Saturday, February 13, 2016

Summer, 1950



We were going through some old family photographs. Part of the larger effort to liberate the upstairs bedroom from it's current plight as a storage area. I still remember when we slept up there, and the neat little fireplace that sits in the north gable wall, unused except for the odd bat or flying squirrel that ventures down that interesting hole from the roof, only to find cats waiting for a bit of fun. There were quite a number of photos I should scan. This one, however, was different. It spoke to me like a high hard fast one, or an oncoming car in an oncoming curve, in my lane.

Where did this amazing photo come from. Who took it? The composition is remarkable, and I don't think there's another photograph in all the family photos--thousands of them surely, since these days we take photos at the drop of a hat--that has this sort of content. The cow on the left is the family milk cow, for this was the end of the days of the farm as a family sustaining place rather than a business that produced some money for going to the store, buying gas, paying taxes. I milked that cow once or twice, sitting beside my aunt, who sits next to the cow with her calf in her lap. Aunt Jenny (or possibly it was grandmother Ora) showed me how to milk. I wasn't much good at it, but I think I did get a stream going into the white, porcelained pail. I'm thinking maybe in the end momma kicked the pail over, and Jenny took the job over. I do know Ora showed me, probably around this time, the way to butcher a fresh chicken, cutting open the craw, showing me the recently eaten corn, then tossing the corn back out into the side yard for the ranging chickens to eat yet again. This is just how birds eat, the mechanics of it. The grain is not chewed for they have no teeth.

Behind Jenny and the two cows is my grandfather, James Thomas. He was born on that farm around 1867. His father Dr. William Hicks completed building the T-style farm house in 1872. This was of course just after the Civil War. Dr. Hicks had been in the war, as a doctor. He tried to save lives. After the war he built the farm house. He'd been born in another house on the place. It was a pretty big tobacco farm. There were slaves, and slave graves. The old system, after the war, was readjusted. Black people did much of the farming as share-croppers. They got a place to live and could grow their food. My dad and Jenny and the other children were tended by a black "mammy" when they were small. She was the wife of a share-cropper. Jenny spoke frequently of her, and how much they loved her. Her framed picture was displayed on a shelf in the farm house.

My great-grandfather William had a doctor's office in the parlor of the house, but eventually, by the time James Thomas got into his late teens, times got better. James Thomas went to NC State in Raleigh to study scientific farming. Perhaps even before college he'd learned to play the fiddle. I ended up with that instrument after he died. When James Thomas returned from his studies he took over the farm, married, settled into the farm house his dad had build. Dr. William moved into Durham with another son and established medical practice there. My dad grew up on the farm. He taught himself to drive when he was 12 years old. Later he flew biplanes in the Army Air Force, but was just barely too young to go to Europe and get shot down. He attended NC State as well, studied engineering, then went on to graduate school where he took a Masters in Divinity. He then came back to State, in Raleigh, coached wrestling, taught marriage and family living, founded the Philosophy and Religion Department at what was then an entirely technical college after arguing successfully to the higher ups that even engineers and architects needed some grounding in the so-called humanities and liberal arts.

In the photo he's kneeling, with me on one side and my sis on the other. He's about 49 years old, a strong, powerful man in his prime. Look at his arms. Behind us is the old barn. They kept the cow in there, and a mule or two. There was another mule barn down a path and up a hill to where there were also tobacco curing barns, a pack house, and two tenant houses. One day about this time someone put me on a mule's back. I knew nothing of mules and riding. When the mule, who's name was Rhody I think, realized he was in the charge of a duffer, he decided to go back to the barn up that hill. I pulled back on the rope rein and said "whoa." Rhody laughed and kept going until my Dad walked over and turned his head. Rhody knew immediately he was still under control, and stopped. I was plucked off his back. My sister watched all this and in a very few years was riding jumping horses in hunts, and winning prizes in rings. She's always "gotten" animals, and these days trains Staffordshire Terriers and wins agility trials. In early years she did the same with Rotweillers, brilliant animals who need training of the sort she can give them. Notice how she's looking at those cows.

The white dog was a fixture on the farm. I'm thinking his name was Skip. There are other pictures that include him. He was a sweet dog who ran free. We'd give him bits of chicken under the Sunday dinner table. The road by the farm, called Fish Dam Road when it was dirt, but changed to Mineral Springs Road and paved a few years after the photo was taken, took him. I was shocked that he had been caught unawares by some car. It was very sad. Sis says it was probably a second car following closely on the first, which Skip didn't see--he was good with the road. Jenny had other pet dogs, always Great Danes, all named "Daney." They stayed behind a big white fence on her little place which was across the road from the farm house, a converted tenant house she lived in with her husband Junius Beard. She taught primary school up the road. Junius was a teller at a Durham bank, until one day the bank decided to get rid of the men tellers and hire only young women for the job, at a lower salary. This corporate decision broke Junius's spirit for a time, although he eventually recovered. I understood little of this, from the distance of Raleigh and my childhood perceptions.

My grandfather James Thomas died in 1953. He was 86 years old. My dad died twenty years later, in '73. He'd been a life-long smoker. James Thomas never smoked, though he did chew and grew the weed, and annoyed my mother by spitting tobacco juice on the floor boards of our automobile. James Thomas was very taciturn, which you can perhaps see even in the photo. His most notable remark was his never changing Sunday dinner blessing. "Thank God for Dinner." I probably remembered that blessing when I was attracted to learning Tommy Jarrell's "John Brown's Dream" in 1970 or so, when I was learning so much about fiddling from Mr Jarrell, who was the same age as my dad. "Soon be time, soon be time, soon be time to sit and eat again."

I find the current ads featuring "the settlers" obnoxious. It makes fun of real life, of survival. I remember people plowing small garden plots with horses and mules in various NC towns when I was growing up. It is nearly as obnoxious as our current political cavalcade. Mrs. Clinton needs, and quickly, to quell her desperation. She will otherwise lose the nomination to Mr. Sanders, or worse, lose the general election to someone (take your pick) who has no conception at all of what is at stake. As has been said and many times, the Republicans can never run on what they stand for. The bright young people who are making "the settlers" ads will probably decide the current election. That should send a chill down your spine.

Who took the photo at the top? There is no record. Junius Beard was a photographer at a younger time in his life. He took the following notable photo, of elephants parading in downtown Durham, around 1920:


I'll leave you with another photo, which I took after Jenny died, in 1991. Someone had sorted through some of the few remaining things in the farm house, where she'd lived since the '70s. The window faces out on the field where the picture that starts this reminiscence was taken. You could see the old barn from this, the dining room window. Until the old barn was knocked down as a danger in the '80s.


If I had to guess I'd pick Ed Massengill as the photographer, my Aunt Libby's husband, Jenny's little sister. He did take some home movies of the farm during this period of time. I never saw Junius with a camera and only found his photos much later on. Aunt Libby got me started with music. She played piano, even owning a grand piano which dominated her living room. She tried piano lessons on me, but they didn't really take. The fiddle was my instrument as it turned out. Ed sold class rings for a living, and always drove a new Oldsmobile. He had a motor boat at Kerr Lake. Later on in the '50s the family would take excursions up there for the day. By then I was listening to Elvis Presley, and calling my dad "my old man" when he wasn't around.

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A relevant link: https://oakgrovenc.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/is-there-a-doctor-in-the-house/

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Wrestle Mania



Here's the "explanation" for Trump, at least if you are wondering about his evident success in whatever it might be called that is happening prior to the advent of actual voting:

http://www.chaunceydevega.com/2015/08/politics-is-professional-wrestling.html

Working backwards. We can see the evident fact that professional wrestling is universally popular amongst many bodies of people. Not everyone likes it of course. My guess would be that mostly the highly educated peripatetic readers among us find wrestling to be overly obvious and therefore boring. Most of these folks probably have never thought it worth the bother to even try to understand the forms of the "sport." I include myself. My dad was an amateur wrestler and coached wrestling at NC State in the '30s before he founded the Philosophy and Religion Department there. He was disgusted by professional wrestling because it was "fake." He knew real from fake wrestling, as he would often show me as a child by putting me into a half-Nelson and immediately pressing me to the living room rug, utterly defeated. I learned early on to despise professional wrestling, and even now simply admit that there is a kind of formal drama to the "sport", whilst at the same time maintaining my intellectual integrity by using the scare quotes consistently.

But if we want to understand what's going on in the forever blooming buzzing confusion, we must admit that the American democratic process is in many ways like a great sea, with tides, schools of fish, even leviathans on the occasion. Our election process is not primarily about sensible folks in togas considering at length the sensibility of various agendas, and then choosing accordingly. At the booth we'll now and then see a toga-clad figure, but mostly it'll be something else entirely. Obviously Mr. Trump understands what he's doing.

Meanwhile, the other big question is Bernie or Hillary. Here's a good post on that:

http://yastreblyansky.blogspot.com/2016/01/you-say-you-want-revolution-but-what-if.html

Among many terrific points, here's Yastreblyansky quoting Eric Loomis (from LGM blog):

I don’t believe that Sanders can create a political revolution. In fact, I think there is essentially no chance of it. It seems that Sanders supporters think there is going to be a wave of left-populist candidates swept into office with him. But where are those candidates in current House races? Where are the open Bernie acolytes either challenging moderate Democrats in primaries or running in conservative House districts that are heavily gerrymandered? Because while there are probably a few, I sure don’t see some broader platform of leftist candidates here, nor has anyone told me how they are going to win a 60-40 Romney seat.

Everyone who's not a wrestling fan wants to embrace their best values in the politics of America. That's what a vote for Mr. Sanders comes down to. Hillary Clinton has too damn much baggage, too much history, too much compromise. She stuck with Bill, and she voted (sorta) "for Iraq." We all want to walk into a better situation, a better future (those of us who aren't wrestling fans). But there's this. On June 3, 1944,Ike knew he was shaking the hands of nice young men whom he was sending to their deaths.

Meanwhile, it seems to me that the whole "mainstream media" has now capitulated to the spectacle. News is entertainment. They can cover that just as well as anything else, and get more viewers, and thus sell more ads. Or, as my dad remarked long long ago, there's not much amateur wrestling on the television.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Garbage In, Garbage Out


From Digby this morning:

...Thomas Sowell, who in 2007 wrote in National Review: “When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.”

In the “Against Trump” symposium, Sowell makes this outlandish comparison: “The actual track record of crowd pleasers, whether Juan PerĂ³n in Argentina, Obama in America, or Hitler in Germany, is very sobering, if not painfully depressing.” Is there any rhetorical overkill Trump has been guilty of that is worse than this?

Sowell’s belief that a coup could be good for America and that Obama can be fairly compared to Hitler gives lie to the argument, made repeatedly by writers in the National Review symposium, that Trump is not a true conservative. For there is very little that Trump has said or done that can’t find prior sanction in National Review, be it racism, anti-immigrant nativism, or sexism. In the last debate, in response to an attack on his “New York values,” Trump noted that conservatives do come from New York and cited William F. Buckley. It is fair to see Trump’s version of white identity politics as firmly in the tradition of Buckley and his magazine.


Go back in the time machine (Youtube) and watch Buckley debating James Baldwin. QED.

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Here in the Chatham County woods, there's a hard crusty snow on the ground you can walk on top of. I got one vehicle up the hill and pointed towards the paved road yesterday morning. It took two tries! The trick with the old S-10 (the truck of choice, picked because I'd just changed the oil and filled her up, and as opposed to the old Toyota Tacoma, or the ancient F-150), is to shift into 2nd as you start climbing. Usually that keeps the revvs within reason on the tach, and spares the tires, and you don't simply stall half way up, spinning for nothing and no chicks in sight. I was still spinning pretty good, but I made it to the flat at the top of the hill, then over the top and pointed down hill. The road, at 8 AM, was white. If we get out to the cat food store tomorrow I'll be kinda surprised. It'll depend on some significant warming. These are the days, now and again, when the idea of something with four-wheel drive makes fantastic sense. The other 352 days a year, not so much. So the years pass, the trucks get older, the new trucks meanwhile getting up to a stratosphere beyond a modest family Mercedes Benz, according at least to the current vehicle ads from Detroit with their complex offers of 20% off if you act now. Like the guy sitting on the nail keg at the Silk Hope store said, you could buy a house. So a lot more folks are sleeping in their cars these days. There's a logic.

We're good on our firewood, but there's a ways to go till the end of this. I'm keeping the saw warm inside. The chain is sharp. I guess that's the next project. We were lucky as we didn't lose power. For some reason we stayed just on the cold side, and it sleeted and snowed, but I never saw freezing rain or any build up of ice on the trees. Losing power in the country sucks. It means shortly you have no water. There are other things of course, but no water is the worst in short order. I filled the kettle yesterday, and ground up one extra grinder of coffee. We have a lot of water containers filled up. Most likely we would have endured till the lights flickered back on, and of course they still might go, although I'm thinking that at 11 am Saturday morning we might have escaped that feature of the blizzard. Hopefully the folks in the cities are hanging in there.

I did happen to notice, on my morning walk to the firewood stack, that the light had gone out in the pump house. I'm still not sure why that happened, but it took switching out the light fixture and several bulbs before it came back to life. Also took some wet knees, and more melting snow on the floor than I'd like, though the wood stove will have the puddles evaporating. Country dehumidification I guess.

The photo comes from the WRAL website. They invite viewers to send in pics. The houdahenians all gathered in front of the slider to watch similar sparrows scratching for food in the leaves as it snowed yesterday. Cat TV.

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Between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders, I'll take the Democrat who wins the primaries. If the American voters can't see what's happened to the other party, it's blind leading the blind, and I guess we'll all march over the cliff. Digby has a number of good posts about the horror of this campaign season, if you were interested at all in the Republican choice. Driftglass has been clear-eyed for decades. The country has lost, for the most part, a "mainstream" media willing to tell political truth, somebody on some channel who could say "wait a minute, that's out and out fascism." Decades back, Murdoch crafted a counter-weight to approximate truth, and the right more generally has been doing that in various venues, be it science, law, or even simple fairness.

We are nonetheless moving inexorably towards February, and the days are growing longer. Might be the year to plant some taters and turnips and all the rest.

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Then there's this, from the blog Balkanization:

http://balkin.blogspot.com/2016/01/is-ted-cruz-naturalized-citizen.html

Of course Cruz has aimed to deflect Trump's questioning of his legal status re becoming President as just more partisan politics. But as you can see in this brief post from the balkin blog, there are precedents to the issue stretching back to times when Cruz wasn't yet born. Briefly, his status as a naturalized American citizen is a problem. Legally, and with precedents. Cruz, when he confidently brushes aside these issues as being somehow "settled," merely illustrates his ability to lie with the best of 'em.