Friday, May 10, 2019

Her Mother was a Pilot in WWII

This story begins about a month ago, in April of 2019, when I spent a day at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. One of their exhibits featured stories and photos about the role women played during the war. Six million of them joined the workforce. Some of them became pilots. I found myself fascinated by the history of women pilots, how many women flew warplanes, the valuable service they provided, and the initial resistance they faced.  

I mentioned this to a good friend, Bev Berner, one evening. Her reaction surprised me. “My mom was a WASP,” she said.  “She flew planes in World War Two.” Bev’s enthusiasm was contagious, and I told her I’d like to write about it.

So that’s what this story is about. Bev’s mom, Esther Dee Poole Berner. She was born in 1908 in Gadsden, Alabama, ran away from home when she was fifteen, got married, had a son, got divorced. Along the way she had various jobs, including a ballet instructor, sales girl in a variety store and - this is where fate steps in - a job at an airport in Houston. She went on her first flight there, in March of 1942, when the war was just four months old. Something clicked inside of her. She knew what she wanted to be. A pilot.

Esther Dee Poole Berner

The U.S. was at war with Germany and Japan, and we were losing. Men and materials were desperately needed. Women were becoming recognized as a valuable source of labor. You’re probably familiar with Rosie, The Riveter, thanks to the Norman Rockwell painting. Becoming a pilot for a woman, however, was scoffed at by most of the men in the military, starting at the top with General “Hap” Arnold. Women were already flying warplanes in Britain, from factories to bases, as that nation struggled to survive. America eventually caught on and formed the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in August, 1943. 

Bev’s mom joined the WASPs. Against imposing odds. Esther had only half the number of hours of flight time necessary, but she convinced Jackie Cochran, the founder of WASP, to accept her. When Bev talks about her mom, it’s with great pride, admiration and love. Consider these odds a woman faced then: over 25,000 women applied to the program…1,830 were accepted…only 1,074 completed training. That’s a success rate of 4%. And Esther was one of them.


Bev has her mom’s log books and flying records. They show that Esther joined the WASPs in July, 1943. Her job was to fly the planes - fighters, trainers, bombers, including the B-17’s - from the factories where they were built to the military bases on either coast. From there, the planes would be transported to England or the Pacific islands. 

As the end of the war approached,  the WASP program was disbanded in late 1944. Esther loved the WASPs but her job was over. That’s not the end of the story, however. She wasn’t finished with flying. Esther returned to Houston and found a job as a private pilot for a Texas radio station executive. 





Bev with her mother

Late in 1945, Esther married Don Berner and moved to Indianapolis. “I entered the picture in 1948,” says Bev. “My parents had an airplane. All their friends had airplanes. I thought everyone had an  airplane.” Then things changed. Life became difficult for them when Bev was nine. Her dad left them. Esther and Bev moved to smaller quarters, without a kitchen. “We were cooking out of an electric frying pan and doing the dishes in the bathtub,” said Bev. But Esther wasn’t finished with flying. Through hard work and determination, Esther became the Director of the Indiana Aeronautics Commission and in 1975, the Aviation Association of Indiana named her "Man of the Year." Outstanding achievements, satisfaction, a sense of worth, and a good mother to Bev - in other words, a life well lived. 
Read her obit to see just how far she came.  

So what’s this story about? It’s about a woman who was determined to succeed in something she loved. It’s about the dismissive attitude towards women by men. It’s about a daughter who inherited her mother’s optimism, determination and passion for life. It’s about my friend who wanted to share her mother’s incredible story. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Bed Bug Man: True Story


Aaron works for Rottler Pest Control. His job is to exterminate ants, roaches, stink bugs, spiders and mice. In this, he is like most exterminators. But Aaron has taken his mission to a higher level. He is passionate about bed bugs. Passionate in a pro-active, get rid of ‘em, sense. 
During a recent treatment at my home, when I had a minor invasion of stink bugs, we got into a discussion about pests in general, and bed bugs in particular. The conversation started when he told me he was at his dad’s house recently and noticed there was some minor bug activity in his house. I asked Aaron if it is an occupational habit that he looks for evidence of pest activity when he’s at someone’s house.
     “Yes,” he said. “I’m always looking, especially at a friend’s house. It’s what I do.” Kind of like a reformed bank robber who can’t walk into a bank without casing the joint.
     After he told me how he helped his dad eliminate his bugs, Aaron transitioned to bed bugs when I asked him what was the toughest pest to get rid of?  “Bed bugs, without a doubt,” he said. “Once they move in, it’s tough to get ‘em out.”
     He said that when he travels, he takes an intensely bright flashlight with him. One of those LED jobs that can blind a horse at one hundred yards. After he checks into a room, before he unpacks, he pulls back the spread and sheets on the bed and examines it for bed bugs. He keeps his suitcase by the door, unopened, until he has made sure there are none of those little monsters around. No, it’s not crazy. He knows of what he speaks. “Those bugs travel very well. They’ll get into your suitcase and then you bring them home with you and suddenly you’ve got bed bugs at home.” 
     As I listened to him describe the discovery and killing of bed bugs, I felt like I was listening to a special forces operative tell stories about his missions into the dark side. Hearing him talk about the discovery and killing of bed bugs was like listening to a great war story. Look for signs of enemy activity, find where they are, proceed to kill or evacuate, as needed. Take no prisoners.
     “They travel through electrical outlets,” he said. Which is why bed bugs frequently are found in adjoining rooms, whether it be a hotel, a motor inn, a condo, or an apartment. Even in someone’s two-story home, the bugs will travel through outlets, along the wires, into another location. “Maybe it’s the electric current they sense,” he said. “Something about electricity that appeals to them. I’m not sure. But I always treat electrical outlets when I find evidence of bed bugs.”
     It seems that bed bugs have no socio-economic preferences. They are a completely democratic and balanced population. “You find them in apartments in the city, in condos in Clayton, in mansions in Ladue. They can infest a sixty dollar a night motel room or a five hundred dollar a night hotel suite with a view. They go anywhere and everywhere. Doesn’t matter where you live.” 
     I fought the urge to run into my bedroom and check the bed right then.
“How do you get rid of them?” I said.
     “The best way is heat,” he said. “Heat the room to 120 to 150 degrees. That kills them.” Then he added, “If someone has oil paintings, that makes it more difficult. We have to use chemicals then. That amount of heat will make the oil paint run. I treated a guy’s house in the city. He had an oil worth a half million. I couldn’t do heat without ruining that painting.” That by itself is a terrific scenario for a movie, or at least an episode of S.W.A.T.
     Happy to say, I have never been plagued or infested by bed bugs. Just been lucky, I guess. I’ve seen a cockroach scoot out from under my bed at a hotel in Times Square. I’ve seen a dead mouse under the bathroom sink in a motel in the Ozarks. But a bed bug. Not that I’m aware of. One thing I know for certain. As long as there are people around like Aaron, I will rest easy. It’s like having Special Forces Ops around my house, their guns locked and loaded, keen eyes piercing the dark for any sign of movement. But, just to be safe, on my next trip, I think I’ll bring one of those LED flashlights with me. 


Saturday, February 16, 2019

Intelligence Briefing: The Great Poodle Conspiracy


A frightening movement is afoot that threatens our cherished relationship with the canine world and, possibly, the entire animal kingdom. This is not a false alarm. The evidence is right in front of our noses, so to speak.
You’ve seen “Planet of the Apes,” right? Either the original one with Charlton Heston from 1968 or the remake in 2001? That’s when Apes have taken over the world as a result of being domesticated by humans. A gradual process, unnoticed by everyone. Scary concept. Well, I’m not saying this current situation is as cataclysmic as the Apes but you just can’t be too careful.

Here’s what triggered my suspicion. I was walking with my golden retriever one afternoon in St. Louis’ Forest Park when I met a young couple with an interesting looking dog, a small fellow with a curly tan coat and hair hanging over his eyes. I asked them what kind of dog they had.
“It’s a Schnoodle,” the woman said proudly. 
She saw the blank look on my face, so she went on to explain that a Schnoodle is a cross between a schnauzer and a poodle. “A Schnoodle!” I exclaimed, attempting some enthusiasm. “Cute,” I added and continued my walk. You’ll never guess what I came across next. It was a strange-looking little dog, almost solid black with perky ears. It was on the end of a leash held by a short, elderly woman. Our dogs stopped to examine each other, so I asked her what kind of dog she had.
A Bossi-Poo
“A Bossi-Poo.” I asked her to repeat it, not sure I heard right. 
“What’s a Bossi-Poo?” I said, afraid of the answer.
“A cross between a Boston Terrier and a poodle.” She bent over and scratched its head. “He is so sweet. Aren’t you?” The question aimed at the dog, not me.


That’s when it hit me. Poodles are infiltrating the world of dogs. I have known about other mixes for some time: Labradoodles and Goldendoodles, specifically. But a Schnoodle? And a Bossi-Poo? What was going on? What else was out there, begging for our acceptance. I began to dig into the subject over the next few days. My findings were chilling. 
First, let me say that almost all of these crossbreeds are cute, at least to some degree. And they’ve been recognized by canine organizations such as the American Canine Hybrid Club and the Designer Dogs Kennel Club. Really. Hybrids and Designer Dogs have officially been sanctioned. The American Kennel Club doesn’t recognize any of these strangers, but maybe they’re just behind the times. Here’s the other stunner I discovered. There are 220 hybrid designer breeds. Of those, over 100 are poodle mixes. I hope you’re paying attention here. Something’s happening, right?

It all began back in the 1950’s when a cocker spaniel and a poodle got together and produced a Cockapoo. I know; sounds disgusting. In the UK they’re called Spoodles. A little better, guv’. The movement picked up steam in the 1980’s when a labrador retriever and a poodle got amorous and produced the Labradoodle. People loved this breed. Touted as hypoallergenic, and they didn’t shed. That opened the floodgates for the invasion of the poodles. It must have been a wonderful time to be a male poodle.
Here, for your reading pleasure, is a short list of these designer dogs. See if you can figure out the non-poodle breed.  Bichon Poodle, Maltipoo, Westiepoo, Cavapoo, Newfypoo, Whoodle, Bernedoodle, Bordoodle, Yorkipoo, Shihpoo, and let’s not forget the Bassetdoodle. This last one likes to overeat and is touted as being a fat and friendly little dog. Every home certainly needs a Bassetdoodle, just for laughs. My personal favorite is the Saint Berdoodle. Obviously a Saint Bernard and a poodle. I just hope, for humane reasons, that the poodle was a standard, not a miniature. 

Two more thoughts about this cautionary tale. First, Designer Dogs. To me, that’s messing with Mother Nature and smacks of genetic manipulation. I’ve seen enough science-fiction movies to know where that leads. Poodle hybrids have been created with the same care as handmade shoes. The breeders will fit your need, whatever you need. Personality, temperament, coat, intelligence, color, size. Just fill in the order form and Amazon will have your new dog to you by Tuesday. Secondly, the pure-bred poodle - care to guess when and where they originated? Try some time during the 1600’s. In Germany. Now we saw what transpired in 1914 and 1939. I’m just saying, you can’t be too careful.

One final thought. I looked at photos of these breeds, peered into their eyes. What I saw saddened me. I saw a loving creature appealing for help. A noble animal who had been processed through a breeding lab and turned into “something else.” Those eyes seemed to say, “Help, there are two of us in here. How’d we end up as two breeds in this one body?” This is a scary situation, a furry Frankenstein created by Man. I’m sure it’s my imagination working overtime. When I meet these hybrids on the trail, they all seem spunky, friendly, eager to please, connected to their owners. But maybe this is all just part of the grand plan. That’s what the Apes did. Made themselves indispensable to Man. And then - Wham! Took over the planet.
I might be wrong but I believe the invasion has just begun. 
                                            #


       (Originally published in the Early Spring 2019 issue of County Living Magazine)


Monday, January 21, 2019

Encore Peace

The lone figure in black sits at the long ebony Steinway on a large stage filled with musicians, also dressed in black offset by white shirts. The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. The pianist has recently completed a complex and demanding solo with the Symphony, Bartok’s Piano Concerto #3, to great acclaim. Now he is summoned by a standing ovation to return for an encore. 
He pauses before playing, as complete silence envelops the concert hall. The audience holds its breath in anticipation. Will he play something dashing and energetic? Will he run the scales and pound ferociously with his left hand? Will he attempt to dazzle us with blazing dexterity?
He begins the encore, slowly, quietly, and there it remains, a thoughtful mood, a gray sky with overtones of gold, a fading day. He plays as though playing for himself, in his music room at home, alone, contemplative, as though only he hears his song. The music is pensive, gentle, surprising in its delicacy. The entire focus of all eyes and ears throughout Powell Hall are on the pianist, the way he leans over the keyboard, his fingers assured in every move. All ninety members of the orchestra, focused on him, sit as still as the columns that surround them, cradle their instruments in their arms, as though holding an infant or a puppy.
The mood is holy. In close proximity to religion, maybe even closer to God. The audience is held in a spell. The audience, the music, the pure silence between notes and phrases, no one moves. We have entered the Kingdom of a Higher Power, a holy place, another world contiguous to ours where all is peace and love and delicate harmony. We are all one with the music, the simple yet complex sequence of notes. This, you realize, is how beautifully music binds us together.
The pianist leans and bends, his hands bringing forth clear notes that move us in inexplicable ways. His feet shift slightly under the keyboard, toward the pedals, away, his eyes move from the black and white ivories to somewhere above and beyond the piano, some distant scene only he can see.
Quietly, it draws to a close with no flourish, just a single fading note. A moment of silence. Then the two thousand of the audience and the ninety of the orchestra tell him how much they love him and what he has brought them.
The encore is over. In many ways, however, the music and the mystery will linger forever.




Monday, January 14, 2019

Cutting A Rug Isn't What It Used To Be


The idea was to go dancing some night. The subject of swing dancing had come up one evening with Zelda, a friend who likes to dance. (NOTE: Zelda is not her real name, not even close, but it keeps my friend at a respectable distance from this story. The only Zelda I’ve ever known was Aunt Zelda - my dad’s sister - who was a most unhappy woman whose default attitude was complaining.) I told her I thought it would be fun. At the time I assumed swing dancing was the same as jitterbugging. Which I used to be fairly decent at, but hadn’t attempted in a couple of years. No telling if my knees could still handle my inspired moves. Ballroom dancing, however, is an entirely different animal. I had seen that on TV, and even in person at a hotel in Louisville several years ago, where they were having regional finals. The men and women were dressed as though in an MGM musical, and their choreography was precise, inventive, and thoroughly unlike anything I was capable of. I was awed not only by their dance routine, but also by how much they must have spent on wardrobe. 
So Zelda and I headed to Kirkwood Station Brewing Company one Sunday night recently. There’s a large room on the left where young people go to hear blues and rock and whatever else is on tap, including their beers. Twice a month, the Southside Imperial Dance Club takes over. Neither Zelda nor I knew anything about them, or what kind of dancing they did. But from looking at their logo on their website, it sure looked like a jitterbug group to me. Talk about cutting a rug, this had to be the time and place, right?
A sparse crowd was in attendance. By sparse I mean there were more empty chairs than occupied ones. Maybe 40 or 50 people. The place holds a couple of hundred. I felt uncomfortable even before we sat down at a table next to a man who didn't dance the entire night, nor did he even smile or talk to anyone or acknowledge us. I know he was alive because I saw him blink. It wasn’t the sparseness of the venue that got to me, although that helped. It was a combination of the lighting and the music. To say the place was over-lit is like saying Forest Park has trees. Bright lightbulbs glowed overhead. Random spotlights beamed down from the ceiling. A stage up front was lit from behind by two blinding floodlights that could have provided security for a Walmart parking lot. How can you dance with so much light?, I wondered. It was worse than dancing outside. At least outside there are shadows. Here there were none. 
Then I noticed one of those mirrored balls hanging from the ceiling over the middle of the dance floor. I think they are called disco balls nowadays. This one wasn’t turning. There were no lights shining on it. It just hung there, dark and still, like a bat. The waitress came by in one of her infrequent trips to the tables. I asked her why the ball wasn’t being used.
“It makes them dizzy,” she said.
I wasn’t sure I heard right and asked her to repeat her answer. “It makes them dizzy. The little light reflections on the floor, going around and around, makes the dancers dizzy. They don’t like it.” She took a quick swipe at our table with a musty cloth and moved on. Zelda and I looked at each other and began laughing. 
But as bad as the lighting was, the music was worse. I don’t know what genre it was, or what decade it came from, or who the artists were. Neither one of us recognized any of the songs. The source of the music was from an old guy who sat on the stage with a laptop in front of him. All the music was on there. I had hoped for “live” music. I could have stayed home and listened to Spotify if I wanted unfamiliar tunes. We asked the music man to play something older, so we could swing dance. Like something by Benny Goodman, Chuck Berry, Count Basie, Bill Haley and the Comets, or even some decent rock we recognized.
“Don’t have any of that,” he said. “Got some on my other computer but that’s at home. Don’t think I got Benny Goodman though.”
In the meantime other couples got up on the floor, even women dancing with women. Shades of the Casa Loma Ballroom. And there were some good dancers. But with a few exceptions, they weren’t dressed like they were at a dance. More like they were going to dinner at Applebee’s or shopping at Sam’s Club. I was glad I hadn’t agonized over my wardrobe. But it all seemed to work, especially when just about everyone in the place got up on the floor to do one of those country dances where they all are in a line and do intricate steps and clap their hands. Zelda and I sat that one out. I tried it once, many years ago, and never did catch on. 
We did get some dancing in. Pretty smooth, if you ask me. Especially Zelda. She was even able to follow my thoroughly original and unpredictable moves. Jitterbugging kind of steps, turning and twirling and laughing and enjoying, if not the lights and music, just the idea of dancing. 
Dancing is one of those ancient and eternal activities that is its own fun and reward. I grew up with an affinity for MGM musicals, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Donald O’Connor, Judy and Mickey, and big bands. I love Broadway musicals like “42nd Street” with lots of tap-dancing. I loved “LaLa Land,” saw it twice just for the dancing. Which means swing dancing is in my DNA, and one of these nights we will find that special place with real “live” musicians and recognizable songs and a crowd that dresses up and, yes, even a mirrored ball  that won’t make anyone dizzy.



And who knows, we may get all dressed up, just like they did  at MGM.










Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Thanksgiving "You Can Go Home Again" Blues

This story takes place this past Thanksgiving, 2018. It begins on a train and ends in a bar.

It’s taken me almost a month to get around to finishing it. Better late….right?

That Wednesday morning I took Amtrak from St. Louis’ Gateway Station to Chicago to spend the holiday with my son, Gregg, who lives in Chicago, and my daughter, Holly, who was flying in from LA. All went smoothly, we connected in Chicago as planned, lucked out with mild weather, and spent a delicious and memorable Thanksgiving with two friends of Gregg - Keralee and Daniel. Traditional Thanksgiving dinner, fine wine, and stimulating conversation. Highlight of the conversation was a response to the “what are you thankful for?” question. Daniel (our chef and turkey carver) went along with the usual “friends, family, health” response. Then he added “music.” For the next several minutes he talked about what music means to him, how it brings people together, its power and permanence. We all joined in, sort of a verbal jam session. A memorable conversation.



I’m getting to the blues part.

That Friday night the five of us met at a bar called The Lighthouse, on the north side in Rogers Park. It’s a small place, a long and narrow neighborhood tavern with cluttered walls and a well-worn bar and random stools that speak to friends and neighbors and conversations and tears and laughter and closing calls.


This Friday night was an open mic night. A small space in the corner worked as the “performance” area, with drums, a keyboard, a few spotlights, and a couple of microphones. We found stools near that area, the five of us. No sooner had I been handed a bottle of a local brew than an old white guy, with white beard, stepped to the mic and said he was going to sing the blues. Then he added, “Is there anybody here who plays blues piano?”

Four fingers pointed at me. As you may know, I play blues piano, as long as it doesn’t stray too far from the 1-4-5 chord progression. And in the key of C hopefully. Even though I hadn’t played out in years, I couldn’t resist - either the opportunity or the pressure. I went up to the keyboard. “What key?” I asked. “C” he said. A match made in heaven. So he sang a blues I’d never heard before but it didn’t matter. Blues is blues. Halfway through he ran out of lyrics, so I soloed for a couple of choruses and finished with glissando up the short keyboard. (Glissando is more of a classical piano term seldom found in blues but what the hell, it was The Lighthouse.)

I started to sit down when the next act came up. A trio - drums, bass, guitar. “Hey, man,” the guitar player said. “Stay here. We need a keyboard.” I pretended I was reluctant but actually couldn’t wait to start playing. Which we did. One number and an old black guy came up to the mic. I could tell this guy had some chops. Well dressed, hair dyed and slicked down, a look in his eyes that said, “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet.” He led us through two or three tunes…I don’t remember exactly, kind of a blur…had the audience shouting for “more” and finished up with a dynamic version of a blues standard whose name I forget (again, kind of a blur).

With that, and another beer, the evening ended, at least for me and I grabbed an Uber back to the hotel.

There’s more blues to this story. Stay with me.

The next night, Saturday, I took the 7:00 train from Chicago, headed back to St. Louis. Sat by the window, looked out at the passing flatlands until the sun was gone and all I could see in the window was my reflection. Around midnight we neared St. Louis. As we sped down the Illinois side, I saw the Arch reflecting light across the river, and the glow of downtown. The train made an easy turn west and crossed the bridge. I saw the Mississippi, the barges, the dark stretch of shoreline that represents a sad commentary on our waterfront. It was almost a half-hour past midnight. I hadn’t had dinner. My plan was to go home, fix a couple of scrambled eggs, a cup of hot chocolate and go to bed. It had been a long day. But as we crossed over Broadway, I saw the lights of White Castle, then Broadway Oyster Bar, then BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups. “Hmmmm, I wonder who’s playing at BB’s tonight?” I said to myself. When you’re on a train it’s okay to talk to yourself, especially if the seat next to you is empty. Since I had parked my car in the Amtrak lot and I was already downtown…

Cut to the last chorus of the blues.

By 12:45, I was seated at the bar at BB’s, drinking one of the excellent 4 Hands brews. On the bandstand - a first-class professional bandstand - was Marquise Knox, one of St. Louis’ top blues guitar players, a young guy backed by a solid band.

The manager of BB’s, John May, sat next to me as we discussed life, love, loss and the blues. I hadn’t been to BB’s in many months, maybe a year or more. The bartender, Rob, who I hadn’t seen in a long time, poured me another beer, slid it over, said, “On the house. Good to see you. Welcome back.”

And so Thanksgiving weekend came to a close. I left BB’s at 2:30, giving thanks I had my kids, my friends, my music, and the blues.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

A Troubling Sound on a Sunday Morning

There are sounds that have become part of our collective memory. The rumble of thunder, birds brightly chirping, an airplane passing overhead, a knock on the door, a voice, a song, a dog’s bark. One sound, however, is irreparably changed for me.
It being a rainy Sunday morning today, my inclination was to either stay in bed until noon or sit by the fireplace, and read. But I told my friend George that I would meet him at Eliot Unitarian Chapel for eleven o’clock service. I’ve been dipping my toe, so to speak, into Eliot in my search for meaning or belonging or an alternative to Meet the Press. Maybe all three.
The sanctuary was full. George and I sat in the back row. He had knee surgery recently and needs the leg room. I like to look at all the people, like Eleanor Rigby. The service began. Piano solo, singing, readings, the children’s gathering, silent thought and remembrance, and then the sermon, by Reverend Gadon. She spoke of memory, of reviewing our lives, of reaching into our past to help define who we are today. She spoke about a people who have survived in spite of hatred and intolerance. This, in the shadow of the killings at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh. Her sermon was laced with warm humor and personal insights. She talks “with” people, not “at” them. 
Part way through Reverend Gadon’s sermon, a passing siren broke the mood. Seconds later, a second siren sped by. They were intrusive, dominant, sharpened by unknown events somewhere “out there.” Months ago, even weeks ago, I would have assumed they were going to a fire, a domestic dispute,  an auto accident or maybe even an attempted hold-up in some store. Not today. The sound of the siren uncovered something new in me. Possibly for many of the others in the congregation as well. It now carried a different message, a reminder and a warning.
Today it seemed possible there might just be another mass shooting somewhere, a nut with guns and lots of clips who had decided it was time to take action to get rid of evil in our community, our nation. Someone who realized that now it was safe to step out of the darkness and do something. Sitting in the sanctuary of the chapel, I couldn’t assume this was a “safe place.” I couldn’t assume that the many churches in Kirkwood on this Sunday morning were immune from this hatred. Perhaps the sound of the siren carried new meaning to them as well.
Reverend Gadon continued with her comments on life, unity, acceptance, and survival. With some effort I pulled myself back into the moment. She concluded on a note of hope. The service ended with warmth and uplifted spirits, people chatting and shaking hands and laughing. 
And yet…and yet…