Burns Night in Scotland

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne? (old long since)

 

Chorus:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

 

    Not very many people realize that the song they sing every New Year’s Eve is actually an ancient song which spread from Scotland to the world! It could be thought of as the most famous song ever written and the list of languages it has been translated into is astonishing. Robert Burns is credited with the song but he cannot actually claim authorship of it because he merely set a folk tune to verse that had been sung every year long before he actually sat down to record it in the Scots vernacular. Some words he wrote were Scots Gaelic and not quite comprehensible to the English. Burns made a regular practice of this in his poetry so it is taken for granted in Scotland but those in foreign countries who learned English as a second language are often mystified. The partial version I’ve included here is understandable for those who don’t know a word of Scots Gaelic and it’s easy for those who claim English as their only language. Burns Night is not celebrated on New Year’s Day but on January 25th– his birthday.

   This baird who is honored as a premiere poet by both Scots and English was born at Alloway, Ayrshire which is southwestern Scotland. He was born in the year 1759 to a tenant farmer who built his own cottage of clay. It is said that Burns father was intelligent, religious and of good character but his success as a farmer was not up to par. As Robert grew up he learned farming and never rose above this peasant rank but with only a few years of school and reading anything he could lay hands on, he managed to also acquire a good self-taught knowledge of French, as well.

   If he was a peasant he was surely an extraordinary one and if he didn’t make a rich man of himself with his pen he made mankind, in general, wealthy in more important ways. Until the age of twenty-eight he never traveled more than ten miles from his birthplace and this primarily rural life is well captured in his poems and songs which were often inspired by his neighbors and acquaintances. He announced that he wanted to emigrate to Jamaica to break the cycle of poverty he was experiencing and although this was an admirable burst of productivity for his poetical aspirations and ambition, did not happen.

     What did happen is that he raised money enough with his published poems in 1786 to put more of his poems in print. His first edition was published at a nearby town, Kilmarnock but the new book he had published at Edinburgh and he became quite a literary sensation there. He made regular forays back and forth to Edinburgh and eventually found himself in with a literary society which took him under their wing. That year’s edition in 1787 netted him ₤500 making him fabulously rich overnight, by the times standard. He actually worked in government service for a while at Edinburgh as a tax assessor and collector on beer, after this windfall.

     He decided to buy a farm at Ellisland located near Dumfries and continued working in service. He wrote only in his spare time. One would think that his talent would suffer but much of his most popular writing took place in this last decade of his life. A good part of it never won him another farthing but he continued out of love for his native Scotland and it made his life even more toilsome and difficult. Sometimes he drank just to stave off the sadness of his life. It shows in his love songs which mention many different ladies, some of whom he fervently tried to do right by but meddling fathers and mothers plus death itself overtook nearly all his paramours. He was formally married only to Jean Armour in 1788. It has been said that he fathered many children but only three were buried in his purpose built mausoleum upon the grounds of St. Michael’s Church at Dumfries. The third son was entombed there exactly seventy years, to the day, after his second edition of poetry was published. If a Latin inscription were placed on his tombstone it would’ve read, semper in amorem. In 1796 he died at only 37 years of age and Scotland lost their most famous and beloved poet.

     When Burns poems are translated, even into English, a bit of the magic he wrote in his dialect is most likely lost. Burns could write, when he chose, in standard English but when he did it was not the voice of himself. Readers who wish to really know and understand him must accept him in his own rural setting. That said, I have assembled a small but good selection of his best, I believe, and highly recommend reading and deciphering the following list: The Twa Dogs, Epistle to J. Lapraik, Tam O’ Shanter, The Jolly Beggars (pub. posthumously), O Green Grow the Rashes, The Silver Tassie, Sweet Afton, Ye Flowery Banks (a personal favorite of mine!), A Red, Red Rose, Highland Mary, Honest Poverty…and To a Mouse illuminates the 18th century sensibility of his homeland.

    Burns Night has been celebrated with elaborate suppers, wearing of the tartans and reciting Burns’ poetry for over two centuries now. Supper on this brilliant night involves haggis (sheep entrails), neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (potatoes) along with the best Scotch whiskey in the house. At the end of the supper Auld Lang Syne is sung. Close friends of Robert Burns began this tradition not long after his death and continues, unchanged, to this day in Scotland and many other parts of the world where Burns memory is a welcome visitor. I’ve never had occasion to celebrate it myself and was unaware of such for most of my life but I’ve known quite a bit of his poetry from my youngest years. My mother quoted his finest lines on occasion- most likely unaware that she was quoting him and this is all the more ironic since her birthday was on the exact same day. Honest!

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So Long, 2020 !

Ring Out, Wild Bells

 

 by Alfred Lord Tennyson

 

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,

    The flying cloud, the frosty light;

    The year is dying in the night;

Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

 

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

    Ring, happy bells, across the snow;

    The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true.

 

Ring out the grief that saps the mind

    For those that here we see no more;

    Ring out the feud of rich and poor,

Ring in redress to all mankind.

 

Ring out a slowly dying cause,

    And ancient forms of party strife;

    Ring in the nobler modes of life,

With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,

    The faithless coldness of the times;

    Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes

But ring the fuller minstrel in.

 

Ring out false pride in place and blood,

    The civic slander and the spite;

    Ring in the love of truth and right,

Ring in the common love of good.

 

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;

    Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;

    Ring out the thousand wars of old,

Ring in the thousand years of peace.

 

Ring in the valiant man and free,

    The larger heart, the kindlier hand;

    Ring out the darkness of the land,

Ring in the Christ that is to be.

gleaned from a 2020 reprint in Guideposts’

The Joys of Christmas

 

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Yuletide Cheer et al

As rough as this year has been for one and all I just want to take the time to thank everyone who has come to my blog this year to read, comment and put up likes. You’re the reason I put up content on this blog and I want to continue to provide the service of presenting you with many subjects besides castles. When you can, please leave comments about what you like and I promise to supply you with the type of information, photos and ideas that have made you happy, better educated and enlightened. Have a wonderful holiday with family and friends in whatever capacity you can manage. Stay safe, stay healthy and I’ll see you next year with much more on castles. Our favorite subject !

The Castle Lady

(12-28-2020 @ 6:26 p.m. Mtn time) 199,843 hits and growing as we read…

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Waiting for Santa

I have decided to get real with my readership concerning what kind of holiday Christmas has become for me. Last December I had a strange bout of a slight cold just before Christmas Eve. I canceled going to my sister’s house for festivities that evening. In fact, I was alone the entire holiday. I hadn’t trimmed a tree like I usually do because of other pressing matters and by the time Christmas day arrived I felt as weird, as weird can get. Through no one’s particular fault- not even my own- none of the usual things fell into place. I did not, however, just have a regular day as some may think. That would’ve made the situation worse. Instead, I chose to finally truly focus on what Christmas Day is in its most genuine form. I prayed for this year, thanking Jesus for making a way of salvation not just for me but for the entire world. I counted all the blessings I could think of and started to wonder why we go through this gift-giving process every year. I understand why children want to but why do adults continue this practice?

     Well, it turned out to be the most inspiring Christmas I think I’ve ever had and only sighed to myself when I realized that what I loved most about celebrating this holyday was celebrating every year with my Mom. For eight years now I have missed my Christmas buddy but I know that she is with the big family not so far away. The remainder of the day I spent musing over long passed Christmas memories we shared and by bedtime I slept sounder than I have for many years.

   The story you are about to read is pure fiction by David Baldacci but it should give you that glow which I experienced last year. Christmas is actually a love story presented to all of us by God, our Heavenly Father. There is a true reason to celebrate life this year. Let’s do that!The Castle Lady

 

    How do you learn how to live again after holding a warm child in your arms, wanting nothing more than to love and protect her from all harm, and then having to give her up forever less than twenty-four hours later? I’ve pondered that for the last eight years, ever since my wife died during childbirth on a Monday and our one day-old daughter Sara followed her on Tuesday. I had gone to the hospital expecting to leave with the two people I loved most in the world. Instead I went home alone to arrange for twin funerals.

   The hardest time of the year for me is Christmas because Sara was born on December twenty-fourth. For the last eight years I’ve come to the mall to watch the long line of children waiting their turn with Saint Nick. And each year I go home afterward and cry myself to sleep for never being able to hold Sara’s hand as she anxiously waits to whisper in Santa’s ear.

  My family and friends keep asking me when I’m going to get on with my life. I’ve stopped trying to answer because I don’t know what the answer is. In many important ways my life ended with the deaths of my wife and child. I’m not certain that I’m entitled to another one.

     This year, as I stood watching the long line of kids and parents, a little girl of about nine appeared near me. She was small with curly brown hair clustered around a perfect oval face that framed enormous green eyes. She looked familiar but I was sure I didn’t know her.

    “Hey, mister, can you stand in line with me? My granny’s knees aren’t so good.” She pointed to an old woman who sat nearby. Before I could answer, she took my hand and led me to the end of the line.

She said, “I’ve seen you here before.”

     “Yes,” I replied, “you probably have.”

     “Only you just watch.”

     “That’s right,” I said. “I just watch.”

     “Your kids don’t like Santa?”

“I had a child but she died.” I don’t know why I told her this, but I suppose I was unable to lie to a child.

     She patted my hand. “I had a mom and dad but they died too. Granny says it was in an accident.”

“I’m sure you miss them.”

     “I didn’t really know them. But you have to miss your parents. It’s a rule.”

     A good rule, I thought. “What are you going to ask Santa for?”

     “Same thing I ask for every year: a mom and dad.”

     I looked at her grandmother. “I’m sure your granny loves having you with her.”

     “I’m a lot of work.” She added, “And she’s not as young as she used to be.”

     “You want to be adopted?”

     “It’s the right thing to do,” she said confidently.

     The firmness of her words startled me. “I’m not sure I understand.”

     “I can make someone another family, someone who doesn’t have kids.”

  “I guess that’s one way to look at it, making a family that way.”

     “Lots of people can do it.”

     “I suppose,” I said absently. I was growing a little uncomfortable holding the strange girl’s hand. But every time I tried to pull away she gripped my fingers tighter.

     “Yeah, even people like you. But you have it easy. It’s harder for me,” she said.

     I stared at her. “What do you mean?”

     “I have to wait for a grown-up to want me.”

     “It’s not that easy for me either,” I said. “Grown-ups have their own limitations.”

     “But it happens, every day. You’ll make a new family and then you won’t have to come here and just watch.”

     “I can’t replace the family I lost.”

     “No, you’ll actually have two families- two families of memories. That’s pretty lucky when you think about it, most people only have one. Right now I don’t really have any. So when I get a new family I’ll only have one set of real memories. But I’ve already made up memories of my real mom and dad. I’ll never forget them. That’s a rule, too.”

I smiled. “I’ve never known a child who liked rules so much.”

     “It’s easy when you love someone. Like your kid. I bet you loved her a lot.”

     “More than anything,” I felt myself tearing up and I swiped at my eyes.

     “Well, once you love someone, that’s it. That love will always be there.”

     “But what about her? She died when she was very young, she didn’t even know me. Like you said, you don’t remember your parents. You had to make up memories.”

     “No. That’s different. I don’t remember them in one way but I remember them in another. It’s from their love. I know my mom and dad held me close before they died. I know they wanted me. I know they loved me. And once they love you, you never forget it. You can’t take it back. It’s inside of you forever. I know that, and so did your little girl.”

     “Another rule,” I said weakly as an overpowering sensation of hope flooded me.

     “Actually, the most important one of all.”

    She went and sat on Santa’s lap. When she was finished she waved to me. “Thanks, mister.”

     As she walked off I asked, “What’s your name?”

“Sara,” she said before disappearing with her grandmother.

* * *

I was married a year later, and a year after that we had a son named Timothy. I took Timothy to see Santa when he was two years old. As I was standing there I noticed the old grandmother sitting nearby. I looked around for Sara but didn’t see her. Leaving my son with his mother, I went over to the old woman, introduced myself and asked if her granddaughter Sara had been adopted.

The old woman looked at me curiously for a moment. “I don’t have a granddaughter.”

     I was less shocked by this than I probably should have been. I walked back to my son, took his hand and led him to Santa Claus. My wife and I hugged while our son whispered his wishes into Saint Nick’s ear. As we left to go home I said a silent prayer of gratitude for both my families.

 

* * *

The only people who enjoyed the first Christmas were the people who were looking for it.

– Rick Warren

Have a wonderful Christmas,

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Joy at Christmas Time

Somehow, not only for Christmas,

but all the year through,

the joy that you give others,

is the joy that comes back you;

And the more you spend in blessing

the poor and the lonely and sad,

The more of your heart’s possessing returns to make you glad.

-John Greenleaf Whittier

from

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Hurray for Hanukkah !

Who says Hanukkah isn’t fun? Check these out! The Castle Lady

COVID-19 Humor !

 

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Thanksgiving for One ?

Fill the earth

with your

songs

of gratitude.

-Charles Spurgeon

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

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Carry a Nation

     Last week I watched part of a Tamron Hall talk show interview of a young woman named Sarah Frei. She and her friends were all physically injured in a totaled crash perpetrated by a drunk driver. Sarah was nearly killed and ended up with amputated legs, is permanently paralyzed and bound to a wheelchair. Nevertheless, even after this ordeal she seems like a bright and well-adjusted youth with no problems. Closer to the truth, she will never be the same as she was because someone thought he had the right to drink and drive. The following is a bio on one woman who made a serious inroad to stop this inevitability. Her name was Carry and today was her birthday! :

 

“I felt invincible.

My strength was that of a giant.

God was certainly standing by me.

I smashed five saloons with rocks before I ever took a hatchet (to them).”

 

“I want all hellions to quit puffing that hell fume in God’s clean air.”

“You have put me in here a cub,

 but I will come out roaring like a lion,

and I will make all hell howl!”

 

     Those are just a few of the quotes from our country’s greatest and most vehement of feminists that ever lived in any age. The first is actually an excerpt from her autobiography. You hardly ever hear her name spoken in our century, however. It’s unlikely that she would’ve tolerated, for a slim moment, the vice and addictions that plague our country now. In her days on earth she managed to persuade our nation’s leaders to institute laws of prohibition of alcoholic beverages. Even though it was an era relatively short-lived she left her mark for the good old fashioned American stance of activism and we still bear the banner she carried with science and proactive heroism even in the present day. Apparently she hated cigarette smoking just as badly as alcohol and the public safety and health ads we see in all types of media persist with her basic message.

     Of course, as an advocate for God alone, her activism and civil protestations bore the weight of traditional and fundamental principles. She was born in 1846 to George and Mary Moore in Garrard County, Kentucky. Both her parents were Irish but owned a plantation and slaves. The ironies didn’t end there as her mother, Mary, was clinically delusional- believing at first that she was a lady-in-waiting to the Queen of England and in advanced stages, believed that she was, herself, the Queen of England. Carry had five siblings and all of the children were raised by the slaves at the insistence of her mother.

     Her early life was clearly not instrumental or instructive to her adult life and she married early to her first husband, Charles Gloyd, four days before her 21st birthday on November 21, 1867. Even though this marriage was doomed from the start it was Gloyd’s hard-drinking and early death that inspired Carry’s activism against alcohol and other detrimental substances of her day. The only child she bore was Gloyd’s and the girl, named Charlien, had a severe mental disability which Carry attributed to Gloyd’s alcoholism.

She left Dr. Gloyd just months before his passing marking a penchant for traveling away from trouble but Carry did not avoid confrontations and this sparked the beginning of her association with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union which was founded in 1874 specifically by women who were rallying against ‘the problems alcohol was causing their families and society.’ In addition to alcohol prohibition, the WCTU lobbied for a long list of social reforms, including women’s suffrage and the fight against tobacco and other drugs. By 1880, Kansas became the first state to adopt a constitutional provision banning the manufacture and sale of alcohol.

     She remarried at the end of 1874 to David Nation who was a newspaper editor, preacher and lawyer. They clashed on the subject of religion, interestingly, and this outspokenness extended to parishioners causing the loss of his position at their church! It is widely believed that she was uneducated and early in life her education was insufficient but with money from her inheritance and her deceased husband’s estate she built a small house in Holden, Missouri and eventually attended the Normal Institute in Warrensburg where she earned a teaching certificate in 1872 and subsequently taught school in Holden for four years. She also obtained a degree in history and studied the influence of Greek philosophers on American politics! There was more to Carry than would meet the average eye!

     With David, who was twenty years her senior and already had children, she moved to Brazoria county in Texas in 1877 and bought a 1,700 acre cotton plantation. She was not out of her element there as she had moved along with her immediate family to Texas as a child and they passed the Pea Ridge battlefield along the way. She and David both worked at other things rather than farming which made that venture unsuccessful but both adapted by moving along while he practiced law, then ran a saddle shop, then moved back to Medicine Lodge Kansas in 1889 and preached at a church there. Carry ran a successful hotel in East Columbia, TX and she finally stepped up to the plate for her temperance aspiration by starting a local branch of the WCTU and campaigned to ban the sale of liquor in Kansas. She employed more conventional protests in the beginning but escalated to addressing bartenders with remarks like, “Good morning, destroyer of men’s souls.”

     June 5, 1900 marked the day that she claimed to receive a vision in answer to prayers to God for a clear direction. She had already been quite vocal about her lobbies against alcohol and tobacco but her vehement actions against sellers and purveyors started after she prayed to God to tell her what she should do about all of it. Her vision was described by her, in her own words, like this:

      “The next morning I was awakened by a voice which seemed to be speaking to my heart, these words, “Go to Kiowa (Kansas),” and my hands were lifted and thrown down and the words, “I’LL STAND BY YOU.” The words, “Go to Kiowa,” were spoken in a murmuring, musical tone, low and soft, but “I’ll stand by you,” was very clear, positive and emphatic. I was impressed with a great inspiration, the interpretation was very plain, it was this: “Take something in your hands, and throw at these places in Kiowa and smash them.”

     Two days later she traveled to Kiowa and did exactly what she said she was told to do by God, smashing and destroying three separate saloons with large rocks. In each one she announced, “Men, I have come to save you from a drunkard’s fate”, to the proprietors and customers. From that time forward she practiced this clear protestation for the next decade until she died at the age of sixty-four at Leavenworth, Kansas. Even though she described herself as “a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like”, she had clearly hit her stride for getting people’s attention and had the courage to take the problem head on and right at the source. On one occasion, at a store owned by a man known as O. L. Day, she rolled a keg of whiskey onto the street, opened it with a hatchet, and set it on fire. In 1901 she divorced David Nation- a childless marriage. Four years later her daughter, Charlien, from her first marriage was committed to the Texas State Lunatic Asylum. Carry made numerous attempts to relocate her daughter to be with her but was unable to keep custody ultimately.

     Carry was arrested many times and written up in the newspapers of several states, including Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri. She spent time in the Little Rock jail and she was arrested in Hot Springs (Garland County) in the winter of 1907 but she wasn’t widely railed against despite the clear and purposeful violence. She was released at Hot Springs when she made a deal with the mayor to speak at the opening of a new subdivision, for which he paid her fifty dollars. She made an additional sixty dollars selling souvenir hatchets which were her literal trademark. In Little Rock in 1906, she took a tour of twenty-six saloons and bars. She made speeches, and many people admired her. Some followed her on her travels and helped her smash saloons and bars, but she also made a lot of enemies, some of whom threw eggs at her.

      Even though Carry did not live long enough to see it, prohibition was established as an 18th amendment and went into effect officially on January 16, 1920- a hundred years ago. Because of speakeasies, which were underground liquor establishments, a lot of drinking of alcohol continued through prohibition days but the suppression was quite clear and the running and patronage of such places was quite dangerous- especially during raids. Because of this, prohibition eventually was considered a failure and repealed on December 5, 1933 with the 21st amendment. Nevertheless, her social reform activism continues in our time with a clear message of the danger and consequences of alcohol abuse with many decades of science to back up claims which were made in her time.

     The last speech that Carry gave took place in Eureka Springs, Kansas where she lived on January 13, 1911. She had recently had health problems, but the speech had been going well. Suddenly she stopped and gasped out, “I have done what I could.” She collapsed and was taken to Evergreen Place Hospital in Kansas, where she lapsed into a coma and afterwards remained in poor condition until her death on June 9, 1911. Doctors said the cause of death was paresis; paralysis caused by inflammation of the brain and central nervous system.

     Her home in Eureka Springs was eventually turned into a museum called Hatchet Hall- a fit name considering how much money she had made during her adult years selling souvenir hatchets to people in promotion of her bust-up campaigns. Most likely much of that went to springing her out of jail. She had been arrested in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas but only for busting up the businesses. She rarely personally attacked people. Nation’s autobiography, The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation was begun when she reached the age of sixty while living in Oklahoma. She had planned to live out the rest of her life there, originally, but this resolution did not last long. Not too long after, she bought Hatchet Hall because Eureka Springs reminded her of Scotland which she had recently traveled to on vacation. She turned it into a boarding house and school and did most of the cooking herself. Religious instruction was provided by her for her boarders. Established as a school by 1910 she gave it the name of National College even though the education she provided was generally at lower levels. Her last years were spent traveling, mostly.

     Buried at Belton, Missouri, Carry’s grave was left unmarked for years until the WCTU finally erected a gravestone with her name and a quote using her last words: Faithful to the Cause, She Hath Done What She Could. Further afield, a fountain was erected in her honor and memory at a place in Wichita, Kansas close to a bar she busted up as one of her first raids. Unfortunately it was destroyed only a few years later when they had said the driver of a beer truck lost control and ran into it. Only part of that is true. It was leveled but the driver was not driving a beer truck. Hatchet Hall still stands and can be seen and visited in Eureka Springs with a nearby spring named after her.

http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/history/e1900/cn/index.htm (accessed June 3, 2016)

(The link above should help you access Carry’s autobiography. Please let me know if it doesn’t work.)

Taylor, Robert Lewis. Vessel of Wrath: The Life and Times of Carry Nation.

New York: New American Library, Inc., 1966.

Some additional information and anecdotes from the website www.kshs.org/kansapedia by Anastasia Teske flesh out the type of person Carry actually was and imparts many positive qualities to her character aside from her obvious determination. This turn-of-the-20th-century purse became another trademark of hers in that she carried those souvenir hatchets in it besides whatever it was that Christian women carried in their purses in those days. She was photographed with it many times and it became quite popular as a good sturdy leather purse. The photo is of her actual purse and she wrote about it in her book. This passage from it refers to her purse as a valise and describes a trip she took on a steamboat at Fall River between Boston and New York in the summer of 1903 when she was mobbed by a crowd, tried to take refuge in the ladies’ lounge and reprimanded by the captain of the vessel. She described what happened thus:

  “When I had finished my lunch, and had put on a clean tie and fixed my hair, I took from my valise a lot of little hatchets and put them in a little leather case I carry by a strap over my shoulder. Thus equipped I entered the ladies cabin, where there were perhaps fifty people sitting. When I went in, they began to look at one another, some smiled; I knew they had heard of the captain’s trying to prevent my coming out. Taking my seat on a sofa in the middle of the room, I was listening to the lovely string band when some one came up and began to talk to me. After a while I was quite surrounded and the cabin soon became crowded. Some one asked to see a little hatchet, so I opened my satchel to show them. One of the officers . . . came up saying, “Madam, you are not allowed to sell these here.” I replied, “You sell wine, beer, whiskey, tobacco, cigarettes and anything that will drug these people. Now these are my own little souvenirs, and they will advertise my cause, help me, and be a little keep sake from the hand that raised the hatchet, so I claim the right to sell them, where you have no right to sell bad things.” He went up to see the captain, who said, “I am too busy to fool with that woman.”. . . We had a nice time. I recited poetry on the evils of drink and smoking. All were happy, and at ten o’clock, I bade good night to many friends who regarded me not as the wild vicious woman, but as one who meant well.”

     Nation’s heirs donated a number of items to the Kansas Historical Society in 1999. This donation included WTCU temperance campaign materials as well as clothing, sewing supplies, and even dentures and hairpieces.  These personal objects–including Nation’s favorite purse–are in the collections of the Society’s Kansas Museum of History. I wonder what happened to all those souvenir hatchets she sold to people personally. It may be very interesting to find out how many are still put away in drawers and curio cabinets across America!

Could you carry a nation?

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Making a Stand in 2020

All passion becomes strength when it has an outlet.

-Mary Anne Evans

     Is anybody else out there also thinking that Stephen King’s The Stand should’ve been the Book of the Year? I started re-reading it in earnest by March 15th and was astounded at how different his 1978 pandemic fantasy was in comparison to most of this year’s Covid-19 reality but also, on several accounts, hair-raisingly similar and accurate in exposing aberrant human behavior that ensued. We have certainly found out, this year, haven’t we? There’s nothing like a dose of reality to make you come to grips with something like Covid-19. However, Captain Trips (the nickname for Stephen King’s plague-type virus) wipes out 95% of the population within weeks of it being unleashed on an unsuspecting and unprepared America. I don’t know how likely it would be for any virus to move and infect people that fast but I certainly wouldn’t like the odds. Even though the death rate this year is in unusually high numbers, it is still well below 10% of the world population. Interestingly, it has not reached much higher than the typical basic death rate each year, in more recent years! Fact.

     When I read this book, at the tender age of twenty, I thought it was highly improbable and as far as I was concerned, impossible. That was even after the Swine Flu inoculation wipeout in 1976 when lots of elderly people died because of that particular vaccine! (Word to the wise.) I have never had a flu shot of any kind since. Do you blame me? More than likely the swine flu that year was probably the inspiration for this epic novel. In this story no one has a chance of masking up or washing hands before the inevitable. Since that time the word pandemic has always had the connotation of human extinction, to me.

     If you haven’t read it and have meant to or if you’ve never heard the title before, you have missed out on Mr. King’s best written novel, in my estimation. It’s not so much the pandemic part of it- although that does drive the narrative and plot all the way through the book. The cast of characters, survivors, (if you will) and how they act and react toward each other is a vital part of The Stand. In fact, the characterizations were so well crafted or drawn that the interactions between these people as they chance meet or ‘follow the breadcrumbs’ while the plot unwinds is entrancing and keeps you engaged with each and every person all the way through the eight hundred or so odd pages.

     It could’ve been a much longer and larger book being as how the original manuscript Stephen submitted to the publisher exceeded 1,000 pages. It was to be an updated, eyes-wide-open fantasy epic with characters along the order of Lord of the Rings. He was asked to cut the finished manuscript down considerably and he later said that he felt that it caused him to take a hatchet to his third published book. There are areas that he could’ve cut which he didn’t- needless redundancies. However, a character nicknamed Trashcan Man seemed to drop out of sight, suddenly and only resurfaced when his presence was intrinsic to the cataclysmic end. That was a shame because he could’ve created a lot more overall tension to the book’s plot. He turns out to be the most dangerous survivor in the end but he was quite obviously seriously curtailed through most of The Stand. Snip, snip, snip! He is the star of the very short chapter 26 which is toward the end of the first part and he doesn’t pop out like a crazed jack-in-the-box until the end of the novel- but you do not forget him, regardless. I didn’t. (The self-same spirit resurfaced in Nurse Annie in Stephen’s book, Misery, some years later. Gollum/Smeagol would’ve been too tame!)

Stephen's house in Maine

Stephen’s house in Maine

Aquamarine-eyed Stephen has had quite a charmed life on occasion and calls himself, “a Maine boy, born and bred.” He was a high school teacher when he began to write with a writing wife, Tabitha, in the early 70s and they have three middle-aged children. He has written over 60 books and much more besides- all fiction- including the amazing The Green Mile which, when turned into a screenplay, starred Tom Hanks in the lead role. He has received numerous literary awards beginning in the 80s that would give the green eye to any serious author. Before the turn of the century, when he was walking along a rural road in his native Maine he was hit by someone driving a minivan which resulted in a serious spinal injury, crushed his hip, practically shattered a leg and caused lung collapse. He was hospitalized for nearly a year and suffered complications in 2004 from the lung injury and he nearly died of pneumonia then. For years he malingered because of the accident but once he got back to work on some teleplays of his best short stories titled, “Nightmares & Dreamscapes”, he rallied and has been about the business of getting his health back and still writing amazing books.

    Before Stephen wrote The Stand, back in October of 1977, he and his wife moved to England with the intent to live there for at least a year. I visited London for the first time at exactly the same time but was there also only a short time because I had just started my nail tech career and I wanted to get back home to Denver. After three months, Stephen and Tabitha cut their stay short and came back to the U.S. mid-December and then moved up to Boulder where he started and finished writing The Stand. I didn’t read the novel until 1980 when I was getting ready to move out on my own to California. I just rushed through it. I wanted to get on with my life and, as already mentioned, I found the book’s premise implausible plus I had enough characters to work on everyday when I went into work. Only starting to truly learn about life, for me, books took a back seat for awhile.

  However, as far back as I can remember I’ve been a writer. Early on, I didn’t see it as a way to ever make money. Are you surprised? I stood in that long line for quite awhile but now know that if you want to do something badly enough and are willing to put in the time and the work, you can succeed at anything your heart truly desires. Fulfilling passions is a much stronger motivator than money alone. So what are you passionate about? Once you answer that, you forge ahead with God’s blessing. At that moment you are unstoppable. I will put this question to you: What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

    The title of Stephen’s book doesn’t make sense until you are about to finish it. Round about page 757 the rockstar Larry Underwood is under restraints along with several people that make it back to the west coast along with him. He says, “We’re being put to death because Randall Flagg is afraid of us.” That bravado and willingness to say the truth because nothing else would do makes Mr. King’s long story a true testament to the human spirit and the courage of American people. Anything worth living for is also worth the dying. If we have to, we can follow Jesus all the way to the cross knowing that we will be set free and we have nothing to fear (not even death) with God on our side.

    Please take the time to read this book before 2020 ends. You will find yourself somewhere in its pages and when you do, the experience will be like a pep talk in how to make it through this crazy Covid-19 epidemic. After so many years I found mine in there. Her name is Mother Abigail and she’s not a perfect person- just one of supreme faith with a willingness to do things God’s way. She inspires Larry to speak up when he could have saved his life by not opening his mouth. She inspires many others to pick up the sparse pieces of survival and continue. Close to the very end you get a sense that Mr. King set out to write a book- not about the end of the world so much as the end of civilization with a deep division right down the middle of morality and immorality. There are a lot of surprises in it.

    Thank you, Stephen Edwin King for writing this book. I know you went through a lot to get it out there and as far as I’m concerned you did your best work with The Stand. Perhaps a revival of the original long version would be in order. What do you think?

Poetry by Stephen King from page 673 of The Stand:

The buttes had become dark monoliths.

The sand dunes were like ominous toppled colossi.

Even the spiny stands of saguro were like the skeletal fingers

of the accusing dead,

poking up out of the sand

from their shallow graves.

Overhead the cosmic wheel of the sky…

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Afterthoughts on Making a Stand in 2020

While I was doing research on Stephen King himself, I came across a plethora of his pithy but stilted quotes. They reveal a habit of truncating his most powerful thoughts. That is a fatal flaw in writing first drafts. Usually, first drafts entail a lot of details which can be altered or removed altogether with subsequent drafts. Take a look at this quote:

     I don’t pretend to know the mind of Stephen King but if I’d written that quote I would’ve eventually finished it thus:

Fiction can reveal truths within its texts.

     Many years ago an author by the name of Jessamyn West said it best, I think: Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.

or this one:

 

Perhaps it would be better to say:

The road to hell is paved with too many of the same adverbs…over and over again.

 

This is not a criticism of him but I know whereof I speak concerning one particular author and a particular book. I underlined all the ‘and’s, totaled them (5,000 in a book of 24,000 words I think it was) and sent it to the author. I hope she took the hint. I won’t name her because that would just be hitting below the belt but I will say that she is among the most financially successful authors on the planet.

I find that Stephen King’s strengths lie in the embedded poetry in his stories and novels. One passage in The Stand was so succinct, so startling and evocative of the underlying theme of his book that I simply must show you. This is the passage from page 717, citing a town in Utah, in my paperback:

An eagle poised in the highest crotch of an ancient lightning-blasted pine somewhere south of Richfield felt something pass close by, some deadly sighted thing whizzing through the night, and the eagle took wing against it, fearless, and was buffeted away by a grinning sensation of deadly cold. The eagle fell almost all the way to the ground, stunned, before recovering itself.

  The dark man’s Eye went east…He was a deadly poison arrow slipping endlessly through the desert air

     The last sentence is slightly out of context on the same page but will help me illustrate the genius that Mr. King exudes when he reverts to visual poetry in his narratives. Not only that- this particular passage has a covert element that I recognized immediately. That eagle represents the entire United States- left with remnants of what made it great. People. Along comes Randall Flagg who’s only aim seems to be taking an ultimate power over what remains and total domination of it. He may not be the plague itself but he is its henchman. He’s not an eye- he’s the antithesis to what an eye essentially is- and it has nothing to do with sight. It is the equivalent of false religion, false pride and false leadership.

     After I finished the book I wondered at the absence of Native Indian Americans in his novel. It’s like they disappeared and I don’t see that as a reality- given that their reservations have been in a type of quarantine from inception. I can’t believe that most of the characters in this book got at least halfway across America, on bikes or on foot, never seeing a single Lakota, Ute, Navajo or Cherokee. It’s a bit unfortunate because I think that it would’ve added a sorely needed element for The Stand.

     While I leave you to ponder, for yourself, what that could be, I will make a parting proposal. If you take it upon yourself to read this book before Christmas hits the shelves in earnest, will you come back and give me some of your own thoughts on this book? I have lots of questions for Mr. King and I promise to add any other questions you may want to ask. He’s a very down-to-earth author and likes to talk- very much like a one time American/British writer by the name of Kipling.

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