Proud Mom of a Starfleet Cadet

Last month we attended Sue and Rick’s White Elephant party.  Remember Sue?

Everyone brought a wrapped “White Elephant,” something new or used to pass on.  We drew numbers, with number one picking a gift and unwrapping it.  The next person could choose an unopened gift or lay claim to someone’s opened gift.  But a gift couldn’t change hands more than three times.

I’ve always been a Trek Geek so in my opinion, the best prize was an email address “@ starfleet.com,”and that’s even before I realized it was the gift that would keep on giving.  It was snatched twice by Star Trek officianados, AKA Trekkers.  When my daughter Bea’s turn came, she commandeered the Starfleet address and no one could take it from her, as she was the third to claim it.  At the holiday’s end, she returned to school.


Soon after, I received my first email from my cadet at Starfleet Academy.  She had enlisted!

Dear Mom and Dad,

 I just wanted you to know that I have settled into my dorm room and all is well. My roommate is an Aaamazzarite. It is a little awkward between us still because I can’t pronounce the name of her species. On the bright side, however, Aaamazzarites are hairless, so vacuuming is quite easy. It’s better than last year, when I roomed with that girl from Sigma Iotia II. She kept trying to extract protection money from me and teach me some weird game called “bizz fin.” 

I started classes yesterday.  I’m pretty excited for Andorian Early Empires, though there is only one other person in the class, and he’s…well…Andorian. Wish me luck. I’m also in Xenolinguistics, Intelligently Fudging Incident Reports (which, legend has it, Kirk got an A+ in), and the Starfleet Graphic Novel Project, which follows the struggles of 13 female Starfleet captains back when sexism was still a thing.

 I also made a couple of friends. One of them is a fellow student of xenobiology. We’re both interested in extraterrestrial ecology. He seems pretty fun, although he’s strangely obsessed with mustaches. The other guy is a Ferengi. He talks really quickly and likes juggling gold-pressed latinum. Unfortunately for him, he is very good at juggling but has no latinum to juggle. He plays the Vulcan lute surprisingly well. 

Anyways, I’ll let you know how things go. I love you and miss you!

 xoxo,

Bea

Upon reflection, Bea at Starfleet Academy made perfect sense.  She was always keen to explore strange new worlds…

–especially her own little world.

I recalled the voyages of the star child Beatrice.

Her ongoing mission…

…to seek out new life…

…and new civilizations.

 Rife with pirates…

…cannibals…

…and pink fuzzy brainsucking creatures.

From the tiny…

…to the towering.

And at great personal risk…

…To boldly go…

…where no man has gone before.

She is well qualified.  A Starfleet cadet needs to be flexible.

She always manages to bounce back…

…blend in with the locals…

…and keep her head.

We can hardly wait to beam down to the Academy in San Francisco to check out her new Starfleet digs.

Barring any transporter accidents…

…which can get SO messy.

We’ll tell you all about it.  In the meantime…

Dear Bea, 

It’s good to know you are all settled into your dorm.  Life goes on, but it isn’t the same without you.  To cheer ourselves up in our Empty Nest, Dad and I took a short trip to Risa.  When they say what happens at Risa stays at Risa, they aren’t kidding.  He left six bars of gold pressed latinum at the Dabbo tables.  It’s lucky I’m such a cheap date.  All I needed was a l’il sippy cup of Romulan Ale, and a few hours in the Holo Suite.  I like that program about The Battle of Hastings, only I programmed it so that King Harold Godwinson could kick William the Conqueror’s ass right back to Normandy.

The bad news is that we asked Grandma to take care of your pet tribble, Odysseus, while we were gone.  Unfortunately, Grandma forgot she wasn’t supposed to feed it.  By the time we got home, five days later, there were eight generations of tribbles crammed into the cage, and they had all died of suffocation.  We put them in stasis and can have the funerals—228 of them–when you come home for spring break.  Maybe we can get you a nice Cardassian Vole.  

Don’t turn your back on that Ferengi, and don’t get killed!

Love,

Mom and Dad

 

Copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck

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Island Time

Little pockets of Britain, such as Gibraltar, can be found in the most unexpected places.

You will know them by their breakfasts.

Their mailboxes…

Their unique signage…

And their excellent thrift stores…

…which are staffed by the friendliest most helpful people, like Thelma and Kathy with a ‘K’.

In Britain, thrift shops are centrally located, often on the high street, each dedicated to a worthy cause: for the poor, cancer research, head injuries, or mental illness.  Thelma and Kathy, Hospice Shop volunteers, saw us trying on Queen Mum hats and took it upon themselves to outfit us.  Each time Kathy handed a new outfit into the fitting room, she said,  “My talents are wasted in the office!”  And we had to agree.

Our Channel Island adventure actually began with last month’s trip to Belgium.  My sister Constance and I had both enjoyed reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  While we were on that side of The Pond, we decided to visit at least one of the Channel Islands.

Jersey Island is home to the famous Jersey Cow…

…home to the famous Jersey Royal Potato…

…and home to author Roy McCarthy, who has written several books set on Jersey.  He is an expert on Jersey history, a blogging buddy of mine, and he offered to show us around.  Who wouldn’t pick Jersey?

But first, you may ask, how does Jersey, which is spitting distance from France, come to be so very English?

Back in 1066, after William the Duke of Normandy conquered England he changed his name to William the Conqueror and expanded his job description to include ‘King of England.’

The Channel Islands were a possession of Normandy long before England was, and remained so until 1214, when King John of England (aptly nicknamed ‘John Lackland’) lost Normandy to France.  The islanders picked up their marbles, cast their lot with England rather than France, and were rewarded for their loyalty with privileges other English possessions did not enjoy.  To this day they are “bailiwicks’ of England, possessions of the crown, but separate from Britain, with their own financial, legal, and judicial systems.  This, BTW, is why financial business is Jersey’s main industry, and the per capita income is much higher than in most countries.  And why, Thelma explained, the thrift stores have such great merchandise.  They can afford to wear it once to a wedding and give it away!

Roy started our tour here.  On June 28th, 1940, the Nazis preceded their occupation of the Channel Islands by bombing this harbor.  He showed us bullet holes in the stone wall from machine gun strafing and, sadly, a memorial to the dead.

Signs of the German occupation remain all over the island.  It was one of the most fortified German holdings in Europe, far out of proportion to its strategic value.  Hitler, disappointed at his failure to conquer England, took particular satisfaction in occupying the Channel Islands, and he meant to keep them at all costs.

The Jersey War Tunnels are a huge complex of underground tunnels built by the Germans during the occupation, using slave labor.  The Germans maintained a hospital there for wounded German soldiers.

The tunnels, like the history, seem to go on and on forever.  The museum established in the tunnels echoes with footsteps and voices from the past.

They pull no punches, telling both the good and the bad that occurred on the island.

At first there were only a few hundred Germans, who were told to keep relations with the natives civil.  Being stationed on Jersey was like a picnic to the Germans, with merchandise on the shop shelves to send home to their families, no bullets or bombs to dodge, and little resistance.

Below are just two of the museum mannequins that came to life and spoke in English with German accents, trying to engage us as they might have done to islanders in 1940.  He was the enemy, the occupying army, and had the power of life and death over you, and then there were the stories of Nazi brutality that had preceded the soldiers.  With all that in mind, would you respond to a German soldier if he shouted a cheery greeting to you, or could you ignore him?

Would you do his laundry if he offered you extra food rations?  What if he said your child looked like his little boy at home and offered to buy him an ice cream?

As the war proceeded, conditions worsened.  Thousands more soldiers came, as many as one German soldier for every two islanders.  Rules tightened, food and supplies grew scarce, civility waned.  Owning a radio was a crime punishable by death.  One woman was shot for rejecting the advances of a German soldier.  Other women had affairs with them, were judged harshly and called “Jerry bags” by the islanders.  Some escapes were attempted, but few were successful; those apprehended were shot or deported to Auschwitz, where most perished.  Some people sheltered fugitive slaves, shared their resources, or found other ways to resist the Nazis.   Also on exhibit were letters sent anonymously by islanders to Nazi commanders betraying their neighbors’ transgressions.  Why?  To settle old scores or to curry favor or simply for financial gain.  It happened all over Europe, but it was still sobering and sad.

Eleanor Roosevelt said that a woman is like a teabag–she never knows how strong she is until she gets into hot water.  I think that’s true, and it is in times of war and desperation when your true colors show.

The occupation of Jersey is the subject of Roy’s book, Tess of Portelet Manor.  

“In pre-war Jersey, Tess Picot is young and in love.  Living with her mother in a cottage on idyllic Portelet Common, the days are sunny and long.  But can it last? Soon the clouds of war approach and the Channel Islands are occupied by Hitler’s Nazi troops.  Tess’s heart has been broken, maybe beyond repair.  But like the cottage on the common Tess grows stronger as the long years go by.Follow Tess Picot as she battles through the harsh Occupation years, loses friends and tries to love again. Will she succeed? The journey is a remarkable one with an unexpected ending.”

We took a hike…

…and saw the raw beauty of the island.

…with stories to be discovered everywhere, from many different periods in history,

…or legends based on natural features, such as The Devil’s Hole.

All of it was pure gold.

Roy pointed out the places we had read about in his book. This was the beach Tess walked on, until the Germans mined it.

Here was the hotel where the Nazis set up their headquarters.

And here it is today, just around the corner from where my sister and I were staying.

I can’t remember whether Tess and her mum came to this pub for a pint, but we did.  It was the perfect way to top off an incredibly full day.

As our ferry pulled away,  Jersey faded into the fog, but the island’s stories and histories remain vivid, colorful, and compelling.

c2013Naomi Baltuck

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Where Are We? Where’s Walter? And Where is That Fleeting Moment?

My daughter Bea’s spring break didn’t coincide with her Dad’s, so we took our first overseas trip together, just the two of us.

She was a sophomore in high school, but I knew she  would be college bound before I could blink twice, and her spring breaks and summers would likely be spent on internships, summer jobs, or traveling with friends.  Each moment felt precious and fleeting, except perhaps our first night in England, when my darling girl got very sick.  There was nothing fleeting about that night–it lasted an eternity!  But Bea rallied, and we made the most of every moment.

Each day I studied the map and planned our route, which ‘A’ road led to which ‘B’ road which led to tiny country lanes with no names.

“Why bother, Mom?  We always get lost anyway,” said Bea.

Good point.   If we asked a local for directions, the answer went something like this: “Right! Take the left fork, then the second right, go past three fields and take a left where the old oak used to be…”  Once I even had to knock on a stranger’s door to beg directions.

But a dandelion is only a weed if you don’t want it, and getting lost was an interesting diversion, so long as we were in no hurry, and we never were.  Our oft-repeated motto was, “We always get where we’re going…………………………………………….eventually!

I wanted to share some of my favorite places with Bea and do a bit of research for a historical novel, but mostly I hoped to discover exciting places new to us both.  On previous trips, I’d never made it to Canterbury, though the town had played an important role throughout English history.   So we moseyed to Canterbury, and stayed at Blackfriars, an inn that was once a 13th century friary.

At Canterbury Cathedral we had our tour guide all to ourselves.  I’d have sworn he’d stepped right out of a BBC special, with his gray hair, proper English accent, and Mr. Rogers sweater and tie.  He also carried a cane, and I suspect that he’d suffered a mild stroke.  Yet here he was, kindly sharing his expertise and his precious time with us.  We asked questions about the cathedral and even ventured into politics, current events, and other matters I’d always wondered about, such as, “What do contemporary English people think about Henry VIII?”  When our tour ran over–too many questions–our guide called the front desk for permission to spend another hour with us.  We felt so honored and grateful.  After saying goodbye to him, we went to the gift shop for our pilgrim badges.

We heard great stories from John the Boatman on the canal tour in Canterbury.  When we came to a particularly low bridge, he  warned us to duck.  As we passed under, he pointed out the groove worn into the center stone by the heads of boatmen not quite fleet enough, at least when it came to ducking.  How many times, I wondered, would you have to smack the back of your head before you caught on?  And how many boatmen had it taken over the centuries to wear a grove in the stone?

Some of our discoveries were due to fools’ luck.  On an evening stroll we stumbled upon this little coffee shop where in 1620, according to its proprietors, America began.  (It was the place where the Mayflower was hired to carry pilgrims to America. Using that logic, the soda fountain where Mr. Disney popped the question to the future Mrs. Disney is the place where Disneyland began.)  Nevertheless we took a photo for future reference, since we have a personal history and interest in the Mayflower.

We visited castles, museums and took high tea, but a trip to the grocery store was as much fun as Disneyland.


We love to try new things, especially when the second ingredient listed is sugar.

…and I think there should be a monument erected in honor of Mr. Kipling, for his contribution to the world–Mr. Kipling’s Exceedingly Good Cherry Bakewell Tarts.

But Bea and I don’t need a tourist attraction to amuse ourselves–we talk history, life, story and more story.  Wherever we go, Bea and I  inevitably produce an outline for a novel based on this era or that event, and England was a fertile and storied land long before we arrived.   We took turns brainstorming and talking each other through rough spots in our writing projects.  I’d just finished a draft of a women’s contemporary, Real Troopers.  One of my characters is Walter Clark, a retired F.B.I. agent, poet, and amateur astronomist.  He is older, with white hair, a good looking sixty-something.  But was he too good to be true?  Could someone like Walter exist in real life?  Bea and I invented a game, ‘Where’s Walter?’  On country lanes and city streets, we kept a discreet eye peeled for him.

“How about him, Mom?” asked Bea, casually nodding her head in the direction of a man walking toward us in the crowd.

“Too young,” I said.

“How about him?” asked Bea.

“Too old,” I said.  “Oooh, don’t look, Bea!  Turn slowly and check out that gent by the phone booth.  Could that be Walter?”

Bea pretended to stretch, discreetly twisting her head for a look, then gave her report.  “Walter would never have frown lines.”

She was right, of course.  We left Canterbury and The Walter That Wasn’t to depart for our next destination.  Not knowing if I’d have another chance, I had splurged for a night in a very spiffy 15th century B&B, The Olde Moat House, in Ivy Church.  There was a tiny hamlet with only a church and a pub, where two men were having a pint at an outside table.  We were coming from a different direction than we’d planned, but figured we would find our way there…………………………………….eventually.   After a mile or so, we realized we’d overshot the town and turned back.  As we passed the pub for the second time, one of the men jumped up and flagged us down.   I stopped and rolled down the window,  and he said, pointing,“The Olde Moat House.  It’s in that direction.  Look for a gate with two white posts.”

 “How did you know?” I asked.

“A mother and a daughter.” (He did NOT say “looking confused,” but he didn’t need to.)

For one night, Bea was a princess.


The next day we had tea at The Mermaid Inn in Rye.

The inn was there at the time of the Conquest.  It was so old they had to remodel in anticipation of a visit by the first Queen Elizabeth.

Our bartender was Paddy Mortimer, whose ancestor had come over with William the Conqueror.  (We forgave him.)  When he heard Bea had been ill, he mixed her the special orange juice concoction his mum always made him when he was sick, and served it to her on the house.  He had us wait five minutes for his shift to end, so he could escort us to our car park.  Thank you, Paddy, dear lad.

True ghost stories from Dover Castle must wait, as will the story of our visit to Battle Abbey, where we walked the battlefield on which the last Anglo-Saxon king, Harold Godwinson, was defeated by William the Bastard, thereafter known as William the Conqueror.

I also wanted to take Bea to Battle, because it is the starting point of my historical novel, The Keeper of the Crystal Spring, which I co-authored with my sister Deborah.  It was a really special moment to share with my daughter.

So we had our eating moments,

and our bleating moments…
null

…and even our cheating moments.

That happened on the Underground.  We were returning from London to our  hotel when I saw him.  Among the bustling crowd on the subway I saw Walter!  “Look, Bea,” I whispered.  “It’s him!”  Bea confirmed.  Yes!  We had a positive identification, but we needed documentation.  I whipped out my camera and said, “Smile!”  Bea did, and I shot right past her head to snap a creeper photo of Walter, concrete proof that he did, indeed, exist!  But the shot was out of focus, soI tried again…

By that time I was laughing so loud that I embarrassed Bea, and drew unwanted attention.   Thank goodness, the train stopped, and we all went our separate ways.  But now I know, somewhere in the streets of London, Walter exists!

I will tell you one more story, about the 650 year old Clergy House in Alfriston.

In the 1880s it was in a state of decay, and church authorities wanted to tear it down.  Living there was a ninety year old woman who had been renting the house from the church for many years.  She cried and begged them not to destroy her home and put her out onto the streets.  They took pity, and granted her permission to live out the rest of her life in the old clergy house, and then they would raze it.  She surprised them all by living another three years, just long enough for the right folks to found The National Trust.  They got organized just in time to purchase The Clergy House, raise the funds to restore it, and maintain it as a priceless national treasure, the very first property of many such historic treasures acquired by The National Trust.  When we toured the house, there was a smooth-edged little hole in the lintel over the front door, worn into the wood by six centuries of coming and going of the furry little bats living among the rafters.  Who would have thought such fleeting appearances by such tiny creatures would make such a lasting mark?

Fleeting moments occur, and often reoccur.  I think of the Canterbury boatmen who wore down a stone bridge with the backs of their heads.  But then there are the bats who have done much the same thing at The Clergy House, only they created a pathway to home, a far worthier pursuit than banging your head against a wall.  I’m more like a bat than a boatman.  Every expression of love, every shared smile, every conversation we have is a precious fleeting moment in time.  Just like it did for the bats, that moment builds upon itself, and the effect is cumulative.   I think of the empty nest I will be living in next year, but I will try not to feel too sad.  Bea and I have shared a lifetime of fleeting precious moments that have worn a pathway from heart to heart, and that will never go away.

Copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck