Monday, December 24, 2018

My Spirits of Christmas Past

There are two Christmas carols that evoke in me what Brazilians call saudade (sow-da-gee): a nostalgic yearning for another time, place, or person.  The reason for this was a momentous occurrence in my life as a child: my parents gave a small portable child-workable record player to my older brother, Paul, and me. We were probably about five and four years old, respectively. For the first time ever, we were able to play music by ourselves!  Today's kids, with digital music players of all sorts available to them,  could probably not even imagine the thrill this was for Paul and me.

Of course, later we had children's records to play, but the first one I remember playing on our exotic new device had a grand total of two songs on it, one on each side. These were instrumental versions of "Masters in this Hall" and "March of the Kings." We played this record over and over, marching around and feeling very proud to be in control of this music ourselves.

Here are "modern" recordings of them both (Of course, there was no singing on our record, let alone in French). I've included some of the lyrics here, just to remind you what they were about.

This great day, I met upon the way
The kings of east as they came riding proudly,
This great day, I met upon the way
The kings of east in all their fine array.
The gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh,
Were guarded close by a band of sturdy warriors,
Their swords, their shields, and their bucklers bright
Agleam and sparkling in the morning light.

Here is the other carol, "Masters in this Hall"

Masters in this hall Hear ye news today, Brought from overseas And ever you I pray: Noel, noel, noel, Sing we noel clear! Holpen all the folk on earth Born the Son of God so dear!

Of course, more than sixty years later, that record is no longer in existence, and, unfortunately, neither is my brother. These songs are still vividly recorded in my head, however. Whenever I hear them, I feel a little burst of saudade, memory, and nostalgia, feeling proud of being "grown up" enough to play music with my big brother Paul, and missing him terribly.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

2018 Christmas Countdown #1: Whizzy

2018 Christmas Countdown #1: Whizzy

Just to remind you, Whizzy is the elf who wraps all the presents that the other Izzies make. Unfortunately, this means he can't even start his work until all of his colleagues have finished theirs!

(Notice that his symbol is a whirlwind.)

Poor Whizzy cannot get ahead of the game
His problem each Christmas is always the same:
He can't finish his wrapping until Christmas Eve
(Just minutes before Santa's ready to leave.)
And why, you may ask, is there such a delay
For Whiz to wrap presents to pack in the sleigh?
It's because he must wait until each Izzy Elf
Is done before he can start working himself!

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Professor, the "Heroine", the Villain, and the Bookshop!

When I was a student at Carleton College, I took a Jane Austen seminar.  In the summer before school started, everyone in the class received a letter from the professor, Owen Jenkins. He instructed us to order a complete set of Jane Austen's novels from Blackwell's Bookshop in Oxford, England. 

I remember being thrilled at the opportunity to buy books from this venerable, respected, academic British bookstore. It seemed very exotic to do so. My Jane Austen books arrived, and I have them still.

I'd like to be able to report that I aced the seminar, but I didn't quite. One reason? Mr. Jenkins specialized in sarcasm, which terrified me and rendered me speechless. This had NEVER happened to me before.

The only positive comment I ever received from him was when I showed up early to class wearing my hair up  and a wool dress. He told me I looked like a Jane Austen heroine. Hmmm. Here's a picture of me at that time in that exact same getup, 54 years ago! Yikes. (Despite his odd compliment to me, I eventually named my "villain" in The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, Mr. Owens, after him. )

Anyway, when my husband and I went to Oxford many years later, we made a point of visiting Blackwell's, and it was as venerable as I had envisioned.

Anyway, imagine how thrilling it was for me to find the following on the Blackwell's website recently:

They also carried my Izzy Elf books, but for some reason did not display the cover art for those. No matter, my Izzies have made the big time, as far as I am concerned! I'm sure they are all delighted to find themselves available through such a venerable, respected, academic British bookshop! 

How I wish I could tell Mr. Jenkins!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Another Buss from Lafayette! (Woo hoo!)

On Saturday, September 1, I participated in a commemoration of General Lafayette's September, 1824,visit to Charlton, Massachusetts during his Farewell Tour. For this, I wore a 1820s style costume created by Gay Bean, a mob cap, and a new bonnet. 

This event, sponsored by the American Friends of Lafayette and the Charlton Historical Society, was great fun.  I had the honor of speaking about how Lafayette was received during his Farewell Tour.  Here I am making what appears to be a serious point about all of this.

I decided that part of my purpose in speaking was revving up the crowd so that they would welcome Lafayette with the proper vocal enthusiasm, so I helped them practice cheering. That was the cue for the man himself to appear.

Happily, I was then able to ask the general, as enacted by Ben Goldman, to buss (kiss) me on the cheek, in honor of the title of my historical novel for young readers, A Buss from Lafayette. And he did!

Of course, in my story, a young lady is bussed by an old gentleman, the reverse of the situation last Saturday, but it was great fun, anyway. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Come meet Lafayette!

On Saturday, September 1, I will be part of a commemoration of Lafayette's 1824 visit to the Rider Tavern, 255 Stafford Street, Charlton, MA! (I am hoping for a cooler day than today, as I will be wearing an 1825-style dress, rather than shorts. I'm sure those wearing Revolutionary War uniforms would also appreciate lower temperatures.)

Tours of the historic  building will be given from 1:30 until 3, when the program during which I will be speaking begins. It will culminate with the arrival of Lafayette himself, played by professional enactor, Ben Goldman. Presented by the Charlton Historical Society and the American Friends of Lafayette, admission is free. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Lafayette's First Command: Gloucester #2

This popped up on the internet:

Thousands of drivers pass by the Kings Highway spot where Haddon Heights, Audubon and Mount Ephraim converge at Haddon Lake Park, oblivious to the Revolutionary War battle that occurred there.  That history involves a victory by one of the most famous generals of the war, the Marquis de Lafayette, during a battle overlooked by most history textbooks: the Battle of Gloucester, which was fought across six towns from Gloucester City and Bellmawr to Haddonfield in what is now known as Camden County.

There are park and town signs but no historical markers today at the two Haddon Lake Park entrances on both sides of Kings Highway. It was there and in an area extending a few hundred yards to the east that the Frenchman Lafayette scored a skirmish victory on Nov. 25, 1777, in the midst of the two day Battle of Gloucester that led to his full commission in the Continental Army under Gen. George Washington. - Carol Comegno, Cherry Hill Courier-Post Published July 15, 2018 

I refer to this battle that was so important to the young Frenchman in A Buss from Lafayette this way:

I laughed along with the men, then asked shyly: “I still do not understand why Lafayette is thought to be such a hero, sir. I heard he won no big battles.” 

The veteran shrugged. “That is true enough, my girl, but he did very well when he was finally given men to command.” 

I listened closely as the man explained that Lafayette’s actions at Brandywine had so impressed General Nathanael Greene that had he sent the young Frenchman on a reconnaissance mission commanding a few hundred men. Lafayette had led them on a surprise attack on some Hessians near Gloucester, in the Jerseys. Though outnumbered, it was said that Lafayette and his men “fought like demons,” and it was not until the British commander, Cornwallis, sent out some grenadiers from the main camp that Lafayette withdrew. 

The stranger took another gulp of the rum. “Greene said afterwards that Lafayette ‘seemed to search for danger.’ High praise indeed for such a young man in his first command.” Mr. Towne explained that after that, Washington put Lafayette in command of a division, so he was no longer a major general without any troops.

Jensen, Dorothea. A Buss from Lafayette (pp. 47-48). Boutique of Quality Book Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

And here is my rhyming version:

Greene put him in command to watch Cornwallis' armed forces
To see how many men there were, and armaments, and horses.
Near Gloucester, in the Jerseys, lurked a Hessian company
Outnumbered, the Marquis attacked, and won a victory.
 Greene said he "searched for danger", when the facts of this were known.
And Lafayette was given a division of his own.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

What did drummer boys wear in the Revolution?

This article caught my eye, as it gives some details about what drummer boy "regalia" would have been like.

Here's what it says about drummer boy uniforms:

Trying to outfit each soldier with the same uniform was a hard task at the beginning of the war. States that assembled men to fight may have just worn what they had available until the colonies got the money and materials to get uniforms to all soldiers. Once this happened, musicians would wear the opposite colored coat that a fighting soldier would wear. If a continental soldier fighting in the war had a blue coat with red cuffs, a musician would wear a red coat with blue cuffs. They did this so that they could be easily found by a commanding officer and on the battlefield, it told the enemy that they were not carrying any weapons and were not a threat

I didn't actually know this when I wrote about drummer boys in The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, many years ago!

“We need drummer boys, Geordie. Join us, as Owens here has done.” He threw these words over his shoulder as he strode from the room. Jealously, I glanced at Owens. How much I wanted to take up the drum—and how impossible that I do so!

 * * *

When the applesauce was done, I started into the hut with the kettle. Just then, a shadowy form appeared behind me. “Geordie?” “Aye?” I was so startled, I nearly dropped the kettle “I’ve been ordered to show you about.” This time it was my jaw that nearly dropped to the floor. It was Ned Owens, still as pudgy as ever, though now dressed in the full regalia of a drummer boy. His nose wrinkled in disdain at the smell of sickness and smoke permeating the hospital hut. His disdain gave me back my tongue. “Ned Owens. How is it you look so stout in the midst of this near starvation?” “Let’s just say I know which side my bread is buttered on.”

Jensen, Dorothea. The Riddle of Penncroft Farm (Great Episodes)  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.