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Category Archive: Stuff

Jul 01

Fourth of July memories– it’s really the patriotism we love, not the potato salad. From my archived columns, first published July 3, 2006, in the Examiner, an eastern Jackson County daily newspaper.

“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”

–Erma Bombeck.

fourth-of-july-picnic

Ah yes, I remember that “iffy” potato salad and the flies, too, at many a Fourth of July celebration of my youth.

The Fourth of July is a happy holiday bringing back delightful memories, but maybe it is more than the family picnics and fireworks that I remember and love.

Maybe it is the patriotism, 1950s style, not the potato salad, that makes it such a happy holiday.

For instance, one of the things I remember most about past Fourth of July celebrations is a television monologue given by the late great comedian Red Skelton in honor of Independence Day.

For younger generations who may not know this, Skelton was a comedian who rose to stardom between the 50s and 70s delighting audiences coast-to-coast with his weekly comedy television show.

After all these years, turns out I remembered very few details about Red Skelton’s then famous “Pledge of Allegiance” monologue. However, I do recall how much I loved his performance at the time.

If you search the Internet, you will find it easily, the YouTube video of Red Skelton’s Pledge of Allegiance, 1950 style.

Skelton tells a story about how his teacher Mr. Laswell of Harrison School in Vincennes, Indiana, felt his students had come to think of the Pledge of Allegiance as merely something to recite, something monotonous.

Mr. Laswell remarked to the students, “If I may, may I recite it and try to explain to you the meaning of each word?” He continued.

“I—meaning me, an individual, a committee of one.

Pledge—dedicate all of my worldly goods to give without self pity.

Allegiance—my love and my devotion.

To the flag—our standard, Old Glory, a symbol of freedom. Wherever she waves, there’s respect because your loyalty has given her a dignity that shouts freedom is everybody’s job!

The United—that means we have all come together.

States of America—individual communities that have united into 48 (now 50) great states; individual communities with pride and dignity and purpose; all divided with imaginary boundaries, yet united to a common purpose, and that is love for country.

And to the republic—a state in which sovereign power is invested in representatives chosen by the people to govern. And government is the people and it is from the people to the leaders, not from the leaders to the people.”

Red Skelton’s entire rendition of Mr. Laswell’s speech is too long for this column.

However, I will share with you here his final admonition to his students, “We are one nation so blessed by God that we are incapable of being divided, which means, boys and girls, it is as much your country as it is mine.”

Yes indeed, it is this kind of patriotism that I love and remember, but not so much the “iffy” potato salad.

Happy Fourth! May it be patriotic and memorable, even if you can’t keep those pesky flies off the potato salad.

May 05

Genealogy, arsenic and old lace. First published March 31, 2011, in The Examiner, an eastern Jackson County, Missouri, daily newspaper.

“Every family tree has some sap in it.”—Unknown

I guess you could say I was never into genealogy that much, although my mother was passionate about it and researched our ancestors with fervor for more than twenty years.

Funny how time changes us though. Now, I rather like it. For awhile, we thought we came over on the Mayflower and owned a castle in Scotland, right? Well, did we or did we not?

Sooner or later, most of us start to shake our family tree for one reason or another and hope no lemons, nuts or bad apples fall out.

In my case, I found more than a little sap.

My research began because my sister found an old picture of our great-great grandfather and sent it to my brother. Curious, he began researching one Louis Ferree Carothers, a captain in the Union Army, who was born on Nov. 14, 1816, and left this life on July 13, 1871.

We assumed that our mother surely wrote more about him in her family history, “The Kreek-Carothers Family”, compiled in 1983. My copy was somewhere in a box in the basement, left there untouched all this time.

Eventually, I found it and discovered some relatives that made me swell with pride.

And sure enough, I found that the Carothers Family (also spelled Carruthers or Caruthers) did indeed hale from Scotland, although originally from France.

And yes, they once owned a castle.

I learned that the Carruthers Castle is located somewhere near Dumfriershire, Scotland, but is now in ruins.

Then, I found two more Carruthers Castles, one called Lochmaben and the other Comlongon Castle, this one with a lady ghost.

Shaking the family tree was getting better and better.

I began to wonder if we had a king hiding in that tree somewhere and decided it was worth a deeper look.

Who said genealogy was not fun? Me, I think.

Never mind that, starting with my great-great grandfather, Lewis Ferree, I traced his roots past the Revolutionary War to our common ancestor, Capt. John Carothers, a judge and member of the General Assembly. John was born in 1739 and died on his plantation in East Pennsborough Township, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, on Feb. 26, 1798.

The circumstances of his death, however, were far from ordinary.

Instead, what I discovered buried within my mother’s stacks of notes and genealogical files, was a chilling tale of double murder, a story filled with insane jealousy, arsenic, and yes, lace.

If you are interested, here is the shortened version.

It seems as though a young girl named Sarah Clark (nicknamed Sally) came to live with the John Douglas family, who were friends and neighbors of John and Mary Carothers, my ancestors.

Sarah “contracted a strong attachment” for Mr. Douglas’s son, who was at that time paying attention to Miss Ann Caruthers, daughter of John and Mary.

Are you with me so far?

Overcome with her infatuation (what we would describe today as “fatal attraction”), Sarah “determined to destroy the life of Ann Carothers and gain the object of her affections.”

Following her clever and sinister plan, she hired on as a servant in the Carothers house and “bided her time.” She wore servant’s attire, a dark dress trimmed in white lace.

The historical account reads: “Having no ill will against the family, she desired to poison only Ann Carothers, and with this in view, she purchased some arsenic. With no suitable opportunity offering, she grew desperate and put the arsenic in a pot of leaven.”

I am sure you guessed it by now; the family all ate the bread and became sick.

Capt. John Carothers died quickly, followed soon afterwards by his wife Mary. Andrew Carothers, Ann’s brother, lived but was a cripple for life.

Ann Carothers, the intended victim, was the only survivor and never married.

Sarah, a.k.a. Sally, was tried, convicted as a murderess witch and hanged at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, or so the story goes.

Incidentally, I did not find any Mayflower passengers or kings in my mother’s genealogy tales.

Just murder, she wrote.

Mar 09

Bring on the Brackets! Basketball in March—the way it is supposed to be played. (From archived columns and first published on March 7, 2012, in The Examiner, an eastern Jackson County daily newspaper.)

“Basketball is a game that gives you every chance to be great, and puts every pressure on you to prove that you haven’t got what it takes. It never takes away the chance, and it never eases up on the pressure.”– Coach Bob Sundvold (former head coach at UCM and assistant coach at Mizzou and Missouri State)

ncaa_2x

I guess you could say that the game of basketball during March Madness is the way it is supposed to be played – flying high just like kites in the March wind.

During most of the regular season, basketball players know the pressure never eases up, and they know they have a chance to play well.

Normal everyday operating procedure for a ball team.

Come March, however, they know they have a chance not just to play well but also to be great, exactly what Coach Bob Sundvold said. And certainly, they know the pressure will ratchet up.

March Madness blows in with a fury each year when we flip the calendar from February to March, as though the weatherman just announced a severe wind advisory.

Conference championship tournaments begin, and miraculously and mysteriously, these very same players who played reasonably well during the regular season, now can fly and perform other inhuman feats, for one, levitating themselves toward the basket. Simply put, it is March Madness and flying happens, among other remarkable things.

We have seen it before, but we do not understand it.

Award-winning novelist John Edgar Wideman, described what basketball is like when it is played the way it is supposed to be played, especially in the month of March: “…basketball happens in the air; flying, floating, elevated above the floor, levitating the way oppressed peoples of this earth imagine themselves in their dreams.”

That thought leads me to an epic game played on March 12, 2009, at Madison Square Garden between Syracuse and Connecticut. Syracuse, No. 18, beat No. 4 Connecticut in six overtimes 127-117. According to an AP story at the time, everyone was left “exhausted, and except for the losing team, exhilarated.”

I know we were watching every minute of it in our household. When the game went into the first overtime, we thought we should call it a night, but just couldn’t quit watching. And according to my ESPN research, the game did not end until 1:22 a.m., three hours and 46 minutes after it began. I remember the exhaustion and the exhilaration.

Furthermore, I didn’t really care who won because it was the fact that the game was mesmerizing, played just the way it should be in March.

Not only were the players on Syracuse and Connecticut elevating themselves to astonishing heights and greatness, they were also enduring implausible pressure.

According to the AP account of the game, Jonny Flynn, a Syracuse point guard, inexplicably “had 34 points and 11 assists in a game-high 67 minutes, only three fewer than were played.”

The kid played 67 minutes without sitting down!

And that is why I love March Madness. They play the game the way it is supposed to be played—flying high.

Bring on the brackets!

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