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Missed Milestones
Browser Wars!
Here's a Good Reason to Get Your Flu Shots.
The Mysterious Dynamics of Family
Aunt Lola and Her Chickens

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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Missed Milestones

While I've been mucking about trying to find a browser that would work for me, I've managed to miss two important milestones. Each of them would have merited a blog post of their own if I had been on time, but since they have already passed, I'll just call your attention to both of them. 


The first one happened at the beginning of last week. My Katzenhaus Books website passed the one million mark on the chart that keeps tract of page views.

 1,000,000.

 I have trouble getting my mind around that number. I started the website in the summer of 2011, and for the first year or so, I counted less than two hundred page views a month.  We've come a long way. So thanks to all of you who check the website to see what new books are on the way and to read this blog.  Your numbers aren't  legion, but I'll settle for a million!



And then on Tuesday evening, my talented designer at Avalon Graphics sent me the cover design for "Yankee Reconstructed." 

The map at the top shows several locations that will be familiar to many of you from previous books -- Beaufort (Beyond All Price), St. Helena Island (The Road to Frogmore), and Edisto Island (Damned Yankee). 

The picture on the bottom, however is new. It was taken about 23 miles inland from Beaufort, at the ruins of the parish church on Old Sheldon Road. The church, in its various states of disrepair plays a crucial role in the story to come.  I hope you'll be intrigued.












Coming on January 3, 2016.
Pre-Order Now at B&N, Kobo, and Apple iBooks
Kindle Pre-Orders Starting October 6, 2015

Browser Wars!

Brace yourself for a mini-rant!

I have not posted on this blog for several days because I have been unable to access it. No, the website has not been down. The problem was in my computer and the total inability of computer programs to cooperate with one another.  Label it “Browser Wars!

When i was teaching, i had the luxury of an IT Department run, in part, by a former favorite student and advisee. So if I ran into problems, I could simply dump them into his inbox and expect — and get!—a magical fix. 

But in retirement, I’m on my own.  I started with Explorer because that is what the college had taught me to use. However, on my home MAC, Explorer was an outer-space alien. And when it ate an entire website, chewing it up, digesting it, and spewing it out in the usual form of digested matter, I banished Explorer from my office.  

The Apple store said to use nothing but Safari, which worked fairly well for a while but then went through a series of unfortunate crashes as it tried to keep up with more advanced hardware.  When I tired of fighting those battles I switched to Mozilla, which seemed miraculous — for a while.

I don’t even remember all the permutations Mozilla went through in becoming Firefox, but for some time, it was my go-to browser.  Until, that is, Apple upgraded from its latest animal incantation to the proverbial mountaintop operating system, Yosemite!.  Do you remember Yosemite Sam from the Saturday matinee cartoons? Enough said!

Firefox couldn’t handle the mountaintop.  The persistent symptom was the invisible cursor.  After about five minutes of use, the cursor would simply fade away. I could tell it was there because items would light up or jump out as it passed over them, but I couldn’t see it to control it. And then the cursor problem spread to Microsoft Word.  I was trying to review and edit my book manuscript using the internet, correcting punctuation marks and spelling errors, without a cursor. Can’t be done!

When I called in the experts the diagnosis was unanimous.  Firefox was interfering with the cursor. Go back to Safari.  It had been years since my first problems with Safari, so I figured someone had had time to fix it.  Right? I spent yesterday switching all my bookmarks and passwords and links to Safari.  Wrong!  Suddenly I could not access my blog. When I clicked on its link — one that had worked for the past four years — it now took me to a zen website.

So this morning I called Vistaprint, the company that hosts my website. “You’re not using Safari, are you?” they asked. “”It won’t work with our software. Try Chrome.” So that’s where I am at the moment. I’ve downloaded another browser, transferred all my bookmarks and hidden passwords, and for the moment, it seems to be working.

But I’m left with a newly-discovered fondness for monopolies.  Wouldn’t it be nice if all these programs were run by a central agency that could keep them working hand in hand? Is that too much to ask?

Here's a Good Reason to Get Your Flu Shots.

Though the Great Plague gets more press, the 1918 influenza pandemic was much more deadly. It it one reason that both sides in World War I came to the peace table as it killed hundreds of thousands of young men in barracks and camps and made a growing manpower crisis critical.  The epidemic spread slowly, but I've seen few signs that people recognized it in its early stages. 

It certainly affected my family in western Pennsylvania in the year before anyone called it a pandemic..




The picture on the left shows my mother's oldest sister, Eleanor (called Ella) holding baby Electa in 1900. 

The picture on the right shows the whole Smith family in 1908 -- There's Ella (who seems to have aged  in the intervening 8 years), her husband, Harry Smith, and their two children, Clair and Electa.






In the notes I am assembling for my book on my mother's family, I find that my first cousin,  Electa Smith,  died at the age of 17 from influenza.  The year was 1917, according to her tombstone.   Her mother  (the oldest of the eight McCaskey girls)  died in 1920 of  "a broken heart," people said, and Electa's brother, Clair, was left with a permanent stutter from the grief that engulfed his family.


And then there is this picture, which has a bit of mystery behind it. That's Electa on the left at the age of 16.   The other girl, referred to only as "Carrie," seems to have been an orphan that the Smiths took in to help around the house.  After both Electa and Ella died, Harry quickly married Carrie. There's 
a story there, somewhere, but I doubt I'll find it.

The Mysterious Dynamics of Family

The more I dig into my mother’s family history, the more I am surprised by how different their life was at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Now, let me say, first, that I was born in 1939, and I grew up convinced that the twentieth century was “modern.” We had great cars, television, single-party telephone lines, women voted, girls got to wear slacks, and we had McDonald’s as a hang-out.  Oh, i know things have changed a lot since I was in high school, but the changes I've experienced have always seemed to me to be a natural progression, not some grand sea-change.  But now, as I look back at my mother’s life, and the lives of her seven sisters, I’m recognizing a tremendous gulf between our worlds.

Among the stories I’m finding are these:

    •    A developmentally-disabled child, raised without benefit of medical intervention or therapy or adaptations to make her life better. She just lives out her life as best she can. And if she cannot do something, or reach something, or understand what's happening, then it’s just too bad. Things pass her by.
    •    A child born out of wedlock, who carries that label of “illegitimate” as if it were she who has committed some great sin. Her mother, too, faces a lifetime of shaming and ridicule, which drives her to make even worse decisions with her life.  Who was the father? I wonder, but I find no record or even any effort to identify him or make him bear part of the responsibility.
    •    A father, knowing that he was dying, mortgages the family farm to hide the fact that he cannot work, which ultimately leaves his wife and children homeless and penniless when he dies.
    •    Another child, born to a mentally unstable mother and left solely in her care although she is clearly incapable of understanding her responsibilities. Even when the child comes close to dying at his mother’s hand, there is no intervention. There’s no social worker, or child protection agency, or thought of notifying some authority — because there is no authority to turn to if a child’s life is just plain rotten and dangerous.
    •    A man with what appears to be early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, whose tendency to get lost, whose forgetfulness, whose failure to recognize family members, whose sudden and violent  rages are all explained by his devotion to God.
    •    A teenager who dies from a lack of medical attention, and another scarred for life by an incompetent doctor — both of whom should have been able to live long and healthy lives.
    •    Another teenager, taken in by a new family when she was left an orphan, only to find that when the  wife died, she is expected to marry the husband.
    •    An adolescent boy, so traumatized at the age of twelve by the loss of family members that he develops a debilitating stutter that leaves him unable to communicate. and he is made fun of, not helped to overcome his problem.
    •    A young wife who suffers a devastating stroke that leaves her unable to say anything  beyond “a-no, a-no.” She never sees a doctor, never receives treatment. She is just allowed to wither away from neglect.
    •    An alcoholic husband who refuses to speak to his wife because she will not join his church.  And his absolute silence lasts not just for a period of days, but for years.

These stories, horrible as some of them were, were not told to me as anything other than simple explanations of why things were as they were.  And when, in the course of these tragedies, someone did step in to help, it was not a parent or a grandparent, a policeman, a pastor, or a teacher.  Invariably in this particular family help came only from one sister to another. I’m struggling to understand.



Aunt Lola and Her Chickens

Neither my Aunt Lola McCaskey nor her husband Frank Connor were particularly sensible people.  Lola spent her entire life convinced that she  alone was responsible for keeping everyone around her happy. That effort led her to some very bad decisions.

But Frank was worse.  By day, he was an unhappy butcher in the local grocery store. By night, he was a fire-breathing evangelical revival preacher.  In either role, he scared me to death -- whether he was coming home still wearing that bloody butcher's apron or whether I was sitting in a revival tent listening to him describe the fires of Hell.  He scared Lola, too, and with good cause.  He eventually ended his days in the state mental hospital after attacking her because he mistook her for the devil.  But that's another story.

The chickens came much earlier in their married lives. One day Uncle Frank came home upset about the price of eggs. Who knows what it was?  -- Five cents a dozen, maybe. Anyhow, whatever it was, he informed Aunt Lola that if she wanted eggs from then on, she would have to get a chicken -- which she did, because Lola always did what she was told.  In fact, she bought a whole lot of chickens. She tried raising the chickens in the back yard, but the neighbors complained.

She couldn't get rid of them because Frank had told her to raise them,  so she moved them into the basement. Frank seemed not to notice they were there, but the rest of the family knew. Can you imagine what that did to the house? For years afterwards, the entire house smelled like chicken droppings. They got rid of the chickens eventually when they started to die off, but they never got rid of the smell.

And speaking of chickens, one of the family legends concerned a chicken dinner at which there was an unexpected guest, so that by the time the plate of chicken was passed to Lola, all that was left was the tail. She took it, uncomplaining as always, and professed to find it delicious. So from then on, everybody saved their chicken tails for her, and she ate them for the rest of her life.


                         The same story also spawned a famous family quote.

When she was asked how she liked the tail, her answer was "It was good, what there was of it." Then, afraid that sounded like a complaint, she added, "Oh, there was enough of it, such as it was."

The moral, I suppose, is that when you try to keep everyone happy, you end up pleasing no one, not even yourself..