Thursday, August 9, 2012

Charmed, I'm Sure

When I was thirteen my brother gave me a small sterling silver pendant of a half moon face mounted around turquoise.  He was several years older than me, and dating a pretty girl at the time -- the first sibling to be in a relationship that I remember being aware of.  He told me that the image of the moon was the universal symbol of love-- I was delighted to think that he was in love with this girl.  I wore the short pendant around my stubby, sweaty adolescent neck every single day.  Not much later, when the thin chain got broken, my sister gave me another small sterling pendant on a similar thin silver chain.  To me, she always had cool, trendy, teenager stuff, and this charm was similar to Robert Indiana's LOVE pop art sculpture which was fashionable at the time.  I put them both on the new single chain and wore them often until 1980 when I graduated from high school and received a small sterling '80 medallion as a graduation gift from a long-time family friend, Eileen Roe.  That was the tipping point for me to start a charm bracelet.  It has been growing heavier ever since, with the 53 charms weighing in at nearly half a pound.  Collected over the years each charm that is linked to the bracelet is also linked to someone in my life or represents something that has touched my life.

Here's one:

Barb Henney was my first and perfect friend.  Both of our families were members of The Unitarian Church in Omaha, Nebraska.  The Henney family had three children our own children's ages, and as our friendship grew, we spent many long nights playing cards, sharing holidays together, camping, and going to garage sales.  She welcomed "the pop-in", and I was a frequent popper, always delighted that she was pleased to be distracted by my unannounced visits where they lived on the other side of town.  When we moved to New Jersey, I was tragically home-sick for Nebraska and her friendship, and she promised with good intention to write often, but rarely did.  Instead she sent me a mailbox charm with a flapping door, reminding me that she thought of us often, even if she rarely wrote to tell us their news.

When the Henneys eventually visited us in New Jersey, we took a day trip to Atlantic City which was over 2 hours south of our home.  We took turns at the slot machines with little luck. The seven kids were tired, restless passengers after a full day of sun and surf, so I told a family story about our fathers to keep their attention and pass the miles.  It's a story my Dad had told our family a long time ago.  It went a little like this:

My father served in the Air Force in the early 50's, and like anyone in any branch of the armed services, had to get through boot camp.

Wallace West was a fit young servicemen, and boot camp challenges were intended to prepare him both physically and mentally for whatever he might encounter when fighting the enemy. In boot camp Wallace climbed ropes over tall walls, slogged through trenches, ran mile after mile carrying his own weight in a pack on his back, shimmied under barbed wire barricades, and met every endurance, strength, stamina and agility test he was put to.

But during that time, the government was low on military resources after the Second World War and all their weapons, ammunition and equipment was sent to the men fighting at the front during the Korean war in the early 50's.

On a training day of a simulated battle the men were divided into two opposing sides, lined up alphabetically "first name last, last name first" and ordered to stand at attention as a rifle with a bayonet was passed out to each man.  They were shown how to dismantle, reassemble, load and shoot the rifle.  Instructions were given on how to quickly attach and use the bayonet in simulated hand-to-hand combat if they ran out of ammunition.

But with the supply shortages, by the time the quartermaster reached the end of the alphabetized line where Wallace West stood, they'd run out of equipment.  Following orders Dad stood at attention while substitutions were made.  Dad was handed a straw broom and told if he sees the enemy, to use the broom for his rifle.  "YES SIR!", Dad saluted, and right shouldered arms with his broom.

His officer demanded swift, convincing simulated rifle activity, so with military precision, Dad presented arms with the broom as if it was an actual rifle, aimed at an imaginary enemy soldier and shouted with authority, "BANG, BANG, BANGITY, BANG BANG!!!"

Impressed with his quick action and adaptation, the officer took one step back and announced to all the enlisted men on the opposing side that if they get "banged" in this exercise they must immediately drop dead.

In unison, "YES SIR!" was heard, and the officer asked, "Any questions?"

Dad reported back, "Question, SIR!"  "For my bayonet?"

The officer snatched the broom from Dad, yanked two straws out of the business end, turned it over placed one straw sticking off the end of the handle and wrapped it tightly attaching it with the second straw.

Tossing it back to soldier West, he called for quick bayonet action, and Dad put one foot forward, jabbed the single straw back and forth and with a booming voice called out, "STAB, STAB, STABITY-STAB STAB!!"

Nodding, the office called to the ranks, "Soldiers, from this point forward, if you are in simulated hand-to-hand combat and you hear "STAB", you will clutch your gut and immediately fall dead.

"YES SIR!" was called back by all ranks, and "FALL OUT" was then ordered.

The simulated battle began, and Dad told his animated story of incessant shooting, and how he dodged fighting men, jumping behind boulders for shelter, drop rolling into trenches, all while shouting out his unlimited supply of ammunition as he made his way closer and closer to the mock enemy front line.

All the kids in the car were listening and interested, but the Henney kids wanted to hear about their grandfather. Chuck Warren was a decorated forward observer in WWII.  They knew he had seen some action and had dark memories from that time in history.  But like all good soldiers, he had to earn his stripes and pull his weight in Army boot camp. I explained that Mr. Warren would have had a very similar story to Dad's boot camp story, so I embellished and continued:

Your Grandfather, Chuck Warren, also found himself at the end of the alphabetized ranks when he was ordered to fall in.  Except he was divided on to the enemy side.  He also experienced the mock battle and the shouting men hating the enemy who all wanted him dead, the rush of adrenalin it created, and how he had to watch each man who had weapons and listen for the dreaded 'BANG, BANG, BANG-ITY, BANG' or fear the painless nod of failure if he heard 'STAB, STAB, STABBITY, STAB'.  He, too ducked behind shelter and rolled into trenches.  But to his surprise and disappointment, there were two soldiers standing above him when he peered out of one of those trenches: one pointing a rifle-broom, and the other brandishing a straw bayonet. 
Thinking quickly, Private Warren stood tall and squared his shoulders.  "BANG, BANG, BANGITY-BANG, shouted the delighted broom wielding enemy expecting the defeated soldier Warren's surrender to death.  But Chuck climbed out of the trench, determined.  The other soldier stood forward and repeatedly jabbed in his direction while shouting louder and louder with each air-thrust, "STAB, STAB, STABBITY, STAB!!!!".  Undaunted, Chuck approached these fellows, and pushed them over, using his strong shoulders, his big arms, fierce hands.  He pushed on their faces, and mashed them down to their knees, while they continuously berated him with their vocal weapons.  Confused and laying on the ground they looked up at soldier Warren, as he persisted crushing and pressing them into the dirt. Not until he actually lifted his steel-toed black army boot to step directly on top of one of the enemies' chest did he he stoically and repeatedly call out as he walked right on top of them, "tank, tank, tank, tank, tank, tank....."

I have a small sterling silver slot machine to recall that fun day, long drive, and sorely needed visit with The Henney family those many years ago.
There are 52 other stories to tell for each one of my charms.  When I put it around my wrist and connect the clasp linking the two ends and hear them tinkle I, too, am connected; I am part of the people, places and events that they each represent.

I am linked to this world.

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