Tuesday, December 31, 2002

The Seattle Chronicles: Day Nine

"Should auld acquaintance be forgot..."

Before the evening's festivities began, Shirley and I headed to church, as the following day was a Holy Day of Obligation. I served at the altar for a visiting priest, an older man who regularly celebrated Mass there. He tended to improvise a bit -- okay, quite a bit. During the start of the Eucharistic Prayer, he was still "winging it," using from memory the text fo the Third Eucharistic Prayer, the part that comes after the Consecration. At some point, he realized (some time after I did) that he was in over his head. He turned to me in some distress and muttered, "I think I left out the Consecration." I stepped from the front side pew up to the altar, pointing to the text on the page already open. He continued, with me standing at his left shoulder, in the manner of a Master of Ceremonies. I'll admit it was more initiative than they were accustomed to seeing from an "altar boy (or girl)." But I was no kid, and I wasn't about to leave this guy's side until I was sure he was sure of himself. (That's what happens when you walk the wire without a net, Padre.) The rest of the Mass went without incident. After Mass, one of the staff played down the incident: "He probably would have figured it out eventually." Uh-huh.

On the other hand, at least three parishioners came up to my aunt and said, "It was a good thing your nephew was up there."

I arrived at the home of Julia, a fixure of the local zydeco community, a little bit early. Just in time to help take the rugs down to the basement, the furniture in the living and dining rooms having already been moved. This was certainly a better occasion for personal interaction than a bar or a dance hall, so the dancing didn't start right away. There was Charlotte, who remembered my aunt Shirley's husband from a physiology lecture course he once taught, on her way to a masters in recreation. I saw Sandra again, who remembered me from the other night. We had a chance to talk more this time, and I had looked forward to that. Her recent experience with separation and divorce served to explain her sudden reticence toward me at one point last Saturday. I told her of a wonderful book, Crazy Time by Abigail Trafford, and of how I had bought over a dozen copies for men and women over the last decade. ("I'm on a mission from God.") I believe that sharing our stories helped to put her at ease. Perhaps the book will help even more.

It may have been the most memorable New Year's Eve I had ever had to date. The music was recorded, but the dancing was live enough!!! These people were SOOOO much fun. We kidded one another about the "differences" between East Coast and West Coast. They all broke down on the dance floor though. We rung in the New Year together, all of us. Those who were strangers were strangers no more. What a lovely ending for a tumultuous year! What a lovely beginning for the next!!!
The Seattle Chronicles: Day Eight

"Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been..."

(John Keats)

Today was highlighted by a trip on the ferry, out of Elliot Bay and across Puget Sound, to Bainbridge Island. I had heard much about the place, and looked forward to the adventure. This was certainly a larger vessal than any I had seen on the Chesapeake Bay; I could swear these held twice as many vehicles and passengers.

They say the journey is the reward, and part of it was in this case. Seeing the faces of little children watching the water, and the gulls as they sailed along, was to see the experience through their eyes. Many of us sat on the lower deck, in the enclosed passenger area, and watched in comfort with the convenience of a cafeteria and coffee bar (and, for reasons beyond me, a few arcade games).

After a trip of about three-quarters of an hour, we arrived at the dock of Winslow, the main town on the Island. (See for yourself courtesy of the "Ferrycam.") I walked up the hill and along the main road into the town itself. If ever there were an island upon which I would want to be stranded, it would be this one. It had all I needed; a grocery store, a gas station, a bookstore, a very decent and good old-fashioned hardware store, a monthly contra dance, and a Catholic church. But more than that, they had a halfway decent little thrift store. I got a few presents for friends. There was a toddler watching me, and I couldn't resist. I pulled out my harmonica: "Hey, kid, wanna hear a tune?" I played a couple of Christmas selections, to the applause of his family and onlookers. Seeing that he wanted to dance, I ended with a rendition of "Oh Susanna."

After conversing with the owner of the sporting goods store about the local scene, I made my way back to the ferry, just in time to shove off for the trip home. I watched the city coming closer, and realized I was beginning to fall in love with my temporary home. I also realized I needed to get a few pictures of me and this backdrop, so I convinced a volunteer to oblige me with my camera.

Back on the mainland again, I couldn't resist yet another foray into the Public Market Square at the end of Pike Street. I found this great little place that sold Mexican crafts, which was guarded by a pit bull terrier, standing virtually motionless in his vigilance, with a sign on the door saying "Back in 5 minutes." When I returned, the store was open, and I found a pendant with the figure of Our Lady of Guadelupe, one of my favorite images of the Virgin Mary. I also found the dog in better spirits; indeed, a well-mannered and well-kept animal. He brought me his rag doll, as if wanting to play. So we amused the other patrons by my playing fetch with a trained killer. Just another day in paradise.

I spent the evening at home, catching up with the family, getting psyched up for the big event.

Sunday, December 29, 2002

The Seattle Chronicles: Day Seven

"He who ascends to mountain-tops shall find
The loftiest peaks most wrapt in clouds and snow;
He who surpasses or subdues mankind
Must look down on the hate of those below..."

(Lord Byron)

Today Shirley and I went to Mass at her parish in Bellevue. My former high school teacher, Dr Gundrum, gave the homily that day. Oh, I forgot, they can't call it a homily when she does it. They have to call it a reflection, since only the ordained can give a homily. Wasn't it Albert Schweitzer who once said that "verbal engineering always preceeds social engineering," or was it G K Chesterton? I dunno, maybe I'll ask her when I see her again. I'll admit, she was good at it. But still, if it walks like a homily, and talks like a homily -- I mean, come on!

Anyway, at the announcements, they called for volunteers to perform liturgical functions at the New Year's Eve mass on Tuesday evening. I signed up to be an altar server. I figure, hey, with 37 years of experience, what could go wrong? Of course, I also tipped off one of the good Sisters there. She thought it was a great idea. That oughta do it.

My cousins Theresa and David took myself and their kids to the Cascade Mountains, where there was plenty of snow, in stark contrast to the perpetual cloudy-and-rainy-day weather of the city. I couldn't keep my eyes from being wide open, looking at the majesty of God's handiwork. It was like seeing the Rockies for the first time two years ago when I was in Denver. But here we got closer, going to a skiing slope below Denny Mountain, one that was not fully operational. This brought out the sledders from hither and yon. I pulled little three-year-old Paul on his seat all over the parking lot. Really made his day -- that, and eating the snow. What a stinker. I only went down once, and spent the rest of the time helping the kids take their sleds up the hill. Just to live the experience through them, as children, as family, really made my day. We stopped by a waterfall on the way home, where David took my picture with it rushing in the background.

There was plenty of time left in the day. I spent some of it with Shirley, who was getting caught up on sewing (another Rosselot tradition). After that Paul Thorpe and I went to a little place called The Little Red Hen. It was a little unpretentious country-western bar, the kind of place I would have gone to back in Ohio. It was known for having very friendly people. I can get by in a C&W setting, but it's still just a bit out of my element. I danced about half the time. One dance was with the former "Miss Queen Anne Hill," a gracious woman, one who was still a queen in some respects. You gotta hand it to her.

During the second set, a lovely woman in a black leather jacket made her way to the stage. Nova and I met at the Tractor last Friday night. She remembered us talking about some bands we both knew. She plays a pretty mean accordion. I wanna do that too someday. I was moved by her performance with "Jerry and the Philbillies" -- enough for me to buy their CD. It has a lot of old country favorites. Maybe I can finally learn the words.

Tomorrow we head "from the mountains to the sea." Until then...

Saturday, December 28, 2002

The Seattle Chronicles: Day Six

"Holy Innocents, Batman!!!" -- Mark Shea

Today was my birthday. I was born at about seven in the morning Eastern time, at Saint Ann's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. Mom says I took my sweet time coming out. Forty-eight years later, I slept through the exact moment in question. When I got up, I headed into town for some serious shopping at the Pike Place Market. The bus system here is excellent, coming up every ten minutes (on a Saturday, no less!), and getting me down there in half an hour. Most of them are electric buses, powered by twin overhead wires. I haven't seen those since I was a kid going through Dayton, Ohio.

Boy, and I thought the Strip District in Pittsburgh was something else. This place has got twice the action in the same amount of space. I bought craft gifts for family and friends. I finally got to visit the famous Lark in the Morning music store, and picked up a bunch of harmonica necklaces. They were only two bucks apiece, but they didn't have the fancy chain like the ones I was used to getting here.

That evening, I went to a pub just down the street from the Tractor Tavern, where I was to meet some serious zydeco addicts. After nearly an hour, I couldn't find anyone who either remotely fit the profile of such enthusiasts, nor knew who I was talking about. So I called Sean, who was my main contact, on his cell phone. ("Sean, there's a guy standing next to me with a cell phone in his hand. Can you tell me what you look like?") Eventually we were connected. They laughed at my dead-pan humor, so they can't be all bad.I talked for awhile with Aubra, who lives on a farm and raises chickens, and rides horses. We talked about farming, and why western riding is superior to English. We went over to get tickets. Here hair was getting wet. I put my hood on and gave her my hat. She looked better with it than I did. Must be 'cuz she's a cowgirl. After awhile, it wa clear that these people were in no hurry to open up. She offered to stay there and get my ticket for me.

After awhile we went back over to the Tractor again about 9 pm, it was totally packed. Geno Delafose usually brings out the big crowd, of course. I was never without someone to dance with. Talk about a small world -- again. I met another former Cincinnatian. This time it was Aaron, whom I knew from my international folk dancing days in the late '70s. He moved to Seattle in 1985. They sang "Happy Birthday" for some gal who turned 21. I pretended it was for me. There was also a gal who could salsa dance. I could tell by the moves, and both salsa and zydeco have similar origins in the Carribean. So I got some salsa dancing in. Never hurts to broaden your appeal.

I stayed until the end. I wish it had gone longer. I enjoyed connecting with people at the pub, because it's hard to do that in a crowded dance hall, at least on an intimate level. I wouldn't see Aubra again. She was going to Calgary to ride mechanical bulls. (Hmmm, that would have almost been worth seeing, but I digress.) I could talk to people who lived two or three thousand miles away, about mutual friends, as though the miles didn't matter. There was even a guy there from the DC area who remembered me -- Dean, I think his name was -- and who was there now with his new wife.

There was a moment of weakness, when I thought of my friends in Louisiana at that moment. They would have been at the Carrier family farm, for a big cook-out. I thought of Troy and his band, and the fun I had playing with those guys. The Tractor was too crowded for me to "dance" with my guitar. Besides, I was in (ahem!) enough demand as it was. Never enough decent male dancers, you know. Even in Seattle. Let's call it a night.

Friday, December 27, 2002

The Seattle Chronicles: Day Five

"I drink to you in the love of Saint John."

Today was highlighted by a visit to one of Seattle's notable Catholic intellectuals and fellow St Blog's parishioner, Mark Shea, who describes his account of my visit on his weblog:

"He brought his cool little Homeland Security-approved-so-you-can-get-it-on-a-plane guitar and played some Christmas carols (including an elegant one that combines two legends about Herod)...a swell multi-talented guy and it was a pleasure to finally meet him."

(Mark, you're too kind, but don't let that stop you, okay?)

Not only does he have a lovely devoted wife and four fine young boys, but he is a Font of Knowledge about this city. He should retitle his blog "Seattle and Enjoying It." And if he wasn't making such a killing as a Catholic writer and speaker, he could go into business running a tour bus. Maybe even one of those horse-drawn carriages we saw downtown. How 'bout it, Mark?

The wind was sure whipping it up today, with the waves coming over the south side of the bridge carrying Route 520 between Montlake and Bellevue. What a sight!

Shirley has a guy living in a studio apartment downstairs, Paul Thorpe (no relation to Jim), who plays a pretty mean guitar. He suggested we might go to the Tractor Tavern and catch the Bughouse Five. Well, they got caught at the border for the lack of work permits. So we listened to The Swains (your basic rockabilly trio; Telecaster guitar, stand-up bass, and drummer singing harmony), followed by Scenic Wonders (four well-dressed suburban cowboy gentlemen). The dancing was good, and people started to warm up to this character from out of town soon enough. I promised one of them a zydeco lesson if she came back to the same place tomorrow night. I don't get much better than that. Although if I stayed here much longer, I'd probably have to get into black leather. Honey, we ain't in Kansas anymore!!!

Thursday, December 26, 2002

The Seattle Chronicles: Day Four

"The wren, the wren, the king of all birds, Saint Stephen's Day, went out in the forest..."

Today is Boxing Day in Canada and Great Britain. For me, it was a day for some serious thrift store action. I hit the big Goodwill place near downtown, then got wind of a most excellent Value Village in Capital Hill. The highlights include a trenchcoat that reverses from olive/tan to dark blue, so it's like two coats in one, for those times when you need an overcoat that goes with everything. I also got another pair of Western boots, just right for steppin' out dancin'!

Tonight my cousin Theresa made us all salmon for dinner. I got to watch "Ice Age" with her daughter (excellent piece of animation), and I got to play in the new tent that fits over the bed of her little three-year old. We talked about camping for real some day. For all the looking around I'm doing, looking at the sights and all, I've spent more time with family than I expected. They've been great. The last time I saw some of them, they were not much older than their children are now. The years have melted away.

There was a moment when I thought of home. I got a little misty-eyed about it. But not for long. I want to visit the Cascades this weekend, but I've been warned about going through "the Pass." What's up with that anyway? Tomorrow, a visit to a local Catholic celebrity. Then it's off to find a new black hat. After all, what would I be without one? I'd be "man without black hat." I'd have to change my site and e-mail address. I'm sorry, it's just not worth it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2002

The Seattle Chronicles: Day Three

"I saw three ships a-sailing by, on Christmas Day in the morning..."

It was, in my estimation, the best Christmas I had ever had...

I went out and fired up the Jeep Cherokee, and went out driving for the first time. Like when I was a kid and would ride my bike all over town. I stopped by Sacred Heart, where I was able to get a copy of sheet music to be used later in the day. (I'll get to that.) I then went down the street to visit my cousin David -- unannounced, of course. His wife answered the door in her pajamas. I hadn't seen my cousin in nearly a decade, so with the kids trying out the new toys and with me holding their new two-month old, we got all caught up.

Back home (at least my home away from home), Shirley and I called my parents. It was a quiet day for them, my siblings having been there the night before. With the speakerphone on, I played Marty Haugen's "Night of Silence" on guitar and harmonica, with Shirley adding the words to "Silent Night" on the last verse. They asked who that was I was with. That's when we broke the news about where I was. Dad was a good sport: "You know, Shirley, he never asks our permission to do anything anymore." The two sisters hadn't spoken to one another in several years (long story), and so the spirit of the season worked its influence, and the two of them got caught up. Then cousin Andy came by (the one that everyone used to say reminded them of me) with his little one Sam. The four of us went for a drive, with Andy giving me the highlights of this beautiful city.

Later that day, we went to Andy's house for the grand Christmas dinner with all the Lampkins. My Uncle Mick was there with his mother, the children were running all over the place. I was instantly at home, as the children introduced themselves and showed me their new toys. Mick and I got caught up on many things, including career and family, parents and siblings. I had often sought his counsel over the years on career decisions. The dinner was a feast to behold, and I found myself so moved as to get up and propose a toast, one I had learned from my father: "O quam bonum et jucundum, est habitare cum fratribus in unum." I winged the rest.

My cousin Tom called from Portland. I didn't get to talk to him, but I'd probably get in touch with him later. (For those of you who follow major league baseball closely enough, yes, that Tom Lampkin.)

The meal was followed by a lively discussion of business and politics, and the international scene. Mick could have retired years ago, but into his sixties by now, he pursues his life's work with the zeal of a man half his age. With contacts and travel all over the world, he brought the global perspective on American foreign policy, and its failure to allow freedom of trade to unite the planet. The dialogue was like food to a starving man, and it got me to thinking about things differently. Mick wanted me to remember him to my parents, and assure them of his prayers for them.

On the way home, Shirley's husband Jack drove us by the residential section known this time of year as "Candy Cane Lane." All the houses were decorated and lit up to the hilt, each of them displaying a sign out front with the word "Peace" in a different language.

Come nine o'clock, the two of them indulged me by watching one of my favorite shows, NBC's "The West Wing." They don't go for TV much, but it gave me a chance to talk about my experience in the Nation's capital. As much of a challenge as I have found it to be making a home there, it is still a captivating place in which to work.

It was nearly midnight when I turned in. My body had already made the adjustment to the time difference. But throughout the day, something in my head kept telling me it should be three hours later.
The Seattle Chronicles: Day Two

"For unto us a child is born; unto us a Son is given. And the government shall be upon His shoulder..."

As the southern and eastern USA prepare for a white Christmas (the first in DC in years, and I just had to miss it this year, huh?), it is a cloudy day in Seattle. I'm told it usually is.

Of the eleven Rosselot children that included my mother, my Aunt Shirley was one who, as my dad might have said, "marched to her own drummer." It shows in many ways. Thankfully I identify with most of them. Her husband, Jack, is a professor at the University of Washington. The presence of a true renaissance man fills the house, with items of many interests filling the bookshelves. On one wall of my guest room, there hang at least two dozen photographs. They include the "foster cousin" I never knew. But there are also pictures of my maternal grandparents on their wedding day, and the familiar family photograph of the Rosselot children, my mother among them, standing in front of the farmhouse in northern Brown County, Ohio, just south of Fayetteville. I am in a place so far from home, but at its heart is my heart's true home.

The reminders of home didn't stop there. That evening, there came time for the midnight Mass. Shirley and I went across the bridge on Route 520 toward her former home in Bellevue, to the parish across the street from that home, Sacred Heart. It has been her spiritual home these last three decades. We passed the baptismal font, a lovely sight for those who might prefer such innovations (and they don't bother me, as long as there aren't any blue stone toads in the water, right Emily?), and took our seat in the octagonal seating around the sanctuary, a raised platform extending from the choir section and the place of Eucharistic reservation behind them. I stepped briefly into the place where Our Lord was in the tabernacle, paying my respects for the safe journey.

Returning to my seat and listening to the choral prelude, I glanced at the front of the bulletin. Under the name of the pastor, was that of the pastoral associate. "Oh... my... God!" I turned to Shirley and showed it to her, and excused myself for a moment. I went to the vestibule and found the person I was looking for as she went by. "Doctor, do you remember me?" She looked straight at me for a moment. "I'm David Alexander, class of 1973." It came to her immediately, and I had a joyful reunion with my Humanities teacher from senior year of high school in Cincinnati. She asked how my sister was doing, how I was doing. Seems she just started her assignment in November. She introduced me to the pastor. He remembered my aunt and cousins from his previous tenure there, and told me of one of them being on the pastoral council.

I could get used to "altar girls," even though we don't have them in Arlington. But there was the pastoral associate, standing next to the priest during the entire Mass. I believe I was one of a select few who knelt during the Consecration. And for once during Communion, I partook from the Sacred Chalice. Hey, what the hell, it's Christmas. After Mass, I dragged Shirley to meet my old friend, who introduced us both to her husband. We returned home afterwards, to more lively conversation. The night ended watching the broadcast of Midnight Mass in Saint Peter's Bascilica in Rome, and the seated figure of the man who now wears the Shoes of the Fisherman.

"O holy night, the stars are brightly shining; this is the night of our dear Savior's birth..."

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

The Reason for the Season: VI

"My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool. Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school..."
The Seattle Chronicles: Day One

Walk on boy,
Walk on down the road.
There ain't nobody in the whole wide world
Gonna help you carry your load.
Walk on boy...

(from a traditional folk song, as sung by Doc Watson)

They say that when God closes a door, he opens a window. At 10:30 this morning, I closed the door of my home, suitcase and guitar in hand, and didn't look back.

I walked the usual half-mile to the Orange Line of Metrorail, as I would on any work day. Except this time I headed across town to the eastern terminus at New Carrollton. From there I took the MARC train (Penn Line) to BWI Airport just south of Baltimore. Since I hope to move to Charm City in a couple of years, this was a good logistical exercise for trying out a future commuter route.

The big question for me was, what would airport security be like after "9/11"? Well, at least at BWI, it's just a little more thorough, with Federal security this time, from the (newly created?) Transportation Security Agency. My ticket didn't have a "checkered" pattern on it, so I didn't get my bags opened for the full treatment like that one guy did. Whew!

While we waited to board, I was doing a medley of Christmas selections on my guitar with the volume turned down low. Southwest is a pretty good airline, if you can live with an "open seating" policy. Why does everybody leave the middle seat open when they get on anyway? I just have to be in their face while I store my luggage.

As usual, I always pray the Rosary when the plane takes off. Call me sentimental.

I had to connect to another flight in Chicago. One nice thing about Midway Airport; it's not O'Hara. The second leg of the trip was about twice as long, and twice as much fun. I got to sit next to a two-year old named Gavin. He and baby Melissa and mother Connie were from Indianapolis. Gavin was fascinated by the lights of Chicago as we took off. He was less impressed with my rendition of "My Kind of Town." Then we played games like Mr Potato Head (including when I said, "Hey kid, wanna see a real potato head?" and took off my hat), and back-and-forth games like Yes-No-Yes-No. You had to be there...

My thoughts went back to the night before. I found I had enough time after packing, that I called my son Paul up, and we high-tailed it to a barn dance outside of Newark, DE. It was quite crowded, with Leroy Thomas and the Zydeco Roadrunners providing the music. Paul found the whole scene (as he always does) rather amusing, and my female friends couldn't get over how "adorable" he was. He does take after his father's side, of course. One woman wanted to take him home. We couldn't agree on a price. Most important, I got to give my friend from Philadelphia her present, in return for her hospitality while I was there a couple of times -- two pairs of little sleigh bell earrings, to match the ones she wears on her shoes to ring in the holiday. Well, she loved them, put them on immediately and shared her tune with all who would hear, including a girlfriend who wanted to borrow the other pair. Sometimes I get it right.

Paul wouldn't dance, for all the begging women would do with the guy. I learned later that Louise "The Queen of Relay" got Paul on the floor. Good thing he knows a command performance when it happens. Her Majesty reports that he shows great promise. He dragged me away to the car at one point, to give me my gift. He got me a little knick-knack for Christmas, a model of the Last Supper. I will put it in my kitchen. I got him a manual with CD-ROM on video game development.

On the long ride home, we talked of many things. It was a great chance to spend time with him, and we agreed to try it again when the opportunity arose. When he was little, I used to sing and play guitar for him before he went to sleep at night. One of the songs I used to do was "Walk On Boy" (see lyrics above). It seems almost prophetic in the current day. His being seven months in recovery, I discovered just how proud I was of him. For all his trials as a child of "a broken home," my son is becoming my hero...

The scene outside the window of the plane was dark, as we passed over the Dakotas. I looked down upon the lights, little clusters of them amidst the dimly lit square patterns. I wondered what it was like, living on the endless prairie, under the big sky.

Mother Connie had a white wine; I had a cola. We shared a toast for a blessed Christmas and a prosperous New Year. Then it was story time, and we read from Doctor Seuss. Gavin was getting a little fussy, as little boys are likely to do when they don't get their nap. They passed out boxes of snacks. I gave her my extras: "Ma'am, I think you're going to need them before I will." She readily agreed.

As we passed over Montana, I looked forward to seeing the Big Sky Country in the light of day on the trip home. The pilot told us we would arrive at 8:00 pm Pacific, 25 minutes ahead of schedule. Early arrival; now that's a first!

By the time we reached the state of Washington (why they named this state after the Nation's capital I'll never understand), mother and children were fast asleep. Soon we began our descent. By 7:30, we passed over the lights of the city. With the Space Needle in the distance, the flight attendant began singing "Silent Night" over the speaker. I couldn't resist adding harmony. At the end, everybody clapped, presumedly for her. The mood was always there on the plane, and for a moment, all my cynicism about the holiday season was forgotten.

I was playing my guitar in the lounge area of the terminal, near the drive-by entrance, when the '82 Nissan pulled up, and a familiar face smiled and waved. Aunt Shirley looked great, even with grey hair. Some gals just know how to pull it off. We drove through town, pointed at the usual landmarks, and got off at the exit for Montlake. Around the corner, and up the block, was the gingerbread house that would be my home for the next ten days.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I suddenly have the urge for tomato soup. That, and I thought I'd visit with my aunt, being as we're related and I haven't seen her in a dog's age. Stay tuned...

Friday, December 20, 2002

The Reason for the Season: V

Photo caption: "James Krier and his wife, Amy, middle, finish wrapping gifts for five needy families through the Philadelphia post office's 'Operation Santa...'"
The Reason for the Season: IV

"Stars can buy any bauble that catches their eye. But that doesn't mean they don't cherish the pair of roller skates or bike they got for Christmas when they were 9..."
A Star in a "Darke" County

Before heading out later today, we give a tip of the Black Hat to Mark Sullivan of Ad Orientem. In an entry dated Monday, December 16 last, he describes the work of Knapp Restoration. He also lists some examples of their work in restoring Catholic churches to their original beauty. One of the examples is St Louis Church in North Star (Darke County) Ohio. This little spot on the map was the home of Annie Oakley -- "The Little Sure Shot." But more important than that, it was also the birthplace of my paternal grandfather, Leonard Alexander. Less than a mile down the road was another little town called Teacup. All that remains of it is the parish cemetary, which includes the final resting place of my great-great-grandparents, Andre and Marie Alexandre.

Thursday, December 19, 2002


...is my last day at the office for the year. I would up being ahead of schedule with my work, so the rest of the day will be spent on the things that get put off from the day to day.

This is also the time of year that I write letters to a few people, who have had some impact on me during the year. The act of writing (and sometimes I never send those letters) acts as sort of a "closing out" of the year. In one case, I must write a very difficult letter to someone who has acted in very poor judgement at my expense on a personal matter. Part of living with our own humanity, is living with the humanity of our friends -- to the point of wondering if they ever really were our friends. The virtue of love demands that we choose our friends wisely. It is all well and good to love every person created by God; quite another to call them "friend." They are not identified by how we address them, but by who they are.

They can also be identified by who we are. It is not unheard of, for example, for alcoholics who join AA to have to give up all their drinking buddies. Those still caught in their addiction are incapable of being true friends to anyone, let alone those in recovery. I lost some of my friends when my wife left me over twelve years ago. I didn't do anything to these people, but now I had a different place in their lives. I kept more friends than I expected, but I did lose a few.

I lost a dear friend this year. They do not fully realize this, as in the aftermath of their betrayal, they simply assume they can go on as "hail, fellow, well met." And yet I am compelled to confront them with the evidence. To quote an old German proverb, it matters less whether they lied to me, than that I no longer know whether to believe them.

I have learned over the years -- whether in my professional or personal life -- that "what goes around comes around." In my federal service career, I have been confronted by formidable opponents in the office environment, who were ultimately the architect of their own ruin. I have learned in my social life, that those occasions when I injured someone, it came back to haunt me. I have seen it happen to others as well, whenever they hurt me.

I used to think it was all about really good karma. But I have begun of late to conclude, that it is really about the Cross. If we do not take up the Cross, it will find us. The great Holocaust that took the lives of six million Jews eventually led to the downfall of its perpetrators. John Henry Newman once wrote of how life is an absolutely fair paymaster: "As ye soweth, so shall ye reap."

I pray for an abondonment of all human hope, in favor of Divine hope. "Adveniat regnum tuum, fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra."
Windy Day

The wind blows where it will,
Billowing clouds high above our
Daily obsessions and
Searching with cold intimacy for
Gaps in our cloths.

Wind is the life of air
Counting time with fluttering leaves
And moving shadows,
And long ago it fleshed our Lover
Fanning flames in frigid hearts
To voice the fearless truth
That felled death.

Oh Lord, let me move like a dancer in your gale,
Blown headlong down the path you choose
Between the earth and sky.

--John Hearn

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

"A Rose By Any Other Name..."

Up until now, I have been silent among parishioners of St Blog's, on the matter of the controversial book Goodbye, Good Men by Michael Rose. John Mallon speaks well enough for me as to why:

"If the book is not perfect so be it, but it had to be written and Michael had the guts to do it when no one else did."

He goes on to provide a link to Rose's response to CRISIS Magazine, which originally appeared in New Oxford Review.

I rest my case.
"Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes (turn and face the strain...)"

"TCRNews.com made its last daily update Dec 17, 2002 due to lack of finances and time. Stephen Hand, former editor of TCR is a Catholic writer and journalist who can be contacted at PO Box 1006, Littleton, MA, USA, 01460. He hopes to continue writing on the subjects and themes which made TCR a popular website with so many, ever faithful to the Holy Father and the living magisterium."

TCRNews has been one of the links provided by this weblog since MWBH started in June 2002. My gratitude to Stephen Hand for the great work he has done, with the hope that his work continues in the future.

I hope to have a suitable link in its place before the week's end. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

The Reason for the Season: III

"What is uncertain is not the 'coming' of Christ but our own reception of him, our own response to him, our own readiness and capacity to 'go forth and meet him.' We must be willing to see him and acclaim him, as John did, even at the very moment when our whole life's work and all its meaning seem to collapse."

--Thomas Merton

Monday, December 16, 2002

"It's beginning to look a lot like..."

It is my last week at the office before taking off for the holidays. In looking ahead, I begin by looking back...

About thirty years ago, my Aunt Shirley, her husband (Uncle) Mick, and their five children (my cousins) left Winchester, Virginia, for Seattle, Washington, where Mick took ownership of an office supply company. They have been there ever since. Of the forty cousins on my mother's side, it is the Lampkins who are among those I have missed the most. The last time I saw them was when our Grandma Rosselot (pronounced ROSS-uh-low) died about ten years ago. By then they had all grown and were having children of their own. I learned of how the younger cousins looked up to the older ones. (I was number three in seniority.)

While Mick's business prospered, the marriage suffered. Eventually he and Shirley filed for divorce after 22 years of marriage. It was Shirley, of all those in my extended family, who helped me get through my own separation and divorce.

This year, many of my friends in the zydeco dance community will be headed to southwestern Louisiana for the holidays, and an endless stream of holiday celebrations, culminating on New Year's Eve. I cannot afford to go, and so was faced with the prospect of a hauntingly quiet (make that exceedingly dull) Christmas season. But fate took its turn, and I was (shall we say?) made an offer I couldn't refuse, to visit Seattle for both Christmas and New Year's. Inasmuch as Seattle has a very active zydeco scene, I have sufficient occasions for celebration already lined up. (Thanks, Gary.)

One week from today, I will get on a plane for the first time since "Nine-Eleven," and set my sights for my farthest adventure ever. I hope to continue making entries to this weblog during my journey, to give my impressions of the region, and compare it with life back east. I also expect to party 'til the music stops. Yeah, you right!

But most important, I am using this opportunity to continue my journey of self-discovery, one that I described in my weblog entry of November 14, 2002.

While I'm in Seattle, I expect I will run into at least one prominent member of St Blog's Parish.

Stay tuned...

(Oh, one more thing. Don't tell my Mom and Dad. I have to keep them in the dark until Christmas Day on this one. It's a long story.)
The Reason for the Season: II

The following is sent to me by Terry Anderman. It was written by a US Marine currently stationed in Okinawa. He asks that it be sent to as many people as possible. In his words: "Christmas will be coming soon and some credit is due to our service men and women for our being able to celebrate these festivities." 

'Twas the night before Christmas;
He lived all alone,
In a one-bedroom house
made of plaster and stone.
I had come down the chimney
With presents to give,
And to see just who
In this home did live.
I looked all about,
A strange sight I did see.
No tinsel, no presents,
Not even a tree.
No stocking by mantle,
Just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures
Of far distant lands.
With medals and badges,
Awards of all kinds.
A sober thought
Came through my mind.
For this house was different;
It was dark and dreary.
I found the home of a soldier,
Once I could see clearly.
The soldier lay sleeping,
Silent, alone,
Curled up on the floor
in this one bedroom home.
The face was so gentle,
The room in such disorder,
Not how I pictured
A United States soldier.
Was this the hero
Of whom I'd just read?
Curled up on a poncho,
The floor for a bed?
I realized the families
That I saw this night
Owed their lives to these soldiers
Who were willing to fight.
Soon 'round the world,
The children would play,
And grownups would celebrate
A bright Christmas Day.
They all enjoyed freedom
Each month of the year,
Because of the soldiers,
Like the one lying here.
I couldn't help wonder
How many lay alone,
On a cold Christmas Eve
In a land far from home.
The very thought
Brought a tear to my eye.
I dropped to my knees
And started to cry.
The soldier awakened
And I heard a rough voice,
"Santa, don't cry;
This life is my choice.
"I fight for freedom,
I don't ask for more,
My life is my God,
My country, my Corps."
The soldier rolled over
And drifted to sleep.
I couldn't control it,
I continued to weep.
I kept watch for hours,
So silent and still
And we both shivered
From the cold night's chill.
I didn't want to leave
On that cold, dark night,
This guardian of honor
So willing to fight.
Then the soldier rolled over,
With a voice soft and pure,
Whispered, "Carry on, Santa,
It's Christmas Day, all is secure."
One look at my watch,
And I knew he was right.
"Merry Christmas, my friend,
And to all a good night."

+ + +

Friday, December 13, 2002

"Oh, Lucy, you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind..."

But seriously, folks, today western Christendom commemorates the feast of Saint Lucy, virgin and martyr of Rome in the early fourth century, and patroness of Sweden. The website of Women for Faith & Family features a brief account of her life, along with Swedish customs and foodlore associated with the feast. Yum!

(Credit for above title goes to "Wierd Al" Yankovic.)
"I fought the Law..."

This just in from UPI.

It has been suggested that at least two-thirds of the bishops of the USA have either committed acts of sexual abuse of minors, or have covered up the acts of those who did under their authority. The point is, why just Cardinal Law? To submit one's resignation from a position of authority after disgracing it, is a matter of honor in some cultures. (Japan comes to mind.) Such has been my position from the get-go, the question of whether they should all be accepted being another matter entirely.

Now, a father cannot just abandon his children simply because he does wrong. That point has already been raised at the coffee-and-donuts hour after Mass at St Blog's. On the other hand, when my son's mother left me while he was a toddler, I could not just walk away, then show up at his door on his eighteenth birthday and expect him to call me "Daddy."

To be called "Father" is not just a title to be lorded over one's charges. It is a foretaste of the care our Father in Heaven wants for us. It has not only fallen short in Boston. Try telling that to the top leadership of the Voice of the Faithful, who still thinks the whole world turns on what happens in a parish hall in Wellesley.

Now, if we moved the Nation's capital there, they might have a point (wink!).

Thursday, December 12, 2002

"While my guitar gently weeps..."

Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas. The story of her appearance is a remarkable one (and is linked by clicking on her aforementioned name). She is also the patroness of that Latino band from East Los Angeles, Los Lobos, inasmuch as the image of Our Lady that appeared to Juan Diego, also appears on the bass drum head. So, I decided to pay a similar tribute, using my new "travelin'" electric guitar. I wear a button with the image of Guadalupe on the strap, for all to see.

With that in mind, this is also the first guitar I've ever given a name -- "Lady Madonna," or "Donna" for short.
Have Guitar, Will Travel

Last Tuesday, I was at a house party at "Chez Ouizzee" -- the home of Louise "The Queen of Relay" Vanderbeek, just outside of Baltimore. Our official "Bon Temps Relay" tee-shirts (designed by yours truly) made their official debut. But most important, I got to play with the band, Dikki Du and the Zydeco Crewe. Led by Troy "Dikki Du" Carrier, the band includes other sons and nephews of the great Roy Carrier, himself cousin of the late great Creole musician Clifton Chenier.

The best part of it was playing with daddy Roy, who took a turn on the accordion, and whose bloodline reads like a "Who's Who of Zydeco," his being related to the Broussard, Ardoin, and Chenier families. The Black Hat is off to guitar man Gabe, who gave me a crash course on rythym playing (having already established that I was far enough along for the challenge), and to Troy, who took the drums while daddy was on the squeeze box, and who showed me how to watch for cues from whoever's up front. This "closet musician" is coming out of the closet, for sure. Tomorrow, I'll be in Philly, to see these guys get to work at the TK Club in Conshohocken.

"Yeah, you right!"
The Reason for the Season: I

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Reuters) - A woman who had been wandering the streets for eight years was headed home for a Christmas reunion with her family because she remembered she once had invested in the stock market...

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

December 10: Just Another Day?

Dylan of Tenebrae commemorates today as the anniversary of three events related to the life of Thomas Merton, including his untimely death. But more important than all of that...

Forty years ago today, at 5:45 pm Eastern time, my youngest sister was born. Happy birthday, Pat. Here's where life begins. Trust me.
Old "Soldiers" Never Die...

Philip Berrigan, renagade priest and peace activist, died at his home in West Baltimore on December 6. He was 79. He was buried yesterday from a parish where he once served while in active ministry.

With brother Daniel Berrigan, SJ, and seven others, the "Catonsville Nine" staged a burning of draft records in 1968. They spent a lot of time in jail for their protests of the Vietnam War. A more detailed account of his life and work appeared in the Baltimore Sun. Gerard Serafin, a Catonsville resident, provides photos of the funeral at his "Blog for Lovers."

I was a senior in high school back in Cincinnati early in 1973, when some of my classmates went to a lecture conducted by Philip Berrigan. He appeared with Elizabeth McAllister, who was introduced as his "wife." Naturally, I wasn't allowed to attend such a scandalous affair.

Closer to the present, there appears to be no clear outrage from "the younger generation" concerning the possibility of war in Iraq. "The times they are a-changin'..."

Friday, December 06, 2002

The Answer Man (w/Black Hat)

Yes, Mr Johnson of Catholic Light, I believe that "Kwanzaa" was originally a Dutch word. (Interestingly, "ghetto" was once a Yiddish word.)
"To drive the cold winter away..."

When I was young, I looked forward to the snow. Lots of it. Up to my knees. School was out, and the world stood still, covered in its white blanket. What a time we had -- breaking free, treading upon the stillness.

It only takes growing up to lose the magic. Now I have to go to work, trudging to the subway station, fighting the crowds who decide not to drive. Sooner or later, I have to dig my own car out of its burial place, only to discover upon moving that I could use a complete set of new tires. Even when the weather is bad enough that the government offices shut down, I sit at home and hope the power doesn't go out.

But tonight I'll brave the elements and take the road to Baltimore, for there is dancing to be done. At least the child in me has that much to look forward to. My new friend Beth is coming along, so we'll be a "carpool." Like me, Beth is from Cincinnati. Not only that, but she started folk dancing there after I left back in '80, so we know many of the same people. Meeting people from one's hometown, particularly for those of us in the Midwest, is like a gathering of kindred spirits. We'll catch up on who is doing what, and with whom.

It is an especially good thing for the ride home. The long drive after the music has stopped has been a lonely one of late, but for the sound of a friendly voice.

Was it Therese of Lisieux who said God could be found in the little things?
In Honor of Father Nicholas

We gather to celebrate and to praise in song
the model of bishops and a glory to the fathers,
a fountain of miracles and a great helper of believers.
Let us sing to the saintly Nicholas:
Rejoice, O Protector of Myra
who was revered as its leader and strongest pillar!
Rejoice, O Radiant Star
whose light of miracles shines throughout the world!
Rejoice, O Divine Joy to those in sorrow!
Rejoice, O Defender of those who are oppressed!
For even now all-holy Nicholas, you still pray to God for us
who celebrate your feast with faith
and who honor you with zeal and joy!

(Hymn from the Orthodox Vespers)

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Meanwhile, in Arlington, where altar girls need not apply...

I was off Monday. I could have joined a few of my friends for a bit of trouble-making in front of the chancery building, but decided not to. Both the Post and the Times covered the historic event. (Check out the picture at the Post. Jane Elliot looks like she's having the time of her life. "Bishop, what would your mother say...?")

Then again, Father Tucker of Dappled Things makes a number of points which, for all their merit, are what I would expect from a priest being loyal to his bishop. And yet, what is lost in the fracas of whether or not Father Haley should have or should not have done anything, is the impertinent question?

When is somebody going to officially apologize to James Lambert, for his marriage being destroyed by a misbehaving priest of this diocese?

"It's beginning to look a lot like..."

Sal Ravilla at Catholic Light gives us the low-down on what to expect when the white stuff hits the DC area. He's not far off the mark. Thankfully, I've got enough toilet paper to last for a week. They handle this sort of thing a lot better in upstate New York, from what little I could see.

Now that I think of it, I could use a new set of tires.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

In Search Of The Dance

"You might like the gypsy life
You judge your progress by the phases of the moon
Get your compass and your sharpest knife
People love you when they know you're leaving soon..."

(lyrics from a song by John Gorka)

Thanksgiving Day was pretty quiet for me this year. I watched the "X-Files Marathon" on the Sci-Fi Channel, and packed for my trip. Later in the day I went to a friend's house, where he and his fiance were having dinner. I got to tag along for an hour or two.

Come Friday morning, I took to the road, to the Thanksgiving Dance Weekend in Rochester, New York.

I visited an Indian reservation for the first time. To this day, the Six Nations that comprise what are known as the Haudenosaunee, or "People of the Long House" (what the French named the "Iroquois") still occupy much of central and upper New York, as well as lower Ontario. One of them is the Onondaga, with a reservation located along I-81 south of Syracuse. I stopped at a recreation center operated by the Territory, and watched a boys' ice hockey game.

I arrived at the site of the dance weekend in plenty of time. These weekends serve as reunions of sorts, as "dance gypsies" from all parts see one another again. At least two women told me of how I had lost weight since two years ago. (The plan is working -- so far.) There was also much dancing to be done -- New England contra dancing, Irish and Quebecois step dancing, Cajun, zydeco, and so on. There was also a belly dancing workshop, the demonstration for which was well-attended. I decided it wasn't for me. Call it a hunch.

I met my friend Vicki, from Toronto, after a three-year absence. She was part of a really fun bunch of people I met in Pittsburgh back in '99. We got caught up on our lives, and danced to the sounds of a swing/blues band on Saturday night, laughing all the while.

The night was windy and cold, and a couple of inches of snow fell. I would step out into the darkness once in a while, and ponder life at home.

The return trip was a challenge, as one might expect for Thanksgiving weekend. Fortunately, I stayed alert to warnings of at least two major pile-ups in Pennsylvania, and took detours which cut hours off my already-prolonged journey home. The snow to the north never reached Maryland.

There is plenty of zydeco dancing this month, including a chance to meet up with some of my favorite musicians from Louisiana. Someday I will venture south to see them in their native habitat. Not this year. (Long story.)