Sunday, May 31, 2020

East of the sun and west of the moon

Some names have appeared in pairs forever. Romeo and Juliet. Chang and Eng. Castor and Pollux. Bread and butter. Romulus and Remus. Echo and Narcissus. Elvis and Priscilla.

I am submitting two new names to add to the list: Semisopochnoi and Amatignak.

I can hear you saying it. Who?

Semisopochnoi and Amatignak are not a who. They are a what, like Scylla and Charybdis, like Sodom and Gomorrah, like the devil and the deep blue sea, like biscuits and gravy.

(Editor's note. It is only in the United States that biscuits and gravy go together. In the U.K., they most definitely do not, because an English biscuit is not the same thing as an American biscuit. In the U.K., people also call a diaper a napkin, but I don't want to go down that particular rabbit trail today. --RWP)

So what, exactly, are Semisopochnoi and Amatignak?

Semisopochnoi and Amatignak are two islands in the Aleutian archipelago in the state of Alaska. But they are more than that. They have a special relationship, as did Romeo and Juliet and those other famous pairs I named in the opening paragraph.

Amatignak has the distinction of being the westernmost place in the United States (coordinates: 51.270°N, 179.119°W). Semisopochnoi, which lies 71 miles west of Amatignak, on the other side of the 180th meridian, has the distinction of being the easternmost place in the United States (coordinates: 51.960°N, 179.772°E). There are still a few more Aleutian islands in Alaska even farther West than (or, more properly, not as far East as Semisopochnoi. If your mind is not yet boggled, you can read more about the two islands in this article.

So Columbus was right. You can reach east by travelling west. If you heard it here first, you are more than five centuries behind the times.

Perhaps next time we can explore Poppycock, Balderdash, Gobsmacking, and Thor. Are they a law firm in Cincinnati? Are they the names of Hilltophomesteader’s new baby goats? Are they just random words I threw together on a page?

Read my blog long enough and you may find out. Then again, you may not.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

After I pressed "New Post"

...I sat here and stared at the broad expanse of empty space that Blogger kindly provided. And stared. And stared some more. Suddenly I thought of a poem I wrote a while back.

Poem, Untitled

The page is blank, like my life.
All sorts of subjects flit through my mind
On the way to somewhere else
But not one settles down, makes itself
Comfortable, takes root, or starts to grow
Upward toward the light that arches
High above, beckoning all things to
Itself, not a single one.

The page is empty, like my brain.
I want to write a poem
But nothing comes to mind,
Only a formless maelstrom,
Swirling like one of the
Hundred million galaxies
Out there in the cosmos,
Moving toward the light.

Change the word poem in the title and the tenth line to blogpost and you begin to grasp my level of frustration.

Writing a blogpost and writing a poem are not at all alike. One (if the one is me) can research a particular topic for a blogpost, or one (again, if the one is me) can stumble upon an interesting subject unexpectedly, and a blogpost is often the happy result. A poem, on the other hand, often begins composing itself somewhere deep in my subconscious, slowly emerges into the part of my brain that is awake, and eventually makes its way to my fingertips and onto the page. But not always. Sometimes a poem springs full-grown like Athena from the forehead of Zeus; sometimes it creeps out, word by painfully thought-out word.

I may be exaggerating, but only a little.

That being said, take a look at this:

NASA released this updated version of Voyager 1's famous "Pale Blue Dot" image of Earth earlier this year, in February. The original was taken 30 years earlier, on Feb. 14, 1990. (Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The original, darker, unenhanced photo, along with some words penned by astronomer Carl Sagan in 1994 that you really ought to read, can be found right here.

Voyager 1 was launched from Cape Canaveral on September 5, 1977. The "pale blue dot" photograph was taken on February 13, 1990, nearly 13 years later. Voyager 1's journey continues today, more than 30 years after it was launched. It is the man-made object most distant from earth, currently more than 13.8 billion (e9) miles, or 148.5 AU (astronomical units) away from us according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

(Note. According to what I found, an astronomical unit (AU) is a unit of length, roughly the distance from Earth to the Sun and equal to about 150 million kilometres (93 million miles). However, that distance varies as Earth orbits the Sun, from a maximum (aphelion) to a minimum (perihelion) and back again once a year. Originally conceived as the average of Earth's aphelion and perihelion, since 2012 it has been defined as exactly 149,597,870,700 metres.)

Any way you look at it, that's a long way, baby.

Suddenly the broad expanse of space provided to me by Blogger doesn't seem so daunting.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

This one's for Snowbrush

At, I found this article directed at members of the clergy (many of whom, I am given to understand, have actually been ordained). I pray fervently that it is tongue-in-cheek:


1. Violate As Many Social Distancing Guidelines As You Think You Can Get Away With

There’s what the law says, and what you think you can make the law say.

As a former attorney, I’ve been trained to spot loopholes, or to play creatively with wording to get it to say what I want it to say.

So, to be an idiot, take the most expansive view you can of any and all guidelines and do the minimum required.

Besides, are the officials really going to check whether people are 6 feet apart or 5 feet apart? At 5 feet apart you can squeeze 100 more people in…and does it really make that much difference?

And sure, families are recommended to sit together, but nobody’s going to suggest friends sit apart, right? I mean really…

And wait, if they’re wearing face coverings (made by Aunt Beulah), does there really need to be 6 feet between them?

Oh, and don’t worry about the kids. Push all the kids into one room. It’s impossible to socially distance kids anyway.

2. Exercise Your Constitutional Rights But Ignore Your Responsibilities

You have rights the government can’t take away, and nobody can make you do anything you don’t want to, correct?

So, to be an idiot, exercise your constitutional rights but ignore your responsibilities. Strangely, the US government still educates citizens on their rights and their responsibilities.

In a hyper-individualistic culture, you should count on other people to exercise their responsibilities. You, after all, can just focus your rights.

And when you think about the Christian faith deeply, it has nothing to do with the responsibility to love or care for others. It’s all about you.

3. Open So Fast You Have to Close Again

The best way to have to close your church down after you re-open the doors is to become the source of an area cluster of infections and deaths that trace back to your church.

That will guarantee you lots of press (perhaps national coverage) and impress your unchurched neighbors, who, prior to COVID, were already struggling with you.

Plus, the quick open/close move probably means even more people will trust you next time you open your doors.

4. Make it Political

We live in an amazing age where everything is both tribal and partisan and therefore deeply inspiring.

Make sure you politicize human disease and suffering.

This is not only guaranteed to confuse and irritate people, it will immediately discredit you with people who vote differently than you do.

One of the best ways to instantly alienate half the people you’re trying to reach is to make the Gospel partisan.

5. Use Your Social Media Platform to Vent

This is a fantastic tactic.

Since social media gives everyone a platform, make sure you share your every emotion (especially anger, irritation, frustration, and impatience) on social media.

The best way to do this is to post something in the heat of the moment. Don’t pray about it, share it with a few trusted friends first, or sleep on it for a night or two. Definitely do not ask your spouse if you should post it.

Not only will this improve your credibility, but your impulsiveness will also deepen people’s trust and respect for you.

6. Abandon Your Online Advances And Make it 100% About the Building

Once you’re back in your building, even though your attendance will probably be much lower than you’d hoped, abandon any progress you’ve made with online church in the last few months.

Online ministry isn’t real ministry, and the people you’ve reached online don’t need the same level of care and attention as people you can see face to face.

For bonus points, pivot all of your staff-dollars back into in-person ministry.

The internet is a bit of a fad anyway.

7. Treat Online Attendees Like Second-Class Citizens

Because in-person attendance at a physical location is is the only way authentic Christians express their faith, make everyone watching online feel like they’re second-rate.

The fact that they might be older and at higher risk, struggle with some co-morbidity risks (like obesity or diabetes), might not have access to health care, are worried about their children or aging parents they’re caring for, or are even away for the weekend and wanting to connect shouldn’t deter you.

The people who aren’t in the room don’t really count.

8. Tell People Your Faith Buys You Immunity from Disease

For bonus points, make in-person attendance theological.

Even a cursory reading of scripture shows that God never lets his people suffer. The Bible has no calamity, disease, poverty or suffering in it, and when it does, God’s people never have to go through it.

So let people know that when they show up, they have immunity because they’re far more faithful than those who aren’t in the building.

(end of article)

In the comments, one person suggested this addition: "Don’t make any hand sanitizer available and for certain make sure you run out of hand soap in every restroom. Just tell people to spit on their hands and wipe them clean on your pews. That’s how Jesus healed a blind man, right?”

and another stood the article on its head, shouting most of the way:

"The concepts of this post could just as easily be applied to An Idiot’s Guide to Not Reopening. The headings could be aligned and say:

I guess the moral of all this is that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him think.

Friday, May 22, 2020

What the fork?'s word of the day today is soupçon, which is pronounced, according to the people at, soop-sawn or soop-sawn.

Either way is acceptable, so there is no possibility whatsoever of putting the em-pha-sis on the wrong syl-la-ble. There is also no possibility whatsoever of pronouncing it as the French do, with less of an N and a bit of a nasal H incorporated at the end (-sawnh or -sawnh, it's up to you), a sound that cannot be reproduced or accurately rendered on paper. goes on to say that soupçon is a noun and means a slight trace, as of a particular taste or flavor.

Ever helpful, further states that "[t]o the Frenchless, soupçon looks as if it means “soupspoon.” In fact soupçon means “a hint, trace,” from Old French soupeçon, souspeçon, literally “suspicion, anxious worry,” from Late Latin suspectiōn– (stem of suspectiō), for Latin suspīciōn– “distrust, mistrust, suspicion.” Finally, tells us that soupçon entered English in the 18th century.

I find this all very fascinating, never having suspected (see what I did there?) that soupçon and suspicion have a shared root.

Moving right along....

I do wish the French would stop dropping letters with abandon and pronouncing things through their noses. Here's an example of how English, Spanish, and French (in that order) are related using some words that start with S in English but with E in Spanish and French:

school, escuela, école
star, estrella, étoile
study, estudiar, étude
student, etudiante, étudiante
Stephen, Esteban, Etienne
Spain, España, Espagna

All righty, then.

Speaking of spoons, here's an article about forks. And here's another.

I would really like to hear your reaction to those two articles.

P.S. Telling you "here's an article" and then "here's another" reminds me of the story told of the explorer (it might have been Frank Buck) who composed a telegram to the London Zoo from Africa, "I am sending you two hippopotamuses" but started over and said "I am sending you two hippopotami" and finally sent this version: "I am sending you a hippopotamus. By the way, I am sending you another hippopotamus."

If you're looking for the tar and feathers, you will have to wait your turn in line.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

From the archives: Glimpses of truth (May 19, 2010)

[Editor's note. This post was published 10 years ago, so add 3,653 days to the 17,167 figure as it's now 20,820 and add 10 years to the 47 cited. As of today, Mrs. RWP and I have been husband and wife for 57 years. Bloggers Carolina in Nederland and Kate in New Zealand are no longer active but you may still be able to see the horse and the frog. You'll never know until you try. --RWP]

Day 1 (May 19, 1963)...

Day 180 (six months)...

Day 17,167 (47 years and counting)...

Some things never change, my beautiful wife for example, or my ears for another, except that recently a menorah has started growing out of one side of my head and a miniature gramophone, inexplicably, seems to have become permanently affixed to the other.

The sharp-eyed among you may also notice that with this post I have broken my own self-imposed, longstanding custom of never including a current photograph of myself or any member of my family on my blog. On this special occasion of our 47th anniversary, however, Mrs. RWP and I are more than happy to reveal our smiling visages to a waiting world -- you are out there waiting, aren’t you, world? World? -- but the custom will remain in effect concerning our children and grandchildren. In this respect, I realize that we differ from many others in blogland, who display day after day not just themselves but their offspring, their offspring’s offspring, their high-yield vegetable gardens, their Aunt Trudy’s secret family recipe for Crêpe Suzette, and highlights of their family’s recent trip to Lower Slobovia.

Their pride is understandable, certainly, but one thing I decided long ago was not to live my life by majority opinion. To quote that great humanitarian, Popeye the Sailor Man, I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.

Rest assured, however, that if I had a horse like Carolina in Nederland does, or if I could draw a picture of a frog the way Kate in New Zealand can, I would definitely show it to you.

Carolina’s horse

Kate’s frog

Any similarity between me and either the horse or the frog is purely coincidental. As regards Popeye the Sailor Man, the jury is still out.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

A tale of two cities, sort of, or maybe not

I inadvertently (for readers in Alabama, that means I didn't do it on purpose) offended reader Graham Edwards of Eagleton on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides (also called the Western Isles) of Scotland by misspelling for the umpteenth time the nearby town of Stornoway. I called it Stornaway.

Bad blogger. Bad blogger.

I repent in sackcloth and ashes and vow never to do it again if it is within my power, which it should be providing my memory doesn’t go.

In his comment, Graham said, "Actually I have never lived in the town but 7 miles away. That may sound nothing to you but it means a lot here."

Graham, I know exactly what you mean. I identify. It’s all making sense now. Mansfield, the town I grew up in in Tarrant County, Texas, was 7 miles from Kennedale. There was very little, if any, interaction between the two towns.

Here is Mansfield:

And here is Kennedale:

The big blob just north of Mansfield is Arlington:

...and the even bigger blob in the center of the county is the city of Fort Worth:

Well, enough with the maps already. Things have changed a lot in Tarrant County since I grew up there. Like Topsy in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Tarrant County just grew.

When I was a 9-year-old boy in 1950, the census showed that Mansfield's population was 964; Kennedale's was 1,046; Arlington's was 7,692; and Fort Worth's was 278,788. Today, seventy years later, the 2020 census is being taken as we speak. The most recent population estimates from 2018 put Mansfield's population at 70, 981 (yikes!); Kennedale's at 8,543 (significant growth but still pretty small potatoes); Arlington's at 398,112 (double yikes!); and Fort Worth's at 895,008 (triple yikes and a couple of gadzooks). All of Tarrant County is currently estimated to have 2,102,515 human beings. Next door, to the east, Dallas County’s population is 2,635,516. The entire Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area is estimated at 7,573,136 people as of 2019. That is a lot of 10-gallon hats.

But getting back to Mansfield and Kennedale in the fifties, just as people in Eagleton don't want to be mistaken for Stornowayans or Stornowayers or Stornowayites or whatever they are, people in Mansfield didn't want to be associated with Kennedale either. Many outlying districts had elementary schools but sent their high schoolers to either Mansfield or Kennedale. Some of the Kennedale kids actually attended school in Mansfield, but none of the Mansfield kids attended school in Kennedale. The Mansfield Independent School District ran several school bus routes that gathered and dispersed kids from the outlying areas, and kids in our school were known by the bus they rode. There were buses for Kennedale, Rendon, Webb, Britten, Venus-Alvarado, and Sublett. Kids in Mansfield’s class of 1958 who rode the Kennedale bus included Martha Spencer, Judy Glaze, Ben Nessler, and Marshall Tyson. All of them are dead now. Martha was our class salutatorian.

Today I am proud to have known them all.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t take 70 years for the residents of Eagleton and Stornoway to appreciate one another.

Friday, May 15, 2020

The eyes have it, plus a woman from Orkney stretches the truth

Every four to six weeks for the past three years I have traveled (British, travelled) to a nearby town to receive an injection in my right eye for treatment of the wet version of age-related macular degeneration. There is also a dry version, which I have in my left eye, and it is treated by taking a pill orally every morning and every night. There is currently no real cure for either type of macular degeneration, but I can report that my left eye is definitely a happier camper than my right eye.

The doctor who does the injections has now tried four different medications. The first was Avastin (bevucizumab), the second was Lucentis (ranibizumab), the third was Eylea (aflibercept), and the fourth one is Beovu (brolucizumab).

Isn't reading other people's blogs educational?

A lot of patients receive treatments there, which involve a lot of preliminary sitting around in not one but two waiting rooms (the second one is called the dilation room) and sometimes people talk to one another. Sometimes they don't, but that wouldn't make for an interesting post.

Last month an old man in the dilation room was talking with an old woman who spoke with an accent I couldn't place. After he was called in for his turn I asked the woman where she was from originally. She said "Scotland" and I was surprised that I hadn't recognized it. She explained that she had married an American and moved here more than 50 years ago.

Ever the chatty one, I said that I had two friends from Scotland, one from the town of Auchtermuchty and one from near Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. (Note to readers: You know who you are.)

She said she had never heard of Auchtermuchty.

I mentioned that my dad's mother always said our family was descended from the Hydes of Scotland. The woman said "Who?"

It turns out she wasn't a phony Scot, she was only a bit deaf. She did finally recognize the name after I said it again, louder.

Not willing to give up without a fight, I also mentioned that my dad used to say "It's a bra brit moonlit nit to-nit" and the woman, who was growing more semi-sour by the moment, said, "We didn't talk like that in the part of Scotland where I lived." Then she said, "Actually I am not from the mainland of Scotland, I'm from the Orkney Islands." In other words, to use a phrase from poker, I'll see your Outer Hebrides and raise you an Orkney.

I, not being familiar with the Orkney Islands -- yes, Virginia, there are a few things rhymeswithplague doesn't know -- asked where they were located. She said, and this astounded me when I got home later and looked at a map, "between Norway and Iceland."

It seemed to me that she was intent on disavowing any connection to Scotland at all. I could be wrong of course. Maybe she was just the anti-social type. My map check revealed that the island in the Orkney archipelago that is closest to mainland Scotland is only 10 miles off the coast. Norway is several hundred miles to the east and Iceland is several hundred miles to the northwest.

There are other island groups about which it can more truly be said that they are between Norway and Iceland. One set is the Shetland Islands and one set is the Faroe Islands. But the Orkneys? That's a stretch.

Maybe the woman from the Orkney Islands was just bad at georgraphy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Round and round she goes, and where she stops, nobody knows

When I was a boy (admittedly 70 years ago) and a devourer of maps (not literally, but I could study them for hours), the world was an entirely different place. Perhaps entirely different is a redundancy. Actually, it was the same place, but many of the names on maps are different nowadays, plus technology has advanced somewhat.

French Equatorial Africa became the countries of Chad, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, and Gabon.

French West Africa became the countries of Mauritania, Senegal, French Sudan (now Mali), French Guinea (now Guinea), Ivory Coast (now Côte d'Ivoire), Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Dahomey (now Benin) and Niger.

You can't trust maps. Cameroon is not included as part of the green French Equatorial Africa area on the first map but it is included on the second map in the gray area. I note that the island of Madagascar is also included. Curiouser and curiouser.

Let us dispense with any more maps as they seem to raise more questions than they answer.

British West Africa became the independent countries of The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria. Until independence, Ghana was referred to as the Gold Coast.

The British Empire was far-flung and worldwide, spawning the saying that the sun never sets on the British Empire. Eventually, however, it did.

British East Africa became largely Kenya. Tanganyika and Zanzibar became Tanzania. Northern Rhodesia became Zimbabwe. Southern Rhodesia became Zambia. Nyasaland became Malawi.

Belgian East Africa (formerly German East Africa) included Ruanda-Urundi, which became the countries of Rwanda and Burundi. The Belgian Congo, formerly a colony of Belgium in Central Africa, became the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

German Southwest Africa became the country of Namibia.

The list of changes goes on.

In the Western Hemisphere, British Honduras became Belize. Canada created two more provinces, one called Newfoundland and Labrador, which sounds like two provinces, and one called Ninavut, which was carved out of the Northwest Territories.

British Guiana became Guyana. Dutch Guiana became Surinam.

In Asia, India was divided at "the partitioning" into India, West Pakistan, and East Pakistan. West Pakistan became plain old Pakistan, and East Pakistan became Bangladesh. Burma became Myanmar. Ceylon became Sri Lanka.

French Indo-China became the countries of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. For a while there was a North Vietnam and a South Vietnam, but once again there is only Vietnam.

Even Europe was not immune. What was once Yugoslavia is now Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Slovenia, and the double-named Bosnia and Herzegovina. Within Serbia there is a partially-recognized state, the Republic of Kosovo. Czechoslovakia became two countries called The Czech Republic and Slovakia. If you go back to even older European maps you will find names like Prussia and Schleswig-Holstein and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Go back far enough and you will find a Holy Roman Empire. But I digress.

The list includes places formerly known as the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and the Dutch West Indies (now called collectively the Netherlands Antilles and individually called Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, and a few other places).

There were two places, Trinidad and Tobago, which are now one place, called Trinidad and Tobago. Go figure. Interesting facts about Trinidad and Tobago include that its capital is named Port of Spain and that its population religiously are 49.6% Christian, 18.2% Hindu, 5.7% Spiritual Baptist (this is either another redundancy or a typographical error), 5.0% Muslim, 1.2% Bahá'í, 0.9% Orisha-Shango (Yoruba), 0.3% Rastafarian, 5.8% Other, 11.1%, and Not stated, 2.2%. The statistics in this paragraph are courtesy of our old friend Wikipedia.

All this change is called progress, and perhaps the map-devouring children of today, if there are any left, will have much more progress to report 70 years from now.

P.S. - The trivia factoid of the day is that on this date in 1906, my dad (non-bio), Clifford Ray "Ted" Brague, was born in Tomah, Monroe County, Wisconsin, the youngest of the five sons of Elmer Elsworth Brague and Edith Lillian (Johnson) Brague. Dad would be 114 years old today but left us two months before his 61st birthday thanks to a horrible disease known as pancreatic cancer. It is through Edith Lillian's mother, Bloomy Jane (Cleveland) Johnson that on paper, at least, I am the eighth cousin three times removed of U.S. President Grover Cleveland, the only president to have non-consecutive terms. I like my trivia factoids to be packed with information. I am told that my posts suffer from the same tendency.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

I awoke with an old radio show from the forties and fifties on my mind. Every week on 20 Questions a panel of experts had to determine an undisclosed subject by asking no more than 20 questions of their own. One of the first questions asked was often “Is it Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?” which set me to thinking about people whose surnames are animal, vegetable, or mineral. Hence, this post.

Subsequent questions on the radio show were of the human or non-human, male or female, living or dead variety. Such questions are irrelevant for purposes of today’s post.

The only prerequisites for inclusion in the lists below are that the name is a real one (as opposed to a stage name or a fictional character) and that the person is semi-recognizable by others. This excludes Kid Rock (a stage name), Freddie Mercury (a stage name), Adam Ant (a stage name), Jim Parsley (a personal friend), Marsha Lamb (another personal friend), Violet Roach (my mother's childhood friend in Philadelphia), and Miss Edith Wildegoose (my first-grade teacher in Pawtucket, Rhode Island).

ANIMAL (avian):
David Canary (American actor)
Travis Stork (American physician)
Christopher Wren (English architect)
Lynn Swann (American football player)
Richard Byrd (American naval officer and explorer)
Stephen Sparrow (British business executive and founder of Snow Leopard Trust)
Jerome Robbins (American choreographer)
Florence Nightingale (British nurse and social reformer)
Hart Crane (American poet)
Claudia Cardinale (Italian film actress)

ANIMAL (mammalian):
Charles Lamb (English essayist)
Thomas Wolfe (American writer)
Virginia Woolf (English writer)
George Fox (English dissenter, founder of the Society of Friends)

ANIMAL (aquarian):
Hamilton Fish (American politician, governor of New York)
Sam Bass (American Old West train robber and outlaw)

Wendell Berry (American poet, novelist, environmentalist)
Darryl Strawberry (American baseball player)
Yma Sumac (Peruvian soprano with four-and-a-half octave range)
George Herbert Walker Bush (American President)
...also George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, Laura Bush, Barbara Bush)
Marietta Tree (American socialite and political appointee)
Sterling Moss (British Formula One racing driver)
Marla Maples (American actress, former Mrs. Donald Trump)

Neil Diamond (American singer-songwriter)
Sharon Stone (American actress)

I'm sure there must be others that have escaped me for the moment. If you think of some, tell me in the comments!

(Note to Graham Edwards in the Outer Hebrides: This is the post that was accidentally published prematurely for a nanosecond.)

Perhaps we will explore surnames that are geographical features next.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

The last time I checked

...each of us has (or had) 2 biological parents, 4 biological grandparents, 8 biological great-grandparents and so on, as far back as biology and the powers of 2 can take you. Interestingly, exactly half of each generational contingent is male and the other half is female. Fancy that. So I (and you) had 4 great-grandfathers and 4 great-grandmothers.

Today I would like to introduce you to one of my four great-grandfathers, Solomon Aarons, my mother's maternal grandfather. In this post I will be sharing information gleaned from two articles I found at, the online archives website of The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper.

The first article, "The Legacy Of 9 Jews In Civil War", was written by Andrew Hussie and appeared in the Inquirer on April 2, 1987. I will quote only those parts that pertain to my great-grandfather.

The Legacy Of 9 Jews In Civil War

In 1865 there were about 200,000 Jews in the United States.

About 6,000 of them fought for the North and 1,200 for the South.

From that small number of combatants, the legacy of nine Jewish men was born, a legacy that is told in an exhibit that opened last week at the Temple Judea Museum of Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park.

The exhibit, Keneseth Israel and the Civil War: Nine Vignettes in Blue and Gray, tells the stories of the nine through Civil War artifacts, documents, and other research materials.

The exhibit is especially moving for several of the synagogue's congregants who are among the direct descendants of the nine....

The exhibit was organized by Barbara J. Forman, the exhibit's curator and a museum docent. She spent the last year researching and organizing the project for the synagogue, which was founded in Philadelphia in 1847. She said she got the idea after discovering the military discharge papers of a 15-year-old drummer boy, Solomon Aarons, in the museum's archives.

Aarons, an early member of the synagogue, was born in England in 1846, and came to the United States shortly before the war. On Oct. 31, 1861, he enlisted in Company B, 69th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, part of the famous "Philadelphia Brigade." He saw action in every major battle of the Army of the Potomac, except Manassas. After the war, he returned to Philadelphia, where he had two sons....

(end of excerpts from the first article)

Nine years after the first article appeared, the following article by Connie Langland also appeared in the Inquirer on February 26, 1996:

Banging The Drums For One Who Did More:
Reenactors Honored A Jewish Civil War Hero

Muskets fired once, twice, three times.

A drum and fife corps played "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

A rabbi prayed for the dead.

A bugler rendered Taps.

Yesterday, 131 years after he put down his drum and 94 years after he died, Solomon Aarons of Philadelphia ws remembered as a heroic drummer boy of the Civil War.

The memorial service was organized by the 69th Pennsylvania Volunteers Infantry Unit, a Civil War reenactment group, and took place at Aarons' weathered grave site at Adath Jeshurun Cemetery in the city's Frankford section.

The event was solemn but a spectacle just the same. Dozens of men in Union Army uniforms marched past rowhouses and into the cemetery. Behind them walked women in calico or widow's black, their long hoop skirts pushed this way and that by sharp gusts of wind.

"Aarons was a member of the regiment that we portray," said George Levens of Roslyn, Montgomery County. "What we are trying to do is bring to people's attention today the sacrifices these men made for their country."

The 69th Pennsylvania was a volunteer infantry unit made up mostly of poor, uneducated, working-class, Irish volunteers who fought in more than 40 battles -- and faced the brunt of Confederate Gen. George Pickett's charge on the stone wall at Gettysburg.

In that 1863 battle, 143 of 258 officers and men from the 69th were killed, wounded or captured.

"We want to honor not just the generals, but the drummer boy, too," Levens said.

In an effort to be authentic, the reenactors researched the lives of some of the soldiers. Aarons drew attention because of his religion. An estimated 8,500 Jewish soldiers fought in the Civil War, most of them for the Union.

Research by the Warminster-based 69th Pennsylvania reenactors showed that Aarons was born in London, immigrated here in his early teens, and joined the 69th at age 15. His job was to alert the troops to the commander's order through the beat -- the coded signal -- of his drum.

He served for three years and was with the 69th just four miles from Appomattox Courthouse, Va., in 1865 when Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

After the war, Aarons settled in Philadelphia. His trade remains unknown, but it is known that he married, had two sons, and died in 1902 at age 55.

Yesterday, the drummer boy was honored by members of the Jewish War Veterans, as well as by the reenactors. His grave was decorated with wreaths and a small metal marker engraved GAR, for the Grand Army of the Republic.

Rabbi Eliott Perlstein of Roxboro told the gathering of about 200 people, some of them there out of curiosity, that there was value in remembering Aarons' life and the lofty principles for which he fought -- "the ideals of unity, freedom and equality for all people."

(end of article)

I am proud of my great-grandfather's service during the Civil War, but my Dad would probably say that that and two bits (25 cents) would buy you a cup of coffee. How long ago he said it is indicated by the cost of coffee nowadays.

There's a spoilsport in every crowd.

My great-grandparents Solomon Aarons and Rachel (DeWolf) Aarons had nine children in all -- five boys and four girls -- and their sixth child was my maternal grandmother, Rosetta (Aarons) Silberman. The writers of the Philadelphia Inquirer articles probably based their statements that Solomon Aarons had two sons on the fact that two of them are buried in the same plot as their parents in Adath Jeshurun Cemetery. I wrote about the nine offspring in this post.

Here is a photograph of Solomon Aarons' grave in Philadelphia:

Test from phone

Now is the time for all good men to blah blah blah Well, what do you know! I did it! From my phone! For the first time! Live and learn,...