Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Meek Shall Inherit...

So, I looked into the natural history of my marsupial buddies today, and here’s what I found.

Once upon a time, 70 million years ago or thereabouts, these little guys emerged from the Cretaceous North American underbrush. The proto-possums are called Peradectids, at least, that’s the latest research from the University of Florida and those sooooooutherners  should know a thing or two about possums, after all. They were sharing their territory with the dinosaurs, so things were probably pretty tough, but then, just 5 million years or so later—the mere blink of an eye in geologic time—that famous or infamous asteroid struck, putting a sudden, dramatic end to the long reign of dino domination. Possums somehow survived.

What is more, they used the new space they’d acquired, after emerging from various fallout shelters—probably the gigantic ribcages of their now deceased neighbors—and, in a fit of exuberance, split into several families. Eating insects, fruit and eggs and other people’s leftovers, they trudged down Mexico way and over the land bridge into South America, where they continued to evolve. At this time, South America, Antarctica and Australia were still cuddled up together on a big comfy couch of floating basalt, and so from here, the proto-marsupials marched on to find new homes.

The three continents finally parted company and drifted away from one another. Eventually isolated in Australia, the marsupial line would proliferate into many strange and wonderful shapes. Sadly, most of these exotic critters, are now extinct or on their way out, like the legendary Tasmanian Devil, who is really—cartoon aside—quite a fetching little beast.   

Meanwhile, in North America, all the possums went extinct during a time when North and South America were no longer connected. Therefore, for an epoch or two, North America was deprived of this a vital member of Nature’s clean-up crew.   Fortunately, for fans, like me, a short three million years ago, the land bridge between North and South America rose again—or the ocean receded, locked up in the polar ice caps or whatever—and possums returned to their ancient point of origin once again.

Now, while you are laughing at possum—squashed by the side of road—no doubt intentionally driven over by some bully of an ape with delusions of grandeur because he sits in a machine with an internal combustion engine—well, think again! The “dawn of man” --and guess what, guys? There wouldn’t have been any “dawn” at all without woman, too—this “dawn” began a mere 3 million years ago, about the time possum was returning from his very successful South American road trip.

Now, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit—true proto-primates came on the scene some 55 million years ago—but essentially, a possum is, was and has been, a possum. You’d recognize a Peradectid as a possum, but you sure as heck wouldn’t recognize that little shrew thing with the forward facing eyes hanging in a tree as a member of your high-falutin' family.

There’s something to be said for plain and simple, for humility, for not making a fuss and aggrandizing oneself--that, and for a body plan which allowed possum to survive 70 million years -- plus that legendary asteroid that took down the grandest, over-the-top animal family our planet has ever given birth to. It has been said that "the meek shall inherit the earth" and perhaps they will--which is one of the reasons why I admire this mundane, gentle creature. 

Cute as a boxful of possums

--Juliet Waldron

A restrained country romance about Post Civil War Pennsylvania--a young, too pretty German girl comes to America to the house of her well-married big sister and learns a few things about love, life and religion.

Monday, January 30, 2017

George Washington  A Master Passion   ISBN: 1771456744
The story of Alexander Hamilton & of his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler

I happened into the world on George Washington’s birthday. For many years I took some pride from sharing the day with the great man. After all, back in the ‘50’s it was still celebrated on the day on which it fell, which meant that I always had my birthday off from school. Pretty sweet—even if February in upstate NY meant we were buried in snow. 

Washington and Blue Skin

It was fun to have a party on a school holiday. Friends came to sledding parties and for snow-fort-buildings, but, by the time I was eight or nine, costume parties were my favorite.   To have a costume party in the dead of winter was a little outre—remember, this is the ‘50’s in farm country—but everyone got into the spirit, even if it just meant digging out last autumn’s Halloween costume again.
Father of Our Country. Think about what it means. It’s pretty heavy stuff to lay on anybody who used to put his pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us. Still, when you take a look at his track record here’s what you find:

Washington was Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army upon whose victory the thirteen colonies depended to secure their separate and equal station among the powers of the earth. In the summer of 1787, he presided over America's Constitutional Convention. His presence lent decisive significance to the document drafted there, which continues in force in the twenty-first century as the oldest written constitution in the world. From 1789-1796, he held the highest office in the land as the first president of the United States of America under this constitution.”  
 * The Claremont Institute via PBS website

More than that, Washington was “the man who would not be King.” Unlike every other Revolution since, our military hero didn’t become a dictator imperfectly hidden beneath a variety of pious designations as did so many others:  Augustus Caesar, Hitler, Napoleon, Kim Il-sung, Stalin, Oliver Cromwell and Mao Zedong. After our American Revolutionary War was over, he quietly went home, to tend to his plantation. Later, when his two terms as president were completed, he went home once again. 

George Washington was truly the “Cincinnatus” his contemporaries named him. Like that legendary Roman farmer, he left plowing his fields to assume leadership of his country in a time of war; afterward, he went home again. Like the title of historian James Flexner’s biography, George Washington was The Indispensable Man, a popular figure who did not use his overwhelming personal popularity to grab the reins of the new nation and declare himself Emperor, or whatever.

Moreover, Washington did not use his office to enrich himself. As one who'd sat through a sweltering summer in Philadelphia while the Constitution itself had been hammered out, he not only knew what it said, no doubt line by line, but he respected it, too, and intended that it should continue into the future, to serve the cause of liberty and justice for all mankind.

I'll close with two powerful, pertinent quotes by America's great founding father: 

"Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism."

"If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led like sheep to the slaughter." 

~~Juliet Waldron    Historical Novels by JW at Amazon

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Rat and I

Mom and her rescue dogs, Barbados, 1962

Another memory, this one from the West Indies, back in the early sixties. Mom and I lived in an apartment in Bridgetown, Barbados, one that was near the race track. Who knows what it’s like now? In those days, this was a quiet pleasant residential area. We shared the house with the owners, a pair of elderly British ladies who lived beneath us on the first floor. All sorts of stories could be told about events that took place in this house, but one of the third-world variety recently came back to me.

Our kitchen was down a flight of stairs, an add-on affair at the back of the house. Outside the door, as was common, was a step over a gutter. Gutters ran along the sides of the streets everywhere and were to be avoided. When someone drained gray water, from a sink or whatever, it went down the gutter, right out in the open. You saw whether someone had washed their dishes, or their hair, or whatever and bits and pieces traveled along the gutter as well—bits of food etc. It was a common sight—and smell--here, but of a kind that I, as a middle class American kid, was not accustomed to.   There were chickens—they belonged to someone who lived along the street—wandering wherever they wished, looking for bugs and odds and ends, like the bits of garbage that ended in the dish water.
Island Inn, Barbados, 1959
Other critters found food there as well. Rats were common, especially outside at night, but I didn’t expect to see them inside the kitchen, which was where I met this one. I’m going to assign a sex and call it he, though I don’t know. He was quite tall and large, and seemed especially so because he was standing on his hind-legs, getting ready to leap up onto the table just as I came down the stairs.

The rat spun around and stared at me. I stood on the last step and stared back.  It was one of those frozen moments, a perfect picture left behind. He was rather pretty, actually, athletic, sinewy, and glossy brown. His beady eyes were bright, and not particularly anxious.  He’d apparently come in through a broken screen on the kitchen door; his home was probably beneath the gutter step just outside. We were neighbors, it seemed, although uneasy ones. Who knew how many times he'd come in that way? Fortunately, we kept all our dry goods and things like bread shut away in a cupboard.
I could almost hear him thinking about what to do next; I certainly was. When I reached around the corner to grab a broom—the only weapon within reach—he shot away through the ragged screen and vanished beneath the step.

~~Juliet Waldron 
All my historical novels at    Books by JW at Amazon  A Master Passion   ISBN: 1771456744
The story of Alexander & Elizabeth Hamilton  Mozart’s Wife  ISBN:  1461109612
Constanze tells all.  Roan Rose   ISBN:  149224158X
She served Anne Neville and loved her husband, Richard.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Moon and I

It’s hard to recreate a time when there were no words, only feelings.


These are the first things I remember. Crib slats casting black shadows on a summer smooth sheet. White face through spreading branches. Next, a perfect silver disc lending its sheen to arching branches. The sugar maple that grew behind Grandparents house was enormous. 
Perhaps, long ago, it had been brought west to Ohio by a homesick Yankee.

Of course, I knew nothing of that. All I knew was that the spreading maple was good to see, the harmony of black and white, the leafy patterns, a vision which sounded in my head like a clear note. I was here, entirely secure. Outside the broad leaves with their sharpened edges were barely moving against a velvet sky. Moon face gazed down serene; a cloud edged in rainbow and silver passes.

No wonder I am who I am.

Ghosts of Abbott Road, Ellington, CT

In the next room, women’s voices. They were the ones who cared for me, two young, one old, getting ready for bed next door in the spacious bathroom, big enough to accommodate one woman at the dressing table mirror, a bather in the claw foot tub, one at the sink running water--or perhaps even seated --the “watercloset” was one of the first improvements my Grandfather had made after purchasing this house. He had called his home “a girl’s dorm” for years, and now here I came, the newest addition, another little female--the one now wondering in the room full of moonlight.

Two Juliets, 1945

Sleep was impossible bathed in silver, danced over by mutable leaf shadow. There was nothing frustrating or lonely about it. I didn’t need to cry and call them to me, even though I knew they would come. After all, the women were happy. I was fed and dry and comfortable.

Besides, outside my window was the venerable breathing tree and a full moon.  


Juliet Waldron    Historical Novels by JW at Amazon  A Master Passion   ISBN: 1771456744

Happy Birthday, Alexander Hamilton!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Carol's Coat~~

Hoag Family reunion, 1971

My mother-in-law, Carol, was a strong New England woman, one who was born and died in her home state of Massachusetts. She was taller and broader than me, had a powerful presence, softened by short brown curls and a ready smile. Back in the early 1970's, in between a full time job and starting the first NOW chapter in Lexington, she bought a fine Woolrich coat, teal colored twill with a tan-and-white wool lining.

A few years passed. Carol grew wider as folks tend to do in these United States, and the coat was handed to her youngest daughter, Abby, now married. It probably never really fit Abby, except perhaps across the shoulders. Still, it was serviceable for a rough New Hampshire winter. The good twill broke the wind and the liner created an Indian blanket warmth. Like all coats of this period, it was unwieldy. After putting it on, you felt sort of lumbering and bear-like. 

There was a hood, too, but by the time I inherited the coat, the string was gone. In deep cold or high wind, the big hood could still be pulled over a scarf for a second line of defense. You might look like the Abominable Snowman, but in my now senior world, so what?

The coat is a keeper. It's worn weekly all through winter. Like any article of clothing that has been in use for so long, it shows it's age. For one thing, there's a dab of yellow house paint on one pocket, now hopelessly sunk into the twill. That, and a little hole on that same pocket, might suggest a thrift store source when viewed in cold, unforgiving daylight.

At Christmas time, an old coat probably seems like a weird topic, but there's a part of me that, though descended from a long line of upstate New York farmers, is pure Yankee at heart. In the midst of so much consumption--and so much compulsion to consume, pounding on the psyche from every side--there's a part of me that's stubbornly resistant. I remember my much loved and frugal Grandfather, and the rhyme he recited to me long ago.

"Use it up,
Wear it out,
Make Do
Or do without."

In later years, I'd hear it again, now repeated among my husband's New England relatives.

There is another narrative though, beyond the warts-and-all-virtue, but a memory of the two other bodies who have sheltered inside this old coat. One is a sister-in-law who has become a sister, and my formidable mother-in-law, now departed to the other side.  

This wool and twill bears memories. It's not just "an old coat."

Carol, HS Graduation, 1943

~~Juliet Waldron

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Rosemary Tree

Well, here it is--the event no one was waiting for--a sprawling rosemary used as Christmas tree, Hanukkah Bush, or whatever. When autumn came, it seemed a shame to leave it outside to die. I can't just stick it in the garden and wait to see if it will winter over or not because after several years, I'm emotionally invested. We go back with one other for some years, this rosemary plant and I.

It would look nicer if I'd just keep it trimmed back into a sensible cone or something, but I'm from Yellow Springs, the land where the bushes and shrubberies and trees grow with perfect, radical self-expression.

Our weather where I now live might allow it to survive winter, but I haven't had a lot of luck with that strategy in this unforgiving clay soil, so I've been cosseting this one and bringing it in for the cold months. Now here it sits, taking up inordinate amounts of space on the round table between the printer, scanner and the two CPUs, so I decided to put it to seasonal use. 

I put on a few store bought decorations, but the little handmade ornaments have the most meaning. My Grandmother Liddle made a few of them for church bazaars--the little sewn hearts, nutcracker men, and clothespin soldiers. Friend Joy baked a couple, the pink pig lower left, made from cornstarch and then painted. She made a Christmas tree too, all trimmed with bows and ribbons. The cornhusk angels came from GMA L too, handmade at Ohio craft stores.  There are also a pair of long dangling "icicle" blown glass ornaments made long ago by Chris's Uncle John.

The rosemary is too supple to support much weight, so I couldn't use the bird for a topper. Set in the pot is a Navaho granny, holding grandbabies in her arms. I bought this ornament when I didn't get to hug my own grandkids enough because they lived too far away. The little clay granny makes  happy whenever I looked at her. Her presence always  helps me to send an imaginary hug to my dear grand-girls.

~~Juliet Waldron    Historical Novels by JW at Amazon
Traditional sweet romances:  Hand-me-Down Bride    B00G8OYFG  Butterfly Bride    B01MEENIRA

Sunday, December 11, 2016

God Speed, John Glenn

 The Right Stuff

It was on February 20, 1962 that John Glenn, a Marine pilot who'd flown 149 missions during World War Two and the Korean War, completed his historic three trips around Planet Earth--as "spam in a can."  It took a heck of a lot more nerve and balls out skill to survive those earlier military assignments, I'm sure, but it was for the orbital flight of the tiny Friendship 7 that he attained fame and a ticker tape parade. Such are the ways of popular culture, but he was the first American to orbit the Earth and the third American in space.

Spam in a Can

John Glenn went on to serve his country in the Senate for many terms, as a Democrat from Ohio 1974-1999. No "come here" politician, Ohio was his home state. He'd been born in Cambridge, Ohio in 1921 and attended Muskingham College, where he studied mathematics. When the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the US into World War II, he dropped out of college and enlisted, first in the army and then, after not being called up, as a Navy aviation cadet. He was an old style gentleman, married to his childhood sweetheart for 70+ years, a staunch supporter of the social safety nets for aged and less fortunate Americans, as well as a lifelong advocate of NASA and of first class science education in the kind of well-funded public schools that kick-started his own career.  (Contrast this with the politicians we elect nowadays -- lying, self-dealing confidence artists -- and feel sorry for yourselves.)

I was in boarding school in England when all this happened, so wasn't stateside for the hoopla, although I soon learned about it, from the teachers (mistresses) at tea time when we all sat down together. (Don't get any big ideas about "tea" at 1960's boarding schools. In those days it was brown bread and a single pat of butter, and several cups of hot tea--and that, dear readers, was all there was to eat until morning, where we received the same tea and bread all over again.) At any rate, the news made me happy. It was about time our power house country caught up with those "Ruskies!"

In the '60's, kids like me were called "children of broken homes," and mine certainly had been, with violence and betrayal, via a divorce granted by some southern state which deemed child support unnecessary. Nevertheless, I remained proud of my nation, though my classmates, whose parents remembered the great days of the British Empire, often scoffed. When I heard the news about that orbital flight--me, the solitary "Yank" walking the 45 degree halls of the grand old buildings where we boarders  housed--I experienced a chest puffing moment of national pride!

One evening soon after, I stood, wrapped in my robe, in the top floor hall where three flights of stairs ended. I sang "America the Beautiful" as perfectly as I was able. My voice, of which I was proud, reverberated nicely inside the space. Though I was far away from home, alone, with no support on any side, I was, on that long ago day, proud to be an American and not afraid for anyone to know it.

So, with the passing of John Glenn, another chapter in my own old memory "copybook" closes, one of a more hopeful time. As Scott Carpenter -- now the sole survivor of the Mercury Missions  -- radioed on that day in 1962 -- "God Speed, John Glenn."  

Oldest man to fly in space, John Glenn, October 29, 1998

~ Juliet Waldron

All my historical novels are    at Amazon

Alexander Hamilton and his Betsy--their story at:  A Master Passion   ISBN: 1771456744