Precious in His Sight: Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, and White

Bright lights overhead illuminate a fun space. My eyes take in shelves with animal puzzles, bins with textured balls, sets of play tools, baskets of plastic fruit and veggies with pans for the play stove in our classroom. On my right – xylophones, bells and colored cushions. On the left side I see a box of string-a-beads, and on a shelf underneath – friendly-looking doggies and kitties that push or pull.

It’s Sunday morning, and I’ve entered the pre-school resource room at my church holding a white plastic basket for carrying items I’ll take to our classroom.

You see, two-year-old youngsters like to play. That’s how they learn. These children confirm the idea that “Play is the highest form of research.” (Unverified quote attributed to Einstein)

fbckidsxylophone

I continue circling the “toy” room and stop in front of the doll display now, dolls arranged in families: mommy-daddy-brother-sister. “Which sets of dolls should I pick out today?” I stop and wonder out loud.

asianblackfigures

hispanicwhitefigures

Children who walk through our classroom door have family origins in Viet Nam, Myanmar (Burma), Nigeria and Bosnia. Although our attendance records show Taylors, Elkins, and McCalls, the list also includes Biak, Torres, and DeVevo.

Friend and co-worker Gloria, who'd rather hold real babies!
Friend and co-worker Gloria, who’d rather hold real babies!

 

Why the Ethnic Dolls?

We obviously don’t point out differences with young children at play. I have never said to a two-year-old, “Look, this doll is hispanic (or black or white).

Of course not!

Then what’s the point?

When children see an image that looks like them, they can identify with it intuitively. We volunteer teachers aim to communicate to these impressionable little people that our world includes families with many different skin colors and facial features. The good Lord loves them all – and so, obviously, do they.

 

 

Spontaneous hug
Spontaneous hug

“Jesus Loves the little children” video + lyrics

* * *

Another Question

Recently author, journalist, and lecturer Gail Sheehy asked the question, “Is Trump out to make America white again?” Recent developments before and after our contentious election in America may warrant such a concern.

Our answer as pre-school teachers: Not if we can help it!

doctorcarpenterfbc

You may want to check out a Mennonite voice, Becca J. R. Lachman, whose blog expresses a wish to keep “a welcome sign [to everyone] lit in neon.”

* * *

Your turn: An anecdote, an illustration, a contrasting point of view. All are welcome in this space . . .

Coming next: 7 Ways to Stay Young: Nuns Reveal Their Secrets

Advertisements

Grandma’s 3 Thanksgiving Postcards: Red Leaf, Cheery Harvest, Shakespeare Quote

Before families went over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house, a postcard may have appeared in their mailbox to mark this grand American holiday of gratitude in the early 1900s.

Grandma Fanny Longenecker saved three of hers.

postcard1909thanksturkey

In this card dated 1909 a brilliant oak leaf, an acorn cup and a fan-tailed turkey displayed “Hearty Thanksgiving wishes” though the celebration could not have ended well for this turkey.

(Incidentally, no filters or other photographic enhancements were used on these antique cards. Their brilliance remains after 100+ years.)

 postcard1910cheerythanks

Again, in the card above postmarked 1910, edible and bucolic images warm the scene which included another cozy house by the roadside.

postcard1911thanksshakespeare

Someone had already begun using a nutcracker on the walnuts in this still life from 1911 with an expression of hope for a happy mealtime. The quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Act iii, scene 4) is ironic: Macbeth and his wife, attempting to cover up their dastardly deed of killing King Duncan, host a dinner where the condemning ghost of Banquo is about to appear. Clearly, the postcard designer took this quote out of context.

Though no ghosts may appear during your Thanksgiving celebration, you may be saddened by the specter of empty seats around the table.

Again this year, there are empty chairs at our table too. Here’s one:

Now a fixture on our table: Place card from wedding of Mother's niece, Janet Metzler
Now a fixture on our table: Place card from the wedding of Mother’s niece, Janet Metzler Diem

Postcript

“Grah-ti-tood” is the title of my very first blog post published February 25, 2013. Although it was not Thanksgiving season then, I knew gratitude could be a theme that may thread itself through my postings. Only two former students and a church friend responded to this first attempt at blogging. You can read it here.

Curtis_GratitudeBk

Thank you for joining me in many posts since then. Our conversations here keep me going.

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” – G.K. Chesterton

Thanksgiving blessings with many happy memories!

Are You Sensible? The Power of Touch, the Magic of Music

Did you know that touching zaps your immune system with positive energy? Similarly, your brain goes into party mode when you hear and/or play music – so say the researchers.

In this cropped photo, my sister Jan’s hand touches her Aunt Ruthie’s, who in turn is feeling the fake fur of a toy, who she may imagine to be her dog Fritzie.

touchjanruthiepet

 

Touch is Powerful . . .

Dr. Dolores Krieger, professor of nursing at New York University, conducted numerous studies on the power of human touch. She discovered “that both the ‘toucher’ and the ‘touchee’ experience great physiological benefit from human contact. It works like this:

Red blood cells carry hemoglobin, a substance that transports oxygen to body tissue. And Dr. Krieger found that when one person lays hands on another, the hemoglobin levels in the blood stream of both people increase. And as they rise, body tissue receives increased oxygen, which invigorates you physically and can aid in the healing process. What you’re seeing is the literal power of love in action. Loving is good for you” There’s nothing as rewarding, satisfying, or encouraging as loving others through your words and actions.

Quoted in James Merritt, How to Impact and Influence Others

 

Touch is Powerful and so is Music!

 In a TED/Ed lesson, Anita Collins reports that listening to music engages multiple areas of one’s brain, but playing an instrument is “more like a full-body brain workout.”

She says if listening to music produces a party in the brain, picking up an instrument and playing it amounts to fireworks, a real jubilee!

What is it about producing music that totally lights up the brain? Collins mentions the physical activity of using fine motor skills (plucking a harp, blowing a trumpet) combined with the linguistic and mathematical skills in other brain areas, strengthens the connection between right and left hemispheres.

She even makes a connection between musicians and good search engines, an analogy she further explains in this 4+ minute YouTube presentation:

 

Music is Touching

Babies, newly minted from nature, love lullabies and nursery tunes. Likewise, music soothes the elderly and those of any age at the point of death. Haven’t you heard that hearing is the last sense to go?

My sister Jean, brother Mark, Mother’s pastor and wife sang my mother into glory with old gospel songs. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it in time to surround my mother’s bed with harmony.

Groups like Songs for the Journey, non-denominational and volunteer, provide a benevolent service to loved ones and patients alike as they make the transition from this life to whatever lies beyond. Quoting from their website, “Our live music ministries provide comfort and guidance to those who are near death, as well as to those who love them.”

 


 

Light up my brain with your comments please!

Thank you for checking in with thoughts on the power of touch or the value of music. What about your pets? How has touching furry friends benefitted you?

 

Something Silly

musicianwashedup1965

 

 

Aunt Ruthie: Birthdays to Remember

The Longeneckers think birthdays ending in 5 or 0 are special. At a Longenecker family gathering in Florida in 2003, we celebrated the birthday of my brother Mark, who turned the big 5-0.

Brother Mark's 50th Birthday 2003
Brother Mark’s 50th Birthday 2003   (Tim Kulp, spouse of grand niece in background)

And also of my Aunt Ruthie who celebrated her 85th birthday at our house at the same time.

Aunt Ruthie Longenecker's 85th Birthday, 2003
Aunt Ruthie Longenecker’s 85th Birthday, 2003

This month on October 4th, Ruthie reached her 98th birthday. That called for two celebrations: one among residents of the home where she receives nursing care and the other with her family at the same facility.

 

What she said at the first celebration:

It came suddenly and it left the same way . . .

 

What happened at the second:

The preliminaries: Tao from Viet Nam, one whom Aunt Ruthie sheltered as a young woman, beautifies the table with an autumn bouquet. Her children think of Ruthie as their grandmother.

taoflowerbouquet

Then –  family meal with dessert . . .

No 5’s or 0’s appeared on the birthday cake in front of her, but there was a huge number 9 in the calculation – not 98 candles, but close!

marianruthie98

She had her drowsy moments during the party, but slowly awakening once, she looked around the table and observed, “It can’t be denied that women outnumber the men here.”

birthdaygroup

My sisters Janice and Jean, two grandnieces, and a nephew

She didn’t have enough wind to blow out the two candles at first. Neither did I. We all sent her good wishes after 4-5 puffs, extinguishing the two flames.

blowoutcandles

 

Special Report: Ruthie Reaction

I promised to give you a postscript to my post Aunt Ruthie Longenecker: Her Life in Pictures.

Earlier in the week, Ruthie with her perky pony tail leaned in, looked intently at my computer screen with eyes wide open.

ruthieperkyponytail

When we came to the vintage photo of the 1930s family reunion, she began identifying a few relatives she remembered – her aunts, uncles, her father, her mother (“My, she was thinner then, if you know what I mean,” she said with a wry smile, viewing her mother.) Her left hand moved steadily if quavery across the family photo – speaking names of relatives long dead: “Grandma Martin, Grandpa Sam, Uncle Frank, Uncle Joe, Mattie, Bertha, oh, and my brother Ray.” Long pauses often punctuated the name call.

I was thrilled to observe the foggy memory mists lifting and blowing away for a few precious minutes . . .

Remember my promise on the October 5 post? I did show her the post of her life in pictures, including your comments.

They made her smile, smile real big!

ruthiereaction

“Thank you,” she said.

Madeleine L’Engle’s birthday sentiment:

The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.


Given a choice, what age would you choose among the ages you’ve been?

Heart on Fire: Guess Who’s Voted for President!

Outrageous.

Unbelievable.

True.

These are the words author/researcher Ann Malaspina uses to describe the legal practice of denying women the right to vote in 1872. Even though women could own property, pay taxes, hold a job, and raise children they could not participate in elections.

When Susan B. Anthony challenged this practice, she also used three profound words to state her intent: “Failure is impossible.”

In a juvenile book with gorgeous illustrations by Steve James, Malaspina details the amazing life of the founder of the women’s voting rights, Susan B. Anthony:

anthonycover

* Because of a new law, the 14th Amendment to the constitution, all persons born in the United States have the same right as citizens. She told the men at the registration table she is a person and citizen. Therefore, she should have the right to vote.

* After arguments with inspectors, she finally registered to vote.

* On Election Day, November 5, 1872, Anthony raced to the polls and cast her vote at seven a.m. She had voted for a president!

Illustration: Steve James
Illustration: Steve James

But trouble was brewing . . .

* On November 18, 1872, a deputy federal marshal stepped into her parlor intending to arrest her. She demanded that she be arrested properly, but he wouldn’t handcuff a lady.

* In January 1873, Miss Anthony was ordered to pay one thousand dollars or go to jail until her trial.

* She refused to pay. She didn’t want to give the court a dime.

* As the trial grew closer, she argued her case all over the country: Washington, D. C., Philadelphia, Chicago. She visited Kansas, Oregon, and California.

* At the trial, the judge pulled a paper from his pocket: “The fourteenth Amendment gives no right to a woman to vote,” he argued.

*But she persisted.  The next day, the judge allowed her a final word. She rose to her feet and delivered these words with a punch:

“You have trampled under foot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights, are all alike ignored.”

* The judge banged his gavel and ordered Miss Anthony to pay one hundred dollars plus court costs.

Illustration: Steve James
Illustration: Steve James

* Finally, as a person and as a citizen, she told the judge, “May it please Your Honor, ”I will never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.”

And Susan B. Anthony never did.


At her 86th birthday celebration in 1906 in Washington, D. C. Anthony remained determined to secure women’s right to vote. “Failure is impossible,” she declared.

A new generation pushed the movement forward and finally Congress passed The Nineteenth Amendment on June 4, 1919. “That November, twenty-six million women cast their vote for president.”

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

 


Brief Biography:

Born February 1820 to a Quaker family where women were considered relatively “equal to men,” Susan B. Anthony left her stamp on history.

Courtesy of National Women's History Museum stamp exhibit
Courtesy of National Women’s History Museum stamp exhibit

 

Also, her image is imprinted on a dollar minted from 1979 – 1981.

An energetic, self-disciplined teacher, she was refused permission to speak at a teachers’ convention and at a temperance convention, prompting her to focus on women’s rights. Early on, social injustice galvanized her to action.

In 1890, she led the National Women’s Suffrage Movement.

Determined and focused, she traveled far and wide to champion voting rights for women: Kansas, Louisiana, Georgia and as far west as Oregon and California.

Called “The Napoleon of the woman’s rights movement,” she moved to Washington every winter to lobby Congress. Later, Ms. Anthony rallied for international efforts for women. Even Queen Victoria asked to meet her.

She died in 1906, regrettably fourteen years before women were officially given the right to vote, 1920.


I hope you will exercise your right to vote this November election. It’s a privilege we dare not take for granted.

If you live in another country that extends voting rights, you can exercise this right as well.

* * *

Bonus: Remember Geena Davis from “Thelma and Louise”? She is letting her voice be heard in another arena. Check here to find out more.geenadavisinstitute

 

Your thoughts and opinions are worth more than the 3-cent postage stamp pictured here. Or the dollar on which her image appeared.

Thanks for sharing in this column.


 

Coming next: Aunt Ruthie Longenecker, Birthdays to Remember

An Artist Writes Memoir: Joan Z. Rough’s “Scattering Ashes”

Introducing Joan

I met Joan Z. Rough on Chincoteague Island in February 2015, having become blog buddies months earlier. When we met on this writers’ retreat, Joan was using the Scrivener tool to revise and edit the manuscript for a memoir of the 7-year slice of her life taking care of a terminally ill mother she had both loved and hated: a narcissistic, alcoholic woman.

joandog

Let me introduce you to Joan properly from her website “About” page:

Besides writing poetry and nonfiction, I am an artist, passionate about painting with oils and wax, collage, mixed media, photography, and sculpting French beaded flowers.  My work in photography has been exhibited throughout the nation and has found homes in numerous collections. Though retired from actively showing my work, I still take great joy in creating large, colorful works on canvas and paper and smaller encaustic paintings on wood.

When near-collapse from care-taking was imminent, Joan retreated to making colláges, furiously painting in oils, writing poetry and frantically beading, beading, beading, lovely jewelry pieces.

joanabstractpainting

joanpaintingspring

Click here for a poem with an autumn palette.

Her memoir Scattering Ashes launched just yesterday on September 20, 2016. This memoir resonates with healing and hope for adult children caring for burdensome parents.

scatteringashes

My Review

Joan Zabski Rough, author of Scattering Ashes, is a painter, a poet, and photographer. She is also a memoirist who summons her artistic talent in order to lay bare her life story, particularly her complex relationship with a narcissistic, alcoholic mother suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In this memoir of letting go, the author paints a picture of the violence of her childhood and the search for solace through art, taming the dragon lady within, using bold strokes of black, yellow, and red, evident in a colláge she recalls constructing in her journey toward peace.

In Scattering Ashes, the reader observes writer Rough fighting to let go of guilt, shame, and self-doubt as she says a long goodbye to her elderly mother during seven years of caring for her in her own home, becoming a mother to her own mother. Face to face with the woman who birthed her, she is forced to confront scars of childhood that have left her feeling victimized with low self-esteem, a demon she has grappled with her entire life. As a reader in thrall to the unfolding tale of the dutiful care-taker daughter shackled to an ungrateful mother, I wanted to shout, “Stop, you’ve done enough. You are good enough. You are enough!”

Through metaphor, the artistic author vividly describes her muse: her ideal, stable family carved of marble. Then she deciphers the dilemma of her journey with travel imagery:

The crossroads I’m at is not your usual four-corners kind of deal. It’s a hub of sorts, with innumerable roads shooting off in all directions. I’m afraid I’ll choose the wrong road. I know I can’t stay where I am for long, and I certainly don’t want to go back the way I came. But where do I go? And what does it mean to be free of the burdens I’ve spent these last years carrying?

Joan Rough’s memoir begins like Picasso’s Guernica with images of violence and animosity, her home a war zone. It ends as its author promises in the book’s dedication “ . . . to all mothers and daughters who are seeking to love and forgive each other.”

I highly recommend this memoir to all who struggle to make sense of a complicated mother-daughter relationship. This true story lights the way to self-acceptance, forgiveness – and eventually, to healing.


Meet Joan on her Facebook author page

Buy her book here!   scatteringashes


Do you know Joan or someone like her? Can you relate to her struggles? her triumph?

 

Coming next: Aunt Ruthie Longenecker – Her Life in Pictures

Janet & Marian: A Tale of Two Houses

My writer friend Janet Givens and I have both said Goodbye to houses this summer. She, to a vacation house on a canal in Chincoteague Island, Virginia, and me to our family homestead 12 miles from the beach in Jacksonville, Florida, geographically about 750 miles apart as the crow flies.

JanetMarian

Our meeting in 2014 was also geographical – and digital. I responded to Janet’s post about her Peace Corps experience in Kazakhstan, linking her experience to my trip to Ukraine, both countries with a Soviet-era history. From there the connection continued on each other’s blogs. That was until I, along with 5-6 other writers, were invited to her cozy log house on the Island. You can view the view memories of that magical first trip here.

ForsythiaLogHouse

I know many of the nooks and crannies of Janet’s special place and feel I’m such a lucky duck to accept her invitation not once but twice to the spacious log house for a writers’ retreat. I can understand her bittersweet sentiments as she lets go of it now.

On both trips, we spent time writing, eating healthy food, talking and laughing in the sunroom, and gazing at the sparkly bay, which leads out to the Atlantic.

WriterComputerHealthyFood

Susan Weidener, Janet, and Merril Smith sharing photos
Susan Weidener, Janet, and Merril Smith sharing photos

Ah, and seeing the ponies, personal and close up:

poniesjanet


A Vermonter, Janet is bidding farewell to her second home after 22 years. We’ve lived in our house, our primary residence, for 37 years. Pencil marks on the kitchen door record our kids heights from ages 8 and 9 ½ until they were teens. Photos of our long history there fill family albums.

KillarneyHouse2016

Of course it’s a cliché, but life really is all about trade-offs and feeling gratitude for what is now. I think Janet would agree with the J. R. R. Tolkien quote below. I know I do!

TolkienQuote

Maybe you have had attachments to a house in your past, perhaps a childhood home or one you used to own or visit.

Golly, it could be the one you live it right now.  Grab a cup of something cool or warm and let’s have a chat!    🙂

Above all, do check out Janet’s own thoughts about her love affair with the Chincoteague house here on her blog. You can also find a link to her memoir there: At Home on the Kazakh Steppe.

Finding a Home for My Books

I’ve written about a Mouse, a Madras dress, Marie Kondo, my Mate’s stored secrets and Louisa Adams’ Moving adventure during our Big Move from a tri-level to a single floor. Now we are settling in. You may be curious about what happened to all the books originally stacked on the shelves of my three adjoining bookcases next to my former writing desk.

I gave away plenty. This week, Ian got my 1950 copy of The Peanut Man. He sucked in a gasp when I told him George Washington Carver was sold as a slave in exchange for a horse but bravely used God’s wisdom to find hundreds of uses for sweet potatoes and peanuts. Another book, The Power of Style became a birthday gift to my friend Carolyn, a stylish woman whose blouse underneath declares she is cleverly disguised as a responsible adult.

CarolynBookStyle

Back in May I started with three floor-to-ceiling bookcases, now condensed to just one. My other books have cozy nests elsewhere, cosseted in small spaces all around our new home.

A book rack in a corner of the great room holds books for morning meditation, including my lilac gratitude book.

BlueChairDuck

My journal for rants and other facts of life has gone missing. It has an iridescent Tiffany-style cover. If it turns up at your house, please let me know. I’m dying to have it back!

Old books, my hymn books, and a violin in-need-of-repair with the bridge missing fill an alcove in the hallway. Cathedral ceilings have amplified both glorious sounds and sour notes – ha!

PianoViolinBooks

The dining room has built-ins for china and books. On the window seat, small crocks (one from Mother) hold in place more old books, including the one at the far end on my blog banner.

WindowSeatBooks

Underneath, a long cabinet swallowed up over two dozen photo albums and about a dozen journals.

JournalsPhotoAlbums

Above the media center in the living room, a sturdy candlestick holds up Sonnets of the Portuguese, Beatrix Potter’s Lakeland, Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Simple Abundance popular in 1995 and Alice in Wonderland, a gift from son Joel and wife Sarah, Christmas 1998. Coral from Key West separates these from another stash of antique books.

AlcoveBooksTV

Under the sofa table, brass butterflies hold some of my books by Mennonite writers, a collection by my favorite short story author, Alice Munro, one of John Updike’s novels, Judith Viorst books and The Story of Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by the Countess of Carnarvon.

SofaTableBooks

The water closet, should you choose to linger on the “throne,” offers a changing display of reading material.

ToiletBooks

And finally, I pared down kitchen recipe books. What remains has a distinctly Mennonite/Amish vibe with slender tea-time booklets at right. Most recipes are available online, so the 4-inch thick encyclopedias had to go. Besides, my favorite recipes sit snug in a computer desktop file.

RecipeKitchenBooks


Four months ago in our former home, I began with three adjoining bookcases, jammed with books. In the photo below, I had already started purging.

BookcasesKillarney

Space for my books is much smaller now, condensed to just one. Besides, it was time to let some tomes go. Looking back, I see my method for giving away or keeping has been more intuitive than rational. Autographed books, gifts from friends or family had to stay. Hardest to let go – textbooks laden with notes I had labored so long to create.

BookcaseOne

A glitch occurred as we tried to stabilize this bookcase. When the cable guy came, he angled the bookcase to hookup the internet and pushed the oak file-case forward. When he finished, he shoved the case too far to the right, so we couldn’t get it pushed back to the wall. Because it was overloaded with books and too heavy to move, son-in-law Joe and husband Cliff relayed books from case to floor and back again, so the behemoth could be moved into its final resting place. Bless them!


“I like best to have one book in my hand, and a stack of others on the floor beside me, so as to know the supply of poppy and mandragora will not run out before the small hours.”  Dorothy Parker, The Collected Dorothy Parker   (My stack has dwindled.)

Do you believe as William Dean Howells suggests

Oh, nothing furnishes a room like books.

What books are among your favorites? Which ones would you never, ever part with?

Do you have places to showcase special books?

What other room accessories do you value? More quotes about books are welcome here too ~ thank you!

Louisa Adams’ Moving Adventure

Remember the Beverly Hillbillies? The Clampetts strike oil in the Ozarks and move to Beverly Hills in a rags-to-riches sitcom of the 1960s.

Beverly Hillbillies Moving Van, courtesy Google Images
Beverly Hillbillies Moving Van, courtesy Google Images

 

Of an entirely different era and social class, diarist Louisa Catherine Adams, wife of the 6th American President, John Quincy Adams, writes about multiple moves – both in European nations where John Quincy was diplomat and in the United States serving variously as senator, secretary of state, president, and finally congressman again.

LouisaPortrait

Woman on the Move

After the birth of her third child, “as soon as she could rise from her bed, she lifted the lids of her empty trunks and opened her packing cases to prepare to leave for Washington. She was ‘a wanderer’ again.” (140)

In her boldest move, Louisa traversed the passage from St. Petersburg to Paris while Napoleon rampaged through Europe. She traveled 2000 miles in 40 days, a journey almost unheard of for a woman alone.

Louisa and Son Charles’ Wild Ride

In 1815, while John Quincy was gone to Paris, Louisa in St. Petersburg had to “sell the furniture, dispose of the house, and buy a carriage that could carry her across the continent” to Paris. She needed supplies: food, drink, clothing, maps, tools and enough medicines for a small apothecary. She had read the map herself, not having heard from her husband, and unflinchingly set her course.

Her largest expense was the carriage, “a berline, a large vehicle with four seats and glass windows, all balanced on an elaborate suspension of springs intended to smooth the rough ride.” Leaving St. Petersburg, the carriage was outfitted with sleigh runners. Wheels were packed when she met melting roads traveling west and south. (206)

She sewed gold and silver into her skirts to hide her wealth from robbers and from her male servants. (206)

Touch of Humor:

During the sojourn, though her two male servants were armed, she put on her son’s military cap and held his toy sword so that what she hoped was a menacing silhouette would show through the carriage window. (221)

True to her declaration when she married Adams, “When my husband married me, he made a great mistake if he thought I only intended to play an echo.” (8)

Her Most Moving Adventure

Louisa, often sickly and afflicted with self-doubt, recorded her grief in “Diaries of a Nobody.” After all, she was often geographically separated from her husband during his ascendance to power, she suffered multiple miscarriages, all of her children except Charles preceded her in death, and she struggled with erysipelas, a skin inflammation.

But her vividly told “Narrative of a Journey from Russia to France” enabled her to tunnel “her way out of depression with the sharp spade of her sardonic humor . . . .“ (396)

She wrote about Baptiste, innkeepers, haggard soldiers she has passed on the road, frightened faces of the women she met, cries of Vive Napoleón! She remembers the practical difficulties she had overcome: the moment the carriage wheel had come loose, the problem of procuring servants, the dangerous decision to ford a half-frozen river. She wrote about her growing confidence, which rippled out of her descriptions and into her voice. (411)

“Her story was her own. No other woman in America had experienced anything like it. But she made its lessons universal. It was a story about women and what women could achieve . . . . She wrote: ‘Under all circumstances, we must never desert ourselves.’” (411)

Move for Equality

At 62, in an era when a woman’s life span was about 40, she was blossoming. Like the Grimké sisters of Charleston, with whom she corresponded, she championed women’s rights and the freeing of slaves.

The Lesson of a Cracked Washbasin 

Cracked Washbasin, Google Images
Cracked Washbasin, Google Images

John Quincy and Louisa Adams observed their 50th wedding anniversary, a milestone almost unheard of in the mid-1800s. Before she died, Louisa presented her daughter-in-law Abby Adams with a cracked washbasin, symbolic of the naked faces bent toward it sometimes joyful and other times full of inconsolable pain, mirroring life itself. (444)

Want More Louisa?

Writer and editor Louisa Thomas has written a stunning account of a memorable woman entitled Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams, 2016.

LouisaBookCover

Thomas’ biography sings with color as she describes an incandescent sun on their approach to St. Petersburg, which edged “the statues with fire and [made] creamy walls blush.” (90)

You can read my full review here.


Your turn: Can you recall any other historical characters with moving stories?

One of your own to tell here? Go right ahead.

Coming next: Mother’s Sky View: The Beautiful City