My Mom and Her Determination

I tried to go to an Italian bakery today and could not figure out why it was so crowded. This reminded why…

(Here’s a re-posting of a piece I wrote some time ago. It’s the time of the year…but with all the uncertainty, I missed the actual date of March 19th. My mom has now been gone for 11 years, but the sentiment remains. Nevertheless, here it is…)

It has been almost 8 years since my mother died. Thoughts, sights, and sounds remind me of her almost daily.

Words she often turned into her own askew versions. Her penchant for reading EVERY street sign whenever she was in the car. Twinkies she hid in the freezer in violation of her diet. The one constant reminder is my white hair, undeniable genetic evidence that part of her remains with me.

These are memories of a special woman.

Each year, on a particular date, there is a poignant reminder of something she did for me.

I suspect she had similar traditions with my brother and sisters; she was that kind of a mom.

She had a way to make you feel special.

Nevertheless, this one was between us.

As many of you know from my writings, I do not share the faith that my mother did. She had absolute confidence in her beliefs. Despite all the things she experienced, the joys and the sorrows, she never once doubted them.

She made a valiant effort to share her faith. If there is any blame to go around for her failed attempt to instill that in me, the fault is mine.

What is the annual event that triggers such a memory?

St. Joseph’s day.

Every year, I would get a card from my mother. It came in the mail. It was not a text, an email, or a phone call. It would arrive in the days just before the 19th, more evidence of her careful consideration and purpose.

She took the time to select, address, and mail a card. Through a simple gesture, she preserved the dying art of thoughtfulness.

The card celebrated the Saint’s day of my (sort of) namesake. Her thoughtful gesture had a dual purpose, serving as a subtle reminder of her faith. I used to chuckle whenever I opened the card. Amused by my mother’s determination, yet touched by such a simple, caring act.

She never gave up.

Since her passing, I miss the card every year and her every day.

Mom, while you may not have succeeded in making me a Saint there is a good chance you made me less of a sinner.

Happy Saint Joseph’s Day.

When is Enough Enough?

There comes a time when enough is enough and our common humanity demands we act.

Instead of the daily update of the price of a gallon of gas.

Instead of the daily update of the price of a gallon of heating oil.

Instead of the daily vitriol of how Biden is to blame. Trump is to blame. It’s the Democrats. It’s the Republicans. It’s the Liberals. It’s the Conservatives.

How about we focus on what the real issue is?

Innocent children are being shattered into oblivion by Russian artillery and bombs and the world is standing by.

Every moment, of every day…

And we worry about the price of a gallon of gas.

The world is standing by watching the obliteration of a people because of a man (imagine!) focused on the seduction of power.

Every moment, every day, since February 24, 2022, Russian troops have been killing Ukrainian civilians.

History does not repeat, but does rhyme.

Nazis invade Poland
And the Russians do too.
The west (except the Brits) wonders what to do
Russia invades Ukraine
The world watches children die.
The ghosts of 1939 are screaming, once again, why?

Every moment….

In the time it took you to read this. In the time it took you to craft a response saying Ukraine is not our problem. In the time it took you to push a button and call me an idiot for even thinking we have a responsibility to do anything about this, how many children, CHILDREN, died?

We knew about the Final Solution of Nazi Germany long before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and gave Roosevelt the ammunition he needed to convince America the war in Europe and Asia was OUR PROBLEM.

What will it take for us to realize Russians bombing civilians in Ukraine is our problem…again?

Want to establish the true greatness of America? Then stand up and say, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Wherever it leads, let us be in the forefront.

Fateful Choices: Casus Belli or Vitandi Belli

Casus Belli or Vitandi Belli (The Cause of War or Avoiding War)

The world faces a crisis we all hoped would never again happen. Since the end of the Second World War, we have not faced realities of a potential conflict spreading across the globe. For more than seventy-five years—some of it spent saber rattling, some of spent building a more peaceful global society—we have avoided such a calamity.

While there have been localized conflicts with global repercussions, i.e. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan (both by us and Russia), Sudan, Syria, none ever escalated to a global conflict.

Evil will play any card, use any justification, make any lie to advance totalitarian aims.

Lt. General (Ret) John Broadmeadow, USMC

Yet today we face the real possibility of war between NATO and Russia. We also face an entirely distinct reality about warfare. In 1941, after the Japanese attacked the American territories with the bombardment of Pearl Harbor, we were drawn into the war. While the tragic loss at Pearl Harbor became a rallying cry for our declaring war on the Axis powers for most Americans, it didn’t come with any serious threat of war at home.

We faced an entirely different prospect than most countries.

The Japanese and German military lacked any real ability to inflict damage, either militarily or psychologically, in the continental US. We never faced the realities of war endured by London, Paris, Berlin, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, or Nagasaki.

We never endured the large-scale loss of civilian life, which is the dominant characteristic of all wars. Seventy-five million people died during World War II and the overwhelming majority were civilians. This is the reality of warfare, always has been and always will be.

So we now face a dilemma. Do nothing other than send military and humanitarian aid in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine and stand by as perhaps millions of civilians die under the brutal assault or take military action and start World War 3.

Neither of these choices are good ones. But sometimes the only choices we have are as undesirable as they are necessary.

My cousin, Lieutenant General (Ret.) John Broadmeadow USMC, who spent over thirty years in the Marines stationed all over the world and had a front-row seat to much of the realities of combat, wrote this.

“History is important. It demonstrates the deep irony of Putin’s lies that he’s fighting Nazis in Ukraine. The September 1939 invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia resulted from an agreement between the Russians and the Nazis…..i.e. the Molotov—Ribbentrop Pact. 

Also ironic is that part of Russia’s justification to team with the Nazis was to defend ethnic Ukrainians.

Russia’s co-aggression enabled Nazis and directly led to the worst conflict in the history of the world.
Evil will play any card, use any justification, make any lie to advance totalitarian aims. All elements of western power should be united and focused on defeating Putin’s aggression. If so, Putin will find himself on the wrong side of history.”

Lt. General (Ret) John Broadmeadow, USMC.

Putin plays the long game. For all intents and purposes, a sitting US President coddled and openly admired him as he imposed more of his will on the Russian people. He knew we stood idly by as Russia seized the Crimea. And he knew we faced limited choices in how to deal with his aggression.

The reality is in a conventional war against NATO, Russia cannot win. They expected to roll over the Ukraine and have failed to do that. They underestimated the Ukraine military and people. To do the same with NATO would be foolhardy. The overwhelming power of the US led NATO coalition will undoubtedly prevail. Even if China were to enter the war, the inevitable victory of NATO is assured.

But sometimes the only choices we have are as undesirable as they are necessary.

Joe Broadmeadow

But it would make World War 2 look like a minor skirmish.

There are no good solutions, only (human) cost/benefit analyzes which offer a solution. We make our best guess at what is the most effective course of action causing the fewest casualties and has the best chance of preventing such actions in the future. And when it is over, face the realities of overwhelming and inevitable casualties.

We face these difficult questions.

How many Ukrainians need to die before the world says enough?

How long do we tolerate Russian occupation of an independent country?

How much are we willing to lose in the blood and lives of Americans and allied countries to end this aggression?

And, most importantly, can we craft a solution to this dilemma which doesn’t trigger something we’ve avoided since August 6, 1945?

Armchair military geniuses will scream for us to take the most aggressive actions because they haven’t thought this through. If they find rising gas prices a heavy burden, they will never endure anything like the Ukrainians are.

It may come to where we no longer have a choice. But should that occur, and we experience the real possibility of Russian military ordinance striking at Boston, or Washington, or New York, or Podunk, perhaps then we will understand the actual cost of war.

Whatever happens, let’s hope when it ends we can look at ourselves in the mirror and say we did what had to be done.

The Teasing Season

“‘Snow in April is abominable,’ said Anne. ‘Like a slap in the face when you expected a kiss.’” — L.M. Montgomery

Despising winter—yet stubbornly refusing to leave New England in quest of a different climate—I look forward to the coming of Spring. We now are a mere eighteen days from the Spring Equinox—from the Latin “equal night”—when the sun crosses over the equator (or more accurately when the earth’s axis tilts the northern hemisphere more towards the sun) and the days continue to lengthen and grow milder.

This time of the year is the most trying. It is the teasing season where one day we are immersed in a blizzard followed by freezing rain, then bitter cold, locking the slippery snowy mess in place. Then a forty-five-degree day full of sun that feels almost like summer.

But we cannot rely on the warmth to last. Winter never goes quietly around here. It strikes out like a wounded animal, snarling and slashing at us a few more times before dying.

A glance at the forecast for the next few days shows temperatures ranging from 60 degrees to 15 degrees. The teasing warmth soon shattered by bitter cold.

And while I try to always live in the moment, since the future is so uncertain, there is the promise of steadily warming days ahead. Soon, those strange people who enjoy the cold will complain about the humidity and heat. While I for one, sans the air conditioning I also despise, will bake gleefully.

Spring is almost upon us with its promise of renewal. Nests will hold eggs, the first green stalks will find their way out of seed and rise above the soil, and the sun will rise higher in the sky and stay there a bit longer each day, to warm the moments of our lives.

But for now, I will keep a wary eye out for those last blasts of frigid weather trying to spoil the moments of warmth.

It is almost time to listen to the warmth with all our senses.

The Enigma of Jerry Tillinghast

“The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.”

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

On February 21, 2022, Gerald M. “Jerry” Tillinghast died of natural causes. Had one taken a bet as to his ultimate manner of death back when Jerry first gained notoriety in Rhode Island, natural causes would have been one of the least most likely choices.

His transformation from a tough kid from South Providence to a combat Marine in Vietnam to his association with organized crime did not lend itself to a non-violent death. Yet Jerry overcame all that stood in his way to survive seventy-five years, succumbing as we all will eventually to inevitable mortality.

If one were to read the news stories of his passing, one comes to see that two Jerry Tillinghast’s died that day.

There is the one forever identified as a “mob enforcer” and linked to crimes for which he was acquitted; and there is the one who was a brother, father, uncle, grandfather, and great-grandfather raising a family despite the limitations of his imprisonment and enjoying to this day their love and devotion.

This is not an attempt to excuse Jerry’s actions in the past. He has said it himself over and over, “I made my choices and I am living with the consequences.” This is an attempt to point out that injustices against anyone, no matter one’s opinion, are something antithetical to the American Justice system.

In the many articles about his passing, they identify him as one of the Bonded Vault Robbers. He was tried in that case and found not guilty. To paint him as a participant despite his acquittal is to make a mockery of the jury’s decision in this case.

He served his sentence, spending thirty-three years in prison for his conviction in the George Basmajian matter. That is how the system works. You do the crime, you do the time, and then you move on. But the prurient interest on anything mob-related is an indelible mark on his character that ignores our system of justice.

I had a ringside seat to witness the two Jerry Tillinghasts. The one I knew of and the one I came to know in authoring the book with him. During the research for the book, one of the most startling things I discovered was the injustice done to him in Vietnam. And I didn’t form this opinion because of what I learned about the case; I formed this opinion after talking with the former Marine JAG lawyer who defended Jerry during the trial in Vietnam.

When I spoke with this gentleman, he was now retired from an over fifty-year career in the law, including time as the Presiding Justice of the California Court of Appeals. To my astonishment, he remembered every detail of the case, despite the passage of time. He told me with certainty that the case against Jerry was one of the most blatant travesties of justice he had ever experienced, and it troubled him all his life.

That got me thinking about how it is often circumstances outside our control which channel us into paths we might never have otherwise chosen. If what happened to Jerry in Vietnam had not occurred, what might his choices have been?

There will be those who only see the Jerry Tillinghast of the headlines. They will gloss over his acquittal in the Bonded Vault case, claiming he “got away with it.” They will only see what they want to see because it somehow makes them feel better about themselves. There is nothing I can say that will change that.

There are also those who will ignore the reality of the terrible choices Jerry made that sent him down some dark pathways. Their affection blinds them for the Jerry Tillinghast they know. I can do nothing to change that either.

All I can say is that Jerry was more than a headline. He would be the first to tell you he made some terrible choices and lived to regret them. He would be the first to tell you there is no glamour, no honor, no respect in the mobster’s world. He would tell you to think otherwise is to fool yourself.

Jerry would tell you the one truth he knew better than anyone. When you make choices, you live with the consequences. No one forces you to do anything, the choice is always yours.

I have known, like many of you, of one Jerry Tillinghast. I am glad I got to know the other Jerry Tillinghast. He was one of the most memorable people I’ve ever met.

A True American Conspiracy: Who Decides Serving Sizes?

At a recent outing to a microbrew where we had been led to believe there would be empanadas for our culinary pleasures, we were sorely disappointed. Someone who shall remain unidentified (my daughter) got the date wrong, so we now faced starvation. It forced us to consume some tasty, flavored pretzels. We had to send my son-in-law out on a foraging expedition for Cheetos and other delectable delights. We faced desperate moments.

The pretzels came in a small plastic container, and while not empanadas, they served their purpose. The label on the package caught my eye. The nutrition information label said the package contained four servings. Each serving was fourteen pieces.

Fourteen pieces of small pretzels are considered a serving.

I’m not a big eater, but I could easily devour all four servings and move on to perhaps one or two more containers before I would even come close to being satiated. This led me to wonder, who determines a serving size?

Nectar of the Gods

Here’s a small sample of what some consider a serving.

M&Ms: Serving size twenty-two pieces!

Cheez-its: twenty-seven crackers!

Potato Chips: eleven chips!

If ever we needed proof of the existence of alien life forms, it is staring at us from every package of food we buy. They must be setting the serving sizes. No human being in history ever ate just eleven chips or twenty-seven Cheez-its.

EVER!

So I delved further into this mystery and found, lo-and-behold, that there is involvement by a shadowy government agency known by the acronym FDA (Food Deprivation Agency) sometimes operating in the open as the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA created the RACC.

 RACC stands for Recommended Amounts Customarily Consumed. And that’s just fancy phrasing that means “how much an individual should consume of that particular product in a single sitting.”

Are you kidding me? Have these people ever been out in the real world? If I am supposed to limit my intake of Cheez-its in a single sitting to twenty-seven crackers, why does it come in such a big box?

This whole serving size thing is a fraud. All it did was create jobs for more politically connected bureaucrats sitting around consuming unlimited servings of the world’s more delicious foods while writing rules limiting such intake for the rest of us.

But I am not standing, or sitting, for it anymore. I will eat as many Cheez-its or M&Ms or any other food of my choosing in any quantity I choose and serving size be damned!

Book Burning for (and by) Dummies

Haec sic pernosces parva perductus opella…
“So you’ll become very knowledgeable about these things, guided with just a little effort….”

Lucretius On the nature of things 1.1114

It would seem in our quest to Make America Great Again, we are reaching into that old reliable method of destroying that which we cannot or will not understand.

And we’ve done this by banning books.

Can it be a stretch of the imagination to see this followed up with book-burning? It would seem not after the debacle and revelations of the last four years. And since Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 were once considered controversial, I bet many leading the charge of banning books have never read either.

Soon the most intellectual, and moral of course, among us will diligently seek that which is causing the spiritual decay of America and toss them into a colossal barn fire accompanied by appropriate patriotic music (perhaps Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries would work, similar political philosophies seemed to find it suitable.)

We can follow this up with even more effective tactics to Save America from its descent into hell.

Find a book offensive? Burn it.

Find an opposing position untenable? Then, belittle, mock it, and spread lies about it.

Cannot tolerate a different point of view? Criminalize it.

Find the Constitution inconvenient? Ignore it.

Because some find particular material offensive, that is, in conflict with or challenging their own personal lifestyle choices or concepts of society, they demand its removal from the school library to protect our children.

I thought libraries were there to help educate and expose our children to the vast reality of the world. Foolish me. If our goal is a homogeneity of thoughts and ideas, we risk sacrificing ingenuity for bland sameness. Those who would go down this path are willing to exchange greatness—which derives from different perspectives to create a limitless palette of color—for underwhelming banality.

If one wants to burn a book that might make a difference, start with the Bible. That fictional work has caused more bloodshed and wreaked more havoc on humankind than the combined effect of thousands of other books. Plus, the chapters on the keeping of enslaved people are out of date, not to mention the offensive references to the ejaculative emissions of donkeys (look it up, it is in the Bible!)

While reading material should always be age appropriate, it should never be just an affirmation of one point of view or supportive of only one cultural perspective.

When I was in the eighth grade (way back in the dark ages of 1969), we debated American involvement in Vietnam. I argued in favor of our presence there. There, but for the fortunes of birth, I might have blindly marched off to fight in that terrible foreign policy mistake. And that war was an error by political leaders, not by the brave Americans who fought there.

Our military is directed by our political leaders and subject to their errors. An imperfect system but better than the alternative. But the experience of participating in the process taught me to consider all sides of an issue. I wonder if such a frank and open discussion of such a controversial issue would even be tolerated in the educational environment today?

History repeats, not because we fail to learn from it but because we let time or those with ambitions whitewash it.

And of course, one place leading the charge for banning books is Tennessee, which apparently has conveniently forgotten the Scopes Monkey Trial (itself a misnomer as monkeys were descended from an entirely different evolutionary path for which they are eternally grateful.)

The concept of evolution, one of the most well-established scientific theories, was inconveniently in conflict with religious doctrine, so it had to be suppressed despite the evidence. Look up the definition of theory before you scream it’s only a theory! So is gravity, yet no one has drifted into space yet.

Thus, the argument goes, we must ban books that portray graphic descriptions of things some cannot or will not understand. What happened to the concept of teaching? The whole point of school is to teach one to use reason and analysis to reach conclusions. To examine all aspects of a matter before drawing any conclusion.

Banning books is the exact opposite of teaching. It is the oppression of the weak by the powerful to preserve what they see as proper. And, of course, the politicians are pandering to this rush to illiteracy hoping to garner the votes of those too stupid (a politically incorrect yet apropos appellation) to realize the danger of their quixotic goals.

Ted Cruz, who many of his professors thought brilliant, would have read a wide variety of books at Princeton. That’s the point of education. Or perhaps he didn’t and just used Cliff notes to get by. And I will bet Harvard Law didn’t offer Cruz a narrow perspective on the law either. But it seems not to matter to the good Senator from Texas.

“Cruz says “left-wing educators” are introducing children to “explicit pornography” in schools as parents and conservative politicians in his state target books on racism and sexuality as inappropriate for public schools and libraries.

When asked what he meant, Cruz would not cite particular examples of pornographic content in schools but instead pointed to books that have made parents angry at school board meetings in general.

“Take a look at some of the portions from books that parents are going to school boards and reading out loud; this is what my child is being taught,'” he told Insider during an interview at the US Capitol. “And in too many instances, you have left-wing educators putting explicit pornography in front of kids. I think that is severely misguided.”

https://www.businessinsider.com/ted-cruz-pornography-book-banning-teachers-culture-wars-texas-2022-2

Here is a rule to live by. When someone says something is wrong and needs to be fixed but cannot cite one example of exactly how it is wrong and offers a solution only they can craft, it is almost certainly hogwash and polemic nonsense.

Yet here we are in 21st century America, embracing practices once common among governments that burned witches and heretics. If such becomes commonplace in this country, we have much to fear for our longevity.

But I take hope in a quote by FDR.

“Books cannot be killed by fire. People die, but books never die. No man and no force can abolish memory… In this war, we know, books are weapons. And it is a part of your dedication always to make them weapons for man’s freedom.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

But I Can’t Hold you Forever…

With each passing day, you grow and change right before my eyes. Sleeping in my arms, each breath, murmur, or dream-inspired smile seems a miracle to me…but I can’t hold you forever.

From the moment of your birth, holding you has been some of the best moments of my life—and I have had some genuinely wonderful ones, but nothing quite like you—and I cherish the privilege of sharing them with you…but I can’t hold you forever.

I can wipe away your tears, comfort your bumps and bruises, catch you as you falter and fall as you learn your way through life…but I can’t hold you forever.

I can hold on for as long as time allows and watch you grow. Each new expression, each new sound, each new thing learned bringing a smile to my face…but I can’t hold you forever.

Soon enough, the time will come where holding you will not be what you need. Soon enough, it will be time to let you find your way without our undivided attention. Soon enough, the moments of holding you will grow fewer and fewer as you grow into your own person because while I can hold you all I want to now…I can’t hold you forever.

Each day holds the memories of the past, the promise of the future, and the most essential element of living…now. Do not waste a moment on the past except to learn from your mistakes and enjoy the occasional smile of a memory. Do not waste a moment waiting for what tomorrow, or next week, or one hour from now might hold. Instead, experience each moment as it happens, for that is where we live our lives.

…I can’t hold you forever, but I can hold onto you now and add those memories to my own collection of the best moments of life.

The Colombia I’ve Come to Know

The mere mention of our plans to travel to Colombia brought questionable looks or, more ominously, open concerns about our sanity for traveling here. 

Truth be told, my experiences with Colombians before coming here was mostly limited to my time on the police department.

But, like most stereotypes, the one linking Colombia and the Colombian people as a whole to drug trafficking is patently false.

Here in Colombia, the transformation from the paroxysm of violence that once plagued the country to the Colombia of today is remarkable. Neighborhoods once the site of violent battles between government forces, paramilitary groups,  and the FARC Guerillas  (each often funded with the profits of drug sales), are now up and coming places to live.

The disparity between the economically powerful and those with limited means is still stark and terribly unequal, but one could make the same argument of many countries in this world.

The guides on our trip all fully acknowledge that the Colombia of the cartels–in particular the one controlled by Pablo Escobar-Gaviria–cast a dark shadow over Colombia’s reputation. 

But they also proudly point out the dramatic transformation taking place in the country.  During the height of the drug lords’ reign, Colombians feared to travel anywhere except what was necessary to survive. Kidnappings, assassinations, hijackings were all too common. 

Yet now, tourism (mostly domestic with increasing presence of international travelers) is contributing to a growing economy.

Our lead guide, Carlos Valencia, is a true ambassador for Colombia. He wove a captivating and  entertaining tale explaining the complex history and rich culture with his deep knowledge and sense of humor.  To him I say, gracias amigo.

As we made our way around the country, we clearly were an unusual sight, drawing subtle yet obvious attention wherever we went. We were the gringos, a term not meant in a derogatory manner but just to define our clear difference from the norm.

Once you come to see Colombia as little different than any other country in the world–a clear benefit of traveling even in the time of covid– where people just want to live their lives despite the obstacles, it is a beautiful country with friendly people. The friendliness underscored by their bemused tolerance as I massacred their language.

I find it interesting that it was the very violence itself tearing the country apart which led to its healing. 

Brave political leaders recognized that economic disparities provided the labor for the drug business.  Faced with a choice between losing their farms and families, or facing deadly threats if they refused,  many had no choice but to grow coca. Using the military to suppress dissent had the exact opposite effect.

The government refocused on the people and their welfare and the metamorphosis began.

Colombia has transformed itself from one of the most dangerous places in the world to one of the most enjoyable. Coming here made me realize that the Colombia I experienced and the Colombian people I met were always here, I just couldn’t see it because I never took the time to look for it.

Adios, Colombia, hasta la proxima vez

Go to Colombia, you’ll never regret the experience.

Leaving on a Jet plane…

No more putting life on hold. I have N95 masks, all my distemper shots, and understand the risks.

After all, life is a risk. I, for one, accept the challenge and choose to venture forth back into the world. So it is off to Colombia and a new and exciting exploration of a part of the world as yet unfamiliar to me…but not for long.