Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What a Ride!

           We sure had fun!

          Every year for the past fifty-three years the Ripon Chamber of Commerce has hosted the Annual Almond Blossom Festival. Almonds aren’t the only type of nuts grown in our area of the Central Valley of California, they just happen to be the most plentiful. In February you will see the beauty of the white almond blossoms exploding on the countless number of orchards around the Valley. What makes the blossoms so much fun is when the petals fall to the ground it looks like we’ve had a light winter snow fall, which for our geographic location in California is rarer than a blue moon.

          So to celebrate the beginning of a new crop of almonds, the folks in Ripon decided a special weekend needed to be set aside for such a grand occasion. The last weekend in February is the time all manner of activities take place. We have a short walking/running event through neighborhoods. There’s also the Almond Blossom Banquet in January where the candidates for Almond Blossom Queen are introduced. There’s also a carnival at Mistlin Sports Park just outside of town. And there is the parade that makes its way down Main Street and back through some of the neighborhoods paralleling Main Street.

          It is the parade that I wanted to share with you since that’s what I participated in. My oldest daughter, Laura Roots Spence, works for the Chamber of Commerce, so she’s been very busy for the last number of weeks. Word came down that convertible cars were needed for the parade. So I called a couple of friends who I knew had nice cars. One of those friends is Rick Van Unen of Van Unen/Miersma Propane alongside Highway 99. Rick is a former Recon Marine, and Vietnam Vet. He also happens to love cars. I have enjoyed being around a number of his cars over the past sixteen years, my favorite being an orange hot rod he had built. Well, last fall Rick and his wife, Valerie, flew back to Bowling Green, Kentucky, the “Home of the Corvette.” They then drove their brand new fire engine red Corvette Stingray back to California. When I called and asked him if he would want to drive it in the parade, he said he was going to be out of town. He then suggested I drive the car in the parade. I was quite literally stunned. Driving this car is like sitting on a rocket. It has a 460 horsepower engine. What an awesome machine! And of course I said YES!

          I picked up his beautiful car Saturday morning. After receiving instructions as to the particulars of this car, everything from how to open the doors to the use of the FOB, I was ready to roll. He also told me to take it out and see what it could do. Well, how could I not? I glided onto the freeway for the three mile trip to my exit. With the coast clear, I stepped on the gas and had that baby up to 100 mph in nothing flat. No telling just how fast it could go, but that was enough for me!

          My job in the parade was to drive the president of the Ripon Chamber, a.k.a., King Almond, better known as John Mangelos, who was neatly seated next to me in the passenger’s bucket seat. Also accompanying me in the car was our mascot dressed in the Almond Nut outfit, Alexandria “Lexi” Anderson. And lastly, seated next to Lexi on the back of the car was my 7-year-old granddaughter (Laura’s daughter), Alyssa Grace Spence. We were last in the line of Corvettes conveying the new Almond Blossom Queen (Amanda Neeley), all the princesses (8), and the 2014 Queen (Jessica Carmona). Behind me were the rest of the parade participants, beginning with the Ripon High JROTC marching unit.

          We rolled along at a pace that was slower than walking, waving and smiling to the crowds on both sides of Main Street. It took the better part of an hour, but it sure was fun. Alyssa enjoyed sitting up on top of the car and waving to her little friends from Mrs. Luchessi’s first grade class from Colony Oak!

          However, I couldn’t help noting the obvious incongruity. Here I am driving this beast of a car that is nothing more than a rocket with a steering wheel, and I’m poking along at 2 miles per hour in the parade! You have to laugh at the paradox.

          Last year the director of the Chamber, Tamra Spade, invited me to offer prayer at Mistlin Park leading up to the Almond Blossom Festival. So the three of us, Tamra, Laura, and I did just that and the weather was fabulous. Again this year about ten days prior to the Festival, we three gathered for prayer again. The weather all week was quite pleasant. However, Saturday morning was very cold and heavily overcast. Prior to the start of the parade at one o’clock, I was walking along Main Street and talking to the Lord. Not that God needed to be reminded, I felt compelled to bring up the specifics of the aforementioned prayer request: I said, “Blue skies and 70 degrees is what I’m asking for.” About quarter to one, the parade was all formed and ready to go. Just as we began to drive to the starting point, the clouds broke, offering us clear blue skies, and the sun hit my face with such warmth that it startled me. I mentioned it to John who was smiling, which prompted me to say out loud, “Thank you, Lord!”

          It was a glorious day!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What a Hoot!

          One of the reasons it is so much fun being a grandparent is that you receive continuous moments of entertainment. Having these little ones around on a regular basis has been a delight beyond words for me.

          As I have done in previous articles during the seven plus years Isaura and I have been grandparents, the following is a sampling of some of the deliciously special moments our grandkids have brought to our family.

          Alyssa Grace, now seven, was in our home one day about a year ago. Isaura had picked her up from school. She and her Meema (Grandma) were in the kitchen area where Isaura was busy cleaning. Alyssa had been talking away for some time, only to sense that Meema was not listening to her. She attempted to get Isaura’s attention, but without success. Finally, in exasperation, Alyssa says in a most emphatic tone, “Meema! Listen to me!” Isaura was surprised to hear this drawn out statement, “Lis - ten - to – me!” because that’s exactly what she says to Alyssa when she’s not paying attention.

          The other day Jenny, our youngest with two of our grandkids, Brooklyne Paige and Colson Charles, sent us this text message. Jenny says she was in their bathroom putting on her makeup with 3-year-old Colson standing there watching her. This little guy has not found it necessary to talk very much just yet, so this comment he made was surprising. And it was funny. Staring at his mom, he said, “Mama has two faces!”

          Then Jenny shared how she and her husband, Josh were listening to a television news program about the possibility of Hillary Clinton becoming the next president in 2016. They look at each other and roll their eyes. It is at this point that 6-year-old Brooklyne pipes up and says, “Granddaddy would make a great president. He should run!”

          One of the Christmas presents for Brooklyne that she received from her parents was horseback riding lessons. I personally found this to be amusing since the whole family knows that she is a little diva. She even wears frilly clothes to her 1st grade class. Getting messy is not her idea of fun. In this regard she and her cousin Alyssa are quite opposite. Everyone was holding their breath wondering how she would react to a real hands-on experience in learning to ride a horse that likely weighs somewhere around a thousand pounds. Plus she has to muck out the stalls, load feed in the feed bin, and clean the horse’s hooves – poop and all. Well, you could have blown me over! She really likes it and looks forward to her Friday afternoon sessions. You just never know.

          I grew up in a home where you learned to speak properly, use correct grammar, and if you didn’t know the meaning of a word, or how to spell it, then you grabbed a dictionary and made some discoveries. So my girls grew up with me enforcing the same rules. And in turn, their kids are under the same instruction. So Laura tells me she was reading a book with Alyssa the other evening entitled Junie B, who is also the main character. Junie B apparently has terrible grammar, which grates against what Alyssa has learned from me (“Alyssa, don’t say anyways. It’s anyway. There’s no such word as anyways,” or, “Not ‘these ones.’ Just say ‘these’”). Hearing the “mistakes” in the book, Alyssa is constantly offering the proper corrections. That’s my girl!

        We try to have Game Night at our house on Friday nights with our girls and their families. Alyssa and Brooklyne are big enough now to enter into the games of Mexican Train and UNO with the adults. So while the hilarity rises around the kitchen table, I’m at the stove making crepes. Various fillings are made available according to taste. At a certain point we take a break from the games and all dive into these tasty treats.

        When the grandkids are at our home, staying overnight, we have loads of fun playing Tickle Monster, or assembling structures with a gazillion Legos, or watching a Veggie Tales movie. Having Alyssa, Brooklyne and Colson in our lives is the best blessing of all. And what a hoot!
          Isaura and I are truly grateful to have such a loving family. Each one is a precious gift from God.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Fear and Intimidation

          Shock, confusion, and fear. At present, a shared universal experience.

          There is a recipe the Islamist Terrorists use in their quest to control and destroy any one individual or group. That recipe is: Fear and Intimidation.
          Yet again we have been offered the horrors of ISIS. I guess the effect of sawing a victim’s head off with a sword, all while being filmed for later viewing on Al Jazeera media network and then around the world, was losing its power. These bad guys needed to up the ante, so to speak, by moving to a newer more dastardly level of shock for a shirking, yet curious western world.
          Next on the blood sacrifice list was a young 26-year-old Jordanian pilot who had been shot down and captured by these ruthless Muslim terrorists. This news event gained more traction when it was discovered that the young pilot was from a prominent Jordanian family. These craven religionists developed an elaborate video of this man’s execution. Wearing the now ubiquitous orange jump suit, the pilot was chained inside an iron cage. His jump suit had been impregnated with a flame accelerant. With cameras rolling the pilot, also a Muslim, was set afire, and burned to death.
          Something in the world of Islam had reached a breaking point. The King of Jordan, Abdullah II, had seen enough. One of his pilots was intentionally burned alive. This outrageous act of barbarism was too much. A response was necessary to send a message to these terrorists and all terrorists now and into the future. Before ascending to the throne as King of Jordan, “Abdullah headed Jordan's special forces, a critical position in a country where the army is one of the throne's important pillars. Educated in Britain and the United States, Abdullah was seen as a bridge between traditional Arab values and the surging westernization of Jordan's younger generations.” Abdullah also spent 35 years in the Jordanian military. By all accounts he is not someone you want to mess with. As of this writing, he and his air force have flown nearly 100 bombing missions against these ISIS insurgents. The net effect of the retaliation by Jordan is the destruction of training facilities, safe havens, and supply camps. And there doesn’t seem to be any end to the bombings.
          How will other Muslim nations and leaders respond to this brazen response by Jordan, which is about the size of the state of Maine? Time will tell, but this much is certain: ISIS and their ilk have attempted to beard the lion in his den. With Jordan taking the lead, other Islamic nations and imams are expressing support for the tactics being leveled at ISIS.
It should be pointed out that the current President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in early January took a very bold stance by meeting with Islamic clerics, calling them out concerning the ever darkening mood of the rest of the world toward Islam. Egypt’s president opened the New Year with a dramatic call for a ‘revolution’ in Islam to reform interpretations of the faith entrenched for hundreds of years, which he said have made the Muslim world a source of ‘destruction’ and pitted it against the rest of the world.”
          I am certainly not alone in believing that the Muslim world must unite if only to rid the world of these Islamic terrorists who prey on anyone who does not bow to their bastardized beliefs. The United States needs to come alongside as an ally offering whatever resources are needed to take the fight to these heartless, gutless religious pretenders. The one caveat would be that the United States is not left alone to do all the fighting. When Muslims clean up their own internal mess, then the problem terrorists pose will be vanquished for a time to come, leaving the rest of the world, and particularly the West, in peace.
          It can happen. But we must stop these murderers from majoring in their recipe of fear and intimidation. Historically, when Islamic extremists are on a rampage, they withdraw back into their holes to hide when the world pushes back.
          This is the time to stop pussy-footing around with these devils. They have absolutely no regard for anyone else’s rights and beliefs.
Push back, and push hard!

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Music: Life's Gift

           I’ve always loved music.

          For me, I learned to appreciate the music of my parents’ generation. Swing music and the Big Bands were the sounds I heard from the get-go. This music genre was engrained in me because when I began playing trumpet in 4th grade, I soon joined the school concert band. We played all the great tunes from the 30’s and 40’s. In junior high and high school in the early 60’s I was in the Jazz Band and various ensembles where our standard music packages were the tunes of Glenn Miller, Tommy & Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and a host of other fabulous musicians.

          As a kid in the 50’s I came of age in my taste in music as the crooners of yesteryear gave way to the evolution of Rock-n-Roll. Originally, this new breed of music was called “Rockabilly,” performed by white musicians from the South. The artist who made the transition to Rock-n-Roll from Rockabilly was Elvis. I watched Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show, September 9, 1956. There was great controversy over his exaggerated hip gyrations. But did you know that Elvis’ first TV appearance was not on the Ed Sullivan Show? Truth be told, Elvis was on the Dorsey Brothers Stage Show, January 28, 1956, and appeared on the Stage Show six more times through March.

          My one Elvis story dates back to 1973. I came home from Vietnam in December of ’72. That next summer I was doing my reserve duty at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada located a few miles outside of Reno. We had the weekend off, so I jumped in my car and drove down to Las Vegas where a friend, Tosh Enimoto, owned a large grocery store named Mr. E’s. Tosh had worked with my step father years before, which is how we had become good friends. He and his wife were expecting me and had planned a full weekend. When I arrived at the store Tosh was still taking care of some business. He said he’d be free in about a half-hour, so I strolled around the store stopping occasionally to straighten out cans on the shelves. This is an old habit from having worked in grocery stores for years! Believing that I was a store employee, a very attractive black lady stopped and asked me if I could tell her where a certain item was in the store. As I took her to the correct aisle we struck up a conversation. She asked me if I’d ever had the opportunity to see Elvis perform. No, I said, I had never had the pleasure. She then informed me that she was one of the back-up singers for Elvis and that she could get me in for the show that evening. I thanked her profusely, but declined since the weekend was set with my friends. Little did I know the “King of Rock-n-Roll” would be dead within four years later!

          Growing up mostly in the greater New York City area I absolutely loved Street Corner Singing, known also as Doo Wop. So many great singers and groups emerged from New York City and Philadelphia during that period of musical evolution. Another music genre I learned to love at that time was Boogie Woogie. I can’t ever get enough of that!

          An exciting evening took place when my sister, Joy, turned 10 in 1959. The folks made arrangements for all of us to have a celebratory dinner in New York City at the Roosevelt Hotel where Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians performed nightly. Sometime during the evening my step father walked me over to the band and introduced me to Mr. Lombardo. I had started playing trumpet about a year and a half prior to this encounter. Mr. Lombardo shook my hand, patted me on the head and said, “Keep practicing!” I miss his band performing on New Year’s every December 31st!

          After moving to Los Angeles in 1965 the folks took us to the Lawrence Welk Show. What a treat to hear all those great musicians!

          I admit that my taste in music is eclectic. However, I have drawn the line with most music styles since the mid-60’s. When rock-n-roll became all about messages of discontent about society and life in general, they lost me. In fact, one of the enjoyable aspects of the old rock-n-roll (Oldies) was the simplicity of the songs themes. It ran along this general line: Boy meets girl, they break up, they get back together. There were variations on that theme, but if you lived through that time then you know what I’m talking about.

          I continued to play my trumpet through the years, but I gradually moved toward singing. After accepting Jesus as my Savior, I joined up with others at church to form a Gospel group. That was fun! Later I focused on singing Barbershop music which in its purest form is some of the tightest four-part harmony you’ll ever hear. Also, while a student at San Jose State University (SJSU) in the mid-70’s I was working toward my bachelor’s degree in Radio & TV Broadcasting. I worked as a DJ for twelve hours a week over KSJS, the university radio station. I loved it!

          While driving in my car, if I’m not listening to news then I’m listening to Oldies or Classical music.

          Music has played a significant role in my life and has been a source of great joy for me. But, since I just finished watching Super Bowl 49 this evening, my heart is singing with joy over the New England Patriots’ win, 28-24, over the Seattle Seahawks. Is that a heavenly choir I hear?