Midwesterners will recognize the phrase “section of land” as meaning a 640 acre tract nominally in a square mile configuration. When I was growing up, my parents lived on a farm on the extreme northeast corner of a section of land on the outskirts of Lincoln. Diagonally across the section on the extreme southwest corner, was a farmhouse where one of my high school classmates lived. November 3rd must have prompted that memory: my classmate’s farmhouse was where my parents and other families in that rural area went to vote on Election Day.
We drove over in the evening after chores were done. After going through the front door, there was an immediate left turn that took us down some steps into the basement where individual voting spaces were set aside. In one corner of the basement a screen separated an area from the rest of the room. Behind the screen was a large table where election officials sat to count the ballots. While my parents were voting, I stood by that screen and listened to the tabulations taking place behind it. The names being called out were “Eisenhower” and “Stevenson” (always repeated as a second official confirmed the vote). I remember thinking that Eisenhower must be doing well because I heard his name being mentioned most often. Listening for a few minutes to the votes being counted is my most vivid recollection of that evening in 1952.
I am sure that to an 11-year old, actually hearing the votes being tolled out that would help determine our next President made going to the polling place a memorable evening. But perhaps the main reason that memory remains so clear is that the voting process itself seemed like such a special occasion. Almost everyone voted in person, so it seemed like for that one unique day the entire nation participated in a shared event in a very direct and physical way.
For the first time, Nita and I voted by mail this year. There were several reasons for that. This was a very unique year, but we may well do it again. I appreciated the convenience of it all and understand why so many prefer it -- but I must confess that I missed the act of going to the polling place, seeing other voters, and being an active part of a process that for a moment brings so many of us together. The cup of coffee afterwards always seems especially tasty.
Total change of subject. Soon after the horrific earthquake struck Izmir, Turkey, on October 30, I received a note from CMSgt Frank Viser, a colleague from our days assigned to the same headquarters organization in Stuttgart, Germany. One of the detachments of the Stuttgart headquarters was located at Izmir. We had detachments and operating locations scattered over most of Western Europe, but during my four year assignment there, Izmir turned out to be a favorite place. Frank savored his many visits there as well and he wanted to make sure I knew about the devastation that had so damaged a place that had such good memories for both of us.
One of the things that always struck me about Izmir was its diversity and how much energy the city seemed to have. Here’s what I said about Izmir in A Pilgrim in Unholy Places: Stories of a Mustang Colonel:
“I always looked forward to trips to our detachment at Izmir, Turkey, because the contrasts were so sharply defined. At the top of a hill overlooking the city there is a castle built by Alexander the Great around 330 B.C. From it, a winding road leads down the mountainside into the city. Along that narrow lane on the way down the mountain, everything changes. The landscape, the architecture, even the periods of history ease very gradually into different eras entirely. Near the top of the mountain there is a portion right out of the Middle Ages; a bit further down the hill that melds into an ancient Muslim section with souks, minarets, and open air bazaars; then, at the bottom of the hill near the waterfront resides a glimmering modern city with Hilton Hotels and neon lights. Even here, though, the street scenes preserve the contrasts. On the sidewalks fully robed Muslim women walk side by side with stunning Turkish girls in the shortest possible mini-skirts. On the broad avenues, the procession is often led by overloaded donkey carts followed by the latest model Mercedes. Izmir became one of my favorite places.”
During the times that I was there, Izmir was filled with street urchins always ready to shine your shoes, sell you a souvenir, or run an errand. On my first trip to Izmir, one of the youngsters who I met was an 11- or 12-year old named Ahmed. Ahmed offered to shine my shoes. I agreed. He did a good job and we made a handshake agreement that he would shine my shoes whenever I was in Izmir. After that, whenever my group arrived in the city, we were as always accosted by any number of youngsters – it seemed like every three or four blocks there would be a different group eager to do business with us. Among them was always some number who offered to shine shoes. I told them of my agreement with Ahmed. I am not sure how the grapevine worked – Izmir is a big city -- but inevitably, later that day Ahmed would show up, smile on display and shoeshine kit at hand.
When Frank’s news of the earthquake reached me, I thought of Ahmed. Major parts of the city are in ruins and more than 100 were killed. I was last in Izmir in 1996, so my young friend would now be in his mid-30s – is that possible? – time moves so quickly. I hope that he and his family are safe and well. The hotel my group usually stayed in was on a street that over looked the Aegean Sea front. It was a beautiful place. At the end of a busy day, I sometimes walked along that sea front. I hope all of that somehow survived as well.
The poet Homer was thought to have lived in the Izmir area when it was part of ancient Greece. I always hoped some of his magic might rub off during my visits there, but so far no such luck.
Finally, some writing related stuff. I am not a particular fan of the Fantasy genre, but the Time Magazine double issue of November 2-November 9 had an interesting piece on ‘The 100 Best Fantasy Books of All-Time.’ I was curious to see which ones on the list I had heard of or read. (The answer to the latter is ‘not many.’)
Arabian Nights was the first, and oldest book listed. A fascinating thing about it is that there is evidence that parts of it were first placed on a printed page as earlier as the 9th century.
Alice in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1871) made the list. Trivia information: Humpy Dumpty, Tweedledee and Tweedledum made their first appearance in Through the Looking Glass.
Mary Poppins (1934) follows in the 20th century. I saw the movie; have not read the book.
All three volumes of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy are on the list. I have read only bits and pieces of the books and have seen, I believe, two of the movies.
Though I have heard much about The Once and Future King (1955) and Watership Down (1972) I have not read them. Nor have I read The Princess Bride (1973) but my daughters introduced me to the movie. What a hoot! I highly recommend it for lots of smiles on a cold winter evening.
My niece Danika Hamer gave me four Harry Potter books to read. (Perhaps she was also hoping that the magic might rub off.) Two of them, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince made the all-time list.
Lastly, one that caught my eye was A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin. This one was the third installment of A Song of Fire and Ice which formed the basis for the HBO series Game of Thrones. This is, I believe, the part of the saga that describes the Red Wedding and institutionalizes the killing off of major characters. My daughter Karen introduced me to the books – I have now read all of those that Martin has completed thus far. Nita and I became great fans of the TV series. Martin is a notoriously slow writer, so the HBO staff had to write beyond what Martin had finished in order to bring the series to a conclusion. The last season, especially the last episode, seemed rushed and the ending left a bit to be desired. Overall, though, a very enjoyable series.
I noticed as I was putting this list together that several of the great writers, among them J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin, have an ‘extra’ middle initial in their names. So, I am wondering if adding another initial might make all the difference…
Just a final note: unless some unexpected major thing happens on the writing front – don’t think it will -- we will dispense with a December newsletter so all of us can relax (at a social distance, of course) and enjoy an unencumbered holiday season.
We hope that 2021 will bring us safe from harm and allow us to be free once again to travel without care and hug family and friends without concern.
Best wishes to all for a joyous holiday season and New Year.
(Or, maybe Thomas D.D. Phillips?)
In the absence of a December newsletter, here is a Bad Pun Holiday Special to tide us over until January:
Bad Pun Holiday Special #1:
Cows have hooves
Bad Pun Holiday Special #2
I danced as if no one
My court date is pending.
Have a joyous holiday season! :)