March 25, 2017

For whom the bells toll

Carillon of bells at Peter and Paul Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russia

On the future! how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells —
To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!
~ “The Bells,” by Edgar Allen Poe

Was watching some news show a while back, can’t really remember when, but it quite possibly was a Sunday morning.
In the background to the newscast, the reporter was having to raise her voice above ringing bells from a nearby church, and memories came flooding back.
I lost all interest in her news story, and instead just listened to the melodic singing of the bells.
Here in 2017, I don’t hear bells ringing and chiming like I used to. Maybe they still ring in places, even here in Garfield County, and I am just not in the right spot to hear them — or the right time of day.
I miss the ringing of the bells.
When I was growing up and about age 11, my maternal grandparents took me on my first road trip away from my parents.
They lived in El Reno, and I didn’t get to see them nearly as often as my Christy grandparents, who lived just blocks away in a town of then 516 people.
They knew from the age of 10 I had developed a passion for the American Civil War. It’s all I ever talked about.
So, the three of us first drove to El Dorado, Ark., for my first and only visit with my great-grandpa, who’s father had served as a lieutenant in a Pennsylvania regiment in the Union Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Fredericksburg.
I was in heaven talking to him, on an old Southern covered portico, with cane-back chairs, slated shades that kept out the sun but allowed a cooling breeze across the veranda, and helped to cool his high-ceilinged house.
Anyway, they took me to Vicksburg, Miss., for a two-day tour of the great Civil War battlefield there. Again … heaven.
As we reached our motel, amidst the heat and humidity and Southern charm of a Mississippi town, I distinctly remember bells from three churches chiming in the distance, all at once with different tones and most-charming sound.
I had never heard that before. Must have been about 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening, I’m not sure.
But I am sure of that melodic ringing, seemingly at a time when I was most carefree in my young life, soon overlooking the history and ambiance standing aboard an old paddle-wheel steamer on the Mississippi River, gazing up at the heights above where the quiet town stood, imagining the blazing guns, the sights and sounds and smells of Union gunboats exchanging fire with Confederate cannon.
And, I soon discovered church bells had been melted down during the war across the South to make into cannon.
Such are memories made.
But it occurred to me just this week, I don’t hear bells ringing from churches much anymore.
Maybe they do, and I’m just not in the right place to hear them — ensconced at a computer terminal composing pages for this newspaper.
I remember Sunday mornings, when church bells infrequently would ring in my home town.
I’m sure the school bell rang out in days past in Waukomis. I don’t remember them from my younger years, but the old school bell was restored and sits in a bell tower above my old high school today — but rather quietly.
I miss hearing bells.
Oh, I know church bells still ring out in cities across America today, but I wonder if their number is ever dwindling.
This nation’s most famous bell, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, is relegated just to tourist view, due to its rather large crack — a story all its own.
I know bells still ring across the British Isles, at great and old churches. Bygone cities and ancient cathedrals of Europe like London, Vienna, Florence, Paris and Cologne I’m quite sure have their share of tolling bells at certain hours of every day.
At times I long for the past, if only for a few brief moments. I don’t want to return to the past, for that is fruitless. There can be no progress by going back to the past, as we have already been there, done our thing and moved on. That is life, that is change, and though many are loath to change, it is inevitable.
At the same time, we should never forget the past.
Historical movies with bells marking time on four-masted sailing ships still hold a deep fascination for me.
I still long to hear — every now and then — the swinging and the ringing of the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. 

January 7, 2017

The forgotten amendment

Colonial Minutemen stand ready on Lexington Common for British redcoats ~ Painting by Don Troiani

When was the last time you actually pulled out a copy of the Constitution of the United States and read the first 10 amendments to it, commonly called the Bill of Rights? Or, for that matter, just pulled it up on your computer screen or smartphone and read each and every amendment?
I thought so. Me either.
I was perusing the Bill of Rights for a previous column on the First Amendment, and couldn’t help but notice there is one tucked neatly inside the first 10, right after the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms, and before the Fourth, which is supposed to keep the government from unlawful search and seizure of property.
The Third Amendment to the Constitution is one we likely will never use or hear of, but it was placed rather highly among the Bill of Rights for a reason, and it must have been more than just a passing fancy for our Founding Fathers and American colonists.
“No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”
That’s what it says, and it seems odd to us today it would be in our basic rights as citizens to say such, and so boldly and in terse words.
In 1775, both pre and post, British soldiers — soldiers from a foreign country, albeit England as our mother country — were quartered amongst the population of America.
And boy, did it rankle our forefathers.
In researching the amendment, I found that the roots come to us directly from England, and became a contradictory wedge that eventually helped bring about the American Revolution and our split with England.
The British people, from whom the 13 Colonies sprang, saw standing armies as anathema, from having had a long history of standing armies throughout the history of Great Britain.
In the days prior to 1775 and the outbreak of revolution here in America, the British people both feared and loathed a standing army.
And from the National Constitution Center comes this explanation for that feeling transferring to America:
“During the Seven Years War between Britain and France, which also was called the French and Indian War, American colonists who had inherited the traditional English fear of standing armies resented having to billet British redcoats. Americans preferred to rely for their protection on local militia, not on professional soldiers.
Although the peace treaty of 1763 ended the war and ousted France from the North American continent, the British government believed it still needed tens of thousands of soldiers in America in order to police the newly acquired territories. Since the earlier English Quartering Act did not extend to the colonies, Parliament in 1765 passed a Quartering Act that set down the regulations for housing soldiers in the American colonies during time of peace.”
The colonists, most who had either come directly to America from the British Isles, or who were descended from British citizens, were required to provide barracks for the soldiers, and if they were not available, the troops were to be billeted in inns, stables and ale houses.
And, if these were insufficient, the governors and councils of the colonies were authorized to use uninhabited houses, barns and other buildings to lodge the soldiers.
And it went even further, saying the colonists were required to furnish provisions and necessaries for the troops, including firewood, bedding and beer.
OK, now you can see where this all was headed.
Once again, British Parliament was making American colonists do something that was not allowed in England — the billeting of soldiers in times of peace.
Today, we have a strong central government that more than has the resources to house, train and maintain our vast armed forces.
I mean, right here in Garfield County, the federal government maintains an Air Force training base that nestles along the southern border of Enid’s city limits, and has peacefully co-existed with Garfield Countians since its inception 75 years ago.
But take your mind back to 1775.
Because the French and Indian War had cost the British government an enormous debt having to raise, supply and fund an army on foreign soil (yes America was foreign soil back in 1775 to England), they expected the colonists to shoulder some of the financial burden.
Just a few of the acts of taxation on the colonies included the Sugar Act, Stamp Act and Townshend Acts — highly unpopular taxation.
So, when the Quartering Act was passed, it heaped one more perceived injustice on colonists — who had no say in the matter and no representation in Parliament.
And, in 1775, the Shot Heard Round the World at Lexington Common and Concord Green gave us revolution — and the Third Amendment.
Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. 

December 31, 2016

Dawn of medicine

Three-part prosthetic wood and leather toe dating 950 to 710 BCE, found on a female mummy buried near Luxor, Egypt

Did you ever notice that how you feel just about every day is your normal? I mean, your normal may be great, it may be sickly, or painful, or it may be kind of blah.
And, your normal changes over your lifetime. I’m sure my normal when I was 15 is not my normal today.
I noticed this after coming down with a moderately unpleasant cold and/or flu — it’s hard to tell which, since I had symptoms of both.
Anyway, it wasn’t enough to keep me home from work, but it was rather funny Tuesday morning when I tried to talk to the dog and coax her outside for her morning duties, and nothing came out of my mouth.
We both kind of stood there, wondering what was going on.
Old Laryn Gitis had found my vocal chords.
My throat felt pretty much like the south end of a north-bound horse most of the day, but it struck me: I would give anything to not feel this way, including feeling kind of blah, like I had on Sunday.
Blah, at that moment in time, was pretty good.
I don’t get sick very often — I haven’t missed a single day of newsroom work in almost 15 years now, knock on wood — so when I do get sick, it stands out more in my mind.
We probably complain too much about how we feel day to day, when that feeling is not all that bad when we really get sick, and we really feel lousy.
And that got me to thinking about medicine and doctors and health care, and how far it has come from our early-day ancestors.
There’s no way any of us will ever know how medicine began. It began out of necessity when our cave-dwelling ancestors died in their 20s of something that couldn’t be seen, I’m quite sure.
Some bright mind one day woke up in a cave, saw that a brother or a baby had died in the night, and that was that.
I’m sure there was mourning of the loss, and a natural curiosity as to what had happened.
That has to have been when the first spark occurred, when that medical lightbulb came on in someone in pre-history, that maybe something could be done to lessen the deaths, the coughing, the pain and all the resulting nightmares of illness.
Or, maybe it just scared them to death, and it was all about self-preservation.
Of course, we will never know how medicine — in its infancy — was practiced. Cave dwellers and hunter-gatherers didn’t write, couldn’t pass much down to their kinsmen other than oral traditions.
Early medical traditions come to us from ancient Babylon, China, Egypt and India — from great early cultures.
The Greeks really are our first teachers. They laid down concepts that included medical diagnosis, prognosis and medical ethics, which laid foundations for modern medicine.
The Hippocratic Oath, which still is taken by doctors of today, was first written in Greece during the 5th century BCE.
Before civilizations found medicine to be a common need for all who gathered and banded together in cities and towns, the use of plants as healing agents has ancient, pre-history roots.
Tribal bonds used shamans and apothecaries to fulfill the role of healer.
And any healer that could lessen the effects of illness, disease and death, would hold tremendous power within any people.
Since Greece so much influenced our modern-day civilization, the name Hippocrates of Kos still is considered to be the father of Western medicine.
The Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of nearly 70 early medical works from Ancient Greece that codified medical thought, and transformed it from the rudimentary into a science that today still is growing by leaps and bounds.
I think about how the Black Death of 1346 to 1353, that scourge that nearly destroyed Europe and much of the continent, must have had a tremendous effect on medicine.
I’m sure it cast doubt on medical healers of the day, and brought about a renaissance in medicine in much the same way the Renaissance did as a cultural bridge from Medieval thought to the modern world.
When every other person you passed on the street was dying of plague, people wanted answers. The clergy didn’t have it, and neither did the king.
Medicine grew from that scourge of mankind into what it is today.
Yet, as far as medicine has come, it has light years still to go. We are a people constantly in varying stages and degrees of illness. Thankfully, medicine is here for us … even when medicine can’t find an answer or a cure. Just like each and every one of us, it always wants to get better at finding those elusive answers to our ills.
Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle.

December 24, 2016

A Dickens Christmas

Woodcut of author and novelist Charles Dickens

“You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!” ~ Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”
These words from Ebenezer Scrooge ring from the classic British Christmas tale, which calls us to get into the holiday spirit, to give and share and to experience the joys of the season.
As he is confronted by one of three ghosts of Christmas past, present and yet-to-come, Scrooge is at once both fearful and unbelieving at the specter that has invaded his closed mind, his closed heart, his closed life.
They are dark words, of an unbelieving pinchpenny who has no Christmas spirit, who has only his money, his work and his loveless life to keep him company.
Nobody can tell a tale like Charles Dickens, who wrote gripping prose but all the while was casting doubt upon society — the English elite and their disdain for those of lesser means. He was lecturing them through writing, and continues to lecture us even today, as we sometimes pass off his message as something for another day, another time, another world.
“Are there no poor houses? Are there no orphanages? Why should I help when there is someone ELSE whose job it is to help?” spews the character of Scrooge.
Dickens was a master at setting and character, building a sense of either fondness or loathing in characters like the Artful Dodger or Uriah Heap — and all manner of characters in between.
Scrooge, however, was his character masterwork.
Dickens’ own upbringing greatly influenced his writings, which included classics like “A Tale of Two Cities,” “Great Expectations,” “David Copperfield” and “Oliver Twist.”
Dickens was born in winter 1812 on the southern coast of England, the second of eight children.
His father was a naval clerk who dreamed of striking it rich, his mother an aspiring teacher. Despite their best efforts, they remained poor.
As Dickens early-day upbringing continued, the family financial situation grew dire, and his father was sent to prison for debt in 1824, when Charles was 12. Dickens was forced to leave school and work at a run-down, rodent-infested boot-blacking factory, earning six shillings (about $1.26) a week labeling pots of blacking, used to clean fireplaces.
Cast among the other poor forced into child labor, Dickens felt abandoned and betrayed by his parents and other adults.
After his father received an inheritance and paid off his debts, Dickens returned to his schooling, only to be forced to work as an office boy to contribute to the family income.
The work eventually helped launch his writing career, and he began as a freelance reporter at London’s law courts, and soon was reporting for two major London newspapers.
His writing career took off when “A Christmas Carol” was published 173 years ago, becoming an instant bestseller, and was followed by scores of stage and screen productions.
I remember in high school, when my English teacher had my class perform “A Christmas Carol” to introduce us to the world of great literature. I was not much of an actor, fortunately cast as a minor character in a scene with Tiny Tim.
And of course, there was my all-time favorite screen portrayal of Scrooge by the Scottish actor, Alastair Sim.
Victorians of the age called “A Christmas Carol” their new gospel, the portrayal or reading of Dickens’ classic a sacred ritual at Christmastime for many a Briton.
However, looking beyond the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge from skinflint to a merry Christmas reveler, Dickens had a far darker message in his writing.
The tale is a product of that particular moment in history, with Dickens commenting through his plot and characters very much in a political and societal sense.
The great author initially planned merely to write a pamphlet, which he was to call “An Appeal to the People of England on Behalf of the Poor Man’s Child.” He quickly cast that idea aside, and wrote of the issues of the day, offering his arguments with Scrooge as the antagonist, and sickly Tiny Tim as a character to be pitied.
Dickens opted to write his classic in a way that didn’t harangue people of means, but instead advanced his arguments through prose, which all could enjoy, yet at the same time feel empathy for the poor.
Dickens battled a popular theory of the day that helping poor people only made things worse — that they were poor because they were lazy and immoral, and helping only encouraged malingering.
It is a theory that still clings in the minds of many in America today.
At this Christmas season 2016, as Dickens told us, maybe it’s time to end that sense of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle.