Thursday, June 29, 2017

Slowly Sinking into the Summer

At the moment of this writing (June 28th) we're having a wonderful cool wave, weather that would more typically reside up in Elkins, West Virginia, where Libby and I went to teach fiddle and guitar to aspiring adults back a few decades ago. It's noon and less than 80, and I'm tempted to go find a light sweat shirt. Before this break we were having something like the edge of a Gulf tropical storm, with a great deal of rain, humidity, lighting, and temps in the 90s. This more typical Piedmont NC summer weather apparently wreaked hell on many of the little civilizing details that make camping out in the Chatham County woods as we do a possibly reasonable solution to life in the 2000s. The land line phone has been disabled for more than a week now, offering only a nasty buzz for a dial tone, and no sign of a voice should it happen to ring at all. Our theory there is that the rings are from earnest technicians from Century Link, out in the “field” somewhere or other, testing the wires. When the rings happen, if we have the Dish on, it freezes the Dish Box and we have to reboot the whole shebang. Other than that, nothing changes. The internet was also out for about a week, but around midnight last night it sorta returned, with weak speeds but actually access to web mail and websites.

To make things substantially worse, we are down to one working truck, and that one has only high beams. The lowest mileage vehicle, a '99 S-10, has suddenly contracted a broken clutch pedal linkage. We've been able using the blinky internet to determine likely fixes—it's a connection just on the other side of the bottom of the dashboard judging by the symptoms. I had found a guy last week to come out and haul the poor dear in to his shop, but he never showed, and since the phone was out it might have been only that he could never call to be sure we were home. I keep thinking I can get under the steering wheel and pull the bolts that hold the under panel on, but when I get to the point of that contortion I end up aborting the process, plus there are a couple of bolts I'm not sure about removing—since I can't see entirely what the consequences are, and they seem to relate to the computer gizmo that the inspectors use to inspect the vehicle. So we sit. Libby reported last night that the dome light in the S-10 didn't come on like it should have. Sitting may be wearing the battery down.

On the other hand, early last week, before all the troubles really set in, I'd bought a good battery charger to get the Ford's new battery going so I could move it out of the way. The Ford has a dead short somewhere or other. I ain't lying in the high grass with the ticks to try to find it, not that I particularly know how to find a short anyways. I'd taken in the Ford's battery when it wouldn't crank at all, this being the second time that happened this year. We don't run the Ford much anyways, it's a fire-wood hauler, '91 150. The place I got the dead battery from just shrugged and gave me another one, so I knew that was good when the no-crank symptom returned. The charger worked great. The guy at the battery place said it's probably a dead short, but you can unhook the neg terminal when you're not running and keep the battery alive that way. So that's the near term plan for the Ford. Before you start, open the hood, slip the neg terminal on the post, then crank. Don't be making no jokes about Dog Patch.

So far the Toyota keeps running. But if you need lights it's high beams or nothing. That's likely a short in the switch, which is built into the steering column. I'm hopeful we can get a new switch and get the housing behind the wheel off and put the new one in. And not find out it's something down in the column, in the wiring. That's not where I want to go, and particularly when the Toyo is the only truck that's running.

I keep enjoying the cool breeze coming in the window here in the kitchen. I'm not thinking about climbing up on the roof to try to re-nail the ridge cap where I'm pretty sure the rain comes in when it blows from the north east. And don't get me started on the upper cabin roof, which was so damn shiny and new back in '79, the year Anna was born. After coming on 40 years it's needing some paint, or better, fresh tin. It's amazing how expensive tin has got in nearly 40 years, and how steep that upper roof looks these days.

It's been three weeks plus since the Old Vet died. The family had a really nice memorial gathering for him down in Tarboro, with a lot of his old friends and most of the living family turning out. Libby made some great cakes, there was punch and other tasty edibles. After the gathering the family went out to the cemetery and stood around Rudy and Lucille's shared gravesite and people talked about little moments they remembered from the family gatherings, from growing up in that little eastern NC town on the Tar River. We'd rented a car to do the trip with air conditioning. I drove it back to Chapel Hill, where it'd rented it, Monday morning, and cranked up the S-10 to get back home. I think that was the last time the pedal worked. Close damn call.

This weekend it's Fourth of July. I doubt it'll be less than 95, but maybe the rains will stay away and things will keep drying out. We're hoping by then the fleas will be gone at last. We gave all the kitties doses of that stuff that's supposed to kill fleas by making them sterile. It's clear the fleas know something's afoot. Tiny ones huddle on the floor, and jump on our legs if we happen to go too close to their huddles. The cats, meanwhile, are all sitting on tables and spending even more time than usual grooming. The Ezra Pound ditty keeps coming to mind, from his fuck you book called Pavannes and Divagations: “Lud us sing godam.” It was a parody of an ancient English song called “Summer is icomen in.” Pound substituted “winter” and added “godam.” I don't believe this is the book that includes his essay comparing Mussolini to Thomas Jefferson. That was earlier, in the heady times before fascism could no longer be viewed as primarily an attempt to rescue high art from the Communists and the Jews. I've searched the google for a photo of Pound in a baseball cap saying “Make Europe Great Again.” Apparently no photo exists. The photo above is from '49, Pound's mug shot. In late May, '45, Pound turned himself in to the US Army in immediate post-war Italy. He had been giving propaganda radio broadcasts for the Italian Government during the war, and had been charged by the United States with treason in 1943. As he was a noted poet in the pantheon—he'd advised Eliot on the Waste Land and published great long poetic tracts including the Pisan Cantos as he descended into what now passes as Republicanism—the US put him in a mental institution in Washington, DC, for a number of years, then finally let him return to Italy to live out his final days. He was featured on the cover of Life as an ancient geezer, wandering the Italian streets in a straw hat and beard and muttering that some of the lines in his great work, the Cantos, were “wrong.”

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Old Vet Goes Home

Melvin Rudolph Sexton, September 29, 1923, June 6, 2017

The picture is from September, 2016, perhaps one of the last moments when Rudy looked "like himself." By his birthday celebration at the end of September he was noticeable thinner, fading. But it was a slow, slow march to yesterday, the 73rd anniversary of D-Day. Rudy was a sergeant in the 35th Infantry Division, known as the wagon-wheel division. He walked on to the beach in early July, '44, then walked all the way to liberating a German concentration camp in April of '45. He was at the Battle of the Bulge, and in many other engagements. He wasn't one to talk about that year much, in the thirty plus years I knew him. He told a couple of stories that affected him deeply. In one, he was the last man on a deuce and a half going out on some patrol or errand, and was shoved off--"we don't need you this time" someone told him. And that truck was hit by a shell and all of the guys were killed. Another time he was dug in for a night, perhaps this was in Belgium in December or January, but he never said. There was a barn door nearby and he pulled that over his foxhole for more cover. A shell went off on top of it. He was close to the men. For many years after the war he visited the parents of a good friend who'd been killed. They lived up in Pennsylvania. He made it back, and probably always questioned why. He met his wife, a beautiful, feisty girl who'd been very briefly married to a tail-gunner who'd flown off and gotten blown up in the air. They found his body in the Alps years later, then decided it wasn't his body, then found him again. Lucile was buffeted by all this, as was Rudy. She got breast cancer in the '50s and survived. She and Rudy became very devout Southern Baptists. He worked for the Rural Electric in eastern North Carolina, rising to be its director. She worked at the Court House in Tarboro. They were life-long Democrats, and Rudy was fond of saying that he'd rather give the tax money directly to the poor folks that needed it, rather than to Republicans who would just keep it for themselves. The Civil Rights Movement turned Tarboro Republican by the late '60s. It didn't change Rudy's party. He and Lucile remembered Roosevelt, just like my folks did.

I met Rudy in the winter '83-'84, and told him I wanted to marry his daughter. He was just 63 then, ten years younger than I am as I write. We were always friends, and he was pleased I'd "joined the family." That was probably one of the very last things he said to me, in the last dwindling weeks. It was a long march, this last year. Rudy was from start to finish a man who could take care of business. As his body and mind failed, he held on to the basic principle of his life until the very last--and so was tormented by the sense that he had to "fix" things, but couldn't exactly figure out where to start, what to do to get things back on the right track. He became so anguished by this feeling of just not being able to make things better that he couldn't drift off to sleep at night. He'd always taken good care of himself, never smoked, jogged, played golf. After he retired he learned how to play guitar. His heart was the very last thing to go. Except for the part that he lost when Lucile died in 2000, a delayed casualty of the stress of Hurricane Floyd passing over Tarboro the fall previously. Lucile and Rudy made a great team. He was unable to find some effective way to cope with her loss. He grieved until his memory faded.

We're left with the irony that his passing is a great blessing to him, and nonetheless leaves in all of us a great hole. I'm so glad to have known him all these years, and to have been a part of the Sexton family.

From Wiki entry on the 35th Division in World War II:

Actions during World War II

The 35th Infantry Division arrived in England on 25 May 1944 and received further training. It landed on Omaha Beach, Normandy July 5–7, 1944 and entered combat on 11 July, fighting in the Normandy hedgerows, north of St. Lo. The division beat off twelve German counterattacks at Emelie before entering St. Lo on 18 July. After mopping up in the St. Lo area, it took part in the offensive action southwest of St. Lo, pushing the Germans across the Vire on 2 August, and breaking out of the Cotentin Peninsula. While en route to an assembly area, the division was "flagged off the road," to secure the Mortain-Avranches corridor and to rescue the 30th Division's "Lost Battalion" August 7–13, 1944.[8]

Then racing across France through Orleans and Sens, the division attacked across the Moselle on 13 September, captured Nancy on 15 September, secured Chambrey on 1 October, and drove on to the German border, taking Sarreguemines and crossing the Saar on 8 December. After crossing the Blies River on 12 December, the division moved to Metz for rest and rehabilitation on 19 December. The 35th moved to Arlon, Belgium December 25–26, and took part in the fighting to relieve Bastogne, throwing off the attacks of four German divisions, taking Villers-laBonne-Eau on 10 January, after a 13-day fight and Lutrebois in a 5-day engagement. On 18 January 1945, the division returned to Metz to resume its interrupted rest.[8]

In late January, the division was defending the Foret de Domaniale area. Moving to the Netherlands to hold a defensive line along the Roer on 22 February, the division attacked across the Roer on 23 February, pierced the Siegfried Line, reached the Rhine at Wesel on 10 March, and crossed 25–26 March. It smashed across the Herne Canal and reached the Ruhr River early in April, when it was ordered to move to the Elbe April 12. Making the 295-mile dash in two days, the 35th mopped up in the vicinity of Colbitz and Angern, until 26 April 1945 when it moved to Hanover for occupational and mopping-up duty, continuing occupation beyond VE-day. The division left Southampton, England, on 5 September, and arrived in New York City on 10 September 1945.[8]

Total battle casualties: 15,822[11]
Killed in action: 2,485[11]
Wounded in action: 11,526[11]
Missing in action: 340[11]
Prisoner of war: 1,471[11]