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My Porch

Two years ago, John built my sun porch. It is my retreat, my writing space, and where we hang-out. It is where I recouped from my heart attack last year; it was and still is my sanctuary.

Someone said, “The best kind of friend is the kind you can sit on a porch swing with, never say a word, then walk away feeling like it was the best conversation that you ever had.” How grateful I am for friends like this.

Porch sitting seems to be a lost art, but in my house it is the hub of our family.

We had decided to move to a younger house; there continues to be help that this house requires. As we talked about it and looked at houses, I realized that what I needed/wanted/desired was a porch.

This year our house is 99 years old, and it is listed on the Historic Register. We have lived here for thirty years. It has three closets now; only one was here when we bought it. Storage space continues to be an issue. In the beginning the attic was reached by crawling through a hole in the ceiling of the pantry, then a hole in a new closet, and now through pull-down stairs. (Evolving and ever-changing describes our sojourn here.) The green carpet was removed to show of the hardwood floors. Windows, walls, wiring, and plumbing have all been replaced. A deck was added that then became a screened  porch. A leaky roof destroyed that space.

I grew up with a porch. It started as a screened porch and then became a sun porch. After a meal, friends were invited to the back porch. Birthdays were celebrated there, and it became the place for opening Christmas presents. My dad read the morning paper there. Our son learned to walk on that porch. There were even a few times when my brother came in after the door was locked and slept on the porch.

We haven’t moved, and the reason why is my porch. Friends enjoy the porch. It is cozy and peaceful. Carrying my coffee to it starts my day.

The South is full of porches of all sizes. My front porch is full of wicker furniture and flower pots that are viewed by the public, but my sun porch is where my family and friends gather.

I hope you have your own porch. If you don’t, you might want to consider this addition to your home.

Tracy Lawrence wrote this song, “If the World had a Front Porch,” and it speaks truth about porches.

“It was where my mama sat on that old swing with her crochet
It was where grandaddy taught me how to cuss and how to pray
It was where we made our own ice cream those sultry summer nights
Where the bulldog had her puppies and us brothers had our fights
There were many nights I’d sit right there and look out at the stars
To the sound of a distant whippoorwill or the hum of a passin’ car
It was where I first got up the nerve to steal me my first kiss
And it was where I learned to play guitar and pray I had the gift
If the world had a front porch like we did back then
We’d still have our problems but we’d all be friends
Treatin’ your neighbor like he’s your next of kin
Wouldn’t be gone with the wind
If the world had a front porch like we did back then.”

I bet you can guess where I am right now!

“Meet Ben’s Sister Jane”

I am in the midst of reading this fascinating biography of Benjamin Franklin’s sister. Here is a review from NPR. Jane’s writings and comments on her life are poignant in their realism, and I want to recommend this book to you. What an inspiring woman!

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. There’s lots of books about Ben Franklin but now, there’s a new book about his sister, Jane, called “Book of Ages.” It’s by New Yorker staff writer and Harvard historian Jill LePore. Our book critic Maureen Corrigan says it’s filled with revelations.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: Her days were days of flesh. That’s just one of a multitude of striking observations that Jill Lepore makes about Jane Franklin, the baby sister of Ben. What Lepore means by that line of near-poetry is that Jane Franklin’s life – beginning at age 17, when she gave birth to the first of her 12 children – was one of nursing, lugging pails of night soil, butchering chickens, cooking and scrubbing. “I am in the middle of a grate wash,” she once wrote in a letter. The crumbly, green and white soap Jane would have used for that grate wash was from an old Franklin family recipe.

When Ben was serving as America’s diplomat to France, he liked to present his aristocratic hosts with cakes of that homemade soap that his sister, Jane, sent him from her tiny house in Boston. Canny Ben felt that emphasizing his humble origins would trick his French counterparts into underestimating him. Jane Franklin never had to strategize to be underestimated. After all, she was an 18th century woman.

And yet she had a skill that set her apart: She could write. Lepore says that though girls in Massachusetts at the time were routinely taught to read, only gentlemens’ daughters could do more than scrawl their names, if that. It was big brother Ben who taught Jane to write and thus, enabled their lifelong animated correspondence.

Ben also stoked Jane’s thirst for intellectual and political reading material. “Benny” and “Jenny,” as they were called as children, were each other’s companions of the heart – though as Lepore puns, one ascended to the ranks of “Great Men,” while the other remained behind with the “Little Women.”

“Book of Ages” is the name of Lepore’s extraordinary, new book about Jane Franklin, but to call it simply a biography would be like calling Ben’s experiments with electricity mere kite flying. Lepore says that in addition to telling Jane’s story, she’s also meditating here on the limits of traditional genres like biography and history, which by necessity, still favor the lives of public figures.

Jane Franklin’s life was mostly lived in the shadows so to read its traces, Lepore augments her own training as a historian with literary criticism, archeology, sociology, and even some of the techniques of fiction. The end product is thrilling – an example of how a gifted scholar and writer can lift the obscure out of silence. In so doing, Lepore enriches our sense of everyday life and relationships and conversational styles in Colonial America.

Finally, a happy side-effect of this book about Jane is that it offers a fresh look at Ben Franklin and his writings, particularly those like the Silence Dogood essays, in which he posed as a woman; a pose that may have been prompted by his empathetic relationship with Jane.

In contrast to her brother’s voluminous output, Jane Franklin wrote but one book. It’s called “Book of Ages” – hence Lepore’s title – and it consists of 16 little pages of hand-stitched paper on which Jane recorded the births and deaths of her children. Lepore calls it a litany of grief. For Jane’s lighter voice, much more playful than her brother’s, Lepore turns to her surviving letters. In them, Jane confesses to a taste for gossip or, as it was called, trumpery, and agrees with Ben that their family suffers from a Miffy temper.

It’s something of a minor miracle that she had time to write any letters at all. Jane’s ne’er-do-well husband, Edward Mecom, was chronically broke, and so to generate some income, she eventually turned their overcrowded, four-room home into a boarding house.

By the time the Revolutionary War erupted in Boston, Jane was a 63-year-old widow. She fled before the ransacking British Army, carrying her “Book of Ages” and her brother Ben’s letters in a trunk. While Franklin devoted his intellectual and diplomatic skills to the Revolutionary cause, Jane spent years wandering, staying with friends and scattered family. I am grown such a vagrant, she wrote.

Lepore says that if Franklin – in his poses and writing – meant to be Everyman, Jane is everyone else. The brilliance of Lepore’s book is that plain Jane’s story becomes every bit as gripping – and, in its own way, important – as Big Ben’s public triumphs.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed “Book of Ages,” by Jill Lepore. You can read an excerpt on our website, freshair.npr.org.

Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews a bluegrass album by country star Alan Jackson, and a country album by bluegrass musician James King. This is FRESH AIR.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR’s prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Trail Signs

Have you ever wondered how people make their way to where they wanted to go during the colonial period?

A term, “By Guess and By Golly,” came to mean inspired guesswork, an early form of navigation that relied upon experience, intuition, and faith.

Brigadier General Francis Marion as a young man, went to sea. As a sailor, he learned to use a compass and a sextant and the stars to navigate. Those skills served him well when moving from one battle to the next during the Revolutionary War.  His men often remarked at how precise his movements were in the murky swamps of South Carolina. He did not guess his way through.

Many Indians, hunters, and travelers used axe blazes on tree trunks as trail signs. There is a major highway in South Carolina that has the name Two Notch Road, because it was an old buffalo trail that Indians used where they carved two notches in the trees. (And yes, there were buffalo in South Carolina. They migrated from the salt licks in Tennessee to the coast.) Those cuts into the trees cleared a path for others.

In Dr. Thomas Walker’s Journal of Exploration [of Kentucky], 1750, he says, “I Blazed a way from our House to the River.” & “I blazed several trees in the fork and marked T. W. on a Sycamore Tree.”

(Can you imagine having to blaze a trail from our house to a water source?)

John J. Henry’s An accurate account of the hardships of that band of heroes who traversed the wilderness in the campaign against Quebec in 1775 reports, “A path tolerably distinct, which we made more so by blazing the trees.”

Some travelers marked both sides of trees so that the trail could be run both ways. Trees marked on one side indicated a blind trail, used a lot by prospectors who didn’t want anyone following them. Indians usually nicked off small specks of bark with their knives while trappers and settlers may have used hatchets or broad axes. In the universal language of the woods, these marks meant “This is your trail.”

Another trail sign was to reach into an overhanging limb and bend a branch into an “L” shape meaning, “This is the trail.” The twig broken off clean and laid on the ground across the line of march means, “Break from your straight course and go in the line of the butt end.” When a special warning is meant, the butt is pointed toward the one following the trail and raised in a forked twig. If the butt of the twig were raised and pointing to the left, it would mean “Look out, camp, or ourselves, or the enemy, or the game we have killed is out that way.”

But what did one do when finding themselves in a treeless areas such as grasslands or expanses of spartina, desert areas, or rocky regions? They used rocks, pebbles, sticks, and patches (tussocks) of grass.

Thousands of years ago, American Indians along the east coast established a system of paths and trails for hunting, trading and making war on other tribes. Most followed the migration paths of animals and along routes and fords across streams and rivers.

The Great Trading Path, or the Occaneechi Path, was one of many Indian trails in use when the English first explored the Carolina backcountry during the late seventeenth century.

By the early to mid 1700s, the Trading Path provided European-American explorers and colonists a well-traveled route for settlement and trade. They traveled by foot, horseback, and wagon from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia and from South Carolina and Georgia. The Trading Path became known as the Great Wagon Road because of this increased traffic. Following portions of the original path, the Great Wagon Road crossed Virginia into North Carolina. The route was not just one path, but many. One branch of the path led to Charlotte and another through the Waxhaws and on through Charleston, SC, and eventually to Augusta, Ga.

Blazing a trail has taken on a new meaning to me as I have looked at these early days, and I really am glad we have those GPS systems.

Robert Frost examines this in his poem, The Road Less Traveled.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

 

Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson – the Mother of President Andrew Jackson

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Brave Elizabeth is a biog­ra­phy of Eliz­a­beth Jack­son, the mother of Pres­i­dent Andrew Jack­son.

I believe that envi­ron­ment and hered­ity influ­ence a per­son, and it was fas­ci­nat­ing to me to research the mother of one of our Pres­i­dents. Here is a snip­pet of her life.

Andrew and Eliz­a­beth Jack­son were liv­ing in Boney­be­fore, Ire­land, in 1764. They were ten­ant farm­ers and not mak­ing enough money from their crops and sheep to make ends meet. Taxes con­tin­ued to go up, and the weather con­tin­ued to cast blights on their har­vests. The Scots-Irish cou­ple worked hard, but life under the British rule was a hard-scrabble exis­tence. Dis­re­spect and prej­u­dice for their Pres­by­ter­ian reli­gion was also challenging.

A new life in a new land cap­tured their thoughts.

In April 1765, Andrew and Eliz­a­beth Jack­son crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the colonies with their two chil­dren. Hugh was two, and Robert only a babe. The eight week voy­age from Larne, Ire­land, was uneventful.

They bought land close to Elizabeth’s fam­ily and erected a small one-room cabin. They planted crops and started over. Hap­pily for two years, the Jack­sons worked hard and strug­gled to eke out a liv­ing in this red clay, but in March 1767, while chop­ping wood on a cold, spring day, Andrew Jack­son had an acci­dent and died shortly there­after. Eliz­a­beth, nine months preg­nant with their third son, was a widow at thirty with all the respon­si­bil­i­ties of a sin­gle mother in eighteenth-century America.

Though small in stature, Eliz­a­beth was strong and resilient in spirit. She adapted to life’s changes and dis­ap­point­ments and put oth­ers’ needs before her­self. Work­ing hard and push­ing for­ward through chal­lenges was the model she set for her sons.

After Andrew’s death, her sis­ter and brother-in-law, Jane and James Craw­ford, asked Eliz­a­beth to move in with their fam­ily. Jane had been sick for sev­eral years and needed help with the house­keep­ing. Their eight chil­dren needed more super­vi­sion than she could give, so the Jack­sons joined the Craw­ford household.

Busy with the daily chores of plan­ning and prepar­ing meals for four­teen indi­vid­u­als in a fire­place, tend­ing to the needs of eleven chil­dren and her ail­ing sis­ter, mend­ing, spin­ning, man­ag­ing a gar­den, churn­ing, etc., Eliz­a­beth con­tin­ued to weave cloth for the com­mu­nity. She earned money from the neigh­bors by sell­ing the cloth and was known for the qual­ity and exper­tise of her work.

Eliz­a­beth wanted her sons to have a for­mal edu­ca­tion. All three boys attended the church and com­mu­nity schools, but Hugh and Robert had more apti­tude for out­door activ­i­ties, and they wanted to farm. Andy learned to read at an early age, and his mother thought he might become a min­is­ter. His per­son­al­ity was not for a scholar’s life though, and the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War inter­rupted his education.

Elizabeth’s faith in God and His Prov­i­dence was a major ingre­di­ent in her char­ac­ter. She had a small Bible that she car­ried in her pocket, and she prayed often. She taught her sons the impor­tance of obe­di­ence to the Bible’s teach­ings and encour­aged them in their loy­alty to each other and the rest of their fam­ily. Eliz­a­beth urged deeds and words hon­or­ing God, fam­ily, and country.

The Wax­haws set­tle­ment was con­nected to Charleston via the Catawba Path, also known as the Cam­den Sal­is­bury Road, with many trav­el­ers. Mer­chants and Indian traders car­ried their wares to mar­kets. Farm­ers drove their cat­tle to sale. New set­tlers in the Con­estoga wag­ons or on foot were daily vis­i­tors. All of these trav­el­ers kept trade, cul­ture, and news flow­ing into the upcoun­try where the Jack­son fam­ily lived. Because of the prox­im­ity of the Craw­ford home, vis­i­tors kept them in the know with infor­ma­tion and intelligence.

On 20 June 1779, sixteen-year-old Hugh died after the Bat­tle of Stono Ferry near Charlestown. The two-hour bat­tle was not a win for the Patri­ots, but the mili­tia fought bravely. Hugh was not wounded but died of heat exhaustion.

Eliz­a­beth nursed the dying and wounded after the horrific Bat­tle of Wax­haws. She didn’t shy away from either the pain or wounds of the soldiers that were slaughtered by the British at this battle. Later, she hid with her fam­ily from the British, who stole and burned the patri­ots’ farms.

Robert and Andy were under the com­mand of the expe­ri­enced Major William Richard­son Davie. Because of his youth, only thir­teen, Andy served as a mes­sen­ger. Guer­rilla war­fare and destruc­tion was the aim of both sides, and enemy neigh­bors paid back old insults.

Then in the spring of 1781 both Robert and Andy were cap­tured by the British, along with oth­ers in the Wax­haws mili­tia. They were taken to the Cam­den Jail. Small­pox was in every cell, and before long both boys were afflicted. Eliz­a­beth Jack­son was deter­mined to res­cue her sons from this hell­hole. She auda­ciously went to see Lord Raw­don and asked for him to add her sons’ names to a pris­oner exchange that was in the works. He was not unhappy to release two sick prisoners.

Their mother nursed them for sev­eral weeks, but Robert was too weak and died. She never left Andy’s side until he could walk by himself.

Hor­rific tales about how the Patri­ots were being treated on the British prison ships in the har­bor of Charlestown began to cir­cu­late. Eliz­a­beth found out that sev­eral of her nephews were on those ships suf­fer­ing with cholera. Know­ing their chances to sur­vive were small with­out some kind of nurs­ing, Eliz­a­beth and a cou­ple of women from the Wax­haws com­mu­nity decided they needed to go help the young men. In the fall of 1781, three women left home on a mis­sion of mercy.

Elizabeth’s nephews sur­vived, but she did not. She caught cholera and was buried in an unmarked grave in Charleston.

Eliz­a­beth taught her sons the dif­fer­ence between right and wrong, and free­dom and oppres­sion; the impor­tance of help­ing fam­ily and friends; rev­er­ence for truth, jus­tice, and free­dom; and a deep patri­otic devo­tion to coun­try.

Eliz­a­beth Hutchin­son Jack­son was a Patriot, a South Car­olina Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War Hero­ine, and the mother of Pres­i­dent Andrew Jack­son. Her story is worth remembering.

*****

Back Story of “My Country ’tis of Thee”

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“My Country ‘Tis of Thee” was written by Samuel F. Smith in 1832 when he was 24. He was a student at Andover Theological Seminary in Andover, Massachusetts. The melody had traveled around Europe in several variations, including “God Save the King.” Even Beethoven and Haydn had used the music in some of their own compositions.

He wanted to create a national hymn for the United States. In about 30 minutes on a rainy day, he wrote the now classic anthem. The first three verses encourage national pride, while the last verse was specifically reserved as a petition to God for His continued favor and protection of the United States of America.

“My Country ‘Tis of Thee”
(The following are Samuel Smith’s original lyrics for “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” (“America’)

” My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring!

My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture thrills,
Like that above.

Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
Sweet freedom’s song;
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.

Our fathers’ God to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright,
With freedom’s holy light,
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God our King.”

It was first performed on July 4, 1832 at the Park Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts. About 500 Sunday school children premiered the piece at a memorable Independence Day celebration.

Samuel F. Smith was a Baptist minister, author, and journalist. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1801. He was later a student at Harvard and served as a translator for various foreign languages. He received his theological training at Andover Theological Seminary starting in 1830. He later married Mary White Smith and they had six children.

In addition to writing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” Smith wrote over 150 other hymns. These hymns were compiled into a Baptist hymnal, The Psalmist.

What a wonderful legacy he left in music that we still enjoy singing today.

Happy Fourth of July Newsletter

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Happy July 4, 2014!
Growing up, fried chicken and blackberry cobbler were the mainstays of our July 4th celebration. The chicken was finger-lickin’ good, and often there was homemade vanilla ice cream as a topping for the cobbler. Mother cooked the chicken in a large black skillet with Crisco, and there were always plenty of crunchies left in the pan for making gravy, if desired.
We went to pick the wild blackberries on Highway 29; they grew up the shoulder. I have no snake stories, but there were always scratches from the stickers. Filling the buckets took quite a while, because Critt and I tended to eat three or four, before one hit the bucket.
There were no laws to keep us from shooting off fireworks. Rockets, firecrackers, and sparklers were our favorites. The sparklers fascinated me, and I was amazed at the lighted stars. There were never enough of them, in my opinion, no matter how many were bought.
So minus the fireworks, I will serve fried chicken, probably bought from either Publix or KFC, on Friday. I bought the blackberries and will make the crust especially for our guests that need gluten-free dishes.
The ice cream is another story entirely; I will use Mother’s recipe that calls for Eagle Brand milk and whole milk. At least there is an electric churn, rather than the hand crank we used to use. We all put our time in turning the crank, so we earned our big scoops.
Since we haven’t made any ice cream since last year, I might just have dessert first!
There is something about the tastes, sounds, sights, and smells of yesterday that never leave us, and that is a blessing in my book.
This newsletter will be posted on my blog this month. In fact, I am thinking that I will include it as one of my blog posts. If you haven’t visited my web page, I believe you might enjoy some of the posts.
One of you readers has a chance to win a free signed copy of my latest book, Brave Elizabeth. It is the biography of Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson, the mother of President Andrew Jackson. I will mail it to someone who makes a legitimate post about your remembrances of July 4.
Book Signing:
July 19-24 – National Sons of the American Revolution Convention at Hyatt in Greenville, SC

Advice from Poor Richard’s Almanac by Benjamin Franklin

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This 200+ year old advice appears to be relevant today. What do you think?

“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

“What is serving God?
Tis doing good to man.”

“God helps those who help themselves.”

“The poor have little,
Beggars none;
The rich too much,
Enough not one.”

“After crosses and losses, men grow humbler and wiser.”

“If you would not be forgotten
As soon as you are dead and rotten,
Either write things worthy reading,
Or do things worth the writing”

“Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards. “(LOL)

“Work as if you were to live a hundred years,
Pray as if you were to die tomorrow.”

“One good Husband is worth two good Wives; for the scarcer things are, the more they’re valued.” (LOL again)

“Creditors have better memories than debtors.”

“Death takes no bribes.”

“A good example is the best sermon.”

“All would live long, but none would be old.”

“A long life may not be good enough, but a good life is long enough.”

“Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one.”

“Beware of him who is slow to anger; he is angry for something, and will not be pleased for nothing.”

“Danger is sauce for prayers.”

“Bad commentators spoil the best of books.”
(for all you writers out there)

“Approve not of him who commends all you say.”

“Clean your finger, before you point at my spots.”

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