Family 7: Margaret and Walter

IMAG0030As individuals, we live our lives day after ordinary day, but sometimes world events come crashing in to change the course of history—and the course of families—in ways that we could not anticipate and certainly would not choose.

Walter was still drumming with George Masso and blocking hockey pucks when he realized, along with all of his classmates, that they would graduate from high school and go straight into the military to fight in World War II. He and Margaret knew that their courtship could come to a final end when Walter joined the Army Air Corps in 1943. Not only had Margaret’s grandfather in Scotland died in World War I, but they both had friends and family who had already lost their lives in the current war.

Walter’s dad had left the mill some years ago and gone to work for New England Transportation as a mechanic, and the skills that he passed on served Walter well when he was able to serve as an airplane mechanic. Furthermore, his mother, Mathilda, had become quite valuable to the Red Cross, so when she had a medical emergency and asked if her son could come to her side while the rest of his unit shipped out to Europe, someone somewhere granted her request—which may be the reason I am here to write this today. Walter stayed stateside for the remainder of the war.

Margaret was 17 and still a senior in high school when she received a telegram saying, “I have a furlough in December. Will you marry me then?” Her mother panicked and immediately refused, but once again, her cousin Dot came to her rescue. “Don’t worry, Auntie Peggy! I’ll help you to get this wedding together in less than two weeks, you’ll see!”

And so, in military uniform and trailing white gown, Walter and Margaret tied the knot on December 14, 1944. They went to Buffalo for their honeymoon, which may not seem romantic, but it was close by. Everything was rationed, but they were miraculously able to find a restaurant serving shrimp, although it may have turned out to be more of a curse than a miracle, as Margaret later spent her wedding night with her arms wrapped around a cold toilet rather than her warm groom. The next day, they explored the joys of Buffalo and found a booth where they could sing into a machine and create their own phonograph record. If he hadn’t known it before, this is where Walter discovered one of his beautiful wife’s tragic flaws: she could not carry a tune. Indeed, although she would sing quite cheerfully and with great gusto, she had a terrible voice. When they turned the record over to make the second side, he said, “Here, let me sing by myself on this side,” and she said, “OK,” and smiled at him adoringly, because she was, after all, seventeen.

In just a few short days, Walter had to return to his military service, and Margaret, now Mrs. Joseph Walter Kelly, went back to high school.

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Dreaming of a Competent Congress

Trump ImmigrationMy father backed the car out of the driveway in the dim light of early morning, while my mother, my sister, and I wept. We were leaving our beloved home in Milledgeville, Georgia. I had only been a few months old when my family moved to this small, historic town, and I could not remember any other home. My father, however, had taken another position in New York City, and he wanted his children to go to Catholic schools. And so, we were New Jersey bound.

I was nine years old when we moved to New Jersey, where I would live until I was halfway through college. We all grew to love it, too, as we made lifelong friends and put down roots. My dad made good decisions for his family, all because of his desire to provide for us and give us a better life. As children, we had no vote in his plans, and I never remember his asking us for our opinions.

According to news reports, there may be as many as 800,000 young people in the United States who were brought here illegally by their parents when they were children. They are popularly called “Dreamers,” as in, dreaming of a better life. Just as I had no say in my parents’ decision to move us from state to state when I was a child, neither did these people have a say in their parents’ decisions. If someone had said to me when I was 20— and then living in South Carolina— that I had to “go back,” where would I have gone? My parents were from Rhode Island, but I had been born in Paterson, New Jersey, where they spent less than a year before moving to Georgia. I have no idea what Paterson looks like, since I have never been there since I was six months old. What would happen to these young people if they had to move to Mexico or Central America, when all of their memories are of the United States?

This problem moves the heart of most of us, even those who agree that crossing the border illegally is a crime. However, Christians recall the many verses of the Bible that speak to God’s compassion for foreigners and “sojourners.”

Leviticus 19:34- “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” (NIV)

Exodus 22:21- “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (ESV)

And many more in a similar vein. There is no doubt about how God wants us to treat foreigners in our midst.

President Obama was very concerned about these young people, and he called upon the members of Congress to pass laws to protect them. They did not. Both houses of the U.S. Congress seem to have lost the ability to pass legislation, which is, unfortunately, their entire job. They are so paralyzed at the thought that someone in their district will be offended by their activity and will vote against them in the next election, that they do nothing at all except give self-serving, dishonest speeches in front of a camera. While Congress dithered, President Obama stated publicly that he was not the Emperor of America, and therefore could not make it happen by himself. Apparently, he changed his mind later and signed the executive order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The recipients of this deferred action are called Dreamers.

Since DACA is an executive order, and not a law, it is expiring, and President Trump has decided not to renew it. A great many of the things that were accomplished during the Obama administration were done by the pen and the cell phone, so we can look forward to crises like this happening regularly. That is both the beauty and the tragedy of executive orders: they are not laws and they cannot last.

While the news media are screaming that people opposed to the renewal of DACA are racists, I will jump out on a limb and tell you: I am cautiously optimistic about this turn of events. The hundreds of thousands of young people who are here because of their parents’ actions deserve better than an executive order. They need for Congress to pass a law to set them on the road to legal status. Sometimes I want to send each legislator a copy of the children’s books that I buy for our library system with titles like, How a Bill Becomes a Law. I could put a note that says, “Read this carefully. This is what you are supposed to be doing. Do it for the children.”

Will Congress muster up the courage to do this? The track record is not good, but I don’t hear anyone on either side against it. If only they could compromise, but I am afraid that our entire society has forsaken the art of listening. Not everything has to be a binary choice. If you care about the Dreamers, it doesn’t mean that you’re for open borders and total amnesty for illegals. It might just mean that you have a heart. If you think it is appropriate to end DACA, it doesn’t mean that you’re a cruel racist. It could mean that you want the government to function constitutionally and to hopefully have an even better resolution for the Dreamers.

Congress has six months to do the right thing. Let’s remind our legislators that we’re expecting them to earn their pay. I plan to write to my Republican congressman and senators to let them know that it’s OK to tackle just this one part of the immigration issue right now, and that I’m not going to take revenge on them for letting 800,000 people stay home.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else. Image by the Chicago Sun-Times, accessed 9-7-17.

The Benedict Option Wrap Party

Benedict OptionLast week, the few of us who persevered to the end of our meetings to discuss Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option had a little party to sum up what we had gleaned from this important book. We gathered on the porch, and there were calories and perhaps a little wine involved. With candles lit, we shared favorite parts and even a few criticisms.

We all agreed that Dreher forced us to get serious about our personal spiritual lives. We are more diligent to set aside certain times for scripture reading and for prayer, and we desire to pray more deeply, rather than abruptly addressing the Creator of all the universe with a checklist of our requests. On a related note, we have all attempted to ratchet back the amount of time we spend with technology. For some of us, that means being more deliberate about our television viewing, both the content and just the pervasiveness of the noise. For all of us, it means social media use and the brain-fracturing effect of smartphones.

One member pointed out the lack of scripture in the book. We have been aware throughout the study that Christians cannot base their lives on any movement that came about after the book of Acts. We can learn from church history, but all people have had blind spots, even monks in the Dark Ages. On the other hand, Dreher’s history of philosophy and culture encouraged us to rip off our contemporary American glasses and attempt to turn our minds to a time when Christians saw every atom and every moment of their lives as soaked in God’s presence.

Dreher writes from a post-Christian perspective, and here in the American South, we have not quite arrived. Almost, but not quite. Therefore, when he writes about community as taking place only within the church, we are still more in the mind of The Turquoise Table, working hard to bring our neighborhoods and towns into community together. Even over the course of the few months that we have spent on this book, however, we have seen still more movement to silence and isolate people of faith, and so we discern that Dreher writes prophetically.  Perhaps we will soon see a day when we should board those little arks of which he writes in his excellent New York Times article, just as the boats rescued the soldiers at Dunkirk so that they could regroup to fight another day.

Unlike many of the books written within the past couple of decades decrying the collapse of religion in the West, The Benedict Option is refreshingly non-political. Rather, Dreher’s work is spiritual and ecclesiastical, pulling the church back to a deeper understanding of living as the people of God on earth.

Portions of The Benedict Option would be even more valuable for young families, particularly the wide-ranging chapter on education. Furthermore, pastors and church leaders would be in a position to put at least some of these ideas into practice within their congregations. One member of our group plans to suggest this book as a small group study in her church. Whether read alone or discussed with others, this title will awaken American Christians to our current status in our country, while offering thoughtful ideas to strengthen our spiritual lives, our families, our churches, and our communities.

Family 6: Joseph Walter

The marriage of Joe and Mathilda soon yielded a son. In a compromise to continuing the family tradition without the confusion of having three Joseph Patrick Kellys in the same town, they named him Joseph Walter. Most people called him Walter or Walt, but his father usually called him, “Hey, Kel.”

A year or so later, Mathilda conceived again, but had a tubal pregnancy, which, in the 1920s, led to a complete hysterectomy. From that moment, Mathilda considered that her days were numbered, and she treated herself as if she were a delicate piece of porcelain. Whenever she had any small ailment, she would whimper, “Well, I’ve had surgery, so it’s always dangerous,” pressing her hand to her abdomen. At four foot eleven, she worked as a model for Mature Women’s Fashions for Shepard department store in Providence, and carried on living a confident and determined life well into her eighties.

Walter became an athletic young man after he outgrew a touch of asthma that perhaps had something to do with living with two smokers. Riding in the back seat of a foggy car, he was not allowed to roll down the windows for fear of a draft. Miraculously, in his teens, he lifted weights and became an enthusiastic hockey player in the days before sports teams got all concerned about protective gear. He was the goalie for La Salle Academy, a Catholic boys’ high school in Providence, and he had the scars to prove it. His Francophone nose, already a prominent feature, caught a puck at least once, and the filling in his chipped front tooth fell out periodically for the rest of his life.

An even greater passion than hockey was drumming in La Salle’s “big band” with George Masso, who later played with the famous Jimmy Dorsey Band. They also played at all of the dance halls in the area, and Walter was headed toward a big career in music.

Near the end of high school, Walter was hanging out with all of the cool kids at the soda shop in Esmond. He was quite a sharp dresser, and Margaret swooned when she saw that he smoked a pipe. “He was so mature!” He was seventeen and she was fifteen when he asked her out for their first date. Her parents were dubious.

Margaret’s cousin, Dot Plant, came to her rescue. “Oh, Aunt Peggy,” she exclaimed, “Let her go out with him. He’s such a great dancer.” As a mother myself now, I cannot imagine why that would be a quality that a mother would appreciate in her daughter’s beau, but I’m so glad that my grandmother did.

Family 5: Joseph Patrick

Glowing softly from the recesses of my memory is a tableau of my great-grandfather and his son, my great-Uncle Francis, standing in their home. They were Irish immigrants straight out of Central Casting: rugged, worn men in belted trousers and tank undershirts. Joseph Patrick Kelly is the man who gave my family its name, and whenever I see a movie with early twentieth-century Irish toughs, I think, “These are my people.”

Joseph was a quiet man who never cursed or even raised his voice, but when the Red Sox lost a game, he’d throw the radio out the window. His wife had given birth to a daughter and four sons, then died young, but Joseph lived to be 92 and never remarried, choosing to raise the children by himself. Like everyone else, he worked at Esmond Mill, but he had a bit of land and did some farming on the side. He told the story of how he once caught a fly ball off of Tris Speaker at Fenway Park, but you know how the Irish love to spin a tale.

Great-Uncle Francis was the fourth child, and he always liked to stay at home until the day he fell in love and decided to marry. The morning after the wedding, he realized that he didn’t want to live anywhere else, so he moved back in with his father. Perhaps his agoraphobia allowed him to work and farm a bit, but otherwise, he stayed in the house. Fortunately, that seemed to have no impact on his marital bliss, since he and his wife maintained separate households but managed to have three children. My mother told me this story when I was a young teen, and I clearly remember the outrage in her voice. It was deliciously scandalous, to be sure, but I felt proud of them even back then. These two fragile, shattered people pushed through the shame and built a love that was more Antoni Gaudí than Abraham Levitt, while the village looked on and clutched their collective pearls.

Joseph Patrick, Jr., was the second child and the first son. Before he went to school each morning, he cared for the cows and drove the farm truck around delivering the milk. There were no age limits on driving in those days, at least for farm vehicles. He played the tuba and inherited his father’s passion for the Red Sox. By the time he was an older teenager, though, Joe had become an excellent dancer and had a reputation for being what we might call a bit of a player. On Saturday nights, you could always find him at the Esmond Dance Hall. Why would a ladies’ man like Joe take notice of a prim and proper young lady like Mathilda? I’ll bet she could dance.

Family 4: Mathilda

Since she was the twelfth of the fourteen children in her family, Mathilda often found herself playing piano so that her older brothers and sisters could dance with their sweethearts and spouses. Her father, Barthélémi-Joseph Martineau, had been married twice, first to the scandalously named Salomée, who was her oldest six siblings’ mother, and then to her mother, Laura, who already had three children by her first marriage when she met Barthélémi. Mathilda was the first child born in the United States, in the mill town of Smithfield, Rhode Island. Her mother was a school teacher, so Mathilda was very well educated, having completed school all the way to the sixth grade, and she continued to be a great reader and a very refined woman all of her life.

The Martineaus had an illustrious family tree. Mathilda’s grandmother was Léocadie Martel, who was a descendant of Charles Martel, grandfather of the emperor Charlemagne and victor of the Battle of Tours in A.D. 732, which kept all of Europe from speaking Arabic, at least for a while. Centuries later, Mathilda’s Martineau ancestor, Martin Prévost, married Marie-Olivier-Silvestre Manitouabewich on November 3, 1644, in Québec, in the first French and Native American marriage in North America. Mathilda’s cousin, Sir Wilfred Laurier, was the first Prémier of Canada. Despite these exalted forebears, when Mathilda was eight years old, her father moved the family to Esmond to work in the textile mills there, along with many other French-Canadian immigrants.

One of the young people’s favorite places was the Esmond Dance Hall, provided by the owner of the village mill. Mathilda and her family loved to dance, so they often made their way to the hall on the weekends. Naturally, it was a wonderful way to meet new people, and it seems that even back then, the nice girls always fell for the bad boys.

Family 3: Margaret

In the 1930s, the whole world seemed to be suffering. People everywhere were poor, and in Europe, the leaders were beginning to fear that the War to End All Wars would not, in fact, live up to its name. But life in the tiny New England mill village called Esmond was small and safe. Margaret grew up walking all over town and riding her bicycle with her friends. She was not the only daughter of immigrants. Her friend Josephine Infantino tried hard to avoid walking near her house, since every time her Sicilian mother spotted them, she would rush out with a glass of milk and a handful of olives. Evidently, she worried that Josie was burning too many calories and would starve before she came in for the evening. Josie would obediently drink the milk, hand the glass back to her mother, and then take the olives, promising to eat them as she walked. As soon as they were out of sight, Margaret would take the olives from her and gobble them down. Josephine hated olives, and her mother always made her eat them. Margaret loved olives, and her family never served them.

Young people in those days often went out after breakfast and came home just in time for dinner. Parents didn’t start worrying until then. In Esmond, the place to swim was in the mill pond, that is, the water in the reservoir for use by the textile mill. They laughed and jumped into the water for hours, casually avoiding the turbines beneath the surface. When they tired of swimming, they would play hide and seek in the warehouse, where the huge bales of wool were kept before they were made into fabric. Margaret and her friends would burrow as far as they could into the wool so that they would not be found. After they were married, her husband told her that the mill employed men whose only job was to kill the gigantic rats that infested the mill warehouse. This is why we say that the Lord looks after fools and children.

During this time, Peggy was often sick, and had taken to wearing her bathrobe all day and complaining constantly. This grieved Margaret greatly, since her mother already spoke with an embarrassing Scottish brogue, and now she was not acting respectable, like her Aunt Vera and the other ladies she knew who kept their houses spic and span and washed their floors in sturdy high heels. After one such spell of ill health, her mother was finally well enough to go out with her father, and when her parents arrived back home, they found Margaret stuck on the stairway where she had been trying to move a bed back upstairs, where she felt it belonged. She had maneuvered it into such a spot that she could neither move backward nor forward, and had been waiting to be rescued for quite some time.

After many years, Peggy was diagnosed with gallstones, and after having her gallbladder removed, she spent most of her life in cheerful good health. When Margaret later experienced gallstones in her sixties, she never complained until the moment she said, “Call 911. I’m having a heart attack.” And that was pretty much the pattern for her whole life, all stemming from a repugnance that she developed as a child toward people who complain about ailments.

On the other hand, Peggy was deeply devoted to her daughter in her own way. One day during Margaret’s teen years, her mother came home from Centredale, the nearest town with decent shopping, and presented Margaret with a new pair of shoes. Since money was scarce, gratitude was the expected response for any new item of clothing—or even decent meals, for that matter. Add to that Peggy’s Scottish frugality, and new purchases were An Event. However, she could see from the expression on Margaret’s face that she was not pleased. She knew that her daughter and her friends went to the movies and exclaimed over all those glamorous movie stars that they saw on the screen. When her mother demanded an explanation, Margaret meekly admitted, “Well, Ma, they’re just so old-fashioned.” Peggy exploded into a fury, chasing a screeching Margaret around the kitchen table with shoe in hand, excoriating her for being so ungrateful, and finally cracking her over the head with the well-made heel. She then packed up the inadequate shoes and boarded the bus back to Centredale to buy her something more fashionable. What did she know about fashion? She was a Glaswegian factory girl, and her daughter was a beautiful American teenager.

For his part, Archie always loved a crowd. He kept a drawer full of candy by his bedside, supposedly for the kids, but also for his own sweet tooth. Sometimes, when the other adults went out for the evening, he preferred to stay with the little ones. When Margaret came home exclaiming that one of her friends had a television set, he could not bear the thought that his beloved daughter and all of her friends would be spending their time somewhere else. Without telling anyone, he marched down to the store and brought home the huge piece of furniture containing a phonograph and the little screen that flickered black-and-white images from New York City right into their living room! Now he could rejoice in the sounds of giggly teenagers, playing records and dancing to the sound of the Big Bands.

At about this time, all over America, many immigrants began changing their family names in order to sound less foreign. Although most of those families were of German descent, Archie decided that he needed to change their name, also. He took his father’s French surname, Boucher, pronounced “boo-shay,” and changed it to Boushee, pronounced “bushy.” War was marching toward America.