Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Maiden Name

I read this recent advice column, regarding the apparently numerous negative reactions the letter writer has encountered in keeping her last name after she got married. I don't have too many married friends, but I do know many folks who are married, most of whom have taken their husband's surname, or use a hyphenated version. Married women face an issue of identity that men, upon marriage, do not have to face, and to a point I can agree with the nuisance of changing one's last name, reassuring business acquaintences and co-workers that (in my case, for example), Michelle Szetela is the former Michelle Solomon.

(This tripped up UVU, where I was offered a position a day after our wedding. I didn't fill out my new hire paperwork until my name change took effect because I didn't want to go through the hassle of filling out more paperwork that would update my new last name. During orientation, the name listed under the New Adjunct section was Michelle Szetela Solomon.)

I couldn't wait to get rid of my maiden name. Not that I was ever one of the women who were itching to get married, who'd been planning her wedding since teenagerhood, etc., but because I felt I'd finally be taken seriously as an adult. Certainly there are issues of identity tied to a surname, but I took my husband's last name with pleasure precisely because I wanted to take a new identity.

I come from a stable, loving household - my parents are still happily married after 42 years - but they inadvertently didn't take my partners as seriously, didn't consider me as part of a unit, until I got married. I remember being told over the years that people treat one differently after one gets married. I was only treated differently by my parents; not better or worse, but I think my status as an adult was finally solidified.

I was 35 when I got married 7 1/2 months ago, and I was tired of being seen as an extension of my parents. Over the years, I would have to remind my parents that I would have to consult a joint schedule with the man I'd been dating for what would turn out to be nine years. (This got responses of,  "....Oh," a reflection of not understanding that I might not want to be apart from him for extended periods of time, that I might want to share the experience with him, not separately, that our schedules affected each other.)

My new last name is a reflection of my new life, one in which my priority is my husband and my life with him.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Christmas Truce

by Aaron Shepard


My dear sister Janet,

It is 2:00 in the morning and most of our men are asleep in their dugouts—yet I could not sleep myself before writing to you of the wonderful events of Christmas Eve. In truth, what happened seems almost like a fairy tale, and if I hadn’t been through it myself, I would scarce believe it. Just imagine: While you and the family sang carols before the fire there in London, I did the same with enemy soldiers here on the battlefields of France!

As I wrote before, there has been little serious fighting of late. The first battles of the war left so many dead that both sides have held back until replacements could come from home. So we have mostly stayed in our trenches and waited.

But what a terrible waiting it has been! Knowing that any moment an artillery shell might land and explode beside us in the trench, killing or maiming several men. And in daylight not daring to lift our heads above ground, for fear of a sniper’s bullet.

And the rain—it has fallen almost daily. Of course, it collects right in our trenches, where we must bail it out with pots and pans. And with the rain has come mud—a good foot or more deep. It splatters and cakes everything, and constantly sucks at our boots. One new recruit got his feet stuck in it, and then his hands too when he tried to get out—just like in that American story of the tar baby!

Through all this, we couldn’t help feeling curious about the German soldiers across the way. After all, they faced the same dangers we did, and slogged about in the same muck. What’s more, their first trench was only 50 yards from ours. Between us lay No Man’s Land, bordered on both sides by barbed wire—yet they were close enough we sometimes heard their voices.

Of course, we hated them when they killed our friends. But other times, we joked about them and almost felt we had something in common. And now it seems they felt the same.

Just yesterday morning—Christmas Eve Day—we had our first good freeze. Cold as we were, we welcomed it, because at least the mud froze solid. Everything was tinged white with frost, while a bright sun shone over all. Perfect Christmas weather.

During the day, there was little shelling or rifle fire from either side. And as darkness fell on our Christmas Eve, the shooting stopped entirely. Our first complete silence in months! We hoped it might promise a peaceful holiday, but we didn’t count on it. We’d been told the Germans might attack and try to catch us off guard.

I went to the dugout to rest, and lying on my cot, I must have drifted asleep. All at once my friend John was shaking me awake, saying, “Come and see! See what the Germans are doing!” I grabbed my rifle, stumbled out into the trench, and stuck my head cautiously above the sandbags.

I never hope to see a stranger and more lovely sight. Clusters of tiny lights were shining all along the German line, left and right as far as the eye could see.

“What is it?” I asked in bewilderment, and John answered, “Christmas trees!”

And so it was. The Germans had placed Christmas trees in front of their trenches, lit by candle or lantern like beacons of good will.

And then we heard their voices raised in song.

Stille nacht, heilige nacht . . . .

This carol may not yet be familiar to us in Britain, but John knew it and translated: “Silent night, holy night.” I’ve never heard one lovelier—or more meaningful, in that quiet, clear night, its dark softened by a first-quarter moon.

When the song finished, the men in our trenches applauded. Yes, British soldiers applauding Germans! Then one of our own men started singing, and we all joined in.

The first Nowell, the angel did say . . . .

In truth, we sounded not nearly as good as the Germans, with their fine harmonies. But they responded with enthusiastic applause of their own and then began another.

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum . . . .

Then we replied.

O come all ye faithful . . . .

But this time they joined in, singing the same words in Latin.

Adeste fideles . . . .

British and German harmonizing across No Man’s Land! I would have thought nothing could be more amazing—but what came next was more so.

“English, come over!” we heard one of them shout. “You no shoot, we no shoot.”

There in the trenches, we looked at each other in bewilderment. Then one of us shouted jokingly, “You come over here.”

To our astonishment, we saw two figures rise from the trench, climb over their barbed wire, and advance unprotected across No Man’s Land. One of them called, “Send officer to talk.”

I saw one of our men lift his rifle to the ready, and no doubt others did the same—but our captain called out, “Hold your fire.” Then he climbed out and went to meet the Germans halfway. We heard them talking, and a few minutes later, the captain came back with a German cigar in his mouth!

“We’ve agreed there will be no shooting before midnight tomorrow,” he announced. “But sentries are to remain on duty, and the rest of you, stay alert.”

Across the way, we could make out groups of two or three men starting out of trenches and coming toward us. Then some of us were climbing out too, and in minutes more, there we were in No Man’s Land, over a hundred soldiers and officers of each side, shaking hands with men we’d been trying to kill just hours earlier!

Before long a bonfire was built, and around it we mingled—British khaki and German grey. I must say, the Germans were the better dressed, with fresh uniforms for the holiday.

Only a couple of our men knew German, but more of the Germans knew English. I asked one of them why that was.

“Because many have worked in England!” he said. “Before all this, I was a waiter at the Hotel Cecil. Perhaps I waited on your table!”

“Perhaps you did!” I said, laughing.

He told me he had a girlfriend in London and that the war had interrupted their plans for marriage. I told him, “Don’t worry. We’ll have you beat by Easter, then you can come back and marry the girl.”

He laughed at that. Then he asked if I’d send her a postcard he’d give me later, and I promised I would.

Another German had been a porter at Victoria Station. He showed me a picture of his family back in Munich. His eldest sister was so lovely, I said I should like to meet her someday. He beamed and said he would like that very much and gave me his family’s address.

Even those who could not converse could still exchange gifts—our cigarettes for their cigars, our tea for their coffee, our corned beef for their sausage. Badges and buttons from uniforms changed owners, and one of our lads walked off with the infamous spiked helmet! I myself traded a jackknife for a leather equipment belt—a fine souvenir to show when I get home.

Newspapers too changed hands, and the Germans howled with laughter at ours. They assured us that France was finished and Russia nearly beaten too. We told them that was nonsense, and one of them said, “Well, you believe your newspapers and we’ll believe ours.”

Clearly they are lied to—yet after meeting these men, I wonder how truthful our own newspapers have been. These are not the “savage barbarians” we’ve read so much about. They are men with homes and families, hopes and fears, principles and, yes, love of country. In other words, men like ourselves. Why are we led to believe otherwise?

As it grew late, a few more songs were traded around the fire, and then all joined in for—I am not lying to you—“Auld Lang Syne.” Then we parted with promises to meet again tomorrow, and even some talk of a football match.

I was just starting back to the trenches when an older German clutched my arm. “My God,” he said, “why cannot we have peace and all go home?”

I told him gently, “That you must ask your emperor.”

He looked at me then, searchingly. “Perhaps, my friend. But also we must ask our hearts.”

And so, dear sister, tell me, has there ever been such a Christmas Eve in all history? And what does it all mean, this impossible befriending of enemies?

For the fighting here, of course, it means regrettably little. Decent fellows those soldiers may be, but they follow orders and we do the same. Besides, we are here to stop their army and send it home, and never could we shirk that duty.

Still, one cannot help imagine what would happen if the spirit shown here were caught by the nations of the world. Of course, disputes must always arise. But what if our leaders were to offer well wishes in place of warnings? Songs in place of slurs? Presents in place of reprisals? Would not all war end at once?

All nations say they want peace. Yet on this Christmas morning, I wonder if we want it quite enough.


Your loving brother, 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Temple Square

We had such a good night out tonight - Ed, his dad, and I. We had a good dinner out, and then went to admire the lights at Temple Square.

A Night At Temple Square (mp3)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Student Stories

Last Friday was the last day of classes, and I've begun to encounter the students whose grades are not what they had hoped - or needed them to be. The common question now is if there is anything they could do to raise their grade.

D. had a D in my class. He had had attendance issues, having missed six classes (four is my limit; if they miss more than four, they fail); well aware of this policy, at one point he emailed me, after having already missed more than four classes, to tell me he would be missing class to study for an exam in another class. I told him that he would be failing class, after which he came literally running to class. I told him that if he missed one more class, he would fail. Already on probation, he needed a C in order to stay in college. He had done his own calculations to determine how his final grade, but had not taken into account that different assignments are weighted differently, which ultimately affected the end result. He was missing one assignment, but the rest of his assignments were inconsistent: Some were done fine (not necessarily great), while others were poorly written (or, in the case of his journal, only half done, thereby earning him half credit). 

C. was failing my class; he did not hand in one paper (earning him a 0), and those he did hand in were consistently poorly written (Cs and below). At one point during the semester, he asked if I would provide extensive feedback on all his papers and meet with him during my office hours so he could revise his papers. I told him I would provide him feedback on one or two to start with, but I also recommended he visit the Writing Center. He never got me copies of his papers, nor did he visit me during office hours. A day or two before our last class - the class in which we would meet so the students could assemble their portfolios - he asked if he could do anything to bring up his grade. I said he could revise. His response was that while it was not personal - he thought I was "an awesome teacher" - he did not feel like putting in the effort to improve his grade, and therefore would not be coming to the last class. (He noted he would retake it after he returned from his mission.)

E. was failing my class, having not handed in two or three assignments (earning him zeroes in each case), in addition to having had attendance issues as well. After having missed more than four classes, I pulled him aside and told him that if he missed one more class, he would fail. He did miss two more, but told me of extraneous circumstances, for which I excused him. The last week or so of classes, he pleaded his case via e-mail, taking full responsibility for his grades, but asking what he could do to raise his grade, noting that if he failed my course he would not be able to return. I told him that I was so sorry, but at this point there was not much I could do. He didn't show up on portfolio day.

Another C. just looked crushed when he found out what his grade on the last day of class. He asked if there was anything he could do, but I had to tell him no. (He had a very high F, having failed to hand in two papers.)

And tonight I got an e-mail from K., who had a high C. He had done some extra credit, which had increased his grade, but not high enough. A dance major, he needed a B to maintain his dance scholarship, but there wasn't much I could do to add any more points to his grade. He was also missing one paper.

It's amazing how much damage one or two missing assignments can do. Several students will not be continuing their college careers, at least not right now, because they didn't do the work.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tuba Christmas 2011

This morning Ed and I went to a tuba Christmas concert - a Christmas concert that consisted entirely of folks playing the tuba. We went last year as well; it's really a sight to behold. We went last year as well. This year it was held outside, at the Gateway Mall, which was a good plan; it was cold, but lots of folks were walking around shopping, so there was some actual exposure (unlike last year, when it was held inside and out of the way at the Rio Grande Depot).

Tuba Christmas originated in New York in the mid-1970s, and has become a national occurrence, with tuba concerts being given all over the country.