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Martha Washington

One of the ladies in my ancestry is Martha Custis Washington, the wife of our first United States President. I have always admired her for her the way she supported her husband and the soldiers during the Revolutionary War.

Martha Dandridge was the eldest child, and oldest daughter, among the eight children born to Frances Jones and John Dandridge. On June 2, 1731, she was born, about thirty-five miles from Williamsburg. As members of the local gentry in New Kent County, Virginia, the Dandridges lived a comfortable, though not lavish, life at Chestnut Grove, a two-story frame house situated on the Pamunkey River.

 

Martha grew up learning from her parents how to navigate in the society of eighteenth century Virginia. Her father insured that she was a member in good standing of the Church of England, the Virginia colony’s official state religion. Baptized as a child, she attended religious services at the local Anglican parish, St. Peter’s Church.

Martha learned both to read and write at an early age. Throughout her entire life, Martha found pleasure and solace in reading. She read the Bible and other devotional literature for religious edification and novels and magazines for entertainment and instruction. Although only a small fraction of her letters survive, she was also a voluminous correspondent.

Her mother also instructed Martha in the skills she would eventually need to know to become mistress of her own household. Except among the wealthiest Virginia families, who had domestic servants and slaves to help them, the female members of the family were responsible for performing all household tasks. These tasks included cleaning the house, washing the clothes, planting a vegetable garden, caring for small domestic animals, preparing the meals, and caring for the children. In an era with few trained doctors, mothers were also supposed to be proficient in the healing arts. Martha’s mother would have taught her folk remedies and the preparation of medicinal herbs to treat common illnesses.

Sewing was among a woman’s most important tasks. The mistress of the household had the primary responsibility for clothing the entire family. Although the wealthiest Virginia planters might import textiles from Britain, most colonists still spun their own thread, wove their own cloth, and sewed their own garments. As an adult, Martha remained fond of needlework, including darning, embroidering, and knitting, and was known for her excellent handiwork.

Like most women of her social class, it is likely that Martha always envisioned her future in terms of being a wife and a mother. Because of her family’s status as members of the local gentry, Martha was able to acquire the values and behavior that would enable her to marry well. She imbibed the fine points of etiquette, learned to dance, and mastered the art of horseback riding. She knew how to deport herself in public and converse with men.

Martha Dandridge and Daniel Parke Custis married on May 15, 1750. Almost nineteen years old, Martha was slightly younger than the average Virginia bride, who married at age 22. At 38, Daniel Parke Custis was nearly twenty years older than his new wife, and significantly older than the average Virginia man who married for the first time at age 27. Yet by waiting until he found a woman of whom his father approved, Custis guaranteed his own financial future as well as that of his future heirs–and of Martha herself.

Two of her four children reached the age of adulthood; two died before they were five. In the colonial era, childhood was the period of greatest vulnerability to death and disease. Only about 60% of children born at this time lived to the age of 20. In 1754 Daniel died, probably of malaria; Frances died in 1757. John Parke Custis (called “Jacky”), who was born in 1754, and Martha Parke Custis (called “Patsy”), born in 1756.

Her husband died on July 8, 1757. By all accounts, their seven-year marriage had been a happy one. Now, however, at the tender age of twenty-six, Martha Dandridge Custis was left alone in the world, a widow with two small children to raise. She was expected to marry again, and she did; her second husband was George Washington.

On January 6, 1759, less than ten months after their initial meeting and less than eighteen months after her husband’s death, Martha Dandridge Custis married George Washington at her home in New Kent County. For both Martha and for George, a new era dawned.

As you can see, she was trained to be a woman of substance and a leader in her community. She was well prepared to run Mount Vernon, support her husband during the war years, and become the First Lady of our country.

Although Martha adored her husband, she was not overly deferential to him. It is said that when Martha, more than a foot shorter than George, wanted to get his attention, she pulled on his shirt collar to bring his face down to her level. (I love this story about her!)

 

The Sons of the American Revolution give out several medals to women. The Martha Washington Medal was authorized in 1971 and may be given by the National Society, a state society, or a chapter to a woman over 18 years of age in recognition of outstanding service to SAR. It is presented to those who have assisted the Chapter or in making a significant contribution to the Community.

At their Christmas dinner on Monday night of this week, my husband John, the President of the Daniel Morgan SAR Chapter, presented me with this award. What a surprise it was! And what a treasure it was to me to have John give it to me. Thank you, sirs, for this honor.

“Joy to the World”

This favorite Christmas carol was written by Issac Watts (1675-1748). It was part of the Psalms of David Imitated that was published in 1710.

This man was weak and sick all his life, but he had a strong mind. He loved poetry and music. At age fifteen, he complained about the songs sung in church. One of the deacons replied, “Give us something better, young man.” Taking the challenge seriously, he wrote his first psalm imitation that afternoon, and it was sung that night in the evening church service.

Joy to the World is the paraphrase of the last half of Psalm 98. The author transformed the old Jewish psalm of praise for some historic deliverance into a Christian song of rejoicing for the salvation of God that began when Jesus came “to make his blessing flow far as the curse is found.”

At the age of forty-five, he sat under a favorite tree on the Abney estate-property of the close friends with whom he lived-and penned the now famous words of “Joy to the World.”

Isaac Watts was the author of around 750 songs and is commonly called “The Father of Hymns” due to his popularity as the first English hymn writer. A few of his most well-known songs still sung today include: Come ye that Love the Lord; When I Survey the Wondrous Cross; At the Cross.

Issac Watts became a preacher, but he continued to rewrite the Psalms in musical form. Most hymnals include more hymns by Watts than any other author.

“Joy to the World” is the earliest New England Christmas carol still popular today. Some confusion still persists about this popular carol which has the tune title of ANTIOCH. Lowell Mason, born in Medfield, Massachusetts, 1792, arranged the tune.

 Both of his parents sang in their church choir and his father played the bass viol. At a young age Lowell learned to play several instruments, attended a singing school taught by Amos Albee and studied composition with composer Oliver Shaw. At the age of 16 he became the choir director of his church choir and two years later directed the Medfield town band.

Lowell_mason

 To Lowell’s amazement his collection of hymn tunes, published in 1822, became an instant hit (eventually encompassing over 20 editions and selling over 50,000 copies, an astonishing feat in those days).

Enjoy this singing of “Joy to the W0rld.”

 

“Winter Wonderland”

Despite its upbeat lyrics and melody, the story behind this hugely popular song is anything but joyful.

In a particularly cold and long winter during the early 1930’s, a young man named Richard Smith who had been suffering from the widespread and devastating disease of tuberculosis found himself in a sanitarium in Scranton, Pennsylvania recovering from yet another bout of the deadly infection. Days were long and spent in the comfort of his room, daydreaming about a normal and healthy life that would enable him to play outside in the snow like the children he was observing from his window.Watching others enjoy life was his life.

This innocent scene inspired the young man to write a beautiful poem, invoking the carefree fun of a day in the snow. Smith even worked a bit of local flavor into his poem when he mentioned “Parson Brown” – a reference to parsons, or independent priests of the Protestant faith who were not associated with any specific parishes or churches. Back in those days, they often traveled through the country performing interdenominational services and ceremonies when nobody else was available to do so. (An historical fact I wondered about.)

Happy with the result, Smith showed the lyrics to his friend and musician Felix Bernard in 1934. Touched by his sick friend’s poem which clearly expressed his desire to flee the limitations his illness had put upon him, Bernard immediately set to work at composing a melody to go along with the words. Sadly, Smith never really saw the fruits of his work as he died, ravaged by the disease at the young age of 34, a year after Bernard wrote the unforgettable music to Smith’s poem.

Felix Bernard, however enjoyed much fame in the years following what would be the first of countless recordings. Born Felix William Bernhardt in 1897 in New York City, he was a child prodigy playing the piano and after completing his musical education earned a living by composing pieces for various vaudeville establishments as well as accompanying orchestras on the piano. Eventually, he founded his own band. He died in 1944.

Sleigh bells and a snowman, featured with romantic lyrics, promise a day of fun. In 1943,  Guy Lombardo recorded this song that continues to make us smile and sing with joy.

Hope you enjoy Michael Buble sing “Winter Wonderland.”

 

 

“The Gift of the Magi”

This short story was published in 1905, and the author wrote this classic on the giving of gifts at Christmas in only three hours. Della and Jim Dillingham’s actions portray the sacrifice of giving, as well as the heart of giving. With loving intentions, they sacrifice the “greatest treasures of their homes.” Whether we can personally identify with the poverty in this “furnished flat at $8 per week”or not, we can certainly understand wanting to give those we love a special gift. As O. Henry closes this story with a homily that points out that both husband and wife willingly sacrificed the treasures in their home for each other, he reminds us that truly it is in “giving that we receive.” (St. Francis of Assisi)

The Gift of the Magi
by O. Henry
ONE DOLLAR AND EIGHTY-SEVEN CENTS. THAT WAS ALL. AND SIXTY CENTS of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing left to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the look-out for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”

The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, the letters of “Dillingham” looked blurred, as though they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a grey cat walking a grey fence in a grey backyard. To-morrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling–something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honour of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 Bat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. Her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its colour within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the Queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out of the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her, rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she cluttered out of the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: “Mme Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One Eight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”

“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”

Down rippled the brown cascade.

“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

“Give it to me quick” said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation–as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value–the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 78 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task dear friends–a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do–oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?”

At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit of saying little silent prayers about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please, God, make him think I am still pretty.”

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two–and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was with out gloves.

Jim stepped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold it because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again–you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say ‘Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice-what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet, even after the hardest mental labour.

“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”

Jim looked about the room curiously.

“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you–sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with a sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year–what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. I his dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs–the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped for long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise-shell, with jewelled rims–just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ‘em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men-who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

“Silent Night, Holy Night”

On Christmas Eve, 1818, the carol “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht” was heard for the first time in a village church in Oberndorf, Austria. As the fame of this carol grew, its whereabouts were slowly forgotten. Myths and fanciful tales gathered around its origins. Some even said that mice had eaten the bellows of the organ, so it could not be played. Mice or not, the organ was broken. Only a guitar was available.

Silent Night Chapel

Whatever the truth, an assistant pastor, Father Joseph Mohr, and teacher, Franz Gruber, composed this famous hymn. It was sung at the Midnight Mass in St. Nicholas Church. Father Mohr played the guitar, and the choir repeated the last two lines. (That guitar can still be seen at Hallein’s Franz Gruber Museum.)

Reverend Joseph Mohr was a young priest in Mariapfarr, Austria, and he wrote the original six stanzas of this carol.  His grandfather lived nearby, and it is easy to imagine that he could have come up with the words while walking through the countryside on a visit to his elderly relative. The fact is, we have no idea if any particular event inspired Joseph Mohr to pen his poetic version of the birth of the Christ child. The world is fortunate, however, that he didn’t leave it behind when he was transferred to Oberndorf the following year (1817).

Franz Gruber was a musician/schoolteecher. On December 24, 1818, Mohr journeyed to his home, which was an apartment over the schoolhouse in nearby Arnsdorf. He showed his friend the poem and asked him to add a melody and guitar accompaniment so that it could be sung at Midnight Mass.

It became the favorite of King Frederick William IV of Prussia.


The words flowed from the imagination of a modest curate. The music was composed by a musician who was not known outside his village. Though  no celebrity sang at its world premiere, it has been translated into languages all over the world. Its powerful message of heavenly peace has crossed all borders and language barriers, conquering the hearts of people everywhere. The first few notes are immediately recognized by all, and a sense of peace hovers over those singing.

This simple song rings with truth.

Enjoy!

 

“Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”

“Come, ye thankful people, come,
raise the song of harvest home;
all is safely gathered in,
ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide
for our wants to be supplied;
come to God’s own temple, come,
raise the song of harvest home.

2. All the world is God’s own field,
fruit as praise to God we yield;
wheat and tares together sown
are to joy or sorrow grown;
first the blade and then the ear,
then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we
wholesome grain and pure may be.

3. For the Lord our God shall come,
and shall take the harvest home;
from the field shall in that day
all offenses purge away,
giving angels charge at last
in the fire the tares to cast;
but the fruitful ears to store
in the garner evermore.

4. Even so, Lord, quickly come,
bring thy final harvest home;
gather thou thy people in,
free from sorrow, free from sin,
there, forever purified,
in thy presence to abide;
come, with all thine angels, come,
raise the glorious harvest home.”

If you aren’t familiar with this old hymn, here is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msOzJ6DY7EA – 290k

When I was growing up, this was a song we sang at Thanksgiving programs at school and at church. Dressed as Pilgrims and Indians, we sang at the top of our lungs. (The grocery stores with their brown bags provided our costumes. Perhaps you remember cutting holes out for our heads and arms.) We built log cabins out of popsicle sticks and took canned food for the needy. Acting out the story of that first Thanksgiving was fun.

It wasn’t until later that I learned that this holiday was a traditional harvest feast for the Pilgrims.

Food, football, and fellowship were the key ingredients to our home celebrations. There was a standard menu that always included turkey and dressing. The table and counter groaned with the side items. We ate in the dining room, and Mother brought out her good china and silver. Family and friends joined us each year, and each shared their family’s favorite recipes. Whether watching football or playing it in the backyard, it was the afternoon’s entertainment. Some of the adults slept through those tv games. Because of the abundance of food, there was always enough for supper.

As I spent time in the grocery store today with my list for Thanksgiving dinner, I found myself buying ingredients to make and bake those same delicious foods. Family memories are not to be taken lightly; they are a part of us. I am blessed that I had parents who believed in being grateful on a regular basis and appreciate their teaching us that importance. Those magic words of “thank you” should never grow old.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,  “In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

 

One Pink and One Yellow

My Knock Out yellow rose bush has profusely bloomed this summer, and I have brought many of the flowers into the house to enjoy. The four pink ones have been pathetically barren, with only a few random blooms through the season. Imagine my surprise when John cut one last pink and one last yellow flowers a few minutes ago; now they are sweetening the smells of fresh air on my porch.

For as long as I can remember, my criteria for richness has had to do with flowers in my yard. Neither an English castle nor plenty in the bank have been on my list of must-haves in my dreams. It has always been about flowers to pick in my own yard.

Maybe it has to do with the dandelions that I would seek out as a child; I can remember my fascination when I blew on them. It wasn’t the yellow flowers that intrigued me but the white seed head. I loved watching the seeds fly near and far. There was never a pattern to their journey. They only scattered on the whim of the breeze or my breath.

For a child who loved to read and lived the stories as she turned the pages, it was simple entertainment. But my imagination followed those white seeds, as I wondered where they would land. There was a delicacy to those white, lacy parachutes, and their fragility reminded me of my dreams.

My favorite place to read on a blanket was under several dogwood trees in the front yard. Dandelions liked their shade. Sometimes I drive by my childhood home and smile at those trees that provided me such a wondrous place. There is nothing like your own secret garden.

I don’t see dandelions much anymore. They used to be more prevalent. I hope other children are enjoying their wonder.

David Harris wrote a poem about a dandelion.

“Dandelion “

Dandelion in grass
Head cotton ball white
Seeds ready for flight
9 June 2009

Elizabeth Lawrence said, “There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colors are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again.”

I hope we always take the opportunity to encourage today’s children to search for and find their gardens. It will be a sense of place that will never leave their memories.

 

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