Category Archives: ave atque vale

The day I’ll always remember

Only for my family it’s today, December 22nd, and not September 3rd.

Oct 25, 1949 - Dec 22, 1991

I am not sure how others may feel when losing a parent at a young age; for me, the absence is always there. In the beginning this was “standard” personal grief, five-stages stuff, but as I’ve grown older and become a father as well, it’s less overt. It strikes me more that I’m not just missing him, directly, but missing him in relation to everyone else I love. Things are subtly out of context because he’s not with us.

For example, my son has his Baba, my wife’s dad, and each loves the other dearly. It’s a blessing and a great joy. Watching them, sometimes, the absence will suddenly poke up from the background and make itself known: my son doesn’t have both Babas there. I have no doubt that Dad would have doted to distraction on The Lad, as he would have done to my sister’s son.

My father was not one to be uninvolved. I think he would have enjoyed talking shop with my wife’s father, chatting about families, retirement, politics. I picture him still drawing, only now putting the stuff up on Instagram; getting after me to write more; finding a part-time job somewhere to enjoy during his retirement. He’d be amazed if he came back now to learn that they made three more Star Trek series, five more Star Wars films, and that my Atari 2600 games had eventually morphed into near-photo-realistic experiences, influenced heavily by the mainstreaming of anime – which he only saw on the fringes of popular culture, or else in dumbed-down, highly-edited versions for children such as Battle of the Planets, Star Blazers, or Speed Racer.

In our family he was the “everyday” cook – Mom handled holidays for the most part, and the rest of the time Dad was playing culinary Frankenstein, cadging ingredients into an impromptu family dinner. It’s been a long time since we’ve done that, and not just because all three of us kids are adults now.

He’d be stopping by during the season, jibing me for going over the top with holiday gift-giving while steadfastly forgetting that he’s the source of that habit of mine; in turn we’d tease him because his normal gruff baritone became a Michael McDonald falsetto whenever he sang. And he would laugh and sing anyway, because he loved music and it was nearly always playing in our home. He probably would have bought one of the earliest iPods and kept up with the technology the whole time, while figuring out a way to get all his albums, cassettes, and 8-tracks digitized – because why should you pay for it all twice?

I am now two years and several weeks older than he was when he passed away, twenty-five years ago today.

Here’s to you, Dad.

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Concerning recent events in music

One could do a lot worse than Dale Griffin, Glenn Frey, and Lemmy Kilmister in a band fronted by David Bowie.

It would be an extremely bizarre band, to be sure, but they’d be able to play.

They don’t really have a bassist, though. Hm. Guess that you could stretch the criteria a little bit and add Chris Squire to the lineup. Strange to think that it’s already been nearly six months since his passing.

Infinite tributes in infinite combinations

UPDATED March 1, 2015: One particular tribute that I missed, as I am not a part of this online community… but that might be the sweetest of all:

Basically, when the news came of Leonard Nimoy’s passing, Star Trek Online players decided, spontaneously and en masse, to go to virtual Vulcan and pay their respects.

It’s seriously dusty around here right now.

ORIGINAL POST: The outpouring of love and heartfelt tributes to Leonard Nimoy have been wonderful to see. And the variety! Quotes, of course. Nearly everyone had some variation of “He lived long, and prospered” when the news first broke. Others have sent out pictures, usually screenshots of Spock, but also of Nimoy in a variety of his guest roles.

The most fun one has been the Twitter hashtag “PutSpockInASong,” which has resulted in a fine paradox: people howling in laughter due to puns about the emotionless paragon of rational thought and dispassion. Yet for all that, I think it is flawlessly logical, and one hopes that he would, at least, quirk a friendly eyebrow at the foibles of humanity.

As my favorite of them (so far) put it:

Some have been touching, some absurdist, some serious, some comic… all have been heartfelt.

One thing I observe is that three men reprised their characters from the original Trek in episodes of The Next Generation – DeForest Kelly, James Doohan, and Leonard Nimoy – and now all three have boldly gone on.

(FUN FACT! Peter Duryea acted with Leonard Nimoy on Star Trek – in the original pilot, The Cage, Duryea played Lt. Jose Tyler opposite Nimoy as Mr. Spock.)

Leonard Nimoy was more than Spock, of course. He sang folk tunes, some of which were original compositions. He was a professional photographer. He wrote and directed as well as acted. He was a veteran of the US Army. He was one of three Star Trek regulars who had been on The Twilight Zone. He acted on Broadway, was the voice of a cartoon robot, and played himself as a head in a jar. (“It’s a life of quiet dignity.”)

All in all, one could do far worse.

Yeah, he was under alien influence, as would happen from time to time. Tough tribbles.

Yeah, he was under alien influence, as would happen from time to time. It still counts, so tough tribbles, nerds.

This will never get easier

This is a reprint from eight years ago, part of the 2996 Project to commemorate those killed in the 9/11 attacks against New York and Washington, DC. I ran it on the Hive 1.0.

ALWAYS REMEMBER
This is the page for the 2996 Project. Many of the Pantheon did tributes. I can’t be sure if all of these links work, but please take the time to try to visit them; or else, visit this page to see a list of the many memorials that still remain active, and check them out. 

Michael J Pascuma at the Sheila Variations
Tom Burnett and Michael J Simon at It Comes In Pints?
Sylvia and John Resta at Coalition of the Swilling
Thomas W Kelly, FNDY at Trunk Full O Junk
Benito Valentine at Half a Pica
Jason Michael Cefalu at This Life
James M Roux at Grizzly Mama
Andrea Della Bella and others at A Wandering Confluence
And this general memorial from the Judge Report

I haven’t re-run my tribute before, but I changed my mind this year, primarily because my father-in-law has a Fox News memorial program saved on his DVR that I happened to re-watch recently. One of the survivors (his name escapes me) who worked in the Pentagon that day said that when the victims were brought out, he was stunned to note that they didn’t look injured at all. The shock of the explosion and subsequent fire had simply sucked all the oxygen out of several rooms, suffocating those within. One of them, I recognized at once – my own honoree, Angela Houtz.

Last week, Angela would have been 40 years old.

On September 7, 2001, Angela Houtz joined her family in Ocean City, MD, to make holiday. She had turned 27 the previous day, but work had prevented her from arriving sooner. Angela worked as a senior analyst for the Office of Naval Intelligence. On her birthday she had still been aboard the USS DeWert; the next day she made her way back north from Florida and arrived in time for the celebration.

Her uncle, Sheriff Frederick Davis, was taking office as President of the Maryland Sheriff’s Association that weekend, so there was a lot to celebrate. The family spent the weekend; at her birthday, Angela, as was traditional, wore the family Birthday Hat while she opened her gifts.

Come Monday, she was back at work at the Pentagon. Intelligent and dedicated, in nine short years she had progressed from salutatorian of Maurice McDonough High School, to an English degree from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, to her civilian work in the Navy. Like thousands of others on the morning of Tuesday, September 11th, she was at work when the word came through: first one, and then the other of the towers of the World Trade Center had been struck with airliners.

At the Pentagon, everything changed. Angela joined a meeting in the C-ring with several officials, other analysts, and military officers. They were still there when American Airlines flight 77 skimmed across the lawn and into their wing of the building. She joined many others – financiers, insurers, staff, the cooks and busboys of Windows on the World, the airline crews, firefighters and police and military – suddenly killed while simply about their business; but her business consisted of understanding the nature of the attack and helping to organize a response. Angela Houtz was among the very first to fall in defense of the United States in the current conflict.

She received full honors: a military funeral, the Distinguished Civilian Award of Merit, and a letter of condolence from President George W Bush; more importantly, an outpouring of the great respect and love from everyone who had known her. In an article for VOA News, Commander David Radi spoke about this respect:

“It’s a bond that approaches a brother or sister and although Angie was a civilian, she was a shipmate to us. I was proud to call her that. The way she shined. I put her eventually in a position where we had never had a civilian. It was because the trust I had in her; but more importantly, the more senior people in the Navy had in her. She would stand a watch in the off hours in particular. She would be the eyes and ears of the Navy in our command center. And there could be no better forerunner for that in the civilian world of Naval Intelligence than Angela Houtz.”

The service took six hours. If that had been all that there was to the affair, it would certainly be enough, but her father, Robert Houtz, speaking to the Boothbay Register, told of more: “Angie had had two full-time jobs, one for humanity and one for her country.”

Many remember her now for her life for the country, but those who love her remember her other life: an active young woman, working with her own church and the Salvation Army for homeless relief; a lover of puns, a tutor of children; a joy to her family and friends. She was equally at home taking classes in dance or organizing food drives. And her finest tribute comes directly from Mrs. Julie Shontere, her mother:

“Most important in her life, above all else, was her faith in God. … She gave so much to us all. She continues to teach me through her journals and spirit. … I feel blessed beyond words to have had the honor to be her mom.”

Cmdr. Radi made a point to mention her faith in connection with the position of trust she had earned among the Naval staff; even people who had barely known her were dearly touched by Angela. Amy Moffitt of Washington DC met Angela only twice, and said: “She lived really vividly in everything. She was very present, she was very alive. … There was not a person she met who didn’t go, ‘Wow,’ that was awakened by her presence, because she was so awake, so alive, so there.” All of the quotes about Angela in the sources below reveal the same compassion and the same vitality.

It is just and right to remember and to memorialize the loss that so many shared that day; but it is incomplete unless we can also celebrate the lives that were left behind. Angela Houtz gave joy and dedication that long outlive the events of one September afternoon. Her service to country did not end at the doors of the Pentagon. It is an honor to be recogized at your funeral by a president for your work; it is also honor to be recognized on a concert line by a passing homeless man for your generosity and mercy. Many hunger after the one sort of honor, but the other can only be given to those who pour themselves out in service, who give cheerfully of whatever they have, be it time, money, toil, or just a smile for a sad friend.

In celebrating Angela’s life, we celebrate a woman who knew that joy only grows when you give it away. The lasting image to recall is of her happy family, laughing and snapping pictures of Angela in the Birthday Hat, unwrapping gifts – it is of they that she would be thinking of, and it is altogether fitting to respect her wishes and think of them as well. Today is but the anniversary of one moment; the full life of Angela Houtz endures beyond it, and defeats it. That life is real and lasting, and it abides through the many people she loved to the full.

Her friends and family have established a scholarship fund in Angela’s name; more information is here. The comments section is open for anyone else who has a story or a memory of Angela, or a link to a tribute not mentioned above.

My deepest thanks to Mrs. Julie Shontere, who was kind enough to provide much of the above information first-hand; and also to the following sources:

The Chicago Tribune, for this remembrance
The UMBC Alumni Newsletter, Summer 2002, for
this profile
The Boothbay Register, October 4, 2001, for
this article by Duey Graham
The VOA News, October 22, 2001, for
this article by Betty van Etten
The
Maryland State Archives
The
Defend America Network
The
September 11 Victim’s Memorial

One… more… time!

The singing cowboy used to be a standard back in the 50’s. From Gene Autry, the actual “Singing Cowboy,” through Roy Rogers, on to The Mellomen (who featured the rumbling bass voice of Thurl Ravenscroft), a lot of people married the Western visual of the cowboy on the range to the songs of Country.  In 1973, Elton John could sing a twangy country-western tune [youtube, will autoplay] “of roundups and rustlers and home on the range” without any trace of hipsterism or post-modern irony.

We’ve lost one of the last of them today: the yodeling cowboy, Slim Whitman.

He maybe didn’t get a tribute quite as exotic or heartfelt as Sir Elton’s, but he was name-dropped in one of my favorite tunes:

I put on a Slim Whitman tape
Mama wore a brand-new hair net
Kids are in the back seat
Jumping up and down, saying “Are we there yet?”
And all of us were bound together in one common thought
As we rolled down the long and winding interstate in our ’53 DeSota
We’re gonna see the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota!

More importantly, he seemed like a man of decent heart and good humor, such as in the closing quote from the linked obituary above:

I don’t think you’ve ever heard anything bad about me, and I’d like to keep it that way. I’d like my son (Bryon) to remember me as a good dad. I’d like the people to remember me as having a good voice and a clean suit.

But if that’s not enough, one of the standards he had a hit with was later remade (in a matter of speaking) very famously:

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