Heading West

Writing prompts: today the Ragtag Daily Prompt was FIXER-UPPER and I was able to work it in with another writing challenge, the one I gave to Judy Dykstra-Brown last night. You’re welcome to try it too, if you like. The goal is to Use at least three words in a poem or story.

Judy has already written her poem in response (Click here to read it) and now here’s mine. I hope you can bear with this long tale. 🙂

Original image created by DarkMoon Art for Pixabay

HEADING WEST

Sunshine and blue skies. A glorious day to start on an adventure!

One of the scouts stuffs a couple of flasks in his saddlebag as I pass. He nods when he sees me observing him. “Strictly for medicinal purposes, ma’am.” Then he has the nerve to wink at me. I don’t know about that fellow. Altogether too forward. Heaven knows what kind of women he’s associated with ’til now.

I smile to myself as I reached my wagon. What I have in my luggage is strictly for medicinal purposes also: two medical books. Father would never hear of me studying formally, but from these I’ve learned a lot about human anatomy.

The scout probably sees me as a frightfully brash thing, attaching myself to this train like I have. My family thinks I’m mad. You should have heard the gasps when I announced that I’d bought a covered wagon, hired young Clancy Fitzhugh to drive it, and was heading west to assist old Dr James in his practice.

My brother Charles sputtered and eyed me suspiciously. Did he think I’d robbed a bank? Or was stealing some of his inheritance? And my sisters-in-law! “Foolishness! Far too daring! Out there among gunfighters and thieves. No respectable woman would ever…” and on and on. They see me at thirty-one as a spinster for life. A lost penny that will obligingly roll along from house to house. Well, I refuse to be dependent on them for the rest of my life.

It cheered me very much this morning to receive a letter from my good friend Sally. Won’t I have things to tell her when I get the chance? She’ll be astounded.

I miss her so much! We were good friends all through school, after all. Then a year after we graduated a young man from England stopped in our town on his tour of the American Midwest. He courted her and won her heart, married her and carried her back to England. Now she writes such interesting letters about her life over there – so different from anything we know! In her last letter she sent along a picture of a hedgehog that her son drew. She told me her children think they’re cute and put out treats to lure them into the garden.

Something catches my eye, a glitter by the front wheel of my wagon. Someone has lost a penny – and I’ve found it! I snatch it up and examine it, feeling lighter of heart. Surely this is a good sign?

Isn’t it amazing how things happen right at the time you need them? If I hadn’t happened to catch Mother sliding a small hearthstone into place one day, I’d never have known about the money she was squirreling away. Someone else would have gotten that windfall if I hadn’t discovered her secret.

“Your father will no doubt leave everything to your brothers in his will, with instructions to look after us,” she explained. “And knowing how careful your brothers are with money, even if they’ll let us have a little house of our own I can see us having to give account for every dollar we spend. I want us to have some money of our own when that day comes.”

Mother was right. Father was generous to her, but he’d will everything to the boys. I can just hear him saying, “Why would women need money when they have family to look after them?”

I knew Mother was good at lacework and sold some from time to time; now she told me she was setting aside some of the housekeeping money. She was looking ahead, but didn’t foresee they’d die together. Their deaths happened when our horse spooked and upset their carriage; Mother died instantly; Father lived only a few days.

My parents’ dear friend Dr James made a special trip back for the funeral. Some years back, hearing about an acute need for doctors, he’d gone out West to a small mining town in Montana to set up a practice and we hadn’t seen him since. Chatting with them I could feel he was happy about what he was doing, even patching up gamblers and gunslingers. The day after my parents’ funeral I shared my own dream with him, knowing he’d understand.

Ever since we lost my sister Millie I’ve had a burning desire to help other women make it through childbirth. Could Millie have been saved if she’d had a more competent midwife assisting her? Who can say? But since the day we buried Millie and her newborn girl, I’ve studied and assisted one of the local midwives, with the dream of saving other women’s lives.

He commended me, said my services would be most welcome in their area, especially since one of the midwives there had such a rough time with her last delivery she may never assist him again. I should consider joining him there.

“I’m sure you can could get a room with Mrs. Greggs will take you on as a boarder. In fact, I’ll even pay for your board for the first few months if you’ll do nursing for me. Mrs Greggs is an older widow, quite a respectable woman who swears by ginger tea as a cure-all and feeds me gingersnaps every time I stop in.”

I had to wonder if he stopped in quite often…

Three weeks after the funeral Charles came over to announce, “We’ve decided to put the house up for sale. This property is too valuable for you to live here alone. But you needn’t worry; you can live with one of us. Or we can buy you a small cottage.” I can still see him standing there, a glass of iced tea in his hand, handing me such a bleak future, with not so much as a “by your leave.”

Oh, yes, they said they’d see I was cared for if I stayed here, but I know how that would go. The thought of being shuffled from one home to another, an obligation, an unpaid servant, underfoot too often. Or in a little fixer-upper cottage, dependent on them to do the repairs. Once he left I pulled Mother’s savings from the niche in the hearth and counted it, breathing a sigh of thanks for her foresight.

I’m striking out on my own, come what may. The wagon-master’s shouting and the teams are all shaking their reins impatiently. Time to head West!

Happy Thanksgiving!

To all my American readers, wherever you happen to be. I hope your day is filled with joy, family and/or memories of great times together, gratitude and hope.

Your homeland is a bountiful one, with many opportunities for an ambitious person to make a fair living. So many people the world over dream of the freedom and prosperity Americans enjoy and would give a lot to be there.

You also have an amazing pool of talent; Americans have produced marvelous inventions, written great stories and verses. Here’s a verse from one of my favorite old-time poets, Edgar Guest. With his thousands of home-spun verses about everyday things, he was known as “the poet of the American people” and “the bard of America’s hopes and dreams.”

The Brighter Side

Though life has its trouble and life has its care
and often its dark days of sorrow,
there is always the hope that the sky will be fair
and the heart will be happy tomorrow.

There’s always the light of a goal just ahead,
a glimpse of the dream we’re pursuing,
in spite of the difficult pathway we tread
there is much it is good to be doing.

Time empties the purse of the pennies of youth,
the heart of its innocent laughter,
but gives in return just a few grains of truth
and the promise of more to come after.

There’s never a new day lived out to the end,
however life’s tempests may pitch us,
but what with a triumph, a joy, or a friend,
the swift, fleeting hours may enrich us.

There is so much to do and there’s so much to see
in spite of the troubles that fret us,
so much to wait for and so much to be
if only the future will let us —

that life with its burdens and life with its tears
and its heart-burning touches of sadness
still lures us all on to the end of our years
with its friendships, its loves, and its gladness.

From the book, Collected Verse of Edgar A. Guest,
©1934 by the Reilly & Lee Co

The Peril of a Great Name

Today’s Word of the Day Challenge from Kristian is FIGMENT, as in FIGMENT of your IMAGINATION. Well, here’s one. 🙂

“When I Win the Lottery…”

How many times have you heard someone say this? I have. And I’ve read about people who did win the lottery, how it played out for them. I gather it does wonders for what people think of, or expect from, you.

If you were to win a lottery, your reputation for wealth would spread far and wide. If you win the lottery, you’ll have long lost relatives who remember you, show up and want to be fed. You’ll have the most sincere wanna-be friends with pressing needs who need to borrow “…just a few bucks. Come on, you have so much.” Sales people of all kinds will be trying to get their foot in your door.

Years back a couple in our town won the lottery and she kept on working at her sales job, one she really enjoyed. But some people resented that. “She’s got all that money now and she’s taking a job away from someone who needs it!” To avoid all these things, some lottery winners have had to move to a place where nobody knew them.

Yes, winning the lottery is a mixed blessing & curse.

And America Has Won the Lottery!

A few decades ago, back in Ontario, a tractor-trailer outfit (a.k.a. a semi) stopped on the weigh scale on the Canadian border, heading into Detroit. The log book said the truck was empty, and the trucker said the same, but Canadian Customs officers were suspicious. Their scale was telling them this “empty” truck weighed more than it should.

They insisted he open the trailer and let them have a look inside… And what to their wondering eyes did appear…
but two dozen people (give or take). People who barely spoke English. Who carried Polish ID + passports.

An Imaginary Figment

Frowning Customs agents turned to the trucker for an explanation and he admitted these people have paid him to smuggle them into the US. “They seem to believe America is so rich that money is just lying around on the streets,” he explained. “So they flew to Canada as visitors and hired me to take them into the States. They want to pick up some of this money that’s lying around.”

The Polish folks were sent home – probably under the allusion that they were so close to riches and weren’t allowed to get their hands on any. And, trying to make a quick buck, the Canadian trucker was charged with smuggling human cargo.

I think of this incident whenever I read comments about how America should open her doors to the poor and needy of other lands. With the fantastic reputation she now has, there’d be standing room only! I think if you go to just about any nation and ask around, people will tell you, “Of course we’re poor compared to those rich Americans.”

Image: DarkmoonArt_de — Pixabay

Easy Money to Be Made! Just Get In

Some people do know that money doesn’t just lie around on the streets, but they still have a pretty rosy image. I was talking to a friend lately, someone who’s lived in Mexico and, with her husband, makes frequent trips there still. She tells me that a lot of Mexicans have the same impression of America: everyone there is rich. If you can get into the States you’ll only have to work a bit and the money will come flowing in. I’m sure the reality is a shock.

There was a time when America meant hard work. It was a new world, with forests to chop down and land to clear, railroads to build, factories to work in. As she prospered, her reputation for wealth increased. People in other lands now believe Americans all have great jobs and yachts and vacations around the world. From what they see, money obviously comes easy in the US. And some American writers are quick to support this thinking.

One blogger, quoting the plaque on the Statue of Liberty, felt that the States should just open the borders and let people come. Lots of room! Lots of jobs! Another article writer claims the US has room for a hundred times more people that what are living there now. (Mind you, this writer said nothing about where all these newcomers would find work. A lot of manufactured goods seem to be coming from overseas these days.)

I get the impression that many Americans — those who blog and write articles — are saying, “America is so rich. We can share.” (Or rather, “Our govt can share.”) That seems to be the “Haves” perspective. Those folks with good jobs or pensions, those who’ve won their share of the American lottery and are enjoying it.

Unlike those hopeful Poles, I’ve been in the States, seen enough places, and read enough that I realize there’s a major “Have Not” section in the US, too. So how do the Have Nots – all those folks living in ghettos, tenement slums, on the streets, Appalachian villages, and homeless camps in Florida – look at this “y’all come” generosity? Folks who’ve missed out somehow on the big win, what’s their take on this? If they were allowed to share their perspective, they could tell money-seekers a thing or two.

To Whom It May Concern:
Canada is a tough place to survive; you have to work hard to make a living; we’re almost all relatively poor; precipitation is unpredictable; our winters can be bitterly cold. We’re glad for immigrants but not delusions. 🙂

The Lessons of History

FOR GOODNESS SAKE, READ HISTORY (Part One)

Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning: FURY
Word of the Day prompt: SUSTAIN
Fandango’s One-Word Challenge: EULOGY

Fury, Rage, and Free Press

Sue over at Crooked Creek has done reports on the new books about Donald Trump: TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH written by his niece, Mary L. Trump, and the other, RAGE, by Bob Woodward. I think Sue has done a great job of introducing the books lightly and fairly, without getting into personal opinions about the contents.

Stickler for accuracy that I am, I do object to the subtitle “…the world’s most dangerous man.” It sounds so sensational. No doubt he is one of the most powerful men on the planet but when I think of some dictators, money men, heads of organized crime and drug lords, I’m not so sure who should receive that title. But I’ll leave that where it is.

When I read these book reviews, my thought was: at least we live in a world of free speech. People have compared Donald Trump to Hitler, but there’s so much difference. Read about that history! If any writer wrote a news story calling Hitler a megalomaniac or tried to publish a book about Adolf Hitler, the most dangerous man on the planet (which he was, in his day) the journalist or author would have disappeared in the night and never been heard from again.

I have a book here written by a woman who was a girl in Nazi Germany. Her father, a loyal army officer who had serious misgivings about the whole regime, quietly got involved in a “Schindler’s List” type arrangement with a factory owner. When this was discovered he was arrested and secretly executed. Trump may not respond well to criticism but I’m not hearing anything about vocal Democrats being rounded up and quietly disposed of.

“The Worst Ever” Usually Means “I Haven’t Heard of Anything Else”

We live in a world of sensational superlatives. The media delights in them. “The worst pandemic in history”; “the biggest, the worse, the most devastating storm” ever. Climatic conditions like fires, droughts, hurricanes, are “the most calamitous,” “unsurvivable” and “portents of much worse to come.” Political races may be called “the most contentious” or “the most fateful decision ever.”

It’s rather thrilling to believe we actually live in an era of the worst ever. These days we seem to be surrounded by news and Facebook and Twitter working to sustain panic and fury. Many people are chanting some eulogy for the West — or America. I can’t predict whether things will get worse or better, but I do believe it would be great if more people were studying history.

Speaking of which, I’ve just started reading PROHIBITION: Thirteen Years that Changed America, by Edward Behr. Fascinating era!

Image by MabelAmber — Pixabay

A Cascade of Adjectives

Fandango’s One-Word Challenge today is FRUGAL. A much more…well…frugal word than some others he posted this week. When I saw the provocative words Inexorable, Doleful, Deviate, Extraneous, Vehement, and Elucidate pop into my In-box, I really wanted to concoct some suitable responses. However, I seemed to be otherwise occupied all week – and/or my muse has headed down the garden path chasing a tale. Stay tuned…

Reading various articles this week, especially a comment from another blogger about “pastors ranting about..the need to promote the new Cyrus: Trump” – my mind started to form a picture…

Have you ever stood close to a thundering waterfall and tried to hear yourself think? Now, add to the turbulence of the waterfall a bunch of doleful, croaking frogs, several flocks of vehement gabbling geese, throw in the extraneous cry of a distant loon – and then try to listen to someone giving a speech. How much will you get?

Fast-forward to today. An author has written a book about the current presidential candidates and would like some feedback. I won’t mention the title, which would give the game away, but I read his blurb on Amazon elucidating his preference and I messaged him that it sounds like he’s doing some fiery preaching to the choir.

There’s a lot of that going on.

Often with politics there’s a whole lot of noise and few people who are actually listening in an open-minded way. Especially when I read the current US political scene, I envision two roaring streams of opinion coming from opposite directions, ending in two cascades of adjectives hurling themselves at each other and splashing onto the rocks below.

Cement-headed, fanatical, xenophobic, fascists and rednecks versus closed-minded, anti-American, neo-Nazi, self-serving opposers of law and order. One comment: “If said party chose a maggoty dead skunk as their candidate, I’d vote for the skunk.” With all these acrid opinions frothing about, the ultimate winner is clear: the English language, Adjectives branch.

The frogs could be a bunch of journalists analyzing the chaos; the geese may be various extremists on either side trying to make themselves heard. And the loon, dare I say, yet another prophet trying to fit current people and affairs into the grand scheme of end-times prophecy?

There’s always been speculation about people and events. J.N. Darby believed in the 1880s that the end of the world was very near. At the start of WWII, I’m told, evangelical Christians were thinking Mussolini was the anti-christ. My husband remembers speculation that David Ben Gurion would turn out to be the messiah. He also recalls a general alarm among evangelicals about the US electing JFK, a Catholic president! Then Henry Kissinger being pegged as the anti-christ.

Dear Christian friends, please don’t go there. The noise is already so loud; the chances of reading the signs wrong is so great. Isn’t it time to abandon all the adjectives and rather seek the “prayer closet”? “Be still and know that I am God.” There will be elections in several Canadian provinces this fall, too. I honestly believe we’ll accomplish more for the good of our nations by spending our time in prayer.

Religion and Politics: A Curious Home Brew

In this post I’m going to deviate somewhat from my discussion of prophecy and give you a glimpse of my own upbringing. Maybe you’ll understand more clearly where I’m coming from as I post these thoughts.

My Religious Instruction

When I was a girl, Mom F told me, “If you ever have to go to the hospital, or any other time someone asks you your religion, say United.”

Because this is what we were. Period. Not that we ever attended church. I can recall going to a couple of services with my Mom F, and once, when I was in my late twenties, my Dad actually came with us to an evangelical church service for some special day. Dad & Mom Vance (my birth parents) never attended church as adults, to my knowledge.

The United Church of Canada would be about like the United Methodist Church in the US. In 1925 the Canadian Methodists, most Presbyterians, and the Congregationalists merged to form the United Church. This was the predominant church here in the West, with congregations in almost every town and city.

“The Social Gospel” teaching – “We need to fix this world!” – was spreading through evangelical circles at the end of the 1800s and the Methodists definitely picked up on it. In time the social gospel became the United Church’s main religious teaching, leading them to get involved in agitating for human rights, universal suffrage, fair labor laws, etc.
One time a cartoonist spoofed a United Church message board this way:
Sunday morning service. 10 am. Message: The Hell of High-Cost Housing
Evening service 7:30 pm. Message: God and the Minimum Wage
His “nail-on-the-head” humor makes me chuckle.

By the time I was an adult, United Church members needn’t accept the authority of Jesus or the Bible – or even believe in God, we discovered – but they HAD to be pro civil rights and against all discrimination, inequality in wages, etc. Attendance has dwindled, but this is still the position of the United Church.

As soon as I was old enough, and for half a dozen summers, Mom sent me to a week of Baptist Bible camp. So I did get some exposure to evangelical thinking and did call myself a Christian, but attending church services wasn’t for us. Only after I was married to I start.

The Politics of My Parents

(The other topic you’re not supposed to discuss.)
“We vote Conservative.” End of subject.

Informed voters? Not really. They knew who the Liberal, Conservative, and NDP candidates were, but at the polls there was only one party to support: the Conservatives. Because the Liberals were for the East, for the big cities, for the French. The New Democrats were for labor. Folks from a rural prairie background were dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives. I remember an election when I was twelve where every seat in our province – most of the prairie seats – went Conservative.

When I was a girl Mom told me about an old farmer here in the West who was watching a political broadcast on his television. He got so angry about the things Liberal Prime Minister Lester Pearson was saying that he got his shotgun and blasted the tv. Not a very well thought-out response. But perhaps it was for the best. Someone with that kind of a fuse is probably better off not listening to political speeches.

Politics Generates More Heat Than Good Sense

Actually, I suspect most people would be better off not listening to political speeches. It’s so easy to be swayed by charisma, promises, and wishful thinking — or the lack thereof. Not to mention the biased, sensationalist reporting of what was said and done, such as we get these days. Accusations fly freely, pro and con this or that, until no one actually sees clearly anymore.

My folks didn’t have enough concern about religion for it to have much impact on their politics. They knew they hated Liberals; otherwise politics wasn’t a topic often discussed. In the United States, on the other hand – according to Douglas Frank’s book* – religious views and prophetic theories often motivated Protestant Evangelical Christians in their political choices. The unique blend of religion and politics we see in the States seems to the rest of us like a curious home brew. Sadly, non-evangelicals are finding it – maybe have always found it – bitter.

Did evangelicals in the past simply ignore the complaints until they got too loud to ignore? But then Prohibition was a major disaster; divorce laws were challenged; Roe versus Wade cracked the abortion laws open, the LGBT community pushed for acceptance. Like the veil in the temple, the US status quo was rent from top to bottom.

Reading various comments these days, I get the impression that – in spite of current religious stats – evangelicals still hope they can bring America back to the Christian nation they believe they once had. I often see PEC’s quote these verses God spoke in reference to Israel:

“And the LORD appeared to Solomon by night, and said unto him, I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice. If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

It seems to me that PEC’s, like all of us during this pandemic, are wishing for a return to “the good old days.” They’re saying America could be fixed if everyone would turn back to God – but people aren’t listening. Perhaps they wish for an Enforcer, a Messiah of sorts with the political clout to bring back all those sensible rules that once held the country together as a Christian nation? (While it appears non-Christians, led by the media, are fighting tooth-and-nail to ensure that doesn’t happen!)

And now, here comes Donald Trump. Fixer? Enforcer? Nightmare? Disaster? Wildly varying opinions are being expounded – and, oh, the animosity!

You could say I’m a bipolar observer here: I tremble to think what may happen if he wins, and I tremble to think what may happen if he loses. 🙂

*LESS THAN CONQUERORS
How Evangelicals Entered the Twentieth Century by Douglas W Frank.
© 1986 by William B Eerdmans Publishing Company