Sunday, July 15, 2012

Still the greatest generation

Survivors of SLCU #38: Allen Bashore, South Carolina; Roy W. Kruft, Waller, TX;
Morris Parkel, Arkansas; and Dud Morris, Elgin, TX
Once was a time many Americans would have known what a "standard landing craft" was.
WWII Standard Landing Craft
It was the time when the daddies and big brothers and uncles went away, leaving neighborhoods of women, young children, and old people to carry on the work of America.

Our neighbor Dud Morris was 17 when he enlisted in the Navy to go to war against Germany and Japan.  His dad didn't want him to go but he signed the papers for him anyway.

At first Dud wanted to be a soldier, but while working a summer job at Camp Swift before enlistment he saw first hand that a soldier's life was not pleasant.  There was lots of sleeping out in the field with the ticks, and the Texas summer heat, and the mosquitoes. 

He thought maybe the Navy would be more to his liking, so he signed up for that.

Never having gone much of anywhere before, Dud soon found himself in Oceanside, California, training with a few hundred other enlistees.  That was March to October of 1944.  Then it was to San Francisco to sail on the USS Highlands, departing on Thanksgiving Day bound for Hawaii.

The men left Hawaii in January, headed for Iwo Jima.  They sailed past the Marshall Islands and Guam to a small island by the name of Iwo Jima.  On February 19th of 1945 a massive Allied invasion of the island began, and it was Dud and his buddies' job to ferry the fighters from ship to shore.  The battle raged for weeks until the island was secured in mid-March.

After the island was secured, the men loaded and distributed supplies and helped fish bomber crews out of the seas after they bailed from their damaged aircraft on bombing runs to Japan.  The rest of the time they waited for what everybody agreed was coming--the invasion of Japan and fighting the enemy on his own turf.

Then in August of '46, plans changed for good.  The USA dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  No invastion of Allied troops would be necessary.  The Japanese surrendered.

About which Dud says simply, "Thank God for Harry Truman."
Wives & widows of SLCU #38: Grace Shepherd, SC; Bernie Wilson, TX;
Cleta Casey, TX; Melba Morris, TX; Rita Banes, MS;
Geraldine Parkel, AK; Shirley Cedotal, LA
After the war, the men returned home, dispersed to the various parts of the country they'd come from and took up their lives again.  If the others were like Dud, they didn't talk much about what they'd experienced.

In 1976 some of them got together and planned a reunion.  Over 200 men and officers had been in Unit #38, and 60 came to the first reunion.  They've gotten together every year since.
Dud and wife Melba at reunion

Today we were honored to host the five remaining members of SLCU #38, their families, and some of the widows of those who have passed on.  It was a time of laughter and of joshing and remembering, with quite a lot of tears and red eyes mixed in.

It wasn't too hard to see the 17, 18 and 19 year-old men they were in those days of remembrance.  For men they were.

To see all the pictures go to:

Password: iwojima

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Of robots, friends, loneliness and Facebook

"Hi, Honey, I'm home!"
We're lonely. 

One guest on the Catholic station Relevant Radio was decrying the fact that for the first time ever, fewer than 50% of the households are headed by married couples.  Depending on the ethnic and socio-economic group in question, from 40-80% of all live births are to single women.  Among those who do marry, divorce remains at 50% for first marriages and higher for subsequent ones. 

This instability in family life creates young people without strong bonds to family.  If home life is chaotic, we fail to learn the normal give and take of daily life, and it leaks out into our relationship with society at large.

So along comes technology and hey, if you're uncomfortable around other people, the telephone is better than face-to-face, and a letter is better than the phone, and email is better than a letter, and eventually an avatar is better than you and me!

I remember in the 80s a new phenomenon: the "bedroom boys."  It seemed that all of a sudden I started meeting lots of families whose teen-age boys spent virtually all their time in a virtual world, eating in their rooms, and avoiding interactions with others.  Although all were from highly educated families, some of these boys failed to graduate from high school.  They had dropped out in every sense of the word.

This time last year I wrote about the movement to have robots supplant humans in direct care services, such as for the elderly, the sick, or handicapped, or the babies.

In traditional societies this work was performed by women.  If a woman were wealthy, or powerful, others did it for her, except for the birthing part, which pretty much used to have to be done by the woman herself.  Of course now even this is changing.  In India you can rent a womb, have your embryo implanted in it, and spend the nine months basking on the Riviera until Junior hatches.  Then I guess you hire a nanny to care for him til he goes off to Harvard.

Providing direct care for other adults has always been about the last thing anybody ever wanted to do for anybody else.  Think of the story of the Good Samaritan in the Bible.

People like nursing sisters, and men in certain orders like the Alexian Brothers, who were mostly nurses, took vows to do this work.  They answered a call to care for the sick, the destitute, the lonely and forgotten.

They founded hospitals and schools and orphanages and places for the handicapped to live.  They were called to do it.

Society today feels called to build robots for Grandma and Grandpa to get their morning orange juice, or be flipped like a pancake in their bed.  "Look, Ma! No hands!  No strained back!  No....person!" 

Hey, could I have Lassie instead, please?  I'm sure she's up to the job, and at least she's something I can relate to.

Well, I digress.  Where are the bedroom boys now?  Some went off and founded sites like Facebook, which I don't believe is the AntiChrist, but there is an article in this month's Harper's entitled "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?"

The answer is no.  We were already lonely.  That's why we came up with Facebook in the first place.  Remember the movie, The Social Network? 

I could have told them that.  Any society that builds robots to take care of people has travelled way far down the highway of loneliness.

But the article makes a good point: we've created this society because this is how we want it!  We've always moved away from dependence to independence. "Please, Mother, I'd rather do it myself!"  Remember that one?

I always feel a little twinge when I hear the Ranchers state, "I want to be more independent."  God love them, I know what they mean, but they don't know what they're asking for. 

On the other hand, people have a super-romanticized notion of what life at the Ranch is like.  They imagine us gaily gathering eggs and slopping the pigs, getting in the hay, dancing the Virginia Reel, and baking cookies. 

All of which we do.  Sometimes gaily, but sometimes, late Sunday evening perhaps after a long weekend spent with volunteers, we wish the coyotes would eat the  chickens and the pigs would choke.

At the Ranch, we are all of us very familiar with real life.  We have undertaken to care for one another in the flesh, in the all-too-human flesh.  We tend the sick and clean up the messes they make. We bicker and have misunderstandings and hurt feelings.   We laugh a lot and dance a lot and cry a lot, and there's much we understand but way more we don't.

I do believe that's called the human condition, and all the robots in the world cannot do as much to alleviate it as one human hand holding another in the dark of the night.

Photo courtesy Google images

Feeling thankful for the US on the 4th of July

Yes, I know we have a day set aside in November for this, but then I'm thinking mostly about the turkey and pie.

Today I'm thinking about the privilege of having been born in this country.  I remember being a kid of about ten and learning about WWII and Japanese and German concentration camps, of the slaughter of Chinese and the obliteration of Jews, of why my father and uncles disappeared during my early childhood.

I learned about starving children in China and was exhorted to remember them and clean my plate for years (for all the good it did the starving children...)

I remember thinking, "Thank God I was born in America."

For all her faults, this country is a place teeming with the spirit of generosity and loving kindness, a place where people were quick to help build Down Home Ranch and provide a home and a chance at a big life for people with intellectual disabilities.

Happy birthday, USA.  We love you.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Kelly mopping in preparation for closing
Friday was the last day of our last week of Ranch Camp for summer 2012.  I walked into the Pavilion and our Ranchers were all decked out in their Ranch Camp staff t-shirts.
Some were sweeping, some were cleaning and stocking bathrooms, some were mopping.  Chris was hooking up the electronic components for the microphones, speakers, and camp DVD show.

Others were setting up chairs in Fultz Hall where the parents and caregivers picking up the campers would sit.

And all were working alone, competently, with a sense of real purpose.  Then it struck me just how many of our Ranchers had been campers 18 years ago at our very first Ranch Camp ever!

Kelly first, of course, who was ten when we began, and too young for camp, but what else was I going to do with her?

Then Terry, who'd been in our small day program for a few years already.  And Michael, Chris, Rebekah, Kristen, and Jay.  Over the years they were joined by Mark, Kyle, Mike, Matt, Andrew, Clyde, Julia, Valerie, Kara, Karri, and Nick.
Karri loves to mop and is very good at it, too

Ranch Camp is where they first fell in love with Down Home Ranch.  Still, I was amazed to realize that the majority of our Ranchers got their start as campers.

This was the first year we'd decided to actually use Ranchers as regular staff at camp.  Many had gotten a bit tired of the annual invasion of their facilities, the disruptions in schedules, the locking down of many activities until "after camp."  That's one reason we decided this year to keep the season short (four weeks instead of six or eight) and limit the number of campers at each session (40 instead of 60).

But we also figured that Ranchers might welcome the chance to demonstrate in a dramatic way how they'd advanced in maturity, capabilities, and knowledge since they were campers by becoming camp staff.
Alan and Clyde set up chairs

And did they ever!  They competed for open positions, attended all trainings, and did a superb job in every case. 

Robert was so proud relating how Julia worked patiently with campers, helping them with their crafts, and how Andrew spent hours each morning at the fishing dock, helping campers bait their hooks and remove the hook from the fish they caught.
Christopher sets up the system for our media show

Tom came in every night after dinner to sweep and mop the kitchen floor.

Folks, this has been a very important experiment, because it demonstrates that we are on the cusp of achieving a very important milestone in the continuing creation of Down Home Ranch as a working ranch.

Robert, who is a certified vocational counselor and job coach, will soon begin blocking out the path to competitive employment on the Ranch.

Heretofore, Ranchers have worked under sheltered workshop guidelines, but it's always been our policy to utilize them in real work situations.  Many people with intellectual disabilities spend virtually their entire adult lives in "vocational training."  The question becomes, "Training for what?"

That's because there's seldom real work that really needs doing awaiting them at the other end of that training.  But believe me, we have that work, what with our InnKeepers Program, Ranch crafts and industries, animal husbandry, horticulture, and Ranch Community gardens.

We plan to follow the Bluebell Ice Cream model--eat all we can and sell the rest: organic, grass-fed beef and pork; eggs from free-range chickens (amazing what those birds can create out of grasshoppers!); baked goods from the kitchens; fresh veggies from the gardens, peaches and pears from the orchard, mustang grapes from the pecan bottoms, pecans from the grafted native trees; berries and jelly from the berry patch.

And the non-edibles: spring hanging baskets; poinsettias for Christmas and Easter lilies in the spring; woodcraft projects from the woodshop; and soon, we hope, beautifully crafted pottery items.

Our new gift shop is almost open, tucked inside a large greenhouse that will display plants for sale and our first experiment in aquaculture--the growing of plants and vegetables using an integrated system consisting of a fish tank and growing media.

Our "Transition to Competitive Employment" will require careful planning, assiduous follow-through, and the investment of considerable resources, but we've seen what can be done and we're ready to take on the challenges.

We tell the Ranchers all the time, "This is your Ranch." 

It's an honor to be with them on their journey to making that statement ever more real and true.