This time of year….

Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world.

William Shakespeare

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

Scottish saying

Halloween Pumpkins, Witch, Devil, and Black Cat
(vintage halloween card)

What is it about this time of year…
This time of year when we seem to crave the supernatural?
Is it in our nature to lean-in, ever so closely,
to those ancient tales of the “other side”?

Halloween,
what once was an evening relegated to the innocence of the imaginations of children,
has grown to become the second largest commercial “holiday” following Christmas.
No longer is All Hallow’s Eve a single night for young children to don costumes…
all the while as they canvass their neighborhoods, singing trick or treat,
as they amass a small mountain of candy…

Adults have gotten deep into the act.
With Halloween merry making and party going exceeding that of New Years Eve…
For it has now become a month long event….

Yet aside from candy and costumes, which innocently afford one the opportunity to play
dress up as some alter ego,
Halloween has become, more or less, a spiritual excuse.
An open invitation allowing ourselves to taste a bit of a spiritual realm…
But the trouble…
for that is what it becomes, a trouble…
lies in the choice of realms…

Bemused, you may wonder if there is a problem with this yearly interest,
of which borders on obsession,
in this revelry of the realm of the spirits…

And I fear that…yes, perhaps there is.

For you see, we are indeed spiritual beings…
with spirituality being hardwired into our DNA—
And history has proven that it is not necessarily always a need
for a monotheistic God that we seek,
but some sort of spirituality none the less.

Hollywood has long jumped on the bandwagon of our desire to examine spiritual realms,
while at the same time allowing us to exert that odd need to be frightened.
Spook and Horror movies, as well as those tales of witchcraft,
demon possession and specters, have long topped box offices
as we have an almost sick obsession with such.

It is as if cultures worldwide use Halloween as some sort of green light,
a go ahead in affording ourselves permission to dabble in the art of
fortune telling, tarot cards, palm readers, seances, Ouija boards,
paranormal hunting…the supernatural.
All coupled with jaunts to places that are supposedly haunted, creepy and even perhaps dangerous…
and lest we forget the trips to the myriads of haunted / horror houses
which open throughout the month.

Even Disney and Six Flags have each gotten into the act…

So we tell ourselves that that makes it all perfectly safe and harmless.

And yes Halloween, and the thought of spirits,
does indeed course through the blood of humankind….
With those roots traveling far back to Celtic Europe, the ancient Pagan Middle Eastern Kingdoms,
ancient tribes of the Americas, Asia and even Africa—
as every race of people has had that aspect of the supernatural and mystical tied
to their very beginnings.

So maybe we’ve just deem it as all innocent fun as we explore this need of the mystical.

Perhaps we merely convince ourselves that it’s simply wired
deep within the ancient core of our brains…
this odd desire to be scared and frightened…
all the while as we parle into a realm different from our own…

Maybe it’s just something we simply enjoy…

“So what,” we grouse, if it morphs into something else…
something other…
“I’m not scared, I don’t believe in that
hocus locus business…it’s just harmless fun…”

Yet there is just something troubling about it all…
Something actually quite unsettling…
Something actually very dangerous..

For in the naiveté of opening seemingly harmless doors,
we enter into an on-going battle…
an ancient battle for which we are simply not prepared to fight…

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,
but against the rulers, against the authorities,
against the powers of this dark world and against the
spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Therefore put on the full armor of God,
so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground,
and after you have done everything, to stand.

Ephesians 6:12-13

a teacher’s ultimate love

The mediocre teacher tells.
The good teacher explains.
The superior teacher demonstrates.
The great teacher inspires.

William A. Ward

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(Miss Hunt’s first grade class/ 1966-67 / High Point Elementary )

One of the oldest tricks of the trade of any educator…
Put that one student next to you who needs that extra eye…
The student who you can easily redirect when they’re off task by merely having them within reach…
You may note who it is who is situated right by the teacher in reading circle…
yours truly…

Whenever I spot a positive story about a teacher…
it is the teacher in me who feels the need to share…

You most likely have seen those stories, often featured in the news,
which relay the virtues of “true educators”…
Those stories featuring those teachers who go above and beyond the mere job…
elevating the job to what it is…a true vocation.
Those educators who go above and beyond the expected…
Those teachers who hold and comfort their kids during those unforeseen crises…
those moments in life which go beyond what would normally be expected of any educator…

This story is no different…
A young Scottish teacher who left the familiarity of home…
who went to teach young Jewish children in Budapest…
who at the onset of a world war was encouraged to come back home,
but who refused to leave her “kids”
Who was eventually sent to Auschwitz for her involvement with her “Jewish” children….
And who eventually gave her very life for her “kids”…
It’s is what any real teacher will do….

http://www.foxnews.com/science/2016/09/14/holocaust-heroines-will-lost-photos-unearthed-in-scotland.html

In everything set them an example by doing what is good.
In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned,
so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.
Titus 2:7-8

A chair, old things and a story of self

No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

“A house with old furniture has no need of ghosts to be haunted.”
― Hope Mirrlees

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(engraving from a circa 1890 copy of The Pilgrims Progress / Julie Cook / 2014)

I once taught with a woman who was an exceptional story teller.
No silly, not fortune teller, but rather story teller.
She oddly enjoyed teaching, of all things, freshman english–you know the ones—those young people caught in limbo somewhere between childhood and puberty who believe themselves to “be grown”. . .
Perhaps it was because she felt her young charges were still vulnerable and mouldable, much unlike their upperclassman counterparts. In her opinion there was still hope.

She was a delightful story teller—and that is exactly how she taught, by the use of stories.
It is said that we learn best by the hearing of stories. Perhaps that is how our brain best recalls information by placing dates and events into a story sequence verses simple rote memorization. Perhaps it is mere stimulation for our brains, increasing memory capacity as the imagination is at work.

I often envied her gift for story telling as I was not one to conjure up an immediate tale. Perhaps it was her keen use of imagination whereas I had let my imagination wane long ago. Either way, her students enjoyed her class as would I on those happenstance occasions when I’d be passing by her door as she was in the midst of a full regalia of the latest tale.

Which brings me to something I had told you about a week or so ago—it was a promised tale about a chair.
DSCN5474
(said chair seeking shelter on the streets of Savannah during a thunder storm / Julie Cook/ 2014)

Remember me telling you that I had found a chair at an Antique shop in Savannah when we were gathered for THE wedding? I happened upon it in a massive ancient cavernous warehouse just off River Street. The place was chock full of furniture all from England, France and Italy–dating from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

There were massive pieces of every size and shape fit for only the finest of homes. The most massive of homes. And most likely procured from such grand homes down through the ages. There were Tudor pieces, Georgian pieces, Colonial pieces and every type of Louis— but mainly there were heavy carved English pieces. Armoires, grandfather clocks, dinning tables, bar sets–as in entire massive wooden bars taken from taverns of long ago, wooden chests, cabinets, game tables, and chairs—a myriad of chairs.

We had actually wandered earlier into another antique store where I saw the loveliest group of Windsor chairs—old, as in 200 years or better, very early American Windsors—8 chairs going for the bargain price of $27,000! I knew right then and there I needed to leave that store. The shop keeper actually stopped me on the way out the door telling me he’d let me have them for $18,000.–a real steal. Good lord!! Who does that? Who can afford to do that?? Oh I digress. . .

So as I was weaving my way through the mazes which cut through the massive bevy of ancient wooden pieces, when suddenly, I stopped dead in my tracks. Perched up on a chest was this lone little chair–beckoning, calling out. . .”juuuullliiieeee. . .”
Rich dark wood, an ancient warm and woven cane back and bottom with the most splendid carvings imaginable. Cherubs, flowers crowns—imagine the story behind this lovely little piece!

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“ooooooo”
My husband wanders up behind me.
“What is it” he quips.
“Look” I breathlessly respond staring intently at the chair perched on an equally wonderful wooden chest.
“You like that!?” He quizzically asks as in I can tell he’s wondering why in the world I like it.
“oooooooo”
“How much is it?” he chirps
I look at the tag.
“Too much” I dejectedly respond.
“Where would you put it? The house is already busting at the seams with everything from your dads.”

My house is indeed more shrine than house I suppose. Most everything in the house is from either of my grandmothers or great aunts. A unique and eclectic blend of Italian, French, German and English pieces from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries with my own hodge lodge of 20th century shabby chic. Nothing matches.
There are figurines, china, paintings and furniture.
And my husband is right—almost too much stuff.

And yet this is the stuff of which I am made.

All of the stuff which is stuffed into my house is all the result of everyone in my life having died relatively early on. My mother actually preceded both grandmothers and great aunts to the grave. When you’re the lone surviving offspring, most everything comes your way. And as I happen to lean to the sentimental, I could never part with any of it–selling things away would be akin to selling away pieces of the very people who meant so very much to me.

And just in case you were wondering. . .no, I am not a hoarder thank you very much.

And this now brings us to, I think in part, as to why I love antiques. These pieces laced through my house were the pieces to the lives of my grandmothers, great aunt’s and mother. They made up their respective homes and their respective lives. One grandmother was very much the grand collector–acquiring this and that, then conventionally telling my grandfather, once he noticed some new this or that, “oh that old thing. . .we’ve had that”.
The other grandmother actually worked as a hair dresser in mid town Atlanta in the 1930’s-60’s. She would be given lovely things by her clients–mostly back in the 1940s when such gift giving was not so unexpected.

I can vividly recall where each item was in their homes and of my interactions and recollections. And as I’ve aged, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the pieces themselves.
For there is a history and a story behind each piece. A story that precedes even my grandmothers.
So many questions. . .
Who originally owned it when it lived across the pond?
Who may have touched it, come in contact with it?
Exactly how old it is?
What is its value?
Where was it located?
Why was it ever sold?
What attracted my grandmother to it?

As a history major throughout much of college, I hold a deep appreciation for the history behind things. It’s all about the story of a people–of how they, we, came to be— which is all so very intriguing.
Are we not all basically the same–those folks of the past along with those of us here and now?
We have not changed all that much over the centuries— as to what makes people, people, and what makes their things real.

The history is the story.
So many questions.
Who sat in this chair?
Who held this plate.
Who put flowers in this vase.
Who bought this as a present for a loved one?
Was this a commissioned piece or just the whimsy of a gifted carpenter?
Was it a part of a set?
What was the story of the journey from there, wherever there was, to here?
All this plays through my mind as I stand buried in a warehouse of ancient furniture staring at a lonely old chair marveling at how truly delicate the cane is woven–completely original–you don’t see such all that often.

My husband, who must have felt sorry for me as we were in the midst of wedding central and must have thought I was soon to be at my breaking point, offered to buy the chair as an early anniversary present (31 years in August)
“OOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”
Then quickly,”Oh no, it’s too much” I exclaim regaining some composure.
“I’ll get it if you really want it. . .”

15 minutes later we’re on our way back to the hotel, chair in tow.

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(sweet husband with chair)

Imagine the sight—my husband precariously carrying an antique chair through the old historic district of Savannah, down busy Bay Street, about a mile back to the hotel, with my aunt and I in hot pursuit. People were staring and commenting on the chair.
“Is it South African?” one man inquires.
“Heaven’s no” I exclaim—as I think to myself—We’re standing in the middle of colonial America for crying out loud, as in the 13th colony, founding city, James Oglethorpe, Georgia, as in King George, for Heaven’s sake. . .South African, really. . .

Suddenly a thunderstorm appears out of no where. I shriek, yelling for my husband to seek shelter between some massive columns protruding form some downtown building. We hunker down into the narrow protected space— the 3 of us plus chair– all tightly pressed against a massive granite building waiting for the rain to subside.

The chair stayed in my hotel room during the remainder of the wedding weekend. Family and friends wandering in would exclaim “oh my, did that chair come with the room?” Again, really?!
Eventually, upon our departure, the chair was given a prime place in the car for the long journey back home. It now graces a corner in my family room—maintaining its aura of royalty.

Maybe its Scottish?
Maybe it hails from Mary Queen of Scots. Maybe she sat on it while contemplating her cousin Elizabeth’s quandary.
Maybe William Wallace or Robert the Bruce sat upon it waiting for freedom—I know, that’s a big stretch time wise.
or maybe more like Robbie Burns penning his latest forlorn thoughts or perhaps Rob Roy plotting rebellion. . .

Or maybe it’s just some little pub chair from some long forgotten little tavern– happy now to finally be out of the pub. . .
The history is truly the story. . .

(Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow regarding the acquisition of a most interesting object last week from Scotts Antique Show in Atlanta—talk about a story)