foremost, I don't think I'm really qualified to judge another persons writing.  I, generally, don't know the person that wrote it  and admire that their book was published for what skill they have and I like the book or not.  On my Kindle after reading a book it pops up with book review option - "Before you go - Say something about this book."  I might be inclined to do so, but I have a hard enough time at the keyboard composing my thoughts, so index fingering a response for a book review leaves me fatigued.  Oh, and by the way, the Kindle doesn't let you off easy; it is work to get by the review request.

That said.  I know Roland Boykin.  Not well, but better since hooking up on Google+.  You can get a measure of a person by what they post and pictures they show.  I really like cats too, by the way.  This I decided to write a review of Roland's book I finished a few weeks ago.

Here are a few things that strikes me as a good book. 

  1. Depth of characters:  Do they become real to me?
  2. Plot development:  Does it take me where it hints to with a twist here and there?
  3. Cleverness:  How original is it?  Of course, it is said that every human condition has been written about, so, thus, what neat clever way has it been approached in this book?
  4. Audience, is this book written for a genre in a particular age group or across a wide spectrum or readers?
  5. Finally, do I want to read more of this author?

Before I start my review.  I'll say I thoroughly enjoyed Roland Boykin's book.

These points above are not in any order of importance.  For Roland's book I'll start with the audience.

When I finished his book my wife asked me how did I like it.  First thing that came to mind was it is an easy read.  I finished it in two evenings.  The story seems targeted at high school/young adult.  Which may be why I liked it so well.  Language is clean, not sexually graphic, and the violence (have to have violence when dealing with monsters) is appropriately applied in this book.

 The Princess and the Apprentice is written in a well used and largely abused genre of fantasy.  That makes it difficult to get a original plot or theme going.  I think Roland knows this and employs a good bit of cleverness along with his character development to carry the day. 

The main characters are likable and although you don't overly worry about them you because know what outcomes there are going to be it is interesting to see how Roland gets them through their trials.  I especially like it when the heroes are in a tough spot and I can't see a way out and the author then saves them in a way I could not imagine.   Roland does that well.

The plot starts off straight forward enough for this type of book.  Then as Shelton on the "Big Bang Theory" says  -  Zingna;  or gotcha, bet you didn't see that twist coming.  I won't spoil it for you by telling what that is.

Finally,  Roland neatly ties up the end with a well worked out teaser for a follow-on book.  Which, I hope isn't to long in coming.

My recommendation is if you like fantasy and/or a cleverly written book that will take you away for a couple days then I say read  Princess and the Apprentice.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Love and Appreciation for Family

Love and Appreciation for Family

My talk assignment today is Love and Appreciation for family.
As you probably all know, the lord has restored the gospel to the earth to be exercised as a family.  As Heavenly Father is our Spiritual Father, Jesus Christ and literally everyone else are our brothers and sisters.  That makes for a really big family. Many may not believe that yet, and many suspect it, but we as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints know it.  We order life events and teachings in the home and in the church around family.   We have Family Home evening, chaperoned events like dances and outings, scouts, camping, pot lucks, sports and so on for the strengthening of our personal family, ward family, church family and rest of the world.
I have brought non-members, friends and family, to Sacrament meeting and afterwards almost to a fault their first comment was about how noisy they thought the service was.  So many children gurgling, laughing, crying, crawling under the pews, and climbing over their parents to visit with the folks in the next pew back.  I tell them, probably the same thing you have, we are a family oriented church, and Sacrament is sacred to us and the children learn as they age and get better behaved, that this is the one meeting not to miss if we can help it.  I’m not the least bit apologetic for our noisy kids and actually a bit proud of it.
One of the things I think that brings about appreciation is not taking our family for granted.  As I was growing up, my mom and dad were not LDS and all I knew about the Mormons was the story about the Sea Gulls eating up all the locus in that old 1950s movie.  I wish my parents had been LDS; perhaps I might have made some of my life decisions differently.  “I love you,” never passed the lips of my parents that I recall.  When visiting my mom sometime after having joined the church, on parting to go home I told her I loved her.  The effect was immediate, a double-take and a returned, “I love you too.”  It is true you don’t have hear you’re loved by your parents to know you are, but it means so much more when the endearment is given.
As a young man in my 20’s, I hadn’t given much thought and what little thought I did give about my mom and dad was shaded a little negative.  There are volumes written about raising a good family by just about every physiologist that ever put pen to paper.  There is plenty of good stuff in those words that helps us to raise socially responsible children.  As a kid and young man, I didn’t know any of that.  I held a grudge against my mom for making me go to bed early after telling me I could stay up and watch “Rebel without a Cause.”  I held that grudge for decades and I still haven’t seen the movie.
It truly wasn’t until I had a job as a Correctional Counselor in the Federal prison system in Texas that I came to realize what a wonderful, patient, long suffering pair of parents I had to have tolerated my shenanigans.   After joining the church that sense of appreciation for my parents was deepened and reinforced. 
The prophets and apostles pass on the Lord’s desire for us to understand this family unit all the time.  Because of the way of the world and our government leaders over the past decade, the turning away from gospel principles that have been traditionally recognized by all churches has brought Prophets and Apostles to feel the need to proclaim an open letter to the world concerning us and our family.
There are nine paragraphs.  I’ll go through this proclamation paragraph by paragraph.  

The Family

A Proclamation to the World
The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.

Elder David A. Bednar explains:  The eternal nature and importance of marriage can be fully understood only within the overarching context of the Father’s plan for His children. “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and … has a divine nature and destiny.” 3 The great plan of happiness enables the spirit sons and daughters of Heavenly Father to obtain physical bodies, to gain earthly experience, and to progress toward perfection.
“Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose” 4 and in large measure defines who we are, why we are here upon the earth, and what we are to do and become. For divine purposes, male and female spirits are different, distinctive, and complementary.

2. All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
In Moses 6:8,9 “8 Now this prophecy Adam spake, as he was moved upon by the Holy Ghost, and a genealogy was kept of the children of God. And this was the book of the generations of Adam, saying: In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him;
 9 In the image of his own body, male and female, created he them, and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created and became living souls in the land upon the footstool of God.
For Issue of Gender -President Packer taught: “The plan of happiness requires the righteous union of male and female, man and woman, husband and wife. … A body patterned after the image of God was created for Adam, and he was introduced into the Garden. At first, Adam was alone. … But alone, he could not fulfill the purposes of his creation. No other man would do. Neither alone nor with other men could Adam progress. Nor could Eve with another woman. It was so then. It is so today. Eve, an help meet, was created. Marriage was instituted.”
3. In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.
Joseph Smith tells us in D&C Section 130 verse 2: 2 And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.
Although we will certainly rejoice in the eternal fellowship of close friends, the associations that will mean most to us are family relationships that have been sealed eternally in the house of the Lord through priesthood ordinances.
President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988), First Counselor in the First Presidency, taught: “In our upward climb, this mortal experience through which we are now passing is a necessary step. To obtain perfection, we had to leave our pre-earth home and come to earth. During the transfer, a veil was drawn over our spiritual eyes, and the memory of our premortal experiences was suspended. In the Garden of Eden, God endowed us with moral agency and, as it were, left us here on our own between the forces of good and evil to be proved—to see if, walking by faith, we would rise to our high potentiality by doing ‘all things whatsoever the Lord [our] God shall command [us]’ “
Thus we know that through these teachings of church leaders that the family is central to accomplishing these things.  We want to return to our Father in Heaven and live again with him there and more over we want our children, grandchildren and their children and so on nearly endlessly to join us there. Emphasis mine.
4. The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.
Genesis 1:27,28: 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
 28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, …”
5. We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed. We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.
“Under the accepted plan,” explained President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Adam and Eve were sent to the earth as our first parents. They could prepare physical bodies for the first spirits to be introduced into this life.
“There was provided in our bodies—and this is sacred—a power of creation, a light, so to speak, that has the power to kindle other lights. This gift was to be used only within the sacred bonds of marriage. Through the exercise of this power of creation, a mortal body may be conceived, a spirit enter into it, and a new soul [be] born into this life.
“This power is good. It can create and sustain family life, and it is in family life that we find the fountains of happiness. It is given to virtually every individual who is born into mortality. It is a sacred and significant power. …
6. Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.
Elder O. Leslie Stone of the First Quorom of the Seventy taught: The home is where we learn what is right, what is good, and what is kind. It is the first school and the first church. The best way to prepare a child for a happy and righteous adult life is to strengthen him during his child life. And happy is the family where this most important trust—that of properly raising the children of that family—is their greatest concern.
Equal to the responsibility we have to provide food and shelter and the necessities of life is the responsibility to set the right example for our children in all that we do.
Let us remember that the parent in the home influences the behavior patterns, the habits, the opinions, and the beliefs of the children. Most behavior patterns are established early in life, and it is an extremely difficult, slow task to change them later in life.
Additionally, on the negative side he said that among delinquent parents are these:
Those who quarrel in the presence of their children;
Those who pollute the home atmosphere with vulgarity and profanity;
Those whose daily home life does not conform to their Church pretensions;
Those who fail to teach obedience to their children;
Those who neglect to teach their children religion by saying, “Let them grow up and choose for themselves,” thus failing in the discharge of a parental responsibility.   

7. The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.
There are a number of important points, some of which we have already discussed. Here is a short recap.
1.      First is the foundation: God prompts families.
2.     Marriage is between man and woman.
3.     Children are entitled to be born into a lawfully wedded and faithful family.
4.    Fathers are to preside over the family with the priesthood for protection and substance and shelter.
5.     Mothers nurture their children and reinforce the gospel principles in the home.
6.    And extended families and fellow church members have a responsibility to assist families when they suffer damage, be it death, illness or a falling away.  

8.     We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
By Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander Of the Seventy:
“It is a frightful thought to be in a condition in which there is no choice and no personal accountability. Yet there are many who find this alternative attractive. For me, one of the most obvious characteristics of an anti-Christ is the teaching that one need not be accountable for his sins. Nehor falsely testified that “all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life” (Alma 1:4).
We know that to be false.
On my Google + account I follow a political group.  There are thousands of people in the group but it seems that there is a handful of people that continually post.  From what they say, I can see the eroding factor in the family, we call it a disintegration, but they look at under the mantle of equal rights.  They rationalize that within the confines of being “good” people that two men or two women can raise children to no ill affect.  I submit to you that is not true.
Many of them vilify Christians and the doctrine of family and marriage.  Many Christian religions cater to this perversion of God’s will.  Brenda and I had the opportunity to attend an alternative lifestyle marriage between two women after it became law in Illinois to do so.  It was held in this very old lovely cathedral style church in downtown Elgin.  It was officiated by two Ministers, a man and a woman that tag-teamed the ceremony.  The ministers motivation to practicing a ceremony so contrary to the scriptures, even only the Bible they profess to adhere to is beyond my understanding.
We were not there as a show of support for the marriage, but because one of the people getting married was a family member and went as a show of love for her.  In any case, it was painful to watch as our spirits were hurting at the outward display of God’s will being circumvented and lionized by the government of Illinois.   Which takes us to the last paragraph. Emphasis mine.

9.      We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.
Joseph Smith in a meeting said:  “There is one more thing I wish to speak about, and that is political economy. It is our duty to concentrate all our influence to make popular that which is sound and good, and unpopular that which is unsound. ’Tis right, politically, for a man who has influence to use it, as well as for a man who has no influence to use his. From henceforth I will maintain all the influence I can get. In relation to politics, I will speak as a man; but in relation to religion I will speak in authority.”

I had, early this month, the opportunity to have a gospel principled discussion with our daughter that lives in Pennsylvania.  She had just recently changed to a non-denominational church because the church she was attending was more than teaching politics, but mandating compliance to vote the preachers way on issues of the day.  He was vigorous in his sermons on the topics so much so by telling them they would go to hell if not in alignment with his views, which according to him were God’s view.
We as church members have been told over and over what is right in God’s eyes and to participate and vote our conscience.  No church leader will raise up here and tell you to vote for Trump or Sanders even though sometimes some of us might wish they would.  Away from the pulpit, I suspect that anyone would be happy to let you know how they feel about current events if asked.  Even as Joseph Smith strove to make the church understand that for the church he was the authority and for politics’ he was speaking for himself.
We know, as we have related in this Proclamation on the Family, what the Lord expects of us.  When we study the issues of the day and go to the ballot box or exercise our influence where it has effect we will align our thinking and actions in accordance to our knowledge of the restored gospel and how it relates to the family. 
In this is the way love and appreciation can be cultivated in the family.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Vietnam, one story of loss

Not Letting Go
By Emmett Hall

1 – Iowa

In a cloud of trailing tan dust late-spring 1969 two Marine officers in dress blues drove their white Plymouth away from the pale yellow two-story farm house belonging to the Slaters.  It was set back in the corner of ten thousand acres of cornfields in rural Poke County, Iowa.  
Expressionless, Tilly watched the dust settle back on the road from the side porch that faced the barn.  Irwin stood just behind her with his weathered hand on her shoulder.   
In three to six weeks, the Marines told them, their son's body, Lieutenant John Slater, would arrive at Des Moines International Airport for them to claim.  A survivor assistance officer would be contacting them in the next few days to help with the arrangements. A flash of anger sparked in her aching heart as she thought of her vibrant son that was to be gone for a short time was reduced to an arrangement like cut flowers to be displayed and cast away.
Her initial apprehension about John joining the Marines after graduating from college had come home to roost.  She glanced down at the fifty-thousand-dollar check in her hand and let it drop.  Pivoting out from under Irwin’s hand, Tilly went back in the house. 
Irwin watched as a light breeze carried the paper into the bed of crimson red tulips.  Many of the heavy tulip heads broke their stems along the flower bed edge toppling them over to lay on the manicured green lawn; wilting.  Just yesterday all the flowers were all standing tall.
The screen door slammed shut behind Tilly as she went in jarring Irwin out of his stupor.  He didn’t remember stepping down off the porch to retrieve the check, but there it was in his hand.  Raising the check up to a cloudless vivid blue sky, he could see it was a United States Treasury check full of little square holes with the warning "Do not fold, spindle or mutilate" in small print below the issuer's identification.  He had never seen anything like it, but he knew what it was. John had written from Officers Candidate School (OCS) in Quantico, VA that they paid him with a computer punch card that cashed just like a regular check.

The foot-long spring attached to the screen door creaked as he pulled it open and went in.  It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the living room lighting that was always dim mid-morning because the faux walnut paneling, and furnishings, even the light fern green recliner didn’t pull in much light from the sun climbing up on the other side of the house.  He walked sluggishly into the kitchen and put the check on the wall phone shelf, then took a deep breath, and looked at his wife. 
Tilly was a little taller than average at five-foot-eight, but not the willowy woman she had been up to her forties.  She was still strong even with having gained an extra thirty pounds over the past few years.  Her hair was a dark brunette with a few wisps of gray appearing in the part across the top of her head.  At 48 she still looked fetching to him. He watched her methodically wash the breakfast dishes.  She dipped one cereal bowl in the soapy water and swirled the inside of it with a yellow and green dishcloth, scraping some stubborn oatmeal off with her fingernail.  Satisfied she dropped it in the fresh water in the other half of the sink.  When that half filled up with the breakfast dishes, she pulled them out and put them on a wooden drying rack on the counter.  Popping out the plunger, she stared out the window.  The water vacated the sink with a sucking sound.  She didn't move to rinse the soap as she usually did.  Irwin stepped up to her side touching her arm.
"Tilly?"  She didn't move.  "Tilly, Honey,” he implored.
Jerking her arm away, she turned and strode over to the hallway and down the hall, she turned on him as he followed.  "You told him it was okay to sign up," she growled.
Irwin defended himself. “I tried,” He said.  “He’s twenty-two; there was nothing I could do.”
“Was twenty-two.” Tilly barked.  "You killed him."  She opened the bedroom door and slammed it behind her.  The lock clicked with a resounding snap, shattering Irwin’s heart with silence.


Seven months earlier John Slater strode down the ramp of the C-130 MAC (Military Airlift Command) transport in Saigon with twenty other men of mixed military types, Army, Navy and Air Force.  The heat off the tarmac was sweltering reminding him of his Uncles Bill’s glass-blowing kiln when you opened the door to it, and the heat belted you in the face.  In seconds he stained the armpits and neckline of his fatigues.  He had changed out of his dress uniform on the jet during the sixteen-hour flight from Hickam AFB at Pearl Harbor.  Looking out at the surroundings, he could see the low-slung mountains in the distance through the heat rippling in waves across the field on the other side of the runway.  Pretty view, he thought.  Not at all like the flat expanse of farmland that went on for miles back home.  The humidity in Iowa sucked he had felt; this was miserable. Shifting the sea bag to his left shoulder so he could return salutes if necessary, he moved along with the rest of the men to the terminal.   He saw to the right of the double glass doors marked International Arriving was a single white metal door that had a sign over it marked U.S. Military Arriving.  They all clustered around it entering one at a time. 
Inside John saw four gray metal desks.  A two foot by a five-foot sign hanging from the ceiling said ENLISTED, three of the desks were under it.  The sign indicating OFFICERS had one desk directly below it.   He and two others peeled off from the group and headed to it.  An Army corporal with his sleeve tied in a knot above where the elbow should have been sat on a wooden chair behind a stack of papers and logbooks.  The Corporal extended his remaining arm palm up.  John kept looking at the empty sleeve not feeling sure how he thought about it.
“Orders, Sir,” the corporal gestured with his fingers.
“Sorry, Corporal Lowe,” John read his name from the tag sewn above the breast pocket.  He was puzzled as to why a wounded man was here processing new arrivals.  “Why are you here?” He gestured to the missing arm.
“Oh this,” Lowe grinned nodded at his missing arm.  “Light duty, Sir.”  He dropped the papers on the desk and scrawled John’s information into a large green log book. Taking a date stamp, he pounded the cover page of John’s orders, glanced up at the white faced 24-hour wall clock and wrote in the time, and handed the sheaf of papers back to him.  “There is an Officer's canteen on the second floor, Sir.  If you would wait there, someone will be along shortly to take you to your unit.” 
*  *  *
John looked at his watch.  Two hours had passed since his checking in. A squat couch manufactured by Asians for the short Asian stature he was sure, had a small coffee table in front of it.  To stand up was a long haul, John smiled after climbing to his feet for his second cup of coffee.  It was comfortable enough to sit on when he stretched his legs out straight. 
  Pondering about Lowe and his missing arm for a time, made him wonder if, perhaps, had he chosen wisely in joining the Marines.  Up until Lowe, he never had a second thought about signing up except for the way his mom took the news.  He almost changed his mind because it made her so sad and upset.  She was his best friend.  When he needed a confidant, she was the one he turned to, even more than Dad, Mom understood him.  Mom never missed a debate match or any sports event.  He could always look out and see her beaming face somewhere in the crowd.  He always performed better knowing she would turn to the people next to her and tell them, “That’s my son.”  
Examining his feelings again after seeing Lowe, he decided that he was where he needed to be.  He could utilize his talents best in quelling the communist encroachment and free the South Vietnamese.   Sacrifice for a few years was a small price to pay for doing the right thing.  
Now he was starting to get irritated with the wait.  He had already declined the advances of three different lovely barflies, all wanting to show him a good time in the first half-hour of his showing up there.  They finally caught on he wasn’t interested and sat in a cluster at the end of the counter to buzz each new arrival to the canteen.   
John was sure he could stand a spoon in the coffee.  He decided not to go for another cup. It started out tasting like crap and got worst with the following two cups.  Then he began to worry that his ride had come while he was in the can for the third time.  No, he reasoned whoever was supposed to find him would have checked there.  He started to wonder how long did it usually take as a tall, burly soldier in fatigue trousers and dark green T-shirt slammed the door open and yelled in the club room.  “Lieutenant Slater!”
“Here,” He yelled back as he jumped up grabbing the sea bag.  “Over here.”
The soldier strode over to John and looked down on him.  John thought this is a first.  Rarely at his six-foot-three inches tall did anyone look down on him.  “I’m Sargeant Smith, Sir.  I’ll take that for you.”  Reaching over he effortlessly relieved John of his sea bag.  “Got a jeep outside. Let’s get going before the damn thing runs off.”
The open vehicle careened right and then left, then right again as Smith deftly applied the gas, then brakes while weaving around bicycles and pedicabs.   “So, Sir, you’re the new X.O.”  It wasn’t a question as he raised his voice over the horn.
“That’s right Sergeant.  Do you know what’s up?  John asked.  He had learned from the NCOs in Officers Candidate School that the Sergeant’s ran the units and knew everything there was to know.
"Here’s what I know.  I’m sure the Captain will fill you in on the details.  We'll get ferried in country by the 20th Special Forces squadron.  They’re called the Green Hornets, a tough bunch of flyboys.  They’ve gotten shredded a few times. 
Ours is a new unit. Most of the men in the platoon are drawn from other units already here.  I think about a third will be new meat.  What we are to do is protect the CBs.  Those are Navy construction squids; you know, sailors, that run bulldozers to push back a zone from the firebase out about a hundred yards or so.  That way the gooks can’t sneak up on us.  These huge Sikorsky CH-53 helicopters can pick up a small bulldozer and set it down in the middle of the jungle. Crazy stuff.   So, we’ve plenty to look forward to, Sir.” 
A gun goes off nearby.  Startled John whips his head around.
“Not a problem, sir, they’re a couple of blocks over.” 
Suddenly standing on the brakes to avoid running down an ox laden with ceramic pots John braced himself with his hands on the dashboard and side of the windshield.

It was the third time John ordered Private Riggs to take to the mound on the north perimeter and lay down fire.  Now John’s temper flared to find Riggs huddled in the supply cave dug in the near center of the firebase.  "Riggs!  Get your ass out there now,” John screamed at him. 
John kicked him in the backside, grabbed a handful of his shirt and pulled him off the ground and threw him out the mouth of the hole.  Riggs rifle skidded across the dirt as he rolled unceremoniously into a heap.  "Get on the north perimeter.  Report to Sargeant Smith.  If you can’t find him watch for the Hueys and lay cover fire when they get here."  He was fed up with Riggs, a skater of the first order from the moment he reported in.  Skaters were scum, in John’s estimation.  They worked harder at getting out of work than if they would just do the job in the first place.  John kicked him in the ass again.  "You're on report, you stinking coward."
Riggs scrambled to avoid the second kick and didn't make it.  John was satisfied as the private headed out north, just as a mortar round buried itself deep in a soft pile of dirt created by the excavation of the supply hole and went off. 
The ground absorbed most of the shock but, there was still enough energy from the blast to pick John up and slam him into the side of the supply cave entrance.  John arched his back against the door plank then rolled forward and stood shaking his head side to side to clear the buzzing in his skull.  Where the hell was his helmet?  Oh, he flashed a grin at himself ruefully, it’s still on his head.  Every pump of his heart sent a sensation through his brain that was decidedly uncomfortable.  Then it slowly subsided, and he looked around.  Blood was oozing from his shoulder and calf.  His flak jacket had half-dozen tears in it over his chest and side exposing the ceramic plates.  Well, he thought, the damn thing does work. Other than that he felt okay.
"Slater," the Captain yelled as he trotted up and handed him a radio and map.  The captain looked at him, reached up and brushed the dirt off John’s face.  “You okay?”
John nodded then answered.  “Yeah, I’m fine.  A mortar.”
            "Okay then. We’re a half-hour out on Hueys for evacuation.  Air cover is on its way.  Call in coordinates for the F4's when they get here.  The call is Two-Bravo-Charlie.  They’re Hotspot One and Two.”  Then he ran to the east line barking orders as he went.  John scanned where he last saw Riggs.  He was gone.  That was good, at least he wasn’t hurt or not too badly.  Another mortar hit farther out.  John was pelted with dirt like a rainfall only dry was irritating, he crouched and head for the HQ shack.
John climbed belly first on top of the Command Headquarters shack, the tallest point on the base and took bearing and range from the markings laid in the fire zone and put them on the map.  The sun had just dropped behind the trees on the distant hill casting long shadows that made it dark enough to start seeing the North Vietnamese’s tracer rounds.  John had their coordinates now. 
"Two-Bravo-Charlie, this is Hotspot One."  The radio crackled.  "We have some barbecue for you; where would you like it?"
"Hotspot One, this is Two-Bravo-Charlie," John spoke into the radio.  "How much can you give us?"
The radio crackled again, "We only have time for one pass and have to move on.  Make it good."
"Roger that," John said and gave the coordinates.  Seconds later blinding white light erupted from the jungle 200 yards northeast as the jets tore the air.  John felt the shock wave of the Napalm igniting then the waft of heat as a 150-yard segment of jungle 50 yards wide disappeared into flame.  Twenty seconds later another section of jungle evaporated.  Everything went silent as the glow of the jets exhaust faded like cooling cigarette lighters in the distance.  Then they were gone.
Eighteen Marines and six SeaBees slowly stood up almost as if synchronized.  The Captain ran over to John.  "Wow, John.  That was a damn fine call."  He looked at the fiery patch of ground beyond the fire-free zone.  “That was spot on."  After a couple of minutes by John’s side watching the jungle burn the Captain turned his head John’s way.  "Roster the men, have everyone get their gear for evac.  Send four my way to the northeast corner to help with the wounded.  They go first."
Two hours later John heard the beating of the Hueys blades.  There were eight of them.  Captain had seven wounded men, and four dead staged.  They were already moving across the graded ground as the first of the helicopters set down avoiding the Caterpillar with a track blown off because of the flare the Captain laid on it.  John lost count somewhere around twenty or twenty-one and finally gave up on the head count of men as they loaded up in the helicopters in the dark.  
The sun had set fully and with a Huey at his back he scanned the base.  Jonh knew there was nothing to see other than a few small fires from the shelling they took, but it felt strange to be abandoning it.  He jumped into the last Huey as it lifted.  It was pitch black in the chopper.  It looked like he had this ride all to himself.  He turned and sat on the edge of the door with his boots on the landing skid as the chopper quickly climbed through two hundred feet.  It irked him at having to leave the firebase unfinished but figured they’d be back in a few days.  Then he heard, "Kick me in the ass, you prick."  He felt the boot hit him in the back.

John grasped the barrel of the 50-cal machine gun sticking out the door of the Huey as he was propelled out and off the ledge.  He dangled for a fraction of a second then felt the cold barrel slip from his hand.


Irwin and his brother Bill sat on the porch swing sipping iced tea.  Both were wearing blue bid coveralls even though it was Sunday.  Irwin wasn't wearing shoes, just white socks after changing out of his church clothes.  He had no intention of going any further than the porch today.
Bill took a sip, "Doesn't look like any change in Tilly’s feelings.  She doesn’t look good, being as skinny as she’s is. You think a doctor could do her any good?"
"She said anything since the military was here?"
"Nothing since her telling me I was to blame for his dying."  Irwin sighed.  "Haven't heard her voice since then.  Like she doesn’t let on that John was my son too."  Irwin sighed again.  “I have to be strong for her.  I won’t get on to her about it in her fragile condition.  I just have to be patient, and strong, strong…”  His voice trailed off softly as he visibly sagged on the swing.
"It's been almost six months since we laid John to rest,” Bill noted.     She won't talk to Sarah either or me.  I don't understand it."  As an afterthought, he told Irwin, "Sarah won't even come over with me anymore.  Breaks her heart to see Tilly as she is.”
"I can’t get her to see a doctor,” Irwin told him.  “Far as I know, she won't talk to anyone.  Anybody comes over she won’t come to the door, and if they catch her in the yard, she just turns her back on them and goes in the house.”
Irwin continued.  “I had John dressed in his red flannel shirt for the showing.  He hated coveralls and never wore them.  I would like to have put him in his uniform, but I had the feeling it wouldn’t sit well with Tilly.  He was in red or blue flannel near year round.  That’s what she remembers of him.”

Irwin went on, “Tilly never said a word at the funeral.  She looked into the coffin, touched John's face and started crying.  It was the first time she’d cried.  I guess that was the first time she accepted it."  His voice cracked a bit.  Bill looked at him waiting grimly.    
Irwin sighed again.  "I hear her break down every day.  Some days several times.  She doesn't go out.  Hardly eats, you see her skinny as a split rail.  She’d work in the kitchen all afternoon poundn’ out meat for country fried steak or she’d make three or four apple lattice pies.  Then she’d take the pies out and be giving them to the men, set the steak and gravy in front of me and go to John’s bedroom. Some nights she’d fall asleep in there on his bed."
"John’s dying hit her hard,” Bill said.  “The sun rose and set on that boy.  I never saw anyone love someone as much as Tilly loved John short of Jesus Christ Himself.”  
"Oh, I think she loves John more than the Lord much as I hate to say it.  John was everything to her.  Even from the moment we left the hospital after he was born, she fawned over him.  She never let him cry like a baby ought to.  It didn't take long for John to realize he didn't have to ask me for permission for anything. He always went to her, and she rarely said no."  He set his tea on the stool by the swing, rubbed his eyes with gnarled knuckles then pulled a handkerchief from his hind pocket and blew his nose.  "It ain’t natural to outlive your kid.” 
The brothers sat quietly for a bit as they gently rocked the swing in unison. 
“She sat with him for hours, teaching him how to color in the lines.”  Irwin’s words finally caught up with his thoughts.  “She taught him how to read with those silly comic books on Superman, Flash, Green Lantern and that fish guy; he was reading chapter books before he went to kindergarten."  Then he added, “And he understood them too.”
“"No it ain't natural to outlive your kid.” Bill agreed.  Then he asked,  ‘The Marines of all things. Why did John sign up?  He knew it was dangerous.  War is.  We ought to know.”
Irwin remembered both he and Bill served in the Army with their final posting in India after seeing action in North Africa where Bill took a 7.96mm German rifle round through the shoulder fired by an Italian.  When the first Italian restaurant opened in Ames, Bill was ready to go.  No hard feelings he had said.   “You came darn close to losing your arm.  By the time I got you back to the field ambulance you had us drenched in blood.”
“That was a lifetime ago,” Bill said dismissively.   “What about John?” 

Irwin sighed again as his thoughts turned back to his son.  “John felt he had to go.  I think it was the Political Science degree that tipped him over to it.  And he knew how I felt about the Communists during the World War.  He thought the Communists had to be led by Satan.  It was kinda hard to argue against that. But, I tried to convince him it was not the place for him to make a stand.  Tilly threw a tilly-fit.  That’s like a tizzy-fit only ten times worst.  Even then, she didn’t think I’d tried hard enough to keep him home. Tilly said I should have ordered him to stay.”  I
Irwin looked into his tea.  Then took a sip. Setting it back on the stool, he finished his story.  “He was a grown man.  Nothing else to do but wish him well.  For all the good that did.”
Irwin stood up and leaned against the white enameled porch post reclaiming his tea from the stool.  He continued.  “John said something about not letting the North Vietnamese overrun the south. Democracy could very well hang in the balance.  He informed me that a mango farmer could care less about who is in charge of the country when they string chicken guts from tree to tree to help the bugs cross-pollinate the blossoms.” Irwin grinned for a brief moment.  “Can’t imagine where he learned something like that.  John said they would care when the farmers learn they have to turn their whole harvest over to a collective and get a ration back, according to what the communist government thinks they should have.”
“Well, you did your best.”  Bill agreed as he leaned forward and stood up. "Time mends a broken heart, I hear.  Give Tilly, my and Sara’s regards,” Bill told him. “I have to be getting back."  
“Thanks for coming to services with me today.”  Irwin waited on the porch while Bill fetched his church clothes from in the house.  Bill stepped down off the porch, climbed into his pickup, waved and crept out of the driveway crunching the gravel.  Irwin watched and waved back.  Then he turned back to the house where he saw his wife in the recliner lit by the afternoon sun rapidly warming the room.  Irwin eased the screen door shut to quiet the twangy spring.  Then he went over to the other side of the couch and twisted the rod on the blinds shading the room enough to block the direct sun and still let in plenty of light.
Her eyes were closed. Irwin smiled, it was the most peaceful he had seen her since before John’s death.  Over her forest-green shift, she wore the Mother’s Day apron John gave her when he was fifteen with the now not-so-bright pictures of hand sized sunflowers on it.  Her hair had turned white after the Marines came over.  She hacked off the remaining brown hair herself.  Even though he had offered to take her to her hairdresser, she wouldn’t go.   Her hair was getting longer now and much improved, yet she was still a fright.
He had been momentarily shocked at her last declaration to him.  He knew John’s death wasn’t his fault, and he thought Tilly was lashing out and would reconcile with her feelings.  That never happened.  He didn’t even try after the first few weeks to engage her.  She went on nearly as though he didn’t exist.  
She locked him out of the master bedroom.  He slept in the guest room since the two Marines had come to the house even when she slept in John’s room.  The bedroom arrangement had become a silent, angry issue that he carried till she cried over John’s body in the funeral parlor.  His anger dissipated like an early morning mist fleeing from the sun.  He couldn’t be mad at her anymore.  There was no direction he could find to go that would bring her back from where ever her grief had taken her.  He was at a loss, too.  He would wait.
She had the framed graduation picture of her and John together laying in her lap.  On top of that was a picture of him in his uniform smiling under a beautiful trellised bougainvillea that her niece Frances took of him in California when he passed through on the way to Vietnam.  The other hand held a fired cast of ruddy red clay, John's footprints from when he was a month old.  Irwin slipped the cast from her hand, and she didn't move.  He touched her cheek with the back of his hand then sank slowly to his knees next to her and rested his head on her cold arm.  His wait was over.