Monday, May 25, 2009

Finally, I Honored Others on Memorial Day

For over thirty years on Memorial Day I've closed out the school year by completing final paperwork. After I retired I celebrated by attending quiet parties. or I shopped, unmindful of the significance of the day.

Last Monday my sister and I attended the services for the Royal Dutch Flyers who had trained in Jackson, MS during WWII. We both realized minor parts our parents played in that long ago time and it was somehow necessary that we attend one service in our lifetime. We are aging just as many vets are. Loyalty to their comrades brings most vets to any memorial service. Ours was delayed respect.

Mother worked as one of several PBX operators--you've seen them in old photos or in early movies sitting at a board plugging and unplugging wires to connect phones--and Daddy repaired all the telegraph/teletype machines at the base. In those days airbase workers couldn't reveal much about their work or what they saw at the base.

The activity at the Jackson Air Base of 1941-47 was the reason we saw so many airmen in town. A number of American squadrons came and went at different periods of time. In May 1942 the base was designated as the Army Air Force Specialized Flying School and would be open to the Netherlands East Indies Air Force to train here. One story is that the Dutch base in the East Indies had been taken over by the Japanese and training had to be conducted somewhere else. The Jackson base was selected by the Dutch Air Force for basic and advanced training while Fort Levenworth in KS would conduct primary training.

Today one veteran from the Viet Nam War told us he'd heard stories of these young men, many in their late teens, who were daredevils, flying loops under telephone and utility lines, flying low over buildings and homes--any scary tactic imaginable. I faintly remember one occasion looking upward and hearing that same remark from the few around me as a light plane flew just above our heads. Many died during their training or on flights across the U. S. The war activity prevented the transfer of bodies in the United States back to Holland, so the remains were sent back to Jackson, Ms where a plot of land in the city's cemetery was designated for the Dutch Airmen. For over 60 years a service has been held in honor of these young men and their commandants.

Over the years a member of the Royal Dutch Family came to lay the wreath at the base of the monument.Other times a special guest did the honors. This year veterans of four conflicts lay the wreath while 100 persons, mostly vets and their families, watched.

A few years ago one of the oldest men in the Dutch Air Force was laid to rest alongside his comrades, last year his wife's remains were buried next to him. This year, an airman whose remains were in a Florida cemetery were transferred to be laid to rest with his squadron. In the rear of the cemetery known as Cedarlawn lie 36 airmen, two children, and one wife in a quiet area unknown to most of the traffic passing daily.

The 9:30 a.m. day began cloudy with the sun peeping until it found a wide gap in the clouds. Within thirty minutes the humidity has risen and heat had replaced the few breezes we experienced earlier. Military honors with gun salute, fly over, a lot of speeches of reminiscence reminded us of the once presence of the Flying Dutchmen. May 4 is the Dutch celebration of Memorial Day. I'm sure they honor those buried in Mississippi.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Bedbugs Resurgence Recalls Memories

I was settling into a bedroom in a beautiful two-story home in Mexico City in June, 1959, expecting to enjoy summer study with my high school collegue Mary F, a history teacher who traveled with me. We would attend Mexico City College on the outskirts of the city on a mountainside. We had been met at the airport by the Senorita's maid and dropped at the door in front of one of the houses in a fashionable neighborhood. Time enough to have supper and unpack. Our hostess was an artist, and appeared excited to have American boarders for the duration of the summer.

However during the night something attacked me. I jumped out of bed and turned on the lights, pulled back covers to discover---nothing. At this point I'd only heard of bedbugs, but not really experienced them. It was easy to recognize the feeling of what was nestling in my musky mattress. I fought them all night. The next morning I felt as if I'd downed 10 Margaritas without food as I stumbled down the curved staircase for breakfast. How to say "bedbugs" in Spanish? My dictionary was still packed away. Our hostess spoke enough English to say hello and good morning and the maid none. I was a bit jealous that Mary F had enjoyed a good night's sleep. She knew very little Spanish so I was left alone to figure out how to explain to our hostess there were bedbugs in the mattress in the room assigned to me. I knew not to say Tiene (you have) because would mean she owned them; I made my best effort, telling her first, that the mattress needed sol. Then to dispel the quizzical look on her face, I said hay mosquitos pequenos... and then I walked my fingers like the adverts did for yellow pages years later, repeating "... caminan en la cama." She looked at me and said "Absolutament NO" or something similar. I then had to explain "un variedad de mosquitos" but she left the room in a pout.

Mary F and I took the bus to school that one morning, riding in a Trailways-like coach for about 20 minutes and filled mostly with American students. Between classes when students flocked to the snack bar Mary F and I stumbled upon a lovely little Mexican lady speaking good English soliciting summer boarders. She had a nice place, she insisted, for two ladies as we. I repeated my experience the previous night and she said "Come with me after class,I will explain, then you rent from me." Srta. Artista was angry and refused to believe we were moving because of the bedbugs, but she understood we had an ally and wanted our deposit returned. Before long we were stuffed in Sra. Solana's little car on our way to the outskirts of town. We parked and dragged our suitcases across the wide street and entered through a non-descript door in a wall.

We stepped into a fairyland of color: a square area of yard with green grass, shady trees, and colorful flowers. Ten Mexican bungalows huddled in a U-shape around the green area. We were greeted by a monster on four legs they called a dog that stood up to our thighs and only understood Spanish. He had to smell us and hear our voices so we'd be protected on the outside of the fence. Otherwise, he would have torn us up when we inserted our housekey into the outside door. Later we would discover how difficult it was to obtaining taxi rides late at night. One driver asserted that we were located in a dangerous part of town where taxi drivers were robbed. No one in the neighborhood bothered us, despite our having more money probably than the poor taxi drivers.

The little bungalow had a small living room/kitchen and bedroom. The bar separating the living room, or la sala, from the kitchen, la cocina was shaped like an ironing board--for that very use. Every day we'd leave this beauty situated across from the American School,walk into another world to the corner and turn to walk several blocks to the highway and wait for the bus. The streets screamed poverty--people sleeping and cooking in lean-tos,half dressed as they swept the dirt floors of their hovels,as we, bowing out of the way of half clothed children playing in unsanitary conditions. Would we safely return to our little slice of heaven? We passed semmingly unnoticed.

Those darn bedbugs, so tiny and white that I couldn't locate a single one during the night, caused a new experience for Mary F and me. Oftentimes I wonder how we would have fared in that beautiful neighborhood, rubbing elbows with the arts crowd, and having downtown D. F. within blocks of us. Los senores Solana took care of us, explaining Mexico and their fare. They served as our parents for the time we spent with them. Neither Mary F nor I will forget living on Calle Observatorio.

We never missed the artist and her home and the bedbugs she refused to acknowledge.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Something New

Remember when your family moved to a newer house containing two bathrooms instead of the usual one? Remember the rising glee as each of you ran to one bathroom, then the other, admiring all the new fixtures, and realizing how each of you can shower or take a tub bath with more privacy? If you’ve had that experience, you'll understand about yesterday.

That same penetrating excitement washed over me when a member of the Geek squad hooked up my husband’s computer Tuesday afternoon. Now we each have our own. This isn’t a story found in most households. Nothing new about families owning several computers. For us it's different. R hasn't cared to use the computer until recently A rising apprehension began welling inside me in December as R learned on the desktop this black key moves the screen that way, this other key at the top does that, and then with two fingers and a bit of magic the printer turns on spitting out a wealth of information.

Now R is the proud owner of a netbook, a waif-like machine that shrinks even more in a large man’s hand. The screen is approximately 10” wide and closed, the machine fits into an 8 ½” x 11” envelope weighting three pounds. R behaves as if he’s bought a brand-new Bentley.

And I’m relieved that I can plop down in front of my desktop any time of the day to empty my head of ideas that rush into a short story or that still-to-be-published manuscript that keeps me forever young.