The Great-Greats

Naming things is an endlessly fascinating and complicated way of creating and better understanding our relationships with them. Different cultures have even devised quite distinct ways of classifying and identifying the kinships within them, to the extent that families and relations in the different cultures affect the very ways people interact and consider themselves connected, responsible for each other, and much more.Photo: Great Great Grandparents

One of the appealing (or appalling) quirks, depending upon one’s view, of the American traditions of familial identification and the names given them in English is the way we use the word Great to specify layers of distance from ourselves. This photo, for example, is of one of my sets of great- and/or great-great grandparents (my maternal grandfather’s forebears), if I am not mistaken, and there is much to pique my curiosity in this image.

First, of course, is the question of whether I have identified them correctly at all. But then, in what ways—besides the nominal—were they great? Clearly, being among my ancestors is an easy in to that category. [Ba-dum-tsssssssshhhhhh!]*

Seriously, though, what distinguished these people? Safe to assume, from what little I do know of my relatives in Norway, these two lived on a small farm, and they worked hard. I mean, incredibly hard, by my standards. I’m inclined, actually, to think that the gent is my great grandpa and the lady next to him is his mummified mum, but having seen many a portrait from that era whose subject I was shocked to discover was eons younger than I’d have imagined, I can’t be sure. If this is a couple, I am extra, extra glad I have such a lazy and comfortable life. I may be no spring chicken, but I like to think that people will be able to tell whether or not I’ve already died, and when it does occur, won’t be able to make work boots out of my hide without tanning it further.

This could be the great-grandfather who was a tinsmith. A pretty skilled one, at that. The hands I see here could easily be tough enough to have put metal in its place. As for the farming, what little I’ve gleaned [enough with the shtick! I’ll try to behave myself]* from the various family stories and photos indicates that my family were subsistence farmers, growing what produce would feed their own households or be swapped with neighbors for  further goods, and raising enough sheep and goats, chickens and cattle to keep them in meat, eggs, hides and bones as needed. Agrarian life, until more recent decades, was generally a far more solitary and jack of all trades kind of existence. My grandmothers, great and otherwise (and I can only assume all of the neighbor women of this ancestress’ approximate vintage) did such work as probably made them all look equally leathery.

I would like to think that the sober, if not condemnatory, expressions in the photo sprang from the typical problem of holding still for the interminable exposure time a photograph required in those days, not to mention doing so while squinting in the sunlight. But I also suspect that a combination of that hardscrabble life of theirs and the grimly perdition-obsessed brand of religion to which many of my relatives have subscribed means that these two generally took life mighty seriously as well. They probably didn’t see so much to joke about or room for fun and games in their daily lives.

What I can safely assume about my relatives still gives me some hope. Obviously, they knew enough about how to survive and yes, thankfully, to procreate, that I am here generations later to tell the tale. I consider my existence a fine thing. Although they weren’t either wealthy or showy, they are dressed in well made, tidily kept clothing and lo, my mustachioed male relative even sports a watch chain, so theirs was not, even from the perspective of my privileged and cushy life, a torturous life of pure privation. So I don’t feel enormous existential guilt for their suffering. But I’m not inclined that way like they might have been, anyhow.

My late Norwegian relatives lived and labored in a landscape and climate rather like where I grew up in the American northwest, so I know that even if their daily work was hard they did it surrounded by beauty and nurtured in a mostly benevolent natural environment. They raised children who were able to go out in turn into the wider world and make their ways, eventually finding own their paths, making their own livings, and raising their own families, and eventually crossing many mountains, borders, and seas. I think all of this a fine, if modest, sampler of human existence with [dang it, I just can’t help it!]* relatively little grand tragedy or overblown drama. Most of all, I am glad that the long-gone beings who posed for this rather inscrutable image contributed to the production of a line of pretty good folk, culminating in my immediate family. That’s greatness enough for me, and makes me very thankful indeed. Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.

The Red Shoes Dairy

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The Human Animal strikes again. And if you recognize the tune, I'm not using it to *blame* anyone, mind you, just to say we're all in this together . . .

Since I’ve already allowed as to how I’m pretty much a farm animal at heart, doing what comes naturally to me and without excessive amounts of couth or savoir-faire, I’m constantly amazed at the ever-so-much-cooler people who deign to hang around with me. Maybe my rare moments of actual and impressive wonderfulness have sufficiently inured them to my shortcomings so that they can kindly turn a blind eye when despite my wanting to be on my best behavior and attempting refinement I fail, sometimes spectacularly, to do so. I dress up in my prettiest red high-heeled shoes and yet I still go and Step in It. And if you don’t know what I mean by It, you have clearly not been paying attention around here.

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My own Ruby Slippers have taken me to many an Oz . . .

Yet despite my persistent trippings-up and fallings-down, somehow I have thus far not only always ended up right back on my red-shod feet but in the midst of this great, forgiving, and ever so friendly good company, wherever in this world or my own universe I’ve happened to land. So I have ceased to be surprised when people come knocking at my door bearing presents and kisses and kindness of every sort. It’s not my deserving, you see, nor any prowess I’ve shown for being dignified and distinguished, so much as the boundless goodwill and generosity of spirit in those around me. While I may not be fabulously tasteful myself, I do have fabulous taste in other people.

Thus it comes as less of a shock than a delightful piece of exceeding niceness when my admirable and ever-sparkling muse over at Year-Struck has popped by with another glamorous pair of red heels for me to try on and admire. Maybe even to grow into, if I can. It’s not that my feet are so dainty in size but that my Educator skills are pretty itty-bitty and underdeveloped. However, if the award allows for conferral upon those who are getting a superb education here ourselves, why then I’m your woman.

With that, I will gratefully and happily accept the challenge. My wish is to share the award further, however, with some blogging friends who are educator-bloggers. I bow to those who have been particularly good at educating me and others, both with the content of their posts in which they teach us great and useful and desirable things and in their mentoring commentaries and the supportive role they play for those of us who follow in their admirable footsteps. Please rise and sing a hymn of happiness with me for these guardian angels in our midst:

Cecilia (thekitchensgarden), Marie (mylittlecornerofrhodeisland), Claire (promenadeplantings), Steve (portraitsofwildflowers and wordconnections), and John (fromthebartolinikitchens). The only rule I’ve been able to ascertain as purportedly attached to this award is to use it to recognize five of my most supportive commenters from recent posts, and as it happens, these folk are not only stupendous teaching mavens in their respective areas of expertise but are just that sort of supportive commenters referred to in that single shining rubric. So I can fulfill my own agenda whilst pretending to comply with the award’s original intent. Pretty much the way your Miss Passive-Aggressive correspondent tends to behave most of the time. I wink at you in your newly conferred complicity.

The Lovely Lauren Scott, meanwhile, has also graciously extended One Lovely Blog Award to reach me over here in my gift-strewn cubbyhole. As her blog is simply shimmering with genuine loveliness, I can easily ascertain why she would be a recipient herself, and can only assume that she is able to accomplish such a beautiful environment there by wearing some nearly-purple-they’re-so-rose-colored glasses, whereby I appear worthy of the award myself. Another excellent reason for me to be thankful I surround myself with such fine companions!

This award does ask that we share a little bit about ourselves once again in order to ‘earn’ the honor, which I think is only fair. To me. Not so much to those of you who have sat through over half a year of my yammering about myself, but bear with me.

What haven’t I already revealed to you about my inner workings (or playings, if we’re to be realistic about it)?

Did you know that:

I love a good thunder-and-lightning storm. Throw in some hail and I’m entertained for a long time. But don’t get it on my car or happening with me stuck under a big tree with my umbrella up, please.

When I try to wear ‘warm’ colors, especially a good deep yellow, I look just like I have severe jaundice and must be rushed immediately to the emergency ward. People who have to look at me when I wear such colors should also be treated with some kindness, to help them recover from the horror of my appearance.

I took an Archery class in college and enjoyed it quite a bit; I was even fairly decent at it. I probably couldn’t even draw a 60-pound bowstring nowadays. But give me a half hour and I’ll give it a try.

Dante Alighieri wasn’t quite thorough enough for my taste as he missed describing a particularly subterranean Level where Bullies should take up their eternal residence.

Being near natural water sources–oceans, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, ponds, and all of their cousins–is a source, also, of tremendous pleasure and comfort to me.

I would like to have the resources to design any object, from buildings to clothing, tools, pieces of furniture, vehicles, jewelry, gardens, hardware, housewares–you name it–and then hand off the plans to world-class craftspeople and see the designs realized. And then put to use, hither and yon.

Funny sounding words make me happy. Blubber! Flabbergasted! Cooties! Marsupial! Splurge! Glyptography! Carbuncle!

One Lovely Blog Award logo

This is my chance to recognize some really lovely blogs and their creators, those who fill each post with heart. I know a whole lot of people who are especially gifted at creating an environment that, for sometimes very different reasons from one blog to another–or even from one post on the same blog to another–compel me to return again and again. These are bloggers who make magic on a regular basis, with words and images and ideas that carry me along and fill me with amazement and inspiration, dark reflection and introspection and great measures of pleasure. I commend to your attention these marvelous and yes, truly lovely bloggers.

Barbara (just a smidgen)

Desi (The valentine 4)

B. (Just Add Attitude)

Raymund (Ang Sarap)

Geni (Sweet and Crumby)

Dennis (The Bard on the Hill)

Cyndi (Cfbookchick)

Caroline (sweetcarolinescooking)

Eve (Redwater Ramblings)

Eden (litrato-ngayon)

Allison (“Il Faut Goûter”)

Bella (winsomebella)

Nors (Foodtrip)

Sawsan (Chef in disguise)

‘Nessa (Stronghold)

David (DFB Poetry and Painting)

Lindy Lee (Poetic Licensee)

Teri (Images by T. Dashfield)

Tanya (Chica Andaluza)

Belle (belleofthecarnival)

Geraldine (Alternative Poet)

I was just reminded by one of my ‘honorees’ of the many fine reasons for politely declining blogging awards, not least of which is the duty imposed by response and acceptance. While one of the excellent reasons for declining would clearly be modesty or humility, as you all know I have neither. But I was also taught that accepting an undeserved gift with good grace is a certain sort of return gift in itself.

Furthermore, as I told my correspondent in this instance, the real reason I perpetuate any of these awards is simply to bring the standouts among my blogging compatriots to others’ attention. If not for that, I would indeed have declined all of these kindly meant notices myself, but this gives an unknown like me the chance to showcase some of the other writers and thinkers whose work I really admire for one reason or another, or for many reasons. Having responded to a number of these awards, I know that simply responding properly is in fact quite a bit harder than making up one’s usual post, because the content is externally dictated, and let’s face it, even a mathematical dullard like me can do enough basic sequential thinking to realize not only that the passing out of the laurels to new honorees becomes an obvious exponential impossibility but that merely fulfilling the self-revelatory or self-evaluative portion of the requirement becomes onerous when repeated. Especially when all I ever talk about on my blog is All Me All the Time anyhow!

Therefore I refuse to enforce any “rules” among the honorees I choose, hoping only that you and your companions will accept my personal admiration and accolades and feel free to bask privately, if that’s not anathema. So there are no chains requiring the smiting, nor any other attachments except the one of hoping that each of you will allow me to trumpet your blogs to my modest yet lively readership because I know others will appreciate what you offer! If you like to ‘play the game’–why, that’s another thing entirely! Passing along gifts in blog-dom is not the same as Re-gifting in the wrapping-and-ribbons world, so my real gift to you, since I believe you all earned the recognition, is that I don’t require you to respond in any particular way, or at all, if you don’t wish.

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Having Red Shoes has never turned me into a dancer, alas, but only a vain creature . . . this is an instance when I greatly prefer my own sort of amusing fantasy to the dark old fairytales . . .

PS–I wasn’t (entirely) trying to be cruel, tricking you with that post title and all, so if you are here just hoping to catch a glimpse of David Duchovny, I’ll give you something to ameliorate my sins if you’ll forgive me once again. The Red Shoe Diaries aren’t exactly my sort of thing, but you know how my frivolous mind works, and when I see a pair of red shoes, no matter how Educational they’re meant to be, well . . .