Remembering 9/11

Click here to view my political blog, “Politics Wednesday.” This week’s post, a day early to commemorate the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, is a reprint of an editorial I wrote within a week or so of the event. The original appeared in FAA Aviation News magazine, of which I was the editor from 1991 to 2002.

A Life-Changing Event

Thirty years ago today my world turned upside down. Two phone calls bracketed that beautiful late summer day. The first was at just after 0600 and woke me, so my answer was surly and aggravated. No one said anything, and I hung up. Almost twelve hours later, the second phone call came from my mother with the three words that echo in my head almost every day.

“Your Daddy’s dead.”

My life hasn’t been, couldn’t be the same after that, and suicide doesn’t just affect its perpetrator. It alters every family member’s trajectory. Some of us take acute vectors into too many drugs and too much alcohol until we get reeled back to earth. Some of us take it on as a burden we never discard. All of us take on the guilt. Well, unless, of course, you’re incapable of accepting responsibility for anything and blame everyone else, principally your own children.

Therapy is a blessing. Don’t ever hesitate to avail yourself of it. It’s life-saving. And that was my father’s final gift to me.

That first phone call of the day? That was my father. I checked the phone bill after his death. My mother and brother were still asleep, so he was the only one who could have made it. I also live with that every day; not just the cranky way I answered the phone but the fact the last person he chose to call was I.

Here is something I wrote for today, because writing is the only way I handle these things, and I thank you for indulging me.

For Dad

For someone born into privilege, he had a tough life—losing his father as an infant, being farmed out to cousins when his stepfather didn’t want children who weren’t his in the house, betrayal when he married young, going to war as a teenager, having his back broken in five places after World War II was over so he didn’t get a Purple Heart, being told he’d never walk again and defying every doctor who told him that, and much more. He did, however, get to live his dream—having a large, productive farm where he could raise his children and experiment with methods of farming at which the agriculture establishment scoffed.

My father was a brilliant man who could create things from metal and wood and coax amazing crop yields from the soil. He could make a dog or a horse do exactly what he wanted it to do but rarely could achieve the same with his children. We took after him too much for that to succeed. He was astounded by my writing and bragged to his friends I was a pilot. He professed to disdain my brother’s racing career but quietly made certain he had the funds to pursue it.

When you’re fifteen years old and your family has money so you don’t have to work, you resent the fact that you have to spend Saturday afternoons hauling a hay wagon or a silage cart. When you’re twenty-five years old and starting your own career, you appreciate that lesson in hard work.

When you’re a sixteen-year old volunteer for Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign, you argue with your father over race. When you’re in college, you see him bring a black man he grew up with and his family to work for him when the man had no other place to go.

When you’re in college protesting a war, you argue with him, the career soldier, over that. Years later, someone tells you he stood alongside the Veterans of Foreign Wars to block American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell from being buried in a Nazi uniform in a national cemetery. And you remember he fought to make certain you had a right to protest, even though he might not agree with why you protested.

I have now been half my life without my father. I hear his voice, have heard his voice every day since he decided he could no longer be in this world. Sometimes I listen to it; many times I don’t, and those are usually the times I should have listened. I missed him particularly on the day I retired from the U.S. government, for he was the one who taught me duty and service and love of country and to question everything.

He was a simple and flawed man who wanted nothing more than to be a farmer and have a family to raise. I was privileged to be one of his children, and, though I sometimes resented the attention he gave troubled youth, I was never so proud when some of those young men he turned from a life of crime called after his death to tell us, “I would never be what I am today if not for Mr. Duncan.” He was far from a perfect human being, but he was a good and decent man and an unwavering father when it counted.

And I miss him still. Every day.

If You’re Interested…

…here’s a link to my feature article appearing in today’s Staunton News Leader: Playing with Fire. It’s about a local blacksmithing guild, and I did a lot of very fun and interesting research for the article.

If you don’t see the link on “Playing with Fire” above, hover your cursor over the “Published Works” tab above, select Non-Fiction, and scroll down to NEWSPAPER ARTICLES.

On the Road Again…

Unless something in the Providence, RI, Airport inspires me to blog about “writing, the writing life, and the journey to publication,” today’s post could be delayed on account of exhaustion (3.5 hours sleep; Note to self: stop going to visit the ex-inlaws.) or being on the road.

Tomorrow. Maybe. Stay tuned.

A Shameless Plug

If you’re enjoying the flash fiction adventures of U.N. spies Mai Fisher and Alexei Bukharin written for Jennie Coughlin’s Rory’s Story Cubes Challenge (Click on the Spy Flash tab above.), you’ll probably love this first collection of short stories about them:

Blood Vengeance is a collection of linked short stories for sale as an eBook at Amazon, and it’s only $3.99! I can even sign your e-copy through

Here’s what a recent reviewer of Blood Vengeance had to say:

“This is as real and intense as it gets. The stories mix real events with fictional characters in a way that makes everything extremely believable. The fact that those events can be researched on the web, where explicit pictures show the extent of the horror, is hair-raising.

“The characters’ expertise takes them to world hotspots. They get the job done while trying to lead normal lives, which is a lost battle. But they try very hard, and live very intensely. I enjoyed their struggles immensely and hope to read more about their undercover work. A great find.”

Give Blood Vengeance a try. You may like it, and then I won’t have to resort to these shameless, buy-my-book-please plugs. 😉

A Little Departure

I know this is my writing blog, but one of my other creative pursuits is photography. I’ve shot everything from aerobatic aircraft to the Space Shuttle to landscapes and, of course, grandchildren.

I’m lucky to have an incredible view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from my back deck (at least until my new neighbor builds his McMansion–or as I call it, ten pounds of shit in a five-pound bag) and they’ve been a recent, favorite subject. So, indulge me, if you will, in a little picture blog. (All photos (c)Phyllis A. Duncan and were shot with a Nikon Coolpix L110 camera set for “Landscape.” A great little camera, by the way.)

The following photos I took on May 20, when severe thunderstorms were building and deluging counties east of the Blue Ridge. These storms brought severe flash flooding to DC and Maryland, but the Valley was beautifully sunny.

Here, I like the foreground scud clouds, which make such a great contrast with the cumulus clouds in the background. These were actually building over the Blue Ridge.

Then, a good-sized rain cloud came over the Valley to “join” the updraft over the Blue Ridge.














A good idea of exactly how a cumulus cloud builds.







And here, the cumulus clouds get a little color from the late afternoon sun.










I’ve had a fascination with cloud formations since I studied to become a weather observer for one of the first major articles I wrote for then FAA General Aviation News. These shots, taken early this morning, intrigued me because of the “cloud within a cloud” appearance.

About 0730 this morning, an amazing “churning” of the atmosphere.

This “column” of moister air was just such an interesting construction, I had to take several shots. This is the best.

And, just a few minutes after I started shooting, it brightened considerably.