Sunday, May 31, 2009

Day 119/365 The Last To Leave The Ship


Wishful thinking on the part of White Star Lines.

No need to remind the reader this is not a "breaking news update". The Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, with a phenomenal loss of 1517 souls, including the father of little 2 month old Melvina Dean.

Melvina's father made sure his wife and children were safely aboard a lifeboat as the Titanic slid into the sea. They never saw him again.

For the rest of her 97 years of life, Melvina Dean was best known to the world as a survivor of the Titanic, and as of late, the last survivor of that famous tragedy. (Can you imagine how odd it must be to be best known for living through something that happened to you when you were too young to have any memory of it? I can only imagine the trauma embedded on the young mother and children. It could never have been far from their thoughts for the rest of their lives.)

This morning, safe in her bed, in her nursing home room in England, Melvina died peacefully in her sleep.

Losing the last direct connection with an historical event always seems so sad to me. It is an irretrieveable loss, that chance to "touch history" so to speak. This is no different than the death of the last Confederate veteran, or the last Native American who remembered living on the Plains before the white man arrived. From here on, we have only written memories and accounts.

Someday, the last person who witnessed JFK's assasination will die, or the last person that was actually at the March on Washington, or eventually, the last person alive who remembers being in New York on September 11, 2001.

All the more reason to listen to the stories and the memories, and the knowledge, so that we can learn the lessons.

Day 118/365 It Is SO My Book

I pray thee, Reader, do not soil this book
Or mark the phrases which may impress;
that he who later reads may for himself,
Discover all its charm and truthfulness.

Of all the joys of bookselling, one of the most enjoyable discoveries are the vintage bookplates.

The verse above appeared on an engraved bookplate in a 1881 edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Apparently the reader took it to heart, because the volume was in pristine condition.

Bookplates started as a way for those wealthy enough to own books to mark their ownership. Having a great library was a status symbol (whether or not the owner had actually read the books). Originally in the 1500's, the wealthy patrons would have their coat-of-arms printed on the outer leather binding of the spine, usually in gold gilt.

During the 1600's and 1700's, small groups of specialized engravers (mostly in London) began creating detailed personalized engravings for the wealthy, usually including their armourial signature and motto. Among collectors these bookplates are highly sought after, and I've just discovered there's an entire book of Scottish Heraldic Bookplates (and yes, I want a copy).

In the late 1700's and early 1800's, the artistry spread to Hungary, where the word "detailed" took on a whole new meaning.

By the late 1800's, book plates had become works of art (this is commonly thought of as The Golden Age for this craft), and their use spread to all levels of society. At the most basic level, the plates were stamped in, mostly for public libraries and colleges, while individuals pasted in paper, and carefully wrote their names, complete with flourishes and swirls.

During the permissive age of the 1920's, Art Nouveau went hand-in-hand with the Flapper Age, and bookplates took on a more erotic style, drawing from Greek and Roman pottery influences.

Even during World War II, bookplates were used for commmentary.

In the Forties, animals and sailing ships seemed to have taken over the artwork.

By the 1950's, the pendulum had swung the other way, with the common man's bookplates being ornate and intricate, while royalty used the very simple, understated "letterhead" style.

Today, bookplates are once again artwork. Most bookstores carry a full-selection for the general public, and there are artists who create personalized art to grace a patron's treasured library, in addition to those working in altered-art medium who use both vintage and new to create entirely new works.

I myself still prefer the Twenties style of puppies-and-kitties, opening all the windows on the sunny side of life.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Day 117/365 Searching of Mortality

Bookselling means I find occasionally books of poetry wandering across my desk.

This time it's Matthew Arnold, an Englishman, born in 1822 and living through most of the 19th century, dying unexpectedly in 1888.

Mr. Arnold had the somewhat humdrum occupation of being a school inspector (similar to our school board positions, except across all of England). His official title was Her Majesty's Inspector of Schools, which sounds a lot better than "School Board Superintendant" or even "Secretary of Education". The Brits always have better names for things than we do.

Despite the fancy title, Mr. Arnold described his job as "drudgery", travelled almost constantly, and took the position only so he could afford to marry and support a family.

His poetry is unusual, as were his religious views for his time. He once characterized religion as "morality touched with emotion".

Here's a brief sample:

Others abide our question. Thou art free.
We ask and ask: Thou smilest and art still,
Out-topping knowledge. For the loftiest hill
That to the stars uncrowns his majesty,
Planting his stedfast footsteps in the sea,
Making the Heaven of Heavens his dwelling-place,
Spares but the cloudy border of his base
To the foil'd searching of mortality:
And thou, who didst the stars and sunbeams know,
Self-school'd, self-scann'd. self-honour'd, self-secure,
Didst walk on Earth unguess'd at. Better so!
All pains the immortal spirit must endure,
All weakness that impairs, all griefs that bow,
Find their sole voice in that victorious brow.

How could I not love a poet that shows such a love of Shakespeare?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Day 116/365 Speaking of Destiny

Happy Indictment Day to John T. Scopes...May 25, 1925

Can you believe he's only 24 years old? What a lucky guy....first job out of college, hired to teach algebra and physics, and occasionally substitute in biology.

Guess which one got him in trouble?

Yep, it's always the sub that gets blamed.

Eighty-four years ago today, at the beginning of what would prove to be a sweltering Tennessee summer, John Scopes was indicted for teaching Darwin's Theory of Evolution. (Never mind that in the jargon of science, a theory is a proven fact. Non-scientists often confuse a scientific theory with a hypothesis, an proposition that is not yet proven).

Of course Darwin himself was not available to testify at the trial, having died in 1882, but he himself might have quoted his actual theory of evolution:

As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.

Dumbledore? NO!

Although it might as well have been, the way church elders immediately reacted, falling along the now familiar well-drawn lines of contention.

The distinguished gentleman above is the one and only Charlie Darwin himself.

While remembered mostly by non-scientists for his Theory of Evolution, Darwin published many books on various corners of research he was interested in, the last of which was the fascinating but lesser-known The Formation of Vegetable Mould through The Action of Worms .

As the daughter of a scientist, and in blatant support of John T. Scopes, who surely deserves a prize as Most Maligned Substitute Teacher in All of History, here are the top 10 things you probably didn't know about Darwin:

  1. The painting above is of the HMS Beagle, the ship that carried Darwin around the world as he researched the flora and fauna that led him to his eventual theory. (I LOVE the name of the ship - someone really treasured their pup)

  2. Charles married his first cousin Emma (apparently not practicing what he preached), and spent the rest of his life obsessing about his children's health and the results of such close in-breeding (note: marrying your cousin was very common among the upper class at that time, which, in retrospect, explains a great deal)

  3. Three of his sons went on to become great scientists: an astronomer, a botanist and civil engineer, and the last, Leonard, had multiple careers as a soldier, politician, economist, and lastly, a eugenicist (Leonard's career choices make a scary combination, particularily during the early 1940's)

  4. Darwin was never an atheist, irregardless of modern day claims. He regarded himself as an agnostic and played a promenient role in his village church (yes, even after he published his book). His view was that there was no reason any one religion should be more valid than any other. He was also an abolitionist, believing that no particular race was any better than any other race, or for that matter, any animal or being any more worthy than any other)

  5. Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton, introduced and named the field of eugenics i.e. the idea that moral and mental abilities could and should be bred in humans and even in particular races. Eugenics spread around the world, including to its biggest proponent, Nazi Germany (and even had an interesting history here in Virginia, but that's another post)

  6. A famous article published in 1915 attempted to "redeem" Darwin by claiming he had reverted back to Christianity on his deathbed. He didn't. According to his children, his last words were to his wife, Emma: "I am not the least afraid of death – Remember what a good wife you have been to me – Tell all my children to remember how good they have been to me", then he repeatedly told his daughters "It's almost worthwhile to be sick to be nursed by you".

  7. Darwin was the one who figured out how coral atolls form and published the most authoritative work on barnacles to date, in addition to an entire book on plant movement (or why vines twine and climb)

  8. In 2008, the Church of England apologized to him posthumously: "for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still"

  9. In 2000 Darwin’s portrait appeared on the Bank of England's ten pound note, replacing Charles Dickens (not sure how I feel about that, couldn't they have made alternate versions, like TV Guide does, one with Darwin, one with Dickens?)

  10. Darwin was awarded Britain's highest scientific honour, the Royal Society's Copley Medal in 1864, and on the same day, the first meeting was held by the group that became the influential X Club, devoted to "science, pure and free, untrammelled by religious dogmas".

Pure, free, untrammelled. I like that.

(The line for cancelling your subscription is to the right, as is the line for leaving disagreeable comments about evolution).

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Day 115/365 Bienville Parish Louisiana

or....... What A Place To Meet Your Destiny

What a lovely young couple: a comely young lady (high school poet and straight A student), complete with stylish strappy pumps, clutched in the arms of her handsome, debonair, Fedora-wearing young gentleman. Both in front of one of the earliest 1932 Ford V-8's, a car with considerable horsepower and get-up-and-go.

Apparently not enough get-up-and-go, as this is the comely young lady in the same car,shortly thereafter, on the date she met her destiny: May 23, 1934.

In Bienville Parish, approximately 8 miles south of Gibbsland, Louisiana, on Highway 154, two of the Thirties most notorious bank robbers, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, were ambushed and shot to death, courtesy of a friend who gave away their location to local police.

Afterwards, following the shooting of an amateur home movie of the bullet-ridden bodies and car, both car and bodies were loaded onto a tow truck and hauled away. In nearby Gibbsland, the tow truck broke down in front of the elementary school, and the children were given an impromptu recess to view the bodies.

What most people don't know is that Bonnie had a disastrous first marriage at age 16 to a man who ended up in prison for theft. She moved in with her grandmother and got a job waitressing in a cafe. One of her best tipping customers was a police officer named Ted Hinton.

At the home of a mutual friend, Bonnie was introduced to Clyde Barrow, and destiny took a drastic turn for the worse. Clyde was about to be incarcerated in the Waco County Jail (again). While there, Bonnie would smuggle him a .32 caliber pistol and "aid and abet" his breakout. Upon his capture, Clyde was sentenced to fourteen years. Bonnie went home to her grandmother and waited for him.

In 1932, Clyde's mother begged the governor to pardon her boy, and he did. Clyde went straight back to Bonnie, and the rest is history.

Bonnie has generally been portrayed as being as bloodthirsty as Clyde, but according to two other members of the gang, she never fired a shot, and rarely picked up a gun, except for photos.

Bonnie had told her mother that she wanted to be buried next to Clyde, but that wish was ignored. Clyde lies in North Dallas, and Bonnie in West Dallas, both tombstones encased in cement to prevent vandalism.

And that customer who was such a good tipper, back when Bonnie was waitressing at the cafe?

Ted Hinton turned out to be a Dallas County Deputy Sheriff, and a member of the ambush posse that fired the final shots into Bonnie out on Highway 154.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Day 114/365 Mary, Mary

Happy Birthday Dear Mary, Happy Birthday to you....

Mary Cassatt is my all-time favorite artist, or at least, one of the few on a short list. She was an American artist born in Pennsylvania in 1844, during a time not known for its encouragement to women who aspired to occupations other than wife and mother.

Oddly, this never-married, suffragette-loving, independant woman artist gained her greatest fame from painting mothers with children.

The top painting and the one below are two of my favorites. They always remind me of my daughter and all the things I loved about being her mother when she was a little girl. It's probably the little redheads that jog my memories.

Mary had an amazing life. As a student, she studied alongside Thomas Eakins, eventually moving to France (where they actually permitted women artists to paint from live nude models), where she sold enough of her paintings to pay for her art supplies. Her family was very well-to-do, but while her father would pay all her expenses, including traveling and living abroad, he refused to pay one cent towards her art supplies, feeling that being an artist was morally only slightly above being employed as a caberet dancer.

After deciding never to marry because she believed it would interfere with her art, she eventually formed a circle of artistic friends that included the likes of Degas, Renoir, Monet, and Cezanne (all Impressionists, who were the "pop art" of their time, and would never see during their lifetimes the respect their work would eventually receive).

Towards the end of her life, suffering from arthritis and almost blind, Mary Cassatt was still a vehemant supporter of women's rights, constantly fundraising and campaigning for the cause.

Nowadays, my little redhead is grown up, so this rare Cassatt landscape is a more accurate portrayal of us.

Mary Cassatt will always hold a special space in my heart, even if her contemporary French art critics said her colors were too bright and her figures too abstract, and that possibly the Impressionists were “afflicted with some hitherto unknown disease of the eye”.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Day 113/365 Orphans

This is...............someone.

I really have no idea who these people are - the 3.5" x 3.5" black and white photo fell out of Air Conditioning Metal Layout (1952 edition).

What brought a smile to my face is that these folks could easily be my mother's family. In fact, my grandmother had this same chair in her livingroom for years, alongside it's matching couch.

Judging from the fashions, the furniture, and the eyeglass frames, I'm thinking this was a 1940's Christmas (see the tree in the back corner?), and that little girl should now be roughly anywhere from 65 to 71 years old.

They are probably a farming family (going by the overalls - my grandpa wore them everyday, changing only if there was a funeral to attend), and this may be mom and dad, with the son and daughter, and the only grandchild to date. Or possibly dad and mom, with the daughter and her husband and child. Or dad with the three kids, and one grandchild.

Or even dad, and the unmarried sister that stayed at home is on the left, while the married sister is behind dad (looking prettier), while her husband holds the grandchild.

No one is wearing any jewelry at all, not even wedding rings. The man on the right definitely has a more white collar job. Looks like a silk tie he's tucked in to keep clean. Yep, while he has a friendly face, he definitely looks like a city-slicker come to visit on the holiday.

The man in the overalls probably isn't a tobacco chewer, since there's no snuff can or pouch in his overalls, but more importantly, his face is relatively unlined, and doesn't have the heavily aged look of a chewer or smoker .

The door behind them has a large glass panel, so it might be an entry door, but the glass has been covered and "decorated" with fake snow glaze. With the chair sitting so close to it, looks like they don't use this door much.

You probably can't see it in the picture, but the floor has a pretty floral carpet on it, and the light switchplate is brass (common in the 1940s), and the "switch" is actually the old-fashioned buttons. The Christmas tree has garlands on it, but they are commercial, not homemade.

I hate the idea of orphan pictures. Somewhere, some family historian is wondering where the pictures went from the farm. Or that little girl has grown up, and is wishing she had a picture of her with her dad and grandpa.

I have lots of these orphaned photos. I have been known to buy them by the box at yard sales when someone has had the shortsightedness to throw them away. Or at estate sales when no one is left who values them, and there they sit for $5.00 in a box lot.

This is my favorite orphan photo- I have it up on my bulletin board by my desk.

Maybe this smartly dressed young mom took it to send to her husband overseas so he could see the baby. The clothes and hair dates it to the 1940s, and she has a flower in her buttonhole, complete with pumps with little bows. The baby is dressed in the best - crisp little dress, and a crocheted jacket (with duckie). Last but not least, there's a patient Boston Terrier sitting at their feet, guarding the family till Dad gets home. He looks very Winston Churchillish.

Every picture tells a story. Especially the orphans.

Addendum: Thinking about it overnight, it occurs to me that the last photo may be someone in Europe - maybe sent to reassure relatives that she was okay, that she still had plenty of time to leave. Or maybe just after the war, and she's a war bride, waiting for papers so she can come over to the U.S. and join her G.I. husband. Looks as if she's sitting on a sortof canal, and there's are lots of those in The Netherlands, as well as Florida. Trendy 40's hats, duckie's on baby clothes, and even Boston Terriers were all fairly common, so, still an orphan photo.

Let this be the push you need to go and LABEL your photos. Even if you remember who those people are, 50 years from now, chances are no one else will.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Day 112/365 What Do These Ladies Have in Common?

You ever get those days when things just don't go right? When late that night it occurs to you that it would have been much better if you just hadn't gotten out of bed that morning?

I have a theory that certain dates attract misfortune, calamity and woe. Of course, it's a theory that is only visible in hindsight, rendering it completely useless or at least only good for personal entertainment.

For instance, look at today's date: May 19.

May 19 is not that kind to women, or at least not these three women.

Recognize the top portrait? An attractive woman, with a long, lovely neck. She would be the much maligned Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII. Someone should have told her if he cheats on his first wife, he'll cheat on his second wife. Anne lost her head, on........yep, May 19, 1536.

Definitely should have stayed in bed.

And this famous lady is our beloved Marilyn Monroe, singing to President John F. Kennedy. She had to memorize and rehearse "Happy Birthday", and then be literally sewn into this dress. So on top of having to sing to her famous (I'm suppose to say alleged here) secret married boyfriend in front of thousands, having to wear a dress a size too small (her assistant screwed up the order), and being so nervous she couldn't remember the words to Happy Birthday, she also had the flu that night and a temp of 102.

Again, should have stayed in bed on May 19, 1962.

Stumped here? This is Mary Jo Buttafuoco who got out of bed on May 19, 1992, to answer the door. At this point, her husband's teenage girlfriend decided to announce their affair by shooting Mary Jo in the head.

Of the three ladies, Mary Jo is the only one who managed to make lemonade out of lemons: Anne Boleyn lost her head, Marilyn died later that summer (which is a whole 'nother post), but Mary Jo's husband and girlfriend went to jail while Mary Jo survived and is engaged to someone who is *not* a sociopath. She also has a book coming out in August 2009 called

Nevertheless, staying in bed is looking better all the time, particularily on May 19.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Day 111/365 Neither Past, Nor Dead

Southerners are overly preoccupied with their history.

I can say that because I myself am a southerner, albeit a sortof weird hybrid, since both of my families run seven generations deep in Virginia but I was partially raised up north, but having since redeemed myself by moving south.

But God help the yankee that says it (and I’m only half joking-I use to delight in torturing my old-school Southern grandmother by asking her if she had the choice would she rather I married a black man, a Republican, or a yankee? That was enough to put a worried frown on her face, and silence her for hours).

At any rate, as proof that southerners dwell incessantly upon the past (wasn't it Faulkner that said The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past?) here’s today’s paper and the listing of local events:

Preserving Your Family History (Main Library)
The Secret Life of Cemeteries (Preserving your family's cemetery)
Talking About Books (Oral Histories)

Writing Your Family History (Rants and Raves about your family)

Historic Cemeteries (Preserving historic cemeteries)

Historical presentation on how the War touched our lives and behaviors today (Warning: You will give yourself away if you ask ‘Which war?’)

Preservation Monthly Workshop (Historic cemetery location, preservation, conservation and planning) (How on earth does one PLAN a historic cemetery location?)

This is not national cemetery month, these events are all planned by separate entities, and this is not an unusual assortment of activities.

I rest my case with an overabundance of proof.

As Mr. Faulkner said: In the South, the past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past.

Day 110/365 Bookends

Ruby Bridges and The Federal Marshals, New Orleans Public Schools,1960

What are the chances that “bookend” historical events would occur almost on exactly the same day, albeit 58 years apart?

One of the defining aspects of my childhood, or of the childhood of anyone growing up in the South prior to the 1970’s ,was segregation. Every child went to either a white school or a “colored” school. Speaking for myself, as a white child, this was not something you protested or more than gave a passing thought to. Children were not encouraged to voice their opinions about societal rules, and a result, didn’t pay much attention, something that was easier I imagine for the kids going to the bigger, nicer school.

On May 18, 1896, twenty years more or less after the official end of Reconstruction, the last blow against any civilized melding of southern society was struck by the U.S. Supreme Court when it endorsed “separate but equal” racial segregation in the case of Plessy vs. Ferguson.

If the South had been forced at that point by law to integrate black and white advantages and disadvantages, it would have saved at least another half-century of decline in the South, never mind countless acts of violence, and wasted human potential lost in poverty and racial neglect.

There would have been less of a need, if any, for the Civil Rights movement, less of a chance for the Sixties race riots, and no need for Affirmative Action Program, no need for the March on Selma or Birmingham Bombings.

Our society would have “bit the bullet” so to speak back in 1896 (still thirty years too late, since personally I think if the North went to all the trouble of the Civil War, they should have finished the job of reconstructing Southern society, instead of walking away and leaving a job half-finished).

Instead both black and white floundered around for another 58 years, until May 17, 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court redeemed itself with Brown vs. Topeka, striking down “separate but equal” segregated education forever.

Even then it took years for the law to actually be enforced.

This is the reason I found myself in 1960, six years after Brown vs. Topeka, sitting in an all-white class of first graders, wearing a dress almost exactly like Ruby Bridges', with the same white socks and same patent leather shoes.

Three years later, in 1963, when desegregation was finally enforced in Louisiana during the middle of my third grade school year, I found myself sitting in a classroom of empty desks. That particular morning less than half the class showed up. Panicked parents had pulled their children out of the about-to-be-integrated public classrooms, and sent them off to private schools, in most cases churches hurriedly turned into supposed schools.

For all of you who jumped the gun, I’d like to inform you that it was another four years before I ever saw a black child at any school I attended. And that was in Iowa.

That day the world did not end. Life as we knew it did not cease to exist. The written lessons were taught, homework was assigned, and children of all colors complained about it.

Wouldn’t it have been easier to get it over with back in 1896, without all the drama?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Day 109/365 One and Only

Or....why Southerners wallow in their sorrow.

It's because we're good at it. And it accomplishes a great deal, as far as making sadness a little more tolerable. Plus, we're surrounded by country music, which encourages wallowing.

The house above stands in Lexington, Virginia, and it is the childhood home of Patsy Cline, or as my Uncle Tom use to say Miss Patsy Cline, as if it was a holy mantra. Uncle Tom owned a succession of landboats, also known as Cadillacs, or moving couches, with every convenience known to man included. Not the least of which was the technological height of sound innovation: the eight track tape player.

The only tapes he allowed in his prize Cadillac were recordings by Miss Patsy Cline, and he announced each tape with a smile: "This is Miss Patsy Cline." As a teenager of the late Sixties/early Seventies, I could think of any number of additional artists he could add to his collection, but somehow, the moment Patsy's voice came out of those speakers, I completely agreed - she was the one and only.

No matter how many times Crazy or Walkin' After Midnight is played, Patsy still pulls the listener up and into the song, making them so depressed they just want to die, but then tempering it with commiseration, finally bottoming out and pulling on through it.

Like every good country song, the sadness is what makes the songs slightly sweeter. And sometimes you just need that sadness, because, well, because misery loves company, and if you're in that much pain, and Patsy is too - maybe you'll both be okay after a bit.

Patsy was destined to die in a plane crash in March, 1963, making her my uncle's "John Lennon" memory. Up through the 1980's, I was still out scouring flea markets for any obscure 8-tracks of Patsy that he might not have.

Yes, 23 years after she died, Patsy was still the one and only allowed in the Caddy.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Day 108/365 A Passing

Today at 6 p.m., Miss Millicent MacGregor Muncy lost her battle with cancer.

She was the much beloved spouse of Maximillan Magruder Muncy, an excellent Mama to her four boys, Shy, Lucky, Whiny, and Chewy Muncy, and a most cherished and loved companion of her human family.

Miss Millie has been laid to rest with her favorite blanket, next to Sweet Girl and Miss Ethel, underneath the blue vinca and butterfly bushes.

Miss Millie earned her favorite phrase "good girl" every single day, and has left her family with wonderful memories: bunny hopping while walking, drowning out the TV with her favorite squeaky fish toy, dancing on her toes, going for magic naps and being so proud of how pretty she was afterwards, and most particularily snuggling on the couch.

She will be most sorely missed.

Millicent MacGregor Muncy

January 15, 1998-May 11, 2009

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Day 107/365 And Now A Message From Your Cat

Barring any important anniversaries or counterculture memories, this is an appropriate moment for a message from: ME. Seri. Your Kitty.

This morning I discovered an open kitchen window. The great outdoors was so close, I could taste it.

If somehow I could have just pushed that window up, just a bit. All it took was a little more muscle. Another little shove.

Oh hey - there's a bird.

And there's that grey kitty going after it. HEY! I SAW IT FIRST! HEY!

I wonder if I could fit through that little opening....

Oh. Hi.

What do you mean "What am I doing?" I'm not doing anything. Why would you think I am "up to something?" I am not up to anything.

Go away.


I'll get down.

But that grey kitty is out there eating that bird.

It coulda been me.

All I needed was a little more muscle.

Or YOU coulda left the window open.

Woulda helped ya know.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Day 106/365 An Anniversary

On May 8, 1973, 36 years ago today, the second occupation of Wounded Knee came to an end.

Doesn't ring a bell?

It would have if you were living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, if you were a member of the American Indian Movement, if you were living in Minnesota or South Dakota, or if you caught any of the evening national news broadcasts for the prior 70 days.

I won't even pretend to go into the history behind the Wounded Knee occupation. It's detailed and involved -the American government does not come out looking good in any way, shape or form, and whatever the Native American complaints are, they are more than likely not half of what they are entitled to be.

But the mission of the occupation was simple: the return of the Great Sioux Nation, a sovereign land base, consisting of the entire western half of South Dakota, recognized by the United Sates in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.

In 1973, I was a freshman at Macalester College (actually a transfer student but admissions was still sorting that out at the time), and Macalester being the hotbed of liberal radicalism it was (and still is) it offered many opportunities for internships, one of which was stuffing envelopes at the St. Paul office for AIM, or the American Indian Movement.

That's how I came to meet Dennis Banks and Russell Means, the leaders of the American Indian Movement, fresh from occupying the island of Alcatraz for 19 months, and two of the most well-known radicals in country. Actually I didn't "meet them" so much as both of them yelled at me for not stuffing envelopes correctly. Not at the same time. I was gifted, in that I managed to irritate both of them at different points over the three month period I helped in the office. I doubt that either of them ever knew my name, or that of any of the other bleeding heart liberal white kids that helped. (Think of all those old westerns where the cast list reads "Indian #1, Indian #2; except in this case it would read "White Kid #1, White Kid #2).

Nevertheless I kept going back,doing my part to aid in the stuggle and soothe my white guilt.

At the same time, on our dorm floor, among the 300+ occupants were three Native American students, all Oglala Sioux tribal members from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. They lived on the opposite end of the dorm floor from me, and I have absolutely no idea what their names were, being that 296 people lived in between us.

But I do remember the night when I was sitting with friends in the lounge, and the elevator doors opened up, and two young men who were very obviously Native American stepped out. They headed down the hall towards the opposite end, and within 20 minutes or so, returned with the three native students, each with a back pack.

They stepped into the elevator, and never returned. Left everything except whatever they could carry in their back packs. Later the next day, we learned they had gone to join the occupation at Wounded Knee, and for the next 71 days, from February 27, 1973 through May 8, 1973, the evening news was the center of our attention.

I always wonder what happened to those three. I hope they weren't among the wounded, or the dead. I have read opinions on Pine Ridge have been splintered since the occupation - some feel it was a turning point and a beginning to the resurrection of traditional life. Others had families that were split apart (not unlike white families were split by the Vietnam War, and black families split by the Black Panthers and Black Muslims). Revolution has the tendency to do that.