Great War Wednesday: Quoi Verdun?


Erich von Falkenhayn, the man behind the Battle of Verdun.

The winter of 1915-1916 was a grim time for all the combatants of the Great War. Serbia, the little nation that could, fell to the Central Powers. Austria-Hungary hung on by a thread. Huge costly battles at Ypres, Artois, and Champagne taught the commanders of both sides the futility of sending frail, if brave, men of flesh against walls of lead and steel. Having no other strategy, however, both sides continued doing just that.

Up until the Great War, battles involved maneuver and strategic combat. Armies jockeyed for position until one reached a superior and unassailable position; the other side would realize the hopelessness of continued resistance and the battle, and by extension, the war would end. The object was to MOVE and take ground to hold until you had so much of the enemy’s territory he had no choice but suing for peace. Unfortunately, World War One did not behave in such a fashion. After eighteen months the war had ground down to trenches.

Most commanders looked at the vast line of trenches from Switzerland to the North Sea and saw only despair and hopelessness. It seemed no arm of flesh could break the stalemate which was war on the Western Front. One man, however, looked at that heartbreaking line of trenches and saw not despair, but opportunity. That man was German Chief of Staff Erich Georg Anton von Falkenhayn. He saw the Western Front for what it was — a meat grinder for men instead of beef or pork. With such clear eyed vision, he came upon a new plan for warfare.

Falkenhayn’s plan was both simple and diabolical. Since this war seemed to be only about killing men instead of capturing territory, he would simply design a perfect meat grinder. In his own words, he planned to “bleed France white.” He would pick a point along the line which he KNEW France would defend to the last man and launch a continuous attack against it. France would be forced to keep bringing more men to defend the position and German machine guns and artillery would kill them faster and faster until no more “meat” was left for the “grinder.” He was proposing a dedicated war of attrition. The object was never to actually TAKE the position chosen as bait, but to make France defend it until the last man. Then, with France bled dry, the U-Boats would starve England’s island home out of the war.

For his bait, Falkenhayn chose the picturesque fortress town of Verdun.

It is impossible for anyone not French to understand the importance of Verdun to the French people except by analogy. Verdun is to the French what The Alamo is to Texans, Jerusalem is to the Israelis, and Mecca is to the Moslem. Verdun is more than a piece of ground . . . it is sacred. From the Fourth Century, men first known as Franks under Charlemagne had defended a fortress at Verdun. Under Napoleon, the fortress at Verdun withstood repeated attacks by the Coalition, but it was during the disastrous Franco-Prussian war of 1870 when Verdun took on its most holy shroud.

The Franco-Prussian War was an unabashed and unmitigated disaster for the French.  The Prussians — ancestor state to the German nation — ran roughshod over France. The French lost battle after battle. Things were so bad the government actually changed from the Second Empire under Napoleon III to the democratic Third Republic. It didn’t help. Whole French armies were surrounded and surrendered completely. Paris fell under siege. The entire country lay under the Prussian heel — except for the mighty fortress at Verdun. Here the French flag flew until the last. Verdun held under a siege which lasted almost the entire 18 month long war. She never fell, but surrendered when ordered to by the capitulating French government.

Falkenhayn knew all this. He knew Verdun was a symbol to France, the place where she had once withstood the might of Germany and the ONE place she would NEVER surrender. Imagine if the Mexican army had invaded Texas during the Mexican War in the 1850s. Volunteers would have poured into the Alamo to defend it rather than let such a cherished shrine of Texas might fall to anyone. So it was with Verdun. The trap now had its bait. All that remained was for Falkenhayn to crank up his meat grinder and see how many Frenchmen he could kill before France cried, “Oncle!”

He would push the start button on that diabolical machine 21 February 1916 and France would indeed bleed profusely.

Look for more about the Battle of Verdun in the next week or so, but until then, Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

#TBT: Stalking In Stereo Sound


I first published this post on June 22, 2012 when Adele was burning up the airwaves the first go round. Since “Hello” is on every five minutes now, I thought I’d run it again.

Budge loves Adele. If I try to talk to her when “Set Fire to the Rain” is playing, I get a look that’ll curdle milk and a shush that would make Nancy Pearl blush with pride. Since I don’t like getting snapped at by my beloved, I usually sit quietly and listen to the song. It was during one such session that I decided Adele is the latest artist to add music to the long and storied list of stalker songs.

Now, everybody knows what a stalker song is, right? You know, one of the songs your ex dedicates to you on the late night radio romance show that sends you scurrying in a mad dash down to the police station at the butt crack of dawn the next morning to file the restraining order? Stalker songs!

Some of the more popular stalker songs masquerade as being romantic ballads. Take U2’s “I Will Follow” as an example. On the surface, the jerk finally realizes he should have paid attention to the chick when she was sending him the “come get me” signals. Now though, she’s moved on. What does he do? He lets her know right up front, “If you walkaway, walkaway I walkaway, walkaway…I will follow …” Not a healthy response to rejection.

Still, U2’s little ditty is mild compared to some of the masters of shade watching. I remember Def Leppard coming out with “Two Steps Behind” when I was in high school and thinking, “Wow! What a cool love song!” Once I realized though that the “shadow” he sings about — “you can run, but you can never hide / From the shadow that’s creepin’ up beside you,” — is actually HIM, the song took on a newer, more sinister slant.

Now,  I realize guy stalkers are the ones who garner the most press, but they aren’t the only ones who put out stalker songs. The fairer sex has its share of scorned lovers who want to get even. I mean, look at how the girl in Carly Simon’s hit song takes catching the object of her affection with someone else: “You belong to me / Can it be, honey, that you’re not sure / You belong to me?” Guys, if a girlfriend says that song tells exactly how she feels about you, it MIGHT be time to pull the trigger on that move to Europe you’ve been contemplating. Of course, if your ex takes her cues from Blondie, moving overseas won’t matter because “One way or another [she’s] gonna find ya / [she’s] gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha!”

Dude, if she dedicated “Someone Like You” to you last night on Delilah’s show, you MIGHT want to leave the lid on that pot!

What trips me out the most though is seeing how long and flourishing the history of stereo stalkers has been. For example, if you get past the funky organ and funny name, “96 Tears”, which I always thought was an upbeat little tune, turns really dark. How would YOU interpret the stanza:

Since you left me you’re always laughin’ way down at me
But watch out now I’m gonna get there
We’ll be together for just a little while
And then I’m gonna put you way down here
And you’ll start cryin’ Ninety-six tears

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a lead in for a Criminal Minds episode if ever one existed! I can see the voice over and pull-away shot of the girl struggling, chained to the wall of a dark basement right now.  Of course, one might expect stalkerish or otherwise odd behavior from a guy who legally changed his name to a piece of punctuation.

What concerns me most, however, are the people who don’t realize a stalker song when they hear it. NO SONG illustrates this more clearly than that wedding standard, that classic “ode to eternal love”, that promise of constancy. Yep, I’m talking about the one, the only “Every Breath You Take” by the Police. I have attended two weddings (against my wishes, mind you) where this was the song played at the altar for the lovely couple.

Did no one in the wedding planning stages ever think to LISTEN TO THE LYRICS? This isn’t a song about a happy relationship blossoming into ripe old age with grandchildren around the rocking chairs on the front porch! This is a ballad to insanity and obsession! I can’t believe it wasn’t the theme song to the all-time scariest stalker movie ever — Fatal Attraction. Just look what the guy says in the first stanza:

Every breath you take
And every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take
I’ll be watching you

He ends EVERY stanza with “I’ll be watching you!” Who is this guy? Santa Claus? If I go to a wedding and see “EBYT” on the program, I’m praying they include that part about speak now or forever hold your peace, because I’m standing up on the pew and screaming “Dude, you are marrying a Glenn Close clone! Fly you fool! Fly!” Notice I said, “Dude” because even though the song is about a guy watching a girl, no guy gets to pick out the music at his wedding so the bride has to be the mental case.

Gentlemen, we have found him, now we just have to bring him in.

So, after all that explanation, I’m back to Adele. I don’t know WHO screwed this girl over, but I can tell you she isn’t happy about it. I can’t say for certain because I haven’t listened to all of her music, but all the songs I have heard have, “stalker chick revenge” written all over them. I mean, if a girl was singing to me, “For me, it isn’t over . . . ” in a smooth calm voice after she has “turned up out of the blue uninvited” because she “couldn’t stay away [she] couldn’t fight it” I am on the first thing smoking bound for Tristan de Cunha and I’m not looking back.

First though, I’m gonna swing by the house and pick up my bunny rabbit. Know what i mean?

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

Great War Wednesday: 1916–Breaker of Nations


The first tanks appeared on the battlefield during 1916.

The year 1916 served as opening night of a danse macabre for which the two preceding years of combat had been mere dress rehearsals. This middle year of the war would see many, if not most of the battles which would become touchstones of nations in their collective memories of the Great War.

At a small French fortress town called Verdun the German High Command would make the ill-fated decision to “bleed France white” and the cream of a generation of two nations would perish before the high walls of the mighty fortress which rang with the battle-cry “ON NE PASSERANT PAS! They shall not pass!” The battle would last most of the year with casualties considered staggering by even the standards of the Great War.

Later in the year, Britain would launch the much rehearsed and anticipated offensive along the Somme River. Pitched by the British military leaders as a backbreaking blow to end the stalemate along the Western Front, the months long Battle of the Somme began with what remains the worst single day of death in the long and storied battle history of the British Isles as 60,000 men — one fifth of the TOTAL British casualties of the twelve year long Napoleonic Wars — died in the battle’s opening act as the British had to face the question of just whose back was being broken.

1916 would see the only full scale engagement between the German High Seas Fleet and the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet in the entire war. What the naval history of World War One lacked in frequency, it made up for in magnitude as The Battle of Jutland became the largest surface-ship-only naval battle in world history.

In the south, Italy and Austria-Hungary would fight five more Battles of the Isonzo River to little effect besides mass carnage. Meanwhile in the East, the Russian bear would awaken in a mighty way and show just what the largest army in the world could do when led by an effective general. In the few short weeks of the Brusilov Offensive, Russia very nearly knocked Austria-Hungary completely out of the war.

The year would see other nations join the war as well with Italy declaring war on Germany in addition to Austria-Hungary and Romania entered the war on the side of the Entente’ powers, a decision she would instantly regret. Still, all eyes looked across the Atlantic to see what the greatest neutral of all — America — would do. Would she stand beside her mother country and fight with the Entente’ or would she side with the Central Powers and crush Britain and France forever? As 1916 progressed, the only certainty was uncertainty.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Review: The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley


Buckley, Christopher T. The Relic Master. New York.
Simon and Schuster. 2015. 380 pgs.

As I begin this review, I have to confess a slight bias. This novel is historical fiction, which happens to be one of my favorite genres AND it is set right at the beginning of the Reformation in Europe, which just happens to be one of my favorite historical periods to read about and study. If author Christopher Buckley wanted to write a book just for me, The Relic Master would do quite nicely.

Dismas is a former Swiss mercenary now earning his bread as a relic finder. His occupation in life is to procure holy relics — items like the bones and other body parts of saints e.g. the jawbone of St. John the Baptist OR something intimately associated with a saint or holy figure such as a piece of the True Cross — for clients among the clergy, nobility, and merchant classes who desire to have something extra holy around the house to shorten their souls’ church-mandated stay in Purgatory.

Our protagonist makes a comfortable living obtaining relics for his various clients but by far his two wealthiest patrons are Fredrick the Wise, Elector of Saxony and his nemesis Albrect, Archbishop of Brandenburg . . . among other purchased titles. Dismas has a good life and he prides himself on always dealing in strictly authentic relics and avoiding fakes and forgeries regardless of how lucrative the payoff or how clever the subterfuge. As long as Dismas adheres to this rigid code of ethical business dealings, his life moves along languidly and mostly uncomplicated. Unfortunately, a personal disaster seems to necessitate a foray into the putrid world of relic forgery and once Dismas steps across his hitherto sacrosanct line, his languid pace of life turns highly complicated.

Just as a read, I enjoyed the novel. It is accurate in the areas it purports to be accurate and for me nothing is worse than slipshod historical references in a supposedly historical novel. Buckley obviously did his research. His writing is expressive, but sparse which actually lends a nicer historical touch to the work. The characters, both historical personages and those purely fictional, are presented as three dimensional and possessing agendas of their own rather than one or two main characters surrounded by a supporting cast of flat, wooden page fillers. Indeed, some of the more minor characters are the most intriguing.

The novel gives a good look at the seedy world of the late medieval Church machinations just before Martin Luther so explosively turned the One True and Holy Church into the Roman Catholic Church on one side and a thousand Protestant denominations on the other. It is briskly paced and engrossing.

On the other hand, the sparse prose leaves little space for description. Settings have to be guessed at just from place names. No real effort goes into showing the medieval countryside, but I may notice that only because I’m interested in seeing the medieval countryside. All told, however, The Relic Master is well worth the short time it will take to read it.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

They Touched the Face of God

Standard was a freshman at Laurens District 55 High School on a bright, bitterly cold day in 1986. My third period class, just before lunch, was Honors English I with Dr. King. She told us anyone who wanted to could go get their lunches and bring them back to eat in her classroom. She’d gotten a TV from the library and had it all set up to watch the Space Shuttle Challenger carry a civilian — a TEACHER — into space.

I remember the line I picked was more crowded than usual so I was later getting my lunch tray than some of my classmates. When I walked back into Dr. King’s classroom, all behind schedule, she was sitting at her desk with tears creeping down her cheeks and the handful of my friends who’d gotten there on time sat in stunned silence staring at the television set.

I walked closer and got to an angle where I could see the screen and close enough to hear the announcer. That’s when I saw the now infamous smoke plumes hanging in the azure Florida sky. The man on the news keep repeating something like, “It seems a serious malfunction has occurred with Challenger. We don’t know what has become of the crew.”

I remember the room being quieter than the grave . . . more silent than I thought I would ever hear a high school classroom become in my life. Unfortunately, I was wrong on that count because 15 years later, I was the one weeping silently on a day in early September as my normally rowdy first block English II class sat in stony and complete silence watching another pair of explosions play over and over again on a much newer television.

As a young teenager, I had no idea how to process the Challenger disaster. We didn’t know at the time, it would be later in the day when the crew cabin was located, that the entire crew was dead. I didn’t know what to do with such public death. To be honest, I hadn’t been exposed to much death at that age. All my grandparents were very much alive, as were a slew of beloved great-aunts and great-uncles and other extended family galore. I certainly couldn’t understand the magnitude of an event like this.

I remember the rest of the day being subdued, which was always unusual in our public high school. I finished classes and wrestling practice then went Granny and Papa Wham’s house where a newfangled television network called CNN played footage of the explosion over and over. The three of us ate supper and both Granny and Papa talked about other times such a huge event had happened in their lives like the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the day FDR died. On the ride to Fountain Inn earlier in the afternoon, Mama told me she remembered exactly where she was (the gym at Gray Court Owings School) and what she was doing (playing four square) when the principal announced JFK had been assassinated.

Now I could join the adults. I had a touchstone event in my life, a “where were you when” moment. I wish that moment hadn’t come at the expense of seven lives. I remember that night watching President Reagan as he gave his speech and said,

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honoured us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’

In the thirty years since that fateful January moment as a freshman in high school, I’ve been witness to other monumentally historic events. I lay in the floor, again at Granny and Papa’s, and watched the Berlin Wall fall. I saw the horrific events of 9-11-2001. Worse, I sat with eerie feelings of deja vu in 2003 watching the coverage of the Columbia shuttle disaster, but nothing hit me quite as hard as watching Challenger explode on tv seemingly thousands of times. I guess because it happened when I was young enough to still believe the world was a bright and good place and the shock of seeing that it wasn’t stuck with me the longest.

So, help me remember those seven brave men and women now thirty years gone and also remember I love y’all, and keep those feet clean.

Adventures in Babysitting


Josie Golden, her three children and husband late at night when the youngsters should be in bedBudge and I undertook one of the longest and wildest trips ever outside our comfort zones this past weekend. Some friends of ours wished to attend a retreat for our church leaders in Asheville, NC. Unfortunately for them, they don’t have any extended family living nearby to take care of babysitting duties. I was feeling particularly magnanimous so I offered our services to watch their children at their home while they attended the two day retreat. Although stunned and somewhat skeptical at first, they eventually realized we were sincere and we made final plans to look after the children from Thursday afternoon until Saturday afternoon.

All FIVE of them, ages 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2. Three older girls followed by two boys.

As I’ve mentioned before, Budge and I have no children. It’s not that we never wanted any because we discussed having children before we married and as several of the new couples in our circle of friends at the time began having families, we waited for the little dot to turn into a plus sign for us as well, but it never did. We agreed once it looked like we wouldn’t be having children naturally that we didn’t want to pursue fertility routes and we had a couple of reasons.

First of all, fertility treatment is ungodly expensive in both money and effort. At the time, Budge was in college and I was teaching  high school so we had neither the money nor the time to put in and as we grew older and both were teaching, it was apparent that even with a double teacher salary, we’d still be strapped to afford the cost of anything other than just the most basic treatments and we both knew given our medical history of weirdness, the likelihood of a simple fix was on par with the likelihood of Switzerland starting the next world war.

Our second reason was based on observation. We’d seen other infertile couples go the route of medical intervention and not only end up nearly bankrupt, but also at one another’s throats. We saw infertility split up two couples, but what happened to a third couple was even worse. They finally got the natural child of their dreams and promptly made her the center of their universe. No child deserves that level of pressure. The girl is a tween today and she is, predictably, a holy terror — spoiled, arrogant, selfish, and able to wring whatever she wants from doting parents who remember how hard it was to get her.

We decided neither one of us wanted that.

We thought about adoption, but at first it was a serious money issue as well. Then, by the time we got the money part sorted, we realized through some preliminary research it would be a waste of time to apply with my load of mental health issues and Budge’s physical health troubles. So, we have happily resigned ourselves to being fuzzy baby parents and one of us dying alone in a nursing home forgotten and unloved.

But, I digress.

We got to our duty station around five on Thursday and left around five on Saturday afternoon. In the interim, we learned a tremendous amount about just exactly we’d missed out on for years. The first thing I noticed is five children consume more food in a shorter time than a plague of locusts. Mom left a roasted pork loin which seemed to have belonged to some prehistoric piggus giganticus extremlius for the main course and a small produce department’s worth of roasted veggies for sides. One look at the spread and I thought we would eat off such a massive amount of food for our entire time sitting.

It lasted one meal and everyone would gladly have eaten more. You can’t fill these kids up! Every day at ten and two they had a snack scheduled. Among the five of them, they ate more for a snack than some small countries produce in all agricultural endeavors and NONE of them is the tiniest bit obese. I nearly hit the floor when Mom and Dad told us an average food bill for a month once they got back on Saturday. Their FOOD BILL is more than our MORTGAGE and Mom is an amazingly frugal shopper!

Budge learned, to her dismay, children do not understand the concept of “sleeping in.” I had to go home each night because Keaudee has to go out at midnight and again at six in the morning so Budge caught the first light duty alone.

My wife is a wonderful human being, but saying she is not a morning person is a bit like saying a hurricane is not a normal wind. It doesn’t do the reality justice. She has to EASE into the day. I call her five times at seven minute intervals to gently get her up and ready for school. She was not prepared for mornings at this home.

The children are trained that they may not leave their rooms until seven AM regardless of what time they wake up. An alarm actually sounds when they can leave their beds. If you have ever been to a greyhound track you have a good general idea of the first fifteen minutes of morning at this home. The seven o’clock alarm bell sounds and five doors swing open in unison as ten pattering feet scramble down two flights of steps to the kitchen where everyone starts putting in breakfast orders all at once. Only after a forty acre field of cereal grains and a tanker truckload of milk disappears down five precious gullets does anything start to move in order.

Budge was standing stunned in the kitchen by the time I got there at eight both mornings. could go on about the amazing amount of energy in a house with five children and how routines and lists and chores were all that saved us from curling up in the fetal position and sucking our thumbs in gibbering madness, but you get the general idea. I have to say it was an amazing time though.

Through our babysitting challenge I learned somethings about myself. I learned I take silence for granted. I spend most of my day most of my days alone and unless I talk to myself, it is silent. Budge and I sit in silence each evening reading or watching DVRed television. In a home with five children, silence is non-existent even during mandatory “quiet time!” Someone is always talking or singing or snoring, but it’s never quiet.

I also learned I’m more selfish than I thought I was. I love these five kids. They really are GREAT kids who have been raised with a great amount of intentionality by two very dedicated parents, but they ALWAYS need SOMETHING. One needs homework help, another needs help finding a shoe, and yet another needs a diaper changed. I was in constant “helping mode” and I have a new respect for parents because when you become a parent, your idea of “me time” changes drastically. Budge and I just caught up with everything we wanted to tell each other YESTERDAY afternoon because when you are acting as ringmaster for a five child circus, you barely have time for a quick, “Hi, sweetie!” Much less any real communication.

Still, in the end I wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything. We managed to successfully keep all the house walls standing and no one lost any blood, so we were hailed as a rousingly successful pair by the Mom and Dad. Now part of me can’t wait to do it again, but another part of me is chasing that first part down with a hatchet and I think violence may occur . . . not unlike being in a house with five children!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

I’ll Get By . . . . .

Standard Franklin once said the only sure things in this world are death and taxes. Ol’ Ben was right except before death comes sickness and along with sickness comes medical bills. So, I guess this day and time the only things sure are being taxed to death while owing medical bills all the way to the grave.

I’m in such a queue right now.

Last year was one of the worst years Budge and I have endured medically. It seems everyone got sick. Budge found out about a severe iron deficiency she has which has to be treated by iron infusions twice yearly and believe you me, the center doing the infusions is EXTREMELY proud of their product. Then, I had my carpal tunnel surgery and while I am pain free and feeling like a champ since my wrists don’t seize up on me anymore causing my hands to open so that I just drop whatever I’m holding, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome abatement it turns out ain’t cheap. Even the fuzzy babies haven’t been immune. We even lost my beloved Suki to cancer just last month.

It’s been a tough year and we’ve got a couple of thousand dollars in medical bills and vet bills stacked up against us. I’m extremely thankful we do have medical insurance, but while I was under the impression medical co-pays and medical bills were going to get LESS expensive under the banner of Obamacare, it seems the exact opposite has occurred.It really sucks., there’s the taxes. Now I don’t know what genius in the government (is that a mutually exclusive statement?) decided having property taxes due in January was a capital idea! Let’s see, we just got through the holidays, income taxes will be due any time now, so how else can we mess with the citizens’ heads? Oh, oh, oh! I know! Let’s have a couple of hundred dollars of property taxes due RIGHT AFTER all the end of the year financial outlay!

So here’s the deal, amigos. I’m casting about for ways to make up a deficit in our household budget and unlike my government, I can’t just print more money and pay everyone off. I also don’t have anyone or anytwo or anythree for that matter whom I would dare approach and ask for a couple thousand dollars to tackle that deficit.

However, I’ve been thinking and while I don’t know anyone with the resources to help me out individually, I’ve got over 2,000 followers for this blog, such as it is. So, I’m bringing my case to y’all. According to my math 1 x $2,000 = 2,000 x $1. I’ve got a tip jar up and running to a PayPal account and while I hate asking anyone for anything, when the ox gets in a ditch, some of us have to take a big ol’ bite out of our pride and ego and let the need be known.

So what I’m asking is, any of you who don’t mind or who think I’m worth it or whom I may have made laugh or think sometime in the last eight years, could you be bothered to drop a digital buck into my tip jar? I appreciate anything and honestly, if I don’t get a dime, I’ll still feel the same way about all y’all. You’re my audience — my congregation if you will — and I’m going to pass my hat around and hope for the best.

Thanks, everyone. I hope your 2016 is off to a great start. Love y’all! Keep those feet clean.

A Non-Ironic Christmas Miracle

Standard’ve been having a terrible holiday season. Thanksgiving was wonderful but ever since that glorious meal and day of hanging out with friends like family my mood and emotions have slowly and inexorably skidded towards a new nadir. I always write a Christmas post and honestly I had planned something even more cynical than last year’s. I feel like sandpapered bare nerves and figured I may as well take my massive (ha,ha) readership down with me.

Then, I some news rocked me back on my heels and got me to thinking beyond twinkling lights that keep blowing, decorations that never made it to the tree, and all the presents I couldn’t afford to buy this year. I got some news and it made me shut my cynical, downward spiraling mouth until I could open it in wonder and say to myself, “Damn, if that’s not Christmas, I don’t know what is.”

I’m leaving out all the names in this story because it is so highly personal to those involved. In doing so, however, I fear some may see my concern for another’s privacy as a cheap way of passing off a lie. If you believe I’m lying about this story, I pity you because you have grown more cynical and jaded than I have. I’m trying to protect the dignity of a person who doesn’t even know I exist and if you think that’s lying, I can’t help you.

This concerns the granddaughter of a precious acquaintance of mine. This sweet young lady whom I have only seen in pictures at my friend’s home is a freshman at a Midwestern college who currently attends said institution on a full scholarship. She comes from a wonderful family, had a reasonably good upbringing, got into the usual teenage mischief, but is overall a lovely young lady, if completely unremarkable in most ways. When I say she is unremarkable, I don’t mean she isn’t special or talented or she doesn’t stand out in any way, but she is much like the rest of her tribe of young college students. If I gave her name, it wouldn’t ring any bells to anyone outside her immediate family and circle of friends, I’m sure. In a very good way, she is simply average.

Several weeks ago, this wonderfully average girl was in her room studying for classes when her suite-mates announced their room was to soon become the epicenter of a spirited get-together. This lovely girl wasn’t too thrilled about having her study time interrupted by an impromptu party, but she realized those are the memory making moments of college which last so she didn’t protest much.

By-the-by, friends and acquaintances, classmates and dorm-mates began to arrive and a wonderful time of eating and listening to music, etc was had by all. Whether or not any underage drinking occurred is anyone’s guess but I can say with absolute authority the young lady in question emphatically did NOT partake of anything alcoholic, much less to extreme because her scholarship depends on an extremely high level of training and fitness and her coach does not tolerate hangovers.

So, at an appropriate hour, or maybe somewhat past, the suite-mates decide the gathering had run its course and started breaking up the festivities. Our girl walked a few friends out of the building then returned to her apartment, said goodnight to the few remaining guests and — claiming fatigue — retired to her bedroom where she changed into flannel pjs, crawled into bed, pulled the covers up and went soundly to sleep. When she awoke the next morning, she was in basically the same position, same clothes, same bed, same everything.

When she got up, she did notice she was really sore, but she didn’t think much of it because training for her sport had begun in earnest and a modicum of soreness was expected at this point in the season. When the ache went away by the next day, she didn’t give it anymore thought.

Fast-forward four or five weeks and she’s feeling a touch under the weather. Nothing terrible and she figures it might be her body adjusting to the new climate. Still, to be safe, she went to the infirmary where a very efficient nurse practitioner checked her out and took a blood sample before sending her home with an antibiotic.

Two days later, she got the call from the infirmary which would change her life and the life of her family forever. A lot of us think we’ve gotten such a call . . . this young woman did. The very efficient nurse practitioner was on the phone and basically ordered her to return to the infirmary . When she arrived at the clinic, she asked what the problem with her blood tests was. The very efficient nurse practitioner then point-blank informed this young lady all alone and miles from any of the support systems she knew and adored she was several weeks pregnant.

That was impossible she told the nurse. She absolutely couldn’t be pregnant because she was, in fact, a virgin. She didn’t even have a boyfriend! Somehow a mistake had to have occurred, but upon a thorough exam, she realized there had been no mistake. She was no longer a virgin. She WAS pregnant.

When the shock wore off enough for her to contact her family, her mother came out and along with her roommates they began to piece together what had happened. To cut a rapidly growing story somewhat short, this girl had been drugged or “roofied” at the party weeks before, stripped, raped while unconscious, then re-dressed and tucked back in bed as though nothing happened. What’s more, the roommates were certain of the culprit because he had apparently been accused of this action before.

Now, this girl and her family are solid Christians, but even so, the most staunch pro-lifers are against abortion “EXCEPT in the case of incest, rape, or danger to the mother.” OBVIOUSLY this was a case squarely in the “exception clause.” Of course she was going to have an abortion. The school even offered to pay for it for her so she wouldn’t be out any money. They would work on prosecuting the offender, but no one expected her to keep this child. It was a RAPE BABY! Everyone would understand. It was the right course of action to take.

Here’s where the story turns from anger inducing to miracle working. She said, “No.” Simple as that. NO. She wasn’t having an abortion. Furthermore, she is not giving the baby up for adoption once he or she is born. She plans to keep and raise her baby.

Obviously, to just about everyone around her this is nothing short of insane. She’s a freshman in college. How is she going to manage a baby as an unmarried single mom in school? What about her reputation? What about the father? What about the hundreds of other “What abouts” to consider? Well, she considered them and decided to have and keep her baby.

The university is working with her hand in glove. She’s being given a leave of absence until the baby arrives at which time a court ordered paternity test will take care of the question of the father. Her scholarship is safely intact. Still, nothing in her life is ever going to be the same. All the plans she had mapped out, all the hopes and dreams now have to be completely overhauled. She will endure ridicule and scorn from now on because in any crowd some people will always rush to believe the worst about someone. She’ll be accused of “asking for it.” Her life will be on trial even though she’s done nothing. Some people will claim she’s using the baby for monetary gain because the rapist father is the scion of a hugely prominent and wealthy family in that state.

From now on, no matter what she does, she’s going to carry a stigma. She’s going to be “That Girl,” but she’s also carrying a baby. I guess 999 of 1000 women or more would have gone with the abortion and WHO COULD BLAME THEM? To this girl, however, aborting the baby would be tantamount to blaming him (or her) for the heinous crime the father committed. She refuses to do that. The world sees a rape baby, fit for — at best — being given up for adoption.

She sees her son (or daughter) and THAT is what hit me so hard.

2000 years ago and half a world away, another lovely young lady, also completely unremarkable in most ways and also a virgin found out SHE was pregnant. She, at least, was warned by an angel, but I’m thinking it didn’t help much in the end. As soon as she began to show, tongues started flapping. Obviously she was a harlot! She must have done something to bring this on herself! Her betrothed had the right to have her killed by stoning, but he chose instead to just “put her away”, an euphemism for divorce. Another visit by another angel changed HIS mind and together they had that baby and the Apostle Luke says she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger because there was no room in the local inn. They became a family right in the middle of a storm of scandal.

“The Holy Spirit?!” “Right!” “A VIRGIN!! Her?!” “Right.” That mother and her little baby were haunted by people who thought for absolute certainty they knew more than they did and weren’t afraid to spread their venom far and wide. Even today, 2000 years later, it hasn’t stopped. Scientists, philosophers, and great men of all stripes still say it couldn’t have happened. One major theory for all 20 centuries was this lovely young lady, completely unremarkable in most ways was raped by a Roman soldier, got pregnant, and tried to cover it up with the most unbelievable story possible and make herself the center of a new religion in the process because in any crowd some people will always rush to believe the worst about someone and refuse to believe otherwise.

By the way, spare me all the stories of the pagan roots of the Christmas celebrations — I know them, studied them, and even taught classes about them. I know, as do most thoughtful Christians, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25, 1 AD so save all your science and your scorn. Keep your bigoted opinions to yourself because I’ve been there, I’ve got the scars, and I bought the t-shirt with all that cynical drivel writ large upon it and I came to realize one thing:

Christmas isn’t about a date on a calendar; it’s about a babe in a manger. It’s not about the gifts we give each other but about The Gift a loving God gave to a world dying in sin; “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son and whosoever will believe in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” So, to quote an adorable little cartoon guy with a red shirt and a blue blanket, “THAT’S what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Love y’all, keep your feet clean, and have a very Merry Christmas.

It’s Time for the Force to Awaken

Standard post is mostly a rerun, but with Episode VII: The Force Awakens hitting the theaters this week, it seems appropriate. I’m planning to see the film as soon as the initial insanity settles down a little. Crowds scare me more than they did when I was on top of that Pontiac almost 40 years ago now. I’m going to see this one though. I may even go to Greenwood where a nice drive-in theater is still operating. I think it would bring the whole experience full circle for me. I’ll let y’all know what I think as soon as I see it.

A long time ago at a drive-in theater long since buried under an I-85 interchange, a great adventure took place. It was the summer of 1977 and I sat on the roof of Mama’s 1973 Pontiac Grand Prix hugging a speaker and watching the huge Imperial Star Destroyer Devastator inexorably close in on the tiny, defenseless Tantive IV. Three years later, Daddy and Teresa took me to the now defunct Astro Twin on Pleasantburg Drive where I watched Luke Skywalker battle the evil Darth Vader right before the greatest plot twist surprise in cinema history. Then, as a high school freshman, Robby and I sat in the — once again, defunct — Oaks Theater in Laurens to see Luke reunited with his friends amidst a sea of dancing teddy bears.

Star Wars played a MONUMENTAL role in my childhood and the childhoods of a big chunk of my generation. To give you an idea of just what a cultural touchstone those films are to Gen-Xers everywhere, when I called one of my college roommates to tell him I was marrying a girl born in 1978, the first thought out of his mouth was not “Congratulations” or anything like it. Instead, Chris Hoppe shouted at me, “1978! Good God, Wham! She’s never seen Star Wars at the movie theater!” He was right, of course, so as soon as Budge and I left the theater in the summer of 1997 after watching the re-release of Star Wars: A New Hope, I called him up to let him know my beloved was now bona fide.

If some of you who are younger want something to compare the effect of the Star Wars movies and associated phenomena had on us who are now fortysomethings just think how you felt when you found out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was going to be turned into a movie and then waiting for each of the succeeding films. It’s pretty much like that.

Now, if George Lucas had possessed the sense to get a prenuptial agreement with his wife, the Star Wars universe would probably have remained the exclusive unsullied cultural icon for Generation X. Unfortunately, the erstwhile Mrs. Lucas took ol’ George to the cleaners financially leaving him in relatively bad straits — no small feat to nearly bankrupt a man responsible of Luke Skywalker AND Indiana Jones. So, rumors started flying around the newly-burgeoning internet about something none of us Baby Boomer Babies ever dreamed we’d live to see — George Lucas was going to MAKE THE PREQUELS!!

Whatsa pissa poopsa!

Whatsa pissa poopsa!

So it was I sat in Theater 6 of The Hollywood 20 Theater with Budge on May 19, 1999 and watched the familiar opening crawl wind its way up the screen. I was more excited about a movie than I’d ever been or ever would be . . . at least until 2001 when I waited in line for hours to get tickets to Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I quickly lost myself in the film’s first fifteen minutes; I was a kid again on the roof of that ’73 Grand Prix. Then, out of the murky green depths of one of the many planets in the Star Wars universe, disaster overtook my beloved franchise. Jar-Jar Binks appeared on the screen. Since Jar-Jar hate is widely documented, I’m not going to waste your time adding my opinions, but let’s just say, when it comes to all the negative things said about the bumbling Gungan, “I concur and then some.” I was delighted and crushed when the movie ended — delighted it was finally over and crushed that I’d waited 22 years for such a turd to plop onto my lovely memories.

Again, to give you an idea, imagine they made the first several Harry Potter movies as you remember them then, for whatever reason, they replaced Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson with Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, and Tina Fey. It not only wouldn’t be the same, it would be a type of sacrilege bad enough to get one burned at the stake in Medieval Europe. Heresy is not too strong a word. I was in physical pain by the time Phantom Menace ended. My childhood didn’t just die on screen, it was hung, drawn, and quartered.

After Phantom Menace, I realized Lucas was just going for money so I didn’t bother to see Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith. I figured it would be a waste of time. In all honesty, I do wish I’d seen RotS on the big screen though, just to see the climactic fight on Mustafar between Obi-Wan and Anakin, but since that’s the only part of the movie I care anything about, I’ve just learned to content myself with YouTube. As a side note, if the prequels hadn’t shown Lucas’ money-making bias, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull proved to me he had completely blown up the refrigerator.

The cast . . .

The cast . . .

Well, Lucas sold the beloved space opera franchise to the ONE entity more concerned with money than he is — Disney. Less than a year after the sale, The Mouse has announced Episodes VII, VIII, and IX are in the works with Episode VII to be released next year, probably around Christmas. Today, the official casting announcements came out. The good news is Han, Luke, and Leia are all back aboard although I wonder if Harrison Ford will live long enough to finish all three films. The bad news is JJ Abrams is directing and co-producing Episode VII. So, this movie could be absolutely amazing with incredible visual effects and only slightly less boom and bang than a Michael Bay CGI-fest OR we could end up at the end of Episode IX discovering the entire nine film series actually took place in the imagination of some homeless Earth kid playing with broken action figures someone left lying in the park. To anyone who thinks I’m being silly and overreacting I can only reply with two words: Lost finale.

Hopefully though, the number of original cast members along with the addition of Gollum will pull the final three movies in the Star Wars nonology through. At least John Williams is doing the scores!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Great War Wednesday: Looking Back on 1915


Painting of the Second Battle of Ypres, 1915

In many ways, 1915 is the redheaded stepchild of the Great War. It’s not that nothing happened during the year; a great many spectacular things took place such as the introduction of poison gas onto the battlefield, a ramping up of war in the air, and the perfection of trench warfare. It was also the year of several great battles, but none of them have yet attained the historical cachet awarded to other clashes.

This was the year the armies settled into the bloody, futile routine of trench warfare. No-man’s Land became a byword and propaganda fulled the fires of hatred between the British Tommies, German Fritzes, and Ottoman Johnny Turks. Most notably, when Christmas 1915 arrived, no one tried to meet in the middle of the wasteland between trenches for a friendly game of football. The war rolled on as usual; it was a time of tremendous bloodshed.

1915 saw Loos, Artois, Champagne, and 2nd Ypres become bloody battlefields on the Western Front while the East saw slaughter in the Caucasus Mountains and the historic Great Retreat of the Russians. The Ottoman Empire joined the war and Churchill convinced the Entente Powers to launch the monumentally disastrous Gallipoli Campaign which helped draw world attention away from the tragedy of the Armenian Genocide the Ottomans were perpetrating at the same time.

Italy joined the war when the Entente finally convinced her she would gain more in an Entente victory than if she threw in with the Central Powers. Shortly after her entry the First Battle of the Isonzo River made that alpine stream run red. Before 1915 ended, Italy and Austria-Hungary would fight the Second, Third, and Fourth Battles of the Isonzo and before the Armistice ended the War, these two enemies would fight SIX MORE battles up and down that river valley where trenches could only be dug with dynamite and rock shrapnel mixed with steel to increase the deadliness of any bombardment.

In the air, German Ace Max Immelmann began writing the book on aerial combat and though he would die in a hail of bullets and a flaming crash, his Immelmann Turn would outlive him and be the great legacy of the lonely Eagle of Lille. It was also in 1915 the Fokker Scourge utilizing the Fokker Eindecker single wing aircraft would drive the Entente pilots from the skies in droves and for a time, Germany held complete sway over the air.

On the seas, Germany unleashed her U-boats and they proved greatly effective so long as they refused to abide by standard rules of naval warfare and alert the ship they intended to sink. This “unrestricted” submarine warfare eventually lead to the sinking of the famous Lusitania British liner with the loss of over 100 American lives and very nearly brought America into the war three years before she would eventually join.

Other than the U-boats, however, the sea was generally a quiet place. Some commerce raiding took place on both sides, but the British Home Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet would both remain in port watching and waiting for some great encounter.

So 1915 was far from uneventful, but the actions of the year remain largely footnotes in the history of World War One not because they were unimportant, but because all the battles of 1915 paled in comparison to what was to come in 1916 — the year contemporary writers called “The Breaker of Nations.” 1916 would see the main great naval battle finally take place at Jutland, but most of all, it would be ruled by two words: Verdun and Somme.

This is the last Great War Wednesday post of the year. I’ll pick back up in January or early February to look at the events of 1916. Until then, have a great new year and keep your feet clean.