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At the request of daughter Julie, the following is my recollection of the summer of 1946…

It was the “Best of Times”

The “Worst of Times” had ended several months before with the ending of World War II, but the transition of a 100-percent war and defense economy to a civilian economy would be painfully slow. Men and women of the military were returning home and factories had to be closed to restructure themselves for production of civilian goods that had not been available for over five years. There had been no new autos, washing machines, refrigerators, etc. built since the end of 1941. Nothing but food and essentials had been available and most of those were either substitutes or synthetics. Unemployment was extremely high, and there was great labor unrest as job selection and wages had been frozen during the war and many unions were threatening strike. Shortages were the order of the day and lots of rationing of food, gas, tires, clothing remained; however ,there was expected improvement coming and a pent up demand and desire to shed the concerns of the war and return to normal times.

Amidst the confusion, I still was a somewhat rebellious teenager experiencing the usual conflict with parental rules and regulations. Older siblings were either in the Service or away at college and I was the only child remaining in our home. I felt that my parents were a little more strict than most of my friends’ parents. I am sure I made life a little more than miserable for them and perhaps that was the reason they agreed when I asked permission to work somewhere out of town during the summer following my sophomore year of high school.

As it turned out, the family of one of my friends had moved from Iowa to Oregon before his senior year and he remained in our hometown of Mount Ayr, Iowa to finish school. Our families belonged to the same church, and were good friends for many years. Don planned to join his family in Oregon upon graduation in May of 1946, and between the two of us ,we decided that hitchhiking on the “open road” would be the very best way for him to get there — and of course I was looking for an escape and might as well join him. My friend was 18, but in reality, I appeared to be the older of the two of us.

The Great Day Arrived

The last day of school in late May 1946, was met by an unseasonable cold, snowy day. That should have told us something. After receiving our final report cards, Mother reluctantly drove us to Creston to have the advantage of a slightly busier highway. This was long before Interstates The highways throughout the United States were narrow two-lane highways, and the preferred mode of travel was by train or bus. The newest vehicle on the road was a 1941 or older model except for a few WWII Jeeps converted for sale to the public. With gas rationing and only an occasional cabin camp to accommodate tourists, one would understand that there was little traffic except for locals moving from farm to town, a few salesmen, and a few local delivery trucks.

My father had written a letter of permission with a reference to his membership in the Masonic Order stating that any assistance to his son would be greatly appreciated. I dutifully placed it in my one small travel bag. After a few rides of a few miles each, the next ride would prove the wisdom of my father. We were picked up by an Iowa Highway Patrolman who seemed quite sure that we were runaways. Remembering the letter, I presented it to the officer who just happened to also be a Mason and was impressed with the letter. Nevertheless, he spoke on his radio to various authorities and after being convinced that we were “legals,” decided to transport us to the end of his assigned territory, our longest ride of the day. “Hitching” was not at that time considered as dangerous as it became by the mid-1950s. People were good, friendly and generous, and by nightfall we had reached Omaha, Nebraska. At that point we decided that we could afford a night bus ride to Cheyenne, Wyoming and not spend much more than we would at a hotel.

Day Two

To our surprise upon arriving in Cheyenne, the newspaper announced that there was a nationwide rail strike and there would be no trains running within the United States. Therefore, all rail passengers were dropped at the nearest bus station which meant that the already full buses were totally overwhelmed. Long lines were already in place and the overflow had joined us as hitchhikers. We found a city bus that would take us to the edge of town where we hoped to get a ride along with at least a hundred or two others hoping for the same thing.

Someone or something was in our corner that morning as a 1936 Oldsmobile drove past many “hitchers” and stopped in front of us. The driver, about 65, motioned for us to get in. In this day and age one would well imagine the worst if this were to happen. He announced that he would be going as far as Reno, Nevada, but would stop early each day enroute. We were welcome to complete that journey with him, or we could try to hitch a quicker ride if we so wished. The well dressed and very courteous man turned out to be a well-positioned Chef in a famous San Diego, California hotel. He was traveling across the nation alone and apparently we appeared to need him at that time. Our new friend was prepared for the worst, carrying spare everything, in the event of auto trouble: extra fuel, tires, automotive tools, and whatever. In addition, he had ice chests containing real butter, real sugar, bread, lunchmeat and various condiments in the event we found no restaurants in the wild west when needed. When a food establishment appeared at a needed time, we took our own butter, sugar, etc. in with us because he did not want oleo, sugar substitutes, etc. which were the order of the day because of shortages. Destination for the first night was Rock Springs, Wyoming. This meant that we would be stopping about the middle of the afternoon. We were dropped off on the highway near a cabin camp where we could stay the night. He told us that he would be at that spot by 8 a.m. and that we could ride the next day if we did not get an earlier ride.

Day Three

Of course the same conditions prevailed in Rock Springs and we gratefully accepted a ride with our new friend. As an aside event, in Rock Springs we witnessed a single coal locomotive train traveling at a high rate of speed with whistles blowing and no intent of stopping as it passed through the city. We assumed that rail traffic had resumed, only to learn that the locomotive had been stolen and for all practical purpose was a runaway train. After another day or two, President Truman seized the railways, and operated them with drafted employees or with Army personnel. Thereafter, the public transportation congestion was somewhat relieved.

Our day’s destination was to be Salt Lake City, Utah and again we were dropped off at a reasonably priced, clean tourist court, and again were told where to be if we wished to continue on with him. We were in Salt Lake by noon, and we soon decided we would just scout out the city and accept a ride with him in the morning.

Day Four

Another short drive day would take us to Elko, Nevada. We drove by the Great Salt Lake and across the Great Salt Lake Desert into the Nevada deserts. This was my first trip west of Iowa and of course I was in awe of newly seen territory, but mostly of the expanse of nothingness. We rarely saw any other traffic and can’t imagine how we expected to hitchhike across that forsaken land, but fortunately we were in good hands and were never hungry or in danger. We arrived in Elko on a Sunday and elected to go to the casinos instead of church, but we had no money for that sort of thing and of course were underage. We had already made the wise choice of sticking with the sure ride to Reno rather than attempting to proceed on our own.

Day Five

Our fifth day resulted in a change of fortune, bringing the kind of fear I had never known before. Well before reaching Reno, we came upon another vehicle driving very slowly along the shoulder with a flat tire almost to the point of driving on a bare wheel rim. Our benefactor, as mentioned previously, carried a supply of extra tires among other things and was of course, of a mind to lend a helping hand. The tireless vehicle was occupied by two men and a girl all about 25 to 30 years of age. Our friend inquired as to where they would be going. San Francisco was their destination and they indicated that they intended to drive straight through. Our good friend agreed to provide them with a tire if they would agree to take his two passengers to Sacramento where he had already determined would be our best route north to Oregon. They accepted and set about to mount and air the tire (everybody had a hand tire pump in those days). Our friend wished to spend a week or so in Reno. He provided us with some candy bars and snacks, addressed a couple of post cards to himself at his San Diego hotel, and instructed us to send them upon our safe arrival in Oregon. With that he bade us farewell.

The transfer was made with the instruction by the driver that the two of us were to sit in the front seat and one of the guys and the girl would occupy the back seat. These people were neither neat nor well dressed, and did not appear to be especially friendly. Shortly, I was tapped on the shoulder by the fellow in back and asked to reach under the front seat and hand him an item that I would find. Much to my surprise, the item was a revolver, the specifications of which I did not know. I had never held one in my hands before and I am sure that I was shaking and visibly frightened as I followed instructions.

There was little or no conversation on this trip. We passed through Reno, left the desert and begin climbing into the beautiful wooded mountains along the California, Nevada border in the Lake Tahoe area and famed Donner Pass. I had heard about the Donner Party from history and silently wondered if we would ever make it or also be eaten. Sometime in the mid afternoon with little or no traffic and passing through very few towns, we came upon a lonely, desolate mountain gas station and small cafe. We had gone through the snacks and were hoping we might stop for a bite to eat; however, an attendant filled us with gas and we were instructed to remain in the car with the girl. Our driver discreetly placed another pistol weapon in his pocket and entered the station and cafe. The other male positioned himself somewhere outside between the car and the station. Shortly, the driver ran from the station to the car and the other man leaped into the back seat. Off we went and I will never know exactly what took place inside. Free gas at least, I was sure of — and whatever else, I did not wish to know! Frightened beyond anything I had ever experienced, I fully expected to soon be pursued by California Highway Officers, a gun fight would ensue, and we all would be dead.

Down the mountain we went at a higher rate of speed than I was entirely comfortable with. Many years later as an over the road truck driver on splendid interstate highways in that area, I would learn that you descend the Pass for about 50 miles or so, all the while hoping your brakes won’t fail. However, as nightfall came, we were told that we would not arrive in Sacramento until around midnight. Also, they said the highway we wanted to go north on (Old U.S. 99) would go north from Roseville, not Sacramento, which was about 25 miles before you get to Sacramento and that was where they intended to let us out. I had never heard of Roseville and knew nothing of the area, so immediately began to feel that it was probably a remote area where we would surely be relieved of anything we had of value and then disposed of in an unfriendly ravine — or worse!

Day Six

Indeed we did arrive around midnight. Roseville turned out to be a fair-sized town and on spotting a Greyhound Bus Station, I suggested we go there for an inhabited shelter and possibly some badly needed food. Our new friends obliged without incidence, wished us well, and Don and I heaved a great sigh of relief. Counting our depleting funds, — and good fortunes upon not being slain — we determined that we had about enough to reach Oregon via Greyhound. We didn’t have quite enough for the full trip to Corvallis, but could get within about 120 miles at Roseburg, Oregon. From there we would try to hitch the rest of the way, or if that failed, we could call for someone from his family to come and get us. Arriving in Roseburg in mid afternoon, and with more traffic and frequent towns, we quickly got a series of rides to Corvallis arriving almost in time for supper, as we called it in Iowa.

The Rest of the Summer

It seems that I have told this story through the years and remember saying that we rode with the same guy for three days from Cheyenne to Reno, but as I recalled the events, it appears that we were actually with him for the better part of four days to travel a distance of about 950 miles (Good Wife Pat and I would later make that trip many times in about 18 hours with fuel and food stops included). I regret that I am no longer able to remember his name, but I would have to say that gentleman was one of those most unforgettable characters I have ever met. I did remember the hotel where he worked and attempted to contact him after entering the Navy in 1951 while training at the Navy Training Center in San Diego; however, that attempt proved unsuccessful. Also, I will not forget the other characters either. They did us no harm, but scared the bejeesies out of us!

The remainder of the summer was spent working on a farm about five miles out of Corvallis. I bought a used bicycle for about $7.00 and biked the trip daily. My employer, Mr. Grover Smith, who could have easily doubled for actor Percy Kilbride who played ‘Pa’ in all the ‘Ma and Pa Kettle’ movies, paid me the handsome salary of 75 cents per hour and I saved at least half of it. I had a room at Mrs. Giddings’ house for $4.00 per week. We grew mostly tomatoes on the farm with a hefty supply of other vegetables, and acres and acres of English walnuts — and no restrictions on the benefits of eating those healthy food items. Grover drove me over to the ocean at Newport a couple of times on weekends. I suppose there are other stories in here somewhere but this will be enough. I met numerous good people, and at the end of summer my parents and my sister Jean, home from the University for the summer, drove to Oregon and picked me up for my return trip to Iowa. My friend and co-hitcher Don, unfortunately died many years ago at an early age, so I am unable to ask him for other memorable details.

Yeah, it was pretty darn exciting for a 16-year-old kid in 1946.

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Somber and emotional thoughts and feelings have dominated my weekend.  I had many eloquent thoughts racing through my mind but seem unable to put them down in writing so shouldn’t even try.  I’m sure that I reflect more on the meaning of this day in my older years than I did as a younger man.  There have been numerous wonderful tributes on TV.  I especially have been impressed with some of the Public Television presentations, particularly the annual Memorial Day Concert from Washington D.C.

Joseph Stalin reportedly once said “a million deaths is a statistic, a single death is a tragedy.”  I guess he dealt more with statistics.  This weekend we see many images of very many cemeteries in very many places with rows and rows of white stones with thousands of flags representing the ultimate sacrifice.  Each burial site represents a tragedy for the loved ones.  In addition we will be reminded of the thousands of wounded still suffering in so many instances with countless injuries and amputation, and one can only ponder, why you and not me.  Caring for them and relieving them and their families of personal financial catastrophe must be the first priority, ahead of anything and everything  including credit card relief with National Park gun privileges.

This is just me speaking but I never had much empathy for those who disagreed with their country and chose to flee or otherwise refused to serve, or chose to protest by burning the flag or draft card while upholding their rights under the Constitution.  They would as quickly burn the Constitution if they felt it denied their precious rights.  I have come to believe that we really have no choice in the matter.  None of us chose by birth to be American, we just are.  That imparts certain patriotic obligations.  We can believe the country is wrong, as I sometimes do, but we each are required regardless of politics, religion, race or creed to answer positively when called to serve militarily.   I understand that not all will agree.

Daughter Julie’s genealogy studies and the Civil War stories and others reported, reinforce my feelings that things have always been and always will be, and the short time we are here requires us to continue the process as well as attempt to improve life for those who will follow.  In every case, the fallen have preserved the opportunity for the nation to continue in a positive way.  It’s up to the remaining to take advantage of that opportunity in a positive way.

Take this day to honor the fallen Veterans of all wars and the families who have endured.  Thank the surviving Veterans who willingly gave years of their lives as well.  The WWII vets are almost gone, and the vets of the next two wars are getting old.  Especially, remember and thank those presently serving.  Then, in spite of the lack of stellar present economic conditions,  be proud to be American.

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I thought I had ceased blogging but here I am.  I do not do FaceBook or Twitter.  I really don’t know how or why they exist, and I see no reason in the foreseeable future why I would need to acquire those abilities.  Good wife, Pat allows me to observe photos and such that only seem to be available there.  Thus, I am somewhat covered and will not need to learn those things before they are no more, and are replaced by something else.  Digital citizens in our great digital universe move on,  without me.  Thank goodness I left teaching over 30 years ago, or I might be expected to understand it all.

The weather is improving in Iowa.  There are heavy thunderstorms this weekend, which can always bring the threat of floods.  I have not yet had to mow the grass but expect to within a week.  Then I’ll have to see about some plants in a few pots, and clean and prepare the screen patio for a few months of enjoyment.

The two faces of Iowa are locked in deadly editorial combat.  The current issue of course is Gay Marriage.  Our farm state image is not always portrayed complimentary by the Eastern Press, nor understood by most of the rest of the country.  First thoughts are often that we surely have been left behind by a lack of understanding of those things deemed important.  How shocking it must be to learn that Iowa with a 1 Percent Black populace, launched our first Black President on his way to victory,  or that a perceived Conservative Farm State would be one of the first states after Massachusetts to legalize Gay Marriage.

We are of two faces, and either face can emerge at any given time.  Not always too slowly, but surely there is a steady movement to the Democrat, Liberal, Left.  We continue to elect our two United States Senators, one far right and one far left.  One by Unions, Labor, Teachers and University intellectuals with the superior minds — the other, wins election by support of Farmers, Preachers, and Business, Insurance, and Banking execs.  And of course, don’t forget those with inferior education and redneck qualities.  Lots of us vote for both.  Anyway, the daily papers are filled with the pros and cons of gay marriage.  This spills over to the supporters and detractors of our new Administration.  Now that the government has taken over the banking, auto and insurance segments, most seem to be in favor, but hope they give them back after they get them fixed. Others believe we have already surrendered to Lenin and those that followed and our world is gone forever.  As for me, I don’t like gay marriage, but surely do not want to deny them any benefits  that they perceive they will gain from a marriage versus what they might have under a civil ceremony.  I doubt if we will see any great disaster from this decision, but do not understand why a little compromise might not result in an acceptable situation for all.  As for Obama, I feel he already is a great President.  That doesn’t mean I think he will necessarily be a successful one.  I am frightened by all that is happening and at the same time feel he just might succeed.  And I have always felt that our Constitution does not prohibit in any way, a little Socialism.  I suspect we may like it once we get used to it.  And nothing should prevent us from moving to the right and returning again to our greedy Capitalist ways if we do not like the Socialist style.

This gay marriage thing has presented me with another quandary.  I recently reached my 79th birthday (practically 80, and that’s 4/5 of a hundred).  I have observed that within my family and certainly many others, (our street is full of them) most wives outlive their husbands by some ten years or more.  Certainly I have been stressed as of late, because of the fear that good wife Pat (age 77) may not have much more than 10 or 15 years left.  That surely puts a crimp on my own expected life span.  Geeez.  Now the quandary.  Whatever is the answer for the gay marriage.  Will they be required to specify for insurance purposes which one will be expected to live the additional 10 years.  They do want to be just like the rest of us.  Of course they are not just like the rest of us, and so it goes.

While we are at it, I will just mention another situation that sometimes irritates.  While I want to care for our handicapped citizen companions, why is it we have to go so overboard in providing for their convenience that the rest are sometimes so inconvenienced.  The Hy-Vee (supermarket) seems to be 7/8Th’s handicapped parking.  I myself am just a hairs width of being a helpless cripple.  Not really, but kind of close.  Thus far I have refused to obtain a handicapped parking tag, likewise my nearly physically impaired good wife Pat.  Thus we end up parking in the next county and by then after I enter the market I generally have to take care of bathroom issues only to find that the formerly three stalls have been reduced to one wheelchair accessible stall, which is occupied (Thank you, Depends).  I have always said the kindest thing you can do for any handicapped person is to make them realize they are not just like everyone else.  Then they will learn to do things the very best way for them, and we surely will always extend assistance when needed.  It reminds me of the story of the King who did not like to step on pebbles when walking, so ordered the entire Kingdom to be covered with leather.  Fortunately, one of his aides suggested shoes.  Our government has covered the Kingdom with handicap conveniences, without considering shoes.

I will sign off in just a bit.  I do despair at the anger between our two political parties and those that profess to have all the answers from the far right and the far left.  I can’t take much more of the bickering between MSNBC and Fox.  The business channels report terrible economic conditions.  So I switch to the Science and History channels and discover that we have only three years left anyway.  The Mayan calendar ends in 2012 with many dire consequences, already beginning to appear in the form of global warming, expected hurricanes, volcanic, earthquake, and tsunami catastrophes.  Now the Mexican Swine Flu will surely be pandemic.  And if that isn’t enough, we still have Pirates the world over to deal with, not to mention Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  Or will we just run out of oil and gas or maybe food?

Before we all get out of joint at World Series time or when the Super Bowl rolls around.  Instead of them being brought to you by General Motors, General Electric,  AIG Insurance, or Bank of America, I’m sure they will be brought to you by your friendly United States Government, maybe at Nancy Pelosi Stadium on Barney Frank Field.    Love and Live the best you can.  Guess I am getting old just about the right time.  Good luck to all.  Have a good one.

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Way too early to tell, and we ought not be judging just yet.  This is mainly for Ali who asked what I thought about President Obama after the first couple of weeks, but anyone else who happens by is more than welcome.  Since nearly all issues including our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have become subservient to the efforts to solve the economic problems, there seems to be little else of concern for most.

My previous blog indicated that I felt President Obama was our best hope to engage dialogue, link oppositions, practice gainful diplomacy, etc.  That didn’t mean that he would necessarily be successful.  He is trying, but probably understands all too well after two weeks that, “it aint gonna be easy.”  The “feel good” period is over.

Obviously President Obama inherits a ton of problems, but that is what got him elected.  The principle anchor preventing the ship from moving forward is Congress and “guvment” as it has evolved.  And here I go.

Remember Reagan’s statement that, “government can’t solve the problem, it is the problem.”  Well maybe so, and I would go one step farther and add that the “people” may well be the problem.  We simply have not demanded more character and good behavior from our elected and appointed government officials.  Congress had less public approval than President Bush, yet incumbents everywhere won re-election.  I strongly believe that our political system with its Republican and Democrat leadership is broken and probably can’t be fixed, or at least won’t be fixed.  One would think that the Republican party would never recover after the botched years of control and the opportunity they had to lead effectively.  However I believe the Democrats will again open the door for them after a given period.

We all know by now, the ridiculous greed and recklessness by Wall Street financial and banking interests.  We expect responsible regulatory control but have not demanded it.  Obama, and I believe McCain as well, said most of the right things in identifying the problem but may be powerless to correct the problem of money, lobbyists, and the buying of government favors.  We now say Wall Street must be held accountable.  What’s wrong with holding Congress accountable?  And let’s throw in state legislatures, city & county governments and let’s add teachers and government workers, as well.

Last Fall, your brother and my grandson Joel, when all of this economic “bail out” fiasco started, asked about the emergency weekend 800 billion bill that just had to be acted on within hours or the world would end.  We had no idea, that was only the tip of the iceberg and the Titanic was about to strike it.  Joel had very legitimate concerns and I truly wish others with a vote had shown as much diligence in their study of the problem.  McCain was ridiculed for suspending his campaign to study the issue.  I thought that was the only responsible action he and Obama as well, should take.  Unfortunately, they didn’t demand more accountability, and we have had numerous changes since until we are out in space.  President Obama now has to be the rudder to get us back on course.  Tough with Democrats allowing little Republican input.  Tough with Republican refusal to support any proposal without their input.  The President, while enjoying immense popularity is getting criticism from the extreme left who was instrumental in his election victory.  The criticism from the Limbaughs and the far right was expected.  I have been impressed with his efforts to bring the two sides together.  For me, the middle way is the only way.  Democrats and the liberal media want to blame Bush and the Republicans for all that’s wrong, but we have seen little Democrat support for any Republican Administration even though they too were elected by the people.

As for, “how’s he doing so far?”  I have generally approved of his cabinet choices.  I like his style and demeanor.  I am disturbed by the fact that at least three of the appointments have had tax problems or acceptance of questionable political favors.  Can you imagine the voices from the Democrats and the media had a Republican nominee made this mistake.  I am afraid it portends to the same old system, Democrat or Republican.  I did not approve of some of his friends prior to his election.  The present stimulus bill is loaded with pork or content that is not apropos to vitalizing the economy.  McCain promised to veto every measure deemed pork.  Obama should do the same until Congress gets the message.  McCain probably wouldn’t have done it and Obama probably won’t either, because of those darned political considerations.  President Obama is my President and the best man for our times.  I will support him until I no longer can.  Two weeks is an awfully short time, but I like him and what he is trying to accomplish.  As I write, the President has just nominated Republican Senator Judd Gregg to be Commerce Secretary.  Another good move.

Ali, now you know why it is not a good idea to ask me what I think and why it is probably a good idea for me not to blog often.  Good luck and better weather at N.U.  Love to all my family members wherever you are.

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Our river apparently has crested and will be holding at high levels for several days before returning to normal. We have escaped the worst. As critical as we all sometimes become of our city and state officials, we should give credit for handling the flood crisis of 2008 at least for our community. Iowa could blame George W. Bush, I suppose. We all know how he caused the hurricanes, but maybe he’s had enough blame, probably for two lifetimes.

Sparing the worst for Ottumwa isn’t because we didn’t get the water. Preparations and continued diligence (hard, hard, work) so far have prevented the catastrophes that have hit so many other Iowa cities and towns. The crest was about a foot below the 22 foot crest expected, but the 20.8 foot crest was the second highest ever. Even higher than the 1947 flood that devastated Ottumwa from one end to the other. The 1993 crest was 21.8. Flood stage begins at 10.0 feet. City workers, many hundreds of citizens, and about 300 Natl. Guardsmen all contributed. Even mentioned was a group of Amish from Davis County who came to help fill sandbags.

Nevertheless, we have had a fair amount of non-compliance and un-cooperativeness from some citizens. People have insisted in going around barricades, interfering with operations, and even using the river for entertainment and sightseeing (flood watching) which resulted in 8 adults being dumped in the river. The four men were able to grasp a bridge before being rescued. The four women were nearly lost, being saved only by extensive rescue efforts by the Fire Department, National Guard, and even Coast Guard units that are helping with the flood. Many men were diverted from regular duty to address the rescue efforts. Two rescue boats were destroyed and lost, one owned by the Fire Department, and one by the National Guard, and who knows how many additional lives could have been lost. Idiocy is alive and well. Future trespassers in the off-limit areas have been put on notice.

I-80 and I-380 are again open. The railroads are not yet running. Our own Market St. Bridge remains closed, but slowly Iowa will return to normal. The unfortunate thing about containing the river in one place often means that you merely send the water on down to the next community or open farm land. Eventually, somebody gets it and now the Mississippi River towns must prepare not only for the water coming down their own river but that which will be dumped into the Mississippi from all the tributaries. Good luck Burlington, Keokuk, Hannibal, Quincy, and St. Louis, etc. And so it goes.

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FLAGS

Today is Flag Day. Fly em’ high and proudly. I’ll not go into the origination of Flag Day. It might as well be called Constitution Day, Patriots Day or whatever. Yes the flag means different things to different people. I am always hurt by protesters, American or foreign, burning or otherwise desecrating the flag. I am equally hurt by those from either the Right or the Left who mock the Constitution or choose to only honor a small portion of it for their own selfish wants. When others’ rights, color, beliefs, backgrounds, lifestyles, politics or whatever don’t fit with their own, then they sometimes choose to burn the flag in protest disregarding the lives and sacrifices that made their right to do that possible. Many, who would do this, would just as quickly burn the Constitution itself, or all that it implies, to exercise their right to express themselves. Yes, it is just a flag, a piece of cloth, but isn’t it beautiful?

FLOODS

All but the northwest corner of Iowa has been declared a disaster area. The floods and weather are truly affecting many throughout the country. Any state with a river or creeks and clouds overhead have been affected. I’m sure Cedar Rapids is having its own Katrina feelings. Any place having to endure these difficult times, including floods and earthquakes in Asia or elsewhere, as well, know the feeling.

I am always overwhelmed by the united efforts that go into fighting these things. No one sandbagging cares whether the person next to you is white or black, male or female, rich or poor, young or old. They are all there. The NCAA Track Championships are at Drake University this week in Des Moines. Team after team from South Carolina to Oregon, shared in flood duty between events. The 833rd National Guard unit I welcomed home from Iraq last Saturday, is, this week on flood duty here in Ottumwa working around the clock to protect this community.

A levee was breached last night in Des Moines after days of effort by thousands, spreading the water into new neighborhoods. Cedar Rapids has lost their battle. Iowa City and the University of Iowa are at break point. Here in Ottumwa, our Market Street bridge is at water level. It and down town are still closed, as new levees are built and old ones raised and strengthened. We had a four inch horrendous rain, just at the wrong time, on Thursday evening, but a week earlier, the town of Creston had 10 inches. So it goes. City officials remain confident that we will be able to withstand the worst that is coming, although that is little comfort to the people in outlying and low areas already flooded. This will be, most likely, a month long fight, and then years long recovery for some communities.

T.R.

T.R. No, not Teddy Roosevelt, as greatly as he is regarded. This T.R. is Tim Russert, another great American. We are shocked by his untimely death. All you had to do was look at him and his smile and hear his comforting voice and you liked and respected him. He has been part of my Sunday ritual of watching the news shows, which good wife Pat, sometimes (always) finds irritating. I go to all the networks, one after another, cable shows and public TV included. Meet The Press with Tim Russert was always part of that ritual. Maybe unfairly, I have been more critical of him the past couple of years. I felt he had become a little more interested in creating sensation and carried some questioning far beyond what was necessary without letting the person being interviewed express his own opinion, unless it was going to come out as Tim wanted. But that’s the way it works. However, always fair, probably as fair as they come and truly one of the great ones. Before Meet The Press he worked for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In my imperfect list of greats since WWII, Moynihan was at the top, and oh how I wanted him, before his death, to be our President. Russert was a part of that. Sunday mornings, and political campaigns won’t be the same without Tim Russert.

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I will use this blog to provide an update to a few things going on in our lives here in South Iowa. As I write, things are deteriorating rapidly in our state pertaining to the flood and weather situation. Mason City and numerous other communities are without water due to flooding of city water systems. Cedar Falls, Waterloo, and Iowa City downtown’s have been evacuated. Nine rivers (they may have said nineteen) are currently above flood stage. Our river was at 12 feet at noon. (10 foot is flood stage for minor flooding). They are now expecting 21 feet on Saturday which is still a foot less than 1993. Extensive sandbagging began today and the trucks are starting to roll with dirt for a protective berm around our water works. Des Moines downtown is flooding. The problem is that more heavy rains are expected tonight and the next few days. We are under a tornado watch again but all looks well now. A tornado has struck a boy scout camp in NW Iowa killing 4 and injuring 40 this evening, with ambulance and rescue efforts being hampered by heavy rains and winds. I’m repeating some of this news from the TV as I write. 28 highways are now closed and hundreds of lesser county roads. We’ll be staying home.

On a personal note, my new found satisfaction after 23 years of discomfort from nerve damage due to spinal tumor removal surgery continues to amaze and please me. Doctors had convinced me that it was not really pain, just nerve damage and one had to live with it. As if being awakened every 1 to 2 hours with the feeling that a car had just run over my right foot, or a circus elephant had just managed to step on it was not painful. Those feelings would also occur several times throughout the day, but walking and daily busy things would give some relief. My Veterans Admin. Dr. which I have been seeing once a year has been on medical leave and finally they suggested I come in and see a Nurse Practitioner about three or four weeks ago.

My lab work turned out well and I met the Nurse Practitioner. Bless that lady. She could not believe that someone had not suggested that I try Neurontin. While I had found that drug in on-line search for help and discussion of neuropathy, I had not really asked a Dr. about that specific thing because of some of the side effects that I read about. Anyway she said those side effects were more likely to concern those taking the drug for epilepsy and seizures, etc. and felt that I should try a fairly low dose to start with and go from there. The very first night, I enjoyed the first night of sleep without being awakened and having to get up, spend a half hour or more of walking, etc. and then repeating same every 1-2 hours. While I still feel a mild stinging and awareness that my right foot is not the same as my left, it is many times over, an improvement. No more traffic running over my foot, or lost elephants tromping my foot. And thus far, no side effects. I feel like I have my life back, although I guess I had grown somewhat used to the way it was. We will see what develops, but so far I am happy. And, hooray, the drug, is available in generic and is a $4.00 monthly prescription on our medi-care plan.

Also, we old folks, who fit the low income group and contribute no income taxes, received the minimum economic stimulus payment, (thanks to all of you I guess). We plan to stimulate Wapello County by using it for partial payment of our property taxes. Whatever, it will help. I hope y’all get to stimulate somebody also.

I still attend the YMCA Silver Sneakers class, which our Humana Medi-Care Advantage plan provides for us as an extra benefit (Gram has been unable to participate because of health conditions). The instructor, which has been with us since inception has left, and we have a new one, who has introduced new routines, and I find new bones and muscles that I had forgotten about – and new soreness. She is good, and (has really nice legs), but unfortunately she will also be leaving soon, and we will have another new one.

Also, I will mention, that I decided to send a letter to the editor about my recent attendance at the return of our National Guard unit from Iraq. It is pretty much the same thing said in a recent blog, but HERE is the link anyway. I was pleased that a few friends have mentioned seeing and approving the letter. I didn’t really want to invite “hate” mail or adversity which so many well intentioned letters generate.

Lastly, I want to give good wife Pat, credit for the beautiful picture of our basement accompanying my last blog. She found it, and called it to my attention after our attempt to seek shelter after last Sunday evenings tornado siren warning. We had a good laugh and I asked her permission to use it. Take care, all. More later.

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Our state has been wracked with tornadoes and heavy rains, something not uncommon for those in Florida and Texas and elsewhere. Our immediate area has been fortunate up to now, but our turn appears to be coming. I am reminded of 1993 which has to be one of the worst years of my fairly long life. I weathered the Depression as a child, WWII as a teenager, my years in the service and several lean and difficult years economically for our family. 1993 was the year of the 100 year flood (meaning we shouldn’t expect another like it for 100 years). It is now 15 years and we may well be experiencing another in many areas. We were in the Laundry and Dry Cleaning business with two locations within the flood prone area. The rains started in June, and the flood arrived on the Fourth of July night and both stayed with us for about 6 weeks.

Our town is a river town and floods have always been a threat and I have filled sandbags as a volunteer on a number of occasions but had not had our business locations seriously threatened. The whole town became a war zone with trucks hauling soil night and day for a week to build berms and levees. Several locations were stocked with sand and bags and nearly everyone worked daily to fill bags for their own use or to help others needing assistance. We sandbagged our own businesses daily and at night had to bag the drains and prepare for the time we would not be there. In the morning we would remove the bags so that customers could have access.

The reward for the hard work in our case was that our businesses were the busiest ever in our 16 years. It seemed the whole town had flooded basements, etc. and had to use our services. As well, we worked at least 2 1/2 shifts until nearly midnight doing laundry for the packing plant whose normal source for laundry was flooded, and other commercial businesses needing service, as well as the Red Cross. Our machines were busy all day by residential customers and we provided the commercial business at night. I’m sure that good wife, Pat and I have remarked many times that those 6-8 weeks were the hardest we worked in all our lives. With the 15 years added to our bodies since then, we could no longer begin to do what we did that year.

As mentioned, our town has been fortunate up to now. However, the rains and flooding up stream will now be coming our way and the call went out today for volunteer sandbaggers. We have two lakes and dams protecting us up river. Saylorville lake will be overflowing within 24 hours at a level equal to 1993. The city of Des Moines is closing all bridges tonight and expects downtown flooding from overflowing Saylorville thereafter. Further downstream, Lake Red Rock will begin releasing additional water tomorrow to make room for the water coming from Saylorville. We have been warned to expect flooding soon as the river is already over flood stage.

We all have our weather. We worry about hurricanes and fires in Florida for Tim and Merry, and now we can add concern for Joel, Blake, and Zoe in Houston. Steve, Julie, Jenna, and Ali, in Dallas, have tornadoes, flooding, and heat. We expect our home to be safe and hope Merry’s Mother’s home in Ottumwa, will be safe as well. Merry has a sister living in an area that will require evacuation. Hopefully all of us will endure. Stay tuned.

Gram and I were forced last Sunday evening to Dive! Dive! Dive! after tornado warnings were issued and finally the area sirens sounded the order to take cover. About 25 minutes later we received the all clear. The city was largely spared with the exception of numerous uprooted trees, downed wires, power outages, etc. A couple of homes received damage. Getting Gram to the basement was an experience in itself. Interestingly, it was the first time she had seen our new furnace, installed about a year and a half ago. Hence, the following depiction:

Dive-Dive-Dive!

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Today, I attended the Welcome Home Ceremonies for our local National Guard Unit. The 833rd Engineers were coming home from their second deployment to Iraq. They were to arrive at Indian Hills Community College Hellyer Center Field House between 1:00 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. As expected they were about 45 minutes late. We were kept in contact with the 2 buses carrying the troops and the accompanying convoy of 24 motorcycle riders from the “Freedom Riders” and numerous auto’s by the local radio station who had joined them a 100 miles out or so. The route in town was decorated with yellow ribbons and many welcome home signs. Individual soldiers on the buses were allowed, if they so desired, to speak by radio to loved ones at the packed field house. As we had considerable time to wait, the radio station also serenaded us with every country western patriotic song ever recorded, which I might add was entirely appropriate.

Generally speaking, the War isn’t the center of conversation any more. Most people, now are far more concerned about their economic hardships and inconveniences (or illegal immigrants). The only feelings about the war are negative at best, and one sees fewer flags and Support Our Troops signs. But for today, we in attendance and the community in general were all emotional, flag waving, red-blooded, South Iowa redneck patriots, with lots of cheers and tears. The songs before their arrival about the Stars and Stripes, the Red, White, and Blue, Eagles, Pride, and Daddy coming home made those cheers lift the decimal meter. They may have equaled those which were surely heard in the years when the field house was home to three consecutive National Championships in Junior College basketball as attested by the hanging banners.  At last the troops marched in.  We then listened to short remarks from our Democrat Congressman and our Democrat Lieutenant Governor who thankfully did not trash the war. The best part was when the troops and families were quickly allowed to reunite. It all made old Grumpy feel good. Joel and I didn’t have ceremonies. We just came home – to loving families.

While the accompanying link is not the best video, it will have to do. The lights were darkened as they marched in for some reason and then turned on, making the video difficult to view.  Also provided is a link to story from the Des Moines Register.

http://static.cnhi.zope.net/flashpromo/ottumwadailycourier/mediacenter/LocalNewsContent/2008/2008060708833rdHomecoming/Video.html

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080608/NEWS/806080334

Later, this day good wife Pat and I watched the Belmont Stakes and hopefully the next Triple Crown Winner. It just wasn’t Big Brown’s day and Gram was very disappointed. Well we’ll get em’ next year!

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Oh no! That’s Submarine talk. Fire in the paint locker! Abandon ship! No, that’s not it. Evacuate! Evacuate! Take Cover! Take Cover! Never mind. This is a drill. Just trying to get my Florida family members ready. Today marks the beginning of Hurricane Season. While I know there are certain advantages to living in South Florida, you can rest assured that we are concerned about you having to endure the fire season, drought, tornadoes and water spouts, the alligator and bear season, other creepy crawly critter season, certainly the hurricane season, beach erosion, and the dreaded snow bird and impossible traffic season. Incidentally, we turned the furnace off a couple of days ago, and other than our own state’s frequent tornadoes this season, we are having a beautiful day should you choose to vacation Iowa this year.

Further, after my last posting and defining those times when Grumpy’s Rules take precedence, I felt compelled to address son, Tim and his good wife Merry. Merry, you were the first addition to our family and immediately seemed more like a daughter than an in-law and it has always been such. Therefore, by Grumpy’s rule, we are privileged to call you daughter whenever we wish. There now, I feel better. I didn’t want anyone left out. We have been privileged and blessed. We are proud and love the whole darn bunch of you.

Seriously, and most certainly, I hope that all of Florida, the Gulf States, and the East Coast avoid serious hurricanes this year and that we can still make light of it in November, but I will weather watch anyway. That’s what I do best.

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