A Veterans Day Toast

This Veterans Day I offer a toast to my Uncle Richard. He was a very young soldier in 1943 when he was called upon to invade Sicily and fight the Nazis there.

On average everyone in his unit was killed three times, so 300% casualties. It’s not clear how he survived, although he has a great debt to an older sergeant who looked after him. A lot of things in life have been more difficult than they should have been since then.

Since that time he has maintained a continuous, loyal, and upright middle finger at any kind of authority, without exception. He’s a photographer and painter and retired from teaching. I believe he was something of a thorn in the side of university administrators during his career.

Uncle Dick, I’m sorry for the unholy amount of suffering you had to endure, and I salute you for being a model of rebellion and creative success. Bottoms up!

My family is weird

Sometimes a series of things about us goes through my head and I just start giggling. This morning very early, lying awake and looking at the bookshelf of books signed by their authors, it was:

My father wrote a novel about an opera singer in the 1900s who could switch genders. Gender reversal or sudden gender-related surprises occur in two other novels of his.

When I was a kid, my brother made improbably huge kites out of PVC pipe and trash bags. They flew.

Because of my dad’s weird job my associations for literary figures are things like: I had to jump-start that guy’s car twice! Oh yeah, his wife called us at 3 am sobbing in Arabic about the water heater! That dude fed us lobster and played too much Eubie Blake at us! It’s not like name-dropping exactly because with a few exceptions the general public hasn’t heard of these people. But it makes me feel weird looking at book spines.

Our front door knocker is a bronze woman’s hand.

My father wrote a novel in which the love interest is a blowup doll.

My great aunt Zelda didn’t marry until retirement and was a doctor instead. She may well have been the first person to administer penicillin in Los Angeles.

My father wrote a novel in which someone is trying to complete the unfinished tenth symphony of the character in someone else’s novel.

Okay that’s enough for now. We’re weird.

Physics poetry

  1. There is no force, however great
    To pull a wire, however fine
    Into a horizontal line
    That shall be absolutely straight

    — Unknown

  2. Stone walls do not a prism make
    They’re better made of glass
    If you had studied Science
    You would not be such an ass

    — My father

Annals of Family History: Our First War Here

My greatsomething grandfather Jacob arrived in the American colonies from Darmstadt-Hesse, Germany in about 1750 as an indentured servant. His brother Sebastian apparently bugged out and headed home at the end of his service, but Jacob liked it enough to stay in “Pennsylvanian Dutch” country with the other Germans. My family has had a presence in Lancaster County since, and in Ohio.

Family legend was that Jacob served in the Revolutionary War. My brother confirmed this a few years ago doing genealogy. I decided to take it a step further and contacted the National Archives’ Military Records Department. If you’re the relative of a U.S. veteran you can get anything they have, as far back as they have it, at a reasonable price. So, for $17 I requested and got Jacob’s records: the index card in his file and two pay stubs indicating his service and what he got for it. It looks like the pay was a bit late, but he got interest on it. There may have been a land donation, too. And of course, citizenship, since that’s not an issue when you’re on the startup team. Scans are below the cut, or in this flickr set.

cut for size