Saturday, August 29, 2009

The guns of August

While I was in Kansas City earlier this week, I made a point of visiting the National World War I museum downtown. I toured it more than 20 years ago, but I knew it had undergone significant changes since then.

I was extremely impressed by what I saw. The museum does a wonderful job of explaining the war's place in our history - not just what happened militarily, but what it was like for the soldiers on both sides. The longer I was there, the more deeply the sense of profound loss...of irrevocable change...sank in.

The memorial hall is poignant, as is the collection of photographs of people who were in the war. For me, seeing a Browning Automatic Rifle on display was particularly powerful, since Dad used a BAR ----- in World War II. I also recognized many town names on maps as places where Dad would be in combat in 1945, a generation after World War I.

A lot of folks may dismiss World War I as ancient history no longer relevant to modern life. But they'd be making a mistake. "The Guns of August" 1914 changed the world forever, and we're still living with the ripple effects.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

This is my furlough week from the paper, a fancy way of saying I get an extra week of vacation this year. I just won't get paid for it. It's happening to most of us in this profession this year....a fact of life in these economic times.

I'm going to head to Kansas City for a few days to take in a couple of baseball games - my Cleveland Indians against the Royals. I wasn't too excited about the prospect for quite a while, considering the Tribe is a raging disappointment this season and is scuffling to stay out of the cellar of the A.L. Central.

But then I thought about my first trip to a major league baseball game - the Royals vs. the Yankees back in the early '70s. I didn't care what the teams' records were....I was going to a major league baseball game!

It seemed wrong to take a blah attitude to something that I once considered bigger than life (especially since Steve, my twin, has tickets for one game and a friend invited me to another game with free tickets). So I'm going to head up there, enjoy the experience, and not take it for granted.

Besides, it'll be nice to see the renovated stadium. It was shiny, new and spectacular when I first saw it as a kid --- and I hear it's like that again.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

And the thunder rolls

After I wrapped up my speech and presentation to the Kansas Writers Assocation this afternoon, a few raindrops were speckling the windshield as I drove home.

I knew what the forecast said - a chance of strong thunderstorms this afternoon and evening - and sure enough just after I carried everything inside thunder began rumbling ominously. I found myself relaxing on the couch, looking out the balcony door and watching waves of heavy rain pound my neighborhood.

Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled and then the sun would come out --- and 20 minutes later it would happen all over again. And then again.

It's been an interesting night, listening to the thunder, hearing the rain wash over the building...

They say no two snowflakes are alike, but today has me convinced no two rumbles of thunder are the same, either. The next time a thunderstorm moves through, listen to the thunder. Not just its presence, but its timber.

Those tones could be something like fingerprints for a thunderstorm, at various stages of its intensity.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"There's a fly in my water glass"

I was using a straw to dunk a lemon slice into my just-delivered glass of water at Outback last night when my friend Mary reached out and grabbed my arm.

"Don't. Don't. Don't."

I thought she had something against lemon in water.

"There's a fly in there."

I turned the glass, and sure enough, she was right. I think it was doing the backstroke, trying to get to the surface again after my jostling of the ice cubes had shoved it under water.


Needless to say, we flagged down the waiter and they brought me a new glass of water without any visible surprises in it. The manager came over a little later to say my meal was free and they were terribly sorry about the mishap.

Not as sorry as I would have been had I taken a sip before I noticed our unwelcome guest.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Katolicky Delnik

That's Czech for "Catholic Workman."

I was chatting with Mom tonight, and she mentioned that she went to the annual K-D picnic in Timken, her hometown, tonight. It was held at a cafe on "the hill," as they call it there locally. The hill being the high ground next to K-96, which passes just south of Timken. You then take a short county road down into Timken.

When I was little, the annual K-D picnic was held on the last Sunday of July or the first Sunday of August in Timken's city park. "Catholic Workman" was started to provide life insurance to immigrants, so wives would not be left destitute when their husbands died. Over the years, it became as much or more a social organization that allowed residents of Czech descent to celebrate their gatherings such as this.

So every summer, we'd pack up a covered dish and dessert, paper plates and utensils, and drove the hour or so from the farm to Timken. We also brought our bats and baseball gloves, because there would be numerous other kids of all sorts of ages. Some would play volleyball, others would play a pick-up game of softball or "500" -some folks called it "Flies and Grounders." If you caught a fly ball, it was worth 100 points, and grounders were worth 50. If you booted a grounder or dropped a fly ball, those points were deducted from your score. Whoever reached 500 then got to go up and bat.

We'd play until the grown-ups told us it was time to eat, and then we'd herd - hot, tired, and dusty - over to the brick, open-air shelter house where a large potluck supper was waiting for us.

And then we'd eat. And eat. And eat. Burgers. Hot dogs. Green bean casseroles. Baked beans. Scalloped potatoes. Salads. Jello fruit salad. Cakes. Pies. Brownies. Cookies. I'm sure there were several Czech pastries there, too, because no K-D picnic seemed complete without them. There would be large washtubs filled with water, blocks of ice, and bottles of soda pop. Those tubs were my most vivid memory of the earliest picnics I can remember, because I'd never seen so much pop in one place that was free! And Mom and Dad didn't mind if we had a second (though I remember still being self-conscious about wanting more than one, if I was still thirsty).

There was usually a chilled keg nearby, too. As night would fall, the older men and women would start telling stories or talking about that summer's crops. An accordion or three would surface, and they'd begin playing and singing songs in Bohemian. I'd watch Grandpa Pechanec play, marveling that he could get that many notes and that much sound out of that squeezable box. I often fell asleep to the sound of that singing. More than once I remember waking up in the car on the drive home.

Just as the county fair was a chance to say "hi" to 4-H friends, the K-D picnic was a chance to see cousins who lived in other parts of the state. And, like the 4-H fair, it usually was a highlight of the summer.

Those picnics are just memories now, as the dinner on "The Hill" reminded me. But they're a precious childhood memory, and it would be wonderful for future generations of children if some day they could be revived again.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

My favorite disclaimer on a blog

Warning: The following contains opinions and ideas. Some memories may be accurate.

Those words open former co-worker and fellow central Kansas native Leon Unruh's blog about his hometown, Pawnee Rock. Too Long in the Wind is a wonderful example of how a blog can build community by serving as a touchstone for natives of that tiny town between Larned and Great Bend.