Denholm Elliott in the Merchant Ivory production of “A Room With a View” portrays one of my favorite wise characters. I love the scene at the pensione when he’s trying to convince two women unhappy with their accommodations to take his room which has a view.
“I don’t care what I see outside! My vision is within. Here is where the birds sing! Here is where the sky is blue!”
He is gesticulating with his dinner fork, poking himself in the heart all the while. Sometimes I need a good poke in the heart as well to wake up that inner vision. I find myself feeling bored and peevish, discontent with my fortune. Why a traffic ticket now? Why didn’t I get that early bird discount? What am I supposed to do with myself when it’s 95 degrees out, I’m wearing a tight corset, I’m at work, there are no visitors to talk to, and I’ve got no chores to do? Why am I feeling so stuck?!? Because I’m not taking responsibility and I’m not living from the inside out. I am waiting for the outside world to stimulate and satisfy me.
And the outside world would love to take over that job! There are a million things to distract and entertain and lead you from one external thing to the next. I spent 4 hours this morning at the Wisconsin State Fair, manning the Tourism booth in my 19th Century costume. A quick tour after my shift was all I needed to grab a lamb sandwich and some fresh roasted corn on the cob. I passed up all kinds of brightly colored, noisy stuff. I don’t need a chamois cloth or a giant roller coaster ride or chocolate covered bacon on a stick. They’re not really going to make me happy. I want to be satisfied from within, and I want that for my children. I tend to worry about their fortunes, too. How are they going to get a job? How are they going to pay off those student loans? How are they going to get around if their cars break down? I find myself getting anxious and peevish on their behalf, too. But really, more than catching a break, I want them to catch that inner vision. I want them to be able to be satisfied and happy and enthusiastic about life no matter what their outward circumstances show.
An inner life. Unassailable, regenerating, like solar energy that continues for millenniums. Do we even teach our children to cultivate that anymore? How are we supposed to have a moral compass if we don’t? How does a nation of outwardly motivated and distracted people develop a moral compass to guide their democratic process? I wonder about these things…..
The Raspberry School is part of the Norwegian area of Old World Wisconsin. The one-room schoolhouse dates back to the late 19th century and brings back memories for lots of visitors who went to schools like this one. One fellow I talked to said he loved telling people that he graduated 3rd in his class…and omitting the fact that there were only 3 pupils in his grade level.
Multi-aged classrooms became a “new” education idea again in the 70s when I was in grade school and when my kids were in elementary school in the 90s, but ours only spanned two grades. I remember when we all walked home for lunch in the middle of the day. No lunch pails needed.
Each desk at the school has a slate and a slate pencil (no chalk, just slate on slate) and a copy of one of the McGuffey Readers. I never used one as a child. What about you?
But I found the most fascinating thing I learned last Monday at this school was about the Pledge of Allegiance. The 1892 version by Francis Bellamy reads: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” With so many immigrants from different nations, allegiance to a new flag was part of public school education. It wasn’t until 1923 that the phrase “the flag of the United States of America” replaced “my flag”. Bellamy protested, but his opinion was ignored. Twenty years after that, in Japanese internment camps, all those over the age of 17 were asked if they would swear unqualified allegiance to the United States and “forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any other foreign government, power or organization”. It wasn’t until 1954, when atheism and Communism were perceived as national threats, that “under God” was added. Francis Bellamy’s granddaughter asserts that the author of the original pledge would have objected to this change as well.
To what or to whom would you pledge your allegiance? Liberty and equality (which Bellamy wanted to include but knew the state superintendents were against equality for women and African Americans) and justice are the three great ideas of the American political tradition, according to Dr. Mortimer Adler. Are we in agreement on supporting these ideas in the U.S.A.? It’s something to think about as Independence Day approaches. Feel free to submit an essay in the comments section. Spelling counts, but neatness doesn’t (it’d be typed, after all).
Today was my last day as the historic interpreter at the Schottler house at Old World Wisconsin. I’m going to miss Stud Muffin, the young male pig, and watching him grow fat. He still hasn’t figured out how to go outside…up one little ramp and down another on the other side…who said pigs were smart? I am going to miss the smell of cabbage roses and camomile in the garden. I will miss stringing rhubarb up to dry and making rhubarb pie. Oh! I have to tell you that the rhubarb pie I made DID get eaten after all, at least partially. They cut out a slice to display on a plate with a fork and some school group chaperone ate it while the interpreter was making sure the 45 kids running around didn’t break anything! I am satisfied that it was not too runny, as my objective was to improve upon the last display pie that was baked. And my darling daughter, the Approximate Chef, has told me that she whipped up some rhubarb and ginger sherbet the other day. She sent this photo along to share:
Today was a gorgeous day, though. Plenty of time for slowing down, too. One of the school groups was an hour late, so they skipped my area entirely. The other school group was 3 groups of only 9 kids, so it felt quite leisurely not to be herding 30 kids at one time. That meant that I could sit on the porch sewing, enjoying the quiet during the off hours. Three photographers with tripods and bunches of gear came by and snapped away. The Schottler farm is a still life paradise, really. And so monochrome friendly! Although the delphiniums in full bloom definitely deserve color.
I’ll be a Villager next, five days a week. At Mary Hafford’s house, I do get a kitchen garden with lavender, sage, thyme, and rosemary. And I need to learn how to crochet rag rugs. It’ll be fun. Too bad I don’t know any welcoming phrases in Irish!
I spent yesterday in the 21st century instead of the 19th, as I wasn’t working at Old World Wisconsin. Here are some photos from my afternoon walk around the neighborhood.
The weather is warm and breezy, and begging me to take a nap! We had school tours for 4 solid hours today, meaning that I only stopped talking for 20 minutes during one rotation that only had 2 groups, and then for 30 minutes at lunch. That nap is sounding like a real good idea!
One of my activities today was to string rhubarb up for drying. Dried rhubarb will keep for a while, and then you can boil it down for rhubarb sauce and pie later. So there are two strands of rhubarb hanging on the wall of the summer kitchen. Maybe in a week or two we’ll have enough for one of those super 70s-like door curtains, you know, the kind they made out of love beads? Do you suppose that’ll become a fashion trend? Okay, maybe not.
I opened the door to the stairs where we store our flour and sugar in plastic containers and our newspaper and matches for lighting the fire. Something smelled like death. Sitting next to the pile of newspapers is a “tin cat” – a metal mousetrap. I made a mental note to ask my supervisor to show me how to check it. I built a fire in the woodstove and in the bake oven. The smell was forgotten quickly as smoke billowed out the chimney. After fetching water and setting up some rinsing basins, I stepped outside to sit down and enjoy the sunshine. A black and white cat came ambling up the gravel path. He sniffed at the doorway into the summer kitchen, mewed at me a few times, and moved on. I wondered if he smelled a mouse. When my lead came by after lunch, I mentioned my suspicion to her, and she showed me how to open the trap. Sure enough, a dead mouse was inside. She wrapped it in a plastic bag and disposed of it in the trash, so as not to spread any more poison into the food chain. I apologized for asking her to perform such an unsavory task right after lunch, but she laughed it off with a comment about what she does to be paid the “really big bucks” at Old World Wisconsin.
A school tour group came by in three installments. I was surprised to see how many kids had brought phone cameras. I was also surprised that some of the teen girls didn’t want to knead the bread dough. What? Too squishy? Afraid to get your hands dirty? Don’t want to put down the camera? Whatever….
A homeschooling family of four arrived later, each with massive lenses and expensive camera equipment. They were taking pictures for our annual photo contest…for the eighth year. They had each won prizes in last years’ contest. The teenaged boys enjoyed chatting about the merits of Nikon vs. those of Canon and making “Saskquatch” prints in the garden. They snapped away as I opened the bake oven door and placed the 8 foot pile inside (the bread paddle). I wished them good luck in the contest and mentioned other great photo opportunities I had taken, like the oxen and the zigzag fence.
Cash prizes, folks! Photo contest reception is September 7. Come on by and take some pictures! And say “Guten tag!” to me!
I am reading a book called After the Fire: The Destruction of the Lancaster County Amish by Randy-Michael Testa. Kirkus’ Review sums up the basics thus: “As a Harvard graduate student, former third-grade teacher at a Denver private school, and serious ethical thinker of Catholic persuasion and “morally tired” condition, Testa spent the summer of 1988 living with an Amish family in Lancaster County, where he conducted fieldwork for a Ph.D. thesis exploring a “community of faith”.”
Here is an excerpt that echoes all the discussions Steve & I have about living a life that embodies our values, a grounded life, a life of depth.
“…Dorothy Day once quoted from the Archbishop of Paris: ‘To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda or even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery; it means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.’
“I stand barefooted thinking of Elam. Earlier in the week, he and I trooped across the Franklin and Marshall College campus to the library to look for some maps of the county. In lieu of classes, campus had been taken over for the summer. Everywhere there were boys in soccer gear and coaches in black shorts and white and black striped shirts blowing whistles and clapping their hands and yelling, ‘Atta boy! Good work! Good WORK!’
“Elam and I had just driven in from the farm. I had been up since five working in the sweltering barn, where I am regularly stung in the eyes by sweat rolling off my head. My white shirts are permanently stained yellow. I have gained ten pounds and back muscles. I sleep so soundly in the Stoltzfus house I sometimes awaken myself with my own snoring. So for all that, hearing the word ‘work’ in teh context of a soccer camp seemed like complete insanity.
“Elam turned to me and asked, ‘What is this?’
‘It’s a soccer camp,’ I said. I felt my soul tense.
‘What is ‘soccer’? Elam asked blank-faced.
‘It’s a sport. Like baseball.’ (I knew some Amish played baseball at family outings.) ‘These boys are here to learn how to play it better,’ I replied quickly.
‘But why? It’s a game,’ Elam said, puzzled.
‘These boys have paid money to come here to learn how to play a sport better,’ I repeated tersely.
‘But why would they go to school to learn a sport?’ he persisted.
‘Because the outside world doesn’t have or value productive, meaningful work for its young men, so it teaches them that it’s important to know how to play a sport well. This keeps them occupied until they go to college and THEN THEY PAY A LOT OF MONEY TO COME HERE AND ASK WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE!!!’
“I practically turned on him- and my own world. I shocked Elam with my vehemence. I shocked myself as well. I wondered what was happening to my view of the world.
“Now, standing in Levi’s meadow in the middle of the night, suddenly I understand what has happened. At this hour, in this stillness, among these people, life makes perfect sense. The outside world does not. I have become a witness.
“I return to the upstairs bedroom as the blue mantel clock in Elam and Rachel’s room chimes three, and fall asleep to a cow lowing in the moonlight.”
To live in a way that embodies your deepest values, despite persecution, propaganda, and perspiration. That seems like an honest life to me. I hope I have the courage to live like that.
(photos taken at Old World Wisconsin, the living history museum where I work as a costumed interpreter)
One of the school boys doing a tour at the Schottler farm at Old World Wisconsin asked me, as he was working with rye dough, “Did they make pizzas?” I told him that pizza is an Italian food and that these German immigrants probably would have no idea what that was. This boy looked to be Hispanic. Would it be an epiphany for a 10 year old to look around at all the things that seem to be “normal” to his life and realize that they all came about in a particular way and have a particular story? How did pizza get to be part of life in America? Another kid said that he thought the dough smelled like beer. How did beer get to be part of life in America? Other kids said that they were making tortillas. Or pita bread.
I wonder what kind of connections they’re making….or not making. In 20-minute rotations through so many presentations and activities, what kind of sense are they making about all this converging and co-mingling history?
Migration, immigration and assimilation are fascinating. Everyone approaches it differently. Some people are very proud of their origins and hang on to ways of life and culture with a firm grip. Others push to assimilate as quickly as possible and let go of the old ways. Some have their culture systematically stripped from them, often under the pretense that it’s “for their own good”. Just tracking down how a family name has been changed can reveal a lot. Who changed it? Under what circumstance, and why?
I suppose the thing that I’m learning most is this: respect everyone’s history. We are all inter-connected, we all change each other.
I am thinking also today of the man who was my father-in-law for 24 years. Today would have been his 78th birthday. I carry his family name with me and intend to do so until I die. Maurice Galasso’s dad, Antonio, was born in Italy. He emigrated to the United States and eventually moved to the Monterrey Peninsula. Mo (as my father-in-law was called) recalled that his father had various jobs, for example, gelato vendor and dance instructor. Antonio died when Mo was only 7. As the “man of the house”, little Maurice was quite resourceful and ingenious. He eventually became a highly respected structural engineer and owned his own company. Their family story is full of struggle, creativity, serendipity, stubbornness and grace. As is, perhaps, everyone’s. The more I listen to stories, the more I understand about people, and the more compassionate I am capable of becoming. I want to honor Maurice Galasso today and thank him for the connections I have because of him.
My head is bubbling with thoughts about education today. I just started giving voice lessons to a new student…who is actually the Senior Pastor of a Baptist Church. I like his attitude: he’s been singing with his worship choir for a while, and now, he wants to learn how, seriously. He’s willing to pay to hear what another person has experienced and to try to have a similar experience himself. That’s very humble, in a way, and very honoring. There’s a mentality switch in allowing yourself to be taught. It’s not like you can’t sing without voice lessons. Heck, anyone can sing. It’s not like you can’t cook without cooking lessons. There have got to be hundreds of activities that we do without having ever had “instruction”. What is added when you decide to be taught? Standards? Judgment? Community? Collaboration?
I’ve been having such a great time learning new skills at Old World Wisconsin and trying things I’ve never done before. I’ve noticed some different attitudes among the people who have been instructing me, mostly about the extent of their ego involvement. Some people teach from the platform of themselves — their experience, their methods and their knowledge seems to be the central point of engagement. Others seem to be teaching from the platform of the subject. They put that at the center and allow you to poke it and prod it in different ways, but they’re always looking for the results and responses from the material itself, as though they are still students themselves. You can learn something from teachers of every style, I suppose, but I find the ones who loosen their ego grip more inspiring. They allow passion for the subject to arise. Therefore, I was pleased when my new student said that he found the lesson “really fun!” He was discovering singing with his own voice, not mine.
My daughter shared this great comic with me by e-mail, so I want to pass it on. I hope it comes out legible! (courtesy of xkcd.com)