Thursday, May 24, 2012

Time to honor the courageous

5/23/12 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Flag over USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor

Memorial Day is coming up. This is a time to remember and praise those who have sacrificed their lives and died in honor of our country. Barbecues and the Indy 500 are optional. Respect is mandatory.

A few years ago my husband and I visited the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A sobering experience awaited us on that bright sunny day as well as a new appreciation for the sacrifice and significance of our country’s annual Memorial Day.

In the visitor’s center we watched the horrifying video of Dec. 7, 1941s “Day of Infamy:” That day Japanese fighter planes attacked Battleship Row on the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor. The assault by 361 aircraft, launched from six carriers came in two waves. It lasted less than two hours, claimed the lives of more than 2,500 people; wounded 1,000 more and damaged or destroyed 18 ships and about 300 airplanes.

During the film, we were seated with folks from around the world. Most were there out of respect; some because of family connections or historical interest; others came out of curiosity because they were in Oahu. Everyone became quiet and respectful as the reality and horror of war caught by old newsreels sunk in.

The footage clearly shows that the firebombs’ destruction was met with unbelievable courage and heroism. It was hard to watch. These men were real super heroes. This was life and death—not a movie.

After the video we walked down a gangway and boarded a ferry to the memorial—one of the most sacred places in the pantheon of American history. Some have said the spirits of the dead still speak as the ship leaks diesel fuel dubbed the “Black tears of the Arizona.” Others say that she will keep crying until the last survivor from the ship passes away.

Arriving at the memorial, we disembarked and walked across a brilliant white platform to the 184-foot long structure that spans the mid-portion of the sunken battleship. It consists of three sections: the entry room; the assembly room and the shrine room where the names of those killed on the Arizona are engraved on the marble wall.

Half of all those killed in the attack that day were on the famed USS Arizona. She took a direct hit from a Japanese torpedo. Only a few hundred survived the massive inferno. The 1,177 men that died in the fireball were entombed under our feet. Only a handful of those who survived are still alive and most are unable to travel to Hawaii and pay homage to their mates. 

One of those survivors is Louis Conter, a young sailor who was standing watch on the quarterdeck of the USS Arizona when Japanese bombers attacked. He attends every anniversary and lays a wreath over the Arizona in memory of the dead, remembering how he and the surviving sailors spent days helping put out fires and retrieving bodies on their ship.

“We worked non-stop for days after the attack,” he said. “It was hot as hell and we would work all day and all night long but we were young and had a job to do. We can’t forget that…the ones still aboard the ship are the heroes.” Conter retired as a lieutenant commander.

The USS Arizona site remained largely untouched until 1950 when Admiral Arthur Radford, Commander in Chief, Pacific erected a flagpole from the sunken ship to fly proudly above the water. A commemorative plaque was placed at the base of the flagpole and the flag flies proudly every day as a tribute to the ship’s lost crew.

Suggestions for a memorial at the site were suggested as early as 1943 but it wasn’t until the Territory of Hawaii established the Pacific War Memorial Commission that the ball got rolling. In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, approved the creation of the USS Arizona Memorial. Hawaii became a state in 1959. The memorial was dedicated in 1962.

It was built in part thanks to Elvis Presley who had recently finished a two-year stint in the U.S. Army. Presley performed a benefit concert at Pear Harbor’s Block Arena that raised over $50,000—more than 10-percent of the Memorial’s final cost.

Many Pearl Harbor survivors choose to be buried at sea with their comrades when they die; an ancient tradition. The survivor of any Pearl Harbor ship bombing can have their ashes scattered over the place in the harbor where their ship was located during the attack.

Survivors who were assigned to the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941, have the unusual right to have their cremated remains interred inside gun turret four by National Park Service divers. April 1982, the ashes of retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Stanley M. Teslow were the first to be placed. Since then, more than 30 surviving crewmembers have rejoined their shipmates in a simple and private ceremony.  

The cremated remains of the sailor are placed in a watertight urn. Then, along with family members, a Navy chaplain and an honor guard, they are escorted to the ship. The two-bell memorial service includes a rifle salute and a benediction.

As Taps echoes in the background, the urn is carried from to the dock area and officially given to the chief diver. The divers swim around the third turret to the fourth gun turret to find a 5-1/2” crevice to place the urn. It remains underwater forever. The individual re-united with his shipmates for all time.

At 3 p.m., Monday, May 28, take a few moments of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service of our country. Stop whatever you’re doing, join hands with friends and family and ask God’s protection for those who serve us still. Let’s keep the memorial in Memorial Day.

Note: Most facts have been taken from the National Park Service web pages.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Mom's memories are all good

Kaiser kids come bearing gifts
5/9/12 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Mother’s Day is coming up and if you’re a mom, you know what that means—sweet memories. It’s time to open the photo albums stored in your heart and revisit all those first joys: The first baby. The first smile. The first steps. The first “I love you, mommy.” The first day at school (yippee!) and sweet hugs at bedtime.

Being ‘Mom’ was my favorite profession but I have to admit there are some things I don’t miss about the daily grind. I don’t miss dragging the kids out of bed in the morning; reminding them to brush their teeth; nagging them to clean their rooms and put their clothes away; lecturing them to play nice with their siblings or the time-outs when tempers flared over swear words learned on the playground.

I was recently reminded of something else I don’t miss—cleaning up spilled milk. My kids were experts at spilling milk at dinnertime. In a pre-Sippy Cup era, one of our three kids spilled a glass of milk at every meal. You could always find me grumbling on my hands and knees at mealtime while I cleaned up milk from the table and surrounding area.

My friend Susan, a young mother of two, tells me that some things never change. Milk is still being spilled—and sometimes in the car. She has a milk and kids saga that includes an allergic reaction and spilled milk by the half-gallon. Here’s her true story as relayed via email to other sympathetic mothers:

“My day began when Emily came in at 6 a.m. all dressed and ready for school. This is a first.  She wanted to get to school early to play. I quickly got up and we went downstairs for breakfast. I opened a new milk bottle. Emily said it tasted funny. I tasted it. Yuck! Not sour, but definitely not right so I opened a second one, same taste.

“We abandoned cereal and moved to toast with juice. Preston had already eaten his cereal without complaint, which is amazing since he is the pickiest eater of all time...but funky milk got past him.

“I took Emily to school, came home, and put the milk cartons in a bag. I briefly set them on the front seat of my car while I buckled up Preston for the drive to the store.

“As I picked up the bag of milk to move it to my passenger seat, it hit the center console. The milk lids were not screw on lids; they were pop off lids. As they popped off, I saw in my peripheral vision, a tidal wave of milk coming my way out of the bag!

“Suddenly, I was soaked by funky warm milk from my sunglasses to my shoes on my right side.

“I said a bad word, as I hopped out of car and turned to see everything—my front seat, windshield, car door and steering wheel—covered with white, stinky, dripping funky milk.

“I stripped —forgetting that the garage door was open. So I hopped  (half-dressed) in my milky shoes to close the door opener on the wall.

“I asked Preston if he was ok and he said, "Yep, it didn't get me".

“Praise the Lord, the child was spared (!) and he was washable. I wasn’t so sure about the inside of my car.

“I wiped up everything with the load of towels fresh out of the dryer (yesterday's work down the milky drain). Wiping, wiping, wiping, warm, funky milk. I did a final wash down with Clorox bathroom wipes just to kill the warm milk smell and get the sticky off of my leather seat and steering wheel. Finally, we're off to exchange the milk....

“I parked at the store but saw more milk dripping from my cruise control buttons on the steering wheel. It’s like they were crying milk.
I have to use Kleenex corners and dipped them into the teeny weenie spaces to absorb the milk. I did the same for the door lock buttons that somehow were also hit by the milky tidal wave.

“Back home, I look at Preston.  He had a big red patch of skin on his neck and chest.  I took his shirt off and he was covered with pin dot red marks all over his torso.  He ate the milk!

“Benadryl stops the allergic reaction from the funky milk, but now I have questions: Do I tell the store about his reaction?  Do I have it tested? Maybe it wasn't the milk, but the carton of OJ he drank?

“Is this a product liability, manufacturing defect, property damage, poisoning case? Should I sue because pop-off lids are obviously substandard for keeping milk in the jugs?  And what about my electrical system, will it work right after the milk bath? 

“Needless to say, I will not be cleaning today as planned, because by 10:30 a.m. I was already spent. Have a nice day and beware of the bad milk!”

Susan’s story is a true picture of motherhood: always expect the unexpected. You can feel her love and concern for her children, the frustration of the situation and the attitude that cleaning up spilled milk just goes with the territory of being mom.

Motherhood is a high calling—and a God-given challenge at every age and stage of childhood. But day in and day out, moms are a blessing in both sweet and sour situations. So this Sunday, tell your mom how much you love and appreciate her—and maybe relate a story like this one that makes her laugh.

Legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant used to remind his players, “Be sure to call your Mom.” Then he would wistfully add, “I wish I could call mine.” Words to the wise.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Spring Cleaning's "Aha! Moment"

4/25/12 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

This spring I had what Oprah Winfrey calls an “Aha!” Moment.” Now in Oprah’s world, those are profound, unforgettable times when suddenly your world changes as you connect-the-dots, recognize the solution to a problem and become a wiser, better person because you know how to proceed in life.

My “Aha! Moment” was more mundane. In fact, it was pretty utilitarian. It simply involved spring-cleaning.

I looked around at my house one fine spring day and said, “This place is a cluttered mess. I’ve got to get organized.”  The problem was simple—too much stuff. The solution was more complicated because in many ways—I live with the past and I hate letting go.

My Depression era mentality doesn’t like to let go of things that have history, touch my heart, aren’t torn, worn, broken, out of style or could possibly be used or re-fashioned. In other words, I like to hold on to my stuff and anything made of memories.

Over time, my collections become my friends. I can remember exactly where I purchased that little green vase that is perched way at the back of the cupboard (at a garage sale). I keep it because looks great with daffodils on St. Patrick’s Day. The extra teacups, candlesticks and knick-knacks serve much the same questionable purpose but all are safely stored away for emergencies…

I fully realized how much stuff I had collected when I ran into a storage problem in the kitchen. Suddenly I had too many dishes, glassware, pots n pans and utensils—but not enough room in the kitchen cabinets. They were all packed to the gills. I had to de-clutter. The question was—where do I begin?

Completely clueless, I swallowed my pride and called my decorator friend and said, “Help!” She giggled and intimated that she had been waiting for my call. Evidently my glass front cabinets weren’t hiding any secrets.

Her first question to me was, “Do you really need 22 dinner plates in that cupboard?” And so it went until I grudgingly agreed to remove the excess stuff and pack it away for our next garage sale. Now the shelves are artfully arranged and they no longer look like Old Mrs. Hubbard’s cupboards.

Next I tackled the refrigerator doors. Over a period of years, our grandsons have sent us multiple photos of themselves playing various sports. All of them were dutifully posted on the frig. As the kids aged, so did the photos. I love pictures but there was no more room in the inn. What to do?

I finally bit the bullet, took an afternoon off and put the photos in albums, leaving only ONE photo of each child on the frig. Now when the boys come their pictures are still on display and when I die their photos will all be in one place for them to cherish!

I did the same thing with the growing number of framed photos on the wall in my office. I had hung so many pictures that it looked liked the “Wanted” posters at the post office. Now there is only one picture of each family with a few smaller ones on a display table. (I just can’t go cold turkey…).

Pictures are personal and usually keepers. Other things are not. So I started asking myself these questions: Are you collecting or hoarding? Will you really ever use that again? How about just temporarily putting it away? Will you miss it?

Walking around the house, I noticed that my teddy bear collection was beginning to reach epic toy store proportions. I started collecting bears for the boys to play with when they were small. Now I was the only one playing with them!

I decided the lonesome bears needed new homes and kids to play with. I filled two 35-gallon garbage bags with dozens of collectible rag dolls, Beanie Babies and teddy bears of all sizes. Then I donated them to the Relief Nursery. Some of the bears were sneaky and hid in the closet. Now we have baby bears and it’s time to do it again.

Along with hoarding teddy bears, my linen closet tells me that I have been hoarding out-of-date tablecloths, placemats, worn towels, blankets, quilts and more. I am very rich in linens that don’t fit anything or go anywhere. Why am I keeping them? They gotta go!

The hardest thing to let go of was cards, notes and letters. Coming from the era of pen and paper correspondence, I had stuffed dozens of large manila envelopes with cherished notes dating back to the 1950s. It was ridiculous to keep all of them. So I began to weed.

It took me several days to go through the envelopes. Eventually I decided not to keep any generic store-bought cards that were signed, “Love, XXX.” That lightened the load considerably. But I kept most of the hand written letters from family and friends in special boxes to read and re-read. They are the true treasures of my heart.

Now here’s my new mantra that gives me permission to yearly get rid of the old stuff that’s weighing me down: “Choosing what you want to live with will give you a clear sense of who you are now—as opposed to who you were five or ten years.” Wisdom from author Xorin Balbes

I like that. In fact, I got so inspired that I went upstairs and cleaned out my cosmetics drawer. Now I really have a sense that I’m not who I was five or ten years ago!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.