Thursday, November 20, 2008

Visit to Clarks Hill, 2008

These are the Veterans of the Clarks Hill area, assembled before the Veterans Program in front of the Hosanna Baptist Church. That's the 92 year old Mrs. Scott in the beautiful red dress at the far left.

This is going to be a hard story to write. Not because it is sad or anything like that, but because it is so hard to define the feelings from being where I was and doing what I was doing. I just got home yesterday afternoon and I am still buzzing and trying to pin down the emotions from the experience.

Last year at this time, Barb and I went to Clarks Hill, SC and attended a Veterans program at the Bethany Baptist Church. Bethany is the boyhood parish of my friend, Frazier Dixon. Frazier and I served together in Vietnam and I was with him when he was killed in action on December 3, 1969. I returned to Clarks Hill last year and met the friends and family and it was a very very hearty healing experience for all involved.

It's on the map!

This year, I was invited down there again. I wanted to return. I brought them an Eagle feather in a display case and a flag that was flown in memorium for my friend. There were some people that I didn’t get to meet last year. They found out about my visit too late and didn’t make it. This year, I stayed four days and three nights and got to meet some key relatives that I desperately wanted to meet.

Anthony Morgan, Frazier’s best friend from high school, paid for three nights lodging for us at the Marriott. That was a very nice thing to do. We were going to stay at a local LaQuinta motel. To ease the burden of having to pay for lodging allowed us to stay longer. The fine folks and other Veterans that attended the program also pitched in and gave us an envelope with some cash for gas and expenses. What unbelievable thoughtfulness. All of this generosity was a beautiful gesture on their part.

They made me feel like a hero. Like I was doing something special. Maybe I did expend effort to drive down there, but it was them that provided me with healing by their friendship and acceptance of me and my family as their own.

We drove down in three segments. Wednesday evening for a few hours just to get some miles under our belts, then a long day Thursday covering about 700 miles. We had a short day friday as we rolled in to Augusta, GA about 3:00 p.m. We checked in on a day when the rain and fog had covered the city like a blanket.

Friday night, we were suppose to go to Mrs. Scott’s North Augusta, GA home and see her gardens. She is proud of her gardening skills, and at 92 years of age still feeds herself and friends with the vegetables she grows. She is an inspiration. She is responsible for putting on the Veterans program for the Veterans in the community at her own expense. It was so foggy, that we did not go driving around but instead, just met Shirley Luke, our friend and contact, and had a nice casual dinner at the S&S Cafeteria.

Shirley stayed at her mother’s place in Clarks Hill, we returned to the Marriott where the kids swam in the indoor pool. Barb and I relaxed in the hot tub to soothe the tightness of our muscles from the long drive.

Saturday, I paid a visit to the grave site of my friend. Last year, I saw the site needed some repair as the concrete top was crumbling. I mentioned sending money down to help with the cost of repairs, but nothing was said about my offer. Low and behold, when I get down there, the whole thing was redone. New landscaping and a much needed brightening of the headstone. Mrs. Scott had been responsible for the expense of having the site upgraded and it looked great.

The dam on the Savannah River. Once called the Clarks Hill Dam, the official name is now the J. Strom Thurmond Dam. This is about 15 miles North of Augusta, Georgia

After the cemetery visit, we went to the Clarks Hill lake and dam and walked around a bit. We had some time to kill before the program started at 3:00 p.m. They renamed the Clarks Hill dam. It is called the J. Strom Thurmond lake and dam now, but the locals will forever know it as the Clarks Hill dam. I am in that camp. Thurmond doesn’t deserve the moniker in my opinion.

The Veterans program played to a full house at the Hosanna Baptist Church. The Bethany Church was undergoing roof replacement. Hosanna offered the site for this years event. I met with several Veterans from the previous year. I remembered most of them and they remembered me. I also got to meet Frazier’s sister. When the family was young, the Mom divorced and remarried. Her new husband moved the family to Philadelphia. Frazier wanted to stay in Clarks Hill, so he stayed with his Grandfather and two cousins, Dan and Lois. The sister, Shirley, and other siblings went north. Frazier was raised largely by his Grandfather and aunt.

Shirley was there and we met for the first time. Like many of the people from the area, she didn’t know what to believe as far as what the Army told them. The casket was sealed, so they never saw a body. Many believed Frazier could possible be alive as a prisoner of war or just missing in action. Amazing was the distrust in believing what the Army officials told them about his death.

It wasn’t until I came along last year that they learned the entire truth of what happened that fateful night in December on a battlefield in Vietnam. I was there with Frazier the night he was killed. I saw him alive, then saw him dead. It was this first hand account that meant so much for the family and friends to hear. They were in disbelief for all these years. I believed it, but never made sense of it as I never know anything of his existence other than as a soldier in the American war in Vietnam.

I also met Dan, the cousin he grew up with, and Lois, Dan’s sister. I had met other cousins and neighbors of this small tight knit community a year earlier. Dan and I talked a lot. Dan needed the closure and asked me some pretty pressing questions, but I swallowed my own pain and relived some of that night to soothe his mind and give him answers to questions he had struggled with for almost 40 years.

At the program, I was asked to speak a little. I kept it brief, but I did have this Eagle feather to give to the community. A spiritual Elder I know from Wisconsin gave me this feather to give to them. He told me that the feather was symbolic of the Warrior Spirit of my friend, and by giving them this feather, I was returning his spirit back to them as I was with him when he died and holding it with me for many years.

I put the feather in a case and presented it to them along with a flag, also in a wooden case, folded in the traditional triangle style. The flag was flown at a Native American Pow Wow in Northern Minnesota at an honoring ceremony in August. After last year, I was able to fly Frazier’s flag. Before that, I guess I just wasn’t ready to fly it and see his spirit wave goodbye. I felt I needed to hold on to his spirit. I didn’t know why, but found out that I was holding on to it because I had to return it to Clarks Hill. After last year, I was able to complete the mission and say goodbye to my friend.

Now, for the really good part, we ate a magnificent banquet in the church dining hall. Fried chicken, peach cobbler, baked mac n’ cheese, green beans, stuffing with gravy, along with red velvet cake with a cream cheese pecan frosting that was to die for! The dinner was very nice and we sat around for a couple of hours talking and growing friendships.

We returned to the Marriott and spent the rest of the evening in a haze after the days activities. Sunday had us up and walking around the old downtown of Augusta, Georgia. It was a cool morning, but a bright sunny day. After a brief swim in the hotel pool, we went back to Clarks Hill lake and dam and walked around there a little and went to the visitor center.

The lovely Mrs. Spadoman at lakeside.

At 1:30 p.m , we met Shirley Luke at Sam Marshall’s little grocerette/bait and tackle, and anything you might need store on the highway. I met Sam at the program and he was glad to see us on his turf as he invited us to stop in at the store the day before. Shirley came and we followed her to Dew Drop Inn Road. We turned into the woods on Dew Drop Inn, and went just a short 1/4 mile or so and came into view of a bunch of houses. They were scattered around, not in order like a suburban development, and faced this way and that. The dirt road was wide and narrow. Kids were outside playing, people standing around here and there. Smoke coming from chimneys as the day experienced a cold front as winter reminded us all that is was near.

The Grandkids, DJ and Anna, at Clarks Hill Lake.

This year, we took the two oldest Grandkids with us. It was a joy to have them with.We went to Debra’s house first. Debra is Frazier’s first cousin and lived in the house next to where Frazier grew up. Debra has eleven bothers and sisters. Five of the sisters still live on Dew Drop Inn. We went from house to house. Some had food and we ate. Some just were at home. As we went from house to house, a few joined our troop and we walked to the spring where the water was retrieved in an earlier time. We went ot the washing hole where laundry was done. It came alive and I could see it all.

And the food! Greens, greens with okra, pork hocks, fried chicken, barbequed chicken, sweet potatoes, baked mac and cheese, corn bread, sweet tea. Man, I ate and ate. We talked about each others lives as we explained the differences between the cultures and the North and South. I told them that I cooked Italian food in those large quantities at one time in my life. I fed the family too. We agreed that next time I come down there, I’d get a kitchen to cook and I would make a real authentic spaghetti and meatball dinner for all of dew Drop Inn.

That’s when I got invited to the Family Reunion which is due to take place next July Fourth weekend in 2009. I wondered if they were kidding, but they meant it. We are invited if we want to be there. I can’t quite explain the feeling of being there, in this enclave, of family and distant relatives, all living and sharing their food and their lives with us and each other. This was no special dinner, this was everyday life. That's what made it so great. We were treated just like family with no pretending. One sister will cook one day, another will cook the next. people from the houses were coming and going. Some would eat a plateful right there, others would wrap up some food and take it home. This is real community and not at all unlike the Native communities in Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, or my own family in an earlier time.

I came away determined to start a tradition and cook my Mother’s recipe of Italian “gravy”. The red sauce, with spaghetti and meatballs. Sausage, lamb shanks and neck bones along with good bread and salad. I’ll do it once a month an I’ll be starting this weekend on Sunday.

To be there and share this repast. To be there and be accepted like kin is an experience that is indescribable to me. As it happened, I sat there and soaked it all in. There were so many hugs from so many people and so many “Drop in any time” invitations. Bob will take me fishing, Les will fix my car. Debra and her sisters will be cooking so there is no way a person would starve.

All in all, another year has passed. Another fabulous trip to the boyhood home of a man that I met in Vietnam on the battlefield. What a journey this life has to offer if we are willing to make it.

Many years ago, I embarked on a healing path and didn’t know what to expect or if anything at all was to be expected. The healing has come and it continues. It is out there for all of us. We need patience and faith in something. I am a lucky man for all of this to happen to me in a few short days. And they tell me they are the lucky ones to have met me. What an honor, what an experience. It can never be duplicated, but I can relive it, moment by moment each and every day.

Yours truly with Anna at Clarks Hill Lake.

Thanks for listening to my story. May peace and love touch you all in some way.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Time to Travel

The time has come to take a trip. As I did last year, I'll travel to Clarks Hill, SC. The return visit will be as special as the first time I went there, which was Last Year. It will be special for a number of reasons.

My two oldest Grand children will join me along with the spousal unit, Mrs. Spadoman. We traveled with the kids last Summer and they proved they can be good. Good for an eight year old and a ten year old. I guess it's me and the missus that they might worry about. We have embarrassed them in the past. But they'll get over it.

The fine folks down in Clarks Hill, friends and family of my Veteran Brother Frazier Dixon, have invited us to stay at the Marriot in Augusta, GA. That will be some nice plush accommodations. It was very nice and super generous of them to give us the lodging.

I have a special gift to bring down there for the community to share this year. I was given an Eagle feather by a Spiritual Elder that I know and trust. He tells me he saw it in a dream, me giving them this feather, and that it would represent the Warrior Spirit that I have returned to the community. I framed it and I will present it to them during the Veterans Program.

I also flew a flag at a Pow Wow last August. The flag was symbolic of the deceased
Veteran and was flown in a memorial Veterans song that was sung, honoring all Veterans who gave of themselves. I bought a case for that flag and I will present that to them as well.

This is at the Flag Raising ceremony last August. My friend Mike, also a Veteran, helped me fly this memorial flag.

We'll be leaving here on Wednesday and arriving in Augusta on Friday. We'll spend three nights there and start back on Monday. We'll pass through Chicago on the way home and visit my Mother for one overnight. She will love to see the kids.

The route I'll take down there might be a little squared off. I want to drive through as many states as I can. The kids want them for their resume. After last years trip to Washington DC, they added quite a few states, that they have been to, to their accomplishments. This trip will add a few more. I am thinking of getting them one of those US maps that people put on the side of their RV and then fill the spaces with stickers or magnets of the states. They could mount it in their room and as we travel to different places, they can fill the spaces with the magnets.

Wouldn't this look nice and colorful for a kids room?
I want one!!

As they get older and we have these travel experiences, I am likely to want to take them to more places and show them the wonders I have had the luxury to have seen in my travels throughout my life. Last Summer to the East coast, maybe this Summer to the West. I better watch out. I want to take an epic motorcycle journey through Canada to Alaska on the bike. It could happen that I would return from that and load up the van and take the kids to Grand Canyon, LA, San Francisco, the Redwoods and the Ocean and without blinking an eye log in 15,000 miles of highway time.

I sure could think of worse ways to spend retirement. Like in a lazYboy watching infomercials. Did you see the new power scrubber? I mean two of em' for $19.95 (plus S&H), and you get ten free exchangable cleaning heads.

A Tennessee hillside last November on our way to South Carolina.

So, I hope you'll miss me. I'll be gone for about two weeks altogether. I'm sure I'll enjoy the warmer weather as I am going to the South, and the trees might have some color on them. Here, the blustery winds and rain of the past few days has pretty much left the streets and lawns with a mat of yellow, waiting for a good opportunity to get the rake out there and pile them up in bags for removal. Fall is over. Winter is here. We had snow twice now, both times it 'stuck' and showed up on the car windows, then melted away by late afternoon. One of these days it will become three feet deep. White Christmas anyone?

Peace to all of you.

Friday, September 12, 2008

"My Life Is Not My Own"

Since I returned from Washington DC in July, I have been going non stop. It seems every time I get a break, I get a call or there is some other function that I have an opportunity to attend. I know I can say, “No”, and I have done so, but most of these things I want to do.

I remember a couple of years ago when I was cooking at the Sundance. I loved to do it, but it consumed me in many ways. Yet I look back and still try to recreate in my everyday life those quiet mornings, right at sunrise, when the dew was moist and the haze of the morning was just lifting. The sandhill cranes would fly around and speak to me. It always seemed like I was the only one alive.

Usually, the leader of the ceremony would wander over to the cook tent with his coffee mug in one hand and a cigarette in the other. I’d see him coming and I’d wipe the wetness off a chair for him and look around for the pot holder so I could pour him a cup of the rich strong coffee from the big pot, the one on the fire.

This one day, he sat down and took a drag on the smoke, nodded a “Thank you” when I poured his coffee and started to speak.

“My life is not my own.” He said.

He went on and spoke about the hardships of having a life of your own when the people asked you and expected you to be there for them. People as in family members, community members and friends. Chris is a Medicine Man. A Spiritual Elder and leader of the Dakota people. He lives on the Prairie Island reservation near Red Wing, Minnesota.

He sometimes wants to go fishing, or just have a day to himself. Some time to just relax, take a nap or watch mindless TV. He would like to not have to take the next trip to South Dakota or Japan or where ever to perform what ever ritual, healing or ceremony. He doesn’t have that option and he accepts his path, totally.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t wish it would have been otherwise and this one summer morning he mentioned it to me over a cup of joe and a butt. I listened. For some reason, the words stuck in my brain and recall him often. I have been so busy since last October that I recall him a lot and wonder if the same is true for me and my life, that it is not my own.

It never really was my own. I thought it was. I thought I had control. I thought that of all the free spirits, I was freer than most. I traveled a lot and have had many experiences that some folks just think or dream about. Yet we really never control anything, least of all, our path in life.

Last year, I agreed to house sit for a friend who went to Nicaragua for three months. That started October 27th. I moved out of my own home and moved in to a strangers place. I had my bag that disguised as a suitcase and a dopp kit. Does anyone know what a dopp kit is? Anyway, I have one and I have been living out of it since October 27 of 2007.

At the end of the three months, January 27th, the home owner was due to return and she did. But instead of moving back home and unpacking my dopp kit, I moved into my 1991 Ford E-150 conversion van and headed in a generally Westerly direction. I traveled to Arizona and visited family, then to Northern California and visited friends that are more like family than the family is. After that, I went to San Francisco and joined the Longest Walk.

I was on The Walk for almost two full months. I got sick and tried to recuperate but just had beaten myself into the ground as I worked to accomplish the goal. I know no other way of living life. No other way than to immerse myself fully into what I am doing and in this case, it was being a Go-To guy with the Longest Walk.

I realized that I am disabled. I haven’t had a job for wages in quite some time. What made me think I could go on the Longest Walk and work like I did and just because I wasn’t earning any money, that I would be capable of doing it? Work is work, paid or not, and I just about killed myself trying to do what I couldn’t really do. It was a friend I talked to on the phone who reminded me that I am not the person I used to be. I wasn’t trying to prove anything. I just didn’t think about it for one minute.

I returned home after two months and stayed around the house. I was tired and slept a lot. I was very sick and needed to get stronger and return to being healthy and that took about a month. I went back to The Walk for a week when they were in Oklahoma. At that time, I let the leader, Dennis Banks, talk me into returning and I did so when The Walk was in Baton Rouge, LA.

I drove down to Louisiana and stayed with them for another month. When we reached Northern Alabama, I headed North for home once again. I lied to them and told them I’d be back in two weeks when I knew I wasn’t planning on going back to The Walk until they were in Washington DC on July 11th.

While at home, I participated in The Crow Creek Motorcycle Ride. I was a prime force with planning and implementation of that event as well as a motorcycle rider. After the Crow Creek ride, my friend and I continued on our bikes for another 1200 or so miles of joy riding, enjoying fine weather and scenery on uncrowded North and South Dakota roads.

I left to rejoin The Walk early in July. I planned a stop with the family near Chicago to visit my Mother. I had four of the Grandkids with me when I traveled and with the visit to Chicago, returning to The Longest Walk for the last few days in Washington and the other vacation activities we did while on the road with the kids, well, I didn’t get home again for two weeks.

When I did get home, it was right back on the road for the 300 mile trip to the Sundance. I didn’t make the full 11 days this year and didn’t cook, but I was there for four days and helped the cook on the last day when a feast needed to be prepared. I returned home on July 19th.

On the 20th, I get a call from one of the Longest Walkers. She was in Minneapolis and needed a place to stay. She, along with her friend, a guy she seemed to be in love with at the time, stayed at my place. Using the floor in the spare bedroom. Along with them, there were other visitors from The Walk. The Japanese interpreter and her boyfriend. They stayed at my place for a few days, but when she got sick with a kidney infection, my friend Steve let them have a regular furnished bedroom at his place.

While she recovered, I saw them daily. After a while, she left to return to Japan and her friend went back to Lexington, KY to start work. The others left and joined the small town moving carnival show somewhere in rural Minnesota.

I was glad. It looked like I finally would have some peace and quiet and nothing on the schedule. I was wrong. I got another call from yet another friend i made on The Walk. She would be in town and her and her boyfriend didn’t stay at my house, but we went out to dinner and visited for a time.

Between all these things, I had to travel to Ashland, WI for ceremonies and to visit friends I have neglected for the past few months as I was on the road. At last, peace and quiet, until my sister and Mother came to visit. My sister asked if I could keep my Mom here with me while she and her husband took a short vacation. I agreed and my Mother came for a two week visit. I bought a proper bed and installed it in the spare room instead of putting her on the floor or sofa. Just the respect shown to an Elder. I think the other guests that stayed at my place were okay on the floor and the sofa.

Then, I get another call from yet another friend from The Walk. They are in town and I will met them for breakfast. One of them returned home and the other, finding himself with a need for a place to stay, asked if I could help him out. Of course I let him stay at my house. He’d do the same for me.

Then, the Veterans For Peace National Convention was in town and I had agreed to be a volunteer and help with the hosting chores on behalf of our Local 27 Chapter. During that time, I met a fellow blogger from the API blog who is a Veteran and traveled here for the VFP convention with her husband and other friends. Immediately on the heels of that was the four day RNC extravaganza and the massive war protest activities that took place right in my own back yard.

My friend stayed through the RNC and got arrested. I couldn’t help him out as I was in Ashland helping another friend with his wedding over the weekend. It was a traditional Native ceremony and I was honored to have been asked to be a helper.

Now, I just completed a four day drive to Northern California and will be visiting friends here. They had a death in the family, their daughter, and I have been wanting to come here and tell them I love them since it happened.

To say I’ve been busy is a gross understatement. But I wanted to explain where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. I went to read some blogs last week and I posted a comment on one of them. They were surprised to see me. They thought I left the blogosphere for good!

I tell you, I can’t wait for those short daylight days of winter and the cold and just crawling around the house in my Homer Simpson pajama bottoms. I’ll do some writing then and actually say something meaningful. I can tell you about the visits and the meals and the ceremonies and the functions.

Until then, “My life is not my own”.

I guess that old man knew what he was telling me. I never get over the idea of how he knew I needed to learn that lesson.

In the meantime, be well and stay safe in all you do. Practice peace.