It was a year ago this past week while on the first leg of my long anticipated Around the USA road trip. I was cruising along Interstate 40, eastbound at 80 miles an hour approaching Winslow, Arizona.
It was nearly 11:00 at night. I’d left Las Vegas 5 hours earlier and had a long trip ahead. Other than a few stops for naps I was determined to make it to Huntsville, Alabama, still 21 hours away, for my first layover to visit family.
Weeks earlier I’d researched the routing, and possible sightseeing stops. Now, nearing the first possibility at a spot in Winslow’s downtown corridor, I was having second thoughts. After all it was late and I found myself unsure I wanted to delay my momentum so early in the trip. Would it be worth the bother?
A check of my GPS indicated it was just a mile or so off the Interstate. Had it been five miles I probably wouldn’t have stopped. Turned out it was just too close to pass by.
Things you may or may not know. Revelations and a few more confessions.
1) I was born on December 6, 1952 in a small Pennsylvania town. Despite the realization I find myself on the downhill side of life, I’m hopeful there’s more miles and milestones ahead! Craig Newmark, the computer programmer, businessman and founder of Craigslist was born on the same exact day.
2) My parents were never married and my father died when I was 2. He was 31-years old.
3) I was adopted by my father’s sister. She would soon divorce her husband whose last name I bear today. I was raised by a single mother.
4) I’m a seventh generation American. One of my 4th great grandfathers came from Germany while another migrated from Sligo, Ireland. My heritage includes heroes and scoundrels. Some of them helped shape the future of the country serving in all ranks in both the War of Independence and the Civil War. Dig deep enough and you probably have them too.
5) I am very much a proud American and a patriot. As long as I can remember that’s always been true. I believe in American Exceptionalism.
I watched a movie a few nights ago about the writer Ernest Hemingway, probably the most influential writer of his time. Many of his works are considered classics of American literature. In 1964 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. But despite all his success and fame he was a troubled man. He made some awful decisions. His final one was to end his life with a shotgun.
In poker, decisions really matter. A big part of the game is inducing your opponents to make mistakes. Good and bad decisions can make the difference between sudden death or sitting behind a commanding stack of chips. It’s said, poker is a microcosim of life itself. It’s true and part of the reason I love the game so much. Still to be determined though, is whether my investment in it has been a good… or a bad decision.
I’ve never looked at my service in the Air Force as a sacrifice, nor as a selfless act. It was among the best years of my life and with them came many opportunities.
I came away from those days so much more the benefactor. I was blessed beyond measure to have been born in this country. It was the least I could do for it.
If I am a prideful person it’s for two reasons: I’m proud to have served in the military and I am a proud American.
On this day, while I salute all those who took the pledge — those who wear and wore the uniform — I remember especially those who I knew personally, those who never returned to their homes and family. The 6 crew members of a B-52 who frequented our fire station for the “good food and vending machines.” The F-105 pilot whose ejection seat malfunctioned killing him and another firefighter on my crew. And then finally a high school classmate, Robert Bolt “R.B.” Dickerson an 18 year old Marine killed in South Vietnam in May of 1971.
There were a few others I knew and served with who paid the ultimate price and whose names I don’t now recall. Of course there are tens of thousands more from that era and from various wars and conflicts before and after. It is them I think of today. Any other “sacrifice” pales in comparison.
On this day as we gather our families together with picnics and fireworks to celebrate our country’s independence I can’t help but think of my 2nd great-grandfather Edward Byron Patton. He was 34 years old on this date in 1860. Less than a year later Abraham Lincoln would become president. The father of 4 small children ages 1-6, the youngest, my great grandmother Mary Jane.
Edward Byron Patton
There was no celebration for Edward or his family on that Fourth of July and I would imagine it was tainted every year after. For on that morning his 27-year old wife Esther passed away. A newspaper account read that so greatly admired was she, and through respect to her memory in their small town, “all patriotic demonstrations were suspended and not an unnecessary sound was heard throughout the day.”
Edward never remarried and over all those years ahead, as a single father, he raised his children. Along the way he became a successful builder and contractor. I can imagine he was a beloved father, grandfather and patriarch.
I often think of what it must have been like for my great grandfather on that solemn day, traditionally set aside for happy celebration. I wonder what it would have been like to have watched him on that day conduct his affairs with the loss of his young wife. He was once a breathing living person, as real as you and I. Not just a name with dates and places among a long list of thousands who came before us. How I would like to set across the table from him and get to know him.
That’s a little of what I think about, every 4th of July.
Family History and the Story Tellers
The Young, Dashing Bret Maverick
I’ve been distracted of late, it isn’t the first time but this blog is never far from my mind. I’m always conflicted on what to write about and how long these entries should be, not to mention finding the time to concentrate on whatever subject it is I finally choose.
Realizing I post regularly to my Facebook page on a myriad of subjects I got to thinking today: Why not just expound on some of those same things here within my blog? After all, each entry doesn’t have to be a lengthy epic of paragraph after paragraph of astounding, deep-thinking commentary. It just needs to be a sharing of a single thought or two on my interest of the day, something I hope worthy of sharing with you my regulars. Something “compelling” would be a word a friend often uses. So, here goes!
By-the-way, thanks as always for stopping by!