Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving--How It Really Began

When all the foolish and inaccurate hoohah about Thanksgiving began to rob me of my sanity, I decided to find out what actually happened, and how Thansgiving really began. I had a lot of fun digging up a few of the facts. So for all of you out there who are equally in the dark about the true beginning of Thanksgiving, here is a brief summary of how it all came about.

After leaving Plymouth, England, on September 6, 1620, to go to the New World, the original 102 Pilgrims finally saw land in late November, but it took time to find a suitable place to land. Finally, on December 11, they disembarked at Plymouth Rock. While still on the ship, they signed the "Mayflower Compact," America's first civil document , which introduced the concept of self-government.

The Pilgrims were unprepared for the harsh New England winter, and suffered from scurvy, malnutrition, and various contagious diseases. Only half of the Mayflower's original passengers and crew lived until spring.

They were visited by a native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe, who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery, so was able to learn English before managing to escape and return to his own land. He taught the Pilgrims how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers, and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped them forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years. Sadly, it is one of the few examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans.

Because of help from Squanto and other Indians, the settlers had a bountiful harvest of corn, pumpkin, beans, and barley, and had learned how to make many Indian dishes and the many ways to use cranberries.

To give thanks to God and to the Indians, Governor William Bradford organized a three-day feast, starting on December 13, 1621.  Four Pilgrim men were sent out "fowling," or bird hunting, in preparation. The Wamponoag guests, about 90 of them, including their chief, Massasoit, came bearing five deer.  Lobster, seal, and swan were also on the menu, as well as ducks, geese, fish, and cranberries.The Indians even brought popcorn.Together, they all celebrated the good harvest, and the Pilgrims gave thanks to God and to the Indians for their indispensable help. This was the first American Thanksgiving.

Some of the most notable passengers on the Mayflower included Myles Standish, who would become the militaray leader of the new colony, and William Bradford, a leader of the Separatist congregation, who wrote the classic account of the Mayflower voyage and the founding of Plymouth Colony, and who also became governor of the colony.

At the end of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln asked all Americans to set aside the last Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving. Much, much later, the day was changed by Congress to the fourth Thursday in November.

I'd say that the first Thanksgiving was a sincerely thankful celebration, and undoubtedly so was the Thanksgiving at the end of the Civil War. But gradually it deteriorated into a day for sports, which began in the 1870's, parades, which happened in the 1900's, and shopping, as well as a day to cook, and gather together and pig out.

What I am thankful for today is very simple and very basic--much more real than what I thought of when I was younger. Now I know it is a gift just to be alive and to love and be loved. That's what I'm thankful for.   

Freedom Is Choice

My son, Bobby Jameson, has been engaged in conversations on Facebook about people who  want to impose their religious beliefs on others, either by proselytizing or by passing laws to institutionalize what they believe. He gets all sorts of comments--some silly, some adversarial, and some intelligent.

Many people seem to equate the concept of not wanting to be forced to accept someone else's religion with denying the existence of God. The point is not whether God exists, but the freedom to decide for one's self. It's not even about the attributes or failings of any particular religion; the point is the freedom to choose your own religion or no religion.

People came to this continent in the first place in order to obtain freedom from religious persecution, and for the freedom of individuals to choose what they believe. In other words, freedom of religion and freedom from religion, "freedom of" religion being the right to choose, and "freedom from" religion being the right not to have any religion imposed on you. You can choose any religion or no religion; you get to decide. Otherwise, there's no freedom at all.

Even if  you think you cannot respect what another person or group believes, it is still important to recognize and respect their fundamental right to believe it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Democracy Yes, Theocracy No

I don't want to live under a theocracy, no matter what religion it is based on. People came to this country in the beginning to escape religious persecution and to have the freedom to follow their own religious beliefs.

Governments are made up of ordinary men and women, not gods, and it is not the  province of government to be a religion, or to make up religious rules, regulations, or laws.

In a democracy, all are equal under the law. Under a theocracy, equality would be impossible.

Because that is true, religion should be separate from politics. Of course, people's religious faith will always influence their political beliefs and their ideas of personal integrity, but that does not mean they have a right to impose their beliefs on others, or to pass laws making others subject to any sort of religion-based restrictions.

Under a democracy, people of every religious persuasion are equal under the law. No religion is considered to be better than any other.

However, at the moment, those on the Christian right, be they Catholic or Protestant, are so fanatic about  the truth of their own beliefs, they have lost sight of the fact that others have a right to believe differently.

Why should the religious right be able to dictate whether or not a woman can have access to birth control? Many married women do not want to refuse their husbands, and yet don't want to have a baby every year. Why should a woman ever be put in this position? And why should unplanned-for babies be born into families that can't afford them? Or to families not equipped to give them proper love and care?

It is irresponsible for anyone to insist that every time a sex act is performed, a baby must be born. No man would hold that opinion if he were the one who got pregnant.

Let's all back off a bit from the position that our opinion is absolutely right and our religion infallible. Let reason prevail. Let kindness modify our actions.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Telephones I've Known and Loved

We just got new landline telephones, and it made me much happier than I expected. They are so much better in every way--easy to see, easy to use, and very clear. I didn't realize how bad the old ones were until we got the new ones. And they weren't even costly. I love our new telephones!

Something about this experience caused me to think of the difference between phones now and phones early in my life. The first one I ever saw was an oak box attached to the wall with shiny metal bells on top, and the receiver hanging from a hook on the side. Talking on this telephone was not a relaxing experience, impossible for a child unless you stood on a chair.This was the telephone we had in the early twenties when I was very small.

Then as technology began to develope and life began to become more effortless, we got an exciting innovation: a "candlestick" phone. It was upright, the receiver still hung from the side, and it sat on a little table that also held the phone book. I liked those telephones. They were comfortable to hold and I felt somehow important and efficient answering when it rang, or calling one of my friends. The numbers in our small town were very short. Ours was 2742. The cab company was 666! Easy to remember, but with unpleasant connotation which I wasn't aware of at the time

There was no such thing as a dial tone. You just took the receiver off the hook and waited. An operator would say "Number please!"  Sometimes this happened immediately and sometimes not, depending on how busy she happpened to be. You would give her the number and she would connect you.

The operators did many other things too, such as delivering messages in an emergency, or helping a tearful little kid who was hurt track down his mother when he couldn't remember where she said she was going. Most of the operators were very kind and helpful. .

The operators always sounded a bit odd because they were taught to enunciate in a certain way in order to be perfectly understood. They would say "Number ple-uz!". And if they had to repeat a number to make sure they had it right, it was said in the same exaggerated way: "Fi-iv fo-er tha-ree!"

Even small towns had a switchboard where one or more operators would sit connecting and disconnecting calls. When I was 9 or 10, an operator called our house to tell us a friend of the family, an amateur pilot, had crashed his small plane at a farm just outside of town and been killed. Neither of my parents were at home. My mother was performing, playing her violin at a local church that afternoon. I told the operator, and she rang the church, but no one answered. So I ran six or seven blocks to the church and went breathlessly up to the podium to give her the sad message.

At other times operators would track down doctors or family members in an emergency. More than once, they were instrumental in finding a lost child. And I am sure there were countless times when instead of hearing a number, they heard a frantic, weeping child, and did what they could to ease the situation. Really, I can't say enough for operators--they helped over and over in a myriad of ways. They were like a dependable connection that was always there whenever you lifted the receiver. Looking back on it now, it seems almost like a cosmic source of aid and connection.

Some time in the early thirties, we got a "French" telephone, a cradle phone. We thought it was so new-fangled! You only had to use one hand to hold both the mouthpiece and the receiver, and then you could write with your other hand. How modern! What would they think of next? Secretly, I liked the old candlestick phone. It seemed so official and business like. To me, it had real personality.

But the rest of the world didn't see it my way, and before too long our cradle telephones had dials. That was really a radical step forward. No operator? Just dial? Amazing! Now we only had to use the operator for long distance. We had to dial "O" for operator, and then ask for Long Distance.

Eventually, I can't remember exactly when, the world graduated to push button phones. That made it  inevitable that sooner or later we would be able even to call long distance without having to involve an operator in most cases.

How can people born into a pushbutton or cell phone world even imagine how much every new development in telephones affected our daily lives? How could anyone today imagine the importance of telephone operators in small town life back in the twenties and thirties?  It was a differnt world, and in some ways a much nicer one. Even though we were less connected telephone-wise, we were  more connected in almost every other way. It was a good time to be alive.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Our Bodies Can Do More Than We Think

When my children were small, I was a single mother living in southern California in Newport Beach. I developed a hacking cough, but my two little boys, Billy and Bobby, kept me very busy, and there seemed to be no time to stop and rest, or to take care of myself long enough to get well. Finally, I went to a doctor. He listened to my chest, x-rayed me, and ran various tests. When he had had time to asses the results, I went back to hear my diagnosis.

I wasn't expecting anything too serious, but he announced that I had bronchiectiasis. "What on earth is that?" I asked, never having heard of it. "It's a situation where phlegm collects in outpouchings on the bronchial tubes. If not treated, it can become a chronic, wasting disease."

"So what do I do to cure it?" I asked. "You need to have a resection of the bronchial tubes to remove those pouches." He took a sheet of paper and began to draw me a diagram showing where the cuts would be. When he showed it to me, I knew in an instant that I wasn't going to let anyone do that to me unless I were absolutely at death's door, and maybe not even then. I thanked him, said I'd think it over, and beat a hasty retreat.

By a very lucky coincidence, right after my visit with the doctor, I had an unexpected opportunity to go and stay with my Uncle in Winchester, Massachusetts. I packed up everything, put the kids in the car, and away we went across the country--a long trip with two little boys! After several days and no really serious mishaps, we arrived in Winchester. Uncle Easty had a pleasant roomy house, an old Colonial with three stories, plus a basement, and a wonderful porch which wrapped around the front and side of  it.

Suddenly life was much easier. My uncle had a housekeeper, Marion, who had been with him for years, and my cousin Ann was still living at home and attending Radcliffe .I was no longer responsible for every meal, Ann and I did our laundry together, and shared the cooking responsibilities beyond what was done by Marion. My boys had more people to relate to than just me, and I also had more people around me than just the children.

Now I was able to rest for a change, relax, exercise, spend time in the sun, and pay more attention to what I was eating. As I was able to rest and relax, the boys became much happier too. Oddly enough, I spent more time out in the sun in Massachusetts than I had in California. Soon my hacking cough began to get better, and before too many weeks was completely gone.

As with my previous dire diagnosis (of disabling arthritis, which I spoke of in a previous post), I  have often wondered how different my life might have been if I had submitted to that radical surgery, instead of encouraging my body to heal itself. It's so important to follow your own gut instinct and to be skeptical about any cure that involves invasive surgery. The medical world might have laughed at the idea that I could heal myself, but it happened, and rather quickly at that. The body has amazing powers of self-healing.

Since the advent of antibiotics, the recommended treatment is no longer surgery. How glad I am that I didn't do it, and how lucky I was to have had the opportunity to stay in a safe spot where I could concentrate on doing everything I needed to do to improve my general health. so my body could take care of itself!

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Big Guy Doesn't Always Win

Years ago, for a brief time, I lived in Mesa, Arizona, I used to walk around the neighborhood, and when I did, always avoided the street where a huge mastiff lived and threatened all who passed by.

One day I was out walking with my little wire-haired Fox Terrier, Teddy, suddenly remembered a forgotten appointment, so was in a hurry, and had to go down the forbidden street. I tried to scurry past the house before the mastiff caught sight of us..

But we didn't make it. This huge canine beast came menacingly down his driveway looking as if he would like to eat Teddy for lunch. I had a moment of real terror. Teddy was about one-eighth the size of the mastiff, and I was sure was no match for him. But Teddy was having no part of my imagined scenario, and took off toward the giant dog, barking so ferociously even I was impressed. My normally loving, docile, friendly little Teddy had turned into a diminutive personification of anger and defiance. The mastiff took one look at that fuzzy bundle of fury, stopped in his tracks, and turned and ran back down the driveway and disappeared into his own backyard.

As soon as Teddy saw he had won the day, he lost all his ferocity and trotted happily back to my side wagging his tail, and became his usual docile self once more. It was as if he had said, "Well, that's how you do that---nothing to it!"  I was dumbfounded.. Teddy was a friendly, loving version of a terrier and had never before ever shown his fiesty side. More than that, I was full of respect. He seemed not to have had even an ounce of fear.

After that, whenever I walked with Teddy, I never hesitated to go down that street. If the mastiff happened to be outside as we approached, as soon as he caught sight of us he would turn tail and run to the safety of his own backyard.

For me, it was a good life lesson. Being huge and strong doesn't alsways win the day, The spirit to stick up for oneself regardless of the odds, often seems to mean more than size, strength, or importance.This is not only true of terriers and mastiffs, but of human beings  as well, as I found out later in life in some confrontations of my own.

Medical Advice I Had to Pass Up

I didn't get to be 93 by submissively accepting everything a doctor ever told me. Far from it. During my first pregnancy, my doctor told me I had "post-traumatic arthritis" (due to a couple of serious falls as a teenager). He said my entire back was involved, that eventually I would be in a wheel chair, and be disabled for the rest of my life.

I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had believed that doctor?

But I didn't believe him, perhaps mostly because I didn't want to. Instead, I went to the library to find out all I could about arthritis. For several days I immersed myself in facts about arthritis, how it affects you, what you can do about it, and what the prognosis might be. The main concept I came away with was that it was important to move whatever hurts or is stiff (or both), and not to give in to the pain and be inactive.

From then on, it became my habit to walk, swim, play tennis or golf, or go bowling-- anything that allowed me to keep moving and have fun at the same time. I did NOT end up in a wheelchair, exceot on the rare occasions I was put in one when I left a hospital after the birth of a baby, or some surgical procedure such as a breast biopsy or hysterectomy. Of course I was able to walk out on my own, but hospitals like to deliver you safely into the custody of your own family, so they will be free from blame or lawsuit in case you fall.

The arthritis in my back was actually never as bothersome as the osteoarthritis that came later on and stiffened my joints without mercy. Yet I have always kept moving, no matter what, and there have been very few things I just couldn't do, except for reaching certain guitar or ukelele chords. That was very disappointing, but far less dramatic that spending my life in a wheel chair.

Over the years I have congratulated myself so many times for not having accepted the doctor's dire prognosis. Thank God I absolutely refused to accept the idea of living a helpless, invalid life!

This was only the first of several disastrous diagnoses I absolutely had to ignore. I'll tell about others in future blogs, and in the mesntime, I encourage everyone never to follow anyone blindly, not even a doctor. It's your life. Ask every question you think of. There are no stupid questions when it comes to your own body and your own life.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bob Crosby and the Bobcats 'Way Back When

I just saw and heard Bob Crosby and the Bobcats on a PBS show about singers from the past. They were doing "Big Noise From Winnetka," which immediately took me back in memory to the Blackhawk Restaurant/Nightclub in downtown Chicago in 1936 or '37. I was a student at the University of Chicago then, and another student, Grant Adams, took me to the Blackhawk along with some others, to hear Bob Crosby and the band. Grant was absolutely nuts about the Bobcats, and as soon as I heard them, I was too. They sounded great and were wonderful to dance to as well.

Grant got so involved in the music he clapped his hands and whistled through his teeth in accompaniment. I wondered what the musicians thought about it, but at least they could tell he was an ardent fan. Not only did he clap and whistle the first time I was there, but kept on whenever I went there with him again after that first time.

Later, when I heard the Bobcat's record, "Big Noise from Winnetka," on the radio, I knew it had to be about Grant. The record started with whistling that sounded exacly like him, and he actually was from Winnetka, a suburb north of Chicago on the "North Shore."

I don't know for sure when the song was written, but I think it was about 1938. Of course I immediately bought a copy, and played it over and over. It was a 78-speed record in a paper slip-cover with advertizing on it, which was standard for that time. I think Bobby Haggart, the bass player, did the whistling as he played, Ray Bauduc was on the drums, and Bob Zurke was playing the piano. I can no longer remember who the other musicians were.

Going down to the Blackhawk to hear Bob Crosby and the Bobcats was one of the highlights of my college life. I loved that music! And I went to hear it whenever the opportunity arose. Fortunately I knew several people who were also crazy about the Bobcats Dixieland take on music. We listened and danced and had a wonderful time. It was definitely happy, upbeat music.

I loved Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and lots of others I can't think of at the moment, but Bob Crosby and the Bobcats have always held a special place in my musical heart, and they still do.