Posted by: Nazausgraben | March 10, 2021

ON MR. HALL’S 97th BIRTHDAY

I recently came upon a report, “WWII Veteran Wants to be Buried in Navy Uniform, so she made one” as published online by the Navy Times about an elderly gentleman who very much wishes to be buried in a Navy uniform. Mr. Joseph Hall was a Petty Officer who served during WW2 and was hoping to have a uniform from that period. His old uniform no longer fit, so he turned to a friend – a seamstress – to create one (The original story can be found here: https://www.tampabay.com/life-culture/2021/02/04/a-dunedin-world-war-ii-veteran-wants-to-be-buried-in-uniform-so-she-made-him-one/) . 

Upon reading this, I was taken not only with the pride of service still held by Mr. Hall, but also the notion that there are so many of us (including myself)who, either recently or long retired, share Mr. Hall’s wish to be buried in uniform. For many who wear or who have worn the uniform, it is not merely a symbol of one’s public identity, but rather, it is the physical manifestation of a deep bond with others who have shared a unique calling. When the time arrives for one to hang the uniform away, doing so often evokes a special sense of loss, for with it goes a wealth of experiences that those who have not worn the uniform may neither comprehend nor value. The uniform is and remains a part of what we are; wearing it even after so many years, is not an act of sweet nostalgia, but rather the donning of what has become and always will remain a piece of oneself. Thus I can very well understand Mr. Hall’s desire to have that one final set of blues.

Mr. Hall is celebrating his 97th birthday this week. With regard to this special event, I was especially taken by Mr. Hall’s comment in the article that, “I have nobody to celebrate with. I’m the last,” he said. He has neither wife nor family.  His situation is indeed a moving reminder that the ‘greatest generation’ will soon be no more. For me it is especially important for Mr. Hall and all who have served to know that although their comrades may no longer be with us, they are never alone; that they remain part of a unique and noble military family who members have donned (and continue to wear) the uniform.

This past Monday I called Mr. Hall to wish him a very Happy 97th Birthday and to let him know that I and so many more very much appreciate his service. After introducing myself and noting my own Navy career, I asked Mr. Hall about how he might be celebrating that day. His reply confirmed what I already knew from the news article; Mr. Hall replied that he was alone. However, in the course of our conversation I was happy to learn that some members of his church would be be taking him out to dinner later that day. Still, it was clear that by ‘alone’ Mr. Hall was referring to family and especially comrades from his days in service, now all gone. I made the point to let Mr. Hall know that he is not now nor will he ever be alone; that I and all of his shipmates will always be with him. From what he said during our conversation I believe that he was most grateful for these sentiments. I promised him that I will be keeping in contact with him and look very much forward to celebrating his 100th birthday. I was delighted to hear his response; it was something to the effect that,”OK…it’s on my calendar!”

It is with this in mind might I make a humble request. There remain many veterans from generations past, having far fewer days ahead than behind, who are in situations similar to that of Mr. Hall. If you know or learn of such an individual, perhaps you might consider taking but a few moments to send him or her a card, email or even making contact via telephone call. I am certain that receiving such greetings will reassure those like Mr. Hall that during whatever time there may be left, they will indeed not be alone.

Posted by: Nazausgraben | December 31, 2020

CHRISTMAS DAY IN THE MORNING

Christmas Day, and here in Pinswang we were blessed with the best of gifts…snow! There had been a light dusting of the white during November and all here in the Tirol very much hoped that this would portend a snowy winter.

Our American-style Thanksgiving dinner with the children and grandchildren came and went and the passing of the first weeks of December looked and felt more like Fall; old worn brownish farmer’s fields, the remnants of fallen leaves, now faded and forlorn, gray skies but temperatures well above freezing. Having been for so long under restricted conditions to the global pandemic, most had the feeling that a massive blanket had descended upon Austria; cancelling all of the annual Christmas markets, concerts, social activities and, in general, covering whatever joys that there might otherwise be at this beautiful time of the rolling year.

Everyone did what they could to bolster waning spirits. Here in Pinswang, there was a marvelous idea to create an ‘Adventweg’; that is, a path throughout the village which, when taken, would reveal (I believe it was) 27 ‘stations’ whereby individuals or families would create scenes depicting some aspect of the beautiful Christmas season. These would then be situated at various spots on trails throughout both upper and lower Pinswang as well as the forest connecting the two.

Along the Adventweg, one might encounter a live Christmas tree, beautifully decorated and sporting laminated photos of the Kindergarten class. Abit further on would find a hand-crafted wooden scene, complete with carved houses, our village church and across the top, a Christmas greeting engraved into the wood. At another station one could see a tin foil Christmas star with its long golden shooting tail, all nailed onto a tree. There were beautifully designed flat wooden Christmas trees upon which words of faith and hope were painted. At one house, the entire front yard fence was adorned with an Advent calendar; at each day there was an ornament, some type of item of interest, a stuffed Weihnachtsmann (Santa) and, on the last day of Advent, a small, beautifully crafted Nativity scene.

Throughout the period of Advent, families wandered the Adventweg, enjoying the stations and, in some cases, the chocolates and other sweets made available on certain days. At those stations where the sweets were depleted, Christmas cookies were usually to be found. Many families were seen to walk the trail as the sun waned its last each day, revealing the many strings of batteried flickering lights illuminating many of the displays.

Finally, Christmas Eve arrived; the quiet waiting of Advent was over. Most here celebrated at home with their immediate families. Outside the temperature plummeted and it was bitter cold by the time we returned home after Midnight Mass.

Christmas day in the morning. It had snowed overnight, not just a light sprinkling of sugar dust, but really snowed..…high boot, long thick coated, mufflered and wooly capped deep heavy snow that covers everything from mountain peak down to every crack in the brick driveway. It was only six of the clock and already smoke billowed aloft from every house. Lights blazed from windows as Pinswang came alive to greet this most wonderful day. Everyone here so needed this invaluable gift of snow; coming on Christmas Day, there was no doubt that many a prayer had indeed been answered.

It was off St. Ulrichs where I played the organ at Christmas Day Mass. The still beauty of Advent music now turned to the vibrant repertoire of Christmas and I rejoiced in being able to play so many of the beloved Christmas songs from both the Austrian and English traditions.

After Mass, I stopped to enjoy our church’s Nativity scene (Krippe) which was built by one of Pinswang’s great Masters of the art. On a table before the Krippe was a lighted candle of Bethlehem, the ‘Bethlehem kerze’ or so-called ‘Friedenslicht ‘(Light of Peace).  It was in the late 1980s that the Austrian national broadcaster, the ORF (Österreichischer Rundfunk) began what has become most cherished tradition. Each year the ORF broadcasts an aid campaign, designed to raise money for worthy causes.

Each year shortly before Christmas Eve, a candle is lit in the grotto chapel in Bethlehem where Jesus was born and is flown to Austria in a fire-proof container. Upon its arrival, the flame from Bethlehem is then used to the light candles of those who will take them to all parts of Austria. The Bethlehem flame is then used to light even more candles which are brought to a host of locations not only in Austria, but throughout the world, at which those wishing to do so can light their own candles from the flame from Bethlehem. Here in Pinswang, the flame from Bethlehem is brought to each home by members of our local Fire Dept. and can also be obtained in our village church.

One can then purchase a candle for a few Euros and light it from the flame of the Friedenslicht. The candle is of the type that one would normally find adorning gravesites; that is, the wax is in a hard lightly colored wide plastic tube that is protected atop by a metal cover. Air can feed the flame within via decorated openings around the beveled edge of the metal cover. One then takes this covered candle home as a symbol of peace on Earth which one would devoutly wish, not only at Christmas but the year ‘round. This light is also so special as it represents the light of Christ that comes to us each Christmas Eve, a symbol made even more poignant when one sees worshippers departing into the icy dark new morning outside the church after Midnight Mass. The flickering candles can be seen for some time as those holding them walk home, disappearing into the pitch of night.

So it was that I lit a candle, fastened the metal top securely and began my own Christmas Day walk back to our home. Once again it was bitterly cold, but the sun shone about and the snow glistened, creating a veritable universe of stars carpeting the large undulating farmer’s fields.

Now, the problem is that as one walks the Roman Road from the Ulrichskirche to our home, one must do so through the never-ending winds that blow over the wide mountain-side forest-bounded trail known as the ‘Kratzer’. It varies with the times of the day, month and year, weather conditions and the general state of meteorological affairs, but there is almost ALWAYS a blow of some sort wind-tunneling its way from across the border in Bavaria and into our Tirolean valley. This ‘Kratzerwind’ can turn a warm still Summer day into a blowing Sahara storm. It pummels our home with gale force winds especially during the late Summer storm season and blows Fall leaves into a swirl fore our entranceway. But it is especially during Winter that the Kratzerwind really makes itself known; blowing madly day and night, billowing heavy wet snow into massive dunes that block our doorways, making extricating ourselves from our house something of a challenge.

Naught but a mild zephyr when I departed for the church that morning, the Kratzerwind was blowing mightily by the time I departed for home that Christmas Day. As I turned the curve approaching the Earschbach pond not far from our place, I noticed that the lit Friedenslicht flame was wobbling wildly and almost disappearing; it was on the verge of being extinguished by the Kratzerwind.

Now, this posed a rather interesting problem. What does one do when the flame of Bethlehem is blown out prior to bringing it to safe harbor in an enclosed exterior lantern or within our home’s entrance hall? At first glance, one could merely retrace one’s steps back to the church and re-light the candle. Yet, there would still be that nasty gale on the return trip. An alternative would be to head home and simply re-light the candle there, but this would no longer be the Friedenslicht…just a lit candle. I took the easy way out, and did the best I could to shield the flame from the squally onslaught.

Such a strategy was not optimal, however. One hand was occupied with carrying a case filled with music and the other clutched the plastic tube within which the wind blasted flame was wildly flailing and wagging about like a miscreant fly trying desperately not to be sucked into a weaponized vacuum cleaner. It was impossible to half-cover the metal lid openings to prevent the wind to enter. I thus had to hold the candle close, insinuating my body between the wind and the flame, the latter of which was now precariously close to flickering out. What a sight it must have been to see me twisting and turning as I walked home, trying to keep up with the ever-changing gusts now pummeling my back. Had my hat flown off during that transit home, I would have had to make a spot decision to save it from a watery grave in the Earschbach or let the flame be blown to oblivion.

Happily, my destination came into sight and as I reached the gate, I quickly placed the still burning Friedenslicht into the safe glass windowed confines of the Christmas lantern. There it burned, steadily, for the night and following day. The light of Bethlehem eventually burned out, but its meaning and the warm illumination that it brought on that day and all that have followed, stays with us.

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