Wednesday, November 28, 2012


“He saved 27 from floods, was honored by queen” is not a bad start to a tribute was my first thought.

The headline indicates that here indeed is a story. A beginning like this is like a call from the rooftops. It shouts far and wide that a real-life hero has passed our way.

The hero is Reis Leming. He was a U.S. airman serving in England when a North Sea storm, with the destructive impact of last month’s storm Sandy in the Northeast, came onshore January 31, 1953.

High winds, high sea levels and high tides made deadly assault on Britain’s east coast. 

Over 300 people died in the storm which has been called Night of the North Sea Rage. It is considered England’s worst peacetime disaster of the 20th century.

At the coastal town of Hunstanton the sea surged past barricades claiming 31 lives.

The seaside city, which faces west and gets the name “Sunny Hunny” because of it, is not far from the RAF base where Leming was stationed with his American squadron.

Despite its many fatalities Hunstanton had a streak of good luck. The luck came via rescuers like Reis Leming,

Many residents were saved through the courage and grit demonstrated that night. Leming and others were at hand and lent a hand to make a difference in saving lives.

“I heard people screaming and saw flashlights,” the article quotes Leming from one of his interviews, “and I knew someone had to go.”

By darkness, and with raging waters a constant danger, rescuers searched unremittingly for survivors. Leming is credited with saving 27.

He braved icy waters on three separate rescues bringing in eleven people the first time. An aerial gunner from America, his biggest mission was carried out on land covered by the sea.  

For eight hours he worked unflaggingly. He was equipped only with a rubber dingy and anti-exposure suit.

He didn’t know how to swim. The fact maybe didn’t register on him. He had a job to do. His sheer will and young strength (he was 22) were enough.

Leming needed his own life-saving treatment in the end. He succumbed to exhaustion and hypothermia.

He was treated at the Air Force base. Soon afterwards he became the first non-Briton to be recipient of the George medal for peacetime bravery.

The November 23  (2012) article I was reading uses a comment from the New York Times from when the medal was presented Leming in 1953.

“The queen was greatly stirred by his exploits, and it is understood the award was made on her initiative.”

It takes one moment, one person, one deed to make a hero. 

For airman Reis Leming the day started out as if going the usual direction as a day will. It ended with Leming and others risking their lives that others might have another day to start.

Leming's story makes me think about heroes. We look up to folks who are larger than life. 

Many with hero status by this designation often seem to be on performance stages these days.

Sometimes we confuse hero with celebrity or star. They can be both but often we tend to blur the meaning of hero, which is of courage, with of-the-moment fame which blinks out after its run is done.

Most real heroes walk among us with feet on the ground. They pay attention where help can be applied and respond as giants in times of great peril and need.

Courage is a river which runs deep in us and through all time. It's the stuff of heroes. It’s the substance of human endeavor at its best. 

The courage of times not of our memory, as with the feats of Reis Leming after the North Sea flooding, stay alive. They remain in the stories which go on and inspire us still.

Reis Leming (1930-2012), hero of “Night of the North Sea Rage,” died November 4 at the age of 81 in Bend, Oregon.

Ro Giencke – November 28, 2012


Monday, November 19, 2012

Fashion sisters

Our family did a lot of winter reading in the years I grew up. 

The early chilly dusks were conducive for settling in with board games, paper dolls, a deck of cards or books. 

And this is just what we did. Reading was as natural and as essential as breathing in our family.

My affinity for books has been mentioned in previous blogs. Here I’ll simply tell about another winter reading enjoyment, paging through mail-order catalogs as a girl.

This was a ten-year-old’s version of playing gold miner. I panned for ideas and dreamed a bit as I pored over the items shown.

The pleasant pastime continues for me with new sets of catalogs and magazines. The recreation in this derives from the original satisfaction which is important to revisit once in awhile.

When there was a J.C. Penney’s or Sears catalog around, as often there was, I liked to study the women’s fashions. The catalog’s other sections didn’t interest but clothing had magnetic pull.

The catalogs were usually shared with my sister. Often it was as we sat by the heat register after our Saturday baths and with our hair washed and toweled.

We wished out of the catalogs as our hair dried and the warmth from the furnace felt so good as we tucked our floor-length bath robes around us.

We each took a page (left hand page for my sister, right page for me if that’s how we started out). The aim was to choose from our pages one item we liked the best.

We had to tell what we liked about the outfit we picked. Sometimes there was little to choose from. Even then we knew the clothing we didn’t like – often more than the pieces we did. It helped us practice decision making if nothing else.

As I began to check out issues of Seventeen magazine from our public library the game saw some adaptation of rules. We each  chose a model and stuck with her throughout the issue.

This was the era of teen models. Some were immensely popular. Teenage modeling was a very big thing and Seventeen was a brilliant platform for presenting these lovely beauties.

My model was dark-haired Colleen Corby. My sister’s model   was fair haired and had a name like Holly or Molly. The magazine pointed out her Cheshire cat smile as I recall. Funny what sticks with you.

We commented on the outfits our respective model wore and decided which were the prettiest.

The trendy outfits in the magazine didn’t register beyond our comments as we flipped the pages. They didn’t cause us to dress more stylishly or teach us to how to accessorize.

It was more than anything a glimpse into another world which suited us as good enough.

We didn’t have a great deal of access to fashion for one thing. We seldom shopped for clothes.

Many moms sewed and our mother was among them. She was very handy on her sewing machine. Certain of our outfits came from fabric selected at J. C. Penney and from patterns purchased in the same area of the store.

Staples (coats and jackets, shoes and boots and under items) were store purchases. They weren’t faddish but basics which could be worn forever or until you grew out of them.

Being small, and not shooting up as classmates with a few inches of height on me, I got to know my wardrobe well. It stayed with me as it continued to fit.

One held on to clothes not only because they fit. There wasn’t a reason seen for having a big selection of clothing.

As kids we lived in “play clothing” which were pieces you could get as dirty as you want but were never worn to school or church, heaven forbid!

The winds of fashion didn’t blow quite so constantly through closets. People discarded clothes less often and wore them longer. In addition, clothing was passed around and shared.

My sister and I figure we wore hand-me-downs from older girl cousins (though we don’t remember specific pieces). She in turn got clothes passed along from me.

Clothes buying wasn't the activity it is now and styles didn't change quite as readily. You wore, and wore over, and made do.  I'm sure that wasn't the case everywhere. We just didn’t know many people who did.

My sister and I undoubtedly received clothing as Christmas gifts. Any new piece would surely have been the first outfit worn   to school in January after the holiday.

In junior high I got my first poor-boy sweater. This knit sweater stayed popular as a trend for a long time. This is maybe why I finally had my chance at it. It was considered a good investment piece.

The tide of change was in motion by the time I proudly wore my ribbed navy pullover top. It was destined to fade from the scene almost from the moment I put it on.

I thought the poor boy sweater was very lovely. I wish I still had it. I’d like to wear it even now.

My mom recently said that her mother had some elegant dresses. My assumption is that it was the 1930s-40s era. I have a curiosity about the style of the dresses - fabric, cut, length and so on.

Mom said there weren't many places for Grandma to wear her fancy dresses.

Grandma was a storekeeper (she and Grandpa operated a general merchandise store). Perhaps she didn’t want to outshine the country women who were their customer base.

Still, it’s nice to picture Grandma with elegance no further away than her closet hangers.

It’s nice to have something pretty or indeed elegant on hand. Occasions come along. Until they do the elegant outfits sparkle with promise as they wait their time to wow.

Ro Giencke – November 19, 2012  








Monday, November 12, 2012

Electing to work together

Our first participation in the election process is something we likely remember the rest of our lives.

Many of us have grade school memories of the presidential candidate we supported. In these formative years this is usually the candidate backed by our parents. 

As children we take our cues from our families. It was like this for me, anyway, with the first presidential candidate who had my enthusiastic support.

Our neighborhood school served as a polling place. On election days the school gymnasium was given over to voting booths, a table of election judges and a steady stream of parents and others of our community coming to school to vote.

The teachers were quick to capitalize on the obvious. Our school was the scene of action when voting time came around. 

We were on location to observe the importance of the duties of citizenship. It was a teachable moment and the teachers did it justice. Whatever they imparted left an imprint on me. It probably did on most of us.

Students on election day were barred from the school wing which housed the cafeteria. I had experience of the voting process nevertheless. I went with my parents when they voted. Exercising our rights as American citizens goes all the way back with me.

At noon the gym functioned as school lunchroom. This required changes for election day. Hot meals couldn't be served. This gave our lunchroom staff a day off. The first Tuesdays of November in election years were their well earned holidays.

The hair-netted kitchen ladies were kind. They were firm but friendly. They ladled out the mashed potatoes or put sloppy joes on our trays. (Busiest days in the cafeteria line were the sloppy joe lunches which were as tasty as they were messy.) They took care of the shifts of hungry feeders who filled the long tables each school day. 

On election day the school kitchen ovens stayed cold. The aroma of coffee wafted from that antiseptic space. 

There was warmth and hospitality in the steamy dark fragrance as election staff fueled themselves on cups of coffee through the voting hours.

Students were directed to pack bag lunches on election day. This applied even to ones who used hot meal tickets all the time. 

Most of us lived near the school. We could walk home for lunch. I often did. The lunch break was long enough to allow that. 

Consequently, the lunchroom being tied up on election day meant less to me, eating Kraft dinner or a bowl of chicken noodle soup at home, than it did for some who had their hot midday meal taken away.

The gym was the indoor recess spot in cold weather. On election day we either went outside or went without recess. 

The teachers probably had us stand in place and do jumping jacks twenty times when outdoor recess wasn't possible and the gym was occupied. Energy has to be put to use.

While parents voted in the cafeteria we voted too. Voting took place in the classroom. The teacher tallied the votes and declared a winner. I remember classroom voting being part of presidential elections through all twelve grades of school.

Junior and senior high principals announced to the student body, over the P.A. (public address system), the votes with all rooms reporting. There were always those who were loud in victory as the presidential winner was announced. 

Other students, equally happy with the results, tempered their response mindful of classmates whose candidate fared less well.

The losing side in the classroom was no different than the losing political party in the national elections. We bring our beliefs and values to the voting booth with us. It can smart or hurt worse than that when our preferred candidate doesn't win.

November in Minnesota leans toward cool and gloomy. The weather fits election day. The miasma of months of campaign strategy, political ads, promises made and platforms attacked by the opposing party, and the hoopla of the campaign trail (hugging babies and handshakes all around) hangs heavy by election day. 

Voting clears away the political smoke. One becomes anxious to get to voting day. A crisp tense air is counterpoint to the dull gray November skies.

Election day carries a palpable sense of anticipation. The waiting can be described as a wave of hope but is just as apt to be freighted with worry, doubt and concern.

The slate of candidates have come to their final examination. It's the job of voters to sort through the roster and make their choice.

Much rides on each of our votes. There's excitement. We acknowledge and prepare for the possibility of change-up as we decide for our candidate and settle in to watch the national results as votes are counted.

Good governance is a very great skill. It's also an art. It utilizes compassion and a regard for all things. Leadership qualities, ability to compromise and keen awareness of the needs of our country and its population come into play.

No matter the winner, or which political party loses, each presidential election is an opportunity for America to start over. 

It isn't starting over as one pictures the familiar phrase of throwing the baby out with the bath water. It's the start that comes with school in the fall or the New Year. It's the sense that you have new things to learn and are in a position to grow. The board is clean and all is conceivable and doable.

New thinking comes to bear as the cast of elected officials changes. Additionally and most importantly, as a country which is a democracy, the national vote registers the voice of the American people.

The ballot box adds fresh urgency to programs and initiatives which are at the heart of who we are. As signified through the vote it's the clear note of the lived American experience.

A new start is what I look forward to. The 2012 presidential election is history. Let's get cooking. Let's go to it.

My hope is that elected officials set aside partisanship to concentrate on the imposing workload ahead. These are weighty tasks. They ask to be solved with a unified spirit.

It'll take everything each person has to give. Nothing else will do. In only one area should our elected officials be uncompromising and that's in the pledge to keep at it until compromises can be reached and solutions can go forward. 

It means putting personal or party interests in their place to put America first.

The mission, tacitly accepted by last Tuesday's declared winners, can easily be summed up. Work together and we make things happen. Wrangle, refuse to work together and come to a dead end.

We're not a dead-end country. The United States has always looked to the future. We face forward while building from strengths each generation lays down out. 

Our American government was founded by visionaries and pragmatists. They came out of separate colonies. They could have resisted working together for fear their colony might have to forfeit to another colony's gain.

This body of men had a higher sense of the order of things. They recognized that nothing could be achieved by standing alone. They resolved that in unity they would stand. From this brilliance of philosophy came the United States of America. 

Be reminded that our nation's initials don't spell YOU. They don't spell ME. They spell US. May our newly elected officials attest to this fact as they put their best to the task before them.

Ro Giencke - November 12, 2012

Monday, November 5, 2012

Red Light, Green Light

“Let’s start a game of ‘Red Light, Green Light’ ”suggests Hagar the Horrible in a recent comic strip.

My favorite Viking and his sidekick are stuck at the edge of a cliff as Hagar says this with their luck running out.

Rushing toward them are troops in armor and with shields. The forward thrust of the lances show the determined intent to stop in their tracks the norsemen arriving onshore or taking a hasty departure after one of their perennial raids.

Until Hagar calls “green light ” (by which time he’d be in his boat and sail set) the medieval defenders of the town have to stand stock still according to the rules of this old children’s game.

Hagar may be on to something. Perhaps warfare would be tamed if played as “Red Light, Green Light.” Perhaps uncivil actions could be transformed if turned into a children’s game.

The mutual agreement would be that you can’t proceed on “red light.” While you wait for “green light” you may decide how silly it is to continue.

There’d be time to realize, “What was I thinking of?" It may be possible the world can be saved by the light. For that we may have Hagar to thank.

It delighted me to see Hagar’s words. “Red Light, Green Light” comes right out of my past.

Although the name of this children’s game has been out of my mind for years it’s a game we played when young. It feels good to have the name back.

“Red Light, Green Light” makes me think of other games played through the early school years.

You forget over time how much of childhood is spent in the exuberance of games played out together. Being reminded puts you back there again.

“Red Light, Green Light” at my school was played on the playing field. It was wide open space where you could run, an important element of this game.

One person, designated as “it,” stands at one end of the field. The others line up on the other side.

“It” person calls “green light” which signals the kids to run forward. When the command changes to “red light” anyone who is still moving has to go back to the start line.

This is the basic premise of the game acquired by Googling it.

I don’t recall the particulars to "Red Light, Green Light" except how much I liked the game. 

At that age it’s everything to be fast and stealthy and totally absorbed in the spirit of play.

There was another running game we played. This game had teams. I don’t remember the name of the game. There was a pile of sticks, or maybe just one stick, at one or both ends of the field.

Players lined up on both sides. It was the job of the two teams to appropriate the stick(s) and bring them back to their side.

Of this game I remember crisp fall days. The sense of the game – the running and the required stealth – gladdened me. I was a good student academically but, equally, any break from my desk was a treat.

Pom-pom pullaway also went along team lines. "It" person (the games allowed everyone a chance to be “it”) stands in the middle of the play field and calls "Pom pom pullaway.”

The players, which are the whole classroom, run from one end of the play area to the other through the middle where “it” waits to tag them. If tagged, you stay in the middle to help tag the others.

Red Rover was another game we enjoyed. This game had the thrill of your name being called out.

The game has two teams of players. They stand across from each other with the play field in between.

The first team links hands and calls "Red Rover, Red Rover, send Sharon (or Linda or Debra or John) over."

The person called has to run to the other side. The point is to break through the chain of hands. If unable to do so the player joins the team. If the chain is successfully broken the first team loses a player to the second team.

The internet, as mentioned, is of great assistance in filling out the gaps. While I can recall parts of the play the game instructions are online.

“Mad as a Hornet,” posted on this site in November 2009 (and  included in the 2010 online book One Awesome Year), is the story of the school playground and the joy of recess.

“Anti-Over” was given considerable detail in this story. This game, which requires two teams, a ball and a roof, was a favorite recess game of mine.

We pronounced it “Anti-I-Over.” It was a shout tossed to the wind as the ball was hurled over the roofline to the team on the other side.

In the summer, with no teachers guiding recess play, we did very fine on our own.

In our big backyard, and at a distance from glass windows, we played a lot of kickball. It was a game fitted for the wide range of ages we were.

We developed very strong feet as the soft beach ball came in fast and the ball was kicked barefoot into the playing field. 

We also liked running games like those listed above. We ran barefoot all summer long.

“Duck Duck Gray Duck” and “Captain May I” were played in the summer when there was a small group of us.

“Duck Duck Gray Duck” was dandy when there were little ones, such as when company came and we had a hand in keeping them busy.

Players in this game form a circle facing inward. We stooped down which you can do when young and knees bend easily. 

Heads were tucked in slightly. We must have resembled drooping daisy petals to the person who was “it.”

“It” person walked outside the circle lightly tapping each head. When this player called “Duck Duck Gray Duck and tapped a head simultaneously a new “it” person had been found.

This person had to tag the first “it” person who meanwhile was racing around the circle to try to dive into the spot made empty by the newest "it" person.

Our long wide sidewalk was used for “Captain May I.” The Captain (usually one of the older kids) sat on the steps in a commanding degree of separation from us lined up at the far end of the concrete walk.

The game starts by the Captain calling one of our names and telling us the kind of steps we’re to take to progress up the sidewalk.

Truth be told, this wasn’t my best game. It started out exciting. You execute the baby steps, or giant steps, or frog hops or bunny jumps you’re bade to take. Maybe two or three such steps, leaps or hops at one turn!

You see yourself even with the Captain in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

The Captain, however, doesn't intend to end the game too quickly. Backward steps are directives that bail him out. You can’t go forward if you have to go back. That’s a serious flaw to advancement right there.

The Captain has the power to revoke the privilege of steps granted you. "Captain, May I?” you have to ask before you move. The captain usually replies “Yes, you may,” but can also respond with “No, you may not. ” 

If you forget to ask permission shame on you. Your turn is lost through your own carelessness. That's a sting as you watch two fancy dance steps being taken by the next person.

In the fall, as the days turned and it grew cold, our play came inside. Homework in the elementary grades was uncommon then. We didn't watch any afternoon TV.

After-school chores out of the way there was time for games or other activities. These were almost always done as a group.

We played Old Maid and other card games (game after game we played on Sunday afternoons or at other free times). We played anagrams and pick-up sticks.

Pick-up sticks is a game of colored wood sticks. The sticks were dropped from a height onto the living room carpet to land in a loose pile.

The goal was to remove a stick from the pile without disturbing the rest of the heap. The object is to pick up the most sticks.

As I recall, as we removed our first stick, we could use it as a lever to additionally extract sticks from the pile.

One couldn’t use hands to pick up sticks. If you disturbed the pile while removing a stick your turn was over.

This was an enjoyable game but now I consider those sharp wooden points dropped randomly on the floor, and the danger of sharp points all around, and wonder what games back then would now be regarded safe.

“Hide the Thimble” was very popular as a winter game for a long while.

Perhaps I’m remembering only a winter or two but it was everything while it was being played. It made afternoons between school and supper pass pleasantly.

A variation of “Hide the Thimble” was played at school for classroom parties, such as on Valentine’s Day, and at birthday parties. It must have been a commonly played game in those years.

At home we used Mom’s sewing thimble for the game. One of us hid it while the others closed their eyes.

“You’re getting warm” or “Cold, getting colder,” made with shivering motions to denote how far off course we remained, were the only clues given in our search.

Sometimes we were completely baffled as we checked out another corner, or shelf or under the table. "Tell us if we're warmer" we asked as we moved to a new area.

It was pleasing for the hider to hear this. It showed the ingenuity of the hiding place. 

“I spy” was the victorious cry when the thimble was discovered. Mom was patient as we tumbled all around her and this must have been a welcome shout. The game was over.

“Hide the Thimble” and all the games we knew got us quickly and happily involved. We were busy within our play and thought each game was the best game in the world.

Ro Giencke –November 5, 2012