All the King’s Men

i282600889617322816._szw1280h1280_I took down my Christmas tree today. All signs of the season are mostly gone from my home. I have a few stray gifts that have not yet been delivered and I need to pack away a few more linens until next December. I always feel somewhat dreary when I convert my rooms back to their normal state. I know from experience that January is often filled with cold wet days and that there are few celebrations. Everyone is ready to get back to work and move on from all of the jocularity. 

In other parts of the world January 6 is the climax of the holiday season. Three Kings Day brings parties and more gift giving. When I visited Austria several years back children dressed like the Magi visited one house after another singing and gathering treats much like children do for Halloween here. Adults wrote the initials of the three famous gentlemen, Caspar, Balthazar and Melchior over their thresholds along with the date of the new year. It was a joyous day filled with festivities. In fact it was a legal holiday called the Epiphany and everyone joined in the fun. I have heard from my father-in-law that similar rituals take place on this date in Puerto Rico and other Hispanic countries. 

One of my favorite Three Kings Day stories came from a trip with Papa´to visit his family in Puerto Rico. His brother told of a little boy who refused to give up the habit of sucking his thumb and nibbling on a pacifier long after he should have outgrown such tendencies. His parents told him that Three Kings Day was a time for making some kind of sacrifice to show the Baby Jesus just how much he loved Him just as the kings from the east had done so long ago. The toddler listened attentively and later sneaked out of his bed on the night before the big occasion to leave his Binky in the manger right in front of the figurine of Jesus. He never again sucked his thumb or asked for an appliance to appease his oral fixation. 

I have always thought that extending the holiday season just a bit more was a lovely idea. Our family honored this day because it just so happened to be my brother Michael’s birthday. Still the celebration felt more like an afterthought than a true occasion. It was often difficult to find gifts for him because the stores were often emptied from the Christmas rush. It was generally our first day back at school as well, or at least very close to it. The weather quite often resembled the grey skies that we have seen so much of recently. All in all I always felt a bit sorry for my brother but he never seemed to mind. In fact he has always been rather easy going about almost everything in life. 

I suppose that I am a bit too sentimental. As I think back over the past few weeks I remember just how much fun I have had. The parties, dinners, lunches, graduations, programs, and visits with friends and family filled up my calendar and I was admittedly very tired but I guess that I am just one of those people who takes a brief rest and is quickly ready to get back in the party groove again. The truth is that sometimes we do in fact need a time to quiet ourselves and just enjoy a slower pace. It allows us to be more reflective and to take stock of where we have been and where we still need to go. It’s no doubt good for the body and the soul to hibernate just a bit. Staying in tune with nature and the seasons is not a bad idea at all.

When I was a teacher I often found January and February to be the longest stretch of time for the entire year. The routine seemed endless and it often felt as though the sun were never going to shine again. Now that I am retired I find that I actually enjoy days when I may stay inside with a good book or binge watch a great television series. Today I discovered the Netflix program that everyone seems to be talking about, Making a Murderer. Needless to say I am absolutely enthralled. I have been a fan of mysteries and detective programs since I was a child. I cut my teeth on the Nancy Drew books and moved on from there to all of the classic “who done it” stories. I’ll watch a police program before even considering a romantic comedy. I’ve devoured enough true crime tales to garner a doctorate. My mother used to joke that I should have been a detective or perhaps a lawyer. 

I’ve always said that I am the ideal juror for the defense but I don’t really want that information to get out too far. I tend to be quite skeptical of evidence unless it is of the very hardcore physical kind. I don’t believe that anyone should ever be found guilty based solely on theoretical stories invented by the prosecution. When in doubt I tend to favor the suspect. There are a large number of people in jail who might have been set free had it been up to me. Naturally I’m quite intrigued by the fascinating case in Making a Murderer.

Part of my mother’s mental illness led to paranoia. She often believed that someone was attempting to frame her. Of course it was all in her mind but I suspect that in reality there are poor souls who are often put away simply because they do not have the money or influence to mount a good defense of themselves. The reality of our justice system is that certain individuals are almost doomed to a life of incarceration simply because of poverty, ignorance or race. 

I’m anxious to keep watching this incredible series but I’m reluctant to surrender my entire day. I have other things to do but setting my chores aside is so very tempting because I’m dying to learn what finally happens to the individuals featured in this real life drama. I think that I may have already determined the outcome but I don’t want to volunteer my ideas just yet. I’ve still got six hours of viewing ahead of me and the story has already taken so many twists and turns that I am a bit uncertain as to what may yet happen. 

Happy Three Kings Day to all of you. For those of you who actually celebrate this special day I wish you lots of fun. Happy Birthday to my brother Michael. We’ll have the actual party this weekend. Finally if you are looking for something to fill your time on this rather dreary day I highly recommend that you try watching Making a Murderer on Netflix. We’ll have a conversation about it once we’ve all seen it. In the meantime stay warm and dry. We’ve got a long year ahead and the days may not always be so quiet. 


Finding Your Roots

i282600889617303730._szw1280h1280_We all want to know who we are. Many, like me, do a bit of genealogical searching for answers regarding our roots. It can be a frustrating but often rewarding experience that gives us a better idea of who are ancestors were, where they lived, and sometimes even what they may have been like. My own experience has been remarkable on the one hand but sadly fruitless on the other. I have been able to trace the lineage of my paternal grandmother, Minnie Bell Smith, all the way back to the early history of Norway when names of people were almost impossible to pronounce. I have been relieved to note that none of the people who came before me in that branch of the family appear to have owned slaves or taken up questionable causes. Through the women in particular I have distant connections to famous English politicians and royalty but ultimately my grandmother’s people appear to have lived hard scrabble lives marked by struggles and journeys from one place to another.   Continue reading “Finding Your Roots”