“Give me Liberty or Give me Death” or everyone has “stuff”

“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.”
― Henry David Thoreau

Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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(beautiful white azaleas in Julie’s yard / 2014)

Most individuals who we currently read about today in the annuals of our History, those brave men and woman who have gone long before us, paving the way for the life we all know and treasure today, have grown, no doubt, larger than life exponentially with the passing of time. Exploits and deeds take on lives of their own as the truth, history, fact and legend mix precariously through the ages.

We tend to think of such individuals as almost super human, void of the things we mere mortals suffer and deal with on a daily basis.

I think Steven Spielberg helped us humanize Abraham Lincoln in his most recent movie “Lincoln”. The movie portrayed a man acquainted with deep sorrow and affliction. We actually saw a man (albeit the actor) wrestle with grief and loss while dealing with the shared pain within the dynamics of his family, all the while as a Nation wrestled with tremendous growing pains.

The cynics among us can say that Mr. Spielberg may have taken liberties with the emotions of a man that we know only through grainy black and white photographs and the myriad of writings, letters, and documented statements regarding his actions and reactions. Yet it is the actual seeing and viewing of such actions and reactions, via the medium of stage and screen, that which we see with our very eyes, which makes the man, truly a man.

I say all of this as I read most recently a most interesting article regarding Patrick Henry. Our famous Revolutionary War hero whose immortal words “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” have cemented his fame and notoriety in the pages of the birth of this mighty Nation.

Not knowing a great deal of Mr. Henry’s personal life, I was intrigued by this short article regarding such. It seems that one evening, several years prior to the turbulent days of the Revolution, Mr. Henry was entertaining some guests. As everyone had gathered in the parlor for after dinner brandies and conversation, a commotion was heard coming from somewhere in or under the house. A scratching sound and the faint shrieks and screams of what must be a woman or perhaps bobcat. Appearing somewhat confused and baffled, Mr. Henry moved his guests to another room of the house where the remainder of the evening was quiet and without further distraction.

Was it a ghost the guests, and now reader, perhaps wonder?

Upon the departure of his guests, Mr. Henry returned to the parlor where he first heard the dubious sounds and proceeded to pull back a rug from the floor, revealing a small trap door. Mr. Henry pulls open the door, and with a candle in hand, proceeds down the steps to a dark labyrinth which ran underneath his home. He makes his way hesitantly through the dark and wending alley like maze. Suddenly the candle casts an eerie glow towards something huddled in a darkened corner. Cowering in this dark tomb crouches a figure, which at first glance appears to be that of an apparition or other worldly specter— but in actuality was that of a woman.

She is dirty with wild darting eyes. “There there my dear” the reader hears Mr. Henry utter, whispering across the span of hundreds of years.

The story now takes on a sad twist verses one of some other worldly shenanigans.
It seems that Mr. Henry was once married to a woman named Sarah– to whom he greatly loved as she in turn loved him. During the course of their marriage, she bore six children for the couple, but as the years passed, it was noted that her mental health became more an more erratic. Her actions became violent as she attempted to cause harm to not only the children and Mr. Henry but to herself as well.

Given that this was the mid 1700’s, in a young new land, facilities and care for the mentally ill were quite archaic if non existent. The notion was still widely believed that those who suffered mental illness were actually demonically possessed or were practicing witches. Treatment for such individuals was often more torturous then restorative with many patients dying in unspeakable conditions.

Historians continue with conflicting theories as to Mr. Henry’s intentions for locking Sarah in a damp and dark cellar. Some believe that, fearing for her safety as well as for the rest of the family’s, it was the only solution but to lock her away (shades of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights comes to mind). Others theorize that his reasons were a bit more sinister and selfish as he was embarrassed having a wife who was mad and wished that no one knew, or as few individuals as possible, of his wife’s “condition”.

Either reason mattered not upon her death, at which time Mr. Henry cleared both house and heart of any and all reminders of his wife, never speaking of her again.

It was not much longer until the Mr. Henry we all now know grew into his own with his famous Revolutionary battle cry.

This story is but one small reminder that we all have our burdens to bear in our lives. No one is exempt from the mishaps of life. Some of us may seem to be more blessed than others, living more charmed lives than others, but that is merely only on the surface. Chances are that even the most fortunate among us have had their share of trials, sorrows, tragedies, setbacks, struggles, miscues, and misadventures.

Even as those who saw the recent movie “Saving Mr. Banks” came to learn, that even the most magical among us, have had to bear hardship, often times at the hand of physical and emotional abuse.

The real story here is that greatness can and does rise up from adversity. We may either allow the circumstances of our lives to ruin and destroy us, or we can use them as a stepping stool, reaching upward and outward, working our way toward bigger and better places.

I have written often about the dysfunction and mental illness which plagued my own family as I was growing up, so I can speak first hand of its devastation and darkness, but I am here to also speak of the saving Grace and Hope that can be found waiting as well.

Do not allow life’s darkness to cover the radiant light that lies deep within your own heart. Do not succumb to the hardships and sorrow. It is all merely the furnace which is being used to forge, shape and mould the beauty in your own soul.

No one says that you must love these difficulties and burdens but they will tell you to learn from them and to use them for making not only yourself and your life better, but use them for making that of the World’s existence better as well. . .

Hidden Past

“How can the past and future be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet? As for the present, if it were always present and never moved on to become the past, it would not be time, but eternity.”
― Augustine of Hippo

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(remnants of a long forgotten still found deep in the woods of Troup County, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2014)

Buried deep throughout hills and woods, since Revolutionary days, from Pennsylvania to Florida, a clandestine world once flourished.
Scattered debris of the silent ghosts of a former world, now fade into dark shadows.
Discarded pieces of a secret past.
Gaelic roots
Whisky
Moonshine
Stumpwater
Hooch
White lightning
Rotgut

Fires burned under the cover of moonlit nights
Jugs loaded into burlap sacks, dropped silently into black water creeks, whisked swiftly down stream to waiting hands.
Barrels of sugar
Bags of corn
Copper coils
As one man’s income becomes another man’s poison.

Chances are that today’s woodland wanderer will stumble upon pieces of this mysterious time.
The remnants of illegal lives hidden deep from prying eyes.
Broken shards of pottery, pieces of colored glass and rust coated metals fade from memory under dying leaves.
Taxes were levied
Rebellions were quelled
Taxes were repealed
Wars were fought
Taxes re-levied
As prohibition begins
Speakeasies thrived
Revenues refused
as people died

Pieces of history from a nation’s vices lay broken and forgotten
For good or bad, it is our past
Volatile, Secretive, intoxicating
Lives were taken and lost
Fugitives
Mobsters
Revenue Men
Mountain Men
Triple X

Walking in the woods seeking solace, peace, wonder
Yet finding history, stories, secrets
Voices hide behind the trees
as shadows move through the night
Echoes of a past. . .
both yours and mine.

(*** To be out walking and exploring an area that has yet to be claimed by the insatiable appetite of urban expansion, only to happen upon the past endeavors of the men and woman who once inhabited the area of which I am currently traipsing, I am always amazed and certainly surprised. Be it the pock marked caves and deep holes nestled in what was once considered uncharted woods, all of which were once dug by those who thought gold was hidden underneath the ground. . .to the broken bits and pieces of the clandestine stills which once laced these back woods throughout the South—I am awed and most astonished to have a glimpse at dreams and secrets of those who went before me. These small reminders which act as pieces of the thread which weave the once rural highlands and lowlands of my southern culture together.

Growing up in Atlanta, I can easily remember when the new trendy spin-off upstart cities, those that have broken away from the all encompassing umbrella of the mega Fulton County, home to Atlanta City, were but the pastures and fields of the farmers who called north Georgia home.

My high school was built in 1968 and was just barley 4 years old when I entered it’s hallowed halls. It was considered new, trendy, modern and on the leading edge of the massive urban sprawl sweeping Atlanta’s expansion northward. Before there was Perimeter Mall, a completed GA 400, the “Mcmansions” of which Atlanta is now so famous for, or the cities such as Sandy Springs, John’s Creek, or Milton. . .there were still farms, dense deep woods, and a now forgotten “country way of life” which truthfully, I miss.

The woods surrounding my high school, the woods that gave way first to the high school’s cross famed country course, followed by the now massive exclusive neighborhoods, the area was full of the would-be mines, the dug out holes and caves, of those who just knew there was gold in “them thar hills”.
I can still wander in the dense woods of the far western counties of Georgia, those counties which still remain more rural than urban, finding the remains of those who thought they were safe to create a secret yet lucrative business for homemade whiskey, better known as moonshine. The forgotten broken remains of stills lace the backwoods of Georgia.

These remnants of day’s gone by, which are now rarely seen or found, due to the gobbling up of a hungry need for growth, not only offer intrigue to our history of development, but the nostalgic humility which comes to those who are fortunate enough to catch a small glimpse of what once was. . .)