My mom, Geneva Humphrey, would have been 93 years old today. I made a YouTube video with music that has pictures of my parents and our family along with our old home place on County KK in Hancock. There are also some photos from the Herman and Anna Schwarz farm (my grandparents) who lived across the road from us.
Mac Wiseman sings the type of music that mom enjoyed hearing broadcast on the radio as she ironed clothes in the family home.
Pictured on the video are my dad, Royce Humphrey, and my siblings Gary Humphrey and his wife Pat Humphrey, Ginger Humphrey Pfaff with her husband Darvin Pfaff, along with my nephews and nieces Troy Humphrey, Trevor Humphrey, Tricia Humphrey, Katrina Pfaff, Darren Pfaff, and Quincy Pfaff. In 2000 my husband, James Wilson, from Corinth, Maine was added to the family.
“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” ~Thomas Campbell, “Hallowed Ground”
It seems the average price for a Christmas tree in the city I live in is about $80.00 this year. Driving near sellers of the green-needled beauties has made me aware that this annual tradition is not cheap. Late this afternoon with a cold rain being lashed against the windows of the car I slowed to get a better look at ones arrayed in a city parking lot. It was then I flashed back to the white pines of home.
I suspect such flashbacks are more common than not for most people as the holidays approach. Be it the scent of fresh-baked cookies, the traditions of decorating, or the pull of memory resulting from certain chords struck by a carol, we are transported backward through the decades. James and I have found a way to include such memories into our lives each Christmas season.
There are those items of special meaning from over the years that are kept, such as an old change purse, a clothespin, or the gift tags with the writing of loved ones preserved with laminating. But then the question is how do we view them after being placed into boxes?
Several years ago James and I concluded our love of the season necessitated there be more than one Christmas tree in our home. (We have three.) One of the trees is what we call a Memory Tree. It is there that we then place the items such as a small photo of James’ mom and dad along with my mom’s old can opener on a tree that might seem to be an odd array of items to a stranger…..but not to us.
Though our home was built in 1892 with one large white pine from the northern reaches of Wisconsin, we have not had a white pine Christmas tree. But when I was a young man that variety was the only one ever to be decorated for Christmas where I lived. Namely, because much of the wooded portions on the 100 acres back home were of white pine. You never saw me buying a tree when a homegrown one was precisely what I wanted.
The memories of those Christmas trees remain priceless to me. As I looked about (simply for curiosity) at the trees for sale today I thought of the axe that hangs at our home on a wall. It was the very axe that I used in my younger days to cut trees that now stands out in my memory.
In the family probate process, the items I wanted, as my attorney noted at the time, would not have collectively sold for $25.00 at a garage sale in Hancock. Simply put, I wanted memories.
So what does this ax mean to me?
Before purchasing a VW Beetle, with a minuscule trunk, I used to drive home to Hancock to cut a Christmas tree for my apartment in Madison. It was an annual ritual made special because my Dad assisted in making the simple wooden stand that allowed for the tree to stand upright. My trees at that time were always smaller than what was required for the store-bought stands. There was a reason for that.
As a boy, I loved to walk in the woods populated with white pines and oaks. After I got to a certain age, I would take the axe along and chop on this dead branch, or even take down a very small spindly tree here and there. When I grew to be a teenager, there was one tall white pine that I would wail on with the axe. All the tensions of youth were unleashed on that tree. At the end of my teen years, I had discovered there was far more tree than angst. When I left home it was still standing, but with a very haggard look. Since then, the ‘wailing tree’ has come down with age, and others have grown up in its place.
I had narrowed my stress-releasing axing to a single tree thanks to some thoughtful words from my Dad. I was just a boy when he told me that one just never knows when a tree would be needed to hide under in the rain. He looked as though he were sheltering his face from raindrops as he spoke. One can never foresee, he added, the need to climb up one in order to get away from a wild animal. Dad imitated the noise of a bear and its growl. I discovered then that trees were my friends, and I should respect them.
All trees have value according to Dad. Some small trees seemed to me to lack that postcard quality of rounded beauty we as a culture value most at the holidays. One side of so many little trees on our property seemed to be deformed. They did not get enough light, or were too close to other trees in the woods. Dad would comment about the misshapen trees, “They all want to be a Christmas tree!” As I got older, that message seemed ever more important to me. When it came time to chop down my own trees for Christmas, I always sought out a nice tree, but one that was not perfect. My friends would smile, and gently chide me about the ‘Charlie Brown’ tree. Yet, decorated in all the lights and glass ornaments the tree was always perfect, just as it was for Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown, and his friends.
Each season for years and years, I took my Dad’s axe to the woods, and dragged my tree through the snow to our ‘barn’ where Dad would eye it up, and then reach for some wood pieces in the pile near the back of the building. He would measure a bit then take the wood, and place it over the side of a wooden potato crate, and cut for perfect dimensions. He would hammer and fashion the pieces together so the small trunk of the tree would fit without slipping out. As he worked, I would look out the door of the barn, and see my Mom at the kitchen window. She carefully watched our progress, ensuring that we didn’t do anything foolish, or hurt ourselves. Steam collected on the windowpanes from something wonderful cooking on the stove for dinner.
Days after I had the tree back in Madison my Dad would phone to inquire as to how it was standing. I always answered that it was up, and decorated without a single problem. Vendors do not put less-than-perfect Christmas trees on the lots in the city, but I can say with all honesty that my little trees could stand in competition with any of them, if the competition were about conveying life’s lessons on love.
I never asked Dad about how or why he came up with his philosophy about Christmas trees. It just fit him, and never seemed to need an explanation. It means we all are needed in life, and all fit in somewhere. And with a little help from someone can be that which we dream.
There seems to be a race underway in the nation where elected conservative Republicans seek to dive deeper into absurdity in an attempt to be nuttier than the previous one.
In Wisconsin, we were offered more outlandish buffoonery from Senator Ron Johnson who stated in a town hall meeting he had an idea about combatting COVID.
“Standard gargle, mouthwash, has been proven to kill the coronavirus. If you get it, you may reduce viral replication. Why not try all these things?” (For the record this is not actual science and rebuked by medical professionals.)
Kentucky Republican Congressman Thomas Massie posed his family in front of a decorated tree with all hefting military-type assault weapons for a Christmas greeting, shortly after the Oxford High School gun massacre.
Meanwhile, Tom McMillin, a Republican from Oakland Township, proposed in a social media post that mandatory school attendance be removed in Michigan. He is a member of the Michigan State Board of Education!
I recall during my years as Door County Democratic Chairperson talking with a wide array of people at events such as the annual fair or when campaigning door-to-door for local candidates. At times, I encountered some of the most unbelievable sets of views and ideas that could be imagined. So what is being reported, all too often, in our newspapers and online is not new. Right-wing lunacy has long-been part of our political narrative.
What is so troubling now, however, is that instead of the tin-foil hatted folks being aberrations in the party they now are the base of the GOP. But that is not how I first came to know conservatives.
In my teenage years, I started watching Firing Line with William F. Buckley. He was a conservative with a vocabulary that reached out through the television set and made me sit up and pay attention. In my rural upbringing reasoned approaches to the world seemed utterly sound to me. Then I graduated from high school, left home, and encountered the world.
My first job was working in radio broadcasting in Door County. With a red streak that then ran very deep, the local politics was not for a faint-hearted liberal Democrat. I found, however, that the vast majority on the other side of the aisle were logical and reasoned with varying points and perspectives about the issues of the day.
The conspiracy-laden John Birch Society and the truly unhinged Posse Comitatus crowd were in the county, and not ashamed to spill their views when answering their front door during an election year. Tigerton Dells was then a topic in Wisconsin and those headlines concerning the Posse seemed to embolden that segment of the electorate. I was soon most aware that enlightenment liberalism was not spread evenly across our state.
But that element was a narrow sliver of the whole. Today, however, the under-educated within the GOP revel in their status and expect the rest of us to meet them at that level. Republican officeholders encourage the ridiculous ideas and notions so as to retain power, rather than seeking to better inform and lift up the voters.
There have always been times of great transition and uncertainty in the nation where politicians have used fear to spin a message and gain office. Today class divisions and market revolutions, continuing demand for power and rights among groups from Blacks to transgenders, along with a shifting electorate that is more brown and diverse provide the combustible elements for current conservative pols.
But what is most dismaying is the low level that conservative Republicans will dive into when playing to their base. Such tactics are dangerous to a democracy that does rely on educated citizens to make sound decisions about the path forward for a nation.
John Adams wrote the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. Though he penned that public education should be at the heart of that state’s understanding of government, it is easy to see how elected officeholders can, and should, also be teachers and ones who impart facts to the citizenry. He wrote that “wisdom and knowledge . . . diffused generally among the body of the people [are] necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties.”
I wish conservative Republicans would ponder the role they need to play when speaking to their base of support.
I received my booster shot on Tuesday and am feeling great. The only thing noted about the past 24 hours that is a bit different is my raving hunger. Homemade chicken and rice at midnight (and pickles!) are not usual.
In his new memoir, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows compared former Donald Trump’s post-COVID hospitalization speech to the Gettysburg Address.
Meadows, whose book “The Chief’s Chief” was released on Tuesday, attempted to illustrate how Trump’s brief speech urging Americans not to fear the coronavirus reminded him of former President Abraham Lincoln’s magnum opus.
“Although the prose wasn’t quite as polished as the Gettysburg Address, delivered by President Abraham Lincoln after the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, it had the same compressed, forceful quality that had made President Lincoln’s words so effective at the time they were delivered,” Meadows wrote.
Had the news not been reported on NPR I would have thought the booster had caused a bit of mental confusion. When I did a quick online search I learned the booster was not the cause for my ‘hearing’ issue, as the information was, sadly, correct.
When one has no actual understanding of history, no grounding in substance and fact….well, this type of book happens. It was shockingly ignorant for Mark Meadows to have written such lines. And for an editor to let it slide. Or a publishing house to consent to roll it off the presses.
For those who do know history, the character and wisdom of President Abraham Lincoln, and the sacred nature of Gettysburg, will quickly grasp the utter insanity of what Meadows wrote. Likewise, we know that Meadows would have a far easier time connecting Trump to President James Buchanan.
Readers might say, ‘but was not it strongly rumored that Buchanan was gay’, while Trump is a known womanizer, even when married to his third wife? And we know from reading about the man who was in the office prior to Lincoln that he was always dignified. When was Trump ever accused of that?
So how, then, the comparisons?
The reason I consider it most fair to link these two is the air of sedition and treason that was rampant in both of their White Houses. Donald Trump was the center of the most dangerous attack on our nation’s foundation since the Civil War. We know from reading that Buchanan had fire-eaters in his cabinet who were fomenting succession. Trump had an array of wild-eyed and dangerous operatives pushing forward with undermining the results of a presidential election made by the people.
Had Meadows been, at any level, a reader of history he could have better found the analogy he was seeking for his book. James Buchanan.
Meanwhile for the bottom line.
“Donald Trump’s former chief of staff has been all over the news for all sorts of reasons, but his new book “The Chief’s Chief” is barely budging on the Amazon sales chart. At last check, the book is #1,436 on Amazon — a very disappointing start for a promising title that’s generating so much press” Per CNN’s Brain Stelter earlier this week.
Walters, a former candidate for lieutenant governor in Wisconsin, is a full-time caregiver who has threestudents in the district, as well as some teaching experience from the early 1990s. She wants to reverse the district’s decision to implement gender-neutral bathrooms, open a discussion about school safety, and–most prominently–has been clear in her anti-transgender position. She cited anti-transgender comments from Dave Chappelle and J.K. Rowling, in a prepared statement she read before an interview.
I had to wipe my hands on a napkin before reaching for the remote to play back and again hear what I surely had registered wrong due to the frost built up in my head from the day’s biting cold.
Sadly, what was reported was all too accurate.
No student in the Madison School District who is questioning transgender issues should be needlessly used as a campaign pawn by someone who has an ax to grind. Adding insult to injury, by a candidate who ran for U.S. Senate (because Tammy Baldwin ‘needed’ a Democratic primary opponent) and has no chance come next spring for anything other inflicting harm on our youth.
Our transgender youth already has enough to handle with hormones and a wide array of expectations placed by their peers. They do not need additional discourse from the callous element in our city, so to be used as a verbal punching bag in an election.
It is that point that left me stunned at the dinner table. In all places, a candidate in Madison is going to challenge transgender youth as they pursue their path in life?
I know a bit about the harm that comes with negative connotations–in my case when it came to sexual identity. As a rural kid in school I was severely bullied for the perception of being gay. I had not yet come out but by the time my high school years were ending the national discourse on AIDS had taken on a very harsh and mean-spirited direction. The weight of words and scorn that were tossed about concerning ‘gays and AIDS’ landed on my shoulders. Like it did for other gay kids.
So I can find much empathy for the transgender youth who are coming to terms with their own truths and finding ways to navigate among family and friends. I also know the truth of what can happen when youth are not able to find the path they need, the support networks required to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
My best friend, also gay and bullied, committed suicide at age 18. As an adult, I have never stemmed my words when it lands on the issue at hand. We must do everything we can to support our youth, never allowing them to think they are too far over the margins. We must never allow them to be nothing more than a catchphrase for a candidate who can only inflict hurt for the most minimum of votes.
And we must be pro-active.
Therefore, I ask that Mary Jo Walters, for the sake of unity in our community which is required as we stand alongside our transgender youth, to pull back her decision to run for Madison School Board. Nothing is more important as we consider our students than their safety, both physically and emotionally. Her words are damaging and must cease.
There is no room in this city for rhetoric that is aimed at marginalizing and calling out a segment of youth who simply are wanting to live their life. They ask for nothing more than some basic understanding from the rest of us.
Mary Jo Walters can do a tremendous good for the entire community by stepping back from her proposed candidacy.
The reason can be summed up with this quote from reporter Scott Pelley.
Democracies succeed or fail based on their journalism.
Fred Hiatt was doing his part, smartly and consistently, for his nation and profession.
Fred Hiatt, a onetime foreign correspondent who in 2000 became The Washington Post’s editorial page editor and greatly expanded the global reach of the newspaper’s opinion writers in the era of 9/11, the election of Barack Obama and the destabilizing presidency of Donald Trump, died Dec. 6 at a hospital in New York City. He was 66.
He had sudden cardiac arrest on Nov. 24 while visiting his daughter in Brooklyn, said his wife, Margaret “Pooh” Shapiro, and did not regain consciousness. He had been treated for heart ailments in the past.
Mr. Hiatt was one of Washington’s most authoritative and influential opinion-makers. For two decades, he either wrote or edited nearly every unsigned editorial published by The Post — more than 1,000 a year — and edited the opinion columns published on the paper’s op-ed page and website. He also wrote a column and was a three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing.
There is clearly a hole in the heart of many Post reporters and staffers today. But if you have read the editorials from that famed newspaper you know the story is never finished, the next layer of our history not yet reported, analyzed, and opined over. There is another edition of the paper just hours away from publication.
The high and demanding standards that Hiatt brought to his job, are the ones that newspaper readers need and our democracy requires from journalists. The best way to honor Fred Hiatt is to carry on that quality of work and sense of duty to the nation.
In the words of Walter Cronkite, “Journalism is what we need to make democracy work.”