Monday, October 31, 2011

The Rock

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I'm writing this blog about the experiences I've had living in three different parts of the country, central Texas, western Tennessee, and north central New Jersey. My goal is to hone my writing skills. I recently wrote a memoir of my childhood on a cattle ranch in central Texas. Now I'm "smoothing out the rough patches" in my compositon. Blogging is good writing practice.

My husband's health took a decline at the turn of the century, and he was forced to quit working. It was a challenge to find something to occupy his mind that wouldn't be beyond his physical capabilities.

The first few months were devoted to the paperwork required by the retirement process. From there, he moved on to get our family affairs in order.

We bought four cemetery plots before we moved from Tennessee to New Jersey. My husband insisted on buying ones located close to his deceased relatives.

The only ones available are on the very side of the road. Our children will be able to make drive by visitations to our graves. They'll be able to open the car window and toss a wreath over the corner of the tombstone without coming to a complete stop.

My husband was on a roll after getting all the family records in good order and decided to select a double headstone for our cemetery plot. I foolishly assumed he would pick a small marker, one the caretakers could literally mow over, in a subtle gray or brown.

I was so happy he was busy that I didn't ask for any details. I assumed he would be browsing through the Bible and various books of quotations for weeks to select the ideal quote for our headstone. I should have known better.

My husband was in the legal department of an international pharmaceutical corporation. Most of his time was spent on the phone. His first instinct when faced with a problem or project is to grab the phone. This was no exception.

He had the stone ordered within a week. The information to be carved on the monument became the hot topic for dinner conversation. My beloved spouse wants the information on his side of the marker to include his full name and nickname along with his date of birth and death, his academic degrees, and his family lineage for three or four generations. His will be the only marker in all of Shelby County with a small phrase in parenthesis at the bottom. It will read: to be continued on the other side.

I was working part-time and keeping house and helping to organize a wedding during this selection process. The next time I was in Memphis, I took a friend and drove out to see where I was to be buried.

We had no difficulty finding the plot. The marker is about three feet tall and so shiny it glows in the dark. I sat in the car with the motor idling and my mouth ajar in shock. My friend leaned over and soothingly patted my hand, "I know it's a shock the first time you see your name on a tomb stone." she sympathized.

"Oh, that doesn't bother me." I wailed. "But it's the only day glow marker in the cemetery, and that bothers me. Oh, well. I'll be under it and won't have to look at it day in and day out. In a 100 years or so perhaps some of the shine will have worn away."

The moral to this story is to never assume anyting from a spouse, no matter how long you've been married. If you do, you too might have to spend eternity under a great shiny black rock.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Plots

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. Although I grew up in a farming and ranching community in central Texas, I wound up a corporate wife in Memphis, TN. The company was re-structured in the early ’90’s, and my husband’s department was transferred to New Jersey.

Timing is everything. Our first and second daughters completed high school in two successive years with the second one finishing in the spring prior to our move. They stayed down South to complete their educations.

I worked hard to get our family organized for the move. I collected copies of all birth certificates, baptism certificates, and our marriage license; copies of the two younger children’s medical records were transferred. I even contacted the high school to get the summer reading list for our third daughter.

I demanded we select burial plots before the move. It was one major emotional decision I did not want to make in the throes of a family crisis from half way across the country.

My demand was ignored. I was not to be deterred and phoned the volunteer superintendent of the cemetery back in Cedar Creek, Texas. He was a distant relative and informed me that since my family had contributed part of the land for the cemetery, I was entitled to four plots free of charge. I announced this at dinner that evening.

The next Saturday we met with the superintendent of Calvary Cemetery in Memphis. My husband insisted on starting a tour of the facility in the older section where all his relatives are interred. When he was informed the section was filled, he looked around and demanded, “Are all these plots paid for?”

I didn’t like the tone of this conversation. I had visions of some indigent soul being dug up and double bagged to be put out by the mail box. It would be hard to thumb a ride to Potters’ Field from in there.

“Oh, yes.” responded the superintendent. “This is one of the most popular sections.
People are dying to get in here.”

It was an interesting visit despite the ghoulish humor. I learned its hard to keep track of the empty plots in an old cemetery; especially if the terrain is rolling. Gravity pulls all the coffins and vaults down the hill. Everything looks in complete order above ground while below there’s a major traffic jam at the base of every incline.

My husband was finally convinced and agreed to buy four plots in the next section over. There was a man buried three plots from the ones we selected who had lived three doors down from us for 20 years. It seemed an appropriate selection.

We bumped along for two or three years without further consideration of our choice, until one Christmas when my husband took the children out to Calvary during the Christmas holiday. He stopped at the office to visit with the secretary. She let it slip that our plots were in the Irish Gypsy section of Calvary.

The Irish Gypsies are a large extended family of itinerant petty thieves who prey on the elderly and ignorant with bogus roof and paving repairs. They roam the countryside during the summer and winter in the mid-south. Their taste in headstones runs to grandiose pink marble. Women feud over deceased men. Beads are hung on headstones and candles burned. It would be a lively place to spend eternity.

My husband’s attitude was “there goes the neighborhood.” He spent more time at the Calvary office until he found someone willing to sell him four plots closer to his family. We owned eight plots in Calvary for several months and wondered if we were the largest landowners there.

In one respect, I can understand why my husband wanted to be buried close to family. It will make it easier for future generations to locate us all if we’re near the same spot. But there’s always more than one aspect to every situation.

My mother-in-law was a formidable lady. She lived a Horatio Alger life and served as the president and chairman of the board of a company in the 1950’s when most women were just beginning to work in the typing pool. I admired her greatly but must admit she never liked me much. Why spend eternity where you’re not welcome? There would never be a dull moment a little farther down the hill with the gypsies.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Business Card

I had the quick print shop design a business card to promote my blog. It's a tiny photo of me with the message: "My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. It would be a fine name had I the talent and inclination to either sing rock 'n roll or wrestle professionally."

One of my daughters eagerly took my last one. She later explained to her father that she wanted it to share with her psychologist.

My children and grandchildren will not lack for something to talk about at my wake.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Friday, October 21, 2011

Adult Education

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I was born and raised in central Texas but have spent most of my life struggling to behave as an adult in western Tennessee and north central New Jersey. I love to take continuing education classes. I always learn something valuable from every class, but it isn't always what the teacher intended.

Basket weaving taught me that if I'm going to spend that much time with my hands in water, I might as well stay home and clean house.

I took the classes to become a certified medical transcriber when we moved to New Jersey. The first thing I learned is that I can't bear to spend entire days at a time typing in a corner.

I learned that I hear and speak in an accent. I transcribed for a radiologist with a Spanish accent for a week once on temporary assignment. At the end of one particularly long day, he began to describe a prostate patient as a 70 something year-old "re-doer." I listened three or four times to this paragraph and couldn't figure out what the doctor meant. So I stopped there and spent the rest of my required time reviewing and revising what I'd done for the day. The next morning I listened to the tape again. The doctor was describing an elderly "widower." Duh!

The medical terminology class taught me there's no correlation between the size of a man's feet or nose or hands with any other part of his body; however, a deep voice indicates a high testosterone level. Gives you a whole different perspective on Tennessee Ernie Ford, doesn't it?

The women on the bowling team in New Jersey dared me to take a class in stand up comedy. The class would have made a great sit com. The teacher was as New York as Jerry Seinfeld but with a thicker accent. He had also recently gained considerable weight. His jeans were so tight he had to remove the wallet from his back pocket to sit in a student's desk.

There were a dozen or so young men in the class ranging in age from 25 to 32 or so. They were all there to be funny and risque. Their primary goal was to talk about women's body parts and use the ultimate F word. You should have seen their faces when I walked in. I was wearing my sensible shoes and carrying my tote. I never go any where without a book and my knitting in case I have some "down time." God forbid, I should spend a few moments with either my hands or my mind unoccupied.

I would always tell when someone was going to talk dirty. The students couldn't look at me, but the teacher would get right in my face to emphasize his daring vocabulary.

This class taught me that I spent too many years teaching my children proper behavior to do stand up. It's too late for me. I'm not comfortable standing in front of a crowd and saying things like, "I don't understand why the Catholic Church is so uptight about the practice of birth control. Just because you practice something, doesn't make you any good at it."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ooops

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I'm a migratory grandmother. I commute back and forth between Memphis, TN, and Basking Ridge, NJ, at irregular intervals to maintain a presence in the lives of my children and grandchildren.

My husband's job took us to New Jersey in 1991. We have learned New Jersey and Mississippi are the two most unappreciated states in the union. This is okay with them. The status quo has served them well.

Most people think of Newark and organized crime and the Garden State Parkway when the conversation turns to New Jersey. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There are more horses in New Jersey than in Kentucky or Texas. Most of the state is beautiful rolling countryside.

Basking Ridge is a colonial-circa village. An oak tree in the church yard in the center of the town was a sapling when Columbus discovered America. It's rumored that Molly Pitcher is buried beside it. The cemetery closest to the church is crowded with colonial graves. The headstones are covered with clear plastic in winter to protect them from severe temperatures. It looks as though they're prepared for safe sex.

My knitting guru who lives in Memphis has a son-in-law who was working at the time for a company who owned an apartment in New York City. My friend was coming up to visit her daughter in Connecticut and was going to spend a night in the apartment. She invited me to take the train to the city and spend the night with her and see a play. We would spend the next day shopping for fabric and notions in the garment district.

I packed a gown and toothbrush in a tote bag and walked down the hill from my house to the train station. I never felt more urbane. The tote was slung over my shoulder where my handbag usually rides. I sat on a bench with the tote over my shoulder and my purse on the platform beside me and read a book while waiting for the train.

When the train arrived, I boarded and left my handbag on the platform. I realized my blunder as soon as it was too late to go back for it. The conductor could have been one of my children. He gave me a free ride to the next station and said, "Take the next train back. Tell the conductor what happened. He'll give you a free pass. Tell your husband you were mugged."

My husband would never believe I was mugged. He knows I sound and act so differently from anyone an eastern mugger has ever encountered I would probably be able to avoid any problem. God protects the extremely eccentric.

There was a coffee shop at the next station. As I stood on the platform waiting for the train back to Basking Ridge, I noticed a policeman sitting in the coffee shop with a woman quietly sharing a piece of pie. I interrupted with a request for him to have his dispatcher contact the police in Basking Ridge and have them go to the station and look for my purse.

Basking Ridge is a small place. The police department has spells of under-employment. A dead squirrel in the middle of the street can require the attention of two patrol cars on a quiet day.

I arrived back in Basking Ridge to find two marked cars and four young policemen searching the platform. One was fanny up in the garbage can. There was no handbag. They were kind enough to give me a ride home in the squad car.

I quickly learned why I would never be a successful criminal. You have to ride in the back seat of the squad car. The seat isn't padded. The doors only open from the outside. The windows don't roll down. I barf when I have to ride in the back.

A neighbor had a key to my house. I immediately got on the phone, called my friend, and then cancelled my credit card. In less than an hour we received a call from the district manager of the railway system. He had visited our train station moments after I boarded the train and found my purse on the platform.

First thing the next morning, I was at his office in one of the larger towns a half hour or so from Basking Ridge. I took him two bottles of red wine in appreciation. It's such a small world. I wasn't surprised to learn he was born in Nashville, TN.

The big urban world isn't always a cruel place. But I do have to admit my guardian angel regularly works over time.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

So Many Good Books, So Little Time

My name is Jackie Ellis Stewart, and I'm on the Grandmother's Circuit between New Jersey and Tennessee. I usually take the four o'clock flight and leave extra early for the airport. It's one of my favorite places to read. On two separate occasions, I'm mortified to confess I was in such a hurry to get to my book that I sat in the wrong terminal and missed my flight. If you miss a flight, it gives you even more time to read.

This is the part of the trip where I'm rushing around cramming everything into boxes and suitcases. UPS is one of my favorite partners in crime. I always stop there on my way to the airport to send my dirty clothes and books on ahead. It's a good thing knitting doesn't have an odometer. Isn't that what they call the gizmo that calculates the number of miles you've covered?

Two books have come to my attention in the packing process. "The Chitlin' Circuit and the Road to Rock 'n Roll" by Preston Lauterback is the story of how the music played by the descendants of slaves became rock 'n roll.

Remember when rock 'n roll first started and the ministers preached against that sinful sound? In the 1930's and '40's "rockin'" in the Black community was a euphemism for the ultimate deed. Live and learn.

The other book that was brought to my attention is "The Time It Never Rained". There's a history making drought going on in Texas right now. Those of you in that part of the country might want to investigate this one.

When I get back to my next post, I promise to get more organized in my blogging and establish some sort of schedule. In the meantime, if you've read a good book and want to share the title, please add a comment to my blog.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Shot the Bird

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I'm a gypsy. I migrate between Basking Ridge, New Jersey, and Memphis, Tennessee, hot on the grandmother trail. I don't care how high the snow is piled in Jersey in January. I'll be there if my granddaughter invites me or if my daughter needs me. It can't be too hot in Memphis if one of my grandsons is playing in a ball game. I'll be there with my folding chair and camera.

Motherhood is the most guilt-ridden profession. No matter what you do, you're gonna make a mistake and warp a small child's psyche. I was kicked upstairs to the position of grandmother about ten years ago. The job description is more flexible. I love watching the genes play out from one generation to another. Nut or fruit, the genes don't fall far from the tree.

I'll never get the award for Grandmother of the Year; not after my ten year-old grandson tattled on me for shooting the bird at someone in traffic. I forgot the children were in the back seat. Have you any idea how hard it is to stop the middle finger gesture in mid salute?

"Brooklyn" by Colm Toibin and "Rules of Civility" joined me on my latest trip. I thought "Brooklyn" was a simplistic story of a young immigrant girl until a little more than half way through the book when it seemed she was about to do something really dumb. I started skimming to see what was going to happen. The author hooked me when I wasn't looking.

"Confederates in the Attic" by Tony Horwitz will keep me company tomorrow when I move from one location to another. I've been working on "Of Human Bondage" by Somerset Maugham for over a month. Its not an easy read. I have a hard time relating to the main character, but I'm determined to keep it up. It has to get better. If there are some Somerset Maugham devotees out there who don't agree with me, please feel free to comment.

Happy reading,
Jackie Lee

Birthday Book Swap

A friend of mine is planning her next significant birthday. She wants all her friends to bring her a copy of their favorite book.

She turned to me and said, "But you don't need to bring me a copy of that book written by the young man who wrote only one book and then committed suicide. You know, it's the one his mother took to Walker Percy. He read it to get that obnoxious woman off his lawn, realized it was a gem, and took it to a publisher. It won the Pulitzer."

She was alluding to "The Confederacy of Dunces." It's one of the few books I've read more than once. I read it every two or three years for the love of a good story. The characters and story are unique and could only exist in New Orleans.

I've learned the story never changes, but my perspective does. As I grow older, I see and appreciate details and nuances I missed earlier.

I stumbled into a similar experience with "Death of a Salesman." We were required to read it as seniors in high school. What a waste of time. We were too young to appreciate the drama. We hadn't lived long enough.

It's like the good ole boy said to the painfully young minister, "You haven't sinned enough to preach."

As a senior citizen, I had the privilege of seeing it performed on Broadway. It's a powerful, heart wrenching play. I could understand why the man playing Willie Loman had to report to the emergency room periodically to control his high blood pressure.

What book or play resonates in your heart and mind and soul so strongly that you revisit it from time to time? Please leave me a comment. Let's talk books.

Happy reading,
Jackie Lee

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Paperbackswap.com

Do you like to read? Do you treat your books with respect? Do you have stacks of them around your house gathering dust? Would you mind sharing them with others?

Do you think there's something almost magical about getting mail?

If any of this appeals to you, please investigate paperbackswap.com. If you join, please tell them jnkfodstew@aol.com sent you.

Let's "talk books" please make a comment on this message and tell me what you're reading. Let me hear from you!

As always,
Jackie Lee

Moo

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I have always been enamoured of the printed word and loved to read and write. Right now I'm in the process of writing a memoir of my childhood on a cattle ranch. It's time to look ahead beyond this project, and that's where I need your help.

I've always been a book pusher. My favorite topic of conversation with anyone I meet is "what are you reading now or what have you read recently?". My new goal is to use this blog as a forum for book discussion groups.

The purpose of this Internet discussion group is multifaceted. We can exchange reading lists and discuss the selection process. We can exchange titles. I propose to establish a schedule to include discussion of classics, current fiction, mysteries, science fiction, old and new fluff. The potential is huge for a book fanatic.

If you belong to a book discussion group or know someone who is, please direct them to my blog. I need your comments. I've talked about myself long enough. It's time to "talk books."

I'll close now with my favorite book discussion story. There's a gal I know who belongs to a reading group of women in their forties and fifties. They all missed the Vietnam War and the hippie movement. My friend selected Jane Smiley's "Moo" for them to read. They were too young to understand it was a broad satire of college life in the sixties. It was a disastrous discussion. I'm not sure my friend has yet to live it down. Every time she suggests a book someone will look at her with an arched eyebrow and ask "Moo?"

Happy Reading.
Jackie Lee

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cupid Wore Green

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I've devoted my life to my family and keeping a path clear to the front door from the outside and the inside. That's not as easy as it may sound.

Retirement is not an option for a housewife, but with the children out on their own, my husband and I finally have some time to spend together. We've become enthusiastic duplicate bridge players. That sounds better than "we've lost our minds and become bridge nuts".

I will never be a great bridge player. I'm more interested in the people than in counting the cards and keeping track of what's been played.

The following is a true love story of one of the couples who played with us.

It was St. Patrick's Day, 1970. DeeDee was working her second job as a waitress at the Gilded Cage in Alexandria Louisiana. Her husband had left her for her best friend in the late sixties. She got $300. per month in child support to feed and house and clothe six children.

DeeDee has grit. She was determined to make it on her own. She worked days in a civil service job. At night, she waited tables at the Gilded Cage. She wore a red satin costume with fishnet stockings and a sweeping feather in her hair.

She was in a sharp mood on this particular night. The restaurant had a new cash register. The teenage cashier was terrified of the new machine and couldn't make it work. DeeDee was the only waitress who reported to work that night. The Kiwanas, all 38 of them, were holding their weekly dinner meeting in the back room. It was St. Patrick's Day. The place was packed with people who wanted to celebrate.

Bernard was across town working in his hotel room. An insurance firm had stationed him in Memphis, but he had temporarily established headquarters in Alexandria. It was centrally located in the state and made it easier for him to tend to business through-out his territory.

The walls of the room began to close around him about nine that night. He decided to take a short break. Bernard rarely patronized bars, but there was no other place to go for a brief respite. The first he tried played country music which didn't appeal to him. Someone there suggested the Gilded Cage.

By the time Bernard found a seat at the end of the bar at the Gilded Cage, DeeDee was caught up in serving food and drinks and running the register. She had had it!

Bernard watched her in action for a while. Then the next time she rounded his end of the bar, he offered to take her to dinner at the "finest restaurant" in town when she got off work. She was in no mood for fresh behavior and countered that the "best restaurant" was next door and closed the same time as the Gilded Cage. When she came within range of his voice again, he countered with an invitation for a drink after work. She accepted and immediately regretted it.

She passed the bartender on the way to turn in her order to the kitchen and asked him to "scare off" that stranger at the end of the bar. "Tell him I have six children and the teenagers are a real problem." she urged. The second half of that statement was a bald-faced lie.

Bernard was an only child. He had always longed to be part of a big family. The bartender's warning had the reverse effect. He figured any woman who could have six children and still display that much spunk was really interesting.

The drink date went extremely well. The next morning Bernard drove DeeDee and a couple of her children to visit a prospective college. He promised to return the following weekend.

The personnel at the Gilded Cage was a closely knit group. They watched out for each other. They didn't expect Bernard to keep his word and planned to take DeeDee out after work as a consolation.

Bernard had been working in a far part of the state all week. It was 11:30 before he reached the Gilded Cage, but he did make it. In fact, Bernard drove back to Alexandria to be with DeeDee for the next 33 consecutive weekends.

DeeDee consulted her children when Bernard proposed. Her eldest daughter spoke for all the children and said, "If it lasts two years, it will be worth it."

We met the Varneys in the Memphis duplicate bridge circuit. They played an intricate precision-style game guaranteed to puzzle rank beginners. It was a result of hours spent together on car trips in serious discussion. They had exactly the same number of master points because they only played with each other. Their obvious devotion was that of two adults. They had both been forced to cope with serious emotional and practical problems. The hard spots in both their earlier lives brought them even closer.

Bernard was a chain smoker. He passed away in the early 2000's. DeeDee still plays bridge and carries his picture in the front of her scorecard.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Lost: One Silver Punchbowl

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I'm a reformed yarn and fabric addict. Although I've been to knitting camp, I am no longer in competition for the "she who dies owning the most yarn and/or fabric wins" competition. This decision was not reached easily or without great angst.

I still have a fairly respectable stash but am no yarn harlot. She secrets bags of yarn in the sleeves of coats hanging in the closet and in the freezer. Mine is stacked neatly in large plastic bins and in various plastic bags that are filed away close at hand with the pattern and needles in various closets through-out our house.

The goal of a knitter is multi-faceted. It's always nice to have something new to wear that you created yourself, but there's also the joy of handling the yarn and the near meditation rhythm of the knitting process. Knitting provides entertainment and solace as well as a garment.

Confession is good for the soul, and in this case, background material for the latest family mystery as well. As the wife of the youngest son, I was blessed with a number of family heirlooms when my mother-in-law passed on to the ultimate shopping experience on The Other Side. I'm guardian of the family punch bowl. It's silver with the ladle, cups and tray to match. I've been in the family 43 years and have seen it used four times.

I had an opportunity to use it this summer. The daughter of a woman who was in grammar school with my husband announced her first pregnancy. This girl was a modern bride and graciously declined all offers for bridal showers to be given in her honor. Without consulting either Emily Post or Miss Manners, I announced I was hosting a baby shower for the new grandmother to be, and if the new mother wanted to attend, she would be most welcome.

She accepted. Invitations were issued and the menu planned. I started looking for the punch bowl two weeks before the event with no success. I had the ladle and cups and tray but no bowl. I wound up having to borrow one.

That was early this summer. This weekend while changing out my clothes from one season to another and packing for a trip, I found the cursed thing. It was wrapped in a black plastic bag and lurking in the very back of a coat closet. It was also stuffed with knitting projects.

I immediately sent an e-mail to all three of my daughters because I knew how concerned they were with this gnarly quandary. My youngest daughter wrote back to her sisters and me requesting that I dig a bit deeper. She suggested Jimmy Hoffa might be lurking back there as well.

Our three daughters are all now mature women over thirty. I knew these people before they were born and the women who preceded them for two or three generations. It is such fun to watch the genes pass from one generation to another.

I'm a yarn and fabric and book person. One of my daughters is a designer shoes and handbag devotee. Earlier this week I invited her to help me select an informal handbag for the winter. She countered with an invitation for me to "shop" in her closet among her discards. I accepted and came away with two that should work fairly well. I did suggest that if she's going to be handing many more of her purchasees "up" instead of "down" that she might consider buying somewhat larger handbags.

I was the only one who found that remark amusing. Oh, how I miss my mother. She would find such joy in this next generation.


As always,
Jackie Lee

Sweet Romance

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I was born and reared in central Texas but married 43 years ago and moved first to western Tennessee and then north central New Jersey.

My husband and I are hugely sentimental and impractical when it comes to special occasions. Our 25th wedding anniversary is a prime example. We decided to celebrate by touring the Gettysburg battlefield. Our ten year-old son accompanied us to further enhance the ambiance. Our anniversary is in late August.

Neither of us is particularly adept with electronic equipment, but since it was such a special occasion, we decided to bring our new video camera.

The best view of the battlefield is at the top of a steep hill. My husband had polio as a child and has to lean on my shoulder to climb steps. Our son was running ahead of us. We had been struggling with the camera all day with no success. We had the on and off buttons confused and were using them in exactly the wrong order.

We didn't get any pictures of the battlefield; however, we did get a great recording of our conversation as we huffed and puffed our way to the top of the hill. The weather wasn't the only source of heat as we debated why the "dirty razzle frattzin' camera" didn't work.

Our son beat us to the top of the hill by several minutes. There was a statue standing on a tall base at the pinnacle of the hill. The base of it was molded to look like giant, craggy boulders. We reached the top in time to see our child scrambling up the base to stand by the statue. I could see there was a plaque at its feet and called out to the boy, "What does the plaque say?"

He reached the top and stood by the statue. The writing on the plaque faced away from the figure and was a challenge to read upside down. He haltingly called out across the wide expanse, "Please ..... do..... not.... climb ..... rocks."

As we walked back down the hill, I told my husband who won the war. I undiplomatically referred to it as the "Civil War" instead of "The Recent Unpleasantness." I also pledged to never again oblige when he asked, "Just run across that field and see what it says on that pile of cannon balls." The honeymoon was over.