A good year before I was born, my father wrote a letter while sitting in Korea, and sent it back home to friends in North Carolina.
A week ago, it came back to him — in Arizona.
“It’s so damn cold in here that I just about can make my fingers work,” the letter begins. “… Even so , it’s indoors, so I can imagine how really miserable the boys living in holes are tonight…”
Typewritten on flimsy stationary, the letter goes on to recount a weekend in Tokyo during which he enjoyed burgers and “Jap beer, which is very good.” He asks about what’s going on back home and wonders when he might return. “I’m supposed to come home in February. And now there is a rumor making the rounds that we’re supposed to be rotated to Japan after 10 months in Korea. So I don’t really know what’s going to happen.”
It was mailed to Lil and Roy Thompson, friends and co-workers at the Winston-Salem Journal, both now deceased.
Apparently Lil filed it away in a book, to be specific, an autobiography of William “Billy” Rose, the showman and lyricist who wrote, among other songs, “Me and My Shadow” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon.”
I don’t know whether Lil parted with the book long ago, or whether it was part of her estate when she died a few years ago, but somehow it ended up among the stock of a second-hand book dealer in Carrboro, N.C.
Robert Garni, once he opened the book, found the letter and read it, took to the Internet to locate my father, Bill Woestendiek, then mailed him the original, along with this note:
” … Quite coincidentally, the other day while sorting out some used books for sale, I came across an old letter that had apparently been tucked away in a hardcover copy of Billy Rose’s autobiography …
“Upon examination of the letter, I realized it may be of some sentimental value to someone and therefore I did a quick search of the Internet where I was able to locate your full name and current address. I am enclosing the letter herewith. I am hoping my information is correct and current so that this letter may finally return to its rightful owner.”
In my father’s letter, he mentions what turned out to be his most cherished memory of the war. He was a lieutenant in the Army, but he was also writing a weekly column for his newspaper back home called “Battle Lines.” The columns weren’t so much about the war as they were Korea and its people. Most of the stories he wrote focused on the children, often orphans of war, and the poverty in which they lived.
His stories led to an outpouring of support from back home in North Carolina — hundreds of pounds of clothing and toys were donated by readers, shipped overseas and distributed at a Christmas party.
“I am overwhelmed, no kidding,” he writes in the letter of the readers’ response. “We’ll have clothes for our party and still some extra to give to the orphanages around here which are also hurting for clothing.”
Reading over those articles, which I found amid my stuff, in a green scrapbook whose binding was falling apart, I understand a little better why he got so misty when, 19 years ago at Los Angeles International Airport, my father watched as my son arrived, a six-month-old, adopted from Korea.
In the faded old letter he thanks Lil for her support, and for keeping him up on the goings on at the newspaper. “You are one of the best morale builders I have,” he writes.
It took a little help from a thoughtful second-hand book dealer, but, judging from the joyful response my father, now 87, had to getting the letter back, it seems Lil — even though she’s no longer with us — did it again.
Posted by John Woestendiek May 7th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: army, bill woestendiek, book dealer, carrboro, children, friends, journalism, korea, korean war, letter, lil thompson, mail, newspapers, north carolina, orphans, poverty, returned, robert garni, roy thompson, second hand, soldiers, used, war, winston-salem journal
Christmas, as we all know, isn’t about receiving. It’s about regifting.
At least it is for me this year.
Having spent the last seven months on the road with Ace, and being temporarily shacked up in a trailer park in the desert, I decided that all the gifts I give my family members in Arizona will be items that I have tested and gently broken in.
Because “used” is such a harsh word.
I don’t feel guilty about this at all — for several reasons. For one, my father announced he and his wife are not giving, and don’t want to receive, presents this year. They live on a fixed income. I live on a broken one. So it works out just fine.
Then, too, as you regular readers know, part of Travels with Ace is seeing how cheaply we can pull off our time on the road — an attempt to spend no more money than we were while living in a rented house in Baltimore. We’ve managed, mostly, to do that, and I don’t want to allow the crass commercial side of Christmas to set back all we have achieved in that regard.
As far as the receiving side, facing the long journey back east in my already overstuffed car, any new items for me, at least those that aren’t cash, or are bigger than a breadbox, would be problematic — except for maybe a nice warm sweater, or perhaps some gloves.
In my view, though gifts aren’t what Christmas is all about, a totally giftless Christmas would be wrong. So I don’t intend to comply fully with my father’s no-gifts edict. Instead, I will put my own spin on it.
He and his wife, and my brother and his partner, who all live in the Phoenix area, will be receiving items from me that — while they have made my weeks in Petite Acres, a trailer park in Cave Creek, more comfortable — were purchased with them, at least partially, in mind.
True, they are items that I can’t or don’t want to haul back to Baltimore; and, yes, they are items that, for a brief period, served my purposes. But far more important than that is the spirit of giving in which I will bestow them, once I’m done with them.
One red chiminea.
(Not to be confused with a chimichanga, this is a big clay pot with a smokestack — available at most local Western-Mexican-Indian gift shops in the area — in which you can build an outdoor fire. I am not merely “using” the chiminea to keep myself from being cold at night, and add a warm glow to my dirt yard. I am lovingly breaking it in — seasoning it and tempering it, if you will — before I deliver it to my brother on Christmas day. Though Ace has been tempted to pee on it, because it resembles a fire hydrant, I am pretty sure he hasn’t.)
Two big coffee mugs — one red, one blue.
(What better symbolizes the warmth of the season than a brightly-colored coffee mug, filled with the steaming hot beverage of your choice? The fact that only one coffee mug came with my trailer, and was usually dirty, was not the main reason I bought these for my father and his wife. Rather, it was a well-thought out gift purchase, based on their desire not to have things that take up much space, and a mental note I made during a visit to their house that, while they had coffee mugs, they had no sizeable, gayly colored ones.)
(Even more gayly colored and festive, this gift purchase, I reasoned, would help keep my father and his wife warm at night, and would be ideal for snuggling under while watching a little TV, and they do have a little TV. That Ace and I tested it out — that it may have a few dog hairs on it and smell like cigarette smoke by the time I give it to them — are but small concerns when one looks at the bigger picture and true meaning of Christmas.)
Two bags of Cave Creek Coffee holiday blend.
(The Cave Creek Coffee Company was having a buy-one-get-one-half-price sale on their holiday blend. So I bought two and got two for half price. I would like to make it clear that the ones I’m giving as gifts to my father and brother are those for which I paid fully, while I’m hanging on to the half-price ones — allowing me to test it, making sure the blend is both savory and festive.)
So, you see, while they may have briefly fulfilled my modest needs, these gifts, I’m sure you understand, are not really “used,” or even “pre-owned” — for I don’t look at my relationship with them as that of owner-and-item.
Rather, my time with them has been fleeting — just enough to allow me to share in their joy before passing that joy on to others, at once “paying it forward” and ensuring that said items are indeed quality merchandise that will go on to bring my family members countless years of happiness.
So when I sit outside as the sun sets, under a festive Indian blanket, drinking Cave Creek holiday blend from a brightly colored coffee mug and keeping my feet toasty in the warm glow of a chiminea, I am thinking not of myself, but of how much pleasure my purchases will, eventually, bring my family members.
Yes, I’m quite a guy.
Posted by John Woestendiek December 20th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: america, animals, cave creek coffee company, chiminea, christmas, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, etiquette, exchange, gifts, giving, holiday, indian blanket, meaning of christmas, mugs, petite acres, pets, pre-owned, presents, regift, regifting, road trip, season, spirit, trailer park, travel, travels with ace, used, warm
Dogs — live and dead — are being used as shark bait on the French-controlled island of Reunion, National Geographic reports.
The small volcanic island off Africa’s east coast is loaded with stray dogs — more than 150,000, says Reha Hutin, president of the Paris-based Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis (the Thirty Million Friends Foundation).
Hutin sent a film crew to Reunion this summer to obtain proof that live animals were being used as shark bait. (The photo above is a video still from that filming.) The practice was first exposed on the animal rights group’s weekly television show.
A videotape and photographs show the dogs with multiple hooks sunk deep into their paws and snouts. Cats are also being used as bait, according to the organization.
“From then on everyone started to take the whole story seriously and realized it was true,” Hutin said.
A veterinarian successfully treated one of the canines, a six-month-old dog with a large fishhook through its snout at an SPA (Animal Protective Society) clinic in Reunion’s capital, St. Denis.
Unlike most of the hooked animals, the dog was someone’s pet, according to Saliha Hadj-Djilani, a reporter for the Thirty Million Friends Foundation’s TV program. The dog had apparently escaped its captors and was taken to the SPA by a concerned citizen. Fully recovered, the animal is now home with its owners.
The other two cases uncovered by Thirty Million Friends were strays. They now live in France with new owners.
The foundation plans to finance a sterilization program on the island to reduce the stray overpopulation.
Hutin said many locals view the strays as vermin. “There’s no value to the life of a dog there,” she said.
(Photo courtesy of Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis)
Posted by John Woestendiek October 13th, 2008 under Muttsblog.
Tags: africa, animal welfare, bait, dogs, fishermen, fishing, fondation 30 million d'amis, french, island, news, reunion, shark, shark bait, thirty million friends foundation, used