Friday, July 27, 2018

A New Broom Sweeps Clean

I think about the future more and more.  I try to predict what life, both my own and the lives of those close to me, will be like in the years ahead.  Private and unspoken, I base predictions on what is happening now, politics and government, technology, how we interact with each other, the world around us.  I get my information from books, the papers on the driveway, the news delivered to my inbox and on my phone, and my own observations.

I try to gauge how  likely to happen these predictions really are.  When my predictions are dark I classify that thinking as worry and when they brighten I think of it as newly created hope.  I question how much time I devote to all this reading, thinking, worrying, and imagining.  I have a stack of topics I intend to write about, printed articles from newspapers and other content providers.  The future is fluid and the past gets old quickly.  Why am I not content to just live each day in the present?  Today’s blog tries to do that. 
As if it were a headline, the subject of this piece is actually a quiet labor of love.  I was given a handmade gift.  There is something about handmade gifts that makes them special.  Because it was made by a person I’ve come to know I realize exactly how it was made, what it was made of, and where it came from.  We own few things like that anymore.  When I do possess things with those qualities I value them immensely, regardless of cost or someone else’s idea of their worth.

This is what I’m talking about, a handmade locally sourced broom.

It was put together, crafted you might say, by Cynthia Main, of My daughter got to know her, acquired this broom, and gave it to me.  She knows I don’t like a lot of things, but she also knows things like this please me. 
It’s not your mass produced broom from the cleaning supplies aisle at the grocery store.  Far from it.  It’s old school, starting with the bristles.  They’re made from broom corn.

You won’t see broom corn growing in the fields along Route 80, and its yield is not measured in bushels. It produces corn, kernels that form in small bunches at the ends of long stems.  That corn is stripped away and cut off.  What is important about broom corn, the real harvest, is the long resilient straw-like stems that make up the business end of the broom.  Before using the corn the broom maker soaks the large ends in hot water to make them more pliable for braiding. 
But the process starts with the handle, traditionally a branch cut from a sassafrass tree.  Sassafrass wood is lightweight and keeps it bark.  Its roots of course are dug in the spring and used to make a tea which is something of a spring tonic.

My Dad used to go to the timber on our farm with a spade and dig sassafrass in late March or early April.  He’d bring it home to my Mom who would shave the roots into little pieces and brew a pink colored tea to which we added sugar.  Sassafrass tea in early spring seemed to be a thing for my Mom and Dad, something they were annually happy about.  I’m just guessing it might have helped their marriage.  I digress.  Back to the broom.

The broom has four components.  Broom corn, a sassafrass stick, stout cord, and a leather thong.  At the top of the sassafrass handle a hole is drilled for a leather thong so you can hang the broom on a nail.  At the bottom of the broom, pieces of broom corn are tightly arranged in the preferred pattern; some round, others wide and flat, and attached to the handle.  The broom corn is intricately braided and secured with good strong string or cord.  On a flat broom that same cord is woven through the pieces of broom corn farther toward the end to maintain the flat shape of the broom and keep the broom corn tightly together.
It is said that broom makers can determine the maker of a broom by the pattern of the braid where the broom corn attaches to the stick.  Here is Cynthia Main’s braid, or at least the one she created the day she made my broom.

Some broom makers use wire for a more secure mounting, or small nails.  Mine appears to be just tightly wrapped with a blue string.  That’s the nice thing about these handmade brooms.  They are utilitarian, made to be used, and each contains the same basic elements.  But that same tool can be personalized, adding the maker’s art if you will.  Making brooms by hand is not just cranking out the same broom over and over.  Each broom has its own character.

My particular broom has an added dash of character.  When my daughter selected it among the many Cynthia had for sale she noticed a carving on the handle.

“What about this one?  Is it for sale?”
“Oh yeah.  That handle came from Gary Glasscock, an old broom maker and amazing human being from Missouri.  He and his partner Sherie might be angels, at least for my broom making.  They taught me a lot.  Gary’s father carved the face on that handle.  I think he’s probably passed now, Gary’s Dad that is.”

“You sure you want to sell it?”
“It’s for your Dad right?  I like his blog.  Sure.  I’m glad he’ll end up with that broom.”

I look at this face each time I use the broom and think of the carver.  I wonder who he was thinking of when he formed the face with his knife.  Maybe it was his face.  Maybe he made that same face over and over, trying to get it right.  Or maybe there was a cast of characters.  Whatever the case, I have this face now.

Thanks Moe, and thank you to Cynthia Main.  Thank you to Gary Glasscock.  Thank you to Gary’s Dad for passing along the broom making tradition to his son, and he in turn to Cynthia.  Thank you also for that small carving.  Your broom made it to the shack and is in good hands.  In complicated times, its not a bad idea to occasionally tune out and focus on good things around us.  Thanks for creating something solid and simple to latch onto. 


Thursday, July 12, 2018

Care, Resist, Vote

Do you know when children are taken from the care and custody of their parents in the United States?  When they are sexually abused and the offender is still in the home.  When they are physically abused and a professional believes no adult can or will protect them.  When children are abandoned.  When children are so neglected their health or their very life is threatened.
When children are removed from their parent’s care in order to protect them they are placed first with relatives, then with foster families who are screened, trained and undergo extensive background checks.  As a last resort, when proven they cannot be served in a less restrictive environment, they may be placed in residential or congregate care.  Only in extreme circumstances are children ever placed in a locked setting. 
When children are removed from their parents’ care an inordinate amount of attention  is paid to ensuring that parents and children visit one another regularly, that siblings who are not able to be placed together in the same home visit each other frequently, and that whole families meet so that neither children nor parents nor families are alienated from each other.

The federal government provides dollars to the states mandating all these practices.  Family preservation and family reunification are the bedrock of child welfare services.  In addition, juvenile courts across the country go to great lengths to uphold the rights of children and parents to remain together.  Judges order the termination of parental rights only after prosecutors and social workers prove in a court of law that making families whole is impossible. 
Do you know why?  Because we have found that disrupting families, taking children away from the love and care of their parents, breaks a special bond and causes trauma that is very hard to overcome.  Children who suddenly find themselves deprived of the adult or adults who nurture them are sorely challenged to form such an attachment again.  That is why your country’s child welfare system, and the systems of most countries throughout the world, works so hard to repair broken families and keep them healthy and whole.   As Americans: North, Central, and South, we hold creating family, protecting family, and supporting family as perhaps our highest values.  Our culture, our laws, our religions, our very lives all reflect that value.
That is what is so heinous about the deliberate separation of children from their parents at our borders.  It was done willfully, deliberately, and by design.  It was done with the stated intent, by more than one member of our current national administration, to deter our neighbors from seeking legal asylum, in a country which has for many years stood as a beacon of human rights in the world.  It uses children as weapons against their parents, at the risk of doing irreparable  harm to those children.  That deliberate separation of children from their parents is a calculation that says this:
“What is the well being of 3,000 foreign children compared to carrying out new and extreme anti-immigrant policies?”
This is just the latest turn our country has taken against immigrants.  In the Republican nominee’s campaign for president, immigrants were characterized as “rapists, criminals, murderers, drug traffickers.”  In subsequent campaign style rallies held across the country our president has called immigrants affiliated with gangs “animals.”  Our acceptance of refugees from war torn countries, many torn by our intervention, and stigmatized by their religion, has slowed to a trickle.  Workplace raids in harsh low wage industries across the country where the undocumented labor force is common have swept immigrant parents into detention and deportation while leaving their U.S. born citizen children to fend for themselves in decimated neighborhoods. 
Making humans among us out to be “the other,” distinct and separate from us, as if we are not all people, God's children if you will, is the first step in justifying brutality against them.  This is your country adopting these policies and practices.  They do this in your name. 
Is this what you signed on for?  Is this the United States of America you imagined it to be?  Do you condone uniformed agents of our country taking children from the arms of their parents?  Were I in their position I would resign rather than carry out such an action.   But here, removed, I search for some meaningful response, some way to show I care, to do something that will make a difference.
I protested family separation at our borders on a hot day in downtown Ottawa Illinois, along with others across my country in more than 700 such protests.  I inform myself, as much as I can, and I try to gauge what my friends and acquaintances are thinking.  But in truth they are quiet, as I have been up to now.
Is that how it works?  Is this how your country goes off the tracks and runs amok, defying the will of its citizens?  This can’t be the will of the American people can it?  Surely this is not the United States of America we imagine ourselves to be.  If we believe it to be different what do we do?  We show we care, we resist loudly, but more importantly, we vote.
In 118 days from this writing, November 6, we vote as a country in what are normally known as the midterm elections.  However this upcoming election will be known as the referendum on the Republican Party.  Our elected legislators in Congress who have failed to speak up, failed to stop the actions of our executive branch of government, failed to pass legislation to curb the direction our current administration is headed, and failed to represent our values are responsible for what our country has become.  I almost wrote "is becoming."  But that’s not true.  Our country has changed in the last year and a half under this administration, and it is up to us to change it back.  We do that by changing those who represent us.
Early voting will begin before 118 days are through.  If you are not registered to vote please do so.  With your right to vote secured, go to your local polling place and cast a ballot for candidates who will make the United Sates the country you imagine it to be.