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Patriotic Atheist American Heritage

Recently I posted some hate mail on Facebook that the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers received. This email said that atheists have no heritage in the United States, that we aren’t real patriots, and that we don’t have the courage to step up and play with those who are.

Carey Dove

 

Dear Carey Dove:

I’ve studied constitutional law, history, and my own genealogy. I know what my heritage is. Apparently, you don’t know me at all.

Carey Dove

So, let me give you a little introduction to me, my knowledge about the constitution, and whether or not I have any American heritage.

We’ll start with the constitutional lesson.

GeorgeMason-painting

George Mason (1725-1792), portrait by John Hesselius (1728-1778)

George Mason wrote the first bill of rights to be adopted in the Americas. His Virginia Declaration of Rights, written in the spring of 1776, influenced revolutions on two continents. The Declaration of Independence drew heavily from it. The Bill of Rights plagiarized it. The French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen tracked it. Its final provision was to grant religious freedom to Virginians.

Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy (1873-1952). See the three men huddled off to the right, looking on disapprovingly as the Constitution is signed by the other delegates? They are George Mason, Elbridge Gerry, and Edmund Randolph.

George Mason was a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, when fifty-five men from twelve of the newly formed states argued about how to replace the unworkable Articles of Confederation. Mason dominated the discussions. Ultimately, he was one of three delegates who voted against it, primarily because it did not contain a bill of rights – there were no constitutional guarantees of personal liberty.

He would be vindicated four years later, when the bill of rights was adopted. The first of those rights was religious freedom.

BillOfRights-1024x673

So, now we have established that our constitution, and the history that preceded it, includes religious freedom. That means the freedom to dissent and to reject religion, because without the freedom to dissent and reject what we find to be wrong with religion, there can be no freedom in our practice of religion. And if we ultimately reject it all? That is the ultimate freedom.

So now I’ll embark on explaining the pedigree I have in this country.

A few years ago I was chosen to be on the Board of Regents that oversees the maintenance and operation of George Mason’s historic home in Virginia.

Gunston

Diorama of Gunston Hall

I was invited to sit on that board because of who my ancestors were. My European ancestors not only lived in colonial America, but they gave their time, talents, efforts, and money in public service to their colonies. They were politicians, military officers, doctors, judges, ministers, founders of schools, and founders of towns. They spoke out. They acted. They were patriots.

Who they were and what they did has shaped our country and its government. They shaped our states and our institutions. Their words and actions are this country’s heritage, and this country is their legacy.

On a very personal level, who they were and what they did has shaped who I am personally, and what I do. Their behavior, values, strengths, words, intelligence, and deeds are my heritage, and I am the culmination of their legacy.

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Anne Marbury Hutchinson (1591-1643)

My favorite ancestor is my 11th great aunt, Anne Marbury Hutchinson. Anne Hutchinson was a well-liked and respected mother of 15 children. She was brilliant, charismatic, and a passionate intellectual. She was also the polestar of a controversy that nearly shattered the religious experiment that was the infant Massachusetts Bay Colony.

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John Cotton (1585-1652)

Anne and her husband Will came to America in 1634 with a Puritan minister named John Cotton, who would eventually become the most preeminent theologian in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Unlike the Puritan ministers already in Boston when he and the Hutchinsons arrived, John Cotton believed that a person had no control over his own salvation, but had to depend on God’s grace. This was Calvinist predestination in its purest sense, but it was contrary to what other Puritan ministers were teaching. They taught that the good works done by a person were the only ticket to salvation.

Boston 1634

Boston was a small town in 1634. Click to embiggen, and note that every single household is listed. Will & Anne Hutchinson and their large extended family stayed with friends and relatives while their own home was being built. The population of the entire Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plymouth Plantations was about 5,000 people. (Map from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center Collection at the Boston Public Library)

The Hutchinsons were wealthy in England, but even wealthier in the colony. They built one of the largest homes in Boston. After church services, Anne Hutchinson would invite other women to gather in her home to discuss the sermons and the Bible. Anne’s meetings were very popular with the women of Boston, and soon men joined in.

Anne-Hutchinson-preaching howard pyle

Anne Hutchinson Preaching at her House in Boston (Howard Pyle, 1901, from the Library of Congress)

Like her mentor John Cotton, Anne emphasized the importance of a state of grace over good works. People liked what she had to say. They were focused on feeding their families and running their businesses; they didn’t have time for unlimited acts of charity. As the number of people at her meetings escalated, Anne’s philosophy quickly leaked back to the Puritan clergy. Boston was a very small town in 1634.

The ministers claimed that Anne’s “unauthorized” religious gatherings “might confuse the faithful.” They argued the theological point of predestination – good works versus inherent grace – among themselves, and ultimately Anne was charged with heresy.

John Cotton, however, was not.

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Anne Hutchinson on Trial (Edward Austin Abbey 1901)

Anne was a woman, so was not authorized to preach.

Left to her own devices, Anne Hutchinson, the first female defendant in any trial in America, defended herself at her heresy trial, which was prosecuted by John Winthrop, her neighbor and the governor of the colony. Governor Winthrop was most displeased with Anne’s religious dissent, because his wife, Margaret, was very fond of attending the meetings in the Hutchinson home, and brought home with her ideas he found unbecoming in a woman.

And like the Reverend Dimmesdale in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, who was modeled after him, John Cotton essentially betrayed Anne to the powerful citizens who brought the charges against her. When he was called to testify, Cotton denied that he had incited any dissent in Anne, and smiled and shrugged, claiming he did not remember the substance of any of his conversations with her.

Atheist-A

It is no accident that this red A, the icon of the secular movement, evokes the scarlet letter Hester Prynne was required to wear in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel.

Upon hearing his repudiation, Anne Hutchinson did something she had been forbidden to do: she began to teach the men. While her teaching had been in private before, here, now, at her trial for heresy, she took off the gloves and came out punching. “If you please to give me leave, I shall give you the ground of what I know to be true.” Without waiting for permission, Anne continued speaking, explaining her own history, her dissatisfaction with the Church of England, her search for the truth she knew had to exist.

Governor Winthrop attempted to interrupt her. She ignored him and continued.

“God did discover unto me the unfaithfulness of the churches, and the danger of them, and that none of those ministers could preach the Lord aright.” Scripture fell from her lips as she brazened on, daring to teach, despite an exchange with Governor Winthrop earlier in her trial during which they had exchanged barbs about the ability of women to teach. (“What, now you would have me teach you what the Bible says?” she mockingly exclaimed to him.)

I don't know who painted this image of Anne and her persecutors. If someone else does, please notify me. I've found it in several places on the Internet,but never with attribution.

One of my favorite quotes from Anne is:
“How did Abraham know that it was God that bid him offer his son, being a breach of the sixth commandment?” Nevemind that, chronologically speaking, Abraham knew nothing about any commandments.

Governor John Winthrop was also, conveniently, one of the judges, so naturally Anne Hutchinson was convicted, and in November 1637, she was banished from Massachusetts.

Anne was 43 years old at the time of her trial. She was also pregnant, and during the trial she suffered a miscarriage. The superstitious Puritans allied against her saw the severely malformed fetus as proof that Anne had fallen from God’s grace.

Anne’s youngest sister was my 10th great-grandmother, Catherine Marbury Scott. Catherine and her husband, a shoemaker named Richard Scott, came to America on the Griffin with the Hutchinsons and John Cotton in 1634. They left Boston with Anne, first joining Roger Williams at a place he called Providence, in the Rhode Island and Providence Plantations secured by Williams as a separate colony. Williams had himself been banished from Boston in 1635, the year after the Hutchinsons and Scotts had arrived, for preaching that one did not need a a church in which to worship.

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Richard Scott’s signature on the Providence Compact that chartered the town

In Providence, the Scotts, along with many other of Anne’s followers from Boston, created a new community. Richard Scott wrote the Providence Compact, which was then signed by each of the 39 heads of household to come to that place. They became Baptists for a while, then Quakers. Then, in 1660, Catherine returned to Boston to protest the punishment of two young Quaker men. For her efforts she was stripped to the waist and flogged in public. Even though Boston had been unspeakably cruel to her sister 23 years before, Catherine did not hesitate to speak out when she saw the government do something wrong-headed. She was a worthy bearer of her sister Anne’s torch.

Anne herself was afraid to stay in Providence, especially after her husband’s death. Massachusetts had rattled its saber at the Rhode Island settlers, claiming it had the right to govern them, so she fled with her children to Long Island. There, in 1643, she and all but one of her children were murdered by natives. How long might she have lived had she not been run out of Boston? How much more might she have contributed to the ideas of women’s rights and freedom of conscience had she remained in Boston?

Far from being dour, rigid Puritans, Anne and Catherine were firebrands.

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Statue of Anne Hutchinson and her youngest child, Susannah, at the Massachusetts State House. Susannah was the only survivor of the family’s massacre by natives at their New Netherlands home in what is now Pelham Bay Park, NY.

Anne Hutchinson is a key figure in the development of religious freedom in the U.S., and in the history of women in ministry. She challenged authority, and she didn’t back down. A monument to her at the Massachusetts State House calls her a “courageous exponent of civil liberty and religious toleration.” She is easily the most famous – and infamous – Englishwoman in colonial American history.

Anne Hutchinson was a freethinker in the truest sense of the word: Dogmatic as she was in her own way, she seriously contemplated her religion, a deity, and the teachings of those who claimed to know, and then she drew conclusions for herself. The conclusion she reached was not the one that was favored in Boston in 1637. Nevertheless, she did not back down. She had the courage of her convictions, and today she is admired and even revered for her steadfastness.

I admire her enormously. Her courage in the face of adversity, her sustained intelligent wit, her sublime sarcasm – right to the face of the most powerful man in Massachusetts! This – this is a woman I can only hope to live up to as I exercise the courage of my own convictions.

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Firebrand atheism: an in-home “revival,” with Sam Singleton, Atheist Evangelist, at my house in December 2012

When I speak up and speak out, when I hold meetings in my home, when I dissent from religion, when I give my time and my money and my talents to my community and to issues I care about, I am following the legacy of my heritage. I am doing exactly what my ancestors have done ever since they first came to this continent.

For the 392 years that we’ve been in America, it’s been my family’s tradition to speak up and speak out, and to act on our convictions.

And that, Carey Dove, is a very proud heritage, with full knowledge of where our religious freedoms came from, with full knowledge of when they did not exist here, and with full knowledge of what happens when dissent is not allowed – and why it most definitely and wholeheartedly is.

Nathan Warren: Free Man, Confectioner, Minister, Civil Rights Advocate

Student portraying Annie, Nathan Warren’s first wife, at 2013’s Tales of the Crypt at the historic Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock

The lot of a slave in the American South was not easy, no matter how well he or she was treated by well-intentioned owners. It is hard for many of us to imagine being born into bondage, not free to make our own decisions about where to live, whether to be educated, whom to marry, and whether we can even live with our own families. In the early 1800’s, though, for most black people living in the newly-formed United States of America, such a situation was their reality, and a well-intentioned slave owner was not the norm – certainly not when it came to the liberty of his slaves.

Some slaves overcame their stifling beginnings, though, and became laudable examples of the kind of men and women their entire race should always have been allowed to be. Nathan Warren was one of these great men. Born into slavery, Nathan “Nase” Warren was a successful businessman, a minister, a devoted husband and father, a community organizer, and a civil rights activist. He is buried in a lost grave at Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock, Arkansas.

When Robert Crittenden came to Arkansas as the first Secretary of the newly-created Arkansas Territory in 1819, he brought with him a six year old slave called Nase. Some of Crittenden’s white descendants and some of Nathan’s black ones believe Crittenden, who was about 15 or 16 years older than his young slave, was the child’s father.

In 1834, when Nathan was about 21 or 22 years old, Robert Crittenden died nearly bankrupt. Crittenden was only 37 years old when he died, and his widow had difficulty even keeping a roof over her head. This meant turmoil for young Nase, whose ownership was transferred to Daniel Greathouse, the pioneer in Faulkner County, Arkansas, who at the time was living in Little Rock. But Greathouse filed an interesting document with the Pulaski County Clerk – after three and a half years of service, Nase was to be freed. Greathouse died before those three and a half years had expired, and Nase was indeed given his freedom just before Arkansas became the 25th state to be admitted to the Union.

Possibly because of his visibility in the Crittenden household, Nathan had made important contacts among other members of Arkansas’ territorial elite. Chester Ashley, one of the men who donated the land where the Mount Holly Cemetery sits to the City of Little Rock, was one of those contacts. Ashley hired Nathan as a carriage driver. Nathan and Anne, the quadroon daughter of the Ashley’s cook, married. They would have either nine or ten children together, and Nase would help to rear Anne’s older son, W.A. Rector.

Nase was much more than an ordinary carriage driver. When he took over a confectionery two blocks from the Ashley’s home, on the land where part of the Capital Hotel now stands, the people of Little Rock quickly learned that he had a true gift for his craft. His shop was so successful that the ladies of Little Rock would not consider having a party without treats from his store. They begged “Uncle Nase” for his secrets, but he refused, telling them that if he shared his recipes with white ladies, he would give away his trade.

His confectionery eventually moved to a larger storefront west of Main Street. He suffered a setback when his shop burned. Arson was suspected. He reopened, though, and business continued briskly.

Nathan was not the only member of his family to live free in the early 1800’s. One of his brothers who had remained with the Crittenden family in D.C. had also been freed, and together they purchased the freedom of a third brother from the Crittenden family in 1844.

When Nathan’s first wife died, he married another Ashley slave, Mary Elizabeth. He had two daughters with her, and eventually purchased their freedom. The children from his first marriage remained slaves in the Ashley family, though.

In the 1850’s, sentiments against free black people ran high in southern states, and Arkansas was no exception. In 1859, Governor Elias N. Conway signed the Free Negro Expulsion Act. Free black people, which meant anyone who had at least one black grandparent, were required to leave the state by January 1, 1860, or face sale into slavery for a period of one year. The continued freedom of about 700 people was directly jeopardized by this Act. Nathan was not among them, though. He was a very intelligent man, and when a similar measure had narrowly failed in the legislature in 1857, Nathan had seen the writing on the wall. He packed up Mary Eliza and their two free daughters and left for Xenia, Ohio, where he lived for several years. While he was in Ohio, he took the name Warren as a surname. At the time of the 1860 census, he lived in Xenia, Greene County, Ohio, with Mary Eliza, their daughters Ellen (8) and Ida (4), and two sons, William (2) and Edwin (7 months). As he had in Little Rock, Nathan worked as a baker.

A story in a newspaper article about Nathan claimed that an old friend encountered him in New York during his exile, and that Nathan was miserably unhappy and down on his luck. The friend, a Mr. Tucker, brought Nathan back to Arkansas even though the Act expelling free black people was still in effect. Family legends and the census locating Nathan’s family in Ohio for this time period dispute this version of events. Nathan’s descendants believe that Nathan and his free family returned to Little Rock about 1863, possibly with the help or sponsorship of the Ashley family. Since Nathan had left nine or ten of his still-enslaved children in Little Rock, one can only assume that he missed them and worried about them as the Civil War raged in and around Little Rock. Perhaps local people had their hands full with politics and the war, or perhaps “Uncle Nase” was so well-liked that the society ladies were grateful for his return and persuaded their husbands to leave him alone. At any rate, upon his return to Little Rock, Nathan Warren reestablished his confectionery and his popularity.

While living in Ohio, Nathan and the Warren family had been introduced to the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The AME church had broken away from the Methodist Church in Pennsylvania because black congregants wanted their own place of worship, independent from the white church. Almost as soon as he returned from Ohio, Nathan started the Bethel AME Church in Little Rock and was ordained as a minister. The Bethel AME Church is still a vital part of the downtown community, although it has moved into a different building that takes up the block bordered by 16th Street and Wright Avenue between Izard and State Streets. It is celebrating its sesquicentennial this year.

The year Nathan Warren started Bethel AME Church was a turning point not just in his life, but in the lives of all American slaves in rebellious states. The Emancipation Proclamation had been issued January 1 of that year, and Civil War raged across the country. Most of the battles fought in Arkansas occurred after January 1863, including the battles of Bayou Meto (also known as Reed’s Bridge) and Bayou Fourche, both of which were fought on the Union army’s approach to Little Rock.

With Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, the rest of Nathan Warren’s family soon became free. Most of the children from his first marriage were adults now, and many of those ten children had inherited Nathan’s musical talent. Nathan was a popular fiddler, and his children played other instruments and performed publicly as a group.

The end of the war brought other changes, too. The government’s efforts at reconstruction in the southern states meant that black people would be granted rights. Exactly how those rights would be realized, and exactly how the former slaves would support themselves, was uncertain. Nathan Warren was a Pulaski County delegate to the Convention of Colored Citizens held in Little Rock November 30 – December 2, 1865.  It was the first convention ever held by the black residents of Arkansas.

The language contained in the minutes of that convention is stirring. The convention

met for the purpose of conferring with each other, as to our best interest and future prosperity; also, to memorialize the State Legislature and Congress of the United States, to grant us equality before the law, and the right of suffrage, … we have earned it and, therefore, we deserve it; we have bought it with our blood, and, therefore, it is of priceless value to us.

Rev. Nathan Warren delivered the prayer at the closing session the final day of the convention. The final resolutions of the convention underscored the great hope that the newly emancipated black Arkansans had, while recognizing that a struggle still lay before them.

The persecutions of two and a half centuries have not been enabled to destroy our confidence in the eventual justice of the American people. We believe the time has come when wisdom again asserts her sway in the councils of the nation.

It would be another hundred years before the federal government would pass a civil rights act to ensure racial equality.

Through the Reconstruction era, Nathan Warren maintained his confectionery and his musically-gifted children continued performing. Their musical gifts would bring them tragedy, though. In early 1866, the Warren family performers were hired to perform for a private party aboard the steamboat Miami on a journey between Little Rock and Memphis. In the early morning hours of January 28, 1866, the Miami was on its return to Little Rock. As the Miami navigated waters near the then-thriving town of Napoleon in Desha County, where the Arkansas empties into the Mississippi, its boilers exploded. Three of Nathan’s sons, George, Frank and John, were among the 225 passengers killed, as was his son-in-law, Wash Phillips. Nathan’s son Isaiah and stepson W.A. Rector were on the boat, but survived the explosion.

The Miami was one of three such tragedies in just a few days on America’s central waterways. Two days after the Miami’s explosion, the Missouri exploded, and two days after that, the W.R. Carter blew up. Around 365 lives were lost in the three explosions. The causes of the explosions on the Missouri and the W.R. Carter were never explained, but according to a report in the Cincinnati Enquirer on February 6, 1866, inspectors investigating the incident blamed the Miami tragedy on its engineers, who apparently were aware that the boilers needed repairs, but failed to maintain them properly during the trip. The Atlantic and Mississippi Company, which owned all three of these steamboats as well as three others that had exploded in the preceding year, had no insurance coverage for its vessels. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the company’s managers had reasoned that it was cheaper to replace a boat now and then than it was to pay expensive insurance premiums on its entire fleet. A month to the day after the Miami tragedy, three more of the Atlantic & Mississippi’s steamboats were destroyed by fire near St. Louis. After losing nine steam boats – six within thirty days of each other – the company finally elected to insure its fleet. The Miami was lost during the most destructive four months in the history of America’s river navigation. It was one of twenty-nine steamboats destroyed by fire in the sixteen weeks between December 15, 1865 and April 12, 1866.

Despite this incredible personal tragedy, Nathan Warren continued to push for his own prosperity and for the prosperity of his race. Bethel AME Church grew exponentially, and Rev. Warren himself shepherded the flock there. On August 22, 1873, an article in the Arkansas Gazette described efforts to form an organization designed to test the limits of the newly-enacted Arkansas Civil Rights Law of 1873. Some believed the act was a sham and that the white people of Arkansas had no intention of granting rights to black people. Nevertheless, a coalition of black and white citizens met to devise ways in which the law’s purpose could be tested and fulfilled. Rev. Warren attended, and was elected to the group’s finance committee.

Rev. Warren’s name appears in minutes of other meetings during Reconstruction. He was a civic leader, a minister, a successful businessman, and a civil rights activist. Despite periods of great suffering, tragic setbacks, and loss, Nathan Warren persevered. His descendants have every reason to be very proud of their notable ancestor.

He died in 1888 at about the age of 76. He was a member of the Mosaic Templars, and was accorded Masonic rites at his funeral. He was buried at Mount Holly Cemetery.

Nathan Warren’s tragedies did not end with his death, however. The civil rights he wanted so much for himself and his family were to be tested in the fires of Jim Crow, and at some point during those terrible years of racial inequity, tombstones of the graves of a number of black residents at Mount Holly were vandalized and removed. The minutes of the Mount Holly Cemetery Association are incomplete for dozens of years in the first half of the 20th century, and no one now alive has any memory of exactly what happened to the obelisk that had been erected on Nathan Warren’s grave. Even the location of his grave has been lost to history.

Mount Holly’s surviving records show that the Reverend Nathan Warren was buried in the Chester Ashley family plot, and that an obelisk marked his grave. On November 9, 2013, a new monument, donated by Dr. Sybil Jordan-Hampton of Little Rock, was unveiled in the Ashley plot over the spot believed to hold Rev. Warren’s grave. Dr. Jordan-Hampton is a member of Bethel AME Church and a member of the Mount Holly Cemetery Association, which maintains the cemetery. The monument is crowned with the Masonic symbol and reads:

NATHAN WARREN
UNCLE “NASE”
BORN INTO SLAVERY 1812
CAME TO AR WITH ROBERT CRITTENDEN IN 1819
OBTAINED FREEDOM IN FEBRUARY 1835, THEN WORKED
TO SECURE THE FREEDOM OF FAMILY MEMBERS
DIED JUNE 3, 1888 LITTLE ROCK, AR
LITTLE ROCK CONFECTIONER
FOUNDER BETHEL AME CHURCH LITTLE ROCK 1863
DEDICATED IN HONOR OF BETHEL AME CHURCH
SESQUICENTENNIAL 2013

Information for this article was gleaned from two articles by Margaret Smith Ross published in the Arkansas Gazette and in the Historic Arkansas Quarterly, from records compiled by Tom Dillard and stored at the Arkansas Studies Institute’s Butler Center, from Bethel AME Church, and from online resources through the magic of Google. The author wishes to give special thanks to Nathan Warren’s 4th great-granddaughter, Shareese Kondo, for her gracious gift of time and for her family legends about her illustrious ancestor.

Annual Christmas Post for 2012

~~This is a re-post of my annual Christmas blog, for all you perverts who asked for it. ~~
~~My sister will never forgive me.~~

Someone else's Christmas tree

The year Jack was 15, he and I went to my sister’s for Christmas dinner. When we got there, Susan put a pork tenderloin in the oven and we gathered around the tree to open gifts. Susan’s two boys, ages 15 and 13, were there, as was my mother. We spent a lovely hour ooohing and ahhhhing over what everyone got and gave. It was a very nice time.

We were almost through opening gifts when Su left to check the pork tenderloin we were having for Christmas dinner. She was in the kitchen for a few minutes. The rest of us waited to open any more gifts until she returned.

We were chatting and laughing and not paying any attention to her when Su tip-toed back into the living room and tapped me on the shoulder. “Come here,” she whispered.

I had been sitting on the floor. I got to my feet and followed her into the kitchen.

“Have you ever cooked a pork tenderloin?” she asked.

“Sure,” I told her. “Lots of times.”

“Good. I have something I need to ask you, then,” she said, and opened the oven door. She reached in and pulled out the roasting pan holding the meat. I thought she would has me about how to tell if the meat was cooked through, or how best to carve it or something. I am always willing to dispense sisterly advice. But that wasn’t what Su wanted.

“Is it supposed to look like this?” she asked.

portk-tenderloin-2  

I gaped.

I blinked.

Su put the pan down on the counter and grinned at me real big. “Shhhh,” she said.

We walked back into the living room, and she beckoned to Mom.

I couldn’t help it. I could barely hold in my laughter, and it was obvious. I do not have a poker face at all. When my mother followed Susan into the kitchen, I did my best to keep three large teenage boys at bay, thinking they were too young and … ahem … tender … to witness what had been prepared for Christmas dinner.

I was unsuccessful. The boys barreled into the kitchen just as their grandmother was in the act of looking at the slab of meat that faced her. Their Gran glanced up with a quizzical look. For a second I thought she didn’t get it.

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Then she burst out laughing.

The boys crowded around. “What is it? What’s so funny?” they demanded. Their mothers and grandmother were laughing too hard to tell them.

Su headed down the hall to the bathroom before she wet her pants. When she came back, she suggested that a creamy Bearnaise sauce would be a lovely accompaniment.

pork-tenderloin-1

 

That set us off again. Sis headed back to the bathroom.

We females of the family enjoyed every bite. “Mmmmmm.” “Yummy.” “This is delightful,” we said.

The boys, for some reason, opted for a meatless Christmas dinner.

And now, for the crucial question:
If a pork tenderloin is circumcised, does that make it kosher?

 

 

Amicable and Neighborly

I’ve been busy lately. Reason in the Rock is fast approaching, and the last minute details are time-consuming. I’m doing some research and reading to aid those involved in various aspects of the West Memphis Three matters, and there is a lot of stuff there. On top of that, my family is in the process of selling the family farm. After 100 years of deeds being swapped among four generations and various family-owned entities, there are title issues enough to make a saint swear. My brother and I are working on the title issues, and we are far from sainted. I’ve even had to reopen the long-closed probated estates of both of my grandparents and one of my great aunts to resolve matters.

And yesterday, taking a well-deserved break to engage in a little church-related activity, which is always good for the soul, I stumbled across a float of the Flying Spaghetti Monster created by the Seattle Atheists.

 

 

I want it.

The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers needs one. Can’t you just see it in the annual holiday parade here in Little Rock? We freethinkers can dress in our clerical vestments – that is, full pirate regalia  – and toss packages of Ramen noodles to parade watchers. It’ll be Christmas, Mardi Gras, and soup kitchen all rolled into one. We would be able to touch so many people with his noodly appendages!

And I have nothing else to do but figure out how to build a working model of our amazing deity. Really.

But wait!  What’s this? In my inbox is a missive from the company that manages the condos that lie on the other side of my back fence. Gracious, whatever could they want?

Dear Ms. Orsi:

I obtained your contact information from a mutual friend, David Simmons. I am writing on behalf of the Townhouses-in-the-Park Property Owners Association. I have been asked to contact you in reference to your swimming pool and the manner in which the water is being drained. The POA Board believes that the chemicals in your pool water are killing the ivy and eroding a French drain located below your pool on the TIP property. The POA Board wishes to handle this matter in an amicable and neighborly fashion. Would you please contact me to discuss this issue?

Thank you, in advance, for your cooperation.

 

Not again. This is, sadly, not my first rodeo with these “amicable and neighborly” people.

I clicked on the attachments.

 

 

I swear by the noodly appendages and meatballs of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and by all else that is holy, that these two photos are what I was sent as proof of the evildoing of my swimming pool.

I fumed a bit. I needed to collect my thoughts before I called the email’s author, because I was more than a little irked.  I tend to become extremely sarcastic when I’m annoyed. Sarcasm is not “amicable and neighborly,”  or so I’ve been told. So I called Mom and ranted for about 20 minutes.

When I finally calmed down, I called the contractor who had installed the offending pool in 2009.

“Jimmy,” I said, “you aren’t going to believe this.” I told him what was up. He sighed, and said he’d come take a look.

When I calmed down some more, I called the author of the email. She was out.

A few days later, Jimmy came. He looked. We both peered over my fence onto the hillside between my pool and Townhouses in the Park. He scratched his head. “So, where’s the dead ivy?” he asked. Unable to answer his question, I peered over the fence again. Nope. No dead ivy could be seen.

“What do I do?” I asked him. He shrugged helplessly. He outlined the possibility of draining the pool higher up the hill, still on my property, of course. I asked him for a bid. He left, shaking his head. We both know that the mere existence of my pool bugs the crap out of the Townhouses in the Park Property Owners Association. We’ve been down this road before.

Dad, Summer 2002, on the lake in his boat

My beloved father, whose ashes were spread into the Cache River on our family farm over a decade ago, wrote what our family calls “John Letters.” Sometimes he sent them. Usually, Mom, Susan, Jay or I edited them to remove the most sarcastic and offensive parts. At times, to Dad’s chagrin, we’d edit them into starchless, plain vanilla, politely worded protests that in no way resembled what Dad really and truly wanted to say.

The city of Des Arc was the recipient of at least one unedited John letter a few years before Dad died. The city was not amused. Dad was proud of himself. He was such a clever wordsmith.

I’ve written a John letter to the property manager representing Townhouses in the Park. Oh, I’ve edited it. I’ve refined it. I really, really want to send it. I’m proud of myself. I am such a clever wordsmith.

 

Dear Ms. Jackson:

The Townhouses in the Park Property Owners Association is fond of complaining about my swimming pool, which apparently exists mostly to annoy them. While I was in the process of building it in 2009, Townhouses in the Park reported me to Little Rock Code Enforcement for building not just one, not even two, but three swimming pools in my back yard. Seriously.

After that, they said that the drainage from the pool was washing out the soil from beneath their asphalt and would cause their parking lot to collapse. Yes, they really said that. To alleviate their concerns that my pool would wash Townhouses in the Park all the way down Cedar Hill to the Allsopp Park tennis courts, I installed a drainage system that diffused the backwashed water over a very large area on my property.

Then, on a Saturday night after a pipe had burst that morning and been repaired, they decided to come over to my house when I was having a dinner party to complain, in front of my arriving guests, that there was too much water in their parking lot. They must really hate thunderstorms.

Next, they claimed that the three year old masonry wall of my pool which faces them, and which they cannot see without coming into my yard beyond the wooden privacy fence that separates my property from theirs– and which even then they could not see since a second retaining wall blocks even my own view – was crumbling and collapsing in decay. It wasn’t.

In their latest complaint, Townhouses in the Park apparently believes that the al Qaeda sleeper cell that is my swimming pool suddenly awoke after one of the hottest, driest summers in memory to unscrupulously assassinate what appears to be a two foot spread of ivy hanging over a wall, presumably just down the hill from my property.

As Townhouses in the Park is aware, the backwash from my pool, which amounts to about a bathtub’s worth every week or so, is eliminated on my property through a perforated pipe about 15-20 feet long into a French drain that is even longer. The diffuse drainage is unlikely in the extreme to have zeroed in on that unsuspecting bit of ivy after four years of peaceful coexistence. From the vantage point of my property, I am unable to discern any dead ivy; I cannot tell where the photo was taken. The plants on my property that are even closer to the point of drainage are alive and healthy. Even the ivy.

But, in the interest of resolving this matter in an amicable and neighborly fashion, I had the contractor who installed the pool and drainage system come to look at it. Unsurprisingly, he said there was no way my pool’s backwashed water was the cause of the dearly departed’s demise. Had my pool water been inclined to murder unsuspecting plants such as that particular patch of English ivy, it would do so from the point of drainage all the way to the wall; it would not have the necessary intelligence or purpose to target a single spot at least ten feet away from the point of drainage, leaving all plants between the drain and the target unmolested. That’s just how terrorist swimming pools and their affiliated suicide bomber drainage systems roll.

The seepage pipe in the wall is similarly unaffected by me backwashing my pool. By the time the water gets from the drain to the wall, it has gone through soil at least ten feet wide, twenty feet in length, and ten feet in depth. There is simply not enough water concentrated in that area at any given time to cause the problem complained of.

Townhouses in the Park should be aware that in the event there ever really is a problem that I don’t already know about (and haven’t promptly taken reasonable steps to address), I may not take them seriously. There is a story about a little boy who cried “wolf.” The Townhouses in the Park Property Owners Association should familiarize themselves with the moral to that story.

 

Should I?

 

Oh, hell. I know I shouldn’t. But I really, really want to.

 

Fear of Addiction

Recently a friend of mine wrote a blog about addiction that touched my heart. A friend of her children’s died as a result of his use of mind-altering substances.

I have a cousin.  He’s 66.  He’s a medical doctor.  He is currently serving six concurrent one year terms in jail for six DUIs he had in the last 14 months.  Two of the incidents where he was arrested involved accidents.  In one accident someone was hurt, although I’m not sure how badly. It’s amazing to everyone in the family that he hasn’t killed himself yet.  He lives alone when he’s not in jail. He drinks alone.

I had an aunt.  She was an Olympic class equestrian.  She and her horse fell in the early 1970’s  at a practice for the Olympic trials. Her horse had to be put down and she never rode competitively again. She took solace in a bottle and in the prescriptions she was given. For more than 30 years, alone and angry because her dreams were dashed, she drank and medicated herself.  She was hospitalized at least 20 times for detox, overdoses, and various problems with her health due to her alcoholism. When she died her blood alcohol content was .430. Yes, she drank herself to death. She probably didn’t mean to, at least not that day.

Alcoholism runs hard in the genes of my family. I can point to almost any member of my grandparents generation and say, “He was an alcoholic” or “She was an alcoholic.” The alcoholics are fewer in my parents’ generation, but they’re there. I remember swearing to myself growing up that I would never drink alcohol. I hated what it did to the people I loved.

But I did drink.  In college I realized that I drank too much and too often.  I thought about the alcoholics in my family. I slowed down. I slowed further in law school, and then when I married and had a baby I realized how hard it was to change a smelly diaper with a raging hangover.  I slowed drinking even more.

In 1997 I was in a serious car accident. As a result of that accident the migraine headaches I have had all my life became worse. Ten years later I have a condition called “Chronic Daily Headache” or “Intractable Migraine.”  I have to take drugs to combat it.  Most of the drugs don’t alter my mind, but occasionally I have to take muscle relaxers and painkillers.

Because of my headaches I have stopped drinking alcohol almost completely.  Two drinks and I can guarantee myself a migraine.  The margaritas aren’t worth it.  I may go out with friends and sip one drink for three hours.  I may drink it faster then switch to soda water. I almost never have more than one drink any more.

But there’s another problem. You see, addictive behavior runs in my family, and I have prescriptions for addictive medications for the pain I have almost daily.

I am afraid of these drugs.  I hoard them; I use them sparingly.  I don’t want them to control my life.

Yesterday and today have been a bad days. My headache started early yesterday, but I was focused on something I was doing and didn’t take a break to get my Imitrex. By the time I was through with my project, I could barely sit at my desk.  I wanted to curl up under it in a fetal position. Unbidden, tears fell down my cheeks.  I staggered downstairs. The movement exacerbated the pain.  I could barely think.

I fumbled for the device that contains the most powerful dose of Imitrex. It’s an injection, and thankfully it works quickly. I can use the injection no more than twice a month. I use it only when I can’t bear the pain.  By the time I reached for the device, I was unable to form a coherent sentence.  My thoughts were disjointed, and overlying it all was a little girl crying plaintively in my mind, “It hurts!  Make it stop!”

I gave myself the shot.  I took a muscle relaxer.  I went to bed.  I slept for three hours.  When I woke, I still had a horrible headache. I took a painkiller.  My head still hurt. Yet I still had to function.

I am a mother; I run a business. I have to take care of myself so I can take care of my child and my office.

I worry that I will become addicted to the painkillers.  I worry that I take too many prescription drugs. I take three pills every morning in a futile attempt to control the neurological aspects of my migraines.  They have helped.  I shouldn’t say it’s futile.  The headaches would be worse if I didn’t take them.  Then there are the triptans – the drugs that actually stop the migraines. I can’t take them more than three days in a row, or I risk rebound headaches.

On days like today, when my head feels like it is split in two and one side is three times the size of the other, when a throbbing pain goes from above my left eye over the crown of my head and down into my left shoulder blade, when the pain is so bad I can’t sleep even with the soporific effect of the drugs, I despair of ever feeling good again.

The drugs don’t make me feel good.  They just mask the pain.  It’s still there; I just  don’t care as much.  I can laugh and joke and carry on a conversation with the drugs.  I hate them.

I am terrified of addiction.

Christmas Classic

~~This is a re-post of last year’s Christmas blog, for all you perverts who asked for it. ~~
~~My sister may never forgive me.~~

Jack and I went to my sister’s for Christmas dinner. When we got there, Sis put a pork tenderloin in the oven and we gathered around the tree to open gifts. Sis’s two boys, ages 15 and 13, were there, as was my mother. We spent a lovely hour ooohing and ahhhhing over what everyone got and gave. It was a very nice time.

We were almost through opening gifts when Sis got up to go check the tenderloin. She was gone for a few minutes. The rest of us waited to open any more gifts until she returned.

We were chatting and laughing in typical Aramink family fashion when Sis tip-toed back into the living room and tapped me on the shoulder. “Come here,” she whispered.

I got to my feet and followed her into the kitchen.

“Have you ever cooked a pork tenderloin?” she asked.

“Yes,” I told her. “Lots of times.”

“Good. I have something I need to ask you, then,” she said, and opened the oven door. She reached in and pulled out the roasting pan holding the meat.

“Is it supposed to look like this?” she asked.


I gasped.

I gaped. I blinked.

Sis put the pan down on the counter and grinned at me real big. “Shhhh,” she said.

We walked back into the living room, and Sis beckoned to Mom.

I couldn’t help it. I was about to die laughing. When Gran headed into the kitchen, I did my best to keep three large teenage boys at bay, thinking they were too young and … ahem… tender… to witness what their mother had prepared for Christmas dinner.

I was unsuccessful. The boys barreled into the kitchen just as their grandmother was in the act of looking perplexed at the slab of meat that faced her. Gran glanced up with a quizzical look. For a second I thought she didn’t get it.

Then she burst out laughing.

The boys crowded around. “What is it? What’s so funny?” they demanded. Their mothers and grandmother were laughing too hard to tell them.

Sis headed down the hall to the bathroom before she wet her pants. When she came back, she suggested that a creamy Bearnaise sauce would be a lovely accompaniment.

That set us off again. Sis headed back to the bathroom.

We females of the family enjoyed every bite. “Mmmmmm.” “Yummy.” “This is delightful,” we said.

The boys, for some reason, opted for a meatless Christmas dinner.

And now, for the crucial question:
If a pork tenderloin is circumcised, does that make it kosher?

Ambition

DAD1 magnify

I love this old photo of my dad as a toddler. The expression on his face is so recognizable! His sense of humor and his devilishness beamed through his personality even when he was a little guy.

Because of my father, I make a great effort to be the best person I can be.

While this may not extend to wearing makeup every day, it does extend to the quality of the work I do and the interactions I have with other people.

I am ambitious. I am generally motivated by the need for achievement. I expect the people around me to be motivated by this need for achievement, too, and I am dumbfounded when it appears they are not. I have lost respect for people close to me who lose ambition or who claim to have it but just don’t work for it.

I desperately want my son to be ambitious enough to achieve the satisfaction of at least moderate success so that he can lead a productive, happy life. Being productive in society is vital to finding satisfaction and happiness, I believe. I don’t think we have to contribute to charity, volunteer at soup kitchens, or invent a new vaccine to be productive.

Parents are productive when they give their children values, structure, and education. When they teach a child how he or she may succeed, a parent is fulfilling his obligation to his child. Possibly one of the most productive things my dad ever did was to imbue each of his children with the confidence to surge forward, to try. He gave us the courage to fail and then to try again.

He loved to quote this poem to us:

 

It Couldn’t be Done
By Edgar Guest

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you, one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.


Sometimes, ambition counts more than actual success. Trying matters if the effort is an honest and assiduous.

I quote Yoda’s “Try? There is no ‘try.’ There is do, or do not.” But the truth is, Yoda’s maxim really only applies when “do” or “do not” is a choice. It applies to turning in homework. It applies to keeping the house clean. It applies to meeting reasonable deadlines. It applies to yard work. It does not apply to playing the guitar perfectly, to making A’s in math, or to mastering the nuances of the Force without a mentor to demonstrate how the force can be used.

I have to make sure my determination and my belief that others should share my ambition doesn’t cost me my close relationships.

I think it cost me my marriage, in part. I could not understand how my husband seemed to have so little interest in personal achievement, especially as bright as he seemed to be when I first knew him. This was not a failure of his personality, it was simply an aspect of it that I found unfathomable. I failed to recognize this characteristic of his for the destructive force it could be – not to me personally, and not to him because it simply WAS him, but destructive to our relationship.

I lost my respect for him because I perceived his lesser drive to achieve to be a shortcoming that he refused to address. For a long time I did not understand that he couldn’t change it, and why he really had no interest in changing that part of him. But just like my drive and ambition are an integral part of my personality, his are an integral part of his personality. He and I simply don’t manifest our desires for success in the same way, nor do we consider “success” to be of the same importance.

Even when I later came to understand that his level of ambition simply WAS, I could not regain the feelings I had for him before ambition became a defined problem for us. I just didn’t feel the same. I didn’t love him any less, but I recognized how mismatched we were and how frustrated I was by this one aspect of his personality. Recognizing that his level of ambition simply WAS didn’t help me to accept it, because I just didn’t approve of it for someone so close to me.

People with ambition take on projects and see them through to the end. We have ideas, we start planning and collecting information, we put the people and materials together, we oversee the work, we build the ideas up and take them to the next level, and we run the course of things. We don’t quit before we succeed. We are focused and determined. On the rare occasion when a project sputters out or doesn’t work the way we intended, we chalk the failure up to experience and move on to the next idea. We are Movers and Shakers.

Shakers, the people with the ideas, need the Movers to gather the committees of people who can actually make the dream a reality. The Shaker explains to the Mover what the goal is, and perhaps explains a couple of steps along the way. The Mover listens to the idea, considers how to implement it, and puts together a team of people and materials who can get the job done.

Movers direct the Managers and tell them what the Shakers’ ultimate goals are. The Managers are perfectly willing to carry out instructions, but Managers don’t have the innovative ideas. They can take a vision, though, and make it a reality.

Some people are the Craftsmen. They can take an aspect of an idea, hone it to perfection, beauty and grace, and incorporate it into the great scheme of things.

Some people are the Data Entry Operators. They are willing to help and work hard by organizing things or putting them in their places.

Others are the Drones, who are not interested in the work they do but can be counted on to perform adequately and then to put their energies into other aspects of the greater whole: the community or their families.

Each type of person is vital to the operation not just of a business, but of a government, of a society, of a community, of a family. Every person plays every role at one time or another, but the dominant roles they play often are a result of their personal ambitions.

Compatible relationships are those in which the level of ambition are complimentary or alike. A Mover and a Shaker can do well together, but a Shaker and a Data Entry Operator don’t necessarily communicate in the same language. I cannot and will not say where my ex-husband fell in these categories I’ve described. Most likely he fits into more than one depending on the task at hand, just like everyone else. but he and I did not communicate very well when it came to ambition and work, and thus we were frustrated together.

This isn’t the only reason we divorced. There were so many other reasons. This is only one contributing factor. We were very frustrated by each other. I am so glad we parted when we did rather than wait until our frustration levels with one another were so great that we could not remain civil. I treasure my relationship with my ex-husband. It is a sparkling emerald to me – not the hardest or most perfect stone by any means, but a beautiful one that can be clear and bright as well as shattered or murky.

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