OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR

Directed by Richard Attenborough

We watch it every year on Memorial Day, the best movie ever made about ‘the war to end war.’ It was just as good this year — in the same funny, awful way — as it was every other year.

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR

I first saw “Oh! What a Lovely War” when it was released in 1969 and never forgot it. Based on the long-running British stage production, it’s World War I — in song, dance, and irony. The catchy score sticks in your brain. The songs are those sung by the troops, and the cast includes everyone who was anyone in British stage or screen. The credits are a who’s-who of English actors.

World War I is hard to understand, even when you study it. No matter how many books I read, I’m not sure I do. Its causes are rooted in old world grudges that make no sense to Americans. So many ancient hatreds — thousands of years of scores to be settled.

My mother summed it: “Everyone was armed to the teeth. They wanted war. They just needed an excuse.”

Hers may be as good an answer as any. When the war began, it was the old world, ruled by crowned heads of ancient dynasties. When it finally ground to a halt in 1918, the world was remade — beyond recognition. The monarchies were gone. A generation of men were dead, the death toll beyond belief. The callous indifference to loss of life by those in command remains incomprehensible.

More than 9 million men were killed in battle. This does not include collateral damage to non-combatants and death by disease and starvation. It remains one of the deadliest conflicts in human history, paving the way for major political upheaval and revolution in many nations.

You can’t make this stuff up. And why would you want to?

Says the movie at the beginning: “The principal statements made by the historical characters in this film are based on documentary evidence, and the words of the songs are those sung by the troops during the First World War.”

The first World War could well be categorized as an organized international effort to murder a generation and they did a damned good job of it. The absurd statements and dialogue of the historical characters, all safely lodged a safe distance from actual fighting, sound ludicrous.

Did General Haig, looking at the staggering loss of life on both sides, really say: “in the end, the Germans will have 5,000 men and we will have 10,000, so we will have won.”? Apparently he said it. And meant it.

The arrival of the Americans, their takeover of the endless war and bringing it to a conclusion while there was still something left to preserve, is a great moment. I wonder how long it would have gone on without American involvement? Would they still be fighting it today? Would Europe even exist or would it be a wasteland?

The war is told with music and dancing. Songs are mixed with pithy comments by generals, kings, Kaisers and occasionally, soldiers. It’s a long movie — 144 minutes — and I can promise you that you will have a far better and more visceral understanding of this war and the meaning of those little red poppies the Veterans organizations give out (do they still do that?) to commemorate the war to end all wars. Until the next war. And the one after that.

The music is ghastly, funny and catchy. The movie is out of print. It was only in print for a couple of months. I had been looking for it for a long time and was thrilled to snag a copy. A few copies are still available through Amazon. If you are a history buff and also love great movies, grab one before they disappear. Over Memorial Day weekend, one of the movie channels usually plays it. I didn’t see it listed this year, but we own a copy, so I didn’t look very hard.

Great directing, biting sarcastic humor, terrific music and surprisingly informative, this motion picture is in a category all by itself. It was unavailable for more than 20 years. You will not be disappointed and you will never forget it. In the 45 years since I first saw it, I never forgot it.

THESE HONORED DEAD

The cemetery is in the center of the town, across from the dam and just a hundred or so yards from the river itself. It’s up on a hill, so it never floods, even when the rivers rush over their banks. The people who created that cemetery knew about the rivers. And flooding. They picked a beautiful spot, but dry and safe for the bones and memories.

Downtown Revolutionary War Cemetery Uxbridge BW

An old cemetery, dating back to the early 1700s. It contains traces of many generations of those who lived and died in this town, this valley. Folks who lived along the Blackstone and its many tributaries, fished in its lakes and streams. They fought in our wars and are buried here — Revolutionary War soldiers, Civil War veterans as well as those who fought in all the American wars since.

Every Independence Day, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, the cemetery blooms with bouquets and flags. The schools bring the children here, so they will remember too and traditions will be maintained. They bring bouquets of wild flowers or from the back garden. Lilacs and lilies, scarlet poppies … and always a miniature American flag. Even if there’s no special holiday, the cemetery always shows signs of caring, remembering.

Maybe it’s easier to remember here, with such a small population. Is that it? Or it’s just part of the air, the character, the history. Remembering is what we do in the Valley.

The cemetery is one of my favorite places. We’re newcomers after all, only living here 15 years. Our ancestors — Garry’s and mine — come from Sligo, Antigua, Minsk, Bialystok … from tiny villages in Ireland and the West Indies and the shtetls of eastern Europe.

Valley people have been here longer. Many came from French Canada in the late 19th century to work in the mills. Another large group formed the dominant Dutch population. They built churches, businesses and factories, dairy and truck farms, shops, horse farms and sawmills. Their names are prominent wherever the rivers run.

Newcomers, like us, aren’t rare anymore but far from common. We have no ancestors in the cemetery, at least none about whom we know. Anything is possible in America.

The valley is the only place I’ve lived where the majority of families have lived in the town or in a nearby villages for three, four, five generations. “We’ve always lived in the Valley,” they say, meaning as long as anyone can remember. If gently prodded, they may recall at some point, long ago, they came from somewhere else … but some can’t remember when or if it’s true.

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I point out they must have come from somewhere because unless they are Native American, they came to this place, even if a long time since. They get misty-eyed trying to remember old family stories handed down when they were young. Hard to remember, they tell you. “You know, that was 75 years ago … a long time.” We nod, because it was a long time ago, longer than we’ve been alive, and we aren’t young.

So another year passes and little flags and flowers bloom in the old cemetery in the middle of town.

MEMORIAL DAY 2015 – REMEMBERING

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Memorial Day

Memorial Day (formerly Decoration Day) is observed on the last Monday of May. It commemorates the men and women who died in military service. In observance of the holiday, many people visit cemeteries and memorials, and volunteers place American flags on each grave site at national cemeteries.

A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time.

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Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

Harbor flag

The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.

HAPPY MOTHERS DAY

fuchsia spring

JUST SO YOU ALL KNOW: I’m not going to spend the whole day online, so if I haven’t answered your comment or read today’s post, it’s because I just want to relax and enjoy this beautiful sunny day. Tomorrow I’ll be back.

Born and living most of my life in the northeast, Mother’s Day means springtime to me. It’s also my son’s birthday (appropriate). Daffodils, tulips, dandelions, lilacs, violet. Wildflowers and nesting robins.

We don’t always get much of a spring season in New England, but we’re getting a lovely one this year. It’s payback for the winter of our discontent.

HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY AND WELCOME TO OUR TOWN

It’s St. Patrick’s Day. If we still lived in Boston, there would be a lot of celebrating going on. Not the parade … they cancelled it this year because of all the snow. But every bar or pub, every fast food joint, would be serving something green. Bagel bakeries would be offering green bagels. Silly green hats would adorn the heads of many people who should know better.

Not around here. Nothing happening here. Nope, not a single thing. It’s just another chilly day in March.

Garry In Cong

Last night, late. We’re watching CSI. It’s late even for us (and we are not “early to bed, early to rise” people) because I’m backing up my photographic library to a new external hard drive. I didn’t expect it to take that long. I also didn’t realize I had 100,000 photographs. Okay, 99,487. Close enough.

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The show is a rerun. Newer ones aren’t great, but some of the original ones from the first seven years are pretty good. Before they swapped out most of the cast. Gary Dourdan was still playing Warrick Brown, a CSI Level 2 who has a gambling addiction.

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I commented that if you have a gambling addiction, Las Vegas might not be your best choice of places to live. I then paused, and said “You know, I think the hardest addiction to deal with is food. You can not drink and that’s a healthy choice. You can not smoke and your body will thank you. You can avoid illegal and most legal drugs too. You’d be in better condition as a result. But food, you gotta eat, so you are going to be confronting the enemy every day, at least two or three times. Up close and personal.”

Benches on the Rumford

Garry started to laugh. “Not if you move here.” By which he meant Our Town.

I laughed too. “You’re right. Eventually, you give up hoping for a good meal and eating becomes something you do because you have to.”

“You can barely find a bar. I mean, how many bars are there in the area? Four? Maybe?”

“Maybe we could advertise Our Town as the cure for sin. Because whatever it is you are addicted to … sex, drugs, food, gambling? Not here. We have churches. Grocery stores.”

“Hairdressers,” I added.

“Fingernail salons,” Garry continued. “We are the cure for evil of all kinds.”

“A little weak on the entertainment front,” I acknowledged.

Tombstones cemetery Uxbridge

I thought about it. No movie theater. No really good restaurants. No casinos, strip clubs. No clubs of any kind. Not even a classy neighborhood bar. We have churches and good, clean, family activities. Beautiful scenery.

You can’t even shop till you drop because there aren’t any stores. It’s not because Walmart drove them away. We don’t have a Walmart. That’s a couple of towns over. Thing is, I don’t think we ever had much in the way of shopping.

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You couldn’t commit adultery without everyone knowing in a nanosecond. I remember when I had lost a lot of weight. Garry and I went out to grab a hamburger. The next day, Garry got the third degree. “Who was that blond we saw you with? Where’s Marilyn?”

Poor Garry trying to explain that was Marilyn. Just thinner. And her hair is white, not blond.

So if you are struggling with gambling, sex or drug addiction, a lethal love of fine dining, or shopping mania? Come on over to Our Town. We don’t have any of that stuff here.

No kidding. We don’t.

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.

OUR IRISH HONEYMOON

We surprised everyone — except ourselves — when we announced our plans to honeymoon in Ireland. “Neither of you is Irish,” they said, foreheads wrinkled. I’m not sure why everyone here and there assumes the only reason to go to Ireland is to look for “roots.” While we were there, we were often asked why we’d come and on hearing neither of us is Irish, would get looks of puzzlement. Then, they’d look again and ask “Are you sure?”

Somewhere in Ireland

Somewhere in Ireland

It was a great place for Americans. There’s strain between the Irish and English for longstanding historical reasons, but they have nothing but smiles for Americans. From Dublin to Sligo, Shannon, Galway, Cashel and all the lovely towns in between, people were friendly and welcoming. When they learned we were honeymooners, we were treated to rounds of drinks and offered the best accommodations. Avoiding big hotels, we stayed in bed and breakfasts which we found using the National Tourist Board guidebook and a map.

We’d zero in on a destination and phone ahead. After a while, it began to work the opposite way. Wherever we landed, we’d see who had a room and stay there. We always found someplace nearby and each home was spotlessly clean and comfortable, although tiny by American standards.

Cong and Garry

Cong and Garry

Our first stop after Shannon was Cashel. The bed-and-breakfast was a little pension. In the shadow of the Rock of Cashel, adjacent to the ruins of a medieval Dominican church, the location was perfect. We stayed two nights, then headed for Dublin.

Dublin was magic. Once we found our feet,  it was a city of music and wonderful company We’d been planning to stay two nights, but stayed five. There were evening’s at Foley’s, where Irish music played every night and we all joined in, each in our own key. There were the pubs, where the Irish Coffee was always strong and the folks eager to wish us well and advise us on our itinerary. We shopped, sang, and drank, not necessarily in that order. (Note: Probably you should shop then drink.)

We listened to stories, told some of our own, and would gladly have stayed another week or more.

From Dublin, we drove cross-country to Sligo. As we entered Sligo, the rain began to pelt down. For perhaps five minutes, it poured. Then, as the rain slowed to a drizzle, in front of us appeared a brilliant double rainbow. Welcome to Sligo. Our destination was a bed and breakfast called Rathnashee, which we learned means “fairy ring.” There’s an earthwork fairy ring in the field adjoining the house. I chose it because it had a room with a private bath, was on a main road (we never stopped getting lost, but we did learn to enjoy it), and had a library. Books are my weakness. Maybe my strength too.

Dublin, September 1990

Dublin, September 1990

The parlor of the house was a library, mainly the history of Ireland and Sligo in particular. Evenings, by the warmth of a peat fire, we settled in with a pot of tea and a plate of cookies. We read about Yeats, the Great Hunger, and the long, often tragic history of the north. In the course of events, Garry discovered he did, after all, have Irish roots, while I dreamt of fairy circles and magic mountains.

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Garry at Loch Gill, at the Isle of Innisfree

Sligo is bursting with magic. You can feel it as you explore the ancient earthworks, standing stones, cairns, and castles. I became convinced that the “Little People” live there still. Loch Gill, “where lies the Isle of Innisfree,” has its own magic.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

by W. B. Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

We spent a grand afternoon exploring the recently restored Park Castle. The crystal waters so clearly mirrored the sky that those viewing the pictures we shot that day have trouble telling which is water and which is sky. Later that same day, while heading toward Knocknarea, the mountain top cairn of the legendary Queen Mab, we met Gordon Winter, ex-spy, author, and local character. We were photographed in close encounters with his pet chickens, sipped tea in his kitchen, and bought an autographed copy of his latest book “Secrets of the Royals.”

Author Gordon Winter, Garry and chickens

Author Gordon Winter, Garry and chickens

Throughout our vacation, the weather never stopped changing. The sun shone, disappeared and reappeared in rapid succession. Wind blew, and clouds rolled in, and it rained. A few minutes later, the rain stopped, the wind died, the sun came out, the temperature rose, and just as you had taken off your jacket and put on your sunglasses, you’d realize it was raining again.

We took our sunglasses on and off twenty times an hour, and took our jackets on and off almost as often. The second morning in Sligo, we awoke to pounding rain. I peeked out the window to see another rainbow, even brighter than the one we’d seen on arrival, in the field across the road.

Rainbow over Sligo

Rainbow over Sligo

By the time we went to breakfast, the sun had come out, but by the time we finished breakfast, it was drizzling. Irish weather. It never rained all day, but rained a little almost every day. We learned to ignore weather and so whatever we had planned, counting on the ever-changing skies to give us enough clear weather to tramp through a ruin, scale a castle wall, or walk down by a riverside.

Marilyn at Loch Gill

Marilyn at Loch Gill

After three days in Sligo, we traveled down to Connemara. One afternoon, we drove to Cong, where John Ford shot “The Quiet Man.” Ardent movie buffs, we literally climbed over fences and wended our way through sheep pastures.

Garry always greeted the sheep by reminding them how good they would taste with a bit of mint jelly. I thought in terms of sweaters and tweeds. We tramped through the pastures until we found the “quiet man’s cottage.” We recognized it by the little stream the runs in front of it … the location, the picture perfect location. But the cottage was a ruin.

Nowadays the Irish Tourism folks are advertising it as “restored.” Having seen it in 1990, there was nothing to restore. The foundation was barely visible. A few pieces of wall, but otherwise gone. They may indeed have rebuilt it, but it was no restoration. Hey, we’re talking Hollywood, so you don’t care, right?

The setting is as idyllic as ever, though, and the stream still flows past the cottage door and under the little bridge. Clearly the movie was the biggest thing to ever hit the town. Cong is full of Quiet Man memorabilia, and the local residents full of anecdotes and memories.

Cong, September 1990

Cong, September 1990

Our time was almost up, and as we continued down along the coast, we began to realize that we would really have to go home. The idea was so depressing that we stopped in the nearest pub for solace.

Cong and Garry

Cong and Garry

The only part was driving. Keeping left was a problem. The roads were another. Narrow, a terrifying mix of blind curves, roaming sheep, and meandering cattle, locals drive these narrow roads at supersonic speeds. On roads hardly wider than our tiny compact car, we were passed, after which we felt obliged to check if the door handles and mirrors were still attached.

Irish Signs

Somewhere … but where?

Eventually we stopped worrying where we were or how to get someplace else. We let the road take us where it would. We knew whenever and wherever we stopped, we’d find a good pub and friendly faces.

We hoped we’d go back again, but other places called and the years ran faster than I believed possible. But we remember.

Post Script:

Yeats' Grave in Sligo

Yeats’ Grave in Sligo

When we got home, we were visiting Garry’s folks, showing the photos to Garry’s Dad until he stopped us. It was the pictures of Yeats’ burial site. “Those are your people,” he said, pointing to a group of stones slightly behind Yeats’.

“Our people?” asked Garry.

“Your grandparents were from Sligo,” he said. “My mother,” he clarified. That explained the very light-skinned red-headed grandmother Garry remembered.

“When were you going to tell me?” he asked his father.

“I was waiting until I thought you were old enough,” his father explained. Garry was 48 at the time.


Daily Prompt: Tourist Trap – What’s your dream tourist destination — either a place you’ve been and loved, or a place you’d love to visit? What about it speaks to you?