MEMORIAL DAY: THEN AND NOW, THE DAY AFTER – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Time changes everything. It’s a given. Memorial Day is no different and that’s a shame.

When I was a kid, Memorial Day was usually a family affair. It seems as if it was always sunny and warm for the gathering of several generations. I was fascinated by the stories told by the men who’d collectively served in two World Wars and the Korean “Peace Action.” The stories were funny and sad as were the memories of when they served our country.

How many 78-year-old men can still wear the same uniform they wore at age 17?

My maternal Gramps, a Barbados native, served in the Danish Navy during World War One, the war to end all wars.  His stories seemed to be from a distant time that I grasped only in a haze. I’d read about WW1 a bit. Dry accounts in those history books of the ’40s and early ’50s we were given in school. My personal library included books by Erich Maria Remarque who gave bittersweet accounts from the German perspective.

“All Quiet On The Western Front” was the most memorable. I don’t think Gramps or the other elders liked my interest in Remarque’s books. I didn’t understand their attitude. Not then, at least. There was music, including songs like “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary” which elicited smiles. The music blended with the sounds of the parade outside all the open windows. I usually dashed outside for a glimpse.

Those parades included veterans who’d served in the Civil War.  I was always impressed and wondered how old some of those men were who marched with pride and crispness, belying their years. I felt a stirring in my heart. I wanted to be one of those men someday.

In my adolescent and early teen years, family Memorial Day celebrations changed. Some of the men were gone. So were their stories. There was still laughter, fueled by liquor consumed in prodigious amounts by uncles, cousins, and friends.

My father in uniform, World War 2

My Dad, Bill “Tappy” Armstrong, had been an Army Seargent in WW2. He had seen action in the Battle of the Bulge among other places.  He smiled at some of the war stories but never shared anything.   He never shared anything about his personal war experiences until the final year of his life.

Those accounts were harrowing and gave his three grown sons a better understanding of Dad’s quiet demeanor, moodiness. and reluctance to share his feelings. After Dad passed, we found many medals stowed away apparently for more than half a century. It was his legacy of the Greatest Generation.

One of the staples of those family Memorial Day celebrations was watching war movies. Even before cable, the networks and local TV stations ran a marathon of our favorite John Wayne, Errol Flynn, Robert Taylor, Robert Mitchum, and other Hollywood gung ho flicks that raised the roof with laughter from the real-life vets guffawing over the exploits of Hollywood heroes. There was derisive laughter for Wayne and Flynn who single-handedly won the war according to the heavy propaganda scripts.

I thought those guys were real heroes. Hell, I was gonna be a Marine like Duke Wayne’s Sgt. John Stryker in “Sands of Iwo Jima.”  The parades outside now included WW1 Vets. The last of the Civil War heroes had passed. The music of Tommy Dorsey, Vera Lynn, and Glenn Miller permeated the celebrations. I loved their sad, sweet words and music. They would always be part of my musical collection.

My vow to emulate Duke Wayne’s Sgt. John Stryker was fulfilled as I enlisted in the Marine Corps right after high school graduation in 1959. I was a baby faced 17-year-old who needed his parent’s signature to become a gyrene.

Memorial Day 1959 was in my rearview mirror when I signed up. I had clear memories of that family Memorial Day. There were only a few WW1 Vets still around to participate. WW2 uniforms dominated. A fully integrated armed services participation brought big smiles to faces in my family. The music included new interpretations of war tunes offered by Elvis, Connie Francis, Paul Anka, and other fresh faces in the top 40-market.

My Dad cried when he saw me off to basic training at Parris Island where “boots” were turned in fighting gyrenes. It was the proudest day of my life.

I never became the new version of Sgt. John Stryker because my lifelong hearing affliction made it impossible for me to serve, especially as a Marine. Imagine crawling through the jungle, listening for any sign of the enemy. It would have been a catastrophe waiting to happen. I did get to “enjoy” a fair amount of basic training.

I left my mark with many a hard-nosed Drill Instructor frustrated when I laughed as they barked out intimidating orders. I drank homemade hooch (I’ll never give up the brewer), stripped and refitted my M-1 blindfolded, survived a few double-time forced marches, and had my first barroom fight with peckerwood Southern bigots in a nearby Beaufort gin mill.

My platoon mates and I cleared out the place with just a few scratches to show for our brawl. Now, I was officially a Marine!   Our C.O. smiled when he chewed us out for drinking and fighting. His main concern: Did we leave any of those miscreants standing?  Hell, NO!  The C.O. gave us a sharp salute and a night off to soothe our bruises.

A few days later, thanks to my hearing problems, Pvt E-1 Garry Armstrong was mustered out and headed home. in uniform.

My Dad cried again when I arrived home in uniform. Yes, he saluted me.

OO-rah!

This past weekend’s Memorial Day celebrations were lost in the COVID-19 headlines. A sad sign of the times for those who served and still serve our country. I salute all who put their lives on the line and am proud I still have my Marine Corps uniform. It fits better than ever.

I’ve never marched in a Memorial Day Parade. I leave that to those who’ve spent full tours in service and beyond.

Semper Fi!

THE PRICE OF FOOD, THE COST OF STAYING ALIVE – Marilyn Armstrong

This post started out as a comment to Rich’s piece, but it reminded me of all those years when the Fishery Department in New England begged the fisher-folks to hold back on fishing out the spawning areas. St. George’s banks — which is technically both U.S. and Canadian waters — I think the line runs right through the area. George’s Banks are closed, both by Canadian and American authorities because of overfishing.

If they didn’t close them, there wouldn’t be any fish in the future. Almost all our fish these days is imported. Salmon from Canada where it is farmed, and the rest from Asia.

Our food has more than doubled in price. We could buy a week’s food for the three of us for around $150 before the quarantine. Now it costs MORE than $300. We do have some locally grown food just beginning to show up in the markets and ironically, our farms which have been doing poorly are suddenly a very big deal. We can get (easily) eggs, milk, honey, and strawberries. We have tons of blackberries growing in our own back 40, but it’s even more lethal than our rose bushes and before we can get them, the birds eat all of it.
Squash is coming into season. Also cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and with a little luck, we’ll have a good year for peaches. Soon (I hope!) we will also have fresh corn. We don’t grow mountains of corn because we have so little flat land, but what we do grow is delicious.

Everything is organic. Not because we are such believes in organic produce, but because we have such a high water level, fertilizer seeps into the aquifer, and if we kill the aquifer, we are all in big, permanent trouble.

We have no slaughterhouses. I’m sure that the individual farms raise a few pigs and beef cattle for personal use, but it doesn’t go to the stores. There is a huge chicken farm nearby. They have a big restaurant (no open right now, of course), but they also sell it in their shop. It costs twice the imported prices but it is very good and their chickens roam free.

Shooting through a wire fence, these are impressionist chickens. Need eggs?

Anyone with a back that works grows acorn squash (by November I’ve overdosed on squash), tomatoes, and onions. Also round, red potatoes. Some people have started growing jalapenos, too. In this limited rural area, summer is the only time you can get fresh local fruits and vegetables. After September and October (apple season — we have gigantic orchards for apples and they are great apples … and the farmers keep cross-breeding new varieties, albeit our local apples are much more expensive than the imported ones. Probably not THIS year!

The cows in the meadow

Not much fish except via Canada where they farm salmon. We used to have wonderful fish, but they overfished the region and it’ll be decades before we can get fish from the ocean again. Our rivers are good for trout — if you like trout and none of us do — and while down on the Cape they are farming lobster, there aren’t enough of them for more than their immediate areas.

New England had the biggest and best fishing fleets in the world. All gone. The fleets are gone and the areas are now filled with private boats. Which is fine, but they don’t bring in fish.

The fisherfolk were warned yearly to NOT go to George’s Banks because that was where they spawned. Garry covered those stories and he always came back shaking his head at the thick-headedness of the fleets. Yes, they’d need to raise prices and wouldn’t be able to bring in the volume of fish they had before, but if they didn’t stop harvesting the fisheries, there would be no more fish at all.

Eventually, when no one cooperated, they closed down the areas about five years ago (maybe it was longer — has swept by so quickly — before there were no more fish to breed. The coast guard patrols the area and there are all these little wars at sea. If we don’t poison the waters, fish will come back — and that’s if we manage to keep the Canadians and Japanese from trawling the areas.

Seafood, the delight of New England is gone. We do get great eggs and butter, though. The milk is great, but we have a lot of people here who have inspected cows, so they don’t homogenize the milk. Garry loves the cream on the top. I stopped buying it.

After Garry steals the cream, even the dogs won’t drink it.

MORE PICTURES OF BONNIE – OUR SMALL BLACK SCOTTISH TERRIER – Marilyn Armstrong

Scotties can live a long time, though most pass some time between 12 and 16 years old. We lost Gibbs at the beginning of February, quietly, in his sleep on the sofa. Now, Bonnie is on her way to that land of rainbows.

Usually, dogs develop an illness you know about. You can’t always make it better, but you can often control symptoms for a while. Often before a disease takes them down, arthritis makes them so miserable there’s little reason to keep a dog in obvious pain alive because you’re too selfish to let them go. We have learned the hard way over many years of having pets who we didn’t let go because we couldn’t make a decision — is wrong.

Bonnie has been failing a little at a time for a long time. Her eyes have been bad for much of her life, but even with a lot of attention, they are worse now. I do not know how much she can see.

She is almost entirely deaf. If you shout in her ear, she hears a bit and certain treble notes seem to reach her. But our voices aren’t there for her and it’s surprisingly difficult to manage a once-hearing dog who no longer can.

She has developed canine dementia. She has good days … or more to the point … she has good hours or minutes. The rest of the time, she’s agitated and barks continuously until she is exhausted and so are we. I doubt she knows why she is barking.

She also isn’t the same dog we’ve known and loved. Garry feels like he is reliving the last years of his mother’s life, but this time, it’s his Scottie and the conversation is limited.

She isn’t friendly and doesn’t want to be petted. She has about two minutes of tolerating being close to one of us. She isn’t hostile, but a lot of the time, I don’t think she is sure who we are or, for that matter, who she is. She knows the house, though. Even with limited sight and hearing, she can find her way around. And she can manage the stairs.

Bonnie Annie Laurie

Her teeth went from fine a year and a half ago to appalling now. Assuming we could manage to find the nearly $1000 dollars it would cost to have most of them removed, that wouldn’t fix the rest of her. Her eyes won’t come back or her hearing. And her furry little brain isn’t going to uncloud.

It’s time to let her go.

The all-night barking is not doing much for Garry and my relationship either. We get very little sleep and we are tired and snappish a lot of the time. Three or four hours of sleep isn’t enough.

It’s hard to keep her in bed with us. Also, she is old enough that a jump from our rather high bed would likely break or tear something. The Duke will jump up and settle down, but Bonnie sleeps for only a few hours, then has to go out. Now she seems to be having trouble catching her breath. I don’t know what it means, but it isn’t good.

We finally decided that there’s not much for her or us to get from this relationship. She is so stressed and confused and this is causing us to stress, too. We aren’t spring chickens either.

It is hard to imagine life without her. She has been with us since she was 9-weeks old. She has been a wonderful dog. Funny, quirky, and full of fun. Last night, I took pictures. She still looks pretty good, though she has put on a lot of weight recently, maybe because she doesn’t do much anymore.

Sometime during the next week, she will be gone. It really is hard to imagine life without her. I still haven’t entirely become used to Gibbs being gone, and now, apparently, it’s time for another one to leave us.

NUCLEAR VERSUS EXTENDED FAMILIES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Most people assume that the nuclear family is the natural and best environment for bringing up children. We probably also assume that it’s been the norm forever. But both assumptions are wrong. Both historically and cross-culturally the extended family – multiple generations living together and sharing responsibilities – is in fact the most common social arrangement. Remember the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child”?

The nuclear family only became widespread after the Industrial Revolution created a factory based, centralized economy. This type of economy favored the smaller, nuclear family unit because it could more easily pick up and move to wherever the work was. In the scenario that gave birth to the nuclear family, husbands’ incomes alone could support the whole family. For the first time in history, wives were able to stay home and run the household and care for the children full time, on their own.

The problem with this family structure today is that one income can no longer support most households and most wives also have to work outside of the home. However, children and aging parents still have to be cared for and this creates a vicious circle. Parents have to pay a big chunk of their income to caregivers for their children (nannies or au pairs, daycare centers, etc.) and must also often help their parents afford retirement communities, home health care, or nursing homes. Then the people caring for YOUR children and parents have to pay people to take care of THEIR children and parents, and so on.

In 1940, 25% of Americans lived in multi-generational homes, with grandparents helping to care for young children and later older kids helping to care for the aging grandparents. By 1980, only 12% of Americans lived in inter-generational homes. But after the Great Recession of 2008, economic necessity brought that number back to 18%.

The current Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the fact that our society today farms out and isolates our older population and puts unrealistic pressures on the nuclear family unit. Maybe now is a good time for another resurgence of the interdependence of the generations.

We have idealized ‘independence’ for a long time; the independence of the parent-child unit despite huge logistical and economic hurdles and the independence of the older generation who are proud to be able to make it on their own, despite loneliness, isolation, and often a huge price tag. It seems clearer now how dysfunctional the separation of the generations can be for a vast number of families.

Multi-generational living

With good childcare hard to find and prohibitively expensive, it’s a no brainer that willing and able grandparents could be invaluable to cut costs and increase the quality of their grandchildren’s care, at least part-time, while their children work. This may not always be feasible. I would not have let my in-laws spend that much time with my kids unless they promised to pay all the psychiatric bills that that would have engendered. And my mother was too busy living her own life to even occasionally babysit for my kids (she ‘visited’ with them at her convenience).

On the other hand, I have a friend whose daughter has three kids ages six, four, and two-and-a-half. She normally helps her daughter out a few days a week, but since the shelter in place order in Connecticut, my friend and her husband have been spending all day, every day helping their totally overwhelmed, home-bound daughter. Another friend moved down the street from their daughter so they could help out regularly with her special needs daughter. My husband and I were lucky enough to have had grandparents as a big part of our lives growing up and in turn, we helped care for them when they got older. It was a win, win for everyone involved, and enriched all of our lives.

It might take a while to trend back to extended families living together, or at least close by, on a larger scale. First, attitudes have to change back to valuing the extended family lifestyle. That may begin to happen seeing how both young families and seniors are struggling with financial and emotional stress today. Inter-generational families may be seen as a solution to today’s problems for future generations. Instead of the ‘sandwich generation’, balancing children and aging parents separately but at the same time, the extended family brings everyone together to help each other through all stages of life.

In the meantime, the government can ease the situation for younger parents by guaranteeing paid parental leave and also access to high-quality child care for everyone. That still leaves older people alone with their children helping with their care as best they can. But at least it could give young families a breather while we all figure out what type of family structure works best for everyone in today’s world.

RELATIONSHIPS CAN GET EASIER WITH TIME – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I believe that one of the benefits of age and experience is that romantic relationships should be easier than when we were young.

When I was young and married for the first time, I was insecure and didn’t know how to stand up for myself. But I was way too rigid and sure of my opinions and views and way too intolerant of people with other perspectives. I was hypersensitive to any slights or criticisms yet unsure how to express those feelings constructively. Looking back I realize how difficult I was, in many ways.

When I met Tom, my second husband, at age 49, after 25 years of marriage and two kids, I was a different person. More confident and not willing to put up with shit from people, yet easy-going and accepting of differences. Tom and I bonded instantly over the similarities between both of our mentally ill exes.

We got along seamlessly and talked until 3 AM on our first date. We spent the next weekend together and from that point on, we were a couple. That was 20 years ago. We didn’t marry for three and a half years, mainly because my kids were still living at home. But we knew we were till death do us part from the very beginning.

Tom and I on our first trip together early in our relationship

Our relationship has been as easy and positive as our prior marriages were difficult and negative. We understood what was important in a relationship – two ‘normal’ people who respect and accept each other as we are; who enjoy and appreciate each other without reservation, and who support each other 100% no matter what. All the rest is window dressing (except making each other laugh and the passion part, which goes without saying). Maybe we should have known all this in our twenties, but we obviously didn’t. We thought we could ‘help’ or ‘change’ our spouses. That rarely works.

My relationship with Tom has been smooth since day one because when there’s an issue, we talk about it and it’s over. We don’t hold grudges or bring up past issues. We deal with the issue at hand and never attack the other person. Then we immediately go back to friendly behavior with no anger residue. All of this is basic ‘Relationship 101’ advice. But I think time and experience helped us understand the importance of these maxims.

Another trip before we got married

I have two friends, one in her mid-fifties and the other in her late sixties, who have been dating online. Each had a recent nine-month to one-year relationship that ended a few months ago. Both of these relationships were difficult and up and down with lots of negative mixed in with the positive.

I felt that these men were wrong for my friends because they weren’t a good fit. It wasn’t ‘easy’ for them to be together. These women saw the negatives but didn’t want to give up on the positives. One woman kept questioning if she should break up with this guy and the other actually did break up, at least two or three times. I just don’t believe that if a person is right for you, things should be that full of angst at our ages. No roller coasters for the fifty and over crowd if you’ve found ‘the one’.

Luckily both women have met new guys with whom things are going smoothly and quickly.

One had a first date on a Saturday night that lasted till Tuesday! Way to go! The other said she felt so comfortable with this new guy after just a few dates that it felt like they’d been together for a long time. That’s what I’m talking about! Both women have slipped easily into relationships with major positives and no major negatives. No obvious ‘red flags’. They both feel as if this is too good to be true but they’re going with the flow and enjoying every minute.

This is the first time with these friends that I feel they’ve found the right guy for them. At this stage of life, it should come relatively easy if it’s right! I wished for them what I had with Tom from day one and I think my wish for them has come true.

GROWING UP IN THE MIDDLE – Marilyn Armstrong

I was both the emotional and intellectual center of my family. I was also the middle child and the communicator. Everybody talked to me which is WHY I knew everything while everyone told me to never tell anyone about what I knew. I kept secrets I probably should not have kept for many years, to my own and others’ detriment.

I think that was why my mother was stricter with me than my brother or sister. She thought I was going to blow up. I DID blow up, actually. At my father and eventually at her for telling me her personal truth, then acting against it.

Sex, for example. She believed in freedom. Really she did. She told me many times, with one exception. She never mentioned the exception which was, it turned out, me. Everything was fine, just not for her daughter. Since I didn’t know her beliefs excluded me. I thought she really meant it and joyfully told her the truth. The results were not what I expected.

I’m not into the “exception” thing. You believe it or you don’t. The rest is hypocrisy and for a long time, I resented it. Eventually, I recognized she had made a lot of intellectual leaps in her life, from a Yiddish-speaking Orthodox family on the Lower East Side through WWI to becoming a Communist and eventually, a socialist and from Orthodoxy to atheism.

She found some leaps harder than others. Sex was one of them. She thought of sex or the lack thereof as a matter of honor. I didn’t get to see a lot of honor at home or for that matter, anywhere else. I still don’t … except among my friends. Maybe that’s why they are my friends.

Uxbridge is notoriously full of angry, antagonistic people. I don’t know WHY this is true because right next door in all the adjacent towns, people are a lot more normal. But this town is very weird that way. it’s why most of the churches in Uxbridge are closed. Nobody could agree on anything. It’s also why no one bothers to vote in town elections. The candidates are always the same people or children or uncles or cousins of the people we didn’t like 10 years ago. I remember talking to the nurse in my Doctor’s office and I said, “The people in Uxbridge are jerks.”

She said, “Yes, I know. I live there too.”

So in other places, people are helping others. In this town, if Owen didn’t live here, we could be dead for a month and no one would stop by to see if we were breathing. Not all places are towns where people get together. I wish I lived in one of those towns.  This one is a good example of what’s wrong with the world.

JEWELRY AS HISTORY, PART 2 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently wrote a blog about how the jewelry I’ve collected over the years from other family members can trace our family history through the decades. I can also trace my personal history the same way, starting with the baby bracelet my parents bought for me when I was born. I guess it couldn’t be customized, because it spells my name the traditional way, rather than the way I spell it.

I spell my name “ELLIN”

Below are some pendants my parents and grandparents gave me as a preteen. I still have them all and wear the watch all the time (even though it no longer works).

A very meaningful gift from my grandparents was the Jewish Star of David they gave me on my thirteenth birthday. Boys were Bar Mitzvahed at thirteen but in the early 60’s, girls still weren’t. So this gift was meant to reaffirm my Jewish identity from the grandparents who shaped that part of me. I have already passed this down to my daughter, Sarah, and it means a lot to her too.

Here are two of the many fun costume jewelry pieces my grandfather bought for me as a teenager. Sarah has both of them now, but I wore them for decades.

I managed to get my grandmother to give me one of her Art Deco necklaces when I was in high school because I loved it so much and begged so hard!

Grandma’s Deco necklace

Another kind of ‘jewelry’ that represents an important part of my life, are the political pins I proudly wore and lovingly kept for all these years. My first political ‘crush’ was Gene McCarthy but ironically, I took time off after college and actually worked full time for Ed Muskie in 1971-1972, but I don’t have a pin from his campaign.

Political pins from my first forays into politics

One of my favorite jewelry trends growing up was the choker. I loved them and wore them for years. I had everyday ones and dressy ones and had one to match almost everything I owned that had an open neck.

Two of my large collection of chokers for many years in my late teens and twenties.

One of the most important pieces of jewelry I wear, always, is my wedding band. The one below on the left was from my first marriage and I wore it for 25 years. I loved it so much, that when I went looking for a new band for my second marriage, I tried to find something like it. My daughter and I searched everywhere and only found one that even remotely mirrored the style of the first band. I’ve worn the one on the right now for 17 years and I love it (almost), as much as the first one.

My first wedding band on the left, from 1974, and my second, from 2002 on the right.

While I loved jewelry, the one type of jewelry I couldn’t wear for many years, was the earring. I didn’t have pierced ears and the clip on earrings hurt so much I could only wear them for an hour or so, so I usually just didn’t wear them at all. Then, at thirty-two, a friend convinced me to get my ears pierced. That started a lifelong romance with earrings, now my favorite piece of jewelry. I have so many, I have several drawers dedicated to the unusual collection I’ve amassed over the years.

Below, the top, small gold earring was one of my first earrings. Very quickly I moved on to the bigger and more colorful ‘statement’ earrings, like the other two. I really went wild with earrings, though I’m too small to wear the really giant ones that are popular today.

My first experiments with earrings in my 30’s.

For a while, I was into matched sets of earrings and necklaces.

Matched sets of earrings and necklaces

The most expensive jewelry I ever bought were genuine Indian-made sets below that my first husband got for me over two different trips we made out west in the late 1980s or early 1990s. I still have them and wear them often.

For many years, my mother, daughter and I loved Craft Shows and got much of our jewelry there. We all favor interesting and unusual pieces and obviously love color and texture in what we wear. I never bought a lot of ‘real’ gold or silver jewelry because I could only afford very small pieces and I liked a more dramatic statement from what I wear. When my mother died, she left me her collection of glass jewelry from the artist on the right. So I now have a lot of necklaces, in different lengths, colors and styles from this artist.

Below are some more of the Craft Show earrings (and pendant) I have collected over the years.

Some other pieces that I cherish are the ones below that I wore at my wedding to Tom in 2002. I went back to my love of chokers and wore simple pearl and crystal earrings that matched the neckpiece.

Choker and hairpins I wore at my second wedding, to Tom, in 2002

Some of my jewelry is actually made by talented family members. The necklace and bracelet on the left were made by my first mother-in-law, Dorothy (Nana to everyone). The piece on the right was made by my incredibly talented, first stepmother-in-law, Joy. She was a welder and made amazing metal sculptures that I have all through my home. She also made some pieces of jewelry that are beautiful and unique. This piece is actually two individual sculptural pieces that she suggested I wear together.

The pendants in the middle were made by Sarah, who took up jewelry making for a year or two and became really good at it. The pendant on the right is a beautiful green stone, but you can’t see the color in the photo.

So a lot of what I wear every day reminds me of my past and my family members. And whenever my daughter comes home to visit, we go through the drawers of jewelry from the past that I no longer wear and we reminisce about the people and the places and the times that are evoked by each piece. It’s a fun way to remember our family history.