BARGAIN HUNTING – THE SPORT

I have acquired a lot of sweaters over the years. This is New England. Winters are long. Heat is expensive. Sweaters fill the gap.

This morning I noticed more than half my sweaters are purple. I’ve got a few in black, a couple in red, but purple dominates. The sweaters used to be all black. I’m from New York where women wear black. It’s a thing. A co-worker in Israel once told me I dressed like a nun. I could never wear the bright colors she wore. I’d feel like I was wearing a neon sign.

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If you surmise from this that I love purple, you’d be wrong. Purple sweaters scream “final mark-down.” As a habitue of end-of-the-season sales, I know what to expect. Lots of purple, white, orange and some nasty shades of green in which no one looks healthy.

Leftovers also include “specialty colors” designers were sure would be the next big thing. They are inevitably named after fruits or veggies. They never sell well, so there are plenty of whatever it was in the clearance aisle.

All the normal, neutral colors are gone, but you’ll find cantaloupe , mango, kiwi, aubergine, honeydew, sugarplum, pumpkin, mocha and vanilla bean. We all knew they were tan, orange, coral and lavender. New names did not make old colors the next big anything.

I’m a big fan of neutrals. In addition to being essentially conservative where color is concerned, I spent many decades working and commuting. If I wanted to have a life outside of work, dressing had to be fast, mindless.

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Neutral colors are the backbone of a working woman’s wardrobe. If almost all of your clothing is black, grey, off-white, taupe, brown, or khaki, putting together an outfit is a piece of cake. Grab a top, grab a bottom, attach earrings to lobes and voilà. It’s a go-anywhere wardrobe for the fashion-challenged. In other words, me.

After I stopped working, I didn’t have money to spend on clothing. The percentage of purple and orange in my wardrobe rose accordingly. Which explains the orange dress in my closet. I’ve had it for almost two years, but the tags are still attached. It was a 2012 leftover bought the spring of 2013. It’s still waiting to be worn as the spring of 2015 is well underway. It’s got short sleeves and is basically a long tee-shirt, so I’ll give it whirl as a nightie.

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Lack of money has honed my bargain hunting skills, but I have always been a bargain shopper.

I shop final sales and closeouts, even when I am not strapped for funds. It’s a family tradition. My mother raised me to hold fast to one unyielding principle: Never pay full price. 

I take pride in scoring a great buy. You aren’t supposed to brag about how much you pay. You’re supposed to brag about how much you didn’t pay. The less you pay, the greater your bragging rights. I was astonished to discover that some people are proud of paying a lot for something they could have gotten for half off if they’d waited a couple of days. They might have had to take it in purple or orange, but think of all the money they’d save!

Would I have different attitude towards shopping if I were rich?

To put it in perspective, back in the early 1990s, I got into a tug of war with Carly Simon for possession of a 70% off clearance sale silk blouse in a very chi-chi shop in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. The blouse was orange.

I won. Fantastic blouse.

Bargain hunting is not just for people on a tight budget. For some of us, it’s a contact sport.

Somewhere, in Heaven, Mom is smiling proudly.

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.

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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.

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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.

BLACK & WHITE SUNDAY: STRONGHOLD IN BOSTON

Black & White Sunday: Stronghold

According to the Learner’s Dictionary STRONGHOLD is:
: an area where most people have the same beliefs, values, etc.: an area dominated by a particular group
The area/district/state is a Republican stronghold.
: a protected place where the members of a military group stay and can defend themselves against attacks
The rebels retreated to their mountain stronghold.
: an area where a particular type of uncommon animal can still be found
The last stronghold of the endangered deer.

This is Massachusetts’ Statehouse, from the back. It shows the tunnel that runs beneath it, originally designed to allow traffic to pass unimpeded. It has been closed for years, not unlike most of the minds within. This is a stronghold … of exactly what, you are free to decide for yourself.

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HANGING WITH OLD FRIENDS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Friendship is something you treasure more and more as the years go by and you realize the clock is ticking on your mortality. I used to have numerous friends during my working years. But when they finally turned the TV news camera off me, many of those friends disappeared.

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It goes with the territory. How many t’s in territory?

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In retirement, I have maybe a few real friends. I can count them on the fingers of one hand. That’s the way it was before I became a regional celebrity. I’ve never been a really sociable fella. People often confused my television persona with real “me.”

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I’m reserved in large gatherings. Always have been. Some of it is due to my hearing problems. Mostly, it’s because I’m shy. I hide behind what remains of my professional celebrity. I don’t laugh much except when I’m around our dogs. I’m always comfortable with our furry kids. I’ve found myself laughing a lot the past couple of days. Laughing with people. Very special people. Ron and Cherrie.

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Cherrie and Marilyn are best friends. They’ve known each other forever. They make each other laugh through the darkest of times.

Ron is a quiet guy, much like me. We don’t talk a lot, but we share a lot when we are alone. About a variety of things. It’s comfortable being around Ron and Cherrie. Easy. We talk about the problems of the world, our crisis-filled lives, and movie trivia. We finish off each other’s sentences as our overloaded brains smoke like old wiring.

More than anything else, we bring out the best in each other. We remember the joy of laughter, of enjoying the moment. Silly stuff reigns.

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Our visit with Ron and Cherrie will end in a few hours and then it’s back to reality. If only we could bottle the fun we’ve had, we could throw away most of our prescription meds.

Friendship. What a concept!