Sam WHITBY #227

Letters to the Editor

from Sam WHITBY in CMO #227

@. . . .   A few days ago it turned very cold here. I passed through thick fog while driving to work and noticed tiny firefly- like objects streaming by the window, evidently tiny snowflakes forming near the ground.
  Yesterday it snowed just enough to cover the ground with white. The snow still lingered here in Hopewell this morning, but in Bon Air, only about thirty miles away, there was almost no snow on the ground.
  As is our custom, last night we visited Uta's side of the family, and tonight we will visit mine. I will see Colleen in Pennsylvania later.
  The Whitby family would like to wish our friends of the CMO a very happy season. I hope the coming millennium will be one of peace and prosperity for all of us.
(25 Dec 1999 email)

@. . . .   We have received similar warnings and plan to "lie low" until assured that viruses and so forth will not cause problems at the start of the year 2000. It seems that caution will be the order of the day. This morning I read that there will be almost no aircraft in the air above the USA at the start of the New Year. Even when the airlines have felt sure that Y2K would not cause problems, customers have decided to stay home.
  When I wrote to you a few days ago I was rushing in order to attend the funeral of David's godfather. He was a retired soldier, a very friendly, outgoing man whose passing was, while not totally unexpected, something of a shock to us all. I began with the intention of thanking you for your fine cards (Postal and email) and, in the hurry, forgot to do so, for which I am very sorry. I value my friends of the CMO very much, and your card was very important to me. On January 1, 2000 I may be silent, but I will be your friend and wish you well as always.

(30 Dec 1999 email)

@. . . .   After an unusually warm autumn, winter has finally arrived in Virginia. We had snow the day before the total eclipse of the Moon and the morning of the eclipse. It cleared off just in time to give us a good view. There had been predictions that the eclipse would be brighter than the previous few, for the Earth's atmosphere seems to be free of volcanic contamination. The eclipse did seem brighter, but the difference was not obvious or striking, and I wonder how much of the extra brightness was due to my expecting it to be so. I did not find the eclipse to be especially colorful. The color at totality varied from a sort of gray to a rust brown to a yellow away from the center of the Earth's shadow. The night of the eclipse was bitterly cold with high winds. I used the high winds as an excuse not to stay outside to time the disappearance of craters. The roof of the Richmond Astronomical Society observatory was probably covered with snow, so I could not have observed there even if I had been willing to brave the snowy ride to Richmond. We had snow again yesterday and expect snow this evening and tomorrow.
  My sons and I have made lots of what we call snow cream, a home-made ice cream made of milk, sugar, and snow. I remember that my family was warned in 1961 not to eat the snow, for it was alleged to be radioactive due to the extensive atmospheric atomic testing by the Russians and the Americans.
  Whether it really was or not I do not know. I know that I did sneak out and eat it anyway.
  Back when the Richmond City Council was debating the Robert E. Lee mural, I mentioned it to you in one of my emails. A few days ago someone threw a Molotov cocktail at the mural and burned it up. Although hardly surprised, I am disgusted that people cannot simply accept the decisions of their elected representatives. One of the murals glorifies the leader of a slave rebellion which resulted in numerous white women and children being hacked to pieces, and many of us who found that particular approach to opposing slavery to be offensive were willing for it to stay on the wall. Now there will be more debates about whether to put up a different mural or to replace the picture of Lee.
  I have continued to try to discover my family tree and have learned that my great-grandfather had four brothers who fought for the Confederate Army. One of them, John Henry Cumbia, was a flag bearer in several important battles. He lost part of his left hand in one battle. With Lee at the surrender at Appomattox, rather than surrender his flag, he tore it into pieces and gave the pieces to his comrades.
  It is pleasing to be able to tell you that none of those Cumbia brothers owned slaves. Yes, slavery was the predominant issue, but there was also the fact that northern armies were entering the south, and many who did not support slavery were unwilling to stand by and allow their country to be occupied by the northern armies. We, therefore, had our bloodiest war right here on American soil. To give you an idea of scale of the war, let me just mention that , in about three days near Gettysburg, enough Americans were lost to roughly approximate the number of those who were lost in the Vietnam War. Different people will give you different numbers, but, as astronomers are fond of saying, the size that I gave is of the right order of magnitude.
(24 Jan 2000 email)

@. . . .   Thank you for your prompt reply. Thank you very much for the Mars drawings, which are beautiful. I will try to share them with some friends. There is always the hope that I can recruit another observer for your CMO.
  In regard to the Lee controversy, I want to tell you a little joke. It is a joke on Virginians, of whom I am one, so maybe it will be permissible. If you do not "get the joke", please do not worry about it. (I remember and understand and respect your unease over jokes in English.) The joke goes something like this: How many Virginians are needed to change a light bulb? It takes five, only one to change the light bulb but four to stand around and talk about how much better the old bulb used to be. I can smile at that, even though I understand the fact that there is an element in our society that thinks things were better a long time ago. I can also understand how some people could see a return to the past as disastrous for them. One faction wants to honor the memory of its ancestors, but another sees that honor as a wish to return to the evil practices of the past. Slavery was wrong, and nobody - I mean nobody - advocates a return to the practice. It is just that some people see any reference to the Southern cause as a threat or an offense, and the argument goes on and on and on. Maybe one day we will just get tired of the argument. Maybe one day we will all be related to one another, and the argument will be seen as truly pointless. My side, your side - they are both our side.

  Speaking of family and moving on to a much more somb note, tomorrow Uta's mother will have surgery for cancer. We do not know yet how far advanced the cancer is, but it is a very serious, hard to treat cancer, a rare invasive form of skin cancer. The news has been very bad so far, with little hope offered, but we are hoping that tomorrow we will hear that the cancer has not spread.

(24 Jan 2000 email)

Samuel WHITBY ( VA, USA ) :