Two years ago, I made a virtual visit to Shetland using Google Maps after watching a television version of Ann Cleves’s book, Dead Water.

This time, my virtual visit is to the Isle of Lewis. Lewis is far closer to the Scottish mainland than Shetland, but my overall impression was the same: wind, salt water, and weather.

Butt of Lewis lighthouse, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

 

The reason for my virtual visit to the Western Isles is the book The Blackhouse by Peter May. I listened to it on Audible, and am now onto the next book, The Lewis Man.

In the book, Peter May writes so vividly that you all but cringe because of the drops of brine from The Minch shot into your face by the wind. My only connection to this part of the world is remembering my dad reminiscing about when we lived in England and he, like Mrs. Bale on the television show As Time Goes By, listened to the shipping forecast. My dad’s recollection of the information about the Scottish Isles was “gale force winds.”

The Blackhouse is a character-driven story. Everything hinges on Detective Inspector Fin Macleod’s background as he comes back to the Isle of Lewis to look into a murder with similar details to one he’s investigating in Edinburgh. In the reviews on Goodreads, this focus on character seems to be a love it or hate it factor. Some reviewers strenuously object to the focus on the importance of character rather than puzzle, but the book still has a solid 4-star (out of five) rating. As I’ve bought the next Audible book in the series, I can say that I enjoyed Peter May’s method of telling the story.

May’s story echoes historic events on the island. In my Google Maps drive around the island, I came to a beach I’d seen mentioned on road signs. Near the beach stands a memorial to a group of fishermen who were lost at sea.

A significant theme in the book is the culture of the island and the lore of the guga hunters, “guga” being the local name for the chicks of a seabird otherwise known as the gannet. May’s description matches the scenes in this video, but he doesn’t dwell on the “acquired taste” for the guga.

For my virtual travel, the combination of reading May’s story, my expedition via Google Maps, plus the guga video and article, provide an excellent (and passportless) outing to the Scottish Isles, with no jet lag.

Tickets, please!

In another century, our family lived in Munich, Germany. One day, while I was riding the strassenbahn downtown, my mind wandered and this story presented itself. That’s the nice thing about riding the strassenbahn, you don’t have to pay attention to the driving. I don’t come up with as many stories now that I have to drive myself everywhere.

Just as a note, any whiff of contemporary politics is coincidental. I wrote this in Munich and we left there in 1992. I can’t remember what was going on in the German political scene at the time.

 

Karlheinz has suffered a series of unfortunate events in his life. He wants to recover, if only to exact revenge, and concocts a unique business plan. Will he succeed in reinventing himself as a successful entrepreneur? Or will the headlines get him again?

 

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As Memorial Day approaches each year, on social media many of us see reminders about the servicemembers buried in Arlington National Cemetery. It is well we remember those who gave their lives, soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard members, at the cemetery and memorial meant for national observances. These men and women in Arlington, though, are not the only citizens, and foreign nationals, whom we should not forget. Around the country, forty states have national cemeteries, as well as Puerto Rico.

Besides the cemeteries and memorials for servicemembers in the United States, other nations honor our fallen along with their own. Around the world, the American Battle Monuments Commission, established in the Coolidge administration with John J. Pershing as the first Chairman, “administers, operates and maintains 26 permanent American military cemeteries and 30 federal memorial, monuments and markers, which are located in 17 foreign countries, the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the British Dependency of Gibraltar …”

1998: Our visit to a WW1 military cemetery in the Somme region of France. The sheep are the lawn-mowers.

In the early 1970s while living in Germany near France, my husband and I and our toddler son visited Verdun, a devastatingly war-torn area during World War 1. We saw many reminders of the tragedy of war. Years later during a trip from Germany to England to visit friends who’d moved from Munich, Germany, my family visited the Cambridge American Cemetery. The chapel was sobering. A decade or so afterward, from our home in Belgium, we visited World War 1 cemeteries in the Somme region of France. Regardless of where American servicemembers are stationed, it seems there is no lack of memorials and military cemeteries. We have left our compatriots around the world.

On this Memorial Day, please spare a thought for the fallen American servicemembers who have given their all, but never made it home.

 

 

Military Spouse Appreciation Day

Last Friday was Spouse Appreciation Day in the Military.
This day comes in the middle of Military Appreciation Month.
It follows the Month of the Military Child.
November is Military Family Month.

As an Air Force Brat, and as the mother of Army Brats, I appreciate the Month of the Military Child.

As an Army veteran, I appreciate Military Appreciation Month.

As a member of a military family since before I drew breath and a continuing member who accumulated 50 address changes by the age of 50 when my husband retired from federal service (I counted), and as someone who still holds a valid military ID card, I appreciate Military Family Month.

As an espoused wife of a retired soldier whose time in grade is creeping up this year on our 50th anniversary, I wonder why, in a tradition of appreciation months, spouses get only a day. A day loomed over by Mother’s Day. As a Brat with 18 years in grade, I know I never pulled as much duty as my mom did.

I’m not trying to drum up another celebratory month (we’ve got enough of those), and yes, we honor other important groups only with a day (Veterans Day, Memorial Day). I probably wouldn’t have noticed the different label (Spouse Day? There’s a Spouse Day?) if I hadn’t been scouting for blog post topics and found a list of seasonal observations. In the greater scheme of things, it’s not a big deal. It’s not life or death. Within the context of family appreciation designations, though, could the ranking be more ‘dependably’ obvious?

 

A variety of Christmases. Top row: three places shown; five altogether.
Two middle rows: three different homes in one place.
Bottom row: four homes, not including my Army assignments.

Christmases around the world that the Christmas Fairy (my mom) magicked up — in transit or not — no matter where we were.

About VE Day

Nazi troops invaded Poland in 1939 and then, with the help of the fascist government in Italy, took over most of Europe. This attempt to permanently conquer Europe by the Rome-Berlin “axis” spilled over into North Africa. Then the Nazis, with visions of a reign of a thousand years, set their sights on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR. The largest country in the USSR was Russia.

Farther east, China defended itself against Japan. Strengthening its position, China agreed to a nonaggression treaty with the USSR and the USSR supported China by supplying weaponry to them. This alliance therefore pitted the USSR against Japan. To put it mildly, the ripples of the pact complicated international relations.

To strengthen their position, the Nazi government in Germany entered into a pact in 1941 with Imperial Japan. The pact was against the Communist International (Comintern) — effectively against the USSR. The Japanese were now part of the Axis powers. This resulted in war in the Pacific as well as the Atlantic.

 

Conquering the Nazi government in Germany

Triaging the situation (as this was before the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor), the United States focused on the war in Europe. D-Day happened. The Nazis were pushed back. Hitler committed suicide. The Russian and Allied troops converged on Berlin. German military leaders signed surrender agreements.

Seventy-four years ago, the guns went silent in Europe for the second time in the 20th Century, but it wasn’t the end of the war. The fighting in the Pacific raged on. Still, the people in Europe celebrated. The people in America celebrated. The American people in Europe, servicemembers, diplomatic personnel, and others, celebrated. People in concentration camps lived.

A good two-book historical series on this era is Herman Wouk’s, The Winds of War, and War and Remembrance.

 

Blowing up a very fine emblem in Nürnberg

(YouTube video)

 

The Greatest Generation

In 1945, my mom was serving in the Women’s Army Corps and was soon to participate in the Pacific theater. She was transferred to China.

1945 — My mom’s sisters in arms in the Women’s Army Corps on bivouac near Seattle, Washington.

 

My dad served, too. He celebrated VE Day in Hollandia (now, Jayapura), New Guinea.

1944 — US troops debarking in Hollandia, New Guinea. My dad’s photo.

 

So, on this day in 2019, here’s to the people who vanquished the Nazi government in 1940s Europe. And a toast to the continued struggle.

Being a military brat

A few years ago, I attended an all-class reunion for one of my high schools, the overseas one.  The reunion was held in the American South. I now live in the buffer zone between the rolling hills of the wooded American Midwest and the open spaces of America’s prairie. Travel is nothing new to me, but because I’m no longer in danger of being abandoned on a different continent from my children and husband, I don’t fly. I don’t have to fly now, so I won’t. When I can afford it, I do take trains. I love trains.

For the reunion a train wasn’t on the agenda so getting from here to there and back again took a few days of driving each way. On my return journey in the passenger seat, and while scavenging the names of towns along our route for character names, I entertained myself by sketching out a mystery story.

What could happen at a reunion?

Would old grudges now be passé? Or would the lack of ‘closure’ keep alive long-ago hurts? Military kids rarely have long friendships — somebody always moves. Sometimes, these moves happen in the middle of ‘things’ — friendships, feuds, puppy love, or broken hearts. What happens when these former-kids get back together? Have they really and truly said goodbye to all that?

In stories, the Three-C’s: conflict, conflict, conflict, are the necessary ingredients among the characters.  So, by the seat of my pants (I’m usually a devout plotter), I whiled away the miles throwing the characters into each other’s way.

Remembering my story

After I returned home, Life took over, like it does, and I forgot about the story. Then late last year, my graduating high school class at a stateside school held their 50th anniversary reunion (yes, we were all astonished at the number, too). The get-together, local this time, reminded me of my story. Could I revive it? I gave it a shot.

So, without further ado, Kaleidoscope: A Murderous Reunion.

 

In this era of identity theft, for military kids who had no connections other than their long-ago temporary home, how do you really know whether the people who show up for a reunion are who they say they are? And what do you do when one of those people repeatedly makes mistakes?

 

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In a Facebook group, I had an interesting experience. One of the group members shared a vintage photograph of the Ellsworth Air Force Base commissary checkout lines on payday. Military paydays were once a month in the late 1950s and lots of families were down to beans by the end of the month, the “too much month at the end of the money” syndrome.  Commissary check-out lines were long because nearly everymom showed up for groceries. I was intrigued by the picture because my family lived at Ellsworth then.

I first looked closely at the picture to see if Mom was in the commissary photo. Since the commissary was where she shopped there was a better-than-zero possibility that Mom would have been shopping (she wasn’t). I didn’t find Mom, but my eye caught some handwriting on the photo and this handwriting looked like Dad’s. Wow. [insert big smiley face]

24 Dad's handwriting on EAFB photo detail

Handwriting on the shared Ellsworth commissary photo. That “E.A.F.B.” is iconic dad-handwriting.

Given that Dad was in charge of the photo lab at the time, and given that he did take photos for the base newspaper (my brother and I posed for a picture about the children’s books in the base library), there was a better-than-good chance of Dad having processed the photo.

In the Facebook group, I was pleased to see one of Dad’s work photos. At home, we have his pictures of the family and our travels. We have slides, prints, and a few home movies. I know the quality of Dad’s pictures, but I’d had no idea what sort of pictures he took on duty other than ID card pictures, photocopying documents (with a camera, which was how it was done before Xerox copying machines), aerial photos, and that one picture of me and my brother pretending to read books in the library. How else he spent his time behind a camera, I had no idea.

1955 10 Oct 16 the Putt-putt a

4×5-negative image of Dad on “the Putt-putt” (his scooter). He would note on the negative edges the camera settings. In my photo collection, I have many examples of Dad’s handwriting.

So, out of the blue, on Facebook, I had the happiness of seeing my Dad’s handwriting on a photo completely new to me. Family-wise, it’s like discovering an unknown Rembrandt.