Archive for August 2013

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter II, – The Mengelders of Omaha

Chapters and pages in chronological order

Family photos of paternal grandfather’s family and his German Bible

Chapter Two

The Mengelders,

Omaha, Nebraska

 Grandfather Jacob, his wine glass raised, as if standing for communion at his Lutheran church stood addressing the Mengelder family on Thanksgiving Day. Forty-eight of us crowded together at my grandparents’ home for the annual family  reunion.

“Does this sound familiar?” Jeremy said quietly, leaning towards my ear.

“You think? Yes, just a little.” I said, smiling. “But, this stuff is important to him. He just wants to remind us of the virtues of  ‘family values’, our ‘beginnings and rich heritage’, all of the above.” I said. We all bunched together, anxiously waiting for him  to finish while he delivered his speech, “embracing family, country, and freedom” once again.

Grandfather continued. “When our family came here in 1889 they earned the right and privilege of American citizenship. They embraced a new world, a new country. They could vote, go to church, and worship God openly, without fear. They could obtain an education, exercise free speech, without persecution or imprisonment.  They could visit friends and not worry about spying eyes, or listening ears. No opportunities were taken for granted.  They were patriots. Today, we are Americans in a free world that will one day seek to return to all once gained, that is now all but lost.”

Winding it up, he added, “At such times as we live in, there might be intervention by the evil one to take our most esteemed privileges from us and place in its stead the works of men with ruinous strife and hatred. But we will fight for our rights and with dignity we will stand before our flag and God, and declare our country, built with pride, perseverance, and respect for all. To God, our flag, our family, and our freedoms.”

At that point, grandfather took a sip from the wine glass in his right hand, while holding a little American flag in his left hand marking the occasion and the day of ‘thanks’ as we raised our glasses, the younger ones their soft drinks, and my uncles their beers, pronouncing a toast to, “freedom, democracy and liberty of one nation, and its people.”

“Hip, hip, hooray! To our flag, freedom, and the grand ole U.S.A.”, shouted Chad with a smart mouthed smirk, gulping down his Coke.

“Here, here! Let us pilgrims march forth into victory. And dinner.” declared John.

“Cheers to the red, white and blue. Cheers to me, and you.” said, Ben, our ‘poet’.

My cousins enjoyed a good laugh, not meant to be at the expense of grandfather Jacob. He just tended to be a bit long-winded when they stood impatient, waiting to load their plates from the bounty spread out over the buffet table.

When he finished and the prayer said we filled our plates and found seats at tables spilling out of the dining room, living room and kitchen. It was enough to freak out a fire marshal. We made a noisy bunch, laughing, joking, everyone talking at once.

Grandfather Jacob sat at the head of the dining room table in his chair looking like a proud peacock, patriarch of the family clan. His once thick silver locks now ringed his pink pate like a wispy white halo. His wire rimmed glasses framed kind, but intense, dark brown eyes. His face, the color of old ivory bore the deep lines, wrinkles and aging spots of his eighty-six years.

He worked on the mounds of mashed potatoes, dressing, and corn custard beside a half eaten turkey leg.  Another small plate with salad and rolls lay beside it disappearing just as fast. While eating he listened to bits and pieces of everyone’s conversation around the table, not missing a beat to add his input on all.

Grandmother Lisle sat beside him, her dainty hands cutting through a slice of turkey while discussing her Sweet Potato Pie’s ingredients and secret to a “flakier crust” with aunt Libby.

Sitting beside my uncle Heinrich at the other end of the table I nodded politely to all his ramblings about the things wrong with our government, and all that needed to be fixed in Washington, DC.

It was a typical holiday gathering, some watching football games on TV, my cousins in the basement playing pool, and the women cleaning up in the kitchen, gossiping while they worked.

Grandfather excused himself to go watch the boys play kick ball, and “get some fresh air”.  His pallor, and quiet mood seemed a bit off as I watched him through the opened window above the kitchen sink where I helped with clean up.

Their noise drifted in, as did the heat from the unusually warm day in late November.

With some nudging from the boys, Grandfather relented and joined them in a game of kickball, but had a harder time keeping up with the ones he once bounced on his knees calling his “little patriots”.  He jostled around, returning the ball a few times when suddenly he clutched his chest and collapsed to the ground.

We all ran out. My cousin wasted no time calling an ambulance.

Grandfather’s face turned red. He struggled to breathe. His words came slowly, his eyes turning to grandmother Lisle now kneeling down beside him, stroking his hot, perspiring forehead.  “Tell them… the truth. Make them…. proud….of… their heritage. My dear Lisle,… love. I will…see you, one day. Tell… Moni….”

Grandmother Lisle shook her head. “No, Jacob! You cannot leave me. Not now. There is no time for you to be sick.” she said, her voice breaking. She sobbed, imploring our help.

My uncle and cousin tried CPR, not waiting for paramedics to arrive. But, it did not help. A final breath and he lay quiet. A white cloud moved across the midday sun, his eyes staring upward, unmoving. A strange calm came over me as I looked down at his still form, realizing we had just lost him. In my mind I had an image of grandfather Jacob soaring through clouds, into the heavens, enlightening all the angels carrying him. And God smiling, while he “went on, and on,” his speech to all who would listen.

When the paramedics arrived their attempt to revive him was futile.  He was rushed to ER, but was pronounced dead from a “massive coronary,” turning our day of “thanks” into one of mourning.

A week later bouquets of flowers draped his coffin, as the Lutheran minister delivered the eulogy. The family gathered again in Omaha, Nebraska for his funeral, wept and mourned, then went home returning once again to busy lives, their jobs, all except me. It was grandfather Jacob’s wish to make me the “keeper” of our records, archive our history, and “preserve it for the coming generations.”

“Moni,” – he always called me that – “do not memorialize me when I am gone.  Learn the truth of our family’s history.  My grave will be but a stone to the quarry you will come to find. Learn our heritage. Write our story that it may be remembered. The patriotism to our country will live on in the hearts of the descendents that carry the banner of our beliefs. Those who value the words honored in our constitution will uphold the principles our nation’s founders swore to live by,” he’d written in a letter to be given to me upon his death. It was saved and kept with his old German Bible, passport, photos and naturalization papers.

Known jokingly as the ‘reporter’ in the family I lived up to their word, receiving my BA degree in journalism from UN, Lincoln, Nebraska. My father once told me, “Monica, develop your rapport with people instead of the report on them. Be sensitive to those whose lives and stories are subjected to someone else’s disclosure.”

As the creator of the literary press research paper, THE QUILL AND QUEST while in college I developed a web site and blog, enhancing it with new features.  By updating our site daily our readers could read articles, post and blog on political issues at home and abroad. Our newest feature; genealogy and archival research on diverse ethnic groups became a special project promoting interest, inquiries and questions from people wanting to research their ‘family tree,’ many of them becoming regular contributors or bloggers. Its success drew the interest of other professors and students majoring in history and genealogy studies in other schools. German, Russian and East European Jewish ethnic history became the most popular of our research studies project. And my obsession.

After earning my Master’s degree in history and genealogy studies I began assessing what I had on my own family history. Grandmother Lisle and I went through old documents, files and photos during our coffee talks, always with a plate of her “fresh from the oven,” Oatmeal Raisin cookies, my favorite.

Carefully turning pages of grandfather Jacob’s German Bible, I read the scrawled names, birth and death dates on family record pages, personal notes, mementoes and bookmarks stuffed inside, even favorite scriptures underlined and noted.

The worn, antiquated passport of my great-grandfather with pages as fine as tissue spilled loosely into my hands, well over a hundred years old now. Names and dates of family members’ immigration were scribbled on lines in Old Russian Cyrillic script.

Then she brought out another box, dust settling on it as it had been stored, hidden away, its contents giving off a musty, old smell. In unbelief I watched as she pulled things out, and it was then I learned the secret kept, like a hidden piece to a puzzle needed to complete the picture. And I realized the reason for grandfather Jacob’s fanatical patriotism.

Months later grandmother Lisle became weak and frail after suffering the flu the previous winter. Unable to regain her strength and recover she died peacefully in her sleep. Our family once again came together to mourn their loss. Like grandfather Jacob she believed anyone could be, “an American forging paths with a spirit of adventure and greatness,” like the first patriots and immigrants who came to shore pioneering the way.

We buried her a week later beside grandfather Jacob. Their adjoining gravesite now held another fresh bouquet of yellow daffodils, her favorite. It was Memorial Day.

While applying for a current passport and visa papers to travel abroad I received a call from the U.S. Genealogy Department of History and Research in Washington, D.C. They hired me, and I was sent on assignment to Europe with a team of archivists.

_________________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson

Note: The above story is fiction, but the photos above are mine. They are ones of my own family and grandparents. The story is based on facts, some true, some from other resources to create the fictional story of The Mengelders of Omaha.

The Rainbow

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The rains came,

our prayers, answered.

Thank you, God

for the rainbow sent;

ribbons of pastel, splashed

across the sky;

too soon disappearing,

 quietly exits;

We bid it farewell,

goodbye.

________________

Poem and photo by:  Joyce E.  Johnson (2013)

Like Hands Raised in Prayer


Hands in Prayer

Like hands raised in prayer

under the heat of a noonday sun

stands a pyramid-shaped rock

in silent solitude.

With fingers stretching

into the sky

withstanding the elements of time

it remains undaunted or removed

a place of quiet fortitude.

_____________

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

Note: The above photo is one I took while recently on vacation in Utah and Arizona. There are large sandstone rock cliffs and boulders of all kinds of unusual shapes and sizes. I thought how this particular rock looked so much like hands clasped together in prayer, so gave it this name for my above poem.


Where I’ve Been

If anyone has missed my posts for the last ten days, I have been traveling to places I had not seen before.  It was a journey of the most amazing sights in the U.S. with incredible views that filled our digital camera with photos we will cherish forever. The Grand Canyon is like a huge deep rock bowl surrounded by layers and shapes of compressed sandstone in colors of terra-cotta clay, taupe colored sand, and ridges stacked with pine and cedar trees growing out from the rock bowl cliffs.  I visited the South Rim many years ago, twice, but this is the first time I have visited the North Rim. The North Rim is unlike that of the South Rim where cactus and sagebrush bake in a hot Arizona sun. The North Rim is surrounded by forests of pine and cedar trees warmed by midday breezes, but cooled at night from winds that blow across and over its deep crevices and ravines. We spent two glorious days there with friends. Going into Arizona’s Grand Canyon North Rim we traveled through Utah and saw many of their own beautiful, magnificent rock cliffs as we  visited Zion National Park. So, here is a small gallery of photos we took from both places. The shapes, colors and hues of the red and brown rock are seen with many different formations. Below are just a few of those we photographed.

_____________________

Joyce E. Johnson

2013 Grand Canyon trip 2172013 Grand Canyon trip 0262013 Grand Canyon trip 0632013 Grand Canyon trip 031

2013 Grand Canyon trip 0792013 Grand Canyon trip 1712013 Grand Canyon trip 020

2013 Grand Canyon trip 2072013 Grand Canyon trip 2732013 Grand Canyon trip 001

Photos by: Joyce E. Johnson and T. Wayne Johnson

Not Always What It Seems

Not Always What It Seems

You thought life good: things came together,

when all of a sudden there comes a time

they are not what you hoped,

not what they seem.

You thought it would work out;

come together like a sought after dream.

But, whether a hunch, or premonition of sorts,

you’ve come to doubt your luck will hold.

And then it happens: your plans go awry.

There you are, where you hoped not to be,

in the middle of a mess, and you ask ‘Why?’

Was it by choice you wound up here,

or a stroke of bad luck?

You moan and cry.

But, a new day dawns,

 there’s a new sunrise.

So smile,

till your world smiles back.

___________

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)


Posted August 11, 2013 by Joyce in Inspirational Poems, Poems, Word Prompt, Writing

Tagged with ,

When Dark Closes In – Chapter X

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WHEN DARK CLOSES IN

Chapter X

Scott – Hue, South Vietnam

June, 1967, Hue, South Vietnam

It was nearly impossible to empty his mind of the things he’d seen, and try to write stuff as if he was a boy scout on a camping trip. Yea! Some trip. Every time he started a letter to Jen or his mom, he didn’t know what to write. What he thought they wanted to read, or hear, he could not write. What he could write they would not want to read, or hear. Too depressing. The media covered enough of the grizzly stuff, but how many bothered to read it, or hear it reported on Nightly News?

He wadded up the letter, another hard ball, and threw it at the latrine. Smack! Wadded another. Threw a curve ball. His mind flashed back to the time he was in high school. They were in the seventh inning, their baseball team’s playoff game for the all-state championship trophy. The opposing team was up at bat. He stood at the pitcher’s plate, slamming home fast balls, right into the catcher’s mitt, strike one, two, three. Another one, “out”!


Bases loaded. Runners up, eagerly waiting. I took my time, made them sweat. Slowly raising my pitching arm, arched my back, turned and, raised my left leg, fooling those on bases. Then, quickly straightened, and threw to third base with the runners sprinting for second and third. The umpire called it. ” Out”!

His writing notebook was not entirely empty. There was much of it that was already filled with things he didn’t share with anyone. He’d been keeping the ‘journal’ since he arrived in Saigon nine months ago. Now, he snatched minutes whenever he could to unleash whatever was in his head. When he didn’t know what to write home to Jennifer and his family, he used the journal to communicate his thoughts, express his frustrations, or just rant with pen on paper.

            ____________

“Here I am, nine months into my tour of duty, these last three in Hue. My M-16 remains the only friend I know that won’t leave me, my constant companion. Sleep deprived, I have dreams of hot showers, cheese burgers and fries, the waves of Puget Sound washing over my bare feet, but, I lie back on burlap bags filled with freeze-dried army rations near the latrine, stink like the village pigs here, and my eardrums vibrate from the drone of planes and helicopters overhead.”

“I still see the faces of the dying villagers lying helpless in our wake as we moved in, after the Viet Cong. Their blood soaks the ground. They are the innocent victims of our bullets and shrapnel. Open, gaping wounds fill with swarming flies to lay claim to their remains. Medics cannot help them all. Only the monsoons help wash the earth of their blood. But, nothing washes away the memory. Their fading cries linger in my head. I hear them over and over.”

“There is no time to grieve the death of friends I’ve made here. I just watch the medics wrap them up and send them home in a body bag. My grief, my emotion is an internal kind, because it’s just not cool to watch a big boy cry. But, when, or if I leave here alive, I will feel more ashamed for not shedding any for the friends I watched die.”

“We don’t know where our enemy lurks. The south will do whatever is necessary to annihilate and wipe out all evidence of VC presence, or compromise. There is infiltration in the South’s army. It is hard to distinguish between the two armies sometimes. At times we don’t know who we’re fighting. We just fire. The South Vietnamese Army formed a special unit for the sole purpose to hunt ‘rats,’ (revolutionists and their spies), another name given the VC. SWARM (Specialized Warfare Against Rat’s Movements) are a brutal bunch of boys. Some say the CIA trained them. No reason to doubt it.”

“Reports from home tell about the apathy for the soldiers here. Does anyone care we are dying? Troops have no real commitment to the South’s cause. They were pulled in, with no choice. This has become a political war. Those in WA., DC that decide our fate should be here. We would choose theirs. And they would go home in body bags. With, or without the U.S. help, the South Vietnamese will fight on, to keep their side free from the north.”

“Things are getting intense around Da Nang, and our unit may be heading north. My only momentary relief comes from looking at Jennifer’s picture, and reading her letters from home. I pray I make it back. I never thought much about praying for anything before. Guess I never needed anything so much until now, so I’ve given it a try. Whether or not God listens, at least I’m giving it a shot.”

            Scott Bradley – 1967, Hue, South Vietnam

                        _____________

Suddenly, the sounds of M-16 s erupted everywhere. Another ambush. The screams of troops falling under fire while launching grenades, the chaos from those running, hitting the ground, diving for cover: they were under attack.
Aim, fire, and kill. Scott emptied his cartridge on all he could see in their black pajamas, then reloaded. They camouflaged themselves in the bush, foliage hanging off them as they crawled along the ground. They laid low in rice paddies, creeping along like maggots. They were dropping, but it was too hard to see how many he’d gotten. They could pop up like ducks at a carnival shoot to gain the surprise. Carnage everywhere. The surprise attacks were coming more frequent.

His knees buckled. He lost balance. He felt a stinging, piercing pain, like a hot knife shoved in, then withdrawn. His grip loosened, his M-16 feeling too heavy to hold. He looked down at the growing red stain, the sticky wet blood oozing from a chest wound. He would not go down. Not today! Tightening his grip, he stumbled up, out of his trench and ran into the fray.

“Bradley! What are you doing? Get down, man. You’re going to get…No!” Mac yelled.

______________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson




Succulent Flower


Succulent flower

The bee hovers in mid-air

Gathering pollen

____________

Poem by: Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

Photo credit: Thomas Wayne Johnson (2013)

Note: The bush this flower grows on is covered in these beautiful flowers in mid-summer.  I wanted a photo with a close up  of a honey bee for the haiku poem, and for my ‘writings’ scrapbook with another of my bee poems, recently published, so sent my husband Wayne out to get a shot of it with his camera, and he was able to get a good close up of one here. It was perfect.  🙂

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