Book Report: Wilson’s Creek by William Garrett Piston and Richard W. Hatcher III (2000)

Book coverI got this book for Christmas a few years ago. As I have moved to the Springfield area and actually live within walking distance of the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield and along the old Wire Road where the troops marched, I figured I ought to read up on it, you know? Heaven knows I read enough history books about the suburb of St. Louis where I used to live.

This is a full on history book, researched meticulously from the records of the time, including correspondence from participants as well as news accounts in the participants’ home towns. And the home towns there were; both sides of the battle featured a large number of volunteer companies from places such as Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Louisiana, Texas, and so on, most of the companies representing individual towns. But when the call to arms came, many able men joined either to punish the traitors or to defend themselves from the treasonous. Note that unlike some of the history books I’ve read in the past centering on a historical person and making that person somewhat heroic (see Scipio Africanus and Hannibal), this book is very evenhanded in treatment of both sides.

Now, for those of you unversed in your Civil War history, Wilson’s Creek was a very early battle. The second of the war, as a matter of fact, following the first Battle of Bull Run. In August 1861, west of the Mississippi, the two armies marched quite a ways from their logistical bases, kinda felt each other out for a while, and then had a battle. General Lyons of the Union side marched down from St. Louis, essentially, and General McCulloch marched up from Arkansas and hooked up with the Missouri State Guard headed by former governor Price. Both sides lacked in intelligence and constantly acted on rumors of major enemy concentrations and both sides had serious trouble keeping their armies fed and shod (see my post about selling shoes to the armies in the Civil War).

At any rate, one August morning, the Union army snuck out to catch the rebs by surprise and attacked from two sides. They might have wanted to forestall an attack on Springfield until the Union Army had a chance to retreat to Rolla or they might have thought they could beat the superior forces of Price and McCulloch. The battle started well for the Union side, but a couple twists of fate and they ended up retreating not only from the battlefield but also from Springfield. So, to make a short story long, the Federals lost.

But it’s a fascinating look at this battle and will probably be a gateway for me into the large collection of Civil War history books I inherited from my uncle-in-law.

It’s a real shame that a lot of people don’t read history any more. It really gives one perspective. And a lot of interesting stories to tell, particularly if the history occurred near where you live.

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Though a Scanner Darkly

Hey, kids. Want to see gore? You, too can make a 42-year-old man’s head asplode without needing any special mental powers. All you gotta do is go up and say:

Hey, did you hear they’re remaking Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with that guy from Twilight as Ferris Bueller?

Now that I’ve put this unfounded rumor on the Internet, I fear this weekend is going to be like a live performance of the 1812 Overture with the popping of Gen X craniums instead of cannons.

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Don’t You Feel Dumb When…

at 5:45 as you’re having a waking up conversation with your beautiful wife, and you somehow allude to blue dog paintings…

Blue dog

…and you name the call the artist Rodriguez instead of Rodrigue?

All my alleged learning and education and pomposity shot down in an instant.

Maybe you’re lucky enough not to have conversations before 8am talking about contemporary New Orleans-based American artists. Or smart enough.

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Book Report: Redneck Classic by Jeff Foxworthy (1995)

Book coverThis book is an early collection of Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck” one-liners coupled with some drawings of his with captions and some material about how you know you’re getting old. It’s on par with You Might Be A Redneck If… (obviously), which means it’s not a very compelling read. A couple of bright spots, some chuckles, but lacking because Jeff Foxworthy is not delivering the jokes.

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On Proper Helium Etiquette

Still cleaning out the old essays.

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We recently had an event that spawned the arrival of Mylar helium balloons. Fortunately, our crowd is not of the Have a Hannah Montana Inflatable Item for Your Birthday crowd, so we get a couple cards and a gift for your normal gift bearing holidays, and I’m man enough to forget the standard Wuv holidays, so we don’t deal with them on a regular basis.

Now cards are keepsakes, at least in our household or at least when they’re in my reach. You can easily put them into boxes or binders to save them for some far away days in the future when you’ve got nothing to do an empty house full of old people’s furniture, wallpaper, and cats. Cards fit easily into these storage devices. Little letters, little notes, each of these you can unfold and review, running your fingers over the creased paper. But Mylar balloons are another story altogether.

I’ve worked in the industry, tangentially, so I know how to deflate the balloons: you simply insert a straw into the neck of the balloon so that it opens the little valve and squeezing the helium out, or the helium and air mixture, or whatever mix exists after a couple of weeks in the wild. Sure, that’s easy, and it makes sense enough if you’re in the industry and you can reinflate unsold balloons the next time the season rolls around, hoping that your dated stars and designs will become retro enough to sell then.

But what do you do with a deflated mylar balloon in the household? I can’t imagine hanging them flat on the wall like old LP covers. Certainly, you’ll never reinflate them with helium, as you’ll probably never bring home a tank full of that noble gas whose natural supply is waning. Just blowing them up won’t recapture the magic uselessness of the original, and bagging up that carbon dioxide won’t reduce your footprint a toe.

I guess the only responsible thing to do with a helium-filled balloon is to do what PEBA would recommend: returning it to the wild before it’s too weak to travel to the helium balloon spawning grounds back east (that is, downwind). I only hope I’m not too late, because all of the neighbors down the block will know the source of the newly liberated “It’s a Boy!” balloons that snag in their trees, and this very piece will shoot down my story of an accidental balloon-escaped-when-I-opened-the-door-and-I-tried-to-lure-it-back-in-with-balloon-treats story.

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Emergency Tickendectomy Apparently A Success

Living in the country, it was nigh inevitable that I would have to remove a tick from one of my children someday. This spring, a warm and wet spring, I’ve killed a number on my person before they could get a good latch. So I was unsurprised to see one on my son one morning while he was dressing.

As I might have mentioned, this was my first tickendectomy. I didn’t really have time to get to eHow to find out how the Internet does it. I had to rely on the experiences of my youth to know how to remove it.

First, you put a lit cigarette to your child. At least, I think that’s what my parents did to kill the tick. Or maybe my parents just liked to put a lit cigarette to me. I dunno.

Barring that, I did get a pair of tweezers, sterilized them with an open flame, exploded the little sucker, and pulled it straight up to remove the sucking parts. It looked pretty well removed when I finished, so I salved the wound and put on a bandage and watched for infection.

I am Daddy, dammit, and I’m supposed to know immediately how to do these things. I think I did. But I’ll get better, I suppose, as this recurs. This Daddy thing and this adult man thing really have a lot in common. You’re supposed to know how to do something or handle something, you think you kinda know how, and you do it and succeed at it without knowing exactly how you knew.

However, it is a good excuse to post Brad Paisley’s “I’d Like To Check You For Ticks”, which my beautiful wife, who doesn’t listen to country music even though she grew up in the Ozarks, has never heard.
Continue reading “Emergency Tickendectomy Apparently A Success”

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Suburban Incursion

The worst part about moving to the suburbs is that I don’t understand the social mores of the place, the traditions, norms, and unwritten laws of behavior that guide one’s relationship with one’s neighbors. I grew up in the rain-streaked city streets and later down dusty rural dirt roads, where your relationship with your neighbor was often simpler. In the city, if you messed with your neighbor or your neighbor’s, erm, stuff, the neighbor might well shoot you dead with his nine millimeter. In the country, if you messed with your neighbor or his livestock, the neighbor might well shoot you dead with his 12 gauge. This simplicity led to a certain respect for your neighbor as well as a certain distance from those you didn’t know.

Here in the suburbs, though, the rules of behavior differ, and that confuses me. For example, many of my neighbors don’t own nine millimeters or 12 gauges and think it’s odd that someone might. Territorial rights aren’t always marked by barbed wire; instead, we have things such as mutually understood (it’s assumed) borders noted by lines in plats in the county office or by the seasonal plantings. Fortunately, though, in most of my suburban domiciles, I’ve had something of a boundary marker, such as a privacy fence that trickles into chain link. Actually, I’ve had a number of privacy fence boundaries, including those erected after I’ve moved in, so the boundary line isn’t an issue.

However, incursions across those boundaries pose an ethical dilemma. Such as the beating conundrum I confronted recently when I stepped into my slightly overgrown (gone to seed) backyard and found a Wiffle® ball amid the lush suburban saw grass. What in Suburbia was I supposed to do about it?

The neighbors on one side, hidden behind a tall wooden fence, have children. The ball could belong to them. But I don’t know about the rear abutting yards; they, too, could hold children in those hours or seasons in which I am not in the back yard cutting the grass. The ball could as easily belong to families beyond those tree-high pike pylons separating the yards.

In the city, a Wiffle® ball never gets hit anywhere but common areas or the street; if it goes into a yard, the big dog or crazy person there eats it. In the country, no one can hit the ball far enough to go into someone else’s yard. This white plastic sphere at my feet was an unknown artifact for which the lessons of my youth provided no proper recourse.

I have a son for whom I could claim the ball under the particular possession/law equation that no lawyer ever wasted a retainer teaching. But that would be theft, pure and simple.

I could march up onto the front porch of the neighbor’s house with the ball in hand and ask if it belonged to the children there, but in my old neighborhoods, the frontal approach could be confrontational. City-dwellers might fear the polite home invader or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the country, someone on your porch could be the IRS or the jackbooted thugs from the ATF (now the BATFE). In either case, one wrong dingdong, and they greet you with a hail of lead (now, due to safety regulations, this is sometimes steel).

Besides, I’m unclear if the door knocking behavior is covered under the suburban code of conduct, or if this unelicited contact would mark one as a pariah amongst the decklocked crowd. Perhaps word would spread of the forward and slightly creepy fellow up the block who confronted neighbors with only the provocation of a Wiffle® ball, and our family would purposefully not get invited to block parties sponsored by the local real estate agent.

I could drop the ball over a fence surreptitiously. Of course, that would assume that the ball belonged in the yard where I know children live. If it did not, I could perhaps be charged with littering or perhaps trafficking in stolen goods depending upon the demeanor of the local five-oh. Or perhaps they would see me as conducting a sortie upon their pristine green backyard with some sort of secret Wifflepon.

Torn, I knew I could not keep the ball, I could not break the code of silence maintained by community, and I could not throw the ball over the fence into an unseen backyard. So I did what any self-respecting adult male born of country and city would do if he were me.

Carefully in the early morning hours, in that period between darkness and dawn, I looked up and down the street from beside my front porch. Assured I was unobserved by early dog walkers or the fabled milkman, I crouched low and crossed the broad, blackened expanse of my asphalt driveway and deposited the ball at the very edge of the neighbor’s front lawn where its presence would tempt the children from that yard to reclaim it or claim it, where the father would pick it up or kick it into my driveway or the street when it came time to mow the lawn, and where I could have plausible deniability about how the ball got there.

Then I scurried back into my house and bolted the strange and frightening world of suburbia out.

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