Archive for the ‘Wilder Wednesday’ Category

Wilder Wednesday: Drinking from the Saucer

Eliza Jane was more bossy than ever. She said Almanzo’s boots made too much noise. She even told Mother that she was mortified because Father drank tea from his saucer.

“My land! how else would he cool it?” Mother asked.

“It isn’t the style to drink out of saucers any more,” Eliza Jane said. “Nice people drink out of the cup.”

“Eliza Jane!” Alice cried. “Be ashamed! I guess Father’s as nice as anybody!”

Mother actually stopped working. She took her hands out of the dishpan and turned round to face Eliza Jane.

“Young lady,” she said, “if you have to show off your fine education, you tell me where saucers come from.”

Eliza Jane opened her mouth, and shut it, and looked foolish.

“They come from China,” Mother said. “Dutch sailors brought them from China, two hundred years ago, the first time sailors ever sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and found China. Up to that time, people drank out of cups; they didn’t have saucers. Ever since they’ve had saucers, they’ve drunk out of them. I guess a thing that folks have done for two hundred years we can keep on doing. We’re not likely to change, for a new-fangled notion that you’ve got in Malone Academy.”

That shut up Eliza Jane.

~From Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

 This was the first, and for a long time, only, reference to drinking from a saucer that I’ve ever come across. Mother Wilder’s history was a bit faulty: Europeans first explored China in the 1516, when the Portuguese explorer (and cousin of Columbus) Rafael Perestrello landed on the southern coast of mainland China and traded in Guangzhou. I think what Mother Wilder had in mind was the United East Indian Company, a Dutch-chartered trading company that had a trade monopoly with China in the 1600s.

 Another reference to drinking from the saucer can be found in Tom Brown’s School Days, a British novel written by Thomas Hughes in 1857:

“Well, I wish I were alongside of him,” said Tom. “If I can’t be at Rugby I want to be at work in the world, and not dawdling away three years at Oxford.”

“What do you mean by ‘at work in the world’?” said the master, pausing, with his lips close to his saucerful of tea, and peering at Tom over it.

“Well, I mean real work; one’s profession; whatever one will have really to do, and make one’s living by. I want to be doing some real good, feeling that I am not only at play in the world,” answered Tom, rather puzzled to find out himself what he really did mean.

“You are mixing up two very different things in your head, I think, Brown,” said the master, putting down his empty saucer, “and you ought to get clear about them.”

 Cups and saucers have been used since the Middle Ages, and I could find no definitive answer about whether they drank from the saucer as well as the cup, or when that habit began. But it certainly was common in Russia and Scandinavia for many years. In fact, in Sweden, they not only sipped from the saucer after purposely overfilling the cup, but sipped the beverage through a lump of sugar held in the front teeth, a custom called “dricka på bit” or “drink with a lump.” While there are people who remember their elderly, usually rural, ancestors drinking this way, it seems to have fallen out of favor in the 20th century. It was still a common enough practice in 1914 to be portrayed in a painting by Konstantin Makovsky.

 tea-drinking-by-konstantin-makovsky-1914

Drinking from the saucer was not confined to Europe. There is a story that when Thomas Jefferson returned from France to find Congress organized into two parts, he asked George Washington why there needed to be a Senate. Washington answered with another question: “Why do you pour tea into your saucer?” Jefferson answered, “To cool it.” “Just so,” responded Washington, “we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.” See, the Federal Convention felt that the members of the House were too emotional, so the Senate was formed to have “cooler heads” prevail. This story is anecdotal, but does show that using the saucer to cool the tea was a familiar custom here in America.

I’ll leave you with a poem by John Paul Moore:

 Drinking From The Saucer

I’ve never made a fortune,
And I’ll never make one now
But it really doesn’t matter
‘Cause I’m happy anyhow

As I go along my journey
I’m reaping better than I’ve sowed
I’m drinking from the saucer
‘Cause my cup has overflowed

I don’t have a lot of riches,
And sometimes the going’s tough
But with kin and friends to love me
I think I’m rich enough

I thank God for the blessings
That His mercy has bestowed
I’m drinking from the saucer
‘Cause my cup has overflowed

He gives me strength and courage
When the way grows steep and rough
I’ll not ask for other blessings for
I’m already blessed enough

May we never be too busy
To help bear another’s load
Then we’ll all be drinking from the saucer
When our cups have overflowed

Wilder Wednesday – Color-coding Children

Wilder Wednesday posts are inspired by the Little House on the Prairie book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Then Laura saw her own pink ribbons on Mary’s braids. She clapped her hand over her mouth before a word came out. She scrooged and looked down her own back. Mary’s blue ribbons were on her braids! She and Mary looked at each other and did not say a word. Ma, in her hurry, had made a mistake. They hoped she would not notice. Laura was so tired of pink and Mary was so tired of blue. But Mary had to wear blue because her hair was golden and Laura had to wear pink because her hair was brown…“Oh dear!” Ma exclaimed. “I put the wrong ribbons on Laura’s hair!” “It’ll never be noticed on a trotting horse!” said Pa. So Laura knew she could wear the blue ribbons.  ~On the Banks of Plum Creek, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

A friend recently turned me on to Sarah Albee’s blog, which I’ve been enjoying. Not long ago, she posted about the trend of gender-specific colors, which you probably know is a relatively recent development. I wanted to know why these trends developed, and found some interesting theories.

It was around the mid-1910s that colors were “assigned” to specific genders. Before that, both genders were usually dressed the same. Same styles and same color – white, for a very practical reason: the inevitable stains could be bleached out. But some market-minded person realized that if mothers could be persuaded to dress their children in colors, there would be more sales; and if the genders had different styles – including different colors – that would be even more sales (succeeding children of a different gender couldn’t wear the older sibling’s clothing). For some time, there was no consensus on what those colors should be, but eventually pink and blue took over.

Pink was designated as the color for boys, and blue for girls. It is supposed that this selection was influenced by Renaissance art, which usually depicted the Virgin Mary in blue and the Christ child in pink. Blue has traditionally been associated with the heavens and purity, and thus appropriate for females, who were viewed as more virtuous. Pink is a derivative of red, a bold and aggressive color, so it was suited for masculinity. Trade publications of the fashion industry promoted these choices, along with other differentiations such as that blue was flattering for blue-eyed blonds and pink for brown-eyed brunettes. This encouraged more sales among even same-gendered children.

pinkblue

 

Timing begs the question, did Laura’s story of the ribbons actually happen? Or was it inspired by the fashion of the day that she was writing? Perhaps it could be read as an indictment of silly fashion trends – why on earth shouldn’t she enjoy ribbons of blue, or any other color, just because her hair was brown? Or perhaps the opposite: showing children that there have always been social norms to which they should conform. This scene in On the Banks of Plum Creek could be polysemantic. Or maybe it’s just a fun scene. What do you think?

So when and why did pink and blue switch genders? Theories abound, ranging from nursery rhymes to Hitler. Some believe that verses such as “Little Boy Blue” brought the change. Others claim that the purple triangle assigned to homosexuals under the Nazi regime led to the color being thought of as feminine, and then lightened to pink for female children. Still others mention the influence of “battleship gray” and “navy blue” in World War II in identifying blue with boys. There is no real evidence for any of these theories.

During the 1940s, an advertising company surveyed sales of several large department stores across the country. They concluded, based on what customers chose, that boys preferred blue and girls preferred pink. (It would probably be more correct to say that parents preferred blue for boys and pink for girls, but this is not definitive since we don’t know to what extent parents let the children do the choosing.) Manufacturers adjusted accordingly.

After a time of mostly unisex clothing during the ‘70s, coinciding with the women’s lib movement, the pink-for-girls-blue-for-boys came back with a vengeance in the ‘80s. It seems this stems in part from the homophobic idea, now understood to be incorrect but for centuries held as incontrovertible, of gender as binary.  The phobia was (is?) so deep-rooted that it was deemed insulting not to know at a glance whether an infant or young child was male or female, but of course one can’t know without some added contrivance – like color-coding.

Recently, there has again been movement away from “gender-appropriate” color. I wonder what Laura would think.

Wilder Wednesday – The Dark Side of Old Dan Tucker

Wilder Wednesday posts are inspired by the Little House on the Prairie series of books.

“Play, Ingalls!” he said. “Play me down the road!” So while he went down the creek road and out of sight, Pa played, and Pa and Mr. Edwards and Laura sang with all their might,
“Old Dan Tucker was a fine old man;
He washed his face in the frying-pan,
He combed his hair with a wagon wheel,
And died of the toothache in his heel…”
Far over the prairie rang Pa’s big voice and Laura’s little one, and faintly from the creek bottoms came a last whoop from Mr. Edwards.
“Git out of the way for old Dan Tucker!
He’s too late to get his supper!”

~Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Ingalls family loved music, most often supplied by Pa’s fiddle. Laura recorded dozens of songs that the family enjoyed. One of these is Old Dan Tucker, more strongly associated with Little House on the Prairie due to the character of Mr. Edwards, who sang it often on the TV show.

The song dates from the middle of the nineteenth century. It is not certain who wrote it, although it is often attributed to Dan Emmett (who also wrote Dixie). It is certain that his blackface troupe Virginia Minstrels made it popular.

Wait…did I just say “blackface?” Yes, I did, and that term should be explained for those unfamiliar with it. Merriam-Webster defines it as “makeup applied to a performer playing a black person, especially in a minstrel show; also: a performer wearing such makeup.” What the definition does not say is that blackface minstrel theater was more than just makeup; it was an exaggerated, stereotypical portrayal of caricaturized black people, meant to be humorous. (I’ll discuss minstrel shows, including Pa’s – Pa’s! – participation in one, more in a future post.)

A poster for a 1900 minstrel show

A poster for a 1900 minstrel show

In the case of Old Dan Tucker, the original words were written to be performed by a troupe, with some verses sung – and acted out, an essential ingredient in minstrels – by “Dan” and other verses sung by other members as observers of Dan’s antics. Despite some claims to the contrary, there is no doubt that Dan was supposed to be black. The vernacular of the song, particularly Dan’s own verses, was overplayed Black English (now often called Ebonics). An early playbill calls the show “a Virginian Refrain, in which is described the ups and downs of Negro life.”

It was the usual practice for blackface troupes to portray people of color as ignorant and uncouth, or worse. Old Dan Tucker, according to the 1843 lyrics (which can be found at the end of this post), was a fighting, drunken glutton who had no sense of, or didn’t care about, social mores. He sometimes speaks of himself in the third person, as a child might, which is to further show his simple-mindedness. Part of the appeal of this portrayal is that it allowed “lower class” whites to poke fun at the culture of the “upper class” in an analogous way, as opposed to outright finger-pointing, which would only further cement their own lesser-mannered class.

It is important to note that both black and white performers used blackface. Black minstrel performers often satirized the behavior of whites, including their racist attitudes, and promoted abolition. By the 1870s, white minstrel shows were giving up blackface (often incorporating other ethnic stereotypes, such as the blarney-filled, drunken Irishman, or greedy, conniving Jews, instead) and black performers were taking over blackface theater. Some African Americans saw it as a means of spreading their own culture, while others realized that it was a much easier way to earn a living than most avenues available to them (which was mostly menial labor). This does not, of course, excuse the caricaturizations of black people by white minstrel performers in blackface.

Old Dan Tucker was immediately successful and became a popular song across the country. In fact, it was one of the top 3 most popular songs in 1843, thanks in large part to the Virginia Minstrels.

Virginia_Minstrels,_1843

However, its lyrics did not remain static. Performers added, deleted, and changed verses as it suited them. Hundreds of different versions have been recorded. Some of these promoted specific causes; for example, in 1844 a group called the Hutchinson Family Singers turned it into “a song for emancipation” with abolitionist lyrics. Other versions were designed to eliminate the racist portrayal of blacks and convert it into a generic, fun tune.

That is how we today think of Old Dan Tucker. Its history should not make us shun the song, but learn from it. Let its modernized verses bring to mind Mr. Edwards and his helpfulness and neighborliness – to everyone, regardless of their race or color – and enjoy it as an entertaining bit of Americana. Here’s a mix of that version.

What do you think? Does the dark history of Old Dan Tucker change how you think about the song? Should it?

dan music

1843 sheet music for Old Dan Tucker

1843 Lyrics of OLD DAN TUCKER as sung by the Virginia Minstrels

I come to town de udder night,
I hear de noise an saw de fight,
De watchman was a runnin roun,
Cryin Old Dan Tucker’s come to town.

Gran’ Chorus:
So get out de way! Get out de way!
Get out de way! Old Dan Tucker.
Your too late to come to supper.

Tucker is a nice old man,
He use to ride our darby ram,
He sent him wizzen down de hill,
If he hadn’t got up he’d lay dar still.

Gran’ Chorus.

Here’s my razor in good order,
Magnum bonum—jis had bought ‘er,
Sheep sell oats, Tucker shell de corn,
I’ll shabe you soon as de water get warm.

Gran’ Chorus.

Old Dan Tucker an I got drunk,
He fell in de fire an kick up a chunk,
De charcoal got inside he shoe,
Lor bless you honey how de ashes flew.

Gran’ Chorus.

Down de road foremost de stump,
Massa make me work de pump;
I pump so hard I broke de sucker,
Dar was work for ole Dan Tucker.

Gran’ Chorus.

I went to town to buy some goods
I lost myself in a piece of woods,
De night was dark I had to suffer,
It froze de heel of Daniel Tucker.

Gran’ Chorus.

Tucker was a hardened sinner,
He nebber said his grace at dinner;
De ole sow squeel, de pigs did squal
He ‘hole hog wid de tail and all.

Gran’ Chorus.

LauraPalooza recap – Part 2

The second day of LauraPalooza lived up to the expectation set by the first day. The opening presentation was by William Anderson, preeminent LIW researcher, who announced his forthcoming book, The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder. From the earliest existing letter written by Laura (to the Eastern Star chapter in De Smet, and which is also included in my book Little Lodges on the Prairie) to the last, this book will be the last words of Laura that we’ll have. I’m really looking forward to it.

Then Julie Miller gave a moving presentation about her life on an Iowa Century Farm. She experienced many of the same things Laura did.

Eddie Higgins of the UK talked about her experience reading the Little House books across the sea, and some of the things that didn’t make sense due to differences in British English from American, and things that are just unfamiliar across the sea.

Did Pa get suspenders or braces for Christmas? It depends on where you live!

Did Pa get suspenders or braces for Christmas? It depends on where you live!

The next two presenters also had some of those same issues. Hisayo Ogushi and Yumiko Taniguchi are both from Japan, and spoke of the influence of Laura in that country and the translation of the books into Japanese.

We had another wonderful lunch, during which John Miller spoke of Laura as a Midwesterner.

After lunch, there were hand-on workshops. Choosing among crafts, woodworking, and writing was probably difficult from some people, but of course I went straight to “Write Your Own Little House Story” with Kelly Kathleen Ferguson. She led us in exercises to enhance creativity in writing, using our experiences with the Little House books.

The afternoon presentations dealt with addiction in the 1800s, finances and well-being, Charles Ingalls’ time in Illinois, and the similarities of the Little House books to fairytales. All were interesting and informative.

After the last presentation, I went to supper with four friends.

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We spent 4 hours visiting, and laughed so hard we cried (I did, at least – and I know I saw a couple of them wiping their eyes a few times, too). And there was still the field trip to come!

Saturday was spent in De Smet. We were split into smaller groups; my group went first to the Ingalls home built by Pa on 3rd Street. The staff was gracious enough to allow Julie Miller and Kevin Pearce to play a duet on the pump organ and violin, and we all sang Pa’s favorite song, “In the Sweet Bye and Bye.”

Julie Miller and Kevin Pearce played "In the Sweet Bye and Bye."

Julie Miller and Kevin Pearce played “In the Sweet Bye and Bye.”

The rest of the group then went on to the surveyor’s house and the first school in De Smet, but I broke off (I’ve been to those locations several times) and went to the Masonic Lodge to see if I could help set up for a special Eastern Star program that was going to be held later in the afternoon. It ended up being much smaller than anticipated; the driver of a group that was coming from out of town injured his foot at the last minute and had to go to the emergency room, so that group didn’t make it. Still, it was nice to visit with those who were there and talk a little about Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Eastern Star.

As an added bonus, a few of my group from LauraPalooza came by and got to view a few special items: the original copy of that earliest letter that Laura wrote mentioned above, along with an original letter written by Carrie and one written by Grace; Pa’s original petition to join the Eastern Star; the actual minutes of the meeting at which Laura joined the Eastern Star; and the sword Pa used as Tyler of the Masonic Lodge.

Letters written by Laura, Carrie, and Grace, and Pa's petition to the Eastern Star.

Letters written by Laura, Carrie, and Grace, and Pa’s petition to the Eastern Star.

A few "LauraPaloozers" got to hold the sword Pa used as Tyler of the De Smet Masonic Lodge.

A few “LauraPaloozers” got to hold the sword Pa used as Tyler of the De Smet Masonic Lodge.

I snuck in a cemetery tour with Nancy Cleaveland. Later, I met up with my little group again for the pageant. We had fun at the photo board, even though the sun was shining right in our eyes.

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The pageant was the last activity. We said our goodbyes, but we’re all on social media so we can keep in touch until LauraPalooza 2017. And who knows, maybe we’ll meet up at a LIW site or somewhere before that. Here’s hoping.

Even though the conference was over, my adventure wasn’t. Stay tuned!

LauraPalooza ’15 recap – part 1

Then the big new bell clanged in the cupola, and recess was over.  ~These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

LauraPalooza was a great success. My fun started early. Since we were going North, through Kansas, we had to stop at the site of the original little house on the prairie, right? Although everything here is replica (except the well, which has been filled in), it has a certain charm to it.

The Little House on the Prairie Museum in Kansas

The Little House on the Prairie Museum in Kansas

Then we went to De Smet for a couple days of research before the conference began. One thing I did was search records of the Congregational Church. I saw the history of the church as written by Ma, where Pa joined by letter from Walnut Grove, and Ma’s membership in the Ladies’ Aid Society, among other things.

Did you know that the bell in front of this church (now the UCC) is the bell from the original Congregational church building that Pa Ingalls helped build? This is the bell Laura and her family heard ringing.

The bell from the original Congregational Church that the Ingalls family attended.

The bell from the original Congregational Church that the Ingalls family attended.

The original building of the Congregational Church has been built onto and remodeled, but the original structure is now the sanctuary of Christian & Missionary Alliance.

church int

I also finally got a chance to check out the interior of the Heritage House B&B. The upstairs of this building was used by the Masonic Lodge and Eastern Star for many years, including most of the time the Ingallses were members. I can’t help but wonder if the winding staircase was built that way specifically for the Masons, since that figures into their Fellowcraft Degree.

Winding staircase in Heritage House B&B, formerly used by the Masonic Lodge when Pa was a member

Winding staircase in Heritage House B&B, formerly used by the Masonic Lodge when Pa was a member

Then it was on to Brookings and the opening social of the conference. The social was held in the South Dakota Art Museum on the SD State University campus. This museum is home to the largest collection of Harvey Dunn works. Dunn was, of course, a nephew (by marriage) of Laura’s sister Grace. It was fun to see friends made at the last conference, though we missed a few who were unable to attend this year.

Thursday morning, the conference was off to a great start with Jim Hicks, who showed how he was able to pinpoint the exact location he believes “Grandpa and Grandma” Ingalls’ house was – the one where Laura went to the sugaring-off dance.

Then, Barb Boustead discussed Grasshopper Weather. What did it take to bring the grasshoppers, and why did they later become extinct? What part did weather play? She drew some intriguing parallels between the Rocky Mountain Locust of Pa’s day and the Monarch Butterfly today. (As a Texas Master Naturalist, I appreciate anytime someone draws attention to the natural world, and humans’ affect on it. Barb didn’t mention Bill Nye or Monsanto, but did ask questions about the role of human actions on ecosystems.)

Next, Dr. Beth Tarini discussed the probable cause of Mary’s blindness. Hint: not scarlet fever.

After a short break (snacks provided!) Laura McLemore and Judy Green discussed how they handle racism, sexism, and other uncomfortable topics in the Little House books.

Oh NO! What do you do about THIS in the Little House books? -From Little Town on the Prairie

Oh NO! What do you do about THIS in the Little House books?

I agree with them that rather than censoring, we should use these paragraphs to teach youngsters (and some not so young) why people held those views, and why we shouldn’t. “Rewriting” history by ignoring the ugly part of it is not only untruthful, but also deprives following generations of the chance to learn from it.

Amanda Baumann followed with a presentation on 19th century schools (why was spelling so important?). She acknowledged learning much from Nancy Cleaveland, who has recently updated her booklet on Laura’s school/teaching days and made it available for purchase from the LIW museum in De Smet.

Lunch was a wonderful meal, made more wonderful by the presentation of the Legacy Awards during that hour. John Miller was a recipient, for his years of in-depth research on Laura and her place in history. Sally and Larry House, who were instrumental in establishing the Wilder farm site in Malone (where Farmer Boy was set) as an historic place, also received an award.

I understand there were terrific presentations after lunch, too, but unfortunately I missed those. During that time I was in the vendor room with Prairie Sayings posters. Folks seemed to really enjoy them. And that evening was the authors and artists’ reception, where I felt privileged to join writers such as John Miller, Pamela Smith Hill, Bill Anderson, Nancy McCabe, and others, to sign copies of our books for attendees. I finally got a signed copy of My Life as Laura; I didn’t get one at the last conference and had regretted it ever since. But no more!

All the presentations were both fun and informative. They are what the conference is all about. But I must say, visiting with fellow “bonnet heads” (Lauraratti, prairie people, whatever you want to call us) is a big part of what makes LauraPalooza so fun. It was great to meet new friends, catch up with others, and chat about our favorite author – and so much more.

Catching up with friends made at the last conference.

Catching up with friends made at the last conference.

All that, just the first day. More to come…

Where are the Masonic Monday and Wilder Wednesday posts?

I’m sorry to have missed several Masonic Monday and Wilder Wednesday posts. I’ve been at LauraPalooza, and also having computer issues at the same time. The posts will be back, along with a recap of LauraPalooza 15, and more, soon.

Wilder Wednesday – Say What? Prairie Sayings

With shaking fingers Laura tore the envelope and took out a teacher’s certificate. It was a second-grade one.
“It’s better than I expected,” she told Ma. “The most I hoped for was third grade. Now if I can only have the good luck to get the right school!”
“A body makes his own luck, be it good or bad,” Ma placidly said. “I have no doubt you will get as good as you deserve.”
Laura…thought about little else that night, and she was still thinking about it next morning when Florence came into the schoolroom and came directly to her…
“Well, you have always been so nice to me, I am glad of a chance to pay some of it back,” Florence told her.
Laura remembered what Ma had said about luck, and she thought to herself: “I believe we make most of our luck without intending to.”   ~ These Happy Golden Years, Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Little House books are full of adages. No matter the occasion, someone had an appropriate saying on their lips. Readers of the books often have a favorite, one that they find often coming to mind.

One of my personal favorites is Ma’s quote above: “A body makes his own luck, be it good or bad,” along with Laura’s thought that we mostly do so unintentionally. My husband likes “It’ll never be noticed on a trotting horse,” as that’s an expression the older folks in his family used when he was growing up.

Most of us remember older family members having pithy sayings like this. Laura had those same memories, and recorded many of the wise expressions in her books. Since they are so enjoyed by readers, I’ve gathered many of the most popular sayings into “Prairie Sayings” posters (each one is 11″ x 17″). Order at www.Henscratches.com.

Prairie Sayings

Prairie Sayings