Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, February 15, 2021


 Openers:  The woman driving turned the phaeton from the hghway into a narrow road.  Almost immediately the forest through which they had been passing for a mile or more deepened.  It was now a rich woodland, little cut, seldom touched by fire.  Apparently the road knew little use.  Narrow and in part grass-grown, soft from yesterday's rain, dimmed by ,any trees, now it bent and now it ran straight, a dun streak, cut always in front by that ancient, exquisite screen of bough and leaf.  The highway dropped out of sight and mind.  The woman to whom this countryside was new, sitting beside the woman driving, drew a breath of pleasure.  "Oh, smell it!  It goes over you like balm!"

"It washes the travel stains away.  Take off your hat."

The other obeyed, turning and placing it upon the back seat beside a large and small traveling bag.  She drew her gloves off, too, then, straightening herself, sighed with happiness.  "How deep it goes...and quiet!  It's thousands of miles away!"

"Hundreds of thousands, and right at hand!"

--Mary Johnston, Sweet Rocket (1920)

Thus we are introduced to a magical place:  the rich property of Sweet Rocket farm, located in a high valley in the Appalachians of Virginia.  It is October 1920, and the visitos is Anna Darcy, 60, a spinster schoolteacher, here to spend a few weeks with her former student Marget Lord, 44.  Marget was born at Sweet Rocket; her father was overseer of the estate, then owned by Major Linden.  When he had died, Sweet Rocket was sold for debt and Marget's father bought it.  Marget grew up at Sweet Rocket and loved every aspect of it.  When her parents died, Marget's two older brothers sold the property and Marget went to live with an aunt in Richmond.  Years later, Sweet Rocket was bought by Richard Linden, the Major's nephew.  Richard, it turns out was blind from an earlier accident and lived on the farm, alone, with only colored servants and workers.  Five years ago, he advertised in the Richmond papers for a secretary who could read aloud well.  Marget answered the advertisement and was hired.  She became more than a secretary; Marget loved Richard and Richard loved her, although there was no indication of a sexual relationship, just one of caring and trust.

For a blind person, Richard was extremely able,  He worked every morning on the farm, instinctually know what to do through touch.  Calm, self-confident, and generous, he struck a chord of harmony with Sweet Water.  There was no barrier between Richard and his employees; they liked and respected him as a friend.  Sweet Rocket was a place that erased all boundaries of class.  At Sweet Rocket, everyone felt more than themselves; they were acutely aware of their surroundings.  The colors were sharper, the smells sweeter, the sounds clearer.  Here nature was increased through some mystical and spiritual power, and everyone who came to Sweet Rocket felt it and was changed by it.

While Anna Darcy was at Sweet Rocket, an old school friend of Richard's, Martin Curtin, who had not seen him for fifteen years, came to visit him...and stayed, a most welcome guest.  Later, a young logger, Drew (his last name; I don't think his first ws ever given), stranded by a fiece storm spent the night at Sweet Rocket.  He came back the same week asked to be hired to work on the farm -- Sweet Rocket had entered his soul.  Richard's cousins, Rober and Frances Dane, came for their annual visit.  Everyone who came and stayed at the farm -- including Richard and Marget -- were hurt souls in one way or another.  Sweet Rocket nutured and healed them in some mystical way.

There is no real plot in the book, but there an inceasing pace as those staying at Sweet Water realize thay they are growing to become one with each other and the world.  Sweet Rocket has turned them into the precursors of the next step in human development -- a world entity, a gestalt, if you will, where the individuals are merged as one and with nature.   Call it God, but names don't really matter.  There is a Christian undertone to all this -- the servants are always singing spirituals -- but the mystical and spiritual underpinnings of Sweet Rocket incorporate more than the Christian God.  Past and present have no real meaning, neither does death and life -- what matters is the ultimate Unity.

At times, early in the book, there is an overwhelming awe of Nature (capital N) that reminds me of some of the writings of Arthur Machen or Algernon Blackwood.  I also felt a resonance with August Derleth's The Wind in the Cedars.  It's the mystical power of Nature to transform us. 

It's all very confusing.  Most of the wordage in the novel is the author trying to explain the changes that Sweet Rocket is imposing on the characters.  It didn't really work for me; I can only view Sweet Rocket as an interesting but flawed novel that overreached it's thesis.  My opion is countered by that of Edward Wagenknect, the literary critic, who, in his introduction to the 1944 omnibus Six Novels of the Supernatural, wrote, "in her [Johnston's] work one sees something of the beauty by which life can be irradiated whennit is lived, as it were, sub specie aeternitatis,"  Wagenknecht also quotes the author:  "Mine is no isolated experience, many persons have been and are aware of a widening and deepening of consciousness.  My experience is of value to me, but it has no special prominence in  that enlargement of life into which we are all sweeping -- you no less than myself." 

Mary Johnston (1870-1936) was best known for her sweeping historical novel To Have and To Hold (1900), which was a major influence on Rafael Sabatini.Johnton was close friends with Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With the Wind, who praised her depictions of Southern life.  throughout her life, Johnston was a strong advocate of women's suffrage, becoming later in life an advocate of Socialism and pacifism.  Her spiritual growth began to be reflected strongly in her work beginning in 1918 and may be best represented in Sweet Rocket.  Mary Johnston wrote 23 novels -- many of which were best-sellers -- along with a number of short stories, two long poems, and a play.  


  • "Lee Child" (James Grant), editor, The Best American Mystery Stories 2010  The fourteenth volume in the long-running series in which Otto Penzler served as series editor.  (Penzler would pick a long list of some 50 stories and the annual guest editor would make the final selection of some twenty stories.)  Some familiar names among the authors:  Gary Alexander, Doug Allyn, Jay Brandon, Gar Anthony Haywood, Jon Land, Dennis Lehane, and Philip Margolin.  There's also a posthumously published story by Kurt Vonnegut.  The stories came from a variety of sources:  the genre magazines (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and Thuglit), mystery anthologies (Murder Past, Murder Present, The Prosecution Rests, Boston Noir, Sherlock Holmes in America, Black Noir, and Thriller 2), and from various "little" magazines (The Literary Review, Alaska Quarterly, Harper's Ferry Review, Gettysburg Review, and Oregon Literary Review).  Some pretty good reading here.

Not Very Im-Peachy-Keen:  So Trump has been acquited.  No surprise there.  His enablers in the Senate made it clear that politics and party would prevail over the country's best interest and truth.  Where do we go from here?  There will certainly be a lot of e-mails (he's off Twitter, remember?) the former president trying to invigorate his base with the main purpose being to stroke his ego.  Trump's future as a political power force remains in doubt.  Those who voted for acquittal will be trying to distance themselves from our former Insurrector-in-Chief, because they would feel much safer "putting this all behind us."  The ultra-right fringe which got some power riding on Trump's coattails may move on from him now that they have found ways to enlarge their membership without him.  Donald Trump, Jr., will continue to support his father in as large and as insulting voice he can; but remember, he's actually the dumb one, not Eric.  Republican state committees will continue to censure those who argue in the very slightest against the Almighty Trump -- although I suspect that this will wear thin after a while once they realized they are making a mockery of democracy.  Or not. 

The country will continue to be divided and polarized until the enablers and weasels who are trying to have it both ways are voted out of office.  Twenty Republican senators will see their terms expire for the next voting cycle in 2022.  Some, like Rob Portman, will retire.  Others should be held accountable for their votes:  Roy Blunt (MO), John Boozman (AR), Mike Crapo (ID), Chuck Grassley (IA), John Hoeven (ND), Ron Johnson (WI), John Kennedy (LA), James Lankford (OK), Mike Lee (UT), Jerry Moran (KS), Rand Paul (KY), Rob Portman (OH), Marco Rubio (FL), Tim Scott (SC), Richard C. Shelby (AL), John Tune (SD), and Todd Young (IN).  Voters in each of those states should remember those names and vote accordingly.

Those whose turns will be up for the 2024 election include:  John Barasso (WY), Marsha Blackburn (TN), Mike Braun (IN), Kevin Cramer (ND), Ted Cruz (TX), Deb Fischer (NE), Josh Hawley (MO), Rick Scott (FL), and Roger F. Wicker (MS).

And those who have been recently elected and will be up for the 2026 election include:  Shelley Moore Capito (WV), John Cornryn (TX), Tom Cotton (AR), Steve Daines (MT), Joni Ernst (IA), Lindsey Graham (SC). Bill Hagerty (TN), Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS), James M. Inhofe (OK), Cynthia M. Lummis (WY), Roger Marshall, M.D. (KS), Mitch McConnell (KY), James E. Risck (ID), Mike Rounds (SD), Dan Sullivan (AK), Thom Tillis (NC), and Tommy Tuberville (AL).

Some of these people will surely retire at the end of their term, some may pass away, some may lose their primary elections, and some will delude themselves into thinking they could become our next president.  Nonetheless, remember their names.  Hold their feet to the fire and make them accountable for their actions.  Remember those who weaseled out of convicting Trump with the BS excuse of it wasn't constitutional to convict a private citizen so they would not have pronounce judgement on his insurrectionist acts.  I will not forget these names.  Will you?

Yes, there also a lot of Democrats who, through their actions and self-serving shenanigans, deserve neither their office nor the people's trust, but right now I'm concentrating on those who have made a mockery of the Constitution and the impeachment process.

Presidents Day:  We;ve had some good presidents and some bad presidents and all seem to have been flawed in some way.  But in honoring our past presidents (well, except one -- maybe two) we are honoring the magnificant accomplishment of having our leaders chosen by the people as we continue to move onto a more perfect union.

Most Americans do not realize that George Washington was not our first president.  Things were a bit messy in those early days.  The individual states had a bit too much power under the Articles of Confederate and it was difficult to agree on anything.  This was resolved by the creation  of the U. S. Constitution, which allowed Washinton to be elected the first U.S. president to be elected under the Constitution.  Washington took office on April 30, 1789.  Before that the country had eight presidents under the Articles of Confederation:
  • John Hanson
  • Elias Budinot
  • Thomas Mifflin
  • Richard Henry Lee
  • John Hancock
  • Nathan Gorman
  • Arthur St, Clair, and 
  • Cyrus Griffin
If you recognize more than one of those names, you are a pretty good student of American history.  And today -- Presidents Day -- those eight names leading up to George Washington and beyond should be a reminder that democracy was -- and still is -- a work in progress.

Bios:  Here's a 1957 one-shot comic book that covers the life stories of the American presidents, from Washington to Eisenhower.  The bios run from one page (I'm looking at you, Franklin Pierce) to eight pages (the usual popular suspects).  Considering the format, the intended audience, and the times, please take this information with a grain of salt.  Comics legend John Busema provides the artwork.

More Holidays Than You Can Shake a Stick At:  Okay, yesterday was Valentine's Day, so it makes sense that today would be Love Reset Day.  I hope you reset it in the right direction.  But today is also National Gumdrop Day -- don't ask me why.  And if you are a Sponge Bob Square Pants fan, today is also Annoy Squidward Day; I'd like to see how you celebrate that.  And it's National Hippo Day, as well as National I Want Butterscotch Day.

And February 15 is  Lupercalia, an ancient (possibly pre-Roman) pastoral festival once held way back when to chase away evil spirits and purify the city.  A goat was sacrificed, a feast was held  and young men and magistrates ran widdershins around the Palatine boundary of Rome, with flayed thongs made from the skin of the sacrificed goat, while women of rank would get in the runners' way, hoping that one of the thongs would hit their palms, thus ensuring that they would A) become pregnant, or B) have an easy pregnancy if they are already pregnant.  A fun time was had by all.

On a more serious note, it is International Childhood Cancer Awareness Day.  Let us hope that some day soon that evil will no longer take the lives of innocent children.  It is also Angelman Sydrome Day.  Angleman Syndrome is a rare genetic condition that affects one in 12,000 to 20,000 people.  Sometimes called Happy Puppet Syndrome, it is anything but happy,  Symptoms include a small head, sever intellectual disability, and developmental disability, including no functional speech, balance and movement problems, seizures, and sleep problems.  Symptoms usually occur by age one.  There is no cure and victims can have a nearly norm al life expectancy.  

It's also Susan B. Anthony Day, honoring the famous suffragette.

Rutherford:  Since I have already mentioned president and (obliquely through Susan B. Anthony) women's rights, let's take a brief look at Rutherford B. Hayes, our 19th president.  It ws on this day in `1879 that Hayes signed a bill allowing female attorneys to argue cases before the Supreme Court.  No major surprise there:  Hayes was a staunch abolitionist who was strongly in favor of social and educational reform and felt that government should provide equal treatment in spite of wealth, social standing, or race.  His ascention to the presidency remains a subject of debate -- his was the "stolen election," in which Samuel Tilden had won the popular vote and Hayes received 20 contested electoral votes through a backroom deal that spelled the end of Reconstruction in the South.  Historians have praised Hayes for his commitment to civil service reform and defence of civil rights, while still ranking him as an average to slightly below-average president.

Florida Man:
  • Romance was in the air when Florida Man Joseph Davis of Volusia County proposed to his girlfriend.  It's just that he used an engagement ring that he stole from a former girlfriend to propose.  This thrifty little money saver had tried to convince his latest fiance that his former fiance's house was his own; then he stole some jewelry and a laptop from her.  As of Friday, Davis was still on the run and noth fiances vow to have nothing more to do with him.  Davis already had an active arrest warrant on him for hit and run in Oregon.  He had previously been arrested for having a fictitious ID, filing a false police report, domestic vilence, and possession of cocaine with intent to sell.  He has a tattoo on his arm that says, "On;y god can judge me."  We'll see.
  • Florida Couple and waste of protoplasm Amanda Davis and Charner Williams IV, both 30 and of Titusville, have been charged with manslaughter in the death of Davis' 23-month-old daughter, Athena Blevins.  The couple's roommate had found the toddler unresponsive in a swimming pool at their residence Saturday.  The child was taken to a local hospital where she died.
  • Florida Man Timothy Hill, 39, wanted some money so he could check into a rehab and he asked a 76-year-old neighbor to give him some.  The man refused, so Hill knocked him to the floor, tied him up, took money from his wallet, stole other items, incljuding two cell phones, and demanded the neighbor give him a gun (the enighbor didn't have one). found the man's car keys, and stole his car.   Hill's wife had earlier refused him money because they were separating and she wanted him out of the house.
  • Florida Woman and Lake County deputy Keisha Rytter has been suspended for five days because of a fight with her boyfriend, an Orlando police officer.   The fight escalated to a confrontion at the  boufriend's mother's home in Orlando.  Rytter allegedly slapped the boyfriend's phone oout of his hand and took off with it.  She drove away, then returned, and allegedly punched the boyfriend.  Rytter refused to return and talk to the police and no charges were filed.  Rytter's boyfriend is no longer her boyfriend, and Lake County disciplined Rytter for "conduct unnbecoming a police officer."  The original argument?  Rytter had made comments about her boyfriend's children and their "ghetto hair."

Good News:
  • Instead of responding with cops, Denver is sending health care workers for non-violent criminal calls, and it's already saving lives
  • 70-year-old grandfather becomes the oldest person to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean and raises $1.4 million for Alzheimer's
  • Chic-fil-A worker who won car in compapany raffle gives it to co-worker who bikes to work
  • No rhinos were poached in Kenya in 2020 -- zero, zip, nada
  • Man saves elk after it was buried in an avalanche with only one nostril and one eye peeking out from the snow
  • Amateur treasure hunter unearths the  kissing centerpiec of Henry VIII's crown; it's worth millions

Today's Poem:
Little Vanny

You can't make a song to Van Buren,
Because his long name will not do;
There's nothing about him allurin',
As there is about Tippecanoe!

He never was seen in a battle,
Where bullet and cannon shot flew;
His nerves would shot with the rattle
Of a contest like Tippecanoe!

While Harrison marched to the border --
Sly Van staid [sic] at home as you know,
Afraid of the smell of gunpowder --
Then hurrah for old Tippecanoe!

Little Matt was too tender a dandy,
To shoulder a musket and go
Where Harrison battled so handy,
As he did when at Tippecanoe.

But snug in his pretty new stockings,
And dressed in his broadcloth so new,
He roasted his shins in a parlour --
Not fighting like Tippecanoe.

And now with his gold spoons and dishes,
He lives like a king with his crew;
He'll feast on the loaves and the fishes,
Til we put in old Tippecanoe.

-- from the Tippecanoe Songbook (1840)
Air:  Rosin the Bow

[It should be noted that Harrison was also wealthy 
but that did not stop his followers from making fun of Van Buren]

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