Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Every month when I get Writers Digest, I always love to kind of critique it. The April issue is chocked full of goodies, in a sense, even if I do just smile at much of it. I've been a subscriber for 20 plus years for sure. All of these writing magazines and books are pretty much the same. Holding out hope for us "would be" writers, with only a small chance to make it, whatever that means to us. To me, it has always been a hobby and now with the internet, I only have five blogs and a couple of websites.Somewhere along the way, it became important to me to write for MYSELF. I became a publisher, etc. to further that idea.

One article this time was a little on the humorous side: what if you are over fifty. How about sixty or seventy. The concept is that you can just about forget it. The young writers are the ones making hay, getting he big bucks, etc. true in a sense as the publishing business is so f..... up anyway but I guess what I always want to do is encourage writing. If it is in you, regardless of the age, WRITE. In today's world, there is a place to publish and that is no small thing.

I always do get fascinated when I read where some twenty year old has written some best seller, whatever that is; how can anybody at twenty know anything. But, they have imaginations and for me, it is more power to them. Still, the fact that us older types can't get an agent, some publisher who is interested, doesn't mean we don't have it: the secret is writing it truly for ourselves and the rest follows. My view, anyway. Plus, have a day job because that is where you get those experiences to write about. Good luck!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

WHY IRAQ HAPPENED--The Myers Briggs Type Indicator

My first exposure to the Myers Briggs Type Indicator was in 1977, way back in the dark ages while I was in the military. Otto Kroeger, who is probably the foremost guru, of the theory came to do a workshop at Fort McPherson, Georgia. I was a young Major and truly didn't know my posterior from anything. And, reluctantly showed up at the seminar. As it turned out, it was a turning point for me in my life's outlook to say the least. In the military , I was always on the outside of the mainstream. I (ENTP)would be in a group and it was magic "group think" but I was not there--never seemed to see it like everybody else. However, I had become a good actor, realizing quickly that the military is built around cooperate and graduate. I was a good combat soldier but get me in the confines of peacetime and it was a struggle. By this time in my career, I had already been fired twice and miraculously escaped being pitched out of the military.

So, here was a theory that was mostly built around the idea that all of us are born with different personalities, plain and simple, not much we can do about it. This was revolutionary: simplistically, it seemed that to get to know our personality and others and to be able to get it to operate in an organization like the military would be super.

According to the Myers Briggs, you actually can be one of sixteen personalities and all of them have various characteristics, attributes and once we know what they are, we are better at knowing ourselves, understanding our personality and most important, making good decisions based on what our preference might bet. For me, I could see the possibilities. I read everything I could get my hands on and at the time was teaching a college course and immediately incorporated it into the course. This was life changing.

The Myers Briggs was based on the creditable theory of Carl Jung, the Swiss born Psychiatrist and somewhat rival of Freud. It was designed after years of research by two sisters, Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs. The Myers Briggs could measure the conscious (as opposed to the unconscious)aspect of the personality. I thought, this is it and I'm out to sell it as this really is amazing. People can grasp this.

And, for at least thirty years I have been selling it, actually wrote a book, The Personality Factor, read by only two others beside myself. And, what I've discovered is that the Myers Briggs is a hard sell and for all these years, I have been amazed at why this is so. As an example, the Myers Briggs personality typing is applied to our present President which illustrates the Myers Briggs and its utility and may be the reason that it is such a hard sell: personality is just what it is and if there is a lack of understanding, then what use is it. Insight isn't worth a hill of beans unless something is done with it.

This could be an answer. And, as somewhat of a disclaimer, I don't know how I got the below, I think it showed up in an email but I always want to give credit. And, I found something helpful here: for the life of me, I have been unable to explain why we would be so stupid about Iraq after the debacle of Vietnam. This could be the basic reason: the President, then Secretary of the Defense, the neocons, the top generals have all but ignored the objective data about the stupidity of invading a country that has done us no basic harm, has no ties to the terrorists of 9-11, and most of all, have a tribal culture that the rational mind should avoid. However, given the Commander in Chief's personality type, then this war was assured.

**During the 2000 presidential campaign, I applied the principles of personality assessment, based on the theories of psychiatrist Carl Jung, to candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore. Forgive me if it sounds like gloating, but here's what my research revealed about the personality type of the future 43rd president of the United States:

"They are decisive and little bothered by second thoughts and self-doubt. Since [they] do not reflect very much on their errors or analyze their mistakes to any great extent, it is difficult for them to learn from their errors, and so they can become caught in a loop, repeating their mistakes." **author Emily Yoffe offered this insight.


They are decisive and little bothered by second thoughts and self-doubt (Once having made up his mind, would not back up). Since [they] do not reflect very much on their errors or analyze (maybe not so smart, trusting too much on advisors: Rumsfelt, Neocons)their mistakes(never admit that they could be wrong. Present Commander not alone in this--when have we ever heard a politician admit to making a mistake) To any great extent, it is difficult for them to learn from their errors(persists in charging on when all objective data is that this is a fast train to nowhere), and so they can become caught in a loop,(living in parellel universes, where the evidence is overwhelming that something is not working, keep telling the lie) repeating their mistakes. (This is where someone like Condi Rice or Colin Powell have a moment in time to possibly change the course of history and choose to go along. "

Saturday, February 23, 2008


I figured I should knock this out since the Academy Awards are upon us. I saw the movie several weeks ago and it fits in the same category as No Country For Old Men; good movie, very well done and holds your attention but doesn't do it for me. I like to come out of a movie with some measure of both feeling OK, good would be better; and thinking that there is a lesson to learn. I fully understand that most go for entertainment, not me. I go as movies mirror life and I'm always asking myself, what is there to learn from this movie? Answer: not much. Daniel Day Lewis is good no doubt about it. As an early oil baron, one kind of sees how it was so cut throat in the beginning and remains the same today and yet so very human. DDL's son was merely an object to be used--how can anyone not grant mineral rights to this kind, family man who promises that once we get the oil, all prosper. NOT!

I dont' know if there is a book to compare the movie too but would like to have seen the other contributing characters developed a bit more. And, the resligious aspect of the movie was quite surprising; a very primitive, "snake handling" kind of religion that took the Scriptures literally and made them worse. What is scary is that there are people in the world like this. An eerie like Elmer Gantry type personality with less sophistication but more madness--a twist that I can't tell you about. Very interesting. Not a movie for entrtainment but one for pondering. I'm sorry that I couldn't go out and discuss it with someone. 2 parachutes

Thursday, February 14, 2008


My sister Margaret was the oldest. She was really drop dead gorgeous and all those visits from Lonny and various others were mainly to see Sis even if they would lie about it. Margaret seemed to get those traits from Mom which meant that she was on top of most things. She had a kindness to her that seem to escape most people. Since our house was the epitome of open, meaning people in and out all the time, Margaret befriended several whose life prospects were less than stellar. One was a youngster in our one room school. He had been crippled by polio and couldn't walk. The Dad would ride him on his back to school every morning which was at least a three mile trek. Sis decided that the father should be spelled of some of the burden of carrying the youngster. Without fanfare, she announced that it was my turn and named several others to follow. When I even came close to hesitating, she grabbed my arm and with a squeeze and a look, my opposition departed the scene. Up until that time, I don’t think that I had noticed the man carrying his son.

His name escapes me and his hesitation at anyone helping him was a natural independence. Everybody took care of his own burdens. However, my sister had this way about her. It was both matter of fact and kind. What others seem to think made no never mind to Sis, she acted. She took the boy and he grabbed around my neck and off we went. The boy was probably in the first grade and I must have been in the sixth. He was light as a feather

Later on, I remember hearing Sis talk to Mom about how thin the boy was. Mom was saying something to Dad like, “Well, Raz, you have to see what we can do to help those people because Margaret says that boy is not getting enough to eat."
"You know Bertie, Margaret would take on the world if we let her” he probably said. I don’t remember any response as Mom probably fixed the gaze on Dad. All I know is that we regularly made visits to their rambled shack on the White Line and just so happened to leave "fixins" as George called them, meaning food.

The White Line was this group of houses that were like thrown together, somebody called them tar paper shacks. To be honest, I don’t know but most of them were pretty rough and the folks who lived in them were the poorest of the poor. And, I don't have a clue why it was called, White Line. The country was recovering or trying to recover from what we know as the Great Depression. People didn’t have jobs and especially those on the White Line. Margaret was right out there on the firing line wanting to do something. For being young, she was way ahead of the curve, her view was that you couldn’t help all but if someone crossed your path, God meant for you to help. And, we figured that Sis was God's agent and who were we to question. No use arguing.

In school, there was a copy of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. The weird thing as I remember is that nobody wanted to read it as we were living it. Not so for Sis, She was a vociferous reader and got into it and insisted that she relate to us everything about the book. Poor was almost a metaphor for life especially as represented in the White Line experience. We were almost the characters in the book. As opposed to being Okies going to California, we were placed in Eastern North Carolina. Our great advantage was that we didn’t suffer the dust bowl of Steinbeck’s novel but we were as poor, just not as desperate. And, the generosity of Sis made a little dent in it all for a few. We all found it very difficult to resist her passions for helping the people of White Line and especially the “poor Rosens” as she called them.

In the Grapes of Wrath according to Sis there is one bad thing happening after another. We are listening to her thinking, what is different than here? If we could have recorded all the stories we knew they would surely add up to more than were in Grapes. The poor little Rosen boy died and it fell to us to give him a proper funeral. It was here that Sis insisted that we get Grandpa and all our Aunts involved. Not an easy thing. In those days there were plenty of tragedies. But, somehow it all came together and Dad arranged for a burial spot on a little piece of ground we had acquired by that time. I remember hearing Sis say to Mom, "tell Grandpa we can’t be having one of his long sermons. We want comfort." As I look at it now, I can hardly believe that my sister was so on top of life. After the funeral, as far as I remember, we never again heard from the Rosens.

Sis escorted me to school for the first time. I was proud to be in the first grade. Since we only had two teachers for the eight grades, they didn't have time for a lot of formality. One of the first questions they asked, "What is your name and how do you spell it?" It was understood that your parents taught you how to spell your name before you entered school. When I was asked the question, I proudly stuck out my chest and said, "Raz and it is spelled Raise." Maggie busted out laughing, “raise is not Raz." She intoned.

All of us were in different spots of the one room. Sis kept an observant eye on me She was, as I look back on it now, very protective. One of my earliest memories is of wanting to sing in the school choir. Apparently that was not to be my calling in life. I was rejected fairly unceremoniously. Maggie didn’t like it a bit and offered to help me practice. It must not have happened as I don’t remember singing in school again.

Discipline was quite different in those days. I don’t know that if it had been in modern times, I would have said I was ADD (attention deficit disorder). Today they would have given me ridlin or something but what happened to us then when we were cutting up or were a perceived discipline problem, Miss Briar would slap us up beside the head a few times. And, trust me on this, it will get your attention and you know how to be still quickly as these were no love taps. Or, a familiar ploy of our teacher was to send us out to this peach tree for a limb. We often tried to outsmart her. Forget it. Once when I selected a switch, I used my knife to notch it, carefully placing the bark over the notch. When the teacher cut down on me for fighting, the switch broke. The fire came in her eyes, she knew what I had done. To make matters worse, the rest of the boys laughed, which didn't help my situation. To say that Mrs. Briar, now there’s a name, was a woman of some girth and consequently strength would be an understatement. In this case it was a big time whipping. With that ham of a hand, she blistered my behind and slapped every boy on the side of his head for laughing--one tough woman but a terrific teacher. Once you got a whipping at school, you didn't go home and complain, if so, you got another one for misbehaving at school.

Maybe it was our almost worship of our sister or something but as protective as she was, she also held our feet to the fire in doing our work and seeing what school was all about. She was a second mother and often more exacting than our Mom. For instance, she said over and over, "one day you'll appreciate all of this." I surely found that to be true with Miss Briar. We became great friends as time passed. In all the teachers I had growing up, she taught me more than any of the others and I'll have to say that Sis was "right on" about her.

I will never forget one night that related to Sis. As I look back on it now, I can only imagine what those times were like and what my mom, in particular, went through. This is how I remember it.

"Bertie, I think Sis is pretty sick", Raz said as he met her at the door.

Without hesitating, Mom went to the back bedroom. The cover was piled high on Margaret but she was still shivering. "Get some cold water and bring it back here", she said to me. I must have just stood there as she said, "Move, boy!”

This was what she feared, scarlet fever--she was not sure but Margaret was burning up. After bathing her from head to toe, Mom pulled the rocker up and straightened the pillow that Margaret had made for it. She slid her hands along the ties that secured it to chair and probably had these thoughts: how hard it was raising children and wondered to herself if she was up to it. Looking at Margaret, she maybe wondered what her life was going to be like. Somehow, getting her kids out of this hardscrabble life had to be one of her goals but how. How do you rise above the circumstances of your life? I can imagine my Mom this way: As she sank into the chair she vowed to give more thought to the “how" once this crisis had passed.

Right now, Bertie had to concentrate on this illness. Could it be scarlet fever or even worse rheumatic fever. She checked for a rash. There was one. They would use the remedies for awhile before figuring if they had to call the doctor. There was no money for a doctor and Bertie always felt that doctors were just guessing anyway. For now, it had to be a mustard plaster.

A mustard plaster consisted of a mixture of dry mustard powder and a small amount of flour, mixed with water or egg white to form a paste. It was applied to the chest or abdomen to stimulate healing. Bertie took the mixture and spread it on a cloth and applied to Sis. For us, it seemed to be the cure all for everything. Mom probably didn't put it in those terms but she believed it promoted overall god health and who could dispute Mom.

As I remember, this seem to go on forever and we were left to fend for ourselves. At night my brother and I made a pallet and slept just outside Maggie's door. Nobody told us too, we just wanted to be close to her. The doctor came and pronounced that she had rheumatic fever. Maybe it started out as scarlet fever but became the dreaded rheumatic fever. Many had it and there were ill effects when someone recovered if they recovered. It was a sad couple of months, nothing was the same. Slowly but surely Margaret got better. She had gigantic circles under her eyes. We were only permitted to see her when we fetched something for Mom for her. Almost always she gave us a weak smile. The day that she emerged from her room was the happiest of our lives.

Mom and Dad were so happy. We were all so happy. Mom always wondered when Sis was born if all her children were going to be girls. She needn’t have worried based on the fact that so far there were two boys. Margaret was such an obedient child and there was only one incident of which I was told that clashed with that view. She was suppose to be looking after me and allowed me to play close to the fire and I fell against some hot coals. It could have been worse but she was able to grab me immediately and put a cool compress on the one burn. Today, I never see that scar that I don't think of my sister.

Margaret was gorgeous and we are talking about a head turner. I knew this because boys were constantly telling me or hanging around. She had this black hair that shined like you cannot imagine. Although she was the apple of Dad’s eye, she never seemed to take real advantage of it. Sure, she would be a little coy from time to time and nudge us into doing her bidding but she was incredibly responsible. My sister Margaret, I now know, was an "old soul."

Margaret was independent and didn’t have any real interest in boys but they were always around. Mom was constantly having to shoo them way. They would come, claiming to see one of us, but Mom would say, “yes, I know you want to see so and so” as she gave them the skeptics gaze. There was this one kid. He lived in town. We lived out a couple of miles away, based on how you got there and your mode of transportation. This guy had his own car. It was a 47 Ford roadster as I remember. It was black with a white top and had a rumble seat. He seemed pretty impressed by all that he had. It sure didn’t impress us any and I can remember us gathering around and lightly hassling him till Mom came out followed by Margaret. We scattered but not far enough to be out of ear shot on what was happening. Apparently he asked if she could go for a ride. Noway. She wanted to go. Mom said no. End of discussion.

He was persistent and one of the few times that I can remember Sis ever getting into trouble. She went for a ride. The place was icy with discussion for a few days. Dad taking Margaret’s part, Mom saying that he was not having a daughter of hers playing the role of a hussy. Somehow baby got in there.

Who said anything about babies."

"Well, it happens."

"Sure it happens but it doesn’t mean that it happens with me."

There were a few, "don't talk back."

"Well, it’s not going to happen with me."

Mercifully, the discussion ended. We were un use to conflict especially that related to our sister.

The guy kept coming around and we knew that Margaret liked him. He was smooth but too slick for me. At this time, there were three of us and we decided that if Mom didn’t like him, then we didn’t like him and would have to fix him one way or another. Plus, Chuck had seen him in town with other girls. What we were verbalizing but didn't have a clue was protection of our sister. We had a meeting. I told Chuck and Corb we’ve got to do something.


"Well, let’s do something to his car when he comes around." We let the air out of one tire. Then Chuck offered to help him fix it for a price. He then paid Chuck to guard his car and so that ended any chance for us stopping him in that way. What to do? Chuck hit it and came up with the idea of a road hazard--we should have pattoned it. We took these log slabs as they were called and created spike like sharpened parts. When we thought he was showing, one of us went up the road just close enough to signal to put out the spikes. Sure enough after a few flats, he must have gotten the message as we didn’t see him anymore.

But, there were others to take his place. Maggie moped around for awhile I think but independent Sis was on to something else. Her interested in boys seemed to wane for awhile and that was OK with us. We were busy, things to do, a farm to run, games to be played and brothers yet to come.

Margaret and Mom eventually seem to get past the rancor and then one day, Rudolph showed up. He was older, had been in the Air Force and had all these stories to tell. He won us over immediately. Not once did he show up to "talk with us" that he didn't bring something: chocolates, the latest magazines. Before we knew it, he was in with everybody. The man would not take no for an answer.

Sis had finished school at Plainview which was a country school in the opposite direction of where we lived but about the same distance from town. I don't really know how it all came about. Margaret always had lots of friends and she joined with a couple of them to go to Plainview. I wish I knew more.

Sis took a job with the telephone office in town after she finished High School. She was a telephone operator and as I saw those pictures through the years of old time operators, my imagination says, she was one of those.

She married likeable and tenacious Rudolph. Sometimes, we wondered if Margaret really wanted to get married or if she simply just gave up. Rudolph worked at the old DeSota place in town, seems like he was the parts man. I use to go by and see him and be amazed at the beautiful cars.

Margaret was the light of my Dad’s life and letting her go to Rudolph was no small thing. They moved on the other side of town and lived close to Rudolph’s Uncle Levander if I remember correctly. What I know about Mr. Levander was that he was always dressed to the nines and had these enormous long feet. I was always amazed as was everybody else.

At some time, Margaret and Rudolph moved to Augusta, Georgia and lived in a place called Myrtle Court. I spent a couple of weeks with them one summer or maybe it was the summer. I remember making friends with some military kids and going with them to the pool. I was amazed that they could swim at such a big pool and not have to pay anything.

Two fine youngsters arrived to Rudolph and Margaret: Nicky and Ronnie. Our sister passed from this life to the next at just 37, way to young. A weakened heart from that long ago battle with rheumatic fever. Margaret, shortened on occasion to Maggie, sometimes called Sis and my Dad died just a few months apart. Yes, the good do indeed die young.

Friday, February 8, 2008


Growing up in rural North Carolina through the depression into the early 1950s was challenging to say the least. However, it was filled with love and many great childhood experiences which hold all of us in good stead, even today. When our sister was alive, she was a big part of our existence, hanging in with us. We miss her desperately.

With regularity, we all gather around a table in some diner in eastern North Carolina and share the stories of our youth.
One of our favorites involves Chuck and George and Lou, one of our cadre of mules. To George, Lou was not just a mule, Lou was a partner, a bud, his best friend. We would just guffaw at him sometimes when he talked with her. She didn't answer, at least we never heard anything but this is not saying that maybe George did. They carried on these very intelligible conversations if we paid attention amidst our laughing. One thing that always fascinated us was that Lou would watch George and follow him wherever he went, even if she were in the pen. She would walk back and forth and watch what he was doing. If he acknowleged her presense, then she seemed to go about her business with the rest of the mules.

Lou was an unusual looking mule. She was almost red, a deep, deep tan which shined. The Mule is a cross between a donkey and a horse. This was all a mystery to us boys. We thought we had an idea of the whole sex thing. Both male and female mules have all the correct "parts" but they are sterile and cannot reproduce. We couldn't quite figure it out. Our man on sex matters was Lonny Thornton and he kept saying if you cross a mule and a mule, you get nothing so what good are they but to work. He would make George so mad. In fact, Lonny clained that Lou and all the mules came "fixed." This added to the mystery. All of it was superfluence anyway. What we knew is that George loved his mules and especially Lou.

Charles had a knack for finding buried or hidden spirits and concocked this plan of introducing Lou to white lightning. While George was delivering a drag of tobacco to the barn, Charles went into action. He poured about a quart of white lightning down Lou's throat. Lou seemed to like it. Nothing immediately happened. Suddenly, Lou began to wobble, and then fell over on her side. Meanwhile, George had returned to the field and suddenly began to holler, "Help, Help, Lou is dead.

The whole crew ran toward the mule. Lou was lying still, looked dead as a doornail. None of us really knew what to do, having no experience with a drunk mule. We stood around with our hands in our pockets, hoping Dad wouldn't show up. Then, without warning, Lou stirs. Poor drunk Lou was trying to get up. We all got behind her and pushed until she was upright and on all fours, still a bit wobbley but up nevertheless. George declared it a miracle.

Sweet naïve George knew nothing of the prank. He scratched his head, claiming Lou got too hot and threatened to tell Dad we had worked Lou too hard. At least that tattle would be better than "Hey Dad, Charles got the mule drunk." The Brothers stuck together and the joke passed. We laughed for days with the idea that Lou probably had a hangover the next day.

It is hard to say how George became the brunt of so many jokes. I think he probably knew what we were doing but enjoyed the fun, somewhat. The stories are endless. Once I sneaked out to the barn and loosened all the bolts on his favorite plow. Talk about laughing, George hooked up Lou and when he said Get d’ up, the plow fell apart. I still laugh about it.

With regularity, Dad gave us a peptalk that had a point and I will have to say we got it. And, over the years understood it more and more. It went something like this: “You boys can joke with George all you want unless it is hurtful and if that happens, you will be answering to me. Furthermore, you better believe he has taken many a step off you." We understood it. He went on, "all those times George was working in the fields while we were playing or at school or whatever we did other than work. He has never experienced the opportunity that you all will have. And, think about this when you are teasing him.” It sunk in.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


This was a DVD which was truly seredipitous. In working on my netflix account, I read about it, paid it little attention but selected it. In the course of time, it showed up to be watched. The subtitle is, "An American Road experience." In eccense it is as though suddenly, these two recent college graduates get up one morning and say, "wow, let's do a documentary on what it means to be an American." Wow, a great idea. They gather up a camera which they might have already owned and develop a plan of calling various peeople, famous and infamous and start working the phones. Although we don't know the nitty gritty of how it all comes together, it does and we are with them on their trip.

It is a little on the amateauirish side which is part of its charm. And, following them through the many interviews is a process in itself, and very interesting. For one thing, they have lots of chuzpah. I can't remember all they interview but some of the more memoriable ones are George Stephanolis or at least the attempt, Willy Nelson, Studs Terkal (learned that he has never driven a car) and Hunter Thompson who was obnoxious and full of himself. And, I thought when he was being that way: "Well Hunter, guess at some point, you'll make the decision to hit the road." Since the film was made in 1997, before 9-11 which changed our world forever, this has to be put in that perspective. And, when it is, very, very interesting.

They tried to interview Ralph Reed, the supposedly guru of the right wing. He woudln't see them and now of course, who would want to see him, based on his history. My favorite interview was Willy Nelson with maybe Robert Redford being close behind. What struck me about both of these superstars is that they were willing to make themselves available, very, very human and enjoyed talking about the American Dream. I was very moved.

I liked the way they let the interviewee speak and just give their views of what actually was "the American Dream." And, having seen Robert Redford's Lions and Lambs, his views have not changed and he must have had satisfaction about that fact. Two parachutes. +

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Chapter 5

Aunt Gertie was this wonderful Aunt to die for in a way. To say that she provided many laughs is like saying the sun is rising. One among many stories of Aunt Gertie came from my former sister-in-law who is still my good friend. It illustrates what makes her so special. Her account went something like this, “I went with your mom, Aunt Gertie and a few other family members to a fishing cabin on a river down near the beach--can't remember exactly where! It was a screened in cabin—no bathroom or running water, cots for beds. It was so HOT. Aunt Gertie cut her dress off to above her knees and used the scrap as a fabric "crotch" She pinned it up.back and front. I had never seen anyone do such a thing but it seemed to work. She had to go to the "woods" to find a spot to use as an outhouse. She unhooked the "crotch" panel and squatted. Something bit her on the fanny, scared her to death. She came screaming back through the woods with the crotch panel flying in the breeze, jumped a ditch, said a snake bit her. It really didn't, just a stick that had scratched her. We were all just howling with laughter! This is what made her special as no one laughed harder than Gertie at herself.

Her presence would fill a house, not only because of her girth but with laugher and merry making constantly. She, like all my Mom’s sisters, were great cooks. Aunt Gertie’s claim to fame were her biscuits. They were fantastic and like her, large.

Long before the term came into being, she lived life large. Her church activities were also somewhat legend. The thing that set her apart and it was said that she was many a preacher’s designated attender. She could begin shouting in a flash. The thing that set Penacostal Churches apart was what they termed "shouting." The offical term is glossolia, but for outsiders it was extreme emotionalism. I was always amazed that it seemed to begin and end on cue. Aunt Gertie could be singing, listening to the sermon, praying or staring out the window and without warning, she would break into shouting and convulsing, speaking in this language that might possibly sound gibberish to others and yet seemed to have this order to it. She could be slain in the spirit which encompassed all of the above: shouting, speaking in tongues, raising her arms and flailing and eventually falling onto the floor. This could happen in a moment’s time without warning and end just as abruptly. She was something because of her size. There is no proper way to describe what might seem a minor earthquake; several women, most topping 300 pounds, jumping and shouting with the the agility of a ballet dancer. I was always aghast.

As a young boy at Grandpa’s Church, the first time it happened, I was scared out of my wits but soon it became a time of wondering what was going to trigger it. Hard to say, sometimes a great hymn, then a fervent prayer, a powerful sermon, or nothing; the spirit seemed to reside on Aunt Gertie constantly. What also was equally amazing is the fact that this was never discussed or talked about—why did this happened? What triggers it?—give us some insight. Nobody was ever asking those questions. I was constantly blown away.

I can’t remember much about Aunt Gertie’s family and will have to leave that to someone else. She was a presence in our lives that was pervasive. She would ask me how I was doing and in the next breath, launch into a litany of concerns of the world. And, then quickly without missing a breath, come right back to me and my slackness in school.

Her unusual grasp of world events was also impressive; no doubt in her mind that the Russians putting up Sputnik changed the course of the world. After all, she said, “it was predicted in the Bible.” She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Russians or at least one of them, was the Price of Darkness and possibly somehow related to the mark of the beast But, she was entirely sure that most probably Hitler was the Prince of Darkness. He's not Russian, "well, there could be more than one" she would say.

She didn’t believe in reincarnated but thought that maybe she or one of her sisters might have been Joan of Arc in another life. If it wasn't Joan, it was probably some other royalty. She said it like she believed it. And, more likely than not, she would leave us boys with our mouths hanging open. Aunt Gertie had this unusual knack of zeroing in on some subject we were studying in school or knew about to make her point.

Her craziest idea was that she said we needed a woman to run the country, given the fact that men couldn’t keep their minds off carnal things. We didn’t know what she meant. She didn’t trust the government, however, and thought that we were still suffering from the Civil war, which should never have been fought anyway she said. George, in particular, gave us commentary once she departed that was meant to debunk her views.

Aunt Gertie didn’t like her name and kept trying to get everybody to call her Gertrude, thought it had a regal sound. But, since nobody ever did, she preferred, Auntie. She secretly admired Eleanor Roosevelt but thought that she should have stayed home more but would always allow as how if she’d stayed home, she could not have accomplished as much.

Her hero was FDR and thought that our town should erect a statue in his honor or better still, dedicate a train car to him and never let it leave the station and people could go in and visit all the time.

Aunt Gertie was without a doubt, a renaissance woman, born way too early. One area that stood out above all else was her attitude about race relations. She thought it absolutely awful that we were still segregated this long after the civil war. When someone tried to call it the War Between the States, which most Southerners did, she corrected them on the spot. You better believe that Lonny never showed up when Aunt Gertie was around. Her retort was that it was a useless war fought to keep the status quo and nothing in life ever remained the same. I would listen to her with an intent that bordered on a trance. Most of the time she was talking about such issues when nobody was listening. Often when she began, people would walk away but she didn’t miss a beat. Sometimes she would look at me and say, “Boy, you get that?”

Nobody seems to to remember one thing for which only one brother claims is true. It was in fact, her most outrageous act and for which she was most proud. It occurred in Irwin, the little town where she lived for a time. Long before civil rights became a popular cause, she took her best friend, a black woman, about her age (which we don't know) to the sandwich shop and sat with her at the counter. As the story goes, someone called the one policeman of the town but when he found out it was Gertie refused to come. I never did find out all the repercussions of it but my Mom told her that she was crazy and that she was making all of us the laughing stock of the community. If Aunt Gertie minded, it never showed. As I remember, our Dad was her biggest ally, always laughing and saying that if it wasn’t for Gertrude, this place would be boring beyond all tolerance. “We ought to erect a statue to Gertie” he was fond of saying.

Monday, February 4, 2008


An American Experience is apparently a PBS programing regular. I've watched several of their shows, i. e., one recently about some guy who was the guru for lobotomies before they were deemed torture. Regardless, bringing to the public, even if a few of us are interested, gets a bigtime thanks from me.

I just watched Daughter of Danang; fascinating documentary and makes so much come alive from my Vietnam experience. An aside, in our present war, in Iraq for example, the contact, relatively speaking, with the female Iraqi population is limited. In Vietnam, not so--many Amerasian children were the result of a laison between an American GI and Vietnamese woman. And, in fact, this is the basic gist of this story which is many sided and very moving. It won the Sundance Award for best documentary in 2002. It is one of those stories that started out with you thinking it was going one way and almost predictable--a Vietnamese kids brought to America during the baby lift, grows up in America but has need to go back and find her Mother--warm reunion and discovers the complete story and feels good initially.

DIDN'T HAPPEN! Well, as it turned out, she ran head on into cultural issues with her Vietnamese Mother and the family that she left behind. And, as often happens with Asian cultures, in particular: much revolved around money. And, the very sweet Amerasian child who had grown into a beautiful American, suddenly was confronted with an enormous cultural divide. She is now married to a career Navy guy, two little girls. Thrown into this mix is her adoptive Mom, somewhat of a Cruella DeVille. The adoptive Mom, from the deep South, gets hooked into some sort of selfish modality, not all that well explained or maybe I was just zoned out. And, I think ignorance, lack of education, and basic perception, i. e., why would she want to see her birth mother when I have done all this for her? Very sad, and, this Cruella DeVille type threw the youngster out of her home at an early age. That part of the story was not explored very much but the child remained a part of the Grandma's family. Thank the Lord for Grandmas.

Another area that didn't see much action was a search for the father. Thinking in that direction brought back all these memories. See link. Good, DVD. Rent it if you want a little different take on one of the many fall outs of Vietnam. 2 Parachues.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


Chapter 4

God's Nefarious Characters

Two of our neighbors were Bubba Stickland and Lonny Thornton. They showed up at our house most every night during the week. The routine was pretty simple, they immediately got a biscuit from the cupboard, stuck a finger in it, making an opening and poured in molassas. Mostly without comment but sometimes, "Bertie, love your biscuits or "looks like Gertie has been here." And, she had, her biscuits were about three the size of Mom's. We use to laugh, Aunt Gertie's biscuit could last a week.

Mostly, Lonny and Bubba sat around and talked about the civil war. Sorry, not the civil war but the War Between The States or yankee aggression or how only the southerners were fighting for their honor. And, rightly so, "as North Carolina sacrificed more to the cause than any other state" Bubba would hardily state.

To say that the jargon threw in a fair bit of racism would be an understatement. It wasn’t so much tilted toward blacks rather it was just a topic of conversation although I will have to admit that no blacks were invited to these paragons of virtue prognostications.

Talking about the War Between The States seemed only right in a way. Half of modern day southerners were descendents of those who fought and one in four southern men died in the war. Lonny claimed that his great great grand Dad died and he was a direct descendent. Bubba also said he was definitely a direct descendent. Nobody could prove otherwise but it didn’t matter.

It had always been a peculiar thing that the war seemed to remain a mainstay for southerners but not for northerners until one night it was explained by Lonny. The North before and after the war started accepting all these foreigners in like Irishmen and Africans--not so many Yankees died in the war because the foreigners took up the slack anyway and were on the front lines. Trying to suggest that his reasoning seemed a little sketchy and shaky never kind of got through to him. We had heard it maybe a hundred times, anyway.

The character that we remembered the most was Royston Wallace, a local legend and some said could be the cornerstone for the book, Guiness Book of World Record. Royston could eat the equivalent amount of food at one setting that would do a family for a week. It is said that he ate 100 hot dogs at one time and could polish off dozens of pies at one setting. When he came to visit, you could hear Mom moan for a mile away. She would never think of not asking Royston did he want something to eat. He would lower his eyes and almost in a whisper say, "I think I could eat a little, Miss Bertie."

Mom was one smart cookie, however. She saved every bit of food not eaten and stockpiled it for Royston's visit. And when she set it before him, it was not just a parcel of left overs of chicken, steak, veggies but it was chicken pie or steak deluxe, she should have had a TV show. What she put out covered the entire table. We just gaped as we watched him devour it. About an hour later, she would say, "Royston, what about dessert?" Once he ate an entire Japenese fruit cake. We don't know why it was called a Japenese fruit cake, but it was something to behold: big, with about ten layers, covered in coconut, nuts, and an assortment of decorations. I don't know why she made this for Royston but she did. Maybe a test. He ate the entire cake which normally would feed us for weeks.

I don't know what happened to Royston but someone said that he died of old age, whatever that is but legendary. One of the stories going around had to do with after his death, in an autopsy, it was arevealed he actually had two stomachs. I don't know but to us kids, watching Royston was a phenomenon.

Another character than made quite an impact on us was a black man called Jimmy Sills. Dad picked him up hitchhiking and he stayed with us three months. Now, how could that be in the racist South. I don't really know other than it happened. Jimmy could sing like you cannot imagine. Dad bought him a guitar that he played from the moment he picked it up. We didn't know enough to asked how he knew or had learned but he did. And, he could entertain us for hours. One day he simply left. I saw him talking to Dad out by the road. His old valiese sat by him. Dad went into the house and brought out his guitar, handed it to him, shook his hand and he just left. We were all sad but had somewhat gotten use to seeing various ones come and go. I think I've seen Jimmy on TV a few times. His looks changed but I think it was him. If he didn't hit it big, it surely wasn't because he didn't have talent.