Saturday, November 22, 2008


Well now, if my previous couple of entries have dragged you down to the point of near suicide, please allow me to wax poetic on the beauty and solace that is Thanksgiving.

I can remember back in Smock that Thanksgiving was one of the few days of the year where cabbage was not the primary scent that would emulate from the doors of all of the houses as you walked home from church. On Thanksgiving, if you were lucky, the aroma of turkey, chicken, or some other fowl was the olfactory blessing of the day, mixed with the unmistakable scent of deer. Baked deer. Or fried deer. Or deer casserole. Or maybe deer steaks. Or deerburgers. Or perhaps deer stew.

Yes, we were a band of hunters. In fact, most of the schools in Fayette County were closed on the first day of deer season. If they weren't, there would be a disproportionate amount of mostly young men that had sudden cases of the flu, stomach ache, appendicitis or even worse. And those that both miraculously recovered and bagged a six-pointer the previous day regaled their friends with the story of the 200 yard shot with "Dad's ought-six", made with open sights. Oh yes, the more difficult the shot, the more glory.

Men in Smock lived for the hunt. And they loved the hunt. So much so that as recent as today, I read an obituary saying "He was an avid deer hunter." Yep, it ranks right up there with being a die hard Steeler fan or lover of bingo. "Die hard". No pun intended. But there have been more than one Smock resident buried with a Steeler shirt and/or Terrible Towel.

My grandfather, who I loved so much, used to hold court at the table on Thanksgiving. And then at a predetermined time, he'd run around the table with this triangular piece of turkey and chase me saying "Hey Bobby, do you want the "last thing through the fence?" The non-Catholic hoards would refer to this part of Thanksgiving anatomy as "The Pope's Nose". Ugh. I usually escaped by running downstairs and locking myself in the coal bin. And then as in every year that passed, my grandmother, who held a close second to grandpap, would try her best to force one bite of sweet potato down my throat, all to the cries of "No, no, nooooo, not that." To this day, if you tried to get me to eat one of those cruel orange results of man's original sin, you would tell that I was not your friend by the choice of language that greeted you.

After dinner, my grandfather would sit in his red lounge chair which had the constant Iron City beer on the left side and watch football since Bortz's Tavern was closed. And then after the appropriate nap, it was time for the second wave of ultimate destruction of the turkey and anything else that was now covered over on the stove. I was especially fond of the stuffing and the contents of the plastic bag in the turkey that was like the toy prize in the Cracker Jack box. Oh yes, my grandfather taught me to appreciate the delicacies of his youth. Things like pig's feet, fresh cut bacon and a gelatinous dish made from boiling pigs feet that I will simply not describe for those who have weak constitutions.

On Thanksgiving Day, 1987, I attended mass at St. Theresa's in Wilmington. And it was during that mass that a miracle took place. The baskets were passed at the offertory. But before that, the priest said that today, the baskets held $10.00 bills. STACKS and STACKS of $10.00 bills. And we were instructed to take one or two or a whole fist full of them. The priest said, "don't worry, if we run out, THERE'S MORE." After the offertory, we were told that we could use the money any way we wanted. But we might want to think about those less fortunate than us. After mass, I found an old lady wheeling a shopping cart that contained her entire life. I gave her the two $10.00 bills that I took and felt pretty good about it.

There is a lesson here. A lesson that goes back to the days when I was a child. Sure, I could feel good about this since it was a SURPLUS. It didn't hurt to give away this money. So later that same T-Day, I gave away the entire contents of my wallet; about 80 bucks. That stung. But it was one of the greatest and best pains I have ever felt. It reminded me of the Bible story of the widow's mite. Sure, the pharisee plopped a big wad in the temple that day, but it was his excess that he gave. The widow gave her lunch money.

I also remembered the song that was playing on the radio when I gave away that $80.00. It was THE traditional Thanksgiving Day hymn, Alice's Restaurant. Written and sung by Arlo Guthrie, son of an American icon. And I could not think of anything better to give to for Thanksgiving 2008. So here you go...

.....walk right in, it's around the back, just a half a mile from the railroad track.......

HEY !!!!!! Happy T. Day.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day

Veteran's Day is not for the dead. That would be Memorial Day, which was covered earlier in this blog.

In Smock, Veteran's Day was not "celebrated" but do not think for one second that it was not remembered. When I was a kid, it was called Armistice Day, which commemorated the signing of the treaty to end World War I on the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Modern posters say that Veteran's Day honors "all who served". And rightly so. Many of us include the dead in this but I prefer to think of those that are still above ground.

And so, in my childhood memories of Veteran's Day, I remember the old, arthritic men who would hang the flag out on their porches or wear their World War I campaign hats. I actually remember my grandfather's "tin hat" that he kept from that war which is exactly like the one in the picture here. World War I was called the war to end all wars. As my grandfather would say, they came up short when they gave out that title.

One of the things that Veteran's Day taught me as a child was the respect that people had for anyone who fought for their country, right back from the Revolutionary War to today's fighting in Iraq. These people were admired and praised for what they did. God and Country meant something.

In today's society, God has become the cellular phone and Country is something that is to be mocked and ridiculed at any opportunity. How can we honor our veterans if we do not honor the country for which they fought? The answer to this is that most of us simply do not honor our Veterans today.

Sure, we pay them what the Bible calls "lip service" by waving flags and patting uniformed men and women on the back while saying "well done" but do we really mean it? Is there real sincerity there? When a veteran walked by in the Smock of the 1950's, often a hushed remark accompanied them like "he was in the Great War" or "you be sure to call him MR. PONZURICK" because of what he did.

In today's "it's all about me" society, it becomes just as difficult to relate to fighting in the Baghdad streets as it was to relate to the fighting in the jungles of Phu Cat, Vietnam. You can almost hear the comments of "well at least they're not fighting down the street".

If you exclude the "family feud" that we fought in the mid-1800's, the last war fought on our own soil was mentioned only in the history books. We never knew anyone from those wars.

So then wars that were fought in remote places with exotic names like Verdun and Cassarine Pass and El Alamein were easy to forget. And along with them, we forget the men who hang those flags on their porches.

We feel pretty good about our returning soldiers from Iraq. There are even groups of people who meet returning troops at airports whether they know these military men and women or not.

Several years ago, I had written a surgical technology course for a Northern Virginia college. Part of the requirement of establishing this program was to get written affiliations with hospitals so that our students could rotate through their operating rooms for the very necessary practical experience that was required to graduate. So I got the idea to go to Walter Reed Army Hospital and Bethesda Naval Hospital and see if they would enter into this agreement with the college. What I saw there wasn't horrible. It was much worse. There were literally squads and platoons of amputees lining the halls and rooms of these hospitals. And in that instant, I learned that these are the returning troops from battle that didn't come through the airport halls, but rather were transported by military aircraft directly to these hospital for rehabilitation and fitting for prosthetic limbs. And there are thousands of these real war heroes there today.

So this Veteran's Day, I will remember those old men who dared not tell us youngsters of the horrors of the gas clouds or the trenches or the prison camp in Hanoi. But I will also remember these young people, and dare I say children, who will bear both the mental and physical memories of defending freedom and justice. They are the ones who deserve our admiration and respect on this Veteran's Day.