"Roundheads and Ramblings"
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

December 2011

A Cat Tale (Tail?) with a Happy Ending for New Year's Eve

So we have a monster-cat. Five years ago on Christmas he was a 7-week-old darling, all fuzz and purrs.  I named him Dundee, after the Scottish marmalade, because he was that sweet and that was the color of his fur. Unfortunately, he heard Dundee and immediately thought Crocodile Dundee, and that's been his personality ever since.  Seriously.  He no longer goes to the vet -- with the vet's full approval.  The staff passed him around, trying to find a doctor brave enough to put that thermometer where that thermometer needed to go.  Nope.  A year ago, they gave up trying to clip his claws, and this year decided he really didn't need that shot.

Now he weighs close to twenty pounds and asserts his masculinity by assuming "the pose."  He can be very loving and cuddly, IF it's his idea, but there's no way to make him do something he doesn't want to do.  He bows only to one authority -- our 17-year old tuxedo cat, who boxed Dundee's ears for him early in his life.  Now Dundee approaches Panda slowly, with head down, and begs to have his ears washed.  But with us -- he can be deliberately provocative. The vet suggested that he is a frustrated alpha-male, the youngest member of the family, and unable to exercise his natural leadership.  His advice? Get a kitten! Give Dundee someone to boss around.

My first reaction was no way! Dundee would eat a kitten for lunch.  But we finally decided to try it.  Thus this little Russian Blue named "Swizzle" joined the family this Christmas. She's almost 4 months old -- old enough to be able to defend herself, I hoped. But she didn't need a defense; she just charmed the arrogance right out of Crocodile Dundee.  Now he follows her around patiently, watching to make sure she's safe. He's a fuss-budget if she disappears. He gives her his toys and lets her eat out of his dish.  When I put her in the extra  bathroom for the night, he guards the door. And if she joins the rest of the cats for a nap on the big bed, Dundee is there, too, watching to make sure nobody else picks on her.






A lesson for the coming year? Perhaps it's this: Even the meanest kid on the block needs somebody to love.

Meet Swizzle, new addition to Kazenhaus Books

Santa came early to Katzenhaus Books, bringing a new addition to the family.  This is Swizzle, who was thrown into a trash can at Walmart when she was just one week old.  Luckily a concerned citizen found her and took her to the Humane Sociey, where she was fostered and hand-raised.  Now she's ready to join her new family.  Panda Cat is bored. Nutmeg is mad. Miz-Miz is leary, and Dundee is terrified.  But Swizzle?  She's found a house full  of toys and crunchy good food, four cat tails to play with, and two grown-ups who dote on her every purr.




She had a busy day, going through the adoption process, riding home in a car, exploring the new house, meeting the rest of the kids, going off again to meet her new vet, and getting her banana-flavored de-wormer medicine, a rabies shot, and a pedicure. By the time we got around to taking pictures, she was so exhausted, she fell asleep on husband's chest. Never fear.  She's such a looker that we'll be taking many more pictures in the next few days.

The Christmas Story in the Language of Laura Towne's People

I'm about to call a halt to blogging until after Christmas, but before I sign off entirely, I thought I'd leave you with a reading of the Christmas story from the Gullah Newe Testament.
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Luke 2 in Gullah
Margaret grew up on a sea island near Charleston, South Carolina. These small islands are off of the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. The Negros on those islands spoke a dialect called Gullah. ...

Is This the Real Nellie Chase?

A few days ago, my favorite researcher sent me a picture taken in 1863.  It showed three women on a small "carte de visite." At the bottom was a handwritten label: Nurses. Hospital No. ?. Summer "63."  The picture had been part of an auction held in 2006; it was listed as a rare CDV taken in Nashville.  It sold for $720.00.

David had a single stunning question for me: Is the woman on the left Nellie Chase? For those of you who don't recognize the name, Nellie is the heroine of my book, Beyond All Price. She was a teen-age runaway, "married" to a gambling, hard-drinking, cheating musician who was regularly on the run from the law, dragging Nellie with him.  To escape his abuse when he wanted her to become the madame of his new brothel, she signed on with a Union regiment as their matron and head nurse. After a year with the Pennsylvania Roundheads, she moved on to other Civil War battlegrounds, ending up in Union-occupied Nashville as matron of Hospital No. 3 in the spring of 1863.


For  years I've been saying with great confidence that only one picture of Nellie existed : this one: It shows Nellie in Beaufort, SC, with the staff of the Roundhead Regiment in March 1862. David and I had both hunted in vain for other pictures of her.  I enlisted the help of a librarian in Philadelphia because we knew she had had a CDV taken there. I combed the archives of the Army's Military History Museum.  David read every Civil War newspaper he could find. We plundered Google Books.  Nothing.  No record of her existed beyond this crumpled photo in Carlyle, PA.  And now this new question.  Could this be her?


I've tried putting the cropped images side by side. Study them for yourself.

The hairstyles are identical. The faces are rounded ovals with symmetrical features. Both women have noticably sloping shoulders --almost looking as if they have no collarbones. They have full lips but not a wisp of a smile. (I tried running facial recognition software on the two photos, but since one is full face and the other a profile, I could not get a clear hit.)

As for the Nashville picture, we know that Nellie was one of three nurses working in Hospital No. 3 at the time this picture was taken. I've confirmed those facts from published letters that mention her. She was in a supervisory position over the others, which would fit with the image of her reading to the other two.

In a past blog -- and in the new book I have coming out -- I have discussed the difference between a historian and a novelist, and coincidentally, the article I posted yesterday by Ian Mortimer raised the same question.  As a historian, I cannot prove that this new image is a picture of Nellie Chase.  But as a novelist (who is permitted to tell lies, even whoppers), I can say that this is the Nellie of my imagination.

So what do you think? Is this my Nellie? If you have read the book, is this how you think she might have looked? Does the picture bring her character into clearer focus?

Why Historians Should Write Fiction

Today and all of next week will be filled with page proofs and pecan tarts, but for those of you who have finished  your Christmas preparations, graded all your exams, and finished writing and editing your latest book, I'll be passing along some articles that I have found particularly helpful.  Most come from last month's virtual conference, "Novel Approaches."  To start it off, here's an important piece by Ian Mortimer.

“Your book reads like a novel,” is a comment that popular historians often hear. When said by a general reader, it is a compliment: an acknowledgement of the fluency of the writing and a compelling story. If a historian uses those same words, however, it is an insult. It means ‘you cannot be trusted on your facts’. Hence the title of this piece is bound to infuriate every reader of this journal, for it implies that historians should tell lies. After all, that is what novelists do, isn’t it? Make it all up if they don’t know the facts?

"I ought to explain at the outset that I am a novelist (James Forrester) as well as a historian (Ian Mortimer), and I write history for the mass market as well as scholarly articles. As a novelist, I tell lies. Whoppers. All historical novelists do. In my case, I have historical characters like Sir William Cecil and Francis Walsingham say and do things that they never really said or did. I make people die from causes that they did not die of, use modern langauge in their speech, and I change people’s names. As a historian, I do not tell lies. I scrupulously note primary and secondary sources. However, I have learned a great deal about history from writing historical fiction. And it is because of this learning experience that I want to recommend it."