Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Marion Anderson

This morning an NPR report commemorated the 75th anniversary of Marion Anderson's famous concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  I was glad to hear the details, filling in some gaps in a history I'd known, vaguely, since childhood.

My mother admired Marion Anderson and spoke of her with such passion that her name became engraved in my mind at an early age. I learned that she was a famous talented singer who, because of the color of her skin, had not been allowed to perform at a major concert hall in Washington, DC. Mommy wanted us to know that such discrimination was wrong -- very, very wrong.

Another lesson Mommy wanted us to learn was about discriminatory groups like the D.A.R. (the Daughters of the American Revolution), S.A.R. (Sons of the American Revolution), and C.A.R. (Children of the American Revolution). When we were born, she said, application forms for C.A.R. arrived unsolicited in the mail. She tore up and discarded those applications. Although ancestors on both sides of our family had fought in that historic revolution, she didn't want us to have anything to do with organizations that would discriminate against people of differing races or lineage.

In the 1950's when the D.A.R. worked against immigration reform and a D.A.R. chapter in the southwest refused to allow a Mexican-American girl to carry the American flag in a parade, my mother was again outraged; she re-told the story of Marion Anderson and the D.A.R.'s refusal to let her sing in their hall. As a young Girl Scout at the time, I remember feeling empathy for that young flag-bearer in the southwest; she had been selected for the honor by her local Girls Scout troop, but the the D.A.R. had protested and spoiled that honor.

Today Susan Stamberg's report, "Denied A Stage, She Sang For A Nation" on NPR, was a pleasure to hear.  You can read it, or listen, at the NPR website:

Today I also looked at the DAR website, and I am happy to see many steps the organization has taken in attempts to right the wrongs of the past. I recommend the page, "DAR and Marion Anderson"

"The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution deeply regrets that Marian Anderson was not given the opportunity to perform her 1939 Easter concert in Constitution Hall, but today we join all Americans in grateful recognition that her historic performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was a pivotal point in the struggle for racial equality."

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A walk in the woods

Today was a beautiful spring day, the first warm Sunday in April, and I took advantage of it. Instead of rushing off in the car (per usual habit) after a weekly band rehearsal in Florence, MA, I lingered a while, looking at the sunlit woods beside the parking lot. A well-worn path led into those woods, inviting me to enter and explore.  

Within a few hundred yards I noticed a large butterfly flitting among the trees. A butterfly!  What a welcome sign of warmer weather and the end of winter!  Stubborn snow piles still exist in shaded corners of some yards, so I wasn't expecting butterflies quite yet. This one flew near me and settled on the ground.

I stood watching the butterfly for a long time, waiting to see the wings open, revealing its colored patterns. It flew up high and then returned near me and landed on the path ahead of me. I'd see a flash of the open wings, but then it folded them upright. As I inched closer, camera in hand, it flew away again and repeated this dance, as if leading me further into the woods. What it really did was lead me back into childhood memories, back into the joy of un-rushed time and the beauty of the natural world.

I had grown up in Danvers near woods and open fields, a pond and small streams. I used to spend hours outdoors playing in the natural world, taking for granted the sights and sounds of New England woods. TODAY I reconnected with that world, seeing it afresh and pausing to appreciate (and photograph) scenes that evoked those days in Danvers.
Birch "bracelet" 
Amid the Princess Pine plants, oak leaves, and pine needles, I saw pieces of decaying birch branches -- just like the ones from which my sister and I made birch bracelets. We'd remove the soft rotting wood, keeping the outer ring of birch bark, which we'd slide over our hands, onto our wrists.
Moss so green and inviting that I bend to stroke it.
Lichen
Fantastic shapes of fungus on a log

Lichen patterns on a rock

The wet areas especially appealed to me, reminding me of the pond by our home and the fun of watching tadpoles. (I didn't see any today -- too early.)  I also loved the reflections and the patterns of floating and submerged leaves.
Butterfly on branch above
When I walked back to the main path where I had first encountered the butterfly, I was amazed to see it still up on the same branch where I had last seen it, wings spread in the sun. Above was a blue, blue sky. I was warm, happy, and thankful that I had taken the time to enter the woods.

With that butterfly I had experienced a peaceful patience. I had stepped away from my overly-busy life and forgotten its cares. Time slowed down. I was able to sit on the ground without feeling foolish, just happy to watch a butterfly at rest. When it flew high, I stood joyfully on the trail with hand raised. Gradually that butterfly came closer, almost stopping on my head once or twice. I was entranced. When a young boy on a bike happened to enter the woods, I pointed to the butterfly, and he stopped to watch. The butterfly touched his helmet, and then came to land on my outstretched hand!  The boy and I marveled at the intense colors. The dark wings glowed russet, with hints of iridescence in the bright spring sunlight. This magical moment seemed unique, but later, after about half an hour of walking elsewhere, I returned and the butterfly again came to my hand. Overall I probably spent an hour with that butterfly, and another hour exploring bits and pieces of my childhood among the mosses, plants, rocks and wetlands of this woodland. I returned home relaxed, rejuvenated.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Spoons from the past


This was an unexpected, and delightful, find on March 7, 2014.

These silver spoons belonged to my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Perkins Stanley of Salem (who in 1861 married Andrew Nichols of Danvers). Her maiden initials, E.P.S., are engraved on each spoon, so it is likely that these were given to her as a wedding gift.

On the back of each spoon "J.J. Rider" and "Salem" are stamped into the metal.

The pointed shape of these old spoons reminded me of "grapefruit spoons" and inspired me to write another Remembering Danvers column. In it I relate a childhood story about my reluctance to eat the sour fruit. I also explain how I came to re-discover these antique spoons.  See
   Eating grapefruit with a spoon.

After writing the column I bought some fresh grapefruit and enjoyed using these lovely spoons. For over 100 years these spoons were used in Danvers, at the Nichols family homestead we called "Pine Knoll."  I never met my great-grandmother, who had died in February 1929, but I have many memories of meals in that home with my grandparents, parents, great aunts, uncles, and cousins.

See photo of the Pine Knoll dining room in 1952  -- with grapefruit at every place:
    http://rememberingdanvers.blogspot.com/2014/01/january-8.html
 (Pardon the poor quality of the photo.)

I've asked some of my relatives what they recall about eating grapefruit at Pine Knoll.  Cousin Emily remembers "pre-cut grapefruit (with a Maraschino cherry -- my favorite part) at the Christmas dinners." I hadn't remembered about pre-cutting, which of course makes the grapefruit sections much easier to lift out with a spoon. No need for a serrated spoon if you use a knife first to sever the sections from the outer rind. I intend to use the pre-cutting method from now on. Then I won't risk bending my great-grandmother's lovely, but thin, spoons digging out pieces of grapefruit.