Friday, April 29, 2011

William and Kate - a Wedding for the World

No early TV viewing for me today. Not by choice I wish to add. A good night's sleep and look what happens. You miss the wedding of the century, as the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton has been called.

The TV was warmed up in time for me to get in on the royal kiss from the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Actually, there were two kisses unless one was an instant replay held a shade longer. But it looked like a fresh kiss to me, a more practiced one as if it came easier. It delighted the crowd and with one tender look behind her the bride, in step with the royal groom, slipped within the screen of sheer draperies where a lovely spread indubitably awaited.

As much the happiness radiating from the balcony I was caught by Kate's natural beauty as she and William rode together from Westminster Abbey in the festive carriage. Although I didn't much follow their courtship, to see this day come for them brings a surprising amount of emotion for me. And that's even before seeing the replay of the exchange of wedding vows.

Many of us have felt invested in William and Harry. In part it's because they were young when Diana died. We watched them grow up and do well for themselves. They showed their mother's graces and compassion as well as definite interests and tendencies shared with Prince Charles, their father.

And because this royal couple - William Arthur Philip Louis and Catherine, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge - are in the age bracket of many of our children, there's an additional wish for collective happiness for these young adults settling themselves into the world as time moves them into their places.

Tough conditions, economic and otherwise, face Britain as in 1947 when Princess Elizabeth married her handsome Philip. William and Kate's wedding brings cheer and lifts spirits as weddings are meant to do. I feel that in some way, everywhere has absorbed the joy felt in Great Britain today. You see what can be and it inspires all.

Ro Giencke - April 29, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Once upon a Southern April

Somewhere I read that to write a Southern story you have to put a mule in it. Since I'm lacking a mule for my story it can't be classified as such. But it's a story of the South nevertheless.

More specifically it's a story that comes about by our timing in going South. We were there when the shots fired at Ft. Sumter made the news. I'm not referring to that April day in 1861 when, as every schoolkid used to learn, and probably still is taught, the American Civil War began in Charleston harbor.

Taking ourselves to Georgia recently, in part to enjoy beautiful springtime weather, we were paying little attention to anything other than the lovely sunshine. Then the headlines told of a reenactment event at Ft. Sumter. We were gearing up for home, making our way north, as we skimmed the article over coffee and motel breakfast. We were leaving the South just as commemorations for the Civil War's 150th year, such as they will be, began.

The newspaper article made us realize the Civil War is getting some new focus. It caused us to recall things from our Southern visit that struck us as out of the ordinary. Confederate flags flew in roadside cemeteries. We marked this as different from previous trips. The tall poles with the Civil War-era flag at the top did something to alter the landscape.

From the car, in that week of moving about, we saw what looked like hand-painted signs alluding to the Confederate States of America. We couldn't explain it but it felt funny. It was as if veneration to Civil War times was being set before us.

Therefore, it was an Aha moment to pick up the Montgomery, Alabama newspaper and read about the Ft. Sumter ceremonies which had occurred earlier. The visual clues along the road which we weren't able to make sense of, because we didn't know the context of their presentation, now collected into one picture.

I admit that seeing the Confederate flag makes me uneasy. The flag looks out of place as if the past has returned.

The flag makes me fidget for various reasons. The first reaction many have to the Confederate flag is that slavery equates with the Old South and the Confederate flag is the symbol of the determination to uphold Southern rights. I can't think of anyone who finds it valiant or honorable to commemorate a system that holds bondage as acceptable and even necessary.

Even more so, in the justification of slavery, to devalue a person based on the color of one's skin or any other consideration, seems so wrong. Did then, does now.

The Confederate flag makes me restless because it makes me face my prejudices. My forebears came to this country after the Civil War. I could say, along with millions of others whose families arrived after the Civil War, that the Civil War is old stuff - not our business.

It turns out that where you grow up, and the facts you absorb at an early age, shape you more than than where your family comes from. My great-grandparents chose to attach themselves to a culture that, coincidentally, was the victor in the war between the states. As children and students we naturally pick up the view of the story that approximates the closest interests of our own culture.

Pondering the disquietude the Southern flag has for me, it comes to me that it zeroes in on the guilt at having escaped so lightly. Our part of the country was spared the huge physical losses of a nation torn in two. It was a war basically fought on Southern ground, its conclusion in April 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse eradicating segments of the Southern lifestyle as then known.

It's like having something flourishing yanked up and left beside the gaping hole with no one much concerned one way or the other what happens next. It takes years to mend such wounds.

The experience of being in the South at the commencement of commemoration events has led to discussions about how proper is it to fly the Confederate flag. "Let's agree to disagree" said one friend following my attempt to explain why some Southerners may want to raise their flag through this memorial period. She wasn't having any of it. The flag, with its connotations to slavery and the old regime, shouldn't be flown she stated emphatically.

I've switched back and forth arguing for and against the Confederate flag as commemorative symbol as I try to establish my own position on it. If the commemorative activities are done within the framework of giving honor there are valid reasons to pause wherever we are and note this 150th year event.

In some places, as in cemeteries where those who fought under the Southern colors are buried, it perhaps brings a sense of peace or purpose to those who tend the tombstones, visit or have family interred there to identify the resting ground with the Confederate flag.

When we aim to put ourselves in everybody's place, both 150 years ago and now, we may find we have conflicting opinions on many aspects of the war. This is healthy. It means we're debating something pretty important here.

We may wind up with no one firm opinion and this can be good too. Sometimes the more irresolute we are about something the more it is a show of respect for all sides involved. This study of the Civil War may bring us farther along the road of understanding. We may consider in a new light something once considered from a narrower view.

Driving home through the rural Georgia and Alabama countryside was to see April at its most winsome and gentle. The rolling hills, the greenness, the pines pressing to the farm fields, red soil being worked by farm machinery, was as pretty as a dream.

Was it a spectacular April day like this that the small-scale farmers and plantation owners, the slaves working the fields, the village merchants arranging goods in their store fronts, and the boat captains with their crews loading bales of cotton awoke to, stretched and commented favorably on?

Did the news, as it trickled in, that war was started with the North, hit like storm clouds to darken their horizons? Surely the war news would have been seen as that, had they surmised the pain to come.

The tornadoes tearing up the South this past week, with loss of life and horrible destruction, echo the pain of the years of civil strife. Fierceness of fighting has been replaced by damaging winds and lightning strikes eerily reminiscent of the clash of arms across the embattled countryside.

Seen in its quietude as we drove the beautiful hill region, and experienced in the roar of tornadoes wrenching hold of the land, one can better appreciate the flag as an emblem but not the ultimate glory. The glory is the human spirit that puts us all on one side, and this is to protect, respect and advance for the sake of all. In this we are one.

Ro Giencke - April 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011


I fell in love with anemones today. The last load of laundry was being taken from the dryer when my husband mentioned a trip to Home Depot. With several days of rain in the forecast he had it in mind to buy lawn fertilizer and apply it. The yard will have a good watering and he wanted to be one step ahead of it.

I'm game for a trip anywhere at anytime. Home Depot constitutes a very small trip but here was a perfect break from the chores. There wasn't anything on my shopping list for Home Depot. That never stops me. You walk around, get ideas and generally wind up finding something you need anyway, only you've forgotten to write it down. My jacket was on even before Al got around to inquiring if I wanted to come along.

There have been enough trips to Home Depot to have very precise expectations of the visit. Casual outdoor furniture is set up in one area. Lumber can be found on the far side. There are aisles and aisles of funny-looking doo-hickeys I seldom walk down.

There's the carpet section, window treatment department, paint, kitchen center, bath, doors, windows, lighting, tools and cleansers. There are enough areas and products for me to circulate widely and come home with a dozen great plans for the house.

The strong wind hurried us through the doors. I felt blown in. I stopped inside as if arrived at the wrong address. My eyes filled on the glorious show in front of us.

Home Depot was turned into an arboretum. Large carts on wheels, arranged with Easter lilies, hydrangeas, every blooming beautiful flower possible, were lined up one after the other along the aisles.

Tier upon tier of flowers on carts wafted their humid green aromas through the store. Easter was in every breath you took. Spring is stumbling in getting established in the Midwest this year. But at Home Depot it's a flourishing certainty.

Chilly weather is making businesses that raise and sell tender plants extra solicitous over their care. Snowfall (as recently as yesterday), windy conditions and a lingering chill are adding a difficult twist to their operations.

Nurseries and places like Home Depot, whose seasonal shops are usually bustling with traffic at this time of year, have been forced to play nursemaids to plant inventories that wouldn't survive if left outside.

Home Depot has become a virtual greenhouse. Its big building, with acreage as big as a farm it can seem, is giving overnight protection to myriads of plants. It gives the store a fantastic new look. It does a great job of reminding customers that spring is really here.

Instead of studying paint chips, or checking out the Roman shades for windows I want to dress up, or scanning the cleanser aisle in an effort to kick-start my spring housecleaning I followed the flower carts like one enchanted. I went along as if turned out in the best formal gardens with nothing more to do than appreciate the spring blooms on display for the public to enjoy.

The anemones were on a cart in a far corner of the store. All open-flowered and showy they dazzled me right off. I turned back to look upon them some more.

You can't describe first love and that's what it was. Anemones swept me off my feet. They have a look of liveliness. They're made for dancing and singing and taking it all in.

That's my idea of a flower. A flower's function should be more than to stand tall and ornate or be cute and cozy next to the ground. My admiration is for flowers that look about and say "Hey, here I am. What's going on that I might be missing? " Anemones are what happiness looks like if described by an object of the natural world.

I could have passed up the trip to Home Depot. The rendezvous with the anemones might never have happened. A quite easy response could have been "I'll skip Home Depot." It wouldn't have seemed to matter one way or the other.

But I said yes and this brought me to the anemones. A garden full of anemones is now my summer wish.

Ro Giencke - April 2011