A Hand and A Foot

 Posted by at 7:36 am  No Responses »
Mar 202014
 

My father and I had in common a pair of physical disabilities: his right hand and my right foot. Both were handicaps beyond our control, and both were a part of our self-consciousness around others. Although he was right-handed, Dad shook hands with others using his good left hand turned thumb downward. Around others, I instinctively hid my bad right foot behind my good left one. This created something of a bond between us.

Dad had mangled his right hand as a poor North Carolina mountain boy feeding sugar cane into a sorghum molasses mill. The mill took his index and middle fingers, and did damage to the rest of the hand as well. Despite this, Dad went on to college and played football, baseball, basketball, and track. The lack of fingers never kept him from writing or gardening or typing or fishing or anything else. But he was always conscious of it and spoke little about it.

Now and then, when they give us our feet, someone gets a defective one. My right foot was given me defective, being abnormally large and equipped with tiny useless toes. Doctors removed the toes and over the years whittled down the size as much as possible. The lack of toes never kept me from football, running, golf, hiking and mountain climbing, tennis, and swimming. But I am always conscious of the foot, especially around the curious.

One day I had finished swimming at a community pool and was showering in an open area in the men’s dressing room. In from the pool came a young boy, and I saw him see my foot. After an excited, wide-eyed look, he turned and ran back the way he’d come in. He returned with his little sister to show it to her. Then he went to the door and called for his mother to come in and see. The mother called them both back out and that was the last of it. Over the years I have had many wide-eyed children staring, and occasionally some adults.

When he was old, my father took me to the area where he had lived as a boy and lost his fingers. Out from Asheville is the town of Marshall, and out from Marshall was Brush Creek. Dad and his family lived in a cabin in a valley there, close beside the French Broad River. The valley was all grown up and void of homes or dwellings, but Dad took me where he said the cabin had been located, and where the cane mill had been. He explained that after the accident they took him across the mountain to a doctor, and the doctor removed what was left of the two fingers by lantern light. His older brother George kept the fingers in his pocket and the next day the boys buried them on hill behind the house. Dad told me he could show me the burial spot “within ten feet” and did, I can only assume.

Yes, I have been to VA hospitals and seen the war-injured. And, yes, I know that a bad hand and a bad foot are not to be compared with the wounds of those service men and women. And I know I could never fully appreciate the mental trials they endure. But I do have some idea about it.

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Harbin

 Posted by at 6:56 am  No Responses »
Oct 272013
 

I remember forming my first impression of Harbin, China. We were watching an engaging documentary about this part of Northern China. It is up near the border with Russia and actually north of Vladivostok where the Trans Siberian railway ends. Harbin is known for its cold temperatures and its wintertime ice sculptures. The ice sculptures draw tourists from all over the world. They are all over the city and lit up at night.

209575-china-gears-up-for-harbin-ice-and-snow-world-festivalWe formed an image of a beautiful, remote, and pristine environment. We spoke of trying to visit there sometime. I remember looking up the airfares.

Then I met my young Chinese co-worker. “Where are you from?” I asked, expecting Beijing or Hong Kong. But instead, she was from Harbin. Harbin. I remembered the documentary. “That’s in the north of China and it’s cold there, right?” “Yes, very cold,” she said. “And that’s where they have the wonderful ice sculptures in the wintertime?” “Yes, we have them every winter and lots of people come to see them.”

I still thought of Harbin in a pristine kind of way. It was much later that I was talking with my friend and mentioned the recent news about air pollution in Beijing. And to my surprise, she told me that the air is also bad in Harbin. There is a lot of coal-burning heavy industry, she said. She said that now when she goes home to visit, she is usually sick for several days because of the bad air.

So I began to notice any news about Harbin. And then, the other day, I saw this:

In the industrial city of Harbin, home to more than 10 million people, the PM 2.5 level of fine particulate matter in the air reached 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter in parts of the city Monday, 50 times above what the World Health Organization considers safe. It is the first major pollution emergency of the coming winter Vehicles crawled through the smog with fog lights on or emergency lights flashing. Buses were canceled and a major highway was closed, while hospital admissions soared by 30 percent, local media reported. Visibility was so low in the city, about 780 miles northeast of Beijing, that two city buses got lost while plying their regular routes. Pedestrians wore masks or clutched their hands in front of their faces in an effort to breathe more easily. “I did not even dare to cross the street,” said Zhang Xiaofeng, a 24-year-old bulldozer driver who said his eyes hurt and he was coughing as a result of the smog. “I waited and waited at the intersection and looked again and again, but I couldn’t see if any cars were coming. Even the traffic lights were invisible.” While the air quality had improved by lunchtime, the fog descended again in the afternoon; primary and middle schools and the airport remained closed. “I can’t even see the next apartment building next to mine, which is only 10 or 20 meters away,” said 42-year-old housewife Li Li. “I’m not going out, and I won’t let my child go out.”

What does this matter? Obviously it matters if you live in Harbin, China. You might argue that it doesn’t matter much if Harbin is an isolated case. But the story is the same, or heading in the same direction, around the globe. People breathing dirty air and drinking polluted water. Lands spoiled by industrial wastes.  And larger changes in our climates brought on by the burning of coal and oil and other fossil fuels.

People in Harbin who would rather not be sick and would like something done about the situation must hear the familiar arguments.

We can’t afford major upgrades. We have to stay competitive with other industries. People will lose their jobs if we have to spend that kind of money. Let the industries that know about these problems handle it themselves. The government should stay out of this; the last thing we need is more government regulation.

And so it goes. And so it goes. And meanwhile I’m rethinking about the visit to Harbin.

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Dec 062011
 

 

I received the following notice with my mail: “Dear Customer, the Postal Service depends on you to meet postal requirements regarding delivery and collection of mail to curbside boxes. Please keep the full approach and exits to your mailbox clear, as illustrated in the examples below. Removing trash cans, snow, vehicles, and any other objects from the area allows the carrier to deliver your mail safely and efficiently without exiting the vehicle. Your cooperation in this matter is sincerely appreciated.  Thank you. Your Postmaster.” Continue reading »

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