Benjamin Franklin

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I just finished reading “Young Benjamin Franklin; the birth of ingenuity,” by Nick Bunker (2018).  The book was a Christmas gift from Jerry and Susan Taylor.  Interestingly Bunker dedicated the book to Doylestown’s Henry Chapman Mercer, “an ingenious American.”

I’ve read other biographies of Franklin but I’m amazed at how a historian or biographer can mine new information; there are 42 pages of footnotes.  Franklin was born in 1706.  He died in 1790.  A long life.  “The Young . . .” only explores his first 41 years until 1747.  Decades before the American Revolution and Constitutional Convention.

The details of Franklin’s early teen years, apprenticed to his printer brother, James, in Boston, journey to Philadelphia are amazing.  There are his family relationships, father Josiah, mother Abiah Folger (she was from Nantucket), older brother James, and other siblings, he had 16.  The Franklin clan were craftsmen, mechanics, striving to be gentlemen.  Franklin inherited their ambition.

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There are many new stories but also the classic ones recorded in his autobiography.  Interesting details about his work for brother James’s on The New England Courant and his Silence Dogood letters. There was his comic first meeting with Deborah Read, who he would marry.  Then there is the false promise from Governor William Kieth and the trip to London.  Franklin, so young, was being exposed to a world bigger than Boston or Philadelphia.  He also learned more about printing and publishing.  And the most memorable story about Franklin’s plan/program to eliminate vices from his life. His jokes, hoaxes, Poor Richard’s all bring back memories.  I need to find a copy of the Autobiography to reread.

Bunker writes a bit about Franklin’s marriage and children.  Deborah was his bookkeeper.  He mentions a few of his extramarital affairs and struggles with the dark side, women, alcohol, sloth.

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It was interesting to read about the many characters in Franklin’s life.  There were printers, employers, rivals, Bradford and Keimer. There were failures who borrowed money and dragged him down.  But mainly Franklin rose to the position of “Gentleman” printer/ tradesman through friendships and partnerships with the better class.  Men, leaders,  like James Logan (Penn’s Secretary), Andrew Hamilton (lawyer) and William Allen (politician). These contacts aided Franklin’s success, his government printing contracts and position as postmaster.

 

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Franklin was always a man of ideas.  The existence of God and role of religion was a perennial question.  At times he wrote and thought like an Athiest.  But he attended church, had a pew at Christ’s Church, respect for other’s religious beliefs, but a dedicated reader of the books that questioned and debated religious questions.  He had a brief fling with the Great Awakening preacher, George Whitefield.  In the final analysis the Diest label probably fit.

Political ideology and eventually political parties, Whig and Tory conflicts in London became part of the colonial experience.  The Whigs opposed an absolute monarchy, maybe a bit liberal in thinking.  Franklin was a Whig.  Remember during the American Revolution, Tories supported England.

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There is no question that Franklin was a hard worker.  The image of him wheel barrow full of paper, an early morning, was probably accurate.  But he wasn’t in it just for money.  He wanted to do good for the community.  I always enjoyed and applauded his civic activism, fire company, Library Company, insurance, the Junto, and American Philosophical Society.  Membership in the Library Company is available today for a initial purchase and annual fee; I’m thinking about joining.

 

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Bunker is particularly interested in “the birth of ingenuity.”  Once he was financially secure, with several print shop partners, a house on Market, investments; Franklin was ready to retire.  Increasingly he becomes friends and associated with scientists in England and a few in the colonies.  John Bertram is one.  The practical physist Franklin invented or improved on the wood stove.  And there are other inventions not mentioned by Bunker.  But it’s electricity that grabs Franklin’s attention.  What is it?  How do you harness it?

In 1747, Franklin is 41 years old.  His life changes and will be devoted to science, politics and civic engagement.  Amazing. This is what is so fascinating about Franklin for me. He lived many lives.  It is almost 30 years before the Revolution, Paris, the Constitutional Convention.

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My Franklin experience was enriched with a National Endowment for the Humanities program.

“The “Landmarks of American History” grant will bring more than 80 teachers to Philadelphia during the summer of 2011 for “A Rising People: Benjamin Franklin and the Americans,” June 25-July 1 and July 10-15. Teachers will study with scholars of early America, visit sites that Franklin knew, examine documents written by Franklin, and experience a host of historic opportunities in the weeks surrounding Independence Day.

‘We’re absolutely delighted that the NEH funding will allow this program to continue,” said Dr. George Boudreau, associate professor of history and humanities at Penn State Harrisburg and the program’s director. “Understanding Benjamin Franklin is essential to understanding the history of the United States.’”

I participated in 2009.  My lesson plan can be reviewed at:

https://www.lasalle.edu/teachingfranklin/files/2015/11/Neighbbors_and_Friends_Profy.pdf

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It was a great week.  Most memorable was George Boudreau reaming me out for missing an evening activity.  I had a graduate class to teach at LaSalle. Another memorable event was the police visit after a student verbally threatened Boudreau.  It was never clear why.

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I took the train daily to 30th street station.  We met at the McNeil Center for Early American History across the street from the University of Pennsylvania.  Mornings were devoted to lectures by different Franklin scholars.  In the afternoons and some evenings there were field trips. We went to Independence Historical Park, the Franklin complex on Market street, visited the Library Company of Philadelphia and the American Philosophical Society.  There was an evening concert of colonial music in a Society Hill church and a luncheon or dinner in City Tavern.  Most memorable was the final day walk from Franklin’s house to Christ Church cemetery.  George was a bit emotional as he described the number of people who came and paraded on the day of Franklin’s funeral.  Drop a penny on his grave.

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Franklin was an amazing person.  I want to not just reread the Autobiography but search out my books for others related to Franklin. It would also be fun to re-explore Philadelphia sites associated with him.  A spring project.

 

 

 

 

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Looking ahead, 2019

 

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January 1, 2019

My plans, hopes for the new year.  Not resolutions really but goals. A list to guide me each day, week, month.  Some are already part of my routine; others new or need development.

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Walk a mile, an hour, most days, push a bit longer,  sometimes with Diane and Nala exploring new and familiar places; sometimes local.

Exercise, upper body with weights; pedals for legs.

Meditate.

Food shop at farm markets, speciality stores.

Weekly lunches out, old favorites, new places.

Bake and cook using cookbooks.

Organize and get rid of stuff. Organize and get rid of stuff.

House repair; yard improvement.

Shop & tools clean up.

Yard Sale.

Read new and reread books.

Watch films, new and classics.

Listen to music more frequently.

Get back into photography. Organize photographs.

Doll house completed.

Local field trips, Philadelphia several times a month, on train, theatre, museums.

Get to NYC.

Ride bicycle, use kayak.

Garden.

Travel, at least a month, six weeks away from home.

New activities with Eli and Viv.

Contact with relatives and friends.

Express thanks to Diane and others who help so much.

Volunteer.

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Novel Destinations

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Several years ago I bought a journal at the Library of Congress to record my dream travel destinations.  Unfortunately medical issues may now limit my options and I haven’t recorded much in the journal.  But I can still dream, hope, plan and I should.  I think it’s called a bucket list.  But how, why, does a place end up on my list. I remember saying I was ready to go to Europe in 1976 (specifically England) because I wanted to do photography.  I had a reason. I think I was influenced by Lawrence of  Arabia who traveled to Italy to study architecture, churches and cathedrals.  A purpose.

I just finished reading “Novel Destinations: literary landmarks from Jane Austin’s Bath to Ernest Hemingway’s Key West,” by Shannon Schmidt and Joni Renton.  It’s one of those books about books; a genre I like.  The authors like to explore, visit sites, houses, places associated with writers.  Their travels are primarily in the United States and Europe.  Since I majored in literature at Boston College, I enjoy reading classic authors, traveling to their homes, exploring their sources of inspiration, fantastic.

It was fun to read about places we’ve visited — for instance,  Hemingway’s Spanish villa in Key West; or the Alcott house in Concord.  The replica cabin of Henry David Thoreau on Walden Pond was a special pilgrimage for me.  I recall a fairly recent stop at a Robert Frost house in Vermont on a snowy afternoon.  We’ve been to the Pearl Buck “Green Hills” farm house in Perkasie several times. Most recently to see a display of community decorated Christmas trees.  There is the Edgar Allen Poe house in Philadelphia and Washington Irving’s  “Sunnyside” on the Hudson in NY.  We’ve intentionally visited (but should spend the night) in the Algonquin Hotel in  NYC open to the literary vibes.  We’ve had drinks in the Plaza like Scott and Zelda.

It was interesting to see how many areas had walking tours of places from the authors’ lives or places related to the characters in their books. Bars, restaurants, hotels are frequently featured.    The last time we were in London, I wanted to take a Sherlock Holmes walking tour.  I’d been to the SH pub with it’s  recreated rooms; and I’d walked past 221b Baker Street.  But to just tour the city with Holmes and Watson, in a hanson cab maybe.  This should be entered in my destinations journal.

There are places closer to Yardley.  I’ve never been to the Walt Whitman house in Camden or the James Fenimore Cooper house in Burlington.  We’ve talked about visiting Nathaniel Hawthorne sites in Salem, MA and the Mark Twain house in Hartford, CT.

More ambitious would be traveling to Cannery Row, Steinbeck territory or Harper Lee’s Monroeville, Alabama, “To Kill A Mockingbird.”  And how I would love to explore Dicken’s London; Hemingway and the expatriot’s Paris, and Joyce’s Dublin.

There is still time.  I need to find that journal, dream, hope but most importantly plan.

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Different Worlds

37181242-1765-4603-9A2B-8317D09DBA16I continue to reread books.  I was  drawn this week to “Ishi: in two worlds, a biography of the last wild Indian in North America,” by Theodora Kroeber.  Ishi was the lone survivor of a California Native American tribe, the Yani.  In the early 20th century he wandered into the white  “civilized” world.  He was “adopted” by anthropologists at the University of California and for several years lived in the anthropology museum.

Ishi’s story is fascinating.  Several chapters explore how he and a small band of this tribe lived concealed in the hills.  Slowly the survivors died and Ishi was alone.  He emerges and adapts to a new life living the the museum.  White man’s customs and expectations.  He is a curiosity, exhibition specimen, but somehow seems to retain his personal, ancestral identity. Ishi shows his new white friends how to make fire, skin animals, chip arrow and spear heads.

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Ishi seems to understand and adapt to white culture.  He accepts something like a handshake because although foreign and strange to him it is the way of the new world.  I recall an encounter with a group Nicaraguan teens.  They were hanging out near their cars along Lake Managua.  I wanted to photograph them.  But how should I approach?    One boy waved to me.  I approached; took some fun photos.  We had crossed a cultural divide.

 

Another recent reread was “Gangsters, Murderers, and Weirdos” — can you guesss, “New York City’s Lower East Side,” by Eric Ferrara.  Several years ago we spent several days in NYC with John and Barbara Paglione.  One afternoon we took a tour with the author.  The Lower East Side, Little Italy, Chinatown.  Ferrara responded to our “food” interests pointing out restaurants, bakeries, groceries,  and the last pickle shop in the neighborhood.  Of course I ordered his book from Amazon.

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The Lower East Side was a different world.  Ferrara explores it through newspaper and police records.  Much of what he discovers is sordid.  Street after street; block  after block; house after house; the scene of all types of crimes; shootings; murders.  It’s an interesting read.  Most characters are not famous; although there is the ocassional well known Lucky Luciano or Meyer Lansky.  Would be a fantastic guide for a walk in the neighborhood.

So many books.  So many worlds.

 

 

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Rivers

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A few weeks ago I woke up about six and  went to the National Weather Service River prediction page.  It had rained heavy during the night and the gauge at Trenton showed a straight line up several feet.  The prediction had been a gradual rise to about 16 feet.  Would it continue to rise? So quickly.    I check some upriver gauges but it’s hard to tell. About seven a new prediction showed the rise stopping, going down, and the over the next few days going back up slowly to about 16 feet.  More rain expected and the reservoirs in New York were spilling (which they had been for weeks).

With the sun up I noticed the low land along Morgan was flooded.  The water was from Garlits Pond, which is feed by a ditch running along the canal.  The canal may have overflowed just enough to fill the pond to overflow but not enough to flood the neighborhood.  A walk on the canal in the morning showed that’s exactly what happened.  Canal overflow was in a small 4 feet strip.

Living between the Delaware River and canal makes us very aware of weather conditions, rainfall, and potential flooding.  It can happen with the Spring snow thaw, a hurricane, breaking ice packs that are damming river water, local rain flooding the canal.  Many  in the flood plain believe that the major floods of 2004, 05 and 06 were increased due to overflows from upriver reservoirs — Cannonsville, Pepacton, and Neversink. Frequently all three are at or close to 100% capacity forced to release.  Prior to the early 2000 floods, the reservoirs were frequently at 80% capacity and could hold back some heavy rain, instead of spilling and  releasing water.

The Delaware is part of the Wild and Scenic River system.  330 miles of the main stem through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware flow free.  If I understand correctly, the three dam/reservoirs previously discussed and others are on tributaries. These dams  were created to provide drinking water for New York City.  Not wanting to be without clean water, NY wants to keep to reservoirs filled.  The Delaware River Basin Commission, which oversees the reservoirs, after the 2004-06 floods, claimed that 100% filled dams spilling water did not contribute to flooding.  Since then they have instituted minor flood control measures accepting some responsibility.

In 1965 there was a proposal to build a Delaware River dam at Tocks Island.  The federal government began to condemn land for the project.  Supporters of the dam cited the benefit of hydroelectric power and flood control.  In 1955 there was a major flood on the river.  Protests against the dam grew strong.   Abbie Hoffman, a 1960s anti-war activist,  arrived in the Delaware Valley.  Supreme Court Justice William O Douglas led a thousand people in protest.  The Tocks Island Dam was defeated by 1975.  The Delaware would continue to run free. But not all rivers run free.

E0D33988-F528-4426-AD4E-5A19522603F5I just finished rereading “ Northwest Passage: the Great Columbia River” by William Dietrich.  What a story; what a river.  Unlike the Delaware, the Columbia has been dammed, and dammed again, and again.   There are dozens of dams on the main stem and tributaries.  Why?  Some were to provide irrigation water.  And then hydroelectric power. Maybe flood control.   I recognize the dam names Bonneville and Grand Coulee.   Among the many side effects is the impact of dams on the salmon fisheries and Native Americans. Obviously not positive.  Ladders, seeding may help but the historic salmon runs on the Columbia have ended and will not return.

Ten years ago we had a trip planned to explore the Columbia River with my sister Marylee and Norvel.  It didn’t happen as planned.  Recently I’ve been thinking of my “must visit”  places.  Maybe the Columbia.  Until then I’ll continue to monitor the Delaware. No salmon; some shad.

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Christmas Season Begins

Sunday we went to the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia to see, should I say to hear, Handel’s Messiah.  Yannick Nezet-Seguin was the conductor, Philadelphia Orchestra.  Diane thought we saw it with Vicky and Ted Dehne, probably decades ago.  Yesterday afternoon was a memorable performance.  Yannick is so energetic; a holiday elf; constantly in motion.

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Most of the Westminister choir pieces were familiar.  I tried to follow the story — birth, suffering, death, resurrection of Christ.  When first performed in Dublin in 1742, it was controversial; Christ’s life a source of music entertainment, didn’t seem right!  Now it’s traditional Christmas.  We had dinner in Estia.

I decided that Monday would be the beginning of the season.  Cold enough, in the 20s.  I spent several hours writing Christmas cards.  There are many choices today.  Some don’t send cards.  Then there is Facebook or email.  Many families have a photograph card printed.  For several years we designed a letter with photos from the year.  I still enjoy just writing a personal card.  As I work through the list, beginning alphabetically, Alonzo, Bonnema, Corley . . . . It’s an opportunity to remember and reflect on relatives and friends.  I usually develop some standard lines but most cards have a personal touch; something about the recipients.

 

Our card list is between 40 or 50.  We never send to friends and relatives we will see or talk with on the phone.  Cards are for relatives we don’t communicate with regularly; friends we rarely see; former collegues; ghosts from our past.  A decade or two ago I bought a photo album and mounted a selection of cards sent to us over the years.  Who saves Christmas cards?  It’s time to dig out the album.

I’ve brought up most of the boxes of decorations.  For years they were in the “hard to access” attic.  Last year Jenny suggested we put them in the basement.  Much easier. This week we should buy a tree.  Several years ago we discovered a Silver Tip fir at Terrain in Chester County.  Imported from the Sierra Nevada mountains it was expensive but had a sparse branch configuration that we liked.  Last year, no Silver Tip,  Noble Firs were offered as an alternative.  We’ll have to decide this year on a Terrain Noble or a more traditional Douglas Fir, Frazier Fir or other local variety.  There are many places in Bucks we’ve bought/ cut in the past.

Christmas lights. Diane always laments our lack of outside lights. There were years when I strung up quite a few. And years when one string hung on the balcony.  We do have nice door wreaths.  Several to be used annually.  Some of our indoor decorations are 50 years old.  In the 1970s, Snipes nursery in Morrisville sold nice wooden German Christmas decorations.  Each year we purchased something.  A tree ornaments is purchased almost every year. We often tried to relate the ornament to some significant event from the year.

Gifts.  I’ve ordered some theatre tickets and restaurant gift cards.  But no real personal presents yet.  It seems to get more difficult each year.  Diane buys most gifts.  But I like to be part of the process. Tomorrow I’ll begin to look online.  I’d prefer buying from a local, at least Bucks or Philadelphia business, but online can generate ideas.

I think we’ll have Christmas dinner here.  Kwaits, Diane’s brother, maybe my sister Liz will join us.   I should cook/ bake something special.  Still time to check cookbooks.

Christmas season has begun.  Hopefully some nice snowfalls, walks in the cold, time for memories.   A time for family, friends, and traditions.

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Thanksgivings past

I remember very traditional Thanksgiving dinners growing up on Mill Street in Bristol Borough.  Our immediate family, mother, father, four sisters and I were frequently joined by Nanny (mom’s mother) or Nanny’s sister Lucy.  I think Uncle Albert (Dad’s brother) Aunt Carol, Skip and Paul came down from Flushing, NY.  some years.  They eventually arrived in an RV which would be parked in the lot along the river behind our apartment.  Getting a tour was always a treat.   Their visit would prompt visits from the families of Dad’s other brothers, Tom and Frank.  Grandpop Profy would stop in and he may have eaten with us a few times, not always.

Mother with some help from my sisters prepared a turkey with bread stuffing, mashed and candied sweet potatoes, a vegetable like string beans, corn or peas, canned jellied cranberry sauce, maybe apple sauce, green salad, some bread or corn muffins, celery, olives, and probably pie for dessert.  Red wine was pretty standard.

Entertainment for the day would have been a walk to visit the Mignoni family on Radcliffe Street (Mom’s sister).  And we watched the Philadelphia and New York City Thanksgiving Day parades on TV.  Father (and later me) wasn’t a big TV sports fan.  But Uncle Albert might put on a football game.  I recall one year he doned a helmet and ran around the house with a football.  Several years we went to the annual Bristol- Morrisville High School football game.  That may have been arranged by my future brother-in-law, Louis.

I think  Diane and I cooked two Cornish hens on an indoor rotisserie in our Boston apartment our first Thanksgiving after getting married.  For years afterwards Thanksgiving would be at Smith’s in Carmel, NY.  Diane’s Aunt Louella and Uncle Mackie always came.  Her Mom cooked a traditional turkey dinner.  Turnips and parsnips, however, were new to me.  As was mincemeat pie with hard sauce. Several years Mr. Smith took us to Black Pond to skeet shoot, another new experience.    We had a white Lab, Luz who came with us.  One year we were presumably hunting, deer, birds, but we didn’t shoot or even see anything to hunt but the woods walk was fun.

After Jenny was born and we bought our Yardley house, we either cooked at home or went to my parents or later my sister Cissi’s in Bristol.  She and Louis frequently host large gatherings for family and friends.  Since Jenny’s marriage and the arrival of two grand children we have usually hosted them at home.  Since Jenny is a vegetarian for number of years our main course was salmon.  But now we have seafood and turkey.  Diane also likes her mother’s parsnips and turnips in addition to the traditional sides.

One year  I bought a Bourbon Red heritage turkey from Griggstown Farm in NJ.  I cooked it on the outside grill but unfortunately I didn’t let it on long enough.  Starting carving and  I realized it had to go back on the grill.  This didn’t make for the best turkey.  But I would like to try again.

Every other year Jenny goes to Rob’s family.  We are always welcome back in Bristol.  But two  years ago we decided to try a restaurant dinner.  Diane’s brother joined us at Hamilton’s Grill in Lambertville.  It was a nice memorable experience.

This year we decided to eat out again .  Our first choice, the Yardley Inn, was booked.  At Hamilton’s Grill there was a 3 o’clock opening.  Since  Jim Hamilton recently died, there is a new owner chef.  It’s Brian Held who owns Brian’s in Lambertville and Bistro Rouget in Stockton. We had a nice meal in Brian’s when it opened several years ago. Thanksgiving dinner is a price fixe.  Strange but they didn’t  published the menu but I expected it to be similar to previous years — traditional turkey, seafood or beef as a main course.

Thanksgiving 2018, yesterday, was cold.  A high of 28 degrees.  We took a short walk at the Thompson Neely house and then headed to Hamilton’s.  Diane opted for a traditional turkey dinner.  I had halibut and vegetables.  Quite good.  The apps were delicious — potatoes leek soup and large grilled shrimp.  The flourless chocolate cake was, well I’m hoping to make it.  We shared a bottle of white wine.

Home about 5  we built a fire and had a dark grappa nightcap from a Chestertown craft distillery.  So much to be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

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