Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Another First in Communication

May 24, 1844. After 12 years of work perfecting the world's first system of long-distance, instant communication, Samuel F. Morse sends the first telegraph message:
"What hath God wrought?"
Dec. 24, 1906. After working for a decade to adapting Marconi's radiotelegraph to carry the voice, Reginald Fessenden speaks the first words broadcast over radio:
"Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill to men."
March 31, 2014. After 11 hours trying to figure out what "texting" is and attempting to contact his wife's telephone upstairs from his computer in the basement, Frank Mullen sends his first text message:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Who do you remember on Memorial Day?

People disagree on the intent and customs of Memorial Day. I've been to ceremonies that honor every deceased veteran, whether they died of injuries in war or old age in the nursing home. Some families decorate the graves of all loved ones on Memorial Day, whether or not the departed served in the military. Sometimes you can't tell the difference between Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Armed Forces Day, great-great-uncle Hezekiah's birthday, a beer blast and a half-price sale on suntan lotion.

I grew up observing Memorial Day as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs defines it, a day that "commemorates the men and women who died while in the military service."

So, on Memorial Day, I particularly remember my grandfather. LCDR Frank Aloysius Mullen, USN, retired during the Great Depression, was called back to service in World War II and died in the last year of that war. As a child, we hung the flag that draped his coffin out the front window of our house every Memorial Day. As an adult, and a veteran myself, I continue that tradition.

I was born a few years after his death, so I have no specific memories of my grandfather. I remember him in the broadest of senses; at times we are called to ponder and reflect upon people we did not know and experiences we did not witness, yet whose legacies still affect us. For reasons that I cannot explain, because I don't fully understand them, I doubt that Frank Mullen III would ever have found a home in the Navy were it not for the family stories and remembrances of Frank Aloysius Mullen.

Who do you remember?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

My favorite compliment

Yesterday, I received a letter from a woman in a nearby Illinois town telling me she enjoys my weekly column in the Rock Island Argus. She closed with a heartfelt line that, I have to say, moved me deeply. I've heard it before, but every time a reader compliments me this way, it's as powerful as the first time. She wrote:

"You're the Garrison Keillor of the Midwest."

This is particularly poignant because I live in western Illinois. I don't know if I'd be as humbled and gratified if I lived elsewhere and was told I was "The Garrison Keillor of New England" or "The Garrison Keillor of Miami Beach."

But to live in the Central Time Zone and be told you're the Garrison Keillor of the Midwest is a fine, rare compliment, and I wonder--does anyone ever say this to Garrison Keillor?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Concerning the clumsiness of oafs

Occasionaly I think about Jeff, a guy in my college dorm who earned the nickname "Clumsy Oaf" for the very reason you think of when you hear the term.

Dictionaries tell us that an oaf is a clumsy, stupid person. So, isn't "clumsy oaf" a redundancy?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Who's Who in the Midwest

Last night I gave a reading for the membership of a local women's organization. I read a story published a few years ago, "A Midwestern Goodbye," recounting my first visit to this Illinois town. It features my in-laws, their friends June and Andy, the pastor and other local personalities, all referred to by first name only.

The ladies followed the story attentively and, I think, appreciatively, but every time a character was introduced ("Their friends June and Andy burst into the kitchen"), they tuned out and turned to each other. I could practically hear them whispering, "No, not Andy Phillips; his wife is Jane, not June. Must be Andy and June Anderson.") Once they had the cast sorted out, they'd return their attention.

I'd forgotten that this is the Midwest. Details are important, and no detail is more important than "who": Who's she's related to? Who were his parents? Who did he marry after what's-his-name dumped her?

Guess I shoulda prefaced the reading with an oral dramatis personae, a rundown of who's who in the story.

My bad.