Friday, June 24, 2016


Here's one that I wrote for the June issue of our community magazine.

In the world of literature there are several famous authors, among them Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde, and Boris Pasternak, who, though they wrote in other forms, wrote only one novel. Also among those few are two southern writers, two very different personalities, Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell.

To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone with the Wind: two Pulitzer Prize winners. Just to read the names of the novels brings the stories to our minds. Many people have read both books, many only one, yet most of us have seen both of the movies. Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch, Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara, both Academy Award-winning roles, and Clarke Gable’s Rhett Butler, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award, are three unforgettable, iconic characters. The movies are two that will never, should never, be remade.

There’s been quite a bit of attention paid these days to Harper Lee, to To Kill a Mockingbird, and to the recent publication of Go Set a Watchman, Lee’s original version of Mockingbird. Though it set a record for pre-orders from Amazon, once it was read, Go Set a Watchman was not too well received by today’s readers. They know Mockingbird too well, they know Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch too well, and they judge by moral and ethical standards that have matured somewhat in the last fifty-five years.

Watchman is not a “sequel” to Mockingbird, nor is it Lee’s “second book” as it was described by the publishers. It is the original book, the one-off book that was heavily revised by the author and her editor, Tay Hohoff, to become To Kill a Mockingbird. In Watchman, Atticus is a segregationist and the story is told from the point of view of an older Scout; in it, Tom Robinson is acquitted and Scout’s brother Jem has died. Writing students and literary critics are having a field day comparing the two versions.

The current interest in Gone with the Wind (GWTW as it is known in print) surrounds this month’s 80th anniversary of the publication of the book in 1936. Compared to around 300 pages for the localized, intense story in Mockingbird, the scope of GWTW, somewhat of a historical romance, is as large as its 1,037 pages. It is a story of the Civil War years in Georgia, Sherman’s destruction of Atlanta, and the effects on a young, spoiled, southern belle during those years.

The impact of GWTW was tremendous and prize winning. It sold millions of copies and is still in print. The impact of the movie, winner of eight Academy Awards was just as great. Among the great scenes filmed in this first picture in color to win for Best Picture, the scenes of the burning of Atlanta are most memorable. When seen on the big screen it had a huge impact on its audiences. Every few years, the movie is re-released in theaters to celebrate milestones in the book’s publication and the movie’s original showing.]

Nelle Harper Lee, who died this past February, never married. She was a very private person, rarely granting interviews, content to spend her days at home in Alabama in the town where she was born. There are many autobiographical aspects in Mockingbird. For instance, Lee’s own father was a lawyer, her mother’s maiden name was Finch, and her friend Dill in is based on her real-life life-long friend Truman Capote.

Margaret Mitchell, born in 1900, a deb in Atlanta during the “Roaring Twenties,” was once engaged to five men at the same time, and had two husbands. Among her many and varied interests and writings, Mitchell wrote feature articles for The Atlanta Journal. She suffered a broken ankle that wouldn’t heal properly, so she spent weeks in bed or hobbling around. Complaining about having to fetch and carry books for her to and from the library, her husband quipped “For God's sake, Peggy, can't you write a book instead of reading thousands of them?” So she did, and Gone with the Wind was the result.

Friday, June 17, 2016


1991 - Katie and her Grandpa Say messin' about on the Kinderhook Creek.
Say is now Great-grandpa Say to Katie's children.

As with May’s Grandmothers, famous Grandfathers abound. Just think of the Bush family, the Kennedy family, the Barrymores, the Fondas, and, of course, Prince Phillip.

Grandfathers can be curmudgeons or cream puffs – or a bit of both. Was your grandfather an old curmudgeon? Did you have a stern Grandfather, or a jolly one?  Every once in a while did he drop a question on you: “Ever hear the story pf the dirty shirt? That’s one on you!”  Ha ha ha! Through the years, he probably had several bits of wisdom to pass along to you.

What did you call your Grandfather? A dignified Grandfather, or Grandpa, Gramps, PopPop, Opa, Abuelo, Ojisan, Grand-père, Nonno, maybe Bubby or even Grumpy? Were you allowed to name him, or was it just what everyone else called him?

Grandfathers delight in passing down the things they love to do. Many times they’re the things the parents are just too busy for now, but will probably pass on to their grandchildren when the time comes. Kids love to follow Grandpa into his workshop, be it wood, metal, garage, or even into the kitchen. They especially love to help him in the garden. Many a baby vegetable has been sacrificed in the pursuit of helping to pull weeds.

Children love to go on trips, one-on-one if possible, with their Grandfathers. They love it when he takes them fishing, or sailing, or even to meet up with an old pal. They love to just mess about with him, fix this or that, maybe go down to the stream or go get an ice cream in town.

The majority of us Seniors have grandchildren, and having them, especially if they live nearby, is one of our great delights.

J.V Milne and his Grandson, Christopher Robin. Oh, and Pooh is there too.

Here are several quick quotes by and about grandfathers:

Now that I'm a grandfather myself, I realize that the best thing about having grandkids is that you get the kid for the best part of the ride - kind of like owning a car for only the first 10,000 miles. You can have your grandchildren for a couple of days and then turn them back over to the parents. -- Willard Scott

There are fathers who do not love their children; there is no grandfather who does not adore his grandson. --Victor Hugo

To a small child, the perfect granddad is unafraid of big dogs and fierce storms but absolutely terrified of the word boo.  -- Robert Brault

More and more, when I single out the person out who inspired me most, I go back to my grandfather.  -- James Earl Jones

What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life. And, most importantly, cookies.  -- Rudolph Giuliani

2009 - Say is known to this granddaughter as PopPop.

Monday, June 13, 2016


The Andromeda Galaxy. The closest galaxy to us, it is only 2.54 million light years away.

Article in today’s BBC News tells us that astronomers have now calculated the size of the universe. The long but interesting article relates how they came to their current conclusion that the diameter of the universe is 93 billion light years. (Not miles: light years. A light year is the distance light travels in a year, or about 6 trillion miles. Do the math?) Those of us who remember a bit of high school geometry will realize that nothing was said about the circumference or the area of the universe. 93 billion is a big enough number, especially if it is multiplied by 6 trillion. That comes to a number in the sextillions. When they use the word 'astronomical' they really mean it. Only astronomers can think in that kind of numbers.

Just think on this: our own Milky Way galaxy, which over time has been estimated at various sizes, originally with the Earth believed to be at its center. It is now known to be about 100,000 light years across – give or take a few light years.

The Fornax Cluster of galaxies. With some stars from our own galaxy in the foreground, each of those yellow dots is a galaxy in itself.  This is about 62 million light years away.

For those of us who regularly deal in miles or kilometers, or even the length of a city block or a football field, light years are almost mythical. To bring it down to earthly size, I suppose the Earth is not the seed in the watermelon or the flea on the dog, it’s probably not even like the proverbial grain of sand on a coral beach. No, I’d guess we’re more like the atom of carbon in that grain of sand.

Makes you start thinking about the bigger picture - about all the now seemingly insignificant problems besetting our planet, and the relatively insignificant beliefs we hold. Start thinking about all the beings who most assuredly populate the countless worlds between us and the edge of the known, ever expanding universe. How do they live, what are their problems, who are their gods? Thoughts like this shouldn’t keep you up at night. Maybe, if you pursue them in depth, they'll put you to sleep.

Our own Milky Way galaxy. We see it from the inside.

Photos from Astronomy Picture of the Day -

Friday, June 10, 2016


I leaned by today’s National Day Calendar that today is National Ballpoint Pen Day. It’s the anniversary of the day in 1943 when the ball point pen was patented. Remember those first ballpoints? They blobbed all over whatever you were writing. They certainly have improved over the years. Though I write perhaps once check a month now, I use one of those special gel pens. Heaven forbid someone alter my check and use it for nefarious purposes.

Other than that check, and my daily solving of the New York Times crossword puzzle, I’ve little use for a pen these days. Most of what I write is done electronically. I make notes in pencil on little pieces of scrap paper, and I write my initial grocery list in chalk on a slate. True.

I always have to laugh when people tell me they are going over to the quarterly Vendor Fair at our community center. They go to get the free ballpoint pens. Perhaps they are using them as décor. (?)

Perhaps they are ballpoint pen artists.  Nah – I’d know by now if they were.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


I don't recall where or when, but in the last few months I came upon this poem by Hilaire Belloc. I'd never read it before. The poem has a lilting rhyme, a great story to tell, and I get a wonderful visualization of it all. 

Did you ever see the movie The Red Balloon? It is one of my all time favorites. I wanted a picture of a big red balloon for George, and I came upon this picture from the movie. I think George's balloon was bigger, don't you? 

George, Who Played with a Dangerous Toy

            And suffered a Catastrophe of considerable Dimensions

                                                         by Hilaire Belloc

When George’s Grandmamma was told
That George had been as good as gold,
She promised in the afternoon
To buy him an Immense BALLOON.
And so she did; but when it came,
It got into the candle flame,
And being of a dangerous sort
Exploded with a loud report!
The lights went out! The windows broke!
The room was filled with reeking smoke.
And in the darkness shrieks and yells
Were mingled with electric bells,
And falling masonry and groans,
And crunching, as of broken bones,
And dreadful shrieks, when, worst of all,
The house itself began to fall!
It tottered, shuddering to and fro,
Then crashed into the street below—
Which happened to be Savile Row.
When Help arrived, among the Dead
Were Cousin Mary, Little Fred,
The Footmen (both of them), the Groom,
The man that cleaned the Billiard-Room,
The Chaplain, and the Still-Room Maid.
And I am dreadfully afraid
That Monsieur Champignon, the Chef,
Will now be permanently deaf—
And both his aides are much the same;
While George, who was in part to blame,
Received, you will regret to hear,
A nasty lump behind the ear.
The moral is that little boys
Should not be given dangerous toys.

Ah, George - tant pis!