Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

One thing I learned when I moved to Virginia is that I know nothing about the Civil War. Everything I learned about it at school was either completely Union-centric or wholly inadequate. Luckily, I live in Virginia, so I am learning heaps. And not only that, I live on a battlefield--well, near to one, anyway. There may have been skirmishes where our house is, definitely gunboats heading up the James to batter Fort Boykin, which is about a mile and a half away from here, part of Magruder's line of defences across the Peninsula. You can't take two steps in this state without tripping across a historical monument.

Memorial Day was started by Confederate ladies decorating the graves of their dead. Gradually, of course, it spread to encompass all servicemen and -women who gave their lives for this country. It is a day to reflect and remember those who gave all so that we can enjoy the freedoms we do. Yesterday I was walking into the grocery store when I saw a woman standing by the door wearing a pair of red, white and blue pinwheels sticking up from a headband, red white and blue beads--and I felt momentarily embarrassed, like I do whenever I see someone paint themselves up in patriotic colours and dance around screaming "USA! USA! HELL YEAH!" Yes, the USA is pretty awesome--but I prefer a more dignified approach, remembering that other people feel their countries are pretty awesome as well, and that may cause friction. Anyway, I soon realised this woman was collecting money for the American Legion, and I dropped a dollar into the coffee can she had decorated with patriotic fabric. She gave me a poppy, and I put it on my purse. Poppies come from World War's amazing how history can roll along, symbols and days all melding together until we do things without exactly remembering why or where the initial movement came from. Yesterday at church we honored our veterans by having them stand while three little girls sang a song called "Thank you, Soldiers." But it's memorial day...

There was also a letter to the editor yesterday from a man who wanted the US government to honor fallen Confederate soldiers by placing Confederate flags on their graves. After all, that is the cause they died for. It is an interesting plea. Graveyards containing Confederates that are private or in the hands of local townships are usually honored in this way. But graveyards that are on Federal lands--i.e. graveyards where Union soldiers and Confederate soldiers were buried side by side and were then taken over as federal land by the US government--receive no such treatment. Everyone gets a Stars and Stripes. I can understand how awkward it would be honoring people who were, after all, rebelling against their government by putting a traitorous flag in a United States graveyard...but then again, Confederates soldiers might prefer to just have flags left off all together if the only option is a US flag.

What's in a flag anyway? Should we honor our 1812 soldier by having a US flag that accurately reflects the number of states at that time? Or is the point not the politics but the remembering--taking time out to say thank you and we remember? In Williamsburg there is a small cemetery containing French soldiers who died in 1781...part of Williamsburg's memorial day service includes laying a wreath at their graves, but no flags. A French flag would be appropriate, and less likely to rankle than a Confederate flag--but wait, these soldiers fought for the French king, and so a Bourbon flag would be used. Yet the Republican French government that sprang up shortly after our Revolution would have looked upon that as traitorous, and so it goes.

(by the way--one of the things I've learned is that the flag we think of as the "Confederate" flag was not as prevalent as we modern folk think. Yes, it existed, yes, it was carried into battle, and yes the South did use it as a symbol of oppression, but that was largely in the 20th century...the the Confederates fought under the three National the most appropriate flag would be the third National)

I don't even know if I have a point today, except I've been thinking about Memorial Day. Personally, I believe that an appropriate flag to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers might be their battalion flag--after all, many vets have said that what they were fighting for was the person next to them. It's not always easy to tell what battalion a fallen soldier has come from, however. And maybe, in the end, that's why it's just simpler to stick to one flag--our flag, the modern Stars and Stripes: "We remember. We may have changed as a country, but we remember your sacrifice. Thank you."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wake up, wake up darling Corey...

So I like bluegrass music. Yeah, I know, I know--there was a time when dad would put his Merle Haggard CD on and I would roll over and howl in protest but now...I like bluegrass music. Jeff and I even took a trip in January to West Virginia specifically so I could listen to some live bluegrass in the place where it was born. And I spent a pile of money on CDs featuring original bluegrass. My iPod has died (proper, dig a hole in the ground died), so I've been listening to these CDs lately, and even learning a few of the songs. Without a doubt, one of my favourites has turned out to be "Darlin' Corey" which is about a moonshine makin', gun totin', banjo pickin' West Virginny woman. Who dies. Why or how or when is never fully explored, but there are highway robbers running around, and yet people take time out to bury her, so I have no clue what's going on. I just like the intervals.

The folks who settled the Blue Ridge mountains mostly came from Ireland and Scotland in the 1700s...remember the whole "hey, stop settling in our territory, whitey, or we'll start a war" thing with the Indians? Yeah--it was the Irish and Scots who were pushing west past the Alleghenies. Mostly because the English settled along the coast didn't want that riff-raff in their neighborhood. And if you listen to bluegrass, you can definitely hear the echoes of eighteenth century songs. Especially the part where people get jealous and kill one another and then are on the scaffold prayin' for to go to heaven.

I tried to find a good video for Darlin' Corey, but YouTube only has tutorial videos or crappy live recordings of bands that are probably much better in person. Just YouTube "Doc Watson" or "Earl Scruggs" and spend an hour or two.

And while you're there, check out the other reason I'm not doing dishes tonight: A BBC production called "Horrible Histories." Slightly irreverant historical vignettes for kids that don't talk down to them...although I'm sure you can appreciate Roman toilets more when you're a ten year old. Still--Charles II alone is worth the price of admission:

All together now "ALL HAIL. THE KING. OF BLING."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gettin' Stuff Done Before Work

Just dangle an opportunity in front of me to earn an extra fifty bucks, and I'm there. Especially if it involves shooting the guns at CW...ESPECIALLY then.

But I have twenty minutes to kill before it's time to suit up. I was screwing around reading other people's internet pages, and I thought "Wait a minute, didn't I once contribute to the internet?" Yes. Yes I did. Well then, maybe it's time to see if anyone's still reading.

This morning I got up and went over to the farmer's market...I didn't put in a garden this year because a) I don't really have the time, working as much as I do and b) I am lazy. Taking care of a house and a huge yard is quite enough work, especially when you factor in how crazy things grow here in Virginia. Seriously. Most of my loyal readers are somewhere in early spring, here spring has come and gone and we are now in the early throes of summer. Prime growing time. You stick something in the ground and ZOOM. Keeping up with weeding is a full-time chore.

Happily, we have a farmer's market on Saturdays. I bought two pounds of potatoes, a tomato, some spring onions and some lettuce, plus two tomato plants for ten dollars today. Then I had to plant the tomato plants. Then I figured, while I was doing that, I might as well stick the rosemary bush that a colleague at work gave me into the ground, plus some other odd plants that have been floating forlornly around in little black plastic pots. Including mint. The same colleague who gave me the rosemary gave me the mint, with the warning "Don't plant this in the ground. IT SPREADS." I, however, have fond memories of waging biological warfare on my mother's snow-on-the-mountain with equally spready Chinese lanterns, so I stuck the mint in the ground behind the garage. There are prickers and weeds back there that could stop a cavalry charge, but I'm hoping this mint will be the scouts for a whole regiment to come...can't have mint juleps without fresh mint, y'all. And if it gets out in the yard...we'll just mow it.

It felt good to be outside, moving around, getting my hands dirty. I would really *really* like some pretty flowers to put on the porch, but plants are suddenly incredibly expensive. I mean, I can remember going to Stein's with mom and just chucking random plants into the wagon ("Gardenias?" Sure!) and we never seemed to have enough! But now, looking at some decent pots, plus soil, plus plants, plus cute animal-shaped LED solar powered lights...gardening is expensive. For now I am sticking with edible greenery (and our fig tree has two whole figs on it this year!) but if I see any sad, depressing petunias in a hanging basket on clearance at the grocery store, I'm definitely snapping it up.

The other project I have been contemplating is crab hunting. We live on the James River, and as such, have rights of access to fishing and crabbing on the river. Jeff has two crab pots, and another one washed up on the beach in the last storm, so now we have three. Crabbing is simple: purchase chicken necks, leave them in the sun for awhile until they're good and rotten, stick them in the crab pots (actually a chicken-wire basket with holes for entry that are difficult to get out of), stick the crab pots in the river attached to a line or float and check back the next day. I know the crabs are awake and enjoying spring because Kismet rolled on a dead one when we walked on the beach yesterday.

I am hesitant to crab however, because the cooking method involves steaming the crab to death in a pot of boiling water. I dearly love crabs and crab cakes, but I may be a bit of a hypocrite if I can't bring myself to commit crabicide. The only good thing, according to a coworker, is "they don't scream like lobsters do." THANKS FOR THAT.

However! Tomorrow I am going to the grocery store, possibly to buy some chicken necks, and if I can bear to subject some of God's creatures to a cruel, slow death, then I'll let you know how it went and try to post some pictures.

And now I'm off to work--we are hosting Drummer's Call this weekend and they need people to man fireworks barricades. And shoot guns. Did I mention that part?