Aug. 3, 2011

The Last Summer

by Mary Ann Larkin

The children know it
The way they call to each other
the way they gather
to trim the branches
as at old rituals
their gentleness
When we were young, they say

The father
stooped as they are straight
goes from one to another
names them, consults
the dog's leg
some car trouble
always an object between them
He sits among them this summer
in his old T-shirt
His body absorbs them

The mother laughs often this summer
teases their friends
My daughter gave me
my son helped me, she tells me
She spins around them
ties up her plants
has them paint and paper
She thinks:
It will be nice for them
There may be a wedding
who knows
Five still at home
but not for long
She is the bravest
She says it
if only to herself
It is the last summer, she says
It is the last summer

"The Last Summer" by Mary Ann Larkin, from The Coil of the Skin. © Washington Writers' Publishing House, 1982. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today, in 1527, the first known letter from the New World to the Old was sent to King Henry VIII of England. Earlier that year, King Henry had chosen Master John Rut, a mariner from Sussex, to command an expedition to North America in search of what would eventually become known as the Northwest Passage, a northerly route to Asia through or around North America. Rut set sail a generation after King Henry's father had sent the first unsuccessful explorers into the icy waters of subarctic Canada, the expeditions driven partly by scientific naïveté and by the mistaken belief that, no matter how far north, seawater and ocean passages could not freeze.

John Rut was given two ships — the Mary Guildford, which he captained, and the Samson — and headed into the Atlantic from Plymouth Harbor on June 10th of that year. The ships sailed for nearly a month before being separated during a storm at sea, and the Mary Guildford continued on alone, exploring the Labrador coast before coming into harbor at the port of St. John's on the island of Newfoundland in early August. On August 3rd, Master Rut wrote to King Henry VIII, and here is a portion of what he had to say:

      Pleasing your honourable Grace to hear of your servant John Rut, with all his company here, in good health, thanks be to God, and your Grace's ship the Mary Gilford. [We] ran in our course to the northward ... and there we found many great islands of ice and deep water; we found no sounding, and then we durst not go further to the northward for fear of more ice.

      [And] then we cast about to the southward and, within four days after, we had one-hundred-and-sixty fathom, and [then] fell with the mainland. We met with a great island of ice, and came hard by her, for it was standing in deep water; and so went with Cape de Bas, a good harbour and many small islands, and a great fresh river going far up into the main land, and the main land all wilderness and mountains and woods, and no natural ground but all moss, and no inhabitation nor no people in these parts. And in the woods we found footing of divers [diverse] great beasts, but we saw none, not in ten leagues.

      And please your Grace, the Samson and we kept company all the way till within two days before we met with all the islands of ice, that was the first day of July at night, and there rose a great and marvelous great storm, and much foul weather. I trust in almighty Jesu to hear good news of her. And please your Grace, we were considering and a'writing of all our order, how we would wash us and what course we would draw, [and] so departed southward to seek our fellow.

      The third day of August we entered into a good haven, called St. John, and there we found eleven sail of Normans, and one Brittaine, and two Portugall barks, and all a'fishing, and so we are ready to depart toward Cape de Bas [as] shortly as we have fished, and so along the coast till we may meet with our fellow, and [with] all the diligence that lies in me [as] we were commanded at our departing. And thus Jesu save and keep your honorable Grace, and all your honorable Rever(ences), in the Haven of Saint John, the third day of August, written in haste, 1527.

      By your servant John Rut to his uttermost of his power.

On this day in 1841, prolific children's author Juliana Horatia Ewing (books by this author) was born in the village of Ecclesfield in Yorkshire, England. She was the eldest daughter of the Reverend Alfred Gatty and his wife, Margaret Gatty, a scientist, science writer, and children's author.

In a memoir of the writer, Juliana Horatia and Her Books, Juliana's sister writes that Julie was "at once the projector and manager of all our nursery doings," originating each fresh game and idea, keeping her siblings entertained with stories she would invent as she told them, taking inspiration from the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, the Grimm brothers, and even from the woodcuts in a German ABC in the children's library. Juliana set her siblings to planting garden plots, wrote plays for them, made bowers under the lilac bushes, and gave fantastical names, like "The Mermaid's Ford," to the places they played.

In 1859, Juliana founded a lending library in Ecclesfield, and in 1861 began her publishing career with the short stories "A Bit of Green" and "The Blackbirds Nest." In 1866, Juliana's mother began Aunt Judy's Magazine for Children, giving it the nickname her seven younger children had for Juliana in her role as their favorite storyteller, and eventually printing most of her daughter's stories for children. Juliana's stories were wildly popular and would also, during her lifetime, be published as many stand-alone volumes and collections.

In 1867, Juliana married Major Alexander Ewing of the British army and 1869 published her first book, Mrs. Overtheway's Remembrances, a collection of stories from Aunt Judy's Magazine, followed by the book The Brownies and Other Tales. Her stories were meant to entertain as well as promote Christian values. And as her sister remembers, they showed her universal sympathy for the interests and troubles of even those who appeared to the Victorian eye as "unworthy," for, to Juliana, "the value of each soul [was] equal in God's sight."

There were new stories and poems every year. 1871 saw the first volume of her Verses for Children, and in 1879 she published one of her best-known books, Jackanapes, a wistful tale of heroic sacrifice. That same year, Major Ewing was ordered to Malta, but Juliana was forced to stay behind owing to ill health. When he returned in 1883, the couple moved to Devonshire, then to lodgings at Bath early in 1885, perhaps to take advantage of its spas and thermal springs. Juliana failed to improve and died in Bath the following month. Her poem "Gifts" is gentle reflection on separation:
      You ask me what since we must part
      You shall bring back to me.
      Bring back a pure and faithful heart
      As true as mine to thee.

      You talk of gems from foreign lands,
      Of treasure, spoil, and prize.
      Ah love! I shall not search your hands
      But look into your eyes.

Although practically unknown today, Juliana Horatia Ewing was immensely popular in her time and still has a dedicated following of readers today. She was also enormously influential on others: Edith Nesbit, author of The Five Children and It series, was an admirer; Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book, is said to have known her novel Jan of the Windmill by heart; and the founders of the Girl Guide movement named their junior-level scouts in honor of her Brownies.

2011 is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, and today is the birthday of Civil War diarist Carrie Berry (books by this author). Carrie was born to a Southern Confederate family in Atlanta in 1854, was just seven years old when the war began, and just shy of 10 when Union troops marched on her hometown.

Carrie gives a firsthand account of day-to-day life during the siege, occupation, and burning of Atlanta, but because she was so young, her dairy is often sweet, even in the midst of terrifying crises. On her 10th birthday, Carrie laments that "times were too hard" for her to have a cake or celebration, hopes that there will be peace in her land the following year so that she will have a nice birthday dinner, and misses school and the fresh air and freedom of playing outside with her siblings and friends. She describes the repeated shelling of the town, the times when she and her family would hide in the basement from the barrage of explosive shells from the Union Army's cannons, saying, "We can hear the canons [sic] and muskets very plane [sic] but the shells we dread. ... We stay very close in the cellar when they are shelling." Carrie writes as easily of "shells in abundance" and the burning of her Uncle Markham's home as she does of beginning a "little worsted dress" for her little sister, because "I love to sew for her because she loves me."

In early September, the Berry family waited in fearful anticipation of the imminent arrival of the Union foot soldiers, while the townsfolk looted and hurried through town with sacks of meal and salt, trying to grab everything they could before the Federals came, but when the Yankees first marched in, Carrie thought they behaved very well, very orderly, and she expected she would like them very much.

Through the autumn, Carries missed going to church, writing of "long and lonesome" Sundays and of watching the Federal soldiers coming in by the thousand, playing in bands and rejoicing, wishing instead she could be in Sunday School. Everyone seemed sad by September: families were driven from their homes, stately houses torn down by the Union Army, and the Berrys were preparing to leave their own little house. Carrie's mother was so troubled that she couldn't seem to get anything done and her father despaired of where they would go, but Carrie, with her young perspective, expects it will be "so funny to move" even while she understands that they were "all in so much trouble."

By November, Atlanta was in flames, "mean soldiers" setting fire to houses all through town and Carrie and her family afraid to sleep at night, while in the confusion "black wimmen" ran through the streets hoping to be taken north with the Federalists before "the Rebels could come in and capture them." Buildings burned all around the Berrys, including their own storehouse, but the family would stay up all night, protecting their home from the flames and from the soldiers who, in Carrie's words, "behaved very badly."

As soon as the Yankees left on November 17th, Carrie and her mother set right back to housekeeping, ironing all day and trying to make themselves feel safe and at home again. Carrie's Papa and Mama felt very poor, having nothing left but their little house in the cold of winter, but once December came with its promise of Christmas, Carrie and her siblings quickly forgot the cold in the excitement of bringing home their Christmas tree and baking little cakes to trim it. There were Christmas parties with the neighborhood children, a Christmas concert and candy making, and Carrie enjoyed herself very much. She began studying again just two days after Christmas, learning her six-times table, struggling with the seven-times table, and learning the eight-times table very well. The children were still keeping close to home, but now because of the cold.

On the first Monday of the new year, the children returned to school and Carrie wrote that "Ella, me and Buddie are studying arithmetic, spelling, reading and geography. We are all trying to see which will learn the most." When the teacher, Miss Mattie, reviewed her students in the multiplication tables, she told the children they knew their lessons very well, Carrie adding that "I had all of my lessons purfect [sic]."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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