All posts by Don W. Griffith

Distinguished Toastmaster, Genealogist, Videographer

My Compelling Blog: Part 2 (DEF)

Great blog from my friend Brenda. Looking forward to the rest of the alphabet!

Strong Words & Simple Truths

Welcome to Part 2 of my Compelling Blog series where the featured letters are D, E and F with the phrase of: Don’t Encourage Faceplants.

Part 1 began with A, B, C: Action, Bold and Creativity.

Here’s an excerpt from a speech I gave on Jan. 29, 2019 at my Toastmaster club’s International Speech contest.

“In these troubling and turbulent times my serious and solemn advice for you is:Don’t encourage faceplants!

Why, might you ask, am I focusing on faceplants? Well for one, faceplants are not fun. In fact, they can be quite humiliating and are often times very painful.

Thus, they should be avoided at all costs!

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How do I know this?

Well after 25 years of mountain biking, I’ve taken a tumble or two and lived to tell the tale.

I also believe that many important life lessons can be learned while mountain biking.

I experienced one of…

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Warning: Irony Ahead

 

After a Toastmasters meeting last summer, I was talking to my friend, who many years ago had volunteered as “Big Brother” to a boy in need of guidance and a steady influence in his life. That young man is now an adult who unfortunately has had serious run-ins with the law.

My friend told me his “Little” had a looming court date that could send him back in jail. The reason? “Little” had violated probation by not informing the court of an address change. As we stood in the parking lot, we bemoaned the shortsightedness of “Little” not taking care of something so simple—sending a letter—when the consequences of not doing so were so dire.

Later that day, I met my doctor for my semi-annual checkup. He weighed me, measured my blood pressure, listened to my heart, and then reviewed my recent lab results. The news was sobering. My weight was up. So was my cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose, and A1C levels. In short, I was on the verge of becoming a diabetic and if I wanted to avoid that fate, I needed to change my diet and begin exercising.

(Some of you are way ahead of me.)

Did I listen? Well, sure, of course. This was important and potentially life-changing.

Fast forward six months. Same doctor, same scale, same exams, different result—everything was worse! Not only had I not reversed course, I had doubled down on my bad habits and was closer than ever to a health disaster. Had I acted on the warning? Well, of course not. Changing bad habits is hard, especially if one has a ready supply of the usual excuses.

Enough!

This time, the lesson of my friend and his “Little” would not be lost on me. It was time to take care of the simple, straightforward steps required to return to good health and avoid a bad end. There was little margin for error and my “judge” wouldn’t merely send me to jail for my mistake. Time will tell if I’ve acted soon enough to forestall any long-term problems, but I’ve changed my habits and have begun to see positive, tangible results.

Hopefully this little cautionary tale resonates with you at some level. We all have areas in our lives that require us to pay close attention to warning signs, whether it’s health, dreams, money, careers, or relationships.

I am hopeful that I’ve acted in time and hope you will too.

A Soldier’s Journey

At five feet six, twenty-one-year-old Elisha Curnutte was one of the smallest soldiers on that dock. His dark eyes and black hair complemented a wiry frame made almost skeletal by eight months in a Confederate prison camp. His friend Henry Gambill didn’t look much healthier but, like Elisha, he was excited to be there in Vicksburg. They were going home!

It was April 24, 1865 and both men were boarding one of the largest Mississippi river steamers they’d ever seen. Their destination was Cairo, Illinois, 450 miles upriver and this was the next-to-last leg of their journey to their eastern Kentucky homes.

Lately, Elisha had had a lot of time to think and most of those thoughts centered on home. He couldn’t wait to hug his Ma and Pa and all sixteen of his siblings. He’d almost forgotten the taste of Ma’s home cookin’. Had it really only been two years since joining the Union army?

It seemed a lifetime ago that he and his neighbor Henry enlisted in the 14th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry. Initially, their regiment supported the war effort within Kentucky, but later they were involved in more wide-ranging engagements. In April 1864, with a year of action under their belts, the seasoned veterans of 14th Kentucky were ordered to join General Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign.

From May to August 1864, 14th Kentucky was attached to General Schofield’s XXIII Corps and participated in dozens of skirmishes and many significant battles—all leading up to Sherman’s encircling siege of Atlanta. As privates, Elisha and Henry weren’t privy to the grand plans of the generals’, but they knew their duty and they both saw plenty of action.

On August 8, 1864, as the 14th Kentucky and the XXIII corps were entrenched on the outskirts of Atlanta, Elisha Curnutte was captured by Confederate forces. His friend Henry was captured a few days later and both soldiers were sent to the notorious prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia.

Although neither the North nor the South had clean hands with regard to treatment of prisoners in their war camps, Andersonville was the deadliest and vilest of them all. It grew to hold 32,000 men in the most deplorable conditions. Food, medicine, and sanitation was severely limited and by the end of the war, over 13,000 soldiers had died there.

On April 9, 1865, eight months after their capture, news came of the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. For all practical purposes, the war was over, and Elisha and Henry had survived!

Elisha and Henry and hundreds of their Andersonville comrades were paroled and sent by train to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where they waited for the inevitable paperwork to be sorted out. Elisha and Henry didn’t mind waiting. They had enough food to eat, clean clothes, and both were mighty glad to see the Stars and Stripes again!

When the red tape was finally done, the parolees went to the river dock to meet their boat, the Sultana. She was 260 feet long and designed to carry 376 people. That day, however, the Sultana took on as many as 2,300 men, mostly parolees from Andersonville and other prisons.

This photograph was taken of the Sultana at that time. You can see just how incredibly crowded it was. The passengers knew the boat was overloaded and that the ride north would be uncomfortable, but they had just endured hell on earth during the war. They could take cramped conditions for a few more days.

What the photograph doesn’t show is the damaged boiler that had been hastily repaired the day before and just how unstable the ship would be when it got under way.

On April 24, 1865, the overloaded Sultana headed north on the Mississippi. They made good time and stopped at Memphis two days later to refuel. They left again around one in the morning on April 27th with every square foot of the Sultana draped with sleeping soldiers.

Seven miles north of Memphis, the passengers were shocked into wakefulness by a tremendous explosion. The faulty boilers had exploded, and superheated steam was gushing from the engine compartment. The furnaces had torn open, spilling hot coals onto wooden decks. Fires broke out everywhere and 2,300 men were thrown into a new kind of battle, one that most would not survive.

Many men died from the blast, others were scalded to death by the boiling steam. Those who survived the blast and steam had to contend with a burning ship and little choice but to jump into the river. The river was wide and swollen with cold spring runoff and many strong swimmers succumbed to the frigid waters. Throughout the nightmare, the darkness was complete, broken only by fiery reflections from the burning hulk.

Several hundred men made their way to shore and were rescued, but as many as 1,800 men died, making the Sultana incident the deadliest maritime disaster in U. S. history. If you’ve never heard this story, there’s a reason. Even though the scope of the disaster was horrific, the general public was already reeling from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln just two weeks before and newspaper editors across the country concluded that the American public was not ready for more bad news.

What of Elisha and Henry? In his memoir, Henry later wrote of that harrowing night and his narrow escape and reported that Elisha Curnutte, his comrade in arms and fellow Kentuckian, had perished in the initial blast. Elisha’s body was never recovered.

Why am I so interested in this story? My mother’s maiden name was Curnutte and I am Elisha’s first cousin four times removed.

That makes it personal.

Order, Order!

At a recent Toastmasters meeting, my friend Jay related how his school would periodically take his entire class on expeditions in and around the Southwest. On one jaunt, he described the cooks’ preparations for supper as they set out “five giant copper kettles.” I was the Grammarian that day and remarked—favorably—on his use of that descriptive phrase. In addition to use of alliteration, the phase just seemed “right.’

A few days later, Facebook led me to the Twitter feed of @MattAndersonNYT and his tweet entitled, Things native English speakers know, but don’t know we know. In his post, he cites The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phase, by Mark Forsyth @Inkyfool:

Forsyth Word Order

I have to admit that when experts say things like, “It must be absolutely this way,” it gets on my nerves, especially on something as malleable as language, but Forsyth has a good point. Some word combinations sound right and if you change the order, it’s off somehow.

Like all good rules, there are variations. Here’s a similar list I found online:

  • Quantity
  • Value/opinion
  • Size
  • Temperature
  • Age
  • Shape
  • Color
  • Origin
  • Material

Did my friend Jay follow the rule with “five giant copper kettles?” Yes, he did, and I now know why it sounded so good.

Five/ Quantity—Giant/Size—Copper/Material

Notice that the rule doesn’t say you have to include all the adjective types, but the ones you do use sound better when used in a certain order. “Five copper giant kettles” might work if you’re describing how to boil giants (!) but that’s another tale. “Giant copper five kettles?” “Copper five giant kettles?” Nope. Those just sound silly.

The reason for the “wrongness” of a malformed adjectival phrase is likely ingrained in the exemplars we all used to learn language. Over the course of centuries, the available literature we use to train young minds, whether Cat in the Hat or Hamlet, acquired and cemented these acceptable word patterns, so much so that we absorb the unwritten rules without thinking about it.

The next time you are writing an essay or preparing a speech, remember Forsyth’s word order commandment and apply the rubric faithfully. Your message will be well-received.

Welcome to my blog!

Dear reader,

This is my little corner of the web to write about things that interest me and share them with you. As a long-time Toastmaster, I am accustomed to speaking about my interests but writing them down? That’s new for me.

Join me as I wander on genealogical trails, capturing the best stories of interesting people, places, and times. For some pursuits, I am a tyro learning the rudiments and making plenty of mistakes. One such pursuit is videography and you can follow along as I learn, oftentimes the hard way.

And that Toastmasters thing? After twenty-one years, I am sometimes tempted to ask myself, “Is there more to learn?” The answer, of course, is, “Yes!” and you’ll read about those new lessons and discoveries here.

Stay tuned!