Honor, Duty, and Patriotism: What does it mean?

WWII Veteran, my father, Edward B. Feathers

As I listen to America’s celebration of Veterans Day in Arlington National Cemetery — flags flying, trumpets playing taps, Philip Sousa marches drawing deep feelings of pride and love in, and of, our country — I am once again set to wonder what does it mean?

I am the daughter of a Veteran, the granddaughter of a Veteran, great grand-daughter of Veterans, and the former wife of a Veteran — and I am a very concerned about whether their sacrifices mean something today. A “military brat”, I tend toward blind love of country. In fact, from age 16 to age 40, I spent considerable time and effort to evaluate that blind love and to discern what a democracy is made of. After Viet Nam, I had to consider the terrible violence we did to that country, and then others. We’ve been, and still do, consider ourselves a “good” country, doing battle with evil across the world. Yet it’s hard for many of us to face the fact that we’ve often been the evil doer.

My Grandfather Jones

Being honorable, dutiful, and patriotic requires we look without favor to see clearly how this democracy works, both in our country and in other countries, across the world. Today it means being disruptive when we see our leaders going the wrong way. It means being engaged in ways that we each can be to prevent and to undo the anti-democratic forces at work in our nation and in the world.

We have moved into a dark time and much is imperiled. We Americans must remember we are babies among nations that have existed for thousands of years. Will historians in the future tell the tale of us that we flamed and then flickered out when we became disinterested and distracted by comfort and disbelief?

Captain Thomas E. Williams

Today’s Americans live in an era when words have been corrupted to mean their opposite. Can you discern that in the news, in the political ocean of conflict? Can you step back, ask, and discern how the actions of every leader truly show their words are true? To me, this is our duty, our honor, and our patriotism.

And to every Veteran, now and to come, I will do my best to make sure that your sacrifices mean something on this long, difficult road to achieve democracy.

A short video with Doris Kearns Goodwin, historian and writer, on CBS. She asks: Are we living in the worst of times?

See this Bill Moyers Interview with Wendell Berry to listen to an American of great stature who does discern the problems of the time:

Helene Hanff Letters: How to tell a story without trying.

Years ago I watched a lovely video about Helene Hanff, a New York script writer with a passion for antiquarian books. 84 Charing Cross Road is the title of it. Based on the book of her letters to Marks & Company, a colorful, poignant story emerges about a starving New York screenwriter and Londoners recovering from the devastation of the war who became her friends through their love of literature.

The shop employees became Helene’s friends over a 20-year period of correspondence. She had learned, from an English couple who lived in her building, that Londerers were under strict rationing of meat, eggs, and other commodities in post war England. She began to send packages filled with canned meats, dried eggs, and later, nylons to the women employees at the store. Each one began to write Helene notes stuffed into the envelope with those of the proprietor, Frank Dole. Most of the letters are hilarious, others sad, but all dripping with the little details of lives during this period of history in the U.S.A. and London: 1949 – 69.

However, the letters between Frank Dole, proprietor at Marks & Company, and Helene, function like an artwork where a few essential lines allow the viewer to fill in the full portrait. I love books like this that spark the imagination while providing an essential record of the times in which they lived. It is a love story of a kind which you will just have to investigate yourself to know what I mean. 

Helene Hanff’s humorous and unedited opinions on everything from “cardboarddy” American published books to baseball are timeless. We learn about a self-educating writer whose love of English literature filled her mind and soul with inspiration as she followed her heart’s delight through the diligence and exceptional taste of Marks & Company and whose employee — Frank Dole — roamed the castles and estates of Merry Ole England finding rare and second-hand antiquarian books of English Literature. Helene’s tastes were specific to the point of eccentricity but Frank “got” Helene. His letters include a satisfying refrain that makes this second-hand book lover feel deep satisfaction: “a good clean copy”. 

Helene writes that she loves a book that has been read before with notes or marks that link them as voyagers on the same journey. Do you relate? I am a reader who loves that. I like to find original purchase receipts from, say, the 1950’s or earlier. Maybe its been made on an old receipt pad, the ones with the black inked page in between the proprietor’s copy and the buyer’s receipt.

The copy of 84 Charing Cross Road that I purchased is a limited new edition published by  another antiquarian book company in London — Slightly Foxed. My edition came in a nice cloth binding and eggshell-colored paper with gilded edges, a very “clean copy”, and a note handwritten by one of the women proprietors. I regularly tune into the Slightly Foxed Podcast to learn about books, publishing, and authors “across the pond”.

It was not until after Frank Dole died, and Marks & Company closed, that Helene thought to publish the letters. She finally received a decent enough income from the popularity of the book that allowed her to visit the London “of English Literature” and the old building and shopfront at 84 Charing Cross Road which had become such an important part of her life.

Think about what letters you may possess that could tell a story which is actually never fully manifest on the page but which is evoked between the lines. I highly recommend that you read Hanff’s book before you embark on that journey! Also watch the video, in which Helene is played be Anne Bancroft and Frank by Anthony Hopkins.

Order your book from Slightly Foxed. Let’s help out those London girls with a passion for good literature.