Encyclopedias

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I’ve been looking at a stack of encyclopedias for two weeks, wondering how to give them away to someone who could use them for . . . anything. Book art. Collage. Origami. Because who needs outdated old books that just take up space when we have The Internet?

Apparently, we all do because we haven’t learnt that bit about “Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it.”*

We dismissed as hyperbole the comparisons to dictators, mesmerized crowds, inner circles of people with the most extreme viewpoints and palpable anger when confronted regarding those viewpoints. “This is a distraction from the distraction from the real thing.” The real thing was what? Loathing of the “other” and celebration of the mediocre. The real distraction was convincing us that never advancing in life, never “getting above your raising,” preserving the red clay and coal dust that drove our grandparents and great-grandparents into early graves was the American dream. Education is for the ignorant elitist (edit). Men belong in the mine and the factory. Women belong in the home. Black people belong in the shanty settlement just outside of town. People with disabilities shouldn’t be seen. LGBT people just shouldn’t be. If you can’t afford to call the doctor to your house, you don’t deserve to see the doctor. If you can afford to see the doctor, if you’re deserving, you’re blessed by God. If you’re poor, you don’t have God’s blessing, and no one should help you because if people keep helping you, you’ll never learn.

Did we learn anything in the last 24 hours from a bunch of entitled young male punks in khakis, carrying citronella torches from Party City? Did we learn anything from the fact that a person plowed their car into a group of anti-Nazi protestors, put it in reverse, and ran down more people? Did we learn anything from the murder of a woman struck by the car and the deaths of two law enforcement officers who were killed when their police helicopter crashed for as yet unknown reasons?

We better have fucking learned. We better have fucking learned that we have a mealy-mouthed imposter in the White House (except for when he’s golfing or holding Youth Rallies) who is pouring fuel all over the “disaffected” college dudebros like lighter fluid on charcoal. Are we going to demand his removal from office, or are we going to hand another can of lighter fluid to him?

I don’t think that we learned yet, YET, because the talking heads on the news still can’t call the tiki torch bros Nazis. I don’t think that we learned yet because the talking heads are still calling the vehicular homicide a “car accident.” I don’t think that we learned yet because no one has had the guts to say, “Nazis carried torches through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia and held a rally that led to three deaths over the removal of a statue.”

A statue.

A FUCKING STATUE.

The person who groped his way to the White House got there because:

He’s rich.

He’s a B-list celebrity that some find entertaining.

He vowed to undo everything that The Colored Man did.

He played to the fear and selfishness of the salt of the earth, who live vicariously through his bullshit.

I read a couple of comments from WWII vets and thought that they are like encyclopedias. What they have to say about the events in Charlottesville are critical, but we’re not going to learn because they’re outdated. And what they fought against could never really happen here, except it keeps happening, because we never learn.

*George Santayana

Edited for grammar 8-13-2017

 

My Great-Grandmother’s Mirror

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In packing up my aunt’s personal belongings before her house is sold, my mother and I came across a very precious item. My mother was overwhelmed because of who it had belonged to and how long it had been since she last saw it. I was a bit stunned that we found it. I’ll say why in a moment.

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This is a mirror that hung in my great-grandmother’s house.

I never had the good fortune to meet my great-grandmother because she died of pancreatic cancer in 1956, when my mother was eight. Even the coldest older members of our family almost break down when asked about her. Grandmother was sweet, grandmother was quiet, grandmother was always working, grandmother always had her head down.

Well, with the jackass she married–and I’ve heard plenty about HIM–I don’t doubt she kept her head down.

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I was told that she made her wedding dress. Then she became a farmer’s wife. She lived in a tumbledown farmhouse and had seven daughters and a son. They all lived, even my grandmother who had diphtheria as a kindergartener.

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After all the children were born, my great-grandfather sold this property and moved the family into a nice “modern” house. And that is where my mother remembers seeing the mirror.

The mirror is rounded, dim, and distorted, but you can still see yourself in it. The first time I looked into it, I had an unsettling sensation. My great-grandmother looked into that mirror. It doesn’t seem to be the style of mirror a woman would have in her bedroom. Did it hang in the hallway, near the front door? Did my great-grandmother stop, look into it, and adjust her hat before she went out? Did my great-grandfather pause before it, take a comb from his pocket, and run it through his hair? Did she wish for something prettier, more stylish? Where did she get the mirror?

These are things I will never know. I’m going to add sturdy hardware to the back and hang it over our sideboard, and then I will always be drawn to look down that dim tunnel, and wonder.

Edit: I forgot to explain why I was so shocked that we found the mirror. My grandmother, even though she was the second-oldest child and the oldest girl, she got almost none of her mother’s belongings. Sadly, a couple of her younger sisters cleaned out the house before my grandmother got there. All she had (and we still have) was an old bottle with a cork, a foot-long hatpin, and a rhinestone brooch. We had no idea she had the mirror. She must have kept it put away, and my aunt found it after her death.

Family members can turn greedy and do things you wouldn’t expect after a death, especially the death of someone like my great-grandmother who held a very large extended family together. My grandmother loved her sisters, but at the same time, she carried the hurt of being left out of the dividing up of her mother’s things for her entire life. We live in my grandparents’ house. I suppose bringing the mirror home made me feel that my grandmother knows somehow and it made her happy.

The Wind and the Lion

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Apparently March is coming in like a lion this year. We had a thunderstorm last night. Now the wind is roaring around my house. I feel it to my right through the drafty old windows. I think I’ll need extra blankets tonight.

This blustering wind reminds me of fairy tales. “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down.” Those were real concerns for people in sod or stone houses with thatched-roofs.

I think that it’s good to feel something like what our long-ago ancestors felt, sitting by the fire with their livestock. We’ve forgotten how hard day to day survival was a thousand years ago. We’ve forgotten how hard day to day survival was 100 years ago. I’m 44. In a farmhouse on a lonely country highway, my great-grandmother built up the fire, and took an extra quilt to the children all in the same bed, and my great-grandfather, maybe, maybe he sat in a straight-backed chair with his shotgun across his knees because you never knew what might come out of that roaring night.

You never know.

The Victorians and Butterflies

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More interesting, and morbid, than you thought.

Emblems of the Soul: Butterflies in Victorian Fashion and Folklore

“The belief that butterflies represented the soul was fairly widespread.  In the United Kingdom, regional folklore could be quite specific on the matter.  For instance, in Ireland, butterflies were thought to be either the souls of dead grandfathers or the souls of the newly dead waiting to pass through Purgatory.  While in Devonshire and parts of Yorkshire, they were believed to be the souls of unbaptized babies.”  (https://mimimatthews.com/2016/10/14/emblems-of-the-soul-butterflies-in-victorian-fashion-and-folklore/)

What the chickens costs me

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I have two journals, one kept by my grandfather’s uncle from 1914-1915, and the other kept by my grandfather during his teen and college years. My grandfather’s journal has only sporadic entries. They’re both written in railroad “car books,” which were apparently used by (railroad) car mechanics at railroad repair stations, or shops. My grandfather’s uncle worked as a car mechanic. He got my grandfather a job with the railroad. My grandfather went from fireman to engineer. I’ve taken a few pictures of the journals and a couple of the memorable entries from my grandfather’s journal.

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Unsolved Mysteries

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Some, I confess, I would rather remain unsolved. The Loch Ness Monster. I prefer to believe Nessie is out there. Springheel Jack in England. The Montauk Monster on Long Island. The Brown Mountain Lights in North Carolina. But these are all examples of old folklore or scary campfire stories. When it comes to mysteries based in indisputable historical fact, I fear the answers won’t come until after I’m long gone.

The possibility is growing that archaeologists may solve the mystery of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island in my lifetime. The first child of English settlers born in the New World, Virginia Dare, was born at Roanoke. The situation at the colony was tense and unstable for a number of reasons. The colony’s leader, and grandfather of Virginia Dare, returned to England to report on the situation and request assistance. Governor White didn’t make it back to Roanoke Island until three years later, and on the date of his granddaughter’s third birthday, he found the colony abandoned. I’ve read that either the partial word “Croa” or the full word “Croaton” was carved into a tree or a post. The settlers were never found.

Archaeologists are still diligently trying to solve this mystery and recently made what might be some headway: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/pottery-roanoke-colony_us_576adf16e4b09926ce5d6ce1http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/pottery-roanoke-colony_us_576adf16e4b09926ce5d6ce1

It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s a clue. Dare County is named for Virginia Dare. It’s a place I plan to visit, and one day I hope to get online and read that the fate of Virginia Dare and the settlers of the Lost Colony has been definitively solved.

Newspaper clipping from WWII

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This is on the back of a newspaper clipping that has something family related on the front. The caption reads “Removing the Body After an Air Raid” is the name of this game played by England’s children. Picture, passed by British censor, was made at one of 41 children’s projects operated by the Foster … .” and there it ends. I might be able to find the full newspaper page if I take this to the history room at the library. We don’t have much going for us here anymore but people do come from as far as California just to do genealogical research in our library’s history room.

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