Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Last Man

John Glenn died December 8 at the age of 95.

On Tuesday, February 20, 1962, I sat with others in a classroom in a Bronx classroom and listened to John Glenn orbiting the Earth (or so my faulty memory tells me). 

This was the first time any American had accomplished that feat.  In those days, when someone was shot into space, everyone stopped what they were doing (as much as possible) and listened to the event on radio or TV.

It was the age of heroes, men and women both.   These rockets, besides taking people into space, were also somewhat prone to blowing up.  But when they didn't, these brave men rode into destiny.  Watch, if you have the time, this six minute video of John Glenn in orbit.

I invite you to read the obituary the New York Times wrote for John Glenn (link in my first paragraph). 

His heroism didn't end with that 1962 first orbit mission.  He returned to space - when he was 77 years old.

Glenn sold his private plane when he was 90.  He and his wife couldn't make it inside anymore.

They are all gone now, the first group of seven men chosen so many years ago to take the United States into space.  Glenn was the last man standing.

What has come of our space program?  I invite you to read this post from August 25, 2012, when the first man on the moon died.

The Last Giant Leap?

 Late on July 20, 1969 I sat transfixed in my living room with my father at my side.  I was in high school so quite old enough to understand what I was seeing.  Together, we watched a grainy pictures on a black and white TV, a picture I never would have believed in m wildest drams growing up.  Such things were not possible.

A man in a bulky suit edged out of a craft, and his voice crackled on the TV.  He stepped on the ground.

"One small step for man.  One giant leap for mankind."
That man, Neil Armstrong, died today.

No, I am not talking about Lance Armstrong.  Too many jokes recently about people who confuse the two men.

As far as I know, Neil Armstrong never won a bicycle race.  Come to think of it, Lance has now won several fewer than just a few days ago.  But I digress.

 No. Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon.  Today, when we can Skpe friends halfway around the world, when we can email and Facebook instantaneously with people all over Earth - we haven't sent a woman or a man to the moon since the 1970's.

I am sad for so many reasons.  Maybe it is because I realize that many people  really don't understand what happened that day in 1969, or care.  We have lost our will and no longer look to the stars.  We now depend on the Russians, our former enemies, to get us into space.

We have technology now years and years ahead of the technology of the first Star Trek TV series, just as one example.  Many of us own smart phones that Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock would have envied. True, we don't have transporters or starships.

But we don't have much of a space program, either.

In 1969, who would have thought?

Our hero astronauts of the 1960's are aging.  One day they will be dead.

No more giant leaps.  No more small steps.  


The people must want the space program to continue.  And right now, they don't.

Times are tough.  We look inward, not outward.  Perhaps that is what happens when times are tough.  But I don't know about that.  We finished the Capital Rotunda in Washington, DC during the American Civil War.  We built the Empire State Building in New York City (so in the news after yesterday's nearby shooting) during the Great Depression.

I truly hope we have not lost our passion for discovering the unknown.  Hard times never stopped us before.

Only time will tell.

Do you remember the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs?  Or is it just history/meaningless history to you?

Friday, December 9, 2016

Skywatch Friday - Big Ball in the Sky

In upstate New York, it is time for the lake-effect snows.

It will be snowing on and off for the next few days, accompanied by white skies and a shy sun.

But, earlier in the week, I was able to get a couple of pictures of the sun and sky for #Skywatch Friday.  When we see the sun, we say "what's that big ball in the sky?"

Welcome to Binghamton, New York.

Sunday, December 4, about 1:30 pm.
Friday, December 2 at sunset.

Visit Skywatch Friday for more pictures of the sky, of sunrises and sunset, and more, from all over the world.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Knife Edge of HIstory

Watching some of the news coverage of the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II, I am struck by this:

Soon, in the next few years, all the survivors of World War II, civilian and military, will be gone.  I watched those last few survivors of Pearl Harbor, many of them in wheelchairs, their bodies shrunken in age but their minds as active as ever, give their testimony.

And then, I thought of something else. 

The torch is being passed.   We, the generations that followed The Greatest Generation (the generation that fought and suffered in World War II) are sitting on the knife edge of history.

What the United States does in the coming months will affect our world for years to come.  What we do as a nation to support or oppose those efforts will impact everyone in the world.  We are all connected, whether we think so or not.

We have the chance to ease suffering, or to increase it.
Oh Tannenhaum, Tioga County Historical Society, Owego, New York
We have the chance to make beauty, if only we do it.

But first, we must look the face of history in the eye.

For the next two Sundays, I will feature exhibits from Hanukkah House in Binghamton, New York - the present one and a past one.  These posts aren't going to be my usual light hearted posts full of flowers and fall foliage.  They will show what happens when good hearted people stay silent.

This is what the last Bradford Pear looked like on December 3, still with most of its foliage. Now, it is bare.  But it is not dead.  Looks are deceiving.  All things willing, it will wake up in the spring, signalling a season of hope.  But what kind of United States will it wake up to?

That is up to us.

You are free to skip my posts on this terrible chapter of history (called the Holocaust or the Shoah) and come back on Monday for Music Mondays.

But I hope you won't.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Anniversary

In our culture, certain anniversaries of an event are special.  One of those special anniversaries is the 75th.

Today is the 75th anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, in what is now the state of Hawaii.  We, perhaps, are a world power today (in part) because of that attack.

Every day, more members of the Greatest Generation, the generation of my late parents, pass away. 

On December 7, 2014 I wrote the  blog post below.  Since 2014, more survivors of the USS Arizona, and of Pearl Harbor, have passed away.

The USS Arizona is perhaps the most well known of all the ships and planes destroyed that day.  There were 334 survivors of the sinking of the USS Arizona.  In 2014, when I wrote this post, there were nine survivors.  Now there are five.

As survivors die, some ask to be buried with the sunken ships they served on.

With all the uncertainty in our world today, it is well for us to remember those who have come before us.  This year, some 100 survivors of Pearl Harbor were able to travel there to participate in ceremonies.  In all probability. the 75th anniversary will be the last major anniversary of this event where this will be possible.

Time passes.  Memories fade.  When the memory keepers die, then what?

Here's my post from 2014.

Civil War Sunday - The Last Nine Standing (December 7, 2014)

This December 7, there are nine of them left.  Four of them will be in Oahu today for the last official gathering of the USS Arizona Reunion Association.

Our local newspaper had pictures of each and a brief description of his memory of December 7, 1941.

The faces are lined with age.  They are in their 90's, for the most part.  In not too many more years, the last one will be gone.  Even their website is in danger of shutting down.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, in what would later become the state of Hawaii, causing the United States to enter World War II.

Perhaps the most famous ship to have been lost, the USS Arizona lies just a few feet beneath the water, and it is now a national monument - a must see for anyone visiting Hawaii.

These nine men are the last nine survivors of the Arizona.

Without remembering our history, we would be lost.

So I was curious to find this little historical tidbit while reading about Pearl Harbor today:  Husband E. Kimmel was the  Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet on the day of the attack.  He was wounded during the attack by a stray billet.  Then, shortly after the attack, he was relieved of his command, and, to this day, there is a debate regarding whether he should have been relieved of command.

Kimmel's father was a veteran of the Confederate military.  But, on December 7, 1941, that did not matter.

It was also true that the bloodiest day in U.S. Naval history prior to Pearl Harbor was during the Civil War.

Why is it important to remember Pearl Harbor?  Many reasons - this article lists only a few (in one particular point of view. His opinions may or may not reflect mine.)

In my opinion, it is just as important to remember our Civil War, even though it was fought 150 years ago.  When I was born in 1952, only a handful of Civil War veterans were left alive, but it made an impact on me nevertheless.  We are at about the same point with the veterans of World War II.

Without these two wars, our country would be a different place to live.  Our very lives would be different.

They are part of why we are the way we are, for good and for bad.

No matter what country you live in, dear reader, please take a moment and reflect on your personal history.  And hope that, one day, our world can finally achieve peace.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Miniatures with Much Meaning

It has become a holiday tradition for me to feature the miniature houses - dollhouses if you will - of Bobbie King, which are displayed at a seasonal museum called Hanukkah House in Binghamton, New York.

Let me take you into this miniature world, or memories in little boxes (Thank you, blogger Alice Gerard, for inspiring the format of this year's post)

Why are these houses special? 
First, let me show you.  The exhibit had two houses this year .  One was a pink house.

Another view.

A miniature in white.

It's time to take you through the front door.

But first, you may want to stop off at the porch.

Now, take a look inside.

How about a closeup?

Or two?

So, who was Bobbie King?  Why are her houses special?

Roberta King was a member of the congregation that runs the museum and mother of 10 who taught English for immigrant adult education classes at Binghamton's American Civic Association - until the day she was murdered, with 12 of her students and co workers. April 3, 2009 is a day no one in Binghamton will ever forget.

Her family refused to surrender to hate.  Instead, they continue to permit Hanukkah House to display her dollhouses (and extensive doll collection) each year for the community to enjoy.

If you are in the Binghamton area, I invite you to visit Hanukkah House.  In this season of hate there is no better thing to do.  If you aren't in our area, there may be a museum or exhibit that you could visit that is similar. We must not forget how easily hate can grow and destroy.

I plan, later this month, to show that exhibit and other items on display at Hanukkah House.

Have you ever collected dolls? Or worked on miniature houses as a hobby?

Monday, December 5, 2016

Music Monday - I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

During much of 2011-2015, I had a Civil War Sunday on my blog.  Although I can not call myself a (United States) Civil War "buff", the story of that war has fascinated me for years.

Now, our country is divided in ways it hasn't been for years.   It is time, perhaps, to remind us of a time over 150 years ago, when things seemed hopeless.

Civil War Sunday - Christmas Bells (from 2013)

As we close out 2013, I ponder whether to continue my Civil War Sunday posts into the New Year.  Like many in the United States/Confederate States of America in December of 1863, I am weary of the war, even if it was fought 150 years ago.

Unlike the people of 1863, I know what is to follow. As horrible a turn as the Civil War took in 1863, it was not going to get any better.  Here were some of the horrors to come, that December of 1863.

Civil War prison of war camps such as Camp Douglas, Elmira, Ft. Sumter (better known as Andersonville) plus events such as the Battle of Ft. Pillow, Spotsylvania Court House and the Bloody Angle, and Sherman's March to the Sea. I asked myself if I should I give up, knowing the horrors to come, and leave the writing to the historians and the true Civil War buffs?

What helped me decide? A Christmas carol written in 1863 that I never realized, until this year, had a connection to the Civil War.  The Christmas carol is called "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day".

The poem the song is based on is "Christmas Bells", written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  His son Charles had been seriously wounded in a Civil War skirmish in late November,1863.  This poem is the anguished result. 

Tragedy was no stranger to Longfellow.

Longfellow wrote, in part:
"And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Longfellow could not withdraw from the tragedy of the Civil War, a tragedy that still echoes in our United States 150 years later.

And yes, Longfellow's son Charles survived his injuries, and the war.

Here are two versions - if you will, a mini Battle of the Singers.  First, Frank Sinatra, from 1964.

Next, Harry Belafonte, from 1958.

Which do you like better?

This song gives us hope - we have survived hard times before, and will again.

Linking to #MondayMusings at Everyday Gyaan.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Oh Christmas Tree

Several times, I've blogged about Owego, the "Coolest Small Town in America".  Owego is about 20 miles west of Binghamton, New York (where I work) and is noted for a number of things - historical homes, a lovely town square, some pretty cool gift shops, and just plain friendly people.

At the Tioga County Historical Society, there is a yearly display and auction of Christmas trees in an event called O Tannenbaum.  This is a silent auction of donated decorations (with or without the trees they are on), wreaths and more, benefiting the Tioga County, New York Historical Society.  

This year the auction closes on Saturday, December 17.

The theme is Christmas at the Circus, and I may blog about that at a different time.  For now, let's enter this historic building.

First, some holiday joy for you, my readers.

Here are some of the trees and wreaths available.

Remember white trees?  There's even a story behind green Santa hats (see the top of the tree on the left) as Santa has not always been dressed as we think of him now.
How about a white tree decorated in pisanki (Polish Easter eggs)?

And one of the many wreaths.

Walking past the trees, it was hard to imagine what O Tannenbaum was like five years ago.
The historical society, like much of Owego (which lies along the Susquehanna River), flooded.

Many people volunteered in the flood recovery and their hard work made it possible to have the auction that year.  As far as salvaging the museum contents, a lot of hard decisions had to be made and, quite honestly, a lot of items were lost.

But thanks to the 2011 auction, flood recovery continued.  Now, the people of Tennessee start their recovery from an epic fire, and start their journey to recovery. 

This holiday season will be a hard time for many of us in the United States, for many reasons.  But I hope this post will give you a few minutes of joy.