#TBT: Welcome to the World, Baby Boy!


Mason Benjamin Wham, Age 27 hours

This post originally appeared November 20, 2010 when my little nephew was born. Today is his sixth birthday.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I be permitted to introduce the first new addition to the Frank B. Wham, Sr. branch of Whams in about 22 years! Meet Mason Benjamin Wham, the absolutely beautiful fruit of my younger brother, Nick’s loins and the result of the hard work of Kerry, my sister-in-law.

He is, of course, flawless in every way and has already scored perfect marks on all his newborn tests. Depending on who one asks, he arrived a week early (by Sissy’s account) or two weeks early (by Dr. Keller’s account). It’s actually a good thing he decided to come on and make his debut because as it was, he was 8 lbs. 7 oz and 20 inches long. A week or two more of floating around and growing and he would have been a hoss sure enough. As it is, he fits perfectly into the crook of an arm and weighs about the same as a large bag of sugar and is just as sweet.

Nick and Sissy brought him home today and I’ll need to be going over there before long to help get him settled in. In all likelihood, he’ll never see the inside of a day care since Nick’s mother, Teresa, is “conveniently” unemployed due to cutbacks at her former office. Daddy is absolutely about to explode with pride over his first (and if Sissy is to be believed, his last) grandchild. I think Teresa may have to sew new buttons on all of his shirts to replace the ones he burst upon Mason’s arrival.

One funny story about his birth. No one told my brother that babies don’t automatically start breathing as soon as they clear the birth canal; so, there he was coaching and waiting like a good new father when Mason pretty much popped into the doctor’s hands. According to Nick, “He was as blue as my blue jeans and he wasn’t breathing. I sank to my knees certain that my son was still born.” Luckily for all of us, a little suction at the nose and mouth and Mason announced his arrival into the world with a set of lungs that would have made his Granny Wham very proud. He also has no problems nursing and has shown a definite appreciation for George Jones songs.

I think he’s perfect.

And here he is six years later! Happy Birthday, little Red!


Veterans’ Day 2015


https://tce-live2.s3.amazonaws.com/media/media/a8dde221-64c3-48cf-b6d0-248d0ce4d539.jpgIn Flanders Fields
By: Lt. Col. John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

From one who has never known the smell of battle and the stench of blood and fear to every veteran of every American war, popular and unpopular, won or lost, concluded or continuing, thank you so much for risking your lives and many times giving your lives in the service of your country. You did not ask if the fight was a cause you believed in for it was enough that you believed in the country that gave the call.

Bless you, each and every one of you.

I’d wash all y’all’s tired feet if I could.

Thank you again. Love y’all.

Great War Wednesday: Heads Up


Zouave in 1914 kit.

It’s a safe bet to say no one was ready for World War I. The last time Europe erupted in a continent-wide conflagration, a Corsican artillery corporal was the one who lit the flame. One hundred years of relative peace saw great progress in weapons technology, but other areas lagged conspicuously far behind. Nowhere on the battlefield was the state of general unpreparedness more obvious than the uniforms all the combatants marched off to war clothed in.

The French cavalry famously wore uniforms almost indistinguishable from those Napoleon’s famous cuirassiers had worn on the field at Waterloo. The French also fielded several of their Zouaves regiments still wearing their distinctive brilliant red flowing pantaloons in 1914 and 1915.

For their part, the British had learned from the Zulu Wars and the two Boer Wars how foolish their traditional bright red coats were on even a semi-modern battlefield. As a result of heavy casualties in those engagements, especially to officers, they wisely marched off to the Western Front wearing khaki colored kits. Unfortunately, while khaki is a marvelous camouflage in the Transvaal of Africa, it sticks out like a duck in a hen coop on the green fields of Flanders.


The wool Kepi hat, standard issue 1914-1916

Brightly colored uniforms aside, all the combatants shared one flaw in their strategy for protecting their soldiers — no one wore helmets. Helmets or “helms” had once been the crowning piece of any worthy soldier’s kit. Knights of course wore elaborate face-encompassing tubs of metal, but even the lowliest archer or pikeman would have some sort of iron or at least boiled leather pot to guard his pate.

Unfortunately, the advent of gunpowder spelled the doom of the helmet. Commanders reasoned, quite logically, that any helm capable of stopping a bullet would prove entirely too heavy and cumbersome for soldiers to wear with any regularity. As a result, the substantial protective headgear gave way to more elaborately colored and beplumed “shakos” which enabled generals to keep track of their troops in the smoke and fog of battle. For 200 years, the helmet, if it was worn at all, was a ceremonial headpiece at best. So things stood at the outset of the Great War as the French marched off in their traditional white wool “kepis” while the Brits wore soft flannel field caps into the early battles.


The distinctly Prussian pickelhaub

By the middle of 1915, however, trench warfare had set in in earnest and officers began noticing a new type of injury causing great casualties among the men. Whenever the massive field guns’ shells exploded near the lines, they would fling great plumes of rock, soil, and shrapnel into the air — often to great heights. As men like Galileo and Newton proved throughout the centuries, what went up was going to come down . . . HARD. A man might not be harmed in the least by the blast from a Bertha, but the fist sized rock she kicked up falling from a quarter of a mile high onto his cute little kepi would do a number on the old brain pan. Helmets started making a rapid comeback.

The Germans were at the forefront of helmet development having been the only power to enter the war with some semblance of one already — the iconic “pickelhaub” with its prominent central spike. The spiked helm was more for looks, however, so the Germans began development on a three piece forged helmet with a modest visor and a defined skirt at the back protecting the wearer’s neck. This became the famous “stahlhelm” which would serve with distinction throughout the Great War and later be a symbol of the Nazi regime during World War 2.


A “B” pattern Brodie helmet.

Across the Channel, the British developed the Brodie Helmet which became the stereotypical look of the British infantry “Tommies” during the War. The Brodie, unlike the stahlhelm was stamped from a single piece of steel instead of being meticulous fitted together. As a result, the Brodie could be turned out in much greater numbers at a greater rate enabling the British Expeditionary Force to be fully fitted out with helmets before any other army.

The Brodie was a practical design which hearkened back to medieval yeomen’s helmets. It was a shallow dome covering the head and sported a wide brim all the way round designed to shield the neck and face from falling debris in the trenches. The first production Brodie helmets had a bit larger brim than the later standard models, but High Command realized through early trials that the wider brim made it difficult for the men to aim their weapons from a prone, or lying down, position. The Brodie would later become the standard helmet for America’s doughboys and dogfaces upon the United State’s entry into the war.


French Adrian helmet of 1916

Other countries adopted their own versions — with modifications — of the stahlhelm and the Brodie depending on which side they were fighting. The French drug their feet the longest and it was actually the middle of 1916 before they exchanged their useless kepis for their version of the Brodie called the Adrian helmet which had a bit narrower brim but a more rounded cup over the head.

As soon as helmets started appearing in the trenches commanders noticed casualties from falling debris began to decline. In 1914 – middle 1915, the most common fatal injury was from falling projectiles. Once helmets appeared in sizable numbers, those injuries declined by two thirds and fatalities by around half.Of course, like their late medieval forebears, none of the helmets would stop a bullet, but such was not in their design. Instead, they kept the rocks and mound of dirt the guns kicked up from cracking the skulls of the men ducking down in the trenches.

One thing both sides had in common was that, while all of the helmets produced sported chinstraps, they were universally removed, tucked up, strapped over the top of the helm, and basically placed anywhere but fastened securely below one’s chin. The reason for this reluctance to wear one’s helmet fastened with its chinstrap has its roots in battlefield apocrypha. Apparently, someone at sometime, maybe he was English or perhaps Hungarian possibly even Russian, but whoever he was, he saw a comrade decapitated by a shell blast because the overpressure of the blast caught the helmet — securely fastened by the chinstrap — and ripped it from the poor soul’s head taking said head along with it. Something no one seems to ever question is the fact that any shell landing close enough to decapitate a helmet and chinstrap wearing soldier is probably going to be close enough that the helmet is just an afterthought.

Hope you enjoyed this week’s Great War post.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

#TBT Halloween at Aunt Nell’s


This post originally ran on October 31, 2009

When I was growing up, we lived in the back forty acres of the boondocks. I took some friends home from college to meet my mama over the holidays once and two of them swore we lived in a different time zone, if not another space time continuum. Living that far from nowhere meant that social events were scarce, but for a kid with a sugar craving on All Saint’s Eve, it was death. I LITERALLY had no where within walking distance of my house and we lived so far out we’d have to eat all the candy we got driving around just to survive the trip. So in the era of my childhood, preceding all the newfangled “Trunk or Treats” , the highlight of Halloween for me, my brother’s generation, and my dad’s generation was the annual trip to Greenpond to visit Aunt Nell and drink her Witch’s Brew.

the boys at halloween

Twenty or so years ago in Greenpond. My baby first cousin, Blake, is the Blue Dinosaur; my brother, Nick, is the redhead behind him; Aunt Nell is in the witch’s costume; my second cousin, Anna, is next to Aunt Nell and is holding a child I don’t recognize; and Zach, my oldest first cousin, is standing behind Anna.

See, when Daddy and Aunt Cathy, as well as all the First Cousins, were children, they lived in the boonies as well; so they didn’t have anywhere to get candy on Halloween either. In an effort to give the children somewhere to wear their costumes and get some candy, Papa Wham’s sister, my great-Aunt Nell, started dressing up in a witch’s costume on Halloween and hosting a small gathering. She’d put a huge (well, huge for a five year old) cauldron of what she swore was witch’s brew on an open fire in front of her open and detached garage then pop up a huge amount of pop corn and lay out a great stock of candies.

Children — first my daddy’s generation, then mine — would come with their parents and eat popcorn and run around the pitch black yard in our costumes playing hide and seek until we vomited. It was our unofficial family reunion and most Halloween nights, just about every lineal descendant of Granny Mattie would make their way up Aunt Nell’s winding driveway. Rain or shine, she always turned out.

The Witch of Greenpond became pretty much a local legend. Aunt Nell made the cover of the local weekly newspapers and in all the years I can remember, she never missed a Halloween. Unfortunately, time comes for us all, even good witches, and the year finally arrived when Aunt Nell simply couldn’t take on the night’s festivities. Alzheimer’s Disease had robbed her of the memory of the wonderful times she’d given all of us and the rest of the rural children of the surrounding countryside.

That year, about six or seven years ago now, I think, the pointed hat was passed. Anna, the adorable little blonde standing next to Aunt Nell in the picture, took up the mantle of the Greenpond Witch from her grandmother. Now she presides over the ceremony that has meant so much to so many people for so long. Now, rain or shine (and tonight was a frog-floater) the cauldron still gets lit and the children still come to eat popcorn, chase each other, and drink a cup of Witch’s Brew . . . which still tastes suspiciously like cherry Kool-Aid.

Happy Halloween, y’all, and don’t forget to wash your feet after you come in from trick or treating!

Since this story originally ran and sadly for us all who remember her so fondly, Aunt Nell lost her battle with Alzheimer’s and has passed on to her reward; now Anna is grown, married, and has a new little warlock on the way, but as far as I know, she’s still the reigning Greenpond Witch.

Great War Wednesday: A Most Perfidous Weapon


http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02871/Barbed-wire_2871765c.jpgWorld War I was the proving ground for a great number of new weapon systems. Machine guns entered widespread usage. Artillery improved to the pinnacle of its deadliness. Submarines and airplanes made their debut on the big stage, and poison gas wasn’t just for use against tribal natives anymore.

Oddly enough, however, one weapon which, along with the shovel, proved effective beyond belief was never meant to be a weapon at all. It was invented to fill a need on the plains of the United States – a need to limit the freedom of cattle. One doubts Mr. Lucien Smith pictured the tangled bloody moonscaped battlefields of the Western Front when he filed his patent in 1867 for his invention to make fencing in cattle cheaper and less labor intensive, but his brainchild will forever be linked with the hellish killing fields of No-Man’s-Land.

Mr. Smith invented barbed wire.

Barbed wire in essence is two or three strands of wire twisted around each other and at regular intervals, a one to four pointed barb is twisted into the strand creating a single wire with thousands of flesh shredding “barbs” pointing outward. Different patterns cropped up from time to time before the Great War, but mostly they were just variations on this basic theme. At first, the wire had to be twisted by hand and creation of enough for any use was a time consuming process. By the time of World War I, however, giant barbed wire conglomerates like Smith and Glidden Barbed Wire Company had developed machines which turned out thousands of feet of wire each hour. Barbed wire now existed in quantities to make it an efficient battle implement.

The wire would have been effective if great coils of it were simply unstrung between the trenches and in places, this is exactly what happened. Like so much in this war of excess though, if a simple way was good, an overly involved way was much better. What developed was a series of x-shaped uprights spaced a few feet apart. Then, the engineers wove multiple coils of barbed wire over and around each post. The result was a waist or chest high hedge of shining steel that rusted within hours of exposure to the torrential dampness of Flanders.http://www.wereldoorlog1418.nl/warpictures/trenches/images-trenches/15-german-stormtroopers-during-attack-gw000.jpg

Barbed wire lay in solid hedges in multiple lines parallel to every trench on the Western Front. Soldiers on the attack would have to pass through those hedges if they had any hope of reaching their objectives. Now, as any of us from Gray Court could tell you, passing over, under, or through a simple five strand “bob wire fence” could be difficult under simple, peaceful circumstances. Inevitably, crawling under would get your pants caught but climbing over risked the staples pulling out of the posts and dropping you across the bottom four strands in quick succession. In modern times, a mishap like that translated into a visit to the ER for a tetanus shot and some stitches; during the Great War, in a time before tetanus shots or even simple antibiotics existed, scratches from this rusty obstacle could mean an agonizing death as any opening in a soldier’s skin welcomed vast quantities of dirt and other filth into his bloodstream.http://aboutnicholasii.weebly.com/uploads/3/8/4/6/38466355/6733743_orig.jpg

So soldiers faced an obstacle impossible to maintain a walking pace through which they needed to sprint across in order to avoid machine gun fire, sniper bullets, and bursting shells. It was a thorny problem both sides in the war faced. They would both employ several methods to attempt to overcome the barbed barriers. One of the most straightforward was a thick pair of leather gloves and a hefty set of wire cutters. Unfortunately, commanders found out early on that the man with the gloves and cutters wasn’t given a sunny reception by the other side if they observed him while bent to his task. As a result, most wire cutting missions took place in darkness.

Unfortunately, cutting gaps into the wire often caused more problems than it solved. Since the gaps were the safest places to pass without getting shredded, great congregations of soldiers gravitated towards the gaps. Before they had gotten to the second line of wire, however, the machine gunners on the other side would note where the gaps created bottlenecks and adjusted their withering fire accordingly. In this way, the final state of the soldiers was worse than the first.

Before long, bright men in the high commands decided artillery was the most efficient way to clear the attack corridors of wire. Seems like a good plan, but the execution, like so many plans in this war, proved less than adequate. At first, they would try shrapnel shells to cut the wire. Shrapnel shells are essentially huge shotgun blasts of pellets which exploded and shot downward at the ground . . . very effective on personnel, but, as anyone who has ever tried to shoot a limp rope or wire in twain could have told the commanders, absolutely useless on wire.

When thousands of casualties pointed to the ineffectiveness of shrapnel shells, the commanders switched to regular high explosive munitions. While enough of these projectiles would indeed cut the wire in many places, the sections would sail into the air to land atop one another willy-nilly fashion and instead of nice orderly rows of wire in predictable areas, no-man’s-land became a greater nightmare of shell craters lined with pointy, rusty steel.

For three years, men were swallowed up by the walls of barbed wire. Finally, another invention making its debut in the Great War emerged and removed the terror of wire for all succeeding generations. Barbed wire was doomed as an effective weapon as soon as the first Mark I “Matilda” tanks from Britain lumbered across the fields crushing the coils of wire beneath their treads on the fields of Cambrai.http://www.diggerhistory.info/images/tanks/tank-wire.jpg

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

#TBT: Mighty Oaks From Little Acorns Grow!

Behold the lowly acorn; sign of Fall, food for wildlife, and deadly missile!

Behold the lowly acorn; sign of Fall, food for wildlife, and deadly missile!

This post originally ran October 19, 2009 and, sadly, both Beau and Jack have gone to the Happy Hunting Grounds.

I love Fall. From now until the end of November is hands down my favorite time of the year. Granny Wham always loved Fall. As soon as the weather got nippish at night, she’d tell Papa it was time to go see the leaves. That meant I’d spend the night with them on an October Friday and we’d get up at the butt-crack of dawn the next morning to head to the Blue Ridge Parkway. As long as we were on the highways, I’d read. I wish I still could read in a moving car, but for some reason, carsickness hits as soon as I look at a page . . . but I digress from my digression!

The three of us would spend all day in the mountains looking at the golds, reds, and yellows all along the mountain roads. Still, this was Granny and she is who I took the lion’s share of my worrying tendencies from, so we’d have to be headed down I-26 towards home before the first sign of dark. Granny didn’t like to travel at night.

So Fall has always held a particularly warm place in my heart from an early age. However, this beautiful season is not without its extreme hazards. In my front yard are three extremely tall and extremely productive oak trees. Overhanging my back fence are about ten or twelve more. Now, while they are a wonder to look at, it is with some trepidation that I venture forth from the safety of the front porch to journey to the mailbox.

You see, these oaks do not produce the dinky little BB sized acorns of the so-called “water oaks” of my youth. Oh, no! These trees shed acorns that, if cast in lead, could have been fired in a .68 caliber Brown Bess musket with no trouble at all. My trees are well over fifty feet tall and when one of those green slugs lets go from a bough near the top, it stands to reach terminal velocity before it makes contact with the ground . . . or my balding pate! Getting cracked in the top of the head with one or two of those little monsters is enough to bring tears to a strong man’s eyes. What’s just as bad, the trees in the back lot overhang my tin-roofed workshop. When acorns hit that tin roof at about Mach 1, they make a crack like a 12 gauge shotgun going off.

Now, this doesn’t bother my oldest fuzzy child, Beau, in the least. He is stone deaf as befits a canine of his years and stature. His kennelmate, Jack, however, goes into paroxysms each time a shot rings out from the tin roof. I have to admit that I find them startling as well. More than once I’ve nearly put out an eye with an Xacto knife as I was cutting and concentrating when one of the green hailstones hit!

Still, the squirrels and deer the crop of mast attracts to my back yard is plenty enough reason for me to leave the trees alone and risk a knot on the noggin or four!

Happy Autumn everyone! Don’t forget to wash your feet!

On Belief


https://grocerystorefeet.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/65e0e-400.jpg?w=263&h=263I realized recently this would be my 400th post, so I wanted something with a little weight to write about. The result is what’s been going through my head for some time now, especially as I read comment sections of other blogs and other media. It’s the conclusion I’ve reached on belief and believing.

In brief, believe whatever you want to because it does not matter and it does not matter because, in the end, your belief or disbelief in something or other changes whatever you believe or disbelieve NOT A WHIT. Whatever you believe may be fine for you and it may speak to your vision of reality, but nothing you believe ACTUALLY affects reality at all.

So, what do I mean?

I’m not a nihilist. Life is full of meaning and most nihilists are anti-meaning. I am a realist. The political sphere provides abundant examples. I know several people who are CERTAIN the current POTUS, Barak Obama, is a foreign born Muslim. They believe that with all that is within them. Let them. He may, in fact BE a foreign born Muslim; he may also be a foreign born Christian, or a native born Muslim or a Native born atheist or a foreign born Rastifarian. Whatever he is, what people believe does not change what is. He is whatever he is and while we may not ever accurately KNOW President Obama’s birth status or his religious mores, it doesn’t matter because whatever we believe has no effect on the true reality.

Another President, Abraham Lincoln, illustrates my point with a brief anecdote:

If you consider the tail of a dog to be a leg, how many legs does a dog have? Answer? A dog has four legs because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.

I’ve mentioned Bruce Jenner in previous posts. He and his legion of followers believe he is now a woman. In point of fact, he is a man. He can call himself a woman, he can dress in women’s clothes, he can adopt a woman’s name, but if he swabs the inside of his cheek and submits his spit to DNA testing, the last chromosomes on his chain will be XY. Anyone who has the genotype XY is male regardless what he believes or what all the media outlets in the world proclaim. Belief does not affect reality.

People are at home with belief; they are at home with grey. Unfortunately, the world of stark reality is a world of factual black and white which gives no consideration at all to people’s belief or disbelief.

Another example from history is the cause of the American Civil War. A group of people still believe with all their hearts that the American Civil War was NOT fought over slavery. They are entitled to believe this as fervently as they like but it will not change the fact that the Civil War WAS fought over slavery anymore than calling a tail a leg makes it a leg. People will say, “the war was over states’ rights.” Yes, it was over states’ rights to allow ownership of slaves. Everything else attached to the term “states’ rights” is window dressing. The Union fought the war to end slavery and when the war ended, so did slavery.

Many people, including my beloved great-grandfather, are completely certain beyond swaying that the Apollo Moon landings of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s were staged in the basement of the Pentagon. As much as they believe this and as much as they want others to believe it, all their belief will not remove the now bleached white American flag and Neil Armstrong’s footprints from the surface of our nearest neighbor in space. Of course, it is possible they are right, in which case the flag is not on the Moon’s surface but in some basement broom closet in the Pentagon. If it is, however, it is because of reality, not their belief.

Up until now, I’ve stuck to the concrete, but the concept is just as accurate in the philosophical, metaphysical, and religious realms as well. I firmly (most days) believe in God. Specifically, I believe in a Nicean God with a Chalcedonian Christ. Across the water in merry olde England, Richard Dawkins believe EVERY DAY that God is a myth and does not exist any more than unicorns and dragon turtles. I may be right or he may be right. Either way, God is neither brought into existence nor banished from the universe by the firing of our neurons. He either IS or He ISN’T. If He IS, all the naysaying by atheists in the world cannot remove Him from His throne and if He ISN’T, all the faith of every Christian past, present, and future is in vain because Fact and Fiction are embedded in the fabric of reality and our beliefs have no sway over them regardless of how fervent those beliefs may be held.

If it looks as though I’m angling for some sort of metaphysical moral or spiritual relativism, I’m not. Quite the contrary, I’m pointing to the absolute FACT of an ABSOLUTE TRUTH because an ABSOLUTELY TRUE REALITY EXISTS whether we can grasp the concept or not and our beliefs do not shape said reality. Within this reality, ISIS is killing people who don’t believe what ISIS believes and such a path is ignorant to follow because ISIS can believe whatever and the people they kill can believe whatever again and neither one will change what actually IS because our beliefs have no sway over reality.

Finally, and here is where the rubber meets the road, only ONE reality exists. In terms of religion this means Atheism, Agnosticism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, etc, etc ad nauseum cannot ALL provide a correct lens through which to view reality. ONE is correct and ALL the others are WRONG and the metaphysical consequences are huge, but so entangled in belief as to be inextricable BUT those beliefs DO NOT AFFECT REALITY, whatever it is.

In the end then, the phrase shouldn’t really be “it is what it is,” but more accurately “what is, is.”

Post #400. I hope you have something to think about now.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

Now, It’s Over . . . RIP Mr. Berra


http://img-s-msn-com.akamaized.net/tenant/amp/entityid/AAeEJRa.img?h=373&w=624&m=6&q=60&o=f&l=fYogi Berra was one of the greatest players to ever strap on a set of baseball spikes. The numbers speak for themselves, he holds the record for most appearances in a World Series at a staggering 14 as a player and seven more as manager or coach. Twenty-one times he appeared on baseball’s largest stage and in the process, became larger than life.

Yogi was a great player and a favorite of sportswriters all over the country. He shared the field with some of the greatest to ever don pinstripes — guys like Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio — , but he never let the amazing success or the rarified company go to his head. He knew he was a grown man blessed to be playing a kid’s game for pay so whenever one of those kids asked ol’ Yogi for an autograph on a baseball or program, he didn’t snarl . . . he smiled and took the item and a pen to sign it with.

In every respect, he was a class act, but, even if he hadn’t been in so many Fall Classics and even if he didn’t have a World Series ring for every finger and two thumbs and even if he didn’t still hold a plethora of records for games appeared in or doubles in the World Series, Yogi would still be remembered because his skill as a baseball player paled next to his alacrity with the English language. To whit,

  • When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
  • You can observe a lot by just watching.
  • It gets late early out here.
  • It’s like déjà vu all over again.
  • It ain’t over until it’s over.

He may not have sported Clark Gable good looks, but Clark didn’t catch the only perfect game ever thrown in a World Series, either. Yogi’s real name was Lawrence Berra, but if anyone outside his family ever called him that, it never showed up in print. He was a Yankee through and through, even though it didn’t start out that way.

Yogi had a rough patch breaking into the Major Leagues. First he was rejected by his hometown St. Louis Cardinals who instead signed his good friend Joe Garagiola, another Hall of Fame catcher. Then, when he ended up as a Yankee, his minor league career took a hiatus over a little disagreement we call World War 2 today. Finally, he ended up on the bench in his first season in The Show because he could hit the ball a mile but couldn’t throw from home to second, which is a debilitating issue for a catcher and the heretical position called the “designated hitter” had yet to be foisted upon the sacred game. Once he found his stride, though, things turned out all right for him. Besides his numerous World Series records, Yogi was a three time American League MVP and a 15 time All-Star in his 18 year career which spanned 1946-1963.

He was also one of my Papa Wham’s favorite baseball players and one of the very few Yankees he could tolerate.

In a bit of irony, Yogi died exactly sixty-nine years to the day of his Major League debut. Perhaps the home run he hit with his first at bat should have clued people in to the greatness to come.

Yogi Berra was 90 years old . . . he will be greatly missed by his family, the Yankees, and all true baseball fans everywhere.

Great War Wednesday: The Fokker Scourge


From the start of the Great War through September 1915, the air war, such as it was, had been dominated by the Allies. This was mainly due to two fortunate circumstances. First, they had more planes initially and second, more importantly, they had more rich young men who became pilots in the pre-War years as somewhat of a hobby. The British especially flew hundreds of sorties over the Western Front, generally to spot for the artillery and gather intelligence on troop movements for the generals. For the most part, these flights of the plodding scout aircraft came and went unimpeded across the lines. The few German planes, such as the Taube type, were outclassed by early British fighters such as the Vickers FB.5 and the French Morane-Saulnier L types. All that came to a screeching halt when Anthony Fokker’s brainchild, the Fokker E.I Eindecker appeared in September 1915 and initiated the period of the air war known as the Fokker Scourge.

The new Fokkers outclassed the French and British planes in every way. First, and strangely enough for a period dominated by biplanes, the E.I had a single wing mounted midway up the plane’s fuselage. This “high wing” design (as opposed to the wing running beneath the cockpit like most monoplanes) enabled the Fokker to turn much tighter in a fight than its opponents could. Also, the bracing of the wing allowed the planes to climb and dive more violently than their French and British counterparts without fear of the wings snapping off. Since a single wing weighed less than two, they also held a decided speed advantage over other planes of the day.


Max Immelmann, the Eagle of Lille and developer of the famous Immelmann Turn.

However, the secret of the Fokker’s dominance for the six to eight month period of the Fokker Scourge or Fokker Scare as some called it, lay in the armament. British planes relied on a separate gunner to fight air combats while the French mounted plates on their propellers in hopes of not shooting off their tickets home. The Germans, however, with their typical engineering zeal, managed to perfect the synchronization gear. This mechanism, also called an interrupter gear, allowed machine guns to be mounted along the axis of the plane and fire directly through the propeller arc. The gear attached to the engine’s crankshaft and whenever the propeller swept in front of the gun, a cam on the gear would prevent the gun from firing, ensuring the safety of the propeller.

The effect of the interrupter gear immediately propelled the German aircraft to the fore. Now, instead of trying to maneuver to allow a separate gunner to get a shot in or trying to line up a shot with a gun mounted atop the high second wing of a biplane, the pilot’s job simplified greatly. All he had to do was point his nose at the target. Wherever the plane flew, the bullets would fly also. The Germans strengthened this advantage by mounting belt fed machine guns instead of drum fed guns like the British Lewis gun. The belts allowed the Germans greater firepower in terms of sustained bursts which a British plane could not match for having to change drums on his gun. The interrupter gears were such an important part of the German successes, the German High Command actually forbade pilots from crossing the German lies into French and British airspace for fear that a shot down aircraft would result in their improved weapons system falling into the hands of the Allies. Thus, the Scourge was less severe than it otherwise might have been had pilots had free reign the entire time their aircraft were technologically far superior.

The strength and speed of the Fokker Eindeckers gave rise to some of the first standardized air combat tactics. One of the most famous was the Immelmann Turn, named for Germany’s early ace Max Immelmann. He would climb high and get his back to the Sun then dive on an unsuspecting target firing a long burst as he came. Most pilots would then continue the dive and begin a long climb back to an advantageous position. Immelmann discovered if he kept the throttle open and the plane at full power, he could “zoom.” This meant he would pull up hard on the stick at the bottom of his dive as he passed his target. His momentum would carry him on a short climb and he could then pitch the plane over and it would seemingly “flip” on it’s tail and be pointed right back at his opponent, giving him two attack chances instead of one for each pass.

Unfortunately for Germany, their dominance of the sky would only last until the spring of 1916 when more capable British and French aircraft began appearing on the front lines. These newer biplanes proved able to master the vaunted Eindecker and German pilots again became the hunted rather than the hunters . . . at least until the appearance of The Albatross turned the tide in the air once again!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

Breakdown Hangaround Hangover


http://s.hswstatic.com/gif/hangover-1a-2.jpgBack in late May, I was at the beginning of the worst neurotic episode of my life. I’ve only had three real, true events most people would call nervous breakdowns and this one took the cake. June is really hazy and July isn’t much better. Finally, around the first week of August, the skies started to clear a bit and I realized I was going to make it out of this black hole one more time. For eight weeks, it was touch and go. Budge worried herself sick and did the only thing she knew to do, which was collect all my guns and have a friend of ours put them away for safe keeping.

That’s a funny story in itself because he is NOT a gun person and I’ve got a good many guns so he was trying to collect them without Keaudee biting his face off or one of the bad nasty pistols shooting him in the foot. He managed, but just barely. Of course, I didn’t know anyone was collecting my guns and I’m pretty attached to them so when Budge told me they were all gone temporarily, I was angry. Well, a little more than angry, but that’s another story for probably not another time.

My therapist was worried too. He’s shepherded me through a few rough patches, including the immediate aftermath of Mama’s death, but this was a new look from me. He told me at one point he was considering calling my psychiatrist who was ALSO extremely concerned. I’ve been Dr. Stephens’ patient for around eight years now and he told me later I was hands down the absolute worst he’s ever seen me. Both of them said they really wanted me to get some inpatient treatment, but after my last stay in a psych ward, they both knew I would have exploded at the mention of checking myself in and that I was smart enough to fool anyone they tried to use to have me checked in involuntarily. They were right, of course, on all counts. I’ve made it clear to anyone who’ll listen that frost will form on the hinges of Hell before I ever lose my freedom like that again.

So, eight weeks went by in a daze that wasn’t a daze. Here’s the irony of being in the midst of a psychotic break — you feel perfectly normal while thinking everyone else around you is batshit crazy. I had ideas and made up plans that sounded perfectly sound in my head, I mean some way out in ionosphere stuff, and I’d get all bent out of shape . . . well, moreso I guess . . . when anyone tried to point out how bad of an idea I had really come up with. That’s tough on me, but even tougher on the people around me. You may not believe me, but under the right conditions, your own mind can turn on you and try pretty hard to kill you if it can.

I cried a bunch, too. Of course, Budge said the crying wasn’t nearly as unnerving as the laughing. Sometimes, I’d just start laughing this absolutely maniacal laugh and she would get really quiet and turn kind of pale. This was especially hard on her because it was the first time I’d gone completely off the reservation and she didn’t have anyone to turn to. Before, she could always count on Mama to help wrangle me back around to the right path, but she was on her own this go round. I think she did just fine. She found friends and resources she didn’t know were around and people stepped up to help HER.

See, I’m a master faker. It’s a talent I picked up long time ago to deal with difficult situations. I can make someone who doesn’t know me think I’m right as rain and fine as frog hair when I’m actually in the midst of a major suicidal downward spiral. However, it doesn’t work on a very select group of people. I never could fake out Mama. Cook, my college roommate, could always read me like a book — even between the lines, and of course, after almost 20 years, I can’t get anything past Budge. It draws her down though, dealing with me. That’s what I mean by she had people willing to step up and help look after her and give her strength. I’m thankful for them for doing what by right I should have been doing when I temporarily lost the capacity to do for myself.

Then, the sky turned blue and unicorns started farting rainbows all over the place. For two weeks, I was not just back to normal, I was on the verge of a manic spell, which is almost as bad as a psy-break, just in another way. But now, things are settling down and that is where what I call the post-breakdown hangover comes in.

For awhile, after the danger has passed and your mind lets you out of the trap, you get this sense that everything is actually going to be okay this time. You think you finally did it and the dragon is slain and you are going to be normal at long last. Unfortunately, that initial euphoria wears off. Something pricks your balloon and sends you back to earth with a jar instead of a full on crash. That’s where I am now.

Instead of being back to “normal,” I’m back to “my normal.” I’m having a little trouble sleeping again. I have to remember to take my newest (4th) anti-depressant because it comes at a different time of day. Mama’s still gone. All the old problems are still there, they’ve just allowed themselves to be stuffed back into their carrying cases for me to pick up and carry on with. That feeling hurts. For a brief shining moment you get a glimpse of a life without any kind of depression or anxiety or other issues. Just for a little while, the sky is a spotless, cloudless blue.

However, just like I finally managed to let myself be led out of the valley, I don’t get to sit on the summit either. I wish I did, but that’s not how it works. So, I’m back to being me and not the close acquaintance living in my head who desperately would like to kill me for whatever reason. That realization always comes with a hint of sorrow and makes the recovery from such a terrible episode taste faintly bitter, and not bittersweet either.

So, the dragon just fell unconscious, but he’s not dead. I’ve heard the black dogs howling over in the distance — I know they are just reminding me that they are still around so I don’t get too cocky. It was eight years between episodes this time and they get worse as they go, so I’m hoping against hope this was the last one. Each successive round takes a little out of your soul and leaves you a little less whole than you were before, but for now, it is enough.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.