Friday, June 16, 2017

Mamma mia! My mother was an Aryan!

It's true! But it's not what you may be thinking. She was Jewish. How can this be?

I will tell you.

Poking around on the internet can prove very interesting. I found the college yearbook for the year my mother graduated from West Chester (Pa.) State Teachers College. Her photo appeared on page 114 of the 1930 edition of The Serpentine, West Chester's yearbook.

And right there, next to her photo, was this description:

234 Wyncote Road, Jenkintown, Pa.
Swimming; Bowling; Y.W.C.A.; Montgomery County Club; Student Teachers' Club of Chester; Archery.

I know for a fact that the list of her activities is incomplete, because among her souvenirs I found a pin from the Mask and Wig Players, the college's drama club.

Seeing Y.W.C.A. (Young Women's Christian Association) is a little surprising considering that she was Jewish, but it probably had something to do with another of her activities, swimming,

I never heard anyone call my mother "Rufus" but apparently her college friends did. I do remember both her brother and her sister calling her "Ruthie Puthie" or "Roothie Poothie" or however it is spelled. No matter. She was "Mama" to me.

PRIMARY indicates that her major at the State Teachers College was primary education. She wanted to teach young children. Clear enough.

That leaves ARYAN, which almost made me drop my teeth.

Really? ARYAN?? As in white supremacists and Nazis and the like?

Absolutely not.

A little more poking around revealed that there were several literary societies at West Chester, and the one my mother belonged to happened to be called ARYAN. There was another called HERODOTUS, and there were others. These clubs had existed at the college for many years, long before the unfortunate turn of events in the world that gave the word an entirely different meaning. Actually, it originally meant "noble" in the ancient Vedic literature of India. If you want to learn more about Aryans, click here. If not, we stand adjourned until the next regular session.

page 114 of 1930 Serpentine

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Equal time, or Remembrance of Things Past (part 17,643.5)

In the previous post, I showed you a map of Dallas County, Texas, with the city of Coppell highlighted in red. In this post, I show you a map of Tarrant County, Texas, with the city of Mansfield highlighted in red. The largest city (by both population and area) in Dallas County is Dallas. The largest city (by both population and area) in Tarrant County is Fort Worth. Local residents now call the entire area "the Metroplex" but the rest of the world, thanks mostly to the airline industry, call it DFW. The entire Combined Statistical Area now covers 20 counties and has over seven million residents.

I lived in my yute in both Mansfield (population then, 1,200; now, close to 70,000) and Coppell (population then, 600; now, more than 40,000).

What follows is from the section headed "History" in the Wikipedia article, "Mansfield, Texas."

The first wave of European settlers arrived in the rolling Cross Timbers country of north central Texas in the 1840s. Primarily of Scotch-Irish origins, these pioneer farmers came for the most part from southern states, following the frontier as it shifted west of the Mississippi. They entered an area where Native Americans had been living for thousands of years. The Comanche posed a serious threat to the settlers, and in 1849, the U.S. Army established Fort Worth to protect the farms along the sparsely populated frontier.

The area southeast of the fort (and of the Trinity River) was well protected and presumably fairly well settled by the early 1850s. In one well-documented case, eight related families migrated to the area in 1853 from Illinois. Three of the four Gibson brothers in this group established homesteads about 4 miles (6t km) northwest of present-day Mansfield. This settlement, which became known as the Gibson Community, included a school and a church building by 1860.

When R.S. Man and Julian Feild arrived around 1856 and built a grist mill at the crossroads that was to become the center of Mansfield, the beginnings of the community probably existed in the oak groves bordering Walnut Creek (originally called Cedar Bluff Creek). The Walnut Creek Congregation of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church had organized itself in 1854. Members met in each other's homes, so it is suspected that there was a cluster of houses in the area.

In 1856, Julian Feild purchased 540 acres (2.2 km2) in the Mansfield area. Man and Feild completed their three-story brick grist mill sometime between 1856 and 1859. The mill, which produced flour and meal, was the first built in North Texas to utilize steam power and enjoyed patronage as far south as San Antonio and as far north as Oklahoma. The location of the mill in southeastern Tarrant County perhaps reflects the advanced state of wheat cultivation in the area and the ready availability of wood to feed the mill's steam boilers. Feild opened a general merchandise store at the same time as the mill, located across Broad Street. He built a log house for his family, which also served as an inn for travelers and customers. By 1860, the nucleus of the future city existed. The first post office was established that year, with Julian Feild as postmaster.

During the American Civil War, the Man and Feild Mill supplied meal and flour to the Confederate States Army, hauling it to Shreveport, Louisiana, and Jefferson City, Missouri. As was common practice, the owners tithed ten percent of the mill's production to the Confederacy. The small community around the mill was unique in Tarrant County in that it prospered throughout the Civil War. "Feild's Freighters", assembled in ox-drawn wagon trains, went as far as Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where a part of the Indian Wars raged in the southern plains in the late 1860s and 1870s. The prospering community which had grown up around the Man and Feild mill took on the name of "Mansfeild", a combination of the names of the founders. Repeated misspellings over the years resulted in the acceptance of the conventional spelling of "Mansfield." The town incorporated in 1909, continuing to be a hub for the surrounding farmland.

(end of History of Mansfield section from Wikipedia)

Times have changed. "The surrounding farmland" today includes Dallas (1,241,162), Fort Worth (833,319), Arlington (375,600), Plano (269,776), Garland (233,564), Irving (225,427), Grand Prairie (181,824), McKinney (143,223), Mesquite (143,195), Frisco (128,176), Carrollton (125,409), Denton (121,123), Richardson (103,297), Lewisville (101,074), almost 50 smaller cities with between 10,000 and 99,999 inhabitants ( Allen, Azle, Balch Springs, Bedford, Benbrook, Burleson, Cedar Hill, Cleburne, Colleyville, Coppell, Corinth, Crowley, DeSoto, Duncanville, Ennis, Euless, Farmers Branch, Flower Mound, Forest Hill, Forney, Glenn Heights, Grapevine, Greenville, Haltom City, Highland Village, Hurst, Keller, Lancaster, Little Elm, Mansfield (wait, we're already talking about Mansfield), Midlothian, Mineral Wells, Murphy, North Richland Hills, Prosper, Rockwall, Rowlett, Sachse, Saginaw, Seagoville, Terrell, The Colony, University Park, Waxahachie, Weatherford, White Settlement, Wylie), and almost 150 even smaller towns with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants (don't worry, I won't list them all), and even a few unincorporated villages and wide spots in the road, including Peaster, the birthplace and childhood home of Robert E. Howard, creator of the character Conan the Barbarian.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Remembrance of things past (part 17,643)

Today, June 6th, is not only the 73rd anniversary of D-Day in 1944 (young readers should google it) but also the 59th anniversary of the marriage of my dad, Clifford Ray ("Ted") Brague, to Mildred Louise Williams Houston, my stepmother, in 1958.

The wedding took place in the little Methodist Church -- note that I did not say United Methodist Church; that entity did not come into being for another ten years when the big Methodist Church, which itself had been a merger of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Methodist Protestant Church in 1939, merged in 1968 with the much smaller Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) -- in Coppell, Texas, way up in the northwest corner of Dallas County. Back then, Coppell was a village of about 600 people with not even one traffic signal. Now its population is estimated to be more than 41,000 human beings and an unknown but surely formidable number of cats, dogs, and other assorted pets. There are lots of traffic signals. The marriage between my dad and my stepmother lasted three months shy of nine years, when my dad succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 60 in March 1967. My stepmother eventually married again to John Wesley Fuller and lived until 2004, passing away at the age of 89.

On that same day in 1958, June 6th, Claire married Dr. Doug Cassen on As the World Turns, a television soap opera loved by my mother when she was alive and also by my new stepmother. It was probably the only thing they had in common.*

I do not know why I remember such things. I just do.

*besides my dad, of course.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A parting gift for the faithful few

Here I am playing part of the old hymn "Savior, Like A Shepherd Lead Us" on an out-of-tune piano at the Bargain Boutique, a non-profit "upscale resale shop" (their words) in a shopping center in Cumming, Georgia, where all items are donated. Sales help to fund Whispering Hope, a resource and pregnancy center for expectant mothers where clients can spend Mommy Money and Daddy Dollars earned by attending classes offered by the center.

We visited the shop this past Thursday and my friend Sylvia C., who manages the store, asked me to play something on the piano. She decided to record me after I had already played the first portion of the hymn, so all she managed to capture in the clip was the chorus. Also, she stopped one second too soon and missed my final note, a low E-flat. But you can see me reaching for it.

On that note (pun not intended), I now bid all of you a fond but hopefully not final adieu. If I had had my wits about me I would have played "God Be With You Till We Meet Again."

It has been fun and I hope it will be fun again.

Until then, you're simply going to have to fend for yourselves.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Wake me up before you go-go

Well, that was quick.

I really am taking a blogging break, but I wanted to get one last post in before I ride off into the virtual sunset.

Mrs. RWP has finished the fourth of the six afghans she wants to crochet for our grandchildren as they go off to university. Here are our six in 2005:

In 2014, Elijah (the eldest, the dark-hared boy in the back row) received this red and black afghan:

In 2015, Matthew (the tallest of all) received this blue and white afghan:

In 2016, Noah, who is standing next to his brother Elijah in the photo, received this black and gold afghan:

I may have shown you these before. If I do say so myself, my photography does seem to be improving with each passing year.

This week, as I mentioned, Mrs. RWP completed this red and white afghan for Sawyer:

Here is my latest still life, "Afghan With Dogwood Blossom":

What's that? You say you would like to have a closer look to see it better? Your wish is my command:

This piece is not blown glass. It was hard-sculpted by glass artist Hoa Tan in the Hans Godo Frabel studio in Atlanta.

That leaves two more afghans to be created; one for sweet Ansley, who is our dancer/singer/actress; and one for little Sam, who is not so little any more but a member of his school's golf team and leader of the trumpet section in his high school band.

Maybe my brain is empty now.

Let the sabbatical begin.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Hanging it up temporarily

Since this particular period is turning out to be a busy season for Mrs. RWP and me in what is called real life, I have decided to step away from Ye Olde Keyboard for an indeterminate amount of time. I do plan to return at some point, and hopefully it will be sooner rather than later. But since it is also true that the best-laid plans o' mice and men gang aft agley (as they say in Hungarian), maybe I will and maybe I won't. While I am away, mind your manners, play nicely with the other children on the playground, and listen to what the substitute teacher says.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The jury is still out, or what is writing anyway?

“Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig,”
—Stephen Greenblatt

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
—E.L. Doctorow

“All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer

“Writing is very hard work and knowing what you’re doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote

“Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick

“Let’s face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron

As I said at the top, the jury is still out. Many people have tried to explain what writing is -- not writing as in producing fluid cursive-style letters instead of printed ones made mostly with straight lines, but "writing" as in getting stuff out of your head and down onto paper. You do see the difference, don't you?. Good. I knew you would. Those last few sentences sound better in the voice of Mr. Rogers.

In her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, writer Anne Lamott has made a remarkably valiant effort to tell us about writing. Here are some examples:

“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

“E.L. Doctorow said once said that 'Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.' You don't have to see where you're going, you don't have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

“You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won't really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we'll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won't wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.”

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act -- truth is always subversive.”

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”

“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.”

“This business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?”

“Remember that you own what happened to you. If your childhood was less than ideal, you may have been raised thinking that if you told the truth about what really went on in your family, a long bony white finger would emerge from a cloud and point to you, while a chilling voice thundered, "We *told* you not to tell." But that was then. Just put down on paper everything you can remember now about your parents and siblings and relatives and neighbors, and we will deal with libel later on.”

“Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don't drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor's yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper.”

“But how?" my students ask. "How do you actually do it?" You sit down, I say. You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on the computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind -- a scene, a locale, a character, whatever -- and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.”

“My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I’m grateful for it the way I’m grateful for the ocean.”

“You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn't nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.”

“I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. (Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said that you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.)”

“The society to which we belong seems to be dying or is already dead. I don't mean to sound dramatic, but clearly the dark side is rising. Things could not have been more odd and frightening in the Middle Ages. But the tradition of artists will continue no matter what form the society takes. And this is another reason to write: people need us, to mirror for them and for each other without distortion -- not to look around and say, 'Look at yourselves, you idiots!,' but to say, 'This is who we are.”

“If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, this is how you spend your days--listening, observing, storing things away, making your isolation pay off. You take home all you've taken in, all that you've overheard, and you turn it into gold. (Or at least you try.)”

“I don't know where to start," one [writing student] will wail. Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flannery O'Connor said that anyone who has survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life. Maybe your childhood was grim and horrible, but grim and horrible is Okay if it is well done. Don't worry about doing it well yet, though. Just get it down.”

Only people who have made it this far in this post are writers, or at least they are people who want to be writers, who are trying to be writers. I hope something someone said in this post resonates with you. I hope this post has helped to move you (no, move us) a little farther down the road.

If not, I can only tell you what Walt Whitman said in his "Song of Myself":

Do I contradict myslef?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

If you don't believe you contain multitudes, did you know that Mr. Rogers was both a Navy seal and a Presbyterian minister? Yes. He was.

OOPS! STOP THE PRESSES! It has just come to the attention of your editor that Mr. Rogers was not, repeat, NOT a Navy seal. That turns out to be an urban legend with no basis in fact. But I'll bet he still contained multitudes and was someone's very good neighbor.