Friday, April 27, 2012

Tarheels R Us

Notes from my genealogy research:

Our pro-genitor James Buck of No. Carolina could count as an original “tar heel;” although googling that term turns up numerous claims it came into use later than 18th-century James Buck, in the Civil War era.

In any event, James and his wife, nee Penelope Newman, were married abt. 1776 in Pitt, NC, when she was 15. Some sources claim Penelope was of Huguenot ancestry, although her father immigrated from England and married her mother, Ann Webster, in NC. Of course Huguenots fled from country to country to escape the dragoons, so England is not inconsistent with the Huguenot background. Penelope’s date of birth is recorded as 4/3/1761.

At the time of their marriage, James was perhaps as old as 34. The couple, soon family, lived on the Tar River, which flows into the Pamlico and the Sound where the British Navy had an important harbor. James worked as a woodcutter, a “man of much muscular strength, and a hewer of logs, a very worthy and important trade in those early pioneer days” according to a James Buck genealogy written by one of his great-grandsons.

That area, covered by long-leaf pine forests, was a rich source of logs for ships' masts and of raw material for making tar used to caulk up the British ships. According to Wikipedia, The Tar River was "a major route for tar-laden barges as they headed to the sea."

James must have made a good living because he could afford to own four slaves that were counted in the Federal census of 1790 (may God forgive us). He and Penelope ended up having 10 children, 7 sons and 3 daughters.  The sons were named John Lavendar (our ancestor), Cornelius, Morgan, Humphrey, Wiley, Hunter, Benjamin, Wm. And Appolis, and James, Jr. (Guess that makes more than 7, oh well.) The daughters, I have figured out, were Polly, Nancy, and a third might have been also named Penelope.

James d. around 1800, and Penelope in 1807 re-married Nathaniel Blount and had 2 more children.  She died in 1823. We have no record of her muscles or occupation beyond childbearing and rearing. I like to think she enjoyed living on the water and managed to coax a garden from the sandy soil. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

It's the Narrative, Stupid!

"Are you telling me a story?" my father would ask when questioning my veracity. That expression, from northern Arkansas and southern Missouri where he grew up, meant are you fibbing, stretching the truth, practicing MEN-DACITY!! (Tennessee Williams, right?) My dad wanted to know if I was spinning a yarn, telling a tall tale, or telling a bald-faced lie. "Telling a story" comes to mind when I contemplate how the Republican party is re-writing our national history, a practice which, when the Soviets did it, we called "revisionism." Visiting Russia in 1999, I heard my daughter's friend Natasha recount how her school textbooks had different facts from year to year. Not interpretations, not new understandings; facts had to be changed to suit the regime in power. Facts just would not stay put. And now come American revisionists to change American school textbooks by overturning years of established earth science and biology. American children are learning a nonsensical "intelligent design" tale and a whopper about the earth not warming up too fast. The parents learn that a Kenyan Muslim socialist wants to impose European-style socialism on us Americans! (Not Canadian style; we don't hate Canada yet; we're not aware enough of it.) If not gullible enough to fall in with that party line, the rest of us bleat weakly to deplore "extremists on both right and left." Give me a break!!! All these idle tales co-ordinate and match because the revisionist party line is controlled by a meta-narrative, the underlying "story," aka falsehood aka lie that the right wingers are peddling. Over all behind all and underneath the anecdotes and chapters looms a unifying revisionist myth that holds it together: about a country much like Mayberry USA, populated by all-white churchgoers bearing hunting rifles politely. A few sweet-tempered helpful Negroes might deserve some justice that we would definitely have stuck up for. We were good, and America was great because of self-reliance. This place of manufactured memory this "real America," that revisionists want to "take back," was doing great until all these "others" came along and started in being lazy and unionizing and feeling entitled to eat and stay warm in the richest nation on earth. These "others" are ruining us, but we can still summon the old-fashioned patriotic small-town mystique by getting rid of that foreign President who looks too much like our actual future and not enough like the wishful history. Of course, many realize everything said above, and we have our own counter-tales about tax cuts for billionaires and so forth. But we need a more compelling meta-narrative and more rhetorical weapons than the limp "extremists on each side are regrettable" approach. We need to tell a better subliminal story, a compelling true story. Tell these "Soviet-style revisionists" to "Stop re-writing our history." (To Be Continued...)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Inredible Shrinking Future

Today I attended a presentation on the Stephen Ministries, which is a lay ministry to parishioners with pastoral needs. Leaders attend a weeklong training in St. Louis and then meet with care receivers according to structured guidelines. In response to a really excellent talk by a woman from a neighboring church, came a feeling of happy excitement that hit a wall of shrinking future, followed by a quick process of grief.

Excitement: how stimulating sitting in the sanctuary looking at the speaker in front of big windows not quite bright enough to bother my cataracts, to feel my brain engaging, drawing on long training and experience in pastoral counseling. How wonderful to imagine a week in St. Louis(seriously, I could visit my 90-year-old uncle!) and then returning to do something I was very very good at. Of course I might be a bit overqualified but perhaps could advance to leadership and train others! Be like that speaker lady! Little fantasy bubbles took shape and hovered overhead. Other women in the group chimed in their experiences with Stephen Ministries in former churches: interesting!

I commonly react this way in learning situations--and at conferences it always led to wasting money on a lot of books I would never read, because without follow through the energy will dissipate. And as the future shrinks before us, follow through evaporates.

Of course I can't undertake a Stephen Ministry! I might get as far as St. Louis, but then I would throw my back out. Fifty hours of training in a week? I don't think so! Over the course of a recent weekend retreat, many naps were required! Make a weekly commitment to benefit a care receiver? I can barely haul myself to a weekly church service without the use of force. One can no longer take seriously these bouts of inspiration.

Yes, my get-up-and-go got up and went as the saying goes. And not only mine. I asked the group, "Didn't there used to be a group of younger women meeting." Answers emerged, reports of specific groups that could not sustain themselves. Book groups, prayer groups, study groups have emerged only to drift apart after a few meetings or a few months. So our little EWC group--and it was little, not very many of even our regular attendees showed up for a really excellent presentation--agreed a Stephen Ministry would never get going at St. Alban's. This is the kind of inertia that used to be my job to work against, and now I'm too old to inspire and motivate.

So then I had my moment of grief. When I think of all the prayer groups, healing ministries, choir rehearsals, Bible study groups Denny and I used to do... even so recently as five years ago I was still going to one in Amherst. Even last year I still attended a weekly 3-hour study group. I contained these mood swings quietly, but it seemed for a moment the future of Christianity was in danger.

Calm down, God will raise Christians from the rocks I supposed (a Stephen Ministry at our speaker's church, for example). All I can really know is my own future is definitely a thing of the past.

My lowest thought walking through the door from the sanctuary into the narthex was that all my experience and wisdom will soon be dust.

I had my hat on to go but saw a few unwashed coffee cups sitting on the counter. Well, if I can't start a Stephen Ministry I can at least wash up a few mugs in the church kitchenette. I walked around the little room with my hat on, putting away the china. The parable of the widow's mite means more and more as time goes by.

A friend walked home with me, and together we admired the tulips in my front yard. She told me about all the deer she used to see in her yard back in New Jersey. You can't even eat them because they nibble pesticided roots no doubt rendering their venison toxic. I leaned on the newly restored porch railing and it wobbled. Oh well.

"How was the presentation!" asked my son, as I came indoors. "Excellent!" I chirped.

After practicing piano, I'm now watching a Red Sox game with grandson McGregor while we wait for son's bread to finish baking. To paraphrase Saul Bellow, man is born to be orphaned and to leave orphans behind him; but in the meantime cherish the things you can "still" enjoy.

Monday, April 02, 2012

The Not-Writing Life

First of all an update from the last post: my cherry tree not only shed its blooms, it has fallen victim to canker worms. Really really bummed out about it and don't know what to do. Advisors on-line and otherwise conflict.

Second of all, and a topic I've been meaning to blog about: the not-writing life.

If you are afflicted with what the Famous Writers School used to call the "restless urge to write," you of course do write and maybe like me have been trying to quit for years only to succumb to temptation and relapse. From time to time one looks the other way and sends out something that is already written unable to squash the remnants of that secret hope that somewhere someone will read you.

That's how it is, and I'm reporting that even though I still scribble notes from time to time I have quit trying to figure out how to get an agent, I have quit trying to set up a web site. I have thrown away the "lists of ten thousand names" that publishers require from you, and have ceased the endless honing of proposals, cover letters, and writing c.v.'s. When the e-mails come from Writer' Market and a marketing tip line and the Red Room blog site: I just delete them.

I did not enjoy doing all the trying to get published things, and while one can say that every job has disagreeable tasks, at some point you realize it is the job itself that is disagreeable and plus it is not working. I haven't stopped writing, I guess; just retired from trying to get published.

Instead, I started music lessons. Playing a Mozart sonata is something that actually does reward the practice! Mozart does not fail to respond. He does not tell you your playing while meritorious doesn't really fit his needs right now. Just keep it up, and the thing gets better by itself.

Yay I guess.