Monday, May 28, 2012

No flag, no ‘Taps’ for this casualty of war

 Patriotism – where do we get it?

I don’t remember the day mine was born, but I certainly recall where I found it. It was on a wall with faded flowered wallpaper at the foot of a bed in a tiny room in a West Central Illinois farmhouse. There my grandmother had a framed print of the Pledge of Allegiance, the words bordered with American flags. 
Hanging on the wall around the pledge were six photos – three young pilots, two sailors and, at the bottom left, a sepia-toned photo of a young high school senior, dapper in his suit and tie, hair neatly parted in the middle.

Out of those six young men – my dad and his brothers, four of whom were World War II vets and one who served during the Korean War – it was the one who didn’t serve a day in a military uniform who became the only casualty of war from this brood.

In the fall of 1943, my Uncle Lawrence was next in line to join my dad and their three older brothers serving our country.

As time for harvest approached, my Grandpa Tracy needed help in the fields, but his youngest son, barely a teen, wasn’t quite old enough to do a man’s work. So, Lawrence, the 18-year-old, was to wait to follow in his older brothers’ footsteps until the harvest was done. 

One fall day, as Grandpa and Lawrence were picking corn, a stalk got caught in the picker. Nearly 70 years later, I can only imagine how exactly it happened, but I’m guessing Grandpa or Lawrence stopped the tractor, and the teen jumped down and sprinted around to the picker, energetic and enthusiastic as he was.

When he reached in to unwedge the stalk, the moving parts of the farm equipment grabbed the cloth of my uncle’s long-sleeved shirt, pulling his arm in.

I never heard the story of how his arm was freed. I suspect my grandfather was the hero that day, separating man from machine.

What I do know is that, within days in that time before life-saving antibiotics, the enemy that took my uncle’s life wasn’t the Germans or the Japanese. It was gangrene. 

My dad and his brothers came home from the corners of the globe where they were stationed. They spent Lawrence’s last days with him, and newspaper accounts of his death report that, clown that he was, the young uncle I never met but always loved spent his final days cracking jokes and cheering those who maintained a bedside vigil. 

My dad was in the midst of a flight school at the time. When he returned to his base after the funeral, he was placed with the next class of cadets, but as the war wound down, my dad and his new class didn't get to serve an overseas mission.

We’ll never know if my young uncle’s untimely death may have kept my dad or another of his brothers from becoming a casualty of war in a conflict across the sea. 

I do know one thing, though. Today, when I see an American flag, say the pledge, or think of Memorial Day, I reflect upon the sacrifices made in the name of freedom and I am transported back to that tiny bedroom, those words and six portraits at the foot of a bed.

As I think of the young uncle I never got to know – serving his country in America’s heartland in bib overalls before swapping them for wings or a sailor’s cap – I reflect upon how no one presented my grandmother with a flag and no bugler played “Taps” when her son Lawrence died.

Today, though, as he’s been since I first gazed upon that wall and heard his story, my uncle, an unlikely casualty of war, will always be my American hero.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012   

(Image via)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The honeymoon is over

I moved to Paradise earlier this month and everything was heavenly – a new home on a lake with a beautiful view, songbirds singing, butterflies fluttering, sunrise peaking up over the trees across the cove. 

I didn’t mind that I had dozens of boxes to unpack, days of yard work to do or a couple of decks to powerwash and paint. It all went with the dream – that work.

Sooner or later, though, it was bound to happen – the bubble burst, the clouds turn from pillowy white to battleship gray, the new love’s sparkle lost.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I still love my life on the Lake of the Ozarks, but when I got super-lousy customer service at a grocery store Sunday (more on that another time), woke up to a broken boat lift on Monday and learned Tuesday morning that somewhere in the mail stream a Mother’s Day card I sent was stolen, the gift card within it redeemed by the culprit, it hit me like a ton of Missouri boulders – the honeymoon, it’s over.

This little corner of the world I call Paradise has its own little foibles. It isn’t perfect after all.

It may be my little bit of heaven, but it’s the real world, too.

Yet, as long as I keep waking up to the sound of the water lapping against my seawall, the birds singing my wakeup call and the first morning light beckoning me to my morning paddleboat ride, the marriage of this Illinois girl and her Missouri home is still made in heaven.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

(Image via)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Someone’s watching …

Ever get the feeling that someone’s watching you, that you’re not alone, that there’s a presence nearby? 

Lately, I have. 

No, I’m not losing it – not because of that anyway. 

Stick with me here.  I don’t want to lose you – not yet. I’ve got a story to share.

I’ve never been one to believe much in ghosts, restless souls that stay in a home, even through multiple owners. I am familiar with some of their stories. In fact, in my hometown, a large family added one more stocking to the banister for its spirit – a college student who took his life in the home decades ago, the night before a big exam, and who was believed to watch the young women of the family as they shower.

My husband and I had our new home on a lake in Missouri for a while before our home in Illinois sold so we could move down here full-time. When we did come before, it was always on short trips – and we were busy, doing chores or fix-it jobs around the house, entertaining friends or family, or playing on the water, so we didn’t notice that our property was otherwise occupied. 

But, once I was down here for good, writing and editing each day on the screen porch, I began to sense a presence – lots of them actually. 

And they were watching me – I knew it.

I was right.

There were those webbed-feet creatures parading through the yard as if they owned it, the beady-eyed fellows standing up on their rear legs peering in to see what I was doing, the bushy-tailed characters pitter-pattering up the tree outside my screen, and the buzz of tiny, winged wonders circling a few feet away. 

I was surprised at first at the boldness of these spirits, who seemed not the least bit afraid of me. But then I realized – the ducks and the chipmunks, the squirrels and the hummers, and all the other little critters who live in woods and water, they weren’t being bold at all. For all that time when no one was here, this was their home – the yard, at least. 

They weren’t the spirits intruding. I was. 

I don’t think I’ll be calling a ghost buster or the pest control anytime soon. We’re getting along pretty well, actually. They seem to be friendly spirits, so I’ll let them stay.

But, I’d better not start hearing loud footsteps or doors slamming, or I just might need to rethink this spirit-filled coexistence.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

(Image via)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Circles in the sunrise

I started my morning the other day going in circles.

Not figuratively. 


I live on a lake now, and I have a paddleboat. I’m not big on exercise classes, not coordinated enough for zumba and not calm enough for yoga. But, I sure do like my paddleboat, and it helps me get the cardio workout I know I need.

I can set off in the morning about dawn, ride along the shoreline to the end of the cove and back, watch the fish jump, the ducks float by and the big blue heron swoop in for a landing on a nearby dock. As I paddle along, I’ll sometimes see a pair of chipmunks scurrying on the edge of a seawall, a bird chasing a squirrel up a tree or a hummingbird buzzing toward a feeder. 

If I get up early enough and out there, I can see the sun beginning to peek over the trees, just like it was that morning last week.

It was my first ride of the season and I was excited to get out on the water. I had my life jacket and water bottle with me. I walked down the sidewalk, across the ramp and began to lower the lift. The vessel now in the water, I stepped down off the dock and onto the seat, then lowered myself in, untied the front and back ropes from the dock posts, and began to paddle backwards out of the dock.

The boat seemed to have a mind of its own, but then again, I thought, maybe I’d lost my magic touch over the winter. If I coaxed it along, it would straighten out, just like an errant child. I was sure of it.


As I pulled away from the dock and tried to go forward, no matter what I did with the steering handle, the boat turned to the right. I backed up, as it seemed it wasn’t quite so contrary when I did that. I went forward again, now beyond our swim platform and in between our dock and the neighbors. This wasn’t the ride I had in mind. No matter what I did with the handle, the boat circled the same direction. 

Hmm, I thought. This just isn’t right. It reminded me of the time a few years ago when my sister and I went for a ride. No matter what we did that day, we kept going in circles. We’re both pretty confident people, so we always know when we’re right. That day, we both were right. I knew it was her fault. She knew it was mine. 

Finally, tired of being in the middle of our scrap, the little boat straightened out and went where we commanded. Until last week, I was sure it was human error that caused those circles – trying too hard, turning too much, paddling too fast.

This time, there was no one to blame, so I began to think perhaps my little boat was ailing. I worked my way back into the dock. This took a lot of backing up and going forward, of course. Once inside the dock, I began to raise the lift, coaxed her onto it as she tried to come closer to the side and finally got her in place.  I stepped on one of the lift’s crossbars and began to sink. I jumped back on the dock, closed the valve I’d left open and raised the lift, prodded the little boat into the middle once again. 

When I finally got her where she needed to be, I saw what was wrong. The circles weren’t an act of contrariness at all, but instead an ailment waiting to be healed. 

No wonder she couldn’t straighten out. Her rudder was stuck between her hulls. 

This time I cautiously stepped onto the crossbar. When it held steady for me, I eased the rudder back and forth, up and down, and finally unwedged it. If I didn’t know better, I’d have though I heard my little boat sigh, “Whew…” 

I lowered the lift, untied her, and backed her out once again. This time, when I tried to go straight, riding into the morning sun, she didn’t give me a bit of trouble. We turned left out of our small cove into the bigger one, paddled past a few docks, turned around and headed back to our own little corner of the lake. As we did, we passed the shiny concrete sea serpent on our neighbor’s point. I could have sworn he winked as we went by, glad to know that he’d have some company in the mornings now. 

As for the paddleboat, she hasn’t given me any problems since that day. She just needed a little love, I guess. 

And about my sister – I guess I need to circle around with her, figuratively, and let her know maybe neither of us was right that day. It probably wasn’t her fault or mine. The poor little boat must have been ailing that day, too, but when we didn’t give her the nurturing she needed, she healed herself – literally.

An apology might not be a bad idea either, don’t you think? 

"Hey, sis, about that paddleboat ride..."

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012 

(Image via)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Home at last

It’s funny the little things that will make a house a home – the perfect pillow, the mug the kids gave you for Mother’s Day twenty-some years ago, your own computer, hooked up and ready for blogging.

I crossed the Mississippi River from my native state, Illinois, to my new state, Missouri , two weeks ago, just a few hours after turning our previous home over to its new owners. 

We’ve had this house on the Lake of the Ozarks for a while now, knowing that we’d be moving here once the other home sold, so we had belongings here – extra clothes and dishes and furniture. When we came down for weekends from time to time, it was our “home” for a few days, but not really, if you know what I mean. 

Even now, having all of our belongings “on site,” though not all unpacked, the new home still just didn’t quite feel like home – and I couldn’t put my finger on it. 

We had the furniture in place in every room except my office, which is awaiting new flooring and bookshelves. We had our clothes in the closet and our dishes from “home” all unpacked and put away. I’d been nesting like crazy, unpacking special keepsakes from our kids, parents and grandparents and finding the perfect spots for them. I’d planted flowers and started powerwashing the decks.

In ways large and small, I was trying to make it home. I was sleeping on my special feather pillow again, but something just wasn’t right. 

I wrote one blog post shortly after I arrived here, but try as I might, I couldn’t get the next one out.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have a computer. Though my desktop computer wasn’t hooked up, I could have used my husband’s computer or my work laptop. After all, I was putting out a news page every day on it. It wasn’t that it didn’t work.

I could make excuses that I’m too tired or too busy, and those cop-outs just might work. Moving isn’t as easy when you’re approaching 60 as it was at 21 or 25 or 45 or 48. 

But, what it really was, I think, was that something just wasn’t right. This place wasn’t home yet.  So, I unpacked a few more boxes, nested a little more and set up my own desktop computer.

Aha, that’s what I needed – the place where I feel most comfortable putting my words on paper – my very own keyboard. 

That – and the pink mug I unpacked that says “Mother” in a bunch of different languages.  This may not be the house where I raised my kids, but I do believe it has become home at last.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012 

(Image via)

Friday, May 4, 2012

A groovy kind of day

Do you remember that perfect school day, the one where the weather was just right, you were someplace really fun and you discovered you really did like the people fate had put in your life, and you loved what you were doing then and there? 

It may have been a fall day in elementary school when you were on the playground, excited that your best friend was in your class once again and that you’d have every recess to spend hanging out together. Or, it may have been a junior high field trip to your favorite wildlife park or zoo. 

For me, it was our senior picnic.

That May day, as the sixties had just ended and the seventies were beginning, had to be one of the coolest days of my life. Even though we weren’t playing hooky, it seemed like it – if you know what I mean. 

The weather was about like it is today – just enough sun to warm us, but not so much that it baked us. The temperature was, if my memory of that day more than 40 years ago serves me right, almost the same as it is now, a little above 70 degrees. The wind barely blew, just enough to toss our long tresses playfully, but not so much that it had us fighting to keep them out of our eyes. The grass in the pasture on our classmate’s farm was an incredible shade of emerald, as if it had chosen its hue especially for this class of mostly Irish Catholic kids. The trees along the creek were a perfect complement to the green carpet underfoot. 

When I think of that day, it always makes me smile. I was with people I liked – and, that day, it seemed as if they liked me, too. We were coexisting in what seemed like perfect harmony. We were having fun. It was as if the day was God’s or Mother Nature’s or someone’s graduation gift to us, its farewell offering, its celebration of our lives and time together. 

As I sit here today on my porch on a Missouri lake, working on the news site I edit, savoring life and nature and my fellow enjoyers of this time and place – the mallards swimming by, the squirrels scurrying up and down the big forked pin oak by the lake and the chipmunk who keeps peeking in the window to see if I’m working or watching him – I can’t help but think of the day of that senior picnic. 

That day and this one were the sorts of days that you couldn’t help but think of Simon and Garfunkel and their “59th Street Bridge Song.” 

“Life, I love you … all is groovy.”

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

 (Image via)