Monday, May 25, 2020

My Uncle Skip

I am sitting here this Memorial Day morning morning looking at the now fading WWII honorable discharge papers of my Uncle Eugene "Skip" De Young. He did not pay the ultimate price, but he did give up almost three years of his young life to service to his country.

The De Young family posing on the stops of their home in Watertown, WI  sometime in the mid 1930's.We have Skip and Harold in front, then Hazel and Frida, then John, Grandpa, and Grandma, then Gladys and Marge, and finally in the back my dad Chester.   

Skip enlisted in the US in the US Navy in November of 1942.
Skip in uniform with his mom and dad.before shipping out.
He was trained as a Storekeeper and shipped out to the South Pacific's Gilbert Islands to work primarily with Seabees who were building and/or re-building air fields on islands that were re-taken from the Japanese. Tarawa was one place he was assigned to and he was there so closely on the heels of the invasion that American planes were still bombing pockets of resistance. He recalled this as the toughest place he had ever been. After the war ended he spent several months in Occupied Japan setting up Storekeeper facilities at an American base in the city of Yokosuka on the island of Honshu.

Skip was mustered out on April 12, 1946 and returned to his old job at Abbott Labs in North Chicago, IL to continue work with data processing and the new computers that were just beginning to be invented. He remained there for the next forty six years. Shortly after returning to civilian life, Skip met the woman who was to become his wife in 1950. Marge De Young nee Huddleston was also an employee at Abbott's. and she worked there until her retirement as well.
Marge and Skip on their wedding day.

Skip and Marge had no children and only one of his seven brothers and sisters had managed to get a college degree. Yet his commitment to the importance of education led him to create two educational foundations in his estate that have since generously supported his niece's and nephew's grandchildren in their educations. In addition he left a lasting legacy to the American Cancer Society to help fight the disease that took his wife's life.
Skip on the day of Marge's funeral in 2002. He lived on another six years. 

As I contemplate this man's contributions to freedom, to education, and to the curing of disease, I somehow I find it more difficult to pay the same homage to the angry so called "freedom fighters" of this generation who feel that their sacred constitutional rights are being denied by being asked to wear a mask for twenty minutes in a Walmart.

Thanks again Skip for your service.

Skip's older brother Harold, Me (Jimmy De Young)at age two or three), and Skip taken around 1941 I believe at our old Milwaukee house on Medford Avenue

Your grateful nephew,
Jim De Young

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Book Review Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

Bury Your Dead  Louise Penny’s fifth novel in the Inspector Gamache series  ought to be a duo with her fourth entry,  A Brutal Telling,  since it ties up several  hanging  chads left over from the last book. 
In this offering Inspector Gamache is still on leave after the disastrous shootout that left several Surete agents dead and left both him and his chief assistant, Jean Paul Beauvoir  hospitalized. Though both are now reasonably recovered physically, the mental wounds remain.   Gamache searches for solace in Quebec City with his old boss Emile, but quickly finds himself caught up in the murder of a publicity seeking archaeologist in the basement of a staid old library. 

While Gamache begins an informal search for the killer in wintry Quebec City, he assigns  Jean Paul to take a vacation in the good old village of Three Pines where the murder of the hermit from the last book has now left Gamache thinking that he may have arrested, tried, and convicted the wrong man as the killer. 

Penny now masterfully seques between the two searches. We see Olivier, the Bistro owner from the last book, exonerated and we see the killer in Quebec City caught and dealtt with.  At the end the world returns to what passes for normal in the mind of the ever anguished  Gamache. 

Along the way we also learn a great deal more about the deadly shootout that continues to haunt the Inspector and there is a nice bonus accruing in the amount of Quebec history that Penny has marshaled for us.  Stylistically she is once again a master descriptor of weather and nature.  Over and over the snow and cold outside is contrasted with the warmth of roaring fires on the inside.  Blizzards seem to descend just as the suspense rises and the solutions near. Good eats, tastily described and joyfully consumed,  also seem to add a pleasant gastronomic accompaniment to the narrative. 

I found Bury Your Dead, quite satisfying, but would note again that it does pay to read Penny's novels in order—particularly this one.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Book review Spy Mistress

Spy Mistress by William Stevenson  2007

I have had some interest in WWII intelligence operations ever since I confirmed that my Uncle John was a spy during that war. The confirmation came partially from a box of materials sent to me after his death and then from now unclassified government files of his employment records with the OSS. He probably only took an occasional cloak and dagger trip because his work was primarily analytic in his academic background area of far eastern anthropology and sociology.  Uncle John’s story has plenty of gaps and is still waiting to be told in detail. There is definitely a book in there somewhere.

This brings me to the book I have just finished titled Spy Mistress by William Stevenson. It is an outline of the actions and career of Vera Atkins, a Romanian Jew who became one of the leaders in England’s  WWII secret service. She grew up in Eastern Europe and changed her name when she settled in Britain in the 1930’s. And just like my Uncle John, there are gaps in her story right up to the present day.  

Atkins successfully hid her Jewish background and rose to power in the intelligence community in spite of being a woman in an almost completely male organization.  The book tells the story of how Atkins maneuvered her way into essentially running the anti-Nazi resistance in Europe during and after the war. It also covers her relationships with several men including General “Wild Bill” Donovan, the head of America’s newly formed OSS.  One of the many things I learned was just how strong the Appeasement movement and the  virulent anti-Semitism were in the pre-war era. Churchill was not in power yet and had major difficulty trying to convince both his own countrymen and allies of the danger of Hitler.  When Bismarck said that Hitler was just a mob leader, Churchill replied with some fascinating lines from Kipling that also seem compelling in today’s political climate.

“This is the sorrowful story
Told when the twilight fails
And the monkeys walk together
Holding their neighbor’s tails.”

At another point Churchill returned to Kipling to comment that “These appeasers feed the crocodile in the hope of being the last to get eaten.”  The early chapters are devoted to the lead up to the war and then it turns to the fight to formulate the  SOE (Special Operations Executive), which was charged with training, equipping, and organizing armed resistance in Nazi occupied countries.  Atkins began her career as a kind of an administrative assistant and slowly gravitated into leadership as her knowledge and skills became evident.  The old line military intelligence held little truck with sabotage and guerilla warfare, but Atkins and her associates supported the use of so called "closework" that followed the philosophy of the Greek physician Hippocrates  who said “A desperate disease requires a dangerous remedy”  

The SOE was heavily involved in the insertion of agents and the organization of resistance cells as well as developing unusual tools for transmitting messages and for bomb making and other devices for killing or maiming the enemy.  One project involved the insertion of explosives into piles of animal feces. If this sounds James Bondish, it might be well to note that Ian Flemming was an important figure in the SOE hierarchy.   

I must admit that I was not aware of how much pushback there was against guerilla war in occupied areas and how much anti-Semitism sentiment there was in the upper levels of the British government. Throughout the war, even after Churchill came to power and the USA entered the fray, the British authorities did not want to send Jews onto the continent even though they had the most experience in being vilified and murdered and had a real reason to engage in physical payback.

Atkins survived the war and lived on in relative obscurity for many years. Some of her story was not told until after her death.  I wish the book had a somewhat more vivid style and a more compelling narrative structure. Events are often tied to individuals in Europe whose names and background are unfamiliar at least to me. This can bog things down and tempt the reader to skip things rather than participating in a cohesive progression. My guess is that works like this end up being read by fiction writers who then build their own more engaging and suspenseful stories of heroic actions.
I give it a 3.  But I did learn some things. 

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

The Travel: and Quarantine Blues


We start with three shots of Paris taken over 60 years ago.  It was a Paris as seen by two young travelers on their first trip to Europe.

The uncharted waters of today are full of predictions for the new normal.  For instance, there have been a number of recent news items predicting that the world will not see a recovery of international tourism and travel for at least another year and maybe more.  I find myself worrying now, admittedly pessimistically, that the world of travel my wife and I have experienced and enjoyed over time may be a thing of the past.  

There are thousands of photos in my computer.  Some show family or local events, but most are like the three above and depict our travels. Those photos now seem a bit sad, not just because Notre Dame is no longer like that, but because the travel we have known for years has been truncated and replaced by empty airports and anchored ships.  It will now take courage, in addition to the  price of a ticket, for travelers to jump on a plane or ship in order to touch the outside world and its people.  The current situation creates an incredible loss--particularly for today's younger generations. 

It no longer seems ludicrous to ask if we have the courage to take a trip next month or even next year. Will we have to wear a mask every time we come closer than six feet to another human being?  How will "social distancing" affect traveling and the traveler?  Will viewing the Tower of London or the Pyramids be the same when you are standing alone rather than in the proximate company of other fellow travelers or locals. Will the serendipitous mealtime conversations fostered by close table quarters and or adventuresome food choices disappear? These are now all  questions to ponder.

While I realize that there are millions of folks who cannot afford or even conceive of traveling, I do grieve for the potential loss of experience that many now face. My wife and I still consider the three month trek through Europe that we took in the early sixties to be one of the critical events in our lives. Will it be available again in that carefree manner that only the young are capable of? Will   retirees who have saved carefully for years in order to have the ability to use their new deserved leisure for travel now be afraid to do what they had postponed? I certainly hope not. 

Travel opens the door of possibilities and widens horizons.  It can enable you to see the world beyond your own front door and your own community. To change the metaphor to one more current, travel can help cure the disease of parochialism that still impedes our lives and fosters our divisions in far too many ways. For that reason alone a vaccine cannot come too soon. 



Monday, May 04, 2020

Laugh out Loud at Hermitage, Wat, and Some Murder or Other

                                                     Hermitage, Wat, and Some Murder or Other
                                                                  by  Howard of Warrick   

Somewhere I saw a blurb for this book that called it “Norman Nonsense.” What an apt description. The series features a bumbling lovable medieval monk named Hermitage, and two sidekicks-- an itinerant weaver of dirty tapestries named Wat, and a fiery young girl named Gwen who is masquerading as a boy.  In the first book Hermitage has been sort of accidently named the King’s investigator of murders and in the ensuing volumes he and his little group continue to travel the Wessex countryside solving bizarre crimes.

In this one they are sent to Norman France and are met almost immediately with a strange assortment of bodies.  One is a blacksmith whose head has been replaced by an anvil and another is a wheelwright who has been penetrated by the spoke of a wheel that he has been built into. What makes these outings enjoyable is that they look at first glance to be similar to the Brother Cadfael series, but they turn out to be wacky Brother Cadfael parodies. Cadfael investigates in dead seriousness (pardon the pun), but Warrick’s characters come right out of Laurel and Hardy or the Marx Brothers. The villains are horribly bloodthirsty beyond words, the main characters are likable bunglers, and the rest of the world around them seems to come from central casting for  looney tunes. The dialog style abounds with jokey historical references and clever plays on words. 

When taken as a whole there is a nice relief here from the more serious murder mystery genre. You might even say it provides relief from serious reading in general and god knows we Just might need some of that in these trying times.  


Sunday, May 03, 2020

Took the Camera this Morning

We took the camera on our morning walk today.  This is what we saw. Outside the front door is the wash and the mountains.

There was a nice Gambel's  Quail near the back fence.

Lots of trees in the wash. A mesquite on the left, the yellow in the back are the flowers of the Palo Verde. The pinkish flowers on the right are on a tree we haven't identified.  But it is still pretty.

Most of the flowering bushes are not indigenous to the area and we don't know their names. They are colorful nevertheless.


The red buds on this one open up to reveal tiny yellow flowers.

These are the flowers on the Honey Mesquite. There are a lot of them around here.

There are 144 units in our little gated community. This is the most splendidly decorated doorway of them all.                                                   

The covered parking sheds make great shady nesting areas for the multitude of sparrows but the road around the community is not the best place for bird watching.

If you look down at the ground on any walk now,  you will usually scare up some lizards.  They spook so easily and move so fast that it is hard to get a decent photo of them. With the big camera I did manage to get a few that aren't too blurry today.

This is a Western Whiptail we think. He or she is surrounded by Palo Verde flowers. They are now falling like snow.

We think this may be an Arizona Alligator Lizard.

Not sure about this guy.
 Time to head back to our apartment for our second cup of coffee.

Hold it. Can you see the lizard looking like a curved stick in the midst of more fallen Palo Verde flowers?

He crawled up on the curb and we think it is another Arizona Western Whiptail and the best lizard shot of the morning.

And finally my favorite photo for this walk. This is probably a variety of Agave. The little yellow dots are actually more palo verde flowers that have hung up on the spines.


Thanks for walking with us this morning. It was nice around 7:30 but it will be close to 100 degrees by noon.  We have taken to not walking in the afternoon any more.  I wonder why.


Friday, May 01, 2020

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

Inspector Gamache and his team return again to the bucolic village of Three Pines in Louise Penny’s fifth outing with the intrepid chief of the Canadian Surete’s Homicide Division. They arrive to solve the death of a mysterious unidentified man and meet up again with the familiar and often eccentric cast of characters who inhabit the village. There is the artist couple Peter and Clara. There is old acerbic Ruth and her pet duck Rosa, Myrna the bookstore lady, and,of course, the gay couple Gabri and Olivier, who run the town hangout called the Bistro. Things get more complicated when the peripatetic corpse appears in the Bistro dining room only to be then discovered to have been moved from the front hall of some new residents of the community.  It appears ultimately to be the body of a longtime hermit who lives in the woods outside of town and the developing clues begin to point more and more to Gamache’s friend and Bistro owner Olivier. As the case against Olivier deepens we get some heavy doses of contemporary injustice issues ranging from gay prejudice to the mistreatment of native peoples. There is also plenty of time devoted to talk and plot action centered on literature, art, and music.  You might even say that the book swerves toward  becoming a meditation on solitude, greed, regret, and conscience. A quote about chairs taken from Thoreau’s Walden pops up so many times that it might it might easily appear as a general heading above the title. "One for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” It also may be that it takes on special meaning for this reader who read the book while enduring the Covid 19 lockdown. There are plenty of pluses and minuses about solitude and loneliness.  

I had no trouble becoming engrossed in the book particularly its marvelous evocation of nature’s enveloping wholeness and its relationship to native civilizations. Penny is also a master of integrating the complexity of the lives of the minor characters into the story.  I only wish that she had managed to make the central premise of the plot a bit more convincing. It is just a real stretch that the unidentified murder victim had managed to clear and take over a small slice of land located on someone else’s property less than a half hour’s walk from town and then build a log cabin on it, furnish it with priceless antiques, clear and tend a vegetable garden on the premises, and still keep both his identity and literally his presence secret for twenty years. It also struck me as more humorous than convincing that two fairly reasonable adults would suddenly in the same evening resort to trundling a dead body about the countryside and dumping it in each other’s business establishment. 

In sum give this one a 4 for its philosophical content but only a 3 for its plotting premise.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Life on the Lock Down

What it is like to be locked down? This not my first rodeo because in my youth lockdowns were more common.  I was quarantined when I had chicken pox and the mumps and the measles. None of those were controllable by vaccines in those days. Then there was scarlet fever. I had that and was in the house for six whole weeks. And neither can I forget those days in the fifties when noone knew where polio was coming from or how to stop it other than massive closing of places that attracted crowds like swimming pools and the Wisconsin State Fair. None of those quarantines really impacted the adults in my family. My dad continued going to work and my mother was a stay at home housewife at those times.

What I do remember of those days was that I didn't quite understand what was going on other than lots of kids were getting sick though most of us did survive. Yet with polio it was not quite that easy. Some people, children and even adults, were paralyzed  for life or died. One clear memory is that our family doctor was a woman and she contracted and died of polio. My mother must have known her quite well because she was heart broken as well as scared.

The many other short term disruptions of my life were often painful at the time but never did impact us in any way like the current Covid pandemic. I remember the record snow of 1947 in Milwaukee as more of an adventure. We crawled out of our houses and clambered around for a few days on the huge drifts and waited for the plows to free the #79  bus that had stalled on our street not too far from the house. I also remember the gas strike when we were living in London in the 1970's, That  created some weeks of difficult cooking issues, but our flat had electric heaters so we did not suffer too much from the chill.  Another London memory was the Chernobyl disaster in the 80's when I was running the ACM London program for the second time. That created a lot of fear and anxiety from parents of the students in the program as the media reported apparent clouds of nuclear waste headed across the north pole and down toward Scotland.  I suspect Monmouth College authorities were receiving the same kind of worrisome phone calls in the last few months  as I received in my office in London during that crisis.  One father, I remember clearly, ordered his daughter to return home immediately and I had to accompany her on the tube out to Heathrow to put her on an airplane and then call the distraught parent when that had been accomplished.  She sobbed all the way to the gate.

This one is of course different and far more long term.  We have been holed up in our little two bedroom apartment in Tucson for well over a month now. We see few people on our daily walks around our small gated community and have our groceries delivered by an outfit called insta-cart.  We pick up prescriptions at the Walgreens Drive Thru.  As members of the elder class we are more than conscious of the fact that if we contract this virus it could be more than a nasty came of the flu. 

So we shall continue our social distancing and wear our masks when we do go out and once again wait for better days. 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

What We're Seeing from our Condo

Looking out our living room window is always a pleasure.
Sitting on our little patio is even more pleasant because you can both watch and hear the remarkable variety of birds. 
The most comment birds are quail and mourning doves. The doves seem to make a lot of noise all day from sunup to sundown.
The quail have calls too, but are not as loud as the doves. The lady next door has a small birdbath and puts out feed each morning so we have pretty much a continuous parade of quail all day long. Generally they come in pairs from out of the wash behind our unit though the one below was alone.
Goldfinches are quite common too.

                                              Or the ubiquitous sparrows.  We think this is a white crowned one.


This a black crowned one.  

The cardinals are the great loud songsters but so flighty they are hard to catch.  Here's Mrs. Cardinal.

And here is Mr. Cardinal in a shot that I think may be the best one I've taken this year.  

A mini-second later he took off and I was able to snap this one.

For nervous activity the cardinals are certainly exceeded by the hummingbirds who seem never to rest. I have a number of hummingbird pictures taken in confined areas like the Tucson Botanical Garden, but this is the best I could do from our patio this year.


Last week we did catch sight of a lovely little quail family marching up toward our neighbor's bird bath.


The chicks were treated to a drink and seemed to enjoy being around the water. We have seen them a time or two since I took these shots, but I have not been quick enough to get them again.  They seem to be growing fast.

We also see some hawks on occasion cruising over the wash. They are pretty much in the distance and my long lens is not really big enough to catch them any larger than a speck.

We'll close with some nice tinted clouds from last week.   So much for birds caught from our patio.


Wednesday, April 22, 2020


Made in America  by Bill Bryson is a bit behind the curve of the events of the last twenty five years as it was originally published in 1994, but it is has enough pleasant moments to make it worth a look.  It is also hard to figure out whether he was more interested in  linguistics or the fascinating ways Americans managed economic and personal change over the first two hundred years of the Republic.
What saves the day is Bryson’s breezy style and cleverness with stories even if some of them go on a bit too long and make the book more of a slog than a lot of his other efforts.  Each chapter also contains so many examples that I soon began to feel overwhelmed rather than elucidated. This maybe why I now find that I don’t remember many of them either.

What do I remember?  It was nice to learn that the typewriter was invented in Milwaukee (my home town) and that a lot of inventors really didn’t invent the thing they are famous for.  The stories about the rise of the media, chain stores, food, cars, and commercial advertising went down easily but soon merged into a kind of blur. Maybe I should have taken notes. The item I remember most is that Ray Kroc didn’t really invent the McDonald’s hamburger. He bought it and then became the most successful franchiser in the world.  
I did perk up in the final chapter when Bryson made his case that the American experiment and the American way of life had been primarily fueled by the drive and talents of immigrants. The irony just plain exploded here because finishing this chapter (and the book)  coincided with our dear dummy of a president deciding that for the good of the country we needed to halt all immigration.  

In sum still a good read that might have gone better if pruned.  Sorry for the mixed metaphor. 


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Book Review Dread Journey by Dorothy Hughes

Dread Journey by Dorothy Hughes

This is a detective throwaway I picked up just before the Pima County libraries closed down.  It is a reprint of a novel published just after the end of WW II and does seem to ride the coattails of Agatha Christie's  Murder on the Orient Express.

In this one a cadre of Hollywood folks board the Super Chief in California for a ride to the Big Apple. We have a big name producer, a big name star, a couple of writers, a band leader, and the porter.  There is lots of angst from all as they seque from the club car, to the dining car, to their compartments.  Lots of smoking and alcohol flows like water. Finally the murder and the surprise ending just before the train arrives in Chicago. The style seems pretty strained to me and the portents of dread a bit over the top.

Shows its age.  Not recommended.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

To Ruin a Queen Book Review

Elizabethan mysteries hold a pleasant place in my heart  and this one is no exception. Ursula Blanchard is an adventuresome young woman in the service of Queen Elizabeth I and Sir William Cecil. She is generally assigned to do undercover work when there is suspicion that someone or some group is threatening the sovereign's rule.  

In this episode of the series she is manipulated into coming back from her home in France to retrieve her young daughter Meg and take her back to France. Once in England, however,  she is convinced to take an assignment to find out whether a Welch Lord, Sir Robert Mortimer, is plotting against the Queen.  It turns out there is more than one unsavory plot going on in Mortimer's Vetch Castle and Ursula and her companions find themselves ensnared in most of them.   We have musical ghosts, accusations of witchcraft,  a nasty murder, dark abandoned towers, and dangerous goings on high in the Welch mountains to keep things moving along.  The main problem I see is the plot has many threads and takes an awfully long time to resolve. I give it a 3 1/2 out of 5.