Stodghill Says So

An opinionated posting on a variety of subjects by a former newspaper reporter and columnist whose daily column was named best in Indiana by UPI. The Blog title is that used in his high school sports predictions for the Muncie Evening Press.

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Location: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, United States

At the age of 18 I was a 4th Infantry Division rifleman in the invasion of Normandy, then later was called back for the Korean War. Put in a couple of years as a Pinkerton detective. Much of my life was spent as a newspaper reporter, sports writer and daily columnist. Published three books on high school sports in Ohio and Indiana. I write mystery fiction for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and others. Three books, Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War, The Hoosier Hot Shots, and From Devout Catholic to Communist Agitator are now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers. So are four collections of short mysteries: Jack Eddy Stories Volumes 1 and 2, Midland Murders, and The Rough Old Stuff From Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sometimes it's smart to appear dumb

I’ve never been good at word games. At Scrabble or Boggle, Jackie beats me every time and a crossword puzzle for sixth graders leaves me mystified. Along with that, spending much of my life as a writer didn’t make me a whizz at spelling. I do OK, though, when typing words on a keyboard. I’d probably rate average or slightly above average just so long as the words are there for me to see.
Spelling aloud is another matter. I’m fine with “cat” or “dog” but anything beyond that would put me at the bottom of the infamous one-to-ten scale. That, I think, is because spelling without seeing the word is like looking at a digital clock; there’s no before and no after, just where you are at that particular moment.
I’ve written before about being a washout in the spelling bees we had in grade school. Those who went to schools like mine remember how the boys stood on one side of the room and the girls on the other. When you missed a word you were banished to your seat, frequently to the accompaniment of catcalls and Bronx cheers.
The second reason I was a failure at spelling bees was social standing. At ramshackle old Kent School, where you could look out the windows and see Goodyear Plant One and the Mohawk Rubber Company factory a stone’s throw away, knowing anything more than how to cause trouble meant a boy was in deep doo-doo with his peers. This was not true of the girls, who were admired for their spelling prowess and a variety of other reasons.
Being one of the last few boys standing resulted in derision from those already seated. My goal wasn’t to remain on my feet beyond the first or second word so not being able to spell aloud was an asset, not a liability. Trudging back to your desk, head down but with a sly grin on your face did wonders toward making your life worth living. It meant the other boys wouldn’t throw things at you, call you unprintable names or be waiting to jump you the moment you set foot outside the building. I made certain I was always a jumper, never a jumpee. It didn’t require much effort.
A couple of boys were good spellers and got away with it. One lived at the Childrens Home, the other didn’t. The one from the Home was under the protection of his fellow inmates, or residents if you prefer. The other kid was undersized and accepted as an intellectual. In today’s terminology, a nerd.
Girls were expected to be smart, of course. Good looking girls were expected to be the smartest. When a plain girl or one who was downright ugly missed a word she also heard catcalls and desk thumping from the boys already seated. When a pretty girl was sent down, only sighs of disbelief could be heard. Brains went with beauty, or so we thought. Finding that wasn't always true came as a blow to our preconceptions.
There were times, I admit, when I deliberately missed a word so that my reputation as just another fool remained untarnished. This often drew a jaundiced glance from the teacher because some of them believed I wasn’t as dumb as I looked. Fortunately, the other boys didn’t catch on. You might say that in order to have their respect you had to be smart enough to appear stupid. In some schools and other places that remains true today.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Three Little Girls

This morning for no particular reason I was thinking about a day thirty years ago in a courtroom in Hartford City, Indiana. Before the proceedings began a little girl of about three was playing with a toy in the center aisle of the spectator area.
When the defendant was brought in the little girl looked up from her play, saw the man and cried, “Daddy!” She went running down the aisle and had reached the barrier before her mother caught up and led her back to a seat.
Over the years I have sometimes wondered who it was that one day had to tell her that Roger Drollinger, the man she called daddy, was a mass murderer, the leader of a group of hellions who committed the Hollandsburg Massacre. I’m glad it wasn’t me.
That brought back the memory of a sunny summer morning in the Normandy town of Villedieu. Only rear-echelon troops were there when we arrived, no German infantry. Before those rear-echelon troops departed, civilians told us, they had used a saw-tooth bayonet (infantrymen didn’t carry them, knowing it would mean summary execution if captured) to cut off the leg of another three-year-old girl. I wondered, and still do today, what sort of men would have done such a thing.
That brought on yet another memory, this one of a small wooden memorial I first saw in 1945 in the town of Marchienne-au-Pont, a suburb of Charleroi, Belgium. It was a temporary monument put up immediately after the Germans had been driven out of the area. Originally there had been one of stone but the Germans had destroyed it when they again invaded Belgium in 1940.
Both the original and the replacement were tributes to an eleven-year-old girl named Yvonne Vielet. During the First World War of 1914-18, major battles were fought to the west and southwest of the town. French and British prisoners were marched through Marchienne on the way to camps in Germany. The Belgian citizens were warned not to give them food under penalty of death.
On her way to school one morning, Yvonne Vielet gave a small bun to a French prisoner resting beside the road. She was seen by Germans, taken into custody and ordered executed. A firing squad did the job. What sort of men, I wondered, were her captors?
The wooden memorial I saw in 1945 was replaced as quickly as possible by a new stone monument. We saw it during a visit there forty years later. There was no need to explain what it was I was looking for; any Belgian living in the vicinity knew its location.
After that Second World War I became acquainted with many former German soldiers and know that neither of those events was at all typical of Germans. Passions can run high in time of war, but only a certain type of man could commit such cold-blooded acts. Unfortunately you find that type in every country, including this one. How does a person reach that stage? I can’t imagine.

Monday, April 28, 2008

How long can anything go on?

Will it ever end? Wars end, plagues end, old soldiers fade away, empires rise, prosper for awhile and then die, even the illness that laid me low for more than a month may be nearing its end. The same can't be said for this political campaign that appears destined to drag on into eternity. It seems that it began back around 1936 so every time politics are mentioned on the news I check to see how FDR is faring against his challenger, Alf Landon.
As often as not political campaigns don't determine the best person for a job but merely show which among the candidates is the most unscrupulous liar. Just as often as that a campaign proves how adept the Democrats are at turning the tower of victory into the ashes of defeat. Without fail they also show there is no level of despicable behavior so low that Republicans will not wallow in it like pigs in a mud hole. And then there's Ralph Nader.
Now, after endless months (or has it been years or decades?) of campaigning and voting, the Democrats are considering changing the rules. Imagine waiting until the NCAA national championship basketball game is halfway through the fourth quarter and then, with one team trailing by seven points, announcing that for the rest of the way a basket will count only a single point and there will be no more three-point shots. Or stopping the Super Bowl with five minutes to play and the favorite holding a six point lead and saying from now on a touchdown is worth only three points, there will be no extra point attempts and field goals count for naught.
There would be rioting in the streets, of course. How about going into the bottom of the ninth inning of the final game of the World Series with the home team trailing by a run and announcing that now all hits will be singles, even those that travel over the fence, there will be no bases on balls and the batter is out on just two strikes.
And yet the Democrats are considering doing just that. How many people will care? Will angry mobs take to the streets? Not likely. After all this is merely about who may be running the country during perilous times, not something important like the Super Bowl or the World Series.
Doesn't a nation of roughly three million people deserve better? No, I don't think so.
This the 250th Stodghill Says So blog. I was determined to hit that number during April because it marks the blog's second anniversary. In mid-March it seemed like a sure thing, then every illness I've had in the past twenty years returned at the same time, although I did not have a second heart attack. So it turned out a little like Scott Dixon running out of gas in the final Indy Car race last year when the finish line and the national championship were in sight. Unlike Dixon, though, I made it to the end. You just never know.