MAO, A CAT – Marilyn Armstrong

Jeff and I got Mao as an 8-week-old kitten in the fall of 1965. We had just gotten married the month before, and of course, we had to have a cat right away. Why a Siamese? I don’t know. Karma maybe?

From the very first day, Mao was Master of All He Surveyed. Although I have had many cats through the years, Mao was the first and by far the most utterly unique.

Mao – our cat – Photo (from print) by Ben Taylor — and THANK YOU!

He was very smart for a cat. For instance, when we were out-of-town, we would have someone “house-sit” for us. No matter who that person was, and no matter how much Mao ordinarily liked them, while we were away, Mao would attack him or her (or them) virtually continuously during our absence. He would hide behind the bushes and attack legs as they tried to open the front door. He would wait around the corner and then pounce. He would launch himself from atop the bookcase, landing on a victim’s head, sometimes causing serious damage.

The moment we returned, Mao ceased his attacks and commenced purring. He figured, I believe, that he needed to drive out the interlopers so that we could return. Since we always DID return, his belief was consistently reinforced!

Mao protected us from bed goblins. If you were on Mao’s “family member” list, he would stop by your bedroom every night. You had to lift the covers so he could walk to the foot of the bed and back up. No goblins tonight? Good, I will go now, and he did.

Mao was the only cat I’ve ever known that perpetrated acts of vengeance hours or days after your perceived offense. If, for example, you shooed him off the table during dinner time, he would wait until you were sitting on the potty with your pants around your ankles and could not chase him. Then he would casually bite your shins. Tail held high, he would stroll away.

Mao patrolled the perimeter of the grounds like any good watch cat should. Every day of his life, he performed it, almost as if it were a ceremony. During his closing weeks with us, he began to patrol in the company of a younger feline, Mr. Manx. As if passing the torch to the next generation, he taught Mr. Manx to walk the perimeter, and inspect the beds, which Mr. Manx then did for the rest of his life.

In October 1978, Mao, who had been diagnosed with cancer some months before, disappeared. We never found his body, though we were sure he had gone off to die. For the last couple of weeks before his departure, we had noticed that he felt different. Where his muscles had been hard, they were now soft. He slept most of the day and moved slowly.

It is many years and lifetimes later. Jeff has passed. I live far from that place where Jeff and I and Mao and all the other fur-people lived. But I remember him. We all remember Mao, the most special cat.

Mao, I am sure you were there for Jeff when he came to the Bridge. I’m sure you will be there for me, too. You and all my other furry friends who I loved will be there together.

But you were and will always be, utterly unique and entirely unforgettable.

I ALMOST HAD IT – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Coherent

Early this morning, I woke from a dream I wanted to remember. It was full of people, but I don’t remember who they were or what they were doing or for that matter, what I was doing.

I sat up in bed for almost an hour trying to get a grip on it and I almost had it. I considered opening my computer and actually writing down something because I know that if I don’t write it down, it’ll be gone. Yet I hold fast to some idea that if I try really hard, I’ll remember at least a tidbit and be able to build a story on that.

You’d think I’d know by now. Dreams slide away faster than my memory of why I’m in the kitchen looking wondering and knowing there IS a reason. I will remember it about half an hour after I go back to the recliner and relax.

Dreams are much more slippery. About the only coherent thought about the process is for about an hour, I remembered it. Then, blearily, I went back to sleep and whatever thoughts I had grabbed onto went silently into my sub-conscience where presumably they will permanently remain.

I have a question about this, actually.

Do we really remember the things we forget? Is there a place in our brains where the stuff we knew and were sure we’d remember are collected? Is the door to that area which is locked, but if we found the key, could we open it?

Would all those random thoughts about things there weren’t terribly important in the first place, come pouring out like the contents of our little memory boxes from childhood?

Those little wood or metal boxes that held the key to our roller skates, a postcard from a long-forgotten friend, a report card from fourth grade and a poem we wrote on our thirteenth birthday which we were sure was going to take the poetic world by storm? Except there would be so many more things in our brains. The Tylenol we forgot to take and the toast we neglected to toast. The time we didn’t water the plants because we came into the kitchen to water them but left with a glass of ginger ale?

These days, I forget more than I remember. I’m trying to figure out if there is a special place in our heads where all these forgotten pieces live in mental cold storage. One day, the door will fly open and it will all explode outward. I better hire a mental maid to clean it all up.

GOOD TIMES, HARD TIMES, AMERICAN PROPAGANDA AND THE PAST – Marilyn Armstrong

I never thought America was the international good guy. Read far too much actual — not school — history for that. What I did think is that we had a fundamental sense of right and wrong and that when nip came to tuck, we’d do the right thing … and right had nothing to do with the Soviet Union, either. Remember, that Berlin wall came down when I was pretty young. I really thought — for a while until, like most illusions, it was shattered by reality — that the old U.S.S.R. might, without their antique soviet rulers, be free enough to make good choices.

I remember a world where people were more polite to each other and where however individually corrupt our pols were, they still believed in “the good of the country” above and beyond their individual agendas. That belief has been falling apart with the passing years. I really thought at least some of them cared. I wish I’d been right about that. We could use some caring.

This horror in which we live right now? It didn’t start with Trump. It started when we decided to create a nation, we would allow slavery and it was okay to slaughter the Natives. We sold our collective souls to the devil before we even had a constitution or anything resembling a country. Oh, we had a nicely written constitution and some idealistic people who did some good, sometimes, when they were allowed.

Overall? We have always owed our souls to whoever had the most money because that was what the slavery deal was about — letting the south keep slaves so they could hold on to their plantation and not (heaven forbid) have to actually work.

Standard Oil went half a dozen rounds with Theodore Roosevelt and theoretically, Rockefeller lost over and over in court, but really, he lost nothing. He literally laughed at the court rulings and nothing changed. J.P. Morgan had a good laugh too as TR tried to break up his ownership of the railroads and many other corporations.

Today’s Exxon is Standard Oil with a cooler name. It is bigger, uglier, and more ruthless than ever. Huge corporations never lose, not today or ever. Money is power.

I don’t remember that nearly perfect world, nor does Garry. Maybe only white middle-class people remember it. The rest of us were under no illusions about where we stood in the great scheme of things.

I do remember a world where there was more personal communication between people. There was also more opportunity to make progress in the game of life. Those opportunities have largely disappeared. The big corporations have bought out, sold off, or absorbed most (almost all) of the smaller organizations which had been the stepping stones for individuals trying to climb the ladder.

Today, we are feudal. If we are born a serf, we will die a serf.

There is an assumption by our kids including my granddaughter that we remember a perfect world.

We don’t. There’s a lot of assuming going on. Some old people want to remember that world. Maybe they lived in one of the white suburbs and never had to bump into a dark-skinned person and treat him or her as an equal.

Then again, maybe age has rosied their memories so now they remember what they wish it had been.

Yup. Lots of assuming going on.

I miss people being polite and talking — even arguing — together. I never believed our propaganda, probably because my mother and father didn’t believe it either. There’s a lot of youngsters out there who are so deeply ignorant they think the boomer generation destroyed the world. We did everything. Built the corporations, fought all the wars — even the ones that occurred before we were born.

All of the problems if this world were created by my generation. And probably yours, too.

The level of ignorance and stupidity going around the world is breathtaking. I think I’ve gotten past being shocked. Now, it’s closer to disgust.

War is never out of style. There has always been a war going on as long as I can remember, which goes back to Korea. I remember listening to the news of the war on the radio with my mother. I remember her talking about it, wondering why in the world we were there in the first place? What did we think we were going to accomplish? I must have been four or five, but I understood. How? Maybe it’s not my first life.

We destabilized Asia. That’s what we did. We are still trying to deal with the consequences. Mom was ahead of her time.

Then, later, I was in my mid-twenties. It was during Vietnam. There were protests and I was involved in some. Not most. I had a little one and a fulltime job, so there were time limitations.  I had friends, a husband, dogs, cats, and a house where sometimes it seemed the immediate nation congregated every evening. A lively social life.

I pointed out to my mother (like I had just discovered this, silly child) if we weren’t sending all that money to make war in Vietnam, there would be money to do things here, at home. Maybe we could do something about healthcare.

My husband and I went effectively bankrupt following my spine surgery and we had insurance. It didn’t cover everything and my surgery — and the four months in the hospital which followed — was wildly expensive. I remember asking Jeff if we didn’t pay them, would they take me upstairs and re-break my back? Because we couldn’t pay. We were going to have to pay them off, month by month for years to come.

Then Owen was born with two club feet. It was the final blow. Wiped out. We never rebuilt our finances. Even way back in the 1960s and ’70s, my issue was healthcare because everyone thought their work insurance was plenty. They hadn’t had a major medical crisis. They would learn.

But, I digress.

My mother raised an eyebrow and looked at me. She said:

Thus spoke my mother. Because cynicism isn’t always wrong.

I was taken aback. I thought she was being too cynical. But you know? She was right.

Wars end and the war-making money vanishes. Never does it go toward healthcare or education. It just disappears as if it never existed and no one seems to question it.

Just once more, I’d like to hear our politicians across party lines look for ways to do what’s best for the country and the people they serve.

TODAY IS THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY OF D-DAY – Marilyn Armstrong

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?

European border before the first World War
Europe just after WW 2
Europe-circa 1970

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.

FLAGS AND FLOWERS BLOOMING – Marilyn Armstrong

On the 75th Anniversary of D-Day

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.

In the ground – Photo: Garry Armstrong

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.

LOSING OUR LEGACY – Rich Paschall

Traditions, RICH PASCHALL

A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no?

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.Fiddler 73

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!

THE FIRE TRUCK WHO SERVED AND GOT SAVED – Marilyn Armstrong

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.



OLD NUMBER TWO FIRE ENGINE

Undergoing rehab! Photo: Garry Armstrong
Photo: Garry Armstrong
Photo: Marilyn Armstrong