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Happy Summer Solstice!

So, I guess it really is summer here in Texas, where in our part of Houston the “feels like” temperature is 108. The air temp is a balmy 99. And we’re not even in the hottest part of whatever passes for summer here – generally in August, according to some local meteorologists. I just can’t wait!

After two years of hibernating for Covid, we’re now hibernating to stay cool enough to breathe. Neighborhood walks are pretty much out of the question for me. I get much too warm and exhausted. I walk around the house, staking out circular paths. I like our house, but… We’ve talked about a vacation, however, the problem is that most of the US is in the same blazing boat that we are – as is Europe. So maybe Alaska or Iceland? But the thought of flying somewhere, with cancelled and delayed flights doesn’t sound so great either. So, maybe in the Fall, when we might celebrate the Autumn Equinox.

Anyway, back to the Summer Solstice. Today is the longest day of daylight of the year. From here on out, the days will begin to get shorter. By an astounding two minutes a day. There are many excellent sources of information on the solstices – here are just a few: https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap170621.html. And this one that talks about solstice traditions: https://www.euronews.com/culture/2022/06/20/in-pictures-what-is-summer-solstice-and-how-is-it-celebrated-around-the-world. Although, I have to admit that I never knew about the mass yoga thing in New York. And, sadly, I suspect that the Ukrainians may not be doing much celebrating this year.

I hope the weather is not as extreme in your part of the world, and that you can enjoy the longest day without melting.

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Thoughts on Memorial Day

“From the silence of sorrowful hours
The desolate mourners go,
Lovingly laden with flowers
Alike for the friend and the foe”

FRANCIS MILES FINCH

Every year I read of postings that people share about Memorial Day. There always seems to be some confusion about it. Memorial Day is a day set aside to honor those who died in wars. Although there is a lot of speculation about exactly when it began, most scholars think it started after the Civil War. It was originally known as Decoration Day. I can remember my grandparents calling it that when I was a wee one. It appears that refers to the placement of flowers on fallen soldiers’ graves.

According to National Geographic, after the Civil War, “in subsequent years women, especially in the South, began tending to the graves of fallen soldiers, often regardless of which side they fought for.” I would like to believe that this is true – given the deep divisions we have in our country now.

Regardless, I think of those who perished on Memorial Day. Especially those US Navy men who were my father’s friends with whom he served on the USS Oklahoma in World War II. And I am eternally grateful that he was not among them. But I know, through connecting with my new family, and hearing a lot of stories, that he carried grief and guilt with him the rest of his life.

I also think of all the ancestors who I’ve found through genealogy. I am eternally grateful that they survived – in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War II. Otherwise I would not be here typing away. I will celebrate their lives on Veteran’s Day – which honors those who made it through.

Just some thoughts for your Memorial Day “celebrations.”

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Warning! Shameless Self-Promotion Coming

I am very pleased to announce that next Saturday, May 21, from 11AM to 4PM, I will be among a group of local authors to showcase my memoir, Sibling Revelries: Finding Family After 62 Years, at Copperfield’s Books, a great Indie bookstore in Northwest Houston. It’s at Louetta Rd. and Champion Forest Dr. and is not far from Highway 249.

If you’re nearby – or are up for a ride – stop by! Copperfield’s will be having a drawing for lots of reading-related goodies, as well as some food. When you purchase a book, you’ll get an additional raffle ticket, so you can up your chances for those goodies. And, I promise, I’ll be happy to tell you a condensed version of my story – it’s unlike most others I’ve heard about connecting with family.

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Happy Winter Solstice!

I have a Winter Solstice tradition to share with you. I hope you enjoy it and are happy – like me – to see longer days coming.

When I was much younger, my mother and I attended services at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church, one of the oldest places of worship in the country, where I was in the choir. My family had a long history with the church, with many of my ancestors christened, married, and eventually buried there. Like many places in the Northeastern part of the country, history oozed from every brick and cobblestone in Philadelphia. I suspect the major reason I went to church was that I loved the music so much.

Swedish colonists established Gloria Dei in 1677, five years before the founding of Philadelphia. The church has maintained many Swedish traditions. One of them is the Lucia Fest, a custom that is a mixture of Christianity and paganism. It celebrates both the birth of the Christ child and the winter solstice.

The Lucia fest at Gloria Dei was, and still is, a beautiful enactment. From the entirely candle-lit church, it begins with a procession of little boys and girls dressed in red as tomptegubbars (Santa’s elves), followed by the stjärngossar (star boys), and Lucia’s court of young girls dressed in long white nightgowns with green wreaths on their heads, carrying lighted candles. Finally, they are followed by the girl chosen to be Lucia. All of the participants sing traditional Swedish songs a capella as they proceed down the aisle of the church. Just thinking and writing about it gives me goosebumps. At the old building that was Gloria Dei, besides the performers and the audience, there were a lot of unobtrusive firefighters on the scene, just in case.

In homes throughout Sweden—and parts of the US where there are many Swedish immigrants—the custom is for the oldest girl in the household to arise early and walk through her house on the day of the solstice. She wakes her family, serving sweetbreads and coffee, singing along the way. Lucia represents the lengthening of the days and the return of the sun. And, later, the arrival of the Christ child, as the light of the world.

In my sixteenth year, I was chosen to be a Lucia. I sang solo in Swedish while wearing a crown of seven lighted candles, signifying the seven known planets at the time this custom began. Even after all these years, I still remember the words. In spite of being scary, it was also exhilarating.

A very young author and her mom – trying to be Swedes.
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Heartbroken

This just breaks my heart.

These young people that were killed in Kabul were our grandchildrens’ ages. Many of them were Marines, as my mom was. They were stationed at places where she served – Camp Pendleton, and Camp Lejuene. One was in the Navy, as my dad was. They were all far too young to die at the hands of violent extremists who don’t care about their country or its people. Only about their ideology.

The world is just too crazy lately.

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Author Fair This Weekend!

I’m very pleased to be part of Copperfield Books’ Author Fair this coming weekend – Saturday, May 29 – from 11:00 AM to 4 PM. I’ll be joining about twenty other authors, from all genres, local to the Northwest Houston area, near Champion Forest. Copperfield’s is an independent bookstore who does a wonderful job of packing a lot into a little.

We’ll be set up in the parking lot at the corner of Champion Forest and Louetta. You won’t be able to miss us. And why would you want to?

Come join us!

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She Was Ahead of Her Time

In 1948. President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. It opened the way for women to be permanent, regular members of all the armed services – including the Marines. My Mom beat him by five years, by becoming one of the first women to be accepted into the Corps in 1943.

Happy International Women’s Day, Mom. Wish you were still here with us.

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Her Name Was Irene Helen

Her family helped establish our country. They fought in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the War of 1812 (which Canadians tell us we lost), the Spanish-American War, and World War II. Various family root stocks settled in parts of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania in the 200 years before her birth. They produced a lineage that was strong and resilient.

After the birth of two brothers, she was a surprise and a great gift to her parents, having been born on their sixth anniversary.

Although some would call her unconventional, she was fun-loving. She and her brothers played ukuleles, sang, and put on skits in the family living room. When wallpaper was stripped to be replaced, they drew cartoons on the plaster walls. I can fondly remember seeing them when I was a young child and that wallpaper was removed again. But those skits used to embarrass me horribly when I was a sophisticated teenager. I think I know where any creative juices I may possess came from.

Good at math and supremely well-read, most people assumed she had a college degree. She certainly had a life degree and was one of the most articulate people I’ve ever known.

Men’s heads turned when they saw her. She was beautiful as well as personable. And unfailingly pleasant. A positive person when life threw her lemons. And she caught a lot of them.

She made history when she became a Sergeant Major in the US Marine Corps during World War II. Up to this time, the Marines were the last bastion of males only among the services. She was:
• among the first of eight women to be sworn into the Corps in Philadelphia.;
• in the first class of Women Marines to be trained at Hunter College;
• chosen with thirteen other women out of hundreds in her boot camp group to attend the inaugural class of Women Marines in First Sergeant’s school;
• one of the first Women Marines to appear in uniform in Philadelphia. It caused quite a stir, and was featured in the local newspaper;
• the first of four women to make First Sergeant;
• the first woman to replace a male First Sergeant.

She was highly intelligent, even though she never finished high school. One of her greatest accomplishment was to see me do well in school and graduate. Assignments were pored over and she constantly encouraged me to be “better” than she was. She was chest-thumpingly proud when her only child got a B.Sc. in Chemistry and an MBA from The Wharton School. It was perilous for anyone who might have asked how her child was doing during that time.

She was an indefatigable single mom, who took care of me, her invalid mother, her father and ran the household like a Marine. She somehow managed to balance everything while maintaining her equilibrium. And her sense of humor.

Our family lost her in 1985. The world lost an unheralded heroine who paved the way for others. I still miss her and can never thank her enough for the impact she had on my life.

Her name was Irene Helen. And she was my Mom, the Marine. Happy Birthday to the USMC!

Episode 6 of Irene’s Story – The Arrival of the (In)famous Clarence

Irene heard that some of the Women Marines in Camp Lejeune would be going to Hawaii. Irene was thrilled since she and her good friend Gerry were slated to go. They made all sorts of elaborate plans and even did a little skit with their fellow Feathernecks to celebrate. Their outfits of straw skirts and leis topped off with goofy masks and signs that said “Honolulu Here We Come” were the hit of the celebration.


Unfortunately, they made plans too soon, and learned that “the Corps” sometimes worked – or didn’t work – in mysterious ways. Gerry shipped out in November 1944, leaving poor Irene stuck in North Carolina with the roaches. But in December, just as she was about to have a Christmas leave with her family in Philadelphia, she got orders that she was being shipped to San Diego. That was the first step.

San Diego was a major disappointment to Irene. The Marine Corps base back then was a staging area for the troops going somewhere else, mostly the Pacific. There were waves of them who had to have muster rolls prepared and payroll records initiated, changed, or updated. Unfortunately, her staff there wasn’t like the top-notch crew she had at Camp Lejuene – or as large. And, the constant flow of troops was as never-ending as the California sunshine.

On top of that, Irene was conscientious to a fault. Because of her exceptional experience at Camp Lejuene, and the fact that she excelled at her job, she suspected that the Corps was keeping her from going to Hawaii. Instead of a workload of the two assignments that she handled at Camp Lejeune, she had three in San Diego: one as Acting Sergeant Major; Adjutant (an assistant to the Commanding Officer, or CO); and First Sergeant. Her feelings were likely well-founded. Those responsible were short-handed and they couldn’t afford to lose her. She began working 12- to 18-hour days again and started to burn out. Her superiors finally told her to slow down – which she reluctantly did. Meanwhile, her good friend Gerry had shipped off to Pearl Harbor, so she didn’t even have a buddy to gripe and share late-night snacks with.

Eventually the workload lightened up significantly, and life got easier in San Diego, so Irene could enjoy a bit of time to herself. She made one weekend trip up to Los Angeles with some other Feathernecks so she could see first-hand what Hollywood was all about. They went to The Brown Derby, Sardi’s, the legendary Clifton’s Cafeteria, and saw Grauman’s Chinese Theater with its celebrity footprints and handprints. In spite of its supposed glamour, she wasn’t impressed with Hollywood, and thought it seemed like any other smallish town. Irene was a big city girl, after all.

But right at home, the Marine Corps base had occasional dances, which she thought were much more fun than Hollywood, and she went to as many of them as she could. At least they were easier to get to, and less expensive. Best of all, they played a bigger variety of songs than “Pistol-Packin Mamma.” There were new tunes too, like “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” that she could jitterbug to and “Sentimental Journey” for those dreamy slow dances.

Among her other duties, Irene scheduled the Marines who were on her muster rolls for physicals and dental checkups before they shipped out, so she had frequent contacts with those who were responsible for scheduling at those facilities. Clarence was now stationed at the Dental Clinic in San Diego, performing duties as a Dental Technician, and one of his responsibilities was scheduling. They spoke to each other frequently by phone. For weeks, in addition to setting appointments, they laughed and joked and engaged in some serious flirting with one another.

On one occasion, Clarence told Irene, “I heard you need to have all your teeth pulled. I’m so sorry to hear that, but I’m just the guy to be the technician to assist when you get that done.”

Irene was pretty clever too, so she shot back at him, “Listen, buster, if you even think about doing that, I’ll send a platoon of my Marine buddies over to rough you up.”

They both enjoyed the verbal foreplay, and worked hard at coming up with more outlandish things to tell each other.

Episode 5 of Irene’s Story

In February 1944, Irene was promoted to Tech Sergeant. A Tech or Technical Sergeant was similar in rank to a gunnery sergeant and other technical ranks with which it shared its insignia. Then in March, she made First Sergeant. By this time, she had 120 women in her company plus nineteen Drill Instructors (DIs) – all men, of course. She developed strong friendships with those DIs, who referred to her as “Top.” She learned about leadership and how to get people to do what you want them to do. Within the first year or so of her Marine Corps career, she had racked up an impressive collection of achievements:

• the first woman to leave Sharpe & Dohme to join the Marines
• among the first of eight women to be sworn into the Corps in Philadelphia
• one of the first class of Women Marines to be trained at Hunter College
• among the first group of Women Marines to appear in uniform in Philadelphia
• one of the first group of fourteen chosen from boot camp to attend the inaugural class of Women Marines in First Sergeant’s school
• the first of four women to make First Sergeant
• the first woman to replace a male First Sergeant

Irene (fourth from left) and her fellow Feathernecks arriving in Philadelphia. Photo Philadelphia Inquirer

Life at Camp Lejeune did have its bright spots, however, and the Feathernecks (along with the Leathernecks) got liberty as long as they behaved. They’d frequently go into the nearest “town,” Swansboro, which had a population of 454 in 1940. Not exactly a metropolis. There was a great little restaurant there called Captain Charlie’s, where those Yankee girls learned how to eat Southern, from fried green tomatoes to grits to hushpuppies to yummy fried catfish, and crisp, succulent fried chicken. And, it was a change from the base. The locals loved seeing the women Marines, who were still a novelty then. I suspect this is where I learned my love for Southern food, although the only ones I remember my Mom cooking as I was growing up were fried green tomatoes. But I can easily make a meal out of grits. Especially if they have lots of butter and cheese in them.

By August of 1944, there were fewer recruits, so Irene’s company began scaling back. They were down from 139 to 37 at this point, and because one of her clerks had been transferred, she was putting in 12- to 18-hour days just trying to keep up. It started to get really old really quickly. The only saving grace was the food on the base was significantly better, and she and Gerry had friends who were cooks and ran the mess hall. So, even when she worked late, she could always get some food, and especially some goodies like cake, brownies, and cookies. Irene loved goodies.

During her time at Camp Lejeune, she met Carl, a fellow Marine who was a Chief Pharmacist’s Mate in the Quartermaster Corps. The Quartermasters were responsible for logistics, but served alongside the fighting units so they were in just as much danger. Irene and Carl fell deeply in love. They went to Swansboro and ate great food, along with Gerry and whoever she could round up to go along. But there were several hitches. For one, there was a war going on, so personal planning was complex and uncertain at best. More importantly, Carl had a tricky personal situation. He was married, but separated, when he met Irene, and he was very up-front about it. He swore that he’d soon be divorced, but he said that his wife kept dragging her feet on signing the papers.

Irene had finally met who she thought was Mr. Right – if only he was not married. The situation was far from perfect.They both decided to enjoy life while they could, even if they were in limbo. They had a great time together until he was shipped out, first to San Diego, and then to Iwo Jima. He was in the 5th Division, which was the group that sustained the highest casualties of any Marine Division anywhere in WWII. Irene heard from him sporadically, but the last letter she received was in November 1944. She dreaded knowing what that meant, and even pulled some strings to see if she could get any kind of news of him, but to no avail.