Monday, May 6, 2013

Over the Rainbow

“If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why, oh why, can’t I?” E.Y. Harburg, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”

Bruce Amundsen and wife Linda arranged for his brother Glenn to receive a military burial.  We hadn’t seen Glenn, a Vietnam vet, in 30 years; he moved away after suffering a traumatic head injury in a motorcycle accident and going through an arduous recovery that left him with a speech impediment and other disabilities.  In fact, Glenn broke off contact with Bruce and Linda, who last Christmas tracked down an address and sent him a card containing a photo of the two brothers as kids.  He never responded.  Glenn’s landlord discovered his body, noticed the card with a return address, and notified Linda of his death. 

I contacted several people who partied at a house Glenn shared with several others near 35th and Virginia about the funeral, including Bob Fulton, who showed up at Calvary Funeral Home in Merrillville.  Bob recently went back to IUN for grad courses (Ellen Szarleta was his favorite instructor) and presently works for Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor.  A dozen cars formed a caravan to Calvary cemetery.  Two army representatives and four old veterans from the Griffith Legion post greeted us upon our arrival.  One had on a Korean War insignia.  Following a short service, the Legionnaires fired off their rifles four times each.  Since Glenn’s body was cremated, the army representatives displayed a flag, elaborately folded it back up, and then Sergeant Garfield knelt before Bruce and presented it to him as the other soldier played “Taps.”  It was quite moving.  Glenn had been a bronze star recipient but never told anyone; he may even have thrown away the medal during an anti-war protest because Linda couldn’t find it among his things.

Years before she came down with cancer, Gloria Fraire, a WAC during WW II, switched her American Legion membership from a chapter whose members were primarily Mexican American to one consisting mainly of Eastern Europeans.  Son John asked why, and she said: I mean no disrespect to Mexicans, our people, but the Mexican American Legion just does not know how to do a proper flag ceremony at a funeral. They show up late, look sloppy; they even dropped the flag once. Now this new American Legion, they know how to conduct a real flag ceremony. And I want to be buried as a veteran.” 
At his mother’s funeral in 2007, John Fraire wrote: “There were over a dozen Legionaries, all dressed in bright red blazers with their medals and braids on the jackets, and wearing military hats. They first read a lyrical poem about their fallen comrade; then they poured themselves each a glass of beer and put a half empty glass of beer on my mother’s coffin. They then sang some Irish drinking song, again with references to their fallen comrade. They then presented a folded American flag encased in glass with six bullets from a World War II rifle to my brother Ed.  As they gave him the flag, another group of veterans dressed in red blazers, who had been standing between the funeral and garage sale, shot their rifles three times into the air for a gun salute. That was then followed by a trumpet rendition of taps.”  Across the street from the ceremony hundreds of people were attending a huge yard sale. “Only moments before,” Fraire noticed, “hundreds of people had been laughing and shouting; now not a person was moving. Men had their hats off, many others had their hands over their heart, and I remember noticing this elderly gentleman standing at attention and saluting. No act ever had the impact on me as an American than seeing those people, most who did not know my mother, quietly paying their respects.”  

Saturday afternoon we played bridge at Hagelbergs after Dick put steaks on the grill.  Toni’s contribution was a delicious salad.  I made two small slams but finished third to Toni and Dick, who kicked butt when partners against Cheryl and me.  In the evening we attended a viewing of a Judy Garland documentary introduced by Larry Lapidus, who said that when guys at gay bars during the Sixties wanted to proposition someone, they’d ask, referring to Garland’s role in “The Wizard of Oz,” “Do you like Dorothy?”    Unfortunately the sound was defective, but one could still appreciate Garland’s emotional appeal and mourn for her psychological instability.  One friend compared her to French chanteuse Edith Piaf, whose name appropriately meant sparrow.  Both were tragic figures caught in whirlwinds from which they could not escape.  Starting out in vaudeville with her two sisters, Judy was in numerous musicals with Mickey Rooney, and studio lackeys frequently gave her amphetamines to get her up and barbiturates so she could sleep – leading to a lifetime addiction to pills and, later, booze.

While at the Gardner Center I talked with John Cain, who had spoken a week earlier about art collecting, and Carolyn McCrady, involved in making a documentary about creative activities at the old Miller Drugs.  Next week the school’s choir, dance troupe, and jazz band will perform at the Gardner Center.  Back home I learned that the Bulls won game seven in Brooklyn, thanks to Joakim Noah’s heroics, even though half the team was sick or injured and Derrick Rose still in street clothes.  They play Miami next and are 25 to 1 underdogs.
 Phil, Si, Jase and Willie from "Duck Dynasty"

An article in Time noted that “Duck Dynasty” was the highest rated cable series on TV and that its season finale attracted almost ten million viewers, more than “American Idol.”  The show’s patriarch, a Louisiana good old boy named Phil Robertson, invented a “duck commander” for hunting and struck it rich.  While he continues to live in a ramshackle house with a down-home wife, Miss Kay, his sons reside in mansions but still live to hunt and resemble the bearded members of ZZ Top.  Their wives look like normal soccer moms who tolerate their lovable spouses, one of whom (Willie) was trying to lose weight prior to his twentieth high school reunion.  Detesting most Reality shows, I checked out an episode expecting to be unimpressed but found it witty and tastefully done.  One plot involved Uncle Si, whose dogs wouldn’t fetch dead ducks until he bought a well-hung French poodle.
 Lisa Woodruff-Hedin, Christina Pals and Jeff DeBoer from "Gypsy"

 “Gypsy” at Memorial Opera House livened up when Mama Rose’s daughter finally starts performing burlesque.  The acting was great, and I recognized several musical numbers, including “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “Some People,” and “Let Me Entertain You.” One stripper had on an outfit that lit up at her breasts, crotch and butt.  Another was full-bodied with massive upper legs, played a trumpet, and could bump and grind with the best of them.  The plot line involved a controlling stage mom reminiscent of Judy Garland’s, but the play had a happy, if implausible ending. 

The real Gypsy Rose Lee belonged to numerous leftwing causes and was investigated by HUAC.  After she became famous, she supported her mother who opened a boarding house for women in Manhattan and had a female lover whom Gypsy shot and killed when she made a pass at her (authorities decided it was a suicide).  After Mama Rose died, Gypsy wrote a memoir on which the play was based.  Ethel Merman starred in the original 1959 Broadway production.  Rosalind Russell played Rose in the 1962 film with Karl Malden as boyfriend Herbie and Natalie Wood as Louise (Gypsy).

After the show we dined at the reopened Miller Bakery Café with the Hagelbergs and Corey and Kate.  A half dozen of Corey’s art pieces were on the walls.  Our pleasant server was named Taryn; a waiter I recognized named Russell said, “Hello, professor.”  Manager Jack Strode stopped by the table, and we told him how nice Cory’s art looked.  ON the menu in addition to regular entrees were “small meals”; I had beef tips with portabella mushroom soup plus the house salad and still took a couple pieces home with half of Toni’s stuffed pork chop.

I finished “Olive Kitteridge” and decided I really liked the main character, who was outspoken, did not suffer fools, thought George W. Bush was a moron, and was lonely in her old age after her husband died.  Her only son moved clear across the country to get out from under her wing while in truth he and his first wife were much more judgmental than she.  Like many women coming to maturity in the 1950s, Olive felt trapped and stifled in her small coastal Maine hometown.  Just a few years older than I, Olive missed the Sixties social revolution that inspired so many people to escape the confines of their environment. 

Raised Lutheran in a suburban Republican household, I was on track to become a corporation lawyer until I took a course from liberal Bucknell professor William H. Harbaugh and subsequently changed majors from political science to history.  One day I naively asked him whether one who is religious could be a liberal; fortunately he did not laugh at me.  I’ll never forget his telling a colleague, after Richard Nixon’s defeat in the 1962 California gubernatorial election, “The bastard lost.”  Before I quit Virginia Law School to pursue an advanced degree in history, I visited him.  He said I’d never be wealthy as a professor but to do what I thought would be more fulfilling.

My love of history started in high school due to H.M. Jones, who gleaned colorful anecdotes from a college textbook by Thomas A. Bailey and whose acerbic but humorous delivery made studying the past exciting.  I still recall H.M. he claiming Benedict Arnold was the best officer of the American Revolution and primarily responsible for “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne’s defeat and surrender at Saratoga, which proved to be the turning point in the war.  I recall his descriptions of the two Mexican War generals, Winfield Scott (“Old Fuss and Feathers”) and Zachary Taylor (“Old Rough and Ready”).  He waxed eloquent about the Battle of Gettysburg and loved to tease me about being related to “Old Doughface” James Buchanan, who may have been our first gay President.  The summer after I graduated, I learned that H.M. was himself queer.  Coach of the high school baseball team and a scout for the Dodgers, he invited a friend of mine to go on a scouting trip with him.  My friend kicked H.M. in the head when he came on to him.  While at Bucknell, I heard H.M. had been fired for sexual deviancy and never heard about him again.

In the Crown Point Hub Run Tom Wade finished number 292 out of 1304, averaging eight minutes and 43 seconds per mile, his fastest time ever, he reported.  His son Brady was Chesterton High School Prom King, and his date Kiera runner-up for queen.

Thanking me for Steel Shavings, Eva Mendieta said, “You are an inspiration for life after retirement.”

Neighbor Dave Elliott came over for dinner and brought a Sharon Shannon CD or Irish songs that included guest appearances by John Prine and Steve Earle.  Before chowing down on ribs, rice, asparagus, and salad, we had a couple LaBatts.  Afterwards, I sat open-mouthed as Nate Robinson and the Bulls upset Miami, going on a ten-point run in the final two minutes.

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