Monday, October 29, 2012

Berowne's 141

(For Three-Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "P" is for "Paradise")
Ellen: “You’ve got me all excited. You still haven’t told me where we’re going on our honeymoon.”
Bob: “That’s because I want it to be a surprise. Take a deep breath; we’re going to honeymoon in Miami Beach!”
Ellen: “Oh. Good. I’ve never been to Miami.”
Bob: “Oh, you’ll love it. It’s kind of a paradise – even when it’s out of season, like now.”
Ellen: “Bob, I hope you won’t mind my mentioning this, but usually the bride gets to take part in things like deciding on honeymoon destinations and so on.”
Bob: “But then it wouldn’t be a surprise! Not only is it a paradise, but there’s an extra attraction that makes it perfect for us.”
Ellen: “What’s that?”
Bob: “Well, I’m so proud of my new bride I want to show her off to all the members of my family. And my sister Deb lives there, in Miami. I know you’ll love her.”
Ellen: “So we’re actually making a trip to see your sister.”
Bob: “And maybe a couple thousand aunts, uncles, cousins – ha! We’re quite a brood! I want to show you off to ‘em all.”
Ellen: “And they all live in Miami?”
Bob: “Well, not all. Mom lives here, as you know.”
Ellen: “Yes. Bob, I - I felt she didn’t like me very much. Though I really appreciated that she seemed worried about my sallow complexion.
Bob: “Oh, that’s Mom; she's very honest; there's not a false thing about her. And anyway, you know what mothers are like – there’s no girl good enough for her boy, and so on.”
Ellen: “Yes. That makes me feel better too.”
Bob: “Oh, by the way, there’s another reason for Miami. My sis lives in a big house so I figured, why shouldn’t we stay with her?’
Ellen: “What? We’re going to spend our honeymoon in your sister’s house?”
Bob: “Don’t worry; we’ll be all alone. Little Frankie is giving up his room to bunk with his sister, so we get his place. I think that’s really generous of him, actually. You know how kids feel about their rooms.”
Ellen: “Little Frankie must be happy about our visit."
Bob: “Don’t worry; he won’t cause any trouble. There's no risk. Seems there was a problem with the cops last year and they’ve had him on a short leash ever since; I'm sure he’ll be a perfect young gentleman while we’re there.”
Ellen: “This should be a honeymoon like no other.”
Bob: “Oh, there’s one other thing.”
Ellen: “Wait just a second. I want to be seated when I hear this.”
Bob: “Ha! That sense of humor, one of the things I find most attractive in you. Anyway, my mother hasn’t seen the other members of our family for quite a while so she’s planning a trip to Miami too.”
Ellen: “Oh, good; I’ll get to see her again.”
Bob: “You sure will. Uh – I don’t know how to put this – but Mom is planning to be on the same plane we’ll be on.”
Ellen: “I’m glad I was seated.”
Bob: “I know it’s a bit, uh, different. But you know, to illustrate her generosity, she paid for the tickets: she reserved a three-seat row so we can all be together. You’re really going to get to know her better.”
Ellen: “I have a feeling you’re right. Look, Bob, before we go any further, you and I have got to sit down and have a talk. A Long. Serious. Talk.”
(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Berowne's 140

(For Three-Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "O" is for "Outta here!")
Somehow, the above reminds me of a medal.
What with Veterans Day coming up shortly, I realize that I’ve never told you about my Silver Star.
From time to time in this space, I’ve reported on some of the heroic adventures I was involved in during World War II. It usually turned out that they weren’t all that heroic, but they were adventures nonetheless.
So now I’d like to tell you about the medal that’s one of the highest awards for gallantry in action. Here’s the story.
In 1943 I was convalescing in a jungle hospital in New Guinea, the huge island that dangles just north of Australia. The hospital was in an American camp not far from Lae, which was the major Japanese base on that island.
This seemed to give them the idea that they had the right to bomb the hell out of the Yanks just to the south. I don’t think they had the field hospital I was in as the main target; it just appeared that way.
When the radar signaled that bombers were on their way, the patients who could move were supposed to stagger from their beds and hop out into one of the slit trenches that surrounded the place. Thus entombed, they could neatly lie in perfect comfort as they listened to the bombs gradually getting closer.
When they returned they would find that a platoon of New Guinea insects of all known sizes and shapes had taken over their bed, insects who had obviously moved in to stay. You have not lived till you have tried to sleep with huge insects each as large as a Swiss Army knife crawling over you.
All of which got me to thinking: get me outta here!
After all, I wasn’t performing any labor or doing anything. I wasn’t contributing to the war effort; I was just convalescing. I could convalesce to the south in Brisbane, Australia, just as well. Especially because that’s where my good friend Shirley M. lived.
So one day I quietly exited the hospital and headed for the airport. I found a pilot who was getting ready to fly to Port Moresby – the jumping-off point for Australia – and I asked if I could hitch a ride. I said I was desperate to rejoin my ship so I could continue fighting the war, and so on. (I didn’t mention Shirley.) He said okay, so off we went, into the wild blue etcetera.
The flight was scary; to get to Port Moresby you had to fly in a fairly small plane – no 747s then - over a huge jungle mountain range, with the ever-present possibility of an attack by the Japanese on the way.
So that was it. Not worth a Silver Star, you say? Well, I didn’t think it was either – until...
Years later I read about President Lyndon Johnson, and I was especially interested in his World War II record. He had been awarded the Silver Star.
When he was a congressman he thought it would help his career if he had a war record. He joined up and was immediately upgraded to Navy lieutenant-commander.
He was sent to the south Pacific as an observer. He wound up in Port Moresby and he climbed aboard one of eleven B-26 bombers that were getting ready to take off for an attack on the Japanese air base at Lae. It was definitely a dangerous operation. A number of the planes of the group were hit and one was shot down with everyone aboard killed.
However, not long after takeoff Johnson’s plane had developed generator trouble and had to turn back.
General Douglas Macarthur, in charge out there, believed that LBJ was a popular political figure who looked as though he had an important future - and the General needed all the friends he could get in the U S Congress - so he awarded Johnson the Silver Star.
So I wondered, where’s my Silver Star? I flew that same route in the same war. True, I did nothing heroic and the vital war mission I was on was to see my girlfriend in Brisbane. However, as far as action was concerned, I had seen plenty of that trying to dodge bombs, not to mention insects, back at the jungle hospital.
By the way, here’s a brief note of historical interest. The airport at Lae had become world famous a few years earlier.
In 1937 Amelia Earhart, on her round-the-world flight, landed at Lae. It was on July 2nd, at midnight, that she took off from Lae airport, never to be seen again.
(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Berowne's 139

(For Three-Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "N" is for Nearly)
“Midnight Snack” is the title of the above.
I rummaged about in my mind through the past decades, trying to find something to work with. Then I remembered.
There was a fairly well-known snack back in the forties that I have never forgotten. It was in India, of all places, and I was there.
I can hear groans in the background of “Oh no, not another of Berowne’s ‘I was there’ stories.”
Sorry, but I’m afraid it’s true – I was there – and I thought it might make for an interesting post. Or at least semi-interesting.
I’m sure you remember the movie back in the eighties, a real epic, titled “Gandhi,” starring Ben Kingsley as the Mahatma.
In the film there’s a sequence where Gandhi is in prison because of his resistance movement and he is visited by an American photographer, Margaret Bourke-White, played by Candice Bergen.
When I saw the movie, I felt like shouting “I was there!” and nearly dropped my popcorn.
Here’s the story.
Soon after Pearl Harbor, with the draft board busily preparing to bestow upon me the coveted title of Buck Private, U S Army, I enlisted instead as cadet-midshipman in the Maritime Service division of the U S Navy. The first ship I was on delivered many tons of stuff to the CBI, the China-Burma-India theatre of war.
So I was in Bombay – none of us had ever heard of Mumbai – when Gandhi was in prison. Instead of just quietly existing as a prisoner, he was causing problems: he was sort of rattling his cage. Living out his famous policy of non-violent resistance, he went on a hunger strike. There had been a desperate attempt to get him to eat something, anything – a snack, even. It was about this time that he was visited by Bourke-White/Bergen.
And it was then, while we were tied up at a dock, that a British officer came by and told us that Gandhi was in bad shape; he was nearly dead. It looked as though the hunger strike would kill him. If that happens, he said, we should slip our lines and drift out to the center of Bombay harbor and anchor there, because there would be a national uprising on the part of all India and Europeans would not be safe on the street.
I wasn’t much of a European because at that time I had never been to Europe, but I realized that distinction wouldn’t mean much to rioters.
As a student, I had always been interested in Mahatma Gandhi. He seemed to feel that his philosophy of non-violent resistance was not just something one should adopt for moral reasons; he really believed it would work as a practical substitute for war. I know now that he was probably mistaken. As World War II went on, I felt that Hitler proved him wrong.
After a time Gandhi was removed from prison for necessary surgery, and was to live for another five years. (Presumably he had a few snacks during that five-year period.)
What a man was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi!
He struggled for years to create a peaceful and calm India that would contain a wide variety of religions, all living together harmoniously, but the Muslim leader insisted on the formation of a fully independent Muslim Pakistan, a world apart.
The ironic truth is that in 1948 when Gandhi was assassinated it was not by a Muslim, it was by a member of his own religion, by a Hindu - who shot Gandhi three times at point-blank range with a .38 Beretta semi-automatic pistol - because of his tolerance of Islam.
(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Berowne's 138

(For Three-Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "M" is for Mary Arden)
The prompt this week is of a sick woman.
I began sifting through my rather limited cranial capacity, trying to think of a historical character who would be appropriate for such a topic.
Then I thought of Will Shakespeare’s mother. In the year 1583 she was miserable because she was sick, but she was sick with worry, with fear.
And she had good reason.
It seemed quite possible that she was going to be charged as an accessory to an attempted assassination of Queen Elizabeth.
Let’s go back a bit.
As a teenager, it would have seemed that Mary Arden could have had her pick of the young fellows of her town for marriage; she came from a respected home, her father was a prosperous land-owner and she had an impressive dowry.
Yet many of that time were puzzled that the person she chose was not much more than a peasant. His background had been that he was barely (if at all) literate; he had had no money, no education, and a job of working in her father’s fields. His name was John Shakespeare.
But you see, Mary Arden was one of eight daughters, the youngest of the eight. For eight daughters there weren’t all that many eligible bachelors available in that area. She settled for John.
John S.’s story is amazing – from illiterate sharecropper he had a brisk rise to mayor of the town of Stratford – but that’s for a different post. We’ll concentrate on his wife, Mary.
But first let’s do a smooth segue to the story of another woman of that era, Queen Elizabeth I.
She was in mortal danger. When? Every day of her life, from the moment she was born. Every day that she was alive there were thousands of people who were dedicated to her assassination. She was Protestantism personified; Catholics in various parts of the world believed that England should return to the old religion and they were told they would be blessed if they killed her.
By the year 1583 the Queen had built up a remarkable collection of organizations that existed to prevent that assassination; she had spies and her own Secret Service, CIA and FBI.
Another smooth segue and we come to the story of Margaret Arden, a dear cousin of Will Shakespeare’s mom.
Encouraged by a local priest, Margaret Arden and her husband had made the mistake of becoming involved with him in a plot to shoot Queen Elizabeth. They were all arrested and taken to London.
Anyone who planned such an act, or even knew about it, was punished. The punishment was severe. The men were hanged, drawn and quartered and Margaret was burned at the stake.
Suspicion shifted to Stratford and a key part of the investigation had to do with Mary Arden Shakespeare; had she known about this plot? For quite a while she, and her family, were in extreme peril.
The Queen’s chief investigator, her J Edgar Hoover, was Francis Walsingham. He sent word to his subordinates up in Stratford that more guilty folks must be found and the way to determine if they were guilty was through torture.
Well, ultimately, things more or less blew over. Mary stayed alive, as did her family. However, Stratford was a dangerous place for a young guy whose family was under suspicion; Will Shakespeare detached himsself from the whole situation. He set up a strategic retreat, leaving town and heading for London.
(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings)
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