There's no better celebration of any season than the decorated tree adorned with the rich symbolism of nature—my ritual to inform and inspire you in the journey called life.

Friday, September 18, 2009

summer immortal

These are the days when birds come back, 
A very few, a bird or two,
To take a backward look.

These are the days when skies put on
The old, old sophistries of June,
A blue and gold mistake.

Oh, fraud that cannot cheat the bee,
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief,

Till ranks of seeds their witness bear,
And softly through the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf!

Oh, sacrament of summer days,
Oh, last communion in the haze,
Permit a child to join,

Thy sacred emblems to partake,
Thy consecrated bread to break,
Taste thine immortal wine!

        —Indian Summer by Emily Dickinson

AS  SUMMER days come to an end this year, I remember my father. Born September 18, 1922, today would have been his 87th birthday. This day seems more significant to me now than the day he died—a day that is strangely all-too-easy to remember. He won't be here for the day I die, but there's always the feeling he's somewhere nearby. I have living memories in my head. The immortal wine has been tasted. 

GROWING  UP, it was a rare occasion to have wine in our house, except for the time around Christmas. My mother was old-fashioned in her beliefs and frowned upon "the drink." Grape juice was passed around with the communion crackers at the local Baptist church we attended religiously. Mother would relent and my father would ritually buy a bottle of Mogen David Concord Grape once a year which would be used to soak the fruitcake she made. As a small act of defiance, daddy and I would sneak a sip or two when he thought I was old enough. It was my first lesson about the hypocrisy of the church—no matter if Jesus' turning water into wine was only symbolic. We would be washed clean by our actions, not by our thoughts. We were all taught to do what's right, whether we thought about it or not. Mother and daddy grew up during the depression and knew that when times got tough, everyone should pitch in and help those in need, not hold tight to what was "theirs." They worked hard and were the give-you-their-shirt-off-their-back kind of people. And I loved them for it.

A  ROAD  TRIP to the beach was almost always our summer vacation. The drive to Florida would begin before the crack of dawn so we could find a place to stay before nightfall on our travel down the Atlantic coast. Our destination was usually Daytona Beach, but one time I remember we rode almost to Miami. Since I was the youngest of four siblings (by a gap of ten years), it was always a middle-of-the-backseat trip. I would lean up on the seat between my parents in my father's Lincoln Continental, which was like a smoothly-cruising a land yacht floating down to paradise. I think my father favored the beach at Daytona because it was so wide you could actually drive your car on it. It was hard to get him to stop until we reached our destination, when we would head down the beach in the car to check out the scene before we found a hotel vacancy. It was always exciting to me. From the quarter-fed Magic Fingers vibrating beds to the sand dollars and starfish I would find, I loved the beach and everything that came with it.

BEFORE  my parents even met, my father was an Army paratrooper in WWII, distinguished by being a Sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division. It was late summer and autumn of 1944 before Adolf Hitler made a last effort to hold his terrible German reign, and on Dec. 16, 1944, German troops surprised and overwhelmed American forces in the Ardennes Forest in the crucial Battle of the Bulge. It was a pivotal moment that ended the tyranny of Nazi rule. The Germans lacked the troops to maintain their success and within two weeks, my father (and the other American soldiers), commanded by General George S. Patton, stopped the German advance into Belgium.

DEFENDING the world’s freedom in the good fight of World War II, as part of America’s Greatest Generation, my father felt this was his utmost accomplishment. He owned a part of  history. He learned to conquer fear. He was a hero to all of us. We became a family of teachers of one sort of another. My sister Donna taught American History. My brother Ronald coached tennis, taught math and eventually became a high school principle. My brother Mal continues to teach unselfishness, kindness and love (like my parents did). And I like to think I'm good at teaching others about art, design and beauty.

THEY WERE MARRIED soon after daddy's arrival back home after the war. They went unceremoniously to the courthouse in Decatur, Alabama on December 23, 1945, so the holidays were always wrapped up in an anniversary. My parents had 59 years of wine-soaked fruitcakes before they both died in 2005. My father led the way, as always, in February of that year, and my mother died soon after that in July. Our family was witness to a boundless love that connected two people at a level that transcends separation. 

MOTHER AND DADDY always gave me a Whitman's Sampler on Christmas Eve every year after I figured out who the real Santa Claus was. It nearly always was placed on the sofa across from the tree in front of the living room picture window—the sofa where I always sat and stared and dreamed, until my eyes blurred with the sparkle of  lights, ornaments and tree melding together. I was hooked.

I RECEIVED another Whitman's Sampler this past Christmas Eve from my friend Jon. Ironically, it was the first year since my parents death that I had completely forgotten to buy a box for myself. And it reminds me every year that life is [truly] like a box of chocolates—and Santa does exist—if you believe in the magic of Christmas as I was taught to do.

ONE OF MY very first memories is pointing out at the ocean. My parents always told me I used  the word "see" when I pointed to the sea. The limitless horizon and the rhythm of the waves never cease to lull me back to that place where the breezes cool, even as the sun warms my face. And, I can ponder the limitless possibilities of life and death, recalling and projecting in my mind's eye, like the flickering Super 8 movies daddy made of our vacations. Summer never really ends.

SEASHELLS AND STARFISH | (Top) Collecting sparkle from the sea, these ornaments (above) evoke a trip to the beach. Like a ship's figurehead, a carved wooden mermaid with wings takes a flight of fancy all-her-own, and a blown mercury glass seashell from Homegoods sparkles like the water. Two glittered starfish from Martha Stewart Everyday Sunshine Celebration line from Kmart and five conical seashells are cast to form a single golden star from Margaret Furlong designs. An antique stretch glass plate serves as the blue of the ocean.

PRIDE AND PALMS | (Second from top) A photo of Hubert L. Moland, my father (above, right), taken before redeployment in 1942 after ending a tour in Africa before advancing to Germany. The flag is one that flew on his grave for a short while. The Sears Craftsman pocket screwdriver was carried on his key chain for years—always at-the-ready to fix something.The coins are ones he collected and represent different eras of American history—from a 1921 Buffalo nickel, a 1979 Susan B. Anthony dollar, a 1976 Bicentennial Eisenhower dollar with the Liberty Bell in front of the moon, to a 1971 Kennedy half dollar. The seashell was one that daddy kept in his medicine cabinet for years, "probably only because it had a hole in it" my brother Mal told me. And the ring to the left of the seashell was the second wedding ring my father bought my mother because her first wore through after years on her hardworking hands. It's the one I always remember her wearing since I came along so late in their lives. 

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland


  1. Glad somebody's still reading. I promise I'm going to stop talking about dead people! Thanks Pedro!

  2. Mr Moland served in a Battalion of heroes, the heroical 463rd Parachute Field Artillery, the best Artillery outfit in the entire US Army in WW2. The history of the Battalion is online at
    The Memory of Mr Moland and the entire unit shall live forever in the countries that he liberated : in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Belgium.