The Kalends of My February

written February 11, 2016

“… I certainly don’t expect you to understand”, I spat back at my long lost sister. “You call it ‘happenstance’; that, Jesus is the reason.”

“Well that’s nonsense. He was just a man. A good man thrust upon a small world of illiterate shepherds. Alone he dared, did his best, as I’ve dared and made the best. But I will not work myself into an early grave or nervous breakdown” like your son or husband.

“I can easily be called a piss poor German for this work ethic. I am guilty as charged with an abandoning indifference toward Revolution. But it’s all accidental – birth, education, property. An accidental capitalist. Accidental husband. Accidental landlord. I was just making best of an accident.”

When you haven’t known your sibling for 47 years, there’s no time for antecedents, details.  It demands candor. No synopsis or Cliff Notes. Timidity wastes time. Time we do not have.

“Gosh if someone heard us they might think this is a fight”, Jutta injected, “but I wish [my son] could be more like you… me too”, she admitted.



“I’ve conquered childish fears and fables” although my desires and demons remain challenging. Still I’ve navigated virtually alone, indigent with the winds usually blowing in my face, rarely at my back.

Schwesti, we’ve survived” but unwittingly our success crowds our lives with influences that will be our death. We’ve anointed the  Kalends of our February that draw us to the ides of our March.

On queue Jutta announced her son had his fifth baby last night, filling her “with joy and thanksgiving to [her] father in heaven who blessed this undeserving woman with such a great family.”

As bastards of Occupation, I see again our shared reality, contradictions: undeserving, we were adrift yet found an enriched path leading us toward death. (A death she desires.)

I am proud of her. Happy she has Jesus.  Happier I had a man who wanted to be a father. Staff Sergeant Maxwell Horace Pennock, USA. The same United States Army that created Jutta and me; that, brought the unknown “swinging dicks” to conqueror and occupy our hometown.(“Don’t you want to know who they are?”, she’s asked. “No! They got what they wanted and went home to their wives and lives”, I reply.)

Long a societal stigma, being fatherless is demeaning. You disguise it yet must own it.  My sister thankfully had a twin, was not given away. She found a father in Jesus.

The grace of age has allowed me to recognize the impact and importance of  male elders. In a world now with so many fatherless children, they’re essential.Three men formed the rails that guided this little engine that would down an improbable path.


Though my father’s last breath was long ago yesterday, he nurtured me through adolescence. Another, born long ago this very day, he unleashed my imagination. My third elder, an octogenarian survives –  this his birth month. Though he’d refute it,  he was my accidental mentor. He pushed me out the door of youth into a big world that – due to no one’s fault, I had closed in adolescence.

All three antithetical of the other, they taught tenacity and obedience, guile and defiance, calculation and risk. By the springtime of my life, I fought lessons, as bastards often do. Never pretty, I flailed and failed.  Unlike the man that I never knew they did not abandon me.

Now without elders, I recognize that I am an elder, as all good men must embrace.

Personally I fight sorrow yet it’s outweighed by tremendous thanks, even if they knew not what they did.




This is Not News

This is not news.  It was once News. Documented. There are photographs.

December 1979, the Soviet leadership of Russia intervened  in an insurgency over their border. Russia has big borders. The Islamic Revolution was on their border in Iran. The Revolution needed to stay in Iran. They acted.

Jimmy Carter reacted. In many ways.  He brought back the Selective Service registration – preamble to conscription, the Draft, suspended after Viet Nam.

Any young man 18-25 born after January 1960 was required to register or face penalties.

Born prior to that date, I was exempt and went down to the Post Office to protest, leaflet, persuade young men against registering until properly counseled, consider options. With all the reaction to the Soviet “invasion”  I could react within boundary.


Some young men came to register while a steady stream of citizens wished to ignore me. Courteous but, it seemed my conscientiousness was less important than a Federal education grant or other financial aid to these young men.

A man walking with a cane asked, “can I hang out with you awhile?” He said, he was crippled in Viet Nam. Quietly he sat on the wall saying, he wished someone was there when he registered. He watched as I couldn’t close appeals, dejectedly closing “then sign ‘under duress of penalty’.”

After he left, a late model Lincoln Continental stretched to the curb. I offered a leaflet to this middle-aged housewife as she walked inside. When she returned, she berated me about World War II. As she retreated she spat at me. There was name-calling all day.

Later a paraplegic veteran lent support. He too drafted, a single enemy round sentencing him to a wheelchair. Yet they continued to register.

As a young man this was action. I wanted more.

The coming morning, of all people in a small dusty central California cowboy town, a Hungarian immigrant approached, veins erupting on forehead, in neck. He dove nose-to-nose, yelling about Russians; how, when he was a child, they drove tanks into Budapest. People died and disappeared.

Intellectually, I stuck to the Peace narrative; that, a new multi-polar world required new reactions to old Cold War narratives. Emotionally I feared we were coming to blows. (I had heard over night likeminded locals were showered by yellow paint cans at a Post Office.)

Surviving that interaction, a young Episcopalian priest joined me in the afternoon.  His collar defused reactionary aggression.

Another middle-aged woman with a familiar accent approached. She told how her two sons, who were not citizens had been required to register and were drafted to Vietnam.

I asked if she was German. She was. As her light blue eyes watered highlighted her withdrawn face, she explained they were killed in action; that she regretted not saving them by leaving.

I thought of her a moment ago when I saw on social media the story of a Guatemalan mother.  Her sons enlisted and killed in Iraq. She is now being deported because, like her dead sons, she’s undocumented. I thought of these mothers. Of many mothers. The thread of motherly pain.

As an older man I feel pain acutely. Now my protest, how I wish I’d never returned to that post office.  Human struggle is difficult to bear, especially up close. The weight of these people’s pain, unnecessary, unbearable, I was injected with it.

It’s difficult enough to carry one’s own weight through life. But after all these years, these stories, this is not news.