Agriculture, childhood, Culture, Thanks

History Lessons

 

A swing bridge over Big Creek, long ago.

My hometown of Delhi has a Facebook group site exclusively purposed to recall the days of our youth. Growing up in Canada’s most unique farming community, the premier source of flue-cured virginia tobacco for nearly a hundred years, the Facebook members post daily about their early experiences. They also remind us of what our parents and grandparents did to get us here in the first place. A couple world wars and a hostile political environment in Europe pushed our ancestors to Canada’s open doors, and Delhi was where they landed.

It struck me this past June, as I read the many stories emerging from the 75th anniversary of D-Day that we, as its beneficiaries, have an awakened reverence for what our parents did for us.

RCAF’s finest, off to Europe.

Is it just a function of getting older that we spend more time remembering, or is there a sense of responsibility to our predecessors of not letting them be forgotten?

Lest We Forget

But to my point: we now look back with respect. There is a lady in Delhi who is daily researching and compiling a history and narrative to describe the little town and its inhabitants from decades ago.

Kilnwork: our main stock in trade.

Another gentleman posts documents, clippings, ads, pictures, bills of sale and civic events, clearly from materials he has sought after and kept for posterity.

When my parents passed, we inherited a library of photography and letters, some dating back to the 1890’s. The pictures are eloquent, in their black and white motif, depicting the youth of a different time. Vacations, school, romance, marriage, kids.

1914: Canadian Expeditionary Force

They also include military poses: those ‘before’ shots, getting ready to ship off to some unknown and dangerous place, dressed in perfect uniforms, spotless, neat fitting and inspiring.

The hand-written letters dig below the pictures though, and reveal what’s really going on. I photo-scanned them all for sharing with our family.  Unlike Facebook, where our lives are generally perfect, the letters from 50, 75, 90 years ago talk of privations and scarcities. Life in its rawest forms was much more daunting back then, than we would know it today: lining up for rations…looking for materials to sew a dress… finding a place to live… battling an illness…waiting for news of a loved one.

A 16th birthday.

Yet there was a confidence, a resilience and persistence like moss stuck to a wave-washed rock in the shoreline that these ancestors of ours would grin and bear it, and get through it.

We have a neighbor who is writing a book about her father’s service during the war. Her source is the collection of papers and manuscripts which he had written 50 years ago. Within these letters are the details which are news to us today. Who knew? It may be half a century ago, but the revelations are still mind boggling.

My conclusion is that for the Baby Boomers, who are now enjoying retirement, or looking forward to it shortly, we have an obligation to use our spare time to dig up the past.

Screen Shot 2019-08-13 at 2.43.43 PM

An expressive lesson in lighting a coal fire.

Our kids need to know the table that was set for us and for them.  In today’s digital environment, where every piece of history is accessible, it’s really only there for background, a general context of the times, and only if you have a user-name and a password to see it. What we find in our attics and closet shelves is much more telling.  We owe that to our parents, now long gone.

The Diary

My young grandson reinforced in me once of the value of writing it down: “Don’t put it in an email.  That’s technology, and it will just disappear.  You’ll never find it again.”  Out of the mouths of babes…

As an experiment, I started a small diary. This is a 2-1/2 x 4″ moleskin which I keep in my pocket, with pen. Originally I used the book to write down things I didn’t want to forget: passwords, shopping lists, names of bartenders, song titles, movies, plumbing fixtures–you name it. But starting in July, I wrote about my day. Not long windy stuff, but a factual account of my travels. At first it seemed a self-praising pastime. But about six weeks later, I paused to read what was in the diary. The surprise was that I had forgotten most of what I had done, and there it was, in print. Multiply that awakening by 12 months, and you start to realize how much we experience in a year, and then forget forever.  It’s like a beige mush of time spent, and little retained.

As a business manager, I regularly advised my staff to write down their accomplishments for the month. “You are going to need this one day. I won’t always be here.  Someone will come to you, and ask what you are contributing, and your mind will go blank. Your job security is in the balance. So make a list!”

Thankfully, they did this, and their accomplishments rolled into mine, and we always had a resource to explain our worth to the company.

So I am keeping the diary going, not to explain my worth, but at least as a hard copy reminder for me, or for whomever follows, that this is how life was today.

Thanks for reading and sharing, and thanks too, to Dave Rusnak Sr. and Doug Foster for the images! 

Standard
Culture

Saving The Malek Adhel

3.5 Power Specs To Do The Job

Five years ago I wrote about the coming surge of property transfers as the Baby Boomer generation haltingly succumbed to the problem of having too much stuff. As The Greatest Generation leaves us, we have inherited not only our parents’ things, and their legacy of accomplishment, but also their survival instinct for saving.

My post of December 2014 “What’s Coming Next” was prescient, and we are living it daily.

We have personally taken ownership of art, photography, china, silverware, correspondence and numerous pieces of furniture. A few of these items have passed immediately to our children, but some pieces are beyond their desires, or capacities. In our case, we are the latest owners of three antique clocks and a ship model that defies the march of time.

The Malek Adhel 

Grandad and Mom at the beach, 1937.

My grandfather, Dr. James Harrar, lived in New York for many years where he was an obstetrician. Sometime in his early 50s, around 1937, he started building ship models. These were works of discipline: intricate, incredibly complex recreations of planking, masts, yards and rigging. We had two of his creations.

The Malek Adhel was in my childhood home in Delhi, placed on the piano well above my head as I practiced in vain below.  Still, I marveled at the wooden ship model, and visualized tiny crew members scurrying across the decks, securing fly away halyards or rolling miniature cannons into position.

Popular Science Magazine, 1937.

The Malek Adhel, named after a Turkish sultan, was a brig that sailed the Caribbean around 1840. The ‘Molly Coddle’ as we called it, had some history attached to it, being the subject of a piracy charge, under the direction of its Captain Nunez. It was notorious enough that in 1937 Popular Science Magazine published the building plans over 5 issues. Apparently in those pre-war years, ship modeling was a popular pastime.

Hull blueprints of the Malek Adhel

My grandfather wrote for the detailed blue prints. He went to work and recreated the ship. He wasn’t alone. If you Google the ship’s name with ‘model’, you will find numerous images.

This is a treasured and obscure art object. When we emptied our parents’ house, it was kept under wrap until a brief display in my brother’s home for a few years. But he too was looking for downsizing, and the Malek Adhel was shunted from one resting place to another before finally repatriating to the U.S. in the back of our car.

Everything I touched disintegrated.

The journey, and exposure and time have not been kind. The spars were dislodged. The rigging made of 80-year-old cotton thread had disintegrated. The joints which were once glued, freely dissembled with every bump in the road. Its sorry condition reminded us of the sunken ghost ship from Pirates of the Caribbean.

The task of re-rigging, 80 years later.

Still, there was an obligation to restore the Malek Adhel. On my workshop bench I uncovered a little box of tools that my mother had given to me thirty years ago. “Here, keep these,” she instructed, “these are the tools your grandfather used to make his models.” I opened it up to look at small tweezers, drills, snips and a spool of golden thread.

Nearly microscopic turnbuckle and belaying pin.

I placed these on the bench beside the ship.   On close inspection, I concluded that pretty much all of the rigging would need to be replaced. Not only did that include 50-60 halyards arcing from the gunwales to the masts, but also a host of little coils carefully wrapped around microscopically small belaying pins.  Oh, the care grandad had taken.

Intricate web of rigging.

My first reaction  was to order a pair of magnifying spectacles.  These are what stamp dealers, jewelers and dentists use.  After fitting them I ventured into the works, and owing to my clumsiness, broke every halyard my fingers approached.  While the glasses were 3.5 strong, I was more than 10 strong, and thrashed through the rigging like a banshee.   So I struggled with every re-do, sans spectacles.

A month later, I performed the final act of hanging a new stars and stripes on the rear gaff.  It has 26 stars, which totaled the history of our nation in 1837, 182 years ago.

The finished product, with 26-Star Spangled Banner

Today, the Malek Adhel resides inside a glass case in my office.  It is at nose level for small people.

 

 

Thanks for reading and sharing!  I’ll tell you next what we did with a grandfather clock from the early 1800s.

Standard
Economics

What’s Coming Next

String Ball

Life time savings.

There is a major, seismic shift in assets occurring while you read this.  You are thinking of the $12 Trillion which is pouring into the pockets of Baby Boomers as their hardworking, scrimping and saving parents pass into the great beyond.  But you are off.

In truth, the money is peanuts.  It moves from one bank account to the next, and nobody lifts a finger.

So, it’s not about their money.  It’s really about their stuff.

Sofa

This may not fit in with the kids’ Ikea.

There are two legacies which those post-wartime parents are sending along.  They promise profound effect upon us, and to generations still coming.

The first is a treasure of property which they struggled to build and acquire through thick and thin.   Too vast to itemize, but most Boomers will recognize the impact of their parents’ fully executed Last Will.

They are manifested in crowded basements, overflowing garages, leases on storage space, impenetrable walk-in closets, jammed kitchen drawers, and cabinets crammed with silver and china.

IMG_6466

A perfectly good pull cord, with some help.

The second legacy, even more profound, is a culture of saving.   The Baby Boomer was raised in a household characterized by frugal economy.   Nothing half-used ever got thrown out.   A broken item was in queue for repair, some day.

Again, the inventory of leftovers is virtually infinite.  Its aura a phenomenon.

Christmas Lights

Half of these work very reliably.

And you know it when you see it in the eyes of a Boomer.  That wince of remorse as a half-good string of Christmas lights hits the garbage bin.   Or the guilt attached to an old set of dull drill bits, that holds its place on the workshop bench, right beside a brand new set.

The reality is, while the Boomer is swamped in their folks’ stuff, they still can’t throw it out.   What’s worse, they are adding to it.

For example, a few days ago while driving down Milwaukee Avenue, I spied four baseballs resting in the gutter.   To me, it was like driving by a bank vault with the door wide open.

dumpster-hero-resi

“No, we are keeping the dumpster too.”

As kids, we could only envy the one on our street who had a baseball.   In fact, most of our youth was focused on scavenging for baseballs knocked out of the park, hockey pucks stuffed in snowbanks, broken hockey sticks, errant golf balls found on the road.

In our garage is a 5-gallon bucket full to overflowing with tennis balls, golf balls, lacrosse balls, wiffle balls, softballs…all items I have brought home like trophies from a jog around the park.

So I collect these play things like gold nuggets, feeding an appetite that was spawned a couple of generations ago when people just didn’t have much money.

Back to Milwaukee Avenue.   I pulled over, parked, and scurried across the street and retrieved the balls.   I could not believe my find.   These were in excellent condition, leather covers, no scuffs, and laces still waxed and shiny.   Bonanza!   The motherlode.

Balls

Cornucopia of finds on the jogging trail.

They are now on the shelf beside the bucket, which is full.

The significance of this perpetual foraging will become apparent to the next generation, those GenX-ers and Y-ers, and wet-eared Millennials who will finally have to deal with The Stuff.

Desk

One day, this may be a chicken coop.

You may want to give The Stuff to them, but you can’t.   They are still living with their parents.

My suggestion: this is the time to invest and build.   Look closely at your business prospects in:

1.   Storage space

2.   Trailer rentals

3.   Thrift stores

4.   Auctioneering

5.   Waste management

Golf Tees

Saving for the next round.

Regrettably we haven’t yet found a way to load it all onto a freighter, and sail it to a Third World depot, but that would be the next best opportunity.

Thanks for reading this far. It’s a puzzle I really can’t solve.  

I have to get back to repairing our Monopoly board.

 

 

Standard