Wednesday, June 30, 2010

June 2010: June Musings

Summer unofficially begins with Memorial Day in the US. It is a holiday that is observed on the last Monday in May. It is a holiday to remember those gave their lives in service of this country. For most people it is a three day weekend and that unofficial start of summer.

There are somber ceremonies sponsored by this veteran’s organization or that. Some cable channels run war movies to keep the history in the minds of the populace. But in my observations most people just enjoy the long weekend.

June 14th: Flag Day is even less eventful than Memorial Day. I do not think anyone actually celebrates Flag Day as far as I can tell. It is not an official holiday. It is observed because on June 14, 1777 adopted the red, white, and blue stars and stripes as the official flag of the then young nation.

It wasn’t until 1885 when a teacher in Waubeka, WI started formally celebrating the day.

In elementary school, I was part of the Safety Patrol. In my last year my friend Paul and I took on a special task reserved for seventh graders. We were responsible for raising and lowering the flag every day. We took the job seriously and felt like we were doing a civic and patriotic duty. It was kind of cool. There was never an audience but we dutifully raised and lowered the flag, folding it and unfolding it ceremoniously as we were taught and we taught the two fellows that followed us.

How did we get the job? It was less ceremonious and less formal than I thought. Paul and I thought it would be a nice way to spend our last year on Safety Patrol. We approached the stern shop teacher Mr. Hagen who was also supervised the Safety Patrol. We asked how we might go about getting the flag detail assignment. He looked us up and down, reflected a few seconds, and said the job was ours if we wanted it. It was that simple.

The school is still there, I wonder if the tradition continues. I suspect things might have changed. After all student manned Safety Patrols are a relic of the past. Also, most buildings simply leave their flag up all the time even though the law of the land demands it be illuminated. Some have mechanized systems to raise and lower the flag.

I know that military bases still have flag details. I am wondering if we have lost something or simply evolved to a point where the flag is not as important as it was earlier in our history. Certainly, after 9/11 everyone, including me, wore flag pins on my lapel. Now, I do not even wear suits anymore on a daily basis.

We used to have serious flag poles at our homes in Connecticut and Michigan. We flew and American flag with a slightly smaller Armenian flag under it. It was kind of a trademark that we adopted from my in-laws. We moved the thirty foot flag pole from Michigan to Connecticut but did not move it to Illinois. Our property and landscaping here would not accommodate a flag pole as well as the previous two properties.

St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo have gained popularity because they are party days and heavily promoted and advertised. Flag Day as a party day is overshadowed by the 4th of July which is just two weeks off.

I might not have even known it was Flag Day but I was reminded as such by an internet blurb. Some years Flag Day comes and goes well under my radar screen. When I do note that it is Flag Day, I always think back to my last year at Burns Elementary when my friend Paul and I had the honor of raising and lowering the flag every day.

June 17th: My birthday is June 25th. As people are prone to do, I have made note of significant historical events that happened on my birthday. One event that figures prominently on this date was Custer’s Last Stand.

I was reminded of this earlier this week. The History Channel was airing a program entitled General Sheridan and the Indians. I was watching it while having breakfast. It was fascinating. I was interested because Fort Sheridan is a few miles east of my house on Lake Michigan. The Fort has been decommissioned and the officers’ residences are now private residences in a very cool neighborhood. I ride my bike through their around the parade ground. Once I stopped and read the story of General Sheridan. So, this program on Sheridan was of interest to me.

I learned that Sheridan was the mentor of George Armstrong Custer. The TV show conveyed that Sheridan was involved in Custer’s promotion to General in the Civil War and certainly for resurrecting Custer’s career by giving him a job in the Indian Wars that ultimately led to his demise on June 25, 1876 at the Little Big Horn. While the show was not about Custer, his involvement in the Indian Wars and relationship with Sheridan gave Custer another fifteen minutes of fame in this program.

George Armstrong Custer is a most interesting and charismatic figure. He was born in Ohio, but grew up in Monroe, MI. I remember reading that his mother even moved to West Point to be near and continue to help manage Custer’s life and ambitions. He graduated a year early, but last in his class. Custer was loved and loathed by his troops. He was known for bold and brash maneuvers that made Custer famous and his direct reports scared of him. He made his own uniform of black velvet while he served in the Civil War. He had ambitions to run for President.

I remember a classmate from Burns school. His name was Greg Custer. We were in kindergarten and first grade together. Then his family moved to California and I never heard from him again. I remember this fellow I only knew for two years over fifty years ago. Why? Well there could be any number of reasons. We were not necessarily friends. I remember him because at the age of five and six, Greg Custer was larger than in stature and attitude than any of the rest of us. He, obviously, made an impression on me. Greg Custer back then was full of charismatic, self-centered, and a bully… as much as one could be in kindergarten. I liked him and did not like him.

I have not thought of Greg Custer for awhile. But in hearing about George Armstrong made me wonder if Greg was his descendant? I wonder more why it took me so long to make the Custer connection.

June 25th: It is actually my birthday. It is the day of Little Big Horn but that is no longer the major historical event that stands out in my mind. Last year, two luminaries died on June 25th: Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett.

This is really alright. Why wonder about the notables who were born on my birthday? There are a few: George Orwell, June Lockhart, Carly Simon, Jimmie Walker, Phyllis George, and George Michael. This is amazing because I have tried to model my life after a 50/50 mixture of June Lockhart and Jimmie Walker. It is working out quite well for me.

I think it is better to focus on who bought the farm on this date in history. I have known for years that George Armstrong Custer led his troops to their demise at the Little Big Horn on this date. Last year, I was stunned and that both Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett passed on. Farrah Fawcett was not a surprise because she had been suffering from cancer for months. Michael Jackson was a complete shock not unlike the passing of Elvis Presley back in 1977.

I am more fascinated about Farrah Fawcett than Michael Jackson. It is not what you are probably thinking. It is more about the nature of her passing and it being totally overshadowed by Michael Jackson.

Farrah Fawcett was all the rage about the time Elvis Presley passed away. She was the star and sweetheart of the very popular TV show Charlie’s Angels. She peaked, in my humble opinion, when a pin-up poster of her was all the rage. She had big blond hair, a great figure, and a golden smile. She was only on Charlie’s Angels for one season. It was the same year that poster came out. She truly had her fifteen minutes of fame.

Farrah Fawcett went on to make a series of made for TV movies. I saw one, The Burning Bed. It was OK but I thought she was trying too hard to be a feminist and a serious actress. Probably she was not trying too hard; she just could not escape the gigantic shadow of her poster and the Jill Munroe role.

I really did not pay much attention to her career. I totally missed the best selling issue of Playboy featuring her in 1997. Let’s attribute that to my maturity (hey it was worth a shot). I do recall hearing of her troubled personal life. Her son went to prison. She was involved in a few domestic disputes resulting in most unflattering photos on TV, newspapers, and magazines.

Then in 2006 she was diagnosed with anal cancer. I remember reading that she was diagnosed with anal cancer. Anal cancer? (All aforementioned illusions of maturity are now completely gone.) I had never heard of anal cancer. Who gets anal cancer? Well, it seems about 5,000 people per year in the US. About 700 people die from anal cancer a year in this country. The incident rate is 1.6 per 100,000 people vs. 166 per 100,000 for prostate cancer.

Farrah Fawcett suffered with this disease. Like many cancer patients she was treated by chemo-therapy. She responded well and was declared cured. And, sadly, like many cancer patients, remission did not mean that she was cured. The cancer came back, again as it often does, with a vengeance… an essentially untreatable vengeance.

Farrah Fawcett made a documentary of her struggle. The documentary, Farrah’s Story, aired on May 16, 2009 five weeks before she passed away. I was actually among the nine million who watched it. The documentary was intended to raise awareness of rare cancers like anal cancer. But really, it seemed more like an effort, to me, to keep her name in the headlines and make her passing a big deal. Yeah, and did I mention that I watched it.

When her time finally came, on my birthday last year, she was totally overshadowed with the shocking passing of Michael Jackson. He was the headliner in the papers and on TV. Literally, Farrah’s passing was like a footnote. I admit I was oddly fascinated with her end game story and what I believed was her scripting of it. That was nothing compared to my fascination when she died on my birthday and then got minimal media coverage because it all went to Michael.

I used to think about Custer every year on my birthday. Since last year, I will be reflecting on Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson

June 29th: Independence Day is this weekend. It is another three day weekend. People are planning their festivities and getaways. It is a festive holiday in which there are more local parades, events, and, of course, fireworks. Where the meaning and importance of Memorial Day and Flag Day may have waned since what I remember as a youngster, the 4th of July is still going pretty strong.

When lived in Wilton, we used to go the town fireworks. They were magnificent and a special part of my family memories. We may or may not go to the equally impressive fireworks in Lake Forest. But without the children, it just won’t be the same.