WordPress Meets the Press Gang

Through the medium of WordPress, several bloggers are offering me some unusual prompt words for today. I even had to look up three of them to be certain of their meanings.
Ragtag Daily Prompt: HARDIHOOD
— boldness, daring, courage; self-confident audacity

Word of the Day: URGES
— (noun): strong desires or impulses.
— (verb): to repeatedly or insistently try to encourage or persuade someone.

Your Daily Word Prompt: RECONDITE
— Difficult or impossible for the ordinary person to comprehend, as a DEEP subject
— Referring to something little known or obscure
— Hidden from sight. Concealed

Fandango’s FOWC: SCUTTLEBUTT
The original meaning of this word has provided the track for my train thoughts this morning.
Scuttlebutt: a ship’s water butt – a cask holding the day’s supply of fresh water. And since this was where sailors gathered to drink and exchange gossip, the word eventually included the gabfest that went on around the scuttlebutt.
The old oaken cask (scuttled butt) has been replaced by the office fountain or water cooler and the term has come to mean “gossip and rumors that circulate.”

THE ADVENTURES OF JOHN SMITH

One day my great-great-grandfather John Smith sat visiting with his youngest son, Moses, and John was telling Moses what happened when he was nine years old that shaped his entire future. Fortunately for me, Moses’ youngest daughter happened to overhear the conversation. A few years ago I able to track down this long-lost relative, in her late 90s and still of clear memory. She shared this story with me:

As a nine-year-old boy John was walking down the street in an English city – he thought it was London – when a couple of sailors from the British navy grabbed him and hustled him onto a ship in the harbour. This was one of the press gangs that worked the English port cities, kidnapping boys and young men to serve on the ships. John must have been a husky lad; I can’t imagine they’d grab a puny little guy who might not survive the rough sea life.

So who was this lad and what were his origins? Was his name actually John SMITH, or did the sailors tack that label on him, possibly to deflect inquiries? From info on his death record, John was born circa 1828. Young boys in those days likely weren’t so informed about their family history or even their location – perhaps he’d never even been to school. Was he from a caring home, or were his parents down-and-out sorts? Maybe he was an orphan, just a street urchin that happened to wander too near the port? Was John’s father a Swedish sailor, or why does my DNA show that I have 9% Scandinavian ancestry when I find so little in my known family tree?

If our children go missing, it’s a tragedy. Did John’s family search for him? Was he hidden from the authorities – or did any authority ever check on ship’s crews or search for missing boys and young men? After all, press gangs operated with the collusion of the Crown. I try to imagine the recondite lives these fellows lived as captives of the British Navy: the possible abuses, the hard labour, primitive medical care, rickets and scurvy, wild storms, dim prospects of deliverance. I have to admit I’m living in one of the best eras ever.

For the next four years gr-gr-grandfather was held on that ship, working as a cabin boy, never allowed to set foot on shore. I can picture him gathering around the scuttle-butt with the other sailors, hearing their tales of the sea, of exotic ports, of ships that went down in storms. Did John have a natural hardihood, or was he terrified in this new setting? I’m sure he had the urge many times to escape this forced servitude and find his family again – if he had any – but he was never allowed ashore.

When he was fourteen the ship docked in Halifax harbour and somehow John managed to escape. He told his son Moses that the sailors turned the ships guns on him as he was fleeing, but he made it into the woods and hid there in the forest until the ship sailed away. From Halifax he made his way to southwestern Ontario and worked as a labourer; in time he managed to buy a farm near Listowell. To the best of my knowledge, he never again had contact with any family in England.

Around 1855, when he’d have about twenty-seven, John married Ruth Dobson, a young woman from a very religious home. Her parents were John & Ruth; her brother Jonathan grew up to become a well known Methodist preacher. Ruth called herself a Methodist and John listed himself on all the Ontario censuses as an Unbeliever. Their oldest daughter, Mary – my great-grandmother – was born in 1856. Their oldest son, William, apparently became a policeman in Toronto. Mary, as Mrs Sam Vance, moved west and lost all contact with her Smith relatives.

Oct 19, 2020:
My dentist’s office just called about my appointment tomorrow. Can’t just walk into the office now, must wear a mask, etc. Yes, my activities are being restricted and everyone is fearful of COVID – and who knows what the economy will do? Scuttlebutt has it that a vaccine is in the works, but may take awhile yet. Yes, these are uncertain, fearful times – but as I let my thoughts drift back through the years to young John, hiding in the woods near Halifax, totally alone, with only his own hands and hardihood to provide for him in this new land – I can’t complain about my lot!

So I’m sitting here this morning enjoying my coffee, playing with these new words, and wondering about my DNA results – all because “John Smith” acted on his urge to escape and jumped ship in the Halifax harbour circa 1842. Hope you’ve enjoyed hearing great-great-grandfather’s story.

The Worst Ever!

For Goodness Sake, Read History (Part 2)

A few days ago I received an interesting phone call from some lady wanting to share a few Bible verses with me. She started out by quoting Jeremiah 29:11-12, then began talking about having peace during these troubled times. Especially with this pandemic – the worst that’s ever been!

Reader of history that I am, I reminded her of the Black Death. In the 1300’s the Bubonic Plague was brought back to Italy by sailors returning from the orient; it subsequently swept through Europe in several waves and wiped out about a third of the population of the western world. A person could argue that Covid-19 could have been as bad; however, we’ve taken extreme precautions and also have access to an infinitely better health care system.

Plus, our lot is easier because we have less corruption. I read once that in some Italian cities men were hired to go house to house and bring out any that were diseased. These toughs were given free rein to “diagnose” and haul away anyone they didn’t like or demand payment – in whatever form – from the home’s occupants. Occupants unwilling to pay risked being tossed on the cart with those already infected and/or dying.

Pardon me, but the only reason anyone can say this is the worst pandemic in history is because they don’t know history. Even the Spanish ‘flu was worse, as health care was limited and whole families sometimes died. People may be pretty panicked now, but there’s nothing like the superstition of the Middle Ages. No one has resorted to self-flagellation as some did during the Bubonic plague, going from town to town whipping and slashing themselves to gain the sympathy of the gods in hopes of averting the plague.

Climatic Disaster and Famine

Last night in Bible Study we were going over Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt and Pharoah’s dream, which Joseph interpreted. (Genesis Ch.41) Joseph predicted seven years of plenty, followed by seven lean years. According to the Bible account, this was a widespread catastrophe. It dawned on me that the drought and famine in Egypt would have been a lot like our “Dirty thirties” years.

People in the Thirties may have said, “This is the worst climatic disaster in history,” but I suspect there have been various climatic disasters before that one. Most of us have never heard about them. In most cases records weren’t kept; the accounts became simple folklore.

Thankfully, the Great Plains people learned a lot from those dry years; farming practices have changed drastically since the drought and soil moisture conservation has become a priority.

As to the Middle East famine, Joseph was able to guide Egypt through those years and preserve his own family as well. But over all, the land that was once a breadbasket is now desert sand.

Buying, Selling, and Lessons Learned

One good thing is that Egypt didn’t have a stock market to crash like ours did in 1929. In that sense the Thirties delivered a double-whammy here in North America. Then with a war looming — things must have looked pretty bleak indeed to our grandparents.

In the 1920s the sale of stocks was booming, investors were making piles, and bankers came under pressure to make collateral-free loans to wannabe stock-buyers. All these new players drove the price of stocks up, but seasoned traders were keeping a nervous eye on the trading, knowing stock prices had to level off and maybe even drop.

On “Black Tuesday” Oct 29, 1929 someone(s) got so nervous he/they dumped thousands of stocks on the market. Others investors saw this and figured, “Ah! Someone knows something. Prices are going to drop. We’re selling, too!” Sixteen million shares were thrown on the market that day and more during the rest of the week. By Friday the market was flooded with shares no one wanted to buy. The rest is history.

In the 1990’s the US government, under pressure from builders, increased the sale of new houses by urging bankers to give collateral-free loans with very low interest rates. Mortgages were contracted right and left; new home buyers gave the housing market the shot in the arm builders were hoping for. But when those mortgages came up for renewal at the regular interest rate… The rest is history.

The housing market crash and ensuing depression didn’t hit us as hard here in Canada because a) Canadian bankers are far too cautious to make collateral-free loans and b) you can’t legally walk away from a mortgage you’ve contracted here in Canada. If the mortgage holder defaults, the bank may repossess and sell the house but the holder is legally liable to pay whatever is still owing.

Fifty years from now will someone again come up with some new purchase people must make and urge bankers to make low-interest, collateral-free loans so people can have this new necessity? And it will lead to another depression? Or will our descendants read these histories and learn that this hasn’t worked well in the past?

Harvest Begins on the Prairies

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning was HARVEST

For me this was a very timely prompt. Yesterday on our way to Saskatoon we passed the first field being combined in this area. A combine was chomping its way through a field of lentils. An article in the Western Producer includes a good picture of a field of lentils being harvested. And here’s another from Simpson Seeds.

Low-growing and dusty to harvest, this rusty-gold crop is a common sight in these parts. Farmers tell me lentils do best when somewhat stressed and growing conditions here — the hot, dry summers — are great at giving crops stress. 🙂

Lentils were unheard of here on the prairies when I was a girl, but now Canada is the world’s leading producer and exporter of lentils, and farmers here in Saskatchewan are producing 95% of the lentils harvested. Lentils.org, one information site, says: “Canada only began growing lentils in the 1970’s – now there are over 5,000 active lentil farmers in Canada.”

Great Balls of Fire!

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is FIRE IN THE SKY
and the Word of the Day Challenge is UNPREDICTABLE

First I should say that all bloggers are welcome to join in and write a post in response to the prompts. So if these prompt words give you an idea for a post, just click on the names (links) above for more details.

sundog-4454929_640
Michael McGough — Pixabay

A person could give various responses to the image of “fire in the sky.” A blazing sunrise or sunset would qualify. Here on the prairie we see some amazing sundogs, partial rings or halos on one side or both sides of the sun.

Of course one of the main displays of fire in the sky is lightning, which reminds me of a couple of stories I once heard.

My husband’s mother spent her first eight years in Manitoba and apparently the electrical storms there were furious and unpredictable back in those days. She says every time there was a thunderstorm her parents would gather the children all around in one room. After moving to Saskatchewan, they did this during the first few storms but soon decided our storms here didn’t pose a threat, so her parents quit this practice.

Visiting friends in Manitoba once, there was a wild thunderstorm, but no serious damage. In the morning they recalled another storm they’d had where ball lightning fell from the clouds and they watched balls of fire roll along the road by their place. So we understand why Grandpa & Grandma Letkeman took the precautions they did while they lived in Manitoba.

Weather patterns have changed a lot over the years, maybe due to settlement and many trees planted here on the prairie. Records show and old timers talk of wild storms, blizzards and heat waves like we never see these day — thankfully!

Lightning can have really unpredictable consequences. We read an account where a farmer had just built a new barn, the door of which had the standard Z of brace-boards across the back to fortify the vertical door boards. Nails holding this all together were evenly spaced all along this Z.

Soon after, an electrical storm passed over their farm. The next morning the farmer went out to do his chores and when he slid open the barn doors, the wood all fell in a heap at his feet. A lightning bolt had hit the barn and just jumped from nail to nail along the door, sizzling every one. One tug on the door and the whole thing gave way.

 

“IF” We Were Conquered

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning was WHAT IF
Sue’s Jibber Jabber prompt word is WIN
The Word of the Day challenge is THEME
Fandango’s writing challenge for today is APROPOS, a word which means “something both relevant and opportune” or “in an opportune time”

Putting these together, I have come up with…

“IF” Day in Winnipeg

As World War Two is raging across Europe, town counselors in the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, asked the question, “WHAT IF the enemy conquers Europe, and proceeds to conquer Canada?”

Deciding to do something dramatic to demonstrate this APROPOS question, the city arranged for a takeover, calling it “IF Day.” This THEME had a two-fold purpose: it would give the citizens a small but realistic picture of what European cities were enduring — and what we’d be in for if the Axis powers would WIN the war — and it would prompt the sale of more war bonds.

Importing German army uniforms from Hollywood, and hiring actors for key roles, the city staged a takeover On Feb 19, 1942. The morning started with a mock battle involving more than 3,500 Canadian troops and reservists who battled it out realistically with weapons, tanks, smoke and gunshots. (This was, in fact, the largest military mobilization ever yet seen in the province.)

Citizens heard gunfire in the city’s outskirts; artillery smoke drifted over; routed Canadian forces fled through the downtown. Then came lines of “enemy” troops and armored personnel carriers, conducting their victory parade down Portage Avenue, which was renamed Adolfhitlerstrasse. Nazi soldiers marched into City hall; the Mayor and City counselors were arrested and led away to “an unknown fate.” The Nazi flag was hoisted over the city center.

A mock newspaper was printed up, the first section announcing the “victory” at Winnipeg and filled with Nazi propaganda. Among other proclamations, the Boy Scout troops were ordered to disband. The city’s Jews had to wear Star of David armbands. The latter part of the paper, however, contained serious accounts written by a number of the city’s immigrants, detailing what the Nazis had already done to their homelands.

As the day went on, citizens were harassed. One on-site reporter’s papers were seized and torn up; a city bus was stopped and all passengers had to provide ID. According to news accounts, this wasn’t polite questioning, either; they were “rough” searches. At once point Nazi officers stomped into a restaurant to arrogantly harass the staff and force out existing diners. According to an account written by Tristan Hopper, “This wasn’t just a few swastika flags carried through the town; civilians were quite literally being harassed and verbally abused by fake Nazis.”

“If Day” was a great demonstration and a huge success in rallying the citizens against Nazism. The sale of war bonds at that time raised $65 million. Still, “If Day” had to present a sanitized version of what Nazis actually did to captured cities. The year 1942 went down as the deadliest year of the Holocaust, as Nazi death squads used mass shootings and burnings to obliterate whole communities in Ukraine, Poland and other captured territory in Eastern Europe.

Flags at Half Mast Today

The Ragtag Daily Prompt today is FLUTTER

Our news media today is aflutter with news of the recent tragedy here in Canada. Our flags at flying at half-mast and our hearts are sorrowing this morning as we read the details of the worst mass shooting in Canadian history: seventeen innocent people in Nova Scotia plus the suspect shot to death.

For Canadians the incident is doubly shocking and grievous, partly because something as senseless as this would happen in some small Nova Scotia communities — no one yet has any idea what triggered this rampage — and worse, because the killer went out dressed as an member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, our cross-country law enforcers.

Can flag. half. pixel1
Image: Pixel1 — Pixabay

The shootings began about 10:00 pm Saturday evening when a Dartmouth denturist named Gabriel Wortman, age 51, wearing full uniform and vest of an RCMP officer, went out to shoot people. He’d painted his car to look like an RCMP vehicle, and in one case he stopped a car and shot the occupants. He set fire to his own building and several others and shot the occupants as they fled.

According to news reports, Portapique is a beach-side town of about 100 residents on Nova Scotia’s Cobequid Bay, about a 90-minute drive from Halifax. The suspect owned two large properties on Portapique Beach Road, where the shootings started on Saturday night. The gunman then left this area and drove to a couple of other towns, was finally shot and killed around 9:00 am yesterday morning at a gas station in Enfield, NS. One officer was also killed in the effort to stop the suspect.

Our hearts ache for all these people and their families, including the troubled man who saw no better solution to his problems than to commit this deed.

I’ve given a very loose sketch here, you may well have read about this in your own news, and more details will be available as investigators piece the story together. And if anyone reads this who’s been directly affected by this horror, please accept my deepest sympathies.

Sunday morning my husband and I listened to messages from two different pastors, Pastor Hank from his home in Quebec, and our local pastor Warren. Later in the day we heard two other inspiring talks, a speaker from CA and one from MB. Then gospel songs from two different small groups — all thanks to Listen to church.com — giving us hope and courage in these uncertain times. Conversely, more details were trickling in about this tragedy in Nova Scotia. Such a sad contrast!