Wednesday, April 16, 2014

10 Wonderful Years

We don't like Face Book. Too impersonal and, at the same time, too profoundly personal. Too competitive. Too vulnerable to scammers, hackers, stalkers, too revealing and grabby for our privacy. So why do I post a blog? Good question. Sometimes I stop posting for weeks on end. And, recently, all the blogs have been plagued by spammers using the platform to post their pharmaceuticals, sex toys, performance enhancers. It's enough to make me want to shut it all down.

And then I remember why I blog. Because I like to write and tell the stories for those who matter to me and for those yet to be born; stories of our little lives, unimportant to the Face Book crowd and the online advertisers. I would have loved to read about how my mother and father or their families lived and loved and thought through the generations. And my fairly innocuous and benign little blog is only read by those who seek it out, presumably caring friends and family. That's my justification... at least for now.

My bride and I celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary last week. The occasion of this day always provides me an opportunity to tell a story that Connie is sooo sick of hearing... but I can't help myself. It brings me too much joy. The story is true. Only the number of anniversary years change.

I awake at first light on our anniversary morn and gaze at my sleeping bride. When she stirs I say,

"Happy anniversary, darlin."

She smiles, still sorta sleeping. I say;

"It's been 10 wonderful years..."

Her eyes pop open, a confused look on her face.

"10 years? But we've been married 38 years?" she mumbles.

"Yes, but only 10 have been wonderful" I reply.

She is fully awake now and ponders silently for a few moments. Am I kidding or am I serious...

"Which 10?" she asks.

"Oh, half hour here, 10 minutes there. It adds up." I snort, unable to keep my composure any longer.

She knows I'm teasing her now and lashes out with a well aimed leg kick. "You weirdo!" she laughs.

Maybe I'll give this joke a rest... just like my Ezra and Martha jokes. Time for some new material.

It's truly been 38 amazing, wonderful years, honey. I adore you.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


First direct evidence of cosmic inflation

 "Researchers from the BICEP2 telescope collaboration announced Monday the first direct evidence for cosmic inflation."

"The inflation theory posits that almost 14 billion years ago, the universe we inhabit burst into existence in an extraordinary event that initiated the Big Bang. In the first fleeting fraction of a second, the universe expanded exponentially, stretching far beyond the current view of our best telescopes."

Amazing... The Universe "burst into existence". Mankind's science has got us all the way back to the beginning of everything. So what caused this "extraordinary event"? Suppose it was just random? Or was it the result of some "extraordinary force"?

hmmm... "Curiouser and curiouser", cried Alice.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

From Saturdays Brunswick News

Thief steals man's pants
after assalt

* 5700 Block of Altama Avenue, Glynn County:
A man reported being struck on his head, neck and face by a male suspect Feb 10. 
The male suspect took the man's pants after assaulting him with a gun.


Monday, February 17, 2014

A Love Story at the Dog Show

Her name is Mary, but he called her Maria, a pet name for the love of his life.

We sat with Mary at the Saint Simon's Island 3rd Annual West Marigold Dog Show on Sunday and watched the colorful parade of costumed humans and canines as they vied for bragging rights in the categories of Best Over-all Cuteness, Best Talent and Best-In-Show. Sampson and Delilah were not entered this year having won both Best Talent and Best-In-Show two years ago. Wisely, they retired at the top of their game... before the deafness, the seizures, the exquisite exhaustion of 14 years of a lives well lived. Still, they were graciously recognized as this year's Grand Marshals and lead the parade around the block, prancing proudly in tandem at the head of the pack of 40 dogs entered in this year's  show.

To paraphrase the Wizard of Oz, it was a veritable "clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous" canines. Spectacular!

The judges awarded the prizes and the Best-In Show trophy (all local talent this year, no Yankee Dog spoilers...) and we were finally able to turn our attention to Mary.

Her intense blue eyes evidenced no sign of confusion or fatigue, despite the long and chilly day. At the age of 88, she was entirely engaged and she wanted to talk... about the love of her life, Jerry.

She remembered their first meeting. She was a 16 year old freshman at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia attending a dance at Mercer College in 1942. Jerry was a uniformed, commissioned officer in the Army Air Corp. She said she remembered looking at him and thinking "If I was older, maybe I would know how to get him. He was tall and handsome and the moment I saw him, it was like electricity went through me. And I got him!"

Jerry and Mary were engaged before he left for B17 Bomber pilot training in North Dakota. She stopped dating other guys and he focused on preparing to fly bombing runs in Germany. They wrote a million letters.

Jerry flew 24 missions over Germany, 70% more than the average number of missions flown by other WWII B17 bomber pilots. He was shot down on one mission, but managed to fly back over Allied occupied territory in France before bailing out of his fatally damaged airplane. His silk parachute was ripped in the process and the Supply Sargent  informed Jerry that it would have to be destroyed. Jerry received permission to keep the chute and mailed it back to Mary. She and her mother used the parachute that had saved Jerry's life to sew a wedding dress.

Mary told story after remarkable story about a man who went out of his way to spare civilians, to drop warning leaflets, to avoid churches in his bombing runs, a man who survived the war and returned to marry her. He attended the University of Florida and became an architect. He and Mary moved to Saint Simons Island and he worked on Sea Island building beautiful, amazing homes. Mary told us about her historic home in the Village which Jerry had disassembled board by board, numbered, and reassembled in it's current location. She spoke of her two children, both girls, and how every day when Jerry returned from work, he would rush to her and embrace her and that the two girls would then join in by each hugging one leg of their father and one of their mother creating a circle hug of family love.

She lamented on the tragic death of her pregnant 30 year old daughter and how she named the unborn son Will so that he would not be forgotten.

She said " I can't begin to tell you how much I loved that man... and still do." They were married 63 years. Six years ago Jerry succumbed to dementia and Mary was forced to place him in a nursing home. Although he did not recognize her and was no longer speaking, she would arrive at Magnolia Manor each morning before he awoke to read the paper and drink her coffee sitting on the end of his bed and would stay until he slept each evening. She was counciled to spare herself the effort, the exhaustion, but she refused.

Jerry died in 2008. She said one morning he awakened, spread his arms wide, smiled and spoke his final words, " Come to me, my Maria."

A love story at the West Marigold Dog Show...

Monday, February 3, 2014

Spyro Gyra

As I write this little blog, my headphones are plugged into my favorite Pandora station, Spyro Gyra Radio. I've been a jazzophile for the past 40 years. Don't know much about the history or the artists or the mechanics of jazz, much to my musician son's disgust, but I have always known what I liked... and I have always liked Spyro Gyra.

Shortly after we were married in 1976, after countless hours researching Consumer Reports, we purchased a Pioneer rack system and a pair of Acoustic Research, AR 17 speakers. It was either that system or a reel to reel tape system and the budget simply wouldn't support that... thankfully. The reel to reel technology quickly followed the path of the 8 track tape systems, into the audio technology trash bin. I remember the first vinyl record I purchased was Boston by Boston and we rattled the windows as we wore the grooves off the disk. 

An audiophile friend (with no budget constraints... God bless those trust fund babies) had decided to convert his entire record collection into the latest and greatest new technology... cassette tapes. He was scrapping his records and I was more that pleased to scoop them up. And thus my introduction to jazz began. I began listening to amazing new music, music I had never experienced, certainly nothing that was ever played on FM radio in Central Maine; Stanley Turrentine, Michael Brecker, Gary Burton, Lionell Hampton, Pat Metheney, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Grover Washington and, my favorite, Spyro Gyra. I was captivated.

The music was a welcomed reprieve from the hectic daily life of a new house, a new job and a new family. Our newborn twin sons were weaned on these albums right along with me. I remember when we treated the boys to roller skating lessons when they were 4 or 5 (winters are long in Maine). The instructor asked them to which kind of music they would like to skate. Eric looked up thoughtfully and said, “Do you have any jazz?”

And when they chose band instruments in junior high, they both chose saxophones, joined jazz band, went on to attend jazz camp at the University of Maine and were ultimately selected for the State Jazz band. Ryan has maintained a lifelong passion for his music playing around Maine and New England whenever his busy career and family life allows. Eric took his sax with him to Australia and formed a jazz band at Melbourne University. Music was a big part of his life to the very end and I'm sure he will be blowing his horn at heaven's gate when it's my turn to follow. And when it was Katie's turn, she played sax, too.

On my 40th birthday, Connie planned to give me the ultimate birthday present. My loving wife had obtained front row seats to a Spyro Gyra concert! She arranged for her sisters to come down from Brewer to our home in Waterville to watch the kids and she was driving me to the concert so that I could relax from my stressful job and enjoy some birthday libations. It was a great ride an hour down the interstate to Portland and we arrived before the show started with a half hour to spare ... to an empty parking lot. She was perplexed and a little fearful as she asked the venue box office where the Spyro Gyra concert was to be held. The answer made her nauseous... Orono!... a 3 hour drive north.

It was a sweet mistake. There was no malice in it... only love. As the busy mother of three kids, running our big house and all their activities, and trying to support her overworked husband, she has missed one small, but significant detail. It took awhile for us to get our sense of humor back. I remember the crack in the gloom. Connie was crying and going on about how we needed to go to the airport and rent a plane or some such thing. “I am going to stop this car and lay in the road and you are going to drive over me!” she wailed. I knew I had to soften the mood.

“Honey, honey, stop. That's enough. No more beating yourself up, please. Let's get this thing in perspective. Nothing terrible has happened. Yes, Spyro Gyra is my favorite group and, no doubt, it would have been a fantastic concert. But it would have been a sweet but short lived enjoyment. What you have given me is so much more lasting... a story I can tell and we can laugh about for the rest of our lives!

And we have...but someday... Spyro Gyra is definitely on the bucket list.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Drawn to Gettysburg

The Railroad Square Theater in Waterville, Maine smelled of popcorn and mildew.  The old converted warehouse on the banks of the Kennebec River, like the deserted paper mill directly across the river, had seen better days. But it was pleasantly warm on that snowy January evening in 1994, compared to the sub zero temperatures outside.  My 15 year old, identical twin sons, Eric and Ryan, flanked me sitting in the worn but comfortable old theater chairs and were sipping on their sodas as I enjoyed a coffee before the show began.  The movie was the epic Civil War film, Gettysburg adapted from the novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.  I had read the book and was hyping the story line to my boys who were something less than enthusiastic about accompanying Dad to a history movie. I noticed that the pastor of our church was also in the theater with his two sons, seated just in front of us. Perhaps he had coerced his sons to join him, as I had. 
 Not that my boys were complaining. We enjoyed spending time together whether on the athletic fields, skiing at Sugarloaf USA, in Boy Scouts or just exploring the backwoods roads and fishing holes which were so abundant around our home. We had chosen to live in this rural little college town on the edge of the Great North Woods, as it's now called, so that I might work at a paper mill 20 miles up the Kennebec River. And 10 mile up the river from the mill was the little town of Embden, population 881 in the 2000 Census,  hometown of my great great grandfather, William H. Foss, and his first cousin, Elfin J. Foss,  back in the mid 1800s. But this was information that I was to gathered later, much later, as I was inextricably drawn to Gettysburg.
I did not know that the movie was 254 minutes long... 4 hours and 15 minutes. But I don't remember being bored or wanting it to end. And I don't remember Eric or Ryan complaining that they wanted to leave. We remember the instant the film became intensely personal for us.  About half way through the film, as Col. Joshua Chamberlain, played by Jeff Daniels, was reviewing his regimental battle lines on Little Round Top, he came upon a man on his knees. In the scene, low on ammunition and awaiting the third charge of Confederate General Longstreet's 15th Alabama Corp, Chamberlain turned to his Sergeant and asked, “What is this man doing?” The Sergeant (also Chamberlain's brother) replied, “Private Foss is praying”... at which point our pastor, always quick to acknowledge his faithful flock, turned in his seat and flashed us a warm and benevolent smile.  I muttered to my son's, “We Fosses have always been a Godly bunch”.  The boys grinned, but the irony of the situation was not lost on us. The seed was planted and our interests piqued for more exploration into our ancestry.
 Since his retirement several years before, my extraordinary father, Frank Waldo Foss, had developed a passion for digging through old genealogical records and books.  He had determined that his great grandfather, William H. Foss, had enlisted in the 2nd Maine out of Orono, Maine, had served his time and returned to Gardner, Maine where he married, raised a family and worked in a paper mill. Dad also determined that William's great grandfather was Isaiah, the first Foss to homestead in the Maine wilderness.  Isaiah had fought in the Revolutionary War and his land grant in Embden, Maine was part of his recompense. Later he brought his father, Ichabod, to Embden to live and to work in the family logging business.
Fascinating... I had no inkling that I was not the first Foss to work in a paper mill or that our family had arrived in Maine in the late 1700's just up the road in Embden. Had something drawn me back to this place to work among these people, many with whom I likely shared some familial strand of DNA?
Over the next twenty years my interest in the Civil War grew and I took any opportunity to read of it and also to visit the battlefields including Gettysburg and Bull Run. I remember standing on Little Round Top in 2004, where Private Foss had prayed in the movie, and wondering if he was real or imagined. It wasn't until July 3rd 2013 that I got my answer.
My daughter and her husband have lived in Arlington, Virginia for several years. She knows of my interest in our family history and of the Civil War and, wonderful daughter that she is, she arranged for a day trip for just the two of us an hour and a half up the road to Gettysburg on July 3, 2013, a very special day. It was the occasion of the 150th anniversary of that battle and it was being commemorated in grand style.
We arrived that morning, with thousands of other visitors and enjoyed hours of walking through reenactments of the camps and the battles. We walked along the Devil's Den and the Peach Orchard. We ate our lunch in the shade of the "copse of trees" near the Bloody Angle. It was a remarkable, moving morning. Sacred would not be too strong a word to describe it. 
As the heat of the day began to wear us down, we retreated to the newly constructed Visitor’s Center where, remarkably, one of Katie's good friends from high school worked.  Elise provided us with free tickets for the museum, the movie theater and several other amazing displays which we so enjoyed.  And she handed me a sheath of papers she had obtained from the computerized National Historical Archives. They contained the specific histories of  ten Maine Foss men who had fought in the Civil War, their family information, their records of engagement in battle, their place of origin. As I perused the paperwork I determined that we might have shared a family connection with some of these men, but the genealogical work that Dad had researched provided no clear link... except for Elvin J and John W, two brothers out of Embden.
The hair on my neck stood up as I read the accounts. Their great grandfather was Isaiah and their great great grandfather was Ichabod. These brothers were first cousins to my great, great grandfather William H. They were blood of my blood. I read the materials hungrily.
John W. was 18 when he enlisted into Co. A of the 28th Maine Infantry as a Private on October 13, 1862.  38 days later, he died of disease in Fort Schuyler, NY on their way to Washington DC.  It is a little known fact that the odds of a soldier surviving the Civil War was about 1 in 4 and that ¾ of those fatalities resulted from death by disease, primarily small pox, but also malaria, infections, pneumonia, trench rot. Sometimes the cure killed them as one uniformed reenactor described. A mercury pill was routinely dispensed to soldiers for treatment of all sorts of maladies from constipation to headaches, and resulted in untold numbers of deaths. Such was the state of medical science only 150 years ago. Over 650,000 soldiers died during the Civil War, more that all the other wars ever fought by the United States combined (up to the Vietnam War).  214,000 died in combat or from wounds sustained in combat. 450,000 died of disease. John W. survived a scant month before disease took him. He died at age 19, just a boy.
His brother Elfin J. enlisted as a Private into Co. F of the 20th Maine Infantry on August 29, 1862 at the age of 22.  He was 5' 71/2 “ tall, had light colored hair and blue eyes. Almost 10 months later, on the rocky crest of Little Round Top while fighting under the command of Col. Joshua Chamberlain, he was shot through the center of his right lung by a soldier of the 15th Alabama. He died of this wound on July 7th at the age of 23. The report stated that Elfin J. was buried with 51,000 other casualties on the Gettysburg Battlefield and was later exhumed and reburied in the Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg in the Maine plot, sec. C #15.
We went directly to the Soldier's Cemetery, about a 10 minute walk from the Visitors Center and, after searching through thousands of graves, found Elfin. I can't describe the emotion of finding his final resting place and learning his story after so many years. Had any other family members ever visited this place? Was I the first to stand solemnly over his stone and stare into the past, glimpsing dimly this person whose life was ended, like so many others, in this terrible struggle?  I spoke in my mind into the void... “Thank you, cousin. Sorry for your troubles. Wish I could have known you.... If there is a Foss Reunion in the hereafter, I look forward to meeting you. Until then...”
And the whisper responded across time and space,  “Trouble? What trouble? I drew you here. It took but an instant. Time flows differently in this place beyond and I want to meet you, too, as I have your son, your father, all our family before you. But no hurry, son. We’ll be here when it’s your turn…  Until then; Pay attention.  Enjoy.  Love.  And keep your head up… unless, of course, they’re shooting at ya.”