HONORING MILLARD FILLMORE

Monday, February 16th was President’s Day. It used to be Lincoln’s Birthday. Yesterday used to be Washington’s Birthday. It was a separate holiday honoring the “father of our country.”

Garry was waxing nostalgic for the good old days. When George and Abe had their own special days. Modern times are egalitarian. Now, we honor all presidents equally. We know this because they all share a single holiday — President’s Day.

“Poor George and Abe,” opined Garry, “They lost their days. Now we honor William Henry Harrison, Millard Fillmore, Grover Cleveland, Zachery Taylor …” Then he asked me what Tyler’s first name was. And by any chance, did I know when Martin Van Buren was president.

Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore – in urgent need of a good haircut

I didn’t remember Tyler’s first name, so I looked him up. Turns out, he was John Tyler. He got to be president when W.H. Harrison died after one month in office because he got pneumonia standing around in the rain on inauguration day. Which is what my mother always warned me about. Not becoming president, but standing around in the cold and rain, catching pneumonia.

When I was a kid, I had this book called 33 Roads To The Whitehouse. Which means there have been 10 presidents since I was a kid. I read the book a bunch of times. Used to know all about each president up to and including Dwight D. Eisenhower. Which was when the book ended.

William Henry Harrison - Noteworthy serving the shortest term as U.S. president

William Henry Harrison – Noteworthy for being the president who served the shortest term as U.S. President

Because of that book, I knew Martin Van Buren followed Andrew Johnson. Who succeeded Abraham Lincoln after he was assassinated. In order, it was Lincoln, Johnson, Van Buren, William Henry Harrison (as opposed to Benjamin Harrison), who died after 30 days in office. John Tyler was Harrison’s VP, which is how he got into office. Got that? There will be a short quiz at the end of the period.

All presidents are the same in the eyes of our government, or at least the part of our government that decides on which holidays we get time off from work. Thus we honor, without discrimination, Washington, Lincoln, Harding, Taylor, and the inimitable Millard Fillmore. Even if they did nothing in office. I know for sure Harrison didn’t do anything in office, except die. He wasn’t in office long enough to do anything else.

If you are curious, Wikipedia has a pretty good article titled “List of Presidents of the United States.” It includes lots of presidential trivia. I love historical trivia. It’s those little twists and turns which change destiny.

Maybe next year I’ll buy a car. That’s what real, red-blooded Americans do on President’s Day. And, as everyone knows, I’m a traditionalist.

GATHER YE ROSEBUDS

If you think getting old today is a bummer, imagine when really old was 45, and 50 was ancient. Rulers of kingdoms acted like spoiled teenagers because they were spoiled teenagers.

Gather Ye Rosebuds -2

During the 14th century (1300s) — the worst of the Black Plague years — many of the warring monarchs were not yet out of their teens. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen year-old kings waging war. Hormonal tyrants, the anointed of God, doing whatever they wanted (unless they got so far out of hand that their own family did them in).

So, my friends, gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Time is still a-flying.

Robert Herrick was a 17th-century English poet and cleric, best known for his poem To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time, generally know by its first line Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

BLIZZARD OF 1978 – GARRY ARMSTRONG

There’s a big storm coming. How big? Hard to tell, but definitely a very substantial snow event. This seems to be the time of year when the biggest storms hit this region. About 37 years ago, when a storm began moving into eastern Massachusetts on the afternoon of Feb. 6, 1978, thousands of people were let out of work early to get home before the storm. But traffic was, as usual, heavy and the snow began falling at over an inch per hour. Soon more than 3,000 automobiles and 500 trucks were stranded in rapidly building snowdrifts along Rt. 128 (same as Route 95). Fourteen people died from carbon monoxide poisoning as they huddled in trapped cars.


GARRY ARMSTRONG: 

There are so many incredible scenes that remain clear in my memory from the Blizzard of ’78.

I was smack dab in the middle of it from the beginning as one of the few reporters who could get to the station without a car. I lived just down the street and was able to slog through the snow to the newsroom. I found myself doing myriad live shots across Massachusetts and other parts of New England. I would like to give a special shout out to my colleagues who ran the cameras, the trucks, set our cable and mike lines, kept getting signals when it seemed impossible and worked nonstop under the most dire and difficult conditions. All I had to do was stand in front of the camera or interview people. I recall standing in the middle of the Mass Turnpike, the Southeast Expressway, Rt. 495 and other major arteries doing live shots.

There was no traffic. There were no people. Abandoned vehicles littered the landscape. It was surreal. Sometimes it felt like Rod Serling was calling the shots. The snow accumulation was beyond impressive. I am or was 5 foot 6 inches. I often had to stand on snow “mountains” to be seen. My creative camera crews used the reverse image to dwarf me (no snickering, please) to show the impressive snow piles. No trickery was needed. Mother Nature did it all.

Downtown Boston looked like something out of the cult movie “The World, The Flesh And The Devil”. The end of the world at hand. No motor traffic, very few people: just snow as high and as far as the eye could see.

Ironically, people who were usually indifferent to each other became friendly and caring. Acts of kindness and compassion were commonplace, at least for a few days. Those of us working in front or back of the camera logged long hours, minimal sleep, lots of coffee, lots of pizza and intermittently laughed and grumbled. There are some behind the scenes stories that will stay there for discretion’s sake.

The Blizzard of ’78 will always be among the top stories in my news biz career. It needs no embellishment. The facts and the pictures tell it all.

One more thing. It needs no hype or hysteria.

VISITING WITH BETTE — AN AFTERNOON IN SKOWHEGAN

Bette’s new novel, DOG BONE SOUP has just been released. I’m about half way through it and I can hardly wait to finish it so I can review it. It is wonderful. She has a writing style so pure, it’s as if the story tells itself. It’s a story of coming of age in a hardscrabble world. Trials and triumph in northern New England.

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This seemed a perfect time to remember the wonderful afternoon we all spend last October in Skowhegan. We were staying at an inn in Jackman, Maine. It’s just up the mountain — about 85 miles via route 201, from Skowhegan. In rural New England, that’s “just around the corner.”

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Down the mountain we drove. Around 85 miles down, same mileage back.

We met Bette Stevens, of 4 Writers and Readers. She was in the middle of a round of editing her next book, but she took a bit of time off to spend the afternoon with me and Garry.

Bette Stevens

Bette Stevens

A great lunch and Ken’s Family Restaurant, a trip to the Magaret Chase Smith Library, and a brief sojourn to see the world’s tallest Indian (statue), created by Bernard Langlais (1921-1977), a sculptor from Old Town who attended the local art school.

Marilyn and Bette

Marilyn and Bette

Garry and I were wearing our matched pair of Serendipity sweat shirts. You could hardly tell us apart!

Garry and Bette

Garry and Bette

We had great conversation at lunch, then spent some time taking picture of each other, visiting the library and admiring the statue, which is oddly located next to a Cumberland Farms.

View from the Margaret Chase Smith Library

View from the Margaret Chase Smith Library

We know each other on the Internet, yet there’s always some nervousness when finally, we meet in person. Will we really like one another?

The Margaret Chase Smith Library

The Margaret Chase Smith Library

No problem. It was love at first sight. I think we are officially best-friends-forever. I don’t know when we will be back this way, but I’m sure we will come again. Maybe next year or the year after that. But we will come back. How could we not return to so much natural beauty and great people?

World's Tallest Indian (Statue)

World’s Tallest Indian (Statue)

TOMB OF PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN PHARONIC QUEEN FOUND IN EGYPT

Czech archaeologists have unearthed the tomb of a previously unknown queen believed to have been the wife of Pharaoh Neferefre who ruled 4,500 years ago, officials in Egypt said Sunday.

Source: www.msn.com

I love archaeology and I love news about discoveries. Because too much of the news is about slaughter, misery, and disaster and not nearly enough about using our intelligence.

See on Scoop.itTraveling Through Time

Explainer: How Democrats and Republicans ‘switched sides’ on civil rights

Or, how the “Party of Lincoln” became the preferred party of racists everywhere.

I just about lost my damn mind this morning after coming across this piece from the National Review about how Barry Goldwater totally wasn’t all that racist or anything.

As a history nerd, this weird thing the Republicans are doing now where they are trying to pretend that they are the true heirs of the civil rights movement is starting to drive me up the wall. Like, f’reals, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King would not freaking be conservative Republicans today. For that matter, neither would Susan B. Anthony. It’s absolutely absurd. It doesn’t even sort of make sense because at all times throughout all history, all civil rights issues are progressive issues regardless of party alignment.

READ THE ORIGINAL: www.deathandtaxesmag.com

FROM SERENDIPITY, A LITTLE BACKGROUND MUSIC:

This is flippant and funny, but it is a not half bad summary of American politics for the past hundred years. Give or take a lie or two. And it adds some much-needed perspective to the lies we hear on the radio, see on television, and read on the Internet.

It’s always a good thing to add a little truth to an ongoing debate, though considering the incivility, name-calling, mud-slinging, and general bad manners and ill intent of participants on both side, but in particular the “right” side … one can only wonder if Truth and Facts actually have any role to play in this ongoing melodrama we call politics.

See on Scoop.itIn and About the News

100 YEARS AGO: THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914

The Christmas truce (German: Weihnachtsfrieden; French: Trêve de Noël) was a series of widespread but unofficial cease fires along the Western Front during the Christmas season of 1914. During the days leading to Christmas day, German and British soldiers left their trenches to exchange greetings. To talk man-to-man, exchange personal information, share food and drink.

From The Illustrated London News of January 9, 1915: "British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches"

From The Illustrated London News of January 9, 1915: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches”

World War I had been raging for only four months. Soldiers on both sides were trapped in trenches and extremely wary of sniper fire. On battlefields mired in mud, frozen with snow and ice, soldiers emerged from their holes in a rare, spontaneous outbreak of peace.

Both sides — most notably in the southern portion of the Ypres Salient — combatants briefly laid down their weapons and met in No Man’s Land.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, they mingled. Exchanged food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps. Several meetings ended in carol-singing.

The high command on both sides issued warnings to all soldiers that such fraternization would make participating soldiers subject to charges of treason. Not surprisingly, there were far fewer spontaneous truces the following year and virtually none by 1916. A sad commentary on human “civilization” when peace, however temporary, is called treason.

This year, the Boston Pops honored this moment of sanity in one of the bloodiest conflicts of human history.

Other bloggers have also posted about this. Please check them out on EVELYNE HOLINGUE and The Eye Dancers: (Not Quite) All Quiet on the Western Front.

THOSE SPECIAL TWELVE DAYS

On the second day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me ... 2 TURTLEDOVES!

On the second day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me … 2 TURTLE DOVES!

Every year, we sing the song … or somebody does. Usually more than one somebody. The 12 Days of Christmas. It’s been done with humor, with dread seriousness, as a short, funny film. As a picture book. The Boston Pops does a brilliant and hilariously raucous version that bears little resemblance to the original song.

On the 3rd day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me ... THREE FRENCH HENS!

On the third day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me … 3 FRENCH HENS!

In all these years, hearing the song, playing the song on the piano and the organ, singing the song, humming it, pondering why or how anyone could give anyone a partridge in a pear tree and live to tell the tale … I mean, okay, five gold rings … but seven swans a-swimming? Did he include the pond? Did he have to do major construction to get those swans a-swimming for his lady-love?

On the 4th day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me ... 4 CALLING BIRDS!

On the fourth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me … 4 CALLING BIRDS!

And where on earth do you find leaping lords? You certainly can’t just go to Walmart and put them in your basket for checkout. At the very least, you’d have to get them to go along with your act and lords, especially around these parts, are hard to find. Maybe guys with the last name “Lord” would do? Hofstra had a President named “Lord” at the same time as Nassau County had a Parks Commissioner named “Moses.” It led to the unforgettable headline on the Hofstra Chronicle:

LORD AND MOSES CONFER OVER PROMISED LAND

At issue was a small parcel on the north side of Hempstead Turnpike which the university wanted to incorporate as part of its development of a new dormitory and library complex on the former Mitchell field, north of the Main Campus. This really happened and though I saved the copy of the paper, it has disappeared with the passing years. Pity about that. NOTE: For you history buffs, this is the airfield from which Lindbergh began his historic trans-Atlantic flight.

But I digress.

TAKE NOTES. THERE WILL BE SHORT QUIZ AT THE END OF THE LECTURE

This morning I woke up fully engulfed in a mental itch.

When are the twelve days of Christmas? It can’t be the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day because that’s always one week and will never change. Even if you add in Christmas Eve, that’s still only 8 days. What’s with the other four days and why doesn’t Google put them on the calendar? It puts on the birthdays of even the most obscure of my “Google +” connections. Surely (I know, don’t call me Shirley) this has got to be at least as important as some acquaintance I’ve never met having a birthday. You think, Probie?

But all was not lost. The calendar might not offer much help, but Google, the ubiquitous source of all miscellaneous information combined with — let’s not always see the same hands … you, there, in the back — right! Wikipedia! They had the answer and it only took me 0.77 seconds to get about 515,000,000 results. I only needed one result and don’t have time or enough interest in the subject to check out the other 514,999,999 answers.

Twelve Days of Christmas 2014 begin on
Thursday, December 25
and end on Monday, January 5

From Wikipedia. It’s the religious response, or at least a general overview thereof. Feel free to check out any of the other hundreds of thousands of available answers to this question:

The Twelve Days of Christmas is the festive Christian season, beginning on Christmas Day (25 December), that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, as the Son of God. This period is also known as Christmastide. This is different from the Octave of Christmas, which is the liturgical time from Christmas Day until the Solemnity of Mary on 1 January. The Twelfth Day of Christmas falls on 5 or 6 January depending which tradition is followed. There is similar confusion about the date of Twelfth Night which is commonly held to be 5 January but some hold that it is 6 January. The Feast of the Epiphany is on 6 January which celebrates the visit of the Wise Men (Magi) and their bringing of gifts to the child Jesus. In some traditions, the feast of Epiphany and Twelfth Day overlap.

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In Medieval England, this period was continuous feasting and merrymaking, climaxing on Twelfth Night, the traditional end of the Christmas season. In Tudor England, Twelfth Night was permanently embedded in popular culture when William Shakespeare used it as the title of one of his most famous comedies.

Some traditions were adapted from the older pagan customs, including the Roman Saturnalia and the Germanic Yuletide.  Christianity was, as all religions have been, opportunistic. If everyone was going to celebrate anyway, why not give the celebration Christian meaning? It’s no coincidence that every religion celebrates the solstices and equinoxes … or that the pagan Omer (celebrating the first cutting of the wheat) coincides with Passover on which Easter is overlaid. Nor should these overlays of later religions on earlier ones diminish the importance of the holidays. It’s hard enough to get a new religion going, to convert an entire population to a new way of thinking. Why not use whatever tools (and holidays) are handy?

ARCHAEOLOGY AND RELIGION

For a long time, whenever I drove down the old road from Jerusalem to Lachish, I noticed a piece of an arch pushing out of the ground. I could see there was a ruin there. I hoped the archaeologists would get to it so I could find out what it was.

One day, the diggers arrived.

It was a 5th century synagogue, complete with mosaic floor showing a mandala of 12 astrological symbols, the same ones we use today. The floor was taken, intact, to a museum in Tel Aviv. Digging recommenced and beneath the synagogue, pillar on pillar, stood a Roman temple. After rescuing whatever artifacts they could, the group began to dig again and found — pillar on pillar — a Greek temple.

Astrological signs by J. D. Mylius

Astrological signs by J. D. Mylius

Finally, below the Greek temple, on the base rock, was a Canaanite temple.

During each stage of the dig, we were allowed to go poke around the ruins. Israelis love archaeology. It’s was as much the national pastime in Israel as baseball is here. Everyone has a few artifacts … pottery shards, tiny oil lamps, Roman glass, old coins from vanished empires.

Human history and religion has never been the monolithic, simplistic structure many people — on both sides of the religious equation — would like it to be. If there is an omnipotent deity, it is not an old guy with a long beard counting your sins and weighing them against your good deeds. Or his son, nephew, or third cousin twice removed.

Whatever there is, it is unlikely to be something we can neatly classify. It is, as “they” say, complicated.