Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Die or Grow Beyond Fear

September 2nd, 2014

swimLake, ocean, pool or river can be inviting, calming or terrifying. For the latter camp, a solid NYT piece with vid of an man who just had to get over his wet anxiety brought back pubescent times.

First know I’m a water guy, as in:

  • My water-safety instructor (WSI) mother taught me to swim in the South Branch of the Potomac at Romney WV
  • My sister and I became instructors and lifeguards
  • I coached a summer swim team two years
  • I was on my high school, then freshman college swim team
  • I got all the Boy Scout aquatics merit badges
  • I swam at beaches from Florida (yucky hot) to Maine (my God! cold) and lakes all over

Water is my buddy. I meditate while swimming several times each week and I never feel as graceful as in the water.

Yet I was surprised at 12 or just 13 to have the head swimming teacher at a man-made lake in Virginia ask for help. My sister and I were taking life-saving classes and killing time afterward swimming and diving. We would wait until our mother, who ran the local Red Cross chapter, to come by and drive us home.

Turns out the teacher had a lot more in mind that just getting me to help her. What she really wanted and cannily figured out was that I could teach some gray hairs to swim.

Had she put it like that I’m pretty sure I would have said I wasn’t able. In no small part both the times and central Virginia locale made that unlikely. I was a Ma’am and Sir, respect-elders boy. It would seem to betray the natural order for a kid to teach maybe 8 folk in the 60s and 70s anything.

Yet, the teacher knew my mother, sister and me. She knew that many of the Red Cross volunteers aged up to 80 or so had me call them by their first names from when I was 6 or 7. Yes, I was polite and attentive, had a large vocabulary and never ever would have called them by another other than Mr.., Miss or Mrs. (last name) unless they insisted. They did.

I was also a water prize, getting my advanced-swimmer card young. I was my mother’s son. So maybe it wasn’t so crazy to ask me to help.

I didn’t know any of the 8 or so men and women in my instant class. In retrospect I guess the median age was 72. The teacher introduced us and said I’d show them how to get used to the water. Then she left.

Well, I was a sincere little boy and that’s just what I did. I’d bet they were both charmed a lad their grandchildren’s age was in charge and comfortable that if I could do this water stuff they had a shot.

I was in for my own shock when they told me, almost to a one, that they were afraid to put their faces in the water. They never had in the 70-some years. They were born at the very end of the 19th or very beginning of the 20th Century. Shower baths were rare. they would bath in a tub but never do as I was used to — shampooing and plunging my whole head underwater repeatedly while rinsing, repeating. They said they wet washcloths and used them on their faces.

That was not a chapter in the WSI manuals at home and in the chapter buildings. I read those on the sofa or on the toilet. When I went into a new level of swimming class I already knew what we were supposed to do and generally had already mastered it on my own. Yet, afraid of water? Never put your face in water in your entire life?

Well, it turns out the clever teacher had it right. My job was to teach this group to be okay in the water. By then it never seemed possible to do less and maybe a lot more. The students were certainly willing.  I got them bobbing, splashing water on their heads and faces as they stood in thigh-high water, and eventually putting their faces down in water while keeping control by blowing air through their noses. We went on as I had learned in my first few levels of classes to back floating, front floating, using a kickboard and basic rhythmic breathing. We did dog-paddling and backstroke.

I didn’t have time to teach them how to swim, as in how I swam. They let me know how far we had come though. At the end of one class, they told me together that they felt they had learned to fly. They had been afraid of water their whole lives and now were able to float, to do basic strokes, and to breathe out with their faces in the water was mastering a whole new element, just water instead of air.

Since then, I’ve taught photography, writing, various aspects of computer use, and management. Apparently I’m good at doing that, but never since that lake have my students compared what they learned to mastering a whole new element. When students and teachers are in it together, there is elegance, beauty and fulfillment. That class is still my touchstone for a splendid job.

I hadn’t thought of those happy moments in a long time, until the NYT piece. I was with Attis Clopton all along. That’s the thrill of learning at its best.

 

All Hail Mable

August 26th, 2014

mableSRBShe spelled her name Mable or Mabel on her caprice. No matter, my maternal grandmother was a hell of a baker.

Come to write that, I don’t believe I ever heard her use hell or damn, much  less the vulgarian terms we hear on TV or even from tots today. Still, she was well known in the little mountain town in the Potomac Highlands of eastern West Virginia for her pies, cobblers and particularly her breads.

Come a summer hot spell, as we have now in Boston, the visceral mnemonic, as relentless and insistent as Proust’s madeleine, differs among us. Some see themselves as lizards, warming their blood in the sun. Others hie and hide in bars with loud companions and cold drinks. It’s the beach or porch person to person.

To me, it’s Mable’s salt-rising bread.The misnamed loaf really requires sun and heat, 90° or so to make the starter, then raise the dough and loaves in two sessions of a two to three-day process. In my many summers in Romney, I knew what was up when I saw the jar with the starter, then the huge bowl covered with a towel on the back lawn.

For the misnomer, the bread has very little sat and the salt has nothing of moment to do with its rising. You might call it potato-rising bread or perhaps just another form of pain au levain. Its yeast comes from what’s in the air, a pinch of baking soda, the potato starch and just a little sugar as a catalyst.

It is a wonder and a delight — once you transcend the aroma of the starter and the baking bread. Mable’s recipe is from one of her handwritten cards in her yellow index-card recipe box. It starts “At noon, slice 2 potatoes into a jar…” and continues with understood steps (for example, she writes “make loaves” but doesn’t bother with the obvious grease loaf pans and coat with corn meal, which you should know), and inexact quantities (such as “fat the size of an egg). After all, her notes were for herself.

Regardless, I had my own issues with martinet Mable who was co-host to my sister and me for summers into our high-school years, along with Granddad, her husband. I never quibbled with her baking and loved seeing the big bowl on the lawn.

The yeast concoction produces a froth with what her recipe writes is “a peculiar odor.” It continues that after you’ve prepared the potato starter and waited for a day, “If it doesn’t have the foam and odor do not use it.”

The peculiar odor indicated what makes the yeast from next to nothing and what produces the splendid taste, particularly when sliced very thinly and toasted. The taste is intense and unique. Mable revisits whenever the hot days inspire me to open the yellow box.

 

Heir B&B

August 6th, 2014

Sure enough, you can stay at Suzy Cunningham’s on Gravel Lane in Romney, West Virginia. That means little to folk, even those who live in Hampshire County.

SuzysWhen I was thinking about a trip to my only constant home of my childhood, I was very surprised thato Airbnb had anything at all in Romney. I was very pleased to see that the Gravel Lane Guest House was one I knew well.

I tuck a cropped image of it here.

I have to wonder how many of these deep-memory/ghost houses are in the Airbnb catalog.

The back of her house shared the yard with the back of my grandparents’. Suzy and my grandmother, Mable Michael, were best friends for many decades. Suzy was maybe a decade older, likely born at the end of the 19th Century and they could chat long enough to drive all the rest of us away.

My grandfather, Bill Michael, grew patches as he called his massive gardens, every summer. Mable and Bill would play a little vegetable or fruit game frequently. She say, “Bill, I could use a few pole beans.” That was code for I’m ready to can and freeze. He’d put me to work helping him harvest several bushels. Likewise if was fruit, he’d drive up the adjacent mountains and return with huge wooden baskets of fruit.

Then the community gathered under the massive maple tree between the two houses. Suzy and Mable, other friends, relatives and any kid who didn’t hide would be put to work. We’d shell peas, string beans (remember when they had strings you had to strip?), and Lima beans. Adults got the heavy metal lawn chairs and kids squeezed onto picnic-table benches or sat on the grass.

Hours of food prep led to hours of washing and bagging or boiling and sealing jars. After a few of these episodes, the whole basement wall of shelves became stocked with several layers of beans, tomatoes, beets, picked cukes and more. One of Mable’s two basement freezers had labeled, dated freezer bags and Tupperware. (The other freezer was for meat; her son often brought by a butchered half deer too.)

My grandmother often used me as courier. I’d ferry things to or from Suzy. Mable was the great baker, so it was often a pie, cobbler or bread loaf from Marsham Street to Gravel Lane. Suzy always insisted that I come in and sit. The curtains were half drawn or more. The living room should have had the feeling of a horror movie, but Suzy was ever cheerful and every visit offered really good hard candy.

For her part, Suzy liked Mable’s front porch. It faced the mountains. We saw the apple and peach orchards. More impressively, we could watch the rain. It was a science lesson as the rain clouds formed behind the mountains, gathering and darkening as they crested. We knew what kind of rain Romney would get by seeing it fall first on the orchards. It was the weather version of a phalanx of soldiers marching shoulder to shoulder straight ahead.

Suzy even had me bring her favorite rocker to Mable’s porch. It had upholstery like a carpet bag and elaborate curved arms carved like swan heads and necks.

Suzy died long ago and Mable maybe 15 years later. My grandmother inherited and used the swan rocker. The massive maple gave into old age, no more to host the 17-year cicada invasion. That was a highlight of one youthful summer watching them push out of their shells,which were left clinging to the bark.

Suzy was not a relative, but then again was at least as good and familiar. Her house was not ours, but we were always welcome…without knocking. Like most of my grandmother and mother’s friends, she insisted I call her by her first name. As a Southerner, my default was Ma’am or Sir to anyone older than I, at least any adult. Somehow I was on a first-name basis with many who were 50 to 80 years older than I. That worked for all of us.

So seeing Suzy’s house in the catalog (only $95 a night for two and a little more for three or four) was homey in a commercial way. Over the years, the house was lightened up considerably. The beautiful wood floor aren’t smothered in oriental rugs. The appliances aren’t the creepy post-WWII colors and on and on.

But its Suzy’s house and when we visit next, I intend to stay there.

JP tries Porchfest

July 20th, 2014

Jamaica Plain did a fine job copying other such events in its first JP Porchfest yesterday. 50 or so groups performed at 35 venues, most of them quite literally porches.

I careered among many venues, playing a speed-listening version of the Odyssey. To my ear, there was a little terrible music, but most was good and some superb. With so much simultaneously in the works, no one was stuck anywhere. Here’s hoping this becomes annual.

As a disclaimer, several shots here are of a group where my wife sings and plays. I’m prejudiced. They jam weekly and perform as features on occasionally, largely bluegrass. Their road group has taken to call themselves Still Here.

Among some of the gems I found was Damn Tall Buildings, Rebecca Hope, and Outrageous fortune. As an indication of the event’s diversity, they play respectively bluegrass/blues, up tempo ballads, and swing. Click over to the event site for a list, many of which have videos.

Pix clix: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If it opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button or command to return.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

Avery ‘Montana’ Ballotta of Damn Tall Buildings dtb2
rhope1 Rebecca Hope
A couple of the Outrageous Fortune gang fortune3
stillh8 Still Here’s mando player, surely the best gurning of Porchfest
My uxorial unit for Still Here. She’s the primary family musician. stillh2
stillh6 Of course Still Here had the mandatory bluegrass components, including dobro…
…and a banjo stillh7

The WABAC (and round-and-round) Machine

May 14th, 2014

gmimeoFrom first grade, I was what could loosely be called a Red Cross volunteer. That is, my mother ran the local chapter, and pressed my older sister and me into service as needed.

At its worst, one time the three of us picked up the slack when real volunteers punked out. We worked all evening and night, stapling white, pink and red tissue paper (flowers) all around and on a flatbed trailer to be the basis of the RC float in the next day’s July 4th parade. (Actually, I recall enjoying being able to stay up all night, which I perceived as limited to adults, not elementary school kids.)

More typically, it was newsletters, newsletters, newsletters. Teens and adults also joined in, but it seems my sister Pat and I always had our role (after homework of course).

We became very adept at folding 8.5X11 sheets into precise thirds and stuffing them into number 10 envelopes. We used sensuously smooth whale bone to make the creases. Even now I wonder who ended up with those ivory treasures as they became illegal to own.

The newsletters themselves were most often done on mimeograph machines, as the Gestetner model above. My mother’s chapters tended toward that brand, which seemed indestructible, even when operated by volunteers as young as 6 or into their 80s.

I haven’t even gotten into this repro technology with my three sons. They are aghast hearing of the cheap thrills of moving from manual to electric typewriters. I’m not so sure they believe my tales of batch processing on a shared mainframe computer long before PCs existed. I did save the manual from my first PC, an Intertec Data System Superbrain. It had a 9-inch, monochrome screen and 64kb of RAM (not as typo — 64 kilobytes; we didn’t know of giga anything in 1981). A word processing program would load in 32K, leaving 32K for data.

Actually with no graphics or color, that was adequate. Moreover, even booting from one of the floppies (hard drives were about $5,000 or more), it was ready to use in seconds, much faster than today’s boxes. There basically wasn’t anything to test before loading the OS.

Here and now, we have Apple and Windows computers, desktops, laptops and tablets. We have laser and color inkjet printers, which we share wirelessly.

Mimeographs were not that way. (wikipedia as a good backgrounder on the technology.)

I remember the fragile, wax-based sheets you’d baby into readiness, wrap about the ink-filled drum and hope to hell they held at least for the print run.

You’d type without a ribbon to etch the sheet so the ink had places to go. You’d hope that the hollow letters, like B or g, did not destroy and tear the stencil. If you wanted illustrations, you drew directly on the stencil with a metal stylus or physically glued a doctored piece of stencil in place.

Those mimeograph users really had to be competent.

There are still mimeograph machines around. They are generations removed from the ones I used. They are now large, expensive and special purpose.

On the way to iPad Air and such, we went through the horror of desktop publishing. Starting around 1985, that software on PCs pushed the likes of mimeographs into closets. Suddenly everyone was buying dot-matrix printers and the likes of PageMaker or a half dozen other layout programs. You could do newsletters in a fifth or a tenth of the time…all without fragile stencils and smearing ink.

Of course, if you were around, you saw the dreadful results. Newsletters, promotional material and even Christmas letters looked the same. Everyone tucked in all the pictures they could and used dozens of fonts and headline styles per newsletter. It was the hideously overwrought style we were taught to avoid in our journalism-school classes — circus layout, from being in the garish style of a Ringling Bros. poster. Every became editor, artist and publisher in one.

That curse carried over although the technology is long gone. We see its vestiges in Apple-based culture. That would be the likes of barely illegible sans serif fonts (from days when serif type was jagged, but no longer necessary), and white or other light type on a dark background, and still online and in print too many damned headline and body styles.

Stop it already. Contain yourself!

In fairness, I should relax myself. Most people just don’t know where their bad habits and preferences arose.

 

Wanda’s Day — I Won

May 11th, 2014

When my mother lived, I sent her or handed to her Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards and gifts. She played both roles from her divorce before I was 5.

wandacollegeAlso, I initiated a running patter related to the era…about what the dull-witted still call broken homes.  As early boomers, my sister and I were among a large and growing cohort. Many of our parents had married in the passions following WWII, only to discover they had no business together. Many were like my mother, Wanda, with one, two or three kids but no basis for staying married.

In her case, her husband was the handsome war hero (Battle of the Bulge and so forth) and she had been the campus queen, theater star and scholar. They made each other swoon, wed and two years later produced first my sister then less than two years later me. It was only when we were part of the Occupation Army in Japan that both Wanda and Bob wondered what the devil they were doing married to that stranger. They were OK when he was off in Korea directing artillery shells, but face-to-face they wanted different things. She wanted a union of equals as her parents had and he a woman to order him around as his mother had his father. Incompatible.

Bob took up with a bossy woman, they divorced, he remarried, and Wanda asked only for us kids and minimal child support (no alimony request). Then Bob and his second wife became deadbeats. He got a transfer to Germany with his new family of two sons, my half-brothers. He stopped paying child support as soon as he left the country. Wanda asked the US Army for help. They replied that as an officer he was honorable and they trusted him to fulfill his obligations, and would do nothing.

The humor in all of this and character-revealing aspect, is that Wanda never, ever bad-mouthed Bob to my sister and me. She would note that he was smart and good looking and yes, a war hero. It was only on one our moves when I found both divorce proceedings and those from when my sister and I were visiting Bob and his second wife in OK when he decided they would keep us and take us to Germany that I learned of and asked about his chicanery.  Wanda drove to OK from eastern WV with her father, who was in a cast from his heel to his waist from a work accident to fight for and reclaim her children.

She truly loved us. She showed it in ways big and small.

Oddly and with brutal irony, I found that Bob’s second wife did not have my mother’s grace, honesty and compassion. I have never been in her presence or on the phone with her when she did not slander and lie about Wanda. For a few examples, she would say that it was Wanda who was in an adulterous relationship in Japan, not she and Bob in Korea, or that she and Bob did not even meet until they were back Stateside — both total lies. More amusing to me was defending their decision not to pay child support, because they, with two military salaries and Army subsidies just couldn’t afford support, with no consideration of a single mom with two kids, or even the court orders.

The gist of that is that I won the Mom Game.

I grew up moving every few years as Wanda took jobs in challenged Red Cross chapters to support us. Invariably, I meet other kids, particularly boys, who were being raised by divorced moms. Just as invariably, nearly every one of those sons heard constantly what cads men were (what kind of insulting message is that for a future man?). Meanwhile, Wanda never defamed her ex.

As I grew, I came to realize Wanda differed from many mothers and fathers. A defining trait was her rationality. Key was her posture that if my sister and I had better reasons for courses of action, we’d win. That was both a burden to us, but great freedom. She expected and demanded that we live rationally. As a result, many friends over the years said they so wished their parents were like Wanda. Their parents were arbitrary, often violent to them (abusers call that discipline), and as often alcohol infused. She neither hit us nor was ever drunk in my childhood.

I now recall so many motherly things she did for me, some of which I did not know about until many years later. For one, in eighth grade, she got a call from the principal asking for a conference with all of my teachers. The Red Cross chapter building adjoined the school’s athletic fields and she knew the principal from running first-aid, home-nursing and water-safety programs. She walked into an ambush of irate educators.

The core of it was that I asked questions in several classes that were not in the courses or assigned text books. We had many reference books, including three sets of encyclopedia, at home. From second grade, when I asked a question, Wanda would invariably reply, “Look it up.” I did and we’d discuss it.  I knew a lot and rather expected my teachers to have such curiosity.

As Wanda told me years later when she revealed the meeting during my college years, she was amused, not angry, at the teachers. She said she asked them whether the problem was that I asked them questions they could not answer. She said they replied, “Yes,” with the anticipation that she’d realize I was out of bounds. She said she replied, “Well, then don’t you think you’d better find out the answers and be ready for the next time someone asks?” That apparently was the end of the meeting and their chance to shame her.

I won the Mom Game and I didn’t even know I was playing.

Here’s an ethereal but sincere Happy Mother’s Day, Wanda.

 

Babies and veggies

March 31st, 2014

Come blizzards. Come scorchers. Boston’s Haymarket vendors sell vegetables, fruits, herbs and fish.

For our part, the tradition continued this weekend. I had visited during college days when I was living across the river in Cambridge, but only every month or so. It was 34 years ago when we moved to Boston with our six-month-old son that I went weekly…and still do. Back then, Aaron was in a Snugli carrier I had embroidered with his name and I walked from Beacon Hill.

34years

This Saturday, a considerably larger Aaron, well beyond carrier size, wore his own six-month-old son there. Continuity, generations and yes, traditions come into play.

Among obvious differences were that we drove in from the Hyde Park neighborhood, that Aaron and Alasdair are visiting from California and won’t be regular visitors there, and that the carrier is the new version, an Ergobaby. Still, the symmetry ruled.

As Alasdair does, baby Aaron really enjoyed being toted, face to face, chest to chest. I always liked doing it as well. The only (minor) shock to me this time was that both Aaron and I wanted to carry the baby. I deferred, in part because he is the father and in part for the elegance of dad with his son in the sling.

In the middle of the longest strip of vendor stalls was Pat (in the pic below from last year) with his huge stall, two or three times the average. There are vendors who specialize in only brown or green produce, some who favor greens and herbs, some who go for salad and cooking greens (and reds), and a couple with mostly citrus. Pat’s stall always includes various potatoes, a range of citrus (including the absolute best lemons in the market), and various other veggies and fruits. You generally can get a full trip’s worth from him.

balmy

He has known for calling every customer, “Cousin” or “Cuz.” He was long twinned in my memory with his father, a short, thin, ever-smiling gentleman. His father deflected the impatient, pushy and rude customers with a kind word and gracious attitude. He was a delight. He died not long ago, but I half expect to see him beside Pat.

Saturday when the three of us appeared, we chatted up Pat for a couple of minutes. I mentioned that 34 years ago, I brought my six-month-old baby to the Haymarket and bought veggies and fruit from him and his father. That day, my son was wearing his own six-month-old to do the same. Pat was appropriately impressed and reminiscent.

He said, “34 years,” several times. He even reckoned that he might have a vague memory of me with baby Aaron from back then, when he’d have been in his teen or early 20s. It’s not all that relevant whether he does nor does not remember. It’s enough that the connection is real and continuing.

Fractured Methodist Tales

March 11th, 2014

Nearly 34 years ago, I sat in an unpadded pew of the Old West (Methodist) Church in Boston on the Sunday when my firstborn was to be Christened. Subsequently, my later two sons were named instead at the Arlington Street Unitarian Universalist Church, which had horse-hair stuffed cushions. That day though, I had brought my wife and son to the prearranged ceremony at the denomination of my childhood, youth and young adulthood.

umc_crossflameThat day actually was the end of that religious association. I opened the hymnal to the Apostle’s Creed. I didn’t have to read it. I had memorized it long ago and the phrases have become seminal. That version differs slightly from that of many other churches, in that it leaves out mention of Jesus descending into Hell at death. Otherwise, it has the heavy baggage of doctrine and even bureaucracy that produced its carefully crafted message.

I sat there with my baby in the crook of one arm, looking at the page. I realized that I didn’t believe it, any of it — no Father Almighty, no virgin birth, no bodily resurrection after three days moldering, no judgment of the quick and the dead, no universal (lower c catholic) church, no saints, no forgiveness of sins, no resurrection, and no everlasting life.

Done, done and done. You have had your Methodism and you aren’t compatible.

The last I had felt any sort of communion with Methodism was before it went sour during the Vietnam war era. I did hang around the Methodist youth center building sometimes at the University of South Carolina. I could delude myself by subscribing to the excellent Motive Magazine. It was anti-war and pro-integration among other virtues (and had great poetry). It was in the mold of 18th Century Methodism founder John Wesley, a strong prison reformer and abolitionist in England and the Colonies.

Quickly though, the bishops (its governance was not by elders as the Presbyterians but Episcopal [by bishops] from its roots in Wesley’s Anglican communion) tromped on Motive. They had no patience with pinko, pacifist junk. They turned off a generation of thinking, feeling members.

That was not new to them. They had driven away what became the African Methodist Episcopal and African Methodist Episcopal Zion Churches’ members. In the early 19th Century in Philadelphia and New York City, the racist and exclusionary practices made it plain to black members they were inferior as far as clergy and church pols were concerned.

Today with mixed feelings, I read in the NY Times of a Methodist bishop dropping the persecution and prosecution of a minister. His alleged violation of church doctrine was to perform the same-sex marriage of his son.

With my strong stance here and elsewhere in favor of marriage equality, I had long been disgusted by the United Methodist Church’s regression into anti-gay dogma and rulings. That they were defrocking their clergy who dared perform same-sex ceremonies was pathetic if not a surprise.

A year and one-half ago, at 80, the Rev. Thomas Ogletree performed the ceremony. He said, “I actually wasn’t thinking of this as an act of civil disobedience or church disobedience. I was thinking of it as a response to my son.”

I relate. I have performed five wedding ceremonies, one for my eldest son. That was to a woman, but two of mine have been same-sex couples. There is nothing more moving than performing the marriage for your child. Three of my ceremonies were of long-term friends and very powerful, but your own child?

The NYT piece linked above concludes that the decision in this case is far-reaching. It includes:

Bishop Martin D. McLee “who oversees about 460 churches in lower New York State and Connecticut, agreed to drop all charges against Dr. Ogletree; in exchange, he asked only that Dr. Ogletree participate in a dialogue about the church and its stance on matters of sexuality. Promoting dialogue, the bishop said, could be a model for other United Methodist bishops to follow.

“While many insist on the trial procedure for many reasons, I offer that trials are not the way forward,” Bishop McLee said in a statement attached to the resolution of Dr. Ogletree’s case. “Church trials result in harmful polarization and continue the harm brought upon our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

That level of compassion and rationality is what I expect in UU churches and what I grew up with what was then my Methodist church.

I do hope that the United Methodist Church takes advantage of this offering from Bishop McLee. It has been divided on homosexuality long before being faced with dealing with marriage equality. Its bishops too are old now, at the moment when the nation has some to see same-sex marriage as the present as well as the future. Methodists in general have not been leaders here, but perhaps they won’t be the last to get there.

Maple Sugar Day Sights

March 8th, 2014

Vapors were the order of the at the Maple Sugar Festival today (repeat tomorrow, Sunday, March 9th, 10AM-4PM). Many maples on the DCR’s Brookwood Farm had taps drawing sap. Stops on the trail included one with Native American forms of syrup making —keeping a strong fire going and plunging hot rocks into wooden bowl of sap to do the deed. (Insert big hiss.)

Down the dirt road was the colonial take — with the benefit of metal pots, they hung these over fires and evaporated the sap into syrup and sugar.

Further down was a small evaporator unit in the modern style. Its big sibling at the end of the path was a sugarhouse, with a massive evaporator unit. The evaporators spewed steam as they did their work.

Also along the way was a blacksmith, Michael Bergman. He showed his skills and pitched classes in Waltham at the Prospect Hill Forge.  He worked with an anvil, of course, and instead of a massive heath and forge, he worked off what appeared to be a round Weber grill.  It used coal to generate enough heat to turn the steel rods red hot, and along the way smoke up the place.

Pix clix: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If it opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button or command to return.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

The smith with his hand-cranked fan stoking the coal. bhsmith5
bhsmith3 The red-hot steel bar twisted quickly in a vise.
The colonial version of reducing sap to sugar used metal pots over fires. sappot
sugarhouse1 The sugarhouse is full of steam, sweet-smelling steam, as the big evaporator cooks down the sap. Your reward for walking the history trail was a little cup of fresh syrup.
Count our toes. The 300-year-old barn on the site is under rehab. The crew uses only tools available at the time. To create a beam, the team strips the bark and shapes a log into the right proportions. counttoes
bhspileguy More period drama with tool restrictions occurred at the colonial sugaring area. Here a reenactor makes a spile (a tap for a maple). He hollows a piece of wood into a tube. He then inserts this into a drilled hole in the maple to draw off the sap into an attached bucket.
It had nothing to do with sap or syrup, but Mass Audubon worked with the DCR on the event and showed up with several birds. An impressive one was a red-shouldered hawk.She survived a raccoon attack on her fledgling nest that killed all her siblings. She’s growing back the flight feathers the raccoon bit off her. She doesn’t get a name because they don’t want to treat her as or make her a pet. redshlulder4

screech2
There was also a screech owl.
Another of the hawk…just because… redshlulder2

icetongs
The barn has period relics too. Several ice tongs were on shelves, remnants of when colonists cut blocks of ice from ponds, like nearby Houghton’s, and stored them under straw in cellars for use many months later.

 

 

Mummifying Christmas packages

December 23rd, 2013

Among changes and missing items now our parents are dead are:

  • The sacred cookie rites moved from my mother to my sister
  • We no longer get packages encapsulated, neigh smothered, in tape

2cookies

My mother made superb Scottish shortbread and remarkable bourbon balls. Until her end, she would send us tins of each. The cookie baton immediately passed to my sister. She’s even been tweaking the bourbon ball’s recipe (like Wild Turkey 101 this year) and seems to have improved on it.

For the other, what the devil cultural phenomenon made the WWII generation tape wacky? Many boomers say their parents did the same. Packages large or small, no matter how sturdy the box, no matter who handled the shipment were smothered in tape, sometimes several varieties of clear and opaque, formal packing tape, duct tape, Scotch tape, masking tape…

Oddly their parents did not do this. We don’t do it. Our kids don’t. This fetish is like a secret handshake of what’s let’s call in this instance the Goofiest Generation.

When parcels arrived from any of our parents, we knew to get out the knives. I tended to use my big French chef’s knife. I knew that the carbon steel blade I kept sharp could puncture and cut open the worst they had done. It was precise enough not to slice into presents captured inside.

When I would ask my mother about the tape extravaganza, she’d say she just wanted to make sure everything got there, as though the box might disintegrate in the  delivery truck.That our more relaxed packages arrived whole made no impression on this otherwise extremely rational person.

It was a small, amusing foible, made more remarkable by its widespread, generation-specific nature. I don’t miss it.