The real meaning of Memorial Day

Visits to cemeteries and parades honoring the war dead have given way to parties and sales at the mall.

Back when I was a newspaper reporter my editor asked me to write a story about Memorial Day.

“Go and find all the fun events people can attend,” he said.

I frowned. “Fun events? That’s not what Memorial Day is all about.”

He looked confused.

“I know it’s a three-day weekend, which tends to give people license to party their brains out, but remembering those who died fighting for our country just doesn’t lend itself to Jello shots, does it?”

Okay, I probably wasn’t that glib, but he got my point.

“Write what you want,” he said before walking away.

And that’s exactly what I did. The story ran on May 24, 2000, in the West Valley View.

Once upon a time on Memorial Day, proud veterans walked in town parades to the beat of high school marching bands. Red, white, and blue floats made of paper carnations rolled by as Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts marched behind honor guards holding high the American flag.

Now, Memorial Day seems to be nothing more than an excuse for a three-day weekend and a blow-out sale at the mall. Some still do visit graveyards where they place tiny flags by the stones marking the war dead, but they are relatively few and their numbers are rapidly dwindling. You see, the ones who truly hold Memorial Day in their hearts are the ones who were there, the ones who fought alongside the soldiers who did not come home.

I interviewed a number of aging veterans for that story, men who despite their advanced years, recalled vividly those who were left behind.

“I was a foot soldier. Fifty-ninth field hospital. My brother was in the Seventh Armored Division. He chased me and I chased him, but he was killed before I got to him.”

“The pilot of the helicopter was going to lower me down into the water and I leaned out and took a look. Here was these huge fishes going around eating pieces of bodies. Sharks. And you know they couldn’t declare that person dead because they didn’t know if it was one person or two. I thought about it ever since.”

My dad served in World War II, and despite dementia near the end of his life, he always vividly remembered his time in the Navy.

“A buddy of mine…we went all the way through the war right to the end. Just outside of Cheb, Czechoslovakia he got captured and they stuck a pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He was…22.”

I can still see these veterans as they recalled the horrors they could not forget. And, of course, there’s the memory of my own father—a machinist mate on a destroyer escort who helped push the Japanese back during World War II, and was there in Tokyo Bay when the war ended.

“I was standing watch at night,” my dad said. “There were dead pilots lined up on the deck waiting to be buried at sea. They were covered except for their feet, that rocked back and forth as the ship swayed in the waves.”

My dad also told me about the young man who was retrieved from the water badly burned. He asked my father for a cigarette then died in his arms.

My dad was one week shy of his 96th birthday when he died two years ago. He had the beginning stages of dementia and could rarely remember what you told him five minutes ago. And yet, he could talk about his time in the Navy in intricate detail, as if the war was happening now.

“That’s the blood in the red of the flag. The white is peace. The blue was the sky overhead. They gave their blood to have peace under blue skies…that’s the flag.”

I sense that might be the case with most veterans. War indelibly etches their consciousness, visions the rest of us can never quite see.

Go out to the cemetery. Go look at the graves,” one veteran told me. “That’s the blood in the red of the flag. The white is peace. The blue was the sky overhead. They gave their blood to have peace under blue skies…that’s the flag.”

And yet, it was a living veteran who made me think hard about the meaning of Memorial Day.

“There was one darkened room at the end of a long hallway, empty save for a man in a wheelchair. As I moved closer, I realized all his fingers were gone. With difficulty, I glanced at his face. Ears, nose, lips, and hair had all been burned away. His eyes were opaque white marbles. I spoke to him—of what I don’t remember—but he made no response, no movement of any kind. I hoped desperately that his mind had long ago fled to some better place. On Memorial Day we are supposed to remember those who have given their lives for their country. On Memorial Day I think of him.

It makes it kind of hard to go shopping.”

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A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

A name change, a steam room, and a stripper pole

A chance meeting in a locker room had an acquaintance confused about what I did for a living.

I have written before about the time I had to change my name. I was offered a job as a TV sportscaster at a station in Rochester, New York. The problem, I would learn, was that one of my co-anchors was also named Butler and we looked alike.

“You’ll confuse the viewers,” my gruff, no-nonsense news director pointed out. “You have 24-hours to change your name or we won’t hire you.”

Following a bottle of wine or two and a vote by several friends, it was decided that I should choose Montgomery—my maternal grandmother’s last name—as opposed to McCarthy, which was my father’s mother’s maiden name. While I struggled with the change for a bit, eventually I got used to it.

But sometimes there were misconceptions about my new appellation. Take, for example, the day I was reclining in the steam room at my health club Connecticut, a short drive from Bristol where I worked at ESPN anchoring SportsCenter.

At this particular gym, men and women had separate steam and sauna facilities, so clothing was optional. I’d been in enough health clubs to have no qualms about being naked in the locker room, and so I reclined in the buff on one of the wooden benches.

Then, the door opened, and a pretty woman walked in, equally au naturel. We hit it off immediately. She was funny and irreverent. If memory serves, we introduced ourselves by our first names. Her name was Annie. Somewhere along the way, I apparently mentioned that while my real surname was Butler, I was now going by Montgomery.

Annie stared at me for a moment and nodded.

It would not be until almost thirty years later that she confessed her thoughts on that occasion. She arrived in Phoenix on a visit recently and called me. When I picked her up, she mentioned that day long ago in the steam room.

“Do you remember that time when you told me you had two names?” she grinned.

“I do.”

“I thought you were a stripper. They tend to change their names.”

“What?”

She shrugged.

“Really?” For a moment I wasn’t sure what to think, but after a few beats I smiled. The realization hit that she’d met me naked and still assumed I might be able to find my way around a pole, though in reality the idea was ludicrous. (Think Jamie Lee Curtis in her True Lies striptease when she falls off her high heels and hits the floor with a thud, only nowhere near as hot.)

I stared at Annie. She grinned.

All I could think to say was, “Thank you!”

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A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

A lesson learned from bad customers

Those who work in a position of servitude are often not treated with respect, something I know from personal experience.

Once upon a time, I was a waitress. I toiled in that job for about five years at a tony Georgetown restaurant in Washington D.C. As anyone who has worked in a position of servitude knows, sometimes customers can be downright mean.

I mention this because my youngest kid came home the other day rather upset. While Makayla doesn’t work in restaurant—she’s a teller at a bank—her complaints mirrored those I dealt with years ago.

“This woman started screaming at me because I wasn’t getting to her quickly enough,” she explained. “The customer I was dealing with spoke limited English and was confused. I was doing the best I could.”

“Sometimes, people just feel the need to demean others,” I explained. “They’re angry at their boss or their spouse, but they don’t feel right yelling at them, so they pick on the next person they see.”

“I’m lucky my manager witnessed the whole thing. She defended me.”

“That’s what a good manager does,” I said.

Makayla’s story reminded me of a family that used to frequent the restaurant where I worked. A mother, father, and two children who looked to be about 12 and 10. They came in every week and sat at the same table for lunch. Their order was complicated to the extreme.

“I want the spinach salad with no croutons and no tomatoes but with thinly sliced onions on top. Did you hear me say thinly sliced?” The father didn’t wait for an answer.  “I want two servings of ranch dressing on the side. I want sliced cucumbers with no skin, but bring them on a separate plate. I want my coffee very hot with a third of the cup filled with cream.” Then he’d stare at me. “Don’t you want to write that down?”

“No sir. I understand what you want.” I’d smile. He’d squint, wondering why I held neither a pad nor pen to write the order down, intimating that I surely wasn’t smart enough to remember what he wanted.

The wife would then order a similarly convoluted lunch.

The father would then address his son. “Give her your order.”

The 12-year-old would rattle off yet another complicated request. Then the little girl would give me her order, though sometimes she struggled. That’s when the father would jump in.

“You have to explain everything!”  he’d yell. “You have to tell these people what you want!”

I turned around. Since no one was behind me, I figured I was “these people.” He spoke to his children as if I wasn’t present. As if—because I was a server— I must be stupid and uneducated. I sometimes wanted to say, “I do have a bachelor’s degree, sir, and my goal is to become a TV sportscaster, and my manager here works around my schedule so that my dream may one day come true.”

But I never did.

After a while, no one in the restaurant would wait on the family. Instead, they’d come to me and say, “Your friends are here.” I took it as a challenge. No matter how offensive they were, I never stopped smiling.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t easy. Sometimes I wanted to tell them what I thought of their obnoxious behavior. I wanted to point out that they were turning their children into jerks. But I could tell they felt superior and would never consider any constructive criticism from someone like me.

I found myself feeling sorry for the kids, wondering how they could possibly grow into descent adults with such a sad little man as a father. One who lacked even a smidgen of compassion or empathy, who assumed he was better than me simply because of the job I did.

I waited on the family for over a year. The weird thing was that despite getting their orders right, they would sometimes send them back for no reason. Maybe it made them feel powerful. I don’t know. But one day, my manager had had enough. He walked to the table grasping their bill. “I will be paying for your lunch today,” he said. “Now, you are no longer welcome here. Leave and don’t come back.”

They were stunned and complained loudly as they left. Once the door shut, we workers whooped with joy.

Did they learn anything from being ejected from the restaurant? I have sometimes wondered about that, as well as what became of those children, and how I managed to hold my temper when I had to serve them. Then, Makayla made the latter clear.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Of course,” she said. “You can’t take it personally when strangers treat you badly. I only get upset when people I care about hurt me.”

Exactly!

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A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Ain’t love grand

Ryan and I have been together for almost three decades, a time during which our relationship has changed.

After being with the same partner for decades, one can’t help but reminisce.

If I venture into the Wayback Machine, I’ll see the dating part we carefully maneuvered through, a heady time when my sweetie pie and I were still strangers who worked hard to impress one another, when I’d primp for every visit, and stare at the phone waiting for the call that said he was still interested. We always looked our best and tried to avoid controversial subjects, still we broke up periodically and always reunited in a few days.

It was exhausting.

Later on, after the shiny-new-romance part dulled a bit, we became more comfortable in each other’s company. We’d do battle over our differing opinions on politics and religion and dealing with relatives—yep, it could get loud around here—each of us standing up for what we believed in.

At some point we decided bickering about things was not productive, so we worked hard to soften those discussions, taking time to consider the other’s opinions, while still sticking to our values. (I’ll confess this part is ongoing and not always easy, but we’re trying.)

Ryan and I have been together for almost three decades now. We’re both retired. We have four kids, with the youngest still home facing her senior year in college. His mother has dementia. His father and step-mom struggle with health issues. My mom will soon be 96. So, it’s family members and our responsibilities to them that now populate our discussions.

Every once in a while, if only for an instant, I miss those wacky, romantic, early days. Though Ry contends he would never go back.

“If you died, I’m done,” he’s said more than once, pointing out that dating is grueling.

And it’s hard to disagree. Listening to our kids—25, 24, 23, and 20—talk about the trials of courting is enough to make me swear off dating forever.

At this point, we both eschew gifts on the supposedly important holidays, as there is nothing we really want or need. He finds joy in cooking. I find joy in writing. We both love scuba diving, traveling, history, British mystery TV shows, and the four-footed furry friends who live with us. What we look like is no longer important. And still the romance remains. It’s just different now.

Here’s an example. We were just in St. Croix on a trip where we could think of nothing we’d rather do than leap into the Caribbean Sea to go diving. But I was still recovering from rotator cuff surgery and was under doctor’s orders to stay out of the water. Still, I told him to go and enjoy himself. When he returned from the dive, he excitedly told me about the tiny peacock flounder he swam with, one of my favorite ocean creatures that has beautiful turquoise spots when swimming but, like a chameleon, changes color instantly to blend in with whatever it alights upon.

Then, he creased his brow and looked down.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“It wasn’t any fun without you.”

Ain’t love grand.

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A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

Fight back against the Spandex revolution!

As a Covid prisoner, I hadn’t been out in a long time. Then, after being a good girl and taking my shots, my sweetie pie and I booked that trip to St. Croix we’d been pining for. Now, you wouldn’t think that much could change after a year in seclusion, but as soon as we got to the airport, I realized a revolution had occurred.

A recent vacation made me realize that Spandex is taking over.

The entire place had been overrun with Spandex.

Don’t get me wrong. I too have donned the synthetic fiber favored for its elasticity. I’ve worn under garments made of Spandex and I’ve pulled on stretchy leggings and shorts and bathing suits for a workout. But the visual assault of multi-colored and patterned elastic in a public place like an airport was quite overwhelming.

First, ladies—since we are by far the biggest Spandex offenders—let me point out that all that flexible fabric doesn’t really look good on anyone. Not even super models, which sadly most of us are not. And there’s only so much supporting Spandex can do. I saw more practically naked body parts at the airport than I do when I’m in the health club locker room. And it’s the nature of Spandex that even when we’re covered there’s little left to the imagination.

You might be interested to know that the product behind the Spandex brand was invented in 1958. The post-World War II era had DuPont searching for a market for their textiles and they settled on women’s bras and girdles, which apparently needed an upgrade from rubber. (Rubber underwear? Don’t make me shudder.) They hired famous stars like the lovely and lithe Audrey Hepburn to wear their new products, though what that wee woman would have needed with a girdle is beyond me.

The lovely Audrey Hepburn donned Spandex-type products in the 1960s to encourage other women to do the same.

In any case, somewhere along the line Spandex became the “it” fabric. I suppose we can blame being stuck at home for our desire for comfort and I do understand the allure of sweat pants and baggie Ts and other comfy wear when there’s no need to head to work. I’ll also admit that I’m not one to dress up to go shopping. I’ve only worn makeup a handful of times over the last year, and the holes in my pierced ears are threatening to close since there seemed to be no reason to wear jewelry.

However, it used to be that people took a little more care with their clothes while traveling. When I was younger and unattached airports were rather fun places for meeting new and interesting people. But no one seems to care about that now.

Some of you may think I’m just an old prude. Not so! I hemmed my Girl Scout uniform to within an inch of my butt back in the good old 1970s. I wore halter tops and low, hip-hugger jeans, all of which had my mother rolling her eyes. I fully understand baring body parts in a formal gown or on a Saturday night out, but now said skin is on view everywhere all the time. (Just head to the grocery store, if you don’t believe me.) I’m not sure of the message we’re sending. Seems a bit desperate, a cry for attention, maybe.

You’re probably thinking that I’m picking on my fellow women here, and perhaps I am a little. As a high school teacher of 20 years, I was called on daily to deal with dress code issues of just this type, so maybe that’s why I noticed. Note here that traveling men look no better than women. Most wore sloppy old T-shirts, raggedy shorts, athletic shoes, and ball caps. Had I been young and single, I wouldn’t have found any of them appealing enough to chat up.

After noting that the U.S. has become a nation of slobs, I found myself mesmerized by Burt Lancaster in a cream-colored suit.

Recently, I watched a snippet of a movie, an old black-and-white film that had been digitized. A stunning Burt Lancaster appeared in a fabulous cream-colored suit. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I tried to remember the last time I saw a man in a suit. Nothing came to mind.

I’m now wondering what fashion changes will be next. Perhaps ladies will go back to Victorian Era coverups, since there’s not much more we can take off. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, consider this: clothing containing Spandex ends up as non-recyclable waste, so these garments contribute to polluting our world and take anywhere from 20 to 200 years to decompose.

Here’s hoping the trend ends soon.

A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND

AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.

Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb