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Once again it is the occasion of the U.S. Marine Corps’ birthday, and I often think about this officer when I consider the Corps’ rich heritage. His name was Michael P. Ryan. In 1973, I was about to complete my obligation to the Marines and would soon leave Okinawa to return home to my wife and two young sons in Atlanta. By chance, I happened to be in the Officers Club one night when Gen Ryan, the Commanding General of the 3rd Marine Amphibious Force, dropped by as a guest of our Battalion Commander. I introduced myself to Gen. Ryan and informed him that I would soon rotate home and separate from the Marine Corps.

Gen. Ryan graciously thanked me for my service. I noticed the Navy Cross medal he wore, the highest decoration the Naval Service can award for combat valor, second only to the Medal of Honor. In addition, I remembered from my study of Marine Corps history that he had served with great distinction at the bloody World War II battle of Tarawa in November 1943.

“General,” I asked, “what’s the one thing you remember most from Tarawa?”

Gen. Ryan replied without hesitation, “The salute.”

The battle of Tarawa was the first U.S. offensive in Central Pacific. To get to Japan, the Americans needed to take the Marianas; to take the Marianas, the U.S. needed to take the Marshalls; and to take the Marshalls, it was necessary to take Betio, on the western side of Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands.

Tarawa was the first U.S. invasion that was opposed at the landing beaches. Planners had expected a rising tide to provide a five-foot depth over the reef, but the depth was only three feet. The Higgins boats ferrying the Marines from ship to shore needed four feet of depth. Consequently, Marines had to wade ashore under murderous fire, greatly slowing their progress. “Situation in doubt” was communicated to the top U.S. commanders.

Casualties in first waves were shocking. It was a scene of utter chaos and destruction. Still, the young Marines kept advancing.

Then-Maj. Mike Ryan landed his company to the west of the main landing areas where he consolidated the stragglers from units that had been obliterated on the beaches. Suddenly, out of the smoke comes an old staff sergeant, dragging a wounded hip, who sought out Maj. Ryan and asked what he could do to assist. When Maj. Ryan explained the situation and suggested a leadership role for the sergeant, the man straightened, voiced a resolute “aye-aye, sir,” and gave a crisp Marine Corps salute.

The attack was a success and provided pressure on the enemy’s right flank, which eventually broke. The battle turned on Maj. Ryan’s audacious gallantry and inspiring leadership. The Japanese commander had said before the battle that it would take a million Marines a hundred years to take Tarawa. It took Maj. Mike Ryan, a shot-up old staff sergeant, and 5,000 other leathernecks 76 hours.

Mike Ryan never saw the old NCO after the battle, so he never knew whether the man had survived the battle or the war. He only knew that, of the tens of thousands of salutes he received in a long and distinguished military career, the sergeant’s salute at Tarawa was the one he cherished the most.

On this the 241st birthday of the Marine Corps, I salute the Marines of the past who made our Corps into the finest fighting organization in the world. And I salute the Marines of the present who have maintained those core values of honor, courage, and commitment.

Semper Fi.

 

denny crane

I herewith support the election of Denny Crane, Esq., for President of the United States. Consider the following:

Fact: Except for the Mad Cow, Denny is in overall good health.

Pro: Good health is a prerequisite for being president.

Con: Denny Crane may not always remember what he said. But c’mon, which is worse: not remembering or remembering what you just said is patently false?

 

Fact: Denny co-founded and is a named partner in the successful law firm of Crane, Poole & Schmidt.

Pro: He understands the private sector and the legal system.

Con: There are already too many lawyers (and law professors) in Washington. True, but c’mon, Denny’s an outsider. A real outsider.

 

Fact: Denny Crane has been married and divorced 9 times.

Pro: As is obvious, he strongly supports traditional marriage.

Con: He may be viewed as an unreliable partner. But c’mon, Denny’s a little impulsive, that’s all. Who among us???

 

Fact: Denny’s an unwavering advocate of the Second Amendment.

Pro: Denny Crane carries. He was a Marine sniper. Or was it a pilot? He can’t remember which.

Con: Guns kill people. But c’mon, that’s sort of the point, right? Climate change won’t kill the terrorists.

 

Fact: Denny’s a winner.

Pro:  His courtroom record where he was the first chair is 6,043- 0. He’s unbeaten.

Con: Incessant bragging about being a winner might not get a candidate any votes.

 

Fact: Denny Crane is viewed by some as being an aging buffoon.

Pro: How many aging buffoons are 6,043-0?

Con: None. Take a look around Washington and tell me what you see.

 

Fact: Denny enjoys a cigar and a drink.

Pro: See the above about Denny’s overall good health.

Con: It upsets the proponents of the Nanny State. What should he do then? Have a super-sized soda and chew some khat? Nope, not cool either. Well screw it, then. Pour, light, puff.

 

Alan Shore: “You ever wonder if you and I are la-la?”

Denny: “Don’t be ridiculous. We’re flamingos. And good ones.”

 

Denny Crane. I rest my case.

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The GOP presidential candidates accuse one another of lying with nearly the same frequency as star pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws a curveball for a strike. One gets the impression that Dr. Ben Carson seems to be the only truthful person among the entire lot. One is also left to wonder if Dr. Carson’s lackluster performance could have been improved by telling a few whoppers along the way, perhaps claiming that it was he, not Al Gore, who really invented the internet; or that it was he, not Chuck Yeager, who broke the sound barrier in level flight. Oh, and just for the record, methinks it would be easier to accuse someone of lying than to hit a Clayton Kershaw breaking ball (or fastball or changeup or anything else).

Of course, on the Democrat side, referring to Hillary Clinton as a liar would be akin to pointing out that diving headlong into a two-foot pool from a ten-foot platform might be hazardous. Uh, duh. What else ya’ got? I can only guess that Hillary is a product of her environment. Her husband lied to the American public, to a grand jury, and to her, yet he was elected twice, same as the politician who told the country’s citizens that if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Twice, those two were elected! I don’t believe my flabber has ever been so gasted as with those two events.

And now comes the Trump emergence. He seems neither a Conservative nor a Republican to me, yet his sizable slice of the electorate seems unaffected by some of his pronouncements that align more closely with Democrats. Proponents of smaller government, free markets, and individual freedom find some comfort with Trump, but only some. Many of his followers have shown their disdain of the stodgy Republican establishment by raising their middle fingers, and my sense is that many more are waiting for the right moment to do likewise. Trump didn’t start this movement, the Tea Party did, but he has accurately identified it and skillfully crafted his message to appeal to it, much like a businessperson exploiting an underdeveloped market (did you see how I did that with the businessperson thing?).

Peggy Noonan writes in the February 27, 2016 Wall Street Journal of the protected and the unprotected. The protected make policy, send their kids to private schools, and have power or access to it. They have money, influence, connections, and thus are insulated. The protected are protected from the world they have created. Donald Trump lives in that world.

And then there are the unprotected, who have little influence, modest means, and live in a rough world created in large measure by the protected. Their kids attend the (sometimes awful) public schools, serve in the military, and pay their bills as best they can. Now they are starting to push back against the establishment, against the protected. The political voice that seems to resonate the loudest with them? Yep, Donald Trump

Who knows what will happen. I certainly don’t. But, like you, I’ll be watching with interest.

And that, my friends, is the truth.

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General Louis H. Wilson, Jr. , the 26th Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps and a recipient of the Medal of Honor from World War II, read this poem at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball, Camp Lejeune, N.C. on 10 November, 1978:

Love

The wonderful love of a beautiful maid,

The love of a staunch, true man,

The love of a baby, unafraid,

Have existed since time began.

But the greatest of loves,

The quintessence of loves,

Even greater than that of a mother,

Is the tender, passionate, infinite love,

Of one drunken Marine for another.

On 10 November of every year, Marines across the globe celebrate the Marine Corps birthday. This year marks the 240th anniversary of the founding of the Corps, the original location of which was Tun Tavern in Philadelphia. Marines have always taken a special pride in tracing their historical origins to a recruiting station inside a tavern. Do you suppose a Leatherneck veteran of the Revolutionary War, sitting on a barstool in Tun Tavern in 1780 and enjoying a brew, would have any idea that nine generations later Marines would be fighting a War on Terror? “Terror?” he might ask. “Is that a place or an army?”

“It’s neither,” we might answer. “It’s an, uh, well, I suppose it’s sort of a thing.”

“Then how can you fight a thing?”

Good question. But I digress. Back to the birthday celebration.

There will be birthday balls at Marine posts all around the world. Marines will arrive decked out in dress blues, the ladies in gowns. There will be speeches, and a solemn moment of remembrance for those Marines who have given the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the nation. That number, by the way, is 44,500 Marine battlefield deaths, with another 220,000 wounded, from the Revolution to Afghanistan. The Tun Tavern Leatherneck might wince in astonishment at such numbers.

There will be elaborate cakes, often several layers high, ceremonially sliced with a sword. The traditional passing of cake from the oldest to the youngest Marine will demonstrate the passing of the honor, experience, and heart of the Corps to the next generation of Marines to carry on.

Then there will be toasts.

The stirring Marines’ Hymn will be played, bringing everyone in the house to their feet. “From the Halls of Montezuma . . . “

And more toasts.

The Marines know how to do a lot of things. They know how to fight and win (and yes, they’ve adapted to learn how to fight a “thing”). They know how to be innovative in tactics and equipment. They know how to maintain their rich traditions. And they certainly know how to throw an annual birthday bash. Nobody does it better. And I happen to know that for a fact.

Happy 240th, Marines!

And by the way, thanks to my Tun Tavern Leatherneck for not only helping to save our country, but for helping to start a Corps of Marines.

Semper Fi.

 

 

Arnie

Today marks the 86th birthday of one of golf’s most iconic figures, the incomparable Arnold Palmer. Arnie is referred to as The King in golfing circles, largely because of his status as golf’s first superstar in the television age. With his humble beginnings in Latrobe, Pennsylvania and his tenacious, stouthearted play, Palmer transformed golf from the pastime of the upper classes to a sport accessible to middle and working class Americans. He won often, and often dramatically, and his legion of loud, loyal followers became known as Arnie’s Army.

Palmer recorded 95 professional wins, and included among his 7 major championships were four Masters victories. By 1967, he became the first golf professional to reach one-million dollars in career earnings on the PGA tour. He adorned the cover of most sports magazines during the Sixties, and he was frequently seen on commercials as one of the most popular and recognizable figures in all of sports.

Palmer found success away from the golfing world, as well. He became equally formidable as a businessman and spokesman, selling lots of golf shirts with the umbrella logo, pushing Pennzoil, Coca-Cola, and Hertz rental cars. He was also involved in the founding of the Golf Channel. Arnie even has a lemonade-flavored iced tea named after him. He flew his own jet to business meetings and golf tournaments, and he began Arnold Palmer Charities to assist with several causes dear to him. Golf course design also came into his family of businesses.

Arnie was married to Winnie Palmer for 45 years, and who passed away in 1999.

Palmer was the first golfer to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2004), and the second golfer to receive the Congressional Gold Medal (2009), along with Byron Nelson.

For many years I have enjoyed seeing Arnie, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player become the honorary starters for the Masters Tournament. They were once fierce competitors and they are now fierce friends, still with the competitive spark that made them such compelling and admired figures for many years. Jack and Gary have likewise done much for the image of their sport, but none more than Arnie.

Arnold Palmer’s story is quintessentially American—he started modestly in life and through his own guile, determination, and tireless hard work, he became successful beyond his wildest dreams. He has been the friend and golfing partner of several American presidents. He is admired by the public and adored by the golfing community. He has set a standard for how a professional should behave toward not just his fellow competitors, but the general public as well.

Arnold Palmer is most assuredly an American treasure. He is indeed The King. Long live The King.

Happy birthday, Arnie!

In the August 10, 2015 issue of National Review, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina offers this: “I am increasingly offended by the idea that only a politician can be president. Politicians are some of the most mendacious—not all of them, but a lot of them are some of the most mendacious, mediocre, self-serving people I’ve ever met. Really? This is the best we can do?”

Indeed.

While Ms. Fiorina may be a long-shot candidate to be elected President of the United States, she has described the entrenched American political class as astutely and unequivocally as anything I’ve seen in a long while. There is no longer a premium on truthfulness among much of the political leadership of this nation. Too, there is a breathtaking disregard for ethical and, increasingly, legal behavior among those same leaders and the agencies for which they are responsible. It is an ugly picture, at once discouraging and confounding. How did we get to this point? What has gone so awry for a nation where a majority of its citizens find the federal government no longer trustworthy? And, most importantly, what needs to happen to reverse this toxic, debilitating condition?

Of the 113 blog posts I’ve written, the second most popular piece is “What Does Integrity Mean to You?” The topic of integrity appears to have widespread interest and the concept of integrity shows no sign of being outdated. In all fairness, the popularity of one of my posts is hardly a scientific poll. However, it does reflect a level of interest that suggests the matter is important to many.

The objective of this post is not to advocate for any particular presidential candidate. Rather, the aim is to suggest that the cancer which is metastasizing throughout our entire political system can be cured only by electing men and women of integrity and then holding them accountable. The liars, dissemblers, and mediocre self-servers aptly described above by Ms. Fiorina will, if elected or re-elected, bring continued harm to this nation. There is a great deal of work needed to properly fix our system, but it has to start with electing honest men and women of integrity, in far larger numbers than currently exist. This seems like common sense, but it is in fact uncommon practice. Elected officials whose primary interest resides in enriching themselves and maintaining their hold on power, and who care little about the overall best interests of the nation, need to be excised as part of the cure.

The bitter partisan divide that exists won’t make the job easy. That’s why the next presidential election is so critical. That’s the place to start. It’s all about leadership, about having the courage to make the tough decisions, about deciding what is in the nation’s best interest, about unifying our people in the spirit of fairness and openness and common interests and concerns.

Oh, and did I mention integrity? Revolutionary, isn’t it?

This is the tribute I wrote to my Druid Hills High School classmates for our 50th Reunion

To the Druid Hills Class of 1965:

When we became Red Devils at the dawning of the Sixties, little did we know what that tumultuous decade would bring because, literally, little did we know about much of anything. So we arrived in 1960 from among the caravan of yellow buses, braced ourselves, and climbed the front steps, walking between those ionic columns and into the “School of Champions.” We were ready for a new chapter in our lives, ready to start striding toward young adulthood. We were lowly sub-freshmen, mostly nervous and unsure of ourselves, but we were in high school. It made us feel big and small at the same time.

Druid Hills was a larger place, had different smells to it in the main building, even had a marching band. There were over three-hundred of us 8th graders, with lots of pretty girls and big athletic guys and smart people of both genders. The classwork was hard sometimes, but not overly so. The teachers were good and mostly helpful unless of course they were coaches who wanted to be seen as hardasses, with Jimmy Carnes one of the notable exceptions. We soon got our feet underneath us and settled in as we became more comfortable with the place and the pace and the prospects. Before long we could sense that we belonged, that indeed we were going to be okay here.

Pretty soon we were 9th graders, and pretty soon after that we were 10th graders. We were really starting to find our way by then, driving and dating and slipping into one of the various social strata that came either by design or by default. We loved it when Coach Rogers would show up and tell us yet again about Eneas Africanus. We were learning real stuff, about the universe, about conceptual things, about ourselves. And then all of a sudden we were juniors, convinced as we were that we were enlightened, undaunted, and indestructible. We thought of creative pranks, we found the scent of mischief enticing, and we liked the look of the opposite sex a lot. The boys would sometimes settle things at the tennis courts when all else failed. Zesto’s was a famous hangout, not so much for the food but for the swapping of stories—some truthful, some sorta, some not even close. Downtown Atlanta and the Varsity were only minutes away. But who can forget that surreal weekend in November, 1963, when the gunshots in Dallas changed more than a presidency.

Our athletic teams won a few games and our band won all the halftime shows. We were now experiencing the very best teachers like Morgan and Hampton and Davis, tackling the most challenging subjects, and starting to think about what we would do after high school. We were becoming more fashion conscious. We looked around and noticed that we had a lot of talented people in our class, as students, musicians, artists, writers, singers, athletes, dancers, debaters, and emerging leaders. We were only one step away from being seniors—the rulers of the universe that was 1798 Haygood Drive.

And then came our turn, our senior year.

We did good work and had our share of fun in the ’64-’65 class year. Druid Hills was in good hands with our senior class. We had excellent student leaders and after four years of being together we were strongly bonded. We competed hard in the athletic arena and we showcased our previously noted talents in any one of a number of ways. We discovered alcohol, threw a few eggs, and did some things that we later dearly hoped our own kids wouldn’t do. We got a new gymnasium that made us proud. The music of Motown and the British invasion kept us moving to the beat. Many of us were hearing from colleges about our applications—sometimes happily, sometimes not so much. We honored Jack Wilks by dedicating the Saga to him, and we wrote lots of pithy phrases in the yearbooks of our friends and classmates. And before long we were singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and rehearsing our graduation exercise, trying not to become overly emotional, but mostly giving in to it, if even a little.

Soon it was all over, and probably for the first time in our lives we had a collection of years that, when looking back, had seemed to pass so very quickly, like the way our parents had told us about the passage of time.

Some of us went to college, some went to work, some went into the military. The times they were a changin’, and the nation was being pulled and stretched out of its post-WWII comfortable shape. The Civil Rights era was mostly civil, but not always. The Vietnam era grew more and more uncivil and seemed to usher in the most bitter and divisive time since the Civil War. Before many of us had reached the age of twenty-one, JFK, RFK and MLK had been felled by assassin’s bullets. The ‘68 Tet Offensive in Vietnam gave the USA a decisive military victory which oddly enough became a public-opinion disaster. We found comfort where we could—sometimes in sex, drugs, rock-‘n-roll, or cheap beer. There were heroes like Neil Armstrong, outsized personalities like Muhammad Ali, criminals like Charles Manson, and traitors like Jane Fonda. Some of our classmates were shooting dope, some were shooting NVA or VC, and some were working at jobs that paid the bills, but not much else. We were just doing our own thing, whatever that meant. We were the Baby Boomers, the sons and daughters of the Greatest Generation, and we would later be described as the most spoiled, self-absorbed generation in American history. I didn’t buy that description then, and I certainly don’t now.

Most of us made it through those challenging times—some more bruised than others, some changed forever. We got married, had kids, maybe got divorced. We went to work, some staying at jobs for years, some bouncing around looking for that elusive greener grass. Some of us went into the medical or legal professions, or became teachers or salesmen or stay-at-home moms. Some of us became entrepreneurs and got rich. Many of us made a decent living and enjoyed a certain degree of comfort, while others struggled with downsizing and rightsizing and all the other euphemisms associated with losing a job. We were scattered about the entire nation, following the twists and turns of fate and the lure of opportunity.

We had class reunions and by twenty years we guys laughed about the weight gains and the hair loss. In some ways it seemed like yesterday when we were at Druid Hills. By thirty years it no longer seemed like yesterday. We were saddened by the classmates and family members we had lost along the way, and much of the social layering that once seemed so important had diminished. By forty years it was gone altogether, most of us happy just to be alive and continent enough to fill in the gaps in our personal histories, including, of course, our most recent surgeries. Our memories of school weren’t quite as robust as before, nor were our knees and backs and hips. But thankfully there were now pharmaceuticals to help us lower things like blood pressure or cholesterol or chronic pain, or conversely to help other anatomical regions rise to the occasion, so to speak.

And now it’s fifty years. We grew up together, we sons and daughters of dear ole DH. And now we’re growing old together. It’s not so bad, really. We’ll miss the departed, to be sure, and we’ll remind one another of the many good times. And we’ll take some consolation in the fact that we’re able to join together once again in the warmth of renewed friendship. We’ll offer a toast or two, make a boast or two, and laugh a lot. A helluva lot.

Those were good years long ago, sweetened even more by the passage of time. Loyal, brave, and fair and true. That was us then, and here we are now. We’ve all had our successes and we’ve all been knocked around by life. But we’re still standing, we’re still friends, and we’re still the Devils that were once dynamite. It could’ve been worse—we could’ve been shipped off to Briarcliff, for cryin’ out loud, and be the bunnies that were once, well, whatever. But no, we were a great class from what was arguably the best school in the best school system in the entire South.

We are the Druid Hills Class of 1965, by God. And by the grace of God, we can enjoy it once again. And enjoy it we shall.

I SALUTE you, my fellow classmates!

And may we meet again on down the road.

Jerry Gillis

DHHS, ‘65

 

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Lt. Michael P. Murphy, USN

Memorial Day is the U.S. holiday for remembering the members of the armed forces who died while serving this nation. Originally known as Decoration Day, the holiday was begun after the Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in that war. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who died while in military service.

Nearly 1.4 million Americans have died in service to the nation, from the Revolution to the War on Terror. It is a long list. Too, there are nearly 41,000 still missing, largely from World War II and enough to fill Chicago’s Wrigley Field. American war dead approximate the present-day population of Suffolk County on New York’s Long Island.

One of those killed in battle, Navy Lt. Michael Patrick Murphy, was himself a son of Suffolk County. Lt. Murphy was a Navy SEAL who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his astonishing bravery and selflessness. His award citation reads, in part, as follows:

“Ignoring his own wounds and demonstrating exceptional composure, Lieutenant Murphy continued to lead and encourage his men. When the primary communicator fell mortally wounded, Lieutenant Murphy repeatedly attempted to call for assistance for his beleaguered teammates. Realizing the impossibility of communicating in the extreme terrain, and in the face of almost certain death, he fought his way into open terrain to gain a better position to transmit a call. This deliberate, heroic act deprived him of cover, exposing him to direct enemy fire. Finally achieving contact with his headquarters, Lieutenant Murphy maintained his exposed position while he provided his location and requested immediate support for his team. In his final act of bravery, he continued to engage the enemy until he was mortally wounded, gallantly giving his life for his country and for the cause of freedom. By his selfless leadership, Lieutenant Murphy reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

Lt. Murphy’s four-man team was discovered by goat herders, thereby compromising their mission to locate a senior Taliban commander. It was Murphy’s decision as the officer-in-charge to release the unarmed men and risk disclosure of their presence to the Taliban. The Taliban were in fact notified by the released herders, and a vicious firefight ensued. Badly outnumbered, the SEALs inflicted heavy casualties before finally succumbing to the overwhelming firepower of the enemy. In placing an unsecured cell phone call requesting urgent support, the exposed Lt. Murphy was shot multiple times. His last words on the call were, “Thank you.” He died on June 28, 2005, on that mountain with two of his SEAL brothers.

Lt. Murphy’s exploits are well chronicled in the movie Lone Survivor, as well as the bestselling book of the same title.

Thank you, Lt. Michael P. Murphy, for your sacrifice. Thank you, as well, for representing on this Memorial Day not just your fallen SEAL brothers, but those 1.4 million Americans who were also killed in action. Thank you for your willingness to risk all, and in doing so, your joining the list of the revered.

Our country was enriched by your life and shielded by your sacrifice.

I salute you. All of you on that long list. From Valley Forge, Gettysburg, Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Chosin, Hue City, Fallujah, and Asadabad. All of you on all of those battlefields, and at sea, and in the air, all of you who gave that last full measure. Let us stop and honor you for the way you have honored us. May you rest in peace.

Semper Fi.

 

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The following is the eulogy I delivered at my mother’s funeral on March 7, 2015:

On behalf of the extended Gillis/Hughes family, I’d like to thank all of you for your kindness and well wishes, and especially for your presence here today. And so I’d like to offer the following as a remembrance, of sorts, with great love and affection for a little lady who was truly one of the giants of my life.

Evelyn Rebecca Hughes Gillis: Daughter, sister, sister-in-law, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Among family, she answered to Evelyn, Aunt Evelyn, Eve, sis, Momma, and Memomma.

Today we lay to rest this kind, gentle, Godly woman who loved her family and friends without condition, who served her church to her fullest, and who provided an anchorage of love and stability in a great number of lives, including, and most especially, my own.

Like many of you, the earliest images I retain in my memory involve my mother, in one form or another. She taught me about the Christian faith and the way it has shaped our family’s history. She stressed to me the value of education, and the importance of honesty and integrity. She gave me an early appreciation for the Big Band music of the Forties, and consequently any band of my own era which featured a horn section had me at the get-go. She broadened my world by teaching me about reading, about the joy of books and the power of the written and spoken word. She taught me about the kinder, gentler things of life, and then she turned around and taught me the finer points of fist fighting with the admonition that I use my new skill as needed, but always as a last resort. She took care of me when I was sick or injured, even when I was faking it, and I still associate the taste of her ginger ale with my being ill. She helped jumpstart my own lifelong love of history when she took me to see Gone with the Wind in the same downtown Atlanta movie theater where, as a teenager some years before, she had witnessed the actual live premier. She confessed to me that actor Clark Gable was her guy, and we made it a point to keep that little morsel a safe distance from Clarence. And I’ve never yet been able to see Gable in one of his movies without instantly thinking of her.

She told me often about the years of World War II, about the uncertainties and hardships, and especially about the way the nation pulled together in shared sacrifice. She told me about Russell High School, and the way the boys went into military service immediately upon graduation. She told me about the good people she worked with at Western Union during those war years. She spoke often about how much she loved and admired her own mother, our beloved Mamaw. She related to me what it was like as a young woman to suddenly find her family without a father, when he died and left behind Mae , Evelyn, Jack, Henry, and Jimmy in the prime of his, my grandfather’s, life. She told me these things without any self-pity or bitterness, but as a better way for me to understand who we were as a family, our history, and thus my history. And how sometimes we just had to deal with things as they are, as opposed to fretting about how we wished them to be. That bit of wisdom has served me well, never more so than when we were confronted with the brutal reality of the Alzheimer’s.

She allowed me to make mistakes without ever berating or humiliating me further. And as a matter of undeniable fact there was something about her that caused me to always, always fess up and tell the truth when I had misbehaved, even when I knew that a large dose of unpleasantness would eventually be arriving through that kitchen door. She taught us the great truth that although we all have freedom of choice, none of us has freedom from consequences.

As I got older, I saw how she and my dad worked and sacrificed so that Ben and I could attend college, something they themselves never had the opportunity to do. And I remember how overjoyed she was when the grandkids started arriving. I’m grateful she got the reward of grand-and great-grandchildren to enjoy and spoil and show just what a loving and classy Family Matriarch she truly was. And I’m likewise grateful they got the reward of knowing her.

That she was one of a kind is without question. She fussed over the appearance of her hair. She was picky about her attire. Even near the end when she was very ill, and had in her possession nearly as many pairs of navy-blue slacks as does the carrier USS Nimitz, she let us know she didn’t care for the brown slacks that we had quietly slipped into her wardrobe. “Must be somebody else’s,” she remarked dismissively, much as she would if the slacks had been made of the very finest of possum fur. Debby winked at me and said softly, “I guess we’ll stay with blue.”

Throughout her entire life Momma could never pronounce words like “handkerchief” which came out “hanchekuff”, or “sauce”, which came out “salts,” and she often dropped the “g” from words like pudding, which of course became “puddin’.” And she sometimes liked to add a “You know” when she would finish a sentence. But what she could say was the phrase “When are y’all comin’?” which never came later than the third sentence of any conversation I ever had with her when I called from goodness-knows-where to check in. And she greatly surprised us when, after becoming a resident in the Alzheimer’s unit, she would from time to time utter a profanity or two that she must have picked up from one of her saltier fellow residents (or maybe from one of her eldest son’s novels). If she had heard such a word from me as a child, she would have threatened to wash my mouth out with soap. When the roles were reversed, however, I just smiled and let it pass.

She was never more beaming or buoyant than when she had her extended family in her home on Wood Trail Lane, with all the attendant food and noise and good tidings that enveloped and uplifted every single one of us. She loved Christmas more than anyone I’ve ever known, and she would start singing “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” right after the 4th of July. Michael McDonald sings a Christmas song entitled “House Full of Love” which is what I’m reminded of when I think of Momma’s Decatur home. That description was never more evident than during the holidays when the house was full of Gillises and Hugheses and their derivatives, with the loud laughter, tall tales, ham, turkey and turnip greens, mahogany and coconut cakes, Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets, touch football in the front yard, the ladies in animated conversation in the living room and the gentlemen falling open-mouth asleep in the den, looking every bit as if they’d all been gassed. It was in every way, and on every day, truly a House Full of Love. And the one who gave it that texture and richness of flavor is the one we so honor today.

As she neared the end of her natural life, I would often hear caregivers and others remark what a sweet, considerate lady Miss Evelyn was. Her kindness, unselfishness, and courtesy toward others were noticed and appreciated. Don’t confuse her gentility with a lack of good ole Southern toughness, however. In the last third of her life, she overcame colon cancer, a heart attack, multiple skin cancers, became a widow, survived two broken hips and the necessary hip-replacement surgeries, and bravely fought Alzheimer’s Disease well past the averages. Some of her parts may have broken easily, but not so her will. Through it all, she never lost her unwavering love for her family. She was a great treasure to those of us who knew and loved her, for to know her was indeed to love her. And while her passing leaves a hole in our family and in our hearts, she’s left far more by her living than she’s taking in her leaving.

The writer Christopher Buckley noted at the passing of his own mother, “There is an apparent universal aspect about parental mortality—namely, that no matter how much you prepare for the moment, when it comes, it comes at you hot, hard, and unrehearsed.” Mr. Buckley’s words could hardly be more descriptive.

In Proverbs 31:10, the question is asked, “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.” Evelyn Gillis was, by any objective measure, a virtuous woman—as a wife, mother, friend, relative, church member or secretary. She was a beacon of light, an unselfish giver of her Labors and her Loyalty and her Love.

The American poet Emily Dickinson wrote:

“I had a jewel in my fingers—

And went to sleep—

The day was warm, and winds were prosy—

I said ‘Twill keep’—

I woke—and chide my honest fingers,

The Gem was gone—

And now, an Amethyst remembrance

Is all I own.”

Rest In Peace, Mom, and know that, as our Gem, our remembrance of you is a great and abiding gift. But it’s by no means all that you bequeath us. The values and traditions you handed down will remain with us and endure for generations to come. And the love you showered so easily upon us is returned in even greater measure, both by those you leave behind in an earthly sense, and by those you now join in our Father’s Kingdom of Heaven. And yes, I can hear you softly saying, “When are y’all comin’?”

 

hard-hats

 

Last week a State Department spokesperson, in an interview about U.S. policy concerning ISIL, asserted that we cannot kill our way to victory over this depraved, ruthless terrorist organization. Instead, we should look over the near-and-medium term at the root causes for the disaffection of those who are beheading, burning alive, shooting, or tossing from tall buildings thousands of men, women, and children, many of whom are innocent non-combatants. The spokesperson went on to suggest that it was a lack of opportunity for jobs that contributed to the swelling ranks of the terrorists.

Soon thereafter, when pressed over the comments, the spokesperson admitted the painfully obvious—that a nuanced message of such depth was beyond the understanding of some, i.e., we coarse, countless, witless American rubes. You know, the very ones who cling to their guns and religion as if their lives and souls depended on it. The same ones the elites in Washington (or elsewhere) scoff at and hold in contempt for their simpleminded patriotism or their service in the armed forces or their belief in individual responsibility.

Despite my lack of erudition, now that I’ve given the matter a bit of nuanced thought, I see exactly what the spokesperson meant. With your indulgence, I’ll explain to my fellow unwashed the fundamental understanding of the issue by our United States Department of State. It is as follows:

  • Winning a war by shooting and killing the enemy is outdated. Besides, now that bin Laden is dead (I know, I know, he was shot and killed), “enemy” is a harsh and relative term, as is “war.” Besides, war means armies and killing, and we can’t win by killing. Besides, what is “winning” anyway? Besides, where there’s a winner there’s also a loser, and losing is demeaning. Besides, it’s really not our problem anyway. Follow the logic?
  • A root-cause analysis will show that a lack of economic opportunity is responsible for young men of Middle Eastern origin in the age range of 18-26 being enticed into joining terrorist organizations and beheading or burning people alive. This is the key element we must address. American business can play an important role here and at the same time make a fair profit (but what is “fair” anyway, and for whom?).
  • Religious ideology plays no part in any of this unpleasantness. It’s not driven by ideologues but by criminals, and that, my friends, is settled science. It is therefore a matter of law enforcement. Jobs training and rehabilitation are the critical needs here, and perhaps also James Taylor. The availability of good-paying jobs with medical, vision, and dental care, and free contraceptive care (failing that, good maternity-leave policies) will bring peace and goodwill to the region. The enormous union dues won’t hurt.

So, there you have it. Got it? Glad I could help.