Monday, December 31, 2012

The Untold History

      I have enjoyed watching Olver Stone's The Untold History of the United States.  A good friend of mine described it to another friend as "taking everything you' ve ever heard about American history, and flipping it on its head."  Unfortunately, that is not too much of an exaggeration, though it speaks more to our general ignorance of real history rather than to Stone's well-known agenda.  I find his account to be closer to the truth, rather than myth, end of things.
     Taki Theodoracopoulos, of all people, has some nice things to say about Stone in a recent column.  One would not normally think of the two as natural allies.  Taki admits as much.

Oliver Stone’s The Untold History of the United States is a very courageous effort to set the record straight. Stone is an old adversary of mine with whom I’ve recently made my peace. I agree very much on certain parts of his extremely controversial theories about his country. But unlike most other historians, Oliver has paid his dues. He won a Bronze Star in Vietnam as a grunt, whereas he could have gotten deferments, since he was at Harvard and near the top of his class. Stone sees Uncle Sam as a rapacious imperialist. He cites American repression of the Filipino struggle for independence around the turn of the 20th century and the repeated US interventions and covert operations in Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. He names capitalism as the bogeyman. He also says that the United States, not the Soviet Union, bore the lion’s share of responsibility for perpetuating the Cold War.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Treasure Book

          From all accounts, everyone will be reading books on Kindles within five years time.  Please go on without me.  I appreciate the advances in technology as much as anyone.  I revel in the ease of online research--for any subject imaginable.  But if the future portends books that are not books at all, but mere passing images on a screen, then this is the stop where I get off.

     I recently purchased--after months of careful deliberation--a 1932 first edition of W. E. D. Allen's A History of the Georgian People.  I am slowly assembling books on the history and culture of the Caucasus region.   Allen's work is hard to find, but an essential component of such a collection.  I found only one copy online, in Adelaide, Australia.  What a book this is--running about 400 pages, with incredible plates and illustrations, and not one, but three fold-out maps!

     William E. D. Allen (1901-1973), a Belfast native, was an interesting character in his own right.  He covered the Greco-Turkish War as a military correspondent, and later the Rif War in North Africa.  During the 1920s, he traveled extensively in the Soviet Union, and stumbled upon Georgia along the way.  He published this history when only 31 years of age.  He would write other books, but Allen always came back to the Caucasus, his first love.   He served in Parliament for a term, and during the 1930s became involved with Owen Mosley's Fascist movement in England, though there is speculation that he was, in fact, a M15 informant.  Allen covered the war in Abysinnia in the 1943.  Finally, in 1949, he returned to Ulster--and the family business--along with his third wife, Nathalie Maximovna.

    Allen never attained great reknown--outside Georgiophilic circles--as an historian.  And yet, he is an engaging writer, one who sweeps the reader up in his narrative.  For example, he wrote the following in the first chapter:

To cross the Caucasus imposes on the mind a great significance.  It is one of the journeys in life which are worth the making--and a certain tribulation.  You have left behind that drear Eurasian steppe--the breeding-ground of slaves and conquerors and passivistic thoughts, where the mists and flat forests and the oozing swamps can maudle men.  You are among the high shining mountains; the sparkling seas are near; the woods of this uneven country are ever changing--not always the lament birches and mean-visaged pines of the sandy steppe.  You are in the lands of Nearer Asia, where man, among the mountains, between the seas, and in the pellucid sunlight, early grew to prying intellect; lands of vivid life, of doings and undoings, or risings up and fallings down, of splendours and of shambles, of wisdom and of scattering.

Sadly, no one writes history like that today.

     A bookplate in the volume identifies its former owner as Frederic Hardwicke Knight (1911-2008), noted author and photographer.  Adventurous from his early youth, he bummed around Europe in the 1920s and 30s, often working as a photo-journalist.  Hardwicke Knight photographed archeological digs in Greece, was in Spain during the Civil War, crossed Mount Ararat, and finally found himself in Moscow during the Stalinist purges of the late 1930s. Knight registered as a  conscientious objector during World War II and served in the medical corps.  In 1957, he and his family relocated to southern New Zealand.  An avid collector, Knight donated some 20,000 items to a New Zealand museum in 1991.  His remaining items were auctioned-off in Australia in 2010, from whence my book found its way to an Adelaide bookseller.

     But the pages of A History of the Georgian People revealed treasures beyond the mere words themselves.  For starters, three pages of colored plates were stuck inside the front cover.  They depicted medieval Roman Christian religious art--one a profile of Saints Peter and Paul, another of the two saints flanking the Virgin Mary, one of Moses, and finally--the only one that could be considered an icon--a print of Saints Cornelius and Cyprian of Rome.  Someone--probably Knight-scribbled some notes on the side of a couple.  The one of Moses is said to be 11th-century. 

     A faded newspaper was also neatly folded within the front cover.  I carefully unfolded it to find the entire front page (and obviously, page two on the reverse) of the December 26, 1937 edition of the English language Moscow Daily News, sold for 10 kopeks.  The front page contained reports from the Spanish Civil War, a story noting the rise in deposits of Soviet savings banks which, in the paper's opinion, reflected the "constant rise of well-being of Soviet toilers," and the flight of the Soviet dirigible from Moscow to Sverdlovsk, heralding soon-to-be regularly scheduled commercial flights.  Yet the main story on the front page (contained in three articles no less) was the 750th anniversary of the writing of Shota Rustaveli's epic Georgian poem, The Knight in the Panther's Skin.  The fact that Stalin himself was Georgian probably goes a long way towards explaining why this particularly anniversary was such a really, really big deal.

Like the people of the whole of the Soviet Union, freed by the Great Socialist Revolution from exploitation and oppression by native and foreign landlords and capitalists, the Georgian people for the first time in their history possess the necessary political, economic and cultural conditions enabling them to restore, develop and enjoy the best heritage of their past.  The triumph of the Leninist-Stalinist national policy has made it possible for a reborn Georgia to commemorate the Rustaveli anniversary as a truly people's holiday.

The editor goes on at great length in that vein. And, the entire second page is devoted to Rustaveli--with a portrait, excerpts from the work, and analysis of the story and its importance to Georgian cultural history. 

     Hardwicke Knight was in Moscow during this time and undoubtedly purchased the newspaper.  He could have easily placed the article within the pages of the book later on, but I enjoy believing that the book was there with him in Mosocw at that time.  Hardwick Knight was a man of many interests--a book on Georgia history would not be out of place on his bookshelf.

     The next item was a typed, legal-size page, inserted next to a plate depicting Georgian King Irakli II.  The narrative outlines his (presumably Knight's) experiences at the Koban archeological dig "on the Military Road."  (The Military Road connects Tbilisi, by way of a tunnel through the Caucasus, with Russia.)  A little research revealed that the Koban site is in what we would now call North Ossetia.  The archeologists were employing native Kasbek tribesmen to help with the excavation of recently-discovered catacombs.  The workers were digging out the artifacts behind the archeologists' backs and then having their children sell them back the next day.  Knight decided to leave.

I have no desire to remain and work here for the search for untouched tombs is going to be a heartbreaking job and better fitted to the enthusiasm of a bunch of young communists....Archaeology has often been a military undertaking, and there is much to be said for it.  Discipline is most important.

     The next find is an undated "letter to the editor" of the Times of London by the author W. E. D. Allen, then of Tonacombe Manor, Morwenstowe, near Bude, Cornwall.  The letter is titled "Social Structure of Albania," and begins, as follows:

Sir,--The Begverlazzi referred to by your Special Correspondent in Tirana is presumably Shevket Bey Verlaci, who is undoubtedly the richest man in Albania, and who controls a wide area round Elbasan...

Allen knew a thing or two about a great many places, it seems--as did the owner of his book.  In comparison, we know nothing much at all.

     Between pages 274 and 275, I found a folded page with a simple sketch of a woman.  In one sense, it was little more than doodling, but obviously done by someone with artistic talent.  There is no clue as to her identity.

     A few pages further on, a small grainy photograph is inserted.  The pictures shows six children on some sort of cart, with a stone wall for a backdrop.  For someone who later made his career as a photographer, this snapshot is not particularly clear.  Maybe that is why is was stuck between the pages of a book.  One can only guess as to the location of the picture--but I would suggest the southern rim of the old Soviet Union, perhaps at the time of the Koban archaeological dig.

   Finally, there is a short note from Cambridge University Press, dated February 20, 1941 (this, I believe, during the Blitz) to W.W. Hill, Esq., "The Schoolmaster", Toddington Manor, nr. Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.  I do not know how Prof. Hill fits into the narrative.    The publisher regretted to inform him that they would be unable to supply a review copy of W.E.D. Allen's The Ukraine, A History, "as the number of copies available was severely limited.
     I realize that I am merely the caretaker of this book and the treasures it contains.  Perhaps one day it will fall into someone else's care, and I can only hope they get as much enjoyment out of it as I have done.  Try doing that with a Kindle.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dr. Wood on Tolkien and O'Connor

           Dr. Ralph Wood, professor of Literature and Theology at Baylor University, recently delivered two excellent presentations in Tyler, Texas at the invitation of the Kalos Foundation.  Sylvania Church, technically still Baptist--but now something a bit more--hosted the lecture on J.R.R. Tolkien.  The Bishop Gorman Catholic High School library served as site, appropriately enough, for the invitation-only talk on Flannery O'Connor.  I cannot imagine two literary subjects that would be of any greater interest to me.
          Baylor University has come a long way from the days when Brann the Iconoclast characterized the Baylor Board of Regents as "men who could not father an original thought if hurled bodily into the womb of the Goddess of Wisdom."  A good friend of mine was one of several professors recently brought on board, partially in a conscious effort to increase the Orthodox presence on campus.  12% of the student body is Roman Catholic.  If those numbers fail to impress, just remember that this is the premier Baptist college in Texas and the Southwest.
          Dr. Wood, now age 70, grew up in East Texas.  He received a $150 scholarship for one year at the old East Texas State Teachers College in Commerce.  There, in 1962, he attended a rare lecture by Flannery O'Connor (this two years prior to her death.)  The rest, as they say, is history.  He has been studying, lecturing and writing about her ever since--and along the way, introduced young evangelical Protestants to the riches of the Catholic literary tradition (and I lump Russian Orthodox writers in with this as well.)
           Wood remains Baptist, or as he says "Bapto-Catholic."  His somewhat different Baptist church in Waco has cherry-picked some elements of the liturgical calendar, has icons in the classrooms, and tries to convey that the communion service is something more than a memorial.  All well and good, that.  Rather than criticize the inadequacies and severe limitations of the mix-and-match approach, I will just express deep appreciation for the work that he does.  You might say that Dr. Wood is simpatico, and a great and genial friend of Catholic and Orthodox Christians.
          I arrived at the Tolkien lecture fairly early, which gave me time to observe the audience as they filtered in to the sanctuary.  I have been a long time away from such evangelical settings, and I find they now makes me uncomfortable.  Without sounding like a misanthrope, all that chatty, forced-friendly hoo-rawing just strikes me the wrong way. I suppose it was the lack of reverence--no sense of being in a church.  They could have just as easily have been at a concert or football game. [And, I am showing my age here, but I find it hard to stay in the company of people who talk on cell-phones in a restaurant (consequently finding myself eating out less and less) and am still shocked by young people who have not been taught to not wear hats in church.  As you can gather, I am well on my way to being an old crank.]
          Dr. Wood had some harsh things to say to his audiences, if they were listening closely.  He pointed out that the faith espoused by both Tolkien and O'Connor was an "angular" Christianity-- at cross purposes with the world.  He commented that the world one saw on television was the same as in "our churches" (and by this I take it he meant evangelicalism.)  "No difference," he concluded.  In the second lecture, Wood referenced O'Connor's dictum that "sentimentality is to Christianity as pornography is to art."  He told his audience that the next time the "Holy overhead projection screen" descended with the latest praise songs, just to think of it as the unfolding of a Playboy centerfold, for it is exactly the same thing.  He made several scathing references to our obsession with "shopping."  Dr. Wood gently chided one questioner for his use of the word "consumer," and noted its connection to "one who devours." 
           In the Q&A, one lady struggled a bit with her question.  She wondered why all these great literary figures (or at least the ones under discussion) were, well, you know...Catholic? She had hit upon something, however.  Protestants can write great literature, to be sure--just not like this.  Dr. Wood used this as a lead-in to introduce his listeners to the idea of a sacramental world view, and how this could impact literature and the arts.  Another questioner commented that "he just didn't see the salvation story in Tolkien."  Dr. Wood strongly suggested that the problem was not with Tolkien, but with the false premise the man was trying to force upon his literature.  Clearly, if you are expecting a story line akin to that found on the "Christian fiction" aisle at the Lifeway Christian Bookstore, then you are not going to have much use for Tolkien.
          Dr. Wood opined that, if there is a Third Millennium, then Tolkien will still be read, while Lewis will be forgotten.  He also characterized O'Connor as the only great overtly Christian author this country has produced.  The lectures ended too soon for me, but I was fortunate enough to have a good visit with the professor after his last presentation.              

Thursday, November 08, 2012

No Surprises

A day or two before every Presidential election, I find some red and blue map colors, and shade-in an electoral college map with my predictions for the election.  In 2008, I called it exactly right on every state.  This cycle, I missed by one—I was playing it cautious and predicted Florida would only just go for Romney instead of Obama.  I am not a political psychic.  I read from a number of different publications, both online and in print.  I follow a number of blogs—preferably non-ideological realists who know what they are talking about (Nate Silver and Daniel Larison come to mind.)  I enjoy the discussions on Morning Joe.  The one thing I absolutely never do is watch, listen to or read from any of the Fox personalities and their imitators. 

With the exception of the close call in Florida, election night was uneventful, playing-out just as I expected it to do.  Nate Silver called it exactly right, and had been doing so for the last several weeks.  The aggregate of the polls were right on the money.   In short, no surprises.

Just for fun on Tuesday night, I switched over to Fox to see what was going on.  They were basically sitting there with their mouths agape, while Karl Rove frantically shuffled papers.  I tuned-in at about the time the Fox personalities were refusing to admit they had lost Ohio, after every network (including their own) had called it for President Obama.  Shortly thereafter, their info babe interviewed one of the house commentators, asking him if he thought that Romney had been too much of a gentleman, not responding to Obama’s negative campaign against him.  Now it was time for my mouth to be agape.  Admittedly, President Obama waged a very aggressive campaign in his own right.  But if there is one constant throughout this ordeal, it was the “Truth Be Damned” nature of the Romney campaign, throwing anything and everything at the President, refusing to back-down when their accusations were disproved by impartial sources, and giving tacit approval to the ravings of fringe wing-nuts.  Clearly, Fox has it own facts, and its own narrative, and they have proclaimed it so long that they thought it was actually True.  Never believe your own PR.

I had my facebook page open during the debate, posting a couple of mild comments as the news came in.  I became aware of the reaction in my part of the world:  shock, incredulity, disbelief, anger, and end-of-the-country prognostications.  Soon, a faint hope appeared among them—maybe Ohio had not really gone to Obama.  After all, Karl Rove thought so.  Posts appeared—with lots of all caps and exclamation marks, and encouragements to Pray! Pray! Pray!  (In all my life, first as a Protestant and now as an Orthodox Christian, I have never, ever prayed for a particular candidate to win any election.  I have always found such unseemly, and not at all the sort of thing I need to pray for.)  But the point is this:  everyone was completely floored by the course of events.  Not only did they actually believe that Romney was going to win, but could not imagine circumstances where he would not.  After all, everyone was set to “take their country back.”  What is clear is that Fox seemed to be their only source for what is going on in the country, and many found themselves unprepared for reality.
           There are lessons to be learned from this election.  The demographic changes are here to stay.  The real world, as opposed to the conspiratorial world, is not such a scary place.  Come on over and check it out.

Daniel Larison has it about right, below, and here:

But the problem wasn’t just that conservative media gave Romney supporters bad information. The people in conservative media also seem to have been fully taken in by the idea that Romney would win and would do so in decisive fashion, and the campaign came to believe its own propaganda, too. As York notes, Romney didn’t have a prepared concession speech. It apparently never occurred to his campaign that he would lose. That’s not so remarkable by itself, but it is just one part of the overall pattern of the Romney campaign and the conservative movement’s reaction to Obama. Romney spent years running against a fantasy record and campaigning on a series of gross distortions and falsehoods, and so it shouldn’t be too surprising that his campaign and his conservative media boosters didn’t have the firmest grip on political reality.

When you pretend that you’re running against another Jimmy Carter, and you actually start to believe it, you’re not fully prepared to compete with a sitting president whose record and approval ratings are nothing like Carter’s. Organizing an entire campaign on such flawed assumptions eventually came back to haunt them. Romney and his allies not only didn’t understand their opponent, but they went out of their way to make sure that they misunderstood him, and in any kind of contest that is usually a recipe for failure.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Summer Travels: Road to Rowena

    In recent months, I have traveled twice to San Angelo, Texas on business.  For those unfamiliar with a Texas road map, that is a drive of about 370 miles from my home.  You leave the South far behind long before you reach San Angelo.  Incredibly, El Paso is still another 400 miles further on.  Although vistas such as the one above might suggest that the road holds long stretches of nothing much at all, such is not the case.  There is plenty to hold your interest--that is (as I like to say, with apologies to Evelyn Waugh)--if you are interested in things.

     One such place of interest to me is the dried-up cotton town of Rowena.  The highway between Ballinger and San Angelo just barely clips one corner of the town.  About all one can see from the highway is a number of boarded-up cotton gins and abandoned farm machinery--but the impressive spire of a church indicates that there might be reason to double-back and poke around a bit.  And of course, I did that very thing.

     If they were to ever make a remake of The Last Picture Show, Rowena could definitely be a contender for the movie shoot.  The town was obviously once a going concern, laid out properly, about 6 blocks by 8 blocks.  The downtown area, was completely boarded-up.  The most impressive commercial building was the old bank, built in1909, according to the plaque on the wall.  I thought I detected a light on inside, but there was no visible sign of activity.  There were 2 Suburbans parked behind the building, so perhaps the banker and a teller were keeping the doors open.  Rowena did boast, however, at least 5 watering holes:  a VFW Hall, a S.P.J.S.T. Hall, a Sons of Hermann Hall, D. J.'s Bar and the Turning Row Bar.  It is nice to see a community with their priorities still in order.
      I drove out the other end of town and turned around at the cemetery, or I should say, cemeteries.  All three of them were lined-up in a row:  the large and well-kept Catholic Cemetery, the Protestant Cemetery about half that size, and the much smaller and somewhat forlorn Evergreen Cemetery-a branch of the mega-cemetery of the same name in the county seat.  And so, I was able to form some conclusions about the town's beginnings:  an old German-Czech Catholic West Texas cotton town.

     I passed by the old two-story stucco schoolhouse, long closed but still in relatively good shape.  The only real going-concern in the town seemed to be the St. Joseph's Catholic Church, a graceful brick edifice, accompanied by hall and expansive school--which apparently now served the community in place of the public school.   Rowena was not completely a Catholic company-town, however.  I saw another building that had once obviously been an old stucco church, now converted to a residence.  But the oddest thing, I found on the edge of town.  I ran across a small frame church--probably from the late 189s or early 1900s--on a largely residential street, 2 or 3 blocks east of the main street.  The ruins of a much larger brick church were immediately adjacent, on the same lot.  The cornerstone read:  Deutsche Evangelische Zoar Kirche 1928.  I found it interesting that the German was still in play, even at that late date.  This was one of those solid churches built in the popular style of that day--with outside stone steps leading to the sanctuary above, and classrooms below.  These German Evangelicals were wise not to tear down their older church upon building this impressive replacement.  In time, the newer building burned--or at least the top of it did.  Not willing to waste anything, the congregation tore off the rubble, made a flat roof and retained the rooms below--and the stairway now leading nowhere.  The congregation moved back into the old building, and used the rump newer building as their classrooms and hall.  The old Zoar German Evangelical Church is no more immune to the trajectory of American Protestantism than any other evangelical church, and so now it is, as one would expect, the Zoar Community Church.  At the bottom of their sign, it reads Se habla espanol.  In fact, the only people I saw in the entire town were Hispanics.  No doubt the descendants of the German pioneers still own much of the surrounding farmland, and keep the lights on  and the beer flowing in the Sons of Hermann Hall.  But for all practical purposes, German Rowena has smoothly transitioned into Hispanic Rowena.  Having a really nice Catholic Church and school in place just makes it all the easier.  There's some irony here, I suppose.  And many in my state would be alarmed at the demographic shift I have casually described.  I am not among their number.

     On my way back, I made a  slight detour at Glen Rose, home of the Dinosaur Valley State Park.  A number of years ago, dinosaur tracks were discovered in the old bed of the Paluxy River, and the site has became something of a tourist attraction in those parts.  I did not go to the State Park, and was not inclined to peer at the dinosaur tracks.  Science, paleontology included, has never interested me.  What did amuse me was the human absurdity clustered just outside the park.  Billboards all around promote the "Dinosaur World" exhibit, which imply that it is a component of the real dinosaur tableau presented by the State Park.  Not so.  "Dinosaur World" is a cheesy tourist trap just outside the State Park entrance.  The entrance looks like it came right out of "The Flintstones," with pterodactyls perched atop for effect.  And there's no way to miss the T-Rex out front.  But lest one get carried-away with all this paleontological secularism, a Christian fundamentalist group operates the "Creation Evidence Museum" on the road before "Dinosaur World."    Frankly, this is not a battle with which Orthodox Christians need to unduly concern themselves.  Friend-of-this-blog Owen linked to an interesting (if very lengthy) article by Deacon Andrew Kuraev, here, which sets out an Orthodox perspective on such things.   

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Summer Travels: Ancestral Trails

     I took a week off this summer to research old family haunts in two locales-the Piedmont of North Carolina and the Pequea Valley of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  My wfie was more than happy to stay home and forego the thrill of spending every day poking around old graveyards and archives.  Some people are just strange that way, I guess.
Old Fourth Creek Presbyterian Burying Ground,
Statesville, NC.
     The trip hardly made a dent in my budget.  I taught a seminar in July and had already designated that honorarium for this purpose.  Recently discovered frequent-flyer miles covered the flight and car rental.  Motel 6 and Red Roof Inns helped out on the lodging.  My itinerary took me from Raleigh to Charlotte to the Salisbury-Statesville area, then up through the Shenandoah Valley and across a tip of West Virginia and Maryland into the Pennsylvania Dutch country, then back down the spine of Delaware and the Eastern Shore, across and through the Chesapeake bridge/tunnel into North Carolina and back to Raleigh.  I have been trying to compose this post for 3 weeks (months now,) but have hardly had the time to devote to it.  So, instead of a coherent, flowing narrative, I believe I will just record my impressions in bullet-point fashion, to-wit:

North Carolina in general--I found it to be a very appealing region-as nice as Virginia, but without the pretense; Southern, to be sure, but not part of Crazy Land.  I like nothing better than driving the backroads, and North Carolina offers up some of the prettiest farmland to be seen anywhere.  People go there for either the beach or the mountains, but it seems to me, the best part is in the middle.  This is what Texas could be if we had cooler weather, more rain and we picked up our trash.  I understand that the state has its own bat-shit crazy politicos, but even here it seems to be more out of a sense of tradition than from ideology.

Charlotte-The city reminds me of Dallas (not a compliment.)  I stayed there as a convenient base, as I needed to tour a historical home on the city's outskirts, and the other areas I wanted to research were only a county or two away.  I did enjoy a good seafood supper at a Greek-run restaurant one night.  Three generations were working the front, with the 5 year old son taking customers to their table.  The place was painted all in aqua, with fish murals on the wall so that you felt like you were in an aquarium.  It reminded me of a bizarre establishment we visited 25 years ago in Yorktown, Virginia--also run by Greeks.  The plastic seagulls dangling from the ceiling was a nice touch.  No matter.  The fish was excellent.

Rowan and Iredell Counties-These adjoining counties and their seats-Salisbury and Statesville-are the best of the Piedmont, in my view.  My favorite experience turned out to be a visit with my distant kinswoman, a no-nonsense farmer straight out of Flannery O'Connor, she being the 7th-generation of our family to live in the 1774 brick country house built by Capt. Thomas Cowan.  There are plenty of little communities to poke around, and much to hold your interest, that is, if you are interested in things.  The pirates' graves at Thyatira is a favorite, as is the grave of that old faker claiming to be Marshall Ney.  Old Fourth Creek Burying Ground (not cemetery, not graveyard, but burying ground) is as scenic as any.  Cleveland (formerly Cowansville) looks like it could be right down the road from Mayberry.  And finally, there is the Epic Chop House in Mooresville, which will remain a destination if I ever again find myself within 100 miles.

Davidson College-Southern Ivy League, don't you know.  Perfect college in perfect little college town--all leafy and red-bricked and professory and Presbyterianish.  In other words, as dull as dishwater.  Every single building on campus, and I do mean every building, looked as though it was built at the same exact same time, out of the exact same batch of bricks. I firmly believe that red-bricks should be rationed to Presbyterians.  They are as thick on the ground in the Piedmont as Baptists are back home, and you can spot their identical red-brick churches a mile away.

Raleigh--a great little city, believe it or not.  The Texan in me just has to note that we have courthouses bigger than their statehouse, but it is all nicely done nevertheless.  The state capitol is anchored on 4 corners with 4 churches--Christ Episcopal on the NE corner, First Baptist (black) on the SE corner, First Pres on the SW corner and First Baptist (white) on the NW corner. Interestingly, both First Baptists claim descent from the original First Baptist in Raleigh.  The Methodists didn't make the cut on the 4 corners, but their campus occupies an entire block, one block west.  Another Episcopal church and a Catholic church round out the religious offerings within a block of the capitol.  And yes, Raleigh does have a nightlife--a good selection of cafes and bars downtown.  I found a Turkish restaurant in the restored old City Market, south of Moore Park.  I enjoyed a pide' and got to talk at length with the owner.  But the most amazing thing about Raleigh has to be the Trolley Pub.   This is a rolling pub, powered by the pedaling patrons.  The weird thing is, the pub is moving 90% off the direction they are all pedaling.  I don't have to understand it, I just know its neat as all get out to watch--and hopefully one day, pedal myself.

Fearrington Village--a distant cousin encouraged me to check out this place on my way, even though they would be away from home at the time.  This is an old dairy farm, now transformed into one of those precious new-old retirement communities.  She raved about the bookstore and the shops and eateries on the "town commons."  I checked it out--dairy barn still there with real cows and goats, bookstore with overpriced books that didn't interest me in the least, places to eat scones and socialize--picture perfect, except for all the rootless and well-fixed old people in khaki shorts and golf caps, wandering about, looking for something to hold their interest until they die.

Radio preachers on a long day of driving--Leaving Statesville about 10:30, I pressed on towards Pennsylvania, by way of the Shenandoah Valley (which was not as beautiful as I remembered, but it may just be my prejudice for North Carolina over Virginia.)  I opted for a Sirius Radio package when I bought my truck back in 2008.  And so, I have become spoiled to listening to my news shows and talk radio.  I never much listened to music while traveling, anyway, which in the old days used to drive my wife and son up the wall, as I was constantly fiddling with the radio to find a NPR station.  And so, in the rental car, I listened to radio preachers out of North Carolina and all the way through Virginia.    I wish this were fresher on my mind.  I have now forgotten most of the highlights I was trying to remember.  I know there were some doozies.  I do recall one call-in show, however.  As it turned out, it was a Catholic show wedged in amongst all the evangelicals.  The host was having a discussion with a young Protestant who was insisting on the the inability of the saved to ever lose their salvation--I guess that would be the P in the TULIP.  The host walked him through several scenarios, as the young man became increasingly frustrated.  Boxed into a corner, he finally admitted that if a faithful Baptist converted to Catholicism, then he had had never really been saved to begin with and was lost.  I had to hand it to the host, who got the caller to say what he really meant, even  though he was doing his best to avoid doing so.  Orthodoxy has its quirks, to be sure, but at least we have never had to manuever through those contortions.

Right-wing radio--It's been a while since i had been exposed to any of this sort of thing, and frankly, I had no idea just how bad it had become.  My preacher shows played out in northern Virginia, and I began to pick up Fox News stations instead.  Before long, it had me scrambling the dial to find a preacher--any preacher.  Sean Hannity was absolutely unlistenable.  But for pure loathsomeness, Laura Ingraham inteviewing Dinesh D'Souza had to be the worst.  On one low-budget show, a guest was outlining his scenario for Muslim Brotherhood Egypt.  First, they would blow up the Aswan Dam.  This would flood much of the country, causing a humanitarian disaster.  President Obama would step in, bringing millions of Egyptian Muslims to this country.  He would then declare a state of emergency, and settle the immigrants on our National Parks (yes.)  This would be the spring-board for the Islamification of this country, and of course, the killing of American Jews.  For pure inventiveness, this equals any of the pre-millenial fantasies I was listening to on the religious stations.  The scary thing, of course, is the fact that the speaker freely walks our streets, out of the control of the trained psychiatric workers he so clearly needs.  After this, I did what I should have done 200 miles earlier, and turned off the radio.
Wood Grove, Rowan County, NC

The Amish Country--Lancaster County has long been a favorite of mine.  The best drive leads east out of Lancaster, through Bird-in-Hand, Intercourse, White Horse, Compass and Sadsbury--turning off on any side-road along the way to have a better look at the Amish farmland.  Leacock, Salisbury and Caernarvon Townships comprise the better part of the Pequea Valley, and then you cross the ridge at Compass into the Brandywine Valley for West Caln and Sadsbury Townships. I do not romanticize the Amish way.  I rather like electricity.  And I find their theology, to the best that I can understand it, pretty dreadful stuff.  But I do have tremendous respect for them.  They live their lives (at least outwardly) with dignity--something we moderns fail to do at almost every turn.  And they have been good stewards of the land.  I love to watch them during their harvests.  I slowed down on one back road to watch as a crew of Amish were cutting their cornfield.  They had a hay bailer like the kind my dad used as I was growing up, but it was pulled by a team of 6 magestic horses.  A trailer was attached to the back of the bailer so that a man could stack the hay on the trailer as it came out.  I remember days in the hay field.  We were not that inventive and had to pick the bales up off the ground, then toss them up, onto the back of the truck.  The land there is simply some of the best farmland to be found anywhere, and their care for it is really remarkable.  The city of Lancaster is pressing hard on one side, and you do not have to drive too far east before encountering the outer suburbs of Philadelphia.  With property values being what they are and the pressure of development on either side, the Amish have their work cut out for them.   Generally, however, they are pretty well off to begin with.  In fact, some might say that the admonition in Scripture against "bigger barns" could well apply to them, as it does to the rest of us.  I have to wonder what they think of us, as we whiz by in our cars on the roads we share with their buggies.  I would have to think that they have to tune-out the modern world buzzing around them.  I find it interesting to see the accomodations they have made with modernity.  Gas motors and generators are fine, as long as they are not used for motion.  Weed-eaters and push lawn mowers are acceptable, but riding mowers are not.  Bicycles are not allowed, but they can take a bicylce frame and make it into a scooter for their children.  Speaking of which, they are everywhere.  If you see a young Amish couple going into town, chances are they have 5 to 6 small children onboard with them.  And they all look the same, largely because they are all dressed alike--overalls, dutch-boy haircuts and barefoot for the boys.  All the children seem to be blond.  I also think that the fact they have been drawing from the same shallow genetic pool all these generations must have something to do with it as well.  I talked to a woman I know there who lived in the Amish neighborhoods.  She told me that Sunday afternoons and Sunday nights were the times the young people got together, socialized and had parties.  She said she and her husband would be laying in bed, and at about 4:00 AM in the morning, they would hear the clip-clop of horse's hooves on the road, as the buggies were returning home.  The rule was that the young people could stay out as long as they wanted, as long as they were home in time for milking Monday morning.  She said the young men would generally be asleep in the buggies, as the horses knew the way home. 
Cowan family plot, St. John's Pequea
Episcopal Cemetery, Compass, PA
At old St. John's--My main reason for being there was to oversee the installation of a monument in the family plot of an Episcopal cemetery that contains burials of my clan back to 1730 or so.  That went off without a hitch--I took the requisite pictures, and everyone who contributed from across the country was very pleased.  While in the area, I actually stayed in Harrisburg.  This allowed me to visit and enjoy a meal with a family from our church, now living in that vicinity.  I was also searching for a document in the Pennsylvania State Archives.  A kinsman of mine got into trouble during the Revolutionary War.  He was a prosperous bachelor farmer--mid thirties or so--when the war broke out.  He remained loyal to England and refused to take the Oath of Alliegance.  This is not surprising as he fought with the British during the Seven Years War, was captured and held prisoner in France.  During the time the redcoats occupied Philadelphia, my cousin David openly traded with them.  After they left, the colonial officials confiscated his farm and he had to go into hiding.  He was soon found-out, however, and jailed in Philadelphia.  We know so much of his story through the writings of his cellmate, a Quaker conscientious objector.  I found the documents I was searching for in the Archives, namely the letters from family members, including his mother and sisters, begging for clemency.  My Aunt Margaret gently reminded the judge that while he was now in a powerful position, that one day he too would be on his deathbed--in need of mercy--and that it would be a great consolation to him at that time if he showed mercy now.  Her anquished pleas fell on deaf ears, however.  Her son was hanged on the town square of Philadelphia--without a trial--on November 25, 1780.  My aunt and her daughters carried his body back home for burial.  This is not the sort of story that fits well into our national mythology.  Real history is messy that way.

Delaware--Leaving the Amish Country late in the afternoon, I ambled southeasterly, staying on the backroads down through the old Quaker areas, where Friends Meeting Houses still dot the countryside, and into northern Delaware.  I now know that the University of Delaware is in the northern town of Newark.  As Johnny Carson used to say, I did not know that.  From there, I followed Highways 1 and 13 down through the spine of the state.  Once past Newark (which is really just outlying Wilmington,) you have the odd sensation of being in limbo--not quite urban, but not rural either.  The rest of the state feels like you are coming into the outskirts of some town, but you never quite get there.  Enjoying geography as I do, I always like the read the occasional articles that suggest better configurations for states than we have now.  No doubt many (myself included) have colorful ideas of what we could do with Texas, for example.  I do enjoy small places and small states.  That said, I have never really gotten the point of Delaware, exactly.  Wilmington and New Castle County seem to be a better fit for Pennsylvania and tbe Philadelphia metro area, while Kent and Sussex Counties could be sucked into Greater Maryland, which borders on the west and south.  The rest of Delaware--wait, there is no rest of Delaware.  You get my point.

Oak Grove Methodist Church,
Wachapeague, VA

The Eastern Shore--Before running out of Delaware, I swerved into Johnny's Diner, where I had the best fresh corn on the cob that I can remember.  Johnny's redeemed Delaware a bit in my eyes.   I slept in Maryland, but pushed on early the next morning, arriving in Virginia, which claims the long narrow finger of the Eastern Shore.  A huge Rebel flag adorns the north-facing wall of the first liquor store past the state line, informing everyone that they are now in the South.  This is false bravado, though.  There is nothing very Southern about this part of the world.  Before crossing the Chesapeake, I turned off on a side road at Melfa, wandered down through Wachapreague and Quinby on the Atlantic side of things, and then looped back onto the main road.  Just as the Carolina Piedmont is heavily Presbyterian, the Eastern Shore is traditionally Methodist country.  I stopped and looked around at the unique Oak Grove Methodist Church between Melfa and Wachapreague.  Apparently, this is where Sunday School began, and they claim the oldest continuous Sunday School in the nation.  So, if you have SS horror stories, then blame these folks.  I also liked the simple little unadorned Weslyan Church in Quinby. 
Weslyan Church, Quinby, VA
Just outside of Quinby, I passed a sign in a tobacco field that said "James Farm, circa 1662."  Now those are some roots.  Before finally leaving the Eastern Shore, I had to do a   U-turn and come back for a picture of this church sign.  It reminded me of the late, great Milton Burton, who often called unsuspecting people using his alter-ego:  "the Reverend Buford T. Smeets, Senior Pastor of the Greater Gum Springs Apostolic Church of the Final Thunder."

On being tested--The thing about being tested is this:  we usually don't realize it until after we've failed.  Sunday afternoon found me in historic Mooresville, North Carolina.  The town had been laid-out along the railroad, with a downtown consisting of one long street paralleling the tracks.  I had not eaten all day, except for snacking around at coffee hour after Liturgy in Charlotte.  I happened upon the aforementioned Epic Chop House, in an old two-story brick building with a sign in front saying "since 1888."  Sounded like my kind of place.  The valet parking out front seemed a little out of place for Mooresville, which seemed much more of a working-class town than its neighbors Salisbury and Statesville--to say nothing of Davidson.  But I was hungry and I always make it a habit to eat at local establishments when travelling.  I sat at the bar, and looked over the menu that, while upscale, was not as high-priced as I imagined.  I do not think I will ever forget the meal they served me. I had "3 peppered filet medallions over country potato cake with cabernet mushroom demiglace, & haystacks," accompanied by a Malbec, Italian bread and whipped butter and a salad.  Simply put, it was one of the finest meals I have every eaten.  And I was not too proud to use the last piece of bread or two to sop-up every drop of that "cabernet mushroom demiglace."    Finishing-up with coffee and bread pudding tipped the scales from indulgence to outright decadence.  And so, I was feeling pretty flush and satisfied as I started motoring back to Charlotte.  There was a convenience store next to the Motel 6 where I was staying.  I needed to dart in there and get a bottle of water--for the CPAT machine which allows me to sleep at night.  This is one of those stores with a door on each end.  As I approached the north entrance, I noticed two thuggy-looking dudes hanging out by the door.  Without thinking, I pulled around to the south entrance.  Again, two thuggy-looking guys standing out by this doorway as well.  In addition, there was a man in a wheelchair next to the door.  Looking back now, I don't know why I was acting like some kind of scared white guy from the suburbs.  I am generally not afraid of anything, or any neighborhood.  I ducked my head, looking neither right nor left, and aimed straight for the door.  The man in the wheelchair said something to me, in a gruff manner, as I entered.  I guess I, like most people, want our beggars to be washed, polite and cuddly.  Water bottle in one hand and keys in the other, I made a bee-line for my car upon exiting the store.  I was all the way back to my room before it hit me--the full enormity of what I had just done.  There I was, on vacation--playing, you might say.  I had just enjoyed a sinfully extravagent meal--excess upon excess.  I stopped at this store, eyed my fellow sinners with distrust and apprehension, then, with cash in my pocket, walked right past the beggar to purchase a damn plastic bottle full of water!  I went back to the store the next night to see if the beggar had returned, but he had not.  I was not going to get off the hook that easy.  Late on Tuesday, I was in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a working class town west of Harrisburg.  At dusk, I was tromping around the Carlisle Old Burying Ground, where some of my kin have a plot that dates back to the 1760s (One stone even has a bullet hole through it, left by a Rebel soldier either right before or right after Gettysburg.)  As I was leaving town, about to work my way onto the turnpike, I saw a young man and woman begging at an intersection.  They were of the scruffy hippie-dippie variety.  Ah, here was my chance.  Unfortunately, I was in the wrong lane.  I swerved over to the right lane, but had to circle way around to get back to where they were and be on the right side of the road.  By the time I worked my way around, a policeman was stopped there, talking with them.  They had a car in the nearby parking lot, and a dog.  I noticed the young man had a crutch.  Whether it was a prop or not, is not for me to say.  But the  end of the story is that I was still not going to be let off the hook that easily--throwing a $5 their way and thinking I had made everything right.  I haven't.  And I'm still on the hook.             

Monday, September 03, 2012

Summer Travels: Stars Fell on Alabama

Every summer the wife and I trot off to a family reunion, usually held somewhere in the Deep South.  Attendees are relatives on my mother's side, though the closest kin to me are descendants of some of my great-great-grandfather's brothers.  So mainly, the people are just long-time friends we've made over the last 33 years, who all just happen to descend from the same German immigrant born in 1758.  Before we left, my wife asked, "isn't this thing ever going to die-out?"  We always enjoy it--once we get there.

The venue this year was a lodge on Lake Eufaula, on the Alabama-Georgia border.  We made a long weekend of it, leaving late Thursday, and coming home Monday.  I tire easily of the interstate, and leave it at the first opportunity.  My doing so made an easy five-hour trip from Jackson into an eight-hour drive.  But I am glad I did.  I turned off I-20 and meandered down through Eutaw, Greensboro and Marion--the heart of what is called the "Black Belt."  These towns get little hype, which make them all the more interesting.  The wife and I enjoy the Deep South, but usually for it's literary connections--Faulker's Oxford, Welty's Jackson, Percy's Greenville, Chopin's Nachitoches, Lee's Monroeville or O'Connor's Milledgville--that sort of thing.  But I also remember the classic line from Stars Fell on Alabama, "For God's sake, get out of here before it's too late."

We always drive around the courthouse squares of these little towns, where my wife is on the look-out for old-time hardware stores.  We hit three of them along the way, picking up a homemade step-ladder in one.  We also stumbled upon this, housed in an old store-front, two blocks off the courthouse square in Greensboro.  Any business with the word "pie" in the advertisement is going to get my attention.  As it turns out, the enterprise is owned and run by young people, with oversight and support from UA.  And yes, the pie was delicious.  On the return trip, we found "Bates' House of Turkey," where you can either have turkey and dressing, or a turkey sandwich.  I appreciate a place that does one thing, but does it very well.   

The reunions are usually an interesting and convivial mix of old-money Mobile azalea-district meets red-clay Georgia back roads double-wides.  There's always a memorable line or story we bring back home.  Saturday afternoon, we were wandering around a thrift store in downtown Eufaula and bumped into a Georgia couple we've known for many years.  The talk turned to my wife's bout with poison ivy after cleaning out around the house in early summer.  The woman suffered from it as well, and told the story of her mother taking her down a back country lane as a child.  Their destination was a "conjurer," a local woman who "conjured" her poison ivy away.  My wife just looked at her, and finally asked, "if she is alive?"  My cousin Selma is always good for a quote.  She is in her mid-50s, unmarried, and lives in her mother's gracious home on a shady, old-money Mobile street.  That description, while accurate, paints the exact wrong impression, however.  She is also an outspoken, firebrand Democratic Party activist and attorney who gravitates towards representing those from the wrong side of the tracks--in other words, an old-school Southern liberal in the very best sense of the word.  A graduate of the University of Alabama, she was shocked to hear that one of her nieces was contemplating Auburn.  "Auburn??  I'd rather hear that she'd become a Republican than go to Auburn!"

Eufaula was a pleasant surprise--a historic downtown complete with good food and drink, but situated (now) on the shores of a large recreational lake.  The city makes good use of both advantages.  As one resident put it, Eufaula was just far enough away from Atlanta, but just close enough to Panama Beach.  The only discordant note was my discovery at the Eufaula Piggly Wiggly that you cannot buy a half-case of Yuengling to carry back home on a Sunday in Barbour County, Alabama.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Summer Travels: My Cousin's Wedding

My family has never been one of those big-wedding clans.  When I would see movies and television shows depicting Father of the Bride  type extravaganzas, complete with wedding planners, a full church, elaborate receptions and dance bands, I would always think "Do people actually do that?"  Of course, I know people do-just not my bunch.  Perhaps my parents set the tone when they eloped 76 years ago.  My grandmother followed my mother across the yard to where my dad was waiting in his roadster--wagging her finger at her daughter and telling her not to ever come back if she left with that man.  My wife and I wanted to elope as well, but her aunt insisted on a church wedding, primarily because she wanted to host the reception and show-off her new house in the process.  And so we did--my wife's niece was her one attendant, her cousin my best man, her father the minister, and cake and punch at her aunt's afterwards.  Of course, these days I have a different outlook on it all, but that is the subject for another post.

This summer, my extended family did in fact have one of those Father of the Bride weddings. My cousin is a school teacher of almost forty years, but her husband is a doctor of almost 25 years, which makes this sort of thing considerably easier to pull off. The bride-their daughter-is incredibly beautiful, with a personality to match. Both she and her brother and their cousins are just fine hanging out with their parents' old-fogey cousins. They were raised right. The groom looks like a good fit, as well. I think they will be just fine.

This was an "away" wedding, the venue being the Chapel of the Incarnate Word at the college of the same name in San Antonio--"chapel" being something of a misnomer as it is an immense, ornate sanctuary built in 1907 when Catholic architecture still meant something. The Chapel of the Incarnate Word is one of those unusual churches with the pews facing each side of the central aisle. Most of my cousins are Catholic and they had never seen this done either.    The newlyweds will live in San Antonio where he will attend medical school. 

My cousin from Arkansas drove down, and rode the rest of the way with my wife and I.  My son took his own car.  We stayed in the grand old St. Anthony Hotel downtown, built in 1909.   You almost cannot have a bad time in San Antonio, and we certainly didn't.  The wedding reception following was in the old Ursaline Academy, a historic 1850s convent right on the River Walk, now rented out for events like this.  The bridal party went back to their hotel, boarded a barge and floated down the river to the Academy, where we were all waiting, hors d'ouerves and drinks in hand.  Later at the meal, I felt a little odd having food and drink in what had clearly once been the convent's chapel.  During the meal, one cousin had my wife's ear the entire meal--no mean feat that, as my beloved is herself a conversationalist of the first order--while I chatted with my 88-year old aunt by marriage-the grandmother of the bride-who thought it all a little too much.  The mother of the bride was much occupied with the wedding planner, as there were, apparently, the requisite wedding crashers.  At some point during the night, we five first cousins stood together for a photograph outside the convent.

I've always been closer to my paternal cousins than my own siblings--both much older than myself.  My brother is deceased, but I have a sister who lives about six miles away.  I called her in early February, to tell of a family member's death, and before that I had not talked with her for about two years prior.  If I never call her again, I will never talk to her again.  This has been the pattern for almost 30 years and I am long used to it.  She has children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,  but apart from my deceased brother's son, I am, in effect, an only child without nieces and nephews.  And so, my cousins filled this void.  There were 15 of us, all told.  (I have the same number of maternal cousins, as well, most of whom live nearby.  Unless I was handing out cash, however, I could not gather a quorum of them if my life depended upon it.)  One uncle's children by his brief first marriage always lived in California, and consequently were never in the mix.  One of their half-brothers met one of them, once.  My brother and sister never cared to keep up the connections with the cousins.  And so, that left eleven of us.  The picture below is of the eleven of us around our granddad in 1962:  Butchie, Dickie and Ronnie;  Debbie, Billy and Ellen; Susan, Daniel, Janet and Robert; and myself.  I always thought they were the neatest cousins anyone could have, and I still do.  We're a bit scattered now--North Carolina to Missouri to Arkansas to several locations in Texas.  But somehow, we manage to keep up with one another--sporadically to be sure, but still ongoing.  Cousins are the best.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Death by Football

This headline in today's Tyler paper confirmed what everyone knew was coming.  Little Lon Morris College in Jacksonville, Texas--the second-oldest college in Texas (1873)--is no more.  Already in bankruptcy, the federal funding is gone and the fall semester cancelled. 

I taught a history class there last fall and spring.  A good friend from church got me on there.  In fact, we had something of an Orthodox presence on campus.  All together, there were five of us.  Back in the fall, the checks--if you could call them that for adjuncts--started coming slower and slower.  By mid March, they stopped altogether.  Before graduation, control had been turned over to a consulting group, who terminated all teachers shortly after classes ended.

It didn't have to be that way.  Lon Morris College, heavily and lovingly endowed by Texas Methodists, was a going concern for many decades.  It did one thing really well, and that was drama:  Sandy Duncan, Tommy Tune, Margo Martindale--all Lon Morris alums.    For years, the Tyler Civic Theater has produced fluffy English drawing-room comedies.  Tyler audiences lap-up that sort of thing.  But if you wanted to see a musical, or a real play, you went to Jacksonville.  In our early marriage, my wife and I made a regular habit of it. 

Now mind you, Jacksonville--a quirky place in a county noted for being backward, even by East Texas standards--is no-one's idea of a typical college town.  The community has some rough edges to it, and the East Texas you encounter south of the city is noticeably different in culture from the more enlightened (or so we claim) environs to the north, where residents instead look to Tyler.  An old saying here north of the county line is that "if you want to look good, then go to Jacksonville."  Once my wife and I drove to a down-country funeral.  On the way back, she needed to stop at the Walmart or Dollar store.  In her black dress and pearl necklace, at the Jacksonville Walmart, I told her that she looked like Princess Margaret.  Other than Lon Morris, Jacksonville boasts an expansive plastics-plant manufacturing district, an annual Tomato Fest, and the Tops-in-Texas Rodeo.  The locals, however, accepted the artsy-types hanging around town, every one immediately identifiable as a Lon Morris drama major. 

Several years ago, a new regime came aboard, determined to shake things up with a new vision for Lon Morris.  Drama went by the wayside.    A new administrative center took shape, complete with grand lobby and spiral staircase, curved wood walls and expansive meetings rooms and office suites, with a fountain plaza out front.  By the time I came on board, the fountain was dry as a bone.

Of course, if Lon Morris was going to be really jazzed-up, it would need a football program.  And so, with the Board of Regents in tow, the president inaugurated the football age at Lon Morris College.  In short order, the campus gained a field house, practice fields and coaches.  For a couple years, enrollment soared to 1,000.  This was far more students than the college could house, so new dormitories were constructed.  In the interim, the overflow students were housed in an old motel on the edge of town.  Of course, the place was trashed, the neighborhood vandalized, and lawsuits popped-up against the college.  Academic standards and expectations plummeted.  By the time I arrived, enrollment was back down to about 450 or so.  The growth had not been natural.  The football, basketball, soccer and track jocks who couldn't get a real scholarship to a real sports program elsewhere found their way to Jacksonville.  I do not understand exactly how it all worked, but the college was going deeply in the hole for each and every student in the athletic program.  Once in class, I tried to muster a modicum of interest in their game that weekend, and asked who they were playing.  The best I could tell, it was a prep-school in Houston. 

In short, the football program never really caught fire, and instead of filling the college's coffers, sucked it into debt too severe to overcome--10 million, 14 million, 16 million, and finally 18 million.  The president and Board of Regents pushed on, confident that God had a miracle in store for the college.  The loyalists spoke in terms of it being their mission to educate the underprivileged.  Those discontents who questioned the direction of things were accused of not having enough faith.  It was do-good Methodism at its best.  My friend tried to organize some of the instructors to push for a change in direction, back toward academic excellence.  Most, however, were content to ride it on down.  Luckily, my friend bailed out and nabbed a position at Baylor. 

Some institution may buy the facility for a satellite campus.  Who knows.  There are a lot of lessons that can be learned from the death of little Lon Morris College.  I enjoyed my time there.  In my two classes of about 26 students each, I only had one student who knew a damn thing about American history--and he was from the Congo.  I doubt if I made any lasting impact on the others, but I had a helluva good time trying.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Easing Back into Things

     This has been a long dry spell for me.  I haven't tired of blogging, and it is not due to lack of subjects to discuss.  There's plenty I wish to pontificate about--the political circus, Syria, Orthodox concerns, foreign policy, cultural observations, etc.  The simple fact of the matter is that I haven't felt well in quite some time.  I suffered a freak pulmonary embolism last August, and as I now understand things, the fact that I am here writing these words after that is pretty remarkable.  But I never bounced back, and gradually came to the realization that I have been chronically fatigued for years. 

     When the sudden spike in blood pressure and chest pains started kicking-in, it was time to go see the doc.  As it turned out, I was in excellent health to be so sick. We were sure I suffered from the heart trouble that runs in my paternal side.  My heart, other than the too-frequent hardness thereof, was in fine shape.  So, I couldn't use that as an excuse.  My dad's grandmother was a wiry little dwarf of a woman who could still ride a horse at age 75.  She manipulated and controlled her daughters by feigning "heart-flutters" whenever she didn't get her way.  And it finally did take her on out--at age 84.  And so, I told my wife I was just having "heart-flutters," but she wasn't buying it.  My lungs checked out fine as well.  Ditto everything else they checked.  The last resort they knew to check was my sleep.  I've always been skeptical of these sleep studies, as it seems that if you take the test, they will diagnose you with sleep apnea.  As it turns out, I did have it--bad.  Basically, I stopped breathing 22 times an hour and my brain was in gear 31 times an hour during "sleep."  Whatever you want to call what was happening, it wasn't real sleep, and I awoke exhausted. 

     So now, I take double my former blood pressure medicine, I take a little acid-reflux pill that has made the chest pains go away, and I sleep with one of those masks hooked-up to a CPAC machine.  And with all this tinkering with my system, I am actually starting to feel good again.  I now wake up alert, which hasn't been the case for years.  The only thing left on my check-off list is to lose 25 lbs.  The doctor said I could eat potatoes or I could eat bread, but I couldn't eat both.  Damn.

     The rest of the year will be a busy period for me.  I have a writing project that will have to cook-off by late October.  I am teaching an online class at the university here, as well as 3 history classes at the junior college (a Mon-Wed  5:35 class, a Monday night class and a Wednesday night class, so it is not as bad as it sounds.)  And then there's my day job.  But I do plan to ease back into regular blogging.  The easiest way for me to do so, I suppose, is to throw out a bit of travel writing.  My recent pecuniary difficulties have kept me stateside in recent years.  Even so, something always turns up, and I managed to squeeze-in a journey or two this summer:  a cousin's wedding in San Antonio, our annual summer reunion trek to the Deep South, a historical/genealogical research jaunt to NC and PA, and a business trip to San Angelo, the queen city of mid-south-central West Texas.  So, look for these reports to trickle-in in coming days.