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Posts Tagged ‘History’

(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

I walked into the house and looked around at the place I had made my home since the day I married six years ago. Fred was a good and loving husband, who cared for me and our three little girls. We had been a bit of a scandal when we married. I was 18, plenty old enough, but Fred had been my teacher in school. He always said that I was his prettiest and brightest student, though the order of pretty and bright sometimes changed. Now we were leaving the place we had made our home. The wagon was packed and he was hitching up the mules so we could go north. I just wanted one last look at our home before beginning the trek. It looked so different now that all our things were in the wagon. The furniture we couldn’t take with us Mother was storing to give to my sisters, as they might need it. There wasn’t much. The table and chairs Fred had made, the kitchen cabinet and our two clothes cabinets, some chairs and a settee. The cradle he had made and our bedposts were in the wagon. I was keeping my rocking chair and spinning wheel, too. Aside from that it was tools, cooking utensils and clothes that filled the wagon. Fred’s brothers Abe who is 24, same as me, and Jo who is 17, are coming to help us.

Fred’s calling me. He wants us to get to the Cumberland River outside of Nashville today and it looks like we’ll have thunderstorms before dinner. Time to say good-bye to family and this town that has been home since I was ten years. Dickson had changed since we came. Just after the War between the States Mr. Berringer had gathered up a number of families in our part of Pennsylvania to come to Tennessee to farm and help repair the iron works.

Fred had come to Dickson with his older brother, Rev. Dan, with the first group from Pennsylvania. Dan couldn’t be a farmer after the War because he had shot off his own arm while cleaning his gun. Fred had helped him get started in the Methodist Church here and still did many of the chores for him. As Dickson grew it became less and less God-fearing. There were now three saloons in town, which is more than the churches. Children and ladies didn’t want to be in town from Saturday afternoon till Church on Sunday because of all the men who come in and get drunk after they are done working on the farms or at the iron works.

In a way we were going home. Fred’s parents were getting older and we were to join them in Hells Hollow outside of Slippery Rock on the old Copper place that had belonged to his grandparents. With a growing family we needed a more secure living than his teaching school and being a handyman.

As I came back into the sunshine I saw Mother and Daddy were hugging my girls while my sisters stood around looking glum. My brother, Jimmy, was helping Fred and the boys with the last minute check of the animals. I had thought we should take two hens for eggs and a goat for milk during the trip. It was going to be a very hot so they had put roofs on the hen cages. The girls could ride in the wagon. Fred and the boys would take turns driving. When not driving, we will walk along side. After many promises to write often we start out.

It’s July. We want to be North in time to help with the fall harvest and butchering. The boys had helped get the crops in the fields here. This was the quiet time of summer so our taking the extra hands with us wouldn’t be missed. The air was very still and as the sun rose higher in the sky the mules kept slowing down. We stopped for lunch near a copse of trees that allowed room for the girls to play. Jo spends much of his time chasing Nannie, who at 2, just loves to squeal when Uncle Jo catches and tickles her. My little Maude, a good and responsible girl at five, helps me open the packages for lunch. Abe has gone down to the river with the bucket to get us some water and Fred has unhitched the mules so they can eat some of this nice grass. After we have packed up from lunch I put Nannie and baby Lillie to nap in the wagon, and secure Maud’s sunbonnet so she can walk a bit with me. By dinnertime we have reached the Cumberland River just west of Nashville. We find a protected area to camp. The thunderstorms seem to have passed by so the boys will sleep under the stars tonight. Fred and I will be under the wagon so we can hear the girls. First day and we have made good distance. As my thoughts begin to drift I wonder what my sisters are doing back home. Jo begins some silly song and soon we all join with him.

We reach a small town in Kentucky on the fifth evening and stop near a little country store. Maude and I do some washing. Of all the boys in existence Jo and Abe beat them all. They keep us laughing all of the time. They are so goodhearted that even strangers take a liking to them, which makes everything easier. Our washing isn’t dry when it is time to leave in the morning so I have hung it on the pegs Fred has put on the inside walls of the wagon. The hats, jackets, and some of the tools will have to roll around the wagon bed till lunch so the clothes can dry.

Our last night out we are camped just west of New Castle, Pennsylvania. Fred tells us that we will be at the old Copper place tomorrow for supper. It’s pretty here. Ohio had been so flat. At least we have a few hills here. All day we have smelled the crops ripening in the fields. After almost two months I am tired of cooking over an open fire. It will be nice to use a real oven again. Then I really don’t know what I will be doing. The letters from Fred’s mother have always been very pleasant, but we’ve never met. And Fred has a big family. We stayed with one of his sisters and her family in Ohio for a week. They all seemed to like working hard and having a good laugh, just like my Fred. Four more brothers and three more sisters plus husbands, wives and children I have yet to meet will be waiting for us tomorrow. I am excited and a bit fearful.

Thanksgiving is next week. The weather is cold now. There are three or four inches of snow on the ground. Nannie and I were doing the washing today and it froze before we could get it on the line. The harvest was good. All the family went around to each other’s farms and helped to bring it in when it was time. Fred and his brothers butchered enough animals that we have meat in the smoke house or canned that will take us through the winter. It will be enough even with our large and growing family. I am pregnant and hoping to have a boy next summer. Fred’s parents are very loving, but before our new baby is born we will move to the Quigley place so as to have a home of our own. Fred is making a new table and chairs for us this winter. It will have to be a big table as we hope to have a large family just as his parents did. Oh yes, Fred is now called A.F. so as not to be confused with others, but he will always be my loving and joyful Fred.

The last word:

This is my Great Grandmother’s story. It comes from family oral history plus a letter she wrote back to her family in Dickson, TN, at the end of the trip in 1880. It is about 650 miles from Dickson, TN, to Slippery Rock, PA – a ten-hour drive today; a two-month plus trip then. While a single person might make 20 miles a day, a family with a wagon and animals was doing well to make ten miles a day. The Copper place was Fred’s grandparent’s home.

AFCameronFamily

In this 1898 picture, Fred and my Great Grandmother are in the middle of the back row. My Grandmother, the fifth of their eleven children, is the tall girl sitting in the center front.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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. . . do as the Romans do.

(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

When I was teaching middle school I would tell the students that good manners were the lubricant that kept society civil.  Basically, the title of this musing means the same:  wherever you find yourself, good manners help you.

Throughout my formative years my parents used this adage, with many others, to teach without giving long sermons.   As I wander through my life they all come back to help explain what I see happening around me.

When I was almost thirteen, we moved to Italy where my brother and I were frequently admonished that “When in Rome. . .”  to keep us from embarrassing ourselves, or our folks, with some outlandish behavior.  They cautioned us to hold back and observe carefully so as to learn the preferred way of doing anything so as not to inadvertently offend our hosts.  Good manners and not making a scene were some of their prime directives.  This old saw said that succinctly.

Walt and I were recently on a delightful overseas vacation, which brought the title to mind several times.  Driving on the left side of the road is the custom where we were visiting.  Many of the people on our trip would refer to this as driving on the “wrong side,” and then emit a guilty little chuckle.  Our guides tried to keep from wincing at this tired joke.  It was the correct side for them.  Each excursion would find someone commenting on how they “just adored” the accent of one of our hosts, or found it strange, funny, odd or difficult to understand, never thinking it was they who had the accent, not our host.  At best this shows an insular or provincial attitude, at worst it is absolutely offensive.  One guide attempted to avert these types of comments by saying, “This is my country.  You have the accents, not me.  We drive on the correct side of the road.”  This was done with humor, but it is sad he felt the need to state it.

Familiarity is often comforting, but not necessarily the only correct way of handling things.  This has nothing to do with giving up that which is morally right. Which side of the road you drive on is not an ethical dilemma but a pragmatic one.  How one wields a knife and fork is just custom.  One’s accent is just usage.  Fit in and don’t make a scene.  Or consider staying home.

When we take small children to our parents’ houses we tell them that while there they must do things the way grandparents want them done.  That may mean not to touch the knick-knacks or how long they are expected to sit at the dinner table.  Perhaps it defines how and where they may play in the back yard.  None of these things affect their health or well-being, and so should be respected.

Likewise, when we send children to school, we expect them to comply with the rules, as long as those rules do not endanger them.  We also have the privilege of expecting our house rules to govern the behavior of guests to our home.  If yours is a home with no smoking, guests should refrain from smoking no matter how strong their addiction.  If you expect voices to be modulated in your home, even young children should be taught to respect that and speak softly.

All of that should seem fairly obvious.

Ours is a transient society.  Our founding fathers established a representative republic with the states having a degree of sovereignty in which to make the laws that would permit us to have a diversity of customs while having the power of a larger entity, the federal government, to protect us from international predators.  That statement presumes a number of givens, which are being lost as earlier political discourse yields to current cultural waves.  Some of this is due to the current popular sense of correctness and some to the dilution of historic concepts of who we are and from where we came that has been happening since the advent of the boomer generation.  We so outnumbered the adults of our growing years that our childish hedonism changed the vector of society.  One of the results is that in striving for personal gratification many never feel the urging of “When in Rome…”  We see people who become disgruntled with where they are living for any of a number of reasons:  Their health is affected by pollens in the air and they are advised to find a different climate.  An industry moves and they are jobless.  The current political classes raise taxes beyond what the individual is willing or able to pay.  The people in these scenarios look around and find that if they move to a different state the problem will be solved.  After all, that state has drier, pollen free air.  The other state has lower unemployment rates.  The next state has a lower tax rate.  So they move.

They find the new state is different than home.  Without thinking about why they had left or what had caused the conditions with which they had been dissatisfied, they begin changing things to more closely remember the old home.

Perhaps they move to a desert where they buy a home and then plant grass and flowers that produce the same pollen they are attempting to escape.  They follow the company, which then finds the new political environment requires they recreate the business and the transient employee is left outside again. They vote for politicians with an insouciant and somewhat familiar patter who then pass the same types of laws that raise the cost of living to a level similar to what they had in the place they left.  Some new comers are foreign nationals who want even greater changes to their new home than those who have come from a different state that is still internal to our country.  Their craving for familiar surroundings, or politics, or language causes them to try to recreate the environment they fled.

This isn’t a plea to dismiss change.  Some things need changing.  Some things need preserving.  Both require thought.  We perceive a problem, then conceive a solution. The key here is to think about what our solution will spawn.  The results that occur don’t effect just the transients, but all of the folks who had been contentedly making their lives in the “new” state.  The “new” state is now no longer “Rome.”   The established residents don’t understand what has happened to their home, and the new resident can’t understand where the charm that had enticed them to move there has gone.  In reality, each of these types of changes takes more than one person.  Sometimes the balance is changed by word of mouth drawing many independent people to the “new” state.  Sometimes, more nefariously, the balance is tipped when a group with the sole intent of changing “Rome” away from what the base population had wanted finances the shift in the population.  Regardless of the reason, the Visigoths have arrived.  Rome will survive, but not as Roma.

The last word:

Why is the saying about Rome and not some other place?  Because of a letter from St. Augustine to Januarius around 390AD:

Cum Romanum venio, ieiuno Sabbato; cum hic sum, non ieiuno: sic etiam tu, ad quam forte ecclesiam veneris, eius morem serva, si cuiquam non vis esse scandalum nec quemquam tibi.

Sister W. Parsons translated this in 1951 in St. Augustine: Letters Volume 1 as:

When I go to Rome, I fast on Saturday, but here [Milan] I do not. Do you also follow the custom of whatever church you attend, if you do not want to give or receive scandal.

Januarius was Bishop of Naples at the time, and later canonized as a martyred saint.

On July 10, 1948, the average humidity in Phoenix Arizona was 19%.  On July 10, 2013, the average humidity in Phoenix was 38%.  Over the same time frame, the population increased from a little over 100,000 to about 1.5 million.  Many of those people moved from the northeast to find a dry climate and escape pollen.  Then they planted lawns and shrubs and watered them a lot.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

//

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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

It was a cold morning and she just couldn’t make herself throw back the covers and get up. She’d heard her grandfather come into the house through the basement door and then shovel the coal to throw into the furnace, but the house hadn’t warmed up much yet even though the radiators were starting to make their reassuring little noises.  Her mother was stirring in the kitchen but hadn’t started upstairs as yet so Lois buried herself further under the lovely, warm covers just a while longer.  Oh, there was her grandmother coughing again.  She was always bringing some sickness home from school and MomKate would get it.  This one had been especially bad.  The doctor had quarantined the house for two weeks, so no one but family could come in and they hadn’t seen anyone.  Pop had gone to the bakery to work, but it was harder for Mother as she couldn’t have ladies in for fittings.  She had now finished all of the dresses she had been working on before the doctor visited and slapped the quarantine sign in the window.  Mother’s ladies were beginning to ask how much longer they would need to wait to get their clothes.  Mother was making the best excuses she could, but as long as MomKate and Lois were sick and Pop was at the bakery she wouldn’t leave the house.  They all relied on the income from her sewing so she had to be able to keep the ladies coming back with more alterations and dresses to make.  Her Mother came up the stairs with her quick purposeful steps.  Almost before the board in the landing at the top of the stairs gave its warning creak to announce her arrival, the bedroom door opened.

“Good morning, Sleepy Head.  Just stay where you are for a minute or two more.  The house isn’t very warm yet.”  As usual, Mother was dressed and had done her hair already.  It was important to her to keep up appearances.  Today she had on a big house sweater over her housedress and pocketed apron to ward off the chill.  As she spoke she was opening dresser drawers and getting out clothes for the day.  The under clothes she laid very carefully over the radiator, the dress she draped over the back of the chair next to the radiator where her doll was sitting.  Lois peered over the covers and out the window beyond the radiator where icicles were hanging from the roofs of all of the houses across the street.  They sparkled in the sun, but she knew that it must be really cold out there for them to be that big.

“I’m going across the hall to see how your grandmother is feeling.  I’ll be back in a minute.  Just stay in bed till I get back.”  Katherine left the room as quickly and with as much purpose as she had entered.  It wasn’t easy for her to stay cheerful.  Her husband was in the hospital again.  It was a long ride to get there and she didn’t always have the carfare, so she could only go a few times a month.  When he first came back from the war he seemed to be OK, except that he got sick a lot.  Especially in the winter.  Now, a dozen years later, his trips to the hospital were more frequent and each one seemed longer.  The doctors told her that Ted was suffering the effects of the mustard gas the enemy had used during the battle of the Argonne in the Great War.  She didn’t want to say Germans had done it because many of her aunts, uncles, and cousins still lived over there.  Softly she asked her mother how she was doing this morning.  Scarlet fever this time.  MomKate had insisted on nursing little Lois so that Katherine could continue with her sewing.  The result was that MomKate was now sicker than Lois had been and was having a more difficult time.  She was still fighting the fever and seemed more tired than she ever had.  After assuring her mother that though she was missed she should stay in bed, Katherine quietly closed that bedroom door so her mother could rest.  She would take a tray up later.  It was time for Lois to get up and begin her day.  Katherine walked to the radiator and began picking up under clothes and slipping them under the covers to the lump curled in the middle.  “Put them on while they are still warm.  Then wash your face and comb your hair before coming down to the kitchen for breakfast.  We have a lot to do today.”

One of the best parts about cold mornings was having clothes warmed and then wiggling into them getting out from under the covers.  The warm clothes were like armor against the cold air.  It was one of the few luxuries that Katherine could give her daughter.  Lois slipped on her dress and shoes and rushed to the bathroom, always a cold room, to finish getting ready.  Before going downstairs she quietly opened the door to MomKate’s room.  Her grandmother had gone back to sleep so she closed the door even more quietly and slipped down the stairs.

“Good morning, Leibchen.  Come here and give your Pop a hug.”  With that Pop scooped her into his arms tickled her with the whiskers of his mustache.  The strong scent of his cherry pipe tobacco clung to his whiskers.  It was a pervasive and reassuring scent just like being enveloped in his strong arms.  Even in his early sixties he had more vitality than many younger men.  After a bout of typhoid when he was a young man have had lost all of his sandy brown hair. When his hair grew back it was black and had stayed that way.

Pop and MomKate had come to live with them a year ago last summer when frequent hospital stays had caused Lois’ father, Ted, to stop working.  No employer wanted someone who had to be absent as much as Ted did.  Even when he was well enough to be home, he had less and less energy.  One house was less expensive to run than two, and this one was less than two miles from the bakery.  Pop could bring home the day old-goods from the bakery, where what hadn’t sold was thrown away.  At least they had bread and rolls.  Katherine had become very clever at stretching the food they had, but sometimes there just hadn’t been enough.  Toward the end of the month they would have rice for most of the meals during the week.  She had boiled it, fried it and baked it.  She had gotten to know the butcher at the farmers market very well.  He would save the bones for her.  The marrow had helped make rich soup with barley and carrots that felt warm and filling going down.  When she could afford a chicken it would feed them for three days.  She would roast it, making most of her portion of the crispy skin.  Lois needed the meat to grow strong.  The giblets and wing tips went for stock.  Second night she would chop it into a casserole.  Third night was soup.  She had learned many of her mother’s recipes.  One that helped expand the food budget was spätzle.  If they had any leftover meat she would put a pinch in each noodle, otherwise, boiling it in the stock from the bones and a quick fry when it was time to eat would do.  Just now she was packing down the rolls that Pop had brought home with him.

“Lois, I need you to do the downstairs dusting when you finish your breakfast.  Then I you to take some dresses around for me.”  Dusting was not one of her favorite ways to spend Saturday, but taking dress to different houses was fun.  As soon as she finished eating, she got her dust rag and began in the dining room.  First she took everything off of the sideboard and server.  Then she dusted all of the surfaces being careful to get the dust from the grooves in the feet, because she knew her mother would look there.  Then she carefully picked up each piece and gently dusted it before returning it to its place.  Before moving to the living room she crawled under the dining table and wiped the legs and feet there as well.  There were many knick-knacks in the living room.  Every one had something that teased a warm memory of some event.  There were demitasse spoons with markings from all over, a multi-shelf showcase for the little folk statues from Germany called Hümmel, and vases, and ashtrays.  So much to move and dust.  Little pieces of lint or threads that fell to the carpet needed to be picked up.  By the time she was done, Katherine had wrapped three bundles in brown paper for her to carry to neighbors.

“This package is to be taken to Mrs. Johannsen.  Take it there before lunch.  Remember to ask if she has anything else she wants me to do now.  Don’t forget to wait for the money.  Let me look at you.”  As she brushed a speck of dust from Lois dress, Katherine took a comb from her apron pocket to neaten the little girl’s hair.  Then as Lois buttoned her coat, Katherine tied a scarf around head and neck.

Mrs. Johannsen’s house was next to the railroad tracks.  Lois counted the cars of a freight train that was passing as she walked up the street.  The row houses here had been built just before the depression started and were still all neatly kept.  Most of the families on this side of the street still had fathers who went to work each day.  On their own side of the street three families had no one working and Mr. Hill worked some weeks but not others.  Reaching Mrs. Johannsen’s front door, Lois rang the doorbell and then stood tall as her mother and grandmother had taught her.

“Good morning, Mrs. Johannsen.  How are you today?  Mother sent me with your dress.  Is there anything else you would like her to do for you just now?”

“Oh, Lois.  Come in this instant.  You can’t stand out there in this cold after having been ill.  How is your grandmother?”

As she was talking, Mrs. Johannsen reached for an envelope on the table next to the door.  Before handing over the payment, she reached for the candy dish filled with peppermint pinwheels, which was sitting next to it.  “Have a candy to suck on as you walk home.  I have nothing to give you today.  Tell your mother that I am going into town to get fabric for a new dress for church next week.  If your grandmother is well enough. I’ll come by after that to see what is to be done.  Watch your step now.”  And with that Lois was ushered out the door.

After lunch she was sent to the house furthest away.  She walked down the hill and across the bridge.  The houses on this side of the river were single-family homes.  She walked up to a large brick house with dark shutters at the windows.  Either side of the walkway was guarded by a large tree that at this time of year had no leaves.  Mrs. Coggins asked her in and opened the package while she waited.  Mrs. Coggins shook the dress out and checked the seams and hem.  “Your mother’s work is so fine.  I have this package for you to take back with you.”  She then detailed what she wanted done.  For one dress, a blue faille, she gave no instructions.   “I can’t seem to wear out this fabric, but I won’t wear the dress even one more time.  I’m just sick of it.  Take it.  Maybe your mother can do something with it.”  Katherine often undid the seams and re-cut fabric from dresses like this. Then she would turn them into new clothes for Lois and herself.  They took the brown paper from the dress she had brought and wrapped up the three she was to take back.  Lois buttoned up her coat and started for the door with the larger package.  “Oh, and here is a little something for walking all this way.”  With that, Mrs. Coggins put two nickels in her hand and Lois began her cold walk home.

Down the pretty street to the main road and back toward the bridge she went.  At least the air was still with no wind to blow her body heat away.  On the way she peeped into the windows of the stores that were between the bridge and the hill.  In front of the dime store stood a Salvation Army lady next to her kettle, ringing her bell.  Just seeing her made Lois feel good.  Three years ago at Christmas time, her Dad in the hospital, they had no tree and no presents for anyone.  On Christmas Eve a man and lady from the Salvation Army had rung their doorbell and brought her a gift.  It was a doll.  The most beautiful doll she had ever seen with a sweet face and eyes that closed when you lay the doll down.  The only other gift they got that year was her father coming home from the hospital in time for New Year’s Day.  Since then she had learned to sew by making clothes for the doll from the scraps her mother had.  It was the doll she carefully sat on the chair next to the radiator each time after she played with her.  She played with the doll less and less now, but still liked to see her near.  Lois carefully felt the two nickels she had slipped inside her mittens.  This year her father was due to come home today, they had Pop and MomKate living with them.  There was even a small tree in the sun porch.  She rubbed the nickels together one more time and carefully slipped them from her mittens.  As she dropped them in the kettle and the lady thanked her, she thought that some other little girl must need a gift this Christmas.  For the rest of her life Lois would put change in the Red Kettles at Christmas.

The last word:

The Lois in the story is Suzy’s Mother, who continued to drop coins in the Salvation Army kettles every year.  Now Suzy does it.

May your 2014 be happy and prosperous.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

//

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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

When the boys were in grade school we lived in San Diego.  In order to get to know her grandsons while they were growing, my mother would spend a couple weeks each summer with us.  Living in the Philadelphia suburbs Moma felt that she was unable to have any real Mexican food, which she had grown to love when she and Daddy had first lived in Southern California shortly after World War II.  The flight she usually took to visit us would land about noon Pacific Time, so the boys and I would pick her up while Walt was at work.  On the way home we would stop at a small restaurant where she could get her first “fix” of Mexican style food.  Walt’s palate is more limited than the boys’, Moma’s or mine, so he didn’t feel he had missed out on anything.

One summer when the boys were in upper elementary school, Walt and I decided to take Moma and the boys on a road trip through the southwest.   We would call it our “Holey” Vacation, as we would see Meteor Crater in Arizona, Grand Canyon, Brice Canyon, and since we would be relatively close we would stop in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  One piece of the mix was Mesa Verde National Park with the Anasazi cliff dwellings.  The only way to access some of the dwellings that we wanted to see was to ascend to the cliff ledge on rustic ladders.  The boys clambered up first, then me, Moma followed with Walt bringing up the rear.  Though having been cautioned to be careful, as soon as they got off the ladders the boys ran for the dwellings.  The Anasazi didn’t have road graders so the floor of the ledge was not exactly level, but the boys were young and nimble. At least they went further into the depth of the ledge rather than to the edge.  As I got off the ladder I was debating with myself whether to chase after the boys or stand and give Moma a hand on her way onto the ledge.  I ended up calling to the boys, well, shouting, and reaching for my mother’s hand.  When Moma reached the level of the houses she was all full of giggles.  At that point my mother was in her mid 60s and my brother had taken her ladders away for her own safety.  He didn’t want her attempting home repairs while she was home alone.  Just like the boys, she was getting away with something that those concerned for her well-being had tried to restrict.  The boys picked up on her mood and urged her to explore various houses and a kiva in the village we had reached.  Walt and I just looked at each other.  It seemed we had three “children” to watch.

New Mexico is a stunning state with stark and majestic geography.  Especially in the rural areas many houses are built in the square adobe style and nestled in the brush in such a way as to be almost invisible.  These are often very contemporary with energy renewable features.  And there are ristras of chilies everywhere.  We were there in August when green chilies are still plentiful, but are hung on strings where they turn to red and then a red so dark it is almost black.  When we got to Santa Fe, Moma was excited about the prospect of going to a restaurant featuring the local cuisine and lots of those beautiful chilies.  We chose a place close to our hotel.  It was a single story with classically southwestern flair.  When the waiter came to take our order he explained that the dishes could be served with the salsa rojo or salsa verdeRojo is made with the riper and sweeter and mellower chilies, so is not quite as hot.  He cautioned that their salsa verde was extremely hot.  He then asked Moma for her order.  She chose and then opted for the salsa verde.  The waiter must have thought she had confused the two colors and again explained that this was a very spicy sauce.  She told him that she had understood and that was why she chose it.  He said nothing more, but took the rest of our orders; however, you could tell by the look on his face that he just knew she was making a terrible mistake that would ruin our dining experience.  How could this little old white woman, who was obviously not from around there, really want good, hot salsa verde.

As he served the dinners, he gave Moma another chance to opt for the red sauce.  She assured him that what he brought looked wonderful and that she was eager to enjoy it.  Having served our meals he walked back to the kitchen door, but didn’t enter.  He stood with his back to the wall and just watched Moma.  He was obviously ready to run to her rescue.  There was even a spare basket of bread on the table right next to him.  Moma inhaled the heady aromas, readied her fork, prized off the first bite and put it into her mouth.  She closed her eyes and sat bolt upright in her chair as one small tear seeped out the corner of her eye.  The waiter reached for the breadbasket and was halfway back to our table when Moma exhaled slowly.  “Oooh, that is sooo good.” she sighed.  “I can’t get anything like this at home.”

At that the waiter’s shoulders relaxed and he really did return to the kitchen as our boys just broke out in giggles.  They had been watching the waiter, too.

The last word:

Moma was quite a lady, not often behaving as she appeared.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

True gardeners are at the height of “their” season.  For me it isn’t so much a passion as an entertainment.

Jim1558I took my first interest in the process of gardening when by parents bought their first house, which was in San Diego in the mid 50s.  Clairmont Mesa was just being cleared for post war developments of ranch style homes.  Mom and Dad picked a style, a plot in the development, and then watched the house grow.  Several times a week Dad would put us all in the car and drive from Linda Vista, where we were renting an apartment in a cinderblock style complex, across a ranch road with steers on either side of the road and a dirt cloud billowing behind us to where Clairmont Mesa Drive ended, then a few blocks back into the farm of new homes.  During World War II Daddy had been offered land on this mesa for 25 cents an acre.  At the time he didn’t think anyone would ever want land that barren and far from the bay.  Now they were going to pay close to $14,000 for a quarter acre and three-bedroom rancher.  We would drive carefully back into the development, around all the machinery and trash that abounds in such places and park on the street in front of what would be our house.  Jumping out of the car we would pick our way to however much of the house then existed and climb all over and through it.  I don’t know that in today’s litigious world that that would be allowed, but we surely enjoyed it.  It was part of the dreaming and planning of what was to be.  Daddy was on a cruise around the Pacific when it was time for Moma to do the escrow papers at the bank. With my two-year-old brother and a second-grade me in tow, she packed a canvas bag of small toys and coloring books.  It was a tense afternoon as there was nothing for us to do at the bank, and Jim soon grew tired of the things Moma had brought for him.  She was feeling the strain of the responsibility of signing paperwork that obligated them both to the purchase of a house, and became more and more upset as she attempted to read the papers with Jim just wanting to “look around.”  Frequently she would raise her head, turn from the men at the desk and give me “the look” that meant I was to curtail my brother’s current activity.  Jim has always been a determined soul so it was not an easy task to distract him.  The afternoon seemed to go on forever when all of a sudden she was in front of us with the keys to the house.  We then made our first of a series of trips to take our belongings from the apartment to our house.  By the time the carrier d

Daddy was on had docked, we had moved everything that we could lift and would fit into the trunk of our ’52 Buick.  Daddy borrowed a truck and some of his shipmates to move the heavier stuff.  There wasn’t much as most of their purchases were made after they bought the house.

Pic0051At that point, builders didn’t do much for landscape.  They had put in a driveway, front walk, and a slab patio in the back.  The front was smoothed and seeded, nothing in the back.  So my first taste of gardening was to rake smooth, and remove the stones, from what was to be the back yard.  The sprinklers seemed to run forever to get the grass seed to germinate.  When Daddy asked Moma what she wanted for flowers she said she wanted a cherry tree, an orange tree, and some marigolds and geraniums.  Having been born and raised in Pennsylvania neither of them knew what to plant in southern California so with much trial and error they eventually got some things growing.  In an effort to have total family participation, Moma decided I should have a small patch of my own.  When she went to buy some seed packets she took me with and asked me to choose a variety that I would like to grow.  I couldn’t decide which of the lovely pictures of flowers on the front of the of the envelops I wanted.  They were all so full and colorful. Moma got tired of waiting and handed me an assortment of annuals packet.  I was so eager to get started that as soon as we got home I ran to the small area next to the front door where I tore open my envelope and threw the seeds down randomly.  Not exactly where Moma had thought my patch would be, but it was an assortment of flowers.  Then we watered and I waited impatiently for the Jim0481seedlings to make their appearance.  As they popped up we attempted to identify each little plant.  I, in my eagerness, had destroyed the envelope so that we didn’t even have a list of what we were to expect.  After a couple of weeks, Moma had puzzled out most of what had sprouted.  Some zinnia, cosmos, and alyssum she would pronounce.  The names meant nothing to me.  I just wanted to see the flowers.  There was one very sturdy looking plant, that she was sure was one of the wanted ones, and not a weed, but she just couldn’t identify it.  Daddy was convinced that it looked like a weed and kept telling us that we should just pull it.  Moma demurred, she was sure that, as soon as it bloomed, she would know what it was.  Soon it was larger than most of the other plants that had come up, and it had small flower buds, so Moma felt vindicated.  I was impressed that it was waist high.  Then, it was the summer before third grade, so I wasn’t all that tall.

One dinnertime during this summer, Moma had gotten watermelon for dessert.  With a common admonition used at the time, I was warned not to swallow the seeds, as I didn’t want a watermelon vine growing out of my mouth and nose.  I argued that these couldn’t be the same sort of seeds as we had planted because they were in the melon, not a paper envelope.  As I continued to eat my way through my watermelon slice spitting seeds to my plate with great abandon, both parents tried to explain that all seeds came from their parent plants and just some were put into paper packets for home growers to put in their garden.  After one hearty bite, without even excusing myself, I dashed from the table, out the back door and began randomly spitting my watermelon seeds into the planting area Daddy had built against the back of the yard.  Having emptied my mouthful of seeds I proudly walked back into the house and announced that I had planted the watermelon seeds.  My parents, who had yet to move after my abrupt departure, were sitting at the table with quizzical expressions on their faces.  My explanation necessitated a trip into the back yard to see where, exactly, I had “planted” these seeds.  Moma was mumbling something about not wanting watermelon vines in her flower garden while Daddy reassured her that it was too late in the year for them to grow.  Of course we couldn’t see the seeds nor could I remember exactly where I had spit them.

The healthy plant by the front door was now in bloom with tiny, little yellow flowers.  Daddy said that it still looked like a weed to him.  Moma said that she thought it looked familiar and reached out to touch a leaf which emitted a very distinctive aroma.  Then she recognized the sturdy green bush as a tomato plant.  Daddy really wanted it out then.  After all, who grew tomatoes at the front door?  Moma wanted to see if it would really set tomatoes.  It was already very late in summer with school to begin soon.  I didn’t want “my” plant torn out.  Daddy gave in to us, for as long as it would take us to get the first tomato.  I watched as the plant set hard little green ball that grew to be about the size of my fist.  They then began to lighten.  I was cautioned not to touch, as that would cause them to fall off before we would be able to eat them.  So I would bend over and practically put my nose on each one, inhaling the heady aroma of the vine and ripening fruit as I examined it daily.  As they gradually colored our eagerness for the first bite grew.  By now Daddy was caught up in the anticipation.  One evening, just as Daddy got home, Moma marched us all out to view our tomato plant.  That evening we had ripe tomatoes, still warm off the vine.  Nothing could have tasted sweeter.

Now our attention shifted to the watermelon vines, which had grown up between Moma’s flowers and trailed along the edge of the short slump stonewall Daddy had put in to contain the flowerbed.  School had started.  Watermelon season was over, but these green balls seemed to be growing quite nicely.  Hallowe’en passed and Daddy began giving the watermelon a rap each time we examined them.  Not ready yet, he would pronounce, and we would walk away.  We were approaching the end of November when Daddy decided that our watermelon was close to ready.  Were we to have watermelon for Thanksgiving?  Moma, a staunch traditionalist in matters of holiday menus, was aghast.  Well, that’s when the melon came ripe.  So it became part of our Thanksgiving dinner that year.

I decided watermelon were too much work.  There was an awful lot of plant and time needed to get a melon while our little tomato plant was going gangbusters by the front door.  Inside the house began to fill with the delightful aroma of Christmas baking, but at the front door we had fresh tomatoes.  Now, the plant was beginning to get a little leggy, but the fruit was still tasty.  Inside we took stencils and glass wax window cleaner to put holiday designs on the picture window in the living room.  As we were doing this, the tomato plant stared up teasingly at my father. That was it.  The death knell of the tomato plant had sounded.  He just couldn’t rationalize the existence of a tomato plant and Christmas decorations.  Especially not in his front yard.  He quietly walked out the front door, firmly grabbed the vine close to the ground and pulled.  In the blink of an eye my first tomato plant disappeared into the trashcan with Moma following and protesting that there were still green tomatoes on it that we could use.

In subsequent years I have had varying degrees of success with gardening.  Each garden has provided its own delights and disappointments.  For me it is always a matter of hit or miss, an indulgence that provides great gratification.

The last word:

Suzy still gets a lot of entertainment value out of her gardens.  She has an herb garden, and when she cooks she often wanders out to pick fresh herbs: seconds from plant to pot or table.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

In the Twentieth Century, most of us were taught that The United States was a melting pot for the diverse people who created her.  I prefer to think of us as a stew, and I really like a good stew. It has complicated flavors, takes a bit of effort on the part of the cook, and some time.

In the early Nineteenth Century we were a nascent country attempting to create a separate identity for ourselves.  We created a mythology, which included the story of George Washington and the cherry tree to emphasize how we valued honesty.  Other tales emphasized rugged individualism and creativity.  We took words from the different people who were part of our population and made them our own; hence, American English includes words from Amerindian languages, Scottish, German, Dutch, and others that have confused our British brethren who thought we spoke the same language.  We, also intentionally, changed the spelling or pronunciation of words to help foster our distinct identity.  Did you read the English or American version of the Harry Potter series?  There were some editing differences so that audiences on both sides of the Pond could easily read, and enjoy, the story.

One of the original selling points for a publically funded school system came from the sense that without a shared education our various immigrants would be at best slow, or worst case, unable to assimilate.  Public schools were initially developed in the urban centers at the main points of immigration in the 1800s.  No one has ever claimed that our schools were perfect.  Rather we have always agreed that they are a work in progress. We disagree about their efficacy, but agree that it is important to retain them.

Our Revolution was, in part, successful because of people being able to read and discuss broadsides and newspapers.  Go to the tavern or the inn, read and pass around the papers and discuss them.  The same was true of the ratification of the Constitution, and the rapidity with which the Bill of Rights was adopted.  The Federalist Papers, originally called the Federalist, were a series of essays published in newspapers to facilitate discussion and encourage acceptance of the new Constitution.  There was an agreed upon understanding of who we were, where we had come from, and where we wanted to go.

With the Industrial Revolution and ever increasing numbers of immigrants the sense of who we were began to be lost.  We needed to have our immigrants participate in public discussion if our representative democracy was to continue.  The adults needed to work to be able to feed their families, so the obvious way to maintain the culture was to teach them through their children.  The children would learn to read so that they could read papers and share with and teach their parents to read.  The children would be taught our history so that the entire family would understand our mores and ethos.  They were also to be taught basic ciphering, that is arithmetic.  These skills would help the children to become good employees and Citizens.  The latter was a key reason for being able to convince people to allowed themselves to be taxed to provide for a public school system.

After World War II we had become a wealthy society.  Most who wanted a job could find one.  Most who wanted an education beyond high school could afford a technical school or at least a few classes at a college.  As a percentage of the total population, immigrants were fewer, thus more easily absorbed into the general population.  Those returning from the war had been raised during a severe economic depression and wanted to make a life for their family that was better and had more advantages than they themselves had had.  Walt and I are products of that frenetic effort.  Our parents gave us more material goods than they had had.  They encouraged us to go further in school than they had gone.  They required us to grow up more slowly and with less responsibility than they had had. We, the Baby Boomer Generation, have benefited from the advantages of having such largesse from our parents and in turn passed it on to this wonderful nation of ours.  We have also helped make our Nation and Society poorer due to the myths that such a large influx of new people, for that is what a generation is, have inflicted on the body politic.  As with any non-assimilated wave of immigrants we have kept to ourselves, put our own spin on the tale we tell the world about ourselves, and cost the general population by our very size.

During the idealism of our youth we determined to make this the best of all possible worlds without hearing the sarcasm of Voltaire as the baser nature of people caused unforeseen and unintentional consequences to the changes we had demanded with all good intentions.  As with many people who look for improvement, we touted the deficiencies in our systems, with no regard to how we were no longer citing the good things that had brought us this far.

Our current immigration policy is one of the systems that this generation feels obligated to fix.  This sense of ambivalence toward “all those foreigners” has been present in our society from its early years when we offered succor to those fleeing the French Revolution.  Quota systems have been the most frequent choice in our attempts to keep some sort of balance between overwhelming numbers of new people and our sense of the status quo.  Our contemporary repairs have neither benefited ourselves, nor our immigrants, legal or illegal.  We eradicated programs that facilitated migrant worker populations, because we felt the systems that had been created took unfair advantage of migrants.  Then we had immigration without the benefit of any regulations that should have been aimed at helping the new people establish their place here.  Then we tried an amnesty program so that we could turn a new page and start over without really establishing a new system of admittance.  How naïve we were.  In the meantime, we had a wonderful economy that was a draw for immigration in even greater numbers than we had seen in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries.

Today we are in the throes of Congress attempting to “give” us a new solution to the problem.  We need to applaud their effort.  Then we need to look very carefully at their proposal.  We are now faced with the same problem that confronted our population in the early Nineteenth Century:  our immigrants are keeping themselves separate from the rest of us.  This causes huge disruptions in society.  We can fix it.  We need to teach all of our children the good parts of our history, not just our flaws.  A road to citizenship should be strongly encouraged, with a number of requirements that enable the new citizen to be a full participant in our society. We need to require our immigrants to assimilate, especially in language so that we may all discuss things together.  Those who would forgo citizenship should have strictures on what they are permitted to reap from our social programs.  Assimilation and citizenship does not mean immigrants need to eschew who they are, but it does mean they need to renounce previous allegiances.

I like a good stew.  We have all the component parts.  Individuals who are separate parts of groups just as the meat and vegetables are cut into pieces.  But they need to jump headlong into the cauldron of our society and become part of us.  That is when the flavors of each part of the stew marry.  That means we all merge in such a way as to be better than any one of us, or small group of us could have been by ourselves, while allowing us to maintain our individuality and independence from each other.   Like a good stew it takes time and gentle heat.  The gentle heat is the discussion of ideas where we do not agree.  The key is that it is a slow heat that allows for us to maintain our integrity and still come to agreements.

Yes, I like a good stew in all its complexity.  And I love this country with all its diversity.  Neither is perfect, but they are both magnificent.

The last word:

ImmigrantsPercentAs Suzy indicates, the impact of immigrants has been more or less significant over the history of the United States.  This chart based on US Census data shows the number of immigrants as a percentage of the total population in the US.  An immigrant, for this purpose, is defined as someone who came into the US (legally or not) since the last census who had not been born here.  Numbers prior to 1840 are estimates.  The Industrial Revolution and the jobs it created drove historically high immigration up to 1920.  After that, repressive immigration laws, the Great Depression, and World War II had a significant impact on immigration rates.  Not until the laws were relaxed in the 1960s did immigration recover, and now is steadily moving up towards the historic highs.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified in 1868 primarily to fill a gap in the Thirteenth Amendment that abolished slavery.  Driven by President Lincoln to codify the Emancipation Proclamation, the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in 1865.  While it abolished slavery, it gave no rights to the freed people.  Among other things, the Fourteenth Amendment states that anyone born in the United States is, simply by that fact, a citizen of the United States.  At a stroke all prior slaves and, more importantly, their current and future children, were citizens with equal protection.  While primarily focused on the plight of freed slaves, the writers were well aware that this Amendment would also apply to the children of immigrants.  Immigration was rising rapidly after the Civil War, and those people needed to be assimilated into our culture.  Making the children citizens and providing public education was, as Suzy stated, the easiest way to assimilate a family.  In 1868, immigrants came to the US to stay.  Maybe a few would get back to the “old country” to say goodbye to a dying relative, but they all knew it was essentially a one way trip.

This is no longer true.  Modern transportation enables someone to drive, walk or fly into the US, have a child, and head home a week later never to return.  That child is a US citizen, yet that child is likely to have no opportunity to learn our history or our culture. They have the right to come back 20 years later; no matter what attitude they have about the US.

In the developed world, only the United States and Canada have such a broad definition of citizenship.  Personally, I think it is past time to rethink that provision.  What do you think?

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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(This is another special post by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)

One of my favorite ways to enjoy a road trip is to try the local restaurants. Independently owned or local chains are best. If caught short, or pressed for time, there are always reliable, national chains. But the fun really begins when you take the time to stop for a meal at the local place. Some of the best, and worst, food I’ve ever had was at some of the most diverse places we have we have found “on the road.”

In April 1957, when I was in fifth grade and my brother, Jim, was four years old, Uncle Sam moved us from San Diego to Philadelphia. Actually Daddy’s orders had us going to Guantánamo Bay, Cub, and we were to follow as soon as housing there was available for us. Housing for U.S. military dependents was at a premium, and assigned by military rank and size of family. We never actually made the move to Cuba, but that’s another story.

Jim was at the stage many children go through where only one kind of food will do. Some kids choose chicken strips or nuggets, some grilled cheese sandwiches, others peanut butter and jelly. Jim liked cold cereal–Frosted Flakes were at the top of his list. It didn’t matter if it was breakfast, lunch or dinner; it was cold cereal. Moma would try to have him opt for oatmeal for a little variety and he would refuse. At lunch she would suggest a sandwich or soup and he would turn it down. At home, she would make dinner and he had the choice of eating what was served or waiting for the next meal. Since the next meal would be breakfast anyway, he would asked to be excused from the table and would wait for cold cereal in the morning. On our trip across the country this created a bit more of a challenge. Breakfast, obviously, was uneventful. Lunch a bit more difficult as the chains we know today were fewer and further between in the Fifties. We would stop at a local burger joint or a cafe. At the cafe, he could insist on cold cereal because they usually served breakfast as well as lunch, and sometimes dinner, so they had cereal. On the other hand, a burger place, especially those that were a box with a window or where the waitress would come to the car, didn’t open till lunch, so they never stocked cold cereal. We ended up at a cafe. That took longer and Daddy would spend the entire meal consulting his watch. He was granted only a limited number of days travel time for any move, so every mile we traveled each day was important.

The number of miles we could go in a day seems small now, but the Interstate system was in its infancy and the U.S. highway system went through every village, town, and city. Moma always had trouble reading a map, so unless we went into a one-road-through town we would often miss a critical turn and end up with an unscheduled sight-seeing trip. Then, attempting to relocate us on the map and read the up-coming street sign as the other cars guided our choices would cause frustration in the front seat.

One of Daddy’s requirements for a place to eat was that it be on the far side of any metropolitan area so that he and Moma could take a breather after navigating a strange town. Hence, we would pass up likely looking stops because they were at the onset of our passage through town or in its busy center.

When we finally picked a place we would need to figure out the menu. Not everyone wanted cold cereal. I never was a fan of mayonnaise, especially the gelatinous cream colored style that came in industrial size jars with wide mouths. I’m sure that you are familiar with the really flavorless kind they would scoop out with a spatula and smear in a thick coat on the bread. Yuck! I would scour the menu for something I recognized, but that didn’t say “mayo.” My eyes would light on an item, Moma would read the description, then remind me of something there that I disliked. Daddy would say that if I ordered it, I would eat it. Again he would be looking at his watch. Some of the foods I tried this way I was hard pressed to make myself eat again for a very long time. Others, like the broasted chicken and fries in a basket, have never been equaled.

Dinner was even more of an adventure. One of Daddy’s criterion for a motel was that there be at least one place nearby where we could get dinner and hopefully breakfast, or one to do each. Motels at the time didn’t feel it necessary to feed their guests. Some did include a cafe attached, but not all. Motels didn’t include breakfast, neither cold nor hot. We spent one night in Williams, Arizona. The motel was about a block away from The Steak House. That dinner set the standard for steak houses as far as I was concerned. As Daddy told the hostess that there were four of us, my eyes were drawn to a glass case filled with various cuts of uncooked, deep red beef with little signs describing the cut, behind which was a butcher shop. After we were seated, the waiter brought a tray of raw beef selections, in case we hadn’t noticed the display, I guess. Being cautioned that I could point, but not touch, I made my selection. When the entrées arrived at the table each piece of meat had a small color coded plastic steer standing in its center to tell us the degree of done ness. I still remember how delicious that meal was.

Several nights after Williams, we stopped in a larger city. I was tired of beef. Jim still wanted cold cereal. Moma tried to convince him that a “real” dinner would be better. The waitress took pity on our parents and assured Moma that she could get a bowl of cereal for Jim. She then turned to me. I brightly told her, “The loin lamb chops, medium rare, please.”

Daddy sighed, “But this is cattle country.”

“Is that the most expensive thing on the menu? Did you choose by the price?”queried Moma.

I was now embarrassed and, therefore, became stubborn insisting that I really did want the lamb. I’m not sure that I even remembered what lamb tasted like. After the waitress left with our orders, I got a history lesson on animal husbandry and land use in the West. The emphasis of the lecture was that it was best to eat locally grown and prepared foods. Especially when traveling. Yes, our parents were locavores even before the term was invented.

Eventually we arrived at our grandparents’ house. Living in Philadelphia, Grandmom shopped at the corner grocery two blocks south, the local butcher two blocks north and one west, and the bakery two blocks south and three west. Dairy was delivered several times a week to the little insulated box at the back door. Food was done in either American or German style. Grandmom enticed Jim to try baked beans. When he declared he liked them, she saw that he got them every dinner. To this day, he laughs at how often she served him baked beans over the years.

Somehow our parents survived the eating trials we presented and we learned how to eat a variety of foods in different styles. Traveling still provides some of the best eating experiences. We did find a few treasures of comparable quality and preparation on our current trip. Wichita has a place called “Scotch and Sirloin” that offers super tender and well seasoned beef, without viewing the raw selections. In Des Moines, it was “Irina’s Russian Restaurant.” They carried over fifty selections of vodka and some very nice wine. The waiter told us that the area of Russia that Irina emigrated from had a similar climate to Des Moines, so she could get very similar foods and ingredients. However that works, the meal and service were a treat.

Eating on a road trip is great, except, maybe, when you are in the middle of “nowhere” and are hungry. More often the problem is that there is too much good eating.

The last word:

My family also did a lot or road trips, often without the urgency of getting there in not quite enough time. I do remember that in the fifties, Dad believed that a good way to pick a good inexpensive place to eat was to follow the truckers.

Today when in Europe, I look for bicycles in front of small places. Sometimes you can’t communicate well, but you always get good food, good service, and a few laughs.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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