Two other planes . . .

Two other planes . . .

. . . that I always thought were cool, pursuant to my Wright-inspired posts a coupla days ago. The Saab JA37 Viggen and the Saab J35 Draken. I’m not really sure why I though they were cool, though. Maybe it’s because Scandinavians flying fighter jets around their fjords is evocative. Or maybe it’s because it’s cool to think that the same people who make the Saab Turbos you see tootling around town made these planes. Although, more likely, it’s because the first time I encountered them in military aviation book when I was a kid, I thought their names sounded cool. Say ’em with me . . . Draken . . . Viggen . . . Draken . . . Viggen. Don’t you feel cooler now? I do.

On holiday shopping . . .

I think I’m done. All of my traveling packages are mailed, all of the gifts for the immediate family purchased, now I just have to wrap ’em up and put ’em under the tree. Which will be harder than it should be, I should note: three separate stores in Colonie Center today did not have gift boxes for me after I had made my acquisitions. My guess is that when one store in a mall like that runs out, there’s a domino effect as people go to other stores and ask for extras, which are duly granted in a spirit of holiday camaraderie, until stores no longer have boxes for their own stuff. Dagnabbit. I’m good at a lot of things, but wrapping presents is not one of them, so I need those boxes.

Wonderful?

When did Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” become such a popular holiday song? I was a big Wings buff when it originally came out (just before Christmas 1979), right as Wings was disappearing and McCartney the Solo Artiste was emerging, so I bought it, played it a couple of times, and that was pretty much that. Looking at the official MPL Communication discography for Sir Paul, it appears that’s what most people did at the time: the single didn’t chart in the UK or the US. But, jeez, I swear I’ve heard that song played more on the radio over the past month than any other song, holiday or otherwise, so it’s obviously grown in the public’s estimation over the years. I wonder how many people realize it’s a Beatle singing it?

Planes, Planes, Planes

Final post on flight today:

I should also note that as we honor the Wright Brothers today, we should all lift our caps to Otto Lilienthal as well. If he hadn’t died of injuries sustained in a glider crash, odds are the formal commemoration of man’s first powered flight would be occuring somewhere in Germany, not at Kitty Hawk. The Wrights knew and respected his work. He was the prototype airman. Hats off to Otto!

And another post on flight:

I should note that I was a real geek about airplanes when I was a kid, a trait probably inherited from my dad, who always dreamed of being a fighter pilot, but had bad eyes, so had to drive amphibious assault vehicles instead. As a kid, my bedroom always had model planes hanging from the ceiling, lovingly built and painted by my dad. When he died, his office had something like 50 cast iron model planes lining various shelves and counter tops, almost all of them the World War II vintage planes that he loved as a kid. We buried a model of a 1950s Marine Corps Corsair with him, in fact. So . . . on the occasion of the first 100 years of flight, and in my dad’s memory, I list my five all-time favorite airplanes (all of them military, but, hey, military planes look a lot cooler than commercial ones).

1. Fokker Dr. I

2. RF-4C Phantom II

3. SR-71 Blackbird

4. JU-87D Stuka

5. P-38 Lightning

Geek out!

First post on flight:

10:35 this morning, the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first successful powered flight.

The official plan was to have a replica of the original Wright Flyer take to the air to commemorate the moment. But weather held up the re-enactment, and then when they did finally send the Flyer down its tracks, it fell into a mud puddle. I’m somehow glad for that: it makes what Orville and Wilbur accomplished all that much more remarkable, on some plane, in that we can’t duplicate it today using the materials and concepts that they used to get off the ground the first time.

The President was there, which is apt and fitting, since this really is one of the more important and meaningful moments in American technological history, but I note this bizarre little tidbit from the report of the event: that the President was introduced by John Travolta.

Ummm . . . I know he’s a licensed pilot and everything, but why would John Travolta be the person chosen to introduce the Commander in Chief? Any combat pilots out there who could do the job? An astronaut or two? Or the CEO(s) of Boeing or Lockheed-Martin or Grumman or some other important figure in the word of aeronautics? Another airplane designer, or rocket scientist? The head of the Federal Aviation Administration? Someone? Anyone?

John Travolta was the best they could do? Humph. Orville and Wilbur deserve better. As does the President, for that matter, all politics aside: what does it say about us as a society and a culture when a Hollywood figure is considered the appropriate choice to warm up an audience for the Chief Executive of the land?

Still, though, Orville and Wilbur are awesome historical figures, totally obsessed cranks for the most part, but well worth reading about and honoring. If you know nothing about them except their names, then go find a book about them, preferably one with lots of pictures, since you can’t really get a sense of what a bizarre undertaking the Wrights were engaging in unless you see the images of them out on the dunes of North Carolina’s Outer Banks in their sensible suits, dragging giant kites around.

It’s kinda fascinating to see what draws people to a website.

According to my tracking program, month in, month out, the search term that brings more people to my site than any other is: “Sid Vicious.” Apparently, this picture has been indexed in Google (or somewhere) as being an actual picture of Sid Vicious. I’m not sure whether I should be flattered or offended. I wonder if anyone has actually used that picture for something, thinking that it was Sid?

The second most popular search term for bringing people to my website is Frogmore Stew. I guess I’m somewhat pleased by this fact, since it means that the meal that I grew up eating more than any other has become something that people are interested in eating. Or maybe not, maybe they just say “Ewww . . . what’s Frogmore Stew???” Interestingly, this dish (and variants of it) has become fairly common and widespread, but most posher places will change the name to something more appetizing, like “Low Country Seafood Boil” or “Carolina Seafood Stew” or something like that.

For the record: the name has nothing to do with frogs. The stew is named after the village of Frogmore on St. Helena’s Island in South Carolina. Or, actually, I guess I should call it “The Village formerly known as Frogmore” . . . since the same sorts of people who change the name of the stew decided that when they started building luxury beach condos on what had been a relatively poor farmer’s and fishermen’s island, that they’d rather have their mailing address be “St. Helena’s, SC” instead of “Frogmore, SC.”

As far as actual music-related stuff goes (since, ostensibly, that’s what my site is about), the winning search terms, hands down, are related to Mindless Self Indulgence. I’ve got a record review, an interview, couple of concert reviews, I think, on the site, so evidently their audience base is online and interested in searching for stuff.

I also get a fair amount of traffic for people looking for “Eric Smith, murderer” or “Eric Smith, killer” or variants on that theme. It wasn’t me, honest.

$18,000

I’ve lived in Upstate New York for over ten years now, so it’s home for me now . . . but HOME, for me, will always psychologically and spiritually be in South Carolina. Although I learned today that, on some plane, my roots have gotten shallower and started to fray, as for the first time in three centuries or so, no one in my family is a land owner in the state any more.

A brief explanation . . .

I come from a very, very old and prominent Low Country family, and am eleventh in straight line of descent from the first English settler of South Carolina. The protagonist in my book was named Hutson Colcock Hay III for a reason: those are the names of important families in my lineage.

Our family cemetery has marked graves dating back into the mid 1700s, and probably unmarked or lost ones going back even earlier than that. My grandmother and my grandfather are there. My father isn’t, though: as a veteran, he’s buried in the National Cemetery in Beaufort, SC, right in the middle of a vast field of Civil War graves, each with a name and the letters “USCT” beneath them.

“USCT” means “United States Colored Troops.” These were the black soldiers who fought for the Union in the Civil War.

My ancestors were major landowners and farmers, and they owned hundreds of the slaves that the USCT soldiers were fighting to free. Most of the family property located around the inland village of McPhersonville, which only shows up on the most detailed of maps anymore, and then only as a very, very small dot.

My grandmother grew up there in the old family house. Her mother died in childbirth, so she was raised by an aunt and uncle. Not a husband-and-wife aunt and uncle combination, but a brother-and-sister aunt and uncle combination. My grandmother ran away very young with a dashing young Cherokee Indian, and had her first and second children very, very young. The oldest, my aunt, was developmentally disabled. She married a man who was also developmentally disabled, and they have two developmentally disabled children.

The second of my grandmother’s children, my mother, played the role of the adult in the family from a very early age.

There was a third sister, born many years later, significantly closer in age to me than to her own sisters. We were very close growing up. I attribute much of my early love of music to her tastes and influences.

Back to McPhersonville. The old family home was torn down when I was young, and my grandmother’s Aunt Hetty and Uncle Dickie (the ones who raised her after her mother died) built a new small house on the property. When they got older and increasingly infirm, my grandparents moved back to the family plot to be near them.

I was born by this time, traveling around the country with parents and sister, following my father’s career in the Marine Corps.

Chunks of the family land had been sold over the years, so that by the time that Hetty and Dickie died, there was really just a relatively small plot on which my grandmother and grandfather lived, the last remnants of the family holdings. My grandfather saw ghosts and spirits there regularly, and would go to walk his dog out in the woods beyond an old storage building we called “The Black Shed,” often coming back in to report that the devil was in the woods again, and then sharing with us what they had talked about. I never went beyond The Black Shed accordingly.

My grandfather died when I was in college. A few years later, my grandmother remarried. Then she died a few years later, and my step-grandfather was the last one left on the family land. By this time, my father had retired from the Marine Corps, and he and my mother lived in a series of homes that they bought, first in nearby Beaufort, South Carolina, then in Bluffton, South Carolina, closer to Hilton Head.

My step-grandfather didn’t want to stay on the family land, so with my mother’s blessing and help, he sold it and the house that stood on it, and bought another very small house on six acres of land in nearby Early Branch, South Carolina.

My father died in an accident in September, 2002. After his death, my mother didn’t want to stay in the home they made together, so she sold their house and moved back to Beaufort, renting a house in the historic Point Neighborhood.

Her step-father (my step-grandfather) was in failing health by this time, so she first had him move to Beaufort to be closer to her, then as he grew increasingly frail, he moved into a nursing home.

His little plot of land and its little house was the last piece of land that our family (well, at least the parts of it with whom I’m still in touch or aware of) owned in South Carolina.

My mother told me that it was sold today to help pay for my step-grandfather’s nursing home costs.

The sale price was $18,000.

I doubt that most people reading this website can really begin to imagine or appreciate what six acres of land with a house on it that would sell for $18,000 is like. There was no internet connection out there in Early Branch. No one was blogging from there. You could watch television, maybe, if you got the rabbit ears on the TV set pointed the right way, but otherwise, it was as rural as rural gets in America, a little house on an out of the way road that most people wouldn’t even see, much less notice, if they drove past it, blasting from someplace to someplace else, not really aware of the people who lived in between those points.

Soon after my dad died, I was up at my step-grandfather’s house, and was really struck and touched by his life there.

I wrote a story soon thereafter about his final days on the last piece of land that my family owned in South Carolina, called “The First Year in Fifty.” Here it is . . .

THE FIRST YEAR IN FIFTY

All together now

Oh . . . Christmas tree, orchids and me

In color saturate thee

Oh, Christmas tree, orchids and me

In forced perspective staged thee

With photoshop we snip and trim

We edit, save and post and then

Oh, Christmas tree, orchids and me

Up on the blog we place thee