Thursday, March 31, 2011

I Want to Love America

This will be the last time – I promise – that I will quote from Tom Robbins’ book, Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates!
by Charlie Leck

I’ve read this novel by Tom Robbins twice in the last couple of months and I’m not going to read it again even though it’s tempting. I’m crazy about Robbins ability to create unique and interesting characters. In this book I found myself really hooked by the protagonist, Switters.

Robbins wouldn’t make good reading for a few of my readers. He’s really pretty profane and he’s tough on religious people and pounds pretty hard on the judgementalists among the religious. He’s also tough on politicians and phony patriots.

Nevertheless, I find myself laughing hysterically at this guy and he always seems to stir me up.

Here’s an extraordinary opening to one of the closing chapters in this novel, Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates:

“The May moon looked like a bottlecap. More specifically, entering its last phase, the moon looked like a bottlecap that a fidgety beer-drinker had squashed double between macho thumb and forefinger. The moon was making Switters thirsty, and he said as much to Touific, but the truck driver wasn’t listening.

“’I want to love America,’ Touific lamented, ‘but America requires me to hate it.’

“Touific had come to drive the Pachomian delegation to the airport at Damascus. He arrived on a Monday evening so that they might get a very early start on Tuesday morning. He arrived with a crumb of hashish for Switters, and they sat by the car now, smoking it in the faintly moon-painted desert. He also arrived with American offenses on his mind. Offenses in Iraq. Offenses in Yugoslavia. Those offenses made Touific angry, but mostly they made him sad. His large brown eyes seemed saturated with a kind of molten chocolate grief.

“’What is wrong with your great country?’ Touific lamented. ‘Why must it do these terrible things?’

“Switters held a cloud of candied smoke in his lungs. ‘Because the cowboys wiped out the buffalo,’ Switters said.

“’Everywhere a buffalo fell,’ said Switters, ‘a monster sprang up in its place.’

“Switters was going to list some monsters, but his mouth was dry, and he feared he couldn’t expectorate.

“’There’s a direct link between the buffalo hunts and Vietnam,’ said Switters.

“Straining to comprehend, Touific sighed with his eyes.

“’When Lee surrendered at Appomattox,’ said Switters, ‘it sealed once and for all Wall Street’s power over the American people.’

“Switters said, ‘There’s a direct link between Appomattox and genuine imitation leather.’

“’But,’ Touific lamented, ‘your country has so much.’

“’Well,’ said Switters, ‘it has bounce. It has snap. It has flux.’

“’Americans are generous and funny, the ones I have met,’ Toufic lamented, ‘but I am compelled to oppose them.’

“’It’s only natural,’ said Switters. ‘American foreign policy invites opposition. It invites terrorism.’”

“Switters said, ‘Terrorism is the only imaginable logical response to America’s foreign policy, just as street crime is the only imaginable logical response to America’s drug policy.’

Touific wanted to pursue this in greater detail, but the hashish was kicking in, and Switters was rapidly losing whatever interest he had in politics. ‘Politics is where people pay somebody large sums of money to impose his or her will on them. Politics is sadomasochism. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

Two hundred pages earlier in the book, Switters had this to say about American democracy and politics…

“Believe it or not, America’s a very insecure country. It’s been scared into a kind of self-imposed subjugation first by the imagined threat of Communism and then by the imagined threat of drugs. Maestra calls us an abusive democracy, one in which everybody wants to control everybody else. Lately, even tolerance, itself, has been usurped by the sanctimonious and the opportunistic, and turned into an instrument for intimidation, bullying and extortion. Yet the U.S. continues to pound its sternum and boast that it’s the home of the brave and the land of the free. If that’s brazen chutzpah rather than blind naiveté then I guess I can’t help but admire it.”

I don’t know what to say, anyway!


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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I'm Hip

It’s a great morning to do a little thinking and wondering. I’m not letting Libya and Syria get in my way; for I’m thinking more of olden times and how lucky I was to grow up with a great old man.
by Charlie Leck

It’s just before sunrise as I write this. The sky in the East, out over the trees and just outside my treetop study is pale blue in color – it’s a devastatingly beautiful shade of color that I don’t think I could reproduce even with the power of today’s magical computers. There’s a little sliver of moon riding the sky; and down toward the horizon it all evolves into a pale white color that then melts into a blaze of orange and red.

I’m trying to quiet my soul after getting in a pretty bad lather yesterday. A stray dog – a German Shepherd – got into the sheep pastures on Monday and gruesomely killed 8 young ewes and seriously wounded a few others. I felt awfully sorry for my wife. She works so hard on this farm, bringing these critters to life and then so carefully raising them. It’s more than a big financial loss for her. She is personally invested in these animals. I wanted to call the owner and give her a huge piece of my mind; but my wife was calm and understanding.

“It’s an animal,” she told me, “and they have instincts and don’t understand what they’re doing.”

Well, don’t misunderstand me. She’s not a saint. She called the local police and reported the incident and found out she could have the dog shot if it returned to our pastures.

The mellow sky is helping me relax. My hip is burning up with pain. The more I can relax, the less it hurts. Replacement surgery is scheduled for a few weeks from now.

Our high tech world continually blows me away. I’ll get rid of this pain in a few weeks and I’ll own a new and extraordinary hip. I’ve been through it before. Six years ago, my left hip was replaced.

I think of my father and the aches and pains he endured in his later life. For him, there was no such technology to help out. My sister-in-law and I have talked about how my dad used to swear in his sleep. He cussed in a way that actually frightened us a bit. She would stay over occasionally when her guy, my brother, was stationed over in Germany with the military. She’d be awaked by a stream of cuss words that issued from the mouth of my dad who was in the room right next to hers. In the morning she’d ask me what that was all about. Back then I didn’t understand.

Now, as I approach the age at which he died, I think about how much more fortunate I am than he was. He worked long, long days on his feet and I can only imagine how his knees and hips were probably killing him. Now, as I await the replacement of this rotted hip, I awake at night feeling stabbing, pretty torturous pain. I hear myself cuss pretty nastily. I think of him, 50 years ago, kept awake by the stabbing pain. I take deep, slow breaths and allow my body to relax as completely as possible. The pain subsides.

Joint replacement technology is incredible. It’s expensive, but Medicare makes it possible even for those who could never afford it. It’s one of the great gifts of our society – something that legislators got right back there during Lyndon Baines Johnson’s time in the White House. Health and freedom from pain, when it is possible, is a right every citizen of the world should have. If we can afford billion dollar explorations of the heavens, we certainly can afford such guarantees for all people.

The moon is gone now. The sky has brightened to a gradient of blue and white. Sunlight sparkles out there on the limbs and branches of the bare trees. My hip hurts as I write, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, so I don’t get too rattled by the stabbing pain.

I sure wish some pain management procedures had been around for my old man! I have a great deal more understanding and sympathy for him now.


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Monday, March 28, 2011

My Brother John

Is my brother behind the times or way ahead of them? And, does it matter?
by Charlie Leck

I recently had a nice visit with my brother John. I flew down to Florida to tarry a day or so with him. It had been a couple of years – since we saw each other at my sister’s funeral. I hadn’t seen his wife, my sister-in-law, for a long, long time.

I approached his home one morning and parked my rented car in his front yard, behind his big white van. As I approached his front door, passing right in front of the van, the engine of the vehicle roared to life and I jumped as far as a lame, older fella can jump. When my brother met me at the front door, he had a big, ice cream eating grin on his face and was holding an automatic, remote engine starter in his hand. He shook all over as he giggled and I thought he might choke.

That’s about as far as his involvement with modern, high technology goes. He and his wife both disdain the idea of a computer, email, wireless connections, iPods, iPhones and iPads.

I tried to go for the big sell.

“Geez, we could communicate more often and easily and we could exchange photographs – and you could communicate more regularly with your boys, too!”

“If you want to communicate, pick up the phone!”

They have a hard-wired, awfully large telephone on a table in the living room. I hesitated in my attempt to counter my sister-in-law’s argument, but I bit on the hook.

“You know how difficult it is to pick up the phone every time a little thought crosses one’s mind. Then one ends up getting only an answering machine any way. Email is so much easier and more convenient. And, I don’t have to pay for the phone call! I could send a message to you and copy it to your boys and send one to brother Frank, too; that is if you and he had email.”

“Don’t want email! Too expensive! Always breaking down!”

I had my counter-arguments, but what the hell! I could see they’d get me nowhere. I wanted to explain the wonders of a wireless world. I thought of pulling out my iPhone and showing them all the astounding things it can do – how I could be sitting in the stands at a ball game, and think of my brother, and snap a photo of Michael Cudeyer and email it off to him, telling him how much Cudeyer reminds me of the way he used to play the game.

I explained how I get regular photographs of the grandkids and how they melt my heart and give me a jolt at the start of a day.

“They can put ‘em in an envelope and stick a stamp on it,” Mary Jane said. “If they were interested enough in us!”

“But, but… but…”

“You email that son of ours and tell him to communicate with us a little bit more. He can pick up the phone, you know!”

My brother is a helluva guy. I sure looked up to him as a kid. He seemed to have the world by the tail as a young man. He went through life with a great work ethic and knew enough to save his money and prepare for these years we’re in now. Lordsy, he was handsome! He had girls all over him. In his high school yearbook his favorite saying is listed: “If I’m not near the girl I love, I love the girl I’m near!” I heard him say it an awful lot. He served his country in the military. He served his town as a policeman and then his state for several decades as a New Jersey state trooper and then a detective.

I guess I thought I had the coolest brother in the world.

But over the years, the communications have gotten down to once or twice a year. I just don’t like picking up the telephone. I don’t like hearing the answering machine tell me to leave a message. Or, when you call, you sense they were in the middle of something and you chose a bad time to chat.

I’m so totally enamored by the vast internet and all it has to offer. I love being able to communicate with all our kids in one stroke – just like I did this morning, when I sent off Uncle John’s photograph and told them all how I enjoyed visiting with him and about how good he’s looking.

“He’s stubborn, though,” I wrote to them. “I couldn’t get anywhere in my effort to get him to hook up to the wireless, wonderful world of email and the internet.”

I’ll put some photographs in an envelope this morning and “stick a stamp on it” and get a little note off to him. Geez, that’s a lot of work when I could just be tapping out a little email to him and attaching a half dozen photos to it.

“John, did you know Jackie Robinson was born up there in Cairo, Georgia, just across the Florida line? After I left you, I visited the spot where his house stood and I got chills and felt like I was walking on sacred ground!”

I’d attach a photo I took of the monument sign that the historical society has placed there. My brother would understand the feeling I got. He played the game the way Robinson did. He was Mr. Hustle. No doubt about it.


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Sunday, March 27, 2011

America’s Giant Corporations Suck America Dry

General Electric (GE) is only one example of…
by Charlie Leck

Here's a NY Times story that was published on 24 March 2011 about GE’s very lucrative profits in 2010. In the interest of full disclosure, we own a relatively (“relatively” is the operative word) significant amount of GE stock.

Jesus! Is it all that difficult to figure out what is so wrong with finances in America? Why do we have gigantic budget deficits? Why have we wrung up such a huge national debt?

Why do we want to climb out of this dark hole on the backs of the elderly and the lower middle classes?

I urge you to read the entire story, but here is its essence.

GENERAL ELECTRIC is the nation’s largest corporation.

In 2010 it had a huge year in terms of profits. (14.2 billion dollars world-wide and 5.1 billion in the U.S.)

It paid no federal corporate income taxes to the U.S. on last year’s income.

It claimed a 3.2 billion dollar tax benefit from the U.S.

The story is a long one (6+ typed pages) and it’s not enjoyable Sunday morning reading

By the way, MinnPost pointed out last week that 3M’s Chief Executive Officer, George Buckley, pulled down over 23 million dollars last year in salary, bonuses and stock option values (see Wall Street Journal report of his income). For additional interesting reading about Buckley, MinnPost also ran this interesting commentary on Buckley’s attitude about government and taxes.


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Friday, March 25, 2011

On the Road to Damascus

I'm supposed to be on a golfing vacation, but my hip has broken down and I can't play. I'm limping my way back home and doing plenty of thinking to pass the time.
by Charlie Leck

I have always thought there are two versions of Christianity. I'm not going to get into theological debates about this because those of very fundamentalist faith are not going to accept these notions; however, to me, as one who doesn't approach scripture from a literal perspective, the notion makes sense.

This is more an argument of history and literary analysis than it is one of theology. In technical terms the two versions could be called (1) Pre-Pauline and/or Early Gospel, while the other could be called (2) Pauline or Altered Gospel.

I brought along on this trip to the South a copy of Tom Robbins' book, Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. I'd read it sometime ago and wrote about it here. The work has fairly haunted me since I finished that first reading. It has a rich, rich vocabulary to which I didn't give fair attention. Many of the creamy, hot-chocolate topped words he uses in the account deserve more consideration than I gave them. More, however, the book also contains some very interesting theological thinking; and one thought was especially interesting to me and bolstered a concept about Christianity I've carried around in my back pocket for a long, long time. Here's how Robbins opens one of his chapters.
"Damascus is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.

"It was on the road to Damascus (then already six thousand yeas old) that the apostle Paul (formerly Saul) suffered an epileptic seizure. Pounded to his knees by the relentless strobe of the sun, an egg-white mousse of spittle sudsing from his baked lips, Paul imagined he heard the big boom-boom voice of God (formerly Yahweh) admonishing him to scorn sensuality, snub women, and subdue nature, instructions that he subsequently incorporated into the foundation of the early Church (what came to be called Christianity was really Paulinism)."
In fact, the writings of Paul -- a man who had never met the Nazarene named Jesus -- became the backbone and foundation of the early church (though there is pretty clear evidence that some of Paul's original letters and plenty of the gospels were tampered with here and there to provide authority for the standing and importance of the institutional church.

The notion, for example, that salvation is exclusive only to those who recognize the Great Church and accept the Christ that it represents is a concept invented some years after the death of the kind and loving man who was put to death on the cross.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Friend Freddy

Sitting in Alabama and thinking about Minnesota and how lucky we are that Freddy is a part of golf in our state.
by Charlie Leck

I am sitting down here along the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (RTJ GT). You don't need to be a golfer to appreciate this project and the marketing chutzpah behind it. Somebody had a good idea and they executed the idea to perfection. Now, thousands of golfers travel to Alabama to savor the wonderful golf along the trail. It's a big part of Alabama tourism. Cudoes to whomever came up with the idea. (If you're interested, you can visit the trail's web site here!)

Preparing to play my first round of golf on the trail makes me think of my friend Freddy. I've written about him here before in terms that he didn't find too flattering. First and foremost, before I say other things about him, he is, quite surprisingly, one of my really good friends and it is a friendship I cherish. Nevermind that he's quite directly the opposite of me in most respects; that is, he's a fundamentalist religious zealot (evangelical and saved) and he's pretty far out on the right when it comes to politics.

Before I go further, the question is what makes me think of Fred as I sit here on the RTJ GT? Well, Fred knows a thing for two about marketing and (though sometimes he plays the game of it) he no man's fool. Lots of people think of Fred when they think of Minnesota Golf. He's an avid player, but that's not the reason he's so closely associated with the sport in our state. As a resort owner and manager, he spotted the genius behind the trail down here in Alabama and how it drew golfers from Minnesota in the winter time. He asked himself (and other resort owners) a simple question: If it will work in Alabama in the winter time, why won't it work here in the summer time? Surely Alabama golfers (and players from other southern states as well) wouldn't mind escaping the dense heat and humity of deep south summers in exchange for the moderate climate of northern Minnesota.

So, Fred advocated that his resort build the first really top-notch resort golf course in the state. It took some convincing because the investors in his resort and its Board of Directors were a bit on the conservative side. They were doing all right as it was. Why go down this potentially slippery slope.

Fred managed to convince the Board; and the The Pines at Grandview Lodge was built. We're taking our grandchildren and children up to Grandview this summer to spend a week together. They'll all get to meet Fred and I'll be proud to introduce him. Some of us will get to play on Freddy's golf courses -- not only The Pines, but also at Deacon's Lodge and The Preserve.

Fred's project inspired other resort owners in the Brainerd Lakes area to follow-suit. A number of handsome, challenging and enjoyable new golf courses were built and (voila) the Brainerd Golf Trail was created. And, Minnesota tourism was given a booster shot when golfers across the deep south heard about the courses and the mdoerate temperatures in northern Minnesota.

As my family will find out, there's more than golf in this remarkable resort area. There's plenty of other fun as well -- fun on the wonderful lakes and family fun in dozens of spots throughout the region (horseback riding, amusement parks, water parks, hiking and biking trails and plenty of good, little summer stock theater and fine, fine restaurants). Plenty of local businesses up there benefited from Freddy's big idea.

Freddy has been touted as Mr. Golf in Minnesota by many people and organizations. You can read about the Brainerd Golf Trail here. You can read about Grandview Lodge here.

I wish I was at home so I could post a photo of Fred for you -- along with this blog -- but that will need to wait for another time. Perhaps it's a break for you, because Freddy has a face that can frighten small children and women. (Just kidding, Freddy!) In spite of my mistreatment of you, you are a dear and worthy friend.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Thoughts of Love

Singin' a country song as I drove!
by Charlie Leck

I was driving across the panhandle of northwest Florida yesterday. I wasn't in a hurry. Time was on my side and it was a beautiful day in spring.

I'd been listening to National Public Radio as I drove, but every 50 miles or so I'd lose the local station that was sending it out and I had to go hunting for another outlet. Finally I gave up and just let the radio cruise over to one or another of (it seemed) a thousand country and western stations coming out of Flordia, Georgia and Alabama. The change would be good for me. There's something soothing about the country sound.

Someone was crooning (and I should be able to tell you who it was, but I can't) a soothing love song. Crazy, I thought! It says everything I'd like to say about my wife. I'll save the lyrics and put them in a card to her sometime. Oh, heck! If you'll excuse the personal stuff, I'll put them here right now to let her know how much I'm missing her...
You're in my heart, you're in my soul
You'll be my breath should I grow old
You are my lover, you're my best friend
You're in my soul

My love for you is immeasurable
My respect for you immense
You're ageless, timeless, lace and fineness
You're beauty and elegance

You're a rhapsody, a comedy
You're a symphony and a play
You're every love song ever written
But Honey, what do you see in me?

You're in my heart, you're in my soul
You'll be my breath should I grow old
You are my lover, you're my best friend
You're in my soul

That's it. I kept singing the words to myself as the miles sped by and Mobile drew closer.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Stan Fish Gets it Right on Wisconsin

What happened in Wisconsin really had me thinking. The whole thing smelled real bad and it got me sick!
by Charlie Leck

I'm on vacation, but I'm keeping up on my reading and, as I regularly do, I've been reading the NY Times. I came across Stanley Fish's latest piece about Wisconsin and its teachers' unions.

This is the best piece I've read to counter what recently happened to teachers' unions in Wisconsin. There's lots of reasons I'm angry at the Wisconsin Governor (not least among those reasons is his relationship with the horrid Koch brothers), but I'm not going there today -- not enough time while I'm down here in Mobile trying to relax on a little golfing vacation.

If you're shaky on the issues in Wisconsin, I urge you to read this piece by one of my favorite columnists (opinionators). Here's just a little taste of what he's saying in that column...
"Governor Walker of Wisconsin cites budgetary woes as the reason for taking away the bargaining rights of public sector unions, but everyone knows that his real reason is to reduce union membership (why join and pay dues if there is no longer any strength in numbers?) and thus dry up support that would have gone largely to Democratic candidates. Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (shouldn't there be a patent on names?) makes it official: 'If we win this battle and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions... President Obama is going to have a... much more difficult time getting elected.'"

Hope you take the time to read the whole piece!

The Pres Got it Right in Libya

I'm on vacation and trying not to watch too much of this stuff, but I have to laugh at some politicians who are just nuts!
by Charlie Leck

Jerks like Senators Joe Liebermann and John McCain have been criticizing the President for being way too slow in getting us involved in Libya. They're a couple of hair-trigger cowboys and I'm glad neither ever made it to the oval office. Cry-baby House Speaker Boehner is also kind of whacko on this issue. He's also criticizing the President, claiming the mission for our involvement in Libya is not clearly stated and he also thinks we were late to get in there.

In fact, our President did a masterful job on this one. First he made sure that he built a solid coalition of nations to do the job (and its not the flimsy/phony coalition that George W claimed to have put together before our invasion of Iraq). Obama was smart to make sure the French flew the first sortie against the dictator of Libya. Other nations are very solid behind the Obama plan and the United Nations resolution.

President Obama showed real toughness on this issue. He let concerned nations know that we weren't going in unless they fully shared in this mission.

I've been tough on you, Mr. President, but you got this one just right!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Japan on My Mind

What can one say that would be worthy? I weep for you Japan!
by Charlie Leck

I can’t yet look Japan in the eye! Not yet. What could anyone write about it? The devastation is overwhelming and I don’t believe we’ve yet seen how gruesome it is. They are saying that more than 10,000 have perished. How many more than that? What is yet to come?

What can one do but consider how tiny is the speck we are in the mightiness of the universe and its mysteries? So many parts of existence are out of our control. We must, must, must do better with that which we might control.

“The photographs!” My wife points to them, but her voice breaks and she cannot say much more. There was something else -- very hushed -- but I don't want to pursue it.

I find it difficult to look at the photographs or to read the stories. I seldom get beyond the first line or two.

One, on the other side of the globe, feels so helpless. I'm left only to consider those I love and, of course, my thoughts turn to the grandchildren.

"Be kind, I beg you!"

I've uttered those words to you before, but in such a moment of global sadness it seems it is all I can find to say now. You need to figure out how to apply that advice.

My good Christian and Islamic friends are upon their knees because it is all they can do right now. It is the only power they have; however, they believe it is a mighty one.

The weeping that I do inside -- within my inner being and soul -- is my prayer. It sways between outrage and confusion.

"Oh, how mighty are thou and how mighty are thy deeds!"

How infinitesimally small are we within the universe!


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Monday, March 14, 2011

Geography Lesson: Eritrea

I finally pulled out the map in order to keep a promise I made some time ago!
by Charlie Leck

I’m not bad at geography, but I admitted a couple of weeks ago that the location of Bahrain stumped me when it became big-time in the news. Last week I visited Nordstrom’s men’s clothing department (which, by the way, I give 5-star reviews) and ran into one of the loveliest sales clerks. She sold me a couple of very nice items I would not otherwise have purchased and part of it was her cool and charming smile. Her name is Eden Asfaha, so if you ever go to the Nordstrom store out in the Mall of America, looking to by men’s clothing, look her up. You’ll get one of the biggest smiles in the business. My wife was along and she also liked Eden.

My point here, though, is that I was visibly confused when she told me she was from Eritrea. My face showed it.

“You don’t know where that is?” She looked a bit surprised. I tried to act suave and I thought I’d fake it, but quickly realized the pit-falls in such an approach.

I promised her I’d locate it as soon as I got home and that I’d read about the nation.

“Sure,” she said in a subtle, mocking way. “May I help you with anything else?”

I’m going back out there tomorrow, to prepare for a little trip I’m making to Florida and Alabama, and I’ll see if I can find her and prove to her that I did my home work – and I need a thing or two in the way of clothing.

Now, tell me, would you have known, on a totally unexpected pop-quiz, where Eritrea is? If you’re like one of my kids, who loves to travel the world, you’d probably know – but, otherwise not!

The major cites of this nation that is about the size of Pennsylvania (much larger than I expected it to be) are Asmara (it’s capital, with about a half-million people) and Adekeieh, Afabet, Assab, Barentu, Dekemhare, Ghinda, Keren, Massawa, Mendefera and Tessenie. All these cities, excluding Keren, are under 30,000 in population. Keren is about 57,000. Now, these are cities that all flow trippingly off the tongue and are mighty familiar (not). The entire population is under six million.

I was surprised to learn that 50 percent of the population is Christian (mainly Orthodox) and slightly under half is Muslim.

The nation is on the eastside of the African continent, just up into the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden. That’s all mysterious land to me and I don’t think I’m ever going to get to travel there. On most of Eritrea’s southern border is Ethiopia, though a small part of its border does touch Somalia on the southeast. Sudan is on it west and northwest. The Red Sea is on its northeast and east. Across the Red Seat to the northeast is Saudi Arabia, with Yemen is to the east. Eritrea is mainly an agricultural economy, but it does some mining of gold, copper, iron ore, potash and oil. It produces processed food, dairy products and alcoholic beverages and sells most of this to Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Sudan.

Our state department refers to the Eritrea government as transitional. The vote is open to every one of 18 years and more, though (again as our state department says) no elections have yet been held.

There’s no big punch line or finish to this blog. It’s just a little geography lesson. I’m trying to deal with this big jigsaw puzzle that is Africa and the Middle East. For instance, if you need another quiz that might stimulate you, tell me where Kyrgystan is?


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Sunday, March 13, 2011

I Ain’t No Rock Guy!

I heard these white guys from Mississippi singin’ on Public Radio yesterday and I went and bought an album of their stuff.
by Charlie Leck

Relax Mississippi! I’ve got somethin’ good to write about you today! You see, I heard these brothers on Public Radio yesterday (listen to the interview and some of their music here), and I had to go on line and buy one of their albums right then.

Weekend Edition featured Luther and Cody Dickinson on the radio yesterday. When their dad, Jim Dickinson, died they put together an album of songs as a memorial to him – Keys to the Kingdom.

I was impressed with both their story about the massive influence their dad had on them and their music. Ain’t No Grave was particularly touching and I felt the respect they had for their dad just seeping out of every note. I haven’t bought a music album in a long time – probably ten years, but I just had to have this one, so I downloaded it from iTunes (actin’ like a regular kid).

I like every single song, but I was most intrigued with Hear the Hills and I played it over and over… an edited version of the lyrics follow…

The sun is sinking lo
Into the Mississippi
The shadow of death
Darkens the valley
I have run
As far as I can
My days are done
Oh come angel band

I can hear the hills callin’ out my name
Goin’ up to heaven for to stake my claim
Call me my thunder
Call me my whisperin’ pine
I have seen proof of God and I don’t mind dyin’
I have the keys to the Kingdom…
I have for fathers ingin’ songs of old

Going up the mountain
Deep into the care
Ride the mighty elephant
Into the ocean’s wave
See that bolt of lightnin’ jump from cloud to cloud
Hear that roll of thunder call my name out loud

I can hear the hills callin’ out my name.
Going up to heaven for to stake my claim.
Call me my thunder
Call me whisperin’ pines
I have seen though not forgotten
And I don’t mind dyin’
I have the keys to the Kingdom
Granted passage to road paved of gold
I have the keys to the Kingdom
I have for fathers tellin’ tales of old.

Rest easy, partner
Your troubles now shall cease
Rest easy, Partner
May you now rest in Peace
Rest in Peace!

I can hear the hill callin’ out my name
Going up to heaven for to stake my claim

The brothers are from Hernando, Mississippi. I guess, if you had to define their music, you’d call it southern rock/blues, but I don’t really know. I just thought it was great listen’ and I loved the story of their father and how he influenced their music.

You can see and listen to them perform Hear the Hills on You Tube.


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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Mississippi: A Closed Society

Listen to a remarkable historical account – Mississippi: State of Siege!
by Charlie Leck

Yesterday I recommended to you (and I do again today) the extraordinary American Radio Works documentary about Mississippi’s incredible fight to remain segregated during the civil rights movements of the 1960s. Most of the material in the story that follows is derived from that documentary. The web site is filled with historical documentation of that era in Mississippi.

Eddie McDaniel was a truck driver. A white man who lived in Mississippi, he thought his state was a pretty good place to call home. In 1963, he was pretty fed up, however, by the federal government and its attempts to force “something down our throats.”

“We were already integrated,” McDaniel explained. “We had black maids in our homes.” These maids, McDaniel went on to explain, “even used our bathrooms, the same bathrooms we used!”

In 1963, Mr. McDaniel was invited by the United Klans of America to come to Louisiana for a chat. The conversation was inspirational. Mr. McDaniel returned to Mississippi to get the Klan organized to put a stop to the integration the federal government was forcing on Mississippi.

Eddie McDaniel did an effective job and new klansmen were recruited and local klans grew stronger in every one of Mississippi’s counties.

“Stand up and be counted!
Show the world you’re a man!
Stand up and be counted!
Go with the Ku Klux Klan!”

On the night of 11 June 1963, an extremely well-known, black civil rights worker, Medgar Evers, was murdered in the front yard of his home in Jackson, Mississippi by Byron de la Beckwith, a member of the Hines County KKK. He was cleared by a jury of his piers – 12 white folks from the city of Jackson and the area surrounding it.

A few nights earlier, Evers had spoken on Jackson’s major radio station about the racial atmosphere in Mississippi and had encouraged fellow black citizens of the state to register to vote. Evers’ appearance on the station had been forced by the Federal Communications Commission so that the opinions of other guests who had been given air time could be balanced.

The station’s telephone never stopped ringing while Evers was on the air. There are recordings of what they said.

“…better get his black ass off or I’m gonna come up there and take him off!”

“What are you people gonna do? Let blacks take over Mississippi.”

De la Beckwith waited in the dark night, hidden in some shrubbery. The 37 year old white man fired a high-power rifle and Medgar Evers didn’t stand a chance. He died a short time later in an ambulance.

“Stand up and be counted!
Show the world you’re a man!
Stand up and be counted!
Go with the Ku Klux Klan!”

Over the next one year period the KKK was responsible for many beatings, whippings and murders.

The American Radio Workshop tells this story in a remarkable documentary that it now features on its web site [click here to go to it]. None of the southern states fought integrations any more fiercely than Mississippi did. They pulled out all the stops – legal and illegal – to maintain their white schools, white public toilets, white drinking fountains, white cafes and restaurants and white waiting rooms at the railroad station.

Mississippi tried with all its might to stop the integration of its schools. The formation of White Citizens Councils in nearly every community was the major front of its effort. The Councils urged people to stick together against integration. It spread propaganda about the importance of integration among all the white children of the state. It contended that black children were unequal and incapable of succeeding in white schools.

The message of the Council was one of resistance. Stand firm! Don’t allow it. The violence of the summer of ’64 was too much, however. Mississippi’s business community broke and spoke up and against the violence. It proclaimed that theirs was not a state unto itself. The Mississippi Chamber of Commerce issued a statement calling for obedience to the law.

But the beginning of the end had really come to Mississippi in the autumn of ’62, when, after a ruling by the Federal Appeals Court, President John Kennedy had forced the enrollment of the first black student at Ole’ Miss (the University of Mississippi). Segregationists had fought wildly against it, but the might of the U.S. and its forces turned the tide. James Meredith became the first black to enroll in the Mississippi University.

The John F. Kennedy Library presents a remarkable account of the violent forced enrollment of Meredith as the first white student in the school’s history. It’s sad that two people had to die and dozens and dozens were injured for what we today consider a quite ordinary event, but this was Mississippi, a state like no other.

On the day after Meredith’s enrollment, the university town of Oxford seemed to return to normal, but on the American Radio Works documentary you can hear White Citizens Council member, William Simmons, deliver the historic assessment. He described standing in his home, looking out at Oxford and watching the white citizens strolling by as if nothing really historic had happened. He spoke to his wife.

“These people have just been deprived of the power of self government and they don’t even know it.”

The constitutional question was the essential one, however. May a government deprive someone of an education based on the color of his skin?

“Stand up and be counted!
Show the world you’re a man!
Stand up and be counted!
Go with the Ku Klux Klan!”

The next two years in Mississippi were hot ones.

It was on the night of 16 June 1964 that the Klan went on up to the Mount Zion Methodist Church and burned it down. Michael Schwerner, a civil rights worker from New York City, had set up a Freedom School in the church. The klansmen didn’t like that. And, they hated Schwerner. They knew he’d have to come running to find out what happened at the church.

On Sunday, 21 June, he did. He brought a couple of companions along with him. One was James Chaney, a local, young black kid who was working with Schwerner out of Meridian, Mississippi. The other was a young man who had just arrived in Mississippi to help with the Voter Registration Project, Andrew Goodman. This kid was also from New York City. He lived with his parents on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan.

They went out to Longdale and chatted with a handful of the members of the church. Schwerner expressed his sympathies and his feeling of guilt that it might have been his Freedom School that motivated the arsonists.

On their way back to Meridian that afternoon, they were stopped by a Philadelphia police officer and all three ended up in the city’s jail, awaiting charges. Late that night they were given the keys to their station wagon and released from the jail.

I was on a train (The City of New Orleans) and, according to a journal I carried with me, we were stopped in the railroad station in Memphis, Tennessee. Some cars were being removed from the train and we jerked and bumped around for some long time before we pulled out again to continue on south into Mississippi. It was impossible to sleep.

I expect I was looking out the window, into the dark night, when the three young men realized a police car was bearing down on them at a very high speed, so they turned off the highway in hopes of losing the trailing car on some dark back roads. It was a mistake. On Cut Rock Road, the three youngsters were lined up on a bank across from the road’s ditch and they were shot and killed one by one.

“Stand up and be counted!
Show the world you’re a man!
Stand up and be counted!
Go with the Ku Klux Klan!”

The City of New Orleans was rolling down through Mississippi. It would arrive in the city of Canton at just after sunrise. The news of the disappearance of the three civil rights workers would spread like wildfire and would greet my arrival and that of the three men who traveled with me.

A dozen or so men were involved in the murder. No one went to prison until one man was finally convicted of manslaughter in 2005, more than 40 years after the murders. More than a dozen men, who had been implicated in two confessions, are still free.

It was only one of the killings of that year, but it was certainly the most highly publicized because two of the young men were white and from New York City. A number of black churches were burned to the ground that summer. However, reporters from around the world were now in the state and they drew more and more international attention. Mississippi was exposed.

In the summer of ’65 a new voting act was passed by Congress. Before that law only 7 percent of blacks in Mississippi were registered to vote. By ’69, 40 percent were registered.

The White Citizens Council started building its own schools in 1965. They were private academies. The public schools became nearly all black. The schools turned out to be pretty inferior. Communities went broke trying to support two school systems. The White Citizen Council’s movement was fading and it quickly died.

The same Eddie McDaniel with whom we began this account – the KKK organizer in Mississippi – told the FBI in 1967 that it had likely been Klansmen from Ferriday and Natchez that, in 1964, murdered a black shop owner in Ferriday because of complaints that he had been flirting with white women. The FBI looked carefully into the charge and investigated the five men. One of them was a Sheriff’s Deputy in Concordia Parish.

The five men were all members of a so-called Silver Dollar Group, a special and highly militant group made up of Klan members from three other Klan organizations. McDaniel explained that the purpose of the group was to fight desegregation with violence if necessary. In this case, as in so many other murders of black Mississippi citizens, no charges were ever brought.

“Stand up and be counted!
Show the world you’re a man!
Stand up and be counted!
Go with the Ku Klux Klan!”

It would seem, as the 60s came to an end, that Mississippi had changed and the violence should have been over and the KKK a relic of history. This was not the case. In his history of the KKK in Mississippi, Michael Newton explains that the brutality went on.

“Old-style racist violence persisted in the ‘new’ Mississippi,” he wrote in that book [The Klu Klux Klan in Mississippi: A History].

Rainey Pool found that out the hard way. He was a one-armed sharecropper just trying to make a living. On 12 April 1970, a mob of whites confronted Mr. Pool outside a bar in the town of Louise. They beat him near to death and then dumped him into the Sunflower River. He drowned and the police found his corpse two days later. The police arrested four suspects and one of them confessed. A judge dismissed the indictments against the four on the grounds that the confession was improperly obtained.

“One month later, on 14 May, Jackson police and highway patrolmen fired on unarmed students at all-black Jackson State College, killing two and wounding twelve more. Highway patrol inspector Lloyd ‘Goon’ Jones called for ambulances on his radio and announced that ‘We got some niggers dyin’.” [Michael Newton, The Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi: A History, p. 183]

“Stand up and be counted!
Show the world you’re a man!
Stand up and be counted!
Go with the Ku Klux Klan!”

And, we can remember the emergence of David Duke as a viable political candidate in nearby Louisiana. He organized the National Socialist White People’s Party. He was arrested twice in 1972 for manufacturing firebombs. He was an avid promoter of the KKK and a major reformist of its operations. Duke welcomed Catholics and also women. He peddled Nazi literature among them. Duke ran for Governor of his state in 1975. He drew strong campaign support and financing from white Mississippi.

Newton points out and documents KKK activities in Mississippi that lasted throughout the 70s and well into the 80s and even the 90s.

Mississippi stubbornly clung to its status as a closed and segregated society. Its white academies persist into today even though most communities cannot afford them. My return to Canton in 2008 showed me a Mississippi community that is as effectively closed and segregated today as it was in 1964. Of course there are superficial changes. The “colored only waiting room” at the railroad station was gone and so were the “colored only drinking fountains.” Yet, the total separation of black and white cultures persist. The black neighborhoods through which we drove looked as down-trodden in 2008 as they did in 1964 and they were definitely completely separated from the homes and neighborhoods of the community’s white citizens.

There were plenty of yards in which we saw the Confederate flag flying proudly and the black folks of Canton were still as surprised and suspicious to see us exploring their neighborhoods as they were by our arrival in 1964.

Indeed, Mississippi remains Mississippi!


Another web site that might interest you: The Mississippi Truth Project (it tries to “bring to light racially motivated crimes and injustices committed in Mississippi between 1945 and 1975.”)


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Friday, March 11, 2011

Mississippi: The Closed Society

Listen to an extraordinary historical account – Mississippi: State of Siege!... and other remarkable stories...
by Charlie Leck

Last Thursday (March 10), I was due to have lunch with someone. Driving toward the designated spot, I had, as usual, Minnesota Public Radio tuned in on the car’s audio system. The on-air personality promoted the day’s noon-hour show: Mississippi: State of Siege – an account, he said, of the state that fought the most strenuously to hold off integration within its society and how they did it through the White Citizens Councils.

“Well, gosh dern’ it all! What a time to put a show like that on – when a guy’s gotta go have lunch wid’ a buddy!”

I told my friend what he was causing me to miss. He reminded me that all these shows are archived now and I need only go on-line and listen at my convenience.

“Hot dang! Let’s eat! That duck confit salad looks good!”


Here’s where you can listen to this extraordinary radio report that will show you just how hard the white citizens of Mississippi tried to fight off the integration of its carefully constructed segregated society.

Better yet, here's the America Radio Works web site that gives you loads of information about Mississippi’s incredible battle against forced integration.

You regular readers will recall that I wrote a series of blogs here about my Mississippi experiences (both in 1964 and in 2008). Those have been published as a small book (66 pages) and The Mississippi Blogs can be ordered here – at the Lulu Publication web site. Any proceeds I might receive from the sale of these books will be donated to KIVA.

We are also publishing all of my blogs from 2007 in 4 volumes and the first volume will be ready soon. Again, I’ll let you know when the book is ready for purchase.


Another of my books, My Town (essays from 1992-’93 about living here in my small town), has been republished and will be available for purchase very soon. I’ll let you know when that book will be available (and proceeds of the sale will also go to KIVA.

Tomorrow I’ll write about the extraordinary radio show and web site, Mississippi: State of Siege!


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If you read my blog regularly, why not become a follower? All you have to do is click in the upper right hand corner and establish a simple means of communication. Then you'll be informed every time a new blog is posted here. If all that's confusing, here's Google's explanation of how to do it! If you don’t want to post comments on the blog, but would like to communicate with me about it, send me an email if you’d like.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


I'm using an essay this morning that I wrote nearly 20 years ago -- long before we knew anything about blogging!
by Charlie Leck
I wrote the following essay nearly 20 years ago. It is about my own bibliomania, about book-burning (or book banning) and about one of the finest, dearest men I've ever known. The essay comes from a book we privately published in 1994. I came upon it because we are now republishing the book because a number of people have expressed a wish to own a copy.
Books are dangerous. Oh, not the ideas they present or represent. That’s ridiculous. I’m no book burner. Can’t imagine how such things happen. Kurt Vonnegut writes about his books being burned by angry school administrators and the parents of students. Gad! Slaughterhouse-Five is one of the most important and extraordinary books I’ve ever read. That anyone could think ideas and propositions can be destroyed by burning the vessels which carry them is well... well... Well, what would we call it down here on the farm? Horsefeathers? Vonnegut writes:
“When I was new at such discussions [about the First Amendment] I insouciantly asked a fundamentalist Christian opponent (“Oh, come on now, Reverend”) if he knew of anyone who had been ruined by a book. (Mark Twain claimed to have been ruined by salacious parts of the Bible.)...

“The books he and his supporters wanted out of the school, one of mine among them, were not pornographic, although he would have liked our audience to think so. (There is the word “motherfucker” one time in my Slaughterhouse-Five, as in “Get out of the road, you dumb motherfucker.” Ever since that word was published, way back in 1969, children have been attempting to have intercourse with their mothers. When it will stop no one knows.) The fault of Slaughterhouse-Five, James Dickey’s Deliverance, J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, several books by Judy Blume, and so on, as far as the Reverend was concerned was that neither their authors nor their characters exemplified his notion of ideal Christian behavior and attitudes.”
I am troubled by any attempt to attack or weaken the First Amendment, but I am most disturbed by those who would ban books. Nevertheless, there are times when it is a temptation to suspend our right to the freedoms of speech and press. For example, this morning’s Wall Street Journal carries an eerie story about a publication we all knew as children — The Weekly Reader. It seems this esteemed, old, children’s newspaper is now controlled by RJR Nabisco Holdings Corporation (one of America’s largest cigarette manufacturers). So, last week a story ran in the Weekly Reader, which defended smokers’ rights. Anyone smell a rat? Or a cheap cig? It’s tempting, under such circumstances, to want to censor such articles, to protect our malleable children, even from The Weekly Reader. However, we civil libertarian types (me, not you) must bite the bullet and remember our own staunch defense of the sanctity of freedom of expression. You do remember what the First Amendment says, don’t you?
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances.”
I have a passion for books — a bibliomania. (The word is defined by John Carter, in his forty year old book, ABC for Book Collectors, as: “Literally, a madness for books. A bibliomaniac is a book collector with a slightly wild look in his eye.” )

The notion that anyone would destroy Ulysses, by Joyce, or Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover, or any book, really raises my hackles. But, in fact, thousands and thousands of copies of each of these novels have been burned all over America.

One morning, early this spring, I stopped into one of my favorite bookstores/coffee shops for a cup of coffee and some quiet time over the newspaper. An angry woman approached me. She is the mother of one of our child’s fellow students. She wanted to divulge to me the kind of books our kids were being subjected to at the venerable private school they attend. With a strong sense of urgency in her voice, she explained that we needed to form a parents’ committee to review and approve or disapprove the reading lists given to students. One book, which her son had been assigned to read, particularly offended her. The book? A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris. I wanted no controversy that morning, so I avoided sharing with this mother my dislike for book burners. Nevertheless, she went on. She showed me a photocopy of a short story taken from an anthology her son had been forced to buy from the school.

“Just read this,” she stammered at me, “this underlined part.” She pointed to the words under which she had carefully drawn thin straight lines. I should have refused to read the words out of their context, but I didn’t. They were explicit and erotic. I grunted out some kind of surprise that her son, a ninth grader, would be assigned such a reading.

“Oh, he wasn’t,” she told me, “it’s just included in the collection. I found it when I examined the book.” She spoke with the smugness of a health inspector who had just found nests of roaches in the pantry of the nation’s fanciest restaurant. Her lips pursed in distaste. I grew impatient. I struggled to remain polite. She pushed across to me the entire reading list for the high school. Next to the titles of the books that offended her, she had placed tiny, neat, little asterisks.

“I don’t want my son to read these. He is not prepared for such language and such descriptions.”

I tried to explain how inadequately parents understand their children during these teenage years. She did not concur. She knew her children, by gosh! She let me know that, boy! I drew slowly on the big cup of café au lait (now only mildly warm). My participation on a committee to review the reading list was desired. I was curious about the other participants on the committee. Well, there were none yet, she told me. I would be the first. I grew nervous. I could see waves in my coffee cup as I lifted it for another sip. As politely as possible, I explained that I could not participate on such a committee. Such an organization, I told her, would not be wise. The angry mother grew discouraged and began to gulp her coffee. She brushed muffin crumbs from the lap of her skirt. I could see that, in her mind, she was grouping me with the perverted teachers in the high school.

She departed in such haste that she left behind the photocopy of the offensive short story. Though I should have been heading back to the farm, where some chores were awaiting my attention, I slowly read the fourteen page short story, called The Babysitter, by Robert Coover. Indeed, it is filled with erotically descriptive prose. However, it is a spectacularly accurate portrait of a teenage boy’s fantasy-filled mind. In short (the pun is intended), it was a very good story. I found it hard to believe that any youngster would be pushed over the edge, into a life of sexual perversion, by reading it. Quite the opposite, I supposed that the story would help young boy-men understand that the fantasies and images alive in their brains are quite normal to all of us.

I needed to hit the road, but I found and purchased a copy of the “condemned” Michael Dorris book. Walking to the car, I read the publisher’s review clips printed on the book’s cover and inside front page
“Memorable! Marvelous! Powerful! Dazzling!” The critics’ raves seemed unanimous.

“Remarkable psychological density,” the New York Times said.

And our paper, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, wrote: “Dorris handles his theme with as much delicacy as he does power.”

These newspapers must be controlled by commie, left-wing pigs dedicated to the moral corruption of our children and the overall destruction of our society. Must be!

“A flat-out, wonderful book,” the New York Daily News said.

“Funny,” I thought, “I’ve never associated this paper with the radical left before.”

“A strong, beautiful tapestry... a pleasure to behold,” wrote the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Again, the Plain Dealer is not a newspaper normally linked with the Northeastern cabal dedicated to controlling the nation. Geez, what would they think of us in Cleveland if we banned this book from our school. I chuckled and drove back to my town, to begin the spring clean-up around the farm.

Early next morning, I read A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. My initial reaction, upon putting it down, was that I needed to be a woman to fully understand it. Wait though! The author is a man. He rose high enough to see clearly beyond his masculinity. For many days after that, the vivid descriptions that the novel pressed into my mind kept streaming back. What an extraordinary, sensitive account. I would be proud to know that any child of mine had read and understood it.

Books are dangerous because they can lead to a mania. One can enjoy the sight and feel of them so much that one can become irrational about collecting them.

I inched across the border from my town this morning, to visit my friend, John Daniels. It was a vigorous, beautiful October day. Though the sun shone brightly, without a single cloud in the broad, blue sky to interfere, the air was crisp and chilly.

“Perfect,” the weatherman shouted through my car radio. “This is the reason we live in Minnesota!” Indeed, it was that kind of morning. Glorious shades of gold, yellow and red were spread across the countryside. The lakes and ponds glimmered dazzlingly beneath the unabated sunshine.

As I turned into the Daniels’ driveway, my heart began to pound excitedly. The colors around their lovely house were breathtaking. I couldn’t believe that John was nearly all packed up, ready to make the trek back to his winter home in South Carolina. This was no time to leave Minnesota.

I suppose John Daniels is 30 years my senior. I have tremendous respect for him, but it has nothing to do with his age. He is exceedingly bright. He is invariably composed — unceasingly a gentleman. He is a golfing buddy. He is a bibliophile.

John is exciting to observe. He is constantly vibrant, enthusiastic and optimistic. He appears to savor each breath of life. He displays a constant smile across his lips and cheeks and in his eyes. It appears that he doesn’t know how to walk. Instead, his gait is a half-trot. Very short, his body is strong and square. He still has a full head of black hair that he slicks straight back. His eye-brows are massive, bushy and tangled. They haven’t been trimmed in years. Obviously, he likes them that way. He wears half-glasses when he reads, so they won’t interfere with the extensive amount of hair on his brow.

The Daniels’ home is wondrous, but not huge. Nor is it elaborate. It is artistic and tasteful. It was designed for contemplation, meditation and study. It was built for books. Across from a modest but welcoming foyer is a large, round drawing room. A very big window gives a panoramic view of a small pond and a spectacular pre-settlement forest. The room is lined with white bookshelves. There my bibliophilic friend keeps one of the nation’s finest collections of rare English and American sporting books. Each volume has a history of ownership that John seems to know intimately.

On this day, we discussed bindings. It is because I mentioned to John that I was taking a class in the subject. Excitedly he invited me to inspect a variety of styles produced by many of the master book binders (Zaehnsdorf of London; Birdsall of Northhampton; Riviere & Son of Bath; René Kieffer of Paris). John glowed with excitement each time he pulled another from its spot on the bookshelves. Quickly it became clear that he was ascending a ladder of quality and planned to culminate this private exhibit with his pièce de résistance. I touched each volume carefully, allowing myself time to feel the textures and to examine the craftsmanship. The sunshine beamed through the expansive window and warmed the large room. The extraordinary volumes, accumulating on a large table, warmed by soul. What glorious, stupendous works of art.

I watched John carefully and saw the “slightly wild look in his eye.” He had “literally, a madness for books.” My pulse also throbbed maniacally. I tried to will the earth to slow its revolutions so that the sun would not move so high, that it would continue to toss its rays into the room. But, John looked at his watch and reminded me that we had a tee-time.

Carefully, we restored each volume to its own particular place on the shelves. As I handled them, I thought of the “madness” of those frightened little souls who tried to dash ideas and explorations of the mind by burning books. Their mania is destructive and corruptive. John’s mania? Wondrous! Let me explain.

As we lunched before our round of golf, John announced his decision to donate his entire collection to a library in Virginia. He heard the catch in my breath. He explained. “So other bibliophiles will enjoy them! So researchers in sporting history may examine them. So they will remain together and be protected for as long as possible.” He spoke as a father about to let go of a child because the time had come to set him free.

As he spoke I saw in one of his eyes the slightest hint of a tear, not completely hidden by his vast, bushy eye-brows.


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