“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

Spring 2014: A Lone Firefly

We are now at the spring equinox. We’ve had a bad winter and all the signs of spring are late. Except for one that I know of.
Last night, sitting on the patio wrapped in a throw, I saw the first firefly, twinkling, blinking, blinging, alone, against the dark night sky and woods behind my house. At first I thought it had to be a tower’s light blinking like a metronome; then I thought a faint star, blinking as the trees swayed; then a small aircraft aiming for the airport runway lights. No, it was none of those.
Solitary and alone, it blinked and twinkled randomly inside an imaginary square of space against a dark background. At least the blinking seemed random from the perspective of being a human rather than another lonely firefly.
Suddenly I wondered if fireflies can be alone. What happens to a lone twinking, twinking, twinking firefly unable to fulfill it biological imperative to blink and mate?
Except where noted, pictures are found at: http://www.firefly.org/firefly-pictures.html
I thought of the upcoming Night of the Fairies. Could it come this early, after such a cold winter? I will be alert every night. Meanwhile, below is the original Spittin’ Grits post about that magical night:

Night of the Fairies
I saw the first lone glittering light just after dark one evening last week, but the nights are still cool, going down to the low 40s. Still, I know the Night of the Fairies must be close; a few seasonably warm days and nights is all it will take. I will watch each night.
I first saw this phenomenon in 1999, I think. It was astonishing. This event happens each year sometime after the spring equinox depending on how early we begin to get warm days and nights. Late March and early April days and nights in the lower South can come as a surprise. They whisper a promise just as winter is dying. Most of us gardeners end up planting our flowers too early in still cold soil, and they end up damaged or dead from the last inevitable cold spell.
This night was in early April, when the days warm up and linger for just a while into the night, nights for a fire in the patio fire pit, for wrapping up in a shawl, and for just sitting. This night I could barely see at the edge of the woods the silhouetted trees’ new growth. Spring would come.
My eyes on the wood’s growing darkness, dusk turned into early evening. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the darkness was transformed with small, twinkling lights rising in unison up from the earth.
A million glittering stars against a dark sky. A Fairy Woodland come to life. Shakespeare’s Titania and Oberon waking in spring before their midsummer night’s dream. Thumbelina. Tinkerbelle. Fairies from the children’s books my grandmother read to me. A spectacle of diamonds and crystals.
The art poster of Arthur Rackham’s Titania, Queen of the Fairies, from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” can be purchased here:http://www.artsycraftsy.com/rackham/msd_titania.html
 Fairies away! We shall chide downright if longer I stay!

As the glittering mass rose up from the wood’s bed of moist leaves, they began to float away from each other, some higher and higher, some drifting into the backyards of the surrounding houses, some toward the patio. They magically became fireflies for the upcoming summer.
“It must be the night they rise from hibernation,” I said out loud to no one. I stood transfixed.
The photo below is one of a series of time-lapse pictures of fireflies: http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2011/12/stunning-time-lapse-photographs-of-gold-fireflies-in-japan/
The cold air caught my attention and I moved closer to the fire.
The fireflies continued this fantastical ritual for some nights to come, but as spring became early summer, they emerged from this place in fewer and fewer numbers. They simply appeared in the summer nights.
I wondered that night if this performance was some kind of gift or sign, never to return again, like a rainbow’s pot of gold.
Each year I have waited for this Night of the Fairies. It has returned year after year. It could happen tonight or tomorrow night.
But this special gift also brings some sadness. Several years after this first event, I asked my daughter to watch for it with me. It happened. I thought this kind of beauty could add something to my daughter’s dismal existence that was dominated by her addictions to drugs. She watched in what I thought was a sense of wonder.
“Oh, man,” she said. “This is cool. It’s like being on LSD.”
I think that night was my first intimation that my daughter’s kind of addiction is a lot bigger than herself and me and her father all put together. By then it seemed that the addictions were also bigger than treatment programs.
Unfortunately, that fear has been borne out.
Anyway, I will be watching the woods for the next several nights, waiting for this annual gift. I look forward to showing it to my granddaughter, Joanna Leigh.

Lesson One: Get Over It


“Jo,” called Joanna Leigh from the bottom of the stairs. “Can you come here?”


“What ‘cha need, honey?” I called back from my study, located up the stairs and down the hall.


“I need you.”


I got up and walked down the hall and to the stair landing. There she stood at the bottom of the stairs. “What do you need?” I asked, thinking that everything looked ok. She started up, so I began walking back to my study. She followed.


My granddaughter has a bit of “separation anxiety” layered over the normal (I think) dose of “fear of the dark.” If I leave the kitchen and she suddenly doesn’t hear “kitchen noises” as she’s watching favorite programs in the den, she comes looking for me. She follows me around, even if I have to take the garbage out. Truth? It drives me crazy even as I understand why: Her mommy disappeared on her.


So, she followed me into my study instead of going to her room, which is right at the top of the stairs. I said, “You can go in your room and draw at your art table or read a book or change Saige’s clothes while I finish what I’m working on.”


“But I can’t,” she said.


“What??” I replied too harshly. “This is exasperating, Joanna Leigh.”


“But my room is dark. And Papa’s room is dark. And his bathroom is dark.”


“Ok, you and I are going to go turn on some lights. But first, we need to have a talk about this AGAIN. What are you scared of?”


“I don’t know. It’s just that I saw some eyes looking at me under my bed.”


“Joanna Leigh,” I said, “you are absolutely going to have to get over this. There are NO eyes under your bed. If you’re stay scared like this, you’ll never be able to explore stuff, go places, have fun. You’ve got to GET OVER IT, I said.


She dropped her eyes. Then she said, “Can I write that down on your note pad?”


She pointed to the yellow sticky notes. “Yes, here.” She wrote on several yellow stickies while I tried to finish what I was doing.


Still it drives me nutsy, and I’ve been trying to help her overcome those ideas. One of my main goals is to help her find a good sense of independence. She’s going to have to take care of herself sooner than she should have to, I’m afraid.


Lesson Two: Deal with It

The next evening, she came into my study and said, “Jo, how do I get over it?”


Oh, I felt so bad. Am I being too harsh? Am I making her more insecure? And on and on with my own fears that I’m not doing a good job raising my granddaughter, who will have to face difficulties at too young an age.


“Honey, you just have to look at your fears straight in the face and deal with it. You have to practice not being afraid. And deal with it.”


She thought. Then she said, “You mean like Elsa and Ana had to face theirs in ‘Frozen’?”


Lesson Three: The Big One


The last lesson was for me.


The next morning I went in her room to straighten up and make up her bed. I found these taped to headboard and vanity:


Below: This sticky on her headboard says: “From Jo (me) to Joanna (Joanna Leigh); (right) says To Joanna (Joanna Leigh) From Joanna (herself, a reminder)



Later I went to straighten up the kitchen. On the counter I found this: Today heart copy


Lesson: Am I lucky, or what?


January 28, 1945: A Cold Day in Italy


Today I can say with the clearest perception of reality and un-metaphorically (out, out damned cliché) that I am snowed under. Another wad of Arctic air has shoved its way into the U.S. all the way to the Gulf Coast. Right now I'm looking out my window at snow falling, and the temperature is about 20 degrees (F) with a wind chill that makes it seem like 10 degrees. My 9-month-old all-black kitten, who was rescued from a city culvert last June, is berserk, not knowing whether to fly out the cat door into this unknown white land or run around the house, stopping at a window or two to chase her own tail.


To many people in the U.S. and around the world, this kind of weather is less than no news at all. But it's news in Alabama. Traffic is stalled everywhere from here in Tuscaloosa to the coast. We’re waiting for Joanna Leigh’s #40 school bus to finally get her to the bus stop after the school system dismissed classes because of the weather.


News value aside, it's a good day to think about this day 69 years ago, when my father, Lt. John T. Cravey, landed at San Severo Airdrome, Italy, in 1945. January 1945 was still the in the throes of the coldest winter on record in Europe, and the famous Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes was only a month-old memory. Those troops who managed to survive that battle would never forget it. In these last 69 years, that World War II conflict has become a legend and a symbol of the Allies' determination to prevail.


I don't know how cold it was that January 28 at San Severo Airdrome, but records show that the US Army Air Corps personnel did a lot of playing in the snow, having serious snowball fights, in January and February. P-51 sorties were at a minimum. It was likely muddy or frozen mud, so there wasn't a lot of flying over the Tyrolean Alps into Austria en route to Munich and the surrounding area to bomb targets, mostly railroads, oil depots, factories, and any infrastructure that the Third Reich was barely holding on to at that point in World War II.


Way Across the Pond


in flightDad as an instructor at Key Field before leaving for Europe in 1945

We are not sure when dad left Key Field in Meridian, Mississippi, to be transported someway -- we aren’t sure how -- to New York, where he would board an unknown ship, cross the Atlantic, enter the Mediterranean, and land somewhere -- we’re not sure where -- and get to the San Severo Airdrome to begin his tour as a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot flying tactical and escort missions over the Alps into Germany to finish off the Nazi War Machine. He must have spent Christmas somewhere en route to his destiny. The trip to the air bases in Italy took a month or more.


Our scrapbook indicates that my mother never heard from him after he left her until Western Union called her in June with the telegram from him saying he was in New York and would be home in a week or so. He must have been a sight – having lost about 50 or 60 pounds off his 6-foot, 3-inch frame. None of the other communications, including letters from the POW camp or his commanding officer, arrived in Montgomery, Alabama, until after he returned home. Skinny but alive.


As he stepped onto the muddy ground in San Severo, he was not likely wondering what his future was going to be. He was there to do his job. Besides, the guys were probably in a major snow fight. The rain of the past several days had turned to snow.


Unbearable cold, snow, ice, and near starvation awaited him. About three weeks after he arrived at San Severo, he would take off from the pierced steel “runway” as the wing man for Capt. Roger Zierenberg, head for the Munich area, bomb and strafe, head home, and not be able to get back.


Fortune was standing on the top of Zuckerhutl alpine mountain, calling him down. How he survived that bailout, treacherous descent, transport to Balzano (Bozen), Italy, then to the POW records unit, his wintery march southward to the camp, and the starvation conditions he and the others faced is still a mystery to us. The odds said he should not have survived.

Dad’s POW photo taken at the POW distribution center

Cravey (2)




Found: A Cravey

About 18 months ago, I got the initial cold-contact e-mail from an unknown Austrian man who had been looking for a Cravey family member for some years. When I finally decided it was not a hoax e-mail and responded, he sent the next e-mail telling me that he and some other mountaineers/hikers had found dad’s crash site on a glacier in the northern Italian Tyrol. About ten years earlier.


The production plate from his P-51 peeking out of the snow and ice led to the identification of the plane’s being dad’s Mustang. That incredible and shocking e-mail has sent me, my sister, Susan, and our first cousin, Emory Kimbrough, on our own journey searching through records, the Internet, scrapbooks, pictures -- everywhere we can think of – to piece dad’s story together. We will succeed. Dad’s story will be told.


IMG_0786Left: The crash site debris field in the Alps. Below: Dad’s P-51 production plate.Ridnaun Mustang p51


Now, Roland (the Austrian), other crash site “archaeologists, U.S. family members of other survivors, historians, and others communicate regularly. Roland has become a dear friend.

I am hoping to get to Lienz, Austria, this summer to see the place where dad’s story played out.


Meanwhile, Joanna Leigh’s bus finally arrived about an hour late. She came in, threw her backpack down, put on boots, and headed for the snow. That lasted about 10 minutes. We’re slurping hot chocolate with marshmallows.


How dad survived in something like -20 degrees for two or three nights on a mountain in the Alps seems like the plot of a fantastical myth. It was, however, reality to the max.


See also: http://spittingrits.blogspot.com/2013/02/wont-you-please-come-home-for-reasons.html and http://spittingrits.blogspot.com/2013/11/veterans-day-2013-saluting-two-lt.html


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