WWII, Australia, Paintings, Families, Rocks

australia-wwiiI found this story under a rock a while ago.

(figuratively speaking)

…Which is fitting, because it’s a tale of things hidden under a rock.

(figuratively speaking)

It starts on a farm

My Granddaddy John grew up on a farm in Virginia.  It was a big farm.  It is possible that his family owned slaves before the Civil War – I don’t know when they acquired the property.  Anyhoo.  He grew up in the country doing a lot of physical work and hunting and so on.  He graduated from UVA when he was something like 17, so they made him wait a couple years before attending their medical school.  After medical school he moved to Chicago and met my Grandmother, Jennie, who was from a posh family.  She was considered fun but not bright.  The closest thing her brothers did to work was playing polo.  So they got married and bought a house, had 3 kids, then WWII started.

So, John enlisted and was sent to the east coast of Australia to train as an army doctor in the Pacific Theater.  While he was there, he fell in love with Australia.  He loved the kangaroo hunting and the strong, outdoorsy people.  He felt very at home there.  And, he fell in love with a nurse. I don’t know if she was a fellow American or an Australian nurse.

When training was over, John went into the Pacific Theater and endured the horrors of sewing up young soldiers until eventually he contracted such a bad case of malaria that they sent him back to Australia to recover and discharged him, or the war ended – more facts I’m unsure of.  At that point, he decided that he was not leaving Australia and planned to start a new life with this nurse.  But his older brother wrote him a letter, reminding him that it was his duty to return to his wife and children in Chicago, and basically shamed him into returning.

John was a very strict father.  He returned to find Jennie and the children (my mother was the youngest) living with her parents.  The children had a live in nanny.  John thought they were spoiled and made them work outside while the other children in the neighborhood were playing.  Also, he loved the opera before the war, but never attended again when he came home.  He drank too much whiskey.  Jennie loved parties, but stopped entertaining because John became embarrassingly drunk.  He was a mean drunk, and his children did not cross him.

By the time I came along, he had mellowed out.  He spent most of his time in his favorite red chair.  My entire life, he had two watercolors hanging on the wall next to his chair.  I always assumed they were landscapes of Virginia, but once he died, and my grandmother died, and my mother died, and my father died, they came into my possession. Then, I looked up the artist and discovered that they were landscapes by an Australian painter which he brought back with him. My entire life, while he sat in his favorite chair, he was looking at Australia.


Kauai Bicycling

So I blew my back out over a year ago. (It’s an extruded disc if you want to get technical.) My greatest lament has been my inability to lead a “normal” physically active life. I went so far as to purchase a stationary recumbent bicycle. That worked for a while until my back inexplicably worsened. I’m in that unlucky slot – gaining weight, back too shot to live a normal life, but not bad enough for those usually (allegedly) moneygrubbing cut-happy neurosurgeons to cut me and fix things.

I’ve been to Hawaii several times. Once to Maui and many cherished stops on Oahu. I’m a total sucker for Hawaii. I’ve heard great things about both the Big Island and Kauai. The former – a crazy volcanic pit of lava-tastic adventure, the latter the relatively undeveloped home to the wettest place this side of that other really wet place. (Is it really the wettest in the world?)

When visiting Maui, I really wanted to bike down Haleakala. Two things prevented me from doing this. 1. I was recovering from knee surgery. (Is my connective tissue made of glass?! Didn’t they make a movie about me?) 2. You have to wake up before I usually go to sleep to enjoy tearing down a volcano on two skinny wheels. That one-two punch kept me from biking that day, and might’ve saved my life.

As I type this, I realize that the built in spell checker isn’t working for whatever reason. I was really impressed that I’d spelled “Haleakala” correctly. I don’t think I did. But you know what I mean. (Please contact me if you find spelling errors!)

So as much as the huge volcano isle is tempting, I’m considering Kauai for my next trip. I hear Kauai bicycling opportunities are amazing. I poked around and found a place that rents recumbent bikes, so I might give Kauai bicycling a shot. It’s an older island/volcano, so it’s not as steep and rugged as the Big Island or Maui’s Halewhatever it’s called.

My biggest concern is riding a recumbent bike that actually has wheels. The last and only time I tried to ride one was in the 1980s in Put-in Bay, Ohio, coincidentally also an island. (But not a volcano.) Recumbent bikes were a new (to me) thing, but I was pretty young, so plenty was new to me. They were billed as “the Ferrari of bicycles”. The guy tooling around on one might’ve been the same guy who was renting them to Marks like me. Regardless, the younger and ostensibly more agile me couldn’t grok it. I spent a few minutes trying to get going… but couldn’t. No sale. Bad Mark!

Maybe it’s something that comes with age. I’ve since seen plenty of oldsters riding them. Perhaps it’s one of those necessity things.  “My damn back’s broken. This thing is my only option to not gain fifty pounds. I’ll fight it like Calvin fought his bike if I have to.” Kinda like that?

We’ll see. I doubt I’ll be biking here in Kauai. Doesn’t sound like a good Kauai biking trail.

Perils of Volunteering (trying to)


You know it’s a rough economy when you can’t even get a job that doesn’t pay.

I applied to volunteer at the local Red Cross chapter. They told me to get a background check at mybackgroundcheck.com. I went there, paid the $15 to get the volunteer check. Then filled out their application packet and tried to arrange my 20 minute interview. Turns out there’s a special, free, “Red Cross” version of the background check I needed to do. I expressed to the local volunteer coordinator that they might want to change their instructions to prevent potential volunteers from wasting time and money.  After receiving several looping errors when submitting the form, my pristine background check finally made it to them on the day of my interview.

I did the interview, and while I’ll not divulge (any more) gripey complaints, I’ll say that I was interviewing them as much that they were me. I got the rejection letter a few days later and emailed them to ask if my extruded disc had anything to do with it, and if I’d be able to volunteer after I get that fixed. Their response:

“After conferring with our Exec. Director, [REDACTED], it was decided that “your skills and interests don’t match our current needs”.  Your physical limitations were not a factor in our decision.  We will keep your contact info. on file. Best wishes in your future endeavors. We have no doubt that you will be a great volunteer for another local organization, if that is your choice.”

Part of me wanted to ask them… On exactly which “skills and interests” should I be focusing, should I decide to yearn to be a better Red Cross candidate? Man, I swore no more griping… damn. But seriously, if the Athens Ohio Red Cross chapter is so well staffed that they’re turning away college educated, self made, Red Cross certified babysitting expert, almost able-bodied volunteers, then good for them. I just find it hard to believe that they couldn’t benefit from my skills, effort and time.

My last volunteer effort (in 2008) was teaching English to Chinese immigrants.  My students all worked at my favorite restaurant (sushi!) I made a flier (or is it flyer?)  offering free English lessons. I came to their shop at 11 PM one night a week for a few months. We all had a good time and learned things. Alas, they work seven days per week, usually more than a dozen hours a day, 364 days/year. Eventually classes became a yet another burden in their busy lives. Or maybe they were picking up more than enough English from their days and nights interacting with customers and an hour or two a night of watching late, late TV.

Or maybe they fired me because nobody wants me to work for free.

I’m beginning to think that people will only let me work if I allow them to pay me. It’s a paranoid thought that makes *some* sense in the marketing world. (I.e. people value things more when they pay. Give it away and people don’t think it’s “worth” as much.) So I’m turning away good paying work in my fields, but can’t find a good volunteer gig.

I considered writing a letter to my local paper about getting turned down by the Red Cross, but then realized it might open a flood gate of “Hey, come volunteer for us!” requests. And for other, more obvious reasons… I didn’t write that letter. (Is writing this blog any different?) (A little, I think.) So my buddy Roman at a great Athens Ohio marketing joint has an idea for a charity effort. I think I might help him with his vision.

In closing, I love what the Red Cross does for the world: Disaster relief, community education and blood drives to support the vampire mafia. And I’d decided to turn them down. (Far from impressed with their budget handling.) They just didn’t give me the chance. Maybe they knew my interests better than I did. Oh, and apparently that time I was busted smoking pot in 1994 is no longer on my record. Or maybe, just maybe, society no longer thinks it’s a big deal for college students to toke the wacky weed. Even Obama did that. That makes me almost presidential. But Michael Phelps… that hairy potter can go to hell.

Dan Dreifort volunteers for Death With Dignity National Center and donates time locally to get out the vote for San Diego’s 2020 campaign finance reform measure.