Thursday, March 31, 2011

Patriotism in Practice

Touring the World War II Museum twice in one week got me to thinking about patriotism and business practices. Andrew Jackson Higgins, a native of Nebraska, and an adult entrepreneurial son of South Louisiana, was the quintessential American patriot. He was as rugged as a mountain man, as hard working as any lumberjack, as tenacious as a trapper, and as fair-minded as a family of farmers.

Hitler called Andrew Jackson Higgins "The New Noah". General Eisenhower said that Higgins won World War II. Neither of these things is exactly true. Higgins was more like Moses than Noah, and, if it's true that his boats won the war, it was the chosen people of South Louisiana who he hired that made it happen. Higgins was the patriot and visionary leader who believed in America, and the people who worked with him were wise enough to follow his lead.

Higgins had little formal education, but was one of the most creative problem solvers of the twentieth century. He knew more about building small boats than anyone who had ever lived. He was also a master at creating communities that worked together for the common good. Higgins consistently practiced fairness in his hiring practices and in pricing the goods purchased with the taxpayers' hard-earned money. This is what patriotism should be about.

Nobody believed more firmly in the American way of life than did Andrew Jackson Higgins. He believed that vision and hard work was the way to make waves of much-needed change, and he proved it every day. With his example and leadership, he inspired tens of thousands of average citizens of South Louisiana to give their all to their country. His American ingenuity combined with Louisiana labor proved to be unbeatable.

Higgins hired anyone who was willing to work: man, woman, black, white, healthy or infirm. He used the trade schools that already existed and set up on-the-job training schools at his plants. He got to know the people who worked with him by being on the job himself. As problems arose, he addressed them; even setting up a subdivision with a school and recreation facilities for Higgins Industry families when housing shortages presented themselves. This should be a hallmark of patriotism.

Higgins invested his mind and his money into our country. He insisted on giving our government the lowest price possible on his products. It was through his efforts that then Senator Truman created a commission to investigate and resolve the price gouging that many military contractors were practicing with impunity. This also should be a hallmark of patriotism.

Since 1997, hundreds of volunteers have invested thousands of hours in recreating Higgins Boats for the World War II Museum in New Orleans. This group of dedicated boat builders is now a non-profit organization called The Higgins Boat Society. The Higgins Boat Society celebrates and salutes the life and spirit of Andrew Jackson Higgins and the proud people of Higgins Industries. Not only our country, but a lot of Louisianians owe much of what we have to them.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Wonder of We the People

Is it true that they were "The Greatest Generation",
These people who lived "The Great War" of our nation?
Have we, too, not answered when we have heard the call,
Seeking to create justice within our own country's walls?

We withstood the killing off of our childhood God
That left no eternal father to hold us as we sob.
What makes The New Almighty happy is not suffering,
But promotion of the peace that justice will bring.

And what about the people who used to be our slaves?
We are now teaching and rocking their innocent babes.
And the women held hostage by their masters at home
Are now promoting justice with the skills they have honed.

Our military and their families who were spit upon
By our country that was ashamed of wars we hadn't won
Have won the right for all of us to choose our own way
To show our love of God and country before we join the fray.

There are very few leaders who themselves are true or brave,
But we still fight for the justice that humanity craves.
Against the voices of greed and fear that encourage hate,
We push back with the passion that makes our people great.

It is the courageous individual standing for what we believe
Bonding with others against those who promote hate and greed.
We have changed the very fabric and face of our nation
To more closely resemble the diversity of all creation.

Diversity is, in the end, what makes a species strong.
We have fought to redefine the tribe to which we all belong.
America still embraces change because, not only they, but we
Have kept up the quest for justice that defines our liberty.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Learning How Louisiana Won the War

Richard's work as archivist and all-round volunteer with The Higgins Boat Society at the World War II Museum has, since 1997, been the joy in his life. Today we were to show it off to my aunt and her husband who is a WWII veteran and worked for the Higgins Boat builder, Andrew Jackson Higgins.

According to Eisenhower, Higgins "won the war"; Hitler called him "The New Noah". I think of Higgins Industries as "The Louisianians Who Won the War" with their hard work and cooperation. With the amount of play we swamp rats do, it's not surprising that partying is that for which we are best known. But an old adage on the bayou is that we work hard and we play hard. This would be closer to our truth.

My aunt and uncle were driven by their school teacher daughter to New Orleans from "down the bayou" to see what kind of honors had been bestowed on their contemporaries, dubbed by Tom Brokaw as "The Greatest Generation". They weren't disappointed. What a wonderful job has been done on the World War II Museum! There's so much to see and do that we actually never got to visit the PT 305 work site with our Cajun relations. This is okay because there's enough left to see to fill at least one more day.

It's a nicely paced place, in that there are several short films interspersed in the exhibits. Especially for those who have to take it slow, we were never stressed or over-stimulated. We started out with a guided tour of "The Homefront" and "The Pacific". The tour guide recognized Richard several times as an expert on Higgins contributions, and asked for his input in the tour. Richard, of course, became embarassed and declined to comment. It was also very touching that the tour guide, more than once, asked for my uncle's input.

We followed this tour with a forty-five minute film of eye witness war accounts. The experience evoked such strong emotion in me that I was glad when my cousin suggested that we take a lunch break. Off to lunch we went at the forties-themed diner in the museum operated by celebrity chef John Besh. Everything served was done well, unlike the food choices at so many tourist venues. It made me proud that Chef Besh was staying true to what people expect from New Orleans cuisine.

The final event of our day was something new to all of us, the four dimensional movie narrated by Tom Hanks. By this time, my eyes and heart were brimming over. It was with great relief that we accepted my cousin's suggestion that her parents had experienced enough for one day, and we saw them to their car.

They plan to return for a live show, coupled with another John Besh dining experience in the Stage Door Canteen. At this time, they'll tour the third wing of the museum. That's when they'll probably see the PT 305; but by then the PT boat will have been moved to a fourth wing of the museum where patrons will be able to watch the boat builders in action.

So much to see...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Miss Miya

To have a whole day with a granddaughter, doing what we love to do. What a joy! She brought books and games. As we drove home from her house in Mississippi, she read to me. As she lay down to sleep, she read to me and then I read to her. Then we had our favorite bedtime ritual of me rubbing her back and singing softly to her. This was after Richard took us both on a movie and dinner date.

When she wakes, we have decisions to make. How much time do we want to spend at the grocery store buying the ingredients for her favorite foods that we cook together, lasagna and the chocolate cake that I promised her for her February birthday? We still haven't played any of the games she brought, and we only have the one day.

I see her stirring...gotta go be Granny.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Tree and Me

There's a tree just outside my window;
It has a papery, peeling back bark.
The branches are many and so slender,
I think it may be a gossamer tree.

All winter I watched it dazzle with rain;
Streetlights shimmered through it's many prisms.
Today these teardrops are light green leaves
And fuzzy fingers that are, with pollen, pregnant .

I can see the gull's flight through this veil;
I can peak through at the sky and the sea.
This lone tree feels like an intimate friend,
Placed outside this window, just for me.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reflecting on Reflections

It is impossible to be out in nature and to experience total darkness. Even the darkest night is aglow with the moon, stars, glow worms, and fireflies. We may not see them through the clouds, but we know they are always there. I may choose to enter a cave, or sleep in a dense rain forest, but the light always beacons me to come out and dance. Light is like that; you can never fully quench it because something will always hold onto a bit and reflect it back when you're ready to see again.

Water and sky reflect each other as the moon reflects the sun, and at the farthest point on the horizon, they become one. This is the a perfect example of circle of life. The water that makes up the clouds is only a little time away from it's source. Or is it that the source is only a little while a part of this earth?

This is a most wondrous thing about our environment. We can never really know when one thing ends and its alter egos begin. And it all begins with a breath of warm hitting a breath of cool raining down on us the essence of life on earth. Makes me really believe in a Source of Creation that can only be comprehended as "The Breath of Life" or as "The Light".

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Redefining Duty

I have come back to Louisiana
Where who I am took shape.
I can sift my thoughts much better
With the churning of the lake.

Coker Creek gold is found in
The sifting and swirling of sand.
But the treasure is only recognized
In an expert's patient hands.

I've moved from mom to matriarch
To the chagrin of family and friends
This is where caretaker ends,
And my teacher self begins.

I've done my time doing duty
As cook, laundress, and sitter.
I now am ready to foster
Networks that are much bigger.

I've chosen some who know the ways
Of this set of family values.
These are people that I trust
Not to, vulnerability, abuse.

I can't say with certainty
Who will accept the challenge.
I can say I'd rather live alone
Than to live in eternal revenge.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Babysitting the Boys

We were with a couple on Mardi Gras who thought they were almost finished with babysitters when they conceived another child after the mother's forty-eighth birthday. The toddler seemed to be doing a good job of keeping the parents young, at least at heart. I marvel at the people who have babies late in life. Our old bones can't do nearly what they did when our grandkids were little.

We babysat our two great nephews, H and G, last night. Sometimes I wonder how siblings can seem completely unrelated. H was cautious from the beginning, even shy about leaving the womb. He had been in there so long already that he looked more like a wizened old man than a bouncing baby. The nursery attendant commented to us that he was an "old baby". He continues that caution as he heads to his fourth birthday. Even his smile is slow and shy.

H likes to build with Lincoln Logs and watch videos; he also likes to play Nerf football. Uncle Richard and he had lots to keep them occupied. With me, he likes to practice writing his a,b,c's, and have books read to him. I'm also hoping he'll like cooking, as soon as we get a step stool.

His almost two-year-old brother, on the other hand, is always raring to go. He spent his first months mad that he couldn't make his own decisions. Now, he goes about his business with great confidence and determination, rarely stopping to ask permission. He even walks with a confident attitude, swinging his little arm as if to say, "If you don't move, I'll move you." He knows what he's allowed to do, and will correct mistakes we make. He made a point of closing the toilet lid and the bathroom door, presumably to keep himself away from temptation.

G enjoys action. He doesn't care where the football goes, as long as he can chase it. Eating is an adventure, as he maneuvers himself up and down on the jungle gym of dining chairs, balancing his bowl and a cup. The most fun he had was chasing the beam from the flashlight, as he moved it like Tinker Bell around the walls, ceiling, and furniture. G loves to laugh.

Both boys are well-mannered, which makes them fun to be around. It's so much nicer to watch children that begin with a sense of boundaries. The knowledge that we're part of their parents' adventure in family living gives us great pleasure. We've missed that, now that our children are so seldom in need of sitters.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Leading Into Lent

We met a milliner on Mardi Gras;
For the opera she makes hats.
We also met a descendant of Emily Post;
Now, what do you think of that?

The opera milliner was a beautiful being,
With hair like seaweed in red.
Her bosom was covered in a brocade
Of gold and a color that scarlet bred.

The younger version of Emily Post
Was a creature quite serene;
She was probably the most polished
Of the people that we'd seen.

There were babies and toddlers
Enjoying themselves with dance;
While their grandparents who invited us
Were sharing a bit of romance.

The people outside who were on parade
Had many statements to make;
Some of them seemed to be sincere;
Some of them seemed quite fake.

This is the way of Mardi Gras,
Where everyone is free
To act as they want to act,
And be who they want to be.

It does scare some people
To see all this played out
It makes some folks question
What their own lives are all about.

For me and my man, it's entertainment
Maybe this is why, to here we were sent.
We're happy living responsible lives.
Now onto the season of Lent...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Being on Bourbon Street

Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street
Where our good and our bad selves compete.
We scheduled time to take off our masks,
And take a break from our responsible tasks.
With friends with whom we're well-fed and warm,
Who keep us from doing any permanent harm.

So nice to be there for the pageant,
Knowing that tomorrow we will all repent
Of any indiscretions that we committed,
And the temptations against which we were pitted.
Then back to work, with a smile we go,
Glowing with memories of the fantasy show.

I can't trust myself to be alone around
The people who see me as hero or clown.
When I fly too high, my friends talk me down;
They hold onto me till my feet touch the ground.
They stabilize my life like a tail on a kite,
Until I'm ready to come down from my flight.

Our network here doesn't create a fuss
When we are being our very most us.
Here is where he can be his most he
And I can be my very most me.
New Orleans is a place that accepts
That none of us were born to be rejects.

Here is home, and here we'll stay;
The pressure elsewhere gets in the way
Of us doing what we were meant to do.
The quiet was killing us, but who knew?
It feels so good to be back home,
Where we never again will feel alone.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Need for Networks

My man is off on his daily rounds of volunteerism, honoring those who fought for our freedom. My friends, for the most part, work hard for their money. The young parents only want my availability intermittently, as they are also either learning how to earn or already earning their daily dollars. It almost makes me long for the days when women were stay-at-home homemakers, but not quite.

Here's the problem with being available: There are too many hours in the day. I've had many tell me that I spend too much time thinking, and maybe they're correct. But I don't know what else to do as the dishes are done, the laundry is folded, and I wait for someone to say they need my assistance. It would be different if there was a schedule of when, where, and how people wanted a piece of another, but this isn't how relationships work.

This is why networks are so important. For the sake of all involved, we agree to a common purpose and a set of boundaries. We then hold the network together by walking together in rhythm. We just have to be careful that the drum major is in tune with our overall purpose. We also have to have back-ups when the drum major falters or falls out of rhythm with our dedicated direction. And we have to be extra careful to stay aware of and accountable for each others' moves. I'm simply sick of solitude, and I don't want to spend all my time with only women and children.

The problem in networks is that we are led to believe that there are few people who are sexually or spiritually strong when any attraction calls. Since the sexual revolution, it seems that no matter the relationship between two people, we see sex as the only reason to, as Kahlil Gibran says so eloquently, "protect, and touch and greet each other". In our world, when any two people have a partnership, we automatically assume the sexual.

Love does indeed consist in this, "That two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other". And, to paraphrase a commonly used description of marriage, "As it was in the beginning, is now, until the end, we all draw our lives from others and give it back again".

Not all of us are meant to marry in the sexual sense, and even if we were, not all marriage is sexual. All of us need human communion; from this we draw our lives and give them back again. This is why Adam's prayer for Eve was answered. Otherwise, we'd all be visited upon the earth as manna from heaven, without mother, father, sister or brother. I'd like us to acknowledge that not all soul mating is sexual, as not all sexual mating is of the soul.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Creative Christianity

I wanted to be there, as a good friend should be;
I felt that my widowed sister needed me.
But from this responsibility, I was set free.
The community of church folk came to her aid,
And until her husband is, in peace, finally laid,
The only thing I've done for her is prayed.

I've learned to wait until I'm called to come,
Rather than thinking I should be the first to run,
Discovering that communities can act as one.
Sometimes it takes a bit of Divine intervention
To short circuit my old impulsive intentions
That have their own way of stubborn retention.

This time it took illness, of my man and myself,
To keep my impulsiveness on the shelf,
Reminding me to trust in her community's wealth,
Of compassion for those who are in need;
This they turn into every manner of deed.
This seems a part of their Christian creed.