Item From the Past: Gettysburg

Got a postcard from my nephew Dees last week, the nephew who’s the drummer for Sons of Fathers. It describes the 12th Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival earlier this month, in which the band participated. The photo on the right depicts the only known first-name Deeses of the world, together about this time last year, when Sons of Fathers played at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn, Ill., and I went out to see them. He’s the hale fellow with facial hair.

A little further in the past – 1991 – I found myself driving from Boston to Chicago during this time of year, and I stopped at Gettysburg National Military Park. I missed the 128th anniversary of the battle by a few days, and presumably whatever commemoration events they had. I thought of that when I was reminded by the newspaper today that the 150th anniversary of the battle is upon us, beginning tomorrow, of course.

There were some other visitors when I was there, but not too many.  It was a hot day, fittingly, since it was a high-summer battle, which must have added to the misery. This image captures the summer conditions of the site pretty well, besides the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry Monument, which has its own intricate history, and which was knocked over by high winds only last week.

Here’s another view of the Angle – the stone wall that Pickett’s men managed to reach (Lewis Addison Armistead’s men, but let’s not be too pedantic).

I haven’t seen one of these quarters yet, though I’ve been noticing a number of national park quarters in change lately.

Summer Ephemerals

Late in the afternoon today, after a mostly sunny day, storm clouds rolled through, and for 15 minutes or so we had a heavy downpour. About 30 minutes later, the skies were clear.

Early this evening, I saw the flick of fireflies. Brief but luminous. Luminous but brief.

Another thing with a brief life: stands set up to capitalize on the Blackhawks’ victory. This one stood in Schiller Park, Ill., on Tuesday.

I have no intention of being among the madhouse crowds downtown tomorrow.  It’s enough that I got to see the Art Institute lions in headgear last time around.

Funerary Art

The All Saints Cathedral Polish National Catholic Church Cemetery near O’Hare doesn’t have the most elaborate examples of funerary art that I’ve ever seen, but there are some nice ones there.

Most a bit worn by the elements, and darkened by air pollution.

But they’re still standing in the places that family members, themselves probably long gone now, put them.

Most of the names on the stones are Polish, as you’d expect, but a sprinkling of non-Poles reside at the cemetery, too. Because it’s a cemetery, there are clearly sad stories beneath the stones. Such as that of Doris Jean Putynkowski, whose stone is simply marked 1925-1925. A family named Deal has a column indicating long lives for Robert (1920-2009) and Jean (1921-2008), but not so much for Jeffrey, whom I presume is their son: 1951-1999.

In contrast to the large funerary art, there were a handful of veterans’ stones, including this one.

It’s easy to look up in our time. The 383rd Infantry was part of the Okinawa campaign, so we can be sure that’s where PFC Schneider gave his last full measure of devotion.

All Saints Cathedral Polish National Catholic Church Cemetery

The Cathedral of All Saints of the Polish National Catholic Church happens to be on Higgins Road in extreme northwestern Chicago these days, though it was once deeper in the city. I happened to drive past the current site today, and decided to visit its cemetery, a patch of land behind the church, verdant and quiet in the late morning.

Or at least as quiet as a place can be tucked near the junction of the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) and I-90, and within two miles of the runways at O’Hare. In fact, activity is all around the area, at hotels, restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, a casino, a convention center, and more – the town of Rosemont, which is right next door, has all that.

The cemetery has trees and bushes and grass and flowers and stones. Except for a groundsman, I was the only living person there.


Up, Up, and Not Quite Far Enough Away

A short, vigorous thunderstorm rolled over my house late this afternoon. A lot of rain for a short time, but it didn’t seem like a lot of wind. I was wrong. A microburst of some kind must have slammed the back yard, because when I looked outside, I thought, something’s missing. What’s missing? The deck umbrella.

The damn thing was mostly broken anyway. One of the supports was busted somehow  during the winter, so even at best it was only half of an umbrella, and yesterday it wasn’t even open. Yet somehow the wind had taken it somewhere. Where? I didn’t see it on the deck or in the yard.

It was on the roof, pole and all. Must have been a freakishly strong wind to open the thing up, lift it and the few pounds of pole away from the cast-iron patio table, and deposit it on the roof. Chairs were moved but not knocked over, and one plant had been tipped over, but otherwise there was no hint of strong wind. Odd.

Once the storm was completely over, I got my ladder – the hard part was getting the ladder out from behind the debris in the garage, not getting to the roof – and persuaded the umbrella wreckage to come back to the ground.

Goethe Institut, Lüneburg

It’s the oddest thing: looking at this snapshot, taken 30 years ago this month, I can remember the name of only one person in the picture besides me, but I remember almost everyone’s nationality. Then again, the grundstufe 1 class at the Goethe Institut in Lüneburg, West Germany, in the summer of ’83 was a motley one, representing four continents and at least 10 countries. That must have made an impression on a lad traveling outside of his country for the first time.

I was traveling that summer with college friends Rich and Steve. It was their idea to study German in Germany, the better to read philosophy. My interest in 19th-century continental philosophers wasn’t as keen as theirs, but I thought spending five or so weeks in one place, taking classes in the morning and knocking around the rest of the time, would be a good idea. And so it was.

How they picked Lüneburg, I don’t remember, but it’s a fine Lower Saxony town near Hamburg. I ought to ask them sometime. They might not remember either. Rich and Steve knew some German already, so were in a higher class. I was in the beginner class, grundstufe 1. One day, the class went outside an lined up for a photo.

On the upper row, beginning on the left, are three Americans. The fellow on the farthest left was nicknamed Howdy Doody (by the other Americans) for his red hair, small stature, and childishness. Fourth on the left was Herr Witt, our teacher. A fitting name, since he was a lively, entertaining teacher. Next, and to the back, a Japanese fellow. Then me. Next to me, a Finn, who was something of a celebrity on Finnish children’s TV, if I remember right. I ought to remember his name, since he lived in the same building as I did, and we spoke fairly often, but I don’t. Behind him, a Frenchman, and then a South American whose nation I forgot. At the end is an Italian woman.

On the lower row, beginning on the left, two Italian girls; Howdy Doody in particular was fond of flirting with the girl second to left, and she was fond of brushing him off. The black fellow was from Canada. Next to him, another Japanese guy. I ran into him one day at the Lüneburg McDonald’s, and we had lunch together. Next to him, a Venezuelan, and finally a Hungarian, our only classmate from behind the Iron Curtain.

Summertime Samosa

Saw the streak of a firefly over my lawn this evening. First one of the year. That and twilight at about 9 p.m. mark the coming of high summer. Even so, I can feel June slipping away. Wish this sweetest of months could linger a little longer.

Before adopting our dog, I wouldn’t have guessed how important windows were to her. She’s a tall dog when she stands on her hind legs, and can see out of some of our windows – and spends a lot of time doing just that. One of the windows she fancies is easy to see from the driveway, and sometimes as I pass that window in my car, headed for the garage, I see the glint of two canine eyes.

Impulse purchase of the week (of the month?): Regal Chowk’s Punjabi Samosa, which seems to be made by an entity called Anarkali in Pakistan. Basic searches tell of a folk heroine from Lahore called Anarkali, who’s appeared in books, plays and movies made on the subcontinent, but I’m too lazy to look into that any further right now.

Anyway, these samosa are in the frozen foods section of your neighborhood grocery store, or at least one of my nearby grocery stores, since there’s a fairly large population here in the northwest suburbs who are from, or whose parents are from, South Asia. The first place I ever had samosa was on Devon Ave. in Chicago years ago, as an appetizer, and I’ve enjoyed them now and then ever since. Fresh is going to be hard to beat, but I thought I’d give these a try. Might be surprised.

Death Be Not Particular

Dear Death,

This has to stop – people about my age, famous or not, dying. That means people who I went to high school with, or could have.



I doubt that Death is listening. The trickle of deaths of people roughly my age – there’s always been a trickle – is only going to expand into a torrent in the coming decades until my cohort is no more. C’est la vie, c’est la mort.

I don’t expect to be among the last. You know how very elderly people are sometimes described as isolated because, among other things, they’ve “outlived all their friends”? I expect to be one of the friends.

The odd thing (to only me) about James Gandolfini’s death was that he born on September 18, 1961, exactly the same day as my high school friend Kevin, whom I posted about the other day.

One of these days, if I live long enough, I’ll get around to watching The Sopranos. I hear it’s good.

Still Life With Lawnmower

Temps were cool today, but it was a fine day all around. I went out to mow the yard, and did the front but not the back. Maybe tomorrow. In the meantime, I composed “Still Life With Lawnmower.”

Of course I didn’t invent that title. Here’s a painting from more than 20 years ago that not only features a lawn mower, but also a more traditional vase & flowers motif.

Evergreens and Anniversaries

A headline I spotted today on Google News: FBI investigating tip to Hoffa burial site. This story’s an evergreen, in news biz jargon. Actually, no. When a magazine editor, at least of my generation, called a piece an “evergreen” that meant it didn’t have to run in a particular issue. If you waited an edition or two, it wouldn’t go stale.

But I’m expanding the definition: the Hoffa article is evergreen because it could have run 15 years ago, or 10 or five or last year, with only a few details changed. It could also run next year or five years from now, provided Mr. Hoffa’s remains aren’t found, and I wouldn’t bet any money that they will be. But you never know, maybe someday — how long did it take to find Richard III?

I also read that the 50th anniversary of zip codes is coming up. Years ago I remember thinking, zip codes weren’t around when I was born? (Lilly might someday feel the same odd feeling about Google.) Maybe that thought occurred to me in high school, when I heard a presentation by a Canadian mathematician (or maybe he was just a math teacher) about postal codes. He claimed that five- and six-number codes were the easiest to remember — the postal code systems that the United States and the Soviet Union, respectively, had adopted.

“The most difficult system to remember is a combination of arbitrary numbers and letters, which the British adopted,” he said. “The Canadian government, in its wisdom, decided to imitate the British system, which is the worst.”

Zip codes, they say, were developed to help the post office deal with too much mail. Bet the USPS wishes it had that problem about now.