Posted by: Richenda at Monday July 21, 2008 in

What’s a Gefangbuch you ask? It’s a German devotional book filled with prayers, psalms, devotional readings, and hymns.

I found this wonderfully battered copy locally. There were many German immigrants to Oregon Territory and this book, published in 1884, might have crossed the Atlantic with an immigrant headed for work in Fishers Quarry for all we know. Perhaps the owner sailed round the horn. Or maybe boarded the transcontinental railroad and headed west.

It’s really hard for Americans now to imagine the hardships of the ocean immigrant journey. Many who took the trip had nothing, brought nothing. Maybe just a prayer book.

(photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston, c1899)

I came across the above picture while doing research on the web. The picture is from the Library of Congress’ online website, as are the two beneath it. We can’t imagine what it might have been like then. In America’s malls we are so insulated from poverty and desperation. But the fact is that this kind of ‘have nothing’ immigration still persists. But today immigrants travel to Europe, not away from it, and the immigrants are from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

Regardless of who and where and when, human beings all have a habit of fleeing the same things—persecution, poverty, hunger, crop failure, calamity, tragedy. And these scenes of flight were all strangely printed on stereograph cards to be viewed in the parlors of the newly mobile and industrial Americans. Perhaps because they symbolized hope for the future more than the desperation of the past.

(photo by William H. Rau, c1902)

This next image, also from half an old stereograph card, shows a group of Italians coming to America. They were refugees fleeing the disaster of 1908, when a massive earthquake and tsunami left 100,000 of their countrymen dead.

(photo by B.W. Kilburn, c1909)

I am curious about the stories of those people. Some of the stone cutters who landed at Solomon Fisher’s Landing were Italians. There were Swedes and Austrians too, and of those immigrants who found work in Fishers quarry, some died fast, and young, before anyone even knew who they were or could contact their families. These quarrymen are buried at Fishers cemetery, though their wooden markers are long gone. We will never know their story.

But for some immigrants, proof exists. Like this hymn and prayer book, this Gefangbuch, which was perhaps the only thing small enough to carry and important enough to hang on to. This prayer book, which, from a letter tucked inside its pages, might yet offer up some part of its owner’s story to tell.

Can anyone translate the German?
(Yes! We have a translation. Our letter is a letter of condolence. See “update” below.)

(Front and back pages. View larger image here .)

(Middle pages. View larger image here .)

I’d love to know who wrote this letter and what it says. I only know enough German to recognize the word Mutter (Mother). Yet this little bit of insight makes me assume that whoever it was who owned this book, they tucked this letter into their hymnal so they could carry with them news of home.


Update! August 4, 2008.

We have a translation for the letter, thanks to Leiselotte Kill, who translated it, and her sister-in-law Sharon who made that possible. Thank you!!

And I learned something I didn’t know before. This letter was tricky to translate in part because it is written in the “old Sütterlin” handwriting style, used primarily in Germany, though also by others, primarily before WWII, though it was also used in some places later than that.

As with other old letter styles, it can flummox those who are not used to them. This caused other nice folks who first looked at this for me (thank you!!!) to throw their hands up and scratch their heads in bemusement.

All the more wonderful to get a translation. Leiselotte was nice enough to include not just a Sutterlin to English translation, but a Sutterlin lettering to today’s German lettering translation, as well.

So, three translations below:

Straight transcription of the letter:

Lieber Bruder mit traurigem Herzen muß ich heute an dir schreiben den abend haben wir die Depesch erhalten das eure einzige Ester Gott heimgerufen hatt tröstet euch nur mit Gott den was er tuht das ist wohlgetahn Ich hatte dir gestern abend einen Brief geschrieben aber den hab ich gez nicht geschikt Vatter u muter wolten zur Begräbnis kommen aber das ist doch nicht sicher mit mutter zu vihl unterwegs im Sommer werden Sie . . wohl kommen. Schreib uns man weiter von die Begräbnis wir trauern mit euch

Translation of the old into today’s German (So müsste es wohl korrigiert heißen):

Lieber Bruder, mit traurigem Herzen muss ich heute an dich schreiben. Am Abend haben wir die Depesche erhalten, dass Gott eure einzige Ester heimgerufen hatt. Tröstet euch nur mit Gott, denn was er tut, das ist wohlgetan. Ich hatte dir gestern Abend einen Brief geschrieben, aber den hab ich jetzt nicht abgeschickt. Vater u. Mutter wollten zum Begräbnis kommen, aber das ist doch nicht sicher mit Mutter. Zu viel unterwegs. Im Sommer werden sie wohl kommen. Schreib uns von dem Begräbnis. Wir trauern mit euch.

Translation from today’s German to English (Versuch einer Übersetzung):

Dear brother, With a sad heart I must write to you today. This evening we received the telegram saying that God has called your only Ester to Himself. Console yourselves with God, for what He does is well done. Last night I had written a letter to you, but I didn’t post ist. Father and mother wanted to come to the funeral, but now it’s not sure with mother yet. Too much being on the road (Alt. Too much travelling). Maybe they’ll come in summer (Alt. They will most likely come in summer). Write (Alt. and tell us about) the funeral. We mourn with you.

A Penny Saved

Posted by: Richenda at Sunday July 6, 2008 in

Often after church on Sunday I head out to do a little shopping…milk, eggs, butter, the kids’ lunches…something for dinner…

I am not the only one, and I suspect that the local grocery is full of local Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Mega Non-Doms, in addition to the United Methodists from my little church. When I meet up with someone from my congregation in the store, it is almost an extended moment of fellowship. We’re connected, somehow, and today more than if we were to meet on any other day. This connection is acknowledged with a shared smile (I know where you just were!), a quick ‘hi!’ (wasn’t the Praise Band great today?) or a lingering chat in the grape juice isle (Bob and I both miss the choir now that they have recessed for the summer).

We can also share a giggle. —Save a penny, anyone? Because local NW Apricots are on sale.

Yep. Save a penny a pound. (I’ve highlighted the savings for you using CORELphotopaint.) It’s the bargain of the day.

(The world is a silly place.)

Michael Moore's Sicko, A Review

Posted by: Richenda at Friday July 4, 2008 in

I saw Sicko opening weekend with an enthusiastic crowd who made all the quiet appreciative noises of a choir listening to a skilled preacherman at work. One or two outbursts include a round of applause when one of the British men Moore interviewed declared that if a government had enough money to make war and guns and kill people, it certainly had enough money to heal its sick and care for its citizens.

It’s a good film, no doubt. Moore has responded to the critics who accused him of rabid, get-it-though-your-head-or-die tactics and now he’s playing softball. He’s returned to the roots of documentary filmmaking. For he most part, he lets the story tell the story. And that little bit of tape from the Nixon Whitehouse is very telling.

I had one major concerns after watching this film. I worried that Moore had not addressed the most ingrained anti-universal health care argument head on. Specifically the attitude that some have that health care isn’t a right or an entitlement. Americans despise entitlements—especially other peoples’. (We are a bit indulgent about our own, however. That SUV, for instance, and that second yacht.)

Moore’s interviews in France won’t help this. There is an entitlement to health care in France. That works for them. But I think it scares the heck out of some people here who only see the French enthusiasm for social democracy as potentially creating a nation of lay-a-bouts who will break the back of the working man. And let’s face it, it’s infuriating to be the one to have to work while another does nothing. Take housework, for instance. Ask women how they feel about their husband’s laz-y-boy when there are household chores to be done.

But those who see only the French sense of entitlement will miss the French passion for care. “Rest,” the doctors say, “rest,” thereby highlighting how little rest sick Americans get. When Moore takes the 911 rescue workers to Cuba, and the Cuban doctors care for them, you can see the overwhelming relief in their eyes. Why does Cuba care and America not? Studies confirm that the stress burdens we carry contribute to the morbidity of our illnesses. My sister died from cancer at 39. She left two little children and a husband behind. Until she could no longer rise from her bed, she couldn’t rest. There was too much paperwork to do.

This is what we have to change. Social democracy isn’t about creating a nation of lay-a-bouts. It is about creating a country enthusiastic with itself and its citizens, a country ready to work, and ready to give back to a system ‘we the people’ value and adore. If the Musketeering French feel entitled, they feel it like this: all for one and one for all.

We don’t need socialism. We can make capitalism user-friendly. I know we can. We’re America!

The other aspect of entitlement I would have liked to see the film address is the idea of ‘value for money.’ Here’s an American entitlement for you: Americans feel entitled to getting their money’s worth. That’s a good thing when you’re a dairy farmer in the mid-west or have a family of four to raise in Detroit. Value for money drives our business leaders (or used to) and comes from our sense of fair play. But it has negatives, too. We want it all, and we want it now—and don’t burden us with the messy stuff. We don’t want to know about the cow when we pick up our shrink-wrapped steak from Aisle 10. And as for prices, we like those so low we have to send our manufacturing off-shore where slave-labor laws are a little lax.

But value for money is a good thing. And we are not getting our money’s worth when it comes to health care. We are not, not, not. Money siphons up from everyone’s pockets and billions of dollars get spent, including paying the army of lobbyists Moore claims are four-to-one against our members of Congress. (Do health care lobbyists get health care, I wonder?) Meanwhile our sick get treated in urgent and emergency care, the costliest way to treat them. Preventative care is a joke, no one has the money or the time between jobs to seek it. If we invested the money that already circulates in the health care industry, we’d be good to go with universal care.

Better care. Better Value. Better America. —Same money.

How did we get so selfish? The founding fathers were plenty in love with their own power and lands, but to be fair they also knew the thumb of persecution and wanted to alleviate the choke-hold of tyranny with freedom and personal liberty. So with all this talk of happiness and freedom, how did we become so stressed that when our own parents are in desperate straits, we only complain about having to help them move? How many hours do we work to ‘try to make it’ in America—are there so few left over that we cannot help our families and our neighbors? Why is it so painful to have anyone ask us for our time or care? Why can we not remove the curio cabinet and the huge computer desk from the ‘extra’ room that is the only place our parents have left to live?

I guess in America, you just better not get sick.

My sister’s husband almost lost his life in a car crash on his way to work. He had moved north in search of work and when he found it, saved money enough to move his family up to join him. The days before the crash, his wife and two small children had packed up and left their apartment excited to be reunited. They had money for first and last and that deposit. …but the accident ended his job, and, caught in the process of the move, the family was suddenly homeless and without income. Upright people suddenly desperate.

In France, the government would have made sure he got paid so his family could eat and live in a safe place. In Canada or England the family would have been saved destitution, as well. In America I moved the curio cabinet and the computer desk and they all lived with us until they got on their feet. In America their only recourse was to sue the wrecking company at fault and cited as negligent in the crash. They won, but there was no insurance money. The wrecking company insurer was based in the Bahamas. Faced with a three figure lawsuit, that company simply closed, re-opening again under a new name and so leaving its creditors behind.

You want to tort reform in this country? Reform our health care system.

In America, you better pull yourself up by your bootstraps by yourself. It’s your bootstraps, or nothing.

The issue of universal health care is a loaded one. Each of us is in the throes of our conflicting personal fears and/or experiences. Yet still, Moore manages to come up with a—if you can believe it— feel-good film that does what it does quietly. First, by asking the ‘why’ question. Then by showing us what is possible.

Why, it asks, do we allow our hospitals to dump our elderly in the streets, leaving them to wander barefoot and disoriented until someone else lends a hand?

Contrast that with the happy footage of a new baby in England, and a busy French doctor going door to door to treat the sick: A single man at home; A worried mother with a young son. ‘If you can call a plumber and have one at your house within an hour, why can’t you call a doctor, the French explain. Why indeed? So…does that mean that in America we care more about our toilets than our children or our elderly?

The other thing the film does quietly is call its people to action. My teen children saw the film with us. My younger son, almost 16, left the film with optimism. He felt a call in the air. Something must be done. Something that matters was afoot. He felt an invigorating, nudging, force. Lead and he will follow. I will follow, too.

The American bootstrap culture is good in many, many ways. It fuels our great innovation, our tremendous energy as a country, and demands that everyone comes along. We are barn-raisers. And we rock at that. It’s July 4th! Let’s raise this barn.

To Garden in a Skirt

Posted by: Richenda at Friday July 4, 2008 in

July 4, Happy Independence Day USA!
And a belated Happy Canada Day (July 1) to Canada!

What better way to celebrate freedom and independence than in a happy garden? And I had a very happy garden. —Too happy.

I don’t know what your front walkway looks like, but we live in the Pacific Northwest where a blade of grass can grow two inches overnight. At our house, where the path to the front door was supposed to be, each and every plant was in the throes of ecstatic celebration—and had been for about a year and a half.

The result was a riot; the spirit of creation-independence burst out in every direction. Vinca, Spruce, thistle, strawberry, and, worst, the wild blackberries which stretched out their thorny green vines through fence slats and over bush and bracken. So pleased with themselves were the leggy berries that they poked out and grabbed at me as I tried to negotiate entry through our front door.

Now, the glory of creation notwithstanding, the blackberries had to go. And the thistles too. And the lovely blue spruce needed limbing, as did the twisty pine which leaned against the roof and provided a perfect skyway for pedestrian carpenter ants.

The time was now. (The time was yesterday…a year ago.) “Hippie” skirt and fake-berk sandals don’t usually make for good gardening gear, but hey, I was wearing what I was wearing and I was in the here-and-now. I decided I was going to dare the wrath of God’s spiders and challenge those vines to a test of will, stat. With tree limber in one hand and shovel in the other, I turned my attention to the riot and those vines didn’t stand a chance.

The coolest thing about gardening, I think, is the opportunity it gives you to work in the world. So much of our work (or my work anyway) takes us out of the world. I get stuffed into cars and shops and behind desks and kitchen sinks and that’s not really where the world is. The world is the sunshine and the earth turned to mulch and thorn and berry and sprig and branch and leaf. The world smells grassy, tastes dusty, scratches you, and gives you hives. The world challenges you, demands your courage, claims your sweat, and reminds you of the muscles under your skin. The world rocks.

Working in my near-full length skirt (and stepping on it, and tripping on it, and getting it twisted with thorns) I felt a kinship with millions of women across oceans and across time. Women like those of the wagon trains who walked across America, across its rivers and through the mud—all wearing full length skirts. Or the women of the renaissance, or the middle ages, the small landholders and serfs with their shifts and tunics, aprons, gowns and petticoats. If those women long ago could cross the prairie, if they could plow and plant and gather, if they could garden in a skirt, then so could I!

And as I crawled under the spruce, pried up the thorny vines, and dodged the tree limbs falling from the roof, one thing was very clear: I was a beloved child of God!

Three hours later, I was scratched and sore and thirsty, but the path was clear.

And I felt really blessed.

Not your traditional Praise Band

Posted by: Richenda at Tuesday July 1, 2008 in

Well, it was a great day for Steve.

My teen son’s band, formerly called Bad Week for Steve, now called Focus on the Skyline, played a gig tonight in Portland and I actually managed to make the show!

Christian Death Metal anyone? Hardcore-sies? My son and his group play Christian ‘Screamo’ (which is strange enough for my generation, who associate metal with Ozzie and bats) but the band that followed was Christian Death Metal. Wait— Christian Death Metal? Um… how does that even make sense? It’s about the intensity, though. Christian hardcore music absorbed the intensity of metal and has created a movement that is more ecstatic than aesthetic. But I get it. These kids want to feel it, and the more overwhelming the experience, the better.

On the drive to the Portland venue I was privileged enough to listen in on the conversation (I’m a roadie, like these other moms. lol. Most of the band doesn’t drive yet.)

But the conversation was really insightful. The kids were talking about the genre and the different Christian and/or Inspirational bands they liked. They talked about today’s Christian bands—the metal, screamo kind. Some they put in the Praise Band category, these were bands that focused primarily on celebrating God in praise, not too deep, just the Love the Lord stuff. They liked this kind of band, but overwhelmingly, the kids appreciated the ‘deeper’ bands more.

They didn’t have a name for the ‘other kind’ of today’s hardcore Christian music, but I might call them philosophical. What the kids appreciated was that these bands were asking questions. In their lyrics, it was okay to ask questions, to explore ambiguity, and to poke around the mystery and the hypocrisy equally.

You know, listening to them, I was proud to be a band mom. These kids are asking really intensive questions—no wonder they need intense music. I wonder if some of this questioning comes about because many young people aren’t connected to “religion” or “church” and so as they explore the metaphysical and spiritual, they naturally have questions about their faith.

And as for making joyful noise, it was a noisy, joyful evening in every sense of the word!

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