Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Recipe Scrapbooking

2x Great-Grandma Emma's recipes.
While I was in college, and trying to learn to cook for myself, I started collecting recipes from my friends and family, ones they had prepared and used many times, so I could get tips they don’t tell you in a form recipe. As someone who was least comfortable in the kitchen, things that were common sense to others were not for me.
So I asked for recipes that they enjoyed making and eating, not necessarily ones that were made-from-scratch or fancy. And the project got bigger. My folder started to fill with recipes that reminded me of people and places from my past.
One of the first recipes I collected was the cut-out cookie recipe we used at holiday time. Along with the recipe came the memories I have of decorating the iced cookies on our table. For every ten cookies everyone else frosted, I would do one, so slowly, to give the Santa cookie a red suit and green bag and belt, my tongue sticking out of my mouth in concentration.
I have a good recipe for pork chops with stuffing and apple slices- cooked in the same pan (oh the horror for me then!). It was a dinner my sister-in-law made, one of those first grown-up moments I had where someone cooked a meal especially for the occasion of my visit. I quickly got over my no-food-touching rule because everything was touching and everything was delicious!
One of the things I remember about dinners at my grandma’s house was the casserole she always made. We loved it. When I first started cooking, it was a list of ingredients I could handle. Frozen hashbrowns, cornflakes, and cream of chicken soup, along with a few others.
One of my more recent acquisitions is a delicious recipe for a spinach and tortellini soup from my best friend. He made a big dinner for us, including mustard salmon and mock potatoes, which were really good. It was part of a holiday gift in a rare chance to spend the holidays together.
Another favorite that I make all the time is the tofu, lettuce, and tomato sub roll. It tastes like everything that is good about bacon. It came to me from a beloved friend, a part of our UU congregation before we moved away. It was a dish she brought to every one of our pot lucks, and I regret every dinner that passed by without me trying it.
In my mom’s recipe box, I uncovered a card for swiss steak, written out in my great-grandma’s handwriting. It prompted a conversation with my parents about her swiss steak, my dad raving about it. And then we talked about her again.
Another recipe makes me laugh every time I make it, the sausage gravy recipe I have from college. My other kitchen-challenged housemate had some fresh sausage and we were inspired to make dinner together. But first, we had to call my mom for directions. A moment of gratitude for that phone plan that allowed me to call them for free whenever I wanted to (I think it was some 800 number).
I have a chicken cordon blue recipe from a friend who came over and taught me how to make it while we waited for the results of a presidential election. I even kept the sour cream coffee cake recipe that I learned to make in eight grade home economics. It was the first thing I baked that came out perfectly.
One Yule, when we were snowed in from our community gathering, we held an impromptu one in our apartment for those few within walking distance. My good friend brought this delicious stuffed apple recipe with oatmeal and dark chocolate. Every time I make that dessert, I think about snow drifts and candlelight, about friendship and laughter.
There’s a pear and walnut salad, made by a professor friend of ours for one of my first adult fancy-dinner invitations. The instructions for the best bacon-wrapped scallops in the world, using horseradish, include memories of weekends spent with an old and beloved friend. And I have a recipe for ambrosia salad, a cold dish with fruit, pasta, and marshmallows. It was one of the first things I ever made on my own, taught to me by a friend’s mom in middle school, and my preferred dish to bring to pot lucks for many years.
Best of all, is the trove of recipes discovered in a water-damaged tote, some of them dating to the turn of the century (1900, not 2000). They were hand-written by my 2x Great-Grandma Emma, who lived in Lockport NY, and some by her daughter, my Great-Grandma Minnie. The earliest recipes are for chicken croquettes, Danish and suet pudding, cabbage salad, sour apple cake, catsup, canned beets, curing pork in a barrel, marmalade, and pickles.

I enjoy receiving recipes, and will often request specific ones that remind me of special occasions. And then comes the fun of trying them out, and sharing in a taste of that moment of friendship. The bits of my friends and loved ones in my recipe scrapbook also serves as a timeline of my life, and all the love that has rolled through it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

For Donna

In the highlands,
where blue and smoky mountain peaks meet
along a streambed of mimosa and wild thyme,
a great white owl shared space with me.
A slip of wind with unblinking dandelion-colored eyes,
feathers brilliant against the dense and fragrant greenery.
She appeared as clouds crept the silent streets at twilight,
far removed from the crumbling factory town,

the small home along the canal offering little to children
waiting for day trips to the field of golden-yellow blossoms,
grasshoppers, and crickets across from grandma’s house.

In the split-ranch with Arizona white walls
greeted by a braided macramé owl,
perched on a stick of stripped wood.

Owls filled her home,
where I had chicken pox.
Her nurse’s hands soothed me,
the smell of baking soda in water.

Donna was birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Sunday dinners,
card games and warm summer days.
She was tilled earth, petunias, tomatoes and cucumber plants-
My second mother.

I never knew she was not blood,
the only of three grandmothers who laughed with us,
passed time with us,
who stole kisses, holding squirming and giggling grandchildren
against her soft skin.

“You would not have wanted to see her this way,” mom says
“sick and fading. I told her how much you loved her.”

It is my heart she is thinking of,
but I am lost, trying to remember
if I ever really told her myself.

Her skin is bleach cold in the funeral parlor. Cold 
like plastered owl bookends made by thirteen year-old hands.
I can smell the powder she wore but cannot see her beneath the lacquer mask
Donna of southwest fire and sunshine would never wear.

I want to scrape the pink rouge from her cheeks,
to scrub the Broadway gloss from her lips.
I want to scream at her defacement,
So that I may pretend she is only waiting,
playing at death, until I arrive-

But I am here. And she is not.

I cannot touch her, cannot bend to her,
because the kiss I want to give will not wake her,
will not raise her lids,
will not show me her glittering, witty eyes.

I cannot pretend I am dreaming.

In a future place,
my heart begs to bend
to plant itself in warmed earth,
to grow and open and burst into life,
where she might be waiting,
barefoot and darkened beneath the sun,
where her hands might wrap around me,
arms pulling me from the earth,
where we would be laughing together again.

I am pulled back into the bright green grass
and thin air of the North Carolina peak.
The white owl blinks-

gone in a silent gust, the ghost soars above me
disappearing into the mountain sky

as the clouds roll away.

For Donna McDonald, my beloved grandmother who died on Mother's Day 2001. I wrote this after her funeral to process through the grief and hold onto the love. Today is her birthday. Not a day goes by where I don't hear her laughter in my head. She loved owls and Elvis Presley- and I loved her. Happy Birthday, Grandma.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Family Veterans

[Post updated from last year, including members of my family tree newly discovered who were veterans.
My grandfather, Mark Dutcher Eaton, didn't see battle, but he was drafted into the U.S. Army during WWII, already married and a father. I have had the privilege to read the letters he wrote to his beloved sister Dorothy about his time there. He was released from service when the war wound down, something I am grateful for, or my father might not have later been born.
War is in our history. It’s in every rise and fall of culture. The ghosts of battlefields long forgotten are littered with the blood of our ancestors. On Veterans Day, I honor my ancestors who both waged war and stood defense, in service, so that I might be here.

Early Settlement
  • Capt. Roger Clapp (1609-1690), born in Salcombe Regis, England, sailed to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1629 on the Mary and John. In 1665 Capt. Clapp took charge of the Dorchester Company stationed at Castle Island in Boston Harbor, the oldest fortified military site in North America. He held the post for 21 years and was given a nine gun salute upon retirement.
  • Sgt. William Pond (1622-1690) of Dedham, Massachusetts, of the colonial militia, was the first generation of his family born in the new colony.
  • Lt. Peter Wolfe (1606-1675), an immigrant from England, of Beverly, Massachusetts, served in the colonial militia in 1646, in defense of Salem, Massachusetts.
  • Sgt. Jeremiah Gillette (1650-1707), another immigrant from England, was the first generation born in America. He served in the colonial service of Connecticut.
  • Isaac-Etienne Paquet dit Lavallee (1636-1702) arrived in Canada, at age 28, in the Compagnie de LaMotte, Regiment de Carignan-Salieres in 1665. These first French regular troops arrived to aid the colonists of New France in dealing with the Iroquois. They were responsible for construction of the forts of Saint-Louis and Saint-Therese, as well as the roads between them. In the spring of 1666, Isaac’s company built Fort Saint-Anne at Lake Champlain. They were dispatched into Iroquois country in September of 1667, but could not rouse the Indians into battle. The Iroquois brokered peace and LaMotte’s famous regiment was disbanded. Isaac was one of 400 soldiers who elected to stay in the colonies.
  • Sgt. John Parker (1640-1699)… it is assumed he took part in the Indian Wars, probably King Philip’s War (1675-1676) in MA.
  • Francios LeSueur (1625-1672), a French civil engineer who immigrated with his sister. He moved to Esopus, NY in 1663 where he served in the Second Esopus War.

1754-1763 French & Indian War
  • Lemuel Lyon (1728-1781), of Stoughton, Massachusetts, served in Timothy Walker's company in 1755. He is on muster with Capt. John Carpenter’s regiment in August of 1757. He saw action in the 1758 Battle at Fort Ticonderoga, where he kept a 35 page journal, which has been published in, Narratives of the French and Indian War (2): the Diary of Sergeant David Holden, Captain Samuel Jenks, Lemuel Lyon, French Officer at the Siege of Quebec.

1775-1783 American Revolutionary War
  • Oliver Lozier, also Delozier, (born 1747) was a Bombardier, a noncommissioned officer, in Capt. John Doughty's company, in Col. John Lamb's regiment (2nd continental artillery). He was on the muster roll for April 1781 at West Point. Oliver enlisted for the duration of the war and was discharged April 4, 1783.
  • Capt. Freeborn Moulton (1717-1792) of Massachusetts, was charged a company of Minute-men of Monson. They were part of Col. Danielson’s regiment, which marched at the Lexington alarm of April 19, 1775 to Cambridge, where they remained until May 6, 1775.
  • Thomas Riddel (1739-1809), an Irish immigrant, was a Private in Capt. Issac Colton's company, Col. David Brewer's (9th) regiment, enlisting in 1775.
  • Joseph Riddle (1759-1847), son of Thomas Riddel and grandson of Capt. Freeborn Moulton, enlisted young and served almost the full duration of the war. He was a Private in Capt. Isaac Colton's company, Col. David Brewer's (9th) regiment enlisting in 1775. In 1776 he moved to Capt. Joseph Munger’s company, regiment of Col. Robert Woodbridge, the “Massachusetts Line.” By 1777 he shows as a Fifer in the 4th Massachusetts regiment under Capt. Caleb Keep and Col. William Shepherd, and later as a Drum-Major in Gen. Glover’s brigade. He was at the battle of Burgoyne, guarding the road to Albany, as well as the battle of Monmouth, NJ in 1778. A year later he served the Continental Army in the 9th company for Col. John Bliss’s 1st New Hampshire regiment. He was discharged from the Continental Army in June of 1780. Pension records list him as a cripple, so he was likely wounded.

1801-1805 The Barbary Wars
  • Peter De Lozier (1786-1849) was born in Connecticut. He joined the Navy and was on board the USS Philadelphia in 1803 when the government moved to end piracy on the Barbary Coast. Comm. Edward Preble commanded the Mediterranean Squadron into a blockade in October. On Halloween, the USS Philadelphia ran aground on a coral reef. The entire crew, with their Captain, William Bainbridge, was captured and the ship was used by the opposing Navy as a gun battery. Peter De Lozier and his crew spent 30 months in a Tripoli jail. When the conflict was over, he mustered out of service and claimed residence outside of Lockport, NY. He married, took up cabinetmaking and had a daughter, but eventually left his family to return to the sea. He died of cholera in Connecticut without ever seeing his family again.

1812-1814 War of 1812
  • Martin Dutcher (1796-1872) was a Private in Capt. Andrew A. VanDerzee’s “New Baltimore” company, Col. Barnabas Carver’s 61st regiment in the War of 1812. He fought in the Battle of Plattsburgh, 1814. After the war he retired to Somerset, NY.
  • Joseph Riddle (1759-1847), though older, served in the War of 1812, as well as the Revolutionary War.
  • Pliney Wicker (b.1781) was a Private in Sumner’s Regiment in the Vermont militia.
  • Elizur Lusk also served in the War of 1812, from Lockport, NY.

1861-1865 American Civil War
  • Adam Art (1836-1896) immigrated to New York from Hesse Darmstadt, Germany, and served in the Civil War under Capt. Levi Bowen, 29th Congressional district.
  • Thomas Burke (b.1835), of Lockport served under Capt. S.F. Bowen, 29th Congressional district.
  • Marquis DeLafayette Riddle (1825-1898), of Pendleton served under Capt. S.F. Bowen, 29th Congressional district.
  • Three of my 2x Great-Grandmother’s brothers, Daniel Raymond Whitcher (1831-1914), George Harrison Whitcher (1841-1863) and Orville Bailey Whitcher (1843-1864) served in the Civil War. Both George and Orville gave their lives in service to the Civil War. George died at Cemetery Ridge on the field of Gettysburg, fighting with the Michigan 7th. Orville was 21, and a painter before the war. He died of a gunshot wound to the left knee in battle at Alexandria, Virginia in June of 1864. Daniel served as full Sergeant in the Batty B company of the Michigan 1st.

1914-1918 World War I
  • Royal Levant Eaton (1873-1931), a New York state prison guard, served in the National Guard during WWI.

Honoring Roots and Freedoms
I believe in peace and practices of non-violence. I know that I am able to believe in peace because I have known peace, and that I have known it because of the sacrifices men and women made to acquire it for our country. Soldiers are men of principle and purpose who believe that the side they are fighting for is a just cause, no matter what history will later decide.
My ancestors were farmers, ministers, soldiers, crusaders and Norman invaders. In all of our histories, our ancestors were defenders and colonizers, pawns and pillagers, and brave men and women facing uncertain futures. They faced those futures for us, whether they knew it or not and we can honor them today by learning from our own history. They are more than regiments and companies. The most important thing I can remember is that an army of fighters is made up of men and women who have names and families. They are men and women who are husbands, wives, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. They are people of flesh and blood, of dreams and desire.

I am,
that they were,
that they are,

that they will be.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Assisted Dying

Considering the kind of work I do, I feel the need to acknowledge the passing, a week ago, of a young woman named Brittany Maynard, years younger than myself, diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and facing a death sentence. She went public about her disease and her decision to move to Oregon, where assisted death is legal, so that she could end her life on her own terms. It was courageous of her to talk about something we don’t talk about. It was a topic that seemed to trigger a lot of people’s personal opinions about her choice. And it revived an old conversation in the medical field about death.
A friend of mine tells a story about how she pulled to the side of the road once where a man had hit a deer. It was suffering but still alive, dying slowly. And she told me that as women, our bodies know how to gift birth. And we also have the responsibility to know when to gift death. She knelt by the deer and spoke lowly to it before slitting it’s femoral artery with a knife. It was dead in seconds.
And I think about that story. She didn’t kill a deer that might otherwise have lived. She gifted a being dying a painful death a kindness.
What if our medical field was like my friend? Not doctors deciding that patients are done with their lives and a drain on resources, which is where science fiction always jumps to. I’m talking about doctors who give their terminal patients all the options for care and treatment, including assisted death. They can always go get a second opinion.
The problem is that when we say assisted death, people hear assisted suicide. People hear “unwarranted euthanasia”. That is fear and grief talking. Not rationality. There will always be people who abuse a system. But if we assume that everyone is going to, we don’t leave room for the system to breathe and work.
I get the fear and grief. I have lost many to actual suicide. As a culture, the thought of the loss of someone we love is hard enough. They thought that they might choose to leave us, to hurt us through that loss is unbearable. And that is the filter most people discuss assisted death through.
I can set aside the grief and rage I have for those who I loved who have taken their own lives. I can see how the choice they made was their own choice and I had no right to expect them to suffer just for the selfish desire, on my part, to see them once in a while. Though I think my life would be the better for having had them in it, I am aware that I wasn’t going to make their lives better. I wasn’t going to be the one to shepherd them through their dark places.
It is that compassion that opened my eyes that there may be people who make that choice out of a practical place. For instance, when pain makes a terminal patient wish for a swifter death, we cannot brush it off as “the pain talking.” It is the pain talking. It is our loved ones telling us they are done.
If someone is considering ending things on their own terms if they find themselves with a terminal diagnosis, isn’t it more compassionate to offer them a medical end? Especially when they know the end will be painful and body-consuming, and the only measures available to them are to be kept comfortable through it. We hear doctors say that they are meant to save lives, not take them. And I believe that each patient loss weighs heavily on them. But when a patient is going to be lost anyway, what does it matter if it comes a month earlier than it would have? Even six months?
Our bodies are our sacred temples. How we care for them shows how we value our lives. What we do with them at the end does, too.
Maybe it’s easier to put it this way. If it was you, and you had been fighting, and your doctor finally came to you and said there was nothing more they could do, what would you want to hear?  That you could still have unknown weeks or months with the aid of pain medication? That you had the choice to decide when you wanted to end it without having to resort to suicide? Wouldn’t it be a better world if you were given both?

Blessings to Brittany Maynard, that she is free from pain. Blessings to her family in their time of grief and healing. Blessings to all those in need. May we found our ways to compassion, for the dead, the dying, and the living.
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