You sure wouldn’t know it by what’s on television.
Not a single movie, documentary or anything. We watched “Oh, What a Lovely War” with a chaser of “The Americanization of Emily.” Garry scoured the listings, but no channel is showing anything related to D-Day.
Not like there aren’t plenty of movies and documentaries from which to choose. So, have we forgotten? Call me weird, but I think this is a day to remember. Always.
Here I am, cynical, skeptical and nobody’s flag-waver reminding everyone that this day was important. It was the beginning of the final stage of the most devastating war in remembered history.
The summary of loss of life, 1937-1945:
Military deaths: More than 16,000,000
Civilian deaths: More than 45,000,000
Total deaths for the war years 1937-1945: More than 61,000,000
I don’t think we should be allowed to forget so quickly, do you?
Because when we forget, when the lessons we learned are lost. We stand in imminent danger of repeating history. I, for one, think that’s a bad idea. Oh, wait … we ARE in the middle of repeating history.
Lest we forget … this is how it all began. With a world just like the one in which we are living. Today. With leaders who think war is a fine idea.
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. It has a perfect view of the dam and river, but it’s dry and safe for bones and memories.
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 anniversary of the end of some war we fought, 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 wildflowers 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 19 years. Our ancestors — Garry’s and mine — come from Sligo, Antigua, Minsk, Bialystok. We come from tiny villages in Ireland, England, the West Indies, and a wide variety of shtetls in eastern and northern Europe. Our people were always on the move.
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 also not 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 nearby villages for three, four, five generations.
“We’ve always lived in the Valley,” they say, meaning they have lived here as long as anyone can remember. If gently prodded, they may recall at some point, long ago, they came from somewhere else. Some can’t remember when or if it’s true.
I point out they must have come from somewhere because unless they are Native American, they came to this place, even if it was a long time ago. They get misty-eyed trying to remember old family stories handed down when they were young.
It’s 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. We can’t remember a lot of things from our “old days” either. So many years have passed and so much stuff has happened.
How many wars have we fought — just in our lifetime? I can’t count them anymore. It’s endless. We honor our dead. I think we’d honor them more by ending the cause of their deaths which I doubt it will happen. Peace is not in us, or at least not in most of us. Certainly not in the people who run our countries.
So another year passes and little flags and flowers bloom in the old cemetery in the middle of town.
The strength of many schools, churches and community organizations lies in its rituals and traditions. They provide a constancy that is reassuring to students, members, and alumni. While traditions may seem a bit crazy to some, to most they are cherished as part of their heritage. Those who do not honor tradition are likely to incur the wrath of those who want to find comfort and solace in the reassurance that traditions may bring.
When traditions remain constant throughout the years, they begin to bring identity to organizations. The school, recreation program, and community center become known for their special features and regular activities. Identity leads to purpose and purpose leads to dedication and commitment. Maintaining what you have been good at through the years is important to gathering loyalty.
And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word… Tradition.
Consider the years you went to elementary school or high school. If you should return to those institutions you are likely to ask if they have the same tournaments and games. You may ask about the basketball, football or baseball teams. You may want to know if the school still has the Arts Festival, Chorale and Band concerts. You may be interested in whether the big annual show is still produced, even if you were not actually a part of the shows. These were traditions and you want to know if they are still alive.
Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years.
Long lasting and enjoyable traditions will find support in parents and alumni. Just as everyone wants to feel that they have a purpose and identity, they also want to see that their schools, parks and community organizations maintain an identity and purpose as well.
While some graduates may always feel that their years, their programs and participation were the best years of a school or organization, they will nonetheless support an organization with their word of mouth praises, and perhaps even their dollars, in order to keep the traditions alive.
Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do.
It is true that some remain a part of their school or recreational program throughout their entire lives. As students become young adults and then parents, they may feel it important to maintain a relationship to those places that were important to them when they were young. They may even wish to send their children to these same schools and programs. That is how strong the bond of tradition can be.
Not long ago, a former community resident passed away at the age of 90. From the time I was a child at the local Boys Club until just a few years ago, this dedicated woman was always at the carnivals, festivals, and fund-raisers of all sorts. It was her passion to be a part of the traditional events each year. The value of her volunteer service cannot be calculated. The importance of the traditions she helped to maintain was something beyond measure, to her and everyone who knew her.
Unfortunately, leadership comes along in the life of some schools and community groups who do not understand the importance of what they have. They set about changing things for no other reason than change. These types of people can quickly tear down what took generations to build. A decade of bad leadership can wipe out a lifetime of good will and dedication.
When I returned to certain alumni events in recent years, I was disheartened to see the lack of concern for the past. It is not that we were better than anyone else, but it is that we had an identity in our long cherished events. For our school, it was the Fine Arts. The Fine Arts meant nothing to recent leaders which was disheartening to many of us.
When you walk the halls of an old and venerable institution, you like to see the pictures, trophies, artwork and sayings of the past. It is discouraging to know that the school song is unimportant, the traditions are gone and the leadership is oblivious to its importance. When someone takes away your tradition and legacy, it is time to move on.
Tradition. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as a fiddler on the roof!
Old Number 2 was one of the long-serving fire trucks in our town. Almost 20 years ago, she was replaced, but no one could bear to scrap her, so she was put out to pasture … literally.
Her rusting hulk stood for years in the empty field across from the post office — where she remained until they decided she was too rusty, old, potentially dangerous and needed to be scrapped — at which point she was adopted.
If you are a fan of John Ford’s movies, maybe you remember “Ditto” Boland (actor Edward Brophy), the funny character wearing a Hamburg hat in the “The Last Hurrah.” The real-life Ditto Boland, after the James Michael Curley years, became an elevator operator at the Massachusetts State House. He worked there during the 1970s, which is when I met him.
Our State House reporter had told me about him, “warning” me not to ask Ditto about his past because he’d launch into a long-winded conversation about his storied days with the legendary Boston Mayor James Michael Curley. Okay, I was warned.
One day, I was the only person on the elevator with Ditto. It was an old elevator that groaned as it slowly went from floor to floor. Ditto said nothing until letting me off.
He smiled and said, “Hi, Mr. Armstrong. I know you’re new to Boston. If ever I can give you any help, just let me know.” That was all he said. Not a single James Michael Curley story.
Ditto did help me. As the new reporter in Boston, he pointed out key political players in the stories I was assigned to cover. Boston is a complicated town — especially politically. If you didn’t know who was who, you could be lost trying to correctly cover political events.
I was nervous when assigned to the State House because I didn’t know the backstories of the various Boston politicos. I felt I couldn’t do adequate justice to these assignments. Ditto and a couple of other old-timers rescued me many times over the years. Eventually, I was able to rescue others, too. One good turn deserves many more.
A few years after our first meeting, I ran into Ditto at “The Capital Dome,” a popular bar on Beacon Hill frequented by politicians, lobbyists, political reporters, and hangers-on. I was sitting in a corner – alone – because I really didn’t know that crowd.
Ditto approached, asked if he could join me and I nodded. I found his politeness charming because “polite” didn’t usually work well around the State House. We sat, nursing our drinks for long minutes.
Finally, Ditto told me he liked me because I was “friendly and polite.” I nodded. Then he said, “And, you never asked me about James Michael Curley.”
I laughed, longer and harder than I intended. Ditto just sat there, beaming broadly.
FROM swo8 (Leslie Martel): Today is Mother’s Day. To commemorate this day, we have created a photographic montage of families together. It includes eight generations of my family and three of Marilyn and Garry Armstrong’s families.
The song is bittersweet because to be a mother, is indeed bittersweet. Our children bring us our greatest joys and our greatest sorrows. The couple in the video are my great-grandparents.
My great-grandmother died in childbirth, leaving 3 babies and a husband. When my great-grandfather remarried the children were sent off to their aunt to be raised.
The aunt is the lady sitting by the fireplace. The first photo of children is of my grandmother and her twin sisters. My grandmother being the oldest would have missed her mother the most. In spite of her early losses she became an extraordinary person and had a huge influence on me and my thinking.
To be a mother has got to be one of the most difficult endeavors to undertake in one’s life. We are given this helpless creature for a short period of time to nourish, educate and inspire before they disappear into the ether of adulthood.
As a tribute to mother’s everywhere we dedicate this song, “Mother’s Waltz” by swo8 Blues Jazz and Marilyn Armstrong.
FROM Serendipity (Marilyn & Garry Armstrong): The melody of A Mother’s Waltz echoes in my mind. I feel as if it is something I remember hearing my mother sing a long time ago, but of course, it is new from swo8 Blues Jazz.
The pictures of my family include my mother, me, much younger and my son as a toddler. Pictures of Garry’s family include his mother and father’s wedding, Garry’s dad back from WWII with little Garry on his knee. Garry’s mom as a young woman.
The pictures are family heirlooms that evoke strong and sometimes conflicted feelings.
Music by swo8, with pictures from Leslie Martel (swo8) and Marilyn Armstrong (from both my family and from Garry’s family).
When I look back at what I miss from my old days, mostly, I miss the pants. The wide bell bottoms were the most flattering jeans I ever wore. They made my legs look longer and my hips narrower.
From 1969 and for the next few years, fashion and I were simpatico.
It was the hippest of times and I was happy. I was young. I wore bell bottoms. Patchwork jeans were my favorites, although at the end of the day I looked like I’d been sitting on a waffle iron.
My shirts had purple fringes.
I wore granny glasses with rose-tinted lenses. My hair was cut in a shag. I had my baby in a sling on my hip, a Leica on my shoulder and a song in my heart (probably the Beatles). That was a good as it got for me.
I miss that clothing, the bell bottoms, the fringes. I really miss my old Leica. Mostly, I want my bell bottoms back!
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