In August 1865, the terrible pain of the Civil War was still white hot. Thousands of Confederate soldiers remained in Union prison camps. Cities in the South still smoldered and the dead of both sides — 620,000 of them (2% of America’s population) — were still being buried. Eight hundred miles west, Chief Red Cloud of the Cheyenne Nation began “causing trouble” along the Bozeman Trail by objecting – with violence – to the incursion of troops.
So, in August 1865, two forts were built along the Powder River in Wyoming — Fort Connor and Fort Reno. To staff these forts, the United States offered some Confederate prisoners the option of swearing allegiance to the United States and then going off to fight Indians in Wyoming. Many signed on. This contingent of newly-minted American soldiers was called “galvanized Yankees.” They went out to Wyoming, took care of business and came home — to help rebuild the South. Fort Reno and Fort Connor were abandoned in 1868 and disintegrated. Fort Connor became a part of the meandering Powder River and Fort Reno was overgrown and disappeared from view.
In 1969, while I was hoofing around Wyoming, I was in Lysite (population perhaps 20) – along the Powder River – and met with Mr. Skiles — a rancher. He took me to the site of Old Fort Reno and pointed the way through perhaps a mile of high grass. I waded through the brush and finally arrived at a place where nothing but a few brick foundations remained. I pulled out my trusty metal detector and went to work . . . . . After a few hours, I had found some heavily-rusted artifacts: some nails, a few horse bridle parts and two really neat pieces — the top of a cooking pot and — a perfect axe head formed by one piece of folded steel. The axe head had been perhaps a foot beneath the surface — in a position where it leaned against the brick foundation. I’ve got these pieces at home. One on my desk. Pretty special to think about those pieces being used by some chaps — 150 years ago. No one remembers galvanized Yankees or Fort Reno. But I sure do.
So this poor guy was extremely embarrassed because he had one eye made of wood. Growing up, he was teased by kids who called him “Wood Eye.” “Hey Wood Eye” they would yell. “Wood Eye.” So he avoided social situations and social contact. He rarely had a date. One day he felt especially lonely. Even though he was painfully shy — he decided to attend a dance.
He felt like leaving but he stayed — standing on the side – watching as everyone danced happily to the music. As he looked around, he saw a young woman sitting alone. She had been sitting there for a while. Her hands were folded in her lap and she too was looking around. She looked okay but she had a very severe hair lip.
The guy thought what can go wrong. So he slowly walked over to her. He looked down and had all he could do to ask “may I have this dance?”
She looked up brightly, smiled and said “would I – would I!!”
He yelled at her “Hair lip! Hair lip!” And ran out of the building . . . . .
When I was a State’s Attorney at 26th & California, I prosecuted bad people. It was 40 years ago but I still go back every couple years to testify in parole hearings (objecting to release) for the really bad ones (3/20/14). It’s very emotional. Think of your worst nightmare and know that there are people out there who are worse. One chap I put on death row had one-by-one murdered perhaps 15 people (or was it 18) as a hired killer. He would slit your throat as easily as he would hold the door open for an old lady. Our culture of violence is a breeding ground for such abomination (1/2/13). We glorify the new “Game of War,” we see horrific violence in video games for children, movies have disturbing and hateful brutality and immorality and we cheer the blood and guts in ultimate fighting (who can watch this stuff?). Yet remember people — we are now told that it is the Bible that is the shocking danger to society! But I digress. . . . .
The world spirals into chaos. The Nightly News makes you want to climb into bed and pull the covers over your head. It’s all a good reason to watch for anomalies (6/18/12), to keep a weather eye on your six and to warn all family members of “stranger danger.”
In 2003, Toby Keith and Willie Nelson released a great music video that most can relate to. “Beer for my Horses” won the Country Music Awards “Best Music Video” award later in the year. It’s a first since in this video – no one sings! It’s the kind of music that will make you narrow your eyes and smile. It suggests a means for dealing with really bad people. You’ll want to raise up a glass – and share a a bottle of Dos Equis with a large four-legged pal. Watch – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1JOFhfoAD4 Now if we can only extend that rope in Texas to the boys and girls from ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Hezbollah, Hamas, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Islamic Jihad and the rest of them. Beer for my horses . . . .
My father was born in 1913. In the late 1920’s, he was a caddy at North Shore Country Club in Glenview. He would take the “train” (streetcar) from Portage Park up to Waukegan Road and Glenview Road. From there, he and his chums would hoof east to the Club. He would do one – or two – “loops” and then go home on the streetcar which ran down the middle of Waukegan Road. His best tip as a caddy was a five dollar bill from one wealthy (and apparently grateful) member. He said he felt rich.
What’s interesting was my dad’s clear recollection of what happened after work. He and several other neighborhood boys would exit from the west end of the Club onto Glenview Road and walk around the corner. Streetcars ran every hour or two. Thus if a streetcar was approaching – or there – there was lots of incentive to traverse the quarter mile or so as quickly as possible. My father said it was often the same conductor. If he saw the boys — and he saw them running — he would look at his watch and hold the other arm in the air. Holding up the streetcar. Standing on the pavement. Arm in the air. One eye on the watch. One eye on the boys. However if one of the boys lagged, or slowed to walk, Mister Conductor would look up. Twirl his arm in the air (“go!”) and hop on the streetcar. And off it went. And the boys would have to wait for an hour for the next streetcar home.
If they tried, and ran, or at least made an effort, the streetcar would be held up for a few minutes for the boys to arrive. And then go. My father said he learned a lesson here. About trying. That nameless conductor of nearly a century ago appreciated effort. He also knew something about charity. It was simple. Try? Win. Don’t try? Lose.
I’m lucky. You who read this post are lucky. Very lucky. You were born into a relatively stable environment. To decent parents. You have an education. A job. A family. You can travel. And if you get sick, there are doctors to take care of you. The twinkling spark that suddenly became YOU arrived just at the right moment. In the right place. The lottery. Of birth.
Think about those who lived a hundred years ago. A thousand. There were few of the benefits we have today. And for many folks, they just endured. Day by day. Yet think too about those in our world today who are born into abysmal poverty, suffocating hunger and crippling disease. Raised in countries ravaged by violence, hatred and injustice. Places where every day is one arduous, painful and frightening saga. I sometimes think — that could’ve been me. It could’ve been you.
I’m still at a point of wondering what we can do as a nation or we can do as individuals to somehow make things just a little better. Whatever one’s persuasion, we can all profit by the Franciscan prayer which ends “God grant me enough foolishness to believe that I can change the world so that I can do what others claim cannot be done.” Today is the first day of the rest of your life. What are you going to do with what’s left of it? It’s a question we’d do well to ponder every day. . . .
What if you heard someone avow to “Kill All Americans!” Or “Kill all Blacks!” And then they made detailed plans to do so – and helped others to do so. Would you want to hang around with them? Trust them? Give them arms and ammunition? Of course not. You’d probably want to do something very precipitous to stop them. But America has cozied up to Iran – the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. And hatred of America and Israel. And concluded a “nuclear arms treaty.” Terms? As Nancy Pelosi might say “we won’t know until we pass it.”
Iran just last week reiterated that its objective is to “kill all Jews.” And to “wipe Israel off the map.” And “to kill all Americans.” Last week. That means most of YOU! And every blinking day Iran puts its money where its mouth is — in support of Bashar al-Assad in Syria (all of our Gulf state allies oppose him). Iran supports and funds Hamas, Hezbollah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and factions of al-Qaeda. It collaborates with North Korea on developing their weapons-grade nuclear weapons. And on. And on. And yet, Iran is now our BFF. And we trust them to be good. And we are striking a deal that allows Iran to keep thousands of nuclear centrifuges. And a sunset clause that then allows Iran to “wipe Israel off the map.”
America – and the world – seem to be unspooling. Quickly. As Henry Kissinger wryly observed a few weeks ago at a D.C. conference “[in the last six years] . . . the world has lost stability.” In the past when evil reared its head, America would lead. Impose harsh sanctions, seize bank accounts and lock arms with our allies. And the stern face of unanimity would turn against the aggressor. But today, we go hat in hand to the negotiating table. Pleading. And turning our back to our best friend in the region (Israel). We work with Russia and China (I mean really?) to chip away at prior demands for compliance. And all the while, our allies in the Middle East are circling the wagons against America. What can possibly go wrong . . . . ?
In 1963, a 4 piece British Merseybeat band poked its head out of the Rock N’ Roll waters with “The Hippy Hippy Shake” (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Ke8mzgex4U ). The group was called The Swinging Blue Jeans. In 1966, the band went into decline. And yet — the band – is still breathing. Performing occasional gigs. Interestingly, the Beatles in their ascent also did the “Hippy Hippy Shake” in September 1963 (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4H6i_zkjjLg).
Donna’s hip replacement surgery went incredibly well — so well that while she is not – yet – doing the Hippy Hippy Shake, she is walking around sans cane – with little discomfort. It’s amazing what hip replacement surgery can do. It’s kinda “hip.” I understand orthopedic surgeons put on the Swinging Blue Jeans when doing surgery. They do a conga line around the operating table. They’re also fond of “Hips Don’t Lie” (Shakira). And it’s “Hip to be Square” (Huey Lewis and the News). There’s even “Moviendo la Cadera en Tribal” [“Moving the Tribal Hip“] by Tommy y Los Compas.” For some patients, they play Al Stewart’s “Hippo Song.” Donna was not one. I don’t think . . . . .