Category Archives: Life

A Time For Reflection – In So Many Ways

Little Tree In The Window

Little Tree in The South Window, Arches National Park, Utah

I may very well have posted this image back in 2013, which is when it was captured. *This* image, however, is a reworked version and looks much better than the original. That’s not to say it looks different from what I actually saw when I took the photograph. It’s simply to say that this image produces *more* of what I saw and how I saw it. It’s true, the camera captures all of the data, but one may not necessarily see it from the outset, depending upon the original camera settings.
 
This, in turn, leads me to some thoughts regarding photography, the end of the year, and life, in general.
 
As each year draws to a close and people start looking toward the new year, it’s a tradition (or maybe just an assumption), that we will all review the old year, attempt to draw some conclusions from our experiences over that year, and make room for improvements during the new year.
 
In my case, I’ve got a number of conclusions and planned improvements.  For those of you non-photographers who read this, simply substitute “photography” for whatever it is you love doing (dancing, drawing, painting, writing, making jewelry, cooking, etc.)
 
1. I have improved my photo editing talents over this past year. Thankfully. This is because I continue to try and learn from others, either through reading, experimentation, or purchasing and downloading how-to videos. Example: I probably would have never learned how to use (or at least, correctly use) Photoshop’s Layers had I not started reviewing a set of videos from photographer Chip Phillips. I’d been reading about layers, but it all sounded so damned difficult. Chip is, without a doubt, one of my favorite photographers (ok, I really like Kevin McNeal, too), and his videos were a priceless learning tool for me. I also do alot of looking on Flickr for motivation as well as different ways to capture an image. I’ve been doing quite a bit of looking regarding panoramas, because I don’t have much experience capturing shots and creating panoramas from those shots, and I want to be able to do that. The message I want *you* photographers out there to get from this, is that you must continue to learn and experiment with your work. When I do my own browsing of other photographer’s Facebook pages or Flickr accounts, I see many with great potential, but they seem to be stuck in a rut. I look at their images and see potential that is there, but not unearthed because they didn’t try working with shadows, highlights, saturation, and all the other neat tools Photoshop or their preferred photo editor offers, that would bring a little special “oomph” or “wow” factor to their image. Sometimes, you just need to experiment for yucks and giggles and then see what comes of it.
 
2. I still don’t know a lot of things about photography or the business side of photography. And I *know* I don’t know this. So I need to make it my business to know what I don’t know. It’s the only way I am ever going to evolve from a semi-pro to a pro, in terms of business savvy as well as making a little more money with my shots. I recently was asked for an estimate (aka quote) on one of my images to be used on a product that will be mass-produced in a relatively small quantity. Now, I could have just sent a quick email with what I *think* would be a fair price, but that would have no way helped me at all. So, I’ve been sitting down and learning the business side of photography, including how to negotiate, how to set up a business (do I want to be an LLC, an S-Corporation, etc), the different licenses a client can purchase from me, and what kind of price is a fair price (there’s a great software program out there called fotoQuote that I and the authors of some books I’ve been reading highly recommend). These are just a few items. There is so much to learn, and it’s not all fun, believe me. But, for my future as a more serious photographer trying to pay my bills with my work, this is necessary and quite interesting, actually.
 
3. Life is going to get a little more interesting/challenging for me in 2018. I could say it will get “scarier” for me, but that would be the wrong mindset. So, I intend to be positive about it, as it will jump start me in a new direction. You see, the day job I have is planning layoffs in about 3 weeks. I’m not sure whether I’ll be kept or let go, but I have to make my contingency plans. I’m too young to collect social security and I really need to work a few more years before I feel I can retire within relative comfort (I’m gonna miss the company health insurance, since I’m too young for Medicare, and, under the present administration, may never be able to collect Medicare). So, my contingency plans include such things as updating my LinkedIn profile and re-writing my resume … something I haven’t done in 20 years! Oh, I also need to get better at selling myself at my age. Even though older people have experience, they sometimes are set in their ways and not quite as adaptable as the current generation; this is evidenced in the out-of-work coal miners who will probably never get their jobs back, but either are afraid to or simply don’t want to try and learn something new and adapt to today’s environment. 2018 will, in all eventuality, see me moving back out West, from where I originally came. Suits me. I never liked where I live but was here for my aging parents (now gone) and the job (possibly to be gone sooner rather than later). And I live farther away than desired from what is left of my family. Losing my current job will simply be a kick in the butt to jump start my new future. It’s going to be stressful, especially since I’m 20 years older than when I first moved to Texas. Making a big move from one part of the country to another is considered a life event. There is so much to plan for (packing, moving, looking for a new place to live, finding a job – and not necessarily in that order). That’s not going to stop me from achieving a life goal, though. Ever since my family moved from the mountains of Montana down to the southern part of the U.S., I made it a dream/desire/goal to move back to the mountains. And I *will* do it.
 
3. Family is more important than you might realize. I know, there are families out there that are horrible, and their children are better off distancing themselves from toxic situations. But for those with loving family relationships, here’s some advice: As your parents get older, they are going to need your help and your company. Living a great distance away from them may be ok when you are in your 20s and your parents are still in good health, but you are going to need to be prepared to make some difficult and necessary life choices as your parents age and their health diminishes. They may need someone to run errands for them, or cook for them or just keep them company when they are lonely. Don’t be the one to feel guilty after they are dead, wishing woulda-coulda-shoulda. Visit them as often as you can. When you can’t visit, call them. Doesn’t matter if you don’t have much to say. Your parents will be thrilled you called and they will generally fill up the silence with their own stuff. Trust me on this one.
 
4. Keep reading and keep learning. And not just about photography. I’m lucky in that I had a great education and a supportive network which originally instilled in me the desire to learn and continue learning. It begins early, folks: start reading to your kids. Now. Even if they are toddlers. Hell, even if they are babies. Read to them and instill in them the love of books and knowledge. I know a person who has younger relatives and those kids hate school and hate reading. They were never read to when they were little – probably because their own parents and relatives never liked reading because nobody ever read to them. So, the fires of curiosity and learning were never stoked. It’s a vicious circle. I have a great-niece who is reading at 4 grades above her current level, and a great-nephew who is reading at about the same speed as his sister. They both love books. My great-nephew, in particular,enjoys books about science and interesting facts about animals, space, food, you name it. My youngest great-niece also loves being read to.  She will often ask her parents (or Grammy) to read the same book over and over to her several times before she goes to sleep.  Their parents read to them and have always taken the time to answer their questions or help them find the answers to their questions. Be that parent.
 
4. Put down your damned smartphone. Talk to the people you are with. If traveling, look around you and stop thinking you need to send every little photograph to Facebook/Instagram/Twitter right at that moment. Take time to really *look*. Savor the view, the experiences, the fresh air, the smells of the environment, the interesting people, and the adventure of it all. And for fun, if you see someone walking along with their nose in their smartphone, stand still and see if they even know there is someone in front of them. Oh, and DON’T TEXT AND DRIVE. Beyond stupid.
 
5. Plan NOW. For whatever: a future trip, your college education, your 401(k). Half the fun (and half the learning) is in the planning.  It’s also prudent to start planning for something like your kid’s college education sooner rather than later.
 
6. Summon your courage to travel solo at least once in 2018. It’s a wonderful, freeing, sometimes scary, but always educational experience. Put away old mindsets, old worries, old prejudices. That doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind. Safety is always of paramount importance. But step out of that cocoon for just a little bit and experience a whole wide world (not a flat world, but a round world governed by the law of gravity).
 
7. It’s ok if you like living alone. It’s ok if you don’t like to be around people that much. It’s ok if you like animals better than humans. It’s ok if you would rather read than go shopping or go to a party. It’s ok if you don’t ever want to marry. It’s ok if you don’t ever want kids. Don’t let anybody else’s expectations infringe upon what you want to do with your own life. Don’t let anybody bully you or force you to do something with your life that you feel is wrong. Remember, it’s your life. I stopped watching “Say Yes To The Dress” because it used to drive me nuts that the bride (and it’s HER wedding) would get so upset that her parents/relatives/friends hated her wedding dress pick so they would try and choose HER dress for her.  Be brave and do your own choosing for yourself.  Don’t let others do it for you.
 
I guess that’s it. I’m sure I’ll think of other things, but since I thought of these first, then they are probably the most important.
 
Happy Festivus.
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Filed under Events, Life, Photography, Seasons

Honoring My Photographer Father on Father’s Day

JohnLatson_The Photographer Himself

In honor of Father’s Day, which we celebrate here in the U.S.  I wrote an article about my photographer father and it was published in the National Parks Traveler.  Click on the photo if you are interested in reading the article.

 

 

 

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Filed under family, Father's Day, Life, love, National Parks Traveler, Photography

It’s Almost Year End

It is.  It’s almost the end of 2015 and I, for one, am ready for it to be done with.  Except for my boob job in January, it’s been a pretty shitty year I’ll admit.

N6A0653_Becky and Her Baby

My 89-year old mother became ill in early February and subsequently died on the 19th, one day prior to my elder sister’s birthday.  We can’t thank our lucky stars enough that we were both there to care for Mom at the end of it all.   From then on, life and work went to hell in a handbasket.  I’d break into tears every time I thought of Mom or thought of (or heard or saw) something that reminded me of Mom, My sister and I constantly second-guessed ourselves concerning Mom (woulda, coulda, shoulda).  I found myself working for a horrible boss who made my work life miserable.  I was not in the least interested in photography.  And my entire life revolved around being Executrix of Mom’s estate.

Poor Mom.  She thought she was leaving my sister and me with a nice little nest egg of her savings.  As it was, my sister and I spent every single penny of that nest-egg savings getting Mom’s house up to snuff so we could finally put it on the market; fingers crossed that this sale goes through smoothly so we can be done with it.  These upgrades included a total re-grade and re-sod of the entire front, back and side yards around the house (including the addition of what they call “French drains” to get the standing water to drain into the ditches around the house thanks to the horrid spring thunderstorms Texas constantly experienced all April and May); installation of more foundation pillars in the hallway; patching and repainting the cracks in the walls caused by the foundation work as well as the house’s normal settling issues here in southeast Texas; re-carpeting the hallway, one bedroom and the large den; getting the electrical issues worked out; installing a new roof to replace the one damaged by a freak April hailstorm; fixing the garage door, removing all of the high-tech hurricane storm shutters; and a number of other smaller issues  – all required by the home inspector’s and the structural engineer’s report and the current realtor’s suggestions to make the house more – well – salable.  This work has all taken two months shy of a year since Mom’s death.  It’s been an albatross around my neck and I can’t thank my sister’s husband enough for all of his help – his 30 years in the construction business has enabled me to keep from going mad and throttling most of the people and businesses within this horrid little Podunk Texas town in which I currently reside.  My experience this year has lead me to believe that there is absolutely no business here in this town that is totally trustworthy.  At least, not when it comes to dealing with a divorced, middle-aged woman such as myself.  Fuck ‘em all, I say.

As you can probably tell by now, this entire experience has given birth to the New Me:  Angry White Woman.

I don’t take shit off of anybody anymore and I’m far more vocal about my feelings, opinions and beliefs (this includes my political and non-religious leanings, much to many of my Facebook friends’ annoyance).  I have discovered I am also far more willing to stick my neck out at work and push back to the dirty politics I experience on behalf of myself and my friends who either cannot or will not push back themselves (it’s easier for me to do it since I’m close to early retirement and I don’t have a family for whom I must provide – this allows me to follow the courage of my convictions).

It’s taken me 54 years, and I’m absolutely certain Mom’s death was the catalyst to make me realize what is truly important in my life.  Hint:  it aint work.  Work is not my life and never has been – it just pays the bills, pays for my camera equipment and allows me to travel.  No, what is really important – to me – is family and people who love me.

Thanksgiving Dinner

I no longer have family here in Texas.  They all live out in the Pacific Northwest, and sooner rather than later, that is where I will move.  I am making my plans little by little.  I don’t want to grow old and spend my remaining days alone in a Texas nursing home, waiting to die, far away from people I love and who love me.  Besides that, I’ve never been a huge fan of Texas and am ready for the next adventure further west where the mountains and my family live.

I’m also trying to regain my photo mojo.  I’ve done a few small photo projects this year, including:

Storm Front On The Refuge

Portrait Of A Juvenile Yellow-Crowned Night HeronAnoleSpiny Backed Orb Weaver

Using my new 11-24mm, 100mm macro, and 500mm prime lenses at Brazos Bend State Park, Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, and around my home and my mother’s home;

Jupiters Eye On The HelldiverWaiting For SunriseThe Rising Sun 2The Rising SunKnife Edge Fly ByAleutian P40K WarhawkGrumman TBF AvengerJapanese FighterTexas Raiders Taking Off

Spending a wonderful sunrise photo shoot as well as an entire day in the photo pit at the 2015 Wings Over Houston Airshow;

Pirate Spooks On Stage

Reaching Across The Stage For A Toast

Dessert At The Kings Feast

Preparing To Serve The Beef

Feast Staff 2015

Halloween Becky In The POW Pub

Pirate Spooks

A Witch And A Zombie

Performing my duties as staff photographer for The Merchant Prince and capturing images for his use out at the 2015 Texas Renaissance Festival;

A Crown For A Princess

Photographing my newest great niece whom I have never met until last year (for only 20 minutes before getting to the airport) and who is now almost 3 years old;

_83Q5951_83Q5973_83Q6720

And photographing my company’s annual gingerbread decorating event.

I haven’t really taken any photo holiday because almost all of my annual vacation days were spent caring for Mom and thereafter taking care of the estate.  I did take a short trip to visit my sister and her family in eastern Washington over Labor Day, spent a weekend in Santa Fe NM during the Memorial Day holiday, and visited my sister and her family, again, during Thanksgiving.

My main vacation is coming up and I hope it will be the jump start to much more photography in 2016:  I’m going to be spending 10 days in Europe (including Christmas and New Year):  8 days in London and 2 days in Paris.  Everything is paid for, I printed out all of my tickets, and I am all packed, including my camera backpack:

  • Canon 5DS body
  • Canon 5DS-R body
  • Canon 1DX body
  • Canon 11-24mm lens
  • Canon 24-105mm IS lens
  • Canon 24-70mm IS lens
  • Tripod, a gazillion memory cards, a small Canon flash, a couple of wireless shutter releases, and lots of extra, fully-charged batteries

I’m not taking my 70-200mm lens because it’s heavy and my backpack is already heavy enough (plus I’m taking two suitcases as well as my laptop bag with travel laptop, mouse, memory card readers, 2 external hard drives – 1 TB each, iPhone, iPad, book, and folder with all of my ticket information for the various venues I will attend).  I can only take so much – don’t even ask me what I’ve packed in the suitcases (grin).

I apologize for not publishing more blog posts.  I know one is supposed to do that to keep readership and to keep one’s writing skills in tip-top shape.  I’ll get back into the groove, I promise.  I’ll have free WiFi in my London and Paris hotels, so I know I’ll be editing photos and writing about my experiences, uploading to both my Facebook photography page as well as my Twitter account.  I may even publish a post while there.  For now, stay tuned to forthcoming imagery from my 2015 trip, as well as the trips I have planned for 2016.  I plan on making up for lost time.

N6A3701_Seahawks Becky Cap

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Filed under 1DX, 5DS, Attitude, Aviation, birds, Brazoria NWR, Brazos Bend State Park, Canon, Canon 11-24mm, Canon Lens, Equipment, Landscape, Life, macro, nature, Photography, Texas, wildlife, Wildlife Refuge

D-Day, In Dad’s Own Words

DadNottinghamPortrait_0005

In a previous post, I mentioned that I and my sister had a number of stories Dad wrote about his experiences as a paratrooper during WWII.  He jumped over Normandy on D-Day, jumped during Operation Market Garden, and jumped during the Battle of the Bulge.

On the upcoming anniversary of D-Day, here is the story of Dad’s experience jumping over Normandy, in his own words.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

“We landed in Ireland, the month being February. The weather was terrible.  That day we left New York, we sailed out of the harbor in a snow storm.  I did, however, see the grand old Lady before we sailed into the deep sea.  It wasn’t until that moment that I really realized I was leaving and perhaps would never see it again.  Every man on board was looking and during the time, not a word was spoken.  There was just that lump in your throat that made speech impossible.

During the trip, no enemy was encountered.  We were escorted by destroyers, a battleship and two aircraft carriers.  It was the largest convoy at that time to cross the water.

As soon as we sighted the shore of Ireland, I knew that it was all the songs implied.  The first thing that entered my mind was ‘I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen’.

From Belfast, we traveled by train to Camp Clandy-boy (Northern Ireland).  It was there that I took long walks on the Clandy-boy (Clandeboye) estate.  I have often wished that I had enough money to buy an estate like that.  To look at Ireland you could never have believed that a war was in progress.  The countryside was so peaceful and the people went about their daily life as they always have and did, years ago.

From Ireland, we split up and went into different groups.  My group went to Nottingham, England.   There, we lived in a park.  Every day, it was crowded with people and finally they had to erect barbed wire entanglements to keep the people from the tents. We stayed here until D-Day.  We started preparing about two months ahead of time.

On the twenty-fifth of May, 1944, we left our base camp in Wollaton Park, Nottingham, England.  We were boarded on English busses with full combat loads and taken to airports.  We, of course, knew that this was the big one.  It seems that we had trained all of our life for this jump.

The airfield perimeter was covered with tents.  Until the night of June 5th, we spent our time getting equipment ready to kill Germans.  The night of June 5th, we were called into the situation room, or ‘War Room’.  We were shown on the map where we were supposed to land.  This was early in the evening.  We were told about what we could expect in the way of opposition. They pointed out the positions of certain units of the German Wehrmacht.  Much of this was guess work on their part.

The “Old Man” of the Regiment made a speech to us before going to the airport.  He told us that we were to take no prisoners and we remembered that.  He just wanted us to kill, kill, and kill.  We were ready.  Our first taste of combat, our first taste of blood.

It’s funny all that I could think about was the news flashes back home:  ‘Paratroopers Spearhead Invasion of Europe’.  I could see the headlines; I could visualize the excitement back in the States.

After the briefing, we returned to our tents to wait.  At 10:30PM, we loaded into the C-47s.  The Co. Commander just looked us all over and said ‘Good luck and happy hunting, boys.’  We all knew that a lot of us wouldn’t be coming back.  We carried full combat load: 306 cal. rifle ammunition in bandoliers.  Our rifles were broken down in order to jump.  We each had fragmentation grenades, one smoke, one gammon and a trench knife.  The gammon grenade was filled with a pound of composition C2.

When we were in the plane and seated, I removed my reserve chute and put it under my seat.  The trooper next to me asked what the hell I was doing.  I laughed and told him that I considered myself to be a fatalist and figured if my main chute didn’t open, there was no need for the second.  After all, we wanted to jump at only a thousand feet or less.

During the flight, some of the boys were able to sleep.  I kept looking out of the window and watching the cloud formations, wondering about home and what everybody would be doing and saying when they got the news.

In only about 2 hours, the whole sky lit up.  Remember, this was about 12:30AM on June 6th.  German machine gun tracers were coming at us like mad.  They had also sent up their flares to make sure they could see us and give us a ‘joyous welcome’.

Just previous to this, the Pilot Jump Master asked us how low we wanted to jump.  Our reply was 800 feet. After we ran into all of that ground fire, we all started hollering and told them to let us jump before the plane was hit.  We all rushed to hook up to the static line and jump.  One man froze in the door.  Needless to say, we pushed him to the front and out of our way.

When I felt the opening shock, I knew that my chute had opened and that I would land unless I became entangled with another trooper.  During the short descent, it seemed that every damned German tracer bullet was aimed only at me.  The Germans were firing everything they had:  machine guns, rifles, anti-aircraft guns.  The whole world was an inferno.  Dante should have been there; perhaps he was.

At a time like this, there is no time to think of anything except self-preservation.  With the German tracers coming at you, your only thought is to land and to hope you don’t set down on a bunch of Germans, because this was a time of no prisoners on either side.  This was understood before we jumped.

I landed knee-deep in a swamp with my chute draped halfway up a tree.  I stood there and looked up at my chute and thought ‘My God, every German for miles can see the damned thing.’

Before I could defend myself, I had to put my rifle together.  Until I did, all I had was my trench knife.  While I was fumbling to get my rifle together, I heard someone sloshing through the water toward me.  The figure coming toward me whispered the password we had all been given.  Needless to say, I was damned well happy to see a fellow trooper – John Lensey – from my own company instead of a German.  After I had reassembled my rifle, Lensey and I started wading across the swamp, waist-deep in water.  I might mention here that the swamps were created by the Germans as anti-paratroop obstacles.

As Lensey and I crossed the swamp, we met two troopers of the 505 regiment.  I should perhaps explain that the regiments and companies were scattered from hell to breakfast.  No one had dropped where he was supposed to.

The four of us came to a road.  Not being sure of anything, we were cautious and laid by the side of the roadbed to listen for a moment.  A Jerry (German) on a bicycle came by, just as if nothing was taking place.  My only reaction was to kill, so I stood up and shot him. I often wish that I hadn’t.  I have never heard such a blood-curdling scream in my life; he must have been hit in the throat.  After that, I started shaking like one with a bad chill; it wasn’t from the cold – I had killed a man.

All four of us were standing.  About 10 seconds after the shooting, all hell broke loose.  Across from us, a German machine gun opened up.  We all hit the ground, but Lensey had been hit; they must have riddled him.  ‘John, I’m hit’.  I rolled him on his back and he informed me that he didn’t hurt but that he couldn’t move.  He had been hit and was paralyzed.  We could hear Germans in the darkness but we couldn’t locate them.  Lensey told us to leave him a canteen of water and to get the hell out.  We should have stayed with him and fought it out, but we didn’t.  I knew when we left that the Germans would kill him and it was my fault. I know that in war, men are killed.  But this one was on me and I’ve had to live with it; I should never have left him.

The three of us left the roadbed back into the swamp with only our heads above water.  It seemed an eternity, but as daybreak finally came, we saw that we were approaching another road.  As we were wading up the road, we saw some of our own troopers.  There were five of them and they gave us a hearty greeting.  It was a cloudy day and we were soaked and the first thing I asked one of the dry troopers was ‘Do you have a cigarette?’

I should mention that I had jumped with two bandoliers of ammunition across my shoulder, but I also had a bandolier of cigarettes on me.  The swamp had taken care of that.  To this day, 60 years later, I have never had a better cigarette than the one the trooper gave me.

There were eight of us now.  We were from different outfits; we were, indeed, a mixture.  As we went down the little road, we ran into more stragglers and an officer.  It was morning and we could see the German and American fighter planes in dog fights.

As the day wore on, we ran into more troopers until we numbered about fifteen.  We didn’t run into any Germans except one time we heard German tanks ahead of us.  This was hedge row country.  There were hedge rows on each side of the road and across all of the fields.  We hit the hedge rows at the side of the road and waited for the tanks.  Luckily for us, they didn’t come our way.

As we went on, we saw the bodies of our troops hanging from trees.  The Germans just shot them hanging there, they didn’t bother to take them down.

That evening late, we left the road and went into a field for quite a way.  The officer had a detailed map of the area.  We did not dig in because we knew that we would be moving the next day.

The next morning, we had our meal:  a cup of water and a D bar.  As the day progressed, our troop strength increased.  You have to remember that this was still a mixture of different companies, battalions and regiments.  Over a period of several days, Company C – my company – had a total of one officer and eight men.  Then there were other companies that gained men and officers and as they did, each officer took over what he had of his own troopers.

Later that day, we met with the remnants of our regiment, the 508th.  We set up our defenses on the immortal (Hill 30).  There, we held off for five days under constant German attack. On Hill 30 there were eight of us left from C Co.  From then on, it was patrols and attacks.

About the 14th or 15th of June, we were advancing along a road into hill country.  Our sergeant and two men were walking ahead of the column when two mortar rounds came in.  The third round hit them.  The two men were killed and the sergeant was wounded; it’s been too many years and I can’t remember his name.  Anyway, they gave me a hedge row map and told me I was to take his place.

From there, we fought through small hamlets and over hedge rows.  At one point, we ended up on the bank of the Merderet River, west of Ste Mere-Eglise.  We couldn’t cross the river by way of the La Fiere Causeway because the Germans had the other side.

At this juncture, there was only one officer and seven of us from C Company.  Mendoza and I went down towards the river, where we dug our fox holes.  The others dug in at different locations.  Periodically, the Germans on the other side would open up with their artillery.  The Germans were good with their 88mm guns.  They would shell our positions for 30 minutes or so, then quit; two or three hours later, they would shell us again.  It was during one of the lulls in the bombardment that I decided to scout the vicinity.

There was a deserted house with barns in the back of us.  Believe me, we were natural scavengers, always on the lookout for something worthwhile to pick up – especially a bottle of booze.

The house didn’t have much left inside that was worth salvaging.  I then went into the barn; there was a pile of hay along with some miscellaneous equipment.  I noticed something shiny in the hay.  I started digging and found a stack of bottles of wine.  Hey, that was like finding a million dollars.  I grabbed four bottles, two under each arm, and started back to mine and Mendoza’s foxhole.  Before I got there, the German artillery came in again. It seemed that every damned German gun was aimed at Mendoza and me.  I had only one thought:  I was not going to drop my wine.  To hell with the Germans.  I made it back to my foxhole and fell in, protecting my wine.  Mendoza had been out and around also; just about the time I fell into my foxhole, Mendoza fell on top of me.  We were both out of breath.  But when Mendoza could talk, I will never forget it.  He said with his Mexican accent ‘Johnnie, I think we should go take those son of a bitches out.’  I do believe if I would have said ‘Let’s go’, Mendoza would have gone with me, against the whole German army.

We waited there until the 8th Division came in to relieve us. We had about two days of waiting, which we didn’t mind. The 8th Division boys had never been in combat.  They were as fresh as we were before we jumped.  I should be ashamed of myself, but I had to do it.  There were about six of the 8th Division troops sitting around in one of the small rooms of the farmhouse.  I dressed in a German officer’s uniform, which I’d found.  I put on the boots and the works.  I had a German pistol which I had confiscated.  I walked in on them and proceeded to use a few German words and words that sounded German; there are always some funny things to come out of a war.  The look on their faces, I could see as if it was yesterday; they thought that their time had come.  They froze, then stood with their hands up.  I started laughing and told them I was an American paratrooper.  I have never seen such relief.  They were too relieved to get mad.  Besides, my men were in the next room.  I can look back now and see how foolish that was.  I could have been shot, but I just had to do it.

Out of 144 men that jumped in our company, we came back with 17.  Many of the boys were killed before getting out of their chutes.  We were scattered all over the place and our fighting had to be done in small, individual groups.  We can say, however, that we took our toll of Germans and didn’t take prisoners.

After we returned to England, it was never the same.  Not one of the boys I ran around with came back.  You walked down the street and a lot of the English girls would stop and ask where so-and-so was.  Then you would have to tell them and of course, they would start crying and you would end up feeling like a damned heel.

Not long after getting back, we started preparing for a jump in Belgium in conjunction with a drive by Patton.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

This ends Dad’s account of his part in D-Day.  His next story is of Operation Market Garden.

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Distance (And Death) Don’t Matter – Closeness Is An Affair Of The Heart

After Babys Bath

I’ve been noticing my Facebook friends posting photos of their mothers as profile pics, and I just finished reading a blog post by Life In The Boomer Lane about LBL’s own mother.  This, in turn, brought up thoughts of my own mother, who recently passed away in mid-February of this year.

Here in the U.S., we celebrate a holiday (not one that companies give to their employees as a day off) known as Mother’s Day.  This year, Mother’s Day is going to be a little more difficult for my sister and I; we’ll remember Mom with much love and a little sadness.

Mom was one of the nicest people I ever knew.  She was nice to everybody – even those people whose foibles may have annoyed her a little (sometimes, that included me).  She was the eternal optimist.  She loved hugs, soothed over worries, cooked our favorite foods, and always tried to please.  She never ever complained – even during the dark days of Dad’s drinking and her final days laying ill in her hospice-provided hospital bed.  Her’s really was an unconditional love.

I always had flowers sent to Mom.  Because she’s not around this Mother’s Day, I’m having flowers sent to my sister instead – a mother, herself, of 4 boys who have grown up to be awesome men (although we all did wonder at times about the twins ever making it to their 21st birthday).

If you have a mother who is still alive, I urge you to reach out to her.  Call her.  Visit her. Do what you can for her while she is still living.  Don’t ever wait until she is gone and then have regrets.  Give her flowers now while she can enjoy their beauty and fragrance; don’t wait until she is dead and then put flowers on her grave or urn niche where she may or may not enjoy them (depending upon your religious and metaphysical belief system).

Wish your mother a happy Mother’s Day.  And remember:  no matter how far away you may be from your mother, closeness is an affair of the heart.

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From Tanks to Paratroops – In Dad’s Own Words

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My father fought in WWII as a paratrooper in the 105th Infantry of the 82nd Airborne.  When he first joined the Army, though, he was in the Armored Division.  He never spoke of his experiences except on rare occasions; usually it was when he was drunk.  About 7-8 years ago, though, when he was in his 80’s, we convinced him to start writing about his war experiences.   This particular story he was addressing to my sister.  I have kept Dad’s wording but tried to correct spelling where I could.  As for the names he mentions in this story, I hope I’ve spelled them correctly as sometimes his writing was difficult to decipher.

– – – – – – – –

“When I first went into the Army, my mother (Granny) would not sign my release if I wanted to join the paratroops.  So, I settled for the Armored Division.  I found myself at Fort Knox, Kentucky, at basic training.  Back in that day and time, a PFC was a general.

I finished the 13 weeks of basic and then was assigned to the 2nd Armored Division.  My first Sgt. was an old-time regulation Army soldier.  He was what we called Top Sgt or Top Kick.  He was an Old-Timer and even told the Lts. and Captains what to do.  He had a lot of power.  He was an old bugger and we were afraid of him, but he knew his business.  He must have liked me because he gave me a light tank to drive.  In fact, I drove it so well, I “cowboyed” it.  In other words, I drove it as fast as it would go over rough terrain.  He put me on 2 days of KP for this; I had to wash dishes and peel potatoes for 2 days.

He (the Sgt.) seemed to like me, however, and so did the Captain.  We went onto the firing range to fire rifles.  I ended up making the best score of anyone.  The Captain asked me where I was from and my answer was Texas.  He said ‘I thought so.  Go show these other bastards how to shoot.’  I got my first advancement from this.  He made me a Corporal.  From there, I made a Sgt. as Tank Commander.

I should say here that I thoroughly enjoyed driving the light tanks.  They were small and not worth a damn in combat but would attain a speed of 48 – 50 mph and I always kept them at top speed.  We later went to what we called a medium tank:  the old Sheridan Tank.  They were much slower but much more practical for combat.

We moved our unit, the 2nd Armored, from Fort Knox, Kentucky, to Camp Polk in Louisiana.  I called your mother (Edna) one night and asked her to marry me.  She said ‘yes’ and she met me in Lake Charles (Louisiana).  We were married there by some preacher with Eula Roberts as witness.  She was an old friend of Granny’s (Dad’s mother).  We then went to Camp Polk to live in an apartment.

Edna left when I went on maneuvers in Louisiana.  I took lessons and was trained to be an umpire.  It was quite an experience.  We fought all over the Louisiana woods; red and blue armies. Before I left for maneuvers, I had put in for a transfer to the paratroops.  It seems I wasn’t liked by our Col. of the division.  Every time I turned around, he was there to give me hell.

One time, I was taking my crew to the motor pool to clean our tank.  I was walking them down and old Col. Yale came up in the jeep to ask me why I wasn’t marching them to the motor pool.  I replied that I didn’t think it was necessary since we were not on parade.  He didn’t like this reply and told me to double time up the small hill and back.  We did this and came back and saluted the old bastard.  This was not the first run in that we had, so I got damned tired of it; I wanted out.

Lt. Brendigan was my company commander.  The First Sgt. there – I can’t remember his name – but we had a good rapport.  Anyway, before I left for maneuvers, I went to personnel and put in for the paratroops.  When I returned for a leave from maneuvers, I was told to report to the First Sgt.  He saw me and shook my hand.  He said ‘John, you made it, you are going to be a paratrooper.’  I have never been so happy.  Lt. Brendigan told me that Col. Yale had given him hell for letting me get out.  Brendigan grinned from ear to ear.  He took me to the train in his jeep and wished me the best.  Brendigan told me that before I left, the old col. tried to pull some strings to cancel my transfer but failed at that because they needed paratroops for the Normandy invasion worse than they needed tanks at that time.

I got on the train with all of my service records.  I could have gone AWOL and no one would be the wiser, but that was the furthest thing from my mind.  My only thought was:  go to Fort Benning (Georgia) and be a paratrooper.  I had been smoking, but when I got to Fort Benning, I stopped smoking.  I knew that I was in for some rough training.  I was in good shape and could run with the best of them.

I’ll never forget the first time we rolled our own chutes to jump the next day; we were to make four daytime jumps and one night jump.  Our forth jump was a nighttime jump.  Our last jump was a daytime jump.  After this last daytime jump, we were to have a graduation parade.

I will never forget when I was released from the parade, I looked up and saw Edna standing there.  She had traveled all the way from Texas to Georgia to see my graduation.  We were invited that day to eat at the officers’ table. I was embarrassed.  I was not used to this type of attention.  After all, I was just a poor old enlisted man.”

– – – – – – – –

One day, Mom told me the story of her going to see Dad graduate.  I can totally understand why she and Dad were invited to eat at the officers’ table.  She told me she was the only woman there, and from seeing photos of her when she was so young, I knew she was an absolutely adorable little thing.MomDadWarPortrait_0001

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Feeling “Off”

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Everything feels “off”.  By “off”, I mean not only as in “powered down” but also off as in “off kilter” or “askew”.  I go home to my apartment and it doesn’t look or feel the same.  Naturally, it wouldn’t look the same because it’s a total pig sty right now, complete with undusted surfaces, unwashed dishes in the sink and stacks of boxes filled with items taken from Mom’s home.  Those boxes are in every room of my 2-bed, 2-bath apartment.  I have no idea where I will put everything, but I’ll handle it because those items are now all that are left of my mother and father.  Those items are all that I wanted to keep. The rest have either gone to my sister or they are to be sold in the estate sale this coming week or will be donated to charity.

My 89-year old mother passed away in early-mid February, a little less than 5 years after my 86-year old father died.  She was in the hospital for a week and then I and my sister took her home to care for her with the help of Hospice.  After Mom’s death, my sister flew back to her home and family in the Pacific Northwest and I began the duties as Executrix for my mother’s estate.

This has been one of the hardest, most physically- and emotionally-draining things I have ever done in my entire 53 (almost 54) years of life.

In addition to my full-time job, I am handling Mom’s estate.  All by myself (ok, I have the attorney working on probating the will, but you know what I mean).  And my sister and I are sooo very thankful that Mom had the means to pay for everything and that she had the foresight to put me as a signer (signor?) on her checking account.

You see, here in the U.S., you can’t die for free.  Not unless you are totally indigent, I guess.  Mom was not indigent, so of course there was a fee for the cremation, and another fee for interring her ashes in a little niche at the local cemetery.  Then, there’s the filing of the income taxes.  And the costs for probating her will.  Plus, I can’t do much of anything without the Letters of Testamentary (part of the probate process) but that will only occur after the 10-14 day waiting period while the Court publishes notice of the probate in the local paper to let any creditors know of Mom’s demise.  Luckily, Mom’s house and car and everything else were all paid for.  Nonetheless, I can’t sell her car or the house or get the taxes done or do any other of the myriad tasks dealing with Mom’s death without those Letters.

I wrote the obituary.

I informed people and agencies of Mom’s death.

Everything I have done is a reminder of the demise of her existence.

I talk to my sister on a daily basis – sometimes more than once – particularly if there is some sort of emergency (which there usually is).  I, who never wanted any more responsibility than that of work (which is why I have not yet ever remarried, why I never wanted to buy a house or why I don’t even own a pet) now shoulder more responsibility than I sometimes feel I can handle (but I’m an Aries, so you can damned well be sure I will handle the responsibility and I’ll handle it successfully).

I have very little vacation time left for this year, and it’s only March.  Most of my free days were spent caring for Mom or attending to her estate matters.  I will have to take a day off to attend court in order to get the Letters Testamentary.  I will have to take a day off to go to the local Social Security Office in order to inform them of Mom’s death and get a tax form to take to Mom’s accountant for taxes.  I’m sure I’ll have to take another 2 or 3 days off regarding other estate issues, as well.  I *am* taking a couple of 3-day trips during national holidays (Memorial Day and Thanksgiving) to spend time with my sister and her family; which reminds me, I still need to find out if United Airlines will allow me to carry the cremated remains of my father in checked luggage since I want to leave them with my sister for a future trip with her to Montana to spread Dad’s ashes over his favorite place there.  Thankfully (right now, anyway), I also have enough time left to take a 10-day trip (including weekends and holidays) to London in December to see the Christmas lights and to watch the New Year’s fireworks over the London Eye and to just escape from everything I will have had to deal with over the year.  I want to recharge my photography (’cause I haven’t felt like taking photos at all and still don’t feel like it) and I want to explore that wonderful city.  Who knows – maybe I’ll meet an awesome Brit of my dreams there …. Stranger things have happened, right?

In the meantime, though, I feel sad and lonely and a little out of place.  I get teary often; I was never one of those sentimental, sappy kind of people, so this teary thing is a nuisance and an emotional drain all at the same time.  I miss Mom.  I keep feeling like I should have / could have done more.  I’m always exhausted.  I’m still sick with a lingering cold.  I’m now dealing with the wet carpet in the sunken living room all by myself; heavy rains and a crack (or two) in the foundation slab contributed to the issue and the house now smells while the carpet dries. I need a hug and there is nobody here to give me one; actually, I could use lots of hugs.

Everything just feels off.

I walk through Mom’s house, checking on the damp living room carpet to see how much more it has dried, looking at all the things set up by the estate sales agent in preparation for this weekend’s sale.  It doesn’t feel like Mom’s house anymore because Mom’s not there any longer.  It’s just a house now filled with loads of stuff collected over a lifetime of 89 years for Mom, and 86 years for Dad.  And I feel empty.  I know things must be “off” if I feel like going in to work is the same thing as taking a vacation.

I guess the best thing that can be said is that I am busy.  I am busy with work (bless my co-workers for being so patient while I take off days here and there to handle this stuff), I am busy with the estate, and once all of this is over with and done, I will be handling my own messy apartment and initiating the process of researching places to live around and within Houston, much closer than where I currently reside (moving won’t happen until 2016).

Before all of this occurred, I was rather emotionally detached.  Now, I find that I am sympathizing more with people and their situations – especially if they are going through similar experiences.

Right now, it all sucks but I know that this, too, shall pass.  I know that somewhere at the end of this long, narrow tunnel there is a pinpoint of light; I don’t see it yet, but I know that it’s there.

Mom-Kath-Becky-Hats_U9A4160

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