Reflections on Independence Day


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When I was a child, we lived on a farm where it rains around 40 inches annually.  On the Fourth of July, Dad always shot off a few Roman candles, and we had small firecrackers and sparklers, nothing fancy, just fun.  Even then I knew about the Declaration of Independence, revered its message.  Still do.

Now I live where it is hot and dry.  The neighbor’s fireworks display rivaled those found in cities–beautiful but dangerous in brown grass country.  I wonder if they give any thought to the history, to why anyone celebrates this day.

For the first time in the decades of my life, I did not celebrate Independence Day.  Why?

Born decades ago, I originally went to college in Virginia where I experienced the shock of real segregation; I had not grown up where it was like that. I was horrified, lasted only one semester, then transferred.  Later I attended a college which shut down in protest over the Viet Nam War, I supported The Civil Rights Movement, I helped create one of the first intercollegiate groups to advocate for abused women, and with an ethnically diverse group I taught diversity classes for teachers.

Now in 2020, I feel that even with all that hard, determined work, progress has been too limited.  It is as if I have been transported back to 40 years ago.  People need to learn from the history most do not even know:

-Cotton Mather, the leading intellectual and Puritan minister in the colonial era, actually helped butcher King Phillip (Metacomet) like an animal.  What did he do to deserve this?  He tried to save his Native people.  Cotton Mather later writes about tearing Metacomet’s jaw from his skull.

-In 1676, when poor whites joined enslaved Africans to rebel for a better life and decent living conditions, fighting for justice against the wealthy planters, those rich planters realized they had to get poor whites to hate Blacks.  They took land owned by Blacks and gave it to poor white people and then paid them to hunt down and abuse, even kill, people of African descent.

-Later, the same Cotton Mather mentioned above, learned from his slave that in Africa, Africans had been taking pus from a smallpox infected person and inoculating others with it to prevent smallpox from spreading.  He refused to believe any African  could be so smart even though he inoculated himself and his family after learning this.  Later, he wrote this about his African slave who had told him the story that may have saved his life: “…brokenly and blunderingly and like Idiots they tell the Story.”

-Of course, we all know that the intellectual giant, Thomas Jefferson, held the deed to the woman who would later bear him numerous children while he proclaimed those famous words that all people are created equal.

The history of racial and ethnic hatred goes back to the inception of this country.  It continues to poison progress and hope.  It never seems to end.  I am tired of it.  Enough is enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Honor of My Father


The Nap

He lays on his back on the cold, hard, blue linoleum floor after

the midday dinner of homegrown roast beef, potatoes, wilted

lettuce salad, hot coffee, coconut topped cake.  His left arm

forms a right angle at the elbow as the back of his wrist rests

on his forehead, touching the slight curliness of his not quite

black hair.  His left leg stretched out straight, right one drawn

up, knee jutting out.  The sleeves of his worn, pale blue dress

shirt rolled up; his overalls show signs of wear and washing.

Every day after dinner he naps in the same spot in this same

position for exactly fifteen minutes before returning to the field.

 

My father.

 

Seventeen years after his death, one day as I napped, slowly

driving off, astonishment stuck.  There I lay exactly as my

father used to so many years ago, my left arm forming a right

angle, wrist on my forehead, left leg stretched out straight, right

one drawn up, knee jutting out.  I remember not just in heart

and mind.

 

The body always knows.

 

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Taken at the top of Mt. Evans in Colorado when I was a child.

 

 

September 1, on the Rim of Wonder


Sunrise

Dappled clouds

Owl hooting

Wren climbing

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Later, I graded papers and watched part of John McCain’s funeral, some of which almost brought me to tears.  I often disagreed with him but never did I question his passionate love of country, his courage, his willingness to buck the norm, to defy convention when he thought it was the right thing to do.  I think he and I shared certain values on which this country is based even if the country as a whole rarely lives up to them.  These include the conviction that all people are equal, that everyone deserves justice, and each person carries the right to find his or her own share of happiness without judgment and condemnation from others who may think differently.

Later, while working on the latest book I am writing, I found handwritten recipes written by my grandmother, my mother’s mother, Nellie Narcissus Duke (Kaiser),whose father came here from Switzerland as a child.  One, for dumplings, remains readable.  The other written in pencil on the front and back of thin paper is fragile.  It is for Strawberry Shortcake.  If Grandmother Duke ever made dumplings, I do not remember it.  Mother did–chicken and dumplings.  I wonder if she used this recipe.  I do remember conversations about the shortcake because Dad did not like strawberry shortcake even though he liked strawberries.  I took photos of these two recipes written decades ago in my grandmother’s handwriting.

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Black Raspberries


Mom filled the white bowl with black raspberries.

I pour Bossie’s white milk over them,

watched it form a pattern,

flowing around the raspberries–

a design in deep purple and white.

I thought it almost too beautiful to eat.

I was seven.

Now I rarely find black raspberries.  Red ones won’t do.  They lack intensity, the beauty.  Every year we went to Hunt’s Orchard north of Amazonia, Missouri, to buy black raspberries, took them home, sorted to discard the imperfect ones, then threw them way behind the garden next to the timber–huge trees, oak and hickory.  Eventually, these imperfections transformed into thriving black raspberry bushes.  We had our own patch, created from the discarded, the imperfect.

Mom fed us fresh raspberries for a few days.  The rest she used to create her famous pies, froze a freezer full.  Baked, they transformed a winter kitchen into the warmth and sweetness of my mother’s family devotion.

I bake pies, many kinds of pies.  I have never made a black raspberry pie.

 

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Note:  this will be published in an upcoming publication by the Story Circle Network.  In July my daughter, grandson, and I went to Hunt’s Orchard–yes, it still exists.  I asked about black raspberries.  We were too late; the season was over.  The timber behind the garden area was to the right in this photo.  The person who bought the land years later bulldozed down all the big trees.

Mom’s Pumpkin Pie


Mom made fantastic pies of all sorts so much so that when she took a pie to a potluck, people would rush to get a piece even before they acquired any other food.  The only pumpkin pie my grandson likes is Mom’s.  He seems to like the idea that he is eating something his great grandmother created.  Today, I taught him to make homemade pie crust and Mom’s pumpkin pie.  Here he is crimping the edges after rolling out the dough and placing it in the pie pan.

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We made two pumpkin and one pecan today.  Here is the recipe for Mom’s pumpkin pie.  He ground the cinnamon–pieces of bark from a friend’s mom’s tree in Ethiopia–using an old fashioned, wooden grinder.

1 1/2 cups cooked or canned pumpkin

1 1/2 cups milk and cream or evaporated milk  ( I use 1 can evaporated milk)

3 eggs

3/4 cup brown or white sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg ( I grated this fresh)

1/2 teaspoon ginger

Dump everything in a blender.  Place your hand on the lid before starting the motor.  Blend a few seconds, until smooth, and pour into pastry-lined pie shell.  Bake at 450 for ten minutes, then bake at 350 for 30 minutes longer or until firm in the center.

Placed with Mom’s original typed recipe is this note:  “Juliana, if you use half evaporated milk it gives a wonderful flavor and I like white sugar best.” I use white sugar.

The finished product looks like this.

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This recipe makes a lot of filling so if you do not have a large pie pan, you will need to bake some of the filling in another pan.  Since we made two today, we baked the left over without a crust in another oven proof dish–pumpkin pudding.

Sunday Poem–“Hair”


No females in my family had long hair.

Dad did not like it,

said it showed male domination

over women.

Once when grown and gone

from home, I began to grow mine

out, experiment.

When he saw it, he told me

he thought it unbecoming.

I cut it.

Mom said she had long hair

when she was young.

Her dad forbade her to cut it.

In her twenties she chopped her golden locks

off, flapper style, then hid her head

in a scarf, afraid.

 

Note:  This poem is from the family section of my book, “On the Rim of Wonder”.

 

 

 

 

Spring Break Adventure-1


Yesterday I left Canyon, Texas, headed for Alpine.  If you decide to drive south to the Big Bend area from the Panhandle, be prepared for a rather long and boring six hours of driving.

First, you pass at least an hour of looking at camel colored dry grass in all directions.  I had not realized the grass fires had reached south of Amarillo but in one area burned grass stretched across both sides of I-27 and on the medium in between.  I would not have wanted to be driving down the highway while this was on fire.

Close to Lubbock the cotton fields begin. With spring planting approaching, most of the fields were already cultivated ready to plant.  This “scenery”, except for driving through Lubbock, continues for at least another three hours.  About 1/2 to one hour before the Odessa/Midland area, you hit the really ugly.  Since I am one of those people who can find beauty just about anywhere, if I say it is ugly, most people would find it even worse.  Miles and miles of nothing but mesquite, brush, and oil rigs stretch endlessly in every direction.  Why would anyone want to live here?  Money, money, money.  Apparently, they expect to make even more soon because new drilling rigs popped up within sight of the road everywhere.  In the short distance where I cut off on a two lane highway to get from I-20 to I-10, I saw five new drilling rigs.  The scenery does improve a bit in this area because you can suddenly see the Davis Mountains looming large not too far away. It reminded me of my childhood when my family would head across eastern Colorado and how excited we became when we could see our destination, the Rockies, in the distance.

Once you drive two minutes or so on I-10 and then cut off south toward Fort Davis, the scenery becomes dramatic, something to really see and enjoy.  Although it is too early for the grass to have become very green, the cottonwood trees have leafed out and what a sight they are.  Huge is an understatement.  It would take the width of at least six of me to make one of these impressive trees.  Apparently, I was not the only one who viewed them as something special.  People were driving off the highway to stand by them.  One woman stared up into the newly green leaves, a look of wonder on her face.  I thought I was late to meet friends in Alpine so did not stop.  In the end we arrived at Alpine at the same time for our yearly get together–friends since college when we were roommates with her husband who went to college with us and another friend.

After a fabulous dinner at the old hotel here, we retired to our rooms to get ready for the real adventures of this week:  the Observatory-today’s goal, Marfa, Big Bend.  I really tried to sleep late, but alas I should have known better. Here I am writing away early in the morning.

 

 

 

Barbie Doll


This poem praises my mother.  It is page 17 of my memoir in poems, “On the Rim of Wonder”.  It seems appropriate to republish it here for Mother’s Day.

 

Barbara Lewis Duke, pretty, petite, blue-eyed, and blond, my mother,

one fearless, controlling woman.  Long after Mom’s death, Dad said,

“Barbara was afraid of absolutely no one and nothing.”  They married

late:  34 and 38.  He adored her unconditionally.  She filled my life

with horses, music, love, cornfields, hay rides, books, ambition.  Whatever

she felt she had missed, I was going to possess:  books, piano lessons, a

college education.  Her father, who died long before I was born, loved fancy,

fast horses.  So did she.  During my preschool, croupy years, she quieted my

hysterical night coughing with stories of run away horses pulling her

in a wagon.  With less than 100 pounds and lots of determination, she

stopped them, a tiny Barbie Doll flying across the Missouri River Bottom,

strong, willful, free.

Jesus and Easter


Yesterday, I learned several new aspects of the religious debates surrounding the teachings of Jesus, Christianity, Mormonism., and how Easter is viewed.  Mostly, it followed a discussion on a post about Jesus, Good Friday, and Christian politics.  Whether most modern Christians want to believe it, Jesus’ teachings were radical, revolutionary.  However, most modern Christians pay much more attention to the teachings of the misogynist Greek, Paul.  The debate centered on comments after this particular post about the politics of Christianity.

It centered on Mormon beliefs about Easter.  According to the comments, Mormons do not use crosses because they focus on the teachings of Jesus and his life.  They use these teachings and his life as a guide.  I thought to myself:  what a good idea.  If the whole world followed his teachings, the world would be a much better place full of peace, equality for all, not just the powerful few, tolerance, understanding–the list is long.

The contention of many of the so-called Christians commenting is that true Christianity focuses on the death of Jesus and his subsequent rising from the dead, that what matters is that he died for their sins, and rose on the third day, that Mormons are not Christians because they focus on his life.  Really??  Not only did I find this information new–and perhaps this is what many Christians believe–but astonishing.  Although my family celebrated Easter in a big way, I was always taught that Jesus’ teachings held the center of belief.

I will admit that although I grew up in a mainstream Protestant, Christian denomination, I no longer consider myself a Christian.  I firmly think (notice I did not use the word believe) the world would be a much better place if everyone followed the teachings of Jesus!!!!  Religion, as most practice it, is ruining the world.  Perhaps if everyone focused on Jesus’ teachings instead of arguing over who is right, we could attain some sort of mutual respect and peace.  As Jesus taught:

-respect one another

-love one another

-share

-treat others as you hope to be treated

May your day be filled with joy and peace!!!