Thanks for Thanksgiving

plimouth plantation 2I apologize for my unannounced hiatus from Post Whistle — no new mail for more than a week!  Now that I’m back and Thanksgiving is just past, it seems fitting to talk about why the fourth Thursday in November is a national holiday in America.

Woman_weavingFirst and foremost, the tradition is rooted in either a real feast or stories about a feast held by the Wampanoag tribe and the English separatists who survived their first winter in the New World. No one called them Pilgrims then, not until about two centuries later. Most of those early settlers would have died without the food and agricultural expertise of the First Nations people. So we know whom to thank!

But why thank anyone on that particular day?

Sarah_Hale_portraitFor that we should thank Sarah Josepha Hale, a 19th century author and magazine editor who championed the cause of a national day of thanksgiving for almost two decades.

While several New England states celebrated a day to give thanks, the dates ranged from October through January, and few citizens of the South recognized a date at all. Sarah began advocating a national day of thanksgiving in 1846 and wrote letters to five different presidents over the course of 17 years: Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and finally Abraham Lincoln in 1863, when the country was engulfed in Civil War.

“You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.”

In an era suffused with violence on a national scale, perhaps the idea of a day on which to gather in peace and give thanks held special appeal. Five days after Sarah wrote her letter, Lincoln issued a proclamation on October 3 promoting Sarah’s idea of a national day of Thanksgiving in November.

Congress passed official legislation to that effect on October 6, 1941.

So thank you to the Wampanoag people who fed strangers from across the sea and thank you Sarah for encouraging a day of thanks even in the midst of war.

Letter-SarahHaletoLincolnTHE ENTIRE TEXT OF SARAH’S LETTER TO LINCOLN

Philadelphia,
Sept. 28th 1863
Sir.–

Permit me, as Editress of the “Lady’s Book”, to request a few minutes of your precious time, while laying before you a subject of deep interest to myself and — as I trust — even to the President of our Republic, of some importance. This subject is to have the day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.

You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.

Enclosed are three papers (being printed these are easily read) which will make the idea and its progress clear and show also the popularity of the plan.

For the last fifteen years I have set forth this idea in the “Lady’s Book”, and placed the papers before the Governors of all the States and Territories — also I have sent these to our Ministers abroad, and our Missionaries to the heathen — and commanders in the Navy. From the recipients I have received, uniformly the most kind approval. Two of these letters, one from Governor (now General) Banks and one from Governor Morgan[2] are enclosed; both gentlemen as you will see, have nobly aided to bring about the desired Thanksgiving Union.

But I find there are obstacles not possible to be overcome without legislative aid — that each State should, by statute, make it obligatory on the Governor to appoint the last Thursday of November, annually, as Thanksgiving Day; — or, as this way would require years to be realized, it has ocurred to me that a proclamation from the President of the United States would be the best, surest and most fitting method of National appointment.

I have written to my friend, Hon. Wm. H. Seward, and requested him to confer with President Lincoln on this subject As the President of the United States has the power of appointments for the District of Columbia and the Territories; also for the Army and Navy and all American citizens abroad who claim protection from the U. S. Flag — could he not, with right as well as duty, issue his proclamation for a Day of National Thanksgiving for all the above classes of persons? And would it not be fitting and patriotic for him to appeal to the Governors of all the States, inviting and commending these to unite in issuing proclamations for the last Thursday in November as the Day of Thanksgiving for the people of each State? Thus the great Union Festival of America would be established.

Now the purpose of this letter is to entreat President Lincoln to put forth his Proclamation, appointing the last Thursday in November (which falls this year on the 26th) as the National Thanksgiving for all those classes of people who are under the National Government particularly, and commending this Union Thanksgiving to each State Executive: thus, by the noble example and action of the President of the United States, the permanency and unity of our Great American Festival of Thanksgiving would be forever secured.

An immediate proclamation would be necessary, so as to reach all the States in season for State appointments, also to anticipate the early appointments by Governors.[3]

Excuse the liberty I have taken

With profound respect

Yrs truly

Sarah Josepha Hale,

Editress of the “Ladys Book”

Write to Me

Egyptian letter“Write to me…” penned a young soldier of the Roman legions named Aurelus Polion to his family 1,800 years ago.

Plaintively, he asks his mother, brother and sister to respond to one of the six unanswered letters he has sent them.

“I do not cease writing to you, but you do not have me in mind. But I do my part writing to you always and do not cease bearing you (in mind) and having you in my heart. But you never wrote to me concerning your health, how you are doing. I am worried about you because although you received letters from me often, you never wrote back to me so that I may know how you … while away in Pannonia I sent (letters) to you, but you treat me so as a stranger … I departed … and you are glad that(?) … the army. I did not … you a … for the army, but I … departed from you. I sent six letters to you. ”

Tebtunis 2Grant Adamson, a graduate student at Rice University, recently translated the fragile papyrus that an 1899 expedition unearthed in Tebtunis, Egypt, about 90 miles south of Cairo. Buried in the sand a millennium ago, Tebtunis has yielded tens of thousands of papyri, recording life in the cross-cultural city that melded Greek, Roman and Egyptian lifestyles.

Did Polion argue with his family before he joined the army? Was joining the army the reason he was at outs with his family? Whatever the cause of the breach, the young recruit sounds both upset and worried, writing from far away Pannonia, a central European region that spread across modern day Hungary, eastern Austria, northern Croatia, north-western Serbia, northern Slovenia, western Slovakia and northern Bosnia and Herzegovina.

While Polion’s name Aurelius is Roman, he may still have been Egyptian by birth. After 212 ACE, Rome began granting more widespread Roman citizenship to provincial inhabitants of the empire, and they often adopted Roman names.

tebtunis 3Phoebe Apperson Hearst, the first woman Regent of the University of California, Berkeley, funded the archaeological expedition that unearthed the papyri. The archaeologists recovered texts from the ruins of private homes, government offices and the temple of Soknebtunis as well as from human and crocodile mummies in two cemeteries. The soldier’s letter was recovered from the town, not from a mummy. But about those crocodile mummies…

Tebtunis 4Soknebtunis, the crocodile god — Sobek, Lord of Tebtunis — was the chief deity worshipped in the city. A large cache of papyri was unearthed at his temple, and more were found recycled in the mummy wrappings of sacred crocodiles.

Tebtunis 6

Adult crocodile with babies on back.

Expedition leaders Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt, unfortunately, considered the crocodile mummies expendable. Knowing that priests and funeral officials often recycled old papyrus in mummy wrappings, they pulled apart about 1,000 crocodile mummies in their search for ancient texts, but only 31 of the mummies yielded any papyrus fragments. On a few crocodiles they discovered rolls of papyrus wound around the creatures with additional scraps stuffed in their mouths and body cavities. Just a handful of Tebtunis crocodile mummies remain, whether still wrapped in intricate bindings and painted masks or as shriveled husks stripped bare. Researchers at UC Berkeley are now scanning the remaining mummies to unlock more secrets of the sacred crocodiles.

Tebtunis 5Excavators also discovered Tebtunis papyri in an ancient garbage dump and surmised the priests at the temple of of Soknebtunis occasionally emptied the archives to make room for new material.

Read the full text of the letter below and here’s an article about the letter with more information.

THE LETTER

legion-xiiii-at-verulamium-museum-credit-enjoystalbansAurelius Polion, soldier of legio II Adiutrix, to Heron his brother and Ploutou his sister and his mother Seinouphis the bread seller and lady(?), very many greetings. I pray that you are in good health night and day, and I always make obeisance before all the gods on your behalf. I do not cease writing to you, but you do not have me in mind. But I do my part writing to you always and do not cease bearing you (in mind) and having you in my heart. But you never wrote to me concerning your health, how you are doing. I am worried about you because although you received letters from me often, you never wrote back to me so that I may know how you … while away in Pannonia I sent (letters) to you, but you treat me so as a stranger … I departed … and you are glad that(?) … the army. I did not … you a … for the army, but I … departed from you. I sent six letters to you. The moment you have(?) me in mind, I shall obtain leave from the consular (commander), and I shall come to you so that you may know that I am your brother. For I demanded(?) nothing from you for the army, but I fault you because although I write to you, none of you(?) … has consideration. Look, your(?) neighbor … I am your brother. You also, write back to me … write to me. Whoever of you …, send his … to me. Greet my(?) father(?) Aphrodisios and Atesios my(?) uncle(?) … his daughter … and her husband and Orsinouphis and the sons of the sister of his mother, Xenophon and Ouenophis also known as Protas(?) … the Aurelii … (left margin) … the letter …

BACK OF LETTER: ADDRESS
to the sons and Seinouphis the bread seller … from(?) Aurelius(?) Polion, soldier of legio II Adiutrix … from(?) Pan- nonia Inferior(?) … Deliver to Acutius(?) Leon(?), veteran of legio …, from Aurelius Polion, soldier of legio II Adiutrix, so that he may send it home …”

Tebtunis 7

The Pen Mightier Than the Guard

Drishti Harchandrai If at first you don’t succeed, write a letter.

When an 11-year-old girl in India tried to interview Devendra Fadnavis, Chief Minister of the Indian state, Maharashtra, security guards turned her away from the guest house where he was staying.

But Drishti Harchandrai, a student at Mumbai’s JB Petit School, was undeterred. After all, her HOMEWORK was at stake.

She wrote a letter to Fadnavis and insisted that a guard deliver it, “The security guards are not allowing me in, if and when you get my letter please call on my cell number… I need an interview for school.”

Needless to say, Drishti bagged her journalistic scoop.

Read more in this Times of India article. 

Indian letter

Is Nothing Sacred?

adhesive

Tape wadded up in the drop down slot of a collection box.

Thieves are fishing for mail. FISHING FOR MAIL!

It’s not enough that they send spam to millions of email accounts, “phishing” for passwords to compromise us electronically.

Now they are dropping fishing lines with sticky “hooks” or long strips of tape into collection boxes to steal snail mail. After all, the odds are good that they will snare a bill and some kind of payment because people mail little else in envelopes today. How annoyed they must be if they reel in an actual letter.

Where are P.H. Woodward and his trusty band of special agents when you need them?

Here’s an article that includes suggested steps to follow the next time you mail anything.

Channeling Jane

Pride & PrejRaise your hand if you’ve watched a Jane Austen film and wanted to step into the story to attend a ball (and not just to meet the dishy Mr. Darcy). Jane herself loved to dance and mentioned neighborhood balls in letters to her sister Cassandra. Her own enjoyment of lively country dances was echoed by many of her characters. After all, as she wrote in Pride and Prejudice, “To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love.”

I recently attended a Victorian Tea Dance and stumbled my way through a Quadrille and a few other numbers. Although set in an era several decades after Jane’s, many dances included steps similar to those she twirled through at local assemblies and private parties. I discovered other similarities when I read Jane’s vivacious account of a ball she attended in November, 1800 — 214 years before my own.

Meryton AssemblyIt was a pleasant ball, and still more good than pleasant, for there were nearly sixty people, and sometimes we had seventeen couple. The Portsmouths, Dorchesters, Boltons, Portals, and Clerks were there, and all the meaner and more usual &c., &c.’s. There was a scarcity of men in general, and a still greater scarcity of any that were good for much. I danced nine dances out of ten — five with Stephen Terry, T. Chute, and James Digweed, and four with Catherine. There was commonly a couple of ladies standing up together, but not often any so amiable as ourselves.

Two centuries later, women outnumbered men at my dance, too. In fact, I danced the gentleman’s part more than once myself. Alas, no one looked like Mr. Darcy. But then, I’m no Elizabeth Bennet…

You can enjoy Jane’s entire letter to her sister below, including more about her ball.

Dancing line

[Sections about the ball are all in blue]

Steventon: Saturday, November 1800

MY DEAR CASSANDRA,

You have written, I am sure, though I have received no letter from you since your leaving London; the post, and not yourself, must have been unpunctual.

We have at last heard from Frank; a letter from him to you came yesterday, and I mean to send it on as soon as I can get a ditto (that means a frank), which I hope to do in a day or two. En attendant, you must rest satisfied with knowing that on the 8th of July the “Petterel,” with the rest of the Egyptian squadron, was off the Isle of Cyprus, whither they went from Jaffa for provisions, &c., and whence they were to sail in a day or two for Alexandria, there to wait the result of the English proposals for the evacuation of Egypt. The rest of the letter, according to the present fashionable style of composition, is chiefly descriptive. Of his promotion he knows nothing; of prizes he is guiltless.

Your letter is come; it came, indeed, twelve lines ago, but I could not stop to acknowledge it before, and I am glad it did not arrive till I had completed my first sentence, because the sentence had been made ever since yesterday, and I think forms a very good beginning.

Your abuse of our gowns amuses but does not discourage me; I shall take mine to be made up next week, and the more I look at it the better it pleases me. My cloak came on Tuesday, and, though I expected a good deal, the beauty of the lace astonished me. It is too handsome to be worn — almost too handsome to be looked at. The glass is all safely arrived also, and gives great satisfaction. The wine-glasses are much smaller than I expected, but I suppose it is the proper size. We find no fault with your manner of performing any of our commissions, but if you like to think yourself remiss in any of them, pray do.

My mother was rather vexed that you could not go to Penlington’s, but she has since written to him, which does just as well. Mary is disappointed, of course, about her locket, and of course delighted about the mangle, which is safe at Basingstoke. You will thank Edward for it on their behalf, &c., &c., and, as you know how much it was wished for, will not feel that you are inventing gratitude.

Did you think of our ball on Thursday evening, and did you suppose me at it? You might very safely, for there I was. On Wednesday morning it was settled that Mrs. Harwood, Mary, and I should go together, and shortly afterwards a very civil note of invitation for me came from Mrs. Bramston, who wrote I believe as soon as as she knew of the ball. I might likewise have gone with Mrs. Lefroy, and therefore, with three methods of going, I must have been more at the ball than anyone else. I dined and slept at Deane; Charlotte and I did my hair, which I fancy looked very indifferent, nobody abused it, however, and I retired delighted with my success.

It was a pleasant ball, and still more good than pleasant, for there were nearly sixty people, and sometimes we had seventeen couple. The Portsmouths, Dorchesters, Boltons, Portals, and Clerks were there, and all the meaner and more usual &c., &c.’s. There was a scarcity of men in general, and a still greater scarcity of any that were good for much. I danced nine dances out of ten — five with Stephen Terry, T. Chute, and James Digweed, and four with Catherine. There was commonly a couple of ladies standing up together, but not often any so amiable as ourselves.

I heard no news, except that Mr. Peters, who was not there, is supposed to be particularly attentive to Miss Lyford. You were inquired after very prettily, and I hope the whole assembly now understands that you are gone into Kent, which the families in general seemed to meet in ignorance of. Lord Portsmouth surpassed the rest in his attentive recollection of you, inquired more into the length of your absence, and concluded by desiring to be “remembered to you when I wrote next.”

Lady Portsmouth had got a different dress on, and Lady Bolton is much improved by a wig. The three Miss Terries were there, but no Annie; which was a great disappointment to me. I hope the poor girl had not set her heart on her appearance that evening so much as I had. Mr. Terry is ill, in a very low way. I said civil things to Edward for Mr. Chute, who amply returned them by declaring that, had he known of my brother’s being at Steventon, he should have made a point of calling upon him to thank him for his civility about the Hunt.

I have heard from Charles, and am to send his shirts by half-dozens as they are finished; one set will go next week. The “Endymion” is now waiting only for orders, but may wait for them perhaps a month. Mr. Coulthard [1] was unlucky in very narrowly missing another unexpected guest at Chawton, for Charles had actually set out and got half way thither in order to spend one day with Edward, but turned back on discovering the distance to be considerably more than he had fancied, and finding himself and his horse to be very much tired. I should regret it the more if his friend Shipley had been of the party, for Mr. Coulthard might not have been so well pleased to see only one come at a time.

Miss Harwood is still at Bath, and writes word that she never was in better health, and never more happy. Joshua Wakeford died last Saturday, and my father buried him on Thursday. A deaf Miss Fonnereau is at Ashe, which has prevented Mrs. Lefroy’s going to Worting or Basingstoke during the absence of Mr. Lefroy.

My mother is very happy in the prospect of dressing a new doll which Molly has given Anna. My father’s feelings are not so enviable, as it appears that the farm cleared 300l. last year. James and Mary went to Ibthorp for one night last Monday, and found Mrs. Lloyd not in very good looks. Martha has been lately at Kintbury, but is probably at home by this time. Mary’s promised maid has jilted her, and hired herself elsewhere. The Debaries persist in being afflicted at the death of their uncle, of whom they now say they saw a great deal in London. Love to all. I am glad George remembers me.

Yours very affectionately, J. A.

585px-Jane_Austen_signature_from_her_will.svgI am very unhappy. In re-reading your letter I find I might have spared myself any intelligence of Charles. To have written only what you knew before! You may guess how much I feel. I wore at the ball your favourite gown, a bit of muslin of the same round my head, bordered with Mrs. Cooper’s band, and one little comb.

Miss Austen, Godmersham Park.

Now I Feel Old

092d70539fcd78f77a72234d9f2353bb1415066545_fullGodzilla is 60? Impossible! Next thing you know they’ll be saying Superman is in his 70s.

But it must be so because Setagawa ward in Tokyo has just presented Godzilla with an official letter of appreciation. In Japan, 60 used to be the traditional age of retirement, but the old monster just starred in a new film and shows no inclination to sit kibbitzing in a lawn chair at Golden Acres.

I remember watching Godzilla movie reruns as a child on black and white TV. I still recall one nightmare about the building-stomping lizard. In my dream, my sister and I sat in the back of the family station wagon, dressed in our pajamas. (Remember being out late and having your parents make you put on PJs so you could go straight to bed when you returned home?) I picked up my quilted robe from the back of the car and found either a kid without a head or a head without a kid — time has blurred that detail. Either way, I KNEW it was the work of Godzilla and that he would be coming for us next…

But now Godzilla has turned 60. He’s eligible for the senior discount at many restaurants and perhaps has become more cautious of his knee joints, preferring to lumber around skyscrapers instead of crushing them in his path.

I feel old.

Read more about his letter of appreciation on crunchyroll.com.

Postcards in the Round

round postcard 3My friend Mary Kay Goodwin sent me this postcard from Innsbruck, Austria when we were still in high school.

She wrote: “I’ve bought lederhosen, a sweater, ski jacket and lots of other things,” and that she had lots of slides to show me when she got back.

Europe seemed impossibly far away back then. My own family vacations had not ventured further east than Colorado, and I had never flown on a plane. So why not a round post card from such distant climes? The cheese-wedge design makes sense for an alpine nation.

But the round format obviously spread beyond Swiss and Austrian borders (and their cheese overtones) because a few years later I sent a couple of round cards home to my sister Sherrie from Australia.

I even took advantage of the shape to vent my ill-humor against life by writing one letter in a tight spiral. Reading it is a dizzying exercise but demonstrates what a tenacious little twerp I was to keep turning the card as I penned my tale.

My comeuppance is deciphering it now so you won’t have to spin your computer screen to read it. (Not to mention revealing my inner geekdom in the last lines of the letter.)

round postcard 1“Dear Sherrie, I am not in too good a mood, so I decided to write this letter  to you in a mind boggling style as it will cheer me up considerably to think of how you will become dizzy trying to make some sense out of it! A cruel motive, but that’s the mood I’m in. Actually, I fell in love with these animal cards and wanted to send you one. Remember that card you sent me  a couple of months ago that just said “Shit”  on the front of it? Well, I’ve put it up in my room again as it expresses my feelings to a T. This morning Caroline and I were downtown for breakfast and to take a few pictures. We stopped in at the Southern Cross Hotel for tea and croissants. Someplace between my paying the bill and walking out the door, I put my wallet in my purse — but unfortunately missed the purse. When I got home, I discovered my walletless state. I called the hotel, but no luck. There wasn’t much money in it, but I had all sorts of I.D. cards there, and I like my wallet for sentimental reasons as well. The weekend wasn’t all bad. Caroline and I went to a Star Trek convention on Saturday night and saw 5 episodes in giant living color, plus  a reel of bloopers that was hilarious. You never were a Star Trek lover, were you? School is almost over and I’m ecstatic. I really need a holiday badly. Bye, Bye, Sue”

So, have you ever written in the round? Do shops even sell round post cards anymore?

round postcard 2