Zensights provides a space for gentle contemplation in a world filled with hectic action and stressed-out situations.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Unsung Heroes

I have always had a deep and abiding affection for the Navy, being a Jacksonville girl and all. Maybe that is because my father was a sailor during the Second World War and during the Korean Conflict. Maybe it was because I loved watching those handsome midshipmen on the television during the Army/Navy game that my father watched annually. Probably it is because the Naval Air Station has been almost directly across the St. Johns River from all the houses I have lived in. For many years I have watched all manner of aircraft float laboriously in and out of that airfield. My childhood bedroom window lay directly under the summer flight pattern, and I was often awakened by terrifying, landing lights. I was terrified by these massive, groaning weapons of war; but I was comforted in that I knew they were there to protect my family and me.

I came to recognize the hurricane hunters, which were bravely scouting out those demon storms so that we civilians could weather them safely. I came to recognize the radar planes with their massive disks on their backs that probably were monitoring enemy submarines. Jets streaked loudly by and almost too fast to perceive. And then, there were the P-3s whose graceful "touch and g0" exercises that circled our games and lives.

During the Cold War, we nearby residents knew (although we never articulated the fact) that we were all living at ground zero should there ever be a nuclear attack by the Russians or other enemy. We would be gone in a blink of an eye should it ever come to a nuclear holocaust, but who actually wanted to survive that? It was hardly a question we wanted to contemplate as we went to our classes, our football games, our churches and our drive-in movies. Thankfully, such nightmares have faded as the years have gone by. My children have never been part of the "duck and cover" drill or the evacuation exercises that would have carried elementary children to Hastings, Florida, for safe keeping until the all-clear was sounded.

As an adolescent, I somehow sensed the presence of myriad handsome American service men dutifully assembled just across the river--thousands of them--good, bad, kind, extraordinary--all of them sons, some husbands and fathers. In some cosmic way their combined energy had been communicated to me and probably to all the young women who lived near them. They were and still are America's finest. I would all but swoon at the notion of a man in uniform--a dark blue, bell bottomed "cracker jack" uniform. Perhaps, that was why so many mothers warned their daughters to watch out for sailors. We just might have sailed away with them if given half a chance.

Of course, times have changed. I recall a poster I that had in college. It was of a 1920s female dressed in a navy uniform, and the caption read, "I wish I were a man so that I could join the Navy." Little did this flapper know that women would someday be sailors themselves, living lives of adventure on the sea and in the air‑‑flying monstrous aircraft in the skies just above my head.

On spring days when the windows are opened, I can often hear the droning of the aircraft engines some miles away across the water. It is then that I am reminded of the sacrifices made. I am reminded of two pilots--one male, one female--who lost their lives in my immediate vicinity when their aircrafts crashed. I am reminded of all the human lives dedicated to my protection and that of my country. I guess that's when my imagination can just make out the sound of a great chorus singing the words of the "Navy Hymn" in the wind that stirs about me:

O Trinity of love and power
All Travelers guard in danger's hour.
From rock and tempest, fire and foe
Protect them whereso e're they go
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad praise from air and land and sea.


Friday, June 09, 2006

The Importance of Mantle Clocks

Not all my houses have had mantles. The first house I ever lived in was a ticky-tacky subdivision model that resembled all 300 other houses on a hill in Illinois. In this little efficiency home, there was no fireplace; therefore, no mantle. A gleaming furnace hummed away all winter with no need of a messy old fireplace.

The next house I lived in belonged to my grandparents, and it was old and creaky even then. It had a large fireplace in the living room. It was put there by a Mr. Brown when he constructed the house at the turn of the century, back when fires were needed to augment whatever heating contraption was used to keep the family from freezing to death during the winters.

I loved this fireplace, even when it wasn't in use. It was a gaping, sooty hole that mystified me; a place where Santa came and occasional raccoons tried to enter the house and upset the harmony of the family. My grandmother put a gigantic, potted fern in its hollow during the summer months which served as a jungle for my dolls. My grandfather fired it up regularly during the winter time so that we could "cut the chill" and drink our bedtime cocoa next to it.
Over this fireplace was a massive mantle which held a variety of things over the years. Candle sticks, photographs, awards and trophies, but the most memorable thing about this mantle was the beautiful, hand-carved mahogany clock which rang every hour on the hour.

I remember that when I first moved into the "old house," as we called it, I was awakened many times during the night as the mantle clock sang its little song, then tolled off the hour. Even as a child in a far distant bedroom, I wondered how any rational person could sleep through all that racket. It took me several nights of wakefulness, to finally make it through all the music.

Once I remember awakening in the middle of the night, not at all sure of what was bothering me. It wasn't until the next day that I realized that the clock had wound down because my grandmother was in the hospital and not home to wind the trusted old clock. Somehow, I was aware, subconsciously at least, that the hour had not been struck and it was so unsettling to my sensibilities that I awoke from a sound sleep.

When my family made the big move to Florida and there was no need for a fireplace, we sold the old mantle clock at a garage sale and it was years before I thought of it again. It came back to me when my husband and I found and bought a home with a fireplace and mantle. My in-laws gave us a lovely, mantle clock for our first Christmas we were in the house. It wasn't the mantle clock of my youth. This clock was a complicated mechanism that whirred and spun before your eyes under the protection of a dainty, glass bell jar. Even so this mantle clock sang a classical piece, something by Tchaikovsky, I think, every hour on the hour. Every hour on the hour of those first few days of ownership, I awoke remembering the comfort I had known at an earlier time in my life.

It still amazes me how important this new clock has become. I thought it was broken when actually the battery had just run down. I recall how heartsick I was until I figured out the problem and rectified it. Now, I keep a pack of fresh batteries in the house just in case there is a "rundown," or I might find myself sitting bolt upright in bed in the middle of the night trying to figure out what is not right.