Looking Back to 1776

It’s the 4th of July. Known also to most of us in this country as Independence Day. 

And no, I’m not talking about the 1996 movie in which aliens invaded the earth to destroy it. Although sometimes I do wonder if we have some aliens here already masquerading as politicians, but that’s a debate for another time.

Today for most people in our country is a day off. A day we use to celebrate with cook outs, beach or pool or other backyard parties, flying the American flag if we have one, and then ending the day either setting off fireworks or crowding into parks and other areas to watch firework displays put on by whichever city or town we live in.

Sometimes we even remember why we celebrate this day. 

But I don’t think enough of us, and I’ll include myself, really stop to think why we recognize this day as being important in the history of our nation. Because we’ve known nothing but freedom in this country for our entire lives. We don’t stop to think about how hard fought that freedom really was.

Our nation was founded on a concept of freedom from tyranny, from another country that wanted to make those who came to these shores to begin a new life continue to live their lives under that country’s rule. 

And after a while, the colonists decided they’d had enough, and it was time to separate and form a new country. And they did. They risked their lives to start this country, to set in motion their dreams for a better life for their families and future generations. And they succeeded.

Now here we are today, some 246 long and challenging years later. 

And I wonder what the men who started that revolution, who dared to defy a then-mighty country who controlled those 13 little colonies…I wonder just what they’d have to say about our country today.

I dare say they wouldn’t begin to recognize what we’ve become. A nation united now becoming strongly divided between two political parties. Between two sets of ideas for what this country should be, each side with basically no respect for the other.

In the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Most likely they’d say our government has become too powerful; too over-reaching into our daily lives, and trying to control too much of what we do and how we do it. There are too many laws, both federal and state, which attempt to restrict the freedoms they fought so hard for.

And definitely too many politicians running the governments who are only out for themselves instead of the people who voted them into office. Too many egos saying what people want to hear, getting into elected office, and then going along with whoever can help them make the most money and get re-elcted.

I think the founding fathers would be appalled. And I wonder if they wouldn’t try to maybe start another revolution of some sort to get us back on the right track?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my country. It’s not perfect, but it’s so much better than most of the others. 

We’re allowed to speak our minds when we don’t like what’s happening; many other countries don’t have that luxury. But we don’t have the right to riot, burn businesses, and use guns to kill those who disagree. Which is now happening far too often.

What would the founding fathers think of us now? They didn’t envision career politicians running this great land. They wanted everyday people to make those decisions. That’s not happening now.

Today let’s take a bit of time to reflect on what this day means, and what we can help do to get back to some of the basic ideas this country was founded on. 

I don’t know exactly how, but if all of us actually start to take the time to think about it, maybe we can accomplish something…at least for our children and grandchildren and all of the other future generations.

Thank about it. And have a safe and happy Independence Day!

A Memorial Day for the Fallen

Today is Memorial Day. A day set aside to honor those who have given their lives for this country. In countless wars and overseas conflicts. Brave men and women who gave their all.

They gave their lives to protect our freedoms. They went where our country sent them, and did what they needed to do. 

Did they question their reasons for going? I’m sure many did. But they went. Some returned and some didn’t. Today we honor those that didn’t return.

But I cannot help but ask us all to add another couple of categories of our citizens to remember and pay our respects to on this Memorial Day. Citizens who left home one day as usual and never returned.

Let’s remember the hundreds of first responders, police and firefighters as well as EMT’s who have also given their lives to save others. Oh, I know right now the police are under attack again for not doing what they’re supposed to do. It’s become a o popular sport in this country, unfortunately. And there will always be those officers who are in the wrong, but the majority are good people, who’ve dedicated themselves to such service, and those of them who’ve given their lives in the line of duty should be honored as well. It’s a job I wouldn’t want to do, and I am thankful for each and every one of them that have chosen to do it.

But I want us to also remember another group of people…innocent people who’ve been senselessly murdered by cowardly people with guns, out to spread their hatred and violence for whatever twisted and deranged parts of their minds that were urging them forward.

Innocent children. Worshippers in their chosen houses of God. Innocent shoppers in malls and grocery stores. Innocent concert goers who were enjoying a night of music. 

They unwillingly gave their lives because someone they didn’t even know decided they didn’t deserve to live.

And we continue on with our lives, thankful it wasn’t us.  

But such violence touches all of us in some way. It forever changes a part of us, and sometimes we don’t even realize it.

The awfulness of the last few days in this country will eventually be forgotten by the majority of the country, but never by the families and communities which have been devastated by the tragedy. Just like the families of our servicemen and women who were lost in combat, they will NEVER forget. Not a day will go by without a memory sneaking into their mind, and those memories are all they have left.

Today as most of us gather together with friends and family for picnics and parties, or go out to grab up the best Memorial Day sales, let’s take the time to remember those families who are grieving over their loved ones who will never attend such events again.

Remember the fallen, because they deserve never, ever to be forgotten. And remember the families who will also never forget.

Remembering The Price of Freedom

This post was originally published five years ago today. But it’s still very relevant today. So I’ve updated it slightly to reflect Veterans Day, 2021.

The price of freedom cannot be measured monetarily. It is measured by the sacrifice of the lives of the men and women who defend it.

Today is Veterans Day. The day we thank all of those who have served and are currently serving in our military. Their bravery and dedication to duty is not appreciated nearly enough. They have a unique understanding of the ways of the world that we who have not served cannot begin to understand.

To all of those who have served or are still serving, we owe you a huge THANK YOU for the time and sacrifice you, and your families, have given, and are still giving, to this great nation. You leave home and family behind far too often to serve your country because that’s your duty and your chosen profession. You and your families are invaluable to this country.

My father served in the Army during World War II, however, because of a bad knee that he had originally injured playing football in college, he was sent home with an honorable discharge and a knee brace.

My uncle also served, however, he did not get home until the war ended. He was quite fortunate. Although I do not know his entire story, I will relate what I know of it, because in my eyes, he was one of the heroes.

Fowler Cottingham joined the Army as a young man barely 18 years old. He was trained as a crewman on the fighter planes, and consequently sent to Germany, where he flew in several successful missions with his crew.WW2 Plane

The morning of the day he flew his final mission was most likely just another day. Clear skies; light wind; a perfect day for flying. I can imagine the crew loading the plane, going through their pre-flight checklist, making sure their parachutes were ready, and most likely cracking jokes and talking about what they’d do when they came back from their mission.

Flying over enemy territory was never safe. Most of us have probably seen movies of the allied war planes heading out for missions over Germany. What the movies don’t adequately show is the danger our men faced during each of these missions.

They didn’t have all of the sophisticated equipment in 1945 that our armed forces have now. There were no computers, no GPS; only a navigator with paper maps showing where they were supposed to be flying. There were gunners who fired their weapons without fancy electronics to assist them. They had to judge where to aim, and when to pull the trigger, based on what knowledge the officers and ground troops had been able to discern. It was much different than today. But they had courage, and a sense of duty. They had volunteered to serve, and knew the risks involved.

I’m not sure exactly what happened, but my uncle’s plane took a hit from a German warplane. Fortunately they were all able to parachute out, and landed in a wooded area somewhere behind enemy lines. They had only a few supplies, and had no idea where they were. And no idea whether anyone else had any idea where they were, or even if they were alive.

Shortly afterwards they were captured by German soldiers and marched to one of the POW concentration camps. Capture was certainly better than being shot, which I’m sure they were all afraid, would happen. As brave as these men were, just remember, they were all in their early 20’s, the beginning of their lives. They all wondered if they’d ever see home and family again.Blanches Banques POW Camp

Over 93,000 men were held as prisoners in the German POW camps in World War II. They were held in drafty wooden buildings, with uncomfortable cots, and only a thin blanket for warmth. They were fed one or two meals a day, usually some type of thin soup and stale bread. Their only utensils were a tin spoon, and a tin cup for water. One day they were given a treat…candy bars which they quickly bit into. And then saw the worms inside.

My Uncle Fowler and his crew spent six months in that camp, guarded by armed soldiers and German shepherds. They never knew when or if the guards would come for some of them to question them, torture them, or kill them.

There are some experiences that are just too terrible to discuss because they bring back too many nightmares. My uncle would never discuss any of what happened, other than what I have written here; not with his parents, his wife, or his two sons. After his return, and until the day he died, he was scared of German shepherds because he had seen them tear hands and arms off of prisoners who were trying to escape.

How did these men survive this ordeal? And where was the Lord in this? I’m sure the men wondered many times where He was. Even at the young age of 20, when he was captured, my uncle was a man of faith, and I’m certain his faith helped sustain him.

Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” The Lord was watching over them the entire time.

Yes, their plane was shot down, but the crew survived. The Lord directed the German bullets away from the fuselage so that the plane didn’t explode, which would have killed them all. When they landed in the woods, they had no idea where they were, and no idea where to go. The German soldiers could have killed them, but instead they were captured and allowed to live. Many other soldiers spent years in these concentration camps before being freed; these men only had to endure for six months. Many died in these camps, but these men all survived, because the Lord had plans for them. My uncle had a young woman, my aunt, waiting to meet him, fall in love, and marry. The Lord had plans for all of them and made sure those plans were carried out. Prayers for safety were answered; just not the way that was expected.

I wish I knew the names of my uncle’s crew members, but I never had the opportunity to find out. I would love to thank them as well for serving with him, and being part of his support system while in the camp.

And again, to all of our veterans and those who are still serving, and their families, Happy Veteran’s Day. Thank you for your service. May God bless you all, and keep you safe.veterans_day_thank_you-1940983

Memorial Day Matters 2017

This was originally written for last year’s blog, but I think it’s even more important this year. The last year has seen a dramatic increase in terror attacks in our country, and throughout the world. We are still losing military personnel stationed overseas, and sadly, that will most likely continue. For their families, Memorial Day is a painful and difficult reminder of those no longer around to attend family cookouts, go on a three day mini vacation, or shop the sales at their favorite stores.

It seems everyone’s talking about the fun they’re having. The food they’re eating. The places they’re seeing and the bargains they’re snagging at all the sales. Nothing but fun!

But it’s not for those who’ve lost loved ones fighting terrorism and in the various wars in places most of us have never been, and most likely never will be.

So here is the piece I wrote last year for Memorial Day. I believe it still applies, perhaps today more than ever.

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Memorial Day matters to a lot of people; some more than others. For some it’s a day set aside to remember their own loved ones who died fighting for our country, but yet their families are the only ones who remember that. The empty place at the picnic table still hurts, no matter how long it’s been. A year, ten years, twenty, or in the case of a family in my hometown, almost fifty years.

I’m sure the families still vividly remember that day, that exact time, when they got the notification. The knock on the door; the phone call; the telegram. The moment that changed their lives forever; that turned their personal world upside down, never to be totally upright again.

Wives became widows, or husbands became widowers. Children became fatherless or motherless. Parents lost their child; sometimes their only child. Some parents lost the hope of ever becoming grandparents. Many could still picture the day he/she was sworn in as a soldier, or an airman, or a sailor. How proud everyone was. Now they only had left was a flag draped casket subs memories.

And no one, except them, seems to remember their sacrifices any more.

Not only do people not remember, but today there are now those who desecrate the flag-decorated graves of our honored military dead; desecrate war memorials meant to honor the fallen; and turn Memorial Day parades into riots, bringing only violence and hatred, claiming they have the right to protest, and they’re just exercising their “rights”. Even worse are the ones who decide to shoot a service member in uniform, because they “don’t believe in military service.” And yes, those service members who die in such shootings should be honored as well on Memorial Day, because they also gave their lives to preserve ours.

Yes protestors do have some rights. They have those rights because of the sacrifices of the men and women who are being honored by the flag-decorated graves, the war memorials, and the parades. But those rights are limited by law, something they tend to forget.

But our service members didn’t give their lives so protestors could vandalize their graves and their memorials. They gave their lives to preserve freedom in our country and around the world. But that doesn’t include freedom to incite violence and vandalize property in the name of “protesting”. It’s not an excuse for rudeness, or stealing.

I am tired of the protestors and the violence; I am tired of people putting down those in the military. I personally knew a few of our military who lost their lives in various wars and deployments. I have many, many friends who are in, or have retired from, the military, and many friends whose children are serving in the military. I honor them, and respect them, and admire them for their service and their sacrifice. And I thank them for keeping us safe, even though many times they risk their own lives to do so.

So on this Memorial Day, let’s all thank those who gave their lives for us so we could enjoy our freedom. Let’s thank their families as well.

Because Memorial Day matters. To them, and to all of us.

4th of July Goodies

In celebration of the 4th of July, we always had family cookouts when we were growing up. Along with fireworks my uncle set off in the field beside our house. When fireworks were legal, of course, way back long ago!

I can still remember the Roman candles he’d set off, making sure we kids were well out of their range, and carefully aiming them away from anything that could catch on fire. (In case you’re wondering, my mother’s house was just outside the town limits, so we didn’t have to worry about any restrictions.) We also had strings of regular firecrackers, cherry bombs, and colorful sparklers that we loved to swirl and make designs with in the air, long before it became fashionable to use them for weddings! And of course, there were those round snappers we threw on the sidewalk so they’d make a sharp “bang”, leaving a tiny trail of smoke.

Oh, the fun we had…..!! And none of us got hurt, thank goodness! Would we do this for our kids now?! Heck, no!

But first of all we’d eat our dinner of charcoaled burgers and hot dogs, with my mom and my aunts contributing homemade potato salad, macaroni salad, coleslaw and of course potato chips and baked beans, with an occasional plate of freshly deviled eggs! What a treat it was, especially combined with Mom’s homemade iced tea punch that I’ve forgotten (sadly) how to make. Although I think it included grape juice…maybe I’ll attempt it if none of my fellow Eastern Shore friends have a similar recipe they can share.

Anyway, nothing could compare with those burgers cooked on that old charcoal grill. It was a great taste treat, with just the tiniest hint of a bit too much lighter fluid thrown on the charcoal briquettes, which somehow always added to the taste to the meat.

Dessert was usually fresh homemade ice cream, the kind you could get a massive brain freeze from if you ate it too quickly. And we usually did! With plenty of strawberries thrown over that pile of frozen vanilla goodness!

119601For years my mom used an old wooden ice cream freezer to make her homemade ice cream. I’m not sure, but it must have belonged to her mother at one time, because even back then, its once bright green paint was almost gone. The inside can had a wooden paddle inside, and we used to argue over who would get the chance to lick that paddle once the ice cream was finally frozen! We’d fill the bucket with rock salt and ice, and turn the handle, only stopping when it would barely turn any more, which meant it was finally ready! There have been many times I’ve wished for that old ice cream maker, because even using her recipe, the ice cream just doesn’t taste the same in the newer, modern appliances.

There’s just something to be said about some of those old vintage products!

Yes, those were the days, as the saying goes! And sometimes I long for those days, to just be able to re-live a few of the good times, to see if they really were as good as we remember them!

So in celebration of this year’s 4th of July, I’m sharing our family recipe for homemade ice cream. Just remember, it may not taste the same if it’s not made in that old wooden ice cream maker, but since most of us don’t have one any more, let’s just see if we can bring back a little of the old time memories, and calories, just for old times’ sake!

Mom’s Homemade Ice Cream
15 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 c. thin cream
1 c. cold water
1 tbl vanilla
Dash of salt

Mix ingredients together. Fill inner metal container about 2/3 full of ice cream mixture and place paddle in the middle; cover tightly so rock salt (ice cream salt) won’t leak inside.

Pack alternate layers of ice and rock salt around the metal container until the bucket is almost full. As ice melts, replace if necessary, adding any necessary salt to the mixture. Turn the handle and crank away. (It’s a good idea to have a helper or two lined up in case you get tired!)

When handle will barely turn any more, it’s ready! Remove the handle, carefully remove the cover on the inside can, and place paddle in a bowl to be enjoyed by the kids! Place ice cream in freezer until ready to serve.

Note: This makes a wonderful vanilla, however, if you wish, you can add crushed fruit of your choice, but we usually ate it with the fruit generously spooned over it.

Enjoy!

Happy July 4th!