Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Legacy



Everyone agreed that he was one tough investigative journalist. He didn’t mince words. He told it like it was. He wasn’t afraid to confront any politician or government official that he didn’t think was doing their job. He was fearless, they all agreed. His public persona was one that he liked to sharpen and hone every chance he got. Yep, he certainly was who he was.

When he died, those in the know, those who dealt with him, those who had to work with him day in and day out, they all agreed…that he was a total asshole (their words, not mine). At his wake, few words were minced. Yeah, he was brazen all right, his colleagues agreed. Many said they wished they had his guts, gall, and bravado. Nevertheless, he was still a jerk. Hell of a legacy to leave behind if you ask me.

Then there was a contractor in our community. Many folks claimed he was one of the wealthiest businessmen that no one had ever heard of. At his wake, the consistent message was that he was one tough operator and…that was about it. No mention of any charity work he’d done, no improvements or contributions to his community (it seemed he owned half the place in the beginning), no mention of helping others in need. He just ran his business with an iron fist and made lots of money. Hell of a way to be remembered in the end.

That got me to thinking about my / our respective legacies when the time comes to take a bow and move on to the so-called afterlife.

Me
I grew up without a father or male role model in my life. There was a void of our lives that my Mother chose not to fill with any references or mementos of the man who brought me into this world. So all I have are scratches of tidbits scribbled on a fading memory bank. No good memories, no bad memories, no legacy at all. Nothing of the man who gave me life.

I’ve spoken in the past of my three aunts. From my earliest memories, they seemed like cold indifferent individuals who didn’t particularly care if I existed or not. They really were at the apex of that old time cliché about children ‘better to be seen and not heard.’

My mother with her parents

Horses on my grandparents' farm

What they were really like in ‘real life’ I have no idea. Their backgrounds were similar to that of my Mothers and it was a tough one. There was little to no appreciation for the value of an education. Collectively, they all seemed to have an attraction to men who didn’t value women and had a problem with the drink. By the time they passed, I was either in the service or far removed from my past life. They all passed on and it mattered little to me. Unfortunately, my memories of them are not good ones. That then is their legacy.

Erwin holding our son Brian

My stepfather, Erwin, was a charmer up until the end at age 104. After my mother got ill, we had to place Erwin in a nursing home. He didn’t last long there but his residency was one of mass every morning and sneaking candy into his pew. He loved to sit outdoors and watch the birds and he could still wrangle a card game with the best of them.

My mother only started to slow down near the end of her life and to be honest it was my sister and Sharon who took up the yeoman’s share of caring for her. Marlene and Sharon were saints even when my mother wasn’t. Fortunately, for me my memories began to thin out and dissipate before she got old and ill. I only remember her in fleeting fading glimpses at my past life growing up on Randolph Avenue in Saint Paul. I wish her legacy was clearer than it is. What I remember was good and honest and sincere. She led by example and I became her follower. One could not ask for more.

Sharon and her parents

Other folks have told me about the challenges they went through caring for their aging parents until the end. Everyone faces their eminent demise in their own way. Some are grateful for a life well lived. Some are content with their contributions to society. Others are happy with their children and grandchildren. Others wonder if they’ve prayed enough of late to get them reserved seats beyond the pearly gates.

I’m still pondering my legacy. I hope it’s seen in a life well lived. The solid companionship of a wonderful woman and offspring that warm my heart by their very presence.

It certainly won’t be an accumulation of material goods, second homes, or trips traveled. I hope it’s seen in the accomplishments of my children, the growing success of my grandchildren and a couple of books and plays thrown in for good measure.


If leading by example has any value I’d like to believe I paved a way that my kids and grandkids might want to emulate. As for me, the words I don’t ever want to utter are: woulda, coulda, shoulda.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Fortress Singapore




I found it interesting that the President decided to use Singapore as his meeting place with the dictator from North Korea. Singapore is a fascinating country in that it chose, a long time ago, to follows its own path into the Twenty-First century.



Its strict laws have been criticized by Westerners as barbaric and cruel by our standards. Nevertheless, their adherence to conformity hasn’t diminished their success in the marketplace; regionally or worldwide. I found Singapore to be at once modern and ancient, congested and clean. It felt extremely safe for a large metropolitan area.






We traveled to Singapore as part of an Asian trip when Sharon was President of her local Rotary club in Apple Valley. After Singapore, we traveled through Bali, Thailand and Hong Kong. Without a doubt, Singapore was the highlight of our trip.



Long before that trip, there was a special place for Singapore harbored in my imagination. That fascination with the Island State had been fueled years earlier while I was still in high school. Two books by one of my favorite English authors, Alistair MacLean, began this life-long interest with World War Two; especially the early stages of Japanese conquest of the Far East.



Alistair MacLean’s first novel was entitled ‘H.M.S. Ulysses.’ It was based on the infamous Murmansk run. A dangerous convoy trip from America and England to send supplies to Russia. One of the most lethal convoys was the Murmansk Run across the North Atlantic and from Iceland to the Russian ports of Murmansk, Archangel, and Kola Inlet. It involved more hazards than in any other kind of naval duty. In addition, prior to the spring of 1943, when an effective Allied antisubmarine offensive got underway, ships and men making the so-called “Murmansk Run” had about a one in three chance of returning alive.

The icy waters of the North Atlantic and hunter-killer U-boats meant certain death to any crewman unlucky enough to have his ship torpedoed during the trip. Hence the great song by Woody Guthrie ‘The Rubin James.’




The second novel, which tied directly to the fall of Singapore, was entitled: ‘South by Java Head.’ Winston Churchill had called Singapore the “Gibraltar of the East.” An impregnable fortress at the heart of the British empire in the Far East.



When the island fortress fell to Japanese forces on February 15th 1941, it marked the beginning of the end for the British Empire’s extended colonies. The ‘jewel in the crown of the British Empire’, India, gained independence in 1947. Other British holdings followed: Burma in 1948, Malaya in 1957, and Singapore soon after. And it all began with the fall of Singapore.



I’ve already written a 30-page treatment for my own novel about the fall of Singapore. It’s entitled: ‘Siloso,’ named after the last British fortress on the Island to fall to the invading Japanese soldiers. Right now it patiently waits behind other treatments for plays, screenplays and novels each shuffling around in my brain, trying to grab my full attention and a place at the head of my ‘to do’ list.