The people who get the accolades in death are those who are famous. This week there’s been a couple of those. Aretha Franklin was laid to rest in Detroit, amidst singing and celebration of her life. In a different setting, Senator John McCain was laid to rest at Annapolis in Maryland. Famous people both, a singer and a politician. Many people extolled their virtues, their relationships, and their accomplishments. In many cases this is rightfully done, this is righteously done. I think it was deserved in both these cases. These were indeed two good people. Not perfect, but good.
For all of those famous people who fight for the less famous, who dedicate themselves to helping those less fortunate then they are, it is deservedly done indeed. Let there be no doubt about it, that although working hard for things is a great quality of human beings, it does take fortune in these cases to be able to attain fame and riches. Sometimes it just boils down to being in the right….or wrong….place at the right time. Sometimes it’s just by grace.
I guess in some cases it could be called “infamy” instead of fame, and sometimes even those who are infamous get those accolades when they die. It’s certainly not deserved in those cases. Mostly, history makes up for it though, by telling a different tale.
Thus it always goes in our human culture, the rich and the famous…the kings and the popes, the leaders and the playwrights, are remembered with much ceremony, while those of us who are less rich and less famous go to our reward pretty much unceremoniously and sometimes even ingloriously. Sometimes too, even anonymously.
My Daddy was a Navy man too, like McCain. He served in World War II and Korea. He was on a destroyer at the end of World War II as a gunners mate. They were attacked by some of the last Japanese kamikaze planes, and took down a couple of them. Later on, Dad moved into the sweltering boiler room as a petty officer and served out the rest of WWII there.
They went on to sail into the China sea, and on down the Yellow river. Their destroyer saw action in the Korean War. He told me of poor people freezing to death on their rooftops, and of starving children begging for candy bars. He told me about man’s inhumanity to other men, and the lack of respect for life during that time.
He was on a ship which sailed into an area at Enewetak Atoll in 1948 and 1949, during which time the United States tested more than 43 nuclear bombs in that area….vaporizing the islet of Elugelab. My opinion is that my Dad, along with a lot of other service members at the time were exposed to a lot of radiation which affected them the rest of their lives. They didn’t know at the time how dangerous it was, and later on the government would deny it. My Dad never complained about anything to do with that, nor about any other thing which had to do with his service to his country. The only thing I ever heard him complain about was the food they served. Too many Navy beans.
He came home totally disillusioned with War in 1953, to his wife and his 3 year old son. He went to work in the cotton mill at Trion, and worked there most of the rest of his life…working his way up from a weaver and loom fixer, to the superintendent of the Weave shop.
When my Daddy died in 2010, at the age of 82…. he had a decent funeral with friends and family in attendance, and was buried with a Navy honor guard giving him a 21 gun salute. Seven guns times three volleys. Both holy numbers used one last time in the ceremony of his passing from this world. His eulogy are the words which remain in my mind about all of the things he had said and done. There was plenty of it there, because my Dad loved to talk. He hated spaces of time in which there was no conversation, and I’m afraid I inherited that from him.
My Mom died just a few months later in December of 2010 and her funeral was much smaller, with no guns to fire. It was close to Christmas, and I sang “Silent Night” at her ceremony. There were about 15 or 20 of us who went to the cemetery as she was buried. She deserved so much more because she was not an ordinary person….not to me. She deserved a 21 gun salute for just putting up with me all of my life, and most of hers. I regret she didn’t get it.
I remember a lot of the men, from my childhood who served in World War II and Korea, and not many of them talked a whole lot about it either. They just did their duty, came back home and made a life for themselves and their families. I remember their wonderful wives, who were the mothers of my friends and schoolmates. A lot of them made their lives by working in the Trion cotton mill in the little town by the same name in which I was born. That mill has been there since before the Civil war, and still stands and is operating til this day. Thousands of people have worked there, lived in the surrounding areas all their lives and died and are buried in the local cemeteries with just their names and the date of their birth and deaths etched into their stones to mark them being here on earth. A lot of them didn’t even have funerals, although many, many of them deserved eulogies beyond those of much more famous men of the world. They had done more good for humanity in some of the simple acts of kindness and contrition then most Kings and Queens had ever done, whether they were “kings of the political world” or “queens of soul”.
The majority of them were great people, hard workers and good family people. They read their bibles, took their kids to church and made gardens in their back yards, out of which their families partook of most of their food. They took their rifles and shotguns and hunted rabbit, squirrels and deer for meat, and took their cane poles and fishing rods to the rivers and lakes and brought home tons of bream, bass, carp, catfish and crappie. They took care of their families. Most of them loved their families. A very small percentage, perhaps, did not, but there are some reasons, if you will read on you will find my opinion.
One of the things that used to distress me when I was a child was the amount of mostly men of my Dad’s age and generation who, as my Mom would say, turned out to be drunkards. A lot of these men were men who had gone off to war. I used to look down on some of them…we had one guy who lived two doors down from us who stayed drunk most of the time. It wasn’t until later in my life that I found out he’d been on the front line in Germany fighting. I realized how small minded I had been, or at least how uninformed I was about the reasons for all that drinking. I think a lot of men who went to war over the centuries came back home and had to turn to drink in order to be able to stand the pain of what they had seen and done. It used to be called “shell shock” Nowadays they have another name for it: PTSD. Back then, and further back in history there wasn’t any such diagnosis. Just drunkards and malcontents.
But even still, most of these men managed to take care of their families, although there were certainly some scars left on children and spouses. They were just ordinary people. I suppose some of them had funerals in funeral homes and such. Probably had family and a few friends and a preacher, like we did with my Mom. No memorials in the big cathedrals though, because there were no famous men among them, and no rich men….at least very few. These people also deserved words of sympathy and respect.
I wish I’d given all of the “ordinary” people more respect than I did. I wish I could go back and apologize for what many of them had to go through. Acts of tiny heroism which were never recognized, but which needed to be, and still needs to be.
All of the ordinary people living their ordinary lives who kept, and still keep, the wheels of society turning. Without them….these poor to lower middle class citizens of this country, there would not be, nor will their continue to be, a society left which can even afford to have a famous singer, or pay attention to a war hero turned politician.
But, as I say…that’s the way life happens isn’t it.
In this day and age the semi famous and infamous can have their 15 seconds of fame, due to television and social media, where in the past things had to be consigned to the history books, novels, newspapers and magazines. Too many times in our day and age the need to be “famous” comes out as a compulsion to explode in a final frenzy of terrible and heinous acts. School shootings, mass murders, and other savage acts are done only in order to get attention. That seems to be sort of where we have arrived in this day and age.
I sincerely hope our future generations can see the worth in all people, no matter their station in life, and can learn to appreciate who they are and what they are, letting each of us live and let live….without impunity.