I watched American Experience on PBS last night – The Pilgrims. I must confess that it was pretty dry and I had a tough time staying awake through the whole thing but it was enlightening in a couple of ways.
When the pilgrims came to America on the Mayflower they did so as refugees really. They had been persecuted by the English because they refused to give up their belief system and be members of the Anglican church. At the time you risked fines, jail or death if you were not a member of the Church of England. In order to be able to practice freely they made a number of attempts to leave England as a group. They finally escaped to Holland and spent 10 years worshiping in their homes. They didn’t speak Dutch and the only jobs they had were menial in the textile and clothing industry. They had nothing really.
What they did have was their community. While in Holland they realized the culture of that country was not in line with their strict beliefs and worried about their children growing up in a land of loose moral character. They wanted to create a community where they could grow in their beliefs without the influence of outsiders. Living in a bubble of their own making they were truly naive about the ways of the world around them and taken advantage of by people at every turn trying to make their way across the Atlantic. They left England very late in the year and arrived in New England on November 11, 1620. Think about that – it’s now November 23 and it is cold. They had just spent 66 days on a cramped boat and landed in wilderness. No shelter, no food, nothing. They survived but in greatly diminished numbers.
I feel many immigration stories are the same. There is always some extreme reason to leave your home. People don’t want to leave where they have lived, worked and played their entire lives unless they feel they have no other choice. I think they also have the conviction that where they plan to go will be better. Bill’s family left Lebanon in 1908 to come to America to build a better life and I would assume to escape political and religious turmoil. How scary is it to use every last penny you have to get to a place where you don’t speak the language, don’t have a job or a place to live and you know no one? I will tell you that the hardships they endured were incredible and probably not at all what they expected. They had each other and their children and did what they had to do to survive with the conviction that this would be better at some point.
I wonder how far into their journeys did they wake up and think “what was I thinking?” or begin to lose sight of the reason for leaving home and country to begin with. I don’t think we can really know the hardships they were living but I wonder if they thought the hardships they came into it were worth it. There was no going back for them.
What they all had when they came here was community. They had their friends, families or at the very least like-minded people with a similar plan in mind. Today I can look at all of their situations and wonder how bad would it have to get for me to leave? I realize even in the chaos and idiocy that has embroiled the country I have been in for the past 60 years I live a good life. I have a home, heat and food on the table. I have wonderful family and friends. I am able to talk about anything I want – race, religion, politics – without fear of imprisonment. I can make my own choices, go where I want, do what I want to do. This past year has been a rough one on many levels. The news is always sensational and instills fear in the hearts of anyone who listens but if you step back you have to realize that how your life is today is no different from what it was a month ago. Fear is something that can take over your life and prevent you from living at all.
We all need to count our blessings. Seems trite but without reflection and gratitude we can end up living a miserable existence surrounded by the things that have come to us through the true misery of others. Look at what you’ve got, think of the life that you have and work on making that little piece of your world better. Being able to do so is something to truly be thankful for.
It must look as though all we do is cut, split and stack wood by the numerous posts about it here. This time of year that does seem to be the case. I have to tell you though that this is one chore that I kind of like doing. It is the one thing we do as a little community for the most part. This weekend we went to sister Sue’s to move some of a huge locust tree that came down at the end of the summer. The tree guys cut it up in place and hauled away the sticks and branches (the worst part of the job). They cut the wood to length but it needed to be moved and split. The morning began with the tractor ride to her house, Bill followed with the splitter. A friend arrived shortly after we did and then Sue’s daughter and her husband.
The tree was at the back side of her house so Bill, Rob and Chuck all loaded the bucket of the tractor and the bed of a pick up with multiple loads and brought it to the door of the barn where we had set up the splitter. Sue has a door in the floor of the barn and we split and tossed it through the door into the lower level. This is really an excellent set up. It keeps the wood out of the weather and is attached to the house so in those howling snow storms she just has to walk down the stairs to get her wood. Not ideal going up and down the stairs but much better than keeping it under a tarp in a field somewhere.
Sue and I split the smaller pieces but a lot of it was huge. The splitter can be used horizontally or vertically. The vertical position allows you the ability to split any size diameter wood (you just have to be able to move it around). One large chunk was split into 30 plus pieces – Sue counted. Moving and splitting went on for four hours or so – 3 tanks of gas is how we measure. The wall of wood was a little intimidating initially, they were bringing it up faster than we were ever going to split it. Bill figures they will get 5 cord or more from that one tree.
This kind of work is fun, especially when you have a group of people working towards that common goal. It’s nice to work with people that have experience, a lot can be done without a lot of instruction. Time can be spent working and laughing. And if you’re with my sister you can bet you will be taking stock of what kinds of mosses are growing on any given piece of wood – I did see her set a piece or two aside for closer inspection later.
I’ve just come from a reunion of sorts, of living and dead. Rowe’s oldest resident passed away earlier in the week and I went to her simple service to pay my respects and offer what comfort I could to those she’d left behind.
Her gravesite is at the far rear corner of the cemetery and I walked past the graves of people who have been a part of my life in one way or another. Headstone by headstone I read the names. By the time I reached the service site I was thinking, “Wow, I know everyone here”.
The weather was beautiful, the service poignant. She will be missed, not only by her family but by the townspeople, we all had our stories.
These are the occasions where I really feel my age – I don’t feel older but figure I must be because everyone around me has aged considerably. I visited with someone who was once my neighbor, we figured it’s been over 35 years since we had talked to one another. During our conversation we talked about growing up in a small town and how we carry all these people around with us for a lifetime. They are stopped in time until we meet face to face only to have to come to terms with our own aging and mortality. Kids are grown and have gone to begin their own lives and families – in our minds they are forever 6 years old.
The other amazing thing is the ease with which we converse with those we have not seen in years, like it’s only been a few months, at most a couple of years. We talked about the foundation we were given in childhood that has allowed us to have respect for ourselves and for others. How we grew up knowing that we could always count on our neighbors for a helping hand in an emergency. We grew up with community.
Jim was there with his grandson – he had dug her grave. I think Jim has buried everyone I know that has passed away in Rowe. He is a kind, hard working, respectful man. Seeing his grandson with him gave me comfort in knowing that he is grooming another generation in the way he has always done business. It will not be lost.
Spending time after the service at her house reminiscing with her family I realized how we all pass on our little gifts. We ate food from her recipes, talked of dogs long gone and settled into the hospitality that her daughters and grandchildren had inherited from her. They are probably unaware at how much they are their mother, I don’t think we ever see that in ourselves. It’s good for those of us saying goodbye to one generation to see them in their children.
Today sister Sue sent me an article entitled How Not To Be Alone that was published this past Sunday in the NYT. As I was reading it I was struck by how I’ve seen every technological change that was talked about in this article. Growing up in a small, small community helped me see these changes in a more personal and much slower way. Cell service is still non-existent in the town but the internet arrived a little while ago. Our friends still drop in for unexpected visits which I always find delightful. I think it says a lot about the relationship when you are comfortable enough to just get into your car and drive to a friend’s house expecting a quality visit. The friends we have in Rowe are all comfortable with interrupting our day, they know we don’t see it as an interruption but as a time to reconnect.
It’s not the same in Enfield. You cannot drop in on friends without an appointment. People’s lives in suburbia are a very different thing. Everything is so much faster, more frenetic. I have lived in Enfield since 1984, we have lived in our house since 1998. I still do not know my neighbors even though I can walk around the block and see what everyone is watching on their televisions on any given night – and I can walk it in less than 10 minutes. We have a few long time friends but they are not people we see on a regular basis – it’s always good to visit with them but it doesn’t happen often.
My kids would tell you that the reason we don’t have relationships with people in Enfield, where we spend over half of our lives right now, is because we are never here. I think the real reason we are never here is because we don’t have the relationships we have in Rowe. We have a community in Rowe, people who care enough about each other to stop by and talk face to face.
A couple of years ago I had internet put into the house in Rowe. I did it because the girls always complained about not having it, they were disconnected. I tried to convince them that it was a GOOD thing. What has happened over the past couple of years is that I use it more. I use it to communicate with them. It saddens me to realize they will probably never realized the joy of friends dropping by without an “appointment”. Our gatherings are more planned, just as joyous but I think something is lost in the spontaneity.