This is being written on July 2nd, so for those who won’t get to it until later, Nita and I hope you had a truly memorable Fourth of July. Weather permitting, (storms are possible), we’re planning a small neighborhood picnic and fireworks in the evening for the families in our housing area. It hardly seems like the day should have rolled around so quickly, but it will be nice to enjoy it without the COVID concerns of the past couple of years.
Just a minor bit of writing news to begin with. In mid-June, the local paper published a few brief thoughts of mine on its editorial page. My note was prompted by the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, and by a Facebook posting from my schoolteacher niece who teaches in Italy. Danika is married to an Army officer and has previously taught overseas at schools in Belgium and South Korea as well as at numerous locations in the United State.
I thought the direct simplicity of her words captured the emotions and impact of that sad event so very well. After a sentence or two explaining who and where she was and describing her background, I included words from her Facebook post and added a few closing thoughts.
You know where I’ve taught without being worried about being shot at work? Belgium, South Korea, Italy.
You know where I’ve taught that it has been a concern and I’ve scoped out the room, distance from outside doors, and how quickly I could hide the kids? Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Colorado.
Seems like the problem is America. But, you know, ‘thoughts and prayers.’
I can’t include Danika’s final sentence – the language is not suitable for a family newspaper. It is, though, an honest expression of the pain, heartbreak, and sheer frustration that so many of us are feeling.
No one is going to do away with the Second Amendment, but no right is absolute, particularly when the unrestricted version places the most fundamental right of all – the right to life -- of others in mortal peril.
How ironic it is that so many of those who so fervently argue on behalf of children yet unborn seem to place so little emphasis on the later preservation of those same lives. How long are we going to let this continue? We are a better nation than this.
I debated whether or not to mention the editorial in this update. As a military officer, I tried to be politically neutral in public forums. My intention when I began these columns was to do the same -- to skirt the hot button issues that increasingly seem to divide us as a society. I hope you will indulge me this time on this subject. My family has a long tradition of school teachers, so all of this – the continuing series of violent events in what should instead be a joyous, secure, life-affirming environment -- seemed to strike very close to home. I realize that some of the words in that small piece can provoke strong reactions. But we must take steps that address the problem in a serious way. The very recent gun control legislation was a helpful start, but truly making schools and the country safer from gun violence will be a long, long journey. The legislation was not nearly enough, but perhaps it was a beginning.
In other writing news, I’m doing some final checks on the military history book “Glory in the Shadows” about American military leaders whose accomplishments have been mostly overlooked or overwhelmed by other events in the news. The book covers the period from the beginning of the Cold War to the present day. There is a “Path to War” section that introduces each of the conflicts described in the book. Each “path” segment contains a chronology that highlights year by year the major events associated with the conflict. The final portion of the book deals with senior leaders who led operations during the Global War on Terrorism. It is an unfortunate sign of the times that the chronology associated with worldwide anti-terrorist actions continues to require frequent updating. Though events over the past several weeks in Turkey, Nigeria, Syria, and Norway have not made major headlines, they illustrate the scope of the conflict as well as its violent and persisting nature. At some point, I will simply have to establish a specific date to shut off updates to the chronology and press on to other things. A related side note: on May 24, the FBI stated that they had foiled an ISIS plot to assassinate former President George W. Bush.
I have also been working on a fiction piece, the first of novel length that I’ve attempted. There is a long way to go with it, but I have been getting marvelous proofreading, editing, and general feedback support from members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Nebraska. It has been delightful to work with so many others “of a certain age” who have expressed an interest in the project and have lent their time and formidable talents to move it forward. I don’t know if it will ever see the light of day, but I am enjoying the journey very much.
When we were in Europe last month, one of my favorite parts of the trip was an afternoon spent cruising down the Rhine looking at the dozens of castles that dotted the hills on each side of that beautiful river. The tour director told a story about two of the castles that I am sort of surprised hasn’t been picked up by Disney, or made into a movie, or turned into a novel. By most accounts, the story is substantially true. The wall built to separate the two castles still stands, as do the castles themselves. See what you think of it.
As the story goes, there was a knight named Werner of Sterrenberg who had two sons, Henry and Konrad. Werner favored Henry, the oldest of the two, because his (Werner’s) wife had died giving birth to Konrad and he never got over her loss. Sometime later, a young, perhaps orphaned, noblewoman named Angela came to live with the three men at Castle Sterrenberg. As they grew older, Konrad, the more daring of the brothers, fell in love with Angela and began to court her. Werner, though, wanted to match her with Henry to assure the continuance of the noble dynasty with his first born son, but Henry was too timid to court Angela on his own.
At about this time, the master of a passing ship arrived seeking young men to accompany him on a crusade to the Holy Land. Werner forbade Henry to go but readily agreed to Konrad’s participation. Before leaving, Konrad asked Angela if she would remain faithful and wait for him to return. She promised to do so.
After Konrad left for the crusade, Werner again encouraged Henry to court Angela, but she resisted, saying that she was waiting for Konrad. Eventually, Werner accepted her decision and built a second castle, Berg Liebenstein, on a nearby hilltop for the young couple to use when Konrad came home.
After five years, Konrad came back, but the timing was tragically inauspicious. As he approached, he saw a black flag flying over Castle Sterrenberg. He knew that meant that Werner had died. He doubted that Angela would have waited so long for him, believing instead that by that time she would surely have married Henry. Konrad had brought with him a beautiful, dark-haired Greek girl who had saved his life while he was held captive in the Holy Land. He had married her, perhaps at least partly out of a sense of obligation, and had brought his new bride with him.
When Konrad stepped on to the castle’s drawbridge, he drew his sword as a sign of respect for his father. Henry misunderstood the gesture and jealous of Konrad’s travels, the beauty of his bride, and his own lack of success in courting Angela, took out his own sword and attacked his brother. Angela, after years of waiting for Konrad’s return, was overcome by grief at the sight of Konrad’s bride and by the duel between the brothers. She intervened, risking her own life to stop their struggle. Eventually, the brothers realized the mistake and put away their swords. Soon after, they went alone together to bury their father. Afterward, they returned to their separate castles, Henry to Burg Sterrenberg and Konrad to Burg Liebenstein.
Angela became a nun at a monastery on the hillside below within sight of both castles. She remained there until her death. Konrad built a barricade, forever after known as the “Quarrel Wall,” between the two castles to keep the brothers separated and prevent them from fighting with each other. Today the castles house hotels and restaurants and provide remarkable views of the Rhine River flowing below.
That’s a heck of a story, isn’t it? I’m really surprised it isn’t better known and that some movie outfit or book company hasn’t picked up on it.
And now, that increasingly little acclaimed feature: TRULY AWFUL PUNS.
A guy and his Native American friend got a job with a credit lending institution. The guy worked his way up to manager and quickly became known for wearing a COVID 19 mask that covered most of his face. Inevitably when a customer asked “who is that masked man?” his friend would say, “Why, ma’am that’s the Loan Arranger.”
A Supreme Court justice was hiking through the mountains when he came to a shallow stream where the bridge had collapsed. To get to the other side, the justice was left with the choice of paddling a canoe or walking across the river. It was a matter of roe versus wade.
Yeah, really bad. But consider the bright side, there could be inflation, gas prices could go up, Congress could be deadlocked. Oh, wait …. Have a great summer. Best wishes,