Fathers’ Day

When you read what you wrote a few years ago, it seems written by someone else. I recycle it here. I suggest you also click on the original post, since it has added insight from relatives who knew my father longer than I did.

I loved my father and he was loved by many. He served his country in World War II and by working w/o complaining at a dirty and hard job for more than 30 years. He married a good woman and stayed true to her until death parted them, raised a family and gave his children opportunities he never had. My father was a kind man who did his part to make the world better. Almost a quarter century after his death he is still fondly remembered and the values he taught still light the way for his children and grandchildren.

The measure of a successful life is one that has filled a valued place. My father’s life was success.

Click here to read the original post on Facebook.

I thought it might be a good to complete my parent series and rather than wait until father’s day. Unlike my mother’s case, I did know my father as an adult, so I know rather more, but still not much about the early years. We did not have much contact with his side of the family. Both his parents died before I was born. He and his fraternal brother Joe were the youngest. They were born twenty-two years after their oldest sister, Helen.

My dad with my sister and me.

I was named after my father, so I am technically John Matel, Jr. John Matel Senior was born in Duluth, Minnesota. His father, Anton, had come over from Poland around 1900. His mother, Anastasia, was of Polish ancestry too, but she was born in Buffalo, NY. My father never told me much more than that, although I understand that her family was from Galicia in the Carpathian Mountains. They spoke Polish in the home and that was my father’s first language.

I found out later that my grandfather’s family was from what is now eastern Poland: Suwalki and Mazowsze. I learned this from a cousin called Henrik Matel who found me when I was working at the Consulate in Krakow. Henrik’s father was my grandfather’s brother, so Henrik was my father’s generation, not mine. His father & another brother went to France to work in coalmines. My grandfather made a better choice and went to America. Henrik did not know much else. His father died in a train accident when he was only eleven (his father not Henrik :)). His mother remarried and evidently, his was not very fond of her first husband and kept none of his papers. Henrik unwisely returned to Poland after WWII, believing communist promises that things would be good there. Young men make bad choices and believe more in the promise than the practical.

My father with his brother Joe and Ted. Ted became a priest.

Henrik lamented that the Polish side of the family were a bunch of drunks. Things didn’t change much in America. Now you know as much about my father’s prehistory as I do and I suspect a little more than he did.

My father talked about growing up in the depression. He kept some of the frugal habits from those times. He saved bacon grease to use as butter, for example. And he did not waste food. His childhood home was small and crowded. It was on 4th Street. I went to see it. Things had changed. It was in a gentrified neighborhood and considered a small home for a single couple. My father’s home housed eight. Their toilet was in the basement, which has a dirt floor back then. He told a funny story about his youth. The family went to see “Frankenstein” and it scared my future father. His brothers set up a dummy in the basement and the made it sit up when little Johnny went down to use the toilet. He said he no longer needed to use the toilet.

The freeway has also cut the neighborhood up. My grandparents bought the house because it was only a few blocks their church St Stanislaw. The freeway made it a long walk around a busy street.

My father and his friends, young just before the war.

My father got a job with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and was stationed near Superior, WI, where planted trees and cut trails. It gave him a lasting appreciation for forestry, which he passed to me. How else can you explain a city boy so attracted to the woods? Some of it is myth, or just a feeling, but whenever I look at the groves of trees planted by the CCC I think of him, even when they were not planted by the CCC. They are mature forests now, but in the Dust Bowl years, they were pioneers.

After getting out of the CCC, my father got a job at Medusa Cement, where he stayed for the rest of his life, except for the time he was in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He was drafted into the Army soon after Pearl Harbor. He never told me much about that part of his life. I know he got seven battle stars, so participated in all the big actions of the war in Europe. He was not really have there for all of them. He told me that he remembers nothing at all about Anzio. But where his unit’s planes went, he officially went too. He landed at Normandy a few days after D-day. The only time he actually got near fighting Germans was during the Battle of the Bulge, closer than he wanted. He got a Purple Heart, which indicates some proximity. He did not go into details, except to claim he was drunk and could not recall.

They had a point system for discharge from the military as the war wound down. My father had a lot of points because of those battle stars & Purple Heart mentioned above, so he was among the first U.S. soldiers discharged and one of the first home He always expressed a special fondness for Chicago, the city of his discharge. Since victory in Europe was still such a fresh memory, people were eager to welcome him home and buy him drinks. It is a once in a lifetime experience and not everyone gets anything like it in his lifetime.

My parents’ wedding.

My father went back to work at Medusa Cement and married my mother in 1946.

Our house in Milwaukee was full of artifacts of my father’s work. He did a lot of work on the house, but never got very good at it. He and my maternal grandfather built the boiler, constructed the steps in the back and built the retaining wall by the alley, for example. All these things worked for the purpose intended, but they were odd and off balance. The boiler threw most of the heat out through the sides. That meant that the basement was very warm – the rest of the house not so much. (On cold days could freeze water by the wall. I know. I did it.) The steps were all unevenly spaced and lopsidedly leveled. The wall leaned artistically and improbably in both directions with drainage holes made from beer cans cut out on both ends. The evident surplus of beer cans explained much of wall’s other oddities.

During my childhood, my father worked most of the time. The Interstate highway system was being finished and that meant lots of overtime. The old man put in twelve-hour days all summer and most of the fall. He was worn out when he came home and his main recreation was drinking beer. He drank a lot of beer, at first Schlitz, later Pabst and then Budweiser, but he never missed a day of work because of that, or for any other reason. I don’t remember him ever taking a sick day.  

Maybe he just denied sickness because he hated doctors. He went to the doctor only once from the time he got his discharge physical out of the army in 1945 until the time he died more than fifty years later. On that occasion, he had a cyst removed from his stomach. The doctor forgot to sew it up. Forgot. After that, he said that the medical profession had their chance and he was not going to give them another. When the doctors finally got their second look at him, the day he died, they could not believe my sister when she told them that he did not take any medication besides Budweiser.

Dad at work.

I really didn’t get to know my father until after my mother died in 1972. As I mentioned, he worked all the time and went to bed early. After my mother died, the old man was grieving too, but he tried to make it easier for my sister and me. He tried to cook, but was not very good at it. Nevertheless, my father was nothing if not stubborn. He ate what he cooked and made us eat it too. I recall watching some bread bake in the toaster oven. The old man asked if I thought it was ready. Just at that point, it burst into flames. We still ate it.

Even funnier was the pork chop incident. My aunt Florence instructed the old man to bake some pork chops and then save the bones. It was likely that they were to be used for soup, but I don’t know. Anyway, my father got the instructions wrong the next day and baked the bones again. Supper was a pile of very black pork chop bones and a baked potato. My sister and I laughed and we would not eat the bones, but he old man would not admit a mistake. He stubbornly gnawed on the bones and claimed to like it.

(Funny the little things you remember. My father had the front room. His roof leaked and when there was rain we would often hear him in there “shit. shit. shit.” But we never managed to fix the roof. Or another time my sister and I were watching TV when we heard a thump followed by “shit. shit. shit.” His bed had collapsed and thrown him to the floor. He was probably more upset that we heard it and thought it was so funny.)

My father dropped out of HS in the tenth grade, claimed that he could not see the blackboard and his family could not afford glasses. But he respected education and made sure my sister and I went to college. To help me with money in college, he helped me get a job at the Medusa cement company, where I got to work those twelve-hour overtime shifts and make the big bucks. Most of the time I loaded cement bags onto pallets. It was a very hard, boring and dirty job and I hated it. The bags weighed as much as 94lbs. Everything hurt at the end of every day. But at one point, the boss assigned me to hopper cars, i.e. railroad cars full of cement. I worked from noon to midnight, which was great. I could sleep late and then meet my friends at the bars at midnight. At the job, I got to lift very heavy tools and smack things with sledge hammers (something young men like) but in between the hard work I got time to just hang around by the river and wait for the cars to empty (something else young men like). Then I got to ride the empty railroad cars to the end of the dock, applying the brakes and jumping off just before the rammed into the car in front.

I told my father that I thought this job was fun; maybe I could take a semester off school and make a little extra money. The next day, he made sure the boss gave me the midnight till noon shift, which did not suit me at all. There was not much time to go out drinking with my friends and staying up all night was hard. The old man explained that the worst thing a young man could get was a job he liked that did not have a future. He promised make sure that I would never like the job too much until I graduated college. He wanted me dislike work enough that I would stay in school in expectation of something better. I did. Thanks Dad.

I also worked hopper cars during Christmas break, BTW, but it was less fun. I remember working at night and looking at the temperature on the Allen Bradley clock tower. It always seemed to be five below zero. I would work as fast as I could out there by the tracks, get the cement moving and then rush into my father’s work-space and sit in front of the heater. My co-worker, LC (Slim) Duckworth, used to sleep in front of his own propane heater very close. He was used to it. I could not stand it because it let out terrible fumes that made me dizzy. Slim had no complaints until he started his pants on fire from sitting too close for too long. We put him out w/o any lasting damage, but he never sat near that heater again. LC was the strongest man I knew, but his ability to sleep almost any time was his most remarkable skill. He could sleep standing up. I learned much of his technique, but never achieved his true master sleeper status.

My father retired when he was only fifty-six. He already had thirty-six years in, since he got credit for his time in army. I can understand why he wanted to quit. The job was noisy, dusty and hard. Nevertheless, the plus side is that he had many friends at work. His job involved loading trucks from the silos above. He ran machines that did it. While he had to stand much of the day, it was not otherwise physically very hard. He had long since graduated from loading bags and unloading hopper cars. He knew all the truck drivers.

It was fun to watch the interactions. You had to learn to understand the “arguments”. All blue collar workplaces would be called “hostile” by today’s standards but it was more fun and you learned lots of uses for the F-word. If you just listened to the words, you would think they hated each other. They were always swearing at each other, calling each other names and making jokes about each other’s’ characteristics. But you soon noticed that the worst insults were reserved for the guys they liked the most. There was often the argument where my father called one of the guys a dumb Pollack, the guy answered back calling my father a stupid Pollack and a third guy telling them they were both right.

Early retirement was a bit of a mistake, IMO. I suppose he thought it was worth it. At first, I think it was. He had time to read and relax. It deteriorated after that. Retirement can be a dangerous profession.  

We drifted apart as parents and children often do, when I moved away. In the FS, you are FAR away. My father had a blind spot when it came to my career. When I told him that I planned to take the FS test, he told me not to waste my time. He said that such careers were “only for rich kids” and that I could never get a job like that. Had I taken his advice, it would have been true. You can’t get what you do not try to get. I cannot blame him. It was just farther than he could see. He was just projecting his experiences.

I didn’t make it back in time when the old man died. My sister called me and I got on the next flight from Poland. But the next flight was the next day and then I got stranded in Cincinnati. When I called to tell my sister that I would be late, my cousin Luke answered and told me that my sister was at the hospital and my father had died. I figure he died as I flew over Canada. I remember looking down at the savage beauty, the forest and the frozen lakes and thinking it was over. I do not know if I REALLY thought that or if I have just created this memory ex-post-facto. The mind works like that.  

My father never made much money but, after my mother died, he spent even less. He never owned a car, never went anywhere for vacation, didn’t waste money on clothes and ate nothing but bean soup, cabbage soup and kielbasa that he made himself. He used to talk about his stash of “cold cash.” We did not think much of it. But when my sister was cleaning out the freezer, she found around $20,000.00 in $100 dollar bills, wrapped in foil like hamburger. The old man hated banks and did not want to have any money that would earn interest that he would have to pay taxes. When dealing with old depression era people, it was a good idea to look around and do not hire stranger to clean up those nooks and crannies. I wonder if subsequent occupants have found money around the house in places we didn’t see.

According to what my sister told me, my father fell down and couldn’t get up. When asked how he was, his last words were, “I can’t complain.” He used that phrase a lot and it was not surprising he would fall back on it, but it seems an appropriate thing to say at the end.

I still miss him. I hope my kids will be as lucky as I was. I can’t complain.


Anniversary of D-Day. Both my father and Chrissy’s father landed at Normandy. Although neither took part in the first assaults, both got purple hearts later in the war.  

My father rarely talked about his war experience and I am sad to say that I did not ask very much. He got seven battle stars, i.e. participated in the major battles in the European theater and got that purple heart at the Battle of the Bulge. I did ask about that, and my father told me that he had just cut himself while drunk and they gave him the purple heart. He always minimized his service.  

The problem is that we do not ask our parents about their lives until it is too late. I think it is because we lack the context to want to know until we get older. When we are young, we just cannot perceive that our parents were ever young like us. It is only when we are old as they were that we appreciate their youth, and by then it is too late.   I probably talked to Chrissy’s father more about his war experience than I did my own. He was more willing to talk. He was a tank driver and mechanic. He got his purple heart when his tank was destroyed and he was hit by debris from it. He was evidently outside the tank when it happened. His colleagues were killed. I do not know more details. My fault. My first picture is my father in his uniform and after that is Chrissy’s. Last is my father on the job at Medusa Cement. People like our fathers risked their lives to save our country and then went on to build it for us.  

If I can share a couple of funny follow ups about my father’s story.   My father had a “Milwaukee accent” the likes of which no longer exist and it must have been even more pronounced when he was young. It was related to the immigrants who had some trouble pronouncing the “th” sound.   As a result, his military records say he lived on “Port Street”. His parents house was on 4th Street. I imagine when he was asked, he told them 4th street, but pronounced it something like “vote” but with a little more f sound at the start. The guy listening thought he said Port and that was the record.   My father was among the first to be discharged at the end of the war. They had some kind of point system, where you got credit for campaigns etc. With his seven battle stars, he was near the top.

They dropped him in Chicago. You can imagine what it must have been like at the end of the war, seeing your first hero come home. Anyway, he got a lot of free drinks, and for the rest of his life thought Chicago was the friendliest town in the world. He told me that all you needed do was show up in bar, talk to people and they would buy you free drinks. That has not been my experience.   One more. My father had no souvenirs of the war, not even his own uniform, which he said he lost in a crap game. That may have been accurate.   My uncles had all sorts of stuff – German helmets, bayonets, all sorts of patches. One of my uncles has an SS hat and even weapons. I saw a Lugar and a rife, I think it was called a Mauser. The Lugar was evidently a big deal. It is amazing how they got all that stuff home and were allowed to bring it.   Mauser was one of the things my father called “good” cats, so I am not sure if I recall correctly.  

Busy couple of days

Lots of variety. Thursday I was planting trees. Yesterday, I did some WAE work for State and watched Espen band play. Today, I am writing up. Most of it is just personal, but I need to write up notes for State from the seminar I attended yesterday on “The US-Canada Permanent Joint Board on Defense at 80,” actual work.

Tree planting
Got the last tree in the ground and there was even daylight left. I planted the last box today, 334 trees.

Well, not the last forever. I will fill in a few more longleaf if I can get a few more boxes.
In a couple weeks, I also am getting 50 white oak, 50 swamp white oak and 300 shortleaf. This is mostly an experiment. I want to have some oak because I like oak. The shortleaf can grow with oaks or longleaf. Shortleaf are the most widespread of southern pines, but tends to be in mixed forests. Shortleaf can survive fires, but it is not like longleaf. Shortleaf can burn to the ground and re sprout. This is very uncommon for pines. They also can produce lateral sprout branches. In fact, that is one way to identify them. But shortleaf get no respect. They are not cool like longleaf nor as practical as loblolly. But I think it will be good to have at least a few hundred.

Of course, I have natural regeneration of oaks and shortleaf on the property already, but it is nice to plant some new ones.

My first picture is a selfie with the last of the longleaf. Next is the day’s end coming out of the woods. Last is a frog. I almost stepped on him. He is well camouflaged.

Still (sometimes) working at State Department
I like to keep a few fingers in my old profession and I enjoyed listening to speakers and “networking.” I am not going to post the extensive notes. Suffice to say that Canada is heating up, both physically and metaphorically. The high north is heating up faster than the rest of the world and this is taking the Arctic out of the deep freeze. It could soon become an arena of great power conflict. The Russians are obviously playing up there, but the Chinese are probably more aggressive in the long run. Unfortunately, the homeland of North America will be less secure in future than it has been.

FDR originated The US-Canada Permanent Joint Board on Defense in 1940. He did it on his initiative, inviting then Canadian PM Mackenzie King to meet him on his train, where they hashed out a semi-alliance. This was pre-Nato days and even before the U.S. was in World War II, so was a bold move. Lots of people in those days thought that the Nazis would win the Battle of Britain and that Canada would be next on the Hitler’s list. The invasion probably would have come through Newfoundland or Labrador. These were really dark days. Roosevelt had essentially committed the USA to the defense of North America, as I wrote, it was a bold move even if it seems nature today.

The 80th anniversary of the agreement is coming up, so they had a nice birthday cake.
I went over to the Congressional Research Service after that. CRS is the gold standard of political research. Their task is to inform Congress on key events and issues. The reports are generally available to the public I got to go along with State colleagues to meet a couple of the researchers who cover Canada.

Beer belongs
I caught the Silver Line to meet Chrissy at Gordon Biersch at Tyson. That used to be a regular event for us when Chrissy worked nearby, but now is a rarer pleasure.

Espen sings
The big event of the night was Espen playing with his band. I admit my bias, but I think they did very well. It was melodious music and not too loud (The band just before them produced a jaw-clenching cacophony.) Chrissy and I enjoyed watching Espen and his friends making music.

Unfortunately, I could not understand the lyrics, as the lead singer sings in Persian. I think they did well. The band is called Afarinesh. They just released their first album.

So, it was a busy day. As an old retired guy, I am unaccustomed to going through a whole day w/o a nap, but I made it from early to late.

Pictures are in reverse chronological order. First is Espen and his band. Next are Chrissy & I at Gordon Biersch. You see the Library of Congress in the middle picture. CRS is housed in LOC, although in the less impressive looking Madison Building across the street. The picture after that is cutting the birthday cake and the cake, and last is one of the panels at the Johns Hopkins Canada event.

Chrissy's birthday

Have not been posting as many pictures of Chrissy and me drinking beer, since most are repeats, as we go to many of the same places. We went to Ellicott Mills Brewing Company. I have been there with Mariza & Espen but this was first time for Chrissy. We were on the way to Mariza’s Halloween party. She lives nearby.

And today (since it is now past midnight) is Chrissy’s birthday.
First two pictures are our usual beer photos. Others are “ballast,” pictures I took from around Washington last couple days.

We went to Hot Pot for CJ’s birthday. Nice place. You make your own soup, messy but fun. Sorry about the picture quality. Unfortunately, the one with Alex was really bad. My fault. He was sitting across from me and I took it too close and too fast.

Busch Gardens

Went to Amber Ox in Williamsburg with Mariza & Brendan. We will go to Busch Gardens tomorrow.

We have enjoyed Busch Gardens since the 1980s. I still enjoy the roller coasters, but I find my advancing age pounds me harder, so I cannot stand to go time after time. A nice thing is that Busch Gardens is pretty. It is a garden, as the name implies. I also appreciate the landscape planning. The park is compact, but you get the impression of significant distance as you pass from one of the theme areas to another.

Whole family went down to Busch Gardens. I like Busch Gardens more than most amusement parks because it is really a garden. They do an excellent job of keeping the trees and plants healthy. In one of my pictures you can see their horse pasture. I noticed that the large white oak in the middle is very robust.

It has a European theme, going from England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Italy & France, including New France, i.e. frontier Canada. It is well laid out, giving the impression of more space than is actually there. Such parks are good places to test out theories and practices of urban planning.

We spent a lot of time in the Festhaus in Germany with the beer and brats.

I enjoy the roller coasters. Unfortunately, my body is not as resilient as once was and if I go too much I get queasy headache. But I enjoyed twice on Apollo’s Chariot, once each on the Griffin and Invader. Apollo’s Chariot and Griffin both feature an exciting initial plunge. You go straight down and cannot see the tracks. It is worth the extra wait to be in the front car for that reason.

We stayed overnight in Williamsburg. Watched “Fast and Furious 7”. I generally dislike car movies, but this one was fun because it was self-aware and made fun of its own excesses. In one scene, the cars drop out of an airplane and the drivers seem able to steer while falling through the air. In another Dwayne – “the Rock” – Johnson needs to help his friends. He has a broken arm, but flexes his massive muscle and breaks out of the cast. After that, former broken arm not hindering, he takes a 50 caliber machine gun and shoots up various bad guys.

Brendan seems a real expert on these movies and his commentary was useful. Chrissy & I are now going to watch “Fast and Furious 8,” which is widely acknowledged to be the best of the genre. And we have on the list to watch “Hobbes and Shaw”, where the Rock (Hobbes) teams up with erstwhile bad guy Shaw to stop a rogue British agent, who coincidentally is Shaw’s sister. Can’t wait.

“Hobbes & Shaw” is designed to further the “Fast & Furious” franchise while icing out Vin Diesel. The word is that he and the Rock get along poorly. Vin rightly sees the Rock as a bigger and better version of himself. The Rock has real charisma, while Vin is just ersatz. Who knew there was so much to know?

What do you admire about your parents

My story worth for this week. A little repetitive but I think still good. “What do you admire about your parents?”

My father Never missed a day at work

My father went to work every day. I do not remember him missing even one day of work for any reason at all. He went to work when he felt good; he went to work when he felt bad. He never needed a “mental health day.” His job was physically hard and not fun intellectually, yet he persisted to support his family. He taught me that all work deserved respect and that you earned self-respect by the work you did. He lived simply and did not take much for himself, and he did not complain. His hard work and frugality made me think that we were rich when I was a kid. Only as an adult did I come to realize that we were comparatively poor. My father never finished 10th Grade, yet his constant reading gave him an admirable education, so he could hold his own in intellectual discussions with guys like me with fancy pants educations.

Heroic experiences
My father served the USA in World War II in the Army Air Corps. He got seven battle stars and a purple heart in the Battle of the Bulge. Yet he talked about it so little that I was only vaguely aware of his record. He was a union steward (longshoreman) when I was a little kid. He later soured on the union. I have no idea why. But never on the “working man.” He had that quiet dignity of the greatest generation. Don’t brag about the things you have done and certainly do not claim credit for things you are “gonna do.”

One memory vignette – As I said, he never much talked about his war experience, but there was one time when I saw the memory affect him. I had a Pink Floyd song called “Echoes.” It started with the sonar ping sound. This upset the old man, and he was rarely upset. It evidently reminded him of being on a troop ship crossing the Atlantic infested by Nazi U-Boats. He would not elaborate.

Love of education
Despite his own lack of formal education (maybe because), my father just assumed I would go to college and passed that to me. This is something I did not appreciate until I was an adult. Most people in my socioeconomic group did not go to college. We had no family history of higher education, and the old man knew nothing about it in practical terms, but he managed to boost my sister and me beyond what he could do or even understand.

My mother
Giving her a fair shake
I worry that I don’t give my mother a fair shake. A lot that I know about my father I learned when I was an adult, but I never knew my mother when I was an adult, since she died when I was seventeen. My impressions are a those of a child, at best teenager, but I can see a lot to admire with my adult experience.

Do for others and make it look natural
My mother was a very generous and unselfish person. As with my father, I only really understood what she did for me, sacrificed for me after I was an adult and after she was gone. As I wrote elsewhere, all I needed do was to mention an interest in a subject and a book about that subject would soon appear. Before I could go there alone, she took me to our neighborhood library – Llewellyn – and introduced me to the books there. When I got old enough to go there myself, she still always looked at the books I brought home and asked me about them. This was harder than I thought. She had to do some research about the subject, a much harder task in those pre-Internet days.

She always put others before herself, but she did it in such an unselfish way that the recipients were not always aware. She would work very hard on something and then make it look like it was no trouble. It took a lot of work for her to make things look spontaneous. I am not sure this is a good thing in working life, since you don’t get credit. I give her credit now, but that is a little too late. I would castigate my childish self, but there is no point. All I can do now is “pay it forward.” I think she would have been content with that, since it is behaving like she did.

The family ecology – sisters Florence & Lorainne

I have talked about my mother and my father individually. That gives an incomplete picture. As a couple, they were a team and as a team they were part of a bigger ecology of our extended family, mostly my mother’s sisters and my cousins. The total of this system was much greater than the sum of its parts. This became very clear after my mother died. I was almost an adult, going into my last year in HS. My sister Chris is two years younger. We were old enough to be autonomous but not old enough to take care of ourselves, especially emotionally. My mother’s sisters Florence and Lorraine (they don’t give kids those sorts of names anymore) stepped right in. They helped make meals, helped my father adjust emotionally, helped my sister and me adjust. They finished the job my mother had begun.

Intellectual life
My aunts, especially my Aunt Lorraine, were very well read. My aunt Lorraine and I often discussed history. More a debate was when we discussed biology. My aunts had serious doubts about the theory of evolution. Me on the other hand … the only “advanced” course they ever put me into was advanced biology. My teacher told us that it was impossible to understand biology w/o reference to the theory of evolution and I thought he was 100% right. Suffice it to say, we disagreed. You can disagree w/o being disagreeable. My aunts made arguments that I thought were completely wrong but very well presented. I respected them and their faith. They respected of me and my heretical ideas. Usually at the end of the discussion they would praise my knowledge and persistence but point out that I didn’t know everything. My erudite Aunt Lorraine would sometimes quote Shakespeare, “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I would joke that my name was not Horatio, and then would wander off back to school or wherever I was going.

My pictures are not part of the story. They are from Mosaic this morning. Chrissy & I went to a morning movie and then lunch. Last picture is a tiger swallowtail on Chrissy’s flowers this morning.

Were your parents strict, or relaxed?

My Story Worth for this week.

My parents were very relaxed. They never spanked me, and I don’t recall them even raising their voices to discipline me. Of course, I was probably just a good kid. But my parents’ reactions to my behaviors was very different from the parental reactions experienced by my friends in similar situations. Some of my friends feared their fathers. I never did. But I think my parents had stronger influence over me than other parents had over their kids.

No punishment
My parents’ influence on me was reason-based, not punishment-based. I could “get away” with almost anything w/o suffering the usual kid punishments. I never got grounded and I never suffered the physical punishment some of my friends did. What I really could not endure was for my mother to say, “you know what you did was wrong?” and know she was right.

First lesson at the corner store
I recall the one time I stole anything when I was a kid. I don’t recall how old I was, but it was maybe four or five. It is one of my earliest memories and I think it was before kindergarten. There was a grocery store at the corner of Howell & Rosedale run by an old couple, Cortez. They had those general bins with cookies. I just helped myself to one and was eating it as we left the store. My mother asked where I got that, and I told her. She gave me money and made me go back in and pay for the cookie. Mrs. Cortez was very nice and told me I could have it. When I got out there and triumphantly told that to my mother, she said no. I had to go back in and tell Mrs. Cortez that I really could not have the cookie and that I had to pay for it.

It was a protracted ordeal but consider the lesson. I had to acknowledge that what I did was wrong, even though I got away with it and even though a competent authority was willing to overlook my transgression. In addition, I was trusted to make it right. At any point, I could have ended my problem by simply lying about it, telling my mother that I had paid. I doubt my little mind figured this out, but of course my mother likely would have talked to Mrs. Cortez about it later. It does take a village.

Strict but loose
So, I guess we had a kind of strict morality, with a loose enforcement, or maybe a strict enforcement but one that depended on internal controls.

The simple rule was that I was not supposed to lie, cheat or steal, but I was spared some of the other strictures suffered by my friends. For example, my friends had a strict “respect your elders” rule that did not apply to me. We lived in a neighborhood of busybodies, who were always calling the cops or calling our parents to complain about our behaviors. Sometimes we deserved it, but mostly we were just hanging around or playing football in the streets or open fields.

Talking back to the elders
When the local nudnik would come out, we would usually run off, but I would sometimes “talk back.” I considered myself very eloquent, but my elders were not amused. I recall a few times when they called my parents or even came up to the house.

My mother’s reaction shaped my personality in that it was both moral and devious. She asked me the circumstance of my talking back. In the cases I recall (maybe selective memory) were mostly unjustified in their anger, and my mother did not castigate me. She generally knew the specifics to the nudnik in question and told me that I should just avoid antagonizing them, not as a matter of right or wrong but just a practical rule.

This attitude has been very useful to me in my life and especially my diplomatic life. I can detach myself from the action if it is not a matter of high principle. I can very easily “give in” w/o being defeated and often with no intention of being affected. I make a strong distinction with what is said and what is done, being concerned with the former as an aspiration and the latter as something that matters.

I also learned that some of the nudniks were content ONLY to talk. My mother explained that one of them, a Mrs. Connolly was just a lonely old lady and I should make a special effort with her, even though she was a pain in the rear. Next time it snowed, I shoveled her walk and she became my advocate. She told my mother that most kids were delinquents, but I was okay.

Figure out what they want
Consider that lesson. Had I been punished for talking back, I would have avoided getting caught talking back. Instead, I learned how to be more charitable and in the practical sense how to get along better with people. I still follow that lesson when faced with a difficult person. I try to figure out what they really want and what I can give them. Often, I can give them something w/o it causing me much, or any trouble.

My mother did most of the discipline. My father worked all the time. They were building the Interstate system in those days and my father got a lot of overtime at the cement factory. He was very tired after those 12-hour-days. He was mostly a benign presence. Comparing again to my friends, their mothers would sometimes say something like, “Wait till your father gets home.” This filled them with dread. I don’t recall my mother ever saying anything like that, with the possible exception that I sometimes had to go up to the store and get some bread before my father got home.

No deep philosophy
Neither of my parents were well-educated and I doubt they developed their parenting philosophy from any books or articles. They were involved deeply in my life, but not broadly. I had a lot of choices that I could make.

I have mixed feelings about criticizing their style, since I am very content with how my life turned out. Sometimes I think they might have pushed me harder. The one attitude they had that I think was pernicious was a self-limiting ethos. My father sometimes said that I should not try some things because they were “only of rich kids” or just were too much trouble. Life turned out okay, however, so I cannot complain. My parents parenting style was not perfect, but it was very, very good and it gave me life options for which I am grateful.

Nature Conservancy

Warm day today. We walked over to Open Road for supper and a couple beers. Alex came along.

But boozing is normal for us. The less usual part of our day was our breakfast at Virginia Nature Conservancy (TNC), shown in the last picture.

The Nature Conservancy is the best of the environmental organizations because they effectively work with partners, private, government and NGOs. TNC is not confrontational, nor do they need to take credit. For them the mission of making a better environment trumps all else.

We have been contributing to TNC for more than 30 years, which is likely why they invite Chrissy and me to these sort of events.

The Nature Conservancy
President of Virginia TNC, Locke Ogens, talked about the Conservancy’s efforts in Virginia form the mountains to the sea.

Climate smart forestry
In the mountains, TNC is stitching together lands important to migratory birds. Complementing this is “climate smart forestry”. TNC leadership understands that most conservation much be done on private lands and that it must return some profit. They are showing the conservation can produce profit. Logging and conservation are more than possible; they are both important goals.

On piedmont and tidewater, TNC is working to restore longleaf pine. This is where I have most contact with them because of my interest here. I have written a lot about this elsewhere, so I will not repeat.

Blue Carbon
Something newer to me was “blue carbon”. TNC is working to enhance living infrastructure of clam reefs and sea grass. These are working laboratories. Studies indicate that they slow down storms and help protect coastal ecology and cities. TNC is working with the City of Virginia Beach to improve green infrastructure to also include planting of trees to wick up flood waters and mitigate water damage through transpiration. My friend Tim Receveur might be interested in this.

Sea grass can sequester a lot of carbon. We currently do not know how much. TMC scientists are currently studying this.

Adapting to climate change
An overall theme of TNC is adaptation to climate change. Ecosystems are migrating north as the climate warms. We need to facilitate that movement. We can help by planting southern trees near the north of their range, as we are doing with longleaf. We also want to facilitate movement of animals. To that extent, we need to protect corridors.

Almost spring

We are pushing spring a little. We drank our beer outside, it was still a little chilly.
My other pictures are from Highland County. I went up to look at a tree farm there. Spring is even less far along 4000+ feet high in the Blue Ridge. The last picture is the stump of an American chestnut. We hope that some day soon the genetic advances will bring back these giants of the forest primeval.