The worth of a human life is worth pondering these days. We hear so many statistics – how many have died from COVID-19 in the world, in the United States, in our state, in our communities. These are all just numbers and we rarely think of them individually as separate lives, with families, jobs, interests, hopes and dreams. To do that would be mind boggling – the numbers are too large! But perhaps we should…
And I hope we learn from history. Doctors and historians alike mention the HIV/AIDS epidemic thirty-odd years ago to inform them of how pandemics spread. Historians also notice the similarities between the so-called “Spanish” flu of 1918 and today’s pandemic. Both were deadly strains of the coronavirus which cause harmless ailments, such as colds (to which most humans developed immunity centuries ago). And the majority of people who have been afflicted with this novel coronavirus do recover, but we are constantly learning new things about this virus.
Too often we do NOT learn from history. I have heard many people say they “hated” history in high school and in this country, at least, a large percentage of people are woefully ignorant of not just history, but also geography and the events that make history occurring now. To do this is to make the same blunders over and over again. When the president of our country is ignorant of history, we lack the important quality of leadership.
Here is a quote from Marcus Tullius Cicero (Roman statesman, 106 BCE – 43 BCE) that I recently copied on the back of an envelope when I came across it reading.
To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to always remain a child…For what is the worth of a human life unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?
Here are some photos of my ancestors, which I am privileged to have in my possession.
I have had many opportunities lately to feel nostalgic, mainly because we are preparing to move to a senior community in six months, so we have to drastically downsize. This means going through boxes in the basement that haven’t been touched in decades!
I have found old photos of myself and my family from the 1970s – 1990s, drawings I did in 1972 and artwork my son did in elementary school, as well as old journals (as far back as 6th grade!), comics I made and stories I wrote.
Most valuable to me at this current time is a journal that I started in 2007 which I found in a drawer of my desk. Just 12 years ago, I had only written in the first 10 pages or so. So now I am carrying it around to encourage me to write and draw instead of playing games on my cellphone! Right now it’s an all-out war between my phone and my journal! The problem with a journal is that it is larger than a cellphone and writing by hand is getting more difficult lately – my hand cramps up and nice, legible handwriting after a page or two becomes erratic and less legible! However, a journal doesn’t need to be charged after using!
Here are some of the things I found in the basement that made me nostalgic.
My son’s childhood
My family used to gather around the piano every Christmas and sing carols. This might have been the last time we were all together (1967). My mother probably took the photo because she isn’t in it. I am standing (2nd from left), while two of my sisters were at the piano.
In high school I had a boyfriend who taught me how to develop photos in a darkroom. These are three photos I took and developed back then. The top two were taken at my school, Verde Valley School; underneath is the front of the house of a family that I stayed with in Oaxaca, Mexico, during my senior year.
Here I am with two of my sisters at my high school graduation! They had graduated from the same school years earlier. (I’m in the middle.)
When I was in elementary school – and even before that! – I loved to draw more than anything else. My mother used some of my drawings on the family’s Christmas cards a couple of times. This one made the local newspaper! I was 7 at the time.
In 1973, I went to Mexico with a college boyfriend (my future 1st husband) and we traveled all over the country. This photo was taken at Uxmal, Yucatán. I am climbing down a very steep Mayan pyramid, holding onto a chain as I descended. It was scary!
After my mother became a widow, she made arrangements to move to a retirement community. She moved there after her dog died. In this photo copied from a scrapbook, taken in 2003, I am posing with her after a concert my church choir performed at the retirement home. My mother lived there many years, first in independent living, then she moved to assisted living, and finally to memory care, where she passed away in 2014.
The Ragtag Daily Prompt for today is labor. Labor unions are a vanishing breed these days, particularly in the United States, where corporate interests have instilled negative and often false information about unions in the American public. Several states have busted unions and then became “right to work” states. This euphemism is meant to be a positive alternative to labor unions – after all, you won’t have to pay union dues! But in fact, “right to work” means “right to work” for low wages, “right to work” for no raises, “right to work” for no health insurance, “right to work” for no vacation. “Right to work” is the antithesis of the role labor unions have traditionally played to protect workers’ rights:
Most of the things labor unions won for the American worker we now take for granted. Yet, the corporate interests who want to destroy labor unions want to substitute the “benevolence” of one’s boss to provide whatever benefits he/she wants. Because many companies provide paid vacation, health insurance, etc., these things have become a standard to which most companies will adhere in order to be able to attract good employees. Still, “right to work” laws pose a great threat to the rights and benefits workers have. Let’s look at some history…
At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Europe, working conditions were appalling. Child labor was common. I am reposting here a post from my blog We Are Such Stuff IV, which is devoted to my family history. My 4-greats grandfather, I found out from research, worked for some years as a coal miner in England at the end of the 18th century. Just as a reminder of how far we’ve come in protecting workers since that time, this is what life was like for young coal miners. (Note: to see the sources I used for this account, please see the original post: Trappers, Hurriers, and Hewers: Working in a Coal Mine.)
The Industrial Revolution really got its start in Great Britain during the second half of the eighteenth century. A great many workers were needed in the burgeoning factories and in coal mines to provide the fuel for the factory machinery. Our ancestor came of age in the late 1700s, and would have been accustomed to working to help provide for his family – with a widowed mother and several siblings, there was no other option. Many jobs were available, although working conditions were appalling.
Thomas Thomas’ (my ancestor) early life, his employment – first as a shepherd, later as a coal miner – is mentioned in family held sources, but we have no details of how old he was when he took each of these jobs. Clearly, working in a coal mine would have been chosen out of necessity – it must have paid a lot better than herding sheep. He might have been sixteen to eighteen years old at the time, or he may have been younger. Surely people knew something about working conditions in mines – even today, these conditions are quite severe – but would have been attracted by the abundance of need for workers and the higher salary offered. However, children as young as five were employed in mines and they received merely a cent or two per day.
If Thomas was in his mid to late teens at the time of his taking the job at a coal mine, he would have been assigned to any number of jobs requiring strength and perseverance, including “hurriers” and “hewers”. …
As the demand for coal increased, the mines went deeper and deeper, reaching up to two kilometers below the surface. The deeper they went, the more dangerous they became. Once a seam of coal was located, it was mined horizontally. This meant that miners often were forced to work lying down.
Flooding was one of many dangers in the mines, and children often had to work in water up to their thighs while underground. Poisonous gas escaping or causing explosions was another. Explosive gas, called fire damp, would be found the deeper the miners got. One spark from a miner’s axe or candle could lead to disaster.
To clear the mines of gas, a crude ventilation system was used: The job of “trappers”, most often young children, was to sit underground, opening and closing trap doors located across the mine. These trap doors allowed coal trucks through, but also caused drafts which could spread a cloud of noxious gas. The mine owners believed the system of trap doors might help the blast of an explosion from damaging more of the mine (their first concern was their investment, not their workers!). Unfortunately, this system was very ineffective and there were many accidents.
Child trapper A third serious danger was the threat of collapse: Mines were only held up by wooden beams, and the sheer weight of the ground above a mined coal seam led to many pit collapses.
A report on deaths in coal mines to Parliament gave a list of ways miners could be killed: falling down a mine shaft, being hit by falling coal, being crushed to death in collapse, explosions, suffocation due to poisonous gas leaks, and being run over by a tram carrying dug coal.
In spite of these dangers, demand for child labor was great as coal production increased. Whole families worked in the mines. Besides trappers, coal “hurriers” pulled carts filled with coal over long distances and through very narrow tunnels. These coal carts could weigh as much as 500 lbs., and they were hauled using chains attached to the worker’s waist; or two men would be employed, one in front to pull and one behind to push.
They would exit the mine via the trap doors, held open by the trappers. Girls were often used for this work, because their smaller bodies could fit through tighter spots than their male counterparts. Men and boys were often “hewers”, using pick axes to cut the coal from the seam. …
From the scant information I have about that period of his life, I estimate that my ancestor could have been working as a coal miner for ten years or more. With the harsh conditions and hazards of this work, it is no wonder that [having Sundays off] would have been a welcome respite!
I am combining two photo challenges here: Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge with the theme of books or paper and Nancy Merrill’s A Photo A Week Challenge with the theme of over 100 years old.
For several years, I have been working on a writing project, which is a book about my ancestors. Fortunately for me, the son of my great-great grandfather compiled writings by his father and grandfather, which makes research a whole lot easier! I was also helped by my second cousin, Jeff Charles, who gave me a lot of other material he had collected as well as a comprehensive family tree. I met him and his sister Carolyn for the first time in 2012, when we went to Ohio to visit places where my ancestors had lived and worked.
My great-great grandfather, Thomas Ebenezer Thomas, was a Presbyterian minister and an abolitionist who became fairly well known in southern Ohio where he lived and worked. His son, Albert published a book of his father’s letters in 1913.
These letters are correspondence between him and his children, colleagues, relatives and friends. The book also contains photographs of family members, which I have been inserting into the narrative of my book.
Gogo (my oldest sister’s attempt at saying “Granny” – the nickname stuck!) married Allen Perry Lovejoy Jr. and had three sons. Allen P. Lovejoy Sr. had a house built in Janesville, Wisconsin, located in the historic center of town. All the houses of that area are now being restored and/or preserved. Gogo’s husband died young, tragically, of the Spanish flu, which was an epidemic in 1918. My father never knew his father and Gogo was the only grandparent who was alive when I was old enough to remember.
In addition to the book I’m writing, I also have a blog about these ancestors, called We Are Such Stuff IV (4th volume of ancestral history – my mother wrote the other three and called the series “We Are Such Stuff.”) The blog also includes transcripts of some of my father’s letters to my mother when he was stationed in Europe during World War II.
In honor of Veteran’s Day, I am reblogging this post from my family history blog above.
My mother told me that on June 6, 1944, after hearing the news about the invasion of Normandy, she was worried and scared. She was a young wife and mother of a 21-month-old child, and 7 months pregnant with another. She knew from her husband’s letters that he was somewhere in the English channel on a minesweeper.
Since she couldn’t sleep, she called a close friend, who I believe was also pregnant, and the two of them went out for a walk at 2 am! They walked and walked and talked.
Although Dad wrote home nearly every day, I do not have a letter dated June 6, 1944. However, his letter to my mother on June 9 says that he hadn’t had time to write nor anywhere to mail a letter if he had. It must have been a tremendous relief for my mother to receive Letter #36, which was added to and mailed several days later!
Below is that long letter, written over the course of several days.
My darling –
I wrote & mailed #35 to you last Saturday (June 3), and haven’t written since – I haven’t had time & haven’t been anywhere where I could mail letters. When we get back to such a place, I hope I can cable you, so that you will not be worried about the gap in my mail – this will be mailed at the same time. Last Saturday I also sent a V-mail to Mother. And later in the day I received your #39 (air mail – 9 days) & the article about U.S.N.R.
M.S. – was much interested in the latter. I should get a baleful of your letters when our mail catches up to us again.
Your guess is right – we are at the Normandie [sic] beach-head and have been from the start. Have been under way since Saturday night, sweeping over here for the past four days. It has been an experience I shall never forget so long as I live. We have had a couple of bad scares, but so far are untouched. We have swept some mines but been involved directly in no action ourselves. We have, however, been close to plenty of action. Cannot see the details ofwhat’s going on on the beach, and get most of our news over the radio, as you do. But we are getting a good “view” of the naval bombardment & the entrance of all types of naval vessels into the area. Although there is almost constant shelling, it is not so noisy as I expected, and we really have seen less activity than you would think. Of what I can tell you, the thing that impresses me the most is the size of the operation. On the whole, from our point of view, the weather has been good.
Have no idea when we shall leave this area (you will know we have when this letter is mailed, even if I cannot cable), but it can’t be too soon. It is not just the noise, to which
we are getting accustomed, but the rugged character of life on board here. The first couple of days we got practically no sleep at all & were really pooped out – that has improved lately, though sleep still comes in snatches. Since I now feel more rested, the most annoying thing is personal hygiene – last night I took my first shower & shave since we shoved off – in fact it was the first time in five days that I had taken off my clothes at all – my old ideas of frequency of showers & changes of clothes are certainly going by the board!
But we are getting along fine really, and everyone’s spirit seems to be holding up well. We keep busy, & get good entertainment out of our radio. So, darling, please don’t worry – I’ll be all right. What worries me most is that you will worry yourself into an unhealthy state and endanger yourself & L.L. (Transcriber’s note: L.L. stood for Lester Llewellyn, a highly improbable name for the baby my mother was expecting! Until my second sister was born, my parents affectionately referred to him (her) as Lester Llewellyn.)
Since I have told you about all I am allowed to, there isn’t much more to say. One of our crew exhibited a fine bit of timing – he got appendicitis & had to be transferred of the ship the last day before we left the United Kingdom!
Did I remind you about the people to put on the birth announcement list? I guess I did. Don’t forget the Kuhns & my other cousins & aunts. Don’t forget Geo. & Eleanor Thomas – you say you saw George – is he contemplating moving back to Janesville soon?
Tell Judy thanks for her letter – I really enjoyed it. She certainly has learned a lot of words & other tricks since I saw her. I sure do miss her something awful.
Swell that your Mr. Rauch is so good – I hope you can keep him and that he will work for you enough to get done what is necessary.
Sure glad to hear that Mother was getting better – hope she is fully recovered by now. Maybe I shall hear from her soon.
You seem to be working awfully hard – darling, don’t get yourself too tired – you know what it did to you in Boston, when the nervous strain was less than it is now. You should get some relief when the maid starts, which I hope is by now. You don’t say anything more about having the baby restored to upright position again & whether it will stay there – what about it? – I am a little concerned.
Well, I’ll close this temporarily and keep adding to it until I can mail it. Darling, just remember that I shall always adore you.
Sunday, June 11, 1944 – 1:30 p.m.
Well, we are still here, and are still keeping busy sweeping, etc. No sign or indication yet as to when we shall get away from here. We are getting a little more used to it, and life does not seem as rugged as it did. We have had another scare or two, but we really in very little danger and less & less so as our forces progress. But we shall still be glad to get away from here whenever they give us the word!
That’s about all I can tell you – we get our news over the radio, as you do, and so know very little more of what goes on than you do. We see only a very, very small part of the activity that is making news. But from all reports the boys are doing a swell job in there – hope they keep it up. And isn’t the news from Italy good? I expect a big offensive on the Russian front soon, and possible other invasions – but I really know nothing about it (if I did, I couldn’t say anything at all!).
Wish we could get to wherever our mail is, because I wonder about you & Judy & Mother – & especially you – how you are & what you’re doing. If I told you a million times, darling, you’d never know how much I miss you. But I hope you can read between the lines, sweetheart, for I really love you, love you, love you with every gram of strength & feeling within me. So take good care of yourself – for me.
June 12, 1944 – 9 a.m.
Just got off watch a few minutes ago, after learning that they are going to pick up our outgoing mail in a little while. So I want to get this off to you. With it I shall send a V-mail to Mother, so that you will hear as soon as possible that we are all okay. Have no idea whether they will bring incoming mail to us, nor when I shall be where I can cable you.
No more news – it has been relatively quiet lately. I guess the fighting is pretty fierce inland, but the boys seem to be making progress. The weather is beautiful today – only the second clear day we have had since we got here.
Must stop now.
Loving you always –
Note: All pictures and diagrams in this post were downloaded from Google Images.
It was always fun to see my nieces at Easter, wearing new dresses and their Easter bonnets! Here are Allie (age 2), Leslie (age 4), and Julia (age 8) at my mother’s house, all gussied up for church!
It’s amazing to consider that all of these young ladies now have children of their own or soon will! Allie has a son who is almost 5, Leslie has two young sons, and Julia is due to have her first child, a daughter, in about six weeks. It has been wonderful to watch them grow up and now I enjoy seeing their children grow up (even if only on Facebook)!
Whichever holiday you celebrate at this time of year, or the celebration of spring and new life, I hope it is joyous!
Thomas prepares for the ministry, 1802-1806, which is the second installment of the first chapter of my book on my family ancestry. In this excerpt, the Rev. Thomas Thomas (my 3-greats grandfather) studies at Hoxton Academy – his first formal education at the age of 26! – where he trains to be a Independent minister.