Title blurb

"From one LIGHT come many colors." ~GJ Dürrschmidt

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Long Island: Baiting Hollow Bliss

Down the steep
twisted hill we ride,
looking for water -
hope it’s high tide!

Bags full of goodies,
blankets and chairs,
Aunt Louise ‘n Laura
no worries, no cares.

Bologna sandwiches
with mayonnaise,
peanut butter ‘n jelly -
those were the days!

Animal crackers,
Squirrel Nut chews,
Kool Aid ‘n cups -
Who could refuse?

A sweet, juicy plum,
a succulent peach,
a handful of cherries -
lunch at the beach!

Tar in the water,
swimming in shoes,
too many rocks -
which to choose?

Flat skipping stones,
chocolate chip faces,
great big boulders -
fun climbing places.

Inner tube yachts,
paddling in style,
diving for coins on
the sandbar awhile.

Horseshoe crabs,
jellyfish galore,
seaweed dried 
along the shore.

Tall sandy cliffs,
driftwood ‘n shells,
bungalow houses -
Good Humor bells.

Creamsicle orange,
Fudgesicle brown,
smiles on a stick
no place to frown.

Soon it’s time 
to call it a day,
we pack it all up ‘n
go driving away.

Up the big hill,
wind in our hair;
oh what fun we
had again there!

~GJ Duerrschmidt

Monday, September 26, 2011

My First Bike

“A bike!” I shouted inside my head. “I can’t believe it!” I clearly remember thinking those words as if it were only yesterday. We were living in Flanders then, a small hamlet on the Peconic Bay, out on the eastern end of Long Island. Had I not been so timid and shy, I’m sure I would’ve yelled from excitement, like everyone was expecting. It was not me to do so, and besides, the few who came to celebrate my eighth birthday, were making enough noise over it. There it stood: all red and white, with its shiny chrome fenders glistening in the hot, July sun. So stunned by the surprise, I didn’t even notice it wasn’t a Schwinn, nor was I aware how it was about to change my life. In a single afternoon, I was suddenly empowered with bragging rights, had a brand new door opened to me, and was one step closer to growing up.

My cousin Tom, six months my senior, held the trophy for bragging rights. He was first in everything that mattered to a young boy, like getting his own room, his own basketball backstop, and of course, his own Schwinn bicycle. My aunt and uncle owned a large potato farm and were quite wealthy compared to us. Their home was large, and had every modern convenience imaginable. I loved spending time there on weekends and over my summers, living the life of a rich kid, in want of nothing, and with parents who were not constantly fighting. They were the “have’s,” and we, the “have not’s.” But beyond material things, Tom and I were not only closest and best of friends, we were like brothers. And like a brother, I was always getting his hand-me-down clothes. Friends in school often complimented me on my nice clothes, but being second hand, it was nothing to brag about. But, there was nothing second hand about my brand new bike. I now had something to ride around on with great pride; something to brag about.

Having the bike to ride, opened up a whole new world to me. We lived in a small house on a dead end, dirt road. The nearest store was up a long, paved road that eventually met the main highway. The bay was the other way. Both destinations were too far to walk, so I rarely ventured beyond eyesight, or earshot of our property. With no friends my age around, I spent my free time with my imagination, off on wild adventures in the woods behind our house. I climbed trees and hid out in forts I built, until hearing the call for dinner. The bike instantly, and enormously, expanded my horizons. Little by little, I summoned the courage to venture further and further from home. Once out and about, I discovered there were other boys my age. Life in Flanders would never be the same.

I had a new life, and with it came a new identity. I was no longer simply Greg, but Greg from Pine Avenue. There would be no stopping me now. After all, I would be starting the third grade in the fall. I was growing up. Up to now, I had gotten toys for Christmas and birthdays. Toys were something you play with, and eventually grow out of. However, my new bike was not a toy, and not something that I would soon grow out of. It was, after all, an adult bike -- a means of transportation. It was the closest thing to a car someone my age could own and drive. I was no longer restricted to my yard and imaginings. I was now capable of going wherever my heart and mind desired. I had achieved the first right of passage along the road to manhood.

Yes, getting that bike worked wonders in boosting my self esteem and sense of person. Until the bike, no gift had ever given me such a strong sense of pride, of ownership, and of personal empowerment. Over the rest of that summer, the forts in the woods slowly fell into disrepair. I rarely had time for them. I joined the local Cub Scout den and biked to meetings. Come rain or shine, and as long as there was air in the tires, I was off exploring, getting to know new people, places, and things. But, more importantly, I was getting to know myself.

 ~GJ Duerrschmidt

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Warheads to Ragheads: An Old Soldier's Rant

I have a sick feeling growing more and more in the pit of my stomach. I invested, sacrificed, twenty years in the military -- what should've been the best twenty years of my young adult life. I did without a lot, and forced the same upon my family as well, as I dedicated my time, energy, and talents as a soldier fighting to make the world a better, safer place in which to live. Many times I found myself placed in harm's way in the crusade to stop the spread of communism, and bring the evil Soviet empire to its knees.

My duty to God and country began back in grade school when I drilled along with the whole school on taking cover quickly beneath our desks, and how to hit the ground huddled and tucked away from a nuclear blast. Every day thereafter, I had been held hostage, along with the rest of the world, by the constant threat of a global nuclear holocaust, and the total destruction in hours, of a world that took millions of years to create. I went to bed every night resting on the hope that the powers that be would remain cool headed, be prudent, and exercise restraint.

As an adult, I was willing to make the personal sacrifices necessary, and place my life at risk, so that one day my own sons would never have to dive under a desk at school, and live well into their adult lives, daily under the perpetual threat of total world destruction.

Vietnam Era veterans, like myself, who served in the armed forces during the Cold War, lived under that hideous threat minute-by-minute, day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year, in an ongoing battle; sometimes engaging in short duration, adrenalin pumping, front line confrontations, but more often engaged in the very mundane, tedious, persistent economic and technological exploitation of the Soviet regime, and its military machine. No sacrifice was too great. We believed it to be the ultimate form of world terrorism, but time would eventually prove us wrong.

In the end, or what was perceived as being the end, we were ultimately victorious over our enemy. Communism failed. The Berlin Wall crumbled. The Iron Curtain was no more. And, along with it all, the Soviet Union was finally defeated. Democracy and the free enterprise system ruled victorious. We in the military did our duty, to God and country, but I'm still not convinced the same can be said for the politicians and corporate power moguls, whom, we all believed were “minding the store.”

Once cleverly veiled from the public by the ever ongoing Cold War of ideologies, the greed and selfishness traditionally behind western political decision making, and specifically that of the United States, had suddenly been laid bare before the public. There was never a great and powerful Oz, but men in very expensive suits hiding behind the curtain, calling the shots in the name of "growing the economy" and massing personal wealth.

Let's face it, world bad boys like Noriega, Bin Laden, and Hussein didn't happen overnight, and solely on their own merit. No longer needed, these once prized puppets of the western military industrial machine, fell from grace, and were eventually disposed of. Was it to protect the guilty? You decide. But, one thing for sure, it wasn't before one, Bin Laden, got to lash back at those who had once empowered, and then betrayed him. We all painfully know the rest of that story. He successfully, and unchallenged, went on for decades to recruit and train a wide reaching fanatical following, with a mandate to unleash a new form of terrorism upon the west.

With all the great minds in all the super think tanks in this country, how could this present day Islamic extremist-based terrorist threat have gone unnoticed, and for so long? Or, had it? What's been taking place in the world since the turn of the millennium has many, if not all, of we old servicemen filled with guile and rage! It shamefully undermines the decades of collective sacrifice made to insure a safer, more peaceful future for our families, our nation, and the world. While we were out in the trenches taking the proverbial "bullet,” one has to wonder who was here at home minding the store?

Today, we find ourselves in a whole new ball game, and all the old bets are off. At least with nuclear warheads, we knew what, and where, the threat was. We knew when one was being fired. We could set up defenses. We had reasonable confidence that we could destroy it. But now that warheads have evolved into ragheads, we no longer know where the threat is, or when, where, or how it might strike. When you’re up against an enemy who is so fanatical, he/she is willing to lodge a bomb in their ass in order to inflict death and destruction upon innocents, we’ve become embarrassingly defenseless.

When we turn on the evening news and hear high level government officials telling us to exercise vigilance, and to embrace for  acts of terrorism here at home; when they tell us to expect any possible form of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, or combinations thereof, to be employed, and to expect mass casualties; and that it can happen in any city, any day, at any time; I say to these government officials, what are we old soldiers to do? Where do we report for duty? Where are our weapons against this new enemy? Where do we direct the battle? How can we save our children, families, neighbors, and communities from this heinous threat? How did you let this happen?Why were you not minding the store?

After serving our nation, protecting our way of life, and defending the Constitution, what has become our just reward? Now we can no longer sit openly in a public place, in hometown America, sipping a latte with friends and loved ones, without the fear that at any moment, some raghead may walk up carrying a backpack, and blow all of our beloved asses to kingdom come! Well, we certainly didn’t see that one coming. Good job!

~GJ Duerrschmidt

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Hamptons: G-L-O-R-I-A...Gloria's!

Seeley’s on Main Street Westhampton Beach has always been “Gloria’s” to me since I can remember. Gloria Seeley, along with her sister, owned and operated the quaint, little Long Island newspaper stand and general store. It was such a special treat whenever Dad would say he was going to Gloria’s, and asked if anyone wanted to come aloong. Silly question, we always wanted to go! 

Dad went for nostalgia more than the newspaper, coffee, and cigarettes he felt obliged to purchase each time. Gloria’s reminded him of the small store he once owned as a young man, fresh back from the war - the "big one." It didn't work out for him. But, it would have, could have, should have, if only he had the least little help from his new bride; but he didn't, and then I came along. 

I know, because he spoke of it often to Gloria, and even after so many years gone by, and so many other failed ventures, he missed that opportunity the most. The two of them, without fail, would get into one friendly argument after another, over the changes he would make to her place, if it were his.

My sister and I would wander off, away from the dueling entrepreneurs, and explore the heavily cluttered, dimly lit aisles. It was an adventure: like being on an archeological dig. We passed the hours, or so it seemed, rummaging through shelf after dusty shelf, hoping to unearth some new, exciting find. We were seldom disappointed. When it was time to go, Gloria would offer us Dum-Dum suckers from the stash she kept hidden behind the counter. The coconut ones were my favorite. On days she was feeling extra generous, she’d point out the five and dime toy rack and invite us to take something. “Just one, mind you!” she would scowl, and then do her best not to smile.

Many things have changed with the passing of time. Gloria and her general store are no longer with us. Seeley’s has changed ownership and has been transformed into a hustle-bustle gourmet bakery/coffee shop in the upscale Hampton’s hamlet. The storefront is smartly decked out with a bright yellow and white striped awning. Aluminum siding masks the old, worn building that I knew as a boy.

Stepping inside today, I’m greeted by an unnatural spaciousness -- the tall shelves with their mountains of clutter once crammed wall-to-wall, are gone. The wooden floor has been sanded and refinished. I never knew the place had a floor! Small bistro tables and chairs scarcely fill the new wide opened space. The place is buzzing with pastry-eating, latte-sipping summer vacationers, hoping by chance to catch a glimpse of a Baldwin, or the like. Nothing of the original store remains, or so it seems.

The sound of the murmuring crowd, cups clattering on saucers, flatware clinking against plates, all suddenly fade as I drift back in time. The old wooden counter and cash register suddenly re-appear. I see Gloria hunched over, and peering down at me with her hands loosely clasped. Our eyes meet, and a hint of smile breaks through her stoic expression. Rising to shift her weight, she gruffly barks, “Hey, boy, how’s your dad doing?”

Catching myself before answering her out loud, I snap back to the present. The unexpected ghostly welcome sends a wave of goose bumps up and down my body. I'm more surprised by it then in any way frightened. With so much that has changed, I’m pleased to know the old girl has decided to stick around. 

Yes, those were truly the days. It was a simpler, happier time. Seeley’s, and the world as we knew it, were both so rich in mystery and discovery; and the future, still so very far away, held such promise. 

~GJ Duerrschmidt

 Gone, but never forgotten!

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Hamptons: A Fall Homecoming

The old place looks much the same as the image
I’ve kept in my mind and heart since leaving
for military service several years ago. The giant
maples lining both sides of the road still form a
noble archway to the bay. Cloaked in bountiful
greens weeks earlier, their naked limbs now
cast shivering silhouettes against a gray Long
Island sky.

Like I had remembered, the fallen leaves have
become a patchwork quilt of oranges, yellows,
and browns, now blanketing the yard of the old
homestead. Beyond the pale green house, toward
the inlet, a sea of dry reeds sways to and fro in
the blustery wind gusting inland off the Atlantic.

Occasional surges of fresh, ocean breeze barely
mask the pungent odor of the Moriches bay –
a definite sign of a low tide. The summer renters
and droves of tourists have long since migrated to
their distant winter retreats, leaving behind a
conspicuous absence of noise. 

With the welcomed silence, returns the rhythm of
pounding surf in soothing whispers across the bay.
As daylight ebbs, I stop to fully absorb all of these
cherished sights, sounds, and smells, as they begin
to tranquilize my body, and lift up my weary soul.

Screeching gulls gracefully glide overhead, all
scavenging for that one last meal before dark, while 
thousands of sparrows and clattering blackbirds
chaotically swarm the barren trees, gathering
for their annual journey south. My own journey
is about to end, as I cross the deserted street,
and brush my way through piles of leaves,
past the pumpkins, and up to the front door.

Light from the television (that I would bet no
one is watching) frolics upon the sheer living room
curtains. Though I have walked through this portal
countless times in years past, the long awaited
anticipation of this moment triggers a surprise rush
of emotion, as I feel the worn doorknob in my hand.           

The sounds of fluttering fowl and rushing wind
cease with the closing of the door. Scents of
autumn leaves and salty sea air quickly yield to
those of aged wood and eucalyptus. The chill that
entered with me, suddenly vanishes into the
warmth of returning childhood memories. 

With my shoes off, I feel the old oil burning furnace
coarsely vibrating the hardwood floor. I surrender
my tired, aching feet to its soothing massage.
Ahead, at the end of the darkened hallway, a thin
frame of light seeps through around the edges
of the warped oak door. This light has a deep,
spiritual quality to it, and rightfully so: it radiates
from the very heart of this place – Mom's kitchen.

My heart beats faster as I near the entrance to
this most holy, sacred chamber. An intoxicating
aroma permeates the air, growing stronger with each
step - pot roast! My mouth begins to water. I can
already taste the savory, tender, beef smothered
in onions, carrots, and potatoes. Only seconds from
now, I will touch the aging hands that prepared it,
and be wrapped once again in an embrace I have
sorely missed for far too long. 

At this very moment, I feel as though a million
miles separate me from the rest of the mad world
and all of its senseless perils. In this place, I know
I am safe from all danger and harm. Tonight, I’ll
finally know peace; for tonight I sleep at home!

~GJ Duerrschmidt