First Steps

This past Friday, July 20th, marked the 49th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. However, not much was said to remember this historic event. Even in Huntsville, IMG_20170729_144116378Alabama, nicknamed The Rocket City, the local news was silent to the passing of such a historic anniversary. Huntsville is where the Saturn V rocket that launched the Apollo 11 mission into space was made. It is the home of U.S. Space and Rocket Center.   So why the radio silence?

Honestly, people just forgot and I find that incredibly sad. 49 years ago Neil Armstrong, representing us all, Neil Armstrong took a step onto a place no one from our planet had ever been. Twenty minutes later Buzz Aldrin followed him. They spent two hours exploring and gathering rocks. But today we just shrug something like that off.

We carry around more advanced tech on a daily basis than NASA had when they launched Apollo 11. Yet, we’ve not been back to the moon. I am sure there are many economic and political reasons that could be cited by those in charge. Funding, lack of significate investment return, etc.

IMG_20170729_153807269I suspect once people figure out how to make a profit of the moon, without completely messing up the Earth, then there will be trips once a week. However, I worry that one of the main reasons we have forgotten this monumental first step and have yet to repeat it is because so few of us look up any more. The stars are always there, whether we can see them or not.

Once we looked up to the stars and wondered. We looked up at the clouds during the day and dreamed. Now our view is often blocked by buildings and light pollution. Our attention is taken away by struggling through the day to day and beating that next level on Candy Crush Saga. There is so much going on in this world, but there isn’t enough dreaming. There isn’t enough looking up and letting your mind wander.space

The dreamers and the stargazers haven’t gone extinct. They are still out there or we wouldn’t be planning a mission to Mars, but they have dwindled in numbers. Maybe it is a good thing we haven’t been back to the moon. Damaging the moon could potentially destroy the Earth. Humans have made bad decisions about things in the past and will continue to do so.

Maybe leaving the moon alone is a good idea. But we should not forget we’ve been there. If everyone took just five minutes once a week to stop and look at the clouds or stars, we still might not go back to the moon, but imagine how far we could go.footsteps

Advertisements

From Japan to Greece

IMG_20160409_122329794_HDRSaturday the kids and I drove up to our state capitol in Nashville for a Cherry Blossom Festival. We had a good time. My son learned how to make an origami throwing star, we watch some martial arts demonstrations, and we ate too much. I also learned about taro when I bought a strange white and lavender muffin.  (It is kind of like a potato.)

We left the festival around 3pm and were on our way home when we decided to change direction. It was our first trip to Nashville and even though we had a three-hour car ride to look forward to, it seemed a shame not to explore just a little more. That was how we went from celebrating Japanese culture to exploring Ancient Greece. (Well, sort of.)

In 1897 Nashville held an Exposition to celebrate Tennessee’s 100th anniversary as a state. For six months crowds flocked to hear speeches, play games, and watch parades. They also came to see a massive replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Sadly, that replica was built of plaster and did not withstand time. By 1920 the structure was crumbling.IMG_20160409_144243004

However, the city of Nashville decided not to let the fascinating building die. Instead, the created a complete replica, inside and out, of the Greek temple using more permanent materials. While the Parthenon in Nashville isn’t made of marble, it was built to the same dimensions and inspires a similar sense of awe. IMG_20160409_153927995_HDR

It is home to a statue of the goddess Athena that stands over 42 feet, with a smaller 6-foot representation of the goddess Nike settled on her hand. (The original statue this one was model after has been lost to time and greed.) Standing at her feet it is nearly impossible not to stare up at the intimidating goddess and imagine her taking a step off of her carved pedestal.

IMG_20160409_145818225.jpgThe Parthenon also houses art exhibits on its lower levels, as well as a historical exhibit detailing its creation. The Cherry Blossom festival was fun. The Parthenon was fascinating. We all slept well once we reached home.

A Mountain Trip, Or How I Crashed a Funeral

We have been enjoying a couple of nice sunny days recently. Yesterday, I took advantage of that to pry the kids away from their electronics and take a trip into nature. We headed north toward the Great Smoky Mountains and Cades Cove. moutian

Cades Cove was settled by Europeans in the 1800’s but had long been roamed by Native Americans before then. Now it is a national park with a scenic drive, white tail deer, and restored rural dwellings and churches. The views are breathtaking and inspirational. Walking the trails, it is easy to see why settlers came to the area and decided to go no further.

deerMy kids complained a little about the lack of their usual entertainments, but my son soon forgot about mine craft when he handled actual quartz found in a cold mountain stream. We marveled at the height of the trees and stood just a few feet away from deer grazing in a field. Then we found a little twisting dirt road with a sign that announced a rural Baptist Church so we decided to follow it.

The road was a narrow bumpy ride through the trees and ended in a gravel parking lot with a little white wooden box of a church. My son remarked that: “It looks just like that Church in that show Nanny always watches.” (That show is The Waltons, and Nanny being what he calls my mom.) I agreed the two did look similar.

The gravel lot was crowded with cars. Other visitors were snapping pictures of the church set among the trees and some wandered the old fenced-in graveyard. I thought the graveyard would be a good way to encourage my daughter out of her no wifi/phone signal funk. (She is a teenager.) She likes slightly creepy things.

That was when I noticed several people exiting the church dressed in black. I was a little confused at first because, while it was Sunday, it was a bit late in the day for a church service. We were near to the little gate that lead to the graveyard when I heard one of the women who had come down the steps say, “I wish they would stay away at least until we close the casket…” It all suddenly clicked into place. The freshly dug grave and the huge pile of dirt next to it helped to tip me off.

There was something the little white hand-painted sign hadn’t told us. Not only was the Baptist Church still in current use but the graveyard behind it was as well. Realizing that we were trespassers at an emotional time, I quickly herded the kids back to the car. The other tourists snapping pictures; were still oblivious to the intrusion we all represented.

As we made our retreat as discreetly as possible, I heard the lady address two teenagers also dressed in black. She asked them if they were visitors to which they replied yes with wide-eyed confusion. I don’t know if they were visitors to the park, or for the deceased. I left before finding out.

We passed two more churches on our scenic drive. They didn’t appear to be in session. The parking lots held only a few cars and there were no fresh graves that I could see, but we didn’t take any chances. stream

A rather depressing state

dust-cloud-593091_1920Recently I have been learning a great deal about the American Great Depression of the 1920’s and 30’s.  My grandparents were children during this period and it echoed throughout the rest of their lives. The more I learn the more I wonder if we aren’t heading for another one.

I know, I know, the politicians tell us that the depression of the past few years is over. However, it is an election year so they will say that. It also gives them an easy platforms to preach from because so many voters need similar things right now.

I don’t usually get into political topics because I don’t have the time or patience to make sure the boiling pot doesn’t boil over. I will make some observations though, because I see parallels between what I have been learning and what is going on today. I hear and read people constantly putting down and insulting those on welfare. Many of those programs came to be during the depression era. In pictures, I see the shame on the faces of the adults warring with relief as they wait in commodities lines for food to feed their families. These were people that were proud to worked hard. But at that time it didn’t matter how much they sweated in the fields or pounded the pavement in search of work. The rewards for diligence simply were not there.

Today I think if people look close they will see that same warring shame and weary relief on many of the faces of welfare today. True you still have those that abuse the system and see it as cart to carry them, rather than the hand up to help them stand it is supposed to be. Those aren’t the people the programs were created for.

The politicians will tell you that unemployment has gone down over the past few years. They will tell you hundreds of new jobs have opened up. What they don’t tell you is that many jobs that used to exist have vanished and many of the new positions are part time. With the health care reform acts many companies have been forced to provide insurance for their full time employees. This sounds like a good thing on paper.

However, insurance companies are being forced to accept new rules too. Since no one wants a drop in profits, they raise rates and adjust things here and there to keep their margins where they want it. The companies, who may not have a problem with the idea of helping their employees with health insurance, also don’t want profits to drop so they stop hiring full time employees and find insurance companies who offer lower prices for less coverage. The letter of the law is met and the bottom line protected even as the out of pocket cost rises for the average worker.

Everyone is required to have insurance or be fined, but few can find full time positions. Those lucky few that do, find that the hours they work are just barely enough to qualify as full time. Their take home pay is gouged severely by insurance premiums, taxes, stagnate wages, and minimum hours. Many work two or three part time jobs but still only bring home hardly enough to cover the basic bills.

Some of these employees apply for welfare from the over loaded system. They are working hard but it isn’t enough to both keep the rent paid and feed hungry mouths, much like the dust bowl farmers of the 30’s.  Others tighten already tighten belts until their ribs crack. Morale drops even as stubborn determination sets in. Families suffer under stress. Many are single parent homes, where the parent has to work several jobs and the kids go unattended. The choice these people must make is, Do I want to spend time with my children? Or do I want to feed them?

All of this means that the idea of “disposable income” is a joke. Sure those with the bonuses can buy the new car, house, or bass boat. But the backbone of the working class cannot. Most of them can’t even afford new shoes for aching feet.

The retail worker, the server, the cashier, the teacher,…the list goes on, these people are struggle financially. No one looks too close however. Even those fighting don’t really want to know how close to the edge they are.

If this routine continues, like an inflatable raft with a leak, the economy will eventually sink. The middle class that is supposed to blow air into the nozzle to keep it afloat can’t breath any more. And like dustbowl farmers before the droughts, the big money makers keep trying to increase their crops even though few are buying.

Eventually it will all turn to dust.

Digging Up Story Bones

Recently I started looking into an old legend. You can read that post here. I ended up side tracked. I still intend to investigate further but right now I am temporarily distracted by the story of my family.

My daughter had to write a paper about something the happened in our family’s past that was relevant to history. So I told her an old family story that had been told to me. Then I began to wonder. What year did that happen anyway?

So I looked up my great-grandfather on line to see when he died and discover his first name wasn’t what I thought it was. He didn’t go by his first name. His parents were listed and I found out that my great-great-grandfather was named Napoleon. (Not that one.) That was intriguing enough that I dug deeper.

Before I realized it I had unburied bones and skeletons from the family closet left and right. One many times great grandsire was apparently a bit of a womanizer, judging by how he traded in wives. Another many times great grandame like one particular family so much that she picked a brother and just kept going down the list whenever she lost one.

It made me think about how much family history is lost. While reading up on local stories for my vampire legend, I came across tales I recalled hearing from my grandparents when I was a child. Now I am considering writing a book of tales myself. Rather than the usual way I go about making thing out of whole cloth, I will tell the tales I heard growing up.

I can put into print the story of how my uncle cut the tale off of my great-aunt’s cat. Or how my cousin used to chase me around our grandparents yard with the foot of a chicken, while the adults plucked the rest of the bird on the porch steps. Maybe even how my dad found a baby ground hog and brought it home one day. My mom had to feed it with a baby bottle until it got big enough for carrots and things.

There are a lot of stories. I bet my cousins have a few too. Maybe even some of the same ones from a different perspective.

Chasing Tall Tales

A week ago my mom bought a booklet of local ghost stories a thrift store for a quarter. Just twenty-two pages long, bound with staples and orange card stock, it really doesn’t look like much. However, the first story in this book has been driving me to distraction. Short enough to be considered flash fiction, the story is only two paragraphs long and is a reprint of something that appeared in a local paper nearly 20 years ago.

Roughly it states that, while working on widening a rural road, a road crew dug up a body of an adult woman. She was buried in the middle of the road with a wooded stake through her heart. Both the stake and the body had been petrified.

The lack of information immediately intrigued my curiosity. I am well aware that this a toothless gifwork of fiction. Sort of a local legend. It’s the kind of thing my older cousins used to make up to scare me when we took walks in the woods near my grandparents house. However, whatever it is inside that makes me a writer started whispering, “What if?”

It is plausible that a woman could have been killed and buried in an unmarked grave. Depending on when she was buried, maybe there wasn’t a road there at the time. Or maybe it was the only convenient spot. The story wouldn’t leave me alone. It claimed to have happened less than thirty minutes away, so I began digging. (Figuratively. I am pretty sure I would be writing this on the walls of the local jail if I actually tried digging up the road.)

Armed with just the name of the road I searched and found out that they did widen the road back in 1917. I also discover there has been precedence set for the petrification of human remains, if under the right conditions. The part of the road were the story claims the woman was buried runs close to the Hiwassee river. This is important because not only would the soil need the right minerals but it would also need the right amount of moisture.

In 1867 there was a great flood that decimated the area. It took out bridges and caused a train wreck where many died. There are even claims that the streets of Chattanooga were so flooded, that a man living on Lookout Mountain watched bodies float down them.

background-313572_1280So if the mythical woman had been killed and buried before the flood, then it is even plausible that she could have been petrified. If she existed. But if so, what happened to the body? Why was she buried in the road? Did whomever it was that killed her think they were slaying a vampire or a witch?

These are questions I don’t have answers to yet. I did find a similar story in a book called The Granny Curse and Other legends from East Tennessee by Randy Russell and Janet Barnett. It is about a chair haunted by the ghost of a vampire. (I didn’t know vampires could have ghosts but stranger things have become local legends.)

I am still investigating. Some people will probably laugh at me for chasing ghost stories and say I am on a snipe hunt or a wild goose chase. Just because it may not turn out to be true, doesn’t mean it isn’t teaching me a lot about the past. I had no knowledge of the flood of 1867 or of body petrification until now. I am sure it will end up being useful at some point, even if it is only in fiction.

Labor Day

gear-408364_640This Monday begins a new month and also marks a turning point in history. In the United States, during the industrial revolution, work weeks were often 12 hours shifts, 7 days a week. Children, barely more than toddlers, were working in factories and mines instead of playing games. No kindergarten for these kiddies. The whole family had to work to make sure mouths were fed. Working conditions, especially if you were poor or new to the country, surpassed dangerous and sometimes were just plain deadly.

Labor Unions began to form and began protesting the poor working conditions. In 1867 the government signed into effect a law regulating working hours for federal employees and Illinois workers, changing their shifts to an 8 hour day.  May 1, 1886 there was a movement to include the rest of the nation.

The thing is, they never actually enforced the law. A shorter work day and better pay work-384745_640sounded great to overworked, underpaid employees. So union banners were taken up and the peaceful protest marches began.  Some employers feared a “workers revolution” so they quickly signed on for shorter work days.

May 4, 1886 a rally was organized in Haymarket Square to protest the shooting of striking workers by the Chicago police the day before. The turn out was less than what was expected and the speakers either didn’t arrive or were late. Rain began falling toward the end of the rally which sent some of those who had hung around scurrying for home.That was when the police showed up to disperse the rest and chaos erupted. Someone from the crowd threw a bomb, shooting began which led to the deaths of seven policemen and four workers.

No one was sure who brought a bomb to a peaceful rally, but blood had been spilled so someone had to answer for it. Eight men, (*Cough, Cough, scapegoats) were rounded up and charged. Seven of the men were sentenced to death and the last one was give 15 years in prison.

matchstick-20237_640More strikes and more rallies happened over the next eight years, but it wasn’t until the American Railway Union began a boycott of Pullman railway cars and brought the nation to a stand still, that notice was finally taken.  Pullman Palace Car Company, maker of railway cars, had cut hours and fire union representatives. The workers went on strike and the boycott began. Things got so bad, troops had to be brought in. Which, of course, outraged many and started a wave of riots in Chicago.

In 1894 Labor Day became a Federal Holiday.  So now, on the first Monday in September, we sit around the barbeque with our friends and family enjoying the holiday.  Kids don’t have to go to school and the banks are closed so everyone can have a day off.  (If we aren’t scheduled to work.)