Monday, March 31, 2014

Swiss Family Robinson

Johann David Wyss (1743 - 1818) was a Swiss pastor who wanted to teach his sons specific character strengths, including self-reliance. Wyss died leaving a disjointed collection of stories. The book was arranged and completed by Wyss's son Johann Rudolf Wyss (1781 – 1830).

The main character is a pastor who with his family were on their way to New Guinea when a storm over took their ship. They become stranded on a deserted island, but after devising ways to remove the animals and every useful item from the ship, they recreate civilization.

Since its initial publication in 1812 it has been translated and rewritten many times and was the basis for a Disney film and a television series.

I read the book several times when a girl and loved the Disney movie. Overall, this is a can do, positive, upbeat book. The characters never met a disaster or crisis they cannot handle. They seem to have read every book ever written on exploration, primitive cultures and their material world and industry, and every book on flora and fauna of the known universe.

Among the prickly stalks of the cactus and aloes, I perceived a plant with large pointed leaves, which I knew to be the karata. I pointed out to the boys its beautiful red flowers; the leaves are an excellent application to wounds, and thread is made from the filaments, and the pith of the stem is used by the savage tribes for tinder.

"How happy it is for us," said she [the other], "that you have devoted yourself to reading and study. In our ignorance we might have passed this treasure, without suspecting its value."

One problem after another is solved by the resourceful father and sons. Mother suffers a fall from the treehouse, one son suffers a serious burn and another son is shot, a hurricane destroys their fruit trees, and mom and a son are abducted by cannibals from the next island over. All crises are met head on and solved. Dad even makes rubber boots!
Warning: wild boar coming!

The second half of the book concerns Father and his older sons returning to find mother and the younger son missing. They fear that cannibals have abducted them. The menfolk sail to an island and after many adventures with 'savages' and a priest they are reunited.

Goodreads comments on the book are mostly negative, especially because the boys sometimes go around shooting animals willy-nilly.

The next morning, Ernest had used my bow, which I had given him, very skilfully; bringing down some dozens of small birds, a sort of ortolan, from the branches of our tree, where they assembled to feed on the figs. This induced them all to wish for such a weapon...I gave my boys leave to kill as many ortolans as they chose, for I knew that, half-roasted, and put into casks, covered with butter, they would keep for a length of time, and prove an invaluable resource in time of need.

We are today repelled by the sense that all creation is there for mankind to use. We know what happened to many species and to our environment as an outcome of that sad attitude towards creation.

We know that ostriches, wild boar, bears and penguins do not live side by side not to speak of kangaroos, pineapples, water buffalo and a multitude of other things the Robinsons find on their island. It is pretty absurd by today's knowledgeable readers.

The book is pre-novel in the way Robinson Crusoe is, episodic and without depth of character, lots of life instruction and little sense of plot. Wyss was to have told the book as a series of stories or tales.

Prayers for safe delivery
There is a strong religious ground to the novel, and 18th c values are clear. Mom is revered and loved, a paragon of virtue. Father is a fount of wisdom, strength, and knowledge and clearly is in charge. The family always gives thanks to God their preserver, defender, and guide. The sons represent different personalities and are accepted and esteemed for the gifts God gave to them. Education and self-improvement are esteemed. And in all things they hold strong to their faith in God.

Our path became every instant more intricate, from the amazing quantity of creeping plants which choked the way, and obliged us to use the axe continually. The heat was excessive, and we got on slowly, when Ernest, always observing, and who was a little behind us, cried out, "Halt! a new and important discovery!" We returned, and he showed us, that from the stalk of one of the creepers we had cut with our axe, there was issuing clear, pure water. It was the liane rouge, which, in America, furnishes the hunter such a precious resource against thirst. Ernest was much pleased; he filled a cocoa-nut cup with the water, which flowed from the cut stalks like a fountain, and carried it to his mother, assuring her she might drink fearlessly; and we all had the comfort of allaying our thirst, and blessing the Gracious Hand who has placed this refreshing plant in the midst of the dry wilderness for the benefit of man.

Another aspect that upsets moderns sensibilities is the attitude towards the local indigenous people, the 'savages' who are just becoming Christianized. Just the use of the word savage sets one's teeth on edge.

So why did I love this book as a girl? It is clearly a 'boy's' book, with many adventures and more knowledge about how to identify and prepare edible vegetative matter than any fiction book ought to have in it.

1. It starts with a shipwreck---a storm has raged for six days already, and on the seventh day the ship strikes a rock. What can be more exciting than that?

2. Father and Mother are models of strength and courage. Every child believes their parents are--or wants to trust that their parents are--strong protectors they can rely on.

"Take courage," cried I, [the father] "there is yet hope for us; the vessel, in striking between the rocks, is fixed in a position which protects our cabin above the water, and if the wind should settle to-morrow, we may possibly reach the land."

This assurance calmed my children, and as usual, they depended on all I told them; they rejoiced that the heaving of the vessel had ceased, as, while it lasted, they were continually thrown against each other. My wife, more accustomed to read my countenance, discovered my uneasiness; and by a sign, I explained to her that I had lost all hope. I felt great consolation in seeing that she supported our misfortune with truly Christian resignation.

"Let us take some food," said she; "with the body, the mind is strengthened; this must be a night of trial."

3. They have adventures, suffer hardships, and are pressed to solve huge problems but prevail and flourish. Wish fulfillment! Illusions of superhuman ability! What child can resist!

4. The boys all have a special pet animal. They get to ride animals. They have two dogs. Kids love animals.

5. They live in a treehouse! They build a grotto in a cave. They live in a tent. What could be grander?

6. The boys are respected for their contributions to the welfare of the family. The older boys are relied upon to do adult work.

I don't expect to ever read Swiss Family Robinson again. But after rereading Robinson Crusoe, and as I have been revisiting childhood favorite books, it seemed fitting.

For an overview on the author, developent of the novel, and influences see:

Project Gutenberg's free ebook with illustrations can be found at:

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

Front cover

Kathleen Kent's book "The Heretic's Daughter" is set during the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692. She envisions the story of her ancestor Martha Carrier who was called "The Queen of Hell" by the Rev. Cotton Mather. To confess and name other witches allowed some mercy from the court. Of the 200 men and women arrested for witchcraft, Martha was the only person who would not perjure herself by confessing falsely to being a witch.

The Carrier family were free-thinkers, something that Puritan society held in suspicion. Thomas is a huge man of silent strength who inspires fear in his neighbors. Rumor has it that he was a murderer in old England when he served Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan leader that took over the government, resulting in the death of Charles I.

Martha is a distant and stern mother with a backbone of steel and a literal iron rod. She has three boys and two daughters. The middle child Sarah feels alienated from her family, especially after a sojourn with her cousin and her story-telling father and gentler mother. The novel is told through Sarah's eyes.

The Carriers have come to Andover to live with Martha's mother, not knowing they have also brought smallpox. Thirteen people die. After Grandma's death Thomas and Martha stay on the farm, which causes trouble with Martha's sister's family who had believed they should inherit the property.

Martha's surety and aloofness makes her no friends. Petty squabbles arise and community conflict escalates. Meanwhile in Salem young girls have been naming women as witches...and the Andover girls decide to join the movement. It becomes a way to get even with Martha and Sarah.

Martha is arrested for witchcraft, plunging the family into turmoil and disorder. One by one the children are also taken into custody as witches.

Kent spent five years researching this novel. The descriptions of home and prison life are detailed, and often disturbing. Their life is harsh, enduring the brutal winter cold and scathing summer heat. The boys take up the yoke to pull the plow. Cleanliness is a luxury. The fear of an Indian attack is always with them.

The suffering of the imprisoned women, whose family must provide their food and even pay for the manacles they are bound with, is exquisitely painful to read. A four year old child is jailed along with her mother, and left in jail after her mother's execution....because her father could not pay to have his daughter released.

The novel made me think about how groups will gather and attack those who don't fit in, who are different, who don't conform to the norm, who think freely. But also how one or two people can influence a way of thinking that escalates into a movement, for good or for bad.

I myself have seen modern day witch hunting in action. The gathering of a group of like-minded people reinforcing their shared beliefs, justifying their actions. The targeting of the person or persons believed to be a threat. The vicious attacks, the rumor mongering, the campaigning for others to join them. That scene in Disney's Beauty and the Beast where Gaston leads the villagers to attack the Beast, selling a vision of the threat the Beast posses, well, it happens outside of cartoons.

We know that McCarthyism was a 20th c. witch hunt. The pressure to name names is right out of old Salem. The passivity of bystanders during Hitler's rise to a power based on racial superiority and genocide is viewed today as remarkable. The Civil Rights movement was met with hatred and prejudice and fear. The Suffragettes were mocked, jailed, and abused because they asked for voting rights. All around the world tribal warfare, genocide, and repression occur.

Civilization is a process that does not follow a straight line. Human enlightenment is not a march as much as a dance that circles back before moving forward. What witch hunts are we willing to join today?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Gruesome Recollection from a Hundred Years Ago: Hog Butchering

I was always fascinated by my grandfather's article remembering hog butchering on his aunt and uncle's farm. Being a child of the 1950s suburbs and the wide aisles of modern grocery stores, it was hard for me to believe that a little boy was witness to such a bloody and gruesome scene, none the less participating in the event. It makes me glad I am a vegetarian!

Lynne at Six Years
In 1960 my grandfather Lynne O. Ramer (1903-1971) wrote a series of articles for the Lewistown Sentinel, the local paper for his hometown of Milroy, PA. Gramps wrote close to 200 articles that were published in the Sentinel and other newspapers, many recounting tales of farm life in the early 20th c.
Gramps was orphaned before he was nine. After the death of his grandmother "Nammie" (Rachel Barbara Reed Ramer, second wife of Joseph Sylvester Ramer) he lived with his Uncle Charles and Aunt Annie Ramer Smithers or Uncle Ed and Aunt Carrie Ramer Bobb.

Lynne with his cousin

Gramps was very smart and in the 1920s went to Susquehanna University and was ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran church.  He took teacher's training at Columbia University along with his friend and fellow Susquehanna U alumni Roger Blough who would go on to become president of U.S. Steel company.

Gramps taught at Hartwick Seminary in New York State where he met my grandmother, and they moved to Kane, PA where he taught in the high school. My mom was born there.

Lynne in 1952 at work
During WWII Gramps was an engineer in the Chevrolet aviation factory in Tonawanda, NY  and in his 'spare time' earned his Masters in Mathematics from the University of Buffalo. At this time he was ordained a deacon in the Episcopal church.

Around 1960 he moved to Michigan and taught Calculus and Trig at Lawrence Technological University while still working for Chevy.

He became very interested in research conducted by Lamont Geological Survey by Ewing and Donn and obtained a grant from Blough's steel company for their research.
But he never forgot those early days. So here is the story Gramps wrote on hog butchering:


Getting Early Start

Before dawn cracked or even came close to cracking, all hands were on deck. Regular chores were down in double time—milking, feeding, watering, separating.

Breakfast was bolted down in a whistle. Pig sty was given last cleaning out and washing, while the roused porkers eyed the activity with deep resentment and suspicion. “What! No feed today!”

Then the farm boy started pumping water, carried it in pails, filled three, four copper and or cast iron kettles and filled dozens of milk cans besides.

Kindling was doused with kerosene and fires were lighted and soon crackling and burning. Showers of sparks ascended in the dark or maybe as rosy-tinted dawn spread her first fingers—and the frosty air was set in circulation by the sudden invasion of thermal currents.

Wind barriers were readjusted to give maximum vertical output. Soon the water began to simmer and it was a full time job keeping the fires roaring. The stored woodpiles began to diminish in height and more was scoutched [sic] up, just to play safe.

From many directions the butchering helpers began to arrive, in buggies and in spring wagons. Neighbors and relatives, some from the cities. Merry greetings were passed. Then the forces moved on to their places of occupation: Women folks to the kitchen and shanties to prepare foods for the dinner, and the pots, pans and crocks for the puddin’ meat and the ponhos, while the men took their assignments from Uncle Ed, the boss butcher.

Shootin’ and Sitckin’

The men descended on the pigsty, armed with rifle and deer knife for sticking, while the young ones were told to stay back and keep the fires going. “You’re too little to watch shootin’ and stickin’.”

Soon you’d hear the crack of a rifle and maybe dead silence, but more likely an unearthly squealing. Perhaps the sty door would be opened and the dead pig dragged out. or maybe he’d come out “standing,” gushing blood from the severed jugular.

Maybe he’d drop dead all of a sudden, but like as not he’d take off up through the apple orchard with two, three hands in a merry chase. No one liked that, for it may mean a hundred yards dragging the carcass to the scalding barrel. Unusual work was undesired—usual work was sufficient.

“Get the water in the barrel!” All hands rushed to do so. It had to be real scalding hot to make bristle removal easy, yet not too scalding as to start the porker to cookin’.

“Refill the kettles!” And you’d do so, from the reserved milk cans. Or, run like blazes to the pump to get more in a hurry.

“More wood on the fire!” And hands and feet were really flying!

Into the barrel they shoved the head end of the now extinct porker, and sloshed him around. Water slopping on the ground melted the frost.

Testing the Bristles

“Pull him out, boys, and upend him!” Then they dipped the tail end. It was time for Uncle Ed to test the bristles. If they came out easily the “dip” was successful. If not, more scalding water was added until the bristles did come off just right.

“Up and over!” And so Pig No. 1 was ready for scrapping. Meanwhile the killers and stickers had another pig en route to the scalder—never a dull moment. Snout hooks and tendon hooks were used to handle the slippery porker, from scalder to scrapping table.

Then in a few moments scrapping knives began to clean off the bristles until the pig’s carcass was white and pink and gleaming, that is, from the ears backward.

“Okay, boys, on the head and at the feet.” These were choice areas reserved for the younger boys and grandfathers.

It was really an art to scrape the stiff, shorter bristles from the wrinkles around the pig’s snout and beady eyes, and from the deep wrinkles of his fat jowls and under his chin. Also from the creases of his stubby feet.

And these just had to be clean, for from them came the ponhos ingredients and choice pickled tidbits and for the souse. (Barbers could do better with Uncle Ed’s stubble, since his pink cheeks were at least a bit flexible.)

Heave Ho! Up You Go!

Within a few minutes all carcasses were promptly stretched out, inverted, on the ground, and leg tendons were freed for insertion of the tree hooks. With these inserted securely, there came the order, “Heave ho! And up you go!”

In a trice the pigs were swinging, pendulum-like, from the tripods. A deft slash of the knife in the belly area and the large intestines were removed and carted away in the wheelbarrow to the barn yard.

Soon every fowl and every bird, pigeon, swallow and sparrow on the farm was picking away at the odorous mess, as you hastened back for the next load.

Then the carcasses were washed thoroughly with pails of lukewarm water. Viscera and vital organs were deftly severed and removed, being placed in proper containers for further cleansing, trimming and cutting before cooking as ingredients for the choice dishes that grace the farm breakfast tables.
Specialists At Work
Then the head butcher, man of steady hand and keen eyes and of long experience, takes a double-bitted axe, previously sharpened by the farm boy, and deftly splits the disemboweled carcasses down both sides of the pig’s backbone.
Like all Gaul, the pig swings into three parts, whence now the sub-butchers each takes his parts to the trimming tables and proceeds to exercise his private specialty. One, the ham trimmer; one the flitch trimmer and rib-stripper; and one the shoulder man.
Each of the sides quickly becomes three parts, and each of these parts begins to assume familiar shapes and contours. Off come the feet, out come the ribs. The flitch, ham and shoulder get their artistic shapes under the practiced hands of masters, as each steps back to view the details of chiseling, shipping and trimming.
“More wood on the fires! More water in the kettles! Get out the lard cans and trimming cans from the stockpile. Come on there, boy, get moving!” Never a dull moment.
The division of labor now assumes new proportions. There are soft under-belly slabs of leaf lard—slippery as an eel and just as hard to hold and chop into squares. Stingy membranes to remove and cut through—of course that’s the boy’s job.
Then the nice firm fatty places must also be chipped. And the vital organs trimmed and cleansed. The meat scraps and firm suet-like pieces are sorted out for the sausage meat. Small intestines are drained and washed and taken into the shanty for “Nammie” to scrape, turn, scrape again and turn, wash scrape again—until every loose membrane is removed. Then these casings for the sausage are ready for the stuffing.
No barber with straight razor could ever approach the skill of the “Nammies” in intestine-scraping. They come out clean and clear as finest plastic, with nary a cut or even a pinhole, in yards of yards of the product.
Merrily the work went on. The play and the exchange of jokes saved for the occasion flew fast. Plans for the winter’s programs (even church suppers) all went hand-in-hand with the trimming and chipping and cutting.

“Nammie’s” Pigtails

Pig tails were traded from kinder to gown-up, but inevitably one or more found its way to “Nammie’s” skirt, as if she didn’t know it was affixed there while she wagged and wiggled for purposeful entertainment!
Meanwhile in the kitchen the air was blue and white with gossip and filled with savory odors of roasting stuffed chickens, beans and beets and cabbages and carrots and potatoes boiled. All simmered tantalizingly on every lid of the cast iron cooking ranges—one in the kitchen, another in the shanty.
Hands and tongues flew with abandon and soon the table was bent and buckled from the mounds of mashed spuds, bowls of giblet gravy and vegetable dishes, as well as celery and cabbage salad and cole slaw and pickles and eggs devilled in red beet juice and piccadilli and stuffed pickled peppers and spiced crabapples.
“Dinner is ready!” In flock the “hands” to the pump and basin—of nice cold water. Hands and faces find dry spots and places on the harsh linen roller towels. Out of the ovens come the roast chickens, the escalloped oysters, the baked squash and divers other items.
Grace is said and from there on you can use your imagination, since this is a butcherin’ dinner. Peach, pear, plum, cherry and apple pies with a variety of cakes are all standing by on every available shelf and table.
The little farm girls wait hand and foot on the men at the tables, sometimes giving some peculiar and special attention to certain farm boys of their choosing.
Meanwhile the cooks sit in the rockers and exchange quips and stories with the men and with one another. After the men are gone back to the butcherin’, they and the girls will eat at the second table.

Yards of Sausage

“Okay men, let’s go!” And out they troop, to wind up the work. “Fresh wood on the fires. Say, tame down those lard-kettle fires or you’ll burn the lard.” The lard stirrers begin to supervise the stirring and the fire-stoking so as to maintain just the correct heat for the simmering and rendering.
The puddin’ meat and ponhos cookers test the degree of doneness of the livers, hearts, tongues, kidneys, meat strips and head meat and the pig’s feet. “Boy! Taste that liver! Is it done enough to suit you?” And it usually is, but seems to require a good-sized chunk just to make sure.
Meanwhile as the chunk of liver cools, you are busy grinding the sausage meat, while “Pappy” salts and flavors and samples. Then he takes a tubful and starts the stuffing, stripping yards on the spot, yards and yards of smaller intestines. The press is turned and out flows the sausage.
“Nammie stands by and as the sausage emerges she kneads and squeezes and coils the product into another waiting tub. “Watch where you’re spitting tobacco juice, you old buzzard! We don’t want none in our stuffed sausage!”

Ponhos and Lard

Then the pig’s feet are extracted from the ponhos kettle and the chunks of vital organs are ground in the sausage grinder. The mess is stirred back into another waiting kettle. “Nammie” adds the spices and corn meal in just the right proportions—“a little of this and a little of that.” She keeps sampling the ponhos with over-sized wooden spoons just to be sure.
“Sausage stuffing all finished! Bring on the lard! Careful now! Don’t get scalded.” And the dippers and pails full of nicely toasted and rendered lard chunks go splashing into the sausage grinder, which this time has a large-holed inner liner to capture the lard chunks.
Press and squeeze till every bit of precious amber-fluid is out of the crispy brown pieces and gathered into the waiting lard cans. Then the pressed cakes are removed and stacked for the chickens to feed on this winter. (But are sampled quite extensively when cool enough!)
The brimful lard cans are allowed to cool a bit, then lids are placed on firmly. Then the ponhos, thoroughly cooked and just the right color, is poured into crocks and pans and a small quantity of lard poured on to seal the batch from the air. Each helper and neighbor, as well as city visitor, had bought his own pan for a helpin’.
Come Again Next Year
The chilled hams, shoulders, backbone chunks, flitches, et alia, are carried into the proper storage facility where further treatment such as pickling, smoking and preserving will occupy odd moments for following days and hours.
Clean up, wash up pails and pans and knives. Wipe up and scrape the tables and the cutting boards. Sweep up the bristles to dry and later be burned far away from dainty noses.
Douse the fires, clean the kettles. Store the hooks and the hangers and empty and wash out the scalding troughs and barrels.
“Okay now, boys! Let’s have a snifter of dandelion wine! And thanks a million. Be sure to stay for supper and also come again next year!” The helpers and neighbors thin out, to go home and do their own regular chores: feeding, watering, milking, separating.
The embers die down. The woodpile had disappeared. All is quiet. The butcherin’ has ended.
The articles appeared in Ben Meyer's column "We Notice That". Ben responded in the paper with this follow-up:
Dear Lynne:
Congratulations! That was a bang-up job of remembering the many varied details of a family butherin’ such as was so common place hereabouts a generation or so back.
Our old-time readers, and doubtless many of the younger fry, will take keen delight in reading and re-reading your story of  Uncle Ed and Aunt Carrie’s farm in Armagh Township.
Some of the old guard family butchers still do business at the old stand. But their number dwindles as time goes on. You may be sure their products are in great demand. People’s mouths drool just at the very thought of being presented with a mixture consisting of a ring of sausage in skins, a pan of ponhos (the main ingredients) and some side dishes like a generous slab of puddin’ meat, souse, et cetera.
Back in the old days we used to call such a present a “metzelsoup” down in Dauphin County where we came from. All the hands that so willingly pitched in and worked so hard found that such a hand-put as they departed for their homes that evening well repaid them for all the time and labor expended. Fortunate indeed were outsiders, such as neighbors who hadn’t participated, if they were remembered when one of the farm boys brought a metzelsoup to the door and said, “Here’s a present form pop ‘n mom!”
Certain of the old line butchers have parleyed the family butcherin’ into Big Business. They are the ones who supply home-made pork products in quantity, at wholesale rates to the local markets, including and especially the super-markets.
The Modern Version
Maybe some day while helping yourself at the magnificent display of packaged meats in the counter at the super-duper, you’ll see employees walking past with huge quantities of ponhos, sausage, puddin’ meat. They are being unloaded from a farm truck that’s backed up to the delivery door outside.
People around here still keenly relish the old-time flavor of home-made butchered goods so they demand it rather than to have the stuff shipped in from some packing house where they wouldn’t have the knack of making the stuff right anyhow.
Seems there’s one item in particular you can’t buy in most local retail stores and that is home-made souse. Only souse obtainable is some coarse, tough kind, very much commercialized and nothing like the real thing. Doesn’t taste any more like the real thing than shoe leather compared with a gold brown buckwheat cake!
Correction: Certain neighborhood stores still carry the home-made kind. Some of the local butchers operate little factories in their back yards. They can supply you with the real wiggly jiggly souse including plenty of pork and not bits of rind and bone and pig skin.
Yes, all of the things you mention are to be obtained too at Farmer’s Market where the vendors still include a small handful of Amish farmers. Thanks again, Lynne, for your masterpiece! Oh, yes you employed all the technical terminology of an old-time butchering, or almost all, but one work was missing—“cracklin’s!”
Lynne Oliver Ramer's retirement announcement was not the end of his work life, as he continued teaching at LIT.
 Chevrolet Engineering Retirement Announcement, July 23, 1965
This is to announce the forthcoming retirement of Lynne O. Ramer in the Design Analysis activity [electronics computers], which becomes effective September 1, 1965, ending an association of more than thirteen years of service with the Chevrolet Engineering organization. 

Following his graduation from high school at Milroy, PA, Lynne attended Susquehanna University where he received a degree in Liberal Arts. Lynne later received a Masters degree in Math from the University of Buffalo. He also received a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Susquehanna University Theological Seminary and began teaching at Hartwick Academy. He was ordained a Lutheran minister in 1926.
Lynne started in the public school teaching profession as a teacher of history and math at Kane High School in Kane, PA 1920-30. From June 1942 to January 1946 Lynne was employed at the Chevrolet Aviation Engine Plant in Tonawanda, NY as an Engine Test Operator. He then returned to school teaching at the University of Buffalo and West Seneca High School. In January 1952, Lynne transferred to the Chevrolet Aviation Engine Plant as an Experimental Engineer. He was transferred to the Holbrook Test Laboratory in November 1953. In March 1955, Lynne was promoted to Senior Project Engineer. in January 1961, he became a Senior mathematician programmer, and in October 1962 was reassigned as a Senior Analyst, the position from which he will be retiring.
Lynne has also been a part time teacher since 1942. He has taught various night school, including University of Buffalo, Wayne State, and Lawrence Tech. He has also been very active in the church since June 1950 when he was ordained a perpetual deacon.
His future plans include teaching at Lawrence Tech and continuation as a Deacon in the church. 

Operation Hanky: The Uncommon Story Behind a Common Hanky

One rarely finds a duplicate handkerchief but there is one hanky that can be found in antique malls, on eBay, and at flea markets. It features simple embroidered girls with braids on a teeter-totter. The girls wear a long dress or robe. The floss colors are bright blue, red, and yellow. It often has a sweet scallop corner edge. There may be a label that reads "Cottage Industry Program; Hand Embroidered in Korea."

I had no idea why there so many of these handkerchiefs could be found. Then one day I was perusing eBay and found the hanky with a brochure and letter for auction. I bought it and discovered the amazing story behind this simple hanky.

In 1957 a priest was assigned to Busan, Korea.

Father Al Schwartz was born in 1930 in Washington, D.C. during the Depression. His family struggled to make ends meet but still actively helped their neighbors who were worse off. He attended Catholic school and went to Seminary and college, obtaining his Theology degree in 1957.

As a young man he committed himself to the mission field where he could live and work among the poor and disadvantaged. He arrived in Korea with a deep commitment to help the poor.

The Korean War ended in 1952, but refugees still flooded the streets. Unemployment in Korea was about 40% and poverty abounded. Within a few months of arriving in Korea Father Al came down with hepatitis and was returned to the United States.

Back home he felt conflicted by the wealth in America compared to the bitter poverty of Pusan. He talked about Pusan and started collecting money for the mission. He organized Korean Relief inc. and by the time he returned to Korea had raised over $100,000.

Father Al had worked for the Fuller Brush company as a youth. That experience contributed to his idea to offer a premium or gift with his letter of appeal in hope that it might garner a larger response. He started a cottage industry in the slums of Pusan, employing up to 3,000 women. The women distributed, collected, and embroidered handkerchiefs to be included with the appeal mailings.

By 1964 over a million cottage industry embroidered handkerchiefs and table scarfs had been mailed out. And the proceeds built a hospital, two dispensaries, an orphanage, a home for the elderly, and a technical school for boys! Then came a day care center, a cooperative farm system, and an irritation system. Money was sent to support hospitals, leper colonies, schools and orphanages all over Korea. Later he started Boystowns and Girlstowns.

This is just part of all that Father Al accomplished during his lifetime. He is in process of beautification.

Now when I see one of these handkerchiefs I want to take people aside and tell them the story behind it. The priest who dedicated his life to helping orphans and the poor. The Korean woman who so carefully cut the fabric, the woman who hemmed the edges and embroidered the children at play. And how that little piece of cloth helped change the lives of thousands. Thanks to Father Al.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Love Entwined First Border

FINALLY! I finished one border of Love Entwined! The pattern is based on a 1790 coverlet found in Averil Colby's book Patchwork Quilts, and the pattern was designed by Esther Aliu and is available on her Yahoo group.

I am about half way through appliqueing the second short border. The long side borders and corner block patterns are already printed and waiting for my attention. I used some preprinted fabrics for the floral basket.

I cut my applique shapes, thread baste them into position, and needle turn applique. My shapes are not perfect. But it was either tear out, restart, or embrace the wonkiness. Well, I decided to embrace the wonkiness. My colors and use of polkadot fabrics already started me on the wonky trail!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Shipwreck Coast, 'Girl' and a Lamp

Some years ago my husband and son took me camping in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We first stayed at Tahquamenon Falls campground, and loved the area so much, including Whitefish Point, we decided to return the next year and rent a cabin in Paradise for a week.

Every day we went to Whitefish Point. We visited the lighthouse, viewed the museum, walked the shore, and watched the freighters roll by. Every evening after supper my son and I walked along the shore near the cabin and watched the ducks return to their roosting place.

After our trip my father-in-law remarked that his mother had stayed with the light keeper's family one winter at Whitefish Point! My husband had never heard this story before.

Loretta Valdora Bellinger Bekofske was born in 1896 in Tawas, Michigan to Canadian parents, Jacob Hazen Bellinger (1855-1906) and Jennie Ecker (1862-1906). Jacob's brother John Wesley Bellinger married Jennie's sister Margaret Ecker. The sibling sets immigrated to Michigan together.

Shortly after giving birth to her ninth child, Val's mother died. My father-in-law said her family had to be split up as her father could not care for them all. By 1908 he had married again, to Carrie Farnsworth. Carrie had two young sons from her first marriage. One of Jacob's sons and a daughter also married in 1908, and another was married by 1910. Val was one of the older children still at home. 

The family story was that the light keeper at Whitefish Point needed someone to care for his child after the death of her mother. And Val was sent to Lake Superior to be a nanny.

Several years after learning about Val's time at Whitefish Point I was shown a box of papers and photographs from Val's estate. I was allowed to keep what I wanted, and the rest was disposed of. Included in these papers were two old photo postcards. One I knew right off was important; the other was a mystery to solve.

Dated September, 1913 and sent to “Vall” Bekofske of Port Huron, the photo post card shows Val with a group of children. It is signed by Alicia, Cass, Stewart and Stan. The card reminds Val of fun times together.

The other photograph shows a man in snow shoes and was signed Capt. Jas. Scott, dated September 6, 1911, and was sent to Miss Valdora Bellinger, Crips, Vermillion Light Saving Station, Mich.

enhanced version

Why had my father-in-law said his mother was at Whitefish Point? Clearly she was at Crisps, Vermillion. Where ever that was. So I started researching anew.

The first five life saving stations in Michigan included Whitefish Point, Vermillion Point which was 10 miles west of Whitefish Point; Crisp's Point which was 16 miles further west of Whitefish Point; the Two-Hearted River (which is the setting for the Ernest Hemingway story of that name); Deer Park; and Grand Marias. They stretch along a beautiful, but deadly, shore.

The Shipwreck Coast of Michigan's Lake Superior coastline is best known for the November 1975 storm that destroyed the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, immortalized in song by Gordon Lightfoot in “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” The Fitz went down about 17 miles northeast of Crisp's Point light saving station.

Vermillion Life Saving Crew
Situated in one of the most inaccessible areas along Lake Superior, Saving Station #10 was built in 1875. It is known as Crisp's Point after Christopher Crisp who arrived as keeper in 1878 and served until 1890. James Scott served as life saving station keeper from May 1904 until 1915.

The 1910 Luce, McMillian census shows James Scott, aged 42 and single, serving as keeper of the light saving station. He had five surfmen boarding with him.

By 1904 a lighthouse was also built and John Smith served as the first lighthouse keeper. The lighthouse had a 4th order Fresnel lens with a red light that could be seen 15 miles out. According to the Crisp Point Light Historical Society's website, "Originally this site contained a lifesaving station and quarters, a two family brick light keeper's house with basement, a brick fog signal building, an oil house, two frame barns, a boat house and landing, a tramway, a lighthouse tower, and a brick service room entrance building. "

Vermillion Point Light Saving Station
Once considered the most isolated life saving station, Vermilion Point was also one of the first, built in 1847; the current building dates to 1876.

James A. Carpenter was the lighthouse keeper from October 1900 until 1915.

The 1900 Michigan census shows James A. Carpenter was born July, 1855 in New York State. The 1910 Michigan census shows James was widowed and living with his daughter Catherine, aged 2, and a sister-in-law. The 1920 census shows James living in Tawas, Michigan with daughter Catherine, age 12, and wife Anna. He was a bookkeeper.

The Whitefish Township 1910 census shows there was an active lumber camp and several light saving station keepers with their surfmen. Wives and children made a school teacher a necessity. The teacher was 20 years old.

By February, 1913 Val had married Gustav Bekofske, a German nationalist who had immigrated from Volyhnia, now a part of the Ukraine. They moved from Port Huron, Michigan to Flint, and then to a farm in Lapeer. Gust had tuberculosis, as did their eldest son, and Gust died when my father-in-law was 13 years old. Val and the boys returned to Flint where Val went to work in a GM factory, the only female on the floor. The men would call “Hey, girl” when they needed her. And after that she was called Girl by everyone, including her son. Val participated in the famous GM sit-down strike.  Val died in September, 1988 in Flint, Michigan.

But my story is not over.

Some years ago my dad came home from the flea market with a big brass oil lamp. It read 4th Order. I went online and discovered it was part of a 4th order Fresnel light...the kind originally used at Crisp's Point. This part held the kerosene, but is missing the wick and a glass chimney. It would have set inside the Fresnel lens.

This lamp has an Aladdin burner. Aladdin was founded in 1908. Lamps like this date back to the 1880s; the burner may be original, dating the lamp to after 1908, or it may be a replacement, in which case the lamp may be older.

4th order lights were once common around the Great Lakes. Today Tawas Point lighthouse still has a fourth order light. Tawas, where Valdora was born!

Tawas lighthouse

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Cosmopolitan Magazine, July 1957: A Glimpse into Our Addiction to Wealth, Fame and Scandal

Another vintage magazine I was given in December is a July 1957 issue of Cosmopolitan. I was in kindergarten when this issue came out. Mom did not buy Cosmo, preferring the more homey Women's Day, Family Circle, McCalls and Coronet.

Articles include "Princess Grace: Her Duties, Her Obligations;" "Nobility at Play Around the World;" and "The International Set--Who They Are and What They Do." There are also five stories and a murder mystery novel!

The cover story was on Grace Kelley, the beautiful actress who married Prince Rainier of Monaco.

The article asks, "What's it like to be a princess? Brushing up on her Philadelphia convent French, running a household staffed with 250 servants, playing hostess to foreign dignitaries, and being a mother are all part of Princess Grace's job."

The article includes a summary of typical her activities and photographs of Grace in her glamouros surroundings.

After the reader drooled over Grace, she saw an ad for a "An Affair to Remember." Movies mentioned in the movie guide include "Around the World in 80 Days", which I saw and never forgot; "Designing Women"; "Gun Fight at the O. K. Corral"; "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison"; "The Ten Commandments"; "Desk Set"; "Twelve Angry Men";  "The Spirit of St. Louis"; "Saint Joan"; "Island in the Sun"; and "Funny Face". What a golden age of cinema!

If Princess Grace did not offer riches enough to lust after, the articles on the International Set and Nobility at Play would certainly fulfill that need. Marlene Dietrich, Aristotle Onassis, opera theaters, yachts, and "ennui escape" all appear in the articles. And fashion and food.

Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer in their farmhouse near Rome. Audrey was the daughter of Dutch Baroness Ella van Heemstra. Later in life Audrey became involved with humanitarian efforts. In this article she is touted as hobnobbing with Roman nobles.
"Nobility" included Queens, artists, and heiresses as well as Europe's "ancienne noblesse." Gloria Vanderbilt, Queen Soraya of Iran, Aly Khan, Peggy Guggenheim, Elsa Maxwell, Begum the wife of Alga Khan (and one time fashion model) appear with Noel Coward, Brigette Bardot, Claire Bloom (appearing in Charlie Chaplin's "Limelight") and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

An article on the Dominican diplomat Portfirio Rubirosa, "the darling of the international set and the scandal sheets" includes pages of photos of his five wives, including Barbara Hutton, and of his girl friends. The article states that "he has been hated by some of the best husbands in the world. Twice he has been named co-respondent in divorce suit...twice challenged to duels...once he was nearly killed by a woman who caught him with another woman...he was shot from behind in the streets of Paris." He makes Don Draper sound downright domestic.

His motivation for marriage is questioned. "I am not a millionaire. Most men's ambition is to save money. Mine is to spend it."

"What Makes Rubi Run?" The writer tried a Freudian explanation of the lady-killer as a man unsure of his own masculinity.

Both Grace Kelley and Portfirio Rubirosa died in car crashes.

The Cosmo reader of 1957 also had fictitious love stories to enjoy. "For Better or Worse" by Harriet Pratt is about a gal who marries a 'bad boy'. "Sisters of Divorce" by Stephen Birmingham concerns siblings talking about "what divorce had done to one of them." The warning is that "men swarm around divorcees...but don't marry them." "A Romantic Courtesy" by John MacDonald is about a man who meets the woman who had rejected him, and "The Lucky Strike" by Baird Hall is about a woman out to catch a man.

"Forever" by Harry M. Montgomery was a different kind of story all together. A doctor's life's work seems for naught when he reads that Salk has conquered polio before him. Then it appears his serum has revived dead animals... Sadly the last pages of the magazine are MISSING and I will never know what happened! I can find nothing about the story or the writer, and it appears he never had another story in Cosmo.

I love this ad was for Heritage Books. I always thought the books on one's shelves said a lot about them. And perhaps even one's magazines as well.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Roots of Understanding: Thomas Wolfe and "Home"

My life has evolved into homesickness.

My homesickness started when my family moved just before I turned eleven. I have still never lived anywhere longer. Moving involves the loss of the known, the certainties we depend on as children. The world becomes foreign and alien. The children have different playground games. You don't understand the things they laugh about because you were not there when it happened.

In the new place, after some years, you carve out a niche for yourself. You are happy, have friends and make new memories. Then you visit your old neighborhood. There is talk about people you don't know and laughter over memories you can't share.

And then it comes to you that you never were at home in the first place, never will be in this world. That the ideal of home is a delusion.

After living in Philadelphia and its suburbs for many years we returned to Michigan. It was a sad good-bye. I struggled with the notion of 'going home' to Michigan,. We would be near family. But also were leaving the home of our young adulthood forged in the city life of the East Coast.

My Home.”

Heart's warmest flames fan at the breath

of spoken words

whose meaning

we are never quite sure of.

I wrote a series of poems considering the meaning of home, the rootlessness of itineracy, and the costs involved.

I first read Thomas Wolfe when I was sixteen years old. I would stop off at Barney's Drugs on the way home from school. Sometimes I would buy a pen, a notebook for my journal, some makeup or a magazine. Sometimes I bought a paperback book.
You Can't Go Home Again.” Oh, how that title intrigued me. And one day I bought it, and read it, and then I read everything else Wolfe wrote in his short life.

I loved Wolfe's lyrical and poetic language with its Biblical cadences: “All things belonging to earth will never change—the leaf, the blade, the flower, the wind that cries and sleeps and wakes again...Only the earth endures, but it endures for ever.” 
And his storytelling! I never forgot scenes from this novel. "The Promise of America” chapter where Wolfe describes men 'burning in the night' for their chance at fame and success. The story of a New York society party interrupted by a fire, exploring the class differences between the party goers and the elevator men who die, trapped in the elevators and on their way to rescue the partyers. The description of a suicide jumper's remains on a New York City sidewalk with gawkers gathered around. And the Fox, based on Wolfe's first editor, the legendary Maxwell Perkins, whose philosophy was based on the Book of Ecclesiastes. (Which I then read.)

Wolfe wrote that men were wanderers throughout the earth, in search for a place to belong. He wrote about a world changing too fast. He wrote about people trying to get rich quick in the stock market, the real estate boom, and about the crash. He wrote about how fame was a disappointment, about people who lionized him, misquoted him, used him. He wrote about a Germany changed because of Hitler's Nazism and warned America.

You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man's dreams of glory and fame, back home to exile...back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time—back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.

Nazi Germany, Mussolini, and Stalin were to Wolfe the rise of an old barbarism that could also be seen in America.

Its racial nonsense and cruelty, its naked worship of brute force, its suppression of truth and resort to lies and myths, its ruthless contempt for the individual, its anti-intellectual and anti-moral dogma that to one man alone belongs the right of judgment and decision, and that for all others virtue lies in blind, unquestioning obedience—each of these fundamental elements of Hitlerism was a throwback to that fierce and ancient tribalism which had sent waves of hairy Teutons swopping down out of the north to destroy the vast edifice of Roman civilization. That primitive spirit of greed and lust and force that had always been the true enemy of mankind.”

Prophetic! Nearly a hundred years later we still face the same threats from other tribal entities. There is nothing new under the sun, Ecclesiastes warns.

Aswell ended the book with lines that are both beautiful and eerie.

Something has spoken to me in the night, burning the tapers of the waning year; something has spoken in the night, and told me I shall die, I know not where. Saying:

To lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth--

--Whereupon the pillars of this earth are founded, toward which the conscience of the world is tending—a wind is rising, and the rivers flow.”

Several years ago I reread Look Homeward, Angel. When I was a teenager the theme of loneliness and isolation was so reflective of youth's struggling need to connect. I always remembered the theme of the book:

Thomas Wolfe 2a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.

Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh we have come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.

Which of us has known our brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?

O waste of lost, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this weary, unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost land-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When?

O lost, and by the wind most grieved, ghost, come back again.”

When I made a quilt based on photographs of doors, I bordered the blocks with some fabrics with a print of leaves. I scanned stones and printed the images on fabric, and appliqued them onto the quilt. I added artificial leaves. And printed some of the lines "a stone, a leaf a door" and "remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language." 

There are many reasons we do not feel at home. Relocation, change, death and birth. A world that seems to have gone spinning off into some alternate universe. Political strife, social turmoil. The loss of certainties, the loss of love. We are constantly reinventing and reevaluating what “home” means. Perhaps it is only in losing one's life that one will find a perfect home.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Roots of Understanding: Stephen Crane's Poetry and Truth

"When the prophet, a complacent fat man,
Arrived at the mountain-top,
He cried: "Woe to my knowledge!
I intended to see good white lands
And bad black lands,
But the scene is grey."
I read through all the poetry books in my high school library-- all two or three shelves of them. I found here Catullus, modern American poets, Langston Hughes, and the children's poetry of Lillian Morrison. But it was Stephen Crane's poems that most impacted me.

They are not poems of feeling. They have no lush beautiful words. They are direct and sparse with an intellectual punch. They are poems that comment on human frailty, both institutional and personal.
A learned man came to me once.
He said, "I know the way, -- come."
And I was overjoyed at this.
Together we hastened.
Soon, too soon, we were
Where my eyes were useless,
And I knew not the ways of my feet.
I clung to the hand of my friend;
But at last he cried, "I am lost."

I learned that we should question those who claim to be on the inside track, who claim to know the truth. Don't just follow the crowd. Mom used to ask me, "If all the girls were jumping off the roof, would you want to do it too?" 
"Think as I think," said a man,
"Or you are abominably wicked;
You are a toad."

And after I had thought of it,
I said, "I will, then, be a toad."

Thinking for oneself is not popular. Some governments and churches don't even allow it. Galileo, Copernicus, and Darwin each suffered for promoting scientific evidence that conflicted with prevailing thought.

There was crimson clash of war.
Lands turned black and bare;
Women wept;
Babes ran, wondering.
There came one who understood not these things.
He said, "Why is this?"
Whereupon a million strove to answer him.
There was such intricate clamour of tongues,
That still the reason was not.
After all, what is TRUTH? Who knows the truth? Is it not subjective, changed by one's culture, one's faith, one's experience? Can we ever really know The Truth?
"Truth," said a traveler,
"Is a rock, a mighty fortress;
Often have I been to it,
Even to its highest tower,
From whence the world looks black."

"Truth," said a traveller,
"Is a breath, a wind,
A shadow, a phantom;
Long have I pursued it,
But never have I touched
The hem of its garment."
And I believed the second traveller;
For truth was to me
A breath, a wind,
A shadow, a phantom,
And never had I touched
The hem of its garment.
And yet we humans relentless pursue the elusive butterfly of truth, sure we will demonstrate the only, the one, the ultimate certainty.
I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this;
I accosted the man.
"It is futile," I said,
"You can never -- "

"You lie," he cried,
And ran on.
Ever notice how people do not change their views no matter what? We hold on our opinions to the bitter end.
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter-bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart." 
Well, that is one way of looking at the human experience.
Crane's poems taught to think for oneself,  but at the same time warns not to cling unthinkingly to one's own opinions. We live in a complicated world.