I have never been more proud nor outspoken about being the granddaughter of immigrants than I am in these days. My parents were first-generation children of immigrants and proud of their parents and their background and that is the way I was raised. Both grandfathers came to this country extremely poor — my Norwegian grandfather and his parents came because of an older brother who worked to raise money to support their coming and who said, “There must be some place where a man does not have to work like an animal to survive.” He was no different than the hundreds of immigrants who have come to make a place for those who will follow. He saw America as a safe place for his parents and little brother. My Swedish grandfather lost his father when he was nine years old. There was a small business but that was for an older brother, so his sisters who had come earlier to this country sponsored him so he could come. Both men were intelligent and well-spoken and not afraid to express their opinions in any forum. One would quote Teddy Roosevelt who said, “Show me a man who is proud of his fatherland and I will show you a good American.” The other told a group of immigrants at a gathering, “We speak English now. We are Americans.” They were proud of being Americans, but they were intensely proud of their heritage as well and never made apologies for their broken English. One was a Republican who was a Progressive and a moderate, the other was more Socialist than anything else. I was raised to be first an American, but secondly to never forget where I came from and that this is a country of immigrants and I was a product of their courage.
Tonight was the State of the Union address and one speaker in commenting about the remarks that had been made quoted the motto of the United States, “out of many one.” It was established by Congress in 1782 talking about thirteen colonies becoming one nation, but like many such ideas, it has grown to mean even more than it once did. Like many families in America today, my family represents the world — with cousins and their children and grandchildren, with marriages we now are a veritable United Nations, representing not only Norway and Sweden, but England, Germany, Australia, Mexico, Iran, Canada, the Ukraine, Hungary, Ireland, and others. And we are not alone. Most families in this country find themselves part of every creed and color. But first and foremost we are Americans.
Because of what my grandparents experienced: poverty, hard work, discrimination, depression, war, drought I honor them and their sacrifices and then offer that same life to those who have come after. Make no mistake, no one who makes the choice to come to America has had it easy. Just getting here is life-threatening most often. Every immigrant steps on to our shores with fear — black, Latino, Middle Eastern, Central American, East Indian, Asian, European. Every person has had to work hard and scrimp and save just to get here. For many that trip was frightening and loss of life was a real possibility. I think of stories of those fleeing Europe after World War II and the encroaching tyranny of communism, the Jews fleeing Nazi Germany and other persecutions. Chinese trying to get out of Communist China and those from Central America fleeing the military dictatorships; boat people of Vietnam. Those from Cuba who fled after the revolution, the Rhohingya today, the Africans crossing the Mediterranean and the Syrians fleeing Turkey and trying to reach Europe.
Life for my grandfathers was easier because they came from a western European nation, but I truly believe they would have been the last ones to deny anyone else from making that same passage and trying to make a better life for themselves.
There is no one in this country who can escape the heritage of the immigrant. After some work on my ancestry I am wondering if the Irish in my background could have been indentured servants. The Irish were the poorest of the poor in those times and in the 1800s, at the time of the Irish potato famine they were banned and faced fierce discrimination, but they were tough and they survived and today most of us have a touch of Irish somewhere in our background and we are proud of it.
Thomas Donne, the English poet wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a part of the continent, a piece of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea Europe is the less. . .” No one has the right to tell someone they are not welcome in this country. America is not something we possess. America is a gift, an idea, where freedom and equal opportunity are to be shared. Where every color and creed and language is welcome. It is who we are — out of many, one.
I am part of a group studying a book called the faces of Jesus. At the very beginning the author talks about being able to look directly into the eyes of Jesus. Think about it for a minute. Remember when you were a kid and if you thought someone was lying to you, you would say, “Straight in the eye!” The understanding being you had to tell the truth when you were eyeball to eyeball. You look at people every day when you do business or have a casual conversation. Now imagine you are looking into the eyes of Jesus. Really looking deeply. What would you see — joy, a recognition of a fellow believer; would you see anger or pity; or perhaps a deep, deep sorrow at what we have allowed ourselves to become.
The Epiphany season is a time of shining the light of truth on this man, Jesus. Studying the scriptures and praying to know who he really is — true man and true God. But the light of truth swings over to us as well. There must be a personal revelation and as we stand fully exposed in this truth, we also must answer the questions of who are we in the light of the glory and grace of God, embodied in our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
While other folks have gone or are heading south for the winter, we are enjoying a glorious January day. Temp reads 34 degrees. My neighbor is out working on his car. I spent time filling the bird feeder and just doing a few odds and ends outside enjoying the sun and blue sky.
We have had some cold-cold weather since Christmas. Today it may be a plus 34, but just a couple of weeks ago it was a -34 degrees. I know because that day I was out clearing the eight inches of snow we got. Dad's voice was running in my head, "Avis, this is really dumb!" That spate of cold weather some of my equipment started heating up. There are now a couple of cords and my small snowblower sitting inside my back door. With no heated garage I had to do something to keep them warm! I used them again a week later and they performed to perfection.
Then, of course, we start with the melting. Anytime we get warmer weather the snow starts to melt and we get ice!! It also rained just a little one day -- enough to make it a real test of valor when you went outside to walk.
I guess what I am doing is giving you a full taste of Montana weather -- if you don't like what you are getting -- just wait ten minutes and it will change!! I actually saw a lady out today walking around her house looking at her flower beds! If she has planted crocus, the minute things warm up just a little, they make their appearance. Late last fall I got the bug to plant some more iris, glads, crocus, tulips and daffodils. I am anxious to see how many of them make it come spring. Everything did beautifully last year in spite of our drought. If I get a good crop I will share pictures with you.
After Christmas I brought three poinsettias home from the church. I can't bear to see any plant thrown out if there is hope of life. Consequently I am moving things around trying to find places for the poinsettias along with my summer dried strawberry hydrangeas in vases, my succulents and an ivy. There is also a bamboo stalk, two actually, which are doing pretty well. I think I need to donate some somewhere. Any takers out there??
(Funny the things you get to thinking about. . .")
If I speak about the culture of the clothesline, most every woman reading this will know what I am referring to. Even if there is no clothesline in your backyard these days, somewhere in your DNA, there were mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, along with assorted aunts and older cousins who referred you to clotheslines and their iconic place in the culture of women.
Now, I know today there is a real struggle going on for women of all ages to be seen as something more than a “household drudge”, a “live-in housemaid” and that is okay and I certainly don’t want to contribute to that image. But that being said, there was something very satisfying about a Monday wash day with clean clothes flapping in the breeze. It spoke of a job well-done and when you brought them in to be folded and/or ironed, the fresh smell from the outdoors was something no Febreeze spray can replicate and no bleach bottle can whiten t-shirts like a few hours in the sun.
In 1889, at thirteen years of age, after my grandmother was confirmed, her father told her she now had to earn her own living, ‘make her own way’. So she went to La Crosse, Wisconsin, and there was a house maid for a number of years. Her four daughters later heard the stories of how all the maids in the big houses hurried on wash day to see who could get their clothes out on the line first . Now you couldn’t just hang the clothes any old way. No, there was a system and I learned the system from my mother who had learned it from her mother. The clothes were always separated by color because then the dyes were always unstable and you didn’t want pink underwear which was the result of washing white clothing with a red towel or shirt. When my mother was learning “the system” you heated water on the cook stove to boiling and then scrubbed clothes on a wash board. By the time I came along, mom had a washing machine on the back porch that was pulled into the kitchen. It was filled by connecting a hose from the faucet to the machine. As the clothes were finished they were run through a wringer (better than ringing them with your hands as mom had to do in the early days), you gave them a good shake, dropped them in the basket, took the clothes pins and headed out to the line.
Once you got to the line you hung the underwear a particular way, the shirts went upside down buy the side seams, sleeves pulled out on the right side, pillow cases, towels, and other items were often hung up sharing a clothespin with the item next to it. Sheets were folded in half lengthwise and pinned to the line. You could tell the history of the neighbor’s week by the clothing on the line — was someone sick, did you have company? The week was there. Mrs. Smith must be doing her Spring or Fall housecleaning when you saw her rugs and bedspreads and winter clothes airing on the line to get rid of the musty smell in the fresh air.
Following the drying began another process — getting the clothes ready to be ironed and that was a lesson girls were taught and later young men as well. You don’t just plop the iron down, you be sure of the temperature of the iron so you didn’t scorch the material, and then there was a system to ironing as well. My mother and her mother used irons which were heavy (now you see them as doorstops, sometimes) and heated on the coal or wood stove, but that is another story, including the pop bottle with the sprinkler on top or women who just flicked water onto the clothing before ironing. And you ironed shirts a certain way, pillow cases, etc.
But, getting back to the clothes line. My aunts who lived in the country had a perpetual wind to dry their clothes. At one ranch, the clothesline was up on a little rise above the house. The sheets and pillowcases and towels flapped wildly in the wind and dried in record time. Bringing them in they were rough to the touch, but when you crawled into bed at night with clean, sun-dried sheets nothing smelled better!
Mothers worked very hard to see their family’s clothes were clean and pressed. She took pride in a well-turned out family. The clothes might have had patches or been hand-me-downs, but there was no excuse not to be clean. The old expression “cleanliness is next to godliness” came out of that same culture. We still live in that culture to some degree. In most homes the washing machines run constantly. The ease of throwing in a load in the machine and then the dryer is taken for granted. With no-press fabric and clothes that hold their dye washing is easier. But I still will say, the clothesline is a lost treasure and I wish I had mine back.
What an end to what started out to be a pretty good day -- cold, but blue sky and sunshine and we'll take every day like that. I spent a couple of hours removing snow, but it was o.k.
Then -- I listened to the news and I shouldn't have done that. I heard about the president's latest racist comments on Haiti, Nigeria and other African countries. And he included the country of Norway in his remarks as a place where he wants immigrants to come from. But certainly not Haiti where everyone has AIDS and Nigeria where people only live in "huts". It passes the bounds of common sense! We are a nation of immigrants. We all came from someplace else and the point was that America has been a place where life had to be better. People could begin again.
The great mix we have in this country has been our saving grace. All of us are becoming more and more of a hybrid and it is a wonder to behold. His racist statements are painful to hear. I never thought I would hear a President who is supposed to bring us together make a statement like that.
He refuses to apologize and says his policies are for the betterment of the country. Africa is the new powerhouse of the world economically and politically and we ignore it to our peril. His lack of understanding of history and our changing world is unbelievable.
What a sad day for our country!
When you know the story of Narcissa Whitman, the new bronze statue which stands in the local Our Park takes on a greater significance. Given to the City of Glendive by artist and sculptor, Pamela Harr, the life-sized statue has the power to make the passer-by stop and take another look. Doing just a little research on Narcissa, her life and times speak powerfully to people and genders of all ages. Born in early America in 1808, she was the third of nine children. Helping her mother tend to her younger siblings, Narcissa did find time to attend a female academy where she received training as a school teacher. Both she and her later husband Marcus Whitman, were strongly influenced by the Great Awakening, a highly spiritual religious fervor that covered much of New England and the Atlantic states. At an early age she wanted to become a missionary and in time wrote to the American Missionary Board to see if a single woman would be allowed to travel to the mission field, in this case India or the American West. It was around this time in 1834-36 she met and married Marcus Whitman and agreed to journey with him to the far reaches of the Oregon Territory near Walla Walla, Washington.
In being accepted for this work, Narcissa along with another woman, became the first white women to cross the Rocky Mountains. The trip took eleven months, covering what today would be five states. She never saw her home nor her family again, but she kept detailed diaries and wrote many letters which described her everyday life. The Walla Walla Mission, near a Hudson’s Bay Fur trading fort, became an important post on the Oregon Trail and the odyssey of the Whitman’s proved that wagons could navigate South Pass in Wyoming which took the pioneers across the Rockies on the Oregon Trail. Later, in a misunderstanding with the natives in the area, at the time of a measles’ epidemic, Narcissa, Marcus and eleven others at the mission were killed in 1847.
Alice Clarissa was the first American child born west of the Rocky Mountains and the Whitmans only natural child. She was only two years old when she drowned in the Walla Walla River. After her death, Narcissa fell into a deep depression which lasted for many months and only began to lift when she took on raising seven children from one family who had lost their parents. What we see in the statue is the moment Narcissa was handed the body of her little daughter. The anguish and terrible grief are evident.
Our statue evokes a particular period in our nation’s history — the pushing back of the frontier further and further west to the Pacific Coast and we see in one brief, horrific moment the cost of such bravery. In the life of a woman of great courage, faith, and personal strength, a moment has been mirrored in the lives of women for all generations, the death of a child.
But our statue has other dimensions. In our small, rural communities we stand together in times of great grief. We cry together, we rejoice together. Glendive has always been a caring community in times of crisis. The statue is also a reminder to never, ever minimize the grief one person feels at a time of tragedy. For Narcissa Whitman it took the arrival of seven parentless children to show her she still had purpose.
And, of course, she stands as a symbol of the pioneer spirit we value so highly in this country — a sense of adventure for men and women alike, knowing there will be hard times, but moving ahead because it just is what we do and certainly there is something better out there. Narcissa Whitman is a good example for our children to study. Her story is a slice of history that has faded to our loss. We all come from men and women of courage and spirit. If your great-grandparents were homesteaders or immigrants or people who just plain survived hard times, ask the questions and you will be proud of the people from whom you come and you will stand a little taller as a result.
My local paper was just delivered. It is Wednesday evening so the mid-week information is there. I also like the crossword puzzle. I do it in ink and see how far I get.
Happy New Year! I've taken down what is left of the Christmas decorations except for the big wreath I bought at Lowe's in Billings last fall. The red berries brighten up the dull days. I left the lights on until the battery runs out. That is the one thing about January that I don't like -- the dullness that seems to come after the bright lights of December.
I needed a new floor lamp so I went to a new local antique shop and bought one. There is much to like about it, even the fact it has a clock built in to the lamp! The clock used to be a wind device, but now it is battery operated. Not quite as sleek, but who is counting. I asked one of the retired men in the church to put a new cord on it for me and touch up a couple other things and he obliged. I really appreciate those who will help out an 'old lady'. Now I have some good light to do my knitting and reading.
Between Christmas and New Year's I started reading several books by Nicola Upson. Using Josephine Tey as her character she has written a series set in the 1930s. Tey was a noted author of mysteries -- one of the grande dames of mysteries. Her book The daughter of time is one I think is excellent. Upson creates that time period in London so well. That pre-war period is also picked up in Jacqueline Winspear's books with Maisie Dobbs as the main character. They evoke a time that we don't understand -- World War I had been devastating and England was hard hit. The Depression followed and the jobless and poverty were everywhere. Almost immediately the rise of Fascism followed and it was tough. These books talk about the lives of the women -- the classes in that society. I just find them fascinating and I learn a great deal of social and cultural history.
It has been devastatingly cold here over Christmas as I am sure you have read. One of the coldest days I was out trying to clear snow. None of my equipment was working as it should. I was warmly dressed, but I could hear Dad's voice in my head "dumb, dumb". I have cleared my back driveway three times and I am about ready to hang it up. The other day some of my machines started smoking when I plugged them in. They had frozen. So I brought them in the house to thaw out and hopefully they will be ready for the next go around. Temperatures for the next week go as high as 39 degrees and then start to drop off again to 12 degrees. I will keep my long underwear handy to pull on as needed.