Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Digging into History

Last year I started volunteering at the local history museum. There are tons of things which need cataloguing and sorting and there is no money for professional help, so we are a group of anal retentive types who can put our neuroses to work for the betterment of the community. At first I was reordering a confusion of files with no discernible purpose. There were ads, obituaries, letters, newspaper articles, typewritten memoirs, meeting minutes, etc., etc. It was slow work, mainly because there were many interesting things to read about people whose names are familiar in the community, or places I've always wondered about. I also thought it a shame that we were saving all this paper when it is much more efficient to digitize this stuff.

That led to my doing exactly that. I have been scanning one old scrapbook and there are others waiting for me. This scrapbook is fascinating and reminds me of one my great-grandfather kept (which is in the hands of some niece or nephew who I hope takes good care of it.) The particular scrapbook keeper whose work I am scanning clipped just about every birth, marriage and death annoucement from the local paper in the early part of the 1900s. There are occasional poems or inspirational pieces as well. The items describing the deaths of people are very specific and blunt: "After days of agony brought on by a disease of the stomach.."; "Having collapsed of a cerebral hemorrhage.."; "Distressed after losing his job, he was found..." The headlines over these tales of tragedy are flowery, and the young women are always described as lovely and pure and much adored by the community.

Right now I am researching the history of a signature quilt sewn in 1890 by the women of the Unitarian Universalist Church. We are sure that it was made as a fund raiser for a women's suffrage rally held in November of 1890, for which the Kent Opera House was rented. Two prominent suffragettes were brought in for the rally which was chaired by Abby Danforth who was the minister of the UU church at the time. There are signatures of every prominent man and woman of the town and we think that perhaps they paid to have their names embroidered on the quilt, thus raising money for the rally. I have been squinting at microfilm of the Ravenna Republican newspaper from 1889-90 at one of the local libraries searching for news of this great rally, but apparently it wasn't as important as reprints of bad poetry and farm news

My next step is to examine the church archives which are up at the KSU library special collections. Sally has worked on the church history, especially the story of Abby Danforth, so she has been a lot of help, and clued me in about the suffragette rally. The quilt will be featured in the summer exhibit at the museum. Then I can get back to my scrapbooks.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Dispatch from the Right

Got another capital letter wing-nut email letting me know that we have let George Bush down. He was right to attack Iraq, but we have not helped. WE ARE NOT MAKING SACRIFICES THE WAY THE PEOPLE DID DURING WWll. We are just going to the mall. Gee, I had no idea we were expected to make any sacrifices for the war effort. I thought we were supposed to shop and not worry our little heads while George & Company made the world safe for us. I wish he'd said something. Mea culpa.
I had earlier received a warning from the same person (who forwards me this stuff and actually believes it) that I was going to lose my retirement money because Nancy Pelosi wants to give our tax money to ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS. I guess those illegal immigrants are behind the mess on Wall Street. Again, I had no idea that so many of them were in the mortgage business. Had I but known I would have kept my money under my mattress.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Church Suppers

For the last few years I have become a devotee of church suppers. I was introduced to them when I visited my sister in Corning and she and her husband took me to a little church in a little village for a chicken dinner. I loved the atmosphere as well as the food, all cooked by church ladies with, as my sister says, "big arms". Every one seemed to know each other and a wide variety of folks were chowing down and chattering away.
When I got home, I started to notice announcements in the local paper of church dinners. I think the first one I went to was a Swiss steak dinner down at the Brimfield Methodist Church. There is a routine for these events, differing only slightly from church to church. You buy your ticket from a couple of ladies at a small table, on which sits a cash drawer. For this first experience, I was led through the process by a helpful gentleman who was a kind of church dinner usher. First you go get yourself a salad: iceberg lettuce, a radish, a sliver of green pepper, a bit on onion and a choice of Italian, French or ranch dressing- or you can have applesauce or Jello (always red). Then you go over to the dessert table and pick out a dessert: apple or cherry pie, cheese cake with vivid red stuff on it, brownies or chocolate cake. Next you enter the dining room proper, where you are asked how many are in your party. Then you are led to your table and asked what beverage you would like: punch (always red), ice tea, decaf coffee or water.

In some places you are waited on and in others you go through a line where scoops of green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy and slabs of Swiss steak are plopped on a Styrofoam divided plate.

The best place to go for Swiss steak is not the Brimfield Methodist Church, however. The best place to go for Swiss steak dinner is the Brady Lake Methodist Church. At the Brady Lake Methodist Church you do the salad and dessert thing first, but then when you sit down at the table, everything is served family style. A huge platter of Swiss steak appears, ditto a huge bowl of mashed potatoes, a huge bowl of corn, a huge bowl of green beans, and an enormous gravy boat. No Styrofoam here; real plates with the church's logo on them. There are hot rolls, too. That's the one you have to get to early because they have been known to run out of food.

The other church supper offering is spaghetti. There are two which we frequent and it works out well because one does theirs on the first Friday of the month and the other does theirs on the second Friday, so we can hit both of them. One, the First Christian Church does plain or meat sauce and the other, Trinity Lutheran, does meat balls. I was very skeptical about Lutherans making spaghetti; it does not fit. There is cognitive dissonance in the very thought. However, they do make excellent meat balls and they have the best looking hall, a brand new pseudo Gothic affair of which they are very proud, or as proud as Lutherans are allowed to get.

Another favorite, a sort of Gloccamora experience since they only do it on Fridays during Lent and then it disappears for another year, is the fish fries down in a little Catholic community called St. Joseph, which was founded by German settlers back in the 1800s. It's a real family affair and the I love to watch the little kids in their bright aprons solemnly delivering the cole slaw (really terrible) and applesauce on trays as big as they are. The conversations around the tables are very Lake Wobegon and it's so comfortable seeing all these people who know each other and are so obviously part of a real community. They are very welcoming and the children always ask if you enjoyed your meal. Alas, last Friday was it for the year.

I think it is obvious that these events are not for the calorie conscious; in fact they should serve anti-cholesterol meds as an aperitif. The church supper season here runs from September through May, so we shall soon be on our own for the next few months. My sister claims that the big-armed ladies are disappearing. Maybe in New York state, but not in Ohio.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Positive Addiction Outcome

There is nothing quite so wonderful as receiving a surprise package in the mail. Today the UPS truck stopped and left a mysterious box on my front porch. There's no birthday looming for any inhabitants here and I didn't think anyone had ordered anything. Most of the packages that arrive here are usually some stranged masonry gadget that John needs for his work. When I picked it up, I saw that it was addressed to me and that it was from the Quilting Addict near Philadelphia.

I am a package tear-into-er,so it wasn't long before I discovered that it was a gorgeous quilt, made from William Morris fabrics in subtle shades of green, with touches of pale yellow, dark rose and tan.The fabric is full of those lovely little flowers and leaves that Morris designed so many years ago.
The photo above doesn't do it justice, but it is a real treasure and I keep looking at it and being grateful that I have a thoughtful friend who is addicted to making people happy with her work.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Snows Came

The snow started Friday afternoon and continued until last night (Saturday) and today the sun is making everything sparkle. People are digging their cars and sidewalks out. John spent over an hour yesterday shoveling out the driveway as the snow kept coming down. Things starting closing down Friday: concerts were cancelled, theaters were closing and by yesterday almost nothing was open. Even the malls were closed, which is shocking in this area of mall sprawl. Must have been a terrible thing for the shoppers who swarm them every weekend.
The snow plows didn't arrive in our neighborhood until around 9 o'clock. Even this morning when I went out to breakfast the streets were still snow covered, since the salt hasn't been applied yet. I'm sure the kids are unhappy that this didn't happen on a school day.

Since the radio and TV stations which I frequent are on their endless fund begging, I mostly read and listened to the opera on my computer. It was "Lucia Di Lammermoor, an archetypal melodrama ending in insanity and death. During one of the intermissions there was an interview with a musician who plays the glass armonica (sic). It seems that the Lucia, Natalie Dessay, wanted to sing her mad scene aria accompanied by the glass armonica rather than the flute. Apparently Donizetti had originally planned it that way but it has traditionally been done by the flute. The musician talked about the instrument, invented by Ben Franklin, and gave a web site where one can actually play a simulated version of same:

It's quite noisy, since the notes sustain forever. When I listened to the mad scene, it did add to the craziness of poor betrayed Lucia. This is the one of the few Metropolitan Operas I actually have seen, when they used to come to Cleveland. Roberta Peters, one of the few sopranos of that time who weighed less than a Mack truck was a lovely and brilliant Lucia. I went with my student roomer whose cousin was the lead ballerina in the wedding scene. As I recall she did a Scottish sword dance just before the appearance of the bloodstained Lucia, who had offed her bridegroom with a knife she just happened to take with her to the bridal chamber. See, she was forced into marrying this guy because her family needed his money but she loved Edgardo, who after learning of her death (She just dies from shame, I guess) stabs himself in a graveyard while singing like a bastard as usual. Don't blame the Italians this time; it's based on a story by Sir Walter Scott.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Winter, winter, winter

As I write this, we are in the beginning of another big snow; it's actually coming down sideways. I missed my exercise program this morning and a spelling group (see below) meeting this afternoon as well as my volunteer shift at the historical society. It's supposed to get worse tonight and tomorrow, with up to a foot of snow. By late yesterday the old snow had finally disappeared and we could see the bare ground for the first time in a long time. We had an ice storm last Tuesday, election day. I managed to get to the polls before everything froze up too much. I decided to vote for Hillary, mainly because I was rather annoyed at the media for writing her off. Wotthell, as Mehitabel used to say. However, everything is still up in the air and we shall continue to be subjected to the endless bloviating from all sides. I think we definitely need a moratorium on campaigning until the week before election day in November. Enough, already.

The ice storm was not so bad in Kent, but some of the neighboring towns had power outages that lasted for several days. The roads were cleared in no time. The next day, the sun came out and it was beautiful, with sparkling trees and bushes. The street signs had little icicles dangling from the bottom. Then yesterday when I opened the front door, there was this sound as if it were raining. The sky was a cloudless blue. I realized that it was the ice melting bit by bit from the trees. There was still a little snow on the ground and it was full of little dimples from the falling ice pieces. It was a little bit of magic.

The spelling group I mentioned above was started last year by a local psychologist who calls her practice "The Center for Healthy Aging", which is a great bit of niche marketing. She has been emceeing the local Senior Spelling Bee, which is sponsored by one of the area mental health centers. Her office was one of a group of businesses having an open house a couple of years ago. They are all in a section of town which has gone through a revival of sorts, with old buildings restored and recycled, so to speak. Being a building nut, I went on the tour. Each place had a drawing for a gift basket and I happened to win the one for her office. It included a membership in a new senior spelling group she was starting. We meet once a month and each time we bring in words we have found or heard and discuss them and all. We have one man, a retired botany professor who is ninety or so but it's mostly old women, retired teachers and librarians. They are very smart and funny and for some reason are all Democrats. (Can you spell "Obama"? "Hillary"?)The local spelling bee has been going on for several years and a couple of the women in the group have done it and come close to winning. The winner gets to go to Wyoming (Wyoming??!!) for the national senior spelling bee sponsored by the AARP. The winner of last year's national bee (she's from a nearby town)came to our meeting last fall and she was just barely sixty! I was sorry to miss today's meeting. I had some great words to share: gasconade, catawampus,peripeteia, ochlocracy,quinoa and psittacosis. Look 'm up.