The War to End All Wars? The Age of Killing Machines . . . and Poetry

World War I erupted 100 years ago on July 28, 1914. War still begets poetry.

 

Canadian physician Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae penned this poem—perhaps the most memorable words of the Great War—after burying a friend who died in the Second Battle of Ypres. Flanders Field Poppies courtesy of Tijl Vercaemer.

Canadian physician Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae penned this poem—perhaps the most memorable words of the Great War—after burying a friend who died in the Second Battle of Ypres. Flanders Field Poppies courtesy of Tijl Vercaemer.

Flanders Fields

By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae (1915)

 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

In Flanders fields.

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

 

From war springs anonymity—dead silence. Photographer unknown.

From war springs anonymity—dead silence. Verdun Battlefield (photographer unknown).

Grass

By Carl Sandburg (1918)

 

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.

Shovel them under and let me work—

I am the grass; I cover all.

 

And pile them high at Gettysburg

And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.

Shovel them under and let me work.

Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:

What place is this?

Where are we now?

 

I am the grass.

Let me work.

 

Poet Czeslaw Milosz put into words the cruel dilemma of World War II and Holocaust survivors. This photo originates from the Jürgen Stroop's report on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising (April–May1943) to Heinrich Himmler, Reich Leader (Reichsführer) of the SS. The original German caption: "Forcibly pulled out of dug-outs."

Poet Czeslaw Milosz put into words the cruel dilemma of World War II and Holocaust survivors. This photograph originates from the Jürgen Stroop’s report on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising (April–May 1943) to Heinrich Himmler, Reich Leader (Reichsführer) of the SS. The German caption: “Forcibly pulled out of dug-outs.”

Foundation

By Czeslaw Milosz (1945)

 

You whom I could not save

Listen to me.

Try to understand this simple speech as I would be ashamed of another.

I swear, there is in me no wizardry of words.

I speak to you with silence like a cloud or a tree.

 

What strengthened me, for you was lethal.

You mixed up farewell to an epoch with the beginning of a new one,

Inspiration of hatred with lyrical beauty;

Blind force with accomplished shape.

 

Here is a valley of Polish Rivers. And an immense bridge

Going into white fog. Here is a broken city;

And the wind throws the screams of gulls on your grave

When I am talking with you.

 

What is poetry which does not save

Nations or people?

A connivance with official lies,

A song of drunkards whose throats will be cut in a moment,

Readings for sophomore girls.

That I wanted good poetry without knowing it,

That I discovered, late, its salutary aim,

In this and only this I find salvation.

 

They used to pour millet on graves or poppy seeds

To feed the dead who would come disguised as birds.

I put this book here for you, who once lived

So that you should visit us no more.

 

After the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, six Ginkgo biloba survived the blast at the epicenter. Is it irony or a miracle? Ginkgo biloba by Jean-Pol Grandmont.

After the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, six Ginkgo biloba survived the blast at the epicenter. Is it irony or a miracle? Ginkgo biloba courtesy of Jean-Pol Grandmont.

Hiroshima: Where Ginkgo biloba Breathe

By Catherine Hamrick (2014)

 

After blue-white flashes seared

The living into shades,

After black rain unquenched

Mouths begging the sky,

These fossils shine

As if in garden temples,

Bitter-sweet.

 

 "Near but not on the National Mall, a lovely temple stands in West Potomac Park in a grove a trees, dedicated to the 26,000 Washington, D.C., soldiers who died in World War I. Neglected for 40 years, it was finally repaired in 2010, but efforts to make it a national monument have stalled in Congress."—Mackenzie Carpenter/Pittsburgh Post Gazette, July 28, 2014.


“Near but not on the National Mall, a lovely temple stands in West Potomac Park in a grove of trees, dedicated to the 26,000 Washington, D.C., soldiers who died in World War I. Neglected for 40 years, it was finally repaired in 2010, but efforts to make it a national monument have stalled in Congress.”—Mackenzie Carpenter/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 28, 2014. Released under the Gnu Free Documentation License.

 

 

 

 

Thank God He’s a Country Boy

Sun Ladder Empty_tin_can2009-01-19My dad is a country boy, despite a closet full of suits and a house in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama. This notion first presented itself when I ate supper at a kindergarten chum’s house and made a puzzling discovery: Her family ate beans from tin cans.

Vibrance Canned Food1_pe

Until then I thought beans came from jars. After all, jars of beans, tomatoes, peppers, beets, and bread-and-butter pickle lined shelves in our playroom. Jars of muscadine grape, peach, pear, and blackberry jam glowed like jewels next to the Pachinko machine. Boxes of empty Mason jars—awaiting next season’s harvest—towered on the upright piano.

I rushed home to report the news. “Most people eat processed vegetables,” Mom said, confirming this new fact of life. “They also eat fruit in tin cans. Aren’t you children lucky that your father is a wonderful gardener?”

liz west Food_basket

Green Beans Snijboon_peulen_Phaseolus_vulgarisLucky? I didn’t think so. While all the other kids played kickball on Saturday afternoons, the Hamrick children sharecropped the easement.

Dad had a powerful ambition: transplanting the traditions of Talking Rock—his childhood home in North Georgia—to a strip of Alabama soil. But Martha, Bud, Mary, Peggy, and I did not feel sentimental about growing squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, okra, corn, and beans, beans, beans. We stood by helplessly when our father got permission from a neighbor to plow his easement, providing room for all sorts of beans: McCaslin, Blue Lake, Rattle Snake, and Kentucky Wonder-151.

The bean field grew into a forbidding jungle. By early July, vines strangled the poles, their lush, deep-green leaves hiding pods. Baskets in hand, we trudged to our appointed rows. How we ached after an hour of reaching high and bending low. How we longed for a drizzle to relieve sweat-stung brows and itching, vine-brushed arms.

correct overexposed Tom Sawyer fence2_peNo wonder I groaned years later on reading Thoreau’s chapter about beans in Walden: “I cherish them, I hoe them, early and late, and this is my day’s work. It is a fine broad leaf to look on.” He could idealize agricultural experiments; he never suffered Alabama’s growing season in the dog days of summer.

Tom Sawyer proved a more inspiring literary figure. He turned the chore of whitewashing a fence into an enviable pleasure, so we determined to give humble string beans cachet. My brother Bud figured that if each of us invited a friend to drop by at four o’clock, five kids would show up about the time we started stringing our just-picked produce on the patio. With a little playacting, 20 hands instead of 10 would be on task.

“Do y’all have to string all those beans?” a curious onlooker inquired.

“Sure, nothin’ to it.” Martha was the smoothest talker of us all.

“Really?” another wide-eyed child asked.

“Oh, yeah. Last week we strung twice as many,” Martha said nonchalantly, knowing that this audience would soon be captive.

“Wow!”

“At least two bushels.”Daderot 1280px-Green_beans_for_sale_-_Copenhagen_-_DSC08452

“Can I try?”

“I don’t know. . . . It takes most people two years to develop the technique.”  Martha flicked her wrist as she snap-snapped.

“But I’m a fast learner.”

“I don’t know. My father doesn’t like just anybody handling his beans.”

“I’ll be careful. I promise.”

“I don’t know. . . .”

“Let me just try.”

“We-e-e-ell, maybe . . . ”

Ah, the art of delegation.

b & w Philco_cathedral_radio_peAbout then my father strolled up to check our progress.

“Wow, Dr. Hamrick, did you grow up like the Waltons?” the new day laborers chorused.

“Heck, no, the Waltons were rich,” Dad said, relishing his role as suburban legend. “They had a radio and a car. Doc Weeks had the only radio in our county. On Saturday afternoons, he propped it in his window and turned up the volume for everybody standing around in his front yard.”

“You didn’t have a car?”

CROPPED Rondal Partridge Farm Security Administration 640px-Lange_car_pe

“Before the government paved the roads, a car was a thrilling sight in our neck of the woods.  If the folks in Fairmount—about 10 miles away—spotted a car, they called our general store that it was on the way. Then a crowd gathered by the side of the road to watch it go by.”

“Dr. Hamrick, your father must have been just like Pa on ‘Little House on the Prairie.’”

“No, he didn’t have a blow dryer,” Dad said, contemptuous of Michael Landon’s mane.

Sometimes Dad got carried away with his storytelling. One of my friends went goggle-eyed on seeing my father stack 15 quarts of just-creamed Silver Queen corn in one of the playroom freezers.

Lightened VegCorn_pe

“Why are you putting up all that corn?” she asked.

“Haven’t you heard about the famine?” he said, looking dumbfounded.

“A famine?” she asked, her voice quavering. “Can my family come to your house if we run out of food?”

“Have you heard the story of the Little Red Hen?” Dad looked at her sidewise and then inspected the sage and rosemary drying on the pool table.

The_Little_Red_Hen_-_FWHThe girl ran home to report the imminent weather disaster to her mother, who promptly called my mother in a panic.

Whatever my father’s antics, Mom usually stayed calm and amused. But she said “No!” when he donned a neighbor’s camouflage hunting garb and sat motionless in the garden with a 22, waiting to pick off a groundhog that had gotten fat on young bean plants.

Mom confiscated his gun and made him use live traps. (When the guys at Hart’s Gulf filling station in the village said they had heard tales of Dad and his 22, she concluded the police might show up.) Thereafter, he caught trespassing critters and turned them loose in another county so they would waddle into somebody else’s garden.

sharpen cathy and vicki_pe_pe

Dad turned to folklore to fend off rabbits, squirrels, and other interlopers. Once during Sunday dinner, he noted that human hair scattered around plants supposedly warded off animals; he eyed my two waist-length braids. Fortunately for my scalp, it was a passing thought.

Watering the “back 40″ became Dad’s DIYI (do-it-yourself-irrigation) obsession. Hoses snaked through the backyard and then wound around metal laundry line poles staked every three rows. Lawn sprinklers topped the poles, sending wave after wave of precious drops during dry spells. When picking vegetables under a beating sun, we refreshed under these automatic showers.

Bearerofthecup 1280px-Series_of_Tubes_pe

Dad dreamed up this irrigation system after he spotted a hose sale in a Home Depot circular. When he came home with his prize purchases, Mom was not happy. Some hoses were tan and orange, not color-coordinated green.

Grass_fire_peOne fine March day—before Dad installed his watering system—he burned off the previous year’s stalks before planting. (There is a pyromania boy lurking inside every grown man.)

Shocker: the local power crew had tromped through the easement the day before, spraying herbicide. Dad lit the first match. Whoosh! It was a barnburner. The trampoline mat melted in 3 seconds.

Cooking supper, Mom heard faint calls: “Hose! Hose!”

She poked her head out the porch door and called, “Wha-a-at’s that, dear?”

Smoke misted through the trees. “HOSE! HOSE!”

Mom tripped down the pebble path and yelled, “Which color would you like?”

“Any god-damn hose you can find!”

About then, the firefighters, whose station sat atop the next ridge, spotted the conflagration. They sat on their porch for years, entertained by my dad’s eccentricities. They good-naturedly climbed the woodsy hill and hosed off the easement in minutes. Thereafter the next-door neighbors kept long hoses screwed into outdoor faucets—just in case.

cropped Larry Philpot, www.soundstagephotography.com Willie_Nelson_at_Farm_Aid_2009_-_Cropped_peMy dad’s front-yard gardening captured the attention of humans. It was his uniform: a tattered one-piece cotton jumpsuit that usually had seed packets, spring onions, or carrots absently stuck in the pockets. Sometimes he tied a scarlet bandana around his head as a sweatband. (Imagine Ed Asner sporting Willie Nelson’s favorite headgear.) In Dad’s world, only the Man in Black overshadowed the Red Headed Stranger.

Intrigued, a well-coiffed socialite tooling around in her Mercedes once pulled up and tried to hire my father as a yardman. “My, you look like a hard worker,” she said sweetly. “How would you like to work full-time in my yard?”

“I earn a good rate here,” Dad said, leaning on his rake.

“I’ll top any price,” she bargained.newleaf01 Lemonade_with_straws

“I get homemade lunches and fresh-squeezed lemonade and brownies on breaks,” he said, cocking his head.

“I’ll prepare any food you want,” she insisted.

“I also get a special bonus,” he smiled wickedly.

“What’s that?”

img083“I sleep with the lady of the house.”

The woman backed her car out of the drive, from 0 to 40 mph in 2 seconds.

Certainly, Dad’s country habits nourished the body. And sweetly they comforted the soul. He rocked his children and grandbabies, crooning ballads and hymns sung by generations of his family in Appalachia.

Before falling asleep at night, I imagine his deep, off-key rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Like a prayer.

 Patches from My Crazy Quilt © 2014 Catherine Hamrick.  All rights reserved.

Credits:

Tin can courtesy of Sun Ladder

Food basket courtesy of Liz West

Green beans on vine courtesy of Snijboon

Green beans courtesy of Daderot

Hoses courtesy of Bearofthecup

Grass fire courtesy of Bunk S: World on Fire. PLoS Biol 2/2/2004: e54. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0020054.g001/USDA Forest Service

Willie Nelson at Farm Aid courtesy of Larry Philpot, www.soundstagephotography.com

Lemonade with straw courtesy of newleaf01

 

 

Summer Trout

SUN Nuremberg_chronicles_-_Sun_Dogs_(CCIIIv)_pe

The sun fingers and prickles me,

And the dock creaks gray,

Floating on algaed styrofoam.

A silvery leap spatters

This drowsy morning,

Now tail-thrashed alert.

Lightened 1024px-Winslow_Homer_-_Leaping_Trout_(1892)_pe

The trout flee weedbeds,

And sunken-log mysteries

For spring-fed depths.

1024px-Trout_cutthroat_fish_oncorhynchus_clarkii_clarkii_pe_pe

My toes curve over the edge

Of wave-slapped wood,

And I dive,

In an arc,

Into their current,

Plunging below

Tepid-safe waters,

Mikhail Vedyokhin 1280px-Vad_lake._2007.03.14._Underwater

Desiring mute cool green

Until it presses

Hard on my breast,

And I push upward,

Bursting into white air,

Raining diamonds.

By iamharin, Drops Of Water From The Leaves Stock Photo

Credits

Leaping Trout by Winslow Homer

Underwater courtesy of Mikhail Vedyokhin

Drops of water courtesy of iamharin

The Heirloom Dress

In the Deep South, football is a religion.

In the Deep South, football is a religion.

My mother was no-nonsense, even when it came to planning weddings. “For God’s sake, don’t book it on religious holidays: Christmas, Easter, and football season. You’ll have no-shows around New Year’s, spring break, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day.  Mother’s Day is sacred, too. Father’s Day? Oh, men get over it.”

“Forget August,” Mom added. Her excuse was like a bad weather forecast. “Too much humid hair frizz and perspiration.” (In the South, “sweat” is verboten. Yes, we “glisten” on steamy afternoons.)

She waved away any bride’s dithering and checked off the key players within three days of the engagement announcement: the preacher, the church, the florist, the photographer, the caterer, and the reception location. Her lifelong sewing club demanded immediate notification because they were drowning in showers. All their daughters were coming of age.

Mom didn’t sweat some details. Four days before one wedding, she and dad rolled home from a two-week trip to the Cotswolds. Heavens, she thought, I need a mother-of the-groom dress. Mom yanked a blue mother-of-the-debutante dress out of her closet and sped off to the dry cleaners that did alterations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My mother saw it as an easy chop job. She inclined toward simple silhouettes. However, her request horrified the attendant. “Just whack it off at a respectable length for an afternoon wedding.” Mom had marked the spot with a straight pin.  “I’ll pay extra for a one-day hem job.” Then Mom dashed out the door, leaving the poor woman agog—her mouth frozen in a giant “O.”

A few years later, Mom hesitated when I asked to wear her wedding dress.  It was a fanciful notion since my childhood. How I adored its 1940s sweetheart neckline and satin-covered buttons. Great-great Uncle Bill had bought the Brussels lace (then a mantilla) during World War I for my grandmother.275px-Point_d'Angleterre._pe

Nannie would have us imagine that he clutched it to his chest as he crawled from trench to trench, flushing out Germans and crying, “Not a shred of lace for Kaiser Bill!” Once safely delivered to Nannie’s arms, the mantilla lay lovingly stored in a cedar chest for 31 years until she used it to embellish Mom’s wedding dress—her masterpiece after years of sewing college formals with sweeps of satin and bundles of netting.

As a child, I would steal into my parents’ large storage closet and climb, like a monkey, to the top shelf and reach for their musty wedding album. (Mom was a packrat, so she stacked albums and baby books on top of it.) I loved the photograph in which Mom and Dad clasped hands, with sweet promises ahead.

wedding close-up of mom and dad

Forty years later, Mom’s face was rounder and rosier (all that cooking for a tribe). Dad’s thick mop looked plucked. A mortgage and their children’s 30 years of combined college tuition had consumed their lives. To my consternation, Mom had no clue where she had stashed her wedding dress. She didn’t want to help me search, fearing the worst, as if it had rotted into a silverfish-infested heap.

My sister Mary, who had taken over as wedding planner, knew exactly where to look. The attic. Mom had saved everything. The debris could facilitate an archaeological dig by 22nd-century specialists in Cold War studies.

Alex Proimos 320px-Items_at_the_Junk_Yard_(7026999459)It was like a junk yard. Apparently, Mom carelessly documented our lives in piles.

Mary and I excavated about 25 elementary school class pictures, a few with cracked frames; nine sets of shedding cheerleader pompons; a pile of shriveled corsages; Barbie with three wigs and an orange sports car; twist-and-turn Barbie with bendable legs (one of the subcutaneous wires had popped from a joint); a bald Midge; and Skipper, who had undergone a shag haircut worthy of Mrs. Brady Bunch. There was a mother lode of Milton Bradley Games and a fried (blackened) Easy Bake Oven.

Mary crawled over four broken chairs, boxes of letters, and creased poster projects to uncover the dressed wadded up in a plastic bag near some fiberglass insulation. The lace had browned a bit, though the coronet and veil had fared better.

Mary excitedly tried to squeeze me in the dress. I stepped into the garment, but the waistline would not slip past my thighs. Ever hopeful, Mary attempted to haul it over my shoulders.

In her day, my mother’s waist must have been as small as Scarlett O’Hara’s—17 inches, the most svelte in three counties, according to Margaret Mitchell. Or Mom could have been Gibson Girl pin-up.

Gibson_Girls_seaside_-cropped-_by_Charles_Dana_Gibson_peMy mother? That tiny? Get out! Speaking of getting out, there I was stuck, my head in the bodice, one overhead arm in a sleeve and the other trapped in the elbow of the other sleeve. I sucked in my breath, and Mary somehow inched off the satin-and-lace vise.

Mom and Mary did not shillyshally. They made an appointment with the queenly dowager who restored vintage wedding gowns and deb dresses in her rambling mansion on Birmingham’s Southside. I delighted in the rumor that it was once a brothel. My mother must have pulled off the charm job of her life because that dear woman agreed to cram the dress into her mad pre-wedding and pre-deb garment preps for the upcoming season.

For the first fitting, I resurrected my ballroom manners. The Dowager of Repair Wear was petite, her accent cultivated. However, when she saw my mother’s crumpled wedding dress, her voice let off sparks, like matches hitting cold brick. For once in her life, my buoyant mother wanted to crawl out of a room.

The plain-Jane assistant never said a word. Her mousey hair pulled back in such a tight Mee-Maw bun that her wrinkles almost disappeared. (Think of Joan Rivers’ face, with her leftover skin stretched and knotted back under an über hair-sprayed ‘do.) Frocked in black, the assistant clutched a measuring tape and pressed a bunch of straight pins between her lips. A tomato-shaped pincushion strapped tightly on her right wrist.OldDesignShop_FrenchCorset1895-220x300_pe

Once more, I squirmed into the dress for inspection. I held my arms above my head, and the shoulders of the dress trapped my elbows. The bodice again smothered my head.  “Dear God!” the Dowager of Repair Wear cracked as she spun me around to poke and prod. “What I wouldn’t give for the perfect figure. In my next life, I’m returning as a 6-foot flaming redhead with big boobs.” I almost ripped the dress from stifling guffaws. Surely, the assistant was spitting pins. However, when I popped out my head, there she stood, her lips pressed even more thinly.

Thankfully, the formidable dressmaker pronounced the dress “doable,” as my grandmother had allowed enough fabric to let out for the next bride.

Not so doable was my bustline.  Typically, a right-handed person has a smaller left hand and foot.  The right foot may be a half-size larger. Nature had done an extra number on me. Right-handed moi somehow had a right boob with extra oomph.  The assistant shook her head after measuring. The Dowager of Repair Wear dispatched me to The Lingerie Shoppe  in Mountain Brook, Alabama, the mecca for dainty undergarments. It has serviced three generations from blue hairs to brides—for chest rearranging.

You think today’s Spanx is cruel after 18 hours? Try shoving yourself into a long-line contraption similar to that hawked by Jane Russell in the 1960s and 1970s. It was as deathly as a steel-like whalebone corset.jane-russell_pe_pe

Aside: If you are underage and don’t watch “Turner Classic Movies,” Miss Russell was the 1940s/1950s broad who topped her 24-inch waist and 36-inch hips with a 38D chest. She had ramrod posture. Otherwise, she would have toppled forward.  Bob Hope once introduced her as “the two and only Jane Russell”—in the age before feminist ire and bra burning. Of course, the voluptuous Miss Russell could have lit a bonfire with her gargantuan bra. (It bested Marilyn Monroe’s 36D.)

Washed-up actresses usually ended up in TV hell: Jane Russell plied Playtex bras to “full-figured gals,” and Jane Powell, who had real teeth, oozed about Polident.

Soutien_des_seine_par_une_brassiere_peOne of the gentlewomen of The Lingerie Shop tugged and pulled to even out my bustline. I tried not to take her professional touch personally. “Emma, dear,” she called to one of her cohorts. “Have you ever seen such a difficult fit?”

Emma peered at me, with her thick cat-eye glasses magnifying her bulbous farsighted eyes. I felt like a smashed bug under an entomologist’s slide. “Mercy,” she replied and started to work me over. Two “mature” customers crowded in to help twist and shift.

The corset of choice generally smoothed my silhouette, but my chest was still a tad “off.” Worn out, I bought the corset against a storm of protests. “Wait, wait,” they cried. “We can special order!”

Kleenex makes for good stuffing, I thought.

The Dowager of Repair Wear concocted a secret recipe for transforming the satin from stained to lustrous cream. It was a miracle. She could have made major bucks selling it to Procter & Gamble. The dreamy lace looked fresh, as if stored for decades in Nannie’s cedar chest.

We kept the dress a secret from Nannie, who had bought the satin from the downtown Atlanta Rich’s department store. She fastidiously sewed the wedding dress and fearlessly adorned it with the lace. Nannie attended the final fitting and wept when I stepped into the room. A few straight pins fell out of the assistant’s mouth, and she brushed away a tear.

vignette 6-14-restoration dress_pe_pe_orig_pe

Men don’t get it. When my father spotted the invoice on my mother’s desk, he groused, “Hell, Bunny, why didn’t you buy a new wedding dress, trousseau, and another box of sterling silver?”Earnestine Pankouche roses sprayPhoto 20140521205131_pe

Mom ignored him. For the wonder and delight on my grandmother’s face, the restoration was worth every pretty penny. Too bad the marriage did not last. But that heirloom dress is forever.

Patches from My Crazy Quilt © 2014 Catherine Hamrick.

Credits:

Auburn-Alabama Football courtesy of Matthew Tosh

Dry Cleaners courtesy of Kenneth Allen CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Junk Yard courtesy of Alex Proimos

“The Sea, the Sea—It’s So Empty”

626px-NormandySupply_editThey said the LST could ride higher in the water when landing in trim. She hit the sloping beach, and the bow door fell and disgorged jeeps and tanks and finally men with hands to work. It was gray all round, the water, the sky, ship after ship beside, around, and behind as far as he could see, if he dared to look back.

He looked forward only. German mortar and artillery shells exploded, but he looked forward only—wreckage, strewn wreckage of metal, of flipped, ripped jeeps, of wire, of bodies, whole and fallen, of twitching pieces, arms here and legs there, of detached trunks spilling guts, of oozing, foaming blood.800px-Into_the_Jaws_of_Death_23-0455M_edit

His automatic-motion hands dragged and patched the broken living and passed them to other hands that stretchered them up the ramp.

The day thundered, but he distanced the noise. He heard nothing but the whir in his brain, punctuated by hoarse yelling or screaming. His hands, now practiced, moved with machine-like precision.

He paused once. Why Omaha? A city in a golden prairie sea. Why Utah? A land-locked state and a salt lake? But this Omaha, this Utah, opened to a dead sea.

Omaha_Beach_wounded_soldiers,_1944-06-06_pe

My parents and I traveled to the beaches in September 1994. Low clouds hung dully. My father glanced at the tourists wandering about. “It’s so empty,” he said. “The sea, the sea—it’s so empty.”

240px-D-Day_Cemetery_in_Normandie_(2746181491)A Frenchman in his fifties approached. “Are you a veteran?” he asked.

My father nodded. “Then we thank you,” the stranger said. “I am part of a group who makes pilgrimages to such places. I look out to that water and thank all those lost boys—all those innocent souls who lost their lives ahead—and say a prayer.”

Patches from My Crazy Quilt © 2014 Catherine Hamrick.  All rights reserved.

Time Capsule

Original invasion footage by The Daily Telegraph

Reel America: D-Day to Germany

In a hail of fire, Piper Bill Millin played troops forward on Sword Beach

World War Two through Robert Capa’s Lens

A Walk in Ernie Pile’s Footsteps

The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves by Donald de Lue, American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer

The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves by Donald de Lue, American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer

How Soon Will We Forget?

From the Op-Ed “D-Day Highlights Historical Illiteracy” (The New York Dispatch) by Daniel Burnett, American Council of Trustees and Alumni

–Just 40 percent of Americans know that June 6 is the anniversary of D-Day.

–Not even half know that the president at the time was Franklin D. Roosevelt.

–Among college graduates: 55 percent know today is the anniversary, and 57 percent know Roosevelt was president.

–Only 17 percent of college graduates knew the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation, and only two in five knew the Battle of the Bulge occurred in World War II.

–Only five of the top 50 public universities in the country require even one survey course on American history or government.

In recent years, undergraduate students have bragged to me that they do not need “useless” composition courses. Are history courses just as pointless?

On the Matter of the Kimye Bedroom Portrait

Musicians_and_dancers_on_fresco_at_Tomb_of_NebamunWell, folks, I thought I was done with my Kimye blog post romp. Not so.

This morning I scanned The Huffington Post and spotted this morsel by Stephanie Marcus: “The Mirror reports that the 36-year-old rapper commissioned street artist Bambi . . . to paint a topless portrait of his new wife wearing just a G-string and Louboutin heels. It’s titled Perfect Bitch.”

320px-Birth_of_Venus_Botticelli

I found this amusing because these celebs are obsessed with admiring themselves in mirrors, and the Mirror faithfully follows them. This outlet is the online version of Brit pub The Daily Mirror, whose tagline was “intelligent tabloid” until the Trading Standards Agency ruled that they must remove it (January 2014).

level correct 286px-Venus_de_Milo_Louvre_Ma399_n4_peYears ago, The Daily Mirror sacked editor Piers Morgan, recently dumped by CNN. Go figure.

The man is such a skilled, wily interviewer. Piers asked every guest this piercing question: “Have you ever been properly in love?” To which many a famed person’s facial expression said, “WTF?” (I apologize to my family matriarchs. I typically avoid expletives.)

Hmm. Did I miss a segment in which Piers posed this question to Kimye? I suppose I will break down and watch the season opener of “Keeping up with the Kardashians” to find the answer to this deep question.

For the object of his affection, Mr. West already blew a bunch of bucks on gifts: a flower tower on Mother’s Day, a 20-foot flower tower on their wedding day, and an oversize Hermès Birkin bag festooned with hand-painted naked ladies last Christmas.

305px-Édouard_Manet_-_Le_Déjeuner_sur_l'herbe

Mr. West, if you suddenly become thrifty, you might consider buying reprints of Mrs. West’s nude photos in Playboy. Then you could wallpaper your room with blown-up images complemented by mirrors bouncing off the light of gigantesque Baccarat crystal prisms.

sharpenLes_Demoiselles_d'Avignon_peHey, you can always change out the images when you redecorate. After your baby’s birth in 2013, Mrs. West revealed, “I want to do Playboy [again].” My, my—the urban use of the verb do mightily resonates.

Alternatively, you could download copyright-free nude masterpieces and Photoshop Mrs. West’s amazing form over the fetching women who have garnered their rightful places in art history. How classy would that be?

Blue_Nudes_Henri_Matisse_pe

I just overheard my mother in heaven sighing and wringing her hands over the fact that you must explain the facts of life to underage miracle child North West if she toddles into your bedroom.

Jean_Metzinger,_1906,_La_dance_(Bacchante),_oil_on_canvas,_73_x_54_cm_DSC05359..

When Mrs. West busts up this marriage for her fourth trot to the altar, how much will she make auctioning off this bundle of “tasteful” art? As for the flower towers—no go. They already have wilted.

One final thought, Mr. West. Shock the world! Try a portrait with clothing.BathingSuit1920s

 

 

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Kanye West

 

Mrs. West, will your marriage fade before this bloom droops? Go for it! At least 10 weeks rather than the mere 63 days of your last altar trip.

Mrs. West, will your marriage fade before this bloom droops and falls of the vine? Do not disappoint your fans. Go for it—at least 11 weeks rather than the mere 72 days after your last trip to the altar with Kris Humphries.

Congratulations on your one-week wedding anniversary!

Poor Diana. By the 1990s, she loathed that dress. She looked as if she had crawled up through a tiered wedding cake and popped out her head.

Poor Diana. By the 1990s, she loathed that dress. She looked as if she had crawled up through a tiered wedding cake and popped out her head.

Until the latest media barrage, I had not followed pop culture since working at a subsidiary of Time Inc. in the 1990s. An issue of People (shared weekly by the magazine staff) was one of our perquisites.

Nary a baby bump graced a cover. Somewhere in the haze, I recall the disgrace and the departure of Diana, Princess of Wales, from the Windsor “family firm” and the ensuing blather.

 Joan Rivers and the Fashion Police nailed Nolte for the Hawaiian shirt and unkempt locks. (Does this portend of Justin Bieber's future?)

Joan Rivers and the Fashion Police nailed Nolte for the Hawaiian shirt and unkempt locks. (Does this portend of Justin Bieber’s future?)

Oh, dear. Nick Nolte was the “sexiest man alive” in 1992. Ten years later, Nick’s DUI mug hit the hungry media.

Last week, I put up my feet and wildly punched my way through multiple remotes. Kim/Kanye marriage mania was the mantra of every network, and I could not catch a break.

"Women are from Mars and women are from Venus" is bunk in my world—except for TV "on" buttons. Turning on the boob tube is definitely a "man thing."

“Women are from Mars and women are from Venus” is bunk in my world—except for TV “on” buttons. Multiple remotes can drive any woman to a loony bin. Turning on the boob tube is definitely a “man thing.”

Fawning correspondents—British, of course—gushed over the details of your country-hopping bliss. The only “news” outlet sans Kim/Kanye madness was C-SPAN. A lone legislator spouted off to an empty chamber.

Your $2.8 million catered affair cascaded through the airwaves.

Your multi-million-dollar catered affair cascaded through the airwaves.

Alas, Mr. and Mrs. West, dramatic cuts to the mass Isla Vista slayings interrupted your publicity triumph. The smiley anchorette went somber—on producer cue—when switching to the alleged killer’s chilling video. It looked as if the network sickos would play every creepy minute. I hit the “off” button. That oscillating coverage must have kicked in a viewership bonanza.

Okay, I am not of the crowd who solemnly declares, “I dare not sign up for cable. PBS is our channel of choice.” Nor do I echo the few, the proud, and the presumptuous who declare, “I do not own a TV, and I lock up my mobile devices. Even a glance will destroy my child’s brain.” I want my TV: “Andy Griffith,” “I Love Lucy,” “The Daily Show,” “The Big Bang Theory,” the “Star Trek” franchise, “Downton Abbey,” and “Game of Thrones.”

Barbarians at the gate!

Barbarians at the gate!

Well, Mr. and Mrs. West, you finally sucked me in with that pre-nup bash at Versailles. (My excuse? I am an ardent Francophile.) I hopped, skipped, and jumped through the remotes to catch “Entertainment Tonight.” Oh, my. Two decades had flown by. Mary Hart and her $1 million legs were no more. But another blonde talking head carried on. (Vanna White, your alphabet days are numbered.)

pencil 002 Louis_XIV_of_France_peThe setting for the party was most fitting. Louis XIV lodged at Versailles for decades, surrounded by hangers-on. After all, he was the Sun King—the world revolved around him.

A portrait of Louis XIV may have caught your eye as 100 champagne bottles uncorked. His heels were the envy of the court, elevating his stature all the more. Copy-cat a pair for a red carpet change. Better yet, introduce them in next season’s Kardashian Kollection at Sears.

Kardashian Girls: Take a shoe cue from Louis XIV. His taste was golden.

Kardashian Girls: Take a shoe cue from Louis XIV. His taste was golden, though he never evolved beyond stacked heels. Had he shod his feet with stilettos, rumors may have swirled about his manhood. Nonetheless, his modeling was exquisite. How’s your toe point?

Hey, Kimye, how about that Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors)? Flashes of Marie Antoinette and pampered mistresses of Louis XIV! You could spot your glam selves at every angle. So could your cloying entourage.

The Galerie des Glaces boasts 357 mirrors. Who could resist reflecting on your beauty?

The Galerie des Glaces boasts 357 mirrors. Who could resist reflecting on your beauty?

It is no wonder that daughter North West’s pristine-white nursery has mirrored walls. The whole family can admire themselves, down to stepfather Bruce Jenner’s latest facelift.

The touches of a masquerade? Oh, how historically clever of your wedding planner! Those French royals—from Louis XIV to his beheaded descendants—flirted and teased behind their masks.

Ah, the romance and mystery!

Ah, the romance and mystery of masked balls!

An orchestra in period garb? Eighteenth-century-style palace guards on horseback? Spiffy! (The heads of the last crew perched on spikes after they haplessly defended Marie Antoinette, Queen of France and Navarre, against a mob of starving women. Nevertheless, public taste does move on; today’s populace would rather feast on your photo-ops. How delicious they are!)

Framed Pencil 002 Sailko 278px-Forte_belvedere,_vista_su_villa_di_arcetri_e_san_leonardo_peMr. and Mrs. West, yours was a never-ending fairy tale wedding as the entourage winged their way to a surprise setting: Forte di Belvedere near Florence.

Could it be that its builders, the noble Medici family—patrons of artists (Michelangelo Buonarroti and Leonardo da Vinci) and science (Galileo Galilei)—inspired your choice of setting? . . . Nah, your wedding planner told you it was “awesome” and would be the envy of other celeb couples staging a wedding coup.

The Italian unemployment rate stagnates at 12.7 percent, so the locals likely perked up at the prospect of your 48-hour playground.

That 20-foot wall of flowers, lavish banquet spread, and all-night fireworks brought in a pretty euro. The yardmen must have thrilled to clip shrubbery, prune trees, and mow lawns. (How the locals slept through your heavenly thunder-and-lightening show remains unknown.)

On to Ireland, Mr. and Mrs. West! One week except for a 24-hour whirlwind jaunt to Prague! Now that put a temporary dent in a 12 percent Irish unemployment rate.

pencil scribble 002 640px-American_gold_double-eagles_from_Hackney_peDare I be gauche enough to talk money? (My own parents forbade it.)

However, Mrs. West, you flaunt it, so here is the approximate breakdown for the peons who worship you and your husband.

Engagement ring: $1.25 million (How prudent: your last cost $2 million.)

Bachelorette party: $4,100

Mrs. West, could you outdo this queenly 'do?

Mrs. West, could you outdo this queenly ‘do?

Bachelorette party frock: $16,000

‘Dos and hair designers: $65,000

Versailles bash: $681,000

Versailles fireworks: $204,210

Jet-setting (Paris to Florence): $218,000

Forte di Belvedere venue: $410,000+ (Bummer! At the last wedding, Montecito’s Sottee Il Monte estate was rent free.)

Guest accommodations (Paris and Florence): $500,000+ (Advantage: you cut the budget when Beyoncé and Jay Z were no-shows. Were they again stuck in an elevator with Solange?)

Family accommodations: $1,800 per room (Advantage: you saved a tad when brother Robert Kardashian checked out.)

Dig these diggs!

Uber Italian digs!

Givenchy wedding gown, matchy-matchy dress for North West, and tux: $500,000 (At the last wedding, three Vera Wang dresses totaled $60,000.  Moving up!)

20-foot flower tower and other buds: $136,000

Yep. It was a Fort Knox dream come true.

Yep. It was a Fort Knox dream come true.

Noshes: $110,000

7-foot cake: $6,815

Security: $3 million

Andrea Bocelli performance: God knows

Tears: priceless

My fellow civilized Southerners would agree (as well as their counterparts in other regions): throwing cash at an event does not make you a tastemaker. For instance, Mrs. Bruce Jenner, it is most unseemly for an MOB to wear white, much less display plunging cleavage.

Even in this candid pre-wedding shot, my dear friend---who married her true love in Alabama---was all grace sans fuss.

Even in this candid pre-wedding shot, my dear friend—who married her true love in Alabama—was all grace sans fuss.

And, Mrs. West, what’s with those mother-daughter twin-like wedding dresses? I do not care whether Givenchy whipped them up. Many offspring find this embarrassingly tacky. Eventually, North West will hide the pics and then change her name because she is not a direction on Google Maps, nor can she upstage Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest. (Not to worry North: fruitcake Gwyneth Paltrow named her child Apple.)

Mr. and Mrs. West, I could not afford to buy one image scan of your wedding, though I can Google your record-breaking Instagram kiss. As Samantha Grossman quipped in Time: “Kim Kardashian is kind of famous for nothing, but no longer! Now she’s famous for uploading the most popular Instagram ever.” Obviously, Ms. Grossman has never ventured to Sears for an off-the-rack Kardashian style statement, which keeps you busy-busy.

Nonetheless, I prefer to share pics of fashionable southern brides who do not deplete their family coffers to indulge in over-the-top Hollywood antics.

Renowned St. Simons photographer Sarah DeShaw captures these fresh southern beauties. Happy clicks! BTW: We never say the verboten word “classy,” only “classic.”

Just to let you know, Mr. and Mrs. West, no one in the United States is royalty. And that includes the Kennedys. This is a republic. Nonetheless, thank you for welcoming us into your studio. Your intellect and interview skills are stellar.

Maybe I’ll flip through your People wedding feature while waiting in the Kroger express lane.

Credits:

White flower painting courtesy of Lincolnian

The Palace of Versailles main golden gate courtesy of Sunil.phys

Fort di Belvedere, Florence’s celebrated fortification, courtesy of Sailko

Period luxury bedchamber courtesy of Tim Schapker

Sarah DeShaw Photography/Pinterest/St. Simons Island, Georgia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let Freedom Fly

Dad in sailor suit_peMy dad yearned to be a doctor from the moment he saw ol’ Doc Weeks, the county physician, set a leg. At 16, he thumbed his way from Talking Rock, Georgia, to Atlanta, where he worked as an office boy. He was in a hurry. The war was on. Youthful impatience wore down his father, who finally signed the papers so Dad could enlist at 17.

He tested to be an airplane mechanic. Nevertheless, my father bumped into some brass and flatly told them he didn’t want to fight the war with a toolbox. He ended up as a pharmacist’s mate on an LST (landing ship tank). It was his first crack at hands-on healing.320px-US_Navy_LST_Landing_Sherman_pe

After pulling wounded off Utah Beach on D-Day, Dad transferred to the Pacific Theater. The typhoons terrified more than the kamikazes. The LST crew could bellow clouds of smoke to camouflage the ship from divine-wind suicide, but they could not hide from nature’s fury.

A typhoon’s roar deafened, with seas crashing all around. In the valley between 35-foot waves, my dad and his mates would stare up at a wall of water curving overhead. Then the ship would ride almost perpendicular, surviving the crest before tossed into another valley.

Pacific Ocean National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Department of Commerce_peWhen the ship sailed into the eye, an eerie quiet fell. Flocks of seabirds sought refuge on the tiny metal island. They perched without fear, even within hand’s reach.

My father could not bear what was to come. He would scoop up a few gentle creatures and stow them in his locker. Then the typhoon would rage again, battering most birds to death against the ship.

jvl!o (Julio Maldonado Mourelle) 320px-PelicanosFlock_peHours later, the sea calmed, and the skies cleared. Dad would slip below and bundle up the birds huddled in his locker. He ran topside and released them to soar into deep blue skies.

Life, after all, in the madness of death and destruction.

Patches from My Crazy Quilt © 2014 Catherine Hamrick.  All rights reserved.

Credits

Pacific Ocean courtesy of NOAA/Department of Commerce

Flying birds courtesy of jvl!vo (Julio Maldonaldo Mourelle)