Sunday, July 29, 2012

My town

There's been a lot of depressing crap going on lately, stuff that I don't particularly want to write about but occasionally feel somehow compelled to say something about.

Penn State. Aurora. Unending political ads.

I'm tired of it. I'm confused by it. It fractures my attention span to the point where it becomes my inattention span. So, for a moment at least, I thought I'd try to take this blog to a higher level. Like, perhaps, the fifth floor of NewBridge Bank.

I work 20 hours a week at NewBridge Bank, slinging interdepartmental envelopes in the mail room. When I want to take a little break, I climb out of my windowless basement work station and walk up to the fifth floor, which has floor-to-ceiling windows all around and which provides me with something of an observation platform on our town.

Most Lexingtonians probably don't have this opportunity to see their town from this entirely different perspective, from maybe 60-65 feet high. So here, for your perusal, you get to see what I do:

This spot makes a great perch to view the Barbecue Festival and Center Stage.
This view looks south toward the square and the meeting of Main Street and Center Street.

I love the court-house. Even in an old city like Lexington, it's a beautiful anachronism that I think enhances rather than detracts from the city's charm. Most people, I think, tend to take the building and its iconic clock tower for granted as they drive past it each day. 

Most towns don't have their courthouse on the square anymore, if they ever had one there in the first place. It's a fortunate piece of city planning.

I also love the square that is sprinkled with its trees and monuments — green space in the middle of commerce.

This view doesn't show a particularly busy moment — traffic is light and there are no pedestrians in sight — but that's not often the case. There is almost always activity of some sort here. You'd be surprised.


The City Cemetery is hidden among the trees in the left distance.
The view looking east on State Street was too much for my little palm-sized Olympus camera. I would have loved to have included the Grimes Building (off camera to the left) — and maybe I should have — but I wanted to capture the active innards of Lexington. I mean, city government is right here at City Hall; the federal government is represented less than a block away at the U.S. Post Office. Banks are everywhere. The Police Department is off camera to the right. It's all here.



Sometimes you get to see the weather change its face.
Here we are looking west on State Street. Maybe you can call it "Lanierland" or perhaps "Lanierville," because everything Lanier is here: the hardware store is to the left of the parking lot, and Lanier Village, with its condos and office spaces, is off to the right.

You can see the spires of two churches, but there are actually four churches caught within this frame. That in itself tells you something about the character of the town.

I like this view of the city because it gives me an unobstructed view of the weather patterns that float by. Curiously, I like to watch thunderstorms from this vantage point — I kind of feel like I'm in the middle of the storm without putting myself in any danger. I can wave my 3-iron in defiance on the fifth floor without fear of becoming a lightning rod. I think. The lightning still freaks me out, though.


Looking north into the proposed tree-happy historic district.
This is my favorite view. It's looking north into the part of town where I live. Somewhere under those trees is my house, a little yellow bungalow that gives the life I share with my wife some added dimension, value and extreme happiness. In fact, the whole neighborhood does that for me. No doubt, it's because of the neighbors who live there with me. It's a special place.

Clearly, when I climb to the fifth floor, everything comes into focus.

Even with my little Olympus.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Not again

Columbine.

Virginia Tech.

Tucson, and Gabrielle Giffords.

Aurora.

And countless other shooting incidents, nationwide, great and small, that have occurred before and after. It just seems like they are coming with greater frequency now. And I don't know what the answer is.

How many more stories of personal heroism in the face of unholy terror can we stand? Who expects to be engaged in combat in a school room? Or in a movie theater? Our traditional safe zones, as they like to say in these days of Homeland security and Patriot Acts, have become soft targets. The key word here, of course, is target. And that would be us.

The debate over Second Amendment gun control will heat up once again, and maybe as these incidents continue to come at us at seemingly regular intervals, one after another, like en echelon infantry hammer blows in the Civil War, perhaps the demand for some kind of gun control will reach a critical mass that not even the National Rifle Association can logically defy.

But I'm not holding my breath.

In the case of James Holmes, the Aurora shooting suspect, you have to wonder how he legally came into possession not only of automatic assault weapons, but the superior body armor to go with it. Not to mention 6,000 rounds of ammunition. He was better armed and better protected than most municipal police officers. How does a civilian manage to accomplish that, and for what purpose other than to kill?

To me, the wording of the Second Amendment to the Constitution is a little fuzzy on this issue of gun ownership. Word for word, it reads: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Well, all right then. It certainly sounds like constitutionally I can own an AK-47, if I wish. But I'm a flexible Constitution guy. The Bill of Rights were ratified in 1791, before automatic weapons were invented. People were using flintlocks in those days, not Uzis. So does the advance in gun technology make a difference in the framers' intent? And what is the constitutional definition of "arms" anyway? Tazers? Tear gas? Glocks? Rocks? And which "people" are we talking about? Militiamen? Convicted felons? The mentally ill? A Marine sergeant? My wife? Me? Who really does have the right to bear arms?

I don't know what the answer is, and maybe there is no answer. Death is always lurking somewhere. Is a random act of murder any more — or less — compelling than, say, a child who dies of cancer or because of an auto accident? In the end, death is death, isn't it? Isn't it?

I don't know the answer. So the tears will continue to stream when a young woman talks about her dead boyfriend who instinctively shielded her from bullets with his body; of friends separated forever by a 5.56 mm round from an AR-15 spitting death in a movie theater; of another story of senseless human slaughter.



Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated

I once started a blog entry a few months ago by saying that I died. I thought I was partaking in some literary fantasy about layoffs in Heaven.

But, as it turns out, Bruce Wehrle did die (see here).

Man, that's weird to see "Bruce Wehrle Obituary." It's especially weird to see that when you're me.

There's any number of directions I can go on this.

But I'll take this route:

The surname "Wehrle" is very unusual. I think I read somewhere that there are only several thousand families worldwide with the surname "Wehrle." It's not a common name. It's not even common in Germany, where the Wehrles first propagated, if not actually flourished (apparently). Now couple that with the first name "Bruce" and it really gets bizarre.

Given all that, this is where I point out that actually there are (or were) two Bruce Wehrles in North Carolina. Imagine that. Who knew?

The irony here is that I actually did meet the now spiritual Bruce Wehrle one time. If he's the same fellow I'm thinking about, it went something like this: About 20 years ago, Kim and I went to the Auto Fair at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, looking for some hub caps for our classic Wimbledon White 1966 Mustang convertible.

We were walking around the speedway looking at some of the classic cars there when we came across a white 1966 Mustang convertible that looked remarkably like ours. On a placard on the windshield was the owner's name: "Bruce Wehrle."

I was momentarily confused. My Mustang was back in Lexington. How did it get here? No, wait. This wasn't my car, but it was my name. No, wait. It couldn't be me, but here I was.

There was a guy standing behind the car.

"Are you Bruce Wehrle?" I asked, pronouncing the last name the correct way: Whirly.

"Yes, I am."

"Here, let me show you something." I pulled my wallet out of my pocket and showed him the name on my driver's license.

He was aghast. As far as either of us knew, this completely random meeting of Bruce Wehrles could have started a catastrophic collision of parallel universes. We might have come this close to sending our quadrant of deep space spiraling into a black hole.

We talked for a little bit and I found out he lived in Raleigh. He was slightly older than me. We promised to stay in touch as we left each other, amazed at this unlikely coincidence, if coincidences are indeed unlikely.

But we never did stay in touch.

The other day a friend googled my name in an effort to find my blog. He found Bruce Wehrle's obituary instead and he showed it to me. I was truly saddened to see this. A person I had met and who's company I enjoyed was gone.

And I swear to you, I feel like a part of me has died.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

To our lasting credit (card)

I'm still trying to draw a genealogical connection to Albert Clewell, a Civil War veteran to whom I might or might not be related, although I think the chances of us sharing a branch somewhere on the family tree are pretty decent.

There are two other Civil War Clewells, great uncles William and Sylvester, to whom I can draw direct family ties. Both served in Company A of the 153rd Pennsylvania Volunteers, along with Albert. The mysterious Albert, however, still remains problematical.

Anyway, I've been trying to find this family connection to Albert for free and consequently, I've done most of my research on the Internet, sitting on my butt in air-conditioned comfort with the knowledge that most of Albert's paper trail has been blazed 500 miles away through the stacks, piles and reams of bureaucratic Pennsylvania.

But it seems I can only get so far.

Yes, yes, I've considered joining Ancestry.com, but a year's membership is close to $150. A few weeks ago, Ancestry.com offered a Fourth of July promotion where you could do some research — for free — going through a descendant's Revolutionary War era documents. I tried to take advantage of the free part of the promotion, so I typed in Albert's name and got one or two documents I'd never seen before, including a military death card that simply told me when Albert died (January 10, 1932) and where he is buried (Easton Heights Cemetery in Easton, PA).

But nothing about his family. I still don't know who Albert's parents were, which remains a stumbling block in my research.

There was a menu for U.S. Census information, but a click on that brought up a page where I had to register with Ancestry.com. Sigh. Everything, it seems, goes through to Ancestry.com. And, apparently — eventually — for a price.

Now Ancestry.com does offer a 14-day free trial, which is very tempting and may be the route I eventually take once I decide to shake off my cheapskate status. But even for the free trial, I have to submit my credit card information.

Uh-oh. This is where I get nervous: putting my credit card information on the Internet. This idea is the true source of my hesitation.

My wife, Kim, pointed out to me that our credit card information probably is already on the Internet. She may be right. We often make purchases with L.L. Bean and other catalogue retailers that require giving credit card information over the phone. So you have to assume that this info is no doubt eventually filed online somewhere.

The reason I'm a little edgy about all of this is because a couple of years ago, I got a phone call from the megabank that handles my credit card account. The nice man with the east Indian accent told me that my card appeared to have been compromised, but to make sure, let's go through my most recent purchases to see if I had really made them:

"Did you make a $50 purchase with Land's End on so-and-so date?"

"Yes."

"Did you make a $200 purchase with Crown Volvo in Greensboro on so-and-so date?"

"Yes."

So far, so good. We did this for another item or two until he asked:

"Did your wife purchase a $2,000 one-way airline ticket to Nepal on so-and-so date?"

"Umm. I don't think so. Let me ask. Kiiii-m?"

 I guess that's where the red flag went up. Clearly, we were hacked. I will always appreciate my credit card vendor for keeping a sharp eye on my account. There were other apparent purchases on my card that were just as unlikely, so we promptly cancelled the card and had a new one issued.

So you can see why I'm a little antsy about joining Ancestry.com. It would be my luck that the day I join Ancestry.com I'd see a news item on CNN crawling along the bottom of the screen telling me that the files of Ancestry.com were hacked and six million credit card accounts were compromised.

Or not. I don't know. I guess it all depends on how frustrated I get with the research before I decide to take the online credit-card plunge.

Meanwhile, the idea of Kim taking a trip to Nepal really didn't bother me all that much. Except for the part about going one-way. What's that all about? Kiiii-m?







Sunday, July 8, 2012

What do you expect?

I was real close to not writing this week's blog.

It's just too hot.

I took a quick look at a post I wrote nearly a year ago to the day about the weather and how hot it was. I mentioned something about walking early in the mornings to beat the heat and the insanity of it reaching 80 degrees by 6 a.m.

We're in the middle of another oppressive stretch right now complete with record-setting highs. If the temperatures themselves have not reached the triple digits, the heat index certainly has — and it's been this way for nearly three consecutive weeks.

"What do you expect," said my ever perceptive wife through her beads of perspiration. "You live in the South. It's July. This is what you wanted. It's supposed to be hot."

I guess so. How can she be so calm about it? Even indoors, with the A/C blowing nonstop, it's been uncomfortable.

On the Fourth of July, Kim and I spent the morning trying to catch up on our yard work. I mean, really catch up. We still have leaves in our backyard from last autumn. We haven't weeded our garden since April. In fact, unopened bags of mulch dotting the garden keep reminding me of the promise to finish a job I never really started. Our tomatoes are in serious competition with the dandelions. Yes, we've fallen way behind.

So we got our garden gloves, rakes and wheel barrows and went to work. We started at 8 a.m. (77 degrees) in the shade and toiled until sunny noon (98 degrees). We got a lot done, although there's still lots more to do. But I felt pretty good about myself. At least now the tomatoes can breathe.

It's now July 8 — I haven't done any yard work since the Fourth — and we're likely to reach the 100's again today. In fact, it might be the hottest day of the summer yet. But we have a plan. We're going to the annual family reunion in Yadkinville in a few hours, where we gather in the cool basement of a relative's house and listen to hours of deer-hunting and NASCAR-watching stories while taking long gulps of ice-cold homemade lemonade.

 We'll overeat all the casseroles and chicken pies and overindulge on the brownies, caramel cakes and apple pies.

And we'll try to stay cool.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

The relics are here

I thought I would share with you the artifacts I brought back with me on my trip to Gettysburg for the Civil War Institute. The following pictures are the memorabilia of Pvt. Albert A. Clewell, a probable descendant of mine and an 18-year-old enlistee who fought for the 153rd Pennsylvania Volunteers of the 11th Corps during the Civil War. They were given to me by pawn broker Paul Mastronardi, who had come into possession of them two years ago. It was his goal to find a relative of Clewells rather than try to sell them for profit. We met in the parking lot of a Gettysburg restaurant (A Friendly's, appropriately enough), where he gave me these items.

Enjoy.


This is Albert's discharge paper. It is probably the only "true" Civil War item in the collection.

The document reads: "To all whom it may Concern: Know Ye, that Albert N. Clewell, a Private of Captain Owen Rice's Company (A) 153d Regiment of Penna Vol who was enrolled on the Fifteenth day of September, one thousand eight hundred and sixty two to serve nine month (sic), is hereby Discharged from the service of the United States, this 23d day of July, 1863, at Harrisburg, Pa, by reason of Expiration of term of Service (No objection to his being re-enlisted is known to exist.)

"Said Albert N. Clewell was born in Upper Nazareth in the State of Pennsylvania, is 18 years of age, 5 feet 6 inches high, ruddy complexion, Brown eyes, Auburn hair, and by occupation, when enrolled, a laborer.

"Given at Harrisburg this 23d day of July 1863."

It is signed on the right by an A.S. Dallas, Capt., USA, and on the left by by Owen Rice, the captain of Co. A of the 153rd Pennsylvania.

The curious thing here is that the document uses an "N" for Albert's middle initial. All my research tells me that Albert's middle name was Alexander, so I guess we just leave the clerical error as a by-product of government work. Close enough, I guess.


This is Albert's Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) kepi. It is postwar and I'm guessing that if he wore it at all, it was probably in parades or other GAR functions. The GAR is likely the forerunner to today's American Legion and I suspect the boys sat around the table enjoying liquid refreshments and telling war stories.

The "217" badge on the kepi indicates the GAR post of which Albert was a member. It is the Lafayette Post 217 in Easton, PA. I did a little research into this particular post and found out that it caught fire and burned sometime around 1912, taking with it a ton of documents and records. This is probably why it has been so difficult to find any detailed information on Albert.

The kepi, by the way, is a size 6-7/8, which is way too small for me.



 These are Clewell Family reunion pins. The smaller one with the ribbon was held in 1904, while the larger one was held in 1907. Clearly, the Clewells did not meet every year.

But this also makes me wonder if Albert met up with my great uncles, William and Sylvester, at these reunions. I'm guessing they did. All three were born in Nazareth and all three served in the 153rd Pennsylvania.




This is Albert's GAR ribbon from Lafayette Post 217. On the bottom of the ribbon it reads "Gettysburg Excursion 1888" which means the post — and Albert — no doubt took a trip to Gettysburg for the 25th anniversary of the battle. Albert would have been 43 years old at the time.


I wonder what he remembered. The 11th Corps was routed on the first day of the battle, but pretty much held its ground the next evening at the base of East Cemetery Hill, fighting off Tar Heels.





We originally thought this was a GAR pin celebrating Albert's 50 years of service in the organization. But it turns out to be an International Order of Odd Fellows pin.

The back of the pin has this inscription: "Presented to Albert A. Clewell (this time the middle initial is correct) by Elon Lodge No. 604 I.O.O.F. May 22, 1918. Initiated April 30, 1868. Pennsylvania."

In truth, this pin commemorates Albert's 50 years of service to the Odd Fellows, a charitable organization. It's nice to know that a man who saw the face of war spent the better part of his 87 years on the planet striving to make life better for others.

Thank you, Albert, for your service.