The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel,
For the tyrant shall be no more, and the scoffer shall cease to be; and all those alert to do evil shall be cut off – those who cause a person to lose a lawsuit, who set a trap for the arbiter in the gate, and without grounds deny justice to the one in the right. …
And those who err in spirit will come to understanding, and those who grumble will accept instruction.
How is it the young Figaro, in “The Barber of Seville,” is so worldly-wise, especially in the ways of attracting women, while a few years later, in the “Marriage of Figaro,” he’s so confounded by the Count’s moves toward his own beloved? And, oh, yes – what happened to all that business savvy?
Well, it was a French theater comedy series originally. One obviously without a continuity editor.
I’ll give the author, Beaumarchais, some slack, since he was busy on many other fronts. And give him lots of credit for knowing how to cut satirically to the quick.
In my novel The Secret Side of Jaya, she encounters an old-fashioned, water-powered gristmill when she and Joshua relocate to the Ozarks.
Turns out that the best-known mill in the Ozarks is named after some of my kinsmen who settled near Sycamore, Missouri.
Here are some facts.
The Hodgsons were Quaker millers in Guilford County, North Carolina, before heading north in the 1820s. At one time two cousins, both named William, had mills there. The Missouri line descends from one. I descend from the other. (For the family line before that, see my Orphan George blog.)
For a while after leaving the Piedmont region, that line of the family briefly spelled the surname the way I do. Then they reverted to the original, with the “g” in the middle.
A grain mill has graced the site at the foot of a bluff on Bryant Creek, Missouri, since 1837. The current three-story mill was built in 1897 by Alva Hodgson, who mostly worked alone on its construction.
After 1909, Alva imported top-of-the-line French buhrstones from the Pyrenees Mountains and installed a turbine to provide electrical power to light the mill and surrounding buildings. The electricity also ran a half-dozen sewing machines producing overalls in a neighboring general store.
Alva Hodgson also purchased the site of the Dawt Mill near Tecumseh, Arkansas, in 1901 and rebuilt that mill in 1909. Today it continues to grind grain. It’s also a full-time resort with three restaurants, a concert venue, and float trips.
The Hodgson Mill left Hodgson hands in 1927.
Until its purchase by Hudson River Foods in Castleton, New York, last year, the Hodgson label was still a family-owned operation.
At the time of the purchase, the company’s headquarters and production facilities were in Effingham, Illinois. The milling was still done in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri.
In addition to its signature cornmeal and unbleached flour, products include whole wheat pastas, breakfast cereals, bread mixes, pancake mixes, wheat bran, and pure cornstarch.
Principal competitors include Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods, Nature’s Path Foods, and Spectrum Foods.
My novel Nearly Canaan starts off in a railroad crossing called Prairie Depot, and my story The Secret Side of Jaya returns there.
Prairie can be found as far east as Ohio, but it’s more extensive out on the Great Plains.
Here are some tidbits about the landscape.
It’s bigger than I thought. The region runs from the Rio Grande river bordering Mexico all the way to the Arctic Ocean in Canada, and along the Rocky Mountains to the west. Its width is about 500 miles and it covers about a seventh of the continental U.S.
Rainfall ranges between 13 and 20 inches a year, too little to sustain trees.
Its natural vegetation is a variety of grasslands. And it’s flat or gently rolling.
It had immense herds of bison as well as pronghorn. Prairie dogs, coyotes, prairie chicken, and rattlesnakes remain prominent.
Native American tribes included Blackfoot, Crow, Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Comanche. The nomadic tribes followed the bison migration through the year.
The introduction of the horse from Europe dramatically changed the Native culture.
The rural Plains have lost a third of their population since 1920. Ghost towns, which have lost so much population they’re considered extinct, are the most common category of towns.
The climate includes cold, harsh winters and very hot, humid summers.
Without natural trees, hills, or mountains, there’s no protection against wind and erosion.
The region includes Tornado Alley, based on the frequency and intensity of the twisters generated in its open spaces.
Once Cassia gets a clearer picture of her father’s past, she can ask her aunt Nita more pointed questions.
Here’s some of what she learned before the final revisions of my novel What’s Left:
He just felt Vietnam was wrong. Said he sensed it in his bones. I think he was beginning to identify some of his bloodlines that support pacifist witness, once he started looking into genealogy just a few years before his passing. These are all part of what he called the hidden histories that Americans need to know.
In another deleted passage, she hears her uncle Dimitri’s take on the newspaper work her father was doing:
The public doesn’t want to admit there’s corruption or deceit in their neighborhood. They’ll take umbrage at anything that would satisfy your pursuit of honest revelation or artistic perfection. No, why should you prostitute yourself?
In an early consideration of what Cassia’s father might do if he settled in with her mother’s family, we had this:
Nita interjects, Don’t you know I’ve been asking around? Would you believe there really are some opportunities for a first-class freelance photographer? And not just weddings or anniversaries? Even if you’ve never been to a football or basketball game, don’t forget you can shoot them and make decent bucks? How about a crying need in the performing arts, too, for somebody who knows the ropes?
Well, that seemed a bit unrealistic. Besides, his career — thanks to her family — was enabled to flow in a more fulfilling direction.
Cassia’s father is essentially struggling to find the right places to deal with the public. In his case, his talent with a camera is part of the equation.
Have you ever been pictured in the newspaper? What was the occasion?
As Cassia examines her father’s photographs in my novel What’s Left, she sees his generation from a fresh perspective.
Here’s her impression before I greatly condensed it in the final story:
That evening, back in her apartment, we sit down with more of the photos.
What I sense now is an unfathomable well of aimless, restless energy on the verge of erupting. The tattered crowd’s seated on the ground for a rock concert. It mills about, waiting for something to happen or someone to appear. It walks en masse down a city street or country highway. It’s lovers clinging to each other in desperation and escape. It’s an angry look while puffing on a cigarette — or a pipe or roach. It’s shirtless, braless, sunburned, tangled.
There’s the happy streak too — defiantly so. And the frenetic dance that could become a tarantella. If only it had been channeled! Directed into sustainable communities, given meaningful work, paid livable wages, engaged fully in public service.
Some powerful forces have run hard against us, Nita says grimly. They set out to destroy it before it overran them.
We were scattered. Not that our causes ever ended. You know, the peace movement. Racial and sexual equality. Educational alternatives. Environment and earth-centered economics. Natural and organic foods, even glutten-free. Fitness, spirituality, music, art … it all continues. You just have to pay attention.
As the passage relates, many vital social concerns remain.
What would you like to see happen to society in the future?
Textbook versions of history gloss over a lot of details, especially when it comes to the lives of common people rather than the powerful and rich. The biographies of great figures add to that top-down perspective.
One of the things I love about genealogy, especially in nonconformist traditions or ethnic subcultures, is the way it opens alternative understandings of the hopes, dreams, and struggles of life outside of the spotlight.
I look for it in fiction, too, as well as poetry.
My own novel What’s Left springs from that kind of investigation from a Greek-American experience. My new The Secret Side of Jaya adds three other takes from the agricultural prairie, the Ozarks, and finally Native American strands.
Maybe histories aren’t always told by the victors. Not if you look closer or take a longer timespan.