Yesterday afternoon an improbable scene unfolded in Dallas. A young woman just sentenced to 10 years in prison and the tearful teenage brother of a slain man came together in a wordless, but very public, display of shared anguish.
It was the conclusion of a highly visible and seriously contested case. In September 2018, Amber Guyger, a white Dallas police officer, shot and killed unarmed Botham Jean, a young black man who had emigrated from St. Lucia
Stunned onlookers in the suddenly-hushed courtroom openly shed tears. And, I suspect, the description of yesterday’s moment, a momentous and unexpected hug, will continue to be shared on social media for a long, long time.
Two souls united in grief, wrapped in hope, showed that humans can rise to grace and greatness even in the most horrific of circumstances. What the world witnessed in that simple embrace was redemption, the possibility of healing, and a goal worth striving for in the best, as well as the worst, of times.
The shooting had prompted angry outbursts, a threat of potential violence, and national news coverage almost from the outset. Guyger was fired from the department soon after her arrest in September 2018.
Botham Jean died while quietly eating ice cream in his own apartment. Guyger, who was returning home after a long shift, still in uniform with gear in hand, mistook Jean’s apartment for her own, and fired two shots. She testified that she acted out of fear when she believed the man she saw “in silhouette” started moving toward her.
The brief trial was disturbing on many levels; facts were cloudy, testimony was charged with emotion. The jury was sequestered for the duration. Public opinion ran high. All that was certain was that two lives were irreparably broken.
On Tuesday, there were audible shrieks when the jury, after only five hours of deliberation, returned a unanimous verdict of guilty on a charge of murder. Under Texas law, the mandatory imprisonment could range from five to 99 years. The following day, there were audible gasps when the same jury returned a sentence of 10 years for Miss Guyger, with eligibility for parole after five years. Jurors discussed the sentence for just 90 minutes.
Inside the room, according to all reports, it was quiet. However, when the sentence was read, chants of “No justice, no peace” began almost immediately in the hallway.
It was Brandt Jean’s turn to address the court. Botham’s 18-year-old brother quietly told Guyger, “I forgive you,” ” I don’t want you to go to jail,” and “I don’t wish anything bad on you.” Then, in an unexpected and virtually unprecedented move, he turned to the judge, “I don’t know if this is possible, but could I give her a hug?” Almost pleadingly, he said, “Please?”
After a pause, Judge Tammy Kemp gave her approval.
Jean and Guyger met in the middle of the courtroom. They were, at that moment, totally alone in the world. And that hug, in its simplicity and its symbolism, might become a catalyst for change for the entire world. It was that powerful.
Some days are just not like all the rest. They can be different from all others for just one person, for a family, for a whole country, and sometimes for the whole world. Days worth remembering can be happy days or they can be sad days.
Often, good things happen even on sad days.
Today, on September 11, 2001, something terrible happened in New York City. You have probably heard people say, “Never forget.” On the world’s clock 18 years ago, time stopped for some people. The details aren’t quite as important as the feelings and the memories that people have of that day. It started much like any other, with families waking up, having breakfast, and getting ready to go to work, or to school, to take a trip, or to have fun with friends.
But then it all changed — and it changed very quickly from a normal day to one that would be remembered in a very different way. In New York City, and in Washington, D.C., and in a field in Connecticut, four separate airplanes crashed, three of them into buildings filled with people. Many people in those planes and in those buildings died.
It was, and it still is, a very sad day.
Your parents and grandparents who lived through that day and the weeks that followed have many different reasons for wanting to remember. Some want to honor their friends and family members. Others want our country to remember, so that nothing like this will happen again. Some look at the day as a piece of history that ought to be studied. Nothing quite like it had ever happened before.
It was a sad day. But it was also a time when many strangers helped and hugged one another, and when an entire city, a whole country, and most of the world came together in shock and sadness, and almost immediately began to take steps that would prevent something similar from happening again.
If you feel like crying today as you hear some of the stories, or if you don’t understand why all adults can’t just agree that it’s over and move on, or if it makes you afraid in some secret place in your head that something bad might happen to you, know that you are not alone. Adults sometimes feel all those things too. Everyone does!
The truth is that people sometimes act badly, and life can be cruel. But more often, when truly terrible things happen, most people react differently; they act in really good ways. They try hard to keep others safe and to make them feel better. That is exactly what happened on this day 18 years ago. Some very normal people almost became superheroes on that day.
The adults who lived through 9-11 are getting older now. But their children, and the children whose fathers or mothers, aunts and uncles, grandparents, neighbors and friends were hurt or killed on 9-11, are growing up, and they continue to help other people and to help mend the world in ways they might not have done otherwise.
That’s what we should remember. So, when you hear those words, “Never forget,” know that sadness has another side, and hope and goodness really do exist.
It’s okay to remember the sadness of 9-11, but we can all go on, working to make all tomorrows better, brighter and happier for us all.
Note: What prompted this? I heard this morning from my grandson’s mother that he had a “pretty emotional reaction” to a morning radio show mention of losing friends on 9-11. She also noted that her memory of that day centers on morality and resiliency, and that she would share this video with him. I’ll share it too, for anyone else who needs something inspiring and uplifting today.
This morning I was moved to tears as I watched the 90-minute ABC News broadcast from Portsmouth, England. The 75th Anniversary tribute to D-Day veterans was filled with the kind of pageantry that the British do so well, attended by world leaders and surviving World War II veterans of the battle that raged on the other side of the English Channel, the invasion that was credited with changing the course of the war.
Tears also came easily in 2018 when I visited the Normandy landing beaches, the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, and the impressive Caen Memorial. I learned much about D-Day during that trip, and more about our country’s part in World War II. But I also learned how much I did not know.
I was born into a world at war, but I do not remember it. My father, who also was born into a world at war some 25 years earlier, left when I was barely a month old, not to return to the United States for another 18 months. He was in England and on duty on D-Day, stationed at Honington in Suffolk, with the 364th Fighter Group of the U.S. Eighth Air Force. He seldom spoke of the war, almost never of D-Day, but flyers from that group participated in 321 sorties from June 6 through June 15, losing only one plane, according to unit records.
Learning from the records
Early on June 5, a group of 50 P-38s took off from the RAF base on what was listed simply as a support mission. According to the unit’s history, what was then termed “Neptune,” was air support for an invasion fleet that had already left the English coast.
I had not previously realized that my father was actually a part of D-Day.
“The average line pilot and the crews had little, if any, advance knowledge of the massive buildup of allied ground and sea forces being assembled in the south by General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander.”
The 364th Fighter group had arrived in England only in February; the first mission was flown about one month later, on March 2, 1944. The primary task was to escort bombers, provide air support, and aid with “bomber withdrawal.” But, early in June, things were different. A special briefing was held at 1 a.m. on the morning of June 6.
“When the bombers and the planes pulling the gliders blanketed the skies over the base, the men were surprised and awed but quickly ‘caught on’ as to what was happening. It was a sight never to be forgotten by those viewing it.
“The Group’s three squadrons became an integral part of the invasion of the continent until regular missions resumed on June 16. ‘Neptune’ called for constant, around-the-clock air support of the sea lanes and invasion approaches to protect the allied forces from the Luftwaffe. To accomplish these area patrols, the squadrons divided their pilot rosters into sections and planned to fly three missions per day (nine total for the Group), weather permitting.”
Returning to “business as usual”
The Group’s mission log reports that on June 16, “Normal combat operations resumed,” and pilots continued to escort bombers to their targets all across Germany.
The massive D-Day assault was carried out with 1,200 aircraft and more than 5,000 vessels. Approximately 160,000 troops crossed the Channel on a single day. By the end of August, more than two million allied troops were in France; Paris was liberated on August 25. By the end of the month, the German Army had withdrawn to territory east of the Seine, and Operation Overlord was deemed complete. Although the war would not end for nearly another year, D-Day is considered the pivotal factor in allied victory.
It occurred to me as I watched the ceremonies in Portsmouth this morning that there is only one world leader left who has personal knowledge of World War II: Queen Elizabeth. She noted that her father and predecessor on the British throne, King George VI, had said in his address to his nation on D-Day that the undertaking would require:
” . . . something more than courage and endurance.” He called for “a revival of spirit, a new incomparable resolve.”
She also added that “the wartime generation — my generation — is resilient,” but acknowledged that “the fate of the world” depended on the success of those young men who were a part of the D-Day assault.
Paying tribute to uncommon courage and resolve
How true. At the tribute ceremony this morning, it was said that approximately 300 veterans of the D-Day Landing were in attendance. There are not many left; those who are are nearly 100 years old. The battle cost a lot of lives, and the intervening years have taken their toll. Indeed, there are less than a score of men still alive who served with my father in the 364th Fighter Group.
The 364th was one of five fighter groups that made up the 67th Fighter Wing during WWII, and the last to actually arrive in England; it was officially disbanded after the war.
My father was not a pilot, but he loved those airplanes, and following his retirement from the U.S. Army, after almost 30 years of service, he obtained his private pilot’s license. He is not here to shed tears with me today, but I have no doubt that he would have watched this morning’s ceremony with great interest, remembering that day so very long ago, and those airplanes, with a mixture of pride and regret.
I remember it now — for him and for all the others who were called to serve in those troubled times, those who perished and those who survived.
* My information about the 364th Fighter Group comes from my father’s records and from the history of the group published in 1991 by Walsworth Publishing Company, Marceline, Missouri. On October 10, 1990, a memorial was dedicated at Honington, and there are additional memorials to the 364th Fighter Group at the Air Force Museum at Dayton, Ohio, and at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as well as at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth in Pooler, Georgia.
Updated — just a bit — in mid-March 2021, as we begin to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic that has held us all in its grip for the past year!
One beautiful early spring day many years ago, while living in Santa Fe, I received an unexpected call from friends we had previously known in Dallas.
It was Friday, just as this year, and Easter was on Sunday. Preparations for the first Passover seder were already underway at our house. But old friends don’t arrive every day. We immediately invited them to join us, and we set two more places at the table.
I remember that celebration with fondness.
We had been busy chopping apples, preparing Haroset and bitter herbs, roasting a shank bone and setting the table. But most of the work was finished and we looked forward to an opportunity to share a meal and good times with dear friends.
They brought marshmallow and peanut butter-filled chocolate bunnies. They also brought beautiful white eggs and a dye kit and gleefully set up shop in our kitchen, amid the Matzoh, the chicken, the vegetables, and the half-done dessert.
We were like children that afternoon, mindful of our separate traditions and eager to share news of our separate lives over the past months and years.
That evening we had colored eggs on our ceremonial Seder plate, along with the parsley, the horseradish and the other essentials. We shared the Passover story, and we repeated ecumenical prayers. We all had a wonderful time and somehow it seemed more than appropriate that we meld the symbols, the prayers and the traditions of our individual families and faiths.
We also celebrated other newfound rituals — our roast chicken was served with green chile on the side. The rest of the menu was just as eclectic, made more savory because of the guests who trusted they would be welcomed with open arms, even at the last minute.
This year, as the world is immersed in “separateness” and strife, and when the news seems less than joyous all around, I recall that other holiday — the joint celebration of holy days that seemed effortless and totally right — and I have hope that similar scenes continue to be played out in other households, even now.
One of my favorite authors, Robert Fulghum, speaks of rituals, saying “Rituals do not always involve words, occasions, officials, or an audience.” But when they do — as in the ritual of the Seder, or the rituals of Easter services, they are poignant. They deserve to be honored, held dear and celebrated with gusto.
That is more true today, in 2021, than when I first wrote this.
No matter where you are, or who you are with this special weekend, I wish you well. It matters little whether you mark the occasion with a large family, or spend it in solitude. I hope you greet it with good memories from the past and the expectation of a pleasant future. If you are able, share the joy with good food and good tales, with good friends, and with a sense of celebration.
And, by the way, perhaps colored eggs on the Seder plate should become a tradition.
Life is, after all, a continuing celebration.
Life itself, after all is said and done, is the celebration!
One Saturday not long ago I attended an emergency response training session in my community. Offered by our local fire department, it seemed a proper way to update the First Aid training I had received a long time ago.
This session went beyond the splint and bandage knowledge that was required of a Cub Scout den mother, and the practical procedures I practiced when young children were in my household. Instead, the focus was on disaster response, ways to recognize and respond to medical distress, and what to do first at the scene of a serious accident.
It was eye-opening training.
Our small group practiced hands-only CPR, how to use an AED (the automatic external defibrillator commonly available in public places today), how to apply a proper tourniquet, and what to do prior to the arrival of trained emergency response teams. We were also instructed about how not to make a medical emergency worse by doing the wrong thing.
It was good information; I recognized a need to update my home medical supplies, and resolved to install life-saving first aid kits in my vehicles. I reaffirmed my desire to be prepared. It’s only sensible.
The disturbing part of the session came later.
A local police officer was our no-nonsense instructor. A member of our city’s well-trained emergency response team, the police officer who had once given me a ride home when my car stalled spoke about how to survive an active shooter situation.
She pulled no punches.
Public discussion centers around prevention rather than survival. Sadly, in the modern world, everyone is at risk, and no place is immune.
Awareness is key. Quick action is imperative.
I came away from that training session with an increased sense of vulnerability, but also with heightened determination. I no longer take safety for granted. Identifying escape routes is not paranoia; being watchful in public places is smart. Surviving extraordinary events, including airplane crashes and natural disasters, sometimes hinges on preparedness, immediate response, and will.
That is fact.
So, why this, and why now?
Last week, mid-week, in the middle of the night, my neighborhood was suddenly brightened with the flashing lights of multiple police cruisers. Officers patrolled the street and it was obvious that something uncommon had occurred. It was not until yellow police tape was strung at a residence across the street that a vague sense of foreboding became palpable.
Not fear exactly, but beyond curiosity.
A police barricade was set up at the end of our quiet cul de sac, and neighbors’ departures and arrivals were noted.
Later, when local news teams set up in my front yard, then knocked on my door with cameras and microphones turned on, we learned that a shooting had occurred, and that a neighbor had been transported to the hospital in serious condition.
No one in the neighborhood commented publicly; the incident was only briefly mentioned on one local television channel. Details were not forthcoming. Unknown strangers were apparently involved.
The yellow crime scene tape and street barricades were removed later in the day. The home across the street was quiet and empty.
It may never be quite the same, but life on my street has returned to its normal cadence. Neighbors come and go. We smile and wave, set the garbage out on the appointed day, check the mail, and walk the dog.
Although my neighborhood is pleasant, we are not well-acquainted with our neighbors. The family across the street was new to the neighborhood. Unfortunately, we had not ever been properly introduced. We do not even know their names.
We honestly do not know what happened that night. We may never know. We do not know if the family has returned permanently, or if they ever will. They too come and go, sometimes at odd hours. We notice. We feel a loss. We do not know the condition of the man who was shot.
This lack of connection is perhaps the greatest loss, the biggest concern, I have a sense that in the not-so-distant past, residents of a neighborhood would have stood together in such circumstances. Neighbors would have comforted and consoled their neighbors. Perhaps that type of solidarity might have prevented the incident, whatever it was.
There may be nothing new under the sun, as my grandmother was fond of saying. However, everything on the globe is new to you if you haven’t seen it before. Travel offers infinite possibilities — not only to see, do and experience, but to meet new people and to renew oneself.
So, when friends ask — as they sometimes do — “Don’t you ever stay home,” my reply has always been “As little as possible.”
“Home is made for comin’ from, for dreams of goin’ to . . .”
Not that I don’t like the pleasures of home and hearth. I bask in the glow of the familiar, the comfort of friends, the joys of family, the lure of the comfortable and familiar. And then I hear the call: a new trip beckons or I feel the need to see for myself what others have spoken or written about.
And I’m off.
I was fortunate enough to marry a man who is also open to adventure, to travel that does not always involve firm plans and set itineraries. And, over the years, we have invariably followed our hearts, to the consternation of family and all but the best of friends.
Our travels have taken us to unexpected places in unusual ways, at odd times. And every trip has enriched us in ways we could not have foretold.
Today, it is cold, drizzly and dreary. Today I am dreaming of warm, sunny and inviting, with the prospect of good food and lively companions.
Unfortunately, I cannot simply pack my bag and be gone. But soon; soon, I say to myself, I will loose the ties that keep me here, and be gone again.
The problem is that the world is large and many destinations tempt me. Where the next journey will lead is a question still unanswered.
I have several trips in planning stages. Others are simply possibilities at the moment. I long to return to Cuba: Last year’s day-long visit to Havana was not nearly enough to whet an appetite so long building. I want to see New Zealand and Australia; Brussels and rural Belgium once again beckon. The Baltic as well. And Russia. Yes!
I am sure there will be time and opportunity for some as-yet-unknown-options in 2019, whether they are close to home road trips or journeys across the dateline.
It’s a new year, after all.
That’s the beauty of a calendar reset: The promise of new beginnings comes with the date change.
So, what are your plans for the coming year? I gave up on resolutions long ago. But I’ll not give up those travel dreams. Not ever!
And, as always, there will be many stories to tell.
The sky was grey. The air was chill. The streets were wet from persistent drizzle. But there was no mistaking the sound of jet engines.
Just before 3:30 p.m. yesterday — Thursday, December 6 — there was thunder in the sky. Well-trained naval pilots departed from the Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, Texas headed south to College Station for one final bit of pageantry in conjunction with the funeral for the 41st president of the United States.It was a fitting tribute to George Herbert Walker Bush, himself a former naval pilot.
Instinctively, I stepped outside; instinctively, I stood at attention on the patio and looked up at the overcast sky. I could not see the jets as they streaked over the city. But I did not expect to. It was enough to hear the sound. And it seemed to last a long, long time.
This was not a CAVU day, I thought. Ceiling and visibility for the pilots was far from unlimited. But I was certain they would not be deterred on this, of all days. I hoped that the skies would clear in College Station so that the crowds gathered to pay tribute to President Bush would witness what was to be the largest “Missing Man Formation” ever flown.
Indeed, about 40 minutes later, the planes in tight formation appeared on the TV screen. The funeral train had arrived at its destination, and the casket was carried out of the rail car with military precision to the strains of Ruffles and Flourishes.
Soon after, the aerial honor guard drowned out the National Anthem as mourners, military honor guards, and the crowds gathered to pay homage stood at attention.Timing was perfect.
The 21 planes came in waves of four, until finally one peeled away, headed for the wild blue yonder far above — or for heaven, if you prefer, carrying with it the spirit of the departed leader.
The symbolism is inescapable. A flyover is always impressive. It was beautifully choreographed in honor of a president who almost lost his life when his plane went down over the Pacific during World War II.
Today, the memory of that sound — the thunder of jets overhead — became even more poignant because of the date. On December 7, 1941, it must have been a similar sound — multiplied a hundred times over — that accompanied the dark cloud of enemy planes flying low over Pearl Harbor.
That long-ago thunder in the sky subsequently shaped the destinies of many men, including one who would become president some 48 years later.
Yesterday our military forces and Texas A&M Cadets honored a former commander in chief. Earlier, presidents and friends, legislators and colleagues, and the American public had remembered him in Washington, Houston and all across the nation. The tributes were memorable and heartfelt.
Today, we commemorate another event in history. As we should. And we pay tribute in a different way. As we should.The words on the facade of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library on the grounds of Texas A&M University express it all, eloquently.
Note: CAVU is an aviator’s acronym, as explained at the Bush memorial service in Washington, that stands for “ceiling and visibility unrestricted,” meaning that it’s a good day for flying. In more modern vernacular, the “U” is also for unlimited, and it is a mindset for those who choose to live life to its fullest.
Note: In September, on a visit to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, I was enthralled by exhibits in the building’s second-floor Cattle Raisers Museum. It’s worth a trip if you have not been there.
The West lives on . . .
Although most of my adult life has been lived in large cities, much of it as a transplanted Texan, a fair part — perhaps the better part — of my childhood was spent in Miles City, a small town at the confluence of the Tongue and Yellowstone Rivers in dusty Eastern Montana. It has a long and varied history, very little of it serene and comfortable, but it was nowhere near as wild as other early settlements of those early years in the Old West.
It was from a site near the rivers that General George Custer began his 1876 march into history at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. That same year, Fort Keogh was established there in a continuing attempt to subdue Indian tribes. The town, named for the original commander, grew up around the fort and welcomed the Northern Pacific Railway in 1881.
Cattle, armies and rail lines . . .
Miles City also became the northern terminus for cattle drives that originated in Texas, taking a huge toll on men and stock alike. During the final decade of the century, the need for troops declined, and by 1907 they had all been reassigned. That year a second rail line was routed through Miles City. The Milwaukee Road became the last transcontinental rail to cross the state to the Pacific.
Partly because of the railroads, Miles City emerged as a primary U.S. Cavalry remount center in the years preceding World War I. In 1914, the Miles City Roundup was established, and the outpost city’s reputation as the most important horse market on the world stage was born.
It was renowned because of the surrounding open range, but also for the many banks and bars along its Main Street, and for other creature comforts, among them both juicy steaks and comfortable beds in real hotel rooms. In the early days, it was a favored destination for cowboys and trainmen, some notable lawbreakers and a fair number of law-abiding citizens and families. As time passed and the world changed, Miles City survived, but it didn’t exactly thrive.
Saddling up for cattle drives . . .
Then in 1995, Miles City became the end point of the Great American Cattle Drive, a six-month historical reenactment “performed” by 300 head of cattle and 24 cowboys, along a route that threaded its way through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming on the way from Fort Worth north. The days of the open range were gone, but the long stretches of uninhabited land and the big skies remained, even though mid-90s cowboys closely paralleled the path of modern highways.
Today, Miles City is perhaps best known for its annual Bucking Horse Sale, held the last full weekend of May for the past 68 years. It is still the place where much of the nation’s rodeo stock gets a start. The reputations of legendary modern cowboys, broncs and bulls are sometimes born in Miles City. It’s a dusty, quirky small town in a state with few residents. It still retains much of its unpolished character from decades past, and that only adds to its appeal in my somewhat biased view.
The past intruded on my consciousness as I strolled through the Cattle Raisers exhibits. But it was the lifesize Longhorns, the talking bovine portraits, and the display of impressive, unique saddles that stole my heart.
The saddle that drew my attention was custom-crafted at Miles City Saddlery. My first pair of boots was made there, and the saddlery still exists in a prime location on Main Street, almost 110 years after it opened. I could not touch the saddle’s leather nor feel the embossed patterns, much less sit astride it. But it is a work of art, even though the documentation notes that it was probably much too fine to ever have been a working saddle, even for a well-to-do cowboy.
Moving on, moving west . . .
I read cattle drive descriptions and viewed trail maps, examined worn hats and well-used spurs. I learned the histories of huge Texas cattle ranches and the stories of the hard men who shaped the land and raised those cattle to build their legacies. I could envision the promise of those times.
My forebears were not cowboys; rather they worked the land and the railroads of the day, also the mines. They moved throughout the Midwest and West, from Virginia westward to Missouri; then on to Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, Idaho and Washington.
I still feel a kinship with the cowtown of my past, as well as with modern Fort Worth. That’s another reason why my recent visit to Wichita, Kansas was so memorable. Whether I chalk it up to genes or early environment, old cowtowns feel like home!
If you’re interested in Cowtown histories, read about these three as a good start:
Yes, I know I could have cast my ballot early. I might have avoided a line, or stood in line in better weather. My schedule tomorrow is a busy one, but I will make the time.
I do not take voting lightly.
Somehow, I feel that the effort it takes to get myself to my designated polling place on the designated day is a valuable exercise in citizenship. It’s a symbol of the power that has been entrusted to me; the gift that allows me to make choices about issues that are important to me and the type of government that I endorse.
Voting as an act of faith
What gets me to the polling place is a conviction that voting is my right as a citizen, but that freedom comes only with a sense of responsibility. Our system of government, however, is not without some hardships, both intellectual and physical. I want to remember that past generations fought for the right to vote, won victories on the battlefields of war, in the halls of congress and in schools and living rooms all across the country. We still face some of those challenges today.
I have faith in a future that will unwind according to the legitimate choices of a well-intentioned public, and in the thought that millions come together on a single day to make their choices known.
That faith may have been shaken lately, but it has not died.
Somehow, the idea of a voting season that stretches out for days and weeks in advance diminishes that notion. One of my favorite movie lines has always been, “America isn’t easy; America is advanced citizenship.”
That translates, in my mind at least, to going to the polls on Election Day, not at another time that might be more convenient.
The Promise of Voting
I recently read the thoughts of “100 Women on 100 Years of Voting” as published in The Guardian. This year marks the centenary of the vote for British women, among other anniversaries, notably the end of World War I.
I will vote tomorrow with memories of their words echoing in my head. I will also be thinking of the young people I recently met in Cuba, longing for the day when they will have a chance to vote for meaningful change in their country.
I will also remember that the right to vote is interpreted very differently across the globe. In many places the vote has not yet been extended to all citizens; in other nations, voting is mandatory. In still others that are called democracies, the requirements for meaningful elections are not in place.
No, I do not take voting lightly.
If you haven’t yet voted, please join me tomorrow at the polls. I trust it will be a meaningful experience. And then maybe we can all get to work to solve some of the problems that we all agree exist in our country. The day has arrived.
Fort Worth’s Cattle Raisers Museum recently rekindled — unexpectedly — a dormant passion for the cattle trails and cowtowns of yesteryear.
The history of the American Heartland and the Old West is a unique combination of hard times and severe conditions, but also of risk-taking and fortitude, memorable events, great achievements and epic failures. There were tall tales and small victories over the land, the weather and human nature.
From lonely ranches, bustling cowtowns and, further west, mining towns, rip-roaring frontier outposts and long stretches of open space, I find those stories of “livin’ by your wits,” confronting danger, and triumphing over circumstance endlessly fascinating.
The museum visit fueled my desire to take to the road again for a trip to the Midwest and, in a sense, through some of my past. So, when an opportunity arose to meet a cousin in a spot almost equidistant from our two homes, the idea became reality.
This time I drove, with the benefit of modern horsepower, comfortable seats, and climate control, north to Wichita from my home south of Fort Worth. Along with Dodge City, Kansas City, Miles City, Montana, and Cheyenne, Wyoming, Wichita radiates a certain mystique, a holdover from the days it was a prime stop along the route of cattle drives and wagon wheels, a waypoint on the Chisholm Trail.
In Wichita, I looked forward to touring the Frank Lloyd Wright House, hoped to spend a spooky evening at Botanica, and even considered saying hello to the Longhorns housed at the Wichita Zoo. Other expectations were minimal. My cousin and I made no concrete plans, other than planning to fill each other in on lives lived too long with too little personal contact.
I did not expect to fall in love with Wichita. But that is exactly what happened. The weather could have been nicer, but the people we met more than compensated for the clouds and drizzle.
The sun came out for only one entire day; the temperature was pleasantly cool, and we took advantage of it! However, at the end of our short stay in this vibrant modern city with its quintessential frontier vibe, we were both sorry to bid it goodbye.
Wichita’s more recent history was built by aeronautics; its renown as a cowtown was relatively short-lived. Grain and oil followed the cattle; then airplane production made Wichita a boom town during the war years. Today, this small city (population only about 390,000) produces 70 percent of the general aviation aircraft in the nation. However, the city still reveres its cowtown reputation, but has embraced arts, music, science and modern commerce in a big way.
Art, History and People
Colorful public art dominates the downtown area and enlivens streetscapes throughout the city. Even bridges, waste containers and city street lights are aesthetically unique. Herringbone brick still paves fine old residential streets, and contemporary architecture mingles happily with old red brick warehouses and columned bank buildings from the early 20th Century.
The Arkansas River (pronounced like the state’s name with an “AR” in front of it; not, we were to learn, like the “other” state that shares its spelling) meanders through the city’s central core, with riverfront parks and museums grouped strategically to make parking and walking easy for local residents and out-of-towners alike.
Surrounding land was home to nomadic peoples for millennia, according to historians, although the first Wichita Indian settlement dates only to 1863. Shortly after that, J.R. Mead opened his trading post, and the town was incorporated by 1870. Today, Wichita is the largest city in Kansas. But it doesn’t feel large. It feels neighborly, if at times a bit quirky.
There are street people, and it is obvious that some residents live below the poverty line. As in most cities, there seem to be ample problems to solve, but there is no sense of threat for visitors to Wichita, and those we encountered, from hotel and restaurant staff to shopkeepers and families out to enjoy the sun and city parks, were cordial, exceedingly helpful, and upbeat.
Good Fun and Good Food
What we did: The Old Cowtown Museum is not a museum in any normal sense. Rather it is an experience, an interactive recreation of a frontier town and it is simply wonderful. We sauntered along the wooden boardwalk, poking into the actual old homesteads, stores, and buildings, the church, one-room schoolhouse, tailor shop, general store, Masonic Lodge, newspaper office, and grain elevator — a total of 54 original or recreated buildings that have been moved to the multi-acre site. On the day we visited, the streets were even suitably muddy; we watched as a leather-aproned blacksmith pounded red-hot metal into usable implements, and we quenched our thirst with Sarsaparilla at the old-time saloon.
We were awed by the history lesson and the story of how the Keeper of the Plains sculpture came to be. We witnessed the swiftly-flowing river and saw it well above its normal level following days of storms and heavy rains.
Although we enjoyed the lighted pumpkins and live music at the botanical gardens, we regretted not seeing the plantings in daylight.
If we found anything odd during our stay, it was that it’s difficult to find a place to eat after about 8 p.m. Or maybe we just were looking in the wrong district?
Now that I have been introduced to Wichita’s charms, I want to return, to savor more of what it offers. Unfortunately, I feel that I didn’t even scratch the surface of its delights, and I suspect that there’s good food, good shopping and good entertainment just waiting to be found.
I had read about the Doo Dah Diner and had hoped to visit there to sample its all-day breakfast. I had also read about a fish and seafood restaurant on the banks of the Arkansas. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it there either. That’s two things left undone. The zoo was another, and I have since learned that the Wichita Zoo has a worldwide reputation. Also, the day we visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House, it was unexpectedly closed, so we had to be content with walking around the house and snapping outdoor pictures.
But, this trip to America’s heartland — and, in a sense — into both the country’s past and my own was a worthwhile one on many levels.
Dorothy and Toto were transported unexpectedly out of their state and into big adventure, and I never quite understood why they were so eager to get back to Kansas. Now I do — I understand perfectly!