Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Kids who melt lead

Kids who melt lead

Whatever happened was quickly forgotten. But it triggered a new memory that hung around for a lifetime. It sent a four-year-old boy into loud and tearful rage as he curled up in his bed. His father bent over him and the boy sniffled the words, “I wish I was dead.”

The young father yanked a blanket across the child’s face, blocking his nostrils and mouth and giving him a moment of breathless terror. “That’s what it feels like to die,” said the father.

It was a teaching moment for the dad, who never gave it another thought. It was different for the boy, and I never forgot it. My dad loved me, never handed out slaps or spankings or any kind of physical punishment again. What I remember a lifetime later is not the slaps I didn’t get, but 60 seconds of tough love gone haywire.

My dad and mom had lost two children in infancy, and then an incurable disease took my adopted brother when he was five and I was three. Three children were dead, and then my dad heard his one surviving child wish he were dead.

The Great Depression was getting started. My dad had been a popular pipe organist in Jamestown, N.Y., movie houses during the silent film era. When sound pictures were invented he had to find other projects. Installing a theater sound system had taken us 104 miles from Jamestown to Coudersport. I remember deferring a few meals.

My mom was around 20 years old, having been married on her 15th birthday.

Life was pretty good, most of the time. When I was four I entered Rose Crane’s kindergarten, developing a quick crush on an older woman, age six. What I wanted most in kindergarten was to learn how to read, so I could understand what was printed in the little balloons in comic strips. My grandpa, once a farmer and then a streetcar motorman back in Jamestown, read the daily newspaper from the front page weather report to the last obit and classified ad. I knew that he knew things I would know if I could read.

Those Depression years were tough for neighbors who used to ask my grandpa whether they could pick dandelion leaves from his lawn for food, and my classmates who were seldom warm in the winter, and a woman distraught when she was caught taking a few dollars from church to buy shoes for her kids.

I think I had just turned seven when I moved in with my grandparents, then in their 70s, in Celoron, a suburb of Jamestown. It became famous for one of its 700 residents, Lucille Ball.  My mom went to work as a live-in housekeeper in Jamestown and my dad sold Hammond organs in Buffalo, 60 miles away.
Parental love sometimes took form in games and toys, many of them great fun, but mightily scowled upon today. There was a toy wood burner, shaped like a soldering iron. A kid lucky enough to have one just plugged it in until the tip became hot enough to burn wood. Then the kid could burn pictures into sheets of wood. After I plugged in my lead soldier toy, a little pot of lead was heated until the lead melted. Then I poured the molten lead into tiny molds to make soldiers. The chemistry set offered truly special possibilities.

Dwight Eisenhower once said that when he was a child his family was poor, but didn’t know it. I didn’t know it. The reason I’m thinking about this today is that my 90th birthday is, like one of those silent movies, a coming attraction. My children and grandchildren and friends provide nifty energy that makes life good, and they remind me of unacknowledged and usually unknown boosts from my parents, George and Doris. My mom lived with my wife and me when she turned 90, so I know that the heart grows fonder even if it’s growing fainter.

When I was a kid attending Saturday matinees at the Palace Theatre there was often an amateur show onstage, and it seemed to me there usually was at least one female contestant singing, “Ah, sweet mystery of life…” I knew that life was mysterious even before that. It is still a mystery, and still sweet.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Always Time for Healing

Published in Sharing: A Journal of Christian Healing, January/February 2015.

I’ve been asking God why on earth I’m here. In the huge mass of uncounted and unaccountable created beings, why me? God is eternal love, a constant presence, creative mind, everyone’s father and mother, giver of all life.

So why, one March day in I92S, did God give me life and turn me loose? God is the great healer, and still God allows fevers, fractures, wounds and burns to challenge medical scientists. God is the great provider, yet there’s homelessness, hunger and wretched poverty.

Maybe it has something to do with God’s vocation as eternal mentor and teacher, patiently waiting for learners to appreciate God’s texting. The password to all knowledge is Christ.

Now, after more than 32,000 days of this life, I ask God why all the fuss? I think with thanks of the prayers and purpose people have given me. Why have they done this?

God, who doesn’t need a wristwatch or even a calendar in the realm of timelessness, let me wait a long time before answering my question.

God has given me almost 33,000 days so far, and let me discover that the most important one of all is always today. Always time for a healing. I was not created for spiritual or intellectual triumphs.

Having abandoned the rib method, God used me as a factor in the birth of three remarkable children and six grandchildren, also remarkable. God needs each one of them, and that’s why they’re remarkable. They give, with their spouses, meaning to my years.

There’s a different and equally satisfying experience for those who are not parents, by choice or not by choice. Not everyone becomes a parent, but everybody starts out as a child, and according to words millions revere, each one is a child of God.

 A.E.P (Ed) Wall is a Life Member of the International Order of St. Luke, which publishes Sharing magazine. "Sharing is an interdenominational, international magazine of Christian healing, dedicated to the healing of body, soul and spirit." Melissa Velasco is Editor/Art Director. Publication office is P.O. Box 780909, San Antonio, TX 78278-0909.
Reprints require written permission from Sharing magazine at

Monday, January 19, 2015

Hate to love?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a saint in ways that count, ways that encourage affection and tolerance. Every great person has detractors. Critics have thought Lincoln should have written a longer speech at Gettysburg. Others thought Gandhi was foolish to make the spinning wheel his symbol of hands at work. And you know what they did to Jesus.

They do it still, crucify, shoot, burn and bully folks who feed, house, medicate and hug the impoverished. Are lives so empty that people see others primarily as race objects? It can happen to anybody. I hear casual putdowns of white males on TV and radio and think of the white judges, presidents, lawmakers and National Guard troopers who fought to wipe out segregation and guarantee equal rights in athletics, education, employment and government.

I thought about my great uncle’s Civil War musket, which was a parlor feature when I was a kid, and my grandma’s happy duties as chaplain of the local Women’s Relief Corps chapter, supporting Union vets of the Civil War.

Not all American whites who despised slavery and the horrors of police-enforced segregation were members of abolitionist Civil War families. Many came, after the Civil War was over, from other parts of the world, and many of them joined in the struggle for racial equality. Some were clerics, some were students and other activists.

Everybody know there are lots of racists, many but not all of them white, but despite their numbers they lose one battle after another. Reconciliation is within reach, unless we screw it up.

I visited a Southern segregated black middle school in 1940, thanks to a principal who knew that even a skinny kid (yes, skinny) might really be a student reporter on an assignment. I had heard about the meanness of segregating books, and the principal led me to a library annex filled with worn-out and sometimes outdated textbooks, no longer useful in white schools, awaiting repair before being given to his students for use until desegregation of the school or disintegration of the books, whichever came first.

I remember seeing a few black tourist courts, as they were known before the word motel, coined the year I was born, was in common use, and the side-by-side separate drinking fountains, the repulsive conduct of some white cops and clerks. I remember notices at hotel entrances telling Jews that the property was “restricted.” I remember a boast from a minister that Catholic priests had been tarred and feathered; priests didn’t even have to be African American to be hated.

Segregation laws and flaws applied to churches, along with newspapers and institutions. A few organizations stand out as supporters of radial freedom and responsibility. Everybody knows about the NAACP. The words seem quaint today: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. When I first joined Eleanor Roosevelt may have been its most prominent member.

Humanity changes slowly. It is changing in America now, and will go on changing for the better. That’s not true everywhere. Lots of us agree that God is Love. We get to choose, hate or love.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Look who's praying for you now

The everlasting engine of life is rich in names — God, Father, Father/Mother, Love, Spirit,  terms of instinct in a vocabulary almost extinct. Such are passwords, easily remembered, lifting lids and opening books, raising curtains and unlocking gates. Try Jesus, try Mary, try holy men and women from any continent or contingent, and hear the rewarding click as the doors open, and we’re in heaven. It looks familiar. It is where we were and where we are.

God is a parent who does not do our homework or rig games for us. When I was a little kid I used to visit my pal Harold Lind at his house, and sometimes his dad would haul me into a game of checkers while Harold completed his chores. Chores he set for himself ranged from writing in his diary to reading a short story published in our daily newspaper. His dad beat me time after time. He never let me win. He didn’t think his own kids or a visiting kid could learn how to live if somebody cheated on their behalf.

So, I think, with God, whose answer to a prayer may be, “I love you too much to do your exercises for you while you just watch, wither and weaken.” God’s ratings do not always measure up to expectations, and that is an odd blessing for agnosticism.

One of the first books I owned was called the Bible Story Book, and it was on my bedside table when I was six years old. I was supposed to read one story each night before turning in. I was also supposed to fill in the blanks on a Lifebuoy Soap calendar to affirm fulfillment of hygiene. I was more faithful to Lifebuoy than to the Bible Story Book, but I read some of the stories. This was before television, and there was no radio in my bedroom, and there were some stirring pictures in the book. There were David and his slingshot, Goliath and his grimace, the Egyptians being drowned, a lion’s den and a fiery furnace. What happened to Jesus was uglier than anything in a Saturday matinee serial.

The Christmas story is one that everyone knows and loves, a story that affirms the presence of God in a savage and brutal world in need of mercy, forgiveness and love. How many of us look to God for mercy, forgiveness and love? But, it is God who looks to us to practice mercy, forgiveness and love. God’s prayer is that we will confess, convert and consecrate our minds and bodies.

That’s one of the inexhaustible messages of Christmas, one that like most of the others enlivens the dream of Merry Christmases.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

So long, New Republic

I can’t remember the last time I cancelled a magazine subscription. Readers sometimes cancel because they’re angry. I cancelled a lifetime connection today when I asked The New Republic to erase my mailing label and send me a refund. I was paid up until July 2016.

You’ve probably read about management decisions which led the editor and staff to resign. It was one of my comfort magazines for 60 or 70 years, predating the comfort food industry by a generation. Atlantic and Harper’s are still in my mailbox regularly. The New Yorker remains one of my favorites, but magazines do change with the times. When I was 10 or 11 years old The Reader’s Digest was sold in my school. the price was 15 cents and there were no ads. A few years after that the Wallaces, husband and wife founders of the Digest, invited me to lunch at their Pleasantville, N.Y., offices.  I went to work for them, but moved on before later managers added advertising and a more impersonal corporate atmosphere.

My favorite New Republic column was ascribed to a journalist with initials, T.R.B., but no name.  During my Hawaii years the writer was Richard Strout, and I felt like a lottery winner when one day he was in town and called on me for help . I wrote a Sunday column of foreign news and comment. Stout had never heard of me, but he spotted my byline and I happily provided whatever he needed. He was happy, too, and invited me to call on him next time I’d be in Washington. We were both members of the National Press Club, so it would be simple to meet.

Soon after that I became director and editor-in-chief of the National Catholic News Service, now known as CNS, just a short walk from the National Press Club. I got in touch with my pal, but when he heard about my new job he backed off. Journalists are not immune to religious concerns, and it seemed to me that Catholics were not his favorite journalists. But he had the convictions and assurance of a towering journalist whose opinions were highly valued, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, who graduated from Harvard six years before I was born. He wrote for The Christian Science Monitor for 60 years, and for The New Republic for about 40 of those years. At age 92 he died at Georgetown University Medical Center.

He was one of my favorites, and not just because he was an FDR enthusiast. At least he was spared the apparent vaporization of much of the spirit he knew at The New Republic.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Manhood cut short

A man at 18...
Is there really anything more to say about the horror of Michael Brown’s untimely, unnecessary death?

Journalists of all ages write zillions of words datelined Ferguson, Missouri, and the handiest of those words appear to be “black teenager.” Hundreds of news accounts include those words in the opening paragraph, as though journalists don’t know what to make of an 18-year-old.

Journalists often describe a rape victim who is 19 as a girl, but they’ll call an 18-year-old Army private a young woman. A boy of 19 may fall into a lake, while a man of 18 rescues him. Nobody knows, or wants to say, why this is. When I was 17 I was a copy boy, but a year later I was the man who covered the police beat.

William “Willie” Johnson won the Medal of Honor in the Civil War when he was just a kid, and David killed Goliath when he was in his teens. A Marine named Jacklyn H. Lucas fought so hard on Iwo Jima that he was awarded the Medal of Honor. He was 17 at the time
Babe Ruth was 19 when he started with the Boston Red Sox. Bill Gates was 19 when he co-founded Microsoft.

At 18 an American is an adult and can vote. At 17 a teenager can serve in the armed forces. So why are so many journalists stuck on describing Michael Brown as a teenager in virtually every story they write about his tragic death? Reporters know three things about Michael Brown. These can be written and rewritten without even googling the victim. But Michael Brown’s birthdays are not his identity, and do not alter the injustices of his life and death.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Peace could use a birthday

Sally once asked me how I managed to remember our wedding anniversary. I told her it was easy. It was five days before the Marine Corps birthday. She smiled, I think. Our wedding was almost 60 years ago, but the Marine Corps celebrates 239 years on November 10, 2014.

The Marines once transported my rigid body over Hawaii’s Big Island. The pilot and I shared a helicopter so we could watch napalm explosions below. My blood turned to snow like the frozen cap on Mauna Kea, just to our left. (Measured from its foundation at the bottom of the Pacific, Mauna Kea is the world’s tallest mountain.) In my headphones I heard the pilot soothing me with words about how many other wimps were also paralyzed when they looked down. That’s when they discovered there was no floor under them to obscure the heights and depths below. I think we had a nifty landing. I could tell you more about it if I’d kept my eyes open. I’d been zapped-aphobia by acrophobia.

I never saw written evidence of this, but the publisher of the Big Island daily newspaper told me that in the early days of World War II a Marine officer was so angry about something in the Hilo Tribune-Herald that he ordered it closed. By the time I became editor of the paper in the late 1950s the story was thought to suggest bad taste, a social blip, on the part of that anonymous Marine, and it wasn’t in the spirit of aloha to talk about it. The closing was brief, anyway, according to the legend.

I was newspapering in Honolulu during much of the Vietnam war, and there I met Lt. Gen. Victor H. Krulak, an early advocate of using helicopters for attacks. He became commanding general of the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. He thought he might be named commandant of the Marine Corps, but Lyndon Johnson had someone else in mind. It was said that Johnson smoldered over Vietnam issues raised by Krulak. Krulak retired in 1968 and became an executive of Copley Newspapers in San Diego. Eventually his son, Charles C. Krulak, became the USMC’s 31st commandant.

Today’s commandant is Gen. J. F. Dunford, Jr.

Not everyone understands the Marine Corps’ enormous contribution to world peace and American stability. A world without any need for police departments or military forces has been elusive from the beginning of history. This country celebrates Veterans Day every November 11, saluting all who wear the uniforms of distinction, Americans who have the strength to stand against Nazis of one generation and terrorists of another.

My son John, a man of many talents and a dedication to justice and peace, served aboard a Navy aircraft carrier. I met my brother-in-law, Frank Petrine, when he returned from the Korean War. Too many of my boyhood friends lost their lives in World War II, and most of the veterans I knew from those days have moved on. As a kid standing near the corner of Main and Third in Jamestown, I waved to Civil War vets in what was then called the Armistice Day parade. I’ve lost count of the wars since then. A newspaper friend once told me he had spent his entire working life covering wars. Even so, civilization is still possible.

Blessed are the peacemakers. Too bad there aren’t enough of them in civilian clothes.