All content on this blog is copyright by Marci Andrews Wahlquist as of its date of publication.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Three Walks, Three Months

This is my record of the changes on the Salt Lake Community College Taylorsville campus over the course of this semester.

The first walk I recorded was September 25, 2014. Autumn was only a few days old, but already the signs were here and there.

The second walk I recorded was October 21, 2014. We were approaching the middle of Autumn, the part I find the most beautiful.

The third walk I recorded was November 25, 2014. Autumn was well advanced and winter is approaching.

Here are some of the pictures I took, comparing the same places.

First I walked along the northern boundary road.



Continuing on the northern boundary, I approached Redwood Road.

During a walk on a very hot day, this hill is inviting.

Not so inviting on a cool day with all the leaves.

And on a cold day? No way!

This fence gives me a useful lesson in perspective,
and the shade of the honey locust trees
filters the hot morning sun.

Still walking east.

Now the trees are touched with gold and red.

And finally my perspective vanishes in cold, bare trees.

Walking south on Redwood Road. On the grass, not the sidewalk!

When I turned south on Redwood Road, I walking along the grassy hill next to the sidewalk instead of in the hot sun.

It isn't too muddy to keep walking on the grass.
But in October the hilltop was so covered in leaves that I walked on the sidewalk and did not take a photo.

In November the hill was mostly clear and the snow had melted long enough before that it wasn't muddy.

The fountain!

Mid-campus walk by the Student Center.

This walk faces south. October is so pretty here!
In November the mid-campus walk is so cold
that all anybody wants is to get in a warm building.

September on the west hills.
November on the west hills.
September, from west to east.

October, from west to east.

November, from west to east.

Across the playing fields, clear September skies.

Across the playing fields, October's brilliant sun and clouds.

Across the playing fields, November's promise of snow.

September and the impossibly blue skies
behind the two cottonwoods, one living
and one looking like it might not make it.

October, the dying tree is shedding leaves.

At the northwest corner of campus are two cottonwoods, one healthy and the other dying. They look like the faces of Autumn to me.

November, you cannot tell which tree will
leaf out next spring.

September and the butterfly bushes are loaded with blossoms.

Around the corner near the tennis courts are these butterfly bushes.

October and a butterfly finds one of the still-nourishing blossoms.

November and the butterfly bush is ready for winter.

Back to the starting point. September, and some trees look like October already.

Back to the beginning. November will take those last leaves away soon.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

More Puzzling

Our jigsaw puzzles take us in various interesting directions and through all sorts of family activities. We have been putting together lots of interesting scenes since last February when I posted about the puzzles my mom likes to start and that I like to help with.

Here is the puzzle we were working on when I posted last—we finished it the last day of February. It is a production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute staged at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. I don’t know when this production was done, but it doesn’t matter. I love the birds, and you can almost hear Papagano singing. Too bad we can’t see Papagana waiting in the wings for her cue.
In March we put together this puzzle from my brother Allen. It makes me think of the Napa Valley where another of my brothers lives. He says the balloons are stunning when they all rise at once and float around the valley. These horses make me think of my sister and my childhood friends. When we were young we used to pretend that we were horses. Or else we would pretend that we owned some. In fact, each of us had a list of the horses we owned in our imaginary stables, and the older sister of one of our friends took the time and trouble to make a booklet for each of us with pictures drawn to our specifications of each horse, with its name and everything about it on each page of the booklet. What an amazing friend!

In April my mother selected this seasonal puzzle with all its birds and the watering can to get us in the mood for gardening. I was really getting into doing these puzzles, but I forgot this was supposed to be an activity for my mother, and she was just a little bit unhappy with how many of the birds I put together, and the fact that she had been thinking she would have a good time doing that watering can and nested pots—but I had them done before she could turn around! Oops.

The next puzzle we did was this one, and it was very, very hard. We both worked and worked on it, and we came near to giving up and putting it away before we finished, but somehow it got my dander up and I decided I wouldn’t quit until it was done. I didn’t even like it very much when it was done, but Mom did, so I’m glad I persevered. When I think about doing it now, I remember sitting in her room at her table between her recliner and the tv, listening to her tv shows as I sought puzzle pieces to put in. I ended up having to sort pieces by shape, and then try them row by row. It was a very tedious process.

The next puzzle she selected we did in June, and it went very quickly. It is this beautiful quilt that won all sorts of prizes. This is, in fact, only a part of the entire quilt. It was pretty easy to do because we could separate all the pieces into the colors that belonged to each quilt block. I made sure to let my mother do all the squares she really liked! Too bad when we were done we discovered that a corner piece was missing. We started this puzzle in her room, but then we moved it out to the living room to do it there when I started painting bedrooms.

We also did this pretty egg puzzle in the living room on the table that was there while I was painting. All the furniture in the bedrooms was distributed around the rest of the house. This puzzle proved to be a quite a challenge—so many of the eggs seemed the same, or with minor variations, and those straw flowers were everywhere. We should have been doing this around Easter time, I thought.

I was glad when my mother decided on a scenery puzzle in July. We put this one downstairs in the library and had all the pieces out on the trays around the little table. This is a big puzzle! Mom got tired of the puzzles around this time and did not want to work on this one much. I did the trees and sky and encouraged her to do the bluejay and the rooster, but she wouldn’t do them for weeks. Finally when my niece came, she coaxed Grammy into finishing the puzzle with her the first week of August.

I finished all the house painting and did not think we would continue puzzles for a while. But then Mom wanted to figure out a way to put up a puzzle upstairs without it being in her room, and so my husband and I brought up the game table from downstairs and rearranged the family room furniture to have the puzzle in the center of things. We started this puzzle, and I put together the sky. Mom did the little buildings in the foreground. I like the scene, reminding me of the New England locations in the genealogical research done by my great-grandfather that I was transcribing. And with the puzzle in the center of things, other family members began to put in pieces here and there. It became a group effort and was much more fun. We finished it in mid-September.

Then Mom brought out a round puzzle, a kaleidoscope of peacock feathers. It was incredibly hard! She gave up on it. I almost gave up with her, but then I decided that somehow I was going to complete the border of that puzzle or die trying. I got it, but immediately I tore it apart and put it back in the box! We all agreed the puzzle was destined for the charity box.

This was our next puzzle that we finished. Mom picked it out, but then she found that she couldn’t concentrate and had a lot of trouble working on it. I put together the trees and encouraged her to try the stagecoach, and the woman in dark blue and the women in the background. I did the little white cat. Then I did the inn. And I did the horses. Others helped with this puzzle too. Finally my mother tried the wheels of the coach, but she was not successful. She decided she didn’t like it. Somebody else put together the man and woman standing in front of the horses. When the puzzle was done, there was a piece missing from the bricks of the building. I had been delaying the vacuuming for a week in hopes it would turn up. Then I was going to empty the vacuum cleaner bag out onto a newspaper to sift through the contents and see if it had been sucked in already. Mom found it a couple days later and was happy to finish the puzzle.

I thought she wouldn’t bring out another puzzle for a while, but she brought out this charming shoemaker’s shop scene and decided I should start it. I dumped it out and left it for a week before trying to start on the border. It was very hard at first. It got easier as I progressed, and I again began to encourage my mother to help. She didn’t seem to want to. She kept resisting until I had it all done except the window in the center. I told everybody I was leaving that for Mom to do. She tried it one day and declared she couldn’t. But then she did it the next day and was dissatisfied with how long it had taken her to do. I told her it was a hard puzzle and that it only got easier and faster when you had done enough to get into the rhythm, and I think she was actually glad she had done it.

She has another puzzle out waiting for me to put this latest one away. It’s a group of kittens, cute as can be. I think we will start it over the Thanksgiving holidays.

One of the things I am thankful for this year is doing puzzles with my mom. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Failing Grades

When life already seems hard, dealing with failing grades in a class in which you’re trying your hardest possible is one of the most discouraging things I can empathize with.

When I was in college I decided to get a minor in German. I took every possible German class—learned the language, read the literature, practiced conversation every chance I got. But it was not enough. I hadn’t the money to go somewhere that I could become fluent, which proved necessary near the end of the coursework.

A roadblock appeared on my path in the form of a required German cultural history class that was conducted in German, with German texts, tests, and research papers. I was okay with the reading and writing though I had to work hard, but listening to the lectures was murder. I could not follow fast enough and catch all that I needed to know. This was back when recording a class was technologically difficult and probably wouldn’t have been allowed anyway.

I worked harder than I had ever worked for any class, and still my grades on the tests were failing grades. They were just on the edge of passing, which was very frustrating as the semester went on and I couldn’t seem to bring my scores up any further. At the end of the term, I received a failing grade, just barely, but it was perfectly fair as far as I could tell.

Still, it felt unfair that I had worked so hard and yet not succeeded.

I talked to the professor before registering to take the class over. I told him I had to have the class and yet was not fluent. He seemed understanding but unbending—the class had to be conducted in German and that was that. I should just take all the time possible in the break to study the language.

I did not take his advice. What would have been the use? If I had studied vocabulary the entire two weeks I could not have learned enough to “think” in the language and to follow the rapidity of the teacher’s and other students’ speech.

The next semester was marginally better because I knew what to expect in terms of what would be covered, but still I could not understand enough. I did better on the quizzes and tests, but now I was just over the threshold of a passing grade, and I had found out I had to have an average grade or it wouldn’t count toward the minor. What a blow. I studied harder than ever, but I could not perform at an average level when I could not speak the language.

I had a full load of other classes to pass too.

Feeling hopeless, I endured the class and did what I could to maintain that barely-passing grade. I made new plans to take time off school for a year or two to earn money to take an extra year so that I could take all the classes for a different minor.

I think the professor grew to dread the sight of my hopeless face as much as I grew to dread going to the class. But I did not dare miss a single class for any reason.

The weight of failure is real. You feel a lump in your stomach or somewhere that is hard to carry around. You feel stupid. You begin to wonder if everyone has always known how stupid you are and nobody has ever told you—you wonder if everyone looks at you with secret pity or contempt. Even if you know that somehow you’ll get through this terrible time, you feel as if you will never completely recover; you’ll always have this wound deep inside that is the result of your Failure. You wonder if it will ruin your whole life and suspect that it might, and then you begin to fear and to expect that it will. You start looking for a hole or cave to crawl into where you can hide from life.

You plod through your days with a huge weariness overtaking you about everything. If you are prone to depression anyway, this triggers a huge, sucking bog of it that you do not escape for a long time.

But you do escape. Time passes. After a long time and a lot of experience, you look back at it. (And you remember that the third time you took the class, you earned a barely average grade, which was enough.) You realize that it barely did anything to your path through college, and that you learned a great lesson in perspective in the years that fell between the Failure and your decision to look back at it. It was not as bad as you thought at the time.

The pain was real and it was hard, but it did not ruin your life. It made you able to empathize with the college student you are trying to help now. It gave you a story to tell—there is hope inside the Failure. There is hope outside it too, and hope all the way beyond it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Whittington's Slaves

I wrote once before on the subject of our slave-owning ancestor James Whittington of Johnston and Wake Counties, North Carolina, and Madison County, Tennessee, but I want to focus a little closer on the descriptions of the people he held as slaves to speculate upon their roles in the Whittington family, their relationships with each other, continuity with the Whittingtons, and other implications.

Caveat: I cannot state how strongly I abhor the idea that anybody “owned” anybody. This is utterly and implacably wrong. However, it happened in my ancestry and I want to examine the facts more closely.

The census records show that James, who married Frances Maynard in 1798, had no slaves in 1800 or 1810. However, her father had seven in 1790, and when he died in 1817, it apparently took years to settle his estate as the children were filing petition after petition for at least two years. It looks as if James Whittington acquired two slaves from his father-in-law’s estate.

Here is a table showing the people James held as slaves at the time of each census, with their ages. He died in 1853 and his son Othnell inherited the bulk of his estate; the 1860 list is for Othnell.

Female 26-45
Female 24-35
Female 24-36
Female  60
Female 38
Male 14-25
Female 10-23
Female 20-24
Female 25
Male 6

Male 10-24
Male 23
Male 3

Male 9

Working Roles

In 1820 the census reveals that James had two slaves, along with himself, his wife, two teenage daughters and eight sons, with one other boy 10–16 years old who could have been a cousin or other relative. Of these people, seven were agricultural workers. If the slaves were working in the fields, who were the others working with them? We can definitely include James and his two elder sons, and to make up the seven we must include either the sons ages 10–16 or the girls, ages 17 and 15. Four of the sons were under ten, probably too young to work in the fields. At this time Frances was about 40 years old and had ten children, so she would have had her hands very full in the house. Her daughters were probably helping her; it seems reasonable to assume she had the woman slave helping her with the household tasks and that the seventh agricultural worker was the extra young man in the household.

Frances would have had to supervise or do these chores herself: chopping wood for the fire, preparing and cooking food three times a day, cleaning, washing, weaving, sewing and mending, making candles and soap, rugs and quilts, and other household necessities, teaching and watching the little children, carrying water, emptying chamber pots, and so on. Some of these things even the little boys could do and probably did, but it is likely that one of the slaves did the heavy household work.

The 1830 census reveals the growing household with James and Frances at 54 and 50 years old; the boys at home ages 19, 17, 15, 12, 8, 6, and 4; the daughters ages 1 and 25. The two female slaves could have been household workers, though it is equally likely at least one of them was working in the fields alongside the men. The 1830 census form does not include tick marks for what work the people were doing.

The 1840 census shows the family had moved from Johnston County, North Carolina, to Madison County, Tennessee.  James was now 64 and Frances had died. The sons at home were 29, 25, 22, and 18; the daughters were 35 and 11. With all those sons and with three other grown sons living very close and also engaged in agriculture, James must have had plenty of help with the farm work; the male slave age 10–24 could have been working with James outdoors even if he were young. Probably the two slave women did the bulk of the household work, although one of them could have been working in the fields and one in the house.

In 1850 the census does not tell what work slaves did, but it does tell what the members of James’s family were doing. James and the two sons living with him were farmers. Another son next door had no land but was a farmer, so he probably worked for his father too. The young male slave was probably helping them, while at least one of the two slave women probably worked in the house with James’s second wife and the middle-aged daughter who is listed as “illiterate” on this census, the only one of the family to be so. Perhaps she was mentally disabled in some way, in which case it would make sense that in the earlier censuses help would have been needed in the house rather than out in the fields.

It strikes me that because the Whittington men were reared to do hard physical labor, and because only one of the nine sons of James Whittington grew up to eventually have slaves, the probability is high that the Whittington sons worked alongside the slaves and just maybe had enough respect for their workers that most declined to become slave owners. It is, of course, impossible to say this with certainty, but if that were the case, good for them.

Relationships among Slaves

It is hard to tell from the ages of the slaves whether they could have been related or not in the 1820 listing, where the woman is 26–45 and the male 14–25. They may have been a mother and son, or if they were nearly the same age, they could have been spouses or siblings. In 1830 where the females are 24–35 and 10–23 the younger female could just have been the daughter of the older woman, supposing that the younger one was 10 or close to it rather than close to 24. Otherwise they could have been sisters or cousins if related at all. In 1840 there is again the possibility of mother-child relationships, where the women are 24–36 and 20–24 and the male is 10–24. If the eldest slave is at the upper end of the scale, she could have been the mother of both the others if they were at the lower ends of their respective scales. Another mother-child possibility exists in 1850 where the eldest woman is 60, the other woman is 25, and the males 23 and 9. The eldest woman could have been the mother of all of them; or the woman age 25 and the man age 23 were spouses, although if so, it becomes harder to imagine that the 9-year-old boy is theirs. Certainly in 1860 the probability is high that the little boys ages 6 and 3 are sons of the woman, who is 38. In all these possibilities, only the 1860 census listing has a very high probability of a familial relationship.

Studies lately have suggested that family life among slaves was much more common than not. Even monogamous conjugal relationships were maintained through years under incredibly hard conditions. However, the reality still is that spouses were separated, children taken from at least one of their parents and sometimes from both, and siblings could not stay together. This is evident in the Whittington’s slaves.

Continuity with the Whittingtons

In 1830 the woman may have been the same one as in 1820; if she had been 26 in 1820, she could have been 35 in the first part of the year of 1830. Obviously in 1830 the man who was there in 1820 had been sold, or had died, possibly was set free (unlikely though), or even escaped.

The older woman in 1840 (age 24–36) could not have continued to be the same woman as in 1820 and 1830 if the first two censuses show the same woman. To be the same woman, she would need to be 45 or more in 1840. However, if they are different women, then the 1830 woman could have been 24–26 and in 1840 she could have been 34–36. The younger woman could be her daughter if the daughter were age 10 in 1830 and 20 in 1840. In any case, the 1840 women could easily be the same women as were there in 1830, but if so, then in 1820 the woman was probably someone different.

In 1850 the census began to list every person by age, if not by name. In the case of slaves, the owner’s name appeared with a listing by description of each person he or she owned. Thus James Whittington had a 60-year-old black woman in his household, and a black woman who is 25 with a black man who is 23, and a 9-year-old black boy.

Slave woman of the 1850s with white children
There is one possibility for a continuous scenario: that is if the older woman was the same one through all four decades. If she were in her early 20s when she came to the family from the Maynard family, she could have had her age reported a few years over or under through the years. One supporting detail in favor of this idea is that the Whittington’s middle daughter, Talitha (the one who never married) was shown on the 1850 census to be illiterate and her age decreases by ten to fifteen years over the course of three decades, suggesting that she was not careful about her own age and she could similarly have reported the slave woman’s age as whatever she desired as she talked to the census taker. The mother, Frances, died in the 1830s, and if Talitha were the one to report the ages and got them very wrong, then it makes sense that the Whittingtons kept one woman in their household until James died. Perhaps this elder slave died too; there is no guarantee if her age had been stretched or shrunk in previous censuses that she was not much older than 60 in 1850.

The woman Othnell owned in 1860 could easily be the same as the younger woman in 1850—she was reported to be 25 in 1850 and 38 in 1860, and the discrepancy of three years is not much when Othnell’s sister Talitha’s age changed by a good fifteen years. The two little boys, ages 6 and 3, are undoubtedly her sons.

Whether the Whittingtons kept the older woman all those years or not, they definitely changed the other slaves over the years. It is just barely possible that some of the others were her children and were kept until they were grown up enough to sell for a good price. There is of course no “good” scenario for the changes that are evident in the listings in each census.

Other Implications

One thing that I saw with definite relief is that while the slaves of other families in the same neighborhood included mulattos (the term used back then for mixed-race people), the Whittingtons’ slaves were always labeled black. The implication is of course that if the younger slaves were children of the older slaves, none of the Whittington men were their fathers. I definitely did not want to see any evidence of my ancestor or his sons sexually abusing slaves.

The final point is that in 1870 there were no black Whittenton families in any locality where our Whittenton or Whittington relatives lived. Likely none of the James Whittington family’s former slaves took the Whittington name. Often people took the surname of their former masters as their own. If the women who had been Whittenton slaves were married to men on neighboring farms, that would explain the lack of those surnames among recently freed people. The implication is that this is additional evidence that these Whittingtons were not fathers of slave children.

In a look at history’s bleak realities, it is small comfort.