Wednesday, October 04, 2006


The leaves are starting to turn, many of them already dried and falling. Michigan is speeding into autumn this year, the rains beginning in late August, robbing us of that late summer glory that other years have given us. Soon the horizon will sport a blast of color, an artist's palette that no painter can really copy satisfactorily, a blazing rainbow of reds, oranges and yellows that are the dying efforts of millions of leaves, many of which I will have to rake up and cart away.

I was born in the fall, in a farmhouse in the countryside which my parents called The Big House. It was a ramshackle affair, or so I hear, but later it was bought by someone with enough money to spare who turned it into some kind of a mansion. I have never seen it, even though it is just a short distance away. But I do know that this is the place where my panicked brother, Hubert, hid in the back of the car while someone drove to fetch the doctor. My birth was the only one in which my burdened mother had the services of a doctor. His name was Dr. Furlong, an obstetrician, who happened to be a Congressional Medal of Honor winner....and an artist.

Years later, I wrote a story about Dr. Furlong. He received his medal for valiantly and single-handedly taking out a platoon of German soldiers in order to rescue his own cornered teammates. He never mentioned his exploits at all during our interview, nor did he mention his medal. I had to find this out from other sources, because he just wouldn't talk about it.

I was an amateur reporter than and certainly an amateur photographer, but Betty, our managing editor, had equipped me with a camera to use when a professional photographer employed by our newspaper was not available. She evidently didn't want to waste too much money on an inept newcomer, so she bought the camera in a pawn shop, which was located around the corner from the newspaper offices.

So, there I was with this huge, boxy, expensive camera that had given some poor desperate soul a few bucks to live on, and I tackled the problem of taking a picture of Dr. Furlong, the Congressional Medal of Honor winner, the brave soldier turned doctor turned artist.

No one had given me even rudimentary training in photography and no one had told me that I should never to take a picture with the sun streaming through a window right in my face. I was blinded by the sun as I snapped the picture. It was my first attempt at photography.

When that picture was developed, it was a glory to behold. The sun, streaming in a golden shaft through that none-too-clean window was a shaft of light highlighting the silver hair and patrician face of that elderly doctor, the man who had come out in the night to deliver a baby, a twelfth child in a huge family, who was now snapping his photograph. He looked...well, to sound a bit melodramatic, almost saintly in that picture...and for years, it was on display in the Pontiac Art Museum, which carried the name of the Furlong Building, in honor of the old doctor who spent his Golden years promoting Art.

Think about it. Here was a man who had wiped out an entire German platoon, saving his buddies from certain death, surrounded by German air power and manpower, risking his own life to save others, who then refused to talk about his ordeal or the highest medal of the land given to him in gratitude. He had studied medicine and decided to go into Obstetrics. Was it to save lives after he had caused the death of so many German lives? There could be so many reasons for life's decisions, so many paths to take. I have often wished that Dr. Furlong had talked about his military service. These things have remained on my mind.

Retired now, I sit at the computer looking out a window that is as smudged as the one in Dr. Furlong's office. There is no sun streaming through this window, for rain has fallen for many days, many long and dismal days. Soon it will be the end of October and Halloween will be upon us. People will don their coats and take their costumed children by hand and go door-to-door in search of candy.

Why is Halloween in late October? Wouldn't it be better to have this holiday in July, when the weather is better? What!, you may cry, no pumpkins! But, think of it, in July, we have an abundance of zucchini. Noone in the world knows what to do with the huge supply of zucchini that comes from the garden. They multiply like rabbits. If they were valuable, a zucchini farmer would be rich. As it is, he gives them away to people who don't want them. It's a waste.

Zucchini would make wonderful Jack-o-Lanterns, a little oblong, but we could adjust to that. And we could take the kids out in warm weather, sans coats over bulky costumes. It would be a common sense solution, but it will never happen. We are stuck with Halloween in October as surely as Dr. Furlong is stuck with his heroic status that he refused to discuss.

This always reminds me of the song "My Way." A friend of mine recently died, and she requested the song to be played at her funeral. The thing is, she never did do anything her way. She was swept along by fate and responsibility just like the rest of us. Who is it that does things Their Way? The truth is, we are caught by circumstance and do our best with it, the lives of "quiet desperation" so publicized.

Undoubtedly, Dr. Furlong wished that he had never been faced with a German platoon. He spent the rest of his life trying to make up for what he had done, because he obviously did not consider it to be bravery, even though the rest of the world heralded him for his acts. The Art he supported, the primitive and happy scenes he painted and that hung in the Art Museum....that was HIS WAY, not the scenes of War he was forced into by fate.

I am not sure what would be MY WAY even if I were given the opportunity to enjoy it. I'd probably still be sitting at a computer typing these essays. I might think I'd like to be wealthy and famed and owner of a yacht, but the truth is even minor fame is hard to handle and I never could swim. Faced with all of the luxuries and the problems that accompanied them, I would probably opt for a cabin in the woods with a ream of blank paper to scribble upon.

I wish Dr. Furlong had really talked to me about his life, but he didn't. He left out the military, the medal, and the feelings he had about it all. And that's what we do in life, gloss it all over, ignore it, tuck it into the shadows of our minds. That's OUR WAY, and it explains why we remain strangers to each other, even with our common humanity.