Sunday, September 30, 2007

LAKE WEIR: Memoirs of Fleming Lee Chapter 4

I am posting a link to this chapter because I posted it out of order before I decided to post my Memoirs. So, please use the link to read Chapter 4, posted as "August Memoir".


Monday, September 17, 2007

MY FIRST WAR -- Memoirs of Fleming Lee, Chapter 3, Part 2

Among other pointless wartime activities organized by Roosevelt’s government was airplane spotting. In a big clearing at the Blitchton crossroads, next to the white-painted wooden store that my father and his brother had built many years before, an official tower was erected. When you climbed the pine ladder and stepped onto the timber-supported platform your feet were at about the level of the store’s roof. From this frightening height, near tree top level, protected by railings and shaded by a high roof, you could see the sky all around.

Local civilians took turns manning the tower. Gramma (Daddy’s mother), as the matriarch of the community, was in charge of the whole operation, or at least I thought she was. During her watch she would sit, thin and straight, in gold-rimmed glasses, in her longish flower-print country dress, on a folding chair with binoculars around her neck and a log book and binder of aircraft silhouettes next to her on a little table.

She would shell blackeyed peas into a colander in her lap as she scanned the bright Florida sky for a miraculous materialization of Messerschmitts. When occasionally a plane would drone lazily into sight, and she would look at it through the binoculars and make a note in the log book. If the intruder had shown the profile of an enemy plane she would have made a phone call, but I'm sure she never made a phone call; all enemy planes were hopelessly separated from Blitchton by broad oceans and thousands of miles.

Unlike aircraft, German submarines could and did reach Florida, sinking merchant ships within sight of the beach. Sometimes members of the U-boat crews surreptitiously came ashore — for sightseeing purposes rather than to spy, but espionage stories abounded, as did tales that this or that pair of men who at some store or other had bought a bottle of milk and ice cream, or Coca Colas and a newspaper, were from German submarines. It was said that when a certain German submarine was disabled off the central Florida coast , a copy of the morning paper was on board.

When our dog, Nippy, who was almost a cocker spaniel, came whining slowly home one morning with blood on his black and white coat from what appeared to be a bullet wound in his neck skin, Daddy concluded that German spies had shot him. Why would German spies shoot a cocker spaniel? Because during his nightly ramblings Nippy found them spying in our neighborhood, and he started barking, and they shot him to shut him up. Luckily Nippy recovered. That German inflicted wound to a member of our family was the closest the war ever touched us personally.

A daily feature – several times a day, in fact -- during that period was Daddy listening to the war news on the radio. Those were protected moments with which nothing must interfere. “The war news is coming on,” meant keep quiet and stay out of the way. The correspondents and commentators would talk about this front and the other front, attacks, counterattacks and retreats by the enemy or strategic regroupings by the Americans, while Daddy listened intently and I waited for something more interesting to come on.

Once I asked him, “Will they still have news programs when the war is over?”

He laughed and answered, “Sure they will.”

“But what could they have on them? All the news is about the war.”

When we were not listening to the radio in the evening, Daddy would sit and read the newspaper. We had the Jacksonville 'Times Union' delivered in the morning and the much slimmer 'Gainesville Sun' in the afternoon. There was no television yet, and I don’t recall that we ever played phonograph records. In comparison with the audiovisual overload of evenings in later years it is hard for me to imagine now how everybody passed the time between our 6:30 supper and bedtime. Maybe that’s one reason I took to reading in such a big way.

During those war years (and in subsequent years as well) we never went out to eat except at the sedate Primrose Grill for a rare Sunday lunch, and I can recall only one time that we had company except when relatives came from Ocala on holidays. That was when a college friend of Daddy’s who had become a preacher was in Gainesville overnight to speak at the Baptist church. He and his wife ate at our dining room table, and we children listened in awe to the sonorous tones of this great man, about whose importance we’d been duly informed. He was by far the most prestigious person we had ever met. All I can remember is that he was very serious, and that he said he would not eat any bread before he preached. When I asked him why, he said something about digestion and Mother changed the subject.

The question returns to nag me, what in the world did everyone do in the evenings? As I recall, unless the radio was on, which it often was, the livingroom was very quiet. It was so quiet that what I remember best is the slight squeaking sound that Daddy absentmindedly made as his fingers rubbed the pages of the newspaper together while he absorbed column after column of war news. Occasionally he might comment.

“They have this new bum” — he pronounced “bomb” “bum” — “They have this new bum that’ll destroy a whole block. They call it a blockbuster.” He shook his head. “One bum that blows up all the houses in a block. Isn’t that terrible? But we have to do it.”

Mother might be looking at a different part of the newspaper, or a magazine like "Life" or "Colliers" or "The Saturday Evening Post.: I, of course, was usually reading, often up in my own room, although I might play with my metal toy soldiers on the livingroom floor, or get involved in a children’s board or card game with my mother and brothers. Mostly, though, I just remember how quiet and uneventful the evenings were — somewhat representative of our entire family history, where nothing big or unusual or dramatic ever happened, and during which I cannot recall my parents ever having a fight or raising their voices at one another.

One momentous night Mother and Daddy woke my brothers and me up before dawn and told us they wanted us to be able to remember an historic occasion.

Sirens were sounding outside in the Gainesville darkness. It was D Day. The invasion of Europe from England was taking place. We clustered around the radio and heard excited reports spoken from the decks of ships, the sounds of explosions and screaming airplane engines in the background. And then, none too sure what we had just experienced, we three boys went back to our beds.

I recall much more clearly a night when we were roused from sleep and brought out into the front yard to see one of the greatest meteor showers ever. It was definitely much more impressive than any I have ever seen since. Scarcely a second went by that at least one shooting star did not highlight the tracery of our pine trees and palm fronds. Often multiple streaks of fire illuminated the sky at the same time, illuminating our lawn. I wish I knew what year and month that was.

Another memorable wartime episode came on another night, but this time very early in the evening, before dinner as I recall. I was in the livingroom when I heard shouts in the dark street outside, that street whose thick pavement of pine needles normally muffled the sounds of passersby.

“Extra! Extra!”

We went to the front door, and in the dusk we could see two boys with bags of newspapers slung on their shoulders coming down either side of Fletcher Terrace.

“Extra! President Roosevelt dies! President Roosevelt is dead! Extra!”

We bought a "Gainesville Sun", and there were those gigantic black headlines one sees only in wartime taking up at least a third of the front page, and a big picture of F.D.R. In my family this was news to be treated with mixed emotions. Although Roosevelt was a Democrat, and nobody in the south, including my parents, could even have imagined voting Republican, he was considered by my father to have been the promoter of useless, ruinous, socialist schemes designed to end a Depression which would soon have ended itself through natural causes. Roosevelt, he said, had made government too big and too powerful, and had piled tormenting paperwork on county agents and others. Eleanor Roosevelt was worse than Franklin, even to the point of trying to upset the delicate balance between white and black in the South. At the same time, my parents were too nice and too Christian to express pleasure about anybody’s death, especially at the height of a war in which this president had been touted as a patriotic symbol. There was a somber air in our house as those old enough to read pored over the freshly ink-impregnated newsprint.

One time in our back yard, several children discussed the puzzling question, “How do wars start?”

I came up with the inspired answer: Two people started fighting, and just as on the school grounds everybody would run to watch. Then the friends of the two fighters began fighting on each side, and their friends joined in, until finally the battle grew so big that it was a war, with thousands of people fighting on each side.

“Then millions of people.”

“And then a trillion.”

“Then a million trillion.

“A million trillion trillion. . .”

“There aren’t that many people in the world!”

“Yes there are.”

“How do you know?”

“I just know.”

“No you don’t.”

“Hey, we might be starting a war right here!”

It was an exciting thought, but it didn’t develop. What did come out of that discussion was the idea that a war might have three or four groups fighting one another simultaneously. After I had learned a little more about history, in a moment of illumination I realized that none of the wars I knew about involved more than two sides. Why was that?

I do not remember the day in 1945 that Germany surrendered, but Japan’s surrender a few months later takes me to the place where we heard that news — Lake Weir – which in turn takes me to that small area of the planet outside Gainesville which completed my world.

(To be continued in Chapter 4.)

Copyright 2005 by Fleming Lee

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

MEMOIRS OF FLEMING LEE Chapter Three, Part 1


While we were living in our little rented house after arriving in Gainesville, our main entertainment, other than my parents’ ritualistic reading of the daily newspaper, was the radio. Even before we left St. Augustine I had developed an addiction to afternoon serials like “The Lone Ranger”, his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, and his great horse Silver (“Hi ho, Silver!”); “Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy”; “The Johnson Family”; “The Shadow” — all of which, as I recall, were sources of trinkets such as rings that glowed in the dark (the excitement of opening the little package and going into the closet and seeing the mystic light in the blackness) and secret code wheels. There was also “The Whistler” and some character who investigated apparent supernatural phenomena and always uncovered some comforting natural explanation, such as proving that the howling ghost was only the wind in a chink in the lighthouse wall.

The after supper radio programs were aimed more at adult tastes, or what passed for adult tastes in the United States. There were musical programs, from Kate Smith and opera singers to the Grand Old Opry, as well as dramas, but for us children the best shows were clustered on Sunday night: Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Fibber Magee and Molly, and Edgar Bergen and Charley McCarthy were the much-anticipated high points. I also liked The Great Gildersleeve, Amos and Andy, and Henry Aldrich, although I’m not sure when they were broadcast. On Sunday nights the incomparable comedy lineup ended when “One Man’s Family” began.
One Sunday morning in December, not many months after moving from St. Augustine to Gainesville, we drove down to Blitchton, the farm where my father was born and raised. Our Blitchton land, which at that time consisted of 3000 acres or more, will have a chapter of its own, and so I will just say here that it was about thirty miles southwest of Gainesville, and that my father’s mother, and his brother and his wife and two children, lived there in adjacent houses near the crossroads of Route 27 and State Road 326, where the community of Blitchton had grown up around my then grandfather’s rural medical practice and other activities.
Several times each year we would go down to Blitchton for the day, sometimes not making our grandmother and uncle and cousins aware of our presence, and enjoy walking through the expanses of pine woods, hammocks, and grazing lands. Those who were old enough to bear the weight of a .22 rifle would shoot at tin cans and bottles lined up on a fence. We would visit a pond or two and admire the basking turtles and the occasional alligator, and on occasion launch a floating bottle to explode with rifle fire.
“Look at that boat. Watch the boat! Pow! I sank that boat!”

For lunch we would build a fire and open a can of pork and beans and stick it down in the coals next to the flames, turning it until all sides began to bubble. Meanwhile out came the inevitable picnic viands: Canned Vienna sausages, Underwood deviled ham, Saltine crackers, and cold hardboiled eggs with salt and pepper for dipping. Then, after stuffing ourselves, we would lie back on the cushion of pine needles and watch the clouds and the leisurely circling of black buzzards high, high in the sky.
We always went to Blitchton to get our Christmas tree, evergreen boughs and mistletoe. On the particular Sunday in December that I’m telling about we made our usual trek to find a tree — which was never a quick process, since we would find several candidates scattered through the woods, perhaps half a mile or more apart, and debate their merits, and then travel back and forth between them to refresh our memories before finally cutting one down. Along the way my father would skillfully use his shotgun to bring clumps of mistletoe down from high up in an oak tree without damaging the berried cluster, and my mother would supervise the cutting of the choicest boughs of wild holly.
Daddy had no fear of directing his automobile off across fields and woods unmarked by roads or trails – just as he had astonished my mother when they were first married. He knew the land so well that he was (usually) able to avoid tree stumps and boulders even in tall grass.

On that December Sunday we made a point to get home with our Christmas tree in time not to miss our favorite evening radio programs -- but only just in time. When I ran to the brown Gothic arch of the Philco and turned it on and turned the dial to the right number, we heard these words:
“We are interrupting our regular programming to bring you the latest news on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.”
Mother and Daddy looked shocked as I never seen them before, hurrying to stare at the radio at close range, but my only reaction was dismay that the unbelievable, the unthinkable had happened: A Sunday night without Charley McCarthy and Edgar Bergen’s dialogue with Mortimer Snerd! What possibly could be more important than that — or Allen’s Alley, with Mrs. Nussbaum, or the riotous opening of Fibber Magee’s closet, or Jack Benny trading gibes with rasping Rochester?
My parents’ efforts to explain the situation to a seven-year-old — much less to a four-year-old and a two-year-old — were futile. I was no more aware that a war had already started in Europe two years before than I was that I had been born in the depths of the Great Depression. I was beginning second grade, and the only links I had with Far Eastern affairs were picture books of “Children of the World,” in which young Japanese ran merrily about in kimonos, flying their dragon kites above cherry blossoms. But now that young Japanese were flying airplanes above American warships, the connection with the picture books was not obvious.

So began the Second World War for the Blitch family. My understanding of what it was all about did not really begin until considerably after it had ended when I was in the sixth or seventh grade. In fact I did not understand what it was really about until I was in college and beyond.
During the war years, which approximately spanned my sojourn at J. J. Finley Elementary School from first through sixth grade, I was impacted mainly by the incessant propaganda, the rationing, the collection drives, the air raid drills, and the radio war news to which my father attended religiously.
The construction of our new home would have been thwarted, but Mr. McLain told my parents that he could go ahead and build it with materials already on hand . . . though ours would be one of the last two houses he could build until after the war.
After Pearl Harbor it was impossible to get through a day without seeing posters of bucktoothed Japanese in thick glasses brandishing knives dripping blood from their blades. Franklin Roosevelt having achieved his goal of getting the United States into a war against Germany, the Japanese were joined by fanged Hitlers and Mussolinis waving handfuls of bombs, and evil-eyed German soldiers whose oversized boots marched across carpets of bloody women and children. I was most impressed by a poster of a giant octopus with three heads — Tojo, Hitler, and Mussolini. Its tentacles stretched around the world, threatening even the peace-loving United States.

Washington and Hollywood lost no time reinforcing the lessons as to who was good and who was evil. The demonic triumvirate of Tojo, Hitler, and Mussolini was balanced by the Twentieth Century’s leading saints -- Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and jovial Uncle Joe Stalin.
We children collected newspapers, crushed tin cans flat, made balls of the tinfoil wrappers of chewing gum and candy, and marshaled other items of questionable value to a military effort. We even put dented pots and pans in a bin on the courthouse square, where a poster showed a child looking up at an American bomber flying overhead and saying, “Look, Mom, there goes our frying pan!”
After I joined the Cub Scouts there was a contest to see which Cub could collect the most newspapers for the war effort and win a prize. The Den Mother exhorted us to patriotic action even though she was unable to explain how the newspapers would be used in the war. In addition to confiscating all the newsprint that came into our own house, I pestered the neighbors with an atypical display of aggressiveness,. Eventually I had a small mountain of papers stacked in our garage, and I easily won the prize . . . which turned out to be a Hershey Bar. My own disappointment was exceeded by my father’s outrage.
“A five cent Hershey Bar?” he said. “A Hershey bar for all the work?”
He was still upset about it forty years later, and would occasionally retell the story, with a rueful grin and shake of his head.

Next door to us, on the opposite side from the Hills, now lived the Fields family, whose house had been built soon after ours. Mrs. Fields, her son Peter (about my age), and her cute daughter-in-law, Patty, who was pregnant, lived there, while Colonel Fields and Patty’s husband were off at war. Colonel Fields came back with war souvenirs from Europe, some of which he gave to me: A large swastika flag from the schoolhouse at Aachen, its wooly material punctured by shrapnel and bullet holes. A German helmet with a man’s name and the city, “Munchen,” written on the leather lining with a pen. A heavy leather belt with “Gott mit uns” on the big buckle.
Rationing meant coupons for gas and tires and sugar and I don’t know what else. Butter was replaced by white blocks of margarine that came with little packets of yellow color that had to be kneaded into the lardlike glop. (I actually enjoyed doing that job for Mother, briefly.) We saw a lot of Velveeta and little cheddar -- cheddar and Philadelphia cream cheese being the two forms of cheese to which we’d been accustomed, along with the little glasses of Kraft spreads, pickle-pimento and pineapple.

We learned the word, “hoarding,” a bad thing. It was also unpatriotic to use your car any more than you absolutely had to. “Is this trip necessary?” Daddy had always been an excruciatingly slow driver, but now he drove slower than ever to save gas and wear. The rare thirty or forty mile drive to Blitchton or Ocala seemed to take hours, aggravated by the attitudes of other drivers who did not think that thirty-five miles an hour on the highway was appropriate even in wartime. Of course the roads were all two lane, and we would have accumulated a caravan of several automobiles by the time we came around a curve with a long, straight view ahead and the people behind us could finally sail past.
“Darn yankees!” my father would invariably say as they started around. “Get down here after driving in those mountains and think they can go seventy miles an hour.”
It mattered not (except to me, who kept score and listed it as one of those things I didn’t like about my father) that the license plates on the passing cars usually turned out to be from Florida or Georgia; the commentary on cursed yankees remained the same.

After my food-loving grandmother in Ocala (my mother’s mother) taught me to make fudge, I saved rationed sugar by not putting it in my iced tea until I had saved enough for a batch of candy. As for meat, we suffered no deprivation as many people did, because we had the cornucopia of Blitchton with its uninterrupted supply of chicken, beef, pork, and lamb. For awhile my parents rented a freezer locker to accommodate the Blitchton bounty. We would take a side of beef or a pig which had been slaughtered at the farm to be cut into steaks and roasts and stored it in the freezer room.
A visit to our freezer locker was a treat. We would enter through a massively thick wooden door and instantly be at the North Pole. When the big door boomed shut, a shiver of terror augmented the shivers of cold. What if it wouldn’t open? What if it stuck? What if somebody locked it from outside? We would go to our locker, put white-wrapped packages into our basket, and hurry back out into the suddenly incredibly hot, moisture-heavy Florida air. Later my parents bought a deep freeze, like a refrigerator on its side, in order to store the meat at home in the breakfast nook.
It was in the short, windowless hall between our home’s entrance hall and den that we huddled during air raid drills. A siren would disturb the night, and the citizenry were supposed to turn off all lights except in a light-proofed inner room. Air raid wardens would move through the dark streets blowing whistles at any moving object, and knocking on doors if there were any leakage of light. In our downstairs hallway, where the telephone (on a shelf in the wall) and the oil furnace alcove were located, we could close the door at each end and safely leave the light on without fear of alerting air raid wardens or German pilots.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Art Caged by Life

This fascinating article, “Even in a Virtual World, ‘Stuff’ Matters”, is a discussion of ways in which people who have become residents of “Second Life” have slavishly imitated the consumerism and personal vanities of real life (“RL” to the initiated) rather than creating a truly brave new world. The emphasis of the article is on the mass craving for conspicuous consumption, and for spending money on things which are necessary in RL but completely unnecessary in Second Life (“SL”). It's a good study in human nature.

In short, most people are as depressing and unimaginative in SL as in RL because they’ve ignored an opportunity to break the bonds of social customs and pressures, not to mention gravity. It’s like what a spiritualist said to me about people’s spirits in the afterlife: “If they’ve been nasty here, they’re not suddenly going to become nice on the Other Side.” I hope that if we do design our own Heavens I don't keep running into other people's malls and wig shops as I do in SL.

The first thing that struck me along that line, when I’d been in SL only a few days, was the fact that much SL architecture imitates RL architecture even though the laws of SL physics provide much more freedom than those of RL.


Things will stay where they are placed, whether above, on, or under the surface of the SL earth. SL structures, therefore, do not need the supporting, load-bearing elements used in the real world. . . and yet most SL structures are redundantly burdened with all the foundations, pilings, columns, and braces which have challenged RL architects for centuries.


Likewise, a door or other object in SL can be made “phantom”, meaning that one can simply walk through it like a ghost, and yet all the paraphernalia of house doors that have to be opened and closed are encountered throughout SL. True, a phantom door can’t be locked, but most people don’t lock doors in SL anyway. Stairs are generally unnecessary in SL because one can simply float up, and yet stairways abound in SL even though they are often difficult to negotiate.


Everyone can fly, soar, and hover in SL, and yet helicopters and other aircraft are not uncommon. The climate is (as far as I know) pleasant short-sleeve weather all the time, with never a drop of rain and no insects, and yet windows are covered with “glass”, and some of the clothing would make an Eskimo keel over onto the Arctic ice from heat prostration.

It’s hard to say whether people who enter SL and want things done in exactly the same way they are done in RL are simply victims of habit, and inability to think outside the box, or whether the socially conditioned worry about seeming “different” keeps them in bondage in both worlds.

When I told my neighbor in SL – who has created a lush, lavish South Seas paradise on the slopes leading up from the sea, complete with lava-bubbling volcano – my criticisms of obeying RL physics when designing SL buildings, he disagreed with me. I said I felt the way Frank Lloyd Wright had felt about the use of Greco-Roman columns which held nothing up. My neighbor said he didn’t feel comfortable unless a structure looked as it would look in RL. The hotel he built could be a Florida Ramada Inn. A residence which mostly hovered beyond the edge of a cliff would drive him crazy, even though the view would be superb and the design would be free of unsightly pilings and struts. He has an imaginative tropical bar built around the steep peak of a mountain, but all the braces are there “to hold it up”.

The bird, freed from its cage, refuses to fly.

Sunday, September 2, 2007


When the Source first stirred the primordial soup, and Is folded back on itself to know itself – and there were two points where there had been a single point, creating space, and then the expanding, evolving plenitude of visions – it must have felt as I do in 'Second Life' when I stretch out my arm and materialize a sphere, make it rise into the air and float, expand it, turn it into stone and place it on a wall I’ve made.

Creation growing from imagination seems to me the most godlike activity of humans. The author who fantasizes people and places which he later holds in his hand as his book, a woman painting colors on canvas to portray her night’s dream, Mozart pouring out as sound the product of his genius, an architect seeing his incorporeal images move from mind to lines on paper to a breathtaking gleaming building, a computer programmer watching his fancied world coming into colorful being on a screen . . . those are people echoing the nature of God.

A person who follows a recipe to make a cake, or a carpenter who obeys a construction plan build a shed, are somewhat removed from that godlike activity but are nevertheless creating, while the person who merely amasses money, or whose ego feeds on humiliating or tormenting others, is far removed from the divinity of creation.

What about human imagination which does not go beyond an individual’s subjective experience – for example the self-proclaimed writer who always has a novel in progress but never writes anything? I’m sure there’s going to be disagreement about this, but I think that merely dreaming without more is not the equivalent of bringing a dream into some tangible form. We creatures and our surroundings may exist only in God’s dream, but for us the dream is obviously a reality, as much as the Taj Mahal is a reality which rose from an architect’s dream.

There are probably no humans more often accused of “wasting time” than those with imaginations reflective of God’s who are in the process of creation. It is difficult for some parents and teachers to realize that staring out the window at rain, or going for long aimless walks, are essential parts of creating the Taj Mahal or the Ring of the Nibelungen or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

My time spent creating and transforming objects in a computer world, and making more and more elaborate forms and structures from them, is undoubtedly a complete waste of time by some standards, but to me it is a thrill, an elation, because I feel in my experience the echo of God’s unbounded creativity. Yes, from an objective point of view it is a step below bringing a poem or a painting into the real life human world, but as a personal experience it is gratifying and exciting to see the fruits of my imagination grow in a visible computer world.

It occurs to me that there is one way in which my Second Life creation might satisfy the clods who always want practical results. Some presumably enlightened people tell us that we create our own heaven, that what we experience in an afterlife beyond this plane is fashioned entirely by our own desires and imaginings from a vast reservoir of possibilities. If so, then ‘Second Life’, with all its possibilities for realizing fantasies, is an excellent training ground for our creation of our next life. What could be more frightening to most of us than to bear the sole responsibility for deciding what we want to be and to experience? What a multitude of questions flood our thoughts when we accept that we are personally responsible for designing our future life! A little orientation and practice in ‘Second Life’ can’t hurt.