I’m Giving Yellowstone Another Chance

It isn’t the first time I’ve come across this term — flyover country — but I have to pause and really think about its meaning. When I do that, I realize that it’s not a very flattering descriptor; in fact, it can be seen as dismissive, even disrespectful, as if the spaces labeled as such are somehow insignificant, not worthy of visiting.

And that’s what its meaning suggests. Here’s the surprising thing, though — when the term was first used, in 1980 (according to the Oxford Dictionary), it was in the context of self-identification. The writer Thomas McGuane, a native Michigander, portrayed his adopted state of Montana as “flyover country” in an Esquire article about landscape artist Russell Chatham, fellow Montanan.

It is unlikely that McGuane foresaw how durable his expression would become, but he was earnest in his desire to convey a particular sentiment representative of people living in the heartland. And he should know. He grew up in Michigan, was educated there, and despite regular sojourns to each coast’s urban centers, has made Montana his home for several decades. He has spent a lifetime observing not just people, but nature. I’m not prepared to say that McGuane’s cynicism developed after he turned from writing novels to writing screenplays for Hollywood, but it can be said that his reverence for nature’s gifts has been a constant. That it would be McGuane whose name will be forever tethered to a pejorative seems unfortunate.

Approaching the Cascades (I think)

For ten years I’ve regularly done the loooong coast-to-coast flight in order to visit my younger daughter, who lives in Portland, Oregon. On most occasions I take the window seat; it allows me to periodically break up the monotony by studying the landscape below. The middle areas of the country that seem particularly devoid of concentrated activity always excite a sense of wonder — what would it be like to live in this part of the country? When I observe a land surface that has the appearance of an enormous, fleecy blanket draped over a mysterious jumble of objects of varying sizes, I’m curious, how close is the nearest home? The nearest farmers’ market? When I finally do catch movement — a car or truck, likely, traveling along a slim thread of lonely road — it reinforces that initial wonder.

I’m not what you would call well-traveled. I’ve been to Europe, Central America, a couple of places in the eastern provinces of Canada, several places up and down the East Coast, and — of course — the Pacific Northwest. It would seem that I’ve only ever picked away at the edges, never experienced the wide open spaces of our country’s interior. Part of it has to do with my supposed need to be within striking distance of an ocean. When you fly from the east coast to the west, it takes a while before the distances between urban areas grow so great that you sense a real shift, as if you should fully expect to have your passport handy were you to land somewhere below. As the plane passes over North Dakota, then Montana, it’s impossible to ignore the physical contrast between what is rolling out beneath you and the tightly arranged communities on either coast. I find it humbling. It’s also a reminder of the foreignness — to me — of so much of our country.

All of this current reflection would not have come to pass if not for a decision I made a couple weeks ago. I’m going to give Yellowstone another chance, I vowed. I watched Season 1 a year ago, and then promptly pitched the remote across the room and thought, what a horrible bunch of creatures. Even the ones who seem decent or innocent become poisoned by their association with the Duttons. There may be one exception — Walker, who, soon after being condemned to servitude at the Yellowstone, remarks about the aura of evil that pervades the ranch. (As I begin Season 2, I hold out the slimmest of hopes that he’s incorruptible.)

I plowed through Season 1 again, and felt that same urge to sling the remote across the room. I want to understand, however, why Yellowstone persists as one of TV’s most popular drama series. I’m filled with questions: Do viewers hang on the desperate hope that, sooner or later, these vile characters will reveal traces of humanity? Is it instead our need for validation that there are depraved people out there (maybe even entire communities), but we are not like that? Does it instead have something to do — at least marginally — with the derisive attitude that people in the heartland have toward the “coastal elites”? (The unfavorable portrayal of them is unmistakable.) Or is it the yearning to experience — even if indirectly — the majesty and breathtaking beauty of Big Sky country? Maybe it’s the wish to make sense of the cowboy lifestyle, unveil the mystique? (I do love the idea that the show employs authentic cowboy actors.)

Because I want to be proven wrong — I want Walker to resist the evil that he knows surrounds the ranch, and I want Jimmy not to be so needy (to the point that he loses all remaining vestiges of innocence) — I’m giving Yellowstone this second chance. . . even if it means subjecting myself to Beth Dutton, a specimen of pure evil if ever there was one.

Am I wrong?

Sources (for background on origin of “flyover country”, and Thomas McGuane):

One Less Bird Outside My Window

As a homeowner who maintains several bird feeders, I have to be okay with the divine concept that we call the circle of life. It doesn’t mean that I don’t ascribe my own pecking order based on my own preferences. Regardless of nature’s order of assignments on the food chain, if one animal depends for survival on another animal as food source, it doesn’t engender my sense of fondness for the predator. More than once on a walk around my neighborhood, I’ve spotted a Cooper’s hawk ambush one of the more popular feeding stations. I automatically “feel bad” for the small birds and deem the hawk a “bully”. I know it’s illogical, and frequent reminders to myself that it’s all the natural order of things makes no bit of difference.

All of the turbulence in my life these days seems to erupt when I step outside my front door. The other night, just as dusk was settling in, I opened my front door to take Mona and Bowie out for a potty break. I’m overly twitchy, I admit, since Mona’s escape earlier in the week. I had both on a taut leash and was looking down at them and the three stairs that we were to descend somehow as a body of one and in one fluid motion. It was in that paused interval that a little bird swooped around us and aimed for the barberry bush two feet away. Literally hot on its tail was a hawk. Before the small bird was able to reach safety deep in the barberry, the hawk plunged into the bush, and grabbed him with his lethal talons. Within the bush, a ferocious flapping of wings (both birds?) ensued for a brief five seconds or so, and the hawk flew off with his prize.

The disturbing melee rendered the three of us immobile as we tried to make sense of it. Mona and Bowie, of course, were then ready to explore the barberry bush. In fact, their curiosity was so great that I failed to redirect them for our particular visit outside. While I tugged on their leashes and issued pathetic verbal pleas, my own anguish only increased. I convinced myself that had I not stepped outside at the very moment the little bird was hoping to fly a direct path to the barberry, he would have managed to elude the hawk. In flight, generally speaking, the little bird has the advantage over the hawk, who cannot pivot mid-air quite as well. I had sent him into the direct flight path of the hawk. Such was my reasoning.

I cannot swear that the hawk was a Cooper’s hawk — perhaps it was a sharp-shinned hawk or a northern goshawk — but judging by his reckless diving into a barberry bush, it’s evident that it was some type of accipiter.* These are not the hawks that you see gliding in lazy circular trajectories high above. Instead, their stealth involves well-camouflaged perches and lightning quick ambush. In our case, the direction of flight for both prey and predator suggested that the small bird — likely a sparrow — was startled at our feeder station, and attempted to reach the safety of the spiny network of branches that the barberry provided.

I consider one final note of irony in this circle of life story. One day, just a couple months ago, I got out my pruners and determined to scale back the overgrown and unruly barberry. I can only describe my relationship with it as one of deep animosity. If you’ve ever gotten one of its barbs as a splinter, you’ll understand. As I raised my arms to part the branches and assess which ones should be culled, I surprised three or four birds who had been sitting quietly deep inside it. I instantly withdrew, but they flew off, anyway. From that time, I’ve found it impossible to clip any of those branches despite my displeasure over a landscape element that is too prickly for my liking. I’ve been much more conscious of its tenants these days; depending on the time of day, if you stand quietly and peer through it, you can see — and occasionally hear — the birds hopping around within. It’s a sight that makes me happy. At the same time, it does present me with a quandary, one that I’ll have to sort out, probably in a couple months.

You have 5 seconds to spot two little birds in the barberry bush.

It’s difficult to accept that hawks are not the villains in this story. I make the mistake, however, of equating it with something that resembles a David and Goliath clash, where the bigger adversary is naturally corrupt or bad, and the innate goodness of the small contestant evokes sympathy. We therefore pull for the lil’ guy. Whether my timing was simply unfortunate — one second earlier or later making all the difference — in the end, it’s all part of the natural order of that thing we call Life. I have no choice but to accept it.

~

*It was a remarkable spectacle. The (presumed) sparrow dove into the barberry with practiced skill — he, no doubt, had done that many times before. The hawk pitched into it with complete abandon. It occurred to me that a split-second calculation of risk had taken place. Later investigation online brought me to an oft-quoted 2002 study conducted by the Raptor Research Foundation: “Incidence of Naturally Healed Fractures in the Pectoral Bones of North American Accipiters“. A couple of interesting take-aways for me were that (1) woodland hawks — such as the Cooper’s Hawk, the Sharp-shinned Hawk, and the Northern Goshawk — are famously impervious to risk, and (2) just under 70% die not from natural causes, but from encounters with man-made objects. In that same 2002 study (cited also here), scientific examination of Cooper’s Hawk skeletons indicated that 23% of them had evidence of healed-over fractures of the pectoral bones. I’d say they’re some kind of crazy.

Sources:

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Coopers_Hawk/overview

Canine Contrition

“I think I’m going to throw up.”

It was the first thing I said to my daughter Megan after I arrived on foot back to our driveway. Mona, once again shackled, stopped behind me; her demeanor was one of contrition. Megan put her Jeep in “park” and then commented, “I feel the same way.”

It so happens that our house, situated in a former pasture, is a hot spot for deer. We’ve lived here for 24 years, and it’s pretty obvious to us that it’s on one of their well-traveled corridors. Depending on how readily available natural food sources are, they will wend their way from our neighbors’ woods, cross our private road and either approach to graze close to the house or steer further away and feast on our bordering arborvitae. With fruit trees lining our road, there’s plenty to nourish them in our little neighborhood and few predators to cause them real concern.

It was the last “potty break” for the night when I stepped outside with both dogs. I always keep Bowie’s leash taut, but I allow slack in Mona’s. She’s the “good child”. Before I had even completely closed the door, she shot off the steps, and gaining just enough traction, her body snapped around at the end of the leash. If I had had more than a mili-second to think, I would have released the leash. I didn’t, and her body shot out of her collar; with her own gift of a mili-second, she honed in on the four deer across the road. Given her superb sense of smell and her better-than-human sense of sight, she had precise coordinates. I heard rather than saw her make a beeline for them.

I pursued Mona after having handed a psychotic Bowie off to Megan. Galloping across my lawn, the road, and into Pam’s yard, my rising panic stifled my will to curse the fact that I hadn’t laced up my L.L. Bean perfectly-suitable-for-snow boots. The flapping footwear slowed me slightly, and until I could get Mona in my sights (with the flashlight that Megan had hastily handed me in the Bowie-for-flashlight exchange), I was bound to completely spiral in my thoughts. I had only suspected that the deer were close by, as it was very much in keeping with their visiting hours, and the level of canine excitement suggested that the deer were nearby. Either that, or Pam’s semi-feral cat Louie was lurking. (Highly unlikely that late in the day, however; Louie was his most predatory early morning; I often see him strutting back home with his trophies before I’ve even had my morning coffee.) It really is remarkable how many thoughts can run, end-to-end and piling up on each other, through the mind of someone in full panic mode. The first thought to ambush me was that a coyote had darted out of the woods and grabbed her. By the time my flashlight had found Mona, sitting motionless about 20 feet away from the four calmly staring deer, I had convinced myself that I would find her lifeless body, having been kicked in the head by one of the deer, or — even worse, I think — she’d be nowhere in sight.

When my flashlight picked up the glitter of two little eyes, I was overcome with relief. “I’ve found her!” I yelled back to Megan, who didn’t hear me. She had jumped into her Jeep with Bowie, and was earnestly trying to position the headlights on the space between our house and Pam’s.

With a stern, Sit, Mona!, I approached “the good child” and slid her once more into her collar. Note to self: tighten the collar. Second note to self: resume training for recall and stay.

My panic and subsequent relief had whipped up into a frothy consistency in my stomach, resulting in nausea. Yes, I wanted to throw up.

The Alden Graveyard

High on a hill above the Taunton River in the south section of Bridgewater, Massachusetts sits the tiny, 19th century Alden Graveyard. It also goes by the name of Great Woods Graveyard, which I suspect was a name given in later times, although the name pays homage to the tall, straight white pine trees that were harvested over time for use in the region’s boat-building industry. (The graveyard’s earliest identification on Plymouth County deed transfers had it simply as a “burial lot”.) The graveyard is surrounded by a low, lichen-textured, New England-style stone wall, the kind that was constructed with “two-handers” (boulders that required two hands to carry.) The graveyard had a single, u-shaped carriage drive that would deposit “attendees” at the door of the centrally located Alden tomb. 

The high perch where the graveyard sits is surrounded on three sides by rolling, terraced fields. We knew it as “Titicut Hill”, but there was also a brief and casual reference to another name — “Hill of Sorrow” — because a sachem’s daughter was murdered there, so Mom once claimed. I grew up next to the Alden Graveyard. The lot of land upon which our little home sat was owned in the early 1800’s by the Deacon Asael and his wife Sarah (Alden) Shaw. It was either Sarah’s two brothers — Solomon and Amasa — or, more likely, her father, Solomon, who — along with his son, Amasa — donated one acre of bordering land in the late 1700s for use as a “burying lot”. 

It pains me to admit how much time my siblings and I spent playing among the headstones and upon the central tomb (and — as a fitting punishment — knee-deep in poison ivy that naturally loved the stone walls). If you stood on top of the earth-covered tomb, which in appearance resembled a hobbit home, and faced southwest, you had a sweeping view of rolling, terraced fields.* Beyond the fields, you could see the silvery thread of the Taunton River. Ok, so I want to believe that, but it’s a lie that I had so thoroughly convinced myself of. Bob — and my four other brothers — assure me that you couldn’t see the Taunton.**  It suggests that the forest was working at its own regeneration, spreading outward from the banks to reclaim what it had lost in the prior centuries. 

It can be expected that colonial era graveyards — with their utter lack of adornment — don’t excite interest beyond the occasional visitor. Visitors who, like me, enjoy musing about the somber and strenuous lives of 18th and 19thcentury New Englanders. They’re quiet, reflective places. That is, unless you’re a young girl who allows herself to be talked into entering the tomb. I will never forget the day I foolishly stepped into that dark, dank, silent space. There had to have been an insanely attractive reward offered by one of my brothers. Most likely Chris. I do recall descending at least one or two of the granite steps. (That must have been one of the conditions for my reward.) The heavy metal door was pulled shut and I was alone in the tomb, or “alone” only in the sense that I was the sole breathing person in a room that also housed dead bodies. I pounded and screamed for hours. Once again, that part is untrue. I think I pounded and screamed for five seconds. . . which seemed an interminably long time.

When the fields on the far side of the graveyard were covered with snow, the whole Alden Square neighborhood took to toboggans and skis and saucers and Flexible Flyers for hours of outdoor sledding. Alternatively, and when we needed a more immediate rush, we’d dash over to the graveyard; from the tomb’s summit, we’d either roll our bodies down (doable at any time of year) or — when snow cover allowed — steer our sleds along a twisting path, avoiding (as best we could) the headstones, much as skiers do on alpine courses. Like, very short courses. . . maybe 15-meter. (For those readers who are at this moment cringing, I promise that, as an adult, I’m much more respectful. . . and not as idiotic where it concerns personal safety, but I doubt your thought process ventured so far as to reflect on the hazards to personal well-being.)

For me, it wasn’t all about play, however. I came to know the families who slept quietly there, and would read and re-read the inscriptions and epitaphs. The earliest known owners of our home made that graveyard their final resting place. The Deacon Asael Shaw is truly “rest[ing] from his labors”, having lived to the surprising age of 92. And “resting place” really does have fulsome meaning, for 18th and 19th century folk believed that admission through the pearly gates could only be secured by presentation of a notarized form vouching for a life of hard work, sacrifice, misery, and really plain and uncomfortable “waring appearill”. (I love to insert that expression whenever possible.) 

My fascination with graveyards, as you can imagine, has been a natural outgrowth from having been next-door neighbor to the bones and spirits of colonial era yeomen and the like. I intend to continue cultivating my interest when opportunity permits — if you’ve ever driven with me, you’ll no doubt have seen my head pivot when I spot a tiny graveyard. I only occasionally, however, will respond to the tug to stop and walk around. Maybe it’s because of the residual sense of terror it inspires — what if someone were to shut me in another tomb? Or, maybe it’s because I am too fearful of the day that my own flesh will mingle with the dust. I don’t want to rush things.

~

*By the way, it didn’t pay to take in the north view from Titicut Hill. All those red-brick buildings with bars covering the windows were a disturbing reminder that ours was generally known to the rest of the town as the “prison neighborhood”.

** Bob, bless his little heart, allows me to save face by qualifying his statement; it was possible that one could see the flood waters that would occasionally breach the banks and travel as far the pigeon coops.

Scarlet Fever — A Persistent Worry

Part of this story concerns a topic that has been gently brewing in my mind for over two years. It was given a toe nudge by recent reporting about the proliferation (globally) of cases of scarlet fever.

I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what “iGAS” stands for until a couple weeks ago when I came across an online Wired article that seeks to draw attention to the disturbing uptick in scarlet fever cases. (“The UK Is Enduring an Onslaught of Scarlet Fever. Is the US Next?”) The article itself links to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, where you read a simple message and try not to hyperventilate: “Increase in invasive Group A Strep infections.” Short in length, the message goes on to warn, “iGAS infections include necrotizing fasciitis and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.” It is highly contagious, and often fatal. Sometimes the bacterial toxins associated with the infection move so fast that by the time the sufferer seeks medical relief (in the form of antibiotics), it’s too late. Very scary stuff. I find myself reflecting uncomfortably on those occasions as a child when I suffered with strep throat, but, jeesh, these new bacterial strains are a whole ‘nother thing.

The Wired article presents both a historical view of scarlet fever, even looping in old familiar stories in which the disease afflicts beloved characters (Beth March of Little WomenMary Ingalls in the Little House series, also Boy of The Velveteen Rabbit), as well as the disease’s latter-day machinations. Making much of the fact that scarlet fever never went away, its gradual scaling up the last decade or so (in number of documented cases worldwide) is cause for concern.

It is equally concerning that there’s no systematic method of documentation, nor any reliable means to share. Here in the United States, only ten states participate in a “surveillance” program run by the CDC. (See “Active Bacterial Core Surveillance.”) Further limiting the program’s reach and effectiveness is the fact that unless the person stricken with illness is admitted to a hospital, the data is not collected. 

The obvious controversy is that data collection may be seen to infringe on individual privacy rights. That’s a legitimate worry. How, then, do we discern trends and patterns, a contagion’s migratory behaviors, and still preserve our rights to privacy? On a micro level, when a doctor (or a nurse) enters into a patient’s chart their diagnosis, along with the list of patient symptoms, in my mind, a breach has already occurred, regardless of how “trusting” the relationship may be that a patient has with their physician. . . and nurses. . . and technicians. . . and front-end staff. . . and — gosh — any hackers who might illegally access patient records. I imagine that if a patient had an objection to their doctor’s inputting of data — weight, height, blood pressure, complaints, diagnosis, whether they feel safe at home — they probably wouldn’t even be visiting the doctor’s office in the first place. No clinician would agree, either, to see a patient who won’t allow data to be gathered. Is there a way, then, that relevant data (surrounding contagions) can be harnessed by a central databank without violating personal privacy? Not surprisingly, I haven’t any answers.

Invisible Killers of the 19th Century

Eliza (Buswell) Coffin must have gasped in horror when one of her children came to her complaining of a sore throat that first week of January back in 1863. It was less about the throat than the angry rash on eight-year-old Caleb’s skin that gave flight to her blossoming dread. At the time, her husband, Samuel Coffin — the well-known boatbuilder of Rings Island — was off doing his part to save the Union in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (He would endure his own private anguish a couple months later when his younger brother with whom he had enlisted — John — died there of “congestive chills”, likely malaria.) In a matter of two weeks, Eliza stood helplessly by as one by one three of her five children died, all from scarlet fever.

Mid-19th century was, of course, still a time of antiquated thinking, at least in terms of people’s understanding of human health; in particular, their understanding of disease. Louis Pasteur’s “Germ Theory” was just beginning to excite curiosity among the medical establishment, but any observable progress wouldn’t happen for several decades. And antibiotics, the miracle treatment, wouldn’t become available until the 1940’s. Thus, when one looks at town reporting of deaths from that time, it might startle to see how many people died of bacterial diseases, such as diphtheria, consumption, typhus, dysentery, scarlet fever, chronic diarrhea, and cholera (and — with similar symptoms affecting only young children — cholera infantum). Of course, there’s the occasional “dropped on his head” mention, but from our enlightened 21st century perch, we’re left to wonder why it took so long for scientists to draw the connection between illness and “invasive bodies” that can only be detected by means of a microscope (something that had been invented at least as early as the 1600’s.) So little did doctors understand the causes behind illness that they naturally made judgments based entirely on symptoms. “Cause of death”, therefore, always must be treated with a grain of salt when perusing death records from throughout the 19th century. (Perhaps not as baffling was the lengthy delay on the part of the public to accept scientific wisdom; we need look no further than our own communities today to witness the skepticism with which new scientific findings are treated. Because we are unable, for example, to see how all the recent variants of the COVID virus are spreading, mutating, and jumping species, many of us remain unconvinced of their lethality, even their very presence.)

I admit to a morbid fascination with death. Plagues and poxes unnerve me, but they do also electrify my curiosity. When I do my genealogical research, I can find plenty to capture my interest just by reading death certificates. One great-great-grandfather, Patrick McKenna, whose peripatetic journey took him from County Monaghan, Ireland to the textile mills of Glasgow, Scotland, then to various mill cities of New England; survived into his 70’s after decades of factory employment. (Spotty record, that one had — he couldn’t manage to hold onto any job for long. Rather a tragic figure.) It appears he died at the Tewksbury Almshouse, with cause of death determined to be “pthisis”, aka consumption, more commonly known these days as tuberculosis. Another great-great-grandfather, James Loughnane, died much younger (in his 30’s) from — yet again — consumption. He, too, had been a mill worker whose (short) life story read a lot like Patrick’s. 

The Buswells of Mudnock Road

Closer to home — literally — my interest at the moment has turned to Eliza (Buswell) Coffin because of a study I freely undertook a couple years ago on a house that I see from several windows of my own home. I’m not a creepy stalker, but my interest was instantly sparked when I heard someone make passing reference to an ancient intra-family feud, simultaneously gesturing toward the “William Buswell” home. (Actually, one of two “William Buswell” homes that sit only yards apart on Mudnock Road.)

If you stand on Mudnock Road at the top of (and facing) Niko Way, the home that sits on the right corner, at 34 Mudnock Road, is the newer Buswell home, built in 1780. (Its twin was built 50 years earlier and gives the appearance of having been more loved — or at least cared for — through the years.) The “newer” Buswell home stands on the original 2-acre homestead lot of Isaac Buswell (laid out in 1639 as part of the First Division of Settlers). The federal-style “double house” has a brick wall running right down the center of it that serves as a physical signpost of the acrimonious relationship that developed between two brothers, Walker and Jacob Buswell, soon after the hammers and saws ceased their racket. (It is quite possible that Walker was the one to erect the dividing wall, as, in addition to being a yeoman/farmer, he was a bricklayer.)

“Deacon John” Buswell, seven years before he died in 1783, thought he was doing a good deed. He had ample personal property and real estate holdings, but lots of children — nine, in fact. (The Buswells appear to have been prolific reproducers.) He outlined carefully in his will who should inherit what. His language was clear: along with his lot of marsh in the meadow and half of this and half of that lot (he really did have a finger in every pie), Walker should have the “easterly part of my homestead. . . my shoemaker’s shop. . . and my hog house.” To Jacob, The Deacon bequeathed the westerly side of the homestead and his (other) dwelling house, as well as the other half of this and the other half of that lot.

It has been my opinion — after reading and re-reading his document — that, as careful and thorough as The Deacon had been, as aware as he was of his own substantial holdings, he misjudged the character of the two sons who were expected to “play nice together” and share. For over thirty years, the two brothers occupied the home, Walker and his family on the east end, Jacob and his family on the west end. They both lived into their 80’s; Walker died in 1817, Jacob in 1822. The record provides us with no evidence that fraternal harmony ultimately prevailed. Going forward, the language of their titled properties became complex and is clear about “passing” and “re-passing” rights where it concerns access to the well, the barn, the shoe shop, etc. Meanwhile, their brother Caleb — jauntily sporting the “wearing appearill” left to him by Dad — went merrily about his way, tending the Chester, New Hampshire farm bequeathed to him (and raising a brood of ten — all sons).

Walker, for all the headaches that co-ownership posed, inexplicably died intestate. . . and with debt to be settled. His interest in the easterly half of the home was bought out at auction by his 20-year-old grandson, John Walker Buswell. Then, in 1825, John Walker paid Caleb Pike Jr. $700 for property that included the westerly side of the house; the home, going forward, would be known as the “J.W. Buswell Home”. In that way, any embryonic references to the “Otis Pike Home” became moot.

Eliza was one of five girls born to John Walker and Nancy (Walton) Buswell, their fifth child (of eight.) Her choice of husband was likely based on sound reasoning. After all, the Coffins of Rings Island were solid people. Long-time ship builders in a ship-building village. There were lots of Coffins on Rings Island. The Mudnock Road Buswells — yeomen, mostly — were, likewise, solid people. There were lots of Buswells on Mudnock Road. The union of the two powerhouse families held great promise.

Epidemics, with their seemingly mysterious origins and movements, have beleaguered and bewildered communities since time immemorial. It should be here noted, however, that 1863 was an especially bad year for Salisbury in terms of mortality. The number of deaths — 89 — was more than double the deaths recorded the year before for our small town. Thirty-seven of the reported deaths (or 42%) were of children and infants (ages 0-17). Of that number, seven were victims of scarlet fever. As noted, three of the seven were Eliza and Samuel’s small children.

It is a belief held by some that families of earlier times became so accustomed to the beckoning finger of the grim reaper that they were inclined to adopt a dispassionate attitude toward death. If you read epitaphs from headstones for children who died in the 1800’s, you come away with a different perspective. While “heavy clod” and “arms of God” seem fitting for someone who died in their 86th year, and “mouldering bones” is perhaps apt for any adult who has passed on, the epitaphs for children are much more touching expressions that suggest real grief, even foundering defenselessness against baffling forces. As one example, in the Great Woods Cemetery in Bridgewater, next to the house I grew up in, one of the epitaphs for a child who died at age 6 reads: “Nature has but soft powerful bands, And reason she controls; While children with their little hands, Hang closest to our souls.” We see, then, that as much as 19th century New England families looked to their bibles for consolation and guidance, they grieved just as deeply as we do now upon the death of a loved one, especially a child.*

~

For two years the imagined grief of Eliza (Buswell) Coffin has resided as a slow simmer in the back of my mind. All the while (and after) I researched the Buswell home, the nearness of which reminds me of a mute, doddering forebear; I’ve wondered how she weathered her crisis in 1863. After losing three of their five children, Eliza and Samuel had two more. In one way or another, all the descendants wove their lives into the fabric of the river- and ocean-side communities of Rings Island and Newburyport. Thus, it’s impossible in current times to uncouple the Coffin name from the history of Rings Island.** 

After a bit of searching, I was able to discover a photo of Eliza. As much as I had been hoping to see an image of her as a young woman, this one, at least, is a close-up — a good one, at that — so one is able to see fine details.*** In the photo, which appears in a direct descendant’s published history (The Coffin Family of Rings Island by Cynthia C. Wildes, great-granddaughter of Eliza and Samuel), Eliza is an old woman. She appears to be looking slightly up and to the left of the camera; it causes her to have a far-away look. The lines on her face read like a city map, and I wonder if they’re caused by a vigorous life of hard work (outdoors?), or from a lifetime of internalizing painful experiences. Her white hair, vaguely wavy, is center-parted and carefully but simply coifed, tucked behind her ears and fastened snuggly. She appears serene and self-contained, but also exudes confidence — she is sure of her place in this world. Do I detect, though, a hint of sadness in her expression? Perhaps. Or, perhaps, I should read it simply as weariness. I decide to tuck this mental image in a quiet corner of my memory. I want to remember Eliza (Buswell) Coffin, even though I never met her — she was, after all, born nearly two hundred years ago, and lived in an era that persists in confounding me, try as I might to make sense of it. I want to remember her because of the connection I have made between her childhood home and the home I own, which, once upon a time, was part of the Buswell homestead lot. It’s more than conceivable that her little feet scampered across the same yard that is now my yard. Like most people who are interested in the past, I seek the common elements that bind me to events and people who lived before.

~

*One way that mothers could express their sense of loss was by keeping close to their heart (in an ornamental locket) a tuft of hair snipped from their departed child. Another common practice from Victorian times that today we view with curiosity (maybe even unease) was the fashioning of jewelry out of hair, and not necessarily from a dead person; just as often from a good (living-breathing) friend. In a National Geographic article by Becky Little, “Trendy Victorian-Era Jewelry Was Made From Hair”, Karen Bachman of the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, NY puts it this way, “Women of the 19th century would swap locks of hair as a love token the way young girls today might wear friendship bracelets.” The hair could be fashioned into earrings or pendants. The popularity of “hair art” owes to its enduring qualities — hair takes a long time to decay — and because, as Bachman points out, “it’s a very personal indicator of self.” 

~

**Lincoln Coffin, born in 1864, will make a cameo appearance in a separate story, one that caused a surprised “Oh!” in my research of the long-time residence of the Salisbury Historical Society on Second Street. (Keep an eye out for that as a future blog post.)

~

***I had been trying to secure permission to include the image as part of this story, but determining the person or concern that currently holds the copyright is a frustrating exercise.

Corner Elm, School and Mudnock — A Brief History

This essay is probably only of interest to my fellow Salisbury citizens. . . and maybe a smattering of other people who like small town history.

Here’s an interesting question that many will quickly answer (but, as confident as you may be, you’ll be wrong): What restaurant chain — ubiquitous in New England along its most traveled roads — became known for its 28 flavors of ice cream and its color palette of white, turquoise blue, and orange; and boasted a large windmill at its entrance

If you answered “Howard Johnson’s”, you wouldn’t be far from the mark because Howard Johnson had bought out nearly the entire chain by 1940. “Dutchland Farms” dairy stores (using only Grade A milk for their ice cream) and restaurants began popping up on our “highways” in the late 1920’s. They were the brainchild of Fred Forest Field, a dairy farmer and shoe manufacturer of Brockton, Massachusetts. 

While I hesitate to say that Field had just the right amount of privilege to be able to engage in risky ventures with utter insouciance, he did manage to live comfortably and had a supportive family (especially his older brother Daniel, who brought him on as a partner in at least one of his shoe factories.) Fred’s father ran a large and successful dairy farm, for which Fred drove a milk wagon as one of his earliest jobs. No doubt it was while he was engaged in this work that his energetic imagination took flight with the future possibilities. And much later, while out motoring one day in 1912 in West Falmouth, Massachusetts — not too far from his summer home at Monument Beach, he came upon a Dutch windmill, and determined to buy it. The windmill had been constructed over 100 years earlier by Dutch settlers, so its pedigree provided assurance that it would endure. It didn’t hurt that a one-ton stone mill came with the package, and Fred intended to put it to use grinding corn on his family farm — Dutchland Farms — in the Montello section of Brockton, Massachusetts.

Why I suggest that Fred Field had great imagination is because he could envision in those early days of automobiles a need for accessible pit stops, first for ice cream and farm and dairy products, and (soon after) for simple lunch fare.  It was a natural way to expand on the profitability of his already lucrative dairy farm. The first Dutchland Farms ice cream stands began to appear in 1928, and by 1933, there were at least 50 roadside stands in the region. 

In Salisbury, construction began in early 1933 at the juncture of Elm Street, School Street, and Mudnock Road — right where our public library stands. At that point in time, the unimproved property belonged to Frank V. Brown of Newburyport. (Brown, who was married to Jacob F. Spalding’s daughter Louise, ran the Brown Jewelry Co. in Newburyport for several decades.) The dairy store and ice cream stand in Salisbury would boast the Dutchland Farms name and would be managed by Fred Kennedy of Natick. Brown entered into an indenture agreement with Kennedy in January of 1933, leasing the land to him for four years (with the option to make improvements to the land and erect a business for the purpose of selling dairy products; Kennedy also was given the option to buy out Brown in exchange for $4,000.)

Kennedy never did exercise his right to buy the land. While the property remained in the Brown name until the 1950’s, the various victualers who enticed hungry motorists to their restaurants at that location present a steady and diverse stream of business models. Fred Lupus engaged in extensive repairs in 1936, opening his “Dairy Kitchen” in the spring of that year. By the mid-1940’s, however, management had shifted once again, this time to the business duo of Nicholas DeLuka of Medford and Peter A. Rais, WW2 veteran of Somerville. DeLuka and Rais had worked together in the restaurant business before the war; they called their business the Sheraton Farm Restaurant, continuing fountain service while also enticing hungry travelers with “choice and good dinners”. 

Fred Field’s Dutchland Farms franchise stumbled badly during the Depression, while its most direct competitor —Howard Johnson — was able to steer a steady course through the trying times. By 1940, all the Dutchland Farms restaurants had either closed or been purchased by a proprietor, with the remainder being acquired by Howard Johnson. As part of the arrangement, Howard Johnson appropriated the white, blue, and orange color scheme and the “28 flavors of ice cream”, but Field’s emotional attachment to the windmill that was commonly used as a roof or entry feature must have been well-known within the family, for his son (or whoever was at the helm in 1940 — Fred Sr. had passed away in 1934) refused to allow Johnson to use it for his Howard Johnson restaurants.

Back in Salisbury, meanwhile, the building at the juncture of Elm, School, and Mudnock continued to be occupied by restaurateurs. Briefly, it was The Rainbow Restaurant, run by Earle Sanders. The grand opening, from June 30 – July 5, 1950, hoped to entice patrons by advertising “inspired cooking” by Jim Bevins, “noted chef from the North Shore.” (Newburyport Daily News, June 30, 1950) (Earle and Paul Sanders, brothers, could trace a direct line back to an early settler of Salisbury, John Sanders. As an interesting aside, the saltbox that stands at 1 Mudnock Rd. returned to the family in 2004, after a 352-year absence. The original owner, John Sanders, sold it in 1652. It would take the indefatigable enthusiasm and tenacity of 12th generation direct descendent Paul to bring this happy occasion about.) 

In the spring of 1952, aggressive renovation once again preceded the opening of a new restaurant, “Stromberg’s, Famous for Sea Foods”. The name would have been instantly recognized by those who were familiar with Frank Stromberg’s other restaurant in Salem “at the Beverly Bridge”. Stromberg didn’t just own the business and the building; he held the deed to the land — the first time in 30 years that the land had passed hands. After only two years, however, Stromberg closed the seafood restaurant and sold the building and its contents to a Mr. Charles Hobbs — who proceeded to remove everything off the lot. Stromberg sold the corner lot itself to the Town of Salisbury. Had he found the competition too formidable among the restaurants in the area who likewise offered seafood? Browsing a June edition of the Newburyport Daily News, one sees advertisements for Marston’s at the High Road bridge in Newburyport (a restaurant that originally was a dance hall with vaudeville shows; in 1952 patrons could either take out or dine in), the Lighthouse Grill on Plum Island Point (specializing in clams and seafood, and offering fountain service, as well), The Beachcomber on P.I. Turnpike (the best clams in Essex County, you could order pie, too!), Stonie’s (at the airport); and in Salisbury itself, Clarke’s Seafood (right on Bridge Rd.) and the Little Red Barn (a restaurant serving southern bbq fare, but where you could also order a lobster roll). 

Did it chaff, too, that a Howard Johnson restaurant sat smug and righteous just up the street at the Seabrook circle (where the Town Hall now stands)? Perhaps not. The Dutchland Farms name had by this point in time largely receded in memory — even if each successive restaurant’s grand opening at the corner of Elm, School, and Mudnock made nostalgic references to their earliest forebear. To appreciate how starkly different the trajectories were for Fred Field’s Dutchland Farms and Howard Johnson, by 1952 there were 355 Howard Johnson restaurants ranging along the eastern seaboard. With ambitious plans to expand westward — the early 1950’s encompassed a hopeful era for those wishing to capitalize on the explosion of American mobility — Howard Johnson boasted that they sold more fried clams and hotdogs than any other restaurant chain. (Newburyport Daily News, Sep. 29, 1952)

1954 represented a pivotal moment for the one-acre lot at the corner of Elm, School, and Mudnock. There would be no more restaurants. Instead, the Town had designs for a new library. Initially (in 1954), voters rejected at Town Meeting a proposal to buy the lot and build a new library. A re-worded proposal the following year narrowed the focus: voters were subsequently asked to support the Town purchasing the lot. . . with the ultimate aim to build a new library. Baby steps, I wager, made for a more palatable statement of vision. In June, 1956, ground was broken for the new library. 

And three decades later, the library needs of the Town were once again of great concern.  Dedicated space for meetings, quiet study areas, and general building upgrades became the fuel for battle cries, and so trustees engaged in a prolonged campaign. It would take until May of 2013 for voters to approve a $7.4 million project, half of the funds being promised through state grants. The beautiful building that now stands at the corner of Elm, School, and Mudnock makes a proud statement. It takes effort — at least to this perennial Salisbury neophyte — to imagine an era when cars filled with family would pull up and park, kids spilling out and galloping headlong through the doors to satisfy ferocious hunger pains. . . right at that very same site.  

Fred Field may not have lived long enough to know that his franchise would flounder irrevocably. Such would be a blessing. He wasn’t wrong, though, in his understanding of human nature. The automobile — as soon as it became an attainable acquisition for the average person — resulted in wave upon wave of migratory behavior. It’s hard to say why none of the restaurants managed to fare well in that location. Perhaps the most logical explanation is that the area became too quickly saturated with restaurants competing for hungry customers. 

*********************************

Sources:

Newburyport Daily News (Archives)

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutchland_Farms)

Boston Evening Transcript, 16 Oct 1912

(https://restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com/2012/12/05/famous-in-its-day-dutchland-farms/)

Pantry Thief

I want to say I’m ten or eleven years old, but, no, it’s 1969 and I’m thirteen years old. I should know better, but I give in to temptation nevertheless. I’ve hopped onto our washing machine, careful not to let my bare toes “clunk” into its frontside. Crouching-standing on top of the washing machine, I reach with my right hand to push aside the line of forward-facing common dwellers, solid-feeling containers of flour and neglected items long past their ”use by” date. They stand sentry on the top shelf, alert now, positioned to conceal the treasure sitting somewhere behind. Unseeing, my expectant fingers caper across one or two unfamiliar shapes before encountering the familiar smooth surface — my brain’s pleasure center lights up. With both hands now cradling my prize, I sit back down on the washing machine and quietly lift the cover on the bakery box. I’m smug in the knowledge that I have found it before anyone else. I’m sure others have already searched. 

Aunt Ginny’s wedding was yesterday, thus bringing to conclusion a well-seasoned (decades-long) engagement. Jimmy’s a sweetheart, and we don’t mind adding “Uncle” to his name. My three older brothers and I stood stiff and awkward in our “best attire”, clothing that hung on us as uncomfortably as hair shirts. It wasn’t just the clothing — we don’t do formal very well. Give us rolling fields, ponds to swim in or skate on, sunshine, and fresh air. Especially, give Kevin hard-packed lanes across those fields so he can race a car — better still, if pursued by patrol cars supplied by the nearby prison. Let us brawl. But dressy and solemn are not our jam. 

We spectated in silence through the church ceremony, standing when others stood, kneeling, too, genuflecting just a beat late, yet casual enough to suggest we do it all the time. I cried in the church. I was thinking about my younger (and only) sister, Margaret, who should have been there — she had a new dress, too, but she was in a hospital (trying to remember who she was and who she belonged to, after a really bad car accident). We maintained our silent observation throughout the reception, bewildered by the tender father-daughter dance. Our grandfather, whom we all call “Gama” (rhymeswithllama), is still in deep grief, adrift alone. His Anastasia, our Nana, died last year. 

We all noticed the white bakery box that came home with us. No discussion. We are all in silent competition. Bakery boxes never come into our house. With no thought to dignify the act with fork or plate, I dip my fingers into the delicious cake. Inches of creamy and smooth white frosting give way to moist cake. My fingers — rapacious little grubbers — clutch mounds of cake and frosting. I shove the sweet, spongy confection in my mouth in helpless desperation. It’s as good as I had hoped. And well worth any punishment by Dad — or expressions of disappointment by Mom — when I’m found out. Wary of being discovered, I replace the cover and return the bakery box to the high shelf, arranging for its concealment once more. I will see you later, I promise, as I leap to the pantry floor.

Opinion: What’s the Matter With You, Charles Koch?

Charles G. Koch, the long-reigning CEO of Koch Industries, has shown his avaricious nature by publicly stating recently that — by continuing business operations in Russia amidst the barbaric war that their leader is waging against Ukraine — he is putting the welfare of 600+ employees ahead of the greater cause of democracy and the lives of thousands of innocent Ukrainians. (By the way, Mr. Koch, no one believes that that’s the fundamental reason for your inaction. Profit has always been your prime motivation. How else to explain that you’re the 18th richest person in the United States — right behind your brother’s wife, Julia Koch.) I’m taking specific aim at Koch Industries when I condemn the 162 companies that obstinately refuse to end or suspend operations in Russia.

Why does Charles Koch deserve particular scrutiny or scorn in this instance? While it’s convenient to begin with his self-delusional lie regarding his reasons not to suspend business in Russia, there are more worrisome signs, in my mind, that this individual is devoid of most of the characteristics that I associate with worthy, civic-minded Americans. And while he may be a decent human being — he looks like he is kindly, his ideologies are in perfect contrast with my own.

The list of sins is long:

  • Deems labor unions as harmful to workers.
  • Minimum wage, likewise, hurts workers.
  • believes public education has been contaminated by a culture of “protectionism”. I listened to a podcast in which he spoke with authority about the common practice of school districts to keep unqualified teachers, all harking back to the poisonous effect of teacher unions.
  • Public educators stifle creativity and promote liberal views.
  • Believes there should be broad environmental de-regulation.
  • Is skeptical about climate change, especially our species’ role in it.
  • A free market economy fosters a society where the rich will provide for the poor; we don’t need governmental assistance (or interference), thankyouverymuch.

Any one of his “truths” can easily be dismantled, and as a retired educator with years and years of both classroom and leadership experience, I’d love to go toe-to-toe with him — at least on the matter of public education; but at the end of the day, his bottomless wallet has vastly more influence on others’ thinking than my impassioned words. He can set up nonprofit organizations, and as part of his family’s “Youth Entrepreneur” program he can dangle tuition money and start-up money in front of (literally) hungry and directionless students; he can even transfer jaw-dropping amounts of money into Republican candidates’ coffers or lobby for de-regulation in all manner of industry.

With the bits that I’ve learned about one of our country’s richest individuals — and I admit a certain bias against ridiculously wealthy people; they can’t claim to have a genuine pulse on what’s best for the average man or woman— I can’t help but shake my head in pure disbelief when I contemplate Mr. Koch’s indefensible contention that he cares too deeply about his 600+ employees working in glass manufactories (operations for which Koch Industries receives tax credits) within the borders of one of our world’s most thuggish and megalomaniacal dictators. Charles Koch’s “philanthropic” reputation cannot help but be stained by his decision. It is to be hoped that he will see the light. . . before it’s too late.

Sources:

Bridges

As everyone who knows me understands, I love to study the landscape when driving. It takes a real conscious effort to keep my eyes on the road, and there are several views that make such responsible behavior very difficult. As I’ve mentioned before, whenever I cross the Gillis Bridge on Rt. 1 between Salisbury and Newburyport — especially at either sunrise or sunset — my eyes veer from the path I’m traveling in order to drink in the beauty. What is it about bridges that stirs our sensibilities?

When I was teenager (and at the age where one would assume reason had begun to take hold), I often took long walks and even longer bike rides from my home high on Titicut Hill, a place that had amazing, long views in nearly every direction, but was envied by no one because of its proximity to a maximum security prison. For those wondering why on earth I would take long walks and bike rides in that setting, it comes down to this: you can live a cowed, circumscribed life behind locked doors, or you can shrug your shoulders and ask yourself, what are the odds — really — that an escaped prisoner will happen to be in the same space at the same moment as I? (Weirdly, and maybe inexplicably, I didn’t find it creepy, but rather reassuring when the patrol would follow slowly behind me on the service roads and field lanes.) As everyone who grew up around Alden Square knows, you did your best to assign the prison to a subordinate corner of your mind, and tried to have an ordinary childhood.

In my travels back then I would inevitably stop in the middle of whatever bridge I crossed. Living in Bridgewater implied that there was no paucity of bridges that spanned waterways. Most often, the water maundered lazily, affording my thoughts to likewise flow without hurry from one idea to another. Whether this habit translated into a lifelong fascination with bridges over water, or it was because of an innate fascination in the first place that led me — as if by magnetic force — to the middle spot of all those hometown bridges; it has been an enduring compulsion.

My dog Mona, however, does not share my affinity for bridges, and I trace it back to our first “journey” over a serious bridge. Soon after the completion of the new John Greenleaf Whittier Bridge over the Merrimack River in 2017, I was eager to walk the pedestrian trail connector that was included in the engineering plans for the replacement bridge. (The bike/pedestrian walkway had been proudly acclaimed as the first of its kind to be built into an interstate bridge.)

After parking the car, I set out with Mona from the Salisbury side of the William Lloyd Garrison Trail. We had gone barely fifty feet and she began sniffing around for a suitable place to “do her business”. Alas, her only option consisted of one thing — concrete. Soon her appraisal took on a desperate quality. I assumed (wrongly) as I coaxed her along that she would become less particular about bathroom accommodations. She tried to be a good sport about it, trotting along for a bit, then swiveling or zigzagging whenever her nose picked up a scent that only dogs can detect. Dissatisfied, she’d then continue on beside me. By now, we were about one-third of the way in our ascension of the bridge’s span. And, then, Mona’s relief was suddenly at hand (or paw). There, right there in her path, was the magic key to her deliverance. A single leaf. I watched — one can’t help but be interested when a dog is aiming for a single leaf. Mona skillfully arranged herself above the leaf and achieved a perfect dispatch. (Granted, the havanese — with those short legs — is already close to the ground.) I may have imagined it, but it did seem her eyes rolled toward heaven and she shuddered with (physical) relief.

Mona seemed, if not happy, at least willing to continue our journey. I, of course, felt the need to reach the pinnacle of the bridge’s span. (For those unfamiliar with the Whittier Bridge, it is a substantial one over a sizable river.) If I could get to the bridge’s midpoint, I knew I would be rewarded with an exquisite view of Deer Island, which sits in the middle of the Merrimack, suspended charmingly between two small bridges. To this point, I hadn’t noticed that the wind was picking up. But, by the time we reached my goal and turned to face Deer Island to the east, the wind was howling. I wanted to enjoy the moment. I tried to enjoy it. I just couldn’t, and in all fairness to my 12-pound little girl, the situation demanded that I — for once — accept that not every bridge is well-suited to reflective thought. We turned and headed back down the bridge, Mona in good spirits, but — no doubt — making a mental note to object with every one of her twelve pounds if I ever, ever tried to take her on the Whittier Bridge again.

Merrimack River looking west from RR Bridge trailhead at Old Eastern Marsh Trail (Salisbury MA)

My Introduction to Dough

I set out recently to learn a new skill. I’ve never been able to work with dough, not the gratifying kind that earns interest. . . well, maybe that, too, but rather the sticky goop that insists on shrinking when you manhandle it with a rolling pin and yell at it to expand. As if in a cruel twist of irony, all the other necessary ingredients and supplies that you remove from your cabinets do very much appear to swell to eventually consume the entire expanse of your kitchen island, as well as all remaining open counter space. (I never concern myself with the rogue bits of cheese and diced vegetables that descend to the floor, as the dogs will work conscientiously to address that issue.)

My husband George was the pizza expert in our house, having acquired mastery in the years he worked (as a high school senior and then while a student at North Shore Community College) at Monty’s Restaurant in Lynn (of the “Monty’s Monty’s by the sea, buy two pizzas get one free” renown.) Over the years he perfected his own recipe, very similar to the thin-crust sort that Monty’s sold. We were all big fans of his style of pizza. Sadly, he never wrote down the recipe, nor did he share it orally with any of us.

This past Christmas Eve, my older daughter and I joined our McKenna relations in Beverly and had a relaxed dinner featuring pizza with crust that very much resembled George’s, nice and thin and crispy. I consider it close enough to say that it is. . . well, close enough, so I have an acceptable contender for the crust. I’m still working on what goes on top of that, as well as my skills in making it look round and even.

Not content to satisfactorily make just pizza, I got it in my head that I wanted to learn how to make English muffins. I blame it on Judy, because she came to one of our “girls’ breakfasts out” with bags of homemade english muffins for each of us. Darn it, but weren’t they the most delicious?! That was at least a year ago, and now that I’m working on my dough skills with serious purpose, I decided this past weekend to make some myself. “So easy”, “the simplest recipe”, “a snap”, “a cinch” — such lies those culinary bloggers boldly (and cheerily) posted. Maybe my first mistake was consulting people who spend their days in their own home test kitchens. It would have been more helpful to land on a blog in which the blogger admitted frankly that they don’t know what the f**** they’re doing in the kitchen. It would serve as a vital object lesson for all other amateurs (and by “amateur” I mean a total ignoramus).

If you saw the resultant state of my kitchen (both days, since you are advised to “proof” it overnight and do a second proof on day 2), you would be struck by how uncannily similar it appeared to the Ardennes Forest in the Battle of the Bulge. Every surface staggered under the weight and chaos of bowls, skillets, whisk, sheet pans, spatulas, flour, cornmeal, more flour, more cornmeal, small bowl for milk (that I failed to warm up), additional bowls (because “medium-size” is such a relative term), melted butter (because I was too aggressive with the microwave), specks of yeast (because those packets are impossible to open neatly), cooling rack, and all manner of measuring utensils. But not, significantly, a metric weight scale. I won’t go into the specifics and tease out where I first went wrong (and where I subsequently went wrong), but I will say that despite sensing at nearly every stage that I should scrap the mission, I persevered. . . nevertheless.

Lacking the highly desirable nooks and crannies, and denser than the expected “light and fluffy” quality, and not so much round as asymmetrical and somewhat oval and of varying sizes, they have — in the end — a mild and satisfying flavor. I’ll take it! If George were here, I think he’d applaud my efforts. He’d probably gush — as he poured syrup all over them — about how delicious my pancakes are, and I wouldn’t feel the least need to disabuse him!