|Posted by ajoiner on September 30, 2011 at 10:00 AM||comments (0)|
It's funny, sometimes, how "good" and "evil" get mixed up and thrown together.
A few days ago, we had a thunderstorm here in SA. We have had several over the past week or so, finally ending our long drought, and bringing temperatures down from over a hundred to the much more comfortable mid-90's. How odd it seems to be saying, thank goodness, for our high today is only going to reach 91 degrees.
One thing, though, that thunderstorm caused the power to blip off, only for a few seconds, but enough to start a bit of a problem with my PC. It took a while for the reset button to work, and even after, the computer would simply shut down, for no discernible reason.
One of those shutdowns occurred late yesterday morning. I had my journal out, and was writing to myself as I worked on a new chapter for my book, or tried to, in spite of some dark little distractions. I was on my igoogle page with its little inspirational widgets and images, when the quote on my Joseph Campbell widget shifted to this one: "One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation."
It seemed so apt for my personal feelings at that moment, I picked up my pencil and began copying the message into my journal. I got the first sentence out and started on the second. "The blackest...."
Well, that was as far as I got, because all of a sudden, instead of my igoogle page, I was starting at the blackest monitor screen imaginable. The computer had blipped off again.
Once again, too, it took a while for the reset button to work, and by the time I was back on, the widget had changed its message. There was something about the timing of it all that I knew I really wanted to see the rest of that quotation, so I typed a few words of it into the search engine window and a page popped up that contained the quote I was looking for:
. First thing I did, though, I wrote the rest of that lost sentence: "The blackest moment is the moment when the message of transformation is going to come."
The page I had found the quote on, Northstar Gallery, was part of a photographer's online gallery. The artist, Dennis W. Felty, had written a mission statement discussing the importance of his work. He wrote of storytelling - in his case through recording images he had seen through the lens of his camera, but in a general sense, it applied to all storytellers. And every storyteller is a myth teller
Finding that article yesterday was, indeed, the high point of the day for me. Most of the rest of it was filled with black moments. In a sense, it was not a day I would wish to repeat.
It was a day, when, at the end, I found myself confronted by my own shadow. I went to bed, finally, but I did not sleep well. When I got up this morning, I had a strong urge to find and reread that artist's statement about the value of our dark moments. I check out my browser's history, and returned to that Northstar Gallery page, and reread Felty's statement.
I read, "Within our being, moment by moment, each of us holds the ability to be both hero and villain. Indeed, it is only when we understand and embrace this reality that we can hope to rise above the competing duality, choosing hero."
I found myself thinking of Luke Skywalker, in that cave on Dagoba, confronting an image of Darth Vader. In his anger, he wielded his light saber and lopped off the black-masked head, only to find himself looking at his own face. Later, he would learn that Darth Vader, that personification of evil, was his own father, and as the series ended, he faced his father and himself, and was finally able to help his father see that there was, "still good in him."
I come back to that Jungian concept of "Shadow," that part of each of us we are generally unwilling to recognize, and so, we tend to see those qualities in the people we conceive of as enemies - the evils that we must fight, the dragons we must slay.
But Joseph Campbell, the source of the original quotation, often spoke about the importance of "embracing the dragon." When we try to kill it, he explained, we kill a vital part of ourselves. We are all who we are, "warts and all," and everybody is capable of doing both great harm and great good. It is important, then, for us to explore our own darkness., because it is there , in that very spot, that the source of our light lies.
And, as the artist, Dennis W. Felty, said in the conclusion of his statement, "By following our passion and our bliss and by being willing to enter the 'underground,' we find paths that have been there all the while, waiting for each of us. The life we live becomes the life we should be living and one has the opportunity to know the fire of passion and the continuing renewal of the life within."
Nearly a quarter of a century ago, I began writing in my journals, stories of a hero who was forced to go under water (According to Jung, a symbol for our own unconscious self), where he found an underground cave, and in that cave, a shining red stone with healing powers.
Redstone had entered the darkness and found his own light.
As I re-explore and rewrite those stories (the journals themselves are long gone), I come to realize more and more that I am relating a universal myth, that cropped up, somehow, out of my own journeys into that archetypal collective.
We all tell the same stories. Each of us has a unique way of presenting the truths that lie at the heart of the myth, but the message of the myth remains the same.
Everyone of us is capable of shining a great light.
|Posted by ajoiner on September 5, 2011 at 12:10 AM||comments (0)|
Joe's little google widget on my igoogle page has been there so long that I thought I had seen all the quotes it contained, but this morning I read this one:
Life is sorrowful. How do you live with that? You realize the eternal within yourself. You disengage, and yet, reengage. You—and here’s the beautiful formula—“participate with joy in the sorrows of the world.” You play the game. It hurts, but you know that you have found the place that is transcendent of injury and fulfillments. You are there, and that’s it.
A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living
He has written about this idea several times and in several places, but this particular perspective on it was new to me. Maybe because its from one of the few of his books that I don't have in my library: a recent compilation of essays and speeches.
As I read it, especially the part that I've italicized, I immediately thought of a passage from Eliot’s Four Quartets that has always fascinated me, partly because I wasn't certain if I completely understood what he meant.
There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives—unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
For liberation—not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country
Begins as attachment to our own field of action
And comes to find that action of little importance
Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.
T. S. Eliot; "Little Gidding;" Four Quartets
I have always wondered how one might reach that position of "detachment," and if was really as desirable as Eliot seemed to believe. I did not connect it to that Buddhist expression that Joe is so fond of, that "joyful participation in sorrow." Eliot, a thorough Anglican Christian, uses references that are usually more from Hinduism than Buddhism when he is exploring other perspectives, and my personal experience of both of those other "isms" is limited.
Anyway, as I sat down here this morning, coffee in hand, and automatically, still half asleep opened that page on my computer (part of the morning ritual) and stared blankly at that passage from Campbell, a new variation of a familiar allusion, the first word that came into my head was "Eliot," and my hand reached for the little thin copy of Four Quartets that stays on the bookshelf at my desk. for once, I knew immediately where to look within the book. Most often I have to browse through the whole 60 pages to find something I remember but can't quite place where (he, too, uses the same ideas and expressions over and over).
So I reread them both a couple of times as the coffee started to do its morning thing and pull me out of that half-asleep stupor, and I thought, "How cool is that?" Two different theologies, both different from my own Judeo-Christian one, approaching a paradoxical idea from a completely different stand, using totally different metaphors to express this transcendent thing, and by putting them together, I come closer than I ever have to a sense of understanding the abstract concept that lies beneath them.
Ram Lopez (I should probably say Father Ramiro), the rector at the Episcopal church near my home, would often talk about the importance of a committed Christian needing to be "in the world, but not of it," and I wondered how one was to do that. Eliot's "detachment" seemed to me to be a little on the cold side, and neither approach, to my thinking, allowed for the passion that is a part of being human. Without passion, how could one be compassionate ("com" meaning with).
And as I read Joe's answer this morning, "You play the game. It hurts, but you know that you have found the place that is transcendent of injury and fulfillments. "
[Richard and his "reluctant Messiah" friend and teacher have just been to see "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," a film that they have seen several times over, because they just like it that much. Don explains to Richard how seeing a movie is a metaphor for living a life.]
"You can hold a reel of film in your hands," he said, "and it's all finished and complete--beginning, middle, and end are all there that same second. The film exists beyond the time that it records, and if you know what the movie is, you know generally what's going to happen before you walk into the theater: there's going to be battles and excitement, winners and losers, romance, disaster; you know that's all going to be there. but in order to get caught up and be swept away in it, in order to enjoy it to its most, you have to put it in a projector and let it go through the lens minute by minute...any illusion requires space and time to be experienced. So you pay your nickel and you get your ticket and you settle down and forget what's going on outside the theater and the movie begins for you." Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah; Richard Bach
And when we see a good movie, or read a well-written book, we sometimes reach the point, for a little while, where we "suspend our disbelief" and get caught up in the fiction as though it were real - just like we "suspend our disbelief" in any transcendent reality when we are born into this one.
Occasionally, though, we get glimpses. Wordsworth called them "Intimations of Immortality."
Eliot has called it "The point of intersection of the timeless/With time," "The hint half guessed, the gift half understood," "[Where] the impossible union/Of spheres of existence is actual,"
Here the past and future
Are conquered, and reconciled,
Where action were otherwise movement
Of that which is only moved
And has in it no source of movement—
Driven by daemonic, chthonic
Powers. And right action is freedom
From past and future also.
For most of us, this is the aim
Never here to be realised;
Who are only undefeated
Because we have gone on trying;
So, we "play the game. It hurts, but [we] know that [we] have found the place that is transcendent of injury and fulfillments. [We] are [here], and that’s it."
In that state of "detachment" which is nothing like "indifference" lies that "joyful participation," because we get that it is, at last, an illusion. We are more than this little existence.
|Posted by ajoiner on March 21, 2010 at 10:05 AM||comments (0)|
My morning inspiration begins again today with the quotation on my JCF widget:
"The old gods are dead or dying and people everywhere are searching, asking:What is the new mythology to be, the mythology of this unified earth as of one harmonious being? "
Joseph Campbell, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion. 1988
It was a familiar one. That particular book is on my bookshelf - one of those books that I read often. The book has seen much use, is thumb-nailed, highlighted, and well-worn. It did not take long at all to find the quotation. I thought it was interesting, and pertinent today, over 20 years after it was written. The comment was a follow-up to a quotation from William Butler Yeats poem, "The Second Coming."
Part of the book's Prologue, the poem and comment follow a passage on Adolf Bastian's three "primal compulsions" of humankind:
1 - "...the innocent voraciousness of life which feeds on life."
2 - "...the sexual, generative urge."
3 - "...the irresistible urge to plunder."
Campbell summarizes them as, "feeding, procreating, and overcoming." They run counter to a later development, "...the quality of mercy, empathy, or compassion," which he points out, "...like the will to plunder, is an impulse launched from the eyes....not tribal- or species-oriented, but open to the whole range of living beings."
"In our present day, when this same planet Earth, rocking slowly on its axis in its course around the sun, is about to pass out of astrological rangeof the zodiacal sign of the Fish(Pisces), into that of theWater-bearer(Aquarius), it does indeed seem that a fundamental transformation of the historical conditions of its inhabiting humanity is in prospect, and that the age of the conquering armies of the contending monster monads -- which in the time of Sargon I of Akkad, some 4,320 years ago, was inaugurated in Sothern Iraq -- is about to close."
He writes of "dissolving monadic horizons" and a "weakening" of the "psychological hold" of the old myths and their "social rituals," using Yeat's poem as an example. The "new mythology" will be a global one, he writes, saying it is,"...rapidly becoming a social as well as spiritual necessity."
Problems arise when we take the metaphors for literal fact. In doing so,we lose the very real importance of their massages for all people of all times.
"The elementary idea...of the Promised Land cannot originally have referred to a part of this earth to be conquered by military might, but to a place of spiritual peace in the heart, to be discovered through contemplation....For as the various ethnic forms dissolve, it is the image of androgynous Anthropos that emerges through and among them."
The theme for the second semester of my 10th grade Lit class was, "We are all more alike than we are different."
But today, as Yeats wrote a century ago:
"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;"
I cannot help but hope for that "Second Coming," but I doubt that it will be anything like the one those "monster monads" are expecting.
|Posted by ajoiner on January 13, 2010 at 1:32 PM||comments (0)|
This is a quote from a young man in (I think) New York City, speaking of why he instinctively jumped in front of a running train to save an elderly woman who had fallen into its path. He went on to say, "I just happened to be in the right place at the right time."I saw this on our local ABC noontime news show. I have searched their website for more info. Surely, before long, there will be something about it, or the ABC network will have something on it so I can give a fuller report. Inthe meantime, it seems tome that such events are happening more often these days. I think of the young man who jumped on the would-be bomber on the plane coming into Michigan, who gave no thought to his hands as he pulled the burning explosive device from the"alleged" bomber. These"everyday heroes," it seems to me, epitomize the mythological ideal at least as much as, if not even more than, those who are trained to take action.
|Posted by ajoiner on September 4, 2009 at 8:55 PM||comments (3)|
Before I begin this particular recollection of mid-20th Century East Texas, I must make a few qualifications. I do not personally recall this particular incident.
I was, I have been told, approximately 6 months old. That would make
the time somewhere during the early months of 1944. I know of the happenings through the recollections of my mother, and while under
most circumstances, I would regard the accuracy of her memory with
suspicion, this particular tale revolves around certain actions of my
Uncle Feagin, and her memory of the events fits quite neatly with my
own personal memories of the individual I first remember from the age
of about three, when he came home from that war that was supposed to
end all such entities but did not quite make it.
According to my mother, Uncle Feagin had come home on furlough, and was intent, naturally, on visiting his parents. His first stop was at my parents home in Orange, where he had hoped to obtain transportation to Helmic by convincing my mom and dad that they, too, needed to visit my mother's parents. There was a bit of a snafu, however, as my father, who was busy overseeing the building of several destroyer escorts for the Navy, had too much going on at the shipyard to leave, even for a few days. My mother did not drive, and my father's recollection of the time and work it had taken to remove the dents from the old '41 Chevy that had been acquired during my uncle's last visit home, had him reluctant to, once again, put his prized auto into the hands of his somewhat, well, you'll get to know my uncle better as the tale progresses.
Feagin was undaunted. There was no problem. They would simply make
the journey by train. My mother was not particularly eager. Not only
was I around 6 months old, my older brother, by a bit of reckoning,
would have been about three and a half. Somehow, she did not relish
the idea of spending several hours on a train with me, my brother, and,
perhaps most of all, with her brother. Feagin, of course, was as
charming as ever, and before long, she was convinced.
The train that regularly made the journey up the eastern edge of the state was known officially as the Waco, Beaumont, Trinity, and Sabine; more "affectionately," it was called the "wobble, bobble, turnover, and stop." Somehow, that title did not bode an auspicious beginning, to my way of thinking, but, at the time, at 6 months, what did I know?
The trip apparently began quietly. I slept for some time, and my brother, Bill, was occupied with his picture books.
It seems the trouble began when the conductor came along the aisle selling food and trinkets. Feagin just had to have some. My mother was not pleased. Among the little goodies he purchased was a tiny plastic old-style telephone - the one with a tallish, slender stand that held an earpiece, if any of you should remember. It was of red and clear plastic, the clear part exposing an inside filled with tiny, multi-colored sugar candies. My three-and-a-half-year-old brother was ecstatic, and, of course, wanted the candies right away. My mother, of course, said "No," quite emphatically, I've been told. My brother responded vociferously for a moment, until mother gave him "the look." I remember that look quite clearly from the time that I reached three and a half. It even worked, momentarily, on Uncle Feagin.
But Uncle Feagin had been away from his big sister's influence for
three years, and during that time, this Marine graduate of Quantico,
this ninety-day wonder, had led troops onto every island in the Pacific
that his family at home had read about in the papers. Although, when
he wrote home, it was primarily to explain to his sister what he had
learned about washing sand out of his skivvies, or to send word to my
brother, who had become enamored of his Uncle Tom's wartime
experiences in Alaska, taking photos USO visitors like Martha O'
Driscoll and Ingrid Bergman, that the next time he saw the Air Force
Staff Sergeant, he was to to tell the Staff sergeant to "jump in yon lake." The experiences that he preferred to keep to himself had given
him a certain amount of courage when it came to dealing with his
formidable older sister. Not very long after my mother's strong
negative response, she looked around to see that her dear brother had a
handful of the forbidden candies hidden behind his back, where my brother could reach them, and said brother was surreptitiously munching them down.
Mother never thought clearly when she was angry. And she most definitely was angry. She responded instinctively, and slapped her brother's hand, whereupon the tiny candies fell to the wooden floor and began rolling around, with my brother dropping down on his knees and grabbing and popping as many into his mouth as he could maneuver before our mother grabbed him up and stopped him.
It was about this time that my uncle became embarrassed by the attention they were garnering. He chided my mother for not having more control over her children, and escaped to the smoking car for the rest of the trip.
As my mother sat fuming, a very nice lady who had been sitting across the aisle, observing, leaned over and apologetically inquired, "Excuse me, dear, but please tell me that man travelling with you is not your children's father!"
|Posted by ajoiner on December 10, 2007 at 9:16 PM||comments (1)|
Over the river and through the woods...." they sang as they rode down the narrow tree-lined road. Ann thought the song was made up about her own grandmother, who lived in a small farmhouse deep in the Texas piney-woods. Getting there seemed a dangerous trip for the four-year-old Ann. The deep-rutted dirt and sand road was slow-going and bumpy, and she was always glad to see the last turn onto the grassy lane that led to the house. It was already dark, and Granma and Granpa could see the car's lights even before it made that turn. And this time, they were not alone as they eagerly descended the porch steps and hurried to open the gate. Ann's Uncle John was already there to welcome the carload that included her parents and big brother Bill as well as her other uncles, Feagin, James, And Tom. The car was so crowded that Ann had made the whole trip sitting on someone's bony lap, so she was very ready to jump out and run straight for her Granpa's arms. Her great-granpa Hughes was a bit slow getting to the porch, but he lifted a shakey hand to Ann's head, and smiled at her warmly. He didn't say anything. He almost never did. She was so happy. The dark drive down the bumpy road was over, and everyone was happy and smiling.
They were all eager to get inside. The fire was blazing in the big double fireplace, and all sorts of wonderful smells were coming from the kitchen. The fresh pine tree was lit with tiny candles, sitting in candleholders clipped to the trees branches, and there were strings of popcorn and red berries swagged all around it. It was the most beautiful tree Ann had ever seen. She snuggled into her granpa's lap and he sang her to sleep with a Christmas lullaby.
She was up early the next morning. Granma always told her that her breakfast job was one of the most important. Granma would take hot black pans fom the oven of the big wood-burning stove, pans with a thick layer of melted butter in the bottom. It was Ann's job to take the freshly cut biscuits and carefully swirl them in the butter before turning them over and placing them in the pan. As each pan was filled, it went back into the oven, to come out again a few minutes later, it's biscuits now magically browned, risen, and light and fluffy. That morning, even before they were settled to a breakfast of biscuits, eggs, fresh bacon and ham from the smokehouse, and homemade fig preserves, a horn began honking from a good way down the old dirt road, so everybody jumped from the table, and got out to the porch just as another car came up the grassy lane. Uncle Grady, Granma's baby brother, his wife, Aunt Frankie, and their daughter Ann had arrived. Now there were two Anns. Little Ann thought her thirteen-year-old cousin was the most beautiful "woman" she had ever seen. She turned to her own mother and said, "When I'M thirteen years old, I'm going to get married!" She did not understand why everybody laughed.
By noon, they were joined by Uncle Buel and Aunt Maxine, and their daughter, Jerrie Sue, whose farm was just a bit further down the road. And by that time, the crowded kitchen was busy with the roasting of an enormous Tom turkey, stuffed with cornbread dressing that the women had spent the morning seasoning with dried herbs like sage and thyme. There were sweet potatoes baking, and Irish potatoes boiling on the stovetop to be mashed with fresh cream and butter, and a really big pot of winter collards, fresh from the garden. More sweet potatoes had gone into pies, and there were two of Ann's favorite buttermilk pies as well.
Eventually, they all sat down to the long, crowded table, and her grandfather turned deferentially to his father-in-law and said softly, "Mr. Hughes..." and Ann's great-grandfather's shaky southern voice said proudly as they all bowed their heads, "Gracious Lord, give us thankful hearts, for these blessings and all others....."
|Posted by ajoiner on March 28, 2007 at 11:46 AM||comments (2)|
Do you know anything about chiggers? If you're from East Texas, especially the Piney Woods area, you probably do. I was introduced to the little (literal) buggers when I was about 13 years old. My mom and her Aunt Edna (my grandmother's sister) would always spend at least a few weeks at the beginning of each summer visiting Grandma, and giving her a bit of relief from having to take care of my great-grandfather.
On this particular trip, we had all set out on a grand adventure. My grandmother; Aunt Edna, her daughter Lessie, and grandson Eddie; along with my mom, me, and my little brother; decided to take a trek into the Davy Crockett National Forest and the family's original Texas homestead, along Alabama Creek (An odd thought just popped up. Just about every place thse women settled are now preserves of one kind or another. Duck River in Tennessee has all sorts of endangered critters along its banks, the Missouri farm is at the bottom of Truman Lake, and Alabama Creek in the Davy Crockett National Forest is now a wildlife protection area. OK, end the digression, Ann) We made it to the creek. Grandmother and Aunt Edna argued a bit over just where the farm had been, but we soon found a real treasure, an old deserted cemetery - Mt. Zion, it was called. There had once been a church there, where my 3rd great-grandfather preached during the late 1860's and into the 1880's. And yes, this was Ailcy's husband, David Felder Richardson, who was rumored to have ridden with Quantrill during the war, before he got religion. After Ailcy died, he brought the family to Texas, and eventually to Alabama Creek. My great-great grandmother, Martha Ann (I am her namesake) married Perry Thorne there - the dashing cowboy who fell in love with her as he caught a glimpse of her on a riverboat travelling down the Red River, followed her to the homestead, and married her as soon as David Felder decided she was old enough. They say she was beautiful, kind, and gentle - a lady who always rode side-saddle, even into her eighties. No one is quite certain how it came about that her daughter, Euna, the mother of my Great-Aunt Edna and my grandmother, turned out to be the meanest woman who walked two legs (or so everyone said.) They say that Euna doted on Aunt Edna, who was blonde, petite, and blue-eyed, but treated my grandmother, who had carrot-red hair, freckles, and a taller, lankier body, like she was a some sort of an indentured servant.
Anyway, we spent hours walking through that cemetery, found headstones for many of the Richardsons, including David Felder and the three of his four wives who succeeded Ailcy, and Grandma and Aunt Edna told us enough family stories to fill many books, and we laughed, and sang old songs, and were still singing as we drove back into the farmyard late that night. We went to bed tired, but happy.
It wasn't until about three or four in the morning that the itching started. By dawn, we were scratching furiously, and in the light, around our ankles, waists, and a few other places, if you looked close you could even see them, the little red buggers. Scientifically, I've been told, they grab hold of your pores and inject them with this stuff that liquefies your skin cells, and that's what causes the itch, so even after you bathe for a very long time in very hot salt water, the itching doesn't go away.
Needless to say, it was our last trek into that forest, but looking back, just watching my mom, her cousin, and their mothers laughing and having such a good time, finding the old tombstones, walking along that creek, I would do it again - chiggers and all. But first, I would stock up on Calamine Lotion.
|Posted by ajoiner on March 28, 2007 at 11:43 AM||comments (0)|
"Jeanette!" Annie called from the porch of the big house, "You and Martha take your cousin Ann over to the field and pick her a mess o' beans to take back to Miss Berta's to go with their dinner."
Annie Thorne was a large woman with an even larger heart. As I walked with Jeanette and Martha to the bean field, I tried to figure out just how we were related. Annie's husband, Duran, was one of Uncle "Dude"s boys, and Uncle "Dude" was a brother to my Great-grandmother, Euna Thorne Hughes. That made "Dude" my Mom's great uncle, so Duran and my grandmother were first cousins. I suppose that meant Martha and Jeanette were my third cousins, but it didn't really matter, because everybody living in the Helmic community were "kin." And I never went to visit Annie and her brood without being made welcome.
Jeanette, Martha and I reached the field with our large, empty sack. Jeanette, as oldest and tallest, raised a section of the barbed wire fence so that Martha and I could crawl through, and then we held it up for her. I'm sure there was a gate somewhere, but we never bothered to use it. Martha moved quickly to the first hill and started picking. "Just how much is a mess, anyway," she asked.
"Well," Jeanette mused, as she turned to me, "Who-all is over to Miss Berta's anyway?"
"All of my family: Mom, Dad, my brothers and me, and we drove up just behind Uncle James and Aunt Mary Lee with Brian and his sisters. Uncle Feagin and Aunt Norma will be here by dinner time."
I had fallen in behind Martha and Jeanette, and watched, trying to copy the deft way they picked the fuller pods as we walked our way down the row. "That sounds like at least a sack full," Jeanette said in a merry way. "Just how many kids does Feagin have now?"
"Four, counting the baby, Martha Ann."
"Yep," nodded Martha, "sounds like we need to pick a big mess, for sure."
Martha swelled up a little. "Feagin named his little girl Martha Ann, too? How many does that make?"
"Let's see," I replied. "There's you, and me, and now the baby,"
"Uncle Howard's youngest," joined in Jeanette, "and probably more from kin that's moved away and lost touch."
"Does anybody remember her?" I asked, "The first Martha Ann, I mean?" Jeanette was two years older than I was. The first Martha Ann was her great-grandmother, my great-great. She died a month after I was born. She was ninety years old. She had been born in Western Missouri, at the start of the Kansas-Missouri Border Wars, had lived through the Civil War, and buried her mother, Ailcy, before she was ten, moving with her father, step-mother, and the other surviving children to Texas.
"Kind of," said Jeanette. "Mostly I remember her hands. They were all swollen, and her fingers were twisted and curled. Momma always said the rheumatism gave her a lot of pain, but ever time I remember seeing her, she was smiling."
We continued down the row, the sack of beans beginning to fill up. "She was as kind and good," Martha said, "as her daughter was mean."
"Well, it's what everybody says. Not any of us knowed her, since she died before we was borned. But I know I've heard lots of people say it: Euna Thorne Hughes was about the meanest woman ever lived, even though her mother was the kindest."
The sack we brought with us was, by that time, full almost to bursting with bean pods, so we walked back to the house, talking mostly about other things, and by the time we were back, Annie had anther bag, filled with biscuits. Annie Thorne made the biggest, lightest biscuits I ever saw anywhere, and I could smell them all the way home, as I trudged, by this time, back down the sandy road to my grandparents farm. By the time I got back, my Uncle Feagin and his family had arrived. Grandmother brought several bowls out to the front porch, handing me the smallest, and she, my mom, my aunts and I sat at one end and snapped the beans, while the men all sat at the other end, my Great-Grandfather Hughes; his son-in-law, my grandfather Windham; my dad and his brothers-in-law; all telling fishing stories. I sat where I could clearly see my great-grandfather, sitting with his chair leaned back against the wall, smiling and talking softly with the younger men, all of whom gave him their complete respect. He was clearly a good man. I was, and still am, puzzled by the circumstances. I, like several of my cousins, was named for his mother-in-law, whom everyone called a good woman. But his wife, her daughter, was, according to everyone who remembered her, a mean-spirited woman who visited her misery on the whole family, to a degree that we all live with the repercussions to this day. I could see the remnants on my own mother's face, as she sat, angrily snapping the beans that were a loving gift from her own cousin, that my cousins and I picked on a glorious afternoon in a country bean-field.
I still wonder what made her so mean, and why she passed the meanness on to my mother.
|Posted by ajoiner on October 7, 2006 at 7:11 PM||comments (3)|
It is pre- or very early 1950's in a deserted piney-woods section of East Texas. I am in my grandmother's sitting/dining room, fascinated by the quality of light coming from the kerosene lamps that light the room. Later, the lamps will be picked up and moved into the bedroom so that we can see to go to bed, then snuffed for the night as we settle under patchwork quilts until morning. (Should we "city kids" wake during the night, there are pails in the room which will be emptied by my grandfather in the morning.) More pleasant morning happenings will involve getting dried corn from the corn cribs to feed the chickens, and going with my grandfather to the smokehouse for a slab of bacon, which he will take to the kitchen at the back of the house, and very thinly slice strips to go with the breakfast. My grandmother will allow me to "help" her make buttered biscuits to cook in the large, black wood-burning stove that takes up almost half the room. The eggs have already been gathered and are kept in a bowl on the counter. The ice-box actually holds blocks of ice which my grandfather gets from the "store" down the road, and brings back daily. No one would consider the need to put those eggs into the precious ice-box space. They keep perfectly well on the counter. ( Later the kerosine lamps would be replaced by a single light bulb in each room, hanging on a wire from the exposed beamed ceilings, with a string hanging down beneath each exposed bulb for turning it on and off.) Any other light comes from the double fireplace that opens into both the living room and the bedroom.
In my eyes those simple rooms had the romantic feelings of warmth that you speak of. I thought the place was heaven itself. It wasn't until much later that I came to recognize the very real darkness of that place. (My mother and her brothers spoke of mountains of green tomatoes left to rot in the fields after the market was flooded with those brought down early from farms in Oklahoma, and of my grandfather, an intensely religious man who believed that God sent the Great Depression to force people back to their "simple roots," and who was later seen by his children, banging and rebanging a bloodied fist into a fence post, tears streaming down his face and over and over again asking God, "Why?")
When I was in college, I went one weekend with my mother and her brothers, and we laid in a ceiling, and walls, and painted everything a pale green. We also added a bathroom and septic tank, so that my aging grandparents would not have to deal with those nightly pails. Some years later we found ourselves in that house again, after my grandmother's funeral. A distant cousin had bought it and used it for a weekend hunting lodge, so when we all came back to bury my grandmother, he invited us to come by for coffee after the services. My mother kept telling my children that the house had been much "nicer" when she had lived there as a child. My brother and I just looked at each other and remained silent.
It was not until then that I began to realize how "romanticized" my view of that life-style had been. My mother and her brothers had had to deal with the stark reality of it. I was starting to understand how one's perception could affect the "reality" of the world around them. To me, thanks mostly to my grandmother's gentleness and loving patience, my grandparents farm was a place of peace and light. My mother looked at the same place and saw only its darkness. Before the Depression, and the subsequent move back to the old family homestead, my grandfather, I was told by Mother and her brothers, had been a formidable individual, a stern and dictatorial patriarch. He had been a school-teacher, a merchant, the church organist, and the superintendent of the school district in the town where they had lived through the 1920's, but he was not a farmer, and was broken by his inability to control the natural world. I remember only a broken man who sat meekly in front of the fireplace while the women of the household, who had not time to sit, worked around him as he stared blankly into the flames, his personal depression mirroring the grand economic situation that had put them there.
My mother carried the memory of that darkness throughout her life. it was a pervasive influence on our household, even though the physical, material circumstances were quite "light" and refined, and for too many years was a factor in my own perceptions as well. Now, I can see, as I wrote in A Myth in Action, that "...the mythological concept of the hero?s journey is a symbolic exploration of the darkness within each of us, and psychologically, it is in that darkness where we find our greatest treasure."
I wish my mother had been able to confront, and come to terms with her darkness. She had the potential for shining a great light.