Saturday, August 28, 2010

Keep Together

Back in the days before the internet; yes, there was such a time; we prehensile pilgrims would go to the public library to find information. To find anything, we searched through library catalog cards; not quite as quick as Google, but fast and efficient for its time. Thumbing through the cards left a golden patina on their edges; the fingerprints of past seekers; searchers on a historic quest for knowledge. We knew by the cards that there were others like us, on a spiritual path, an intellectual path similar to ours, even if we were only seeking books about ponies; we were not alone in our pursuit.

Now there is a magical website where you can make up your own library catalog card. The website:
is offered up by self proclaimed library geek, John Blyberg. I only found this site yesterday, so I have not ventured beyond the card generator, but that alone brings back wonderful memories of my youthful intellectual quest. At the top of today’s post is a card I made, so go; make a statement of your own in the way that once was Holy Grail, the catalog card of knowledge.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Free Friday: Lesson Learned

Here we are at the last three days before school starts. I will be happy to return to routines and rituals, although those will be adjusted since little girls grow and routines that worked yesterday are outdated today. Life and the lessons we teach become more complex. As much as I miss the simple days of dolls, I am ready to share the drama of middle school. Yesterday, JJ even admitted to me, with her nervous smile that she likes a boy, and so it begins. I am sure she will become more guarded in her secrets shared, so the first lesson for me is “Learn to listen.” Listen to the shouts and whispers; not to the words as much as what is behind the words. I will resist giving my immediate “Father Knows Best” solution, but will be available when she asks for it. I have three days to study this lesson, before the true test begins.

Today, I offer for your free use in projects, another page from Osgood’s American Primer of 1870. Give the image a click or two to download the hi-res file; lesson learned.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Secret Panels

Journal Entry: November 18, 1862

   This week, we rode through Brandy Station and back into the Wilderness; everyone at home was thankful to see me and I am thankful to be seen, thankful to be alive. Our recent rations have been slim, but retreating Rhode Island troopers supplied us with new saddles, pistols, and sabers, so we appear prosperous. We spent this evening at the Wilderness Tavern and were treated like returning heroes from the northern battles. I asked many questions about kith and kin, in order not to speak about myself, or my madness. Even with candle light and lanterns, the tavern is dark and, thankfully, keeps me in shadow, so my soldier’s heart does not show in the haunted eyes hidden by my hat.
   Most of my uncles and brothers ride with me in the 9th Cavalry, but Uncle James makes flour for the army; he does not join us in battle, though his life is equally dangerous. He has built a secret panel beneath the staircase and behind it in a small space, he stays when the enemy, or the Home Guard, is near. He and Uncle Isaac also built a secret room in the blacksmith shop to hide his horses. Isaac told me that he tied cloth around the horse’s hooves and when the Federals came, looking to loot, they heard the muffled sound of the horse hooves, thought it was Confederate cannons in the distance and quickly fled. How is it that he still has his sense of humor? Federal soldiers have carried off every chicken we owned and turned over the smoke house for spite, yet my uncle still has his humor.

   My Marianna has gone to Fredericksburg to help as she can at the hospitals near the Army Supply Depot south of town. I hope to find her when we move into Fredericksburg tomorrow to make winter camp, but the great Federal Army is moving in that direction as well. If it happens that there is a battle there in the city I love, near the girl I adore, my madness will be complete.

   I know complete madness for I have seen it. My grandmother, Polly, lost her twins when they were just nine years old. My grandfather stored rat poison out in the barn and the twins ate it. This tragedy drove my grandmother mad; for the remainder of her life, she would wear white every day and thought she was a waiting bride. She died as she sat, waiting, beneath that huge old oak tree in 1856.

   I am but 21, and have already seen too much horror and too little humor to suit me. I long to disappear behind a secret panel beneath the sky, just me and my Marianna. My love may be my last saving grace, and she is fifteen miles east. At dawn’s first light, I will ride ahead of the regiment on the Plank Road east into town; let no picket attempt to stop me, for they shall know the wrath of the weary where no quarter will be given.

James Jones (1828-1902) ran a mill from 1857 to 1869 and produced flour for the Confederate Army. He was the great-great-grandfather of Michael Douglas Jones.
Polly Johnson Jones was the great-great-great-grandmother of Michael Douglas Jones. These stories of Polly, James, and Isaac are true.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hope for Us

Journal Entry: Friday, September 26, 1862

It is now nearly a week since we crossed that meandering river, away from the malodorous mayhem of Sharpsburg, and still, most of the memory stays with me; I am sure I will never shake it. Where the Potomac meets the Opequon creek, we camp. We came here to rest, and wait; what will the shoulder straps shake up for us next?

We went into Maryland to take the war north, away from our homes; we returned leaving tens of thousands on the field; men and mounts dead, or dying, on the soil from whence they came; waiting for relief; an hour, a day, another day; perhaps never. Am I the blessed one, or are they? I have always believed that the hanged man is more fortunate than the man imprisoned forever, for the hanged man has been released.

Early this morning, the camp scrambled from their tents as an orb lifted above the river, like an oracle in the northern sky. Sunlight reached it before dawn shone on us below; a Federal reconnaissance hot air balloon lifting into the air, like hope for a lighter tomorrow. Hardly anyone had actually seen one before and it caused quite a stir. One of our sharpshooters bet he could bring it down, but just the sight of it brought us such joy that he was quickly talked out of his wager. Joy; did I just write that word. Joy; I thought it might never return; perhaps there is still hope for us in this hell.

Joy, sorrow, joy, sorrow; how quickly I return to sorrow. Is madness meant to feel this way; one extreme to the other? Here at the Opequon, the Potomac River turns to the north, and then quickly to the south, then back again north, then south again, as though she was unsure which way was right. This river is so much like me; I do not know which way is right. I have completely lost my direction. Were I up in that balloon, high above the mayhem, it would be easier to see that, though the river seems to have lost direction, she, in the end, finds her way and joins the Chesapeake Bay, joins the Atlantic Ocean, and joins her ancient mother.

This river, these states, this boy, eventually, shall all find their footing; find their direction to rejoin some larger truth. There is no future in separation; we were meant to walk together, as we did to form this nation, all peoples in a union. Let the firebrands try to separate us with their talk of difference and division; surely, we are all from the same mother. That must be so. We must make it so. We must.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Free Friday: 1949 French Table Setting

The girls are leaving tonight for one last trip over to the ocean before summer ends. I will miss my girls madly, but I will not be lonely. Once I finish my lengthy to-do list, I will devote every available hour to my arts. Solitude, I love your quiet company. Simple pleasures, simple meals; simply creative time.
Today, I offer for your free use in projects, a full page from a 1949 French book on the family kitchen. Among the illustrations is a table setting for a simple meal without a server. Give the image a click or two to download the hi-res file; bon app├ętit.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Free Friday: White House Invitation

Living close to Washington, D.C. means that much of our TV news coverage centers around politics and the White House, because it is local news. There is a story here about White House party crashers that won’t go away. Their fifteen minutes of fame is into overtime. Today, I offer for your free use in projects, a 1947 invitation envelope from the Truman White House. I have the invitation as well, but I am always more interested in stamps and envelopes. I have removed the original recipient’s address and given you two versions. Give the image a click or two to download the hi-res file; print it on high resolution paper, and then fold and glue the edges back. Fill in an address to create a trompe l’oeil conversation piece.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Laid Low by Buck and Ball

Journal Entry: September 20, 1862

Today, we were back on the Potomac River at Shepherdstown, where the river turns like a slithering snake. Keeping the Federals from following us home, we drove them back across that snake. On the bluffs above the ford, we saw many Federal boys, young and new to battle, carrying new Enfield rifles that wouldn’t fire. Panicked, they tried to climb down the cliffs, but failed in a hellish falling dance. We have seen too many dances of death in too few days. We have, each and all, seen too much.

I have left Maryland, having been laid low, having seen more of hell than any fiery brimstone preacher could have posited. Blanketing those hills and sunken roads of Sharpsburg is a blackening red field of carrion, both men and mounts.

Tonight, I had to leave camp to be alone, out by the river, away from that hell, if only for an hour. Here, with the crackle of my fire burning and the steady rhythm of the river nearby, I am usually unafraid; still, fear rises in me now. I have skills beyond most men to take care of myself; I know the wilderness; I have faith in my Colt, my shotgun, my saber, my senses. My faith in practically everything else has been shaken; our world, our ancient mother seems to be without hope of rescue, as though a mighty musket fired buck and ball at close range square into her bosom. This earth beyond rescue; my soul seems beyond repair.

In the clear midnight sky, the stars are the stars of home and they comfort me somewhat. The big dipper is bright above me; its cup pointing to the North Star. I have been told that it leads slaves north to freedom, or to a lesser form of slavery. If any one among us can find freedom in this tortured world, I wish them Godspeed. Perhaps a clear sky will lead me back to Marianna and my Wilderness home. Perhaps.

After a moment of pondering, I look back to the northern sky, but the stars are now covered by clouds; so quickly the sky changes; so quickly the world changes, so quickly.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Free Friday: Back to School

Just 24 days left of Summer2010 and then, back to school, but not just school; middle school. Who thinks it’s a good idea for sixth grade to be middle school anyway? Today, we start the back to school shopping ritual; supplies and clothes… but, wait, what’s this… a full page of middle school dress codes; “hems of shorts and skirts must fall below the tip of the middle finger when arms are held straight down to the sides with shoulders in relaxed position … sleeveless tops must have straps at least the width of the index and middle finger combined”. What the what? I am suddenly nostalgic for ABCs and crayons; the simple days of elementary school, so today I offer for your free use in projects, a page from Osgood’s American Primer of 1870. Give the image a click or two to download the hi-res file; easy as ABC.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Soldier’s Heart

Letter Home: September 19, 1862
Dearest Marianna,

Worry not, for I am well. By the time this letter reaches you, I am sure you will have heard about the battle at Sharpsburg, or if you see a northern newspaper, the battle of Antietam. We cannot even agree on what names to give the battles; they name for the nearest river, we name by the nearest town.

We crossed the Potomac River into Maryland on September 5th, and travelled through Poolesville to Barnesville, then New Market. High atop Sugar Loaf Mountain, we could see so far that I looked south to imagine your face looking north as you awoke. Riding through Frederick City, which seems so similar to Fredericksburg, I was immediately homesick. At dawn on the 14th, the regiment crossed South Mountain and rode through the day and night toward Boonsboro near Sharpsburg. During the main battle we were detached behind the lines to gather stragglers; the Federal artillery rounds passing over our heads like dark, iron thunderclouds; loud, but not raining down on us.

Your friend, Charles, did not fare as well and was badly wounded; the infantry always takes the brunt of the battle. His unit, the 30th Virginia Infantry, lost three-quarters of their men in a period of perhaps fifteen minutes near the Dunkard Church. This morning, I was riding south towards the Potomac River, when I saw Charles in an ambulance wagon heading, hopefully, back to Fredericksburg to recover. For him, this weary war is over. Despite his wounds, he was in good spirits, or pretended to be so. When he saw me, he started to sing, “If you want to have a good time, jine the cavalry!”, although his voice, like his body, was weak.

I want this letter to go along with the wagon train back to Fredericksburg; I know not where I am bound, though I am bound to you always.

Journal Entry: September 19, 1862
At dawn on September 15th, we entered Boonsboro, and even though there were large blue masses of troops off in the distance, I did not think we would be the ones to open the ball at this bloody battle. As we moved into town, there was a large building on the main street, a hotel, I believe, that was being used as a hospital for soldiers from both sides and we meant to secure it. The streets were narrow, so our unit was spread thin and could not hear the orders from front to back. Suddenly, we were attacked from everywhere at once. I was at Colonel Lee’s side when his horse went down under carbine fire and Private Lewis offered his mount to assure the Colonel’s escape in order to rally the rest. Fire flew from the front and sides; we were even fired down upon from the upper bedroom windows by Boonsboro citizens. We were the forlorn hope with hornets heavy around our heads, stinging from every direction. Whitewashed fences were shattered from shell and shot, young boys shattered as well; their faces washed white with shock. We fought our way out of town wildly with sabers and sheer luck, except for the thirty boys whose luck left them that morning. These are truths that I will not share with Marianna, for she has worry aplenty without my minor complaints, especially minor when compared to the two days after, which have wrought a red field of devastation that no man has seen in our history and shall likely not see again. That night of the 17th, it was difficult to cast a sleeping blanket on the ground for every inch seemed covered with those forever sleeping. And we could not sleep, and may never sleep again without that scene searing our eyes.

Two weeks ago, when we crossed into Maryland, we entered the dangerous unknown, a completely different world that looks identical to my world, but here, there are new rules, new risks. The families look identical to my family; yet here, I am not king of the castle, I am the knave, the rogue; it is an impossible trial that I may not endure. I feel as if I am in a travelling grotesque gypsy show, a player upon a strange stage, where all actors switch roles with each new scene. Those that were once allies are now enemies. The props and scenery change, act to act, from idyllic green gambol to flaming red horror. I feel that I have gone mad; we have all gone mad, for there is mayhem and madness all about me; good men killing good men, all for the glory of our state, our country, our homeland that once we all shared.

Do the other actors in this folly feel the same, would they listen, or think me the fool. To the other actors I plead; I have passed through your streets unnoticed and, at other times, paraded through those same streets as the hero. I have been hailed, I have been hanged. I have played every part in this once glorious play. Now I know not who I am at all. Am I hero; am I villain? Am I complicit in this crime, this horror? Of course not; of course. How will I ever return to my Wilderness home, to my Marianna; will she even recognize me in this character I now play. Could I change my role even if I wished, or am I doomed to play this madman forever?

The older veterans speak of the “soldier’s heart”, a sickness born of combat; the hurt of a hollow heart, the haunt of a hollow stare; an ancient disease brought on by the horrors of war. I must have that hollow heart; the part I play; the Knave of Hearts.


Charles Grimsley was a corporal in the 30th Virginia Infantry, Co. I., wounded at Sharpsburg on September 17, 1862. He was the great-great-grandfather of Michael Douglas Jones.

23,000 total Americans, Northern and Southern, killed, wounded, or missing during this one day of fighting on September 17, 1862 at the Battle of Sharpsburg; the single bloodiest day ever in the history of America.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Keep Together

Today is a bittersweet day. I am working on setting up a studio for JJ, our 11-year-old. She has decided that, since she is going into middle school this fall, it is time to give up her baby toys and convert her “cottage” into an art studio. We donated huge bags and boxes full of stuffed animals, Polly Pockets, and tiny toys to local charities and had a yard sale to sell her larger pieces, so she could earn a little spending money. There were a few toys that she wanted to keep, because they had special memories, like the tiny Snow White figure, whose hand she loved to chew, but I was surprised that a girl who hates change was able to part with so many possessions. I am putting together a long art table for her today, and this week, we will go out to find her first true easel; she has grown too tall for her old one. I remember her peeking through the legs of my easel when she was starting to walk. She is the reason I switched from oil painting to collage; I certainly could not use lead white around a toddler.

And that’s where the bittersweet begins. JJ has been with us since she was five months old, but it seems sudden that so soon starts this separation dance that we do with each of our children. I am excited about working next to her, in her studio or mine, but gone are the days of princesses and puppets. Gone too are the nights, during thunderstorms, when she always whispered, “Keep together”, and we would cuddle under covers, until it passed. This is her choice, not mine; I wish to forever keep together. I want her to grow in every way, yet I want her to remain the same. I am sure that I confuse her with these very different signals I send. I want her to know that I am always beside her, in the studio, in her growth, in her life with all its pains and promise. I can no longer direct her by simply lifting her up and placing her where I will. I can show her how to lightly hold a brush, if she will let me. I can show her how to politely hold a conversation, if she will let me. If she will let me, I will take her hand and start this separation dance, and we will circle for as long as I’m allowed.