Thursday, June 22, 2017

#WALLOWING


DOWN RIVER

    I've always been a big proponent of going with the flow, seeing where things lead in whatever situations we invent for ourselves. At first look this may seem passive and maybe even a little lazy in a world that can swallow you up while you are gazing at the clear, blue sky, as the boat drifts down river, picking up speed. Do you hear that? Nobody said anything about a waterfall.....
 
  FANCESTOR has become such a ride. I left ancestry.com miles up river and now am paddling furiously through whitewater and submerged snags, ready to pull me under around every curve. Nobody could've even attempted this trip down river until recently. Without the help of my guides Google and Wikipedia, the bateau would've bottomed out- water too low. But now conditions are prime, my paddling skills have improved, and I can sense the  subtle changes in the river's fabric just by the sun on the back of my neck and the taste of the spray on my parched lips. Every Osterhout  I can dig up or find floating just below the surface, I grab by the scruff of the neck and muscle into the boat. A little CPR and they spit out their stories.
     It's taken me ten months, and 201 pages to get to the "massacre" at Andrustown on July 18, 1778. I know that's not very far down river, but I've sprung some leaks and made a few wrong turns only to scape bottom and grind to a halt. The Osterhouts are listed amongst the seven families memorialized on a plaque just down the road from the Russian Orthodox Monastery that now sits where the scalpings and kidnapping took place in July '78. But it's not Andrustown that I want to tell you about. Two days ago I discovered Mildred Osterhout Fahrni six pages down a rocky, small set of rapids. Never heard of her? That's not surprising. She's Canadian.
    Born the same year as my grandfather, Wray Osterhout, in 1900, as a young idealistic teacher the 18 year old Mildred taught the Doukhobors, hung out with Mahatma Gandhi and sang hymns with Dr. Martin Luther King, living a long and interesting life, dying in 1992. Not all Osterhouts were chain smoking shitbirds, boring farmers or Calico Indians. I'll let Mildred take the stern and sit back as she steers and determines where the bateau travels.
     The Doukhobors were a Russian cult expelled from the motherland in the late 19th century. Canada took in 8000 of them  around 1900 and by 1918 they'd become an embarrassment to Canada. The Doukhobors were nothing if not complex. Loosely translated as "Warriors for Christ" they did not believe in the institutional church, education, modernity, the industrial revolution or war. And these radical pacifists, when faced with conscription into the Canadian military during WWI, protested in their own unique way. They gathered at a predetermined spot, stripped out of their clothes and marched through town and the Manitoba countryside. If anyone disagreed with them they burned their barn. Arson was extreme but not violent. I'm not certain Gandhi would agree.  The Canadians reacted by rounding up all the Doukhobor children and attempted to "civilize" them.  Mildred O. Fahrni was hired to assimilate them and convince them to keep their clothes on. It had the opposite effect. Mildred didn't convert the children. Instead she became their advocate.
   I thanked Mildred for her piloting skills and took back the paddle. With a few clicks I had discovered just how Mildred came to walk with Gandhi. Her uncle was the obscure (but equally fascinating) missionary Dr. S.S. Osterhout. His father was......and within a matter of minutes I was back in NY in 1778 paddling furiously upstream in the swollen Mohawk River, following one of Butler's Rangers. In this bateau sits Walter Butler, Joseph Brant, John Cornplanter, Governor Blacksnake and Mildred's great, great, great.....grandfather William Osterhout. This is how the Osterhouts got to Canada and marched (naked?) with the Doukhobors. William Osterhout, unlike all the other kin I've come across, fought with the British. After the Revolution he was granted a 500 acre tract of land near Toronto. Google "Osterhout cabin." William's homestead still exists, listed as "one of the oldest" structures in Toronto, if not all of Canada. The only reason it's still there is because an artist colony known as The Guild, devoted to saving endangered historic architecture bought the property and then........I look up and spy all these beautiful, naked, flower strewn people wallowing in a mud puddle. It's the longest day of the year at GNJohn's. Happy solstice.
   

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

CALICO PROCESSION


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IN THE KITCHEN


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TRY TO SET A GOOD EXAMPLE

    I'm an eldest child. I had no choice in the matter. In fact for my first 14 months on earth I thought I was the only child of a single mom, playing with a pack of Luckys in our trailer. Then the old man returned from Korea, left me out in the living room with my cigarettes, as he defiled my mother and nine  months later brother Bird (Mupp) was born. I dealt with the trauma of not being the center of attention and went about my business as the family grew. They stopped the puppy mill at three brothers and one sister. It took me a while to reconcile this betrayal of favoritism, but eventually I realized that my position as elder amongst my siblings brought with it not only competition but responsibility and an obligation to the pack. They looked to me to learn the ropes of manipulation that I had refined in my 14 months before they all got here. When do you cry to get the tit or just sulk in the corner? Is it a show of weakness to kiss ass or can we all agree to cooperate for the better good of the unit? It's a complicated dance being the eldest, but I've done my best.
    All this said, I can honestly admit that my siblings paid very little attention to my advice after they were all weaned. They were strong individuals in their own rights and my father's admonitions to me that "YOU have to set the example." was laughed at by all of them as time passed. And that was for the common good. I became an artist, an iconoclast, a radical, lazy draft dodger who had no interest in holding down a steady job or starting a family. It would've served no purpose for my brothers and sister to follow my lead. So instead of having kids I started a church. They had plenty of kids who now are all having kids. Ignoring my example my immediate family became upstanding members of the community, maintained steady jobs, remain out of jail and are pumping out kids like a bunch of Hassidics. Once in a great while they attend CLGM services. Most times the ascribe to Bird's viewpoint- "I've seen the elephant stand on one foot before. No need to attend that circus."
    So to all my family who were not there, and may happen to read HWS, here's what you missed. Sister Elyse Steinman died over the winter from cancer, as did Brother Sal Siggia. THE CALICO INDIAN service was dedicated to the memories of these two beautiful individuals. It was a joyous occasion, not a wallowing in grief, rather a celebration of who they were and who "WE" are. The place was packed with strangers, most of whom never knew Elyse or Sal, but choked up with those who did. They brought their kids and dogs, dressed up in colorful disguises and made so much noise the heavens rocked. The vibe was so electric and positive it brought tears to my eyes. I lost my voice barking out hymns like BORN JUST A LITTLE GAY and POOR (what is it good for?) Even though CLGM services seem to only take place once a year, it only takes a second to find our stride. The LOVE in the room becomes so pervasive, it's literally impossible not to be positively affected.
   I have failed miserably in setting a good example to my brothers and sister if they feel any reticence in exposing their children and grandchildren to CLGM services. A little before she died my mom attended church. "Sister Nun of Your Business" asked her if she was shocked? She smiled that wry smile of her's and said it was "About what I expected." from her eldest. My mother was a generous inspiration. I want to thank the Band of All Faiths, Majestic Farm, Outlier Studios, Nutbush, Judge Andy, Pigpen Rothman, Shewho, Honey the Clown, Kat Wilson, Cardinal Leila,  all the supermodels, Grey, Greg Strempka, many I'm forgetting and every stranger who attended and felt happy and safe after experiencing something that is bigger than all of us. I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of something that has lasted over 30 years and has led us down an incredibly satisfying path, cleared of all deadfalls and briars of dogma, doctrine, and mean spiritedness. To my great nieces and nephews who someday may be able to read this- REMEMBER how much I LOVE you and how welcome you are at church....no matter what you parents and grandparents have told you. This is my example to you.        

Monday, May 22, 2017

DON'T FORGET CHURCH- 4PM SUNDAY!


FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT TO UNCONSCIOUSNESS

Where was I? Oh yeah, I'd just passed out at the bar. I wasn't drunk. I felt it coming on and warned the bartender that I may go down. What I can piece together from the people who kept  me from sliding to the floor was that when I started to go down they rushed over and propped me back up in my chair. I wasn't out long. Just long enough to call 911.

    First on the scene were two guys from the firehouse right next door. Every bar should have a firehouse close by. They took my pulse and blood pressure as the woman down the bar said it was diabetes or heart attack. She repeated her diagnosis as I sat drenched in sweat and got some water in me. Passing out is not a pleasant experience, but it is interesting. There's a strange calming after effect, like a good clip of coming attractions. The firemen agreed I was OK, but they had already called the Paramedics so they waited around until they showed. And here's where a simple loss of consciousness becomes an economic issue.
    I don't have insurance and felt  since I requested (while conscious) that my unconsciousness be taken in stride, I had not ordered any medical assistance. Now i also understand the bartender not wanting an unconscious man driving away customers. I guess I should have put a time limit on it, or wear a badge "If unconscious for over 5 mins. call 911" or "Do not bill unless called." So after the paramedics in their blue uniforms went through just what the firemen went through out came the paper work. Name? Address? Ph.#? Sign here. I looked at the checked boxes refusing service and was conscious enough to realize that by signing it they could bill me. I refused. They both looked at me like I was crazy.  The guy smiled and repeated, "No. You have to sign." By then I was not only  regaining consciousness, my litigious nature also was returning with my rosy cheeks. "All due respect." I informed my medics "I don't have to sign anything." They both sighed and the bartender signed. I did not go to the hospital.
    Today I got my bill. It came faster than the paramedics. It was for services rendered: $200. No here's the question. Does one have a right to public unconsciousness? Every time I pass out, is it going to cost me $200? I don't want to be an asshole, but neither do I want to set a precedent. This very probably won't be the last time I nod in public. So I wrote a little letter. I told the company that sent out the pulse and blood pressure takers that I appreciated the gesture, but I did not order what they were delivering, and was under no obligation to pay for it. That said, I think it is worth something, so I offered to pay $100 if they would bill me accordingly. Passing out should not cost so much. The woman at the end of the bar told me for my own good one more time. "Diabetes......you may have the diabetes.....or a heart attack."