Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Wall

For those who pay attention to the latest cause and effect of government policies, the proposed border wall is the topic of conversation. To some who live in border states on the border between Mexico and the United States, a wall would be an answer to a dream, that dream being the keeping out of illegal immigrants that flock to their communities needing food, shelter, medical care, and education for their children. Others who look at the cost of a wall that would stretch across the total border (an estimated $50 to 60 billion dollars in all) see it as a foolish exercise because a wall can so easily be breached by tunneling under it, climbing over it, or (in the instance of steel slats) cutting through it.

We have to ask ourselves what would be the goal of the wall. It is clear that it could keep some immigrants out. As far as controlling drug traffic, it would be ineffectual as most drugs come through legal ports of entry, by land, sea and even by air. Most of the fentanyl is being flown in by China, for example.

The president is portraying asylum seekers from Central America as murderous thugs, rapists, terrorists, and other lawbreakers. In reality, crime by illegal immigrants is statistically much, much lower than the general population. For the most part, the individuals coming to the border are arriving with their children and it is true than many of the women have been assaulted or raped on the perilous journey north, seeking the promise of a better life only to find no such "promise" in place.

Many on the left have said that the Statue of Liberty is "weeping" over current immigration policies such as the inhumane separation of children from their parents. In essence, the tent cities are making a lot of money for those who administer them. Word is that in some cases caretakers are abusing the small children in their charge. I am wondering if those caretakers even speak a modicum of Spanish? In two instances, sadly, two children have died of causes potentially linked to lack of water and nutrition and care when they suddenly got very sick.

The president says that he is all for immigration but the policies of his administration say something entirely different. He has also made the remark of not wanting immigrants from "sh*thole countries" and only wanting new citizens who are "smart" and can contribute to fields like technology. So, I guess he is for selective immigration or what he calls "merit" immigration.

This is all part of his "America First" policy, a thought that had its roots in the 1880s Republican party and led to isolationism which just about kept us out of World War I. Isolationism is based on fear of "the other." Some have called the president a "racist" because the people being targeted are non-Caucasians.

Whether one agrees with the president's thoughts or not, it is clear to me that a wall across the entire southern border is not a feasible answer. With steel slats that can easily be cut with tools from Home Depot, it does not seem like such a bright idea after all. And then, there is the question of eminent domain:  the usurpation of lands that are privately-owned along the border. Some people do not want to sell, at any cost, and have their land divided permanently by an obstructive wall.

There is a lot to think about. Immigration and "the Wall" are thorny subjects and both have now indirectly affected hundreds of thousands of federal workers who are not being paid during this government shutdown. The president has threatened to declare a National Emergency. The problem is that while there is a humanitarian crisis involving people, there is no real "emergency." If anything, immigration numbers are way down from even 10 years ago. This is a manufactured crisis!

I hope that the politicians can figure out what to do. Meanwhile, while all this is in limbo, many people are being hurt while the president tries to bully others just so he can complete his ill-founded campaign promise. The result is chaos and disruption to the lives of many. It is a sad day when people who are mandated to work without pay have to resort to getting their food from soup kitchens and charitable pantries. Let's hope this mayhem can be resolved soon. May God bless America!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Christmas Seasons of Yore

Christmas will be here again in less than two weeks. Holiday shoppers are scrambling about, gathering gifts to be presented on that special day. My mother often left shopping until the last minute. I recall her bringing me with her to downtown Manchester (NH) on Christmas Eve to buy last minute gifts, sometimes at great mark-down prices. She had to be economical as she had so many people to remember, including some of my aunts and uncles. One time she got so distracted, she laid down her wallet on top of some dry goods and forgot it there. Luckily, someone retrieved it and gave it to store management, so she did get it back!

At that time, downtown Manchester was a hub of shopping opportunities. There was Leavitt's, Pariseau's and Hills for fine clothing, Lemay Jewelers, and Pandora Mills for great sweaters and knit goods. There was also a high end hardware store that sold kitchen goods (crystal, china, etc.) of great quality. It was the era before the malls that have taken over in recent years but which now seem to be in decline. Elm Street (the main street in downtown Manchester) attracted busloads of shoppers!

I enjoyed the shared excitement of finding gifts for everyone on her list. On one occasion, we ran into one of my maiden aunts who was in a frenzy trying to do some of her last minute shopping, too.

At home we always had a fresh tree nicely decorated with tin ornaments and shiny balls, garlands, lights and lots of tinsel! My mother has a plastic set consisting of a white sleigh, a Santa figure, and reindeer, attached to each other by ribbon. She displayed that on the fireplace mantel. There was a stocking for each "kid" - four of us in all and I loved getting stocking gifts that would continue to amuse me all the day. I especially liked plastic puzzles that featured separate tiles that moved around would make a "picture" of a giraffe or something. I also remember a clown that had bendable arms and legs that could be re-positioned.

Of course, food was a big part of the celebration. Mother always made Stollen. Her father was an Austrian-American. I loved smelling that candied bread baking. She drizzled a glaze over it and topped it with candied cherries. The two large loaves would be doled out, a few pieces at a time. She always made fruitcake, macerating her fruit in rum from about Thanksgiving. Santa always was treated to a white layer cake with peach preserves between the layers, topped with white frosting and sprinkled with coconut.

When I look back, I marvel at all that my mother accomplished and all she did to make holidays special. The family attended Midnight Mass at the cathedral which always had many poinsettias and a large creche at the front of the church. The kids would be bleary-eyed, staying up so late, and also "wired" thinking of Santa who would arrive so soon. On Christmas day the first one down the stairs from the upstairs bedrooms was my brother, Jack. He always swore that he had heard the hooves of Santa's reindeer on the roof! How my parents were able to get all those gifts wrapped and under the tree "in time" is nothing short of a miracle!

"Patti" at Christmas in 1956 with "Jill" the doll and a tea cup set

It is fun to reminisce about Christmases from years past. I remember receiving many practical gifts like socks, new pajamas, a wool shirt or other clothing. We were a big family and my parents needed to be reasonable in their gift-giving. I had a god-father who spoiled me with fashion dolls that were too nice to play with. One was a "bride" and another was a society doll with a dress, wearing nylons, high heels, and a hat! But, I received other dolls, too, all of which I still have!

I can't reclaim the total magic that was Christmas in those days when I believed in Santa - those dreamy days of childhood that can never return. I try to re-create my mother's traditions of Stollen, Coconut cake, and cookies but not the fruitcake! I now have some of the ornaments that were on those Christmas trees of the 1950s, a time of awakening for me, spiritually and otherwise. I would love to hear about your family traditions, if you care to leave a comment! Merry Christmas to all who celebrate the holiday!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A Little Quilted Treasure

There is something enchanting about folk art themes! I found a mini-quilt to purchase at an antiques booth at a quilt show. The place where I bought it has long escaped my memory. I have had the little quilt tucked away in a drawer for a few years.

The main feature are two deer that are facing each other. Both are outlined by black quilting stitches that are very tiny. It is difficult to determine whether the background fabric is stenciled or printed, and/or if it is flannel, or is tea-dyed.

This mini-quilt measures 7 3/4" x 7 3/4" and is an example of folk art.
photo by James Cummings

A stone walk leads to a log cabin with a chimney and a very large star overhead. Two large fir trees that are outlined in green stitches are positioned on either side of the house. The border has tiny triangles that feature lines of tiny red stitches and there is a second border of triangles. In between the rows of triangles are tiny trees that are slanted this way and that. The back leg of each deer intrudes beyond the first triangle border.

The quilt is finished off with a gingham border that makes it look very "country" or like folk art. The back has two plastic curtain rings that are sewn on for hanging. All in all, this is a delightful little quilt! I am left wondering whether this is antique or just made to look like it. Nevertheless, I wish the quilter had signed the back so we could know who made it and give her credit!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Sarah Good hanged as a witch

Arrested and Hanged As a Salem Witch

One of Salem, Massachusetts' Witch Trials first victims in 1692 was Sarah Good, a woman of childbearing age who, indeed, was pregnant, at the time of her arrest on February 29, 1692. The baby was born in prison and died there. Accused of bewitching children, Sarah experienced a fate not ever envisioned, a fate even worse than losing her father John Sobert to suicide, a fate worse than the loss of her first husband Daniel Poole in 1686, or the inheritance of all of his debts, to pass on to her second husband, William Good.

Forced to beg alms, door to door, Sarah's physical countenance resembled that of someone twice her age. Her matted hair, and weathered face, and the curses under her tongue to those who did not help her, perhaps frightened townspeople. When the accusation of “witch” was uttered, it fulfilled the thoughts already on the minds of the churchgoers and wealthy of her community. It is always easy for society to persecute those who are “different,” or do not conform to the expected norm.

On June 29, 1692 Sarah was convicted of witchcraft and she was hanged on July 19. At the last moment, Reverend Noyes urged her to admit to being a witch and ask forgiveness, but she refused. Instead, she proclaimed, “I am no more a witch than you are a wizard. If you take my life away, God will give you blood to drink.” Years later, when the judge died of a hemorrhage that resulted in blood in his mouth, Salem residents remembered Sarah's statement.

A descendant of Judge Hathorne, novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), included a similar scene involving the death of Judge Pycheon in his fictional work, The House of the Seven Gables.

Ellen Webster visited the Corwin House (in the 1930s?) where Grace Atkinson rented upstairs rooms to sell antiques. Atkinson died in 1943. The following year, the city of Salem, MA bought the house. In 1944, it was opened as a museum. Ellen copied an appliqu├ęd block from a quilt. She wrote the following statement on a quilt “chart.”

Quilt found on a bed in the “Old Witch House,” Salem, Mass. when the first hearing was held for the trial of witches. The “witch” was Sarah Good, and the house was Jonathan Corwins', corner of Essex and North Streets. J. Corwin was magistrate.

Quilt inspired by Ellen E. Webster's quilt chart and made by Patricia Cummings

Neither the quilt pattern, nor the fabrics used to re-create this block, are believable entities for a quilt made in 1692 (17th century). At that time, wool or linsey-woolsey wholecloth quilts were popular, their fibers dyed with Indigo and other natural plant dyes often from local New England plant species. Turquoise calico is more typical of the 1930s and fits the pastel color palette of that era.

Quilt made by Patricia Cummings, Concord, NH, in May 2010, to display in talks about Ellen Webster, the subject of her 355 page book, published in 2008.

Friday, October 12, 2018

"America First" slogan

While collecting Sweetheart & Mother Pillows for my book of the same name, I came across one that features WWI soldiers charging in battle and the pillow cover has the words, "America First." I was a bit puzzled by this and wondered about the origins of the slogan. I found my answers this week in a brief review of the book, Who Put America First, by Sarah Churchwell, as published in Smithsonian Magazine.

World War I pillow cover as seen in the book, Sweetheart & Mother
by Patricia Cummings

Churchwell traces the reference back further than Charles Lindbergh's use in the 1940s. She found that the Republicans first used it as a slogan in the 1880s. Then, in 1915, Woodrow Wilson mentioned the phrase while suggesting neutrality in World War I. Churchwell states that the words were then taken over by isolationists and later became a slogan of the Ku Klux Klan, whom, she says, tried to say they copyrighted it (not true).

Today, "America First" is a prominent slogan of President Donald J. Trump. It now seems to be a rallying call for nativist tendencies, decreased immigration practices, and going it alone in the world by imposing severe tariffs on other countries (sometimes at the expense of our own).

I am so thankful to Sarah Churchwell for clearing up the puzzle and to Smithsonian Magazine for excerpting that part of her book.