BY GREG MARKLEY
The horrible terrorist attack in Israel reminded me of an old friend who died more than two years ago. Whenever I saw him, there was a possibility to attend services with him at a synagogue. Also, football season surfaced memories of a dyed-in-the-wool Crimson Tide fan who passed on less than a year ago.
In 1991, we were having a party in Anniston for a foreign friend of a soldier who was visiting; they met in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he was a spokesman for the kingdom and she was an American public affairs sergeant. Larry showed up late and presented him with a gift; a potted plant. Then he said, “That is called a Wandering Jew— that’s what I am called sometimes.”
I thought there would be a scuffle between the Arab and Jew after the latter brought a plant with that title. Luckily, they took the exchange with good humor. Larry’s sentence had a double meaning as he was Jewish and was “wandering” to different Army bases on short-term military assignments.
The plant mentioned above was commonly called silver inch plant and wandering Jew. The latter name is controversial, and some now use the alternative “wandering dude.” Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, is one institution that does. The plant is popular in cultivation because it grows fast and has attractive foliage. It is used as a ground cover in warm winter climates and as a houseplant elsewhere.
Larry hated the term “Arab Jew” when referring to Jews living in or coming from the Arab world. It is a “hot” political term, often used by Zionists or by Jews with roots in the Arab world who prefer to be identified as Mizrahi Jews. Jerusalem Quarterly and other publications addressed this issue in the early 2000s.
When he was a pre-teen, Larry found out that two of his uncles were killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust. In that devastating event, more than 6 million European Jews, as well as members of other groups such as disabled people, gay people and Romani were murdered at concentration camps such as Bergen-Belsen.
I was occasionally Larry’s guest at synagogues in Birmingham and Columbus, Mississippi. In northern Germany, we met one of the only three rabbis in the Army. That rabbi said he was busy all the time; that’s no surprise.
Larry graduated from the University of Alabama and was a stalwart backer of the Crimson Tide. He was buried just inside the city limits of Tuscaloosa. That’s understandable.
David, another older friend, was part of a hilarious scene at Fort Hood, Texas, when they were learning about maps and navigation. A National Guard major, he decided to take his personal car to the training area. Two other soldiers brought their own cars, too. Suddenly, the helicopter carrying the major general was above us; it was the division commander.
His pilot brought the helicopter to us and the general said,” What the hell is going on here?” The major with his car nearby said, “I have this here in case I have to quickly return to Alabama, because my mother is in the hospital.” The general said, “OK but do not make it a habit.” I felt the real “emergency” was that this friend of mine kept his car close because there was an Alabama game two days away, and he could drive there if his stated reason was accepted.
Another tale of David’s is when he called me at Fort McPherson, Georgia, frantic one day in the 1980s and said, “Greg, I need to get my official DA photo taken, and they are closing in an hour. Can you get them to extend two hours so I get the photo for lieutenant colonel?” I said yes because they know me. I got that done and he was very appreciative.
When I returned to Alabama in 1996 looking for a job, I called David out of the blue and asked him for a personal reference for my upcoming job interview at The Birmingham News.
Unfortunately, they said that they don’t hire people with less than five years of daily experience. The newspapers I wrote for and edited in the Army were weeklies, so I did not qualify.
David, a prominent Birmingham lawyer as well as a national guardsman, died a few months ago. He was an avid Alabama fan, but I don’t know whether he was buried near the university or in Baldwin County, where he retired. He and the other friend I discussed, Larry, were eccentric and made me laugh. I will not soon forget the Wandering Jew and the Crimson Tide fan extraordinaire.
Greg Markley moved to Lee County in 1996. He has a master’s in education from AUM and a master’s in history from Auburn University. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer since 2011. He writes on politics, education and books.