crash

The third plane crash’s wreckage on Salem Avenue in Elizabeth, 1952. via The Daily News

As I packed for a trip to Europe recently, my thoughts, and more so the thoughts of my wife, turned to airports, airplanes, bombs and terrorism. It is an unfortunate way to approach a trip, but almost inevitable today, especially if you are someone who only travels occasionally.

On my last domestic trip, it was the first time I saw at Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey fully equipped soldiers with helmets, body armor and automatic rifles on patrol. Did it make me feel more secure? No, I felt more threatened because it was reminder of earlier tragic events.

My wife even wanted to do some non-travel things before we left concerning our grown-up children, accounts, our will and such “in the unlikely event” that something happens to us on our travels.

It is a contemporary reality that young and old alike need to consider and come to some terms with the natural and technological and social disasters that are a regular part of the news.  For my own children, the attack on the not-so-far-away Twin Towers on 9/11/01 will be an unfortunate but key event of their youth.

As teachers, my wife and I were profoundly affected by the shootings at Columbine and other schools which felt like such a real possibility in our own lives and those of our children. That came much too close to home in 2007 when my son’s class at Virginia Tech was part of the shootings that occurred there.

My son was luckily, or miraculously, not hurt that day. Different people take a different take on that. I have gone back and forth myself in my thinking about that day. He is a faithful Hokie alum and rarely talks about that day. His professor who was killed is a hero to me.

One of his classmates who was shot, Colin Goddard, has become very active in gun violence prevention issues. He joined the Brady Campaign and works as a Senior Policy Advocate for Everytown for Gun Safety. He  was the subject of a documentary named “Living for 32” that shows how easily anyone can obtain a firearm in the United States without a background check.

A year ago, I read a book that came to mind again when my wife used that phrase which is the book’s title.  In The Unlikely Event is a novel based on real incidents and is a kind of memoir by Judy Blume.

Blume sets the novel in her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey and mostly in the winter of 1951-52, when three catastrophic plane crashes occurred in less than two months.

Her protagonist, Miri Ammerman, returns to her hometown in 1987  to attend a commemoration.

The first plane that crashed barely missed exploding into a junior high school. The second crash was at an all-girls’ high school. The third crash was at an orphanage. It seemed like Fate or some power had targeted children.

The events forced the closure of Newark Airport for some months.

Miri was fifteen and before these crashes life was more about being in love for the first time and Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable,” and getting Elizabeth Taylor haircuts and family and friends.

Before that winter, it was a time was when airline travel was new and exciting. Everyone dreamed of going somewhere by plane. Being a stewardess was a glamorous job that showed up in novels, movies, TV and Playboy cartoons.

Of course, it was also a time of atomic-bomb hysteria, rumors of Communist threats and Civil Defense drills in schools, so the world could be seen through rose-colored or dark gray glasses depending on the day.

A succession of airplanes falling mysteriously from the sky would cause all kinds of rumors today, just as it did then.

Blume mixes in all of this uncertainty about life in a variety of ways. One day a woman shows up on the Ammermans’ doorstep, insisting Miri is her niece. She had seen a resemblance to her brother in a photo of the girl shown to her by a friend. Miri’s mother raised her daughter on her own and had refused to share any details about her father.

She falls in love with a boy from an orphanage in town. He’s a great guy and becomes a hero after he rescues survivors from the third plane crash. Is he her future? Can we contemplate a future in such an uncertain world when unlikely events seem to happen?

Judy Blume spent her childhood in Elizabeth, New Jersey, making up stories inside her head and eventually writing them down as an adult and becoming a very successful author.

I grew up in the same part of New Jersey fifteen years later than Judy Blume, but a lot of her stories feel like my own childhood, adolescence and adulthood.  She is better known for her young adult novels but has written three novels for adults and sold 80+ million copies of her books.

Three planes crash in a small town in New Jersey over the course of just two short months are unlikely events, but it happened. The attacks on the Twin Towers just across the river from that NJ town on 9/11 was also an unlikely event, but it happened.

In its time, those plane crashes were inexplicable. Communists? Martians? God? So many tragedies today – earthquakes, bombings – have an “explanation” but still seem inexplicable. The “why” of these events never seems to be fully answered.

Is Blume warning us? No, I think she wants us not be afraid to get on a plane, or take risks in life. Of course we should make plans and be cautious, but she reminds us that life is made up of unlikely events and that, fortunately, they “aren’t all bad. There are good ones, too.”

 

The older you get, the more you need to read books from childhood. So many things you didn’t understand as a child…

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but Really loves you, then you become Real.”

velveteen“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get all loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

 

From The Velveteen Rabbit written by Margery Williams & illustrated by William Nicholson

wonderland

 

I don’t know how popular the Uncle Wiggily books are these days. Uncle Wiggily Longears is the main character of a series of children’s stories by the very prolific American author Howard R. Garis. He is an interesting elderly rabbit who has rheumatism and uses his red, white, and blue crutch walking cane that looks like an old-fashioned barber-pole or a peppermint candy stick.

Garis began writing the stories for the Newark News in 1910 and he wrote an Uncle Wiggily story every day (except Sundays) for more than 30 years. That’s a lot of stories.

I know I read many times the Little Golden Book version of Uncle Wiggily and probably a few others. Although growing up, we did read the Newark News as our daily paper, I don’t recall the stories. maybe by the time I was reading the paper I was done reading Uncle Wiggily. (Though I read the comics for a long time past childhood.)

I never knew until I did some research this week that, according to his obituary in the Chicago Tribune, a walk in the woods in Verona, New Jersey was his inspiration for Uncle Wiggily. Being that those woods are just next door to Paradelle, I think that I have probably walked those same woods and I have certainly seen some relatives of Uncle Wiggily.

Garis wrote many books for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a publisher that specialized in series and used many authors under various pseudonyms. They were best known for the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series. Garis wrote as Victor Appleton, he wrote about the inventing Tom Swift. He wrote as Laura Lee Hope some of the Bobbsey Twins books, as Clarence Young for the Motor Boys series and as Marion Davidson for some books about the Camp Fire Girls.

Garis parted ways with the Syndicate in 1933 after several disagreements, but he published many books about Uncle Wiggily. Some of those are out of print and in the public domain and I found a good number in the Project Gutenberg Library online where you can read and download them.  That is where I found   Uncle Wiggily in Wonderland. I also found books by Garis that I never read, such as  The Curlytops at Silver Lake, whose titles suggest local settings. I know nearby Silver Lake pretty well.

game
The Uncle Wiggily game is a track board game based characters from the series. The game is of the “racing” variety and said to be in the style of the European “Goose Game.” Players advance along the track from Uncle Wiggily’s Bungalow to Dr. Possum’s House. This is not a strategy game and moving is based on a random drawing of the cards. The game was first published by Milton Bradley in 1916 and has seen several editions with minor modifications over the years. Uncle Wiggily remains a pretty popular childhood game along with Candy Land.

Many of the Uncle Wiggily books and the game and plush animals and other related merchandise are still available, so perhaps kids are still reading Uncle Wiggily.

I didn’t think about Uncle Wiggily again after elementary school until I read in high school “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” a short story by J. D. Salinger, which appears in his collection Nine Stories.

The main character of that story, Eloise, recalls a time when she and her boyfriend Walt were running to catch a bus, and she sprained her ankle. Walt comforted her by saying “Poor Uncle Wiggily.” Now, unhappily married to someone else, she goes to her daughter Ramona’s bedroom. (Ramona and Eloise are names that recall characters in other childhood books I read.) She sees that her sleeping child in on the corner of the bed having left room for room for her imaginary friend, “Mickey Mickeranno.” This childhood fantasy really annoys the mother and she drags her to the middle of the bed and tells her she must sleep there. She quickly regrets that and tucks Ramona into her covers and leaves crying and repeating to herself “Poor Uncle Wiggily.”

Trivia: This story was made into the film My Foolish Heart (1949), though the film has very little to do with the story. It is the only authorized adaptation of a Salinger story and he hated it and vowed to never let his work be used for film or television again.

game

A current version of the board game

I’m planning a road trip for next month and a vacation for June and in my notebook I found a list of travel films that I have learned lessons from watching. Queue them all up and you have a good on-the-road film festival and prep session while you look at maps and guides and make reservations.

 

road oz

The Wizard of Oz – Pick your travel companions with care. Don’t be concerned with food or lodgings. Do be concerned with witches and flying monkeys. No matter how good the trip, it should also be good to be back home again.

 

National Lampoon’s Vacation – A road trip with family, as child or parent, will present many lessons. As with life and school, you will fail at some.

 

Before Sunrise – You should take a serendipitous journey alone. You should meet a beautiful/handsome person along the way. If you go back there at sunset or midnight, don’t expect things to be as good as they were before.

 

 

Up – Take that trip you and your spouse have been talking about for years now before it’s too late.

 

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – Take a trip with your Dad. Or son, depending on your age and point of view. (What film could be the Mom or daughter version?)

 

 

Broken Flowers – Go on one cross-country search for old girl/boyfriends in search of answers. (Not connected to any 12-step program)

 

 

The Darjeeling Limited – Go to an exotic place filled with things that you have never seen and smells that tell you that you’re not in Kansas anymore.

 

 

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Be nice to fellow travelers. You never know.
The Lord of the Rings – Undertake an adventure trip full of possible peril. Once. After that, there is no need for you to do it again. You have nothing to prove. Your home is quite comfortable and there are so many books unread and films unseen.

 

 

Lost In Translation – Be prepared to be a stranger in a strange land. Try to have Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson around just in case.

 

I’m sure you have other films to add to the festival list. How about if you make a comment and give us a film and a short reason for its inclusion.

Tonight we’ll see the April Full Moon and this is an occurrence that is sometimes called a micro-moon or mini-moon. It probably won’t look any smaller to you, but this smallest full moon of 2016 will be about 30,000 miles (50,000 km) farther away from Earth than the biggest Full Moon (AKA supermoon) of the year.

This comes less than one day after the moon reached lunar apogee, which is the point when the moon is at its farthest point in its monthly orbit. It is hardly a rare occurrence since every year has a closest full moon and a farthest full moon. These mini-moons return about one month and 18 days later with each passing year. That means that for 2017, the year’s smallest full moon will come on June 9.

This Full Moon in the Cherokee marking of the lunar months was called Kawohni, meaning “duck” as in “when the ducks return.” The Dakotah Sioux called this the Moon When Geese Return in Scattered Formation.

The Full Moon also will not look pinkish, but another name for this month’s moon is Full Pink Moon. That name comes from the herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox, which is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring. In Paradelle, these flowers (which I have always called Mountain Pinks) did bloom right on schedule.

You can also refer to this Full Moon by other American Indian names such as the Full Sprouting Grass Moon – or The Moon When Dandelions My Lawn – and among coastal tribes the Full Fish Moon, because this was the time that the shad swam upstream to spawn.

Some tribes called this the Egg Moon and that may sound more appropriate to a year when Easter occurs during April, but the name comes from the appearance of eggs naturally appearing in nests rather than an Easter egg hunt.

A Medieval name for tonight’s Full Moon was the Seed Moon which is fitting if you’re in a climate where it’s early enough to sow seeds outdoors. For me, the sowing is still indoors in flats.

The Roman festival of Cerealia this month celebrated the goddess associated with grains. This was the time to plant that important crop and the goddess Ceres is where we get our word “cereal.”

This might also be the time of the last frost for your region. Some people use blooms in nature as a key to when to plant: when dandelions bloom, plant potatoes; plant peas on Saint Patrick’s Day if the soil isn’t muddy, otherwise wait for the forsythia to bloom.

Similarly, a Celtic name for this moon was the Growing Moon and in the Chinese moon sequence, this is the Peony Moon

The April Moon is also been called the Chaste Moon, Growing Moon, Hare Moon, Maiden Moon, Grass Moon, Rain Moon, Growing Moon, Wind Moon, Seed Moon, Budding Trees Moon and Green Grass Moon.

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