Sunday, May 25, 2014

Memorial Day

I live with a strange dichotomy every Memorial Day.

As a child of the 1950s I was to become eligible to participate in the Vietnam War. But the idea of enlisting in the military, especially then, especially with a war that I opposed and thought to be particularly immoral as wars go, was anathema to me — as it was to hundreds of thousands of others in my generation.

And while I dutifully enrolled for conscription, I was never called. I had a student deferment in my college years and a ridiculously high number in the draft lottery (262) for men born in 1951. It was likely I would never be called for service (I've been told lottery picks rarely got past No. 100 in a given year), so I never made plans to become a Canadian.

I was lucky, and I knew it.

Meanwhile — and here's the dichotomy — I was engrossed by most things military. In 1959, my father — who served a year as a counselor in the American Red Cross — was stationed at Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, NH. This was during the growing anxiety of the Cold War era and Portsmouth was no doubt a target on the Kremlin's planning boards. Not only was there an air force base near the city, but a naval base as well. I spent a year of my life surrounded by submarines, B-47s and stockpiles of nuclear bombs.

I soon became a dedicated student of U.S. history with special interests in the Civil War and World War II — interests that I carry to this day. I am fascinated by troop movements, strategy and tactics, the weapons of war. I've held a Spencer carbine in my hands and I've flown in a B-24.

Somewhere between the end of the Vietnam era and the current Iraq-Iran-Afghanistan imbroglios, my respect for the military increased. Part of that may be because I aged out and was no longer a threat to be called to duty. Another reason is that my brother, David, did enlist. He did that during the Vietnam era. (He likes to point out that he enlisted in an all-conscript army. Duh).

My brother, David, during his U.S. Army career. A salute.
That he did enlist is such an un-Wehrle-like thing to do. As far as I know, Wehrles managed to avoid most wars. Grandpa served as a warrant officer (whatever that is) during World War II but never went overseas and never saw combat; Dad was in college during the Korean era, and, well, now you know about me.

David, however, was a middle son and something of a wild child. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and did his basic training at Fort Dix. Turns out, the military was just the thing for him. He was first stationed at Fort Rucker, AL, where he became a military firefighter. If the military are regarded as the ultimate first responders, I figure as a firefighter he became a first responder first responder.

His next deployment, in the military's infinite wisdom, took him out of the sweltering heat of Alabama and into the blistering cold of Anchorage, AK, where he became a firefighter at Fort Richardson-Elmendorf Air Force Base. He's been in Anchorage ever since, preferring to stay there even following his discharge and where he became a firefighter in civilian life. He is our family's own Northern Light.

And I can't tell you enough how proud I am of him for his service. As I am of most veterans I know.

Ironically, military service (at least temporarily) takes away several of the basic Constitutional rights that you swear to protect and defend — try invoking your right to free speech while being dressed down by a superior, you maggot, or leaving your post whenever you feel the urge to roam — AWOL. So for somebody to become GI, either as a conscript or a volunteer, deserves reflection.

There are other ways to reflect as well. One of the most moving moments I can remember came in Gettysburg. I was walking through the National Cemetery where the graves of all the fallen Union soldiers were marked by little American flags, and it fairly took my breath away.

Another moment came in Washington, DC years ago. Kim and I were strolling the grounds near the Lincoln Memorial when we walked down a flight of steps at Constitution Gardens and turned a corner — unexpectedly coming face to face with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In a city of monuments, I was taken with its grace and simplicity and almost immediately brought to silent tears by the 58,000 names etched on the stark gabbro walls.

Given the era in which I lived, it was probably a no-brainer that I would never become military. But it was also a certainty that I would hold those who served in a kind of awe.

So thank you, David. And Paul. And Charles. And Eugene. And Roger. And Jerry. And to all the unknown others I'll never meet. Thank you.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Crossing the (state) line

(Fair warning. Asheville's Underhill Rose will be mentioned in this blog post).

Perhaps Kim and I should check our event calendar with a little more care in the future. We planned another three-day weekend for North Myrtle Beach with the object of getting a few personal items attended to. We seem to do this every six months or so, although we'd just done something like this back in April.

This particular weekend was randomly chosen and arrangements were made to get off from work. If we had checked the calendar, I'm sure we would have paid more attention to the words "Harley-Davidson rally" that eventually started hitting us on our heads as we made our way down the road.

Yep, it was Harley week. In truth, it was culture-clash time. Recently graduated college students were also sharing the Strand with the Harley folks, not to mention assorted Baby Boomers (me and Kim), Generation Xers and Millennials.

The place was hopping. But by Friday afternoon, we'd accomplished most of what we set out to do, so we decided to reward ourselves with a run down to Charleston — Mt. Pleasant, actually — to take in another performance of the female Americana trio Underhill Rose, who were booked to play in a neat little knothole called The Southern Bar and Grill.

This was not a planned stop in our weekend. While we knew the girls were performing there, we'd just seen them a couple of weeks ago, and we debated whether or not we really wanted to see them again so soon. Plus, it's a two-hour-plus drive to get to Charleston (110 miles from North Myrtle, according to Mr. Google), most of it on worn-out Rt. 17, which we knew would be jam-packed with bikers.

Who wants to do that to themselves?

Apparently, we do. So in a last-minute decision, we hit the road. And about a half-hour in, we began to have regrets. Traffic was horrible. There was an accident. There was construction. Several times, between Garden City and Murrells Inlet, traffic was at a standstill. To make a long story short, it took us nearly two hours to cover the 50 miles from North Myrtle to Georgetown.

Ironically enough, the trip was a breeze from Georgetown to Mt. Pleasant, with hardly a vehicle in sight. We made The Southern in fine time, exhausted and hungry.

This was an unusual evening for Underhill Rose. They were playing across the Cooper River at the Palmetto Brewing Company in Charleston, with a 6 p.m. start. They would play their gig there, pack their vehicle, head over the river and do it all again at The Southern.

The girls arrived by 8 p.m. and set up. They were performing by 9 p.m. Kim and I wondered if they would do their usual two-hour gig since they'd already played at Palmetto and it was going to be a long night for them in any case.

What did I know? Their first set included several covers of songs I'd never heard them play before. Singer/banjoist Eleanor Underhill told the 40 or so patrons that they were acknowledging their musical influences (like John Prine, Bonnie Raitt and Trio).

Then, in their second set, they did mostly their own original material which had us bobbing our heads and tapping our feet. Their harmonies were as tight as ever. When the set ended, Eleanor announced they were taking a little break.

Huh? Another break? During the pause, upright bassist Salley Williamson came over to chat. "What are you doing?" I asked. I've never seen them do three sets. Holy smokes.

"Robert Greer from Town Mountain is going to sing with us a little bit," explained Salley. Town Mountain, also from Asheville, shared the billing with Underhill Rose at the Palmetto.

Greer sang one tune with them, and the girls cleaned up with four or five more songs. They were finished a little after midnight.

I didn't keep track, but I figured Eleanor, Salley and guitarist Molly Rose Reed must have performed close to 40 tunes in this particular venue, a decent listening room which had no cover charge. Coupled with their gig at Palmetto, they were probably on a stage for nearly five hours.

Kim and I bid our farewells and hit the road. We had no traffic issues on the way back and reached North Myrtle by 2:30 a.m., wondering the whole way how the girls manage to keep producing this magic time after time. It was an awesome night.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Yard work

The other day Kim was working in the front yard of our house when she mentioned that a young couple strolled by.

We live in a great walking neighborhood, what with tree-lined streets and sidewalks and not much auto traffic on the road. And when the weather is sunny and warm, we often see dozens of people walking by — or even jogging —in the course of the day.

Sometimes, our house catches their attention.

 "Your house is beautiful," the woman told Kim, who had been doing some weeding in the front garden. Kim works diligently to make the area resemble an English cottage garden after she once heard our house described as a "cottage." Technically, I believe it's a bungalow, but I don't think there's such a thing as an English bungalow garden. So she faithfully tends to the pansies (in winter), foxglove, tulips, black-eyed Susans, snap dragons, daisies, peonies, hostas and whatever else she puts in there.

The English cottage garden gives a nice accent to our house.
Some statuary, including a concrete cat, helps accent the garden area.

We usually have hanging baskets on the porch, too. In most years, we prefer ferns because they're so, so...umm...Southern. This year, we opted for double ruffled petunias just for something different. We do have a couple of ferns sitting in wrought-iron stands on either side of the front door.

There is a certain oddity to all of this, however. We have two large maple trees growing out front and we simply love them. In the summer, they provide ample shade to help keep our cooling costs down. The oddity is that the trees generally offer shade to the right side of the house, but allows sunlight to flow freely on the left.

We expect even more sunlight this year after this past winter's ice storm brought down two large branches on the left maple as nature decided it was time for a little pruning. All of this means when Kim buys things to plant in the garden, we have to be wary of whether or not they thrive in sunlight or shade. Consequently, it's sometimes difficult to keep a certain aesthetic balance to the house because of the sun-shade conflict.

But we carry on. One time, we were at our neighbor's house directly across the street from ours, just chatting away. I happened to glance at our house and it genuinely surprised me how cute it was. I don't usually see our house from our neighbor's front-porch perspective and it was an enlightening experience.

So right now, we're in the middle of spring cleanup. We're busy pulling weeds. There's a pile of mulch waiting to be delivered, and I may do some spot painting here and there as summer approaches.

I just want to keep the eye-appeal alive.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Derby day tradition

Kim and I successfully munched our way through another family tradition Saturday:

We shared a hoagie while watching the Kentucky Derby.

What? What? You mean you didn't? You mean you've never heard of this tradition?

That's OK. I don't think my own brothers are aware that eating a hoagie during the Derby is traditional for the Wehrles. It just might be a tasty figment of my own fertile imagination.


I do remember my previous life in the early 1970s back in Pennsylvania. I was a college student still living at home, and every first Saturday in May, we'd settle in to watch the Derby. I'm not quite sure how this all started, but it was just a simple walk down the street to the neighborhood grocery store, tucked in among the other houses on the block, to pick up several hoagies for an easy meal. The Derby, after all came on at dinner time.

There's nothing better than a properly stacked Philadelphia hoagie.
For some reason, we did the same thing the following year. And the year after that. I think the thing really took hold after Secretariat won the Derby, and for Derbys after that, we'd actually plan to have our hoagies by post time.

When I left Pennsylvania for North Carolina, eventually to find a wife, I told her about the Wehrle's hoagie-Derby fixation. Kim seemed somewhat amused but agreeable, and so, over the years, we've either brought home hoagies from restaurants or Subway, or even bought the fixings to make our own.

I'm sure we've missed a few Derbys through the years, but for the most part, we've been pretty consistent about making this something traditional.

This year, until I read my Sports Illustrated last week, I never heard of California Chrome. I usually don't pull for favorites, but there was something compelling about this story of a thoroughbred whose mother was purchased for a mere pittance, about a pair of first-time co-owners who repeatedly refused to sell the promising colt for millions in hopes of reaping even bigger rewards later (the ultimate wager), and about a 77-year-old trainer whose only previous Derby appearance was in 1955. It was good stuff.

So Kim and I went to the second-floor sports bar at Christo's about a half-hour before post time. This in itself is kind of a break in the tradition, since we almost always ate our hoagies at home in front of the TV. But not this time. We ordered a large Italian Supreme hoagie, no mayonnaise but with oil and vinegar please, chips and a small pitcher of draft beer. We made ourselves comfortable in front of the big screen HDTV and settled in. We were set.

I was halfway through my half of the hoagie when post time arrived. And they're off! The race was on. The field was large and the weather was perfect. As the horses made the final turn, California Chrome, keeping pace in third place, forged into the lead and never looked back. It was all great fun. It was all perfect. And I don't even really care about horse racing.

The rest of the Triple Crown is up for grabs. I seem to remember pizza being involved somewhere along the way, but I'm not as sure about that as I am about the hoagies.

But then, that's the neat thing about family traditions. You can make them up as you go along.