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Gender: Male
Hometown: Maryland
Member since: Sun Aug 17, 2003, 11:39 PM
Number of posts: 77,491

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Gonna Take a Sentimental Journey


I'M staying home this Thanksgiving and our two adult boys have only to travel the stairway upstairs to eat a decent meal and grace my wife and I with their interminable charm and wit. It's nice to not have to gussy-up and head out to the in-laws' house. Anyway, we're the elders now, all of our parents long passed on.

I'm going to have football on (my favorite sleep aid), and a rare Thanksgiving night off from work... Who can ask for anything more?

____I haven't always shunned traveling to see relatives on the holidays. Nowadays there's just us 'kids' to gather together, since all of the old ones are gone. There's also a sibling from each side of our family missing from the table, as well, so getting together for holidays these days is less ordered and optional. Still, there was a time when traveling to see the in-laws for the holidays was a pretty big deal.

Bad blood between my parents and their brothers and sisters always prevented my sister and I from traveling with more than one of them when they journeyed back to their hometowns. Mom would usually take Maria and I by train, to Charleston, W.Va., to see our grandfather. Dad would drive us to Reading, Pa. to visit his family.

Union Station in D.C. was mom's territory. We'd usually arrive on the run, with the baggage porter following fast behind with our luggage. We'd hit the darkened train platform with the steam blasting across our path and the most polite men I've ever encountered would give us a hand up onto the train with improbably spotless white gloves (sometimes just as the train was starting to pull out of the station). We'd pull the sliding door between the train open and settle back into the mohair-covered seats with the paper-covered headrests and watch out the window as the city shrank out of sight.

The long journey compelled me to memorize every contour of the yellowing plastic controls on the handle of the seats, and to balance the weight of the molded metal footrests that I raised and lowered incessantly (to my mother's practiced consternation), and let drop with a thunk that repeatedly rattled the seat's occupant.

As I type this, I'm looking at one of the little hand games that she'd pull out of her purse to keep us distracted that she saved over the years. It's one of those little plastic board puzzles with sliding letters that you had to unscramble with the benefit of only one open space. I've also got one with the Addams Family on it, and there were ones with ball-bearings and holes like a miniature pinball machine.

In-between fiddling and snacking on the saltines and mints she'd pocketed from the many restaurants we'd frequented, I'd steal a little freedom from my schoolteacher mom and make a couple of adventurous trips through the doors separating the trains to the restroom. It was a rather chaotic arrangement where the trains were coupled in those days, often with little more than a chain or bar keeping you from falling out the sides between the cars. Later, there would be a more elaborate barrier, but the effect was still the same rush of danger as you could see the tracks whizzing by underneath the shifting metal plates on the floor. I can remember sticking my little head outside of one of the windows to recklessly gauge the violent wind as the train sped along.

When we would go through a tunnel, Mom would have us holler
'OhiOOOOOOO' until we came out the other end -- trying as hard as we were able to do it on one breath. She soon regretted teaching us that, tho...

When we'd arrive at the station in Charleston, Granddad would be waiting with his huge Oldsmobile that smelled like the cigars, pipes, and Pall Malls he smoked constantly.

The rest of the trip was a memorable string of visits to relatives, capped off by an extraordinary meal at my cousin Gussy's who would cook greens in ham fat until they literally melted in your mouth. She had two trees in her front yard that were painted white halfway up the trunk and tiny red bugs crawled up and down. There was an active railroad track a few feet from her back door where we'd put pennies on the rail for the passing trains to flatten.

Life on Thanksgiving was ancient and slow in Charleston; as slow as the snails we poured salt on in front of Gussy's house; as deliberate as my Uncle Moore who would be watching the football game on television with unbreakable concentration... unmovable, except for that one day I fell onto the hard ground from one of the trees out front with a branch in my hand and he ran outside thinking I might be dead.

There was a lady living in town we'd visit who had been stuck in bed for years (I never saw her get up) who was always in her nightgown and robe. Mom said she tried to get up one morning and found she couldn't walk. She was a kind woman with several pictures of Jesus on the wall, and there was a kind, dedicated soul who took care of her who had a huge goiter on her neck. The bedridden lady always gave my sister and I some change before we set off again for countless more visits.

We'd repeat the tradition (and glut) of Thanksgiving dinner on a couple more visits, well into the evening, with several other folks in Charleston who had grown up with mom. Then we'd take another long train journey home.

I remember the dining car and the linens... very formal, but I remember Mom getting something off-menu for us kids from the man behind the bar. We rarely had a compartment, but it was definitely better for sleeping than the seats. Thankfully, they would turn the lights down low past a certain point in the night, and the steward would offer us a railroad wool blanket and a little pillow so we could sleep as best we could in those rough seats...

Travel on the holidays with Dad was a decidedly less formal affair. There weren't any of the social rules or the prim and proper trappings that Mom insisted on maintaining while in her company. The three of us would pile into one of his Impalas (later, Caprices) and hit the turnpike. There would be rest stops and a 'Stuckey's' along the way with string licorice, frosted funnel cakes, and giant lollipops to make our little exodus more enjoyable.

We'd sing every song we knew on the AM dial out loud, the three of us. Roger Miller would come on dozen or more times and we'd belt out every line of 'King of the Road'. I think it was Doris Day who would come on with 'You Are My Sunshine', and Sinatra would sing 'Sentimental Journey' (or was it the other way around?) as we all sang along. We were the best of friends in that car, away from the strict eye and tongue of my well-meaning mother.

Even my Dad would abandon his suits for the trip and opt for his Army fatigues and sweatshirt (he'd change out of his work suit and tie everyday and put on another to go shopping). He was the only one of nine kids to make it out of that town, so, the buttoned-down bureaucrat look just wouldn't cut it in the town he said was famous for 'pretzels, prostitutes, and beer...' We'd eat at Grandma's house and Granddad would even be welcomed back for dinner.

Grandma was a striking Indian woman with long tan-white hair. She had a voice like angels purring, but she was a powerful woman who raised her nine children on 'relief' after Granddad fled with them to Reading from Black Mountain, N.C., after some trouble with the sheriff down there. He kept the kids out of school until the state agreed to provide clothes for them, and about half of the nine kids ended up integrating the Quaker school nearby. Later in life, Granddad could be found every day outside of the factory gates at noon and at quitting time watching the women go by.

All of their kids but two would show up for Thanksgiving (one died young from a stabbing, the other died young due to another misfortune of their rough life). One uncle would have to sneak in after dark, as the sheriff would always lay in wait to try and arrest him on holidays and other occasions (especially at the funerals) for neglecting the several children he had fathered here and there around town.

We'd eat a magnificent meal cooked in the tiny kitchen hanging off the back of the house, prepared in iron skillets and served on ancient porcelain dinnerware on the pastel blue-washed, oak table with highback, wooden chairs. Granddad, dressed in his purple suit, yellow shirt, and green shoes, would say grace...

I own all of these holiday memories from my childhood now, as all of the members of the immediate family I grew up with have passed on. I can only remember the good and the bad times with equal nostalgia. I am the only one left who can recall the sights, smells, and flavor of that past. It's all become part of a wonderful stew of memories to measure my own family's holiday experiences against. Holiday travel; always a sentimental journey.

Gonna take a sentimental journey
Gonna set my heart at ease
Gonna make a sentimental journey
To renew old memories

Got my bag, I got my reservation
Spent each dime I could afford
Like a child in wild anticipation
Long to hear that: "All aboard!"

Seven, that's the time we leave at - seven
I'll be waiting up for heaven
Counting every mile of railroad track - that takes me back

Never thought my heart could be so yearning
Why did I decide to roam?
Gotta take this sentimental journey
Sentimental journey home

Winter Garden

"Doctor Allenby: This won't hurt a bit.
[Sticks Chance with a needle]
Chance the Gardener: It did hurt."

OUR winter garden is emerging. The dogwoods have already lost their amber leaves to a couple of frosts, but the Japanese maples are still showing scarlet in the setting sun.

It was a successful summer. There were devastating renovations which included my first forays into no-dig gardening with the debut of two compost mounds placed defiantly on the flattened slope of my front yard and planted with new additions of tickseed, painted fern, hechura, and false sunflowers.

We shepherded the few Asian lilies - which had escaped the night-foraging of our neighborhood deer - to successful blooms (resolved to finally order them in bulk this fall so we don't need top protect the handful we have like they're gold).

It all was a spectacular success, though, making the end a bit more tolerable. It doesn't hurt to have the 'skyracer' oak-leaf hydrangea in the front yard with the sun-facing side gleaming apple-red, and the other side turning a deep burgundy now that most of the canopy has fallen and is littering the ground from the yard to the street.

All of the action is moving underground after the long campaign, gathering sustenance and generating energy. Most of the winter activity is occurring in the grassroots, growing and expanding their base, auguring an early Spring.

Of course, I'm being facetious and a little coy here. Politics is like a garden, right? It's been done, well done - some of the more poignant analogies made in a flick about a gardener, turned dying president's private confidant named 'Chauncey' (Peter Sellers), who was mistaken for a wise counsel because of his government-analogous remarks about tending his garden.

"President "Bobby": Mr. Gardner, do you agree with Ben, or do you think that we can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?
[Long pause]
Chance the Gardener: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.
President "Bobby": In the garden.
Chance the Gardener: Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.
President "Bobby": Spring and summer.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.
President "Bobby": Then fall and winter.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.

Ah yes, winter... (pushing ahead, ignoring the sudden urge to go find Shirley MacClain's 'Being There' and sneak in another movie night).

The deer have arrived. They're welcome back, mostly. I chased a couple doe and kids away early in the season after I saw them eating my oak-leaf hydrangea transplants in the backyard to the ground. I armed myself with deer-repellent spray and all is now forgiven again.

It looks like last year's bunch, but I know these young deer are new to the yard - maybe visited here in their relative youth. I'm chill. There's really not much harm they're likely to do to the garden in winter (with huge, notable exceptions), and they're a familiar presence this time of year, twice visiting through Thanksgiving like errant relatives come to visit.

I try and interact and live compatibly with nature and its creatures; great and small. I want to help preserve and create, if possible, as much species habitat as I'm able. Heaven knows how much road and housing development has eliminated and reduced that habitat over the decades. The least we can do it to try and maintain as much as we can; helping to preserve the woodland's denizens as we work to preserve their macro and micro environments.

Once you've created your plant filled environment, however, you are bound to their success or demise. There's no questioning the beneficial effect of careful tending and nurturing of a yard full of plants. The wildlife which adopts the environment you've created becomes dependent on your beneficence -- as do the succeeding generations of fauna which are conceived and delivered into your garden home. Bees and other insects find spots nearby to winter over. Hummingbirds and other fowl will make your garden a regular stop on their essential feeding tours. And, yes, for some hapless gardeners, deer and rabbits make their garden paradises their own personal feeding stations and devastatingly devour the bounty to the ground.

There are consequences to the decision to establish a garden. Once adopted by our living counterparts, the future condition of that garden becomes almost essential. More water and food means more growth, so, you're then obliged to continue to nurture that growth at the risk of withdrawing that support and abandoning your sprouts to the ravages of the elements.

That's a bit like the way I view our community at Democratic Underground. We gather here, either deliberately compelled or bidden, and become reliant on the nourishment from the wellspring of activism, action, and advocacy that's been established here. That's what we establish gardens for; to sustain and enhance life on this planet, and that's what I suppose this place is for.

New voters provide new opportunities, new legislators, for our party to grow and succeed. I daresay we can find space and resource to accommodate most of them all; even as we cringe at the prospect of our prize 'buds and offshoots' serving as nourishment for other life before we can realize their bloom; none are more important than the other in this ecosystem; none are less vital than the other in our own survival.

So, winter has come to my suburban, wooded garden, bringing with it an abundance of sunlight and nourishing rain to sustain the burgeoning abundance of life which both sustains us and challenges for us to grow and prosper from the resources available.

Are we actually caretakers in this menagerie, or, are we merely antagonists bent on shuffling and scrambling nature about for our own edification? In mostly all of the natural world, we find most species adapted to an almost routine pattern of survival which advantages itself of every other instinct and expression of the environment - taking a bit of nature for themselves, here and there; giving another bit back, in return.

Does that nature manifest itself in the fox who found refuge for the majority of the day last winter (and warmth) on top of the pile of composting leaves at the back of my yard?

Or is that nature the providence of the family of rabbits who live (and, presumably, are killed) in the burrows under the bank of day lilies facing our driveway - the rabbit family that was the subject of the fox's intense hunt that I witnessed one night from an upstairs window; the garden predator weaving back and forth through the dense growth of foliage to find his innocent quarry?

Are the deer who also time-shared the same cramped but accommodating space of refuge during the winter days - who now migrate through the yard in the summer and forage on every bit of nutritious foliage and flower they can find - friends or ultimate enemies of this arranged habitat?

Is the hawk less welcome atop the heights of the dead pine in back than the chipmunks who perform their death-defying feats of seeming mischief and frivolity with little visible worry or fear of the threat from above?

Poet, John Ashbery ('Some Trees'), describes the accommodating mix of menagerie and flora as an arrangement of chance and opportunity:

These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though
Speech were a still performance.
Arranging by chance

To meet as far this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I (and others)
Are suddenly what the trees try

To tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something; that soon
We may touch, love, explain.

And glad not to have invented
Some comeliness,
we are surrounded:
A silence already filled with noises,
A canvas on which emerges

A chorus of smiles . . .
Place in a puzzling light,
and moving,
Our days put on such reticence
These accents
seem their own defense __

It is hard, but, not impossible, to imagine that all of this magnificence around us would occur without some hand in singling out new sprouts and nurturing, protecting, refereeing among their neighbors, and helping them take full advantage of the light, water, and nourishment that nature obligingly provides.

Caretaking and nurturing them is as intimate as we humans can be with these miracles of nature, unable as we are to just root ourselves in the dirt and prosper like they do; plant our own feet that firmly in the ground and we would surely rot away with time.

I don't remember a victory being this important

...it's a blast and a relief to win the House majority, of course, but it's impossible to take all of this in without reflecting on just how devastating a loss would have been.

It makes me much more grateful for this victory than I've ever felt before. Our situation with Trump still in office is as precarious as ever, but it would have been nearly impossible to see through the noise to some future win for Democrats, if we lost. Not impossible (I lived through the 'Gingrich revolution'), but dangerously close to a fascist state, if we lost to this crop of rabid republicans.

You could see the prospect of the Democratic party becoming even more toothless in the fight against Trump, without power to do much more than speak out and write strongly worded letters of opposition.

Now the Democratic party can issue subpoenas, call witnesses before committees, and initiate oversight and investigations, which our party will direct and control, of Trump administration malfeasance, graft, and criminality.

I know this is trite and an oversimplification, but America was awakened again last night. With the nation rocking a cool shade of blue this morning, our Democratic party has a consequential voice again. The Democratic-led House has a constitutional impetus and full reign to initiate financial legislation, hold oversight investigations, and, when appropriate, initiate impeachment proceedings.

Trump's rubber stamp is shelved. House Democrats will be an effective block of republican initiatives from the Senate, and a formidable force in budget negotiations. No more tax giveaways to the rich, no more blank checks to the military, no more swipes at our health care benefits under the Affordable Care Act.

More importantly, we owe the republican party nothing but scorn for their attempts to dismantle our democratic institutions and our social safety nets. Republicans behaved as if they would never be forced to account for their thievery, and their evisceration of standards and norms which once served to make even a divided Congress operate with as much comity and cooperation as politically possible, demands redress.

I daresay, this new Democratic-controlled Congress should be loath to allow any republican legislator to gain leverage at the negotiating table, especially without some reckoning from them for the way Democrats were locked out of any ability to influence Trump-enabling legislation in the last term. It's been such a power-grab by republicans and the WH, that a return to regular order will look like a revolution.

Democrats should think long and hard about making any gestures or concessions in the name of behaving better toward republicans than they acted toward us. The criminals in that party are unrepentant, and determined to resume inflicting harm the minute they get their foot back in the door.

Comity should be about more than just offering the other cheek. There should be some demonstrable benefit to our agenda from any deals with the republican opposition. Congress isn't a social club. The steamrolling Democrats have received from the republican party in recent years demands that they execute their politics, in power, with the same ruthlessness their opposition employed.

The stakes for Americans, for our Democratic party to prevail, couldn't be higher or more critical.
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