Monday, August 15, 2016

Great Aunt Mary 
and the 
American Dream



By the time I came along Great Aunt Mary was already well into her fifties, but still a “dynamo,” as most family members described her, their affection tinged with awe, and probably a bit of envy too. The latter, however, was never admitted openly.

She came to the United States as an infant. My grandfather, who was just nine at the time Great Grandma made the voyage from Naples to “The Land of Opportunity,” took charge of his baby sister during the difficult crossing, and proudly carried her in his young arms as they departed the ship that took them to Ellis Island and the Hope of attaining a better future. 

Aunt Mary was a little person. She’d been afflicted with rickets as a toddler, which stunted her growth and bent her legs, but it never occurred either to her or my Great-Grandmother to let a little thing like that stand in their way.  So little Mary grew quickly into a responsible, amazingly resourceful adult, despite not having the benefit of much education.  Most didn’t have much schooling in those days –– especially girls, who were expected to begin learning to cook, sew, mend, clean, keep house, and nurse the sick from toddlerhood, then marry young, bear children, and raise them as well as possible to carry on the family traditions. 

Like my grandmother, who was imported by Mail-Order from the Old Country to marry my grandfather on Great Grandma’s direct orders soon after Grandpa’s eighteenth birthday, Great Aunt Mary was different. Neither woman had much education, but they were intelligent, ambitious, courageous, –– and most important of all ––, they had Vision and tremendous respect for Learning.

By the time little Aunt Mary married Uncle Frank, and had brought Alice and John into the world she realized that if her children were ever to get ahead, they would have to graduate from college –– an almost unheard of ambition for members of  the “lower orders” of that time –– especially recent immigrants whose mastery of English was considered sketchy at best.

Uncle Frank, a dapper, handsome little man whom Great Aunt Mary adored till the end of their days, wasn’t the type “to set the world on fire” to use her own words to describe him.  He was employed as a meter reader for the local Water Company, and there he stayed contentedly for nearly fifty years until his retirement. They got by, but Mary knew there would never be enough money to send Alice and John to college, unless she did something on her own to make it happen.

Being a naturally creative, resourceful, highly ambitious person blest with a super-abundance of energy, Aunt Mary come up with a plan to make money in a way that would be both a credit to herself and a benefit to the entire community.

Like many a smart entrepreneur before her, Aunt Mary perceived a need, and had great faith that she had the means to fulfill it with her own two hands.
  


In those days it was possible to rent a large Victorian-style house with a good-sized garden and wraparound porch in a decent neighborhood for less than ten dollars a month. Always by nature a wonderful housekeeper famed in the family for maintaining a home so clean, “you could eat right off the floor,” Aunt Mary also had a knack for making her surroundings pleasant, comfortable and attractive.  She supplemented the family income by renting a spare bedroom on the ground floor, and serving her paying guest breakfast every morning along with the rest of the family.

What today would be described as “poverty,” never seemed to faze Aunt Mary a bit. Always an active churchwoman, she befriended more prosperous parishioners who served with her on the Altar Guild of the Episcopal Church. These women liked and respected Aunt Mary, and often supplied her with beautiful fabrics left over from decorating projects in their big houses on The Hill or from their dressmakers –– “scraps” from which she busily created magic on her treadle sewing machine –– items that brightened her home and helped supply the annual Church Bazaar with handmade tea cozies, pot-holders, small, decorative pillows and the like.



Oh, and did I tell you, she also made all the clothes  for herself and her daughter, and even learned enough about the art of tailoring to supplement Uncle Frank’s wardrobe?

As my mother, –– the last of eight children, who was born in 1913 –– shortly after the Titanic, –– during the the Great Influenza Pandemic that killed somewhere between twenty and fifty-million worldwide, and nearly three-quarters-of a million Americans –– and just before the outbreak of the First World War ––, often said, “Nothing can stop Aunt Mary once she’s set her mind on something.  She has such talent she could serve you a tuna fish sandwich on a paper doily, and glass of iced tea, and make you believe you were lunching at Peacock Alley or the Palm Court at the Plaza.”

Mother’s opinion partly said in jest was substantially accurate. In addition to the many virtues listed above, Aunt Mary was also an excellent cook and a born hostess. She liked nothing better than to entertain family and friends in her spacious, handsomely-appointed Victorian home.  And so it came to pass that she had what-turned out to be a profitable brainstorm, and decided to put her abundant talents as a homemaker to use as a means of making money.


She saved her pennies, went out and bought several sets of card tables and folding chairs, which she was able to store in a large hall closet under the stairs, and let it be known that she would soon be opening her home each day to serve lunch at a modest price to the schoolteachers of the community.

To make a long story short Aunt Mary’s homemade enterprise caught on like wildfire. She was already respected, well-liked, and regarded as a reliable source of aid and comfort by many of the well-to-do. Her home was charming, her food as satisfying as it was appetizing, and true to her word the price she charged for lunch each day –– a repast that would likely include a cup of homemade soup, a sandwich, a cup of tea or coffee, and either a frosted cupcake, several of her homemade cookies, or a piece of her famous applesauce cake, which I remember as the richest, best-tasting spice cake I’ve tasted to this very day –– her prices remained affordable yet still enabled her to turn a tidy profit.


Although lunch was supposed to be for the schoolteachers only, the Mayor soon caught on to a good thing and wanted to be included too, as did several members of the City Council, the Clergy and other influential citizens.  So, never one to do things by halves, Aunt Mary set aside time for a second shift to accommodate the overflow. By rights she should have hired assistants, but since her objective ws to earn as much money as she possibly could, she managed to do the whole thing entirely by herself for the better part of twelve years.

Great Aunt Mary was able by dint of her talent, ingenuity, hard work, and a naturally sanguine disposition to make enough to put both of her children through college. Fortunately both Alice and John did their part, were exemplary students throughout their school careers, were each successful in their chosen fields and turned out to be a great credit to their mother. 

Now all this happened more than a century ago –– before we were menaced by the Federal Income Tax, the Federal Reserve, State Sales Taxes, and ever-increasing legislation stifling Initiative, restraining  Trade, and the many other depredations ushered in during the Progressive Era, which transformed America from the Land of Opportunity to a Land of Ever-Increasing Taxation and Soul-Deadening Regimentation.

Before Progressivism took over, inspiring success stories like my Great Aunt Mary’s numbered in the hundreds of thousands.  How many similar tales do you hear about today in a land that now sends Government Officials to shut down Children’s Lemonade Stands, and lay heavy fines against anyone with the unmitigated gall to try to sell homemade food to her neighbors without paying OBEISANCE to Government Agencies that demand long waiting periods for the “privilege” of being ALLOWED just do business. Which permission, IF granted, always demands heavy payment for an annual LICENSE, and an agreement to SUBJECT themselves to noisome Government Inspections at frequent intervals.

Alas and Alack! Great Aunt Mary’s achievement would not be possible today.  The bookkeeping imposed on her alone would doubtless use up so much of her time and energy there wouldn’t be anything left to enable her to perform the wonders she did back when these United States were still “The Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave.”




OFF-TOPIC, but an IMPORTANT MILESTONE 
that DESERVES RECOGNITION

JOHN McLAUGHLIN, HOST of THE McLAUGHLIN GROUP, PASSED AWAY on TUESDAY, AUGUST 16, 2016. 
HE WAS 89.



This was very sad news, but I was not surprised. The McLaughlin Group has been a ritual that defined Sunday morning for me for the past twenty-two years –– ever since I stopped attending church. Can't imagine what life will be like without John McLaughlin, but he'd been looking peeked most of the past year, seemed low on energy, lacked his usual brisk, acerbic tone, and slouched in his host's chair as though exhausted during many of the recent episodes.

Last Sunday –– just three days ago ––, I tuned in with my usual cut of coffee to watch the fur fly, and was genuinely shocked to see the announcement preceding the program telling us in Mclaughlin's own words that he would be absent for the first time in 34 years –– ever since the program began.

Even so, he still managed to announce each change of topic in a series of recorded messages, but his voice sounded weak, his speech slurred, and I sort of knew he wouldn't be with us much longer, though naturally I hoped he'd be able to return for another round or two, and at least see us through the election. 

Alas! It was not meant to be.

Luis Rukeyser's untimely death several years ago, left a big hole in PBS's programming. Losing McLaughlin may very well sound the death knell for the organization as we've known and loved it. The quality of programing has been going steadily downhill for several decades Downton Abbey notwithstanding.

To lose Antonin Scalia, Downton Abbey and John McLaughlin all in one year –– especially THIS dreadful election year –– is depressing and discouraging. 

The cause of his death was not disclosed, but I think it may be safe to assume he suffered a stroke, but what difference does it take what finished him? He was a doughty old guy –– a lovable curmudgeon, –– an American Original, who had become an institution.

He will be sorely missed, and we are unlikely to see his equal again in our lifetime.

Bye Bye, John. We loved you.

~ FreeThinke

35 comments:

  1. Herman KrakenballhammerAugust 15, 2016 at 2:20 PM

    Thats a beautiful story, but sadly as you say, they are becoming rarer in the Land of the fleas, home of the slaves. You must have loved that woman!

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  2. This is a great dissertation of the end of the American dream.

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    1. Perhaps, but I prefer to think of it as a clear, hopefully compelling portrait of what "The American Dream" really MEANT before the ardent, power-seeking busybodies known as "Progressives" took over and decided God wasn't doing enough for His children, so it was up to THEM to play God (always a fool's errand) and "fix" all sorts of things that were NOT broken.

      This is not just a "story," it is a factual account of a significant chapter in my own family's personal history.

      My hope would be that those who are made aware of a desirable aspect of past reality might be motivated to try to REVIVE what has been all-but lost.

      Fashions change. So does technology, and the implements we use to perform necessary tasks, BUT Human Nature NEVER changes, so even though our capacity for creativity, independence and self-reliance has been discouraged and roundly suppressed by the fiendish architects of modern and post-modern notions of what "education" OUGHT to be, the seeds of REBIRTH still one deep within us, and cannot be denied forever.

      Though it would have been the last thing in her mind even to imagine, my great aunt was a beautiful Role Model, and fine example of what Faith, iIngenuity, Courage and Determination CAN accomplish when the Human Spirit is left FREE to do its darnedest to make life more pleasant and profitable within an individual's limited sphere of influence.

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  3. What a wonderful testimony to you Aunt's memory. We need to hear stories like this today because most of us do not even know what we have lost. Yes, children, there was a time of economic prosperity in America, driven not by government politburo programs, but by back-breaking labor, ingenuity and industriousness of everyday Americans, to include America's newcomers, who pitched in and worked for their own American Dream.

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    1. Thank you very much. Understanding is always the pearl of great price in these here parts. ;-)

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  4. This is an excellent article, FT.

    Nice to have a look back in time to what life once was in your country and our world. Today I can surly imagine your Aunt Mary being badgered by the folks from city hall who were happy patrons of your aunt's eatery back in the day.

    Contrast with the lives of people today hunkered down in their living rooms living vicariously through the television (apparently in Milwaukee) ...

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    1. Or so attached to the internet, Waylon, they forget to eat, or to their cellphones that it looks like the damned things would have to be surgically removed. ;-)

      Nice to see you again.

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  5. Land of the fee, Home of the slave

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    1. Very witty, but not the least bit funny, Finntann, because it's all too true –– and slated to get worse.

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  6. Etta Kett from the homefront reports:

    You tell a lovely story, but you didn't mention where Great Aunt Mary was living when she fed the local schoolmarms and town officials. Was it near our town?

    Here's a more recent story from home that took place in 1992:

    I had a dear and very talented friend whom I had known since our children attended kindergarten together. There was, at the time, an ordinance prohibiting the use of private homes for business purposes, with certain exceptions such as medical offices.

    She taught music lessons in her home, and I believe this was perfectly legal since it didn't involve crowds and all sorts of deliveries, etc. In addition, my friend gradually built up a very profitable business baking beautiful pastries that she sold to caterers. I am sure that the neighbors did not know and suffered no inconvenience because of the occasional pick ups from my friend's house.

    This was an important violation, however. The town's health department would have closed her down, and for good reason. All commercial kitchens must be inspected regularly. You expressed dismay over regulations and zoning ordinances that limit peoples' ability to serve the public without all sorts of licenses and paying all sorts of taxes. That is certainly the case; it is also a necessity for a variety of obvious reasons.

    In my friend's case, even if there were no zoning ordinance against it, she would never have passed inspection because she had a cat in the kitchen!

    One day, I told my friend I was sorry to bring her some very bad news: A newly appointed member of The Board of Health knew about her catering business. This was shattering. What could she do?

    Well, this story has a happy ending. I was the person who had just been appointed to the Board of Health and, of course, I never told a soul.

    Some years prior to my time on the BOH, a woman ran another sort of quiet business in her home. Every so often she would invite, for a fee, single men and women to dinner for the purpose meeting each other –– a type of intimate dating service. Someone got wind of it, however, and she was forced to discontinue her dinners. Too bad! I think it was a great idea, and I, as a twice widowed woman of a certain age, would be very happy to avail myself of her services today.

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  7. Oficialismo has both benefits, and a price. Miss Etta proposes that it is possible to have both. Perhaps it is, provided that the 'oficiales' exercise "discretion". But THAT is kind of like expecting every police officer to be Bruce Wayne.

    The law has no business regulating business details. The free market regulates itself. The law should only establish the general rules of the playing field under which ALL, regardless of their "particulars," would be required to compete.

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    1. Naturally I agree, FJ, I know Ms Kett pretty well. She is, of course, a Leftist [These days I avoid the terms "Liberal" "Progressive" Marxist," "Communist," "Socialist," and "Democrat," because "LEFTIST" covers them all neatly and unequivocally] –– and, as many upper-class Leftists tend to be in "real life" –– , a very pleasant person to know socially –– a condition that makes it all-but-impossible to deal with them openly and honestly.

      Leftists have a marked tendency to take any opposing views as a direct attack on them personally, and are, therefore, apt to respond tearfully with remarks such as, "And here I've thought all these years that you were a FRIEND, that I could TRUST you. BOO HOO! You've made me feel I've nursed a VIPER in my bosom, and you KNOW that ALL I'ver EVER wanted to do was improve Community Standards and HELP people in need. How COULD you? BOOOO HOOOOO," etc.

      HOWEVER, her candid advocacy of a Double Standard making exceptions to the rules she, apparently, adores for her FRIENDS –– or violators with whom she is personally sympathetic –– destroys her classic Leftist Argument that certain burdens and restriction the Left zealously places on Commerce are NECESSARY to ensure PUBLIC SAFETY!

      Y_I_K_E_S_!

      Does the woman not realize she has revealed herself to be a HYPOCRITE and something else I'd rather not mention out loud?

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  8. She tailored men's clothes? That's a real achievement!

    My own grandmother had to learn to do that. Up in the hills of Appalachia, the grinding poverty meant few trips to any kind of clothing store.

    I still have the pajamas my grandmother made for me when I was about our years old. She made the set out of fancy meal sacks! As I grew, the elastic was replaced. I can still wear the pajamas.

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    1. She would never have regarded herself as talented or in any way remarkable. She did what she believed she had to do, because in her and there was no other choice. That only made her all the more remarkable, I think.

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  9. FT,
    Your Great Aunt Mary would have been arrested were she living in the 21st Century. "Uninspected" food and all that. GRRRRR!

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    1. Indeed, and that of course is the underlying point I tried to make with this article. Once "certain influences" –– skeptical, cynical, suspicious, unduly challenging, and pointedly non-Christian –– butted their way in and began to take hold, the social fabric Aunt Mary's story exemplifies began to unravel, ...... and Bob's your uncle.

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  10. Replies
    1. Jovian Jack GermondAugust 16, 2016 at 4:41 PM

      TV's IQ just fell 150 points.

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    2. Percy TittlebottomAugust 16, 2016 at 5:14 PM

      What a shame! I so enjoyed that program, even with that braying ass Eleanor Rodham Clift. She was no match for Mr. McLaughlin, that's for sure!

      Delete
    3. Very sad news, but I'm not surprised. The McLaughlin Group has been a ritual that defined Sunday morning for me for the past twenty-two years –– ever since I stopped attending church. Can't imagine what life will be like without John McLaughlin, but he'd been looking peeked most of the past year, seemed low on energy, lacked his usual brisk acerbic tone, and slouched in his host's chair as though exhausted during many of the recent episodes.

      Last Sunday –– just two days ago ––, I tuned in with my usual cut of coffee to watch the fur fly, and was genuinely shocked to see the announcement preceding the program telling us in Mclaughlin's own words that he would be absent for the first time in 34 years –– ever since the program began.

      Even so, he still managed to announce each change of topic in a series of recorded messages, but his voice sounded weak, his speech slurred, and I sort of knew he wouldn't be with us much longer, though naturally I hoped he'd be able to return for another round or two, and at least see us through the election. Alas! It was not meant to be.

      Luis Rukeyser's untimely death several years ago, left a big hole in PBS's programming. Losing McLaughlin may very well be the death knell for the organization as we've known and loved it. The quality of programing has been going steadily downhill for several decades Downton Abbey notwithstanding.

      To lose Antonin Scalia, Downton Abbey and John McLaughlin all in one year –– especially THIS dreadful election year –– is depressing and discouraging.

      I think it may be safe to assume he suffered a stroke, but what difference does it take what finished him? He was doughty old guy –– a lovable curmudgeon who had become an institution.

      He will be sorely missed, and we are unlikely to see his equal again in our lifetime.

      Bye Bye, John. We loved you.

      Delete
  11. What a wonderful story FT. Your Aunt was an amazing person to say the least.
    It really puts today's burdensome government in prospective.
    Sad news about John McLaughlin. He had many talents.I always enjoyed the McLaughlin Group.

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    1. Thank you very much, Lisa. It's good to see you here. I hope you will visit more often.

      I'm glad you appreciate the significance of my Great Aunt Mary and her amazing accomplishments. Her life had a lot of worthwhile things to teach us all.

      She never complained, never felt a drop of envy, never woke unkindly of others, never gave into herself, was always cheerful, encouraging, hospitable, and unfailingly generous with what she had.

      Despite all that, she not so very unideal for women of her day. The majority of people didn't expect so much from life as they do now, and wouldn't have DREAMED of DEMANDING more than their allotted portion. Their Humility and unquestioning sense of Duty made a kinder, gentler more peaceful world.

      I was very lucky to have gotten in on the tail end of it.

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    1. NO, Ma'am. Either we discuss the political and social significance of my Great Aunt Mary's story, OR we share memories of the late John McLaughlin, but we will NOT let ANY of our threads be hijacked by compulsive topic-changers. EVER.

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    1. The fact checkers for the liberal media said what?

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    2. It doesn't matter what they said, Joe, UNLESS it was about my Great Aunt Mary or Dr. McLaughin. };^)>

      Sorry to be such a stickler, but our readers MUST learn –– and ACCEPT–– this blog as being MY property, and not THEIRS. Once that is understood, it should be much easier to realize that the choice of topics here, except in rare instances, are MINE to make and mine ALONE.

      If someone prefers to talk about genital warts or vaginal yeast infections that is THEIR prerogative, –– as long as they don't try to do it HERE.

      Why that perfectly reasonable position is so difficult for so many to understand is beyond my powers of comprehension.

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  17. Are we supposed to Give up on our support of Trump because the trustworthy, crooked, and lying democrats tell us a story about the failing polls that Trump has been receiving which might tend to make up give up on him?? Well in contradiction to what we are hearing, it seems that there is REALLY only 2 or 3 points separating the two. it must be nice to be able to control the media as they do.

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    1. No, Laura, we are not, but we ARE expected to observe proper Blog Eiquette, and respect the rues laid down by various private blog owners.

      WHY this is so HARD to do, I cannot understand. If you have nothing to say on the TOPIC, just DON'T SAY ANYTHING.

      One of the many things dragging us down the proverbial Rat Hole is the loss of SELF-DISCIPLINE among our citizens.

      Once we abandon SELF-CONTROL en masse, the country may be given up for lost.

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  18. The post in your great aunt is charming and persuasive. Thankyou for sharing these vivid recollections of a simpler, freer time when people could do things on their own without Big Brother's permission, and without having to pay to play.

    I share your feelings about Dr. McLaughlin too. It's very sad to see all these colorful, crusty, individualistic, old characters disappearing all of them replaced by the likes of Megyn Kelly, Jen Psaki, Maria Harf, droning policy wonks, and rude, edgy wise guys like Jon Stewart and Andy Borowitz.

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