Universal Translator

Showing posts with label Southern women. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Southern women. Show all posts

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Mrs. Cameron's Rules

Many people have that one teacher who made a lasting impact on them. For me, it was my seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Cameron. She died last week at age 88. I’ll always remember two things she taught me. When I first heard them, they were revolutionary and they forever changed me. They were: 1) Until you have tried something (or experienced or read, etc), you can’t criticize something or say you don’t like it. On this, opera was her go-to example. She mentioned opera and everyone in the class would groan or mutter how they hated it; she then asked how many had actually listened to opera, nobody answered. We then listened to and analyzed Bizet’s Carmen. She was adamant that if you made the statement “I don’t like [blank]", you had better have an explanation as to why you didn’t like it and had had a first-hand experience. “Just because” didn’t cut it with Mrs. Cameron. 2)You must read at least five books (or equivalent) in a subject in order to talk expertly about it. She stressed to her students that if you want to criticize something (like opera or anything), you needed to really understand it. You couldn’t read just one book, or listen to just one opera, then give an opinion. You had to read several books, or listen to several operas, before you could really discuss it properly with anyone – a valuable lesson in today’s Wikipedia world.
She opened the eyes and minds of many country kids - many of which would have never been exposed to the arts and humanities without her help. She always wanted you to rise higher, to realize your potential. She was a wonderful teacher. Thanks, Mrs. Cameron!

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Sypsamulga Snake-Charming Majorette

 My Aunt Emma was never a frilly, high-maintenance woman or extreme housewife. She worked hard and spent a lot of time outside. Unlike most women of her time, she’d rather be outside helping around the house or on the farm than shopping or going to the hairdresser. Her sisters would say that it started when she was little and played like a tomboy, dressed in a dirty pair of overalls and carrying an old stick to poke at frogs.
             She had no problem roaming around the countryside collecting bugs and frogs with the boys. She’d run and jump into the red clay gulleys, and build tree houses and forts. My grandmother was busy in the kitchen cooking and canning with the older girls and she could never get Emma into the house; she figured Emma would end up driving tractors and helping with the farm animals, so she just didn’t force the issue. Grandma figured that once a boy gave Emma a certain look, she’d be in the kitchen frying chicken and begging to learn to make an apple pie for him.
             As predicted, Emma, as she entered her teenage years, began to drive the tractor during planting season and haymaking season. She herself was in charge of the chickens and the two pigs destined to become pork chops and bacon. (She was never squeamish about wringing the neck of a chicken for Sunday dinner.) When it was time to pick cotton, she was the first down the row with her sack, picking bolls and humming a tune. One day someone asked her why she always hummed, she told them that it scared off the snakes –no one argued with her and everybody started to hum themselves.
             Emma, over the years, had become somewhat of a snake charmer. She had no problem catching snakes with her bare hands. She’d put a hoe or stick onto its head and grab it. It sent chills down my grandmother’s spine to see Emma holding a big fat chicken snake, its body wrapped around Emma’s arm. Emma would just laugh her big boisterous laugh, then walk out to the woods and free it. Granddaddy hated when she’d let a snake go rather than killing it, but Emma explained that chicken snakes killed rats and mice – from then on, he made her put the snakes in the corn crib.
Emma had no problem with rattlesnakes either. One day, grandma caught her putting lard into a cook-pot, which was set up over a fire. On a nearby table, there set bowls of cornmeal and buttermilk beside a mounded plate of what looked like chicken. Emma told her mother she was making supper, and went about breading the pieces of meat. My grandmother grabbed the edge of the table when the blood rushed from her brain, causing her to almost faint on the hard red clay and gravel. She couldn't believe Emma was making fried chicken.
“Who told you how to fry? I am just amazed at my little girl.”
“Molly done told me what to do,” said Emma, giving the melting lard a stir. She walked to the table and began to salt and pepper the meat.
“Lord, I never expected to see you out here frying some chicken,” said my grandmother, pulling out a handkerchief to dab her forehead.
“Oh, Mama, it ain’t chicken. I caught a big ol’ rattler down in the slough and done skinned it,” replied Emma. She held up one of the sections of rattlesnake meat. “It does look like a chicken thigh, don’t it?”
Emma picked her mother up out of the dirt. “If’n I tan the hide, would you help me make a hatband from it?” She pointed at a mess of rattlesnake skin handing from a low branch. My grandmother figured that as long as Emma was cooking and wanting to sew something, it was a battle won.
Emma went for years without any desire to do anything requiring her to spend her day inside or doing something considered "girly", so it was a shock and a surprise when Emma tried out for majorette in high school…and actually got it. She, for years, had been twirling sticks and such on her way between the barn and the field and back home. She had gotten pretty good. When she saw the majorettes practicing one day near the gymnasium, she figured she could do it just as well as they could. So she showed up at tryouts with her twirling stick and gave them a show. Some of the other girls giggled at this lanky girl in overalls twirling a piece of wood, but the judges were impressed when Emma threw the stick high into the air and then caught it without missing a beat. The giggles went silent, and Emma was on the squad.
The hardest thing for Emma was adjusting to the majorette outfit. She thought it looked like some spangled, bejeweled swimsuit and was flat-out too girly for her tastes. She liked the boots, except for the big tassels. It was a different time than nowadays, so the uniforms the majorettes wore were a bit heavier and theatrical and included little marching band hats with little visors and feathers. Emma wasn’t too happy with all the fuss, she just wanted her overalls and wooden stick, which itself was replaced with an official metal baton with white rubber on the ends. She persevered and learned the routine, eventually getting somewhat used to the uniform. She carried on as well as she could.
The band spent the summer practicing and marching in a few small parades. They would practice on the football field, but when the football players needed it they moved to a nearby practice field. The principal usually got old man Glenwood to use white paint to mark off the field marks after the practice field was mowed. Well, this year Mr. Glenwood had broken his leg in an accident and the chore went to his temporary replacement, Jimmy Townsend. Jimmy was not reliable nor was he smart, the field went unmowed and Mr. McGuire, the band teacher, had to mark the field as well as he could. The band eventually stomped down the grass and got into the rhythm of the routine. At one point, the majorettes had to go to the sidelines and do a mini-routine involving throwing their batons at each other and catching them. They then stuck a pose as the band played its big finale. Well, this time the majorettes walked to the edge of the practice field, which was bordered by a creek, and Miriam yelled. In front of her was curled a huge water moccasin, she had almost marched right onto it. She froze, one leg in the air mid-march. Emma ran over to her and told Miriam to remain still. Emma took off her hat (the majorettes wore them during practice to keep their smiling faces and heads up), and then walked around behind the poisonous snake. She quickly pushed the rubber ends of the metal baton onto the head of the snake, then reached down and grabbed it. The snake opened its mouth and bared its fangs, its body struggling to wrap around Emma’s arms; but Emma held it tight. Jimmy Townsend came down the hill from the school’s shop, wondering what in the world the commotion was. Emma grabbed her hat, and motioned for one of Loretta Snellgrove’s little cymbals. She set the snake expertly into the hat, covered it quickly with the cymbal, and walked up to Jimmy Townsend.
“Jimmy, you didn’t mow the grass,” she said sternly.
“I was about to get to that,” he answered her.
“Well, Jimmy, we had a little episode out here on the field.” She held up the hat covered with the cymbal, as Mr. McGuire walked up. Emma looked at the band teacher and Mr. McGuire nodded his head. “Take this, Jimmy,” she said, “And hold that cymbal tight against the hat.
Jimmy took the hat from her. “What in the devil is this?” he asked.
“That is a water moccasin that Miriam almost stepped on because you can’t keep this field mowed and taken care of,” Emma told him.
The color drained from Jimmy’s face and he started to shake a bit.
“Be careful not to open it in an enclosed space.”
Jimmy walked to the edge of the creek and threw the hat, cymbal, and snake into it. He then watched the snake swim on down the creek, followed by a half-submerged majorette hat. The cymbal was never seen again. Jimmy stormed off, cussing under his breath. But from then on, as long as he was there as the groundskeeper, the grass on the practice field was mowed almost to the dirt.

Emma never found her hat as it floated downstream, but it didn’t matter. She became head majorette and marched at the head of the band with the drum major, wearing a sparkling pair of white overalls and twirling her favorite wooden stick.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Heaven and Earth (the book)

“As proud Southerners, we don’t take kindly to being told by Yankees what we are doing wrong. It might be the wrongest of the wrong, but we prefer that you didn’t correct us. Don’t come down here and think you know what’s going on. Heck, even we don’t know what’s going on here half the time.” --from "The Squirrels of Sypsamulga"

A collection of mostly humorous short stories 
about the American South

[The wedding has started and two cows have died from being poisoned outside the church hall, which has been decorated for the wedding reception. Sam and Arliss have to figure out how to get rid of the dead cows. They decide to gut ‘em and cut ‘em to make them easier to remove, but a pocketknife is too small…]

      “It’s going to take forever to do this with a pocketknife, Arliss.”
      “Don’t Cousin Silas have one of them little chainsaws in his pick-up truck they use to cut branches off trees? I bet it’d slice right through that meat.”
      “He does but won’t a chainsaw, even a little one, be too noisy?”
Arliss thought for a second and said, “Well, I’m not that smart but I think that if the cow’s gutted and bled then we could pull him into the church hall to cut him up with it. I think that’d muffle the sound. They ain’t that noisy anyways. They’d never hear it with the doors shut way up there in the church sanctuary.”
      “Arliss, you’re brilliant. Now run go get that saw out of Silas’ truck!”
      Sam started to pull the gutted carcass up the steps of church hall. Arliss pulled up his pants and ran up the hill to the church parking lot. He rubbed his nose on his sleeve and smiled to himself because he was so brilliant.
---Excerpt from the story “Luther and Wynelle’s Wedding” from “Heaven and Earth”

Click here to purchase on Amazon
 (In the UK, click here.)

Click here to purchase at Barnes and Noble

Also available and Powells and other retailers.

ISBN: 9781500599027

Thursday, 29 May 2014

"Teach Yourself." (poem)

My maternal grandmother (we called her Nanny) was a smart lady without a complete formal education; she only went to the fourth grade in a very rural Alabama schoolhouse.  Besides the experiences that life gave her, she read books bought at second-hand shops to educate herself.  This included the set of encyclopedias that she read for enjoyment each evening (I do that too!).   She thought there was nothing limiting you from learning something new - the sky is the limit!

Mary sits in her chair.
She’s worked all day.
She stretches to the shelf,
Grabs an encyclopedia,
Begins to read.
A fourth-grade education,
Then the cotton fields.
A bakery worker
And then a housekeeper.
She smiles as she reads.
Her eye follows her finger,
Her finger leads the words.
The nation of Finland,
The lifecycle of a fly,
Flowers of the Amazon,
The French Revolution.
She stops to think.
She gives herself a gift,
No one can take it away.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

"Sour Cream Apple Cake"

       In the South, family transcends everything else – it is the structure of the South.  It is the foundation of everything. There is also the Southern trinity of religion, football and food – you can decide for yourself the order of things; but that trinity still comes second to family.  Families start churches. Food is ever-present at family get-togethers and reunions.  Families and familial football teams define communities.  Families spread over miles have a closer relationship than neighbors right next door (although may times in the South, your neighbors are your family). But indeed foundations can also break. 
Apple blossoms
       Family relationships in the South can die easily when it comes to one of its greatest poisons -- money.  Many fights over wills, or lack thereof, of a loved one have broken many a Southern family.  Greed and misunderstandings coupled with money or the vision of money are some of the greatest poisons within Southern families.  A family dynasty of a hundred years can be undone over the slightest with a drop of one of these poisons.  It doesn’t take much to facilitate the first bit to be dropped.  Something as even as simple as a valuable, prize-winning recipe can be the catalyst.

       The recipe for Sour Cream Apple Cake has never really been publicly known.  Guesses have been made for decades as to the ingredients and it continues to be the topic of many a gossip session.  Most people understand that whatever the recipe, the same basic ingredients are used.  Everyone knows there are apples and sour cream in it, as well as the usual cake ingredients like flour and sugar.  However, every year, many people still hear discussions and arguments on the specifics used. What kind of spices? What type of flour? Fresh apples or not? Some have heard less controversy over sections of the Holy Bible Itself than the recipe of Sour Cream Apple Cake.  But as long as the Edwards sisters live, they have vowed the original recipe would remain mysterious.  They eventually released “simple’ versions of the recipe during interviews, but the original “from-scratch” recipe remains a secret.
       Mattie Sue Edwards was the first person in Chester County to cook Sour Cream Apple Cake.  The tale Miss Mattie would tell was that the recipe for the cake came from her encounter with the cook of a famous Southern household in Georgia on a visit to a Piggly Wiggly.  The recipe had been written in barely legible handwriting on butcher paper, according to Miss Mattie, and was unceremoniously destroyed on one frosty Southern morning as she was trying to light the pilot light to bake the famous cake – how poetic!  She never wrote it down again.  Some say she didn’t want the recipe to fall into the wrong hands, as the cake went on to win countless awards and ribbons for Miss Mattie. As the years passed, she would repeat from memory the recipe to her granddaughters who themselves would also win countless baking competitions with the recipe.
       There has never been such devotion for food as the devotion of rival sisters Mildred Edwards Davis and Martha Edwards Phillips toward their grandmother’s Sour Cream Apple Cake. Ever since their paternal grandmother Mattie Sue Edwards passed, the two sisters have been fighting.  And it’s usually about Sour Cream Apple Cake, or at least that’s where it begins.

Mildred (Milly) Sue Edwards Davis

 Mildred Edwards Davis’ Original Sour Cream Apple Cake

1 stick oleomargarine
1 (18 ½ oz.) yellow cake mix (Betty Crocker)
½ cup coconut
2-½ cup applesauce
1 cup Breakstone sour cream
½ cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 egg, beaten

Cut oleo into cake mix, add coconut.  Put in an ungreased 13x9x2 inch pan and build up edges a little bit.  Bake 10 minutes in 350-degree oven.  Spread applesauce over top of warm crust.  Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on top.  Mix beaten egg with sour cream and drizzle over applesauce and sugar.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes.

       “I think I was about six years old when Momma Sue first let me help her bake her famous apple cake.  I loved staring at all the awards and ribbons she kept in the kitchen on a high shelf up above the refrigerator.  She always kept her kitchen sparkling white, because according to her ‘the white walls made the blue ribbons sparkle’.  When cooking she’d always wear a blue apron on which was written ‘first-prize chef’ given to her by Papaw Sam.  I remember that I had a stool that I would stand on and watch every move she made.  I think that’s why my cake is so better than those trying to imitate, like that sister of mine.
        I’m trustin’ you to remember what it takes to make this cake.  I want you to be able to continue on after I go on to be with the Lord.  It’s all up to you, Milly Sue,’ she would say to me as she carefully added ingredients to her old gray mixing bowl.  I still use that old mixing bowl every time I make her cake.  It just adds that little bit of love to it, you know.  I promised her that I would, cross my heart, every time she told me that.  She’d always smile and touch my nose, leaving a little smear of batter. I’d reach up and wipe it off, then taste it. I still use a taste of batter to confirm I’m doing it right.  My sister all this time was running around looking in the cupboards or making some unruly noise.  She’d make Momma Sue stop and scold her.  Momma Sue would just shake her head every time a pan or spoon would hit the floor, she wouldn’t get a switch to her little bottom unless she heard china breakin’.  That gal never really listened to anything Momma Sue would say.  Many times I’d hear Momma Sue complaining about my sister under her breath.
       ‘I wish they’d send her to her Yankee grandmother,’ she’d say through almost clenched teeth.
       My sister had been named after our maternal grandmother who was from Kentucky.  Momma Sue considered every one north of Tennessee to be a Yankee and despised them.  She was never close to Mother, and Mother went out of her way to be argumentative with her.  Momma Sue said that Mother never lost her Yankee ideals or mannerisms.  I think Momma Sue thought it was her job to rid Mother of them, and that’s why she was so hard on Mother all the time.  I don’t ever remember a good word said between them.
       When Mother first got sick, we went to stay with Momma Sue.  I lived with her until I graduated high school.  I would go with her to competitions and events.  She’d always tell me how much she depended on me helping her – that I really helped her to win all her awards.  She’s always say that someday it would be up to me to keep up the winning streak, that’s the reason I do what I do.  We always had the best time during competition days.  It was sad when she got older and I had to go to them alone.
       That sister of mine, Molly, has come up with some kind of cake that she calls Sour Cream Apple Cake, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Momma Sue’s original recipe.  She’s always been like that, trying to outdo and to show-off.  She tells people that hers is the real Sour Cream Apple Cake; but I know for a fact that Momma Sue didn’t tell her the recipe.  She’s got this recipe using a boxed cake mix she copied from me.  I created it so busy folks could whip up an easy version of the cake; it was for an article in the local paper.  Then she comes along with her “version” of it a week later.  She tells folks that Momma Sue gave her the original recipe after I left home, but that’s a big lie.
       She’s won a few awards for what she calls the “original recipe”, but it has always been like a county fair or such.  She could never win a big-time award with it.  She did enter a big event one year – it was the year she came up to me hollerin’ and screamin’ about some craziness.  I don’t even remember much about it anymore.  I did see her talking to the judges afterwards, probably trying to tell them I cheated.  She was always trying to pull something like that over me.
       When Momma Sue got sick right before she died, Molly called and said she couldn’t come home for some reason.  Me and my husband ended up have to take care of Momma Sue all by ourselves.  Molly finally came home, but Momma Sue died a few days later.  She was absolutely on help and then she tried to steal everything not nailed down. After the funeral, all my sister wanted to do was to clean out the house and get away as fast as she could with as much as she could.  She wanted everything in Momma Sue’s kitchen and her cookbooks, and I wasn’t about to let that happen.  Haven’t talked to her much since that fiasco.”

Martha (Molly) Ann Edwards Phillips

Martha Edwards Phillips’ Heirloom Sour Cream Apple Cake

1 stick oleomargarine
½ cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 No.2 can applesauce
1 pkg. yellow cake mix (Duncan Hines)
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1-cup sour cream
½ cup Angel Flake coconut

Cut oleo into cake mix.  Add coconut.  Put in ungreased 13x9x2 inch pan, building up edges a little.  Bake 10 minutes in a 350-degree oven.  Take out of oven and add applesauce over the top of the warm crust and sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on top of this.  Mix beaten egg with sour cream and drizzle over applesauce and sugar.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes more.  Do not overbake.

       “When Mom passed on, I remember us going to live with Momma Sue.  I think I was about four years old.  I definitely remember her baking and the smells from her cooking was a comfort to me.  Smelling something baking still relaxes and calms me.  When my sister Milly was at school and before I started going, Momma Sue and I would make cookies or gingerbread.  We didn’t make much and would end up eating most of it before Milly got home. 
       I loved those days in the kitchen with Momma Sue.  I think it helped me deal with Mom’s death when I was so little.  I was always rambunctious as a child and couldn’t sit still for long; but when I was in the kitchen with Momma alone, I was settled and very quiet.  I listened to every word she would say.  I can still hear her calm melodious voice talking to me when I get anxious nowadays.  She told me my first teachers marveled on how well I paid attention once I settled down.  I think it comes from my time with Momma Sue in the kitchen.    
       Momma Sue would mix everything up in that old blue enameled bowl that she said Mom gave to her one Christmas.  I still use that old bowl when I make the apple cake.  I feel it connects me to Mom and Momma Sue both.  My sister was going to sell it at the estate sale and was determined to not let me have it.  It meant nothing to her but she was bound and determined not to let me have it.  She was that way with a lot of Momma Sue’s things, acting as if it all belonged to her after Momma Sue passed.  What she couldn’t use, she tried to sell for cash.  The only things I have that belonged to our mother are a little charm bracelet and a jeweled flower pin because my sister kept or sold everything else.  But I do have the memories of what Momma Sue told me about our mother.  My sister would never listen when Momma Sue would talk about Mom.
       Momma Sue told me that Mom wasn’t a very strong person and that she was always doing exactly what her mother wanted to do.  This caused all kinds of friction especially since Mom’s mother lived hundreds of miles away in Kentucky and didn’t always know what was going on.  Our maternal grandmother never wanted us kids to visit her alone.  Momma Sue always said she wished we could go stay with our maternal grandmother and allow her to have the same chance to enjoy us as much as she herself did.  But I think Momma Sue knew that that would never happen.  I really loved being around Momma Sue and learning everything she could teach me.
       When we went to live with Momma Sue full-time after Mom passed, my sister, Milly, started to spend more time in activities like the Girl Scouts and other clubs.  I myself preferred to just stay with Momma Sue helping with chores and cooking.  I learned so much during that time and believe it is why I choose to go into a career that dealt with food.
       I remember my sister always entering all kinds of baking contests and generally winning many of them.  We both entered a baking contest once.  The other contestants started telling me that my sister was talking it up that I sometimes cheated. I had the judges approach and question me about it.  Milly had written a grievance to them about me stealing her recipe and she wanted me barred from the competition.  After a long talk with all the judges, they let me stay.  As soon as I left them I went straight to my sister and gave her a piece of my mind.  I stayed pretty calm and collected, but I told her a thing or two.  Yes, I pitched a fit.  She couldn’t stand that I was there, but I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of leaving or dropping out.  She ended up winning, but one of the judges had a talk to me before I left after the competition. Her name was Eleanor Beardesley and she said that I showed a real talent and the judgment had nothing to do with my sister’s grievance or the rumors.  She even gave me contact information of one of her friends who was a food editor at a regional newspaper.  She said I had great poise and professionalism throughout all that had transpired doing the event.
       Momma Sue got sick just as I was starting my first job as a food editor.  I talked to her when she first started to get sick and she told me that whatever happened, she wanted me to put my nose to the grindstone and not worry about her.  She said that I had her dream job.  She told me that Milly and Jack were taking good care of her and I didn’t need to worry.  At the first opportunity though I did go back home and spent some time with Mommas Sue.  I didn’t have much time with her before she passed.  She wasn’t able to really eat much but she’d want to talk about recipes and dishes featured in the different articles I had worked on.  She wanted to know about food I’d eaten at different restaurants.  She was a “foodie” long before the word was invented!
       After the funeral, I wanted to just clean up and get on with life.  However, Milly fought me at every turn.  Momma Sue had always promised her cookbooks and recipes to me.  She had thought I’d get more use out of them.  I figured the fair thing would be to share them with my sister, but Milly wanted them all.  I think she hid several of the antique cookbooks even before the funeral, just to keep me from them. I finally made copies of most of the recipes I wanted and just let her have most of the cookbooks, but it still remains a contentious subject between us today.  It’s sad we fell out over all this.  I still haven’t really talked to her since.”

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Twain to Keller: "...All Ideas Are Second-Hand..."

When she was 11-years-old, Helen Keller wrote a story called The Frost King.  The story was published in The Goodson Gazette, a journal on deaf-blind education. Keller was accused of plagiarism after someone accused her story of being very similar to Margaret Canby’s Frost Fairies.  There was then a tribunal to discover if she had knowingly plagiarized Canby’s story.  Ultimately, young Keller was acquitted.  However, it had been discovered that Keller had been read the story when she was very young by using finger spelling.  However, some came to Keller’s defense saying that she had adapted her own story out of the story by Canby.  Anne Sullivan said, “all use of language is imitative, and one's style is made up of all other styles that one has met.”  Margaret Canby herself stated that Keller's version was superior to her own.  Keller never wrote fiction again.

Mark Twain read about the event in Keller’s autobiography, and sent the following letter of support:


St. Patrick's Day, '03

Dear Helen,—

must steal half a moment from my work to say how glad I am to have your book, and how highly I value it, both for its own sake and as a remembrance of an affectionate friendship which has subsisted between us for nine years without a break, and without a single act of violence that I can call to mind. I suppose there is nothing like it in heaven; and not likely to be, until we get there and show off. I often think of it with longing, and how they'll say, "There they come—sit down in front!" I am practicing with a tin halo. You do the same. I was at Henry Roger's last night, and of course we talked of you. He is not at all well;—you will not like to hear that; but like you and me, he is just as lovely as ever.

I am charmed with your book—enchanted. You are a wonderful creature, the most wonderful in the world—you and your other half together—Miss Sullivan, I mean, for it took the pair of you to make a complete and perfect whole. How she stands out in her letters! her brilliancy, penetration, originality, wisdom, character, and the fine literary competencies of her pen—they are all there.

Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that "plagiarism" farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul—let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances—is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men—but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington's battle, in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite—that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.

Then why don't we unwittingly reproduce the phrasing of a story, as well as the story itself? It can hardly happen—to the extent of fifty words except in the case of a child; its memory-tablet is not lumbered with impressions, and the actual language can have graving-room there, and preserve the language a year or two, but a grown person's memory-tablet is a palimpsest, with hardly a bare space upon which to engrave a phrase. It must be a very rare thing that a whole page gets so sharply printed on a man's mind, by a single reading, that it will stay long enough to turn up some time or other to be mistaken by him for his own. No doubt we are constantly littering our literature withdisconnected sentences borrowed from books at some unremembered time and now imagined to be our own, but that is about the most we can do. In 1866 I read Dr. Holmes's poems, in the Sandwich Islands. A year and a half later I stole his dedication, without knowing it, and used it to dedicate my "Innocents Abroad" with. Then years afterward I was talking with Dr. Holmes about it. He was not an ignorant ass—no, not he; he was not a collection of decayed human turnips, like your "Plagiarism Court;" and so when I said, "I know now where I stole it, but whom did you steal it from," he said, "I don't remember; I only know I stole it from somebody, because I have never originated anything altogether myself, nor met anyone who had."

To think of those solemn donkeys breaking a little child's heart with their ignorant rubbish about plagiarism! I couldn't sleep for blaspheming about it last night. Why, their whole lives, their whole histories, all their learning, all their thoughts, all their opinions were one solid rock of plagiarism, and they didn't know it and never suspected it. A gang of dull and hoary pirates piously setting themselves the task of disciplining and purifying a kitten that they think they've caught filching a chop! Oh, dam—

But you finish it, dear, I am running short of vocabulary today.

Every lovingly your friend,


(Source: www.lettersofnote.com; Mark Twain's Letters, Vol. 2 of 2; Image: Mark Twain, via.)

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

“Family Comes Back to Family”

       Most of us have a connection to the past that only goes as far as our grandparents.  For many, it is usually just an odd snapshot from a past reunion, a remembered story about a long-lost relative, or names in an old family Bible.  Some of us only get to experience our ancestors from genealogical information we discover in books and online.  But what if an artifact from a distant ancestor seemed to travel through time to find you.  What would you think?  Divine intervention?  Coincidence?  How would you feel if it happened to you twice?  Well just ask Allison Houston Olson, because she’s experienced it.
       “I received a phone call from my good friend, Julie Baggett Burroughs.  She called to tell me about a sale occurring at an antiques store near my house,” recounts Allison.  Some old student desks that were being sold in this particular store had interested Allison; however, after arriving and inspecting the desks, she decided that they weren’t what she wanted.  This is where the story could have ended, but it took an incredible twist.  She turned to her mother-in-law who was accompanying her, and asked her if she wanted to have a look around.  They entered the first antique booth and found several interesting items on display.
Portrait of Sarah Luvenia Malone Falls 1852-1899
       “An antique photo resting on a lower shelf caught my attention.  While looking at the photo, I commented to my mother-in-law that I could not understand why on earth people would sell old photos of their family members.  As I stood up, my eyes immediately rose to the items on the wall above my head.  What I then saw produced a lump in my throat and caused my heart and emotions to race.  Directly above me was the 18”x20” original framed photograph of my great-great grandmother!” she recalls.  “I couldn't catch my breath.” 
       "That is my great-great grandmother, that is my great-great grandmother,” she remembers telling her mother-in-law excitedly.
       “Are you sure?” her mother-in-law repeatedly asked her.
       “I am positive!” Allison replied.
       She had just found an antique photograph portrait of her great-great grandmother, Sarah Luvenia Malone Falls!  She knew that was who it was because several family members had copies of the original photograph portrait, but the whereabouts of the original were never known.  Allison goes on to say that her grandmother, who has passed away just a year before, had wondered about what had happened to that original photograph of her maternal grandmother.  
       “Almost exactly one year later, I locate it in an antiques store, “ Allison says, “ With hands shaking, I took the photo off the wall, walked to the cash register, and told the owners that the photo was of my great-great grandmother.  The owners questioned me, so I gave them her name.  They turned the photo over and there on the back was her name.  I was still shaking and on the verge off tears.  I called my mother and told her what I had found, and then the tears began welling up again.”
       The original photograph now resides in the home of Allison’s mother, Bobbie Wyatt Houston.
       "I felt like she had found a priceless treasure. I was very excited when she gave it to me. I felt like my mom, who had just passed away only a year before, was sending us a sweet message of endearment. The picture now holds a place of honor in my home,” says Mrs. Houston.
       How does Allison herself now look back on the event?
       “Initially I was dumbfounded. My emotions were all over the place. I then realized she was home. Sarah Luvenia, that is. I had brought her home, so to speak. Why had it been me? I don’t know. Was it God? Could be. Coincidence? Doubtful. Luck of the draw? I don’t think so. For some reason, I was supposed to be there that day. For some reason, I needed to be there that day and my friend, Julie, was the instigator, for lack of a better word, in getting me there. Sarah Luvenia's portrait had been hanging there since February of that year, no one had purchased it, thank goodness, but in October, she needed to come home. I truly have no answers, other than, she needed to come home.”
       Now that’s an incredible story all by itself, but what if a very similar event happens just a bit further down the road? 
The actual antique cotton basket

       Allison describes herself “a collector of all things vintage”.  She has recently started to sell some of her finds on a Facebook page.  She recalls a recent event.
       “I received a message from someone, unknown to me, asking if I bought antiques. For those that know me well, this is one of my weaknesses, that and genealogy. After much conversing on Facebook, we agreed to meet. This gentleman lived in an area where many of my maternal grandmother’s family members lived.  There is even a road with the family name. My family and I arrived at his barn one afternoon.  The man was very welcoming. He had several things set out for me to peruse. I noticed a large hand-woven cotton basket near the front.”
       She says she asked him about the antique basket and he said he had gotten it from a man named Mayfield who lived just up the road from him. Allison says that that the name sounded familiar, but “it didn't initially click”.
       She says she continued to look around his barn at his wonderful collection of antiques; all the while in the back of her mind, she was thinking about the name “Mayfield”. She picked out a few items, one being the basket; then questioned him further about the gentleman that had made the basket.
       “He told me the man’s name was "Robert Mayfield".  BING!  Lights and sirens went off in my head! My great-great-great grandfather was Robert "Robin" Jasper Mayfield. What were the odds, I thought at the time. After much discussion, I discovered that a past relative of mine had made the basket. A conversation with my mom later confirmed it. This gentleman was gracious enough to take us to the old home site of my relative where I took photos and heard stories about how life used to be when my relative was living. The old cotton basket is now in my home, where it shall remain.  I reconnected with a part of my history that I would not have known about had this gentleman not contacted me. He welcomed us into his home and barn; but most importantly led me into a part of my history, and for that I am eternally grateful.”  She adds, “Someone once told me ‘family comes back to family’. I don’t know where they saw that or read that, but I believe it to be true.”

Tom Clardy also claims Sarah Luvenia Malone Falls as a great-great grandmother and can't be more happy that the portrait now has a safe home with family.  He may be contacted at tfclardy@aol.com

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Helen Keller's Letter to German Students in 1933

Helen Keller
Helen Keller was born on June 27, 1880 in the small town of Tuscumbia, AlabamaIn 1882 when she was 18 months old, she fell ill and was struck blind, deaf and mute. Beginning in 1887, she made incredible progress with her ability to communicate with the help of her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Keller went on to college, graduating in 1904. She was the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.  In 1915 she founded, with George Kessler, the Helen Keller International (HKI) organization, which is devoted to research in vision, health and nutrition. In 1920, Keller helped found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  She became a world-renowned author and speaker.  She was a radical in her time - a socialist, a pacifist, a women’s rights activist, an early supporter of the NAACP, and an advocate for free availability of birth control. She was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964.  She was inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame in 1971.

Americans learned in May 1933 that students in German universities planned to burn a long list of books deemed “un-German.” Finding out her books were among those to be burned, Helen Keller wrote this open letter to the students.

Transcript of letter, as it was published by the Associated Press on May 9, 1933:
"To the student body of Germany:
History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas. Tyrants have tried to do that often before, and the ideas have risen up in their might and destroyed them.
You can burn my books and the books of the best minds in Europe, but the ideas in them have seeped through a million channels and will continue to quicken other minds. I gave all the royalties of my books for all time to the German soldiers blinded in the World War with no thought in my heart but love and compassion for the German people.
I acknowledge the grievous complications that have led to your intolerance; all the more do I deplore the injustice and unwisdom of passing on to unborn generations the stigma of your deeds.
Do not imagine that your barbarities to the Jews are unknown here. God sleepeth not, and He will visit His judgment upon you. Better were it for you to have a mill-stone hung around your neck and sink into the sea than to be hated and despised of all men.
                                                                                               Helen Keller"