In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tom & Melany's Excellent Adventure: Ch. One

Well, I've finally caught up with unpacking and stowing, bills, lawn mowing, and all the other chores that typically follow a vacation trip. I've even gotten our pictures from the camera to the computer! For my next trick, I'll present you with a day-by-day account over several posts of our adventures last week in the Deep and Sunny South, complete with photos and links that will thrill, amaze, and bore you to death. Like a "serial" killing, eh? So, let's go!

We had a fairly uneventful trip down to Florida. My sister-in-law Melinda drove Melany and I to the Buffalo airport Saturday morning (April 18) and arrived there about 9:30 a.m. Our 11:10 a.m. flight was delayed almost an hour, and by the time we got to the Atlanta airport, after a flight of 2 hours or so, we had just enough time time to dash to our departure gate, answer nature's call, and make it onto the plane before they closed the doors. We arrived in Jacksonville about 3:30 p.m., but the only bag that we had checked didn't make it there with us! :-( It took a while to process our claim because the only Delta baggage agent on duty, who was dealing with half a dozen other people on our flight whose luggage didn't arrive with them, had to stop and open an unclaimed bag with a security officer present to find out why a loud whirring noise was coming from it. Turned out to be somebody's electric toothbrush, whizzing away all by itself! (I saw this happen in our own bathroom several times, and it always freaked me out--what makes that happen?) Our bag was finally delivered to my parents' Jacksonville home the next day, after several phone calls to Delta during which it was discovered that while we were traveling to Florida, our bag was traveling to Los Angeles! We were relieved to have it with us again (at least we had packed an extra day's clothes in our carry-ons, to be safe), though I was rather disappointed that it turned up without an "L.A." tourist sticker on it. I guess we should be thankful that it didn't go to Mexico City!

Having gotten us to their home from the airport, Mom and Dad treated us to a delicious Sloppy Joe dinner. I'm serious--this was about the best Sloppy Joe I ever tasted (and Melany's is pretty darn good)! Maybe it was just because I was hungry, or very thankful that we hadn't had to travel to Los Angeles with our bag, but Saturday dinner was very satisfying!

We were tired enough when all of this was done and we could finally turn in, so maybe you are, too. Chapter Two coming up!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Return to Yankee-Land

We're BAAAAAACK! From the sunny Southland, that is. Actually, we've been back since Saturday evening the 25th, but I haven't had time to post anything till now--too busy unpacking, putting stuff away, paying accumulated bills, walking the dog, and other necessary chores. Even now, bedtime approaches and I won't have time to provide a detailed rundown of our delightful visit last week to Jacksonville, Florida and Savannah, Georgia. But I plan to do just that over the next few days, as I'm able to get pictures off the camera and onto the computer for uploading, and line up links to all the fun places we visited (for an excellent preview, see my sister Patti's recent blog posts here and here). It'll be an enjoyable project; I think I left a piece of my heart down there, and can't wait to go back. If I had to live elsewhere than Western New York, I think the North Florida area would be it, summer heat and all (perhaps I could get acclimated to it; is the interminable winter freeze here any less miserable?). I have roots there as deep as I have here, after all. Now, what's a loyal Union soldier to do about that?

Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Southward, Ho!

If you've wondered about the inactivity of this blog the past week, it's because I've been getting ready to head South with Melany to visit my parents and sister and her family in Jacksonville, Florida. We're leaving in about an hour and will be there through April 25, so there will be no posts until next weekend, at the earliest. However, I'll return with plenty of pictures to entertain and astonish you!

Considering that all of us getting together down South are opposed to "abortion rights" and illegal immigration, that at least a couple of us are gun owners, and that one of us is a military veteran, the Department of Homeland Security will surely regard this as a convention of right-wing, ne0-Confederate terrorists, and will be monitoring us accordingly. They'll have to detail someone to follow Melany and I up to Savannah, Georgia during the week, where we'll be staying for a couple of days to take in the awesome history and beautiful architecture and culture there. We'll be thinking of you all even as we dodge the spies! God bless, and may we return safely.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

All Creatures of Our God and King

An extra Easter treat! Here is another of my favorite hymns, All Creatures of Our God and King, which was sung in church today. It's the greatest hymn to the wonder of Creation that I know. You might also call it "Ecumenism Gone Wild": the text was composed in Italian by the monk St. Francis of Assisi cir­ca 1225; it remained virtually unknown for almost 400 years and was finally trans­lat­ed to Eng­lish by Wil­liam H. Drap­er for a child­ren’s Whit­sun­tide fes­ti­val in Leeds, Eng­land, and first appeared in print in 1919; the basic melody is from an old German Catholic hymn; and the arrangement you hear today is by the great English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams for the Anglican English Hymnal.

The version immediately below is by the contemporary "Christian rock" David Crowder Band. I usually prefer traditional arrangements, but this one--while featuring modern rhythmization and instruments--is completely faithful to the original words, melody, and spirit, and is set to a beautiful video that includes the text you can read along to.

The version below features a traditional arrangement by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It's lovely, and has a very nice video, but (as is often the case with MoTab) it's hard to discern the words in all the voices and orchestration. I've included the text below this video, which you can copy and save. Once again, HAPPY EASTER!

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!


O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in Heaven along,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou rising moon, in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice!


Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy Lord to hear,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest man both warmth and light.


Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfoldest blessings on our way,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
Let them His glory also show.


And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye! Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care!


And thou most kind and gentle Death,
Waiting to hush our latest breath,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou leadest home the child of God,
And Christ our Lord the way hath trod.


Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!


Saturday, April 11, 2009

He Will Swallow Up Death in Victory

HAPPY EASTER, EVERYONE! May this beautiful day fill your heart with joy, and portend the coming of that miraculous day when tears will be wiped away from all faces, forever.

Just this weekend I discovered something beautiful--learning, praise God, never ceases! While looking for artwork with which to adorn an Easter post, I stumbled upon some of the most moving depictions of Christ's life I've ever seen. They're by the Danish artist Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834 – 1890), whose complete works can be viewed here and here. He was commissioned to do 23 new paintings illustrating the life of Christ for the King's Praying Chamber at Frederiksborg Castle Chapel in his native Denmark. Bloch spent the next 14 years on the project, after which he came to be recognized as "perhaps the greatest artist ever to interpret the life and death of Christ."

I've chosen three of his works to illuminate the Easter story, and have paired them with selections from Scripture conveying the significance of the miraculous events shown. The first is a detail from a larger work (which you can see in full here) depicting an angel comforting Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. Every time I look at it I'm moved to tears; no better depiction of love and faithfulness has ever been wrought, and it reminds me so poignantly of our Savior's unimaginable suffering as He took upon Himself the staggering weight of all mankind's sins, so that we might live (and how great a being must have been that angel, to be chosen the Lord's comforter in that terrible hour?). The other two works speak for themselves, and are just as powerful.

The Fleming Family wishes you all the happiest and most blessed Easter!

And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. ~ Luke 22:41-44
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. ~ Isaiah 53:4-5

He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces . . . ~ Isaiah 25:8

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

In Spring a Young Man's Fancy . . .

. . . turns to running streams, frogs, mud, and that wonderfully fresh, earthy smell in the air that I remember from early April days in my childhood. I've never lived any place where seasons can be experienced so intensely as Grand Island, New York. And it's hard to express the thrill we felt when winter finally started to dissolve into spring; when one could venture outdoors without being immobilized by heavy clothing, when the sounds of wildlife could be heard again, and warm sunshine mixed with cool air in a most invigorating way.

Melany and I were walking our dog Frank along the Erie Canal near our house last week, when she stopped, listened, and asked me what that chorus of chirping noises was. I told her it was all the frogs in a marsh that bordered the canal path, and about how loud and omnipresent that spring music was when we grew up almost surrounded by marshes on Staley Road on the Island. That got me thinking about how we'd go back into those swamps and catch tadpoles in old jars.

And that took me back to other early spring adventures that I, my brothers, and sister had in the woods and fields around our house. We'd find some ditch full of water, dam it up with rocks or fallen branches, and divert it into a new stream, creating rapids and waterfalls that we "sailed" sticks and improvised boats over as if we'd just fashioned Niagara itself. If only we could sustain that kind of energy and imagination into adulthood--there's nothing we might not accomplish!

Please feel free to share your own springtime memories here!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Book Review: Pioneer Family

I recently finished reading a book that Mom loaned me a few months ago, Pioneer Family by Michel Oesterreicher. It's one of those books you never forget, one that so effectively pulls you in that you feel as though you lived in the times and events described, and know the characters personally. And in the timeless lessons it imparts, the book leaves you a little wiser and richer in understanding than before you read it.

The author, a lifelong resident and teacher in the Jacksonville Beach area, interviewed her parents, Hugie and Oleta Oesterreicher, about their past and the origins of their families over a number of months before they died in the late 1980s. The Oesterreichers and Browns (Oleta's) lived in rural northeast Florida, between St. Augustine and Jacksonville, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when most of that area was still an untamed frontier. The Oesterreichers lived in a cypress cabin on the edge of a great swamp, and there Hugie learned to herd cattle, hunt wild hogs and deer, cut palms (ever wonder where our Palm Sunday palms come from?), fight rattlesnakes and bears--and do everything he needed to survive and raise a family in this tangled wilderness. Oleta Brown grew up on a dairy farm near Pablo (now Jacksonville) Beach, and learned what it meant to sacrifice one's own dreams for the sake of the family. The book traces their lives from earliest childhood through adolescence and adulthood, and explores how even the joy of their marriage was fraught with difficult choices about their families and futures. In the course of the book you experience with them sickness and death, endless work, and the wonders of nature; how clothes were made and cleaned; how food was prepared; how to apply a poultice of boiled onions and make a soothing broth from dried chicken gizzards; and how you never went into the woods without a firearm with which, if you were quick enough, you could kill any rattlesnake you might step on. You also experience the miracle and agony of childbirth; the passing of parents; and the privations of the Great Depression (including how to make bootleg whisky with which to pay your family doctor). Through the book you even learn how the Oesterreichers and Browns experienced two world wars (including the sinking of a freighter by a German submarine off the Florida coast); coped with the end of the Florida wilderness; and adapted to vanishing ways of life, over and over again.

Pioneer Family is written in a rich and often poetic, but very readable style. Its descriptions of woods, swamps, beaches, animals and people are remarkably vivid, and pull you into the wold of northeast Florida in its waning, but still wild, wilderness days. If you seek inspiration in your own, modern, life, you'll ironically find it in this book about those who lived it to the fullest a century and more ago.

You can order the book directly from

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Remembering the Maple Leaf

Apart from being April Fool's Day, today is the 145th anniversary of the sinking of the Union army troop transport Maple Leaf (April 1, 1864), by a Confederate mine floating in the St. Johns River near Jacksonville, Florida.

A 181-foot long side-wheel steamer, the Maple Leaf had been in federal service for more than two years, after an distinguished 11-year career hauling freight and ferrying passengers--often on special excursions, complete with dancing and a shipboard band--from Rochester, New York to points on both sides of Lake Ontario. After less than a year carrying soldiers, equipment, and supplies along various stretches of the Atlantic coast, she was hijacked by a desperate group of Confederate army prisoners off the coast of Virginia, who paddled her lifeboats to shore and then led Union cavalry detachments on a celebrated chase through the dense wilderness before reaching the safety of Richmond.

Shaking off this embarrassing episode, the Maple Leaf operated in support of the siege of Charleston and, a few months later, ferried Union Gen. Truman Seymour to Jacksonville, Florida to launch an expedition to seal off that state's supplies from the rest of the Confederacy. That effort came to grief on February 20, 1864 at the Battle of Olustee west of Jacksonville, and a few days after that the Maple Leaf brought Union reinforcements to the city, including the 112th New York Volunteer Infantry, a regiment from Chautauqua County, New York not far from the Maple Leaf's former home port in Rochester. In late March the Maple Leaf returned to Jacksonville loaded with equipment belonging to the 112th and her sister regiments. After a quick trip up the St. Johns to Palatka, the ship was returning to Jacksonville when she struck the mine about 4 a.m. near Mandarin Point, and sank to her wheelhouse in a matter of minutes. The mine had been placed by Confederate troops under the command of ace intelligence agent Capt. E. Pliny Bryan, sent from Charleston by Gen. Pierre G.T. Beauregard to hamper Union river traffic in Florida. The sinking of the Maple Leaf was the opening salvo in what turned out to be a short, intense "war" on the St. Johns that cost several more Union boats and crews.

That wasn't the end of the story, however. In the 1980s and 90s a group of amateur historians and divers located the long-submerged hull of the Maple Leaf off Mandarin Point in the St. Johns, and recovered from her thousands of artifacts including camp and mess equipment, canteens, belt plates and buckles, cartridge boxes, knapsacks and haversacks, gum blankets, buttons, dress swords, medical supplies, musical instruments, smoking pipes, twists of tobacco, toothbrushes, razors, and even sea shells and other souvenirs apparently collected by the 112th's men during their long service on the Atlantic shore in South Carolina. Much of this treasure-trove is now on display in the Jacksonville Museum of Science and History (MOSH). According to Edwin C. Bearss, former Chief Historian of the National Park Service, "the Wreck of the Maple Leaf is unsurpassed as a source for Civil War material culture. . . It is the most important repository of Civil War artifacts ever found and probably will remain so."

This writer has several personal connections with the Maple Leaf story, having grown up in Western New York near the 112th NY’s home in Chautauqua County, and years later lived just a few miles from the Maple Leaf's pre-war home at the Port of Rochester. My parents now live in Mandarin, Florida, near the spot in the St. Johns River where the Maple Leaf sank. My mother grew up in Jacksonville, and is the great-great-granddaughter of a lieutenant in the 8th Florida Infantry. I'm planning to visit Jacksonville in April, and the Maple Leaf exhibit at JMOSH is definitely on the itinerary! I'll bring back pictures and other choice tidbits to share.

To read the Maple Leaf story in more detail, see my full article at Military History Online. To read all about her pre-Civil War history and the remarkable story of her location and recovery, see the Maple Leaf Shipwreck site, put together by the men who brought her back to life.