Life As A Hedgepig
Friday, 13. February 2004
Clytemnestra's Autobiography

My name is Clytemnestra. My mother was Leda--you've probably heard of her. Yes, she's that Leda, the one that was seduced by Zeus while he was in the shape of a swan. She must have had a heck of a sexual appetite, or maybe she was hoping to cover up that little episode, because she seduced her husband Tyndareus that same night. She was as fertile as she was lustful; she ended up with four children out of that one night's work. Of course, the whole Zeus incident came out in the end anyway, and people are so silly, some said she laid four eggs and that my siblings and I were hatched, rather than born!

As if that whole humiliation wasn't bad enough, I ended up with Helen--Helen the beautiful, the face-who-launched-a-thousand-ships Helen, for a half sister. Try competing with that, why don't you. Of course she was beautiful--Zeus was her father. I wasn't bad looking, but you only had to look to know which of us was the god's daughter, and which the daughter of the mortal. I don't think it bothered Castor so much as it did me; he and Pollux were inseparable anyway, even though Pollux had that immortal glow to him and Castor just looked like an ordinary prince.

Tyndareus was a King, King of Sparta, so I was a Princess at least. My father first married me to a man named Tantalus--not he of the torments, of whom the poets tell tales, but a descendant of that man. I will not bore you with the whole family tree--in truth, I am not sure I am entirely clear on it myself. But Tantalus was related both to Agamemnon (I'll get to him in a moment) and to Aegisthus, my dear, loyal companion. I bore Tantalus a child, but Agamemnon of Mycenae killed them both. And still my father, that fool, allowed Agamemnon to marry me, and married off Helen, my sister, to Menelaus, the brother of Agamemnon. And off I was carried to Mycenae, and when our father died, Menelaus ruled in Sparta.

Agamemnon was something of a Brute, but so many men are, aren't they? He was well enough looking, and he gave me pretty children, and he had riches and power (he shared his riches with me, but not his power, and that galled me). The palace was somewhat dreary, but with the bloody history of the place, that's no surprise. So we got on well enough, until Helen stirred up trouble again and we got dragged into it.

That Helen--a beautiful face, but not a brain in her head or a spine in her body, I swear. She makes getting abducted an absolute habit. Castor and Pollux dragged her back home after the first time. But when she let Paris seduce her (and I'd lay wagers that she went willingly enough, "abduction" story or not), it fell to her husband to go to fetch her back. If he'd had any sense, he'd have just let her go! But no, he has to go after her, and of course he asks his brother for help. And Agamemnon, warrior that he was, was quite willing to run off and kill Trojans for his brother's sake. And that was a dreary enough thought, but then things got ugly.

Agamemnon and I had had three children, Electra, Orestes, and my first born, my sweet flower, Iphigeneia. Orestes was the all-important heir, his father's favorite, and Electra always favored her father over me--or her dream of her father, she was so young when he left I would be surprised if she actually remembers him. But Iphigeneia was _my_ daughter. Just knocking on the door of womanhood when that damnable war broke out, she was lovely and loving, with quick fingers and a quicker mind, a daughter to be proud of. And when her father sent to me to bring her to the harbor at Aulis, where he was waiting to depart with his fleet, so that she might be married, I cursed the necessity, but we went. I figured that she would stay with me even after the wedding, since her bridegroom would be sailing off to war, and if we were lucky, the man might die in the war, so I need not lose my daughter at all.

But he lied to me, the thrice-cursed bastard. I brought her in fine robes, arrayed for a wedding, and he hoisted her on the altar and had her slaughtered like a lamb, to bring the winds to fill his sails. The Goddess demanded it, he said; Artemis required a virgin sacrifice. Was there no other virgin in Aulis? Why my sweet flower? Iphigeneia, my heart still grieves for you! And all to sail those ships to bring home that slut Helen. Why didn't they sacrifice her daughter, that simpering Hermione? Why did my daughter have to die? Well, I got justice for her in the end.

Agamemnon was gone for ten long years, and I nursed my hatred and resentment for every single day of them. Well…most of them, anyway. Eventually Aegisthus managed to distract me from my woes to some extent. Ten years is a long time to be without a man, and practically every man in the kingdom who wasn't an old man or a babe in arms was off to the war. Except Aegisthus. Aegisthus is a man of large appetites for many things, but fortunately enough for me, war is not one of them.So he and I satisfied each other's appetites--no need to go into that.

Aegisthus had his own bone to pick with Agamemnon; he longed for the throne as much as I did. I let him think that he would rule if Agamemnon died; I know just what kind of man Aegisthus is. Controlling him is no problem; a glimpse of flesh or a little caress at the right time, and his mind is completely distracted from the fact that it is really I who rules here!

But I get ahead of myself. When the beacons signalled that Troy had fallen, I made ready for Agamemnon's return. I welcomed him as the conquering hero; I was so good I almost convinced myself. I was almost ready to let him live. And then I saw that woman--that little bitch Cassandra! How dare he! Kill my daughter, abandon me for ten years to go off to war (and on behalf of Helen, of all people), and then bring home a concubine, and display her openly? Didn't even have the sense to have her hang to the back, but carried her in his own chariot! The man never did have an ounce of subtlety.

Well, I wasn't particularly subtle that day, either. I trapped him in the bath and cut him down like an animal, like he slaughtered my daughter, and his little Trojan whore with him. Now I rule here--with Aegisthus by my side, of course, but I am Queen. Everybody knows who really rules this kingdom, and has for the last eight years. There was a little grumbling at first, but we put the house in order, Aegisthus and I. And we are still satisfying one another's appetites, after all these years!

And even if I did not love it so, finally holding the power in my own hands, there is no-one else. Orestes I sent away for his own protection early on in the war, and he has never returned. Electra--well, she is not the ruling type. She mopes about the women's quarters wearing black, bemoaning her fate. I suppose if Menelaus was around, he might think he had a good claim to the throne, but he and Helen sailed away from Troy and haven't been heard from since. For all I know she got herself "abducted" again and Menelaus is still trying to catch up with her. Men are such fools sometimes. Menelaus is another like my Aegisthus, in this at least--easily led around by his shaft.

I don't know who will rule here when I am gone. Maybe Orestes lives and will return from his long exile. Maybe Electra will grow a backbone. I don't much care, really. Maybe the place will just fall to ruin. The whole family is cursed, anyway. Why my father ever let that man marry me, I will never know.

I have been having bad dreams lately--last night I dreamed I gave birth to a snake, of all things. Birthed it and suckled it at my breast. I think I will send Electra out with libations to her father's grave, just in case he is responsible. That will please her. She always did think the sun rose and set on him. I suppose I shouldn't have stinted on the ceremonies for the dead after I killed him.

I had better call those women to dress me and do my hair so I can get on with my day.

... Link

Thursday, 29. January 2004
Turning Out The Lights

Sometimes I move a little slow in the mornings--mostly a function of staying up too late, I'm sure, but late is when I get my time "away" from the kids--not that they are actually away, but at least if they are asleep I can get things (like schoolwork) done without constant interruptions. But it makes me less than perky in the mornings.

So I take shortcuts in the morning whenever possible. I get up at 7 to get Jamie moving, then crash on the couch and sleep to CNN for an hour until I have to wake up Alex and Colin. If Alex gets up first, I am saved the trouble of getting up again, because I can send him in to wake up Colin, and if I remember to lay clothes out the night before, it's smooth sailing.

A few mornings ago, Alex was up before eight, and being especially bleary, I sent him in to wake up Colin. He came back in a minute and said that Colin wouldn't get up. "Go wake him up again--turn on the light in there and tell him to get up." He trotted off obediently, and in a moment an outraged cry rang out, "What are you doing? Turn off the light! Turn it OFF!"...And just at the moment, every light in the house blinked out, along with everything else powered by electricity.

I came the rest of the way awake as I realized the talking heads on the TV had shut up and gone away, and Caitlin (still not back in school after her fits, starts, and peregrinations of the fall & early winter) came out demanding to know "what in the hell did you just do?!" No-one was more startled than Colin.

I found the number to the PUD, who confirmed that yes, indeed, my power was out. The whole of downtown was out, but they didn't yet know why.

The lights came back on about 35 minutes later, and it wasn't until I talked to my dad, and then saw the day's paper, that we found out what happened.

It seems a goose (breed unspecified, but presumably a Canada Goose, common in these parts) flew into a pair of 69,000 volt power lines downtown, shorting the lines and tripping circuits breakers at two downtown substations. And cooking itself--instantly. Thoroughly.

I don't know how far apart those lines are, but that goose hit them just wrong. According to The Daily World: "The goose's wingspan was apparently large enough that it bridged the two lines and shorted them together." The PUD workers said they'd never seen anything quite like it--and in fact, they didn't really see it this time, as someone had already picked the goose up and taken it away by the time the PUD arrived on the scene. "An unknown person or persons made off with the cooked goose." Planning for dinner, maybe?

Colin, not having yet heard the goose story, sidled up to me later and asked if I thought he really might have had something to do with the power outage that morning. I told him about the goose, but assured him that maybe he screamed loud enough to throw the goose off course. You never know--stranger things have happened!

... Link

Friday, 23. January 2004
Douglas Burnett & his mother

This was going to be about my great-uncle Doug Burnett, as a companion piece to the Joe Stephens story. I never met Doug, because just as Joe Stephens died in World War I, Doug Burnett died in World War II. They both died quite young, leaving no wives or children behind, and I think they should be remembered; they gave their lives in service to their country as many young men had before them, and as many young men & women have since.

But just as Joe Stephens' story is also the story of the adoptive family he left behind, so is Doug Burnett's story the story of the family he left behind, his brothers and sisters and widowed mother. And maybe because I knew her, and know a little about her, it is to me especially the story of his mother.

The caption of this picture says that Lulu always had her flag out for holidays. This is not precisely true; in fact, I never saw her little white house in La Grande, Oregon, without the flag flying outside. I remember visiting her, and wandering around the inside of the house looking at all the things on the shelves and the walls--but the only thing in that house that I remember, aside from the tiny, impossibly old woman herself, was the Purple Heart hanging on the wall near her bedroom. I wasn't really sure what it meant, except that it was something military, and I originally thought it must have been her husband's. Many years later, I found out it was her son's.

Here is part of the story accompanying the picture above. I have edited it slightly. It was written by June McManus and printed in the "Observer" of La Grande, Oregon, on November 3, 1969:

"Mrs. Lulu M. Ackley Burnett celebrated her 87th birthday in October. This marvelous, active daughter of pioneer parents, in fact, daughter of the first woman born in La Grande, Martha Belle Lane Ackley, who was born December 3, 1864, keeps as busy today as she did as a younger woman.

"She has seen some interesting times and lived in fascinating places, such as Sumpter, near Baker, in the gold rush days; in Treadwell, Alaska, where her husband built a storage dam called Ready Bullion Dam. The dam is still in use. At that time there were not too many women in Alaska and it was a colorful time to live there.

"Mrs. Burnett had nine children; seven are still living. She has lived in her home on Fourth Street for 39 years."

She lived there for a little over 6 years longer before dying in January of 1976 at the age of 93. Her obituary states that she had been the oldest living Gold Star mother in La Grande. I always thought that it was sad that she didn't live until July 4th of that year, so that she could enjoy celebrating the U.S. Bicentennial.

Great-Grandma Lulu, the flag, and the Purple Heart. I don't remember, but it wouldn't surprise me if there was a Gold Star in her front window as well.

Here is Doug's part of the story.

Doug was the 6th of nine children, and the youngest son. The picture isn't very good, but it is the only one of him that I have; here is the article that was with it in the newspaper. The clipping I have doesn't have the whole page, so I don't know if it was The Observer or another paper, and I don't know the date of publication. No writer is credited:


"Cpl. Douglas Burnett was killed in action in a Japanese prisoner of war camp at Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippine Islands, according to a letter received from the war department by Corporal Burnett's mother, Mrs. Lulu M. Burnett, 701 Fourth Street.

"She had previously received word of his death but only today were the details given. The letter was sent by Maj. Gen. Edwin Witsell, acting adjutant general.

"The paragraph which tells of her son's death follows:

"Your son was one of a group of 150 members of the U.S. army, navy, and marine corps who were imprisoned by the Japanese at a camp at Puerto Princesa, Palawan. On December 14, 1944, this group of prisoners was attacked without warning by their Japanese guards who attempted to massacre the prisoners to the last man. Ten of the prisoners succeeded in escaping. These were the only survivors. It has now been officially established by reports received in the war department that all the remaining prisoners, including your son, perished as a result of this ruthless attack.

"Corporal Burnett joined the army in 1939 and was in the coast artillery on Corregidor where he was captured in 1942. He and Willard Hall, who recently returned, were in Cabanatuan and Manila together.

"Born in Union county, Corporal Burnett had been a resident of La Grande 15 years and had attended school in La Grande and Enterprise. He was a member of the Eagles lodge and of the Christian Church. Before joining the army he had been employed in logging camps and in restaurants here.

"Besides his mother, he leaves four brothers, Lynne of Pine Grove, Calif., Earl of Stanfield, Howard of La Grande, and Haigler of Hermiston; three sisters, Mrs. Vivian Davis of Portland, Mrs. Lois Gooderham and Mrs. Crystal Fossum, Baker."

He also left many nieces and nephews, among them, my mother, who was 11 in 1944. Her uncle was 31 at the time of his death.

His remains were interred, along with those of 122 other victims of the massacre at Palawan, in a mass grave at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, on February 14, 1952.

Even when a war is necessary and just, this is the price that is paid. "Freedom isn't free" is a cliche, but it is also true. I am grateful to every soldier and sailor and airman that has paid the price for the rest of us; I am grateful to those who were willing to pay the price but made it home; I am grateful to those who stand willing now to pay that price so that my children can grow up in freedom. But along with that gratitude, I also grieve for every man and woman who has fallen in service to this country. Our leaders had better know damn well what they are doing before they send our soldiers off to war; that blood is too precious to be spilled in vain.

Lulu and Daisy, your sons and their sacrifice are not forgotten. I remember, and I grieve.

... Link

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