Category: x Random Thoughts

Close to Home: Slavery in Columbia County

Fascinating bit of history from the Historians of Hillsdale, NY, the town in which I live. Thanks, Lauren and Chris.

The Historians of Hillsdale, New York

Black History Month spurred us to investigate the institution of slavery in the Hudson Valley and, more specifically, Hillsdale.  Like most Americans, we’ve been inclined to think of slavery as largely a Southern institution. But it was hugely important in the colonial North. From the earliest days of Dutch occupancy right up to the Civil War, much of New York State’s bustling economy benefited directly from traffic in enslaved humans.

In the 17th and 18th centuries New York was second only to the southern states in its number of enslaved people. In 1703, 42 percent of New York City’s households had slaves, much more than Philadelphia and Boston combined. Among the cities of the original 13 colonies, only Charleston, South Carolina, had more. 

In the Hudson Valley, the first enslaved men were brought to Fort Orange (Albany) in 1626, only two years after it was settled, by the Dutch West Indies…

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Better to have loved

It’s a strange time we find ourselves in – but you knew that. All the talk of respirators has me thinking about an earlier time when my heart took on the rhythm of my grandson’s breath and my life seemed to hang from the lines that followed one another across a screen.

I’m definitely not a poet, but here’s my response to a writing assignment that seems apropos today.

 

Write a poem, you say. 
Start with an emotion and the person,
place or thing that evokes the emotion,
you say.  It will be fun, you say. 


There ought to be a word for grief and joy combined. 

I had a grandson, and that says
all and nothing at all. 

The first time I met him, he was
all surprised eyes and fingers
fit for chasing chords across the keys. 

Hello, I said,
and then I saw his long limp little self. 
A flurry of activity marked him a problem
to be solved, and I held my breath
while he struggled to find his. 

And later when he lay,
swaddled like a little lima bean,
respirator rudely interrupting,
he fixed his milky gaze on me and there it was,
the hinge my life would swing around. 
Would I love this wise-eyed child,
destined to leave before his time? 
Yes, oh yes, and in a moment – I was lost,
and being lost, was found.

I loved my children, of course I did,
with a warm and homely sort of love. 
They were my darlings and my dears, beautiful brilliant girls. 
But I was unprepared
for this soaring swooping stomach in the mouth sensation
that opened me
every time he smiled. 
I would do anything to see him smile.

For nine years, I was advocate,
nurse, field marshal, singer of off-key songs,
fetcher of forgotten toys. 
I was incandescent. 
Gabriel, my grandson,
my beloved boy,
was handsome and smart, funny and wise. 
He charmed everyone he met.  But he couldn’t stay. 
When he told me, “I’m afraid I’m dying,”
we talked about a place where bodies work and time is different. 
I’ll see you soon, I told him.

Today he runs on bright green grass, while I wait here for soon. 

There should be a word for grief and joy combined.

 

Finding My Voice

“Find your voice” is right up there with “Show, don’t tell” and “Write what you know” as advice for new writers. Sound easy, doesn’t it?

“Ha!” she laughed.

Writing your heart out

I had the good fortune to participate in a workshop at the Roeliff Jansen Community Library led by the talented Claudia Ricci.  What a relief to leave behind research and early twentieth century America for a few hours!

Deer in garden.jpg

I sit in the summer house at the back of my garden while the red squirrel cuts half-ripe cones from the spruce tree high overhead.  In the distance, I hear the first calls of the geese taking this year’s brood for a practice flight.  The sound brings with it the smell of golden leaves lit by low sunlight.

The plants that surround me are pushing out their last flowers in a rush to make seed before a frost cuts short their leafy lives.  All this beauty underlain with desperate determination – all life writ small.

I hear a rustle in the viburnums.  Suddenly, she’s there, still as a statue.  Only her ears move.  She takes a step, then another, and then behind her are this year’s fawns.

I stay so still, so quiet, and the doe begins to move along the border, delicately snipping flowerheads one by one, thoughtfully masticating.  The fawns are less discriminating, trying plant after plant.

“Deer resistant!” they seem to say.  “Take that, allium, and that, you prickly holly!”

Enough, I think, and sit up straight.  A startled look, a quick retreat, and I am alone again.

 

Roe-Jan Community Library, http://www.roejanlibrary.org/
Claudia Ricci,PhD., http://mystorylives.blogspot.com/
Deer resistant plants, https://njaes.rutgers.edu/deerresistance/

 

Berlin in 1933 – Sentence(s) of the Day

Berlin street 1933
Berlin street scene, 1933.

“Germans denounced one another with such gusto that senior Nazi officials urged the populace to be more discriminating as to what circumstances might justify a report to the police.  Hitler himself acknowledged, in a remark to his minister of justice, “we are living at present in a sea of denunciations and human meanness.” (Emphasis mine.)  – In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson, New York, Crown Publishers, 2011.