9
Jul

A Short Story of Magic and Dreams- A CHANCE ENCOUNTER

hofpgartenchurch

In 1987, while visiting Austria, we were caught in a storm. Like our day in Austria we experienced the storm and the ringing church bells. The village and setting are real. There were cobbled streets and rain water flowing down the street and the fear and wonder were real. We were given this explanation for why they rang the bells...but the delightful interaction with the stranger is fantasy...or was it?
Have you ever had an experience that felt unearthly and ethereal?

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Hofpgarten, Austria, 1987
The clanging church bells, crashing thunder and flash of lightning assailed my senses. Adrenaline surged through my chest like an electric current. Lightning lit the sky behind the church steeples across the street. Crashing thunder momentarily drowned out the clanging church bells.

Terror gripped my heart. Was I caught in a time warp of nature’s fury, transporting me to another place; magical, ethereal, and terrifying? How odd that I should feel such fear. Stay calm. It’s just a sudden summer storm. I stood transfixed in wonder as the elements crashed around me.
A torrent of water rushed down the cobbled stones, filling the gutters, threatening to flow onto my feet. Were the bells warning of some disaster? Have they declared war? Did someone assassinate the President? Does Austria even have a President?

I huddled beneath the narrow striped canopy of the clock shop. Cold spines of stinging rain drove against my face. Lightning flashed and I jumped at the next clap of thunder. The awning was pitifully inadequate and rain dripped from my hair onto my raincoat. Rain bounced off the pavement, forcing me closer to the wall.

And then, a man stopped beneath the awning where I shivered. “May I offer the shelter of my umbrella?” He tilted his umbrella, protecting me from the storm.

“Thank you, how kind.” His presence soothed my fears and my pattering heart slowed.

We stood side by side beneath the canopy, watching the ribbons of lightning zigzag across the afternoon sky.

“The storm came up so quickly, it caught me quite unawares.” I dabbed my face with a handkerchief and tilted my head toward the sound of the church bells.

“Sudden storms are not unexpected this time of year.”

“Why are they ringing the bells?” I tucked the hankie in my pocket. “Has something happened? Is there an emergency?” I gestured toward the deluge of water flowing down the cobbled stones, looking as though a river had overflowed its banks.

“They ring the bells to frighten the storm clouds toward another village.”
I struggled to suppress a smile, doubting the ability of the bells to drive away the clouds but pleasantly moved by his quaint belief in their magical power. “If that’s what you believe, I’m sorry to say, it’s not working. It’s been raining for half an hour.”

“Oh, it’s working fine.” His smile lit up his face. “But, the next village also rings their bells and the clouds are confused. They hear the other village bells, so they drift back here again. From village to village they drift. Soon they will find a quiet place where they can rest.”
We stood beneath the awning watching the rain and laughed, exchanging small bits of idle conversation. On the hillside above us, my pension looked down on the train winding through the valley and into the town. Cows dotted the nearby fields. The cow’s bells tinkled as they ambled across the meadows; the sound echoing from valley to hillside.
We stood so close to the stranger, I was warmed by the scent of him.
A whistle shrieked and he turned toward the train station. “I’m sorry, I must go. My train is coming. Perhaps you should seek better shelter?”
I nodded. “I’ll go into a shop as soon as the rain lets up a bit. Thank you again for sharing your umbrella.”

He caught up my hand and raised it to his lips. “It’s been a pleasure. I wish we had more time to…” His lips brushed my fingertips. “Good-bye.”

I looked deep into his eyes and in that moment, it felt as though I whirled through spasms of space and time. And in that instant, surrounded by light and the music of the bells, it was as though he and I had shared a lifetime together; infinite days and endless nights of love and hope. I heard the blare of 100 marching bands, saw the night sky explode in a cacophony of fireworks, felt the coolness of a 1000 springtime rains, the pink glow of 10,000 morning dawns and the wonder of a myriad of red and golden sunsets…

In those few seconds, it seemed we shared a lifetime. I shook my head, knowing it was a fantasy brought on by the magic of the bells and the storm.

He released my hand, waved a final farewell and strolled toward the train.
As he disappeared into the station, the blare of marching bands tinkled and became a warning bell, then silence. The music in my head became…a sparrow in a nearby tree.

The rain stopped. The sun cast sparkling rainbows through the dewdrops dripping from the shrubs. I touched the place where he had stood and his aura seemed to melt through my fingertips. “Wait! I don’t even know your name.” I ran toward the station, “Wait!” The whistle blew and the train clacked down the track. The magic spell was broken.

Years have passed. I’ve had a good life, all that one could hope for. Marriage, a satisfactory career and children. But, even now, when I hear church bells, I stop to listen.

Even now, the bells have the power to drive the storm clouds from my soul. I smile as I remember a summer storm in a faraway land. I close my eyes and relive the moments I shared an umbrella with a stranger. Were we caught up by a crack in time and space? In that instant, did we actually share a lifetime of love and laughter? Or was it only a dream that lasted for a second?

The bells ring on and I am reminded of that day when church bells echoed from one mountaintop to another, as the storm clouds scrambled from village to village in search of a silent peaceful place.

Finally in their frantic search, they drifted onto a quiet hillside where the only sound was the tinkling of cow’s bells, as they ambled through the meadows and disappeared into the mist.

25
Jun

Through the Eyes of an Eagle

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THROUGH THE EYES OF AN EAGLE
ELAINE FABER
Long before gold was discovered in the Sierra Mountains, the pristine forest, hills and valleys lay in green and golden repose, as yet untouched by the hand of man.

In this land of yesterday, meadows were carpeted with flowers, gently waving grass, dense forests and snow- capped hills. Crystal lakes shimmered in the sunlight, reflecting a brilliant blue unpolluted sky. In this virgin wilderness, animals and birds lived together in peace and harmony. Mother Nature taught each of them how to build a home in the trees, in the river or in a cave. Each knew when to find a mate, and how to raise their young.

On a particular day long ago, there was a certain valley surrounded by the forest at the base of a cliff, where a river splashed and tumbled over moss covered rocks. This valley was the home of Kamar the eagle, Pogo the beaver and Xerces the bear and her baby, Jali.

To the north of the river was a jagged, sheer faced cliff. On the top of the cliff stood an old dead tree, jutting another 50 feet into the sky. The old tree was blackened and broken, reminiscent of a long ago forest fire, years before the recollection of any of the forest creatures living in the valley. As the years passed, the hills turned green with new forest and now stood proud and tall with only a few remembrances of that terrible day when lightening struck and flames ravaged the hillside. Atop the old, blackened tree, in its highest branches, Kamar, the eagle and his mate built their nest.

Year after year, Kamar and his mate returned to the treetop and pulled out branches, kicked and scratched out leavings from last year’s nest, added new branches, enlarged and broadened its base until it spanned seven feet across, covering the top branches like a giant mushroom. Several months had passed since their eggs had hatched and three little fledglings filled the nest. Dark golden plumage had begun to sprout on their bodies and upper legs. In the months to come, as they grew to maturity, their golden heads, neck and tails would turn white, identifying them as Bald Eagles.

In the river below, Pogo, the beaver, built a dam, creating a rocking, flowing pool fifty-foot across causing the water to slow to a trickle. In this gentle pool, fish lazily slept, swam, and fed, providing a private supply to the beaver family. In the center of the dam, Pogo and his mate built a warm dry den for their four pups.

Mrs. Pogo sat on top of the dam, listening to the splash of water tumble over the nearby rocks flowing down the river toward the sea. The wind whispered through the leaves and forest birds chirped as they gathered sticks, flitting back and forth making their own nests. She heard the cac-cac-cac above and saw Kamar soaring overhead, his magnificent white head, neck and tail contrasting against the blue sky. He drifted down and seized a dead fish on the shore. With it gripped tightly in his talons, he soared upward. Turning and lifting with the air currents, he landed on top of his nest. His young fledglings opened their mouths hungrily to receive the pieces he tore from the fish. The smaller little female struggled valiantly with her larger brothers for her share.

Baby Jali, the grizzly bear, woke from a nap, stretched and yawned. A flying bug caught his attention and he stumbled after it. Stopping here and there to nibble a flower, he followed the bug across the meadow, until he was far from the river where his mother lay sleeping.
A ground squirrel ran toward a hole and forgetting the bug, he ran after it, imitating his mother’s actions.

The squirrel zigged and zagged toward the forest with Jali following close behind, until she zipped out of sight under a log. Jali found himself far from the river in a part of the forest he did not recognize. He bawled loudly for his mother. The only sound was the chirp of forest birds and small animals scratching nearby.

Jali heard the low moan of a wolf howling in the distance. Lost and hungry, he ran, frightened by the menacing sound. He stumbled over branches and undergrowth until he was deep in the damp forest and far from the safety of the meadow.

Kamar sat atop his mighty nest, his head cocked to the side, peering through bright yellow eyes at the river below. A fine pool had swelled behind the beaver’s dam where fish were trapped. He was pleased, for where there are fish, surely dead fish will be found such as was needed to feed his family!

Kamar’s attention was drawn toward Xerces, running through the meadow, but the baby was not scampering behind, begging to be fed. Xerces roared and smashed branches as she searched for the missing baby.

Kamar lifted off his nest, spread his wings and followed a down draft toward the river for a better look. He banked to the east, gave his six- foot wings a gentle flap and caught another air current that carried him in a soft arc. His excellent eyesight surveyed the entire meadow as he looked for Jali.

Kamar turned south and sailed across the lush forest, allowing the air currents to take him slightly up and down, back and forth. He scanned the trees below. Dropping down to get a better look, he saw the baby cub far beyond his mother’s call. Kamar banked again, his wing tips swishing against the highest branches.

Jali heard the swishing branches and looked up. He saw Kamar, soaring in a spiral above the trees. He had often seen Kamar circling above the meadow where he lived. Jali stumbled along the path, following the bird. Kamar circled slowly in a wide arc above the baby bear. Jali tumbled through the brush, keeping Kamar in sight, and at last was heading in the right direction toward the meadow. Within a short time, his mother’s bawling led him to her. She gave him a reprimanding smack with her great paw, licked his face, and lay down on the forest moss and fed him. When both were rested, she led him back to the meadow.

There came a day when a sudden summer storm rose up. The run-off from the mountains flowed into the river and the waters rushed toward Pogo’s dam, tearing and breaking loose the branches from the south wall.

Pogo and his family waddled into the forest to find trees to repair the damage. He showed them how to choose the right size trees, chew them at just the right height and angle to fall toward the river. Together, they pulled and tugged the trees back toward the broken dam. Pogo’s family gathered mud and placed it in the branches to secure the trees to the walls. The beavers worked throughout the day until the breach was nearly filled and the rushing river slowed to a trickle.

High on the top of the cliff, Kamar’s family huddled in their nest, their feathers dampened by the storm. When the storm had passed, the young fledglings stretched their wings in the air to dry. Each day they were becoming braver, stretching their wings, and letting the wind currents lift them up a few feet, only to fold their wings and drop back into the safety of the nest. The storm had also weakened Kamar’s nest, tearing away some of the branches that supported the increasing weight of the young birds.

As the littlest fledgling stood on the side of the nest, the weakened edge crumbled. Instinctively, she spread her wings. An air current lifted her slightly, breaking her fall, as she plummeted downward toward the river. She drifted, rather than fell, into the water, 20 feet from the beaver’s dam. The fledgling splashed frantically, but her wet feathers kept her from lifting herself out of the water. The river’s current dragged her toward the rocks.

Pogo entered the water with the final log gripped in his teeth, needed to repair the dam. His children followed along side guiding the log into place. As they positioned the end of the log into the breach, the far end swung around and smacked into the drowning fledgling. She flopped her drenched body onto the log. Pogo swung the log around to fit it into the dam, rapping the end where the little bird slumped, sharply against the shore. The nearly drowned fledgling fell from the log into the sand, where she lay huddled, wet and shaking in the sun. She extended her wings to dry, closed her eyes and slept.

The little bird huddled on the shore, drying and regaining her strength while her parents circled helplessly above, calling and swooping over her crumpled body. When the sun dried her feathers, the little bird extended her wings and pushed off the shore. She rode the air currents, circling above the river while her parents called encouragement, until she reached the safety of her nest, high at the top of the sheer cliff in the old blackened treetop.

Following their sister’s example, for the first time, Kamar’s sons let the current take them from the edge of their nest. They circled, each time a little farther, until the sky was filled with eagles. They lifted and soared and let the wind take them, returning again and again back to their home base. Eventually they would leave the safety of the ancient tree and learn to find food and care for themselves. But on this day, with the air filled with cac-cac-cacs, they soared and called, high above the river, proud of their new skill. They flew through the sky, where as far as the eagle’s eye could see, the land was covered with trees and majestic mountains and meadows filled with flowers.

Pogo and his family, not knowing the part they had played in the little eagle’s rescue, slept soundly in their newly repaired den beneath the river that flowed endlessly toward a distant sea.

The summer days grew longer and the leaves on the trees turned to shades of red, yellow and orange. The shrubs lost their leaves and the autumn rain turned the meadow grasses once again from brown to green.

One crisp fall day, the youngest beaver pup ventured into the cool and shadowy forest near the spot where they had taken trees to mend the dam last spring. With the wind in his face, he did not see or hear the male grizzly bear that came out of the forest. The male had caught Xerces’ scent, and on the chance that she might be in season, was coming to investigate.

Coming from behind a clump of bushes, the grizzly and the beaver unexpectedly stood within feet of each other. The bear roared and reared on his hind feet. The little beaver was paralyzed with fear, unable to move. The male grizzly bear raised his paw to strike a blow that would send the beaver to his death.

Xerces awoke at the sound of the male’s roar. She raced toward the giant male who dared invade her territory where her baby lay sleeping. Xerces burst through the bushes, roaring hideously, as only a mother grizzly bear can.

The grizzly turned to face the enraged mother. Though the male easily outweighed Xerces, he knew that she would fight to the death to protect her cub. The lady was obviously not interested in romance. He ran back into the brush with Xerces close behind him. The little beaver raced back to the river as fast as his little body could waddle.

Kamar rose from his treetop, catching an updraft, lifted and circled the valley. His fledglings were grown and all but the little female had flown away, as fledglings do. Some days, Kamar would see them high above the valley, their cac-cac’s ringing through the morning sky. The little female ranged far and wide during the day, hunting, catching the currents, drifting and swooping over the forest, returning only to her mother’s nest at night. Soon, she would find a mate and build her own nest in a high crevice or treetop.

From high over the treetops, he looked down upon his world. His abandoned nest, atop the sheer rock face, above the river winding through the valley. Xerces, sleeping in the meadow with her cub. Beavers paddling happily across the river, diving into the sparkling water. Kamar’s mate, preening her feathers, in a nearby tree.

Kamar circled and then flew straight up into the sun until from the ground, he looked like a speck in the sky. Beneath him, the mountains, the forest, the rivers and the valleys far, far below were touched with shades of sparkling red, yellow and gold, crisscrossed by brilliant blue rivers, white snowcapped mountains and vivid shades of green forests, as though it were a mighty landscape, painted by the hand of God.

21
Jun

Victory With a Victory Garden

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In my latest humorous mystery/adventure, Mrs. Odboddy Home Town Patriot, Agnes grows and tends vegetables and fruit in her back yard victory garden. Here are some facts about victory gardens you may not know.

During the course of WWII, and due to labor and transportation shortages, trains and trucks were used to move soldiers and equipment, thus limiting the ability to transport fruit and vegetables products to cities and towns across the United States. Therefore, the U.S. Department of Agriculture encouraged planting victory gardens in every back yard, vacant lot or unused plot of land.

One U.S. propaganda poster read, Our Food is Fighting. Such war time posters sent the message to local citizens that produce from their own gardens would help lower the price of vegetables needed by the U.S War Department to feed the troops. Such a savings could then be used elsewhere to provide weapons and clothing to the military: Home victory gardens also increased the supply of produce that was otherwise rationed and limited to homemakers across the county. Around one third of the vegetables produced by the United States during the war years came from victory gardens.

By May 1943, there were 20 million victory gardens everywhere from rooftops and empty lots to backyards and schoolyards or in any other usable plot of dirt in the United States. It became a sign of patriotism to convert your front lawn into a vegetable garden.

Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden on the White House grounds as an example to the vast number of dedicated followers of her newspaper articles and radio broadcasts. This was viewed with concern by the Department of Agriculture. Not everyone was an experienced gardener, so the government issued educational pamphlets, as did seed and agricultural companies, including growing techniques and recipes. As a result, 9,000,000–10,000,000 tons of fruits and vegetables were successfully harvested in homes and community plots in 1944. “Grow your own, can your own", was a slogan that referred to families growing and canning their own victory garden food, so the harvest could last all year.

Even in New York City, lawns were converted to victory gardens, as were portions of San Francisco Golden Gate Park. Schools and community centers still plant gardens to teach children about harvesting, good nutrition and the wonder of watching nature’s bounty when properly cared for.

To read about Agnes Odboddy’s victory garden and her recipe for Oxtail Stew and War Time cake, Mrs. Odboddy Home Town Patriot is available at Amazon for just $3.99, or about the same price as a nice package of bran muffins from today’s supermarket. Bran muffins or hours of reading enjoyment. You make the call.

7
May

And Where have all the Dollars Gone?

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Society has demanded many changes in the United States over the years including the popularity and use of certain coins and bills. Let me share a few that have come and gone.

The copper United States half-penny was produced from 1793 to 1857. It was slightly smaller than a modern quarter. The coins are now only found in coin collections. The rare designed coins are valued from $100’s to $1000’s of dollars depending on the age, condition and various styles.

The two-cent piece was produced for circulation from 1864 to 1872. Maybe this is where the phrase, “let me put my two-cents worth in,” came from! Even three-cent coins were struck briefly during the Civil War.

The United States half-dollar or fifty-cent piece is the largest U.S. coin currently minted and twice the weight of the quarter. The coin depicts the profile of President John F. Kennedy on the front. Used mostly during the first half of the twentieth century, they are still occasionally seen in circulation. The 1964 Kennedy half dollars are largely collected by the public for sentimental reasons. Those issued through the end of the 1960s were the only precious metal U.S. coin remaining in production, and as the price of silver continued to rise, pre-1964 halves disappeared from circulation.

I fondly remember the fifty-cent piece, a coin I often had during my childhood.

The Susan B. Anthony dollar was minted from 1979 to 1981, when the series was halted due to poor public reception, and briefly produced again in 1999. Proposed as a smaller replacement for the dollar, a number of shapes and compositions were tested, but all were opposed by the vending machine industry, and rejected in part because of its similar size to the quarter.

In 1997, a gold-colored Susan B. coin was produced and a final run of dollars was struck in 1999 and retired in 2000. Most are now privately collected and rarely seen in circulation.

The Sacagawea dollar, another gold coin, has been minted every year since 2000, although released only during various years, due to its general unpopularity with the public. Designs on the reverse side of the coin during various years depict a different aspect of Native American cultures.

The term silver dollar is often used for any large white metal coin issued by the United States with a face value of one dollar whether or not it contains any silver. Dollar coins have never been very popular in the United States. Most Americans currently use the dollar bill rather than dollar coins. The Mint ceased production of dollar coins for general circulation in 2011. Silver dollars can still be obtained at banks on request.

The silver dollar is another of my favorite childhood coins, often received as a birthday or Christmas present.

The two-dollar bill is rarely seen but is available at banks on request. Multiple changes to the face and reverse side occurred over the years, including the size of the bill in 1928 when the size of U.S. currency was standardized.

Changes are now being planned for the twenty-dollar bill. Harriet Tubman, a woman responsible for assisting thousands of slaves to freedom, along the ‘underground railroad’ will likely replace Thomas Jefferson’s face on the front of the bill.

Lastly, the words “In God we Trust” was first added to large coins in 1865 and added to our paper money in 1957. The story of how this all occurred will be discussed another day.

26
Feb

WWII Coast Guard Mounted Beach Patrol

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While writing for my humorous mystery novel, Mrs. Odboddy-Hometown Patriot, I located interesting little- known WWII history. Some events were included in my novel and other information was not. Of interest was the Coast Guard Coast Patrol. More information can be found about this subject at http://www.uscg.mil/history/uscghist/Beach_Patrol_Photo_Index.asp

Pearl Harbor: After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, the Coast Guard put into action a wartime beach patrol. Two men teams were dispatched to walk the shores along miles of beaches, watching for any suspicious boats or activity, in hopes of stopping an invasion or sabotage.

In June 13, 1942, a German submarine successfully landed four saboteurs on Long Island, discovered by one of the Coast Guard beach patrol. Four boxes of explosives, detonators, and timing devices were discovered buried at the site. The spies were apprehended by the FBI.

Four day later, four more German agents were landed from a U-boat at Ponte Vedra Beach, near Jacksonville, Florida. Again, boxes of bombs and incendiary devices were found on the beach. The men were apprehended by the FBI. A beach patrol was urgently needed.

Adding Horses: Shortly thereafter, the Coast Guard sought men who knew how to ride and handle horses to perform the coast watch.

Applicants ranged from experienced equestrians including polo players, cowboys, jockeys, rodeo riders, stunt men, horse trainers, Army Reserve cavalrymen and more.

By the end of 1942, hundreds of new coastal stations were established and 24,000 men and 3,000 horses were patrolling 3700 miles of beach on both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico.

Riding horseback allowed patrolmen to carry radios, rifles and side-arms. It further provided an advantage in the event a patrol had to run down a suspect or block an escape.

Dogs Join the Team: In August 1942, the Coast Guard also recognized that the use of dogs, with their keen sense of smell and their ability to be trained for guard duty, could help enhance the patrols. Ultimately, some 2000 dogs were added to the equestrian force.

Mounted patrol teams now included at least two riders, often with dogs working alongside the horses. Dogs added to the patrol’s ability to detect persons or situations that might not be observed by the patrolmen. The use of dogs was so successful, that within a year, animals and their handlers were on duty all along the coastline.

In some areas, canvas boots were designed to protect the Coast Guard dogs from sustaining cut feet from the oyster shells during the long treks along the nation's beaches while on anti-saboteur beach patrol.

California: Mounted horse patrols were instituted in California up and down the coast. Dogs were also used in California, but were not as successful as in other areas because there were so many people on the beaches that the dogs soon became accustomed to people and ceased paying attention to strangers.

More little know WWII events are included in my novel, Mrs. Odboddy-Hometown Patriot. Agnes Odboddy gets involved with stolen Hawaiian money, a black market ration books and a Japanese air balloon attack. Available at Amazon in e-book and print.

15
Oct

Is there always a full moon on Halloween ?

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As I child of the 1950’s, at Halloween, my friends and I dressed up as ghosts, hobos, cowboys or Cinderella. Properly attired, we escaped out the door as soon as the sun went down. Invariably these trips were made alone or in groups of two or three, but without chaperones, since our parents stayed home to dole out the goodies to other trick-or-treaters.

I recall how we tromped through the neighborhood, knocking on doors. Our decorated brown paper bags were soon filled with cookies, cupcakes, oranges and often, homemade fudge or even a candy covered apple. It wasn’t unusual to be invited in to show our costumes to elderly family members.

Overhead, at least the way I remember it, the moon was always big and round and yellow with the face of the Man in the Moon watching benevolently as we tromped the streets.

Halloween these days? Kiddies are still at the door, but there is always a parent hovering on the sidewalk to keep predators and kidnappers at bay. Good-hearted grandmas can’t offer cookies, unwrapped candy or cupcake treats because any such treat would be thrown away, suspected of Ricin poison or a razor blade hidden inside. Children wouldn’t dare enter a neighbor’s house to show their costume to an aged parent, lest the risk of a depraved, perverted felon lurking in a dark hallway.

Even the custom of trick or treating has come into displeasure and is often substituted with private school parties, church carnivals with tailgate trick or treating and prizes for all participants.

Now, you might think that this article is about Halloween customs from yesteryear, but my main subject is not the practices of Halloween. It's actually about that pesky full moon I thought I remembered shining down on every Halloween trek through the neighborhood. Apparently, my memory was faulty.

While considering a particular topic this week, I questioned how often we had a completely full moon on Halloween. Imagine my surprise when Google research reported that the moon is actually completely full on October 31st only four or five times EACH CENTURY! Whoa! Who knew?

The last time we had such a Halloween moon was October 31, 2001, barely six weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center. The next scheduled Halloween FULL moon will occur on October 31, 2020. What an interesting, probably little known fact and a subject that screamed to be shared on Mind Candy Mysteries blog.

Now, if I knew a whit about the sun, moon and stars, rotation of the earth, planets or the galaxy, I could probably give you a reasonable explanation for such a rare occurrence, but since I don’t, you’ll have to do your own Google research to understand the why of it.

Suffice it to say that the occurrence of the first full moon since 1974, directly following the dreadful 911 World Trade Center disaster gave me just the mystery topic I needed for a blog post and a short story, soon to be posted at Kings' River Life online magazine.

Children will celebrate Halloween this year differently than the Halloweens I remember. as one more childhood memory bites the dust. One more pleasure that our grandkids will never experience, like riding my bike alone to the park, playing outside all day and not coming home until dark, or selling lemonade on the corner. These days, parents would be arrested for child endangerment for the former and a City Seller’s Permit is required for the lemonade stand.

But, there will be another full moon on Halloween in just five more years. That’s something to look forward to. October 31, 2020. How shall we celebrate?

4
Jul

Fourth of July Celebration

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Agnes pulled into the driveway and stepped out of her Prius.

Her neighbor, Millie, hailed her from across the street. “Yoo-hoo! Agnes! Wait up. Happy fourth of July!” She scurried across the street.

Millie was the last person Agnes wanted to talk to. They had nothing in common. Millie and her husband, George, were antique buffs. Her house looked like a museum full of relics from the Revolutionary War. Why did Millie put up with such nonsense?

Millie, out of breath from rushing, said, “Are you coming to the Independence Day celebration at the Vet’s Memorial Building tonight? They’re having a military band, Viet Nam veteran speakers, and then fireworks after the meeting. You’re welcome to ride over with us.”

Agnes lifted her grocery bags from the back seat. “Sorry, can’t make it. Gotta’ get these things inside. Frozen stuff. Talk to you later.” She hurried into the house. A twinge of guilt gripped her chest. It wasn’t very nice, snubbing Millie like that. But, Millie was so gol-darned boring. Every conversation somehow turned to her latest E-Bay purchase. A Minute Man rifle. A battered sword. A faded shirt. Agnes sighed. Who cared about all that stuff anymore? What difference does it make, anyway, two hundred years later? Who cares?

The fourth of July was such a nuisance. The fireworks just got all the dogs in the neighborhood barking and the streets were a mess the next morning.

Agnes preferred closing the blinds and going to bed early.

****
The boom-boom of fireworks turned into the sound of a beating drum. The sun blazed down on men dressed in brilliant red jackets. Sweat poured from their faces. They marched in a straight row toward an outline of shadowy figures in buckskin, hiding behind rocks and trees.

Agnes ran back and forth on the battlefield, as the soldiers moved forward with guns drawn. Redcoats? From England? A battlefield?

Agnes jerked and twisted, thrashing her pillow. How did she get in the middle of a Revolutionary War battlefield? I don’t belong here! Wait. I can’t be here. The field will soon be littered with dead and dying men. She turned and tried to run. Wake up! Wake up!

Someone grabbed her arm, dragged her from the line of fire and pulled her down behind a rock. Her heart pounded. Perspiration trickled down her forehead. She crouched beside the men, so close she could smell their sweat. Older soldiers grimaced, their lined faces knowing what was soon to come. “Hold the line, men. Steady now.” Younger soldiers, terrified of the unknown, sniffled as the enemy advanced, step by step to the beat of their drum. Though the ragtag soldiers were outnumbered by the advancing troops, the advantage lay in their favor, as they took advantage of the cover of trees and rocks. The men primed their guns with powder and ball and squatted in the dirt, waiting, waiting as the formidable enemy advanced closer and closer.

I’ve got to get away. This can’t be real! I must be dreaming! Why can’t I wake up?
The drumbeat stopped. Silence! She peeked around the rock. There stood the enemy, immobile on the field, guns at the ready, feet in mid-step. The flag drooped unmoving, despite a brisk breeze. The young drummer’s drumstick hung suspended in mid-air, above his drum.

Agnes lifted her head toward the brilliant sky scattered with patches of clouds as though suspended from wires on a stage. Overhead, a bird hung motionless as though frozen in time. What happened?
She opened her eyes, blinked against the darkness as she lay in her bed. The boom-boom of the fireworks had ceased. A nightlight glowed across the room. I was dreaming! Dreams were, after all, just snatches of thoughts and memories, sounds and sights stored willy-nilly in one’s mind and pulled into a fractured scenario to haunt our restless nights. She shuddered. There was a day when her dream had been another’s reality.

She turned toward the window. It had begun to rain and rivulets streaked the glass, curving and twisting as it traversed the pane. Outside, the tree in the backyard wavered in the wind of an unseasonable summer storm. The celebrations had ended and fireworks ceased.

Agnes put her hand to her pounding heart. It was just a dream. Everything was fine. Just a dream. It doesn’t matter now.
Agnes rose from her bed and found a book on the Revolutionary War in her library. She sat in a rocker and began to read: For the sake of independence, farmers, storekeepers, bankers, men from all walks of life, rebelled at the tyranny England imposed on their fledgling nation. Ill equipped, with antiquated guns and untrained, the Continental soldiers chose to fight a highly-trained army made up of Englishmen, German mercenaries and Hessians.

The Revolutionary war lasted over eight years.
The estimated population in America in 1776 was three million.
80,000 militia and Continental Army soldiers served at the height of the war
25,000 Revolutionary soldiers died during the war
8,000 Revolutionary soldiers died from wounds inflicted during battle
17,000 Revolutionary soldiers died from disease
25,000 Revolutionary soldiers were estimated to have been wounded or maimed
1 in 20 able-bodied white free males living in America died during the war

All for the sake of following generations, so we could have the freedom to make laws and live by our own rules as established by the Declaration of Independence.

Agnes left a message on Millie’s answering machine. “This is Agnes. Sorry I couldn’t make it tonight. I hope you had fun. I promise I’ll come with you next year. Our freedom is important, isn’t it? We need to remember what the holiday cost our forefathers. It really matters.”

Agnes returned to her room with her cat. The rain had stopped.

Boom! Another fire-cracker cracked in the night. “Does he have any idea why he’s celebrating, or just having fun?”

Agnes’s cat blinked and though he had no answer to the provocative question.

27
Apr

All Aboard the Friendship Train

FriendshipTrain

While doing research for the WWII novel I’m currently writing, I often find information of little remembered history from WWII. I recently learned of the Friendship Train sent to France and Italy following the war.

Much of Europe was devastated during WWII and following the war, the people continued to suffer years of deprivation, limited food supplies and a slow reconstruction of their towns.

While Drew Pearson, a popular journalist of the time, visited Europe during 1947, he heard that the Communists were being thanked for sending a few carloads of grain to the Europeans. Feeling that the United States could do more to help our European neighbors; he conceived the vision of the Friendship Train. His suggestions appeared in his newscast columns on October 11, 1947. He asked our citizens to donate food and clothing to help the people of France and Italy. I’m sure he must have been amazed at the response to his request.

Immediately, towns, cities, and the citizens of every state in the USA collected food for the Friendship Train. The plan was met with such enthusiasm that competition among the communities, counties, and states began for collecting and sending the largest contribution.

Five weeks later, on November 7, 1947, the Friendship Train began its trek beginning in Los Angeles and ending in New York City. Although the train traveled through only eleven states, every state sent boxcars or trucks filled with goods to meet the Friendship Train at a junction. When it arrived in New York, we had collected and shipped $40 million in food and supplies to Europe aboard the 700-car American Friendship Train.

No money was ever spent in the process. The transportation by rail and truck, the loading of the boxcars and trucks, the loading and the use of the ships was all provided by volunteers and donations. The train's mission was an incredible display of goodwill from the people of the United States to France and Italy.

Every package had this label: "All races and creeds make up the vast melting pot of America, and in a democratic and Christian spirit of good will toward men, we, the American people, have worked together to bring this food to your doorsteps, hoping that it will tide you over until your own fields are again rich and abundant with crops." Also on every label were these words, "This gift is sent to you by: 'first and last name and address of donor.’” This message was written in Italian and French and printed beside the American flag.

In 1949, France reciprocated by collecting 49 boxcars full of gifts donated by the French citizens and returned to the USA in their Merci Train as a thank-you for our generosity. One boxcar went to each state. Upon arrival, the gifts were distributed in various ways. Some freely given, others auctioned off and many items placed in local museums. The boxcars, called 40 and 8 boxcars were vintage, having been used to transport troops during WWI and then again during WWII. Many veterans remembered being transported across Europe in these boxcars. The Merci Train cars were restored and kept in museums across the country as memorials to those who had fought and died. Most of these boxcars have survived, many now over 100 years old, and are on display in museums in 43 states.

More information about the Friendship Train and the Merci Train can be found on the internet.

23
May

Why Washington DC Has 3000 Cherry Trees

washingtoncherrytree

Where did they come from? Folks often schedule visits to Washington DC in the spring time to coincide with the blooming of their famous Cherry trees. Have you ever wondered just why Washington has so many cherry trees?

3000 Cherry Trees In January, 1910, Japan sent 2000 cherry trees to Washington as a good will gesture. Sadly, upon arrival, they were found to be diseased and infested with insects. To protect American growers, President William H. Taft ordered the trees burned. Letters from the Secretary of State to the Japanese Ambassador expressed deep regret to all concerned. Good will was maintained and in 1912, Japan again sent more than 3000 additional cherry trees from 12 different varieties to Washington D.C. Two thousand trees were planted on the White House grounds, and the remainder planted around the city and along the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial south toward Potomac Park. They grew and blossomed each spring to the delight of thousands of Washington visitors.

War is Declared Shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack in December, 1941, four cherry trees were cut down in retaliation by vandals. Letters poured into the National Parks Commission, calling for “cutting all the Japanese trees down and replacing them with an American variety.” Throughout the rest of the war, in hopes of preventing future damage and ill will, the trees were no long called 'Japanese' cherry trees, but referred to as those ‘oriental flowering cherry trees.’ The National Cherry Blossom festival, an annual springtime event since 1935 was suspended and did not return until 1947.

Cherry Blossom Festival At the Cherry Blossom festival, princesses and a queen are crowned. In 1957, a wealthy Japanese business woman donated a crown for the festival queen. It contains more than two pounds of gold and 1,585 pearls. The queen wears the famous piece for just a few moments when she is crowned. It is then replaced with a miniature crown of gold with a pearl topping each point. The queen wears this crown for the remainder of the evening and she keeps it as a momentum of the event.

The Japanese government generously donated another 3,800 trees to Lady Bird Johnson in 1965. Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Ryuji Takeuchi, wife of Japan’s ambassador reenacted the original planting ceremony of 1912.

Cuttings from the Trees In 1982 and on several occasions since, cuttings from the original 1912 cherry trees were returned to Japan to replace trees destroyed during the war and when the course of a river destroyed a number of them.

Where are We Now? Private funds were donated between 1986 and 1988 to replant another 676 trees to restore the trees to the original number. Between 1997 and 2011, cuttings from the surviving 1912 cherry trees were propagated to ensure preservation of the 1912 trees’ genetic lineage. These will be used in subsequent replacement plantings both in Washington and in Japan. Thus, the original 1912 gift will ensure a cycle of giving between Japan and the United States.

14
Jan

THE DAY JAPAN BOMBED OREGON

220px-Japanese_fire_balloon_moffetRESEARCH: While researching World War II history for my latest novel, Mrs. Odboddy’s Wartime Adventure, I found another little known piece of history.

BOMB DROPPED IN BROOKINGS, OREGON: In September, 1942, a Japanese submarine off the coast of Oregon launched a float plane loaded with two 76 kilogram incendiary bombs, which it succeeded in dropping in the Siskiyou National Forest, near Brookings, Oregon. A forest fire ensued. The fire was spotted by a fire lookout tower on Mount Emily and two rangers were dispatched to the site. They were able to control the fire throughout the night until a fire crew arrived the next morning. A recent rain had kept the area wet which helped the fire crews contain the blaze.
According to records reviewed after the war, the floatplane carried two bombs. Though both were dropped, no trace was found of the second bomb.

BALLOON BOMBS: Between 1944 and 1945, the Japanese hatched a new plot to attack and torment the American citizens. They launched more than 9,000 air-balloon bombs, 70 feet tall with a 33 foot diameter made of paper and filled with hydrogen. Each carried an anti-personnel bomb and two incendiary bombs. These were launched during the fall and carried across the Pacific Ocean in about three days via the jet stream at an altitude of 30,000 feet.
Three hundred sixty one of the balloons were found in 26 states, Canada and Mexico. Several were found in San Pedro, near Redding and near Santa Rosa, California. It is likely that more balloon bombs landed in unpopulated areas of North America.
CONSEQUENCES: Some of the balloon bombs were sighted by citizens and dispatched by fighter pilots. Others landed in populated areas and caused some degree of damage by igniting fires. One fatality and 22 injuries resulted from subsequent fires caused by the balloons.

TRAGIC RESULTS: In May, 1945, while picnicking, a balloon bomb was found by a woman and five children. A witness warned them away, but before they could retreat, the bomb exploded, creating a 1-foot deep, 3-foot wide hole and killing the woman and all the children. Their cause of their death was withheld from the public and stated “the six were killed by an explosion of unannounced cause.” Later the site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and a monument built. The six are the only known deaths in the continental USA as a result of enemy action during WWII. Japanese visitors have since visited the monument to plant cherry trees as a symbol of peace.
BLACK-OUT: Due to a press black-out during the year of the attacks, no evidence of the success of the program reached Japan and the mission was considered a total fiasco, thus the program was abandoned.

POST WWII: The remains of balloons continued to be discovered during the 1940’s and 1950’s and two in the 1960’s.

Do you know an interesting bit of history related to WWII? Can you share it on this site?

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