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Monday, July 30, 2012

Comic Books

            I learned to read for one major purpose:  my family stopped reading the Sunday “funny papers” to me when I began first grade, saying now I could read them for myself.  So necessity forced me into a rapid transition from story listener to reader and eventually story teller.  My genre of choice for those early years was the comic book.  My father detested them, and forbade my reading them at first.  At some point, however, I managed to acquire one that had some sort of story plot like a soap opera.  I was in second grade by then and read that one comic book over and over until I could recite the dialogues from memory.  Mother tsk-tsked but didn’t take it away from me. 

Comics were my entrĂ©e into the world of literature, and over the next few years my literary acquisitions included not only funnybooks as I called them, but also the Nancy Drew series and eventually the classics of that age.  I devoured the books my brothers had collected, such as those featuring Robinson Crusoe, the Three Musketeers, and all the adventure stories that boys loved in that time.  By the time I was 12, I was reading Dickens and Shakespeare and other offerings in that vein, and beginning to do my own writing of stories as well.  But it was the comic books that made the difference and led me into the world of story.

In my comic book stage,  I read every one I could afford – they were ten cents apiece.  It was during the Second World War while my father was in Hawaii and we were in Winston-Salem, and I was out from under his rule of no comics.  My favorites were those about Superman, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Batman, and other such adventurers who would regularly rescue the world from destruction.  Because this was during war time, those brave and daring characters would defeat our enemies over and over again.  But I also liked the ones with Archie and Nancy and Sluggo and Fritzi Ritz.  One moment stands out in my memory having to do with those latter characters.

My mother had relatives in Virginia whom she enjoyed visiting, taking me along.  Because she did not drive, we always rode the bus.  On one particular journey, when I was about 9, I brought my newest copy featuring Nancy and Fritzi Ritz and their friend Sluggo.  It would give me something to read while we traveled.  The only problem was that I was susceptible to motion sickness, whether in cars or buses.  As I was reading during that bus ride, nausea hit without warning and I lost my most recent meal.  Mother was one who could react quickly to any situation, and began ripping pages out of my comic book, so that Sluggo and the others came to the rescue and cleaned everything up.  But I was dismayed.  She had torn out pages I had not yet read.  After my wails about that turn of events, my mother relented, and at the next stop I was allowed to buy a replacement comic book.  It may not have been the same as what I had been reading, but I was placated, and the remainder of the short bus trip into Virginia was uneventful.

Today, there remains the vestige of pleasure in reading the comics.  I read my favorites and then quickly skim through even the ones that don’t appeal to my interests.  There is that added factor of the visual which defines the story, and whether long-running adventures or situations that remain static, both benefit from the skill of the cartoonist.  I’m afraid the attraction to comic books did not continue unto the third and fourth generations, as our children and grandchildren have never been big fans of the comics.  They have no knowledge of the wealth of stories and adventures they have missed.  Maybe the generation to come will rediscover the comics and redeem us all through their joys in funny pictures and stories.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


My father loved to hunt.  He loved to fish.  He owned guns.  He was a member of the NRA back in the day.  There’s one other point to be aware of with all his interest in and love for guns: he was extremely cautious about letting others in the family use guns.  My mother never touched one so far as I know.  My two brothers, much older than I, may have had BB guns at some time but nothing more lethal.  In my teens, my father let me use an air pump rifle in the basement where he had a target set up, showing me in great detail (too much, I thought at the time) how to handle that air rifle.  Never again did I ever touch it, nor did I want to.

My father grew up on a farm and guns were a necessary part of his family’s existence, to keep down rodents, snakes, and other predators.  His encounter with weaponry during World War I in Chateau-Thierry, France, when shrapnel burst through the make-shift hospital in an old school building and severely wounded him, his life changed.  He had been a battle surgeon and planned to continue his practice of surgery once the war ended.  His wounds forced him to change his specialty to pathology, and he suffered the rest of his life from the effects of his wounds.  He knew the deadly nature of weapons and armaments.

When I was a child during WWII, while my father spent the war in Hawaii after the rest of our family returned to the States, I did manage to have toy pistols.  In those days, however, all the kids could buy were toy guns that somehow used inch-wide rolls of paper as ammunition, and made a loud pop.  No cap pistols available. I’m not sure about BB guns.  I guess they were all banned for the duration, in order to save explosives for the war effort.  I probably still have that little gun in a trunk somewhere.

When my brothers and I were still children, my father laid down strict rules pertaining to guns and their usage.  We were forbidden even to point a finger at someone and go “ka-pow!”  His respect for guns and their potential led him to keep us from any exposure to guns.  I do recall once in Honolulu when I was eight, aiming the paper boy’s BB gun at my skate key that he held out for me on its string.  Unfortunately, my aim was good.  The BB hit the skate key and ricocheted right into his ribs.  His surprised yelp! put an end to that adventure.  Poor Barney was always getting injured by me.  He was twice my age but vulnerable.  Once I demonstrated how I could do a football tackle and he came down so that his back hit the lawn spigot sticking up from the ground.  For some reason Barney didn’t linger on his route when he came by our house after that.

In more recent years, family tragedy has underscored our lack of interest in guns or in hunting.  A nephew was killed accidentally with a rifle that wasn’t supposed to have any bullets in the chamber.  Our family love for animals has contributed to our reluctance to use any kind of weapon as well, and no one among us has an interest in hunting.  One son loves to fish, but that is the extent of intentional family brutality to living things, although I show no mercy to mosquitoes and ticks.

Whenever I hear the terrible news of shooting run amok at crowds or even small groups, it strikes a part of me that is already wounded by sorrow. The murders of those gathered in some area, whether school children, government leaders, customers in a restaurant or store, military centers, high schools and universities, or now those in a movie theater, cry out for solace, where none exists.   The terrible losses cannot be remedied by vengeance nor can the dead return to their lives.  One element in all instances is present: that of weapons.  Often multiple weapons.  These tragedies are not accidents.  They have nothing to do with hunting or other sports.  They are what they seem to be: murder, the worst offense, and some would say the least forgivable.

Whether it is fruitless to limit gun purchases to those with licenses, whether it is helpful to provide instructions on gun use, or whether certain weapons should be banned for private use are possible solutions along the way to a civil society.  Our nation is labeled as one that ranks with the most violent in the world, with the greatest number of deaths by weapons other than in wartime.  I don’t know what can be done to reverse statistics or reverse the inhumanity of individuals.  All I can recognize is the need for new ways of societal behaviors that alter our prejudices and hatreds, our demeaning of others, and begin at that point.  I have nothing further to offer except my tears and my prayers for those lives taken because of gun violence.

Monday, July 16, 2012

My Next Collection

My collection of poems about trees and the seasons will soon be available.  As a preview of what is to come, I include a few sections from TREE:

If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees.
-- Hal Borland 


            There is no better time to study trees than now.  Trees live in the moment, drawing upon the earth for sustenance, from the air, from the sun, from the rain.  I have always loved trees.  As a child, I sized up every tree in sight on the basis of whether it was a good “climbing tree” or not.  When we lived in Honolulu, I loved to play on and under those wonderful Banyan trees.  They constituted a playground in themselves, touched by mystery and nurture.
            My life has always sought the solace of trees:  a hideaway where I could read without interference, a place for a swing, the shade from a Southern summer sun, the scattering of fruits, pecans, walnuts and chestnuts out of their abundance, the statuesque quality in a landscape of snow.  When one must be cut down in the interest of commerce and street building, I weep.  When others fall after buffering by storms, I grieve.  When a forest is felled for its lumber and commercial value, I am enraged.  Trees belong to this planet as gifts to honor and care for, to increase our connections to the world around us.  I give thanks daily for the trees I have met, known intimately, played under and in, blessed for their shelter of birds and squirrels and cicadas.  This collection is my thanksgiving to the trees of this world.

Back Yard Music
                        Listen to the trees sing!
                        Reluctant to offer words to air,
                        they share songs of earth
                        and wind, in diminuendos
                        of whisper, crescendos of wind
                        playing harps on high branches.
                        Crows, raccoons, robins
                        gather acorns and twigs, tickets
                        to this concert, scaling barked aisles.
                        Sight now transformed by light,       
                        this wild stage an orchestra
                        of brilliant cadenzas – music modulated
                        in treble and bass, their autumnal tones
                        enough to forestall the chill, dark days .           

The collection is through and will be available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and from me.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Shared Memories

A poem in a recent issue of Christian Century evoked a profound sense of my own losses of friends over the years: classmates, neighbors, those in organizations and other groups where our memories of events were shared moments.  Sydney Lea’s “The pastor” describes a sermon during which the pastor remarks that his grade school friend has now lost his memory, and he notes, “I’m left alone with the things we knew together.”  The impact of such a loss hit me.  How many of my friends from the past have gone, leaving me as the sole bearer of our joint memories?

I think of friends I’ve had who knew almost as much about me and I did of myself.  They are now gone, or our contact has been broken through geographical separations or life experiences. In a sense, whether those friends are alive or dead now, I am the bearer of what we knew together.  A feeling of loneliness wells up as my memories crowd in upon me.  I alone remember, I alone can tell the stories now of other times.  There are, of course, new stories and new friends, but these don’t replace what once was part of my life. 

As a writer, I am able to conjure up stories of lives for those who never existed in real time.  I can describe through my poems emotions and events that are constructs for the truths of my past.
These stories and poems satisfy to some extent the need to recall what perhaps never happened, or what now is more clearly what really happened.  As woman and mother and wife, I can recall those experienced relationships seen from this distance of time in a clearer light than during the immediacies of life.  All comes down to human memories, human needs and wants and desires, and coping with unfulfilled hopes.  I realize also that what has never happened can be as painful to reflect upon as those memories of what has formed me into this present self.  Does it matter finally, what memories remain or how accurate they are?  I don’t know.  It may be that memory itself, shared or not, is the key to one’s life, and not necessarily the history in its own truth.  All I know is that I continue to create memories and continue to tell the stories.