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Lest We Forget: Memorial Day

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Memorial Day 2020

There are many stories about Memorial Day, but this one grabbed my heart this morning. Nancy Sullivan Geng is the author. It tells of a teenager who learned about Memorial Day.

I leaned against an oak at the side of the road, wishing I were invisible, keeping my distance from my parents on their lawn chairs and my younger siblings scampering about.

I hoped none of my friends saw me there. God forbid they caught me waving one of the small American flags Mom bought at Ben Franklin for a dime. At 16, I was too old and definitely too cool for our small town’s Memorial Day parade.

I ought to be at the lake, I brooded. But, no, the all-day festivities were mandatory in my family.

A high school band marched by, the girl in sequins missing her baton as it tumbled from the sky. Firemen blasted sirens in their polished red trucks. The uniforms on the troop of World War II veterans looked too snug on more than one member.

“Here comes Mema,” my father shouted.

Five black convertibles lumbered down the boulevard. The mayor was in the first, handing out programs. I didn’t need to look at one. I knew my uncle Bud’s name was printed on it, as it had been every year since he was killed in Italy. Our family’s war hero.

And I knew that perched on the backseat of one of the cars, waving and smiling, was Mema, my grandmother. She had a corsage on her lapel and a sign in gold embossed letters on the car door: “Gold Star Mother.”

I hid behind the tree so I wouldn’t have to meet her gaze. It wasn’t because I didn’t love her or appreciate her. She’d taught me how to sew, to call a strike in baseball. She made great cinnamon rolls, which we always ate after the parade.

What embarrassed me was all the attention she got for a son who had died 20 years earlier. With four other children and a dozen grandchildren, why linger over this one long-ago loss?

I peeked out from behind the oak just in time to see Mema wave and blow my family a kiss as the motorcade moved on. The purple ribbon on her hat fluttered in the breeze.

The rest of our Memorial Day ritual was equally scripted. No use trying to get out of it. I followed my family back to Mema’s house, where there was the usual baseball game in the backyard and the same old reminiscing about Uncle Bud in the kitchen.

Helping myself to a cinnamon roll, I retreated to the living room and plopped down on an armchair.

There I found myself staring at the Army photo of Bud on the bookcase. The uncle I’d never known. I must have looked at him a thousand times—so proud in his crested cap and knotted tie. His uniform was decorated with military emblems that I could never decode.

Funny, he was starting to look younger to me as I got older. Who were you, Uncle Bud? I nearly asked aloud.

I picked up the photo and turned it over. Yellowing tape held a prayer card that read: “Lloyd ‘Bud’ Heitzman, 1925-1944. A Great Hero.” Nineteen years old when he died, not much older than I was. But a great hero? How could you be a hero at 19?

The floorboards creaked behind me. I turned to see Mema coming in from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron.

I almost hid the photo because I didn’t want to listen to the same stories I’d heard year after year: “Your uncle Bud had this little rat-terrier named Jiggs. Good old Jiggs. How he loved that mutt! He wouldn’t go anywhere without Jiggs. He used to put him in the rumble seat of his Chevy coupe and drive all over town.

“Remember how hard Bud worked after we lost the farm? At haying season he worked all day, sunrise to sunset, baling for other farmers. Then he brought me all his wages. He’d say, ‘Mama, someday I’m going to buy you a brand-new farm. I promise.’ There wasn’t a better boy in the world!”

Sometimes I wondered about that boy dying alone in a muddy ditch in a foreign country he’d only read about. I thought of the scared kid who jumped out of a foxhole in front of an advancing enemy, only to be downed by a sniper. I couldn’t reconcile the image of the boy and his dog with that of the stalwart soldier.

Mema stood beside me for a while, looking at the photo. From outside came the sharp snap of an American flag flapping in the breeze and the voices of my cousins cheering my brother at bat.

“Mema,” I asked, “what’s a hero?” Without a word she turned and walked down the hall to the back bedroom. I followed.

She opened a bureau drawer and took out a small metal box, then sank down onto the bed.

“These are Bud’s things,” she said. “They sent them to us after he died.” She opened the lid and handed me a telegram dated October 13, 1944. “The Secretary of State regrets to inform you that your son, Lloyd Heitzman, was killed in Italy.”

Your son! I imagined Mema reading that sentence for the first time. I didn’t know what I would have done if I’d gotten a telegram like that.

“Here’s Bud’s wallet,” she continued. Even after all those years, it was caked with dried mud. Inside was Bud’s driver’s license with the date of his sixteenth birthday. I compared it with the driver’s license I had just received.

A photo of Bud holding a little spotted dog fell out of the wallet. Jiggs. Bud looked so pleased with his mutt.

There were other photos in the wallet: a laughing Bud standing arm in arm with two buddies, photos of my mom and aunt and uncle, another of Mema waving. This was the home Uncle Bud took with him, I thought.

I could see him in a foxhole, taking out these snapshots to remind himself of how much he was loved and missed.

“Who’s this?” I asked, pointing to a shot of a pretty dark-haired girl.

“Marie. Bud dated her in high school. He wanted to marry her when he came home.” A girlfriend? Marriage? How heartbreaking to have a life, plans and hopes for the future, so brutally snuffed out.

Sitting on the bed, Mema and I sifted through the treasures in the box: a gold watch that had never been wound again. A sympathy letter from President Roosevelt, and one from Bud’s commander. A medal shaped like a heart, trimmed with a purple ribbon. And at the very bottom, the deed to Mema’s house.

“Why’s this here?” I asked.

“Because Bud bought this house for me.” She explained how after his death, the U.S. government gave her 10 thousand dollars, and with it she built the house she was still living in.

“He kept his promise all right,” Mema said in a quiet voice I’d never heard before.

For a long while the two of us sat there on the bed. Then we put the wallet, the medal, the letters, the watch, the photos and the deed back into the metal box. I finally understood why it was so important for Mema—and me—to remember Uncle Bud on this day.

If he’d lived longer he might have built that house for Mema or married his high-school girlfriend. There might have been children and grandchildren to remember him by.

As it was, there was only that box, the name in the program and the reminiscing around the kitchen table.

“I guess he was a hero because he gave everything for what he believed,” I said carefully.

“Yes, child,” Mema replied, wiping a tear with the back of her hand. “Don’t ever forget that.”

I haven’t. Even today with Mema gone, my husband and I take our lawn chairs to the tree-shaded boulevard on Memorial Day and give our three daughters small American flags that I buy for a quarter at Ben Franklin.

I want them to remember that life isn’t just about getting what you want. Sometimes it involves giving up the things you love for what you love even more. That many men and women did the same for their country—that’s what I think when I see the parade pass by now.

And if I close my eyes and imagine, I can still see Mema in her regal purple hat, honoring her son, a true American hero.

As Nathan Hale, during the Revolutionary War said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

I was thinking yesterday about how my dad, Samuel Moore Collins, entered World War II. His Citadel class were all sent to Officers’ Candidate School after their junior year. He was in the Class of “44 called the Class That Never Was.

During the training that would have sent him into the war as a Second Lieutenant, he hurt his leg. The powers-that-be told him he could not serve. But Daddy would not accept that. After his hospital recovery, he enlisted in the Army as a Private and fought in the infantry until the end of the war. He was committed to fight for our country and wasn’t going to let a small injury keep him out of the war.

I agree with President Ronald Reagan’s words, “…And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice.”

Lest we forget….

Charleston, South Carolina

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This year Charleston, SC is celebrating its 350th anniversary. Its first group of immigrants settled at Albemarle Point in 1670,

By 1672, a half-dozen settlers were given land grants near Oyster Point.

Charleston's 1776 defenses

Above is a copy of a 1777 map, “The Harbour of Charles Town in South Carolina from the Surveys of Sr. Jas. Wallace Captn. in his Majesty’s Navy & others with a view of the Town from the South Shore of the Ashley River.” It shows the peninsula fortified by palmetto logs.

Jim Booth painting of Charleston, SC

This scene and battery continues to capture artistic hands. Above is a Jim Booth painting during the Age of Tall Ships.

Charleston Harbor Painting - Charleston Battery Watercolor by Dan Sproul

Joseph Dalton, a member of the town’s governing council, wrote to Lord Ashley Cooper that the peninsula seemed “very healthy being free from any noisome vapors and the Sumer long refreshed with Coole breathing from the sea.”

Charleston Harbor Painting - Audubon Curlew by Granger

I’m rereading parts of Walter Edgar’s South Carolina and suddenly was stopped by a poem written in 1769 by sea captain Captain Martin.

“This is Charles-town, how do you like
it.” 1769.
Poem by the captain of a British warship, 1769.
Black and white all mix’d together,
Inconstant, strange, unhealthful weather
Burning heat and chilling cold
Dangerous both to young and old
Boisterous winds and heavy rains
Fevers and rheumatic pains
Agues plenty without doubt
Sores, boils, the prickling heat and gout
Musquitos on the skin make blotches
Centipedes and large cock-roaches
Frightful creatures in the waters
Porpoises, sharks and alligators
Houses built on barren land
No lamps or lights, but streets of sand
Pleasant walks, if you can find ’em
Scandalous tongues, if any mind ’em
The markets dear and little money
Large potatoes, sweet as honey
Water bad, past all drinking
Men and women without thinking
Every thing at a high price
But rum, hominy and rice
Many a widow not unwilling
Many a beau not worth a shilling
Many a bargain, if you strike it,
This is Charles-town, how do you like it.

My parents married at the Summerall Chapel on the Citadel campus, and so did my brother. I was born in Charleston, and John and I honeymooned there. This city is my go-to place, whether walking on the Battery or on the beaches. I love the historic churches, the handmade baskets, and watching the artists painting on the sidewalks. Reading a book that takes place in Charleston is a piece of heaven to me.

Author Pat Conroy wrote, “There is no city on Earth quite like Charleston. From the time I first came there in 1961, it’s held me in its enchanter’s power, the wordless articulation of its singularity, its withheld and magical beauty. Wandering through its streets can be dreamlike and otherworldly, its alleyways and shortcuts both fragrant and mysterious, yet as haunted as time turned in on itself.”

Happy birthday, Charleston!


The KentuckyDerby

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There is something different about the rolling hills of Kentucky, the Bluegrass state, and part of it is the horse farms.

How Many Horses Call the Bluegrass State Home? Now We Know | WKU ...

Daniel Boone recognized this state and said, “Soon after, I returned home to my family, with a determination to bring them as soon as possible to live in Kentucky, which I esteemed a second paradise, at the risk of my life and fortune.”

My dad obviously felt the same way about his home state. Each year, as we passed from Tennessee to Kentucky, on the way to my grandmother’s house, he would shout loudly in celebration. He taught us to celebrate it, too, as he drove through Cumberland Gap.

Driving through the Gap and following the footsteps of Daniel Boone made for some fun memories.

My first Derby party memory is of listening to it on a big radio at Mirror Lake Farm. That was at Lulu’s house. Critt and I stood with her around that console and tried to sing “My Old Kentucky Home.” When it was announced “the winner is,” we jumped up and down and shouted. My grandmother led us in celebrating.

This is Barbaro who won in 2006.

Barbaro, ridden by Edgar Prado, racing across the finish line to win the 132nd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., May 2006.

I wish I could remember what year this was, but maybe that doesn’t matter. Mother and Daddy were at the Derby in Louisville, and I learned that my family really liked horses and the Derby.


2015 Belmont StakesAmerican Pharoah won the Derby and the Triple Crown in 2015.

The Kentucky Derby was started by Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., grandson of explorer William Clark, of Lewis and Clark Expedition fame. Clark, who was inspired by horse races he’d seen in Europe, raised the money to build Churchill Downs on land donated by his uncles, Henry and John Churchill.

 Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr

In 1872, Clark traveled to Europe, where he visited leading horse-racing sites in England and France. He was inspired by England’s Epsom Downs racecourse, home since 1780 of the Derby Stakes, a 1.5-mile race for three-year-old horses organized by the 12th earl of Derby and his friends.

Famed for throwing extravagant parties, Clark envisioned his racetrack as a place where the city’s stylish residents would gather.

On May 17, 1875, some 10,000 people attended the first Kentucky Derby, which featured a field of 15 three-year-old thoroughbreds racing 1.5 miles. The winning horse, Aristides, finished with a time of 2:37.75 and was ridden by Oliver Lewis, an African-American jockey.


In 1902, a new management team took over Churchill Downs that included Martin “Matt” Winn, a Louisville native and larger-than-life promoter who was instrumental in transforming the Derby from a local event into America’s most iconic horse race.

Winn started the publicity-generating practice of inviting celebrities to the Derby, and advocated broadcasting the race on the radio, something other racing executives thought would hurt attendance numbers.

In 1925, the Derby aired on network radio for the first time; and afterward, attendance continued to grow. 1949 marked the first year the Derby was locally televised. Three years later, in 1952, the Kentucky Derby made its debut on national TV. The rest is history, and my family never missed gathering on Derby Day.

In 1973, Secretariat became the fastest Derby winner in history with a time of 1:59.40, a record that still stands. The story of Big Red was told in the movie “Secretariat,” and it is an inspiring movie.

So, tomorrow we won’t host a Kentucky Derby party or watch it on TV. I will miss all the hoopla, as well as the stories about the horses, the owners, riders, and trainers, fascination with all the hats, and standing to sing “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Bob Lewis said, “To win the Kentucky Derby is the goal of every trainer, every hot-walker, every backside person. They may be rubbing on a horse, or hot-walking a horse, but they wonder if they could win the Kentucky Derby.”

Looking forward to next year!


America’s First Presidential Inauguration

On April 30, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as our first President of the United States.


It took Mr. Washington seven entire days to get to New York from his home in Mount Vernon, because his procession was met every step of the way with throngs of patriotic crowds, celebrating him.

Arriving on a barge, he was met at the Wall Street pier by the mayor of New York James Duane and the state’s governor George Clinton. From there, he was taken to his new home on Cherry Street.

The white Colonial home, built in 1770, was surrounded by other sumptuous houses overlooking the East River. In fact, Washington’s neighbor, at 5 Cherry Street, was John Hancock. In 1880, the neighborhood was torn down to make room for the Brooklyn Bridge anchorage.

He wrote in his journal on the day he left his home, “About 10 o’clock I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity, and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set out for New York in company with Mr. Thompson, and Colonel Humphries, with the best dispositions to render service to my country in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its expectations.”




I am fascinated by quotes and wonder why they are both thought and then said. It is obvious that our first President was reluctant to leave his private life again to take up public life. His humbleness in taking over the leadership of America is apparent, as is his knowledge that this was a calling on his life.


Aware of the importance of this national ritual, Washington set many precedents during his first inauguration: the swearing-in took place outside; the oath was taken upon a Bible; an inaugural address was given (to the assembled Congress inside the Hall), and the contents of which set the pattern for all subsequent addresses. Celebrations accompanied the inauguration, including a church service, a parade, and fireworks.

President Washington saw his new position as one of service and responsibility.

General Morgan Lewis was Marshal of the day. His aid General Jacob Morton, Master at St. John’s Masonic Lodge, brought the Bible and red cushion from the lodge. The Masonic Bible used for the ceremony is a copy printed in 1767 in London and features a large illustration of King George II.

George Washington Inaugural Bible - Federal Hall National Memorial ...

With his right hand on the Bible, Washington repeated the 35 word oath. Adding, “So help me God”, and bent down to kiss the bible. Robert Livingston, who administered the oath, then shouted “It is done!” and “Long live George Washington, President of the United States!” to the crowd below. The raising of a flag signaled a discharge of artillery from the Battery, cheers and ringing of bells filled the city.

President George Washington delivers his inaugural address in the Senate Chamber of Old Federal Hall in New York on April 30, 1789.  (AP Photo)

Then he went into the Senate Chamber in Federal Hall. Some of the phrases he used in his inaugural address were similar to his other writings. He spoke of his “own deficiencies,” but also of his call to public duty when “summoned by my Country.” He also spoke of the shared responsibility of the president and Congress to preserve “the sacred fire of liberty” and a republican form of government.

In the crowd in front of Federal Hall was the Count de Moustier, the French minister. He noted the solemn trust between Washington and the citizens who stood packed below him with uplifted faces. As he reported to his government, never had a “sovereign reigned more completely in the hearts of his subjects than did Washington in those of his fellow citizens…he has the soul, look and figure of a hero united in him.”



The Pony Express

My dad was a lover of western television programs and movies. Critt and I grew up sitting on the floor in front of his chair watching the shows with him. All three of us intently followed the black-and-white stories brought alive by the small screen in our den. Many included riders of the Pony Express, and we were all excited to see the rider changing ponies at full gallop. Jumping from one pony to another was a scary feat of balance, and we cheered the riders on.


The Pony Express was founded by William H. Russell, William B. Waddell, and Alexander Majors. Plans for the Pony Express were spurred by the threat of the Civil War and the need for faster communication with the West. The Pony Express consisted of relays of men riding horses carrying saddlebags of mail across a 2000-mile trail.

The famed Pony Express riders each rode from 75-100 miles before handing the letters off to the next rider. These brave, young men raced against the cruel elements of nature and a rugged terrain to unite a country separated by distance.

A total of 190 way stations were located about 15 miles apart.

The service lasted less than two years, ending when the overland telegraph was completed.

The original 1860 Pony Express stables in St. Joseph,  Missouri now serve as the Pony Express Museum.

History galore






Pony Express rider

Illustration by Ed Vebell from 1950’s Los Angeles Times Sunday supplement from the Dave Thomson collection




Mark Twain, who encountered the riders while on an 1861 stagecoach trip to Nevada. wrote about them in “Roughing It.”

The pony rider was usually a little bit of a man, brimful of spirit and endurance. No matter what time of day or night his watch came on, and no matter whether it was winter or summer, raining, snowing, hailing or sleeting, or whether his ‘beat’ was a level straight road or a crazy trail over mountain crags and precipices, or whether it led through peaceful regions or regions that swarmed with hostile Indians, he must be always ready to leap into the saddle and be off like the wind! There was no idling time for a pony rider on duty. He rode fifty miles without stopping, by daylight, moonlight, starlight, or through the blackness of darkness — just as it happened. He rode a splendid horse that was born for a racer and fed and lodged like a gentleman: kept him at his utmost speed for 10 miles, and then, as he came crashing up to the station where stood two men holding fast a fresh, impatient steed, the transfer of rider and mailbag was made in the twinkling of an eye, and away flew the eagle pair and were out of sight before the spectator could get hardly the ghost of a look.



As the veteran rider Buffalo Bill said, “Excitement was plentiful during my two years’ service as a Pony Express rider.” (What irony!)

It was a memory of these times watching those westerns that sent me to check them out this morning and share it with you. During these stay-at-home days, I find that various memories appear more often.

My grandmother used to call this wool-gathering. I think I will continue this indulgence in idle fancies and in daydreaming.


Our Washington National Cathedral

I have always been drawn to churches. Whether it was the small, white chapel that my great grandparents attended in Hendersonville, NC, the Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg that one of my grandfather’s was the architect for, or Westminister Abbey  one Easter morning, I was not going to miss an opportunity to walk in, sit and listen.

No, I have never visited our National Cathedral, but perhaps one day.

Washington National Cathedral's photo.


Standing at one of the city’s highest points, this soaring Gothic cathedral extends almost the length of two football fields and pierces the city’s skyline.

Designed and constructed in the 14th-century English Gothic style, the edifice was also built without the use of steel support in a centuries-old manner—using artists, sculptors, and stone masons. Radiant heating in the stone floor is one of its few concessions to modernity.

The church’s grandeur is evidenced in its stunning features: soaring vaulting, sparkling stained glass windows, and intricate carvings. The Space Window contains a piece of lunar rock presented to the cathedral by the astronauts of Apollo XI. Fanciful gargoyles and dramatic sculpture adorn the exterior. The inscription “Is not God in the height of Heaven?” (Job 22:12) appears at the window’s base.






Although a Christian church, the Cathedral welcomes persons of all faiths and is frequently the site of interfaith and ecumenical services. Services of celebration for the swearing in of a president, thanksgiving for the release of hostages, and mourning for the death of a leader are examples of the Cathedral’s national purpose.

The Bishop’s Garden, on the Cathedral grounds, is a medieval-styled walled garden with ancient boxwood’s, herbs, and a rose garden. The gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and occupy two thirds of the Washington National Cathedral site.


Family at Washington National Cathedral in Upper NW - Family-Friendly Things to Do in Washington, DC


Stonemasons and builders erected the cathedral beginning in 1907, completing it 83 years later in 1990. Carved from Indiana limestone, the structure boasts a 30-story-tall central tower, an interior nine-bay nave and 215 stained glass windows, including one embedded with a moon rock. Inside, you’ll find a crypt level where Helen Keller is buried. On the nave level, you’ll discover an intricately carved wooden choir area and numerous serene chapels.

The west rose window was dedicated in 1977 in the presence of both the 39th President, Jimmy Carter and Queen Elizabeth II.

President Woodrow Wilson and his wife, Edith, are both buried here in the Cathedral. He is the only president buried in the District of Columbia. You’ll see in the bay the American flag and the flag of Princeton University, of which he was president also. The cross on top of his tomb is the Crusader’s Cross, to represent his crusade for peace after WWI.

As John Muir said, “One may as well dam for water tanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has eve been consecrated by the heart of man.”

On the exterior, you can search out the 112 gargoyles (decorative rain spouts) and grotesques (carved stone creatures) with the help of a map (available at the entrance) or via guided tours conducted during summer months.

National Cathedral interior and stained glass


The National Cathedral, completed in 1990, is the culmination of a two-century-long plan for a majestic Gothic style cathedral. This richly decorated cathedral is located on a landscaped 57 acre plot of land on Mount Saint Albans in Northwest Washington, 400 feet above sea level. The cathedral consists of a long narrow rectangular mass, the eight bay nave and the five bay chancel, intersected by a six bay transept. Above the crossing, rising just over 300 feet above grade, is the Gloria in Excelsis Tower.

The building abounds in architectural sculpture, wood carving, leaded glass, mosaics, artistic metal work, and many other works of art, including over 200 stained glass windows. Most of the decorative elements have Christian symbolism or are memorials to famous persons or events.

On January 4, 1792, descriptions from President Washington’s disclosed plan for the “City of Washington, in the district of Columbia” were published in The Gazette of the United States, Philadelphia. Lot “D” was set aside and designated for “A church intended for national purposes, …, assigned to the special use of no particular sect or denomination, but equally open to all.” The National Portrait Gallery now occupies that site. A century later in 1891, a meeting was held to revive plans to build the church intended for national purposes. It was to be a Christian cathedral.

The building of the cathedral finally started in 1907 with a ceremonial address by President Theodore Roosevelt when he laid the cornerstone. When construction of the cathedral resumed after a brief hiatus for World War I. Although construction slowed during periods of economic hardship and stopped altogether during 1977–80, the building was completed in 1990.

American architect Philip Hubert Frohman took over the design of the cathedral and is known as the principal architect. The Cathedral has been the location of many significant events, including the funeral services of Woodrow Wilson, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan. Its pulpit was the last one from which Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke prior to his assassination. The Cathedral is the burial place of many notable people, including Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller, Admiral George Dewey, Bishop Satterlee and the architects Henry Vaughan and Philip Frohman.

And this church continues to give back to our people. Last week, the National Cathedral donated 5,000 respirator masks to hospitals after finding them in the cathedral’s crypt level. they were brought more than a decade ago during the bird flu epidemic.

The message was clear from the outset that the Cathedral and the communities formed around it would stand for peace, and over time that Gospel message has rung out forcefully from the Canterbury Pulpit. Even on the days when that pulpit is silent, the Cathedral’s message of peace and spiritual renewal of all who have served pervades almost every space.

The National Cathedral in Washington donated 5,000 respirator masks to hospitals after finding them in the cathedral's crypt level. They were bought more than a decade ago when Americans were concerned about the bird flu.

Pisanki, Polish Easter Eggs

Several years ago, I ordered a set of pisanki eggs. Some I kept, and others I gave to family. They are truly beautiful, and I enjoy getting them out each year.
Pisanki - the decorated Easter eggs in Poland
Pisanki from Krzczonów (Eastern Poland)

 Decorating eggs has been a tradition in Poland for about 1,000 years.

Pisanki, the art of decorating Easter eggs, is practiced in Poland and in several other Eastern European countries. In Polish, the verb “pisac” means “to write,” hence pisanki can be loosely translated as “writing on eggs.”

Natural dyes are prepared from vegetables and other plants. Onion skins are the most common dye,producing shades of brown, bronze and gold. Red cabbage makes a delicate blue dye, while beets yield a pink shade. Tea and coffee are strong brown dyes. Spinach and grass give a gentle green, while berries can produce pinks.

Theresa Child carefully melts pure beeswax in a small jar lid inside a larger jar lid over low heat on a heating element like a kitchen stove, hot plate or candle warmer. Before being heated, the beeswax is a lovely golden color.

Theresa Child Using Melted Beeswax to Make Polish Pisanki Easter Eggs
Barbara Rolek / The Spruce

As it heats, it darkens, which makes it easier to see your designs as you work. Candle wax can’t be used because it’s too soft and wouldn’t hold the design.

Homemade Tool for Polish Pisanki Easter Egg Making

In Poland, Theresa Child’s grandmother used a twig pushed into the end of a pencil eraser to transfer melted beeswax to an egg to create pisanki. When she came to America, she improvised by sticking a straight pin into a pencil eraser. The size of the straight pin head determines the width of the wax line.


Pisanki - the decorated Easter eggs in Poland

Wooden Polish eggs, or pisanki, are a staple for many preparing an Easter basket to be blessed on Holy Saturday.

Pisanki - the decorated Easter eggs in Poland
Preparing the święconka (Easter basket) in the Sierpc Ethnographic Museum.

“Eggs are a representation of the original source of creation. They were decorated with symbols and colors to represent things like fertility, power and life.

Pisanki - the decorated Easter eggs in Poland
Blessing of święconki next the church, town of Rabka, image 


But there are some constants. Each color, for instance, has its own unique meaning:

  • White: Purity and birth
  • Yellow: Youth, happiness and reward
  • Green: Fertility, health, hopefulness and wealth
  • Red: Spiritual awakening, joy of life and love
  • Orange: Endurance, strength and ambition
  • Pink: Success and contentment
  • Blue: Good health, truth and fidelity
  • Purple: Faith, trust and patience
  • Brown: Earth, harvest and generosity
  • Black: Eternity and absolutism
Pisanki - the decorated Easter eggs in Poland
Colorful malowanki

“Purple and red are definitely the most popular colors. But purple is also the rarest. Bright colors are commonly gifted to children while deeper colors are reserved for adults and black eggs are for the elderly,” noted Parker.

Pisanki - the decorated Easter eggs in Poland
Pisanki, via Globtrotter Kraków

There are also recurring symbols, like ducks, birds, lambs, pussy willows and flowers. You may also see “Happy Easter” and its Polish counterpart, “Wesołego Alleluja” adorning the eggs.

Pisanki - the decorated Easter eggs in Poland
Nalepianka from Łowicz

Real pisanki are created by drawing on the eggs with a melted wax and then dipping them into dyes. Come Easter Sunday morning, pisanki are exchanged among family and friends to wish everyone good health and prosperity.

This is such a beautiful art. Have any of you ever created pisanki eggs?

St. Francis of Assisi and Nativity Scenes

Most of us are familiar with St. Francis of Assisi being the patron saint of animals in the Catholic Church. Born into a wealthy family around 1181 in Assisi, Italy, he abandoned this life of luxury after hearing the voice of God. God told him to rebuild the Christian church and to take a vow of poverty.

A statue of St. Francis of Assisi


He became known for his compassion for the vulnerable, especially poor people, sick people, and animals. Starting the Franciscan order with eleven men, he chose to live in poverty but practice charity. The friars wandered and preached among the people, helping the poor and the sick. They supported themselves by working and by begging for food, but they were forbidden to accept money either as payment for work.

His faith in God and belief in his watch care was strong St. Francis said, “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

During this time, church services were conducted in Latin. Because of a lack of education, the common folk could not understand either the Bible reading or the sermons.

It has been said Francis was inspired with a new understanding of Jesus’ birth after visiting the historical place of Christ’s birth on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land—that humble stable in a Bethlehem cave.

He said, “I want to do something that will recall the memory of that Child who was born in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of his infancy, how he lay in the manger, and how the ox and ass stood by.”

Becoming concerned about his parishioners not understanding the Christmas story, St. Francis had an idea to make the extraordinary story of the first Christmas one that everyone could understand.  He set up the first nativity scene in 1223 for the Christmas Eve mass.

With permission from the Pope, he asked his friend John Velita to loan him some animals and straw to set up a scene to represent Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.

Setting up in a cave outside the town of Greccio, there was a wax figure of the baby Jesus. Dressed in costumes, a man and woman portrayed Joseph and Mary. A live donkey and an ox were added to the scene. Nearby were local shepherds with their own sheep.

Frances told the congregation the Christmas story from the Bible. He went on to the importance of what belief in the baby born in a manger in Bethlehem would make in their lives. Urging people to believe in the miracle, he urged people to embrace the love of God.

Christmas nativity scene

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle,” said Francis, and he meant to be one candle.

Saint Bonaventure wrote a biography of Francis, and he described this night with these words.

The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that venerable night was made glorious by many and brilliant lights and sonorous psalms of praise. The man of God [Francis] stood before the manger, full of devotion and piety, bathed in tears and radiant with joy; the Holy Gospel was chanted by Francis, the Levite of Christ. Then he preached to the people around the nativity of the poor King; and being unable to utter His name for the tenderness of His love, He called Him the Babe of Bethlehem.
Word of this first nativity spread across Italy. By the next year, most churches had their own nativity either on the grounds or inside the church. Soon people in other European countries were setting up live nativities to celebrate Christmas. Whether in churches or town squares, the main characters were always present.
Today, eight hundred years later, we also have nativities in our homes. This is one of the first Christmas decorations that we put out. My Fontanini set has become a treasure. Starting our first Christmas as a married couple, John and I added several pieces every year. He made our stable, and we have an assortment of characters, including camels, donkeys, and dogs. Since it is made from wood, it is child proof, and we keep it on a short table for easy access. It is fascinating to listen to children playing with the nativity and moving the figures around
It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.
Francis of Assisi walked the walk he preached. We can learn from his example.


America’s First Published Woman Poet

When teaching American literature, I always chose to introduce my students to two Puritan writers, Jonathon Edwards and Anne Bradstreet. I would read their works aloud, because their stilted language could be difficult.
Because of the Puritans’ unfamiliar doctrines of covenant people, covenant marriage, and the individual’s place in the community, discussions of their beliefs vs. twentieth century ideas were often led by “why. ” We can not walk in the shoes of these colonial men and women.
The ideas and lifestyles of these immigrants to our country are still foreign to us today.
She didn’t argue with the Puritan thoughts on the roles of men and women.
Let Greeks be Greeks, and Women what they are
Men have precedency and still excel;
It is but vain unjustly to wage war.
Men can do best, and women know it well,
Preeminence in all and each is yours;
Yet grant some small acknowledgment of ours.
 It is in Anne Bradstreet’s poem, “To My Dear and Loving Husband,”  she clearly states the Puritan belief of covenant marriage. The unity of husband and wife (“If ever two were one, then surely we…”), the requirement of exclusive devotion (“My love is such that rivers cannot quench…”), and the permanence of the marital relationship (“…when we live no more we may live ever”) are all emphasized. Passionately, with her heart and with her words, she proclaims her beliefs on her marriage, concluding with the words,
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.
Anne Bradstreet was born on March 22, 1612 to a former soldier of Queen Elizabeth’s, Thomas Dudley and wife Dorothy,  in Northhampton, England. Dudley managed the affairs of the Earl of Lincoln, and the family lived on a beautiful estate. Her family was Puritan, and their home was full of books. Anne was tutored in literature and history in Greek, Latin, French, Hebrew, as well as English.
Image result for anne bradstreet biography oil painting of Anne Bradstreet
At age 16, she married her childhood sweetheart, twenty-five-year-old Simon Bradstreet. Simon was the son of a Puritan minister and had been in the care of the Dudleys since his father’s death. Simon was a Cambridge graduate.
Image result for anne bradstreet biography Simon Bradstreet
Two years later, in 1630, the family, along with Anne and Simon, sailed for America with the Massachusetts Bay Company. This group was made up of well-to-do families, who believed they were called by God to establish a new settlement in a New World, as it was called.
John Winthrop was the leader of this expedition, and the main ship was named “Arabella.” There were eleven ships that sailed from Yarmouth in this expedition. The three month journey was difficult; several died. But these Puritans were dedicated to form a community where they could exercise their religion and worship God in the manner of their choosing without the corrupting influence in England of Catholicism.
Settling in Ipswith, Massachusetts, the leadership of this new colony was with three men. Anne’s father, Thomas Dudley, was Deputy-Governor of the Boston settlement. His friend John Winthrop was Governor, and Anne’s husband was Chief-Administrator. Both her father and husband later served as governors.

As Anne tells her children in her memoirs, “I found a new world and new manners at which my heart rose [up in protest.]”

The New World was fierce, rough, and dangerous. Giving birth to eight children, who all survived to adulthood,  in ten years, Anne made her writing domain a domestic one. Frequently ill, her positive outlook was evident even in her writing. “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” When their house burned down, she wrote about this calamity that was so common in the 17th century.  She wrote a poem about the loss of her young grandson.

Image result for quotes about anne bradstreet's poetry

Her mother set an admirable example of the type of wife Anne admired. We can read that in the epitaph she wrote for her mother.

Here lies/ A worthy matron of unspotted life,/ A loving mother and obedient wife,/ A friendly neighbor, pitiful to poor,/ Whom oft she fed, and clothed with her store;/ To servants wisely aweful, but yet kind,/ And as they did, so they reward did find:/ A true instructor of her family,/ The which she ordered with dexterity,/ The public meetings ever did frequent,/ And in her closest constant hours she spent;/ Religious in all her words and ways,/ Preparing still for death, till end of days:/ Of all her children, children lived to see,/ Then dying, left a blessed memory. 

Anne Bradstreet Home Salem MA

There is little evidence about Anne’s life in Massachusetts beyond that given in her poetry–no portrait, no grave marker.  She and her family moved several times, always to more remote frontier areas where Simon could accumulate more property and political power. They would have been quite vulnerable to Indian attack there; families of powerful Puritans were often singled out for kidnapping and ransom. She admits no fear of her present or her future.

When I behold the heavens as in their prime,
And then the earth (though old) still clad in green,
The stones and trees, insensible of time
Nor age nor wrinkle on their front are seen;
Is winter come, and greenness then do fade,
A spring returns, and they more youthful made
But Man grows old, lies down, remains where once
he’s laid.

Anne seems to have written poetry primarily for herself, her family, and her friends, many of whom were very well educated. Her early, more imitative poetry, taken to England by her brother-in-law (possibly without her permission), appeared as The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America in 1650 when she was 38 and sold well in England.

That same brother-in- law wrote these words describing Anne. “…her gracious demeanor, her eminent parts, her pious conversation, her courteous disposition, her exact diligence in her place, her discreet managing of her family connections.”

There is much more to be said about her strength, her faith, and her life. But reading these snippets of her lyrical poetry perhaps remind us that the daily things in this world have not changed. She drew her moral lessons from her home activities and observations of nature, and her themes were religion, nature, and her family.

Hope and trust led her musings, and we need that focus, whether in 1650 or 2019.



“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.

All the world is God’s own field,
Fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown,
Unto 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.

For the Lord our God shall come,
And shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day
All offenses purge away;
Give His angels charge at last
In the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store
In His garner evermore.

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 garner to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come,
Raise the glorious harvest home.


For some reason, the first verse of this Thanksgiving hymn has been running around in my mind all day. Perhaps because cold weather is finally here. John built our first fire of the season last night. Or maybe because Thanksgiving is around the corner. We do tend to focus on our blessings more during this season.

Norman Rockwell

I can remember learning and singing this song in third grade chorus and in church choir. At Park Hills Elementary School, we had a program to celebrate Thanksgiving, and we loudly sang this. Some of us wore Indian headbands, and the rest of us wore Pilgrim garb. Our parents smiled and applauded our efforts, even if there were a few notes off-key.

Tom Lyles, our Minister of Music, directed all the choirs in singing the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Dressed in our short choir robes, we stood on the steps of the podium in front of the adult choir. The setting and atmosphere were quite different than at school. I don’t remember any smiling or clapping from those in the pews. But the organ was a magnificent accompaniment.

Rather than a Thanksgiving feast provided by our mothers, we listened to a sermon about being thankful for God’s gifts.

George Henry Durrie

“On Thanksgiving Day we acknowledge our dependence,” wrote William Jennings Bryan.

Henry Alford, the author of Come, Ye Thankful People, Come, was born in London and came from a line of five successive generations of Anglican priests.  His mother died when he was very young, and so he was brought up by his widowed father.  He was a very bright and, at times, precocious child.  He was immersed in the classics from an early age and was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was made a fellow in 1834.

He wrote the inscription for his grave marker. Translated into English, it said, “the inn of a traveller on his way to Jerusalem.” Isn’t this a beautiful way to describe our lives on earth?

Alford was a talented artist, musician and writer.  He translated the Odyssey, edited an edition of the Greek New Testament, the works of John Donne, and published a number of his poems.

This American holiday is always about family, food, and friends.

Doris Lee

President Franklin Roosevelt prayed, “Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will.”