Bronte Country

Heathcliff is dead……again.    This is the third time I have tried to grow heather, but alas, it was not meant to be.   I have resigned myself to the fact that you can not grow heather in North America, there is a reason it is only to be found in abundance on the windswept moors of the UK.    Here is a photo of  Heathcliff (the-Plant-formerly-known-as-Heather), from last June, all healthy and blooming and alive.  

Heather  And here is a picture of him in September at his funeral.    

Heather

 I arranged a few red maple leaves around his skeletal remains, for a more poetic look, otherwise he might have been mistaken for a stringy birds nest which had fallen to the ground.    I had planted him in the same kind of poor rocky soil I imagined on the moors, and basically neglected him for the rest of the summer.   Heather likes full sun, (see care sheet), but the days were cloudy and melancholy and he took up drinking and drowned his roots in sorrow, (kind of like Branwell).    I must console myself though, that while we were not meant to be, he died young at the end of the rainiest season ever.   It was nothing personal, he just did not like our Canadian soil or climate.     

Heather

While doing some postmortem research, I discovered too late that heather likes well-drained acidic soil, and mine is clay and clumpy, so once again I had been lured in by a pot of pretty flowers.   I had thought they were more hardy souls (like lavender), who would grow anywhere.   Apparently there are many different types, and this  Better Homes and Gardens article says anyone can grow heather and heaths……well perhaps not the truly heartbroken gardener like myself who may never fully recover.         

Heather 

I have occasionally seen heather for sale in nurseries here in early spring, sometimes with pinkish flowers.   One July I bought some half-dead half-price specimens from the bargain bin.   I knew when I bought them they were probably beyond CPR, but they were only a dollar.   I planted them one week and dug them up the next.   My other futile attempt involved a specimen which the nursery clerk told me was the only heather they stocked.   It lived one short season, spread out a bit, produced 2 or 3 purplish blooms, then died off never to be seen again.   I knew it was not real heather because the foliage was too soft.    A friend who used to visit Scotland regularly, brought me back a piece of heather once as a souvenir – lucky for him the plant police did not catch him as smuggling plants is generally against the law.   I was surprised by how coarse it was.    I had expected from the pictures that it would be softer to the touch.

The moors must be beautiful in the summer and early fall, with all that heather blooming and the sky a bright blue, very Wuthering Heightish.  

Bronte Heather

Before Heathcliff, my only exposure to heather was from the window of an  tour bus in a downpour.   I was in Ireland in September where it rained every day – so why did my poor heather not survive?    The Irish heather (which was near a bog where they were cutting turf), was not nearly as stunning as the English heather in Downton Abby, the last episode of Season Five where they pack up the whole household and go grouse hunting at a castle on the moors and Mary and Edith meet their future husbands.    (You see, heather does inspire romance).   That was a beautifully filmed scene and inspired my mother to paint a picture called The Moors, which she included in her last art exhibit, (but then she has been known to paint shipwrecks from Poldark too).

The Moors - AMc

The Moors

 Victoria magazine is one of my favorite sources for inspiration, and in this past September issue they had a feature on Exploring the Bronte Legacy and the village of Haworth where they lived.  (September is always the British issue and there was also a Susan Branch picnic party in the Lake District for any Beatrice Potter fans). 

Victoria Bronte

Here are some of the pages, including the famous heather.

Bronte

We have Emily to thank for the popularity of heather, as we will forever associate it with her descriptions of the moorland in Wuthering Heights, as this quote attests,  “I have fled my country and gone to the heather.”   Although I have never been to England, I hope some day to put those words into action, as a literary tour is definitely on my bucket list. 

No wonder the Bronte sisters wrote such wonderful books, having that lovely vista to gaze at during their daily constitutional on the moors.  (Although no matter the scenery, I find that after a particularly fruitful writing session, a little walk can be beneficial for mulling things over).

Below, the steep cobblestoned streets of the small village of Haworth.

Bronte

Here’s the dining room table where they wrote their works of art and paced and plotted how to find a publisher, and no doubt discussed what to do about Branwell. Bronte

 The magazine article mentioned the 2017 PBS movie, To Walk Invisible, the story of the Bronte’s, which I watched and was somewhat disappointed in, although it is certainly worthwhile for any Bronte fan.   In truth I found the movie as dark and dreary as the moors must be on an overcast winter’s day.  There did not seem to be much joy in that household, but maybe I am confusing their rather bleak existence with that of the moors.     

I thought Charlotte and Anne well-cast, Emily miscast, and Branwell just plain annoying.   The movie ends with them walking on the moors after Branwell’s death, so it is not as depressing as if they had ended it later after they had all died.   But then their story is not a happy one.   I wonder if they would have traded their fame for more happiness and a longer life.   

This year is the bicentenary of Emily’s birth in 1818.   Here is Emily’s small and cozy room with a wonderful window view, as befitting a genius at work.  

Bronte

Emily remains the most puzzling one, so reclusive, yet the creator of such a  stormy and passionate tale.   No doubt she drew inspiration from her beloved moors but perhaps it’s very wildness was a reaction to their isolated existence.   She had a lot of time to think and imagine.   Her novel was considered dark and disturbing and somewhat shocking at the time, while Charlotte’s more conservative Jane Eyre was the more popular.    In the movie there was a scene where Emily was talking about where she got the idea for Wuthering Heights, but she spoke so quickly I could not follow, and I have since tried to research it to no avail.  Although googling did reveal plenty of theories about Asperger’s syndrome, as it seems popular these days to slap anyone the least bit anti-social with that label (think Doc Marten).     There are plenty of books about Charlotte, (see postscript), but not so many about Emily or Anne (who I think of as the forgotten middle child).    After seeing disheveled, weak, whiny immature Branwell it seems unlikely he could have been the muse for such a strong character as Heathcliff.    (But would any sane woman want a Heathcliff in real life?  All that anger and rage and jealousy just creates a whole lot of drama and angst, and wasn’t he a bit too possessive?  Somewhat stalkerish?  Better to marry someone more stable and level-headed if you want a happy home life, but I suppose if a wild passionate affair is your aim, then Heathcliff is your man).    

The movie contained nothing new, if you have already read such bio’s before, including the usual dose of family dynamics.   The ending was well done, three bright suns who were expected to dim their literary lights and walk invisible, in order to prevent embarrassment for the male heir of whom much had been expected, but little produced.   As for the issue of addiction so rampant in our modern world, that too is an age old question.  Their clergyman father could not decide whether to give in and supply his feckless son with drinking/opium money or just say no – the parent’s universal dilemma, to be an enabler or an enforcer of tough love?    In the end, it didn’t matter anyway –  TB won out.   Tuberculosis caused by a drafty old parsonage and those windblown moors.   Unfortunately, he took his two sisters with him.    

I have to admit the part I found most disappointing in the movie was the cinematography of the moors.   They must have filmed the outdoor scenes in  winter for there was no heather to be seen, just a bleak and brown landscape and overcast skies.   Perhaps they didn’t  have a choice, or more likely they wanted that gloomy depressing atmosphere, for it all looked as dull and dreary as a November day.           

Now that we are in late November, the weather has grown chilly and darkness descends early, and tonight the winds are howling and there is sleet against the windowpane.   The perfect night to settle in by the fire with a cup of tea, and re-read Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte’s masterpiece.  Although, I noticed that her name is not even on the cover of my 1984 copy, one of those classic editions with the fancy gold edging that are hard to find anymore.    

Wuthering Heights

I must confess, it has been a long time since that high school book report, and I cannot recall much of the story, other than it was a sad tale with a layered multi-generational plot.   But I do remember the descriptive imagery of those famous windswept moors, and the tragic ending of Cathy and Heathcliff, two star-crossed lovers who were never meant to be, but who remain immortalized forever between a marble and gilt cover.        

Postscript:   Most likely Charlotte, Anne or Emily never dreamt at the time that their books would still be bestsellers over 150 years later.    I wonder how those classics would fit into the Best Seller Code, which I will be blogging about next week. 

Postscript:  A goodreads review of  Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart 

Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery HeartCharlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This latest 2016 biography of Charlotte Bronte is well worth the read, even if I do wonder why Charlotte always gets all the attention. I enjoyed it so much, I bought a bargain bin copy. A good choice for fans, both old and new.

Bronte Country - AMc

Bronte Country

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Witch of November

The Witch of November -AMc

The Witch of November

As the genealogist in the family, the small ad in the local newspaper, caught my eye.    A woman was looking for descendants of The Great Lakes Storm of 1913 for a book she was writing commemorating the one hundredth anniversary.     The Great Lakes Storm of 1913 was a hurricane-like gale which raged over five days, Nov 7-11 in 1913.   The weather had been unseasonably warm for early November, but two major storm fronts converging over the warm lake water (also known as a November Witch), suddenly brewed up the storm of the century.  This perfect storm was actually a combination of two of the worst meteorological phenomena, a blizzard and a hurricane, or what is known as a white hurricane or an extratropical cyclone.  The gale-force winds, massive 40 foot waves and whiteout conditions resulted in the sinking of 19 ice-laden ships, the stranding of another 19, and sent over 250 sailors to an early grave.   (For those unfamiliar, the Great Lakes comprise five interconnected lakes on the border between Canada and the US, famous for being the biggest fresh water lakes in the world and important then and now as a commercial shipping route.  Even today, the big freighters ply the waters, although with the milder winters now, shipping season extends later in the year.   Last year they went very late, and the coast guard cutter trying to plow a route through the ice for one straggler, did some significant damage to docks on the Canadian side, a legal nightmare still being sorted out).              

Henry B Smith two (2)

      So, I emailed her that my great-uncle Joe had die in the storm, he had been a boatswain on the Henry B. Smith.   He was my dad’s maternal uncle, and it was a bit of folklore passed down in the family history, that the captain had been drunk and should never have gone out.   (The ship had been in port in Marquette Michigan on Lake Superior, from Nov 6 to 9th, taking on a load of iron ore, so it wasn’t caught out in the storm like the rest of the boats which sank on the lakes).  Here’s more (Wikipedia) info on the sinking of the Henry B Smith.   As it turned out, her great uncle, was “Dancing Jimmy/James Owen”, the captain, of the Henry B. Smith.   Oops.   She was gracious about it, having heard the rumors herself over the years.  He sounded like quite a character, known for visiting dance halls in every port and laughing in the face of danger.   Although an experienced and valued captain, he had experienced many delays on his last voyage of the season, and was under considerable pressure from head office to meet the schedule or be fired.   He was an invincible soul, who like many captains back then, felt no fear – any captain who couldn’t sail in a storm wasn’t worth his salt.   There had also been a lull in the northern part of the storm, before the southern part converged.    Most likely, it was a combination of all these factors.   At any rate, it was a reckless decision which took 25 men to their deaths, and which had far-reaching impact on many lives.   Poor Captain Owen realized his mistake not many miles out and tried to change course, but by then it was too late, the ship had disappeared into a crashing snow squall and was never seen again, although several oars and one or two bodies eventually found drifted ashore.  The ship was officially declared missing on Nov 14 1913.    

She felt it was important to honor the stories of those mariners who had gone down with their ships, so we ended up corresponding over the next year, and she put a short chapter on my ancestor in her book of personal stories.  When I say short, I really did not have much information to give her and none of it a first hand account, but she did a great job considering.  She later invited me to attend her town’s memorial services but as my mother was having hip surgery that November I was unable to attend any services, either there or here.        

My dad’s mother was one of nine children, six girls and three boys, one of which was Uncle Joe.  The other two brothers were Bernard and Leo.   Here’s a picture of my great-grandmother Jane with some of the family, except for Joe who was deceased by then.    Jane lived well into her 90’s and my dad recalled her babysitting him while his parents went to the dance pavilion across the river – he remembered hearing the music floating over the water, (the end of the Roaring 20’s?), as their family homestead was close to the river, and also her cookies.   As a family, they were very involved in the local church which was right down the street and it was the job of one of the boys to ring the church bell on Sundays.    My paternal grandparents died before my parents were married, so the only ones I knew when I was a child were Aunt Kathleen and Uncle Leo, who was as deaf as a doorknob.   Uncle Leo gave up the boats and became a house painter, but he still rang the church bell on Sundays.   (My grandmother is the one with the child on her lap).  

Zink Family

Jane’s husband had been a cobbler, (I have his business card), but died young, leaving her a widow with nine children, ages 1 to 19 yrs.   The girls went to work as maids in the big hotels, or as a seamstress (my grandmother), and the three boys sailed on the boats.   They were river rats.

Here are the girls, displaying a bit of ankle…..what would they think of the fashions today?  Zink girls

And here are the boys.   Joe is the oldest, sitting in the chair,  Zink boys

and here he is later in life, quite a dapper young man.   I am not hundred percent certain this is him as opposed to one of his brothers, (Leo the middle one and Bernard the youngest), but was given the photo by my 97 year old great-aunt Dorothy, (Bernard’s daughter), who was born in 1917 and so never met him, although she was of course familiar with his tragic end.   Cameras were still rarities at the time, so I have very few photos  from either grandparents side. 

Joe Zink Later on, his brother Bernard captained his own small boat, and made trips up and down the river to Detroit.   Perhaps he no longer wanted to be at the mercy of someone else’s orders like his brother had been.  Here’s a picture of some of his family eating watermelon on board his boat.    From the middy blouses and big hair bows, it is probably dated around 1920?

Zink boat

Zink boat

According to the 1911 census, Joe made $500 on an oil barge, while his two brothers Leo and Bernard, worked on steamers, making $450 for a 36 week season.        

Here is a photo of the ship leaving Cleveland on it’s last voyage, taken through a glass display case so it is hard to see, but you can just make out the Henry Smith name down in the lower right corner.  I wonder if Joe is in the picture and who are the women on deck saying goodbye?

Henry B Smith

Below are a couple of descriptions of the boat leaving port in the late afternoon on the day of the storm.     

Henry B Smith document one (2)  And another writeup……

Henry B Smith document two (2)

What were Joe’s thoughts on that fateful day?    Were they of his family and his fiancé/sweetheart?  He was supposedly engaged to be married to my dad’s paternal aunt Annie.   Here’s Annie in the middle of the back row, photo taken around 1911.    

Ancestors

How awful it must have been for her and for the families waiting at home for word which never came.    I remember sitting in the genealogy library, back in 2003, reading all the newspaper coverage of the storm on microfilm, and the reports of bodies being washed up on the shore near our area of the lake.  He was 30, and she was 29, and the last of the girls left on the farm.   Options were few for women back then, and after her mother died in 1917 and her brother, (my grandfather) wanted to marry and start a family of his own, she ended up marrying someone else and moved to Seattle where one of her other brothers lived.   They adopted a child, as she was older then and couldn’t have any of her own.   When that child, now in his 70’s, returned for a visit to the homeplace in the 1990’s, intent on researching his family roots, he did not seem to be aware that he was adopted and no one let on.            

The following gives a bit of credence to the family folklore.       

Henry B Smith document three (4)

While there was certainly a significant financial loss to the storm, most ships were insured, and the owners ended up with an insurance payout of $335,000.   It is doubtful the families of the crew got anything.   One good thing to come out of this marine disaster was an improvement in weather forecasting and faster responses to storm warnings as well as stronger construction of ships.

Could they have survived had the hatches been closed?  It was not just the wind and the waves which caused havoc but the temperature had dropped enough to create a full-blown blizzard, reducing visibility so that the ship could not even see the shore, and significant icing from the freezing spray weighed it down to the point that they could not even navigate, so the chances were slim, but some ships did make it through, (any port in a storm), although they were damaged and encrusted with ice.    Could Joe and his fellow crew members have said no, when the whistle had blown and the boat was already streaming away with all the hatches still open – not likely they even had a chance.   While working conditions have certainly improved in the past century, are workers today, still being asked to perform reckless duties and actions in the names of corporate profit/greed?    In some jobs cutting corners might mean lives lost, maybe not yours, but someone else’s.   Something to think about if you’re the boss….or a worker being asked to do unsafe tasks.    

Flash forward to the spring of 2013 and they have found the wreck of the Henry B. Smith in waters off Marquette Michigan, almost one hundred years after it sank.  

wreck of Henry B Smith (2)

The wheel and bridge of the wreck of the Henry B. Smith

 

Here’s a link to a newspaper article with a video of the flying bridge.   And a more personal account of the dive team.    My author friend emailed me that she had been invited by the dive team to go out on the water for a memorial service the following year.   The divers had recovered a blue enamel coffee pot from the bottom of the lake, a poignant piece of memorabilia, and she was picturing the crew members pouring a cup of coffee from it on a cold blustery night, a night fit for no man.  I have not talked to her since but in the mariner’s tradition, I hope someone rang a bell on behalf of each of the 25 men lost on the Henry B. Smith.   I think Joe would have approved.  

PS.   The title The Witch of November is taken from Canadian folksinger, Gordon Lightfoot’s, song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a ship which sank in a November 10 1975 gale on Lake Superior with the loss of all men aboard.  In that song, “The church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald”.

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald 

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called ‘Gitche Gumee’
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty.
That good ship and crew was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early.

The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned
Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ship’s bell rang
Could it be the north wind they’d been feelin’?

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too,
T’was the witch of November come stealin’.
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the Gales of November came slashin’.
When afternoon came it was freezin’ rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind.

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin’.
Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya.
At Seven P. M. A main hatchway caved in, he said
Fellas, it’s been good t’know ya
The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
And the good ship and crew was in peril.
And later that night when his lights went outta sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does any one know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her.
They might have split up or they might have capsized;
May have broke deep and took water.
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion.
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams;
The islands and bays are for sportsmen.
And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her,
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the Gales of November remembered.

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
In the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral.
The church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call ‘Gitche Gumee’.
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early!

PS.   There are many books available on the Great Storm, most of them self-published by local authors.   Here is my Goodreads review of one I read last year, and I also attended a lecture by the author, but it is more focused on the sailing aspects of the disaster, as opposed to the personal stories.   The author focused on just a few of the ships and gave a more detailed account.   Still, it was a fascinating read, even if you already knew the outcome.  

Weather Bomb 1913 Life and Death on the Great LakesWeather Bomb 1913 Life and Death on the Great Lakes by Bruce Kemp

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent read about the big storm of 1913 on the Great Lakes. I had a family interest in the subject as my great uncle died on the Henry Smith, which was recently located a hundred years after it went down, and while his boat wasn’t mentioned much in the book, there was lots of detail and research about other ships. Stayed up late two nights reading, couldn’t put it down, even though I knew the sad outcome. Well done.

PS.  While I was preparing this post last week, the Witch of November came calling.   On November 9, the exact date of the sinking, we had our first snowfall of the season with blustery north winds….   

Remembrance Day

In honor of Remembrance Day, I would like to link back to last years blog about my Uncle Charlie – WW1 Vet – a post wherein I was able to trace his path across Europe during the last Hundred Days Offensive of the war, based on his war memorabilia.     I have had many positive comments on this post, and it seems particularly fitting during this, the 100th year anniversary of the signing of the Armistice.    

For those who might have already read the above, I am working on a post about a  WW2 Bomber Tour and Swing Dance I attended last year.  Check it out next week.   In WW1 we may have sent horses to war, but in WW2 we sent 18 year olds up in tin-cans.   I was horrified when I saw what they had flown in….it’s no wonder so many did not return.    Lest we forget.  

Poppies - AMc

Poppies

WW2 Bomber Tour and Swing Dance

         As a fan of Big Band music, I was happy to see the announcement for a WW2 Bomber Tour and Swing Dance last June, an event promising a retro evening of dinner and dancing to a 23 person orchestra in an airport hanger, just like they did back in the wartime.   Tickets were $75 per person, with the proceeds going to a children’s charity, but a bit too steep for most of my friends as it turned out.   While I have “medical/work” friends, (shop talk and free dinners from drug companies), “artistic” friends, (art galleries and theatre), “book” friends ( book clubs and literary talks) and “shopping” friends, I have no one who shares my love of history and museums.    My mother was not interested, she had already lived through that decade once she said and had no wish to revisit it.    My mother had worked in a war plant for two years (1942-1944), from the time she was 16 to 18 years old.   She remembers the young boys in her hometown volunteering for the war effort, and many did not come back.   At ninety, she does not like to go out at night, but she was interested in seeing the airplane as she is always looking for new subjects to paint.    So off we went to the local airport one sunny afternoon, along with a hundred guys, including a whole brigade of firemen on their lunch hour.   There may have been a few other women there, dragged along by their spouses, but certainly we were outnumbered.   My mother was not able to climb the stairs to tour the airplane but sat under one of the wings out of the sun and had an enjoyable chat with the pilot in charge, who was from Mesa Arizona but whose Canadian mother was from her hometown and had also worked in one of the war plants.   Although he had moved to the US when he was younger, his mom had died the previous year at age 89, so he was happy to reminisce about her Canadian roots.        

The Flying Legends of Victory Tour is organized by the Commemorative Air Force Air Base out of Arizona.   Their mission is to take antique bombers on tour around the country, to educate people so they do not forget this important part of aviation history, especially now that there are fewer WW2 veterans left and those remaining are well are up in years.   They tour all fifty states and Canada and you can sign up on their website to be notified if one is visiting your area next year.   The plane they were flying that day was a B17 bomber.  A four engine bomber, they were manufactured during WW2  – about 13,000 were made, about 5000 were lost during the war.  (see Wikepida for more info).   Those are not good odds, although the bomber developed the reputation of being able to bring their crews home safely despite being badly damaged.   There are only about ten surviving in the world which are fly-worthy, restored versions which had never seen action, including The Sentimental Journey on display.   The cost to tour the inside of the plane was only $5, so off I went, leaving mom visiting with her new friend. 

Bomber

Bomber

Before we start the tour, a bit about the crewman positions on the plane.  Here’s a link to a very excellent B17-Queen of the sky blog explaining the various crew positions and also a link to a Wikepedia article with more information than you might care to read.     I wish I had made notes at the time but it was over a year ago, and I scarcely remember what everyone did.  There was no official tour, but you could ask questions if you wished.   Of course, all my questions came later, like how they decided who got which position? 

This B-17 bomber, re-christened Sentimental Journey, had a picture of Betty Grable, a famous pin-up girl from the wartime, painted on the side.   This nose art, as it was called, was designed to boost morale and although the planes were often named after women, sweethearts or wives, other subjects included hometowns, states, cartoon characters, mascots or something designed to scare the enemy.       

Bomber

I climbed the six steep steps to the front of the plane, which gave you a view of the cockpit and the pilot seats, off limits of course.Bomber

They were in town for a whole week, with certain days set aside for touring, and others for flights.   The flights, ranging from $425 to $850 US, were all sold out, and well worth the money for flying fans because when would you ever get such an opportunity again.   I did see the plane overhead periodically during the week, flying low along the river, and once over the farmers market but by the time I grabbed the camera the photo-op was gone.   Even though you could hear its rumbling roar coming, I still wasn’t quick enough to capture it.   It made me stop and think about what an air raid must have been like, the planes upon you before you could seek shelter.    

Bomber

Behind the cockpit, the bomb bay doors were open below, and there was a bridge with ropes you had to walk across to get to the rest of the plane, but with my fear of heights, I decided I just couldn’t do it.   It was not for the claustrophobic either, as it was very tight quarters inside. 

Bomber

Bomber

I exited back down the stairs, and went in the back entrance (below) to tour the rest of the plane.

Bomber

First up after the bomb bay were three seats, two on one side and one on the other, for the navigator, the wireless operator and the bombardier, whose job it was to get the bombs dropped on target.   

Bomber

The next time you are on an airplane and tempted to complain about the seats, think about these.   Note the overall lack of insulation, it must have been cold as hell up there despite their flight suits.    I can’t imagine those poor kids (and they were mostly 18-25 year old’s), spending 12-14 hours in those tin cans, because that’s exactly what they were……pieces of steel held together by tons of rivets.      

Bomber

Next up was the ball turret position, and the turret jettison kit.   Pity the poor soul who got that position.   Located on the underside of the plane it was designed to prevent attack on the aircraft from below and was usually manned by smallest member of the crew. 

Bomber

The left waist gunner below.     I asked a guy to take my picture here but he missed and took the floor instead.   Note the spool of ammunition attached to the machine gun.   There’s a better picture in this article link

Bomber

The rear/tail gunner position was also bad……so exposed, but important for protecting the back of the plane.     

Bomber

For me, the most poignant part was reading the signatures written on the bomb bay doors.  Back on the ground, I looked underneath, where visiting WW2 veterans were encouraged to sign their names and list the number of missions and their crew members.   Here’s a sample, written on July 21 2014.  Earl Morrow, age 93 years old, but still able to remember everyone and their position, and his three crew members KIA killed in action – something you never forget.  The “Delores” was shot down over Germany after 17 missions, POW 5/45.    The doors were covered with signatures from the stops around the country.   I wish I had taken more pictures of these.  

Bomber

Bomber

Back to those rivets, while my mother was not a Rosie the Riveter, she worked on the inspection table at a die casting plant making aircraft engine parts – nose cones similar to the ones in this picture, but she says they were larger. 

Wallaceburg museum

 Her job as part of the inspection team was to check for holes in the unit, and check the threads for any defects.   About 3 in every 100 were sent back.   She left school at age 16 and was lucky to get hired so young, but an aunt had pulled her in.   Coming out of the Depression, money was not plentiful, but her parents and brother had decided to try and save enough to buy a farm.   They worked long shifts, sometimes up to 10 hours if it was busy, barely seeing each other for weeks.   Because of her young age, she was put on the inspection team.   She can’t remember her exact wage, but thinks it was less than $20 a week, or about $1000 per year.    She said some of the farm girls who came in from the countryside paid $35 every two weeks for room and board and their wages barely covered the cost.    She worked there for almost two years, with no time off for vacation, and when they had enough money saved for a down payment they bought a farm several hours away, right across the road from my dad’s farm, so essentially she married “the boy next door.”    The 100 acre farm cost $5000, but with the expense of buying a team of horses and other livestock and supplies, they had to take out a mortgage, but it was a start to a more prosperous life.   

My grandmother worked in the Brass factory, but married women had shorter hours, as this plaque explains.      

Wallaceburg museum  Wallaceburg museum

These pictures are from a museum in her hometown which we visited this past summer.   She had not been back in many years but was showing some art as part of a jury art show in the adjacent gallery.   The museum was just down the street from where she used to live, so we went to visit her childhood home, and the owner let her come inside.   I had knocked on the door as I didn’t want them to think there was some random stranger taking pictures of the outside of their house.   It was quite nicely renovated.   It sold for $1000 when they moved.   My mom remembers my grandmother sending her down the street with a dollar to pay the hydro bill at what is now the museum building.    And now eighty years later, she is showing her art there, which just goes to show life holds surprises, even when you are older.   Like most women of her generation she did not work outside the home after she married, so it’s nice she has this chance at a late in life career.    

The plane tour over, we stopped at the airport office and although I knew all 300 tickets had sold out quickly, just out of curiosity I asked if there were any tickets left for the dinner dance, and it turned out there were two cancellations, so we grabbed them for the following evening, my mother having now been enticed by the prospect of a nice meal and some big band music.  (When my parents were dating they used to go to dances at a venue on the lake, where Glenn Miller and other famous Big Band musicians played).  You were encouraged to dress in the style of the era, (and a few people did), but because it was so last minute, I ended up raiding my closet – thank god for that 80’s closet. (see The Vintage Corner)   I had made a quick trip to the vintage store looking for some evening gloves or a hat, something to make it more retro, but no luck.   It turned out the night was so hot and sultry, there was no need for gloves.   The first thing I noticed near the entrance to the airport hanger was a yellow dress on a mannequin, similar to mine, only mine was a Laura Ashley sundress with a fuller  skirt.   But I do think mine was nicer, yellow is not a color I wear well but the material was so lovely I had kept it, even though I hadn’t worn it in decades.  (I will admit, the waist was a bit tighter than I remembered).   

Bomber

They had made an effort to dress up the space with white tablecloths and chairs and army décor, but it was still an airplane hangar.   The smell of diesel lingered in the air because the side doors were closed to the evening breeze.      

Bomber

Here’s the orchestra setting up, The Toronto All Star Band, none of them over the age of twenty-five.   That surprised me, as I did not expect young musicians to be too interested in Big Band music, but I suppose a gig is a gig.    You could attend the dance itself for $25.    (Perhaps it was a good thing the airport hanger was so spacious, as last Sunday at the International Symphony Orchestra’s tribute to the Big Bands, we just about got blasted out of the back of the theatre, the music was so loud it drowned out the female vocalist, all those lovely Gershwin lyrics basically inaudible.   So this band in the corner was a nice comfortable distance from the tables, with the dance floor up front the way my mother remembered).   The buffet meal was excellent, well worth the price.   Unfortunately, our table mates were not exactly great dinner companions.   Three couples, who didn’t seem to know each other, two of the guys well on their way to being red-faced inebriated.  The guy beside me was a pilot from a nearby city, but that was the only information I got out of him.   His wife never said a thing all evening.    It’s annoying when you sit beside someone you don’t know at a dinner function and they can’t be bothered to make conversation.  I had introduced my mother as a local painter and said she had worked in a war plant – here is a living piece of WW2 history, in case you want to ask any questions.   No one was interested, except in another drink.   And while the music was excellent, no one danced.   I saw the same ten couples on the dance floor all evening.    After the dinner and speeches and silent auction, they opened the side airport hanger doors to let in some air, and a big gush of wind blew all the table decorations over.    There was lightening in the sky and a storm threatening, so we left after the second set.   My mother was tired by then, and wanted to beat the storm home, which we did, barely.   Before I left, I said, goodnight to my table mates and said, hey guys, don’t forget to ask your wives to dance.   You can bet those young WW2 soldiers did.    It may have been one of the last evenings of their too short lives, but I hope they danced.  Lest we forget. 

If you wish to read more about the airplanes of WW2  I can recommend two excellent books.    The first, Unbroken, by Lauren Hillenbrand, was made into a movie a few years ago, directed by Angelina Jolie, and is based on the true story of a plane crash in the Pacific, the pilot adrift on a raft for weeks, and then rescued and held in a Japanese POW camp.   The thing that struck me about the first part of this book, (his training and missions), was the poor condition of the planes.  They knew a high percentage of them would not even return from the first flight, and the chance of death was even greater when couldn’t parachute to dry land……but still they sent them up.   If they came back damaged, they’d repair them as best they could and send them out again.       

The second book, A Higher Call, by Adam Makos and Larry Alexander, is also a true story about a German flying ace who escorted a badly damaged B-17 Bomber (flown by a 21 year old US pilot on his first mission),  back across the English channel to a British airbase, instead of shooting him down.  Flash forward fifty years later, and the US captain sets out to find the German pilot who saved his life, they meet and become friends.   This too may sound like a Hollywood movie, but a similar thing happened to a local man here.   Late in life, he hunted down the POW’s from the German submarine crew his ship had captured in the Atlantic, and they held a reunion in 1992.   He said it was one of the highlights of his life….a reminder of how the world has changed……and how much it stays the same with war still raging.   Lest we forget.            

 

 

 

 

 

 

Irish Roots

Irish Cottage - AMc - 1988

Irish Cottage – 1988

Genealogy websites are full of facts, names and dates, some accurate some not, but what makes genealogy addicting are the stories that make these people come to life.  Often these stories are only of interest to the family members, but even if you are not a big fan of history, viewed in the broader context of the immigration issue, it might be worthwhile to record one family’s struggle to survive, for we all came from someplace else.   The Irish potato famine (1845-49) was a national tragedy.  One quarter of the Irish population either immigrated or died from starvation or disease.   I think of my Irish ancestor’s story whenever I read of newly arrived immigrants struggling to start over or the desperate migrants escaping on those overloaded boats in the Mediterranean Sea, for this kind of crisis is still going on all over the world.  (see postscript)

A few thoughts on my Irish roots, but first a bit of family history….

              The phase the homeplace (the name of my blog), is self-explanatory to country folk.  While you may own several farms, the homeplace is the one where your home is, or the original homestead.  I grew up on a hundred acre farm which had been settled in 1849 by my Irish ancestors who had immigrated from Leitrim County just before the worst of the potato famine. My great great grandparents Patrick and Mary,

Patrick and Mary
Patrick and Mary – (tin type)

 and four of their six children arrived in Canada penniless in October of 1846 with an original party of twenty or more, having lost three on the coffin ship on the way over and one teenage old son in the Quebec bush when they decided to jump ship in the St. Lawrence River during the cholera quarantine.   I have a record from the National Archives of Canada, dated Oct 16 1846, for the three brothers who had to borrow one pound for water transport from Port Toronto to where they settled.   My great grandfather John, who was fourteen at the time, stayed behind in Ireland because he had a chance to go to school with the overseer/landlord’s son.   He came a year or two later on a ship through New York.  An uncle, the single one of the three brothers, was dispatched to pick him up, although he had little recollection of the journey other than it was a long way along lots of water.   His mother Mary, walked thirty miles along Indian trails through the bush to the nearest post office to get the note telling them when and where he was coming.     It was late October when they arrived here, and the Indians helped them build a hut, otherwise they never would have survived the first winter.   Several years later they bought the homeplace farm – for poor Irish tenant farmers to own land was a dream come true.   They prospered, and John married Ellen a schoolteacher in 1870 and they had nine children.

Family Portrait
John and Ellen Family Portrait – 1912

  My grandfather, who I never knew as he died before my parents were married, inherited the farm, and is the second from the left back row.  The only one in the picture I ever met was my Aunt Bea, the one with the glasses standing on the far left, as she used to come visit the farm when I was a young child but she died when I was eight so my memory is vague.    I have inherited my mass of frizzy hair from the Irish clan, we all have lots of hair, as well as their deep set eyes.   It is interesting to see the resemblance and family traits down through the generations.   I first started doing genealogy in 2003 when I was between jobs and had lots of time, searching paper records mostly, as there was little online then.  Someday I’ll join Ancestry.com and pick up the trail again.   My father never knew his grandfather so all I have are some notes from him and my uncle, and of course the family stories.   (The homeplace was sold and the house and barn torn down twenty years ago after my dad died.   My mother painted it in 2005 from an aerial photograph, which is the picture on the blog home page and below). 

The Homeplace - AMc - 2005

The Homeplace – 2005

Many of us have these family stories passed down through the years, and of course there are also gaps in the tales – missing pieces.   A favorite past time of genealogists is conjecture, which is a way of filling in those gaps.   Some things I have always wondered about.  How did they make the decision to stay or go, or was it made for them?  They left late in the year when it was evident from the potato blight that the crop had failed.  Did they have to pay their own passage or did the landlord pay it for them?   Who did John stay with when he was left behind?   His grandparents had elected not to make the journey as they were too old, but how did  Mary and Patrick feel about leaving their parents behind?  How hard it would have been to say goodbye, knowing they would never see them again.  Did they die during the potato famine as the worst year 1847 was still to come?  Who paid for John’s passage when he came later?  Presumably by then people were aware of the bad conditions on the coffin ships, so perhaps that is why he came through New York.  And how did Mary feel about leaving her child behind?  I read somewhere that the Irish Catholics were not permitted to be educated, so was the golden opportunity to stay and finish school  such a rarity as to justify what must have been a difficult decision.  Or maybe 14 wasn’t considered a child back then and would it be any different than sending your 17-year-old off to school today?  It must have been devastating for Mary to have lost her oldest son in the bush.  They heard rumors that he was up in northern Ontario but by the time they got word to him he had moved on out west.  (I might have a whole other set of relatives in western Canada, or the US as borders were fluid back then).

My uncle had an interesting story about Mary in his notes.   In the spring of the second year a surveyor came through the woods and inquired who they were.   He informed them there was a letter at a community along the river for them, presumably word of where and when John was to arrive.  Mary, reportedly a tall robust woman, set out walking to collect it.  There were no roads then, just a blazed trail with trees felled across the swampland to walk on.  When she got to the post office six miles away, they told her they had sent it to a hamlet four miles south, so she walked along the river to that post office, where they told her they had not known of any family by that name so they had sent the letter on to a bigger town to the north, so she walked along the river to that town and finally got the letter.  She must have been overjoyed to finally get the letter, although it is doubtful she could read it as she signed the land deeds with an X.   It began to get dark, and Patrick became worried that she had not come home.  He set out along the trail and encountered her carrying a big sack of flour on her head which she had purchased in the town.  All told she had walked about thirty miles to get the letter!    I sometimes think of this story when I’m sitting at my little farm table (1870), which is my computer desk.  Could they have ever imagined a future world of instant communication, Skype and email?

And what about John, how did he feel about being left behind, separated from his family and witness to all those people dying.  Were his grandparents still alive when he left?   Was he all alone on the ship or traveling with people he knew?   Would he have been worried that he wouldn’t be able to find his uncle on the docks in New York, or that he wouldn’t show up at all.   By the few accounts we have, in his later years he was a gruff old man (and he looks gruff in the picture), but is that the gruffness of poor health and old age or from damage to one’s psyche at a young age?   Were the conditions on his ship any better than on the Canadian ships?

For an understanding of the conditions on the coffin ships, check out…..Famine Diary by James J. Mangan, a first person tale of the journey, based on Gerald Keegan’s diary.  (Goodreads link)  A must read for anyone of Irish descent, it is a disturbing account.  There is such a memorable description of the hunger of the potato famine, that to this day, I can not stand to see a scrap of potato left uneaten on a plate without thinking of the heartbreaking descriptions in this book.   Although their tenant farms were small, an acre of land could grow enough potatoes to sell and to keep ten people fed over the winter, but when the blight hit, there was nothing to sell or to eat.   (Another good book is The Coming of the Irish to Canada – Flight from Famine – by Donald Mackay).

And what about that tale of jumping ship?  Is it even plausible?  My uncle’s notes say the ship hit rough weather and head winds and took six weeks to cross the Atlantic.  Ships fever broke out and three of their party died, but which three?  Whoever they were, their burial would have been at sea.  They arrived at an island in the St. Lawrence for quarantine, most likely Grosse Isle.  It was a requirement that all be in good heath for several weeks before proceeding to the mainland.  First one got sick, then another, and time began to pass.  Finally, they arranged to be smuggled to the mainland from where they promptly disappeared into the bush to avoid the authorities.  This is how they lost their son, as there would have been no way to find him.  But how did he get separated?  Did some of them elect to swim over?  Or did someone row them over, seven of the fourteen were children, two young babies, so that is most likely the case.   Is this any different than the migrants now on the boats in the Mediterranean?  You take your chance for survival, for you and your children.  How did they eventually get to where they settled?  They had to apply for a loan of one pound (National Archive record) for water transport, so we know they were broke, and even if they had any money they would have had to pay the smugglers.    I was only able to account for 14 people on the journey, all descendants from the three brothers, plus the 3 who died, so who were the others and did some of the party remain in quarantine.   Why did they come to the area where they settled?  Someone in Ireland knew where to send the letter re John’s arrival so they must have had some idea of where they were going to settle, unless they sent word back home after they were here.  I have tantalizing tidbits about a relative who might have been here already, but I have been unable to trace it further like so many dead ends in genealogy.   Genealogy is like a jigsaw puzzle you try to piece together, but sometimes the pieces just don’t fit.  So many unanswered questions…I would like to be a time traveler for a day to fill in the blanks.

When they arrived here it was October and winter was soon upon them.  The advertisements that went up about Lower Canada depicted it as having abundant food and game and a tropical climate, so they arrived with bare feet and straw hats, unaware that Canada had snow.  The Indians helped them erect some kind of hut to get through the first winter.

First Homestead - AMc - 2017

First Homestead –  2017

They didn’t know the countryside was covered in forest and the drainage poor until they arrived.  They were frequently sick from drinking stagnant swamp water.  They spent the next year clearing enough trees on higher ground to erect a house and permit the planting of crops.  The local Indians were friendly and played a major role in showing them how to survive, although they never knocked prior to entering, so when the men were all out in the fields an Indian would walk into the house and scare the womenfolk, as they had heard many stories of scalping.  (My apologies to the indigenous people but those were the fears at the time).   My uncle’s notes say that at first, they would gladly have returned to Ireland, but after a few years they moved to a different site, (the homeplace), with better soil and drainage, and things improved rapidly to well above what they would have had in Ireland.  They were land owners, and at least there was plenty of food to eat.  I can trace their increasing prosperity through the agricultural census, so many acres cleared, bushels of corn and wheat, livestock owned.  Eventually they must have had enough money to have their pictures taken, the pictures are tintypes, probably from around 1865.   By the early 1900’s, John and Ellen had wallpaper and crystal and monogrammed silverware in the old farmhouse.

Christmas on the Farm
Christmas Dinner on the Farm

 I still have the crystal bowl in this picture, in fact I have several of these bowls from the attic, family heirlooms.

My mother used to make potato soup when we were growing up, which was basically a bland affair of mashed potatoes, milk, a bit of onion for flavor, and salt and pepper.   It was my father’s family recipe, and upon retrospect, that was probably what they ate back in Ireland, nothing fancy.  We thought it was good at the time but had nothing to compare it with.   I still love potato soup but have moved on to more flavorful varieties.   It’s strange but I don’t remember eating potato soup at all when I was in Ireland in the 1980’s.  I had tacked a few days onto a trip to venture into Leitrim County, which was off the beaten tourist path.  After spending a few days viewing microfilm at the Dublin library, I took the train to Carrick-on-Sharon, as I was not brave enough to drive on the left, with all those white cross marks on the road pointing out where tourists had been killed.  I’ll leave that story for another time, as it is long and involves a drunken priest, a hired driver not a day under eight-five who kept falling asleep at the wheel, and a foggy cab ride to a churchyard lost in the mountain mists in what I am sure must be the most desolate part of the country.  It was a surreal experience, but I could see why they left, nothing but rocks, and not picturesque rocks by the sea like in Connemara.  How could they ever have farmed such poor land?  Sometimes it is better to make the decision to leave for hope of a better life.   Some day I would like to go back and rent a cottage for a month and see if I can find any long-lost kin, as the priest had gruffly remarked that the area was polluted with people of my surname.

My father would always call me on St. Patrick’s Day and say, “Top of the Morning to you,” and I would answer, “and the rest of the day to you!”  It’s a great day to be Irish, but even if you’re not, I hope you enjoy some green beer or Irish coffee.   

Quote of the Day:   “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”    (from plaque on the Statue of Liberty)   

The Lakes of Killarney - AMc - 2018

The Lakes of Killarney – AMc – 2018

Song of the Day:   That’s an Irish Lullaby – Bing Crosby – music link

Over in Killarney, many years ago
My mother sang a song to me in tones so soft and low
Just a simple little ditty in her good old Irish way
And I’d give the world if I could hear that song of hers today

Postscript:  For those interested in reading more about the very complicated issue of the Mediterranean migrant crisis I recommend two books,  Cast away: true stories of survival from Europe’s refugee crisis, by Charlotte McDonald-Gibson, a journalist, which chronicles the journey of several individuals and families, and Tears of Salt by Dr. Pietro Bartolo, a physician’s story of the medical treatment of the refugees on an island off the coast of Italy.   Both are excellent reads.  

Ann and Hugh

Great Aunt Ann and Hugh – (tintype)

An Interview with Jane Austen

          I am a Jane Austen fan.   Although I would not consider myself a Janeite, whenever a new book comes out about her life I am sure to check it out. Recently I saw this one, Jane Austen at Home, on the new releases list, and reviewed it on Goodreads.  

Jane Austen at HomeJane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can there be such a thing as a bad book about Jane Austen – no. Even though we know every detail of her story, and there is really nothing new to be discovered about her life, (excepting the photo of the blue and white egg cup excavated at the Steventon Rectory), Austen fans still find any new book about her fascinating. This is a particularly satisfying read as it focuses more on her quest for a home – after all she is the author who wrote “There’s nothing like staying home for real comfort.” Of course, there are the usual biographical facts, literary and otherwise, seeming to focus more on her personal life, including her five marriage proposals, thus dispelling the myth that she was a lonely old spinster. (Really the woman was so intelligent as to be intimidating, and would she have been happy with any of them?) There is a satisfying number (40 pages or so) of footnotes, always a sign of a good biography, and some photographs, including said egg cup. A lovely read for commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of her death – we remain as captivated as ever.

       A friend gave me The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen, (edited by Joelle Herr), for Christmas as she knew I was a fan, and it is full of her famous quotes and observations.   Pride and Prejudice is my favorite Austen book, and then Emma, but some of the others I must admit I have never read, although I have seen the movie versions.  It is her life that I find most intriguing.   I often find authors lives to be as or sometimes more interesting than their books, (check out Margaret Mitchell’s biography for parallels to Gone with The Wind, the character of Rhett Butler was thought to be based on her first husband and Ashley Wilkes on her second).   If you are a reader, you want to know where they got their ideas.   Due to the lack of media back then and the passage of time we have little to base our conclusions upon, and baring someone discovering a cache of old letters in their great house, there is nothing new under the sun about Jane Austen, but we still can’t get enough of her life.   She remains a puzzle, an enigma, we want to figure her out.   A fellow blogger asked me which historical figure I would most like to interview, and my answer was Jane.  And so, as Jane said, indulge your imagination in every possible flight.      

 An Interview with Jane Austen

         Welcome to the BBC show, Portal to the Past.  We would like to welcome renowned British author, Jane Austen.   Even though she has been dead for over two hundred years she has been gracious enough to grant us this exclusive interview, and we thank her for the opportunity, because two centuries later we remain as fascinated by her as ever.  (Cue opening pianoforte music link).    Jane enters, wearing a white flowing Stella McCarthy gown, because a woman can never be too fine while she is all in white.  (Camera man sighs, white is not good for the camera, adjusts lighting).  

 Host:  Welcome Jane.   Would you like some  tea?  

Jane:    (demurely declines refreshments.  She doesn’t want to smear her lipstick – lipstick, imagine something to make your lips ruby-red and kiss-worthy.  She wonders if she’ll get a free swag bag from Sephora).

Host:   I’m so glad you could join us today.

Jane:   There is nothing like staying home for real comfort, but if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.    

Host:  Did you ever imagine when you were sitting at your little writing table in Chawton Cottage, scribbling away about three or four families in a country village, that your novels would still be read two hundred years later? 

Jane:   (smiles sweetly)  Alas, it is only a novel… or, in short, some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humor are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.

Host:  Did you ever dream that you would become so famous?

Jane:    I have no talent for certainty, but I always had a quiet confidence in my abilities.   The fame though was quite unexpected, though slight initially it has now has grown to such proportions that I find myself adorning the ten pound note.  (blushes modestly).  Pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked.   I lay the blame on my nephew for that biography he penned.    Fame can be a double-edged sword, for regrettably I have now lost all privacy, and sometimes when I want to pay a visit to Chawton Cottage, there are too many tourists milling about.    

Host:   (surprised)    Are you saying you haunt your old sites?

Jane:   I do enjoy dropping by occasionally, but the tourists, their fashion choices are really quite beyond comprehension.  It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire, but still…yoga pants and t-shirts.  (shakes head, and thinks silently, for what do we live, but to make sport of our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn.)   Chawton House was my only true home and I was very content there.   Sometimes I like to sit at my little desk and recollect….or I might visit the kitchen if the new cook is on, because as you know good apple pies were a considerable part of our domestic happiness.   As for my childhood home there is nothing remaining, although I read that a blue and white egg cup was discovered recently in an excavation at Steventon Rectory, but it wasn’t mine, it was Cassandra’s.  An egg cup – really!  Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first.  It seems like a fair bit of nonsense that people would be interested in such things, but that is the price of fame.    One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.    

Host:    Are you aware of how many copies of your books have sold, 20 million of Pride and Prejudice alone?

Jane:    Yes it’s quite astonishing to be so immortal, but I wish I had the royalties.  A single woman with a narrow income must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid, the proper sport of boys and girls; but a single woman of good fortune is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else.

Host:    That portrait of you in the National Gallery, is it a fair likeness, because I’m not seeing too much of a resemblance?    (it might be the makeup and hair blowout, thinks to self, a little makeup can make even the plainest Jane quite pretty.) 

Jane:    I believe it has been photo-shopped too often to be an accurate portrayal.   (ponders uploading a new photo via Instagram for the ten pound note).  To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.    

Host:  Are you happy with your media image?   The sweet loving demure persona, sunny Jane?

Jane:    I must confess I was a bit annoyed with my sister Casandra for destroying most of my letters, especially the ones full of sarcasm and wit.   The ones that survive make me out to be some sort of vapid ninny.    I suppose she thought she was protecting my reputation…(sigh)…but she destroyed the best ones.   

Host:  You had five marriage proposals and turned them all down, did you ever regret being a spinster?  

Jane:     One should only marry for love.   And the more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!   You must be the best judge of your own happiness. 

Host:   What do you think of the movie versions of your novels?

Jane:    Some were of more merit than others, but Colin Firth was simply divine as Mr. Darcy.  Such a handsome man.  I wish I had thought of that wet shirt scene but that would have been too risqué for the era. 

Host:   Speaking of Mr. Darcy – who was the model for that darling man?

Jane:   ………………(prolonged silence, that wasn’t in the script, looks annoyed).

Host:   (quickly changes subject).   And  that famous speech, let me tell you how ardently I admire and love you.    Did people really talk like that back then?

Jane:    Ah, that speech……(contemplates, then laughs)…..Said. No. Man. Ever. 

Host:    Jane you seem to be well versed in the ways of the modern world, colloquial speech, photoshop, how do you know about all these things?

Jane:   The afterlife can be heaven – there is plenty of time to read and learn new endeavors.  With a book, you are regardless of time.   You ask yourself, why did we wait for any thing?  Why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!     There are balls and a fair bit of dancing, and dancing leads to romance, for to be fond of dancing is a certain step towards falling in love.   If one has been forced into prudence in one’s youth, one can learn romance as one grows older.       

Host:   Well that sounds fascinating….romance in heaven.  (eyes camera man signalling time’s up).   Any advice for modern day lovers?

Jane:   Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.  But don’t settle.  Do anything rather than marry without affection.   Wait for your own Mr. Darcy…..(flutters false eyelashes and smiles coyly)….I have found mine…. 

Host:   Thank you Jane.  (notices camera man motioning cut).   You have delighted us long enough.  Would you like more tea?

Jane:  Thank you, but I must dash to Sephora before the portal closes and I must return to the past.     

          And so there you have it folks, Jane in her own words.    Like I said, nothing new there…..other than the blue and white egg cup was Cassandra’s.  

(Disclaimer:  I apologize in advance if I have messed up any of the quotes or facts as I am by no means an authority on Jane Austen, merely a fan.  Next up, the Brontes  – Branwell would be on board for sure, Charlotte and Anne might be tempted but Emily would never agree.)

 

 

 

 

Decluttering 101 Out With The Old

      If decluttering your personal space is one of your New Year’s resolutions then you may be interested in, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo.     

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and OrganizingThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō

 

  My yoga teacher lent me a copy of this book last year over the Christmas break and I became so motivated by it that cleaning out my house became one of my goals for 2017.   Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizing consultant who is booked three months in advance according to her bio, which surprised me as I think of Japan as a nation of tidy people living in small neat houses, but maybe they are pack-rats like most North Americans.   Her unique approach has now been trade marked as the KonMari method.  The gist of her method is that you are to tidy by category and all at once, by dumping everything of each item from all over your house in the center of the room, shirts for example, and then you are to hold each item in your hand and “if it doesn’t spark joy”, out it goes.  You will then only be surrounded by the things you love.  The author was young and single and lived in a bedroom/apartment when the book was written in 2011, so although it is an interesting premise, some of the suggestions are not quite practical for a larger space shared with other people.   What if something doesn’t bring you joy, (the tv remote, the hamster cage, old hockey equipment), but might bring joy to someone else?  Then there are the things that don’t bring you joy but you need anyway.   My iron doesn’t bring me joy, (I hate ironing, but I hate wrinkles even more), but I don’t plan on throwing it out.  Toys should only be stored in one place?  That might cause a few temper tantrums.   Some of the suggestions border on the bizarre, you should talk to your house and your possessions and thank them for taking care of you? “Thank you for keeping me warm all day.  Thank you for making me beautiful.”  My sad old kitchen which is desperately in need of renovation might feel better if I spoke lovingly to it, but would I sound like George Bailey at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life, joyously greeting the miserable old Building and Loan.   Or empty your purse every night, place wallet, makeup and put everything in it’s assigned place, and then repack it in the morning.  I admire purse minimalists, but I am not one of them, my purse holds everything but the kitchen sink, so that would take over an hour.   She often speaks of inanimate objects as if they had souls and feelings.   What do the things in your house that don’t spark joy actually feel?  They simply want to leave.  Everything you own wants to be of use to you.  It must be a Feng-shui kind of thing.  Does my iron hate me as much as I hate it?       

            Still there was enough in the book to motivate me, so I diligently spent the month of January last year cleaning out my house, and the month of February attempting to clean out my mother’s, and some of March down in the basement, (home of the paper archives), and then it was spring, and I lost interest.    Purging all at once was just not practical for me, a few hours here and there was the best I could do with my three-level house…yes, I broke the rules.   I was less successful with my mother’s house, as she was born in the Depression and so has more of an attachment to empty coffee canisters and plastic storage containers than I do.   (Perhaps that is why Marie is so booked up, it is much easier to get rid of someone else’s stuff than your own).   “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” was a popular saying in the Depression, which may explain why that generation tends to hoard such things, while the baby boomers, because we didn’t grow up with as much as kids today, were more into acquiring material things, (fine china, mahogany dining room sets), and the millennials are minimalists indeed who would rather have experiences than things, and only buy what they need.    Speaking of psychoanalysis, while some of the book reviews I read unkindly label the author as having OCD, (if I had sold five million copies I wouldn’t care what they called me), there is a sad chapter towards the end of the book where she explains her need to be compulsively tidy since a young age as an attempt to attract her parent’s love and attention and avoid being dependent on other people.  She was a middle child, (self-explanatory).            

            Some pointers from the book –  sort all in one shot, by category, not location.  There are only two actions, discarding and deciding where to store things.   Start by discarding, all at once, intensely and completely, then decide where to store things, and keep them only in that place.  (Discard first, store later).   Do not start with mementos.  Start with easier items, clothes, books, papers, misc., and then mementos.   We should be choosing what to keep, not what we want to get rid of.   She recommends folding clothes in rectangles and then storing them vertically, standing up in drawers, so you can see everything, and they are less wrinkled.  Store all items of the same type in the same place, and don’t scatter storage space, including designating storage space for each family member.  Fancy storage systems = bad, they justify keeping stuff you shouldn’t.  Some clothes like coats and dresses are happier hung up.  I’m relieved my elegant black cocktail dress, (Winners sale), is happy even though it’s never been worn.     Keep only those books which make you happy to see on the shelves.   Out go those university text books I kept in case I felt the need to study chemistry again, (which I did twenty years later for a degree upgrade).   Now they are but sentimental reminders of a time when I was smarter and had a better memory.   Sorting papers – rule of thumb – discard everything!  She relents and says you can keep some things like insurance policies, love letters etc. but only if they are stored in one spot only.   On sentimental items – “No matter how wonderful things used to be we cannot live in the past – the joy and excitement we feel here and now are more important.”   Yes, that is true, but what about keeping things for future generations?   As a lover of history and genealogy, I wish my ancestors had kept more things, not less, 

(see Nov. blog on Uncle Charlie WW1 Vet), and museums would be empty if we throw everything away just because it’s old.   I am glad I kept those letters from my younger pre-email years, they are treasured memories for myself and for future generations.   

             What makes some things more difficult to get rid of is they either remind us of things past, (childhood toys, I kept my Barbie dolls and clothes), 

or we might have a future need for them some time and they won’t be there.  I still haven’t read those books I picked up at the book sale last winter, but we might be snowed in for a week and then I’ll have something to read.  Most bookworms have great difficulty getting rid of books.  It seems a shame to discard a book, unless it’s a really bad book, and even then someone put a lot of effort into writing it.  (I once read that books are one of the most often requested items in refugee camps).   While I won’t be appearing on any hoarder reality tv shows, I do have a problem with some categories (see blog on vintage clothes on the main menu), and I admit I am a paper pack-rat too.   With the clothes I am mourning the life I had, or aspired to (in the case of that chic little black cocktail dress with the bow in the back). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA My intention with The Vintage Corner was to sell some of the clothes and donate the money to charity, which can always make you feel better about throwing things out.   I lost track of how many trips I made to the local thrift shop, but one day when I took an old ghetto-blaster in, (music for the garage, but it was never used and covered with dust), there was an immigrant family looking for a radio, so it was perfect timing.   How happy they were, and how pleased I was to be able to help someone else.    

               Recently I came across a review for a new book from Sweden, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” (Scribner Jan 2018) by Margareta Magnusson, which may be more suited to older generations. 

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Make Your Loved Ones’ Lives Easier and Your Own Life More PleasantThe Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Make Your Loved Ones’ Lives Easier and Your Own Life More Pleasant by Margareta Magnusson

 

This Swedish author recommends you streamline your belongings while you are still healthy enough to do the job, thus saving relatives the difficult task of sorting out after you are gone.  It sounds morbid but it is actually uplifting, finding the right homes for all your beloved possessions so they can bring joy to someone else, plus it can relieve the burden of looking after so many things when you might not have the health or energy to do so.   Still it does make me sad to walk into a thrift store and see all those lovely sets of good china which graced many a holiday table and which no one wants anymore.   I collect blue and white china (which does bring me joy),

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My grandmother’s turkey platter

 and thrift shops are excellent places for that, although I am now more selective in what I buy.         

          The final chapter in the Marie Kondo book deals with the life-changing part of the title – apparently “the lives of those who tidied thoroughly and completely in a single shot are without exception dramatically altered.”   Some of her clients discarded their excess weight, their jobs and even their husbands, and went on to live much happier lives.  The rationale for this is that detoxifying your house has a detoxifying effect on your body and mind as well.  It increases your happiness and good fortune to live in a natural state surrounded only by the things you love.  She says, “when you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past too, and you can see quite clearly what you need in life and what you don’t, and what you should and shouldn’t do.”  The things we really like do not change much over time.  Putting your house in order is a great way to discover what they are.   I’m not sure if this is just so much psycho mumbo-jumbo, but you cannot deny it is a serene feeling to having a clean and tidy house.   She does not seem to acknowledge however that some people prefer and even feel more comfortable with a certain degree of clutter around them.  It makes a home look lived in as opposed to one staged for a real estate open house…you know the type, when you walk into a house and nothing is out of place and there’s not an open book in sight.   I can’t say my life was altered in any transformative way, (but then I broke the all in one shot rule), but I would have to say the book was successful in making me stop and think, do I really need to keep this, and while some clutter has crept back, the usual suspects in the usual places, (papers in the den and kitchen drawers you may plead guilty), over-all it was a worthwhile read.   The whole concept of sparking joy, while airy-fairy, did make me much more conscious of what I bought.  Not only did a new acquisition have to bring me joy, but did I even need it?  After spending three months decluttering I didn’t want to have to do it again.   But there was a good feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction when it was done and someday when I must downsize there will be less to pack and unpack.   As anyone who has ever moved can attest, moving can be a great motivator for decluttering. 

          The other day I saw a very large moving truck on my street, it almost stretched the whole block, which made me think about how much stuff people have today compared to the past.  My maternal grandmother came through Ellis Island in 1922 from Holland, on her honeymoon, with one large wicker trunk containing all her worldly possessions.   My dad’s ancestors arrived in Canada from Ireland in 1846 at the height of the potato famine with nothing but the clothes on their backs.  They abandoned what few supplies they brought with them, when they jumped ship in the St. Lawrence during a cholera epidemic.  They had to borrow one pound from the Canadian government (National Archive Records), for water transport from Toronto to where they settled, but by 1900 they had nice crystal,

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farm heirloom

 and monogrammed silverware, (I wish I still had some of those forks).   Things can bring you pleasure and joy and we can spend a lifetime buying but in the end, we have nothing – you can’t take it with you, as the saying goes.  There is a time to collect stuff and a time to get rid of it.  

       Incidentally, about a month after I returned the book to my yoga instructor, I saw a copy at a thrift shop for two dollars, so I bought it to keep as a reference book, which is a no-no according to the rules, but which I knew would come in handy some day.   The author also has a sequel, Spark Joy – An Illustrated Master Class in Organizing and Tidying Up, but when I picked it up and glanced through it, there was a whole section on camisole folding, and since I don’t own any camisoles, I closed it back up and left it there on the shelf to bring joy to someone else. 

Quote of the Day:   “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”   (William Morris)

Joy to The World – Christmas Playlist

Violin and Horn - AMc - 1990

Violin and Horn – 1980

 I have been listening to Christmas music lately, because it’s hard not to, with it blasting over the intercom twenty four hours a day in every store and workplace, telling us ’tis the season to be merry and be of good cheer, fa-la-la-la-la-la-la.  This is the most profitable time of the year for most businesses and they are just doing their part to get us into the Christmas spirit.   I love Christmas music, I really do, but in small doses, and not the same old songs, over and over again.  You hardly ever hear a lot of the old Christmas classics anymore, especially if they are religious hymns, so last week when I found a stack of vintage records from the 40’s and 50’s in my mother’s basement it was like finding treasure.   They were stored in brown cardboard albums, a 78 in each paper sleeve, mostly Hit Parade tunes,

but also a few smaller 45’s of children’s music.   I was surprised at how thick the vinyl was, compared to albums from later years.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I didn’t recognize many of the Hit Parade ones but I took a trip down memory lane with the 45’s – Horace the Horse, On Top of Old Smoky, Did You Ever See a Lassie – the lyrics came back in a flash.   We had a portable stereo in the sixties and then one of those big furniture cabinets in the early seventies that played eight tracks too, but my mother says she remembers playing those vintage records on an old phonograph that you wound up by hand when she first moved to the farm in 1944.   Her farm had hydro, but my father’s didn’t until after the war. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 There were a few Christmas classics in the bunch – an original Columbia records Gene Autry – Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, (one of the best selling records of all time), with If It Doesn’t Snow on Christmas on the B Side, and a Silent Night/Oh Come All Ye Faithful and Silver Bells by Bing Crosby.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe children’s 45’s included Frosty the Snow Man, with God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman and Joy to the World on the flip side, and Santa Clause is Coming to Town with Silent Night.    (Note to self – check Ebay to see if any of these are worth anything…just out of curiosity, you can’t sell childhood memories).   

I used to listen to Christmas music every day during my commute to work, (while an hour a day of Christmas music can be good for the soul, listening to it for eight hours a day in a retail environment is not).  I would flip over to an American radio station which had made it a tradition to start playing it the day after Halloween.   This station tended to play the same soundtrack, over and over again, and while I liked most of the selections, there were some that just made me cringe and change the dial – Feliz Navidad, You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch, Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas time, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Santa Baby, the Charlie Brown Christmas instrumental, and that annoying Chipmunk song. Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer is just plain wrong, what kind of song is that for little kids, reindeer bashing at it’s worst!    And I am probably the only person who doesn’t like Mariah Carey’s, All I Want For Christmas Is You – that high note at the end hurts my ears, and it reminds me of old episodes of Ally McBeal walking home by her lonely self at the end of every single episode.  I can listen to Jingle Bell Rock and Rocking around the Xmas Tree, but only once per season.   While I realize everyone has individual favorites, why would they include those when there are so many wonderful songs to get you in the Christmas mood.       

Old Christmas hymns can bring on an instant attack of nostalgia.  Going through the stack of old albums from the sixties I came across Christmas with Mitch Miller.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When my dad used to watch Sing a Long with Mitch on Saturday nights, there were lyrics at the bottom of the tv screen, and yes tucked inside the album cover was a yellowed song sheet if you wanted to sing along.   Does anyone remember when newspapers used to print songbooks for caroling at Christmas?   What wonderful memories that album evoked, of going to midnight mass, when it was still at midnight, and struggling to stay awake, while the choir boomed out a resounding version of Hark the Harold and Joy to the World at the end, and you went out into the frosty night wishing everyone Merry Christmas, and then home to a midnight feast of bacon and eggs and sausage and then to bed way past one.  This was a family tradition as we always slept in on Christmas morn, except for my poor mother who would get up at 4:30 to put the turkey in the oven for the 1:30 dinner with our grandparents and then go back to bed.   We weren’t allowed to open our presents until my dad came in from milking the cows.  The last time I went to Christmas eve mass, about a decade ago, it was at 9pm and there was folk music, which was okay but not compared to these…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

   The Andy Williams Christmas album was another favorite, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(although I now dislike the highly overplayed Most Wonderful Time of The Year), as was Burl Ives, Have a Holly Jolly Christmas.  My mother used to sing that in the kitchen, and it really was her favorite time of year.  We didn’t have a lot of money growing up but my parents always made sure we had a good Christmas.  Other memorable songs off that album were, Please Send Some Snow For Johnny, and Silver and Gold.   Other great albums were the Carpenters – Karen Carpenter had the clear pure voice of an angel, (There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays, Merry Christmas Darling, What are you doing New Years Eve), Boney M (Mary’s Boy Child, I’ll be Home for Christmas, When Darkness is Falling) and the whole soundtrack of the movie White Christmas, (Snow, The Best Things Happen While Your Dancing, Count your Blessings, and the army songs).   My Dad had a deep baritone like Bing Crosby, and used to sing the odd line in the barn while feeding the cattle, so I have a hard time listening to White Christmas.   Any Christmas song that makes you think of happier times can be a sad song when you are feeling nostalgic for Christmases past and loved ones who are gone.   Then there are others, the songs that are just plain sad, like Grown Up Christmas list, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, I’ll Be Home for Christmas if only in my Dreams, Blue Christmas, The Christmas song (NatKingCole), Silver Bells etc.    I love the Rosemary Clooney verision of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, but that line, “through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow” always makes me feel sad. 

If you want some merrier songs – We Need a Little Christmas, Must Be Santa, Christmas in Kilarney, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, are good choices and I can even stomach I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas if there are some wee ones around to march to the beat.   Ring Christmas Bells by the Trans-Siberian orchestra remains a personal favorite of mine for it’s uplifting beat, their Christmas Cannon is a like a soothing meditation with a children’s choir, and Here We Come Awassailing reminds me of a Dickens Christmas.  

For romantic Christmas songs you can’t beat, Let it Snow, Baby It’s Cold Outside or Sleigh Ride, for invoking visions of a simpler old fashioned time.  Who wouldn’t want to go for a ride in a one-horse open sleigh like Currier and Ives? 

sleigh ride 3 (2)   This is a picture of my uncle in the old cutter sleigh from the farm.   When we were kids the sleigh was stuck up in the rafters of the implement shed where it’s black leather seat made a fine nesting place for mice.  In the early nineteen hundred’s my ancestors used to go to church in this very same sleigh when the roads were bad, because despite the snow and the cold, no one ever missed church!

Sleigh Ride - AMc - 2016

Sleigh Ride – 2016

 There’s a wonderful stanza in Sleigh Ride – “There’s a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy.  When they pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie.  It’ll nearly be like a picture print by Currier and Ives. These wonderful things are the things we remember all through our lives.”   When we are older we don’t remember most of the presents we got, but we do remember the whole family sitting around the dinner table and talking and even after the big turkey feast there was always room for desert.   After the table was cleared, we ladies would spend two hours in the kitchen hand washing dishes, and then it would be set again for evening supper after the presents were played with and the chores were done, and we would end the day with a late-night game of euchre, except for me.  I would be curled up in a corner reading whatever book Santa had brought me, as that was always my favorite present.  (There may be a blog on Dickens A Christmas Carol next week if time and snowstorms permit). 

me reading (4)

      Down in my basement I have an old stereo unit that I bought at Sears years ago.  It plays cds, tapes and albums, and while I’m wrapping presents this year I will be singing along with Mitch.  What’s on your Christmas playlist?  Your most loved and most hated Christmas songs?  Please leave a comment if you wish.

Song of the Day:  Joy to the World – Mormon Tabernacle Choir – click here for music link