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Buffeted by Change, I Step Back in Time

For a Veterans’ Day conversation with Bill Burton

Other seasons, change sneaks into our lives so stealthily that we can forget it is the law of time. This time of year, change shakes its scepter — and the leaves fall from the trees.

Overnight, fall turns its back on summer and runs for winter. Frost wilts the petunias, and we scramble to shut windows and find winter coats, while just days ago, we wore short sleeves. 

This very week, the Texas Rangers could have been on top of the world. Now that’s where the San Francisco Giants stand, the world champions of Major League baseball. 

In politics as in baseball.

Yesterday, hope spread far and wide. Today, there are winners and losers. Change shook its scepter, and power rose and fell. In Anne Arundel County, Virginia Clagett is ousted from District 30, after 15 years as delegate. Sue Kullen from Calvert County’s District 27B, after six years. Three of Calvert County’s longest serving commissioners — Wilson Parran, Barbara Stinnett and, in the primary, Linda Kelley — all are retired by changing time.

 

Fall Back

Time may pretend to stand still, but not for long. Quickly spent will be the extra hour we gain as we fall back from Daylight Savings Time in the early hours of November 7. 

With so much change in the air, I was longing to fall back in time as my restless head tossed on hot pillows in the last hours of All Souls Day, the feast celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church on November 2, this year’s election day. 

All Hallows Eve, aka Halloween; All Saints Day, November 1; All Souls Day; and Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos — which gives the dead all three days — don’t fall this time of year for nothing. So profound is change this time of year that the veil between now and then is porously thin.

As if my longing for old times had rung him up, Bill Burton stepped through the veil.

November’s bright Harvest Moon had waned, but my bedroom flooded with white light, as if that moon were shining through the high, uncurtained windows.

The whiteness concentrated, contracted into a pulsing point, then exploded into the white-bearded form of Bill Burton. Dressed in a white wizard’s robe adorned with swimming fish — rockfish and flounder and seahorses; yellow and white perch and red and black drum and bluefish; croaker and seatrout and eel — he banged his fishing pole on the floor to get my attention.

Sandra! he demanded. What the hell — [forgive me reader, but that was his word] is going on in the world of the living? Voters in the First Congressional District are turning out Frank Kratovil, who I endorsed in your pages as the only fit candidate to replace Wayne Gilchrest. Don’t those people care about saving the Chesapeake?

Bill, I said, today’s election results don’t seem to say the Bay is the biggest worry on people’s minds, even here in Chesapeake Country.

If you knew Bill Burton, you can imagine what he said then. I can’t print those words in this family newspaper.

Finally he allowed that I couldn’t control election results, but I damn well could control what goes into Bay Weekly. You haven’t forgotten Veterans’ Day, have you? he growled. What stories are you running?

No, Bill, I haven’t, I answered with pride. I’ve got a couple of good ones. One’s a memoir of a Chesapeake Country veteran who was awarded a Bronze Star for his World War II service in the China-Burma-India Theater. That was your war, Bill. I bet you’re sorry now that you never told your stories. 

That’s true, he said. The dead can complain about stories untold, but they can’t tell new ones.

My second Veterans’ Day story raised his spirits. 

Governor O’Malley … I began, but I didn’t get far before Bill cursed the re-elected governor for all sorts of perceived derelictions. While he was at it, he cursed Glendening and Schaefer, too, but no worse than he had in these pages while living. Bill hasn’t known a Democratic governor he liked since Harry Hughes. Bob Ehrlich, on the other hand, was a guv he liked.

Finally, I cut in. This time, Bill, you’re going to have to think a good thought about Martin O’Malley. Because our second story announces his new state program to take veterans out fishing on the Bay. 

Hrummmph! Burton said. I see he election-timed it to bring in some votes.

By now, All Souls Day was ticking into November 3, drawing our conversation to an end. 

Good thing you didn’t forget the veterans, Bill announced as his specter faded — but not before he uttered these last words: If you did, I’d haunt you.

That’s a scare, reader, that you and I can do without.

But Burton and I hope you won’t do without the stories in this week’s paper. Read on.