30 May 2010

Memorial Day.

Tomb of the Unknown., originally uploaded by Luna Soledad.
Just as a suit does not a man make, not every soldier who puts on a uniform is a hero. 'Hero' is a word tossed about all too casually these days, in my opinion, and 'honor' a word more often found in slogans and mission statements rather than in the hearts of men and women.

That is not to say that they're not out there. And God bless 'em.

But Memorial Day belongs to those who served honorably and made the ultimate sacrifice in the call of duty. Like my Uncle Larry McLaughlin who died in Vietnam years before I was born...

The ones we don't hear about often enough. The ones whose voices and fears and bravery, hopes and dreams and stories were cut loose all too soon and lost, all or in part, to the winds, fighting for what they believed in... a better life and a better world.

To the memory of our unsung heroes.

"I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom."

...Bob Dylan

24 May 2010

the veteran.

the veteran., originally uploaded by Luna Soledad.

Charleston welcomed us with a smothering, suffocating, hellish warmth and remained faithful to my misery and discomfort until the perfectly beautiful, mid-70-degree day of our departure... (The equivalent in my mind of a rainy weekend at the beach with the sun coming out shining as you're packing up your crap to head home.) Determined to make the best of the gorgeous day before leaving, we walked about downtown, gorged ourselves one last time on delectable food, and decided to ride out for a brief visit to the USS Yorktown, a WWII aircraft carrier.

Having been aboard the USS North Carolina battleship on numerous occasions and having limited time, I figured the insides of one WWII era ship probably looked pretty much the same as another and so not wanting to get lost for hours in her bowels, I stuck to the upper decks. The flight deck presented a wonderful opportunity for harbor photographs and so there I was shooting away when I overheard a family, an elderly couple and their beautiful grown granddaughter, discussing how to take a picture of the three of them. Needless to say, I turned to them and offered to do the honor.

Little did I know what an honor it would be...

The handsome elderly gentleman turned and handed me his camera with soft trembling hands and I snapped two shots of the smiling threesome against the flight deck's railing, overlooking the harbor. As I returned the camera to its owner, I noticed his navy blue cap read, "USS Yorktown CV-10"... and a small chill of excitement overcame me as my eyes landed upon his veteran's badge.

"You served on this ship," I said, more of a statement to myself.

With a proud smile and a twinkle in his eyes, he replied, "Yes ma'am I did."

"So I am looking at history..."

He laughed.

"I bet you can tell some stories."

"How much time do you have?" his wife interjected with a chuckle.

And I listened to him as long as he would talk...

His name is Dick and he was a Navy musician aboard the USS Yorktown during WWII. He played the woodwinds and only just retired in 2000 -- played everywhere but the White House.

He met his wife on a blind date and it worked out pretty well; they were married in 1944, during the war.

He told me about the time a kamikaze attacked the Yorktown and had circled around for a suicide dive... The gunners were ready and opened fire; when the smoke cleared, there was nothing left of him.

He told me about a time in 1944 when they were stationed somewhere in the South Pacific and were caught in a typhoon with waves crashing over the 80 foot flight deck.

And he told me about watching the USS Lincoln burn for hours and hours from miles away.

His wife recalled the day she found out the war was over and ran into a restaurant shouting, "The war is over!" Complete strangers were hugging and kissing one another, dancing and laughing she said with tears in her eyes. She remembered it like it was yesterday so overcome with emotion. We all stood for a moment wiping our tears. --I cannot begin to imagine what that moment must have felt like...

I said to Dick, "Must have been a big party on the ship that night?"

"Not really," he said, "the Japs didn't believe the war was over and we had to keep fighting 'em for two more weeks."

I learned that Dick and his wife have six grandchildren and each one has gotten a personal tour of the USS Yorktown by their grandfather. This was his last grandchild and his last tour.

I wondered if their granddaughter, a recent college graduate, had any idea how very fortunate she was and recognized the value in the knowledge and history that was given to her on that day... But when I was her age, I didn't. --I wish I had listened more to my grandfather, Sgt. Archie Johnson, Jr., on the rare occasion he talked about his time in service. He was a tank commander in WWII. I wish he had still been alive when I was stationed in Germany so I could have asked him about the places I visited and traveled - where he had been and the things he had seen? Wish I would have recorded him and wrote it all down. Wish I would have talked to him more.

When I decided I had monopolized their time long enough, I asked Dick if I could take his photograph. He kindly obliged.
I got their address and plan to send them prints. I really hope they like it.

As I turned to leave, I did something that I had never done before, and I'm not sure exactly why I haven't; I thanked him for his service.
Perhaps because I never thought to thank my grandfather...

He smiled a humble smile and nodded.

"This extraordinary war in which we are engaged falls heavily upon all classes of people, but the most heavily upon the soldier. For it has been said, all that a man hath will he give for his life; and while all contribute of their substance, the soldier puts his life at stake, and often yields it up in his country's cause. The highest merit, then, is due to the soldier."

...Abraham Lincoln

free yourself.

free yourself...
Originally uploaded by Luna Soledad
Thanks to incredible incompetence of AT&T, we had no Internet all weekend... and I lived to tell about it.

It's truly amazing how dependent we are upon technology these days.

I remember some of the very first personal "mobile phones," also known as bag phones because the portable phone and all of its required components filled up a big ole heavy bag larger than most purses (not that I had one, because who the heck could afford such a luxury!)... as compared to today's models which are smaller than a Pop Tart - and probably taste better too.

I also remember life before the Internet. (*Gasp!* Was there really such a thing?) Before personal computers and cable television...

What in the world did restless young souls do back then to fill our days you may ask?

We wrote letters, on paper and we passed notes in class, on paper. We made phone calls from home phones and talked for hours and our parents bitched about the high phone bills. We wrote our school papers neatly by hand or on typewriters if we had them and took Typing as an elective because it was a handy skill to have and it looked good on a resume. We ordered music through the postal mail from Columbia House on cassette. We watched TV but there were only three channels and we rented VHS movies at the country store. We checked the newspaper for movie showings and job listings. When we were out and needed to make a call, we used pay phones (can you believe it?!) and we had to actually memorize phone numbers, dozens of them. And if we were out and our car broke down, well, we just walked to the nearest house and used their phone to call for help. And we used maps to figure out where we were going. We rode around with strangers cruisin' Benson in fast cars and big trucks and drank bootleg liquor. We went skinny dipping in irrigation holes and four-wheeling on the tank trails at Fort Bragg. And yes, it's a wonder in Heaven no one ever grabbed us, did us harm, and buried in a corn field somewhere.

We didn't have cell phones and email addresses and Facebook, but somehow that never slowed us down.

I was 23 years old and married when I signed up for my first email account (and I still have it) and 25 when I bought my first personal computer for $500.00, used. And I was a 28 year old single mom when I got my first mobile phone.

It's impossible to imagine how different life would have been coming of age in the World Wide Web and difficult to envision life without it now...

And when Monday came, as it always does, I discovered after a weekend without the Internet, that not only had I survived, but I didn't miss a single thing.

"Information on the Internet is subject to the same rules and regulations as conversation at a bar."

...George Lundberg

17 May 2010

once upon a prom.

Nicki & Jake., originally uploaded by Luna Soledad.
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of photographing a beautiful, young couple on the eve of their senior prom: Nicki & her beau, Jake.

I've known Nicki since she was a sweet, pretty little girl stationed with her family in Kitzingen, Germany. Her family quickly became my family; her mother, a sister I never knew I had... My daughter, Isabel, the baby sister they always wanted.

I remember when Nicki first started kindergarten and how she used to race home in the afternoons and burst through the door bringing with her all the bubbly excitement of her day... Her love and enthusiasm was infectious. I remember how she would greet her little brothers and then run to see tiny Bella -- and I can still remember the melody of her angelic little-girl voice as she sang out sweetly, "Hi Isabel!"

Just outside of the front door to her home, I remember her mother had hung a decorative house that read, "Home is where the army sends us" and so true... though it's been many years and we've spent much of that time far apart, Nicki, her mom, dad, and brothers have remained family and even from a distance I've watched as she has blossomed into a beautiful, genuine young woman and her brothers, considerate and handsome young men.

But I will always remember Nicki as the kind, fresh-faced little girl who was always concerned for others and wanted little more than to see everyone around her happy.

And now she is a senior in high school, attending prom, and graduating next month to begin her own journey through life with the world at her fingertips and magic in her eyes...

And isn't she gorgeous?!!

Age is opportunity no less,
than youth itself, though in another dress.
And as the evening twilight fades away,
The sky is filled by the stars invisible by the day.

...Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Morituri Salutamus

12 May 2010

I heart windows.

Originally uploaded by Luna Soledad
Not just any ole window, but a window that peeks from a nicely weathered wall and makes you curious about the inside... a story book cottage sort-of window full of warmth and personality -- with real working shutters (not the just-for-looks, manufactured-in-bulk and nailed-to-the-side-of-the-house ones) and colorful, well-loved flower or garden boxes.

I also love carved wooden doors, claw foot tubs, antique ale and medicine bottles, cobblestone streets, glass door knobs, and old skeleton keys... to name just a few. =)

"What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he's staring out of the window."

...Burton Rascoe

11 May 2010

Charleston's good eats.

Flounder Ceviche., originally uploaded by Luna Soledad.
The hubs had a lawyer gig down in South Carolina this past weekend and never being one to miss out on an opportunity to get out of town, I happily went along. (Thanks ever-so-much once again Nik and Wes!) Of course, there were other motivating factors for me as well, namely, photos and food.

And taking pictures of food.

Charleston is a beautiful port city famous for a lot of things -- it's rich history, architecture, sweet grass basket weavers, scenery, golf courses, etc., etc., lots of other stuff... and it's smörgåsbord of good southern eats. (Second perhaps only to New Orleans.)

We pretty much ate our way through the city over the course of four days and barely scratched the surface of this foodgasmic wonderland.

We dined at numerous fantastic places, including Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar where we had Chef Todd's Famous Shrimp Corndogs with horseradish mustard sauce and tiny pickles and Flounder Ceviche with diced mango (pictured here) for appetizers. For the main course: Flash in the Pan Pirlau with shrimp, scallops, muscles, clams, and lowcountry vegetable rice for me and for Kevin, Hot Shrimp and Crab with grilled tomato, brie, and lemon ailoi. (We won't even discuss dessert!) Everything was extraordinary -- from the atmosphere to the service to the food and presentation. ...Oh, and our bartender looked exactly like a young Matt Damon.

And since I love all kinds of ceviche (there are oh so many delicious types and so easy to make), here's one recipe that I stumbled across that sounds similar to the yumminess I had at Amen Street; just add mango!

"They eat the dainty food of famous chefs with the same pleasure with which they devour gross peasant dishes, mostly composed of garlic and tomatoes, or fisherman's octopus and shrimps, fried in heavily scented olive oil on a little deserted beach."

Luigi Barzini, Jr., The Italians, 1964

10 May 2010

irony and the trashcan.

strangers in uniform., originally uploaded by Luna Soledad.
I LOVE this photograph. Love, love, love it.

I loved it when I snapped it in Charleston on the corner of King Street... and I couldn't believe my luck when this working-class fellow strolled into this crisp-looking group of naval cadets with a trashcan at just the precise moment.

This picture tells a story... many stories in fact, depending with whose eyes it is read. --I'd dare say it is even poetry... and it gnaws at me to write something great as I stare at these strangers and their foreign lives.

This photo depicts one of life's many ironies:

It doesn't matter who you are, where you come from, what you do, what you believe, or what you have because every single one of us have had, and will have, our days...

Some days we're in uniform and some days we're pushing the trashcan.

"At the bottom no one in life can help anyone else in life; this one experiences over and over in every conflict and every perplexity: that one is alone. That isn't as bad as it may first appear; and again it is the best thing in life that each should have everything in himself; his fate, his future, his whole expanse and world."

Rainer Maria Rilke

04 May 2010


Look Away.
Originally uploaded by Luna Soledad
An incomplete, alphabetical list of some of my favorites:
  • "13 1/2" by Nevada Barr
  • "A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana" by Haven Kimmel
  • "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier" by Ishmael Beah
  • "Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths" by Bruce Feiler
  • "Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood" by Hollis Gillespie
  • "Confessions of a Recovering Slut: And Other Love Stories" by Hollis Gillespie
  • "Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America" by Firoozeh Dumas
  • "Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu" by J. Maarten Troost
  • "Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure" by Sarah Macdonald
  • "Jesusland: A Memoir" by Julia Scheeres
  • "Let the Right One In: A Novel" by John Ajvide Lindqvist
  • "Letters to a Young Poet" by Rainer Maria Rilke
  • "My Lobotomy" by Howard Dully
  • "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" by T.S. Eliot
  • "Olive Kitteridge" by Elizabeth Strout
  • "Rain of Gold" by Victor E. Villaseñor
  • "Road-side Dog" by Czeslaw Milosz
  • "She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana" by Haven Kimmel
  • "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" by Mary Roach
  • "Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson" by Mitch Albom
  • "The Bridges of Madison County" by Robert James Waller
  • "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" by Mark Haddon
  • "The Girl in the Red Coat: A Memoir" by Roma Ligocka
  • "The Glass Castle: A Memoir" by Jeannette Walls
  • "The Help" by Katheryn Stockett
  • "The Heretic's Daughter: A Novel" by Kathleen Kent
  • "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold
  • "The Mercy of Thin Air" by Ronlyn Domingue
  • "The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust" by Edith H. Beer
  • "The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry" edited by Alan Kaufman
  • "The Reader" by Bernhard Schlink
  • "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd
  • "The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific" by J. Maarten Troost
  • "The Space Between Us: A Novel" by Thirty Umrigar
  • "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger
  • "The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath" by Sylvia Plath
  • "Verses That Hurt: Pleasure and Pain from the POEMFONE Poets" edited by Jordan Trachtenberg
  • "Walking the Trail: One Man's Journey along the Cherokee Trail of Tears" by Jerry Ellis

"There are books which take rank in your life with parents and lovers and passionate experiences, so medicinal, so stringent, so revolutionary, so authoritative."

...Ralph Waldo Emerson