This page contains all the posts from my WordPress.com blog, Story & History: One writer’s journey through life and time, as well as new posts
This page contains all the posts from my WordPress.com blog, Story & History: One writer’s journey through life and time, as well as new posts
I am surprised that in five years of writing this blog I have never written a post focused on women’s perspectives on leaving their homes and journeying west on the Oregon Trail. I’ve written about specific women—Narcissa Whitman, Jessie Benton Fremont, Elizabeth Dixon Smith, Keturah Belknap, and others—and quoted some of their words, but I’ve never focused on how they felt about making the trek in the first place.
I’ve thought about this theme a lot, first as I researched and wrote Lead Me Home, and now as I’m writing another novel about other characters in that same wagon company. For the most part, the women did not want to leave home. They only went because their husbands or fathers insisted.
In my current work-in-progress, one woman is pregnant with her ninth child. She left her family’s farm in Missouri to follow her husband’s wanderlust. This woman’s teenage daughter mourns the loss of the friends she left behind. Another woman in the wagon company is accompanying her bully of a husband, who believes he’ll have a better life—while her life is likely to be harder in Oregon. Another character who lost all her children in Illinois left their graves behind her forever.
On and on the women’s stories go. Each mourns people and places they will never see again.
And on the journey, they cooked over campfires instead of in brick ovens. Their meals were made with limited provisions and what they could glean along the trail. They washed with river water almost as muddy as the clothes, unless it was left to sit and settle. Their family members suffered illnesses such as cholera or yellow fever or pneumonia. Or they were injured in wagon or gun accidents. Or they drowned or were snakebit or suffered some other calamity.
No wonder the women viewed the land so harshly. No wonder some of them went mad.
Elizabeth Markham was one such woman. On September 15, 1847, as they traveled along the Snake River (see the photo of Shoshone Falls on the Snake at the top of this post), Elizabeth told her husband Samuel she would not go on any farther. After some argument, Samuel took their five children and their wagons and left her behind. Later in the day, he sent their son John back to get his mother. Hours later, Elizabeth caught up to the wagon—alone. She said she had beaten John to death with a rock. Her husband went back for the boy. Stories vary as to whether John had been injured or not, but he lived. Samuel brought his son back to the rest of the family, only to find that Elizabeth had burned one of the wagons.
The rest of the story is that the Markhams’ traveling companions put out the fire, and the family did reach Oregon. They later had two more children. Their youngest child, Edwin Markham, became an acclaimed poet. The Markhams ran a store in Oregon City, but Samuel and Elizabeth later divorced, and Samuel set out for California alone. Elizabeth also later moved to California, remarried, and was divorced again.
Like her youngest son, Elizabeth was also a poet—the first published woman poet in Oregon. She had a poem published in the Oregon Spectator on June 15, 1948, less than a year after her episode on the Snake River. It reads:
A Contrast in Matrimony
The man must lead a happy life,
Free from matrimonial chains,
Who is directed by a wife
Is sure to suffer for his pains.
Adam could find no solid peace,
When Eve was given for a mate,
Until he saw a woman’s face
Adam was in a happy state.
In all the female face, appear
Hypocrisy, deceit, and pride;
Truth, darling of a heart sincere,
Ne’er known in woman to reside.
What tongue is able to unfold
The falsehoods that in woman dwell;
The worth in woman we behold,
Is almost imperceptible.
Cursed be the foolish man, I say,
Who changes from his singleness;
Who will not yield to woman’s sway,
Is sure of perfect blessedness.
Her note at the bottom of this poem in the newspaper read: “To advocate the ladies’ cause, you will read the first and third, second and fourth lines together.”
[Try it . . . The first stanza then reads:
The man must lead a happy life,
Who is directed by a wife
Free from matrimonial chains,
Is sure to suffer for his pains.]
This isn’t great poetry, but I have to marvel at the way she crafted two poems in one. And I have to wonder what Elizabeth was thinking as she wrote this multi-faceted poem—to which view of marriage did she subscribe? After her experiences on the Oregon Trail, did she think man better off with a wife or not? Given that both her marriages ended in divorce—still uncommon during her lifetime—I conclude she was fairly sour on the institution of matrimony.
What do you think of Elizabeth Markham’s poem?
I could have titled this post “Tidying Up, Part 2.” But I decided on “Treasures and Trash” because that is what I found.
It started as a simple project. I have a chest in which I have stored items for many years. It’s a small chest, the height of a short dresser, and it has cupboard doors. Over the years, when I had photographs printed, I would throw the envelopes of snapshots (together with negatives or CDs) into the chest. Old family portraits I didn’t want to display anymore went into the chest, along with the frames they were in, unless I had another portrait to put in the frame. I stored many other keepsakes in the chest as well. After each item went in, I shut the doors and rarely thought of it again.
Occasionally, I rummaged through the chest looking for pictures for this blog, or searched through my kids’ baby books to find a date or a certificate. But for the most part, out of sight, out of mind.
It was getting hard to keep the doors on the chest shut. So I finally decided I had to clean it out. Really, I thought, if I just put the loose envelopes of photos into boxes, I could keep the chest neat enough to close the doors. So one Saturday afternoon, I found some boxes and started in.
There is always a stage in a cleaning project when it is messier than when one begins. This immediately became true of this project. No way could I simply cram photo envelopes into boxes and stash everything back in the chest. There was too much stuff in there.
I’d been afraid something like this would happen, which is why I chose an afternoon when my husband was away. Messes—at least my messes—make him nervous.
But I’d started. I had to do something, to get it back to a stage when my husband wouldn’t see a mess.
So once everything was out of the chest, I started sorting. I found many things that were trash, and many that were treasures. In the trash category were about two years of old financial statements from the mid-1990s. And many terrible snapshots of family members (though I didn’t bother to sort these out). And also a costume I’d worn for Halloween at work in about the year 2000—Catbert, Evil HR Director.
But there were even more treasures. Things I’d been looking for. Things I’d forgotten I had. Things I don’t think I ever knew I had. The photograph of my brother and me with Santa Claus from 1960 or 1961—I’ve been searching for that since my father died two years ago (though I think this copy was my grandmother’s, not my parents’). A 1950 picture of the adults in my husband’s family at a civic event (one of the things I didn’t know I had). A postcard from my husband to his great-aunt announcing that he’d taken a girl (me) home to his mother (another thing I didn’t know I had). Many pictures of momentous occasions in my children’s lives I’d forgotten about—my daughter’s preschool graduation, my son’s Eagle Scout ceremony (now if I could just find a copy of the speech I gave), and many visits and vacations. And so much more.
These treasures are why I hate to throw things out. I didn’t have time to look through all the photos. I’m sure there are more treasures in some of the rolls of film from years ago. If I simply toss them, I might lose something precious, a memory that would make me smile.
In months to come, you’ll hear more about the treasures I found. And maybe about some additional treasures, if I can steel myself to get back into those boxes. If I can bear to attack the chest again.
I spent a miserable afternoon at the chore, but the treasures were all back in the chest before my husband got home. The trash? It’s been thrown out, the financial records shredded.
When have you found family treasures you didn’t know you had?
As a child, I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandmother, my Nanny Winnie. My mother, brother, and I even lived with my grandparents for a few months when I was small. So I know Nanny Winnie cooked for me a lot. But I don’t remember any signature dishes she made. I remember she sometimes prepared something different for my grandfather than for us children, because he was definitely a meat-and-potatoes man, and we were more mac-and-cheese. And I know she didn’t make me eat cooked carrots before I got dessert—she was too nice.
I don’t think Nanny Winnie particularly liked to cook, though like all wives and mothers of her day, she did it. I remember going to the grocery store with her. The store was around the corner from her house in Klamath Falls, Oregon. She didn’t drive, so we walked to the store. When she had selected what she wanted, the grocery later delivered it. I guess that was common practice in the late 1950s—the store certainly never made a big deal about it.
Many years later, in early 1973, after my grandmother’s second husband died, she moved to Richland, Washington, to be close to her daughter (my mother) and her grandchildren. She usually came over to our house for Sunday dinner, and sometimes on other occasions as well. Her apartment became where we celebrated a lot of second-tier holidays. My parents handled Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, but Nanny Winnie often did Easter, and she hosted many birthday and graduation dinners as well.
Nanny Winnie was very outgoing and social. She developed her own circle of friends in Richland, mostly other widows, but she also went to many women’s functions with my mother and my mother’s friends. My mother’s circle were women raising families and active in their churches.
Sometimes my mother’s friends were shocked at Nanny Winnie’s more relaxed approach to life—after all, by this time, she was in her late sixties. She lived alone and didn’t have to cook for a crowd except for our occasional family celebrations.
When she went to a potluck, Nanny Winnie took Jell-O (or else baked goods she bought at a store). She often served Jell-O at our family gatherings also. I didn’t mind—I liked Jell-O. In particular, I liked her peach Jell-O with canned sliced peaches in it.
One time Nanny was invited to go somewhere with a few of my mother’s friends. “I can’t,” she told them. “I have to go home and make my Jell-O.”
My mother’s friends were not impressed with her excuse. “How long does it take to make Jell-O?” they asked. Nanny Winnie’s need for an entire afternoon to make Jell-O became a standing joke in this group, as well as in our family.
Granted, making Jell-O is not difficult. It takes advance planning, because it must be allowed to gel. But otherwise, it is simple. Even with canned fruit thrown in.
Still, now that I am almost of the age when Nanny Winnie shifted into her Jell-O days, I can understand. Any cooking that takes advance planning is an incursion on my life and unlikely to have any long-term impact on anyone. I am much more sympathetic to her excuse than I was forty-five years ago.
Nanny Winnie was born 109 years ago today. I think she’d approve of my limited focus on cooking these days. (Actually, I’ve always had a limited focus on cooking.)
How do you feel about Jell-O? And cooking?
My new website, http://www.TheresaHuppAuthor.com, has been live for a few weeks now. Regular readers might have noticed that I’m still tweaking things—the background, colors, etc. But I thought I would recap what I’ve learned as I developed this site.
My decision to develop my own website, rather than continue with my Story & History blog on WordPress.com, was only the first of many decisions. I knew I wanted a website built on WordPress.org (the WordPress platform for self-hosted sites), thinking that because I was familiar with WordPress.com, I could learn WordPress.org fairly easily. The decision to build my website on WordPress.org narrowed some other decisions, though the options were still legion.
I relied heavily on WPbeginner.com, which has many articles and videos that I found very helpful. Anyone wanting to build a website on WordPress.org should check this site out.
1. Which company will host my website?
There are countless hosting sites available these days. Some are free. Most cost a small amount each month—or more, if you want more options, such as backup service, greater online support, etc.
As I researched designing websites built on WordPress.org, I learned that WordPress recommends two hosting services—Bluehost and SiteGround. I was also familiar with GoDaddy through another organization I’m in. There are other comparable services, so do your own research and get recommendations from friends before you commit.
I compared the hosting services I knew of. In the end, I went with Bluehost, in part because they were offering a slight discount when I was ready to buy, and in part because they received excellent reviews for their customer service and support.
So far, I have had to consult the Bluehost technical support once. The Bluehost chat representative who helped me was reasonably prompt and quite courteous. I hope I don’t need them often, but I’m encouraged that my first experience was positive.
2. What theme will I use?
Once I set up my account through Bluehost and downloaded WordPress.org to my new site (yay! I have a website!), the next step was to select a theme that would aid in designing my site. Strictly speaking, this step is not necessary, and I could have designed everything from the ground up in WordPress. But, as the title of this post says, I am a neophyte. I wanted the comfort of a template to get me going.
I had researched many themes before I started, reading lists of “best themes for authors” and “best themes for small businesses” and the like. I had probably looked at demos on about thirty different themes. I decided I wanted a theme that supported both a static home page and a blog page. Most themes do, but I also wanted support for e-commerce and portfolio displays. I’m not planning to sell my books through my website now, but someday I might choose to. And I like the look of portfolio sites and thought I might showcase my book covers that way (though so far I have not used that option).
In the end, I elected to use the Vantage theme by SiteOrigin. My primary motivation was that SiteOrigin also developed the PageBuilder plug-in that WPBeginner said was the best free page design tool for WordPress.org.
So I downloaded the Vantage theme and PageBuilder, and blithely began to design my website. Vantage has a free version, and that’s what I’m using now. I might upgrade to the premium version in the future, but at the moment I am overwhelmed enough.
3. What pages do I want on my site?
I had given this some thought prior to actually building the site. I knew most of the pages I wanted, and I knew what content I wanted on each page, though I had not written the text yet. I wanted a welcome message on my home page, a blog page where I would import my posts from Story & History and continue writing new posts, a page for each of my novels, a bio, a contact page, and a few extras for readers and writers. I’d looked at many author websites, and those seemed to be the standard features.
So then I started designing. My ideas changed a bit as I worked. I came up with some new ideas. But having an overview in mind before I started was a big help.
4. How the heck do you use PageBuilder anyway?
PageBuilder was not as intuitive as I had expected. It operates with modules, and offers a wide variety of modules, including text blocks, image blocks, sliders (for slide shows), contact pages, social media links, action buttons, and others. But which modules work best for which purposes?
I spent a couple of weeks experimenting. And countless minutes during those weeks going back and forth between one menu and the next trying to find what I wanted.
I never did get the masthead built the way I envisioned, and ended up creating the image I wanted in Canva, then loading it into a header widget. (If that last sentence doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry about it.)
Over those two weeks, I felt I learned PageBuilder pretty well. I learned to design my rows, put in spacers where I wanted them, add the text and image widgets I wanted, and move the widgets around until the pages looked close to what I wanted.
5. How do I import my blog?
I found instructions for how to move a WordPress.com blog to WordPress.org, and I followed the instructions. But nothing happened.
I tried again. Again, nothing happened.
Then I found instructions for how to make sure that my WordPress.org taxonomy (how posts are named) matched the post names on my WordPress.com blog. I changed my taxonomy, and tried again. About twenty of my 500 posts transferred. I tried again. About twenty more transferred.
And so on. Finally, I had all my posts on the new website.
I asked the WPBeginner people if this was common, and I was told that if the blog is big and has lots of photos or other attachments, then, yes, it can take a long time to import everything
6. Will I keep my subscribers?
I think the answer to this is yes, but I can’t honestly be sure. All the old subscribers show up in my WordPress statistics, but I can’t be sure what readers are seeing. My regular readers seem to have found the new site, but some people who used to comment on the WordPress.com blog do not seem to have followed me.
In addition, the new site no longer ranks as high on Google searches as my old blog did. I think Google must give priority in their rankings to WordPress.com—a priority my humble domain TheresaHuppAuthor.com doesn’t receive. I’ve noticed that some of my posts linked to Google+ do show up on the first page of search results, and clicking on those does get me to the new website.
I’m still linking to social media sites, so over time, I hope people will find me and that this issue becomes minimal.
7. How do I upload new posts?
I launched the website on a Wednesday. I had until Monday to write and upload my next scheduled post. I draft my posts in Scrivener, then copy and paste to the site.
I’ve found that blogging on WordPress.org is a lot like blogging on WordPress.com was five years ago when I started. I’m familiar with how it works, but WordPress.com is much more intuitive now, and I’ve had to remember my old checklists and where things are located, to make sure I get a post ready for publication—categorizing the post, adding tags, scheduling the post for the right day and time, etc.
And I wasn’t sure how to use featured images. I’d never bothered with those in on my blog—I’d just let WordPress.com decide what image to feature. But I didn’t want my website masthead showing up as the featured image all the time, so I now have to specify another image. Which puts that image at the top of the post. Which means that readers will be seeing a lot more large images at the top of my posts in the future.
8. What don’t I know?
There are things I know I don’t know, and there are things I don’t know I don’t know. In the former category, are the following:
In the latter category—what I don’t know I don’t know—you’ll have to tell me.
This has not been an easy process, and I’m not totally satisfied with the result at this point. I’m open to suggestions.
Readers, what changes to my website would you like to see? Please leave a comment or contact me. Nothing is too small to suggest—fonts, layout, whatever you’d like to see me do differently.
The Catholic Lenten obligations prohibit eating meat on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays during Lent and require fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. As our pastor reminded the congregation recently, “A Catholic fast isn’t a real fast. We get to eat three times a day.” Which is true—the Lenten fast permits two small meals that do not add to a full meal, plus one full meal. And only on two days of the year. It really isn’t an onerous practice.
Still, I am glad that this year I am too old to fast. The fasting obligation only applies to people between the ages of eighteen and fifty-nine. I’m sixty now! Other than being eligible for a few senior discounts, this is the first time I’ve been glad to be sixty. I might have been able to get away with not fasting last year—I was fifty-nine when Lent started last year, so in my sixtieth year—but I piously decided I’d be a stickler for the rules, and so last year I complied with the fasting rules.
Although Catholic fasting is not onerous, I have always hated it. (Maybe that’s the point. It is a sacrifice.) I’ve had Greek Orthodox friends whose religious fasting meant they could eat practically nothing for the week before Easter. I know Muslims who fast from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan. Am I weaker than they are? Less religious? Maybe.
But in truth, I feel better when I eat small, regular meals. When I started my fasting years, I only weighed 88 pounds. Reducing my two already small daytime meals to less than a full meal meant I Uwas really dragging by evening. I was ravenous and cranky. Somehow, that never felt like the Lenten spirit.
I didn’t reach 100 pounds until mid-way through my first pregnancy, and I didn’t stay above 100 pounds until after my second child was born. I weigh “comfortably” over 100 now, but I still like my regular meals. And sometimes snacks—when I get home from the gym, I eat any food in the house that isn’t frozen.
Plus, it’s best if I avoid situations that make me cantankerous (as my family would attest). I had some blood work done recently, and I couldn’t eat breakfast until 9:30—that was enough to make me snarl. So I admit to being glad I no longer have a religious obligation to fast.
This Lent, I’ll give up fasting.
But on a positive note, I have decided on other ways of observing Lent this year. I’ve given up the daily Wall Street Journal crossword puzzles, which have been consuming a half-hour or so of my day. (I wish the Journal had never begun daily puzzles—the weekly puzzle was plenty for me.) I’ve reduced my Diet Coke intake each day (and suffered withdrawal for the first few days of Lent). And I’ve decided to read more literary fiction for the next six weeks, instead of genre fiction like murder mysteries (maybe I’ll sleep better at night).
These changes in my habits, plus a couple of other projects I’m taking on, should do me at least as much good as reducing my food intake for two days. I’m hoping to be more productive and healthier. And less cranky.
What makes you cranky?
But this week I am not proud.
Last Thursday, March 2, 2017, Middlebury students protested an appearance by Charles Murray, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the author of several books. I haven’t read Mr. Murray’s writings, so I do not take a position on his work. He is conservative and controversial (not necessarily bad traits), and some claim he is racist. Regardless of Mr. Murray’s opinions, I do take a position on how Middlebury students handled themselves during their protest.
First, let me say that it was at Middlebury that I was taught the historical and theoretical bases for civil disobedience. I took two Political Science courses taught by Professor Murray Dry, one of the best professors I had at the college. His courses on classical and American political theory and history prepared me well for Stanford Law School and have informed my thinking on many issues over the years.
In Professor Dry’s classes, I read Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. Dr. King impressed me with his arguments supporting nonviolent direct action against unjust laws. I recall discussions on the merits of violent versus nonviolent protest, on how far civil disobedience should go, and on whether these tactics would only work in a just society.
The problem I have with the conduct of the Middlebury students last week is that they did not remain nonviolent. Nor was their conduct directed against laws or civil authorities, but against speech by a private citizen who was invited by a student club to speak on campus. Mr. Murray was invited because he has written about the white working class in America. Apparently, the invitation was intended to permit him to explain his views on Donald Trump’s appeal to much of America—which seems an eminently reasonable issue for college students to discuss and debate at the moment.
In advance of the scheduled speech, students and alums argued that Mr. Murray should not be permitted to speak on campus. They have the right to protest, and I have no problem with the fact that they did, although I believe that college campuses should solicit and present to students a wide variety of opinions on issues of the day—including conservative opinions. Middlebury has the reputation of being a very liberal campus these days, and I think it is particularly important for liberals to listen to conservative opinions (and vice versa, of course).
Once Mr. Murray took the stage, students disrupted his attempts to speak by shouting protest slogans and screaming. Again, they had the right to speak and protest, though it shows a remarkable lack of civility to disrupt a campus-sponsored event, when a boycott or standing in silent protest would have made their point as well.
When it became clear Mr. Murray could not speak in the original location, administration and faculty members moved him to another site, so that his remarks could be broadcast without disruption. While he was being escorted to the new building, protesters pursued the car in which Mr. Murray was riding, jumped on it and shook it. In the mêlée, a demonstrator pulled a female faculty member’s hair and twisted her neck. She was injured to the extent that she went to the hospital later and ended up in a neck brace.
In addition, the students pulled fire alarms and disrupted the transmission of Mr. Murray’s broadcast.
This summary of the events is based on multiple news accounts. A Google search will let readers verify the reports for themselves.
The events at Middlebury last week went beyond my understanding of nonviolent civil disobedience. The student protestors engaged in criminal acts of vandalism, assault, and battery.
Middlebury College President Laurie Patton said in a statement forwarded to alumni that this was a “lost opportunity for those in our community who wanted to listen to and engage with Mr. Murray.” She says the college will respond in “the very near future” to “clear violations of Middlebury College policy.”
I will not be proud of my alma mater again until I see how the college responds. I hope the response is swift and strong. I hope the college cooperates in the prosecution of the criminal acts that occurred on campus. And I hope Middlebury encourages open and civil debate on a wide range of topics in the future.
I have donated money to Middlebury College for most of the 41 years since I graduated. I have represented Middlebury at college fairs in the Kansas City area, and I have interviewed many applicants from the Kansas City area in the last decade as part of the college’s Alumni Admissions Program.
I do not see how I can continue to support the college if it does not support the values I uphold. One of my values is maintaining courtesy to those with whom I disagree. If Middlebury students cannot be courteous to those with whom they disagree, I see no reason to contribute to their education.
How do you feel about the decrease in civility in today’s society?
P.S. as of March 6, in the evening: Here is a link to the March 6 statement by President Patton to the Middlebury community. She raises the right initial response items, and I am hopeful that the college’s actions will hold people accountable and improve respectfulness on all sides. The proof will be in the results of the investigation, the follow-up actions, and the conduct of students in the future.
This Saturday, March 4, 2017, marks the 40th anniversary of the first date my husband and I ever went on. We’d planned another date in early January 1977. That date had been to see The Paper Chase, a movie about first-year students at Harvard Law School. We were first-year students at Stanford Law School—the same scholastic environment, but with better weather.
Unfortunately, Stanford Law School at the time was not so enlightened as to have finals before the Christmas holiday. We faced them shortly after our return, which meant our entire vacation period was spent in preparation. Moreover, the student film society decided that The Paper Chase was the perfect entertainment for the Sunday evening that everyone returned from break. The next day reading week began, and first-semester finals followed a few days later.
My husband-to-be (though we didn’t know that was what he was then) was late returning to the dorm that Sunday because of flight delays after his Christmas in Missouri. I waited until fifteen minutes before the movie was to start (it was playing at the law school a block away), then headed to the theater with other classmates from our dorm. Later, I saw hubby-to-be come into the theater, and shortly thereafter, I saw him depart. He later told me he was so worried about finals he couldn’t watch the film about law school students stressing out. (I watched and enjoyed it, though I can’t say I enjoyed finals.)
Fast forward a couple of months. First-semester finals were over, and we were deep into the spring semester. It was March 4, 1977, a Friday evening, and another movie was playing on campus. I can’t remember what it was. I think it was something awful, like Straw Dogs. He’d asked me to go with him, and I’d accepted.
Before we went, I called my mother, because March 4 was her birthday. I told her I was going to the movie later with a friend.
“A male friend?”
“A date?” Her tone was a cross between parental inquisitor and conspiratorial girlfriend.
“I suppose it is,” I said, and didn’t release any additional information.
After the movie, we went out with some other classmates for late-night pizza. He made me eat anchovies. Why I ever married him after that, I don’t know. The movie might not be memorable, but the after-effects of the anchovies were. That’s the one and only time in my life I’ve eaten anchovies. Despite my gastric distress, our relationship progressed rather rapidly after March 4, and we were married in late November.
Since this year is the 40th anniversary of our courtship, you will probably be hearing more about it in the months ahead. Happy 40th, hubby, all year long!
What do you remember about your first date with your spouse?