The Corpse and I

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In the middle of the floor of my sunroom, the body lay twisted as though suffering convulsions before expiring. Once so lively and active, now unmoving, lifeless, a carcass, a ghost of a former self.

I knew it might happen, but now am trying to decide how to handle the remains. Do I call someone? Or do I gather my courage and figure out a way to dispose of the corpse myself? I will not hold a funeral or a memorial service. I just want the body out of the sunroom—out of my house, out of my life.

Can I just toss it out the door to the outside?

Before you think me totally heartless, perhaps I should explain.

Several days ago, I saw something moving in my sunroom, which is separated from the house by a sliding glass door which I normally leave open. I slammed the sliding door shut, leaving me and my visitor on opposite sides. My hope was the intruder who had found its way in would find an exit. Or else the invader would die. Which, since I spied the corpse this morning, it did.

My visitor, a small green lizard, probably a baby, a type of lizard known as an anole, but everyone calls it a gecko. Several times during its stay in my sunroom, Faith, the cat, caught sight of it and wanted to go investigate.

Not a good idea. Three years ago, I had a cat who partially swallowed an anole. I found Tuxie with two back legs and a tail frantically thrashing with the rest of the lizard inside her mouth. Picking her up to get her outside where I hoped she would cough up the lizard, she opened her mouth and the would-be snack escaped. The last I saw it, it scurried into a storage closet where, if it stayed, it is a desiccated corpse by now. Other people have stories of the tail coming off and the lizard thus being in two pieces.

No, I did not want that visitor to become a plaything for the cat–or dinner. Furthermore, it was only in one room of the house–only in the sunroom, unless it found a way out and went home to its family.

It did escape. It escaped these ‘mortal coils.’ What about an afterlife? Is there a heaven for lizards? Or will its spirit be reincarnated? And if it is reincarnated, what will it come back as?

Anole corpse

These are questions too big to ponder when I have the serious dilemma of what to do with the corpse. I will not actually touch it. And am too cowardly to admit to anyone close by that I won’t touch it. My usual spray-it-with-Raid-and-then-vacuum-it-up technique to deal with unwanted visitors probably won’t work.

The door to the sunroom will stay closed as I figure out a plan. It is too hot to sit out there these days. I am going to make like Scarlett O’Hara.

Tomorrow is another day.

The dead lizard isn’t going anywhere.

My Escalator Theory of History

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Some of my former students might remember my analogy of history being like a down escalator and societies/civilizations are striving to get to the top. Therefore, they need to run up the down escalator. Let me provide some background on how this theory developed.

For a number of years, I took 9th graders to Washington DC for a week, and while our days were easily packed with things to do, night time in our nation’s capital with fourteen-year-olds was a challenge. Time between dinner and bedtime spent only in hotel rooms was never productive and could lead to situations requiring discipline. It took some creative thinking to fill those hours.

 One night was always spent at a food court away from the hotel, which meant taking the metro back. Leaving the metro platform and returning to the Mall level meant taking the escalator to the surface and there were always two escalators going down at our station. In a fit of desperation and a desire to eat up time, I challenged them to race up the down escalators. At that time of night, we were the only ones at the station. And almost every one of them took part in the challenge and ran up while the steps were going down.

I very quickly realized that unless they stepped off the escalator, but only did their “happy ‘cause I am the winner dance” on the top step, they were soon drifting downward. From this came my theory.

The down escalator is time.

And as a society, we must keep moving forward, keep striving upward, or we will begin to fall back. Historically, when any civilization says, “I have it all. I am the perfect society,” they begin to slip behind. When they stop embracing change and want to freeze their world as it is, others will surpass them.

History is the story of change, and to be honest, change can be uncomfortable. I have heard it said that the only person who wants change is a wet baby, which is perhaps an over simplification, but has some validity.

What is happening in so many places today in education is a movement to try to stop change, to stop ideas. Yes, some ideas are uncomfortable. But discomfort is ok. Would a runner or other athlete ever improve if not pushed into a bit of discomfort during practices or even the actual events?

It bothers me that people who might castigate countries who manage their citizens through control of the media, are the same people who are trying to regulate what can be taught in schools and who are seeking to punish teachers who dare to share uncomfortable ideas with students. A group in one state in the US has a $500 reward for anyone reporting such a teacher.

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Schools are meant to educate, which means to lead forth. Yes, basic math is important, as is the ability to read. But if a child can only read certain books with certain ideas, how will that child grow? That child, those children, will be frozen on the down escalator. Teachers need to expose children to a variety of ideas and teach them the critical thinking skills necessary to approach new ideas.

No, that does not mean that history teachers must present opposing views on all topics. The Holocaust was a bad event—there is no upside, unless we learn from it and prevent another from happening, but in the 75 years since World War II ended, many mini-holocausts have occurred. So no lessons learned.

I fear for the state of much of American education. I fear that non-professionals, in an effort to keep controversy out of the classroom, are so sanitizing our curriculums that our students will not learn and grow. Yes, we need to acknowledge what we have accomplished as a country, but we also must admit there is more to do.

Unless all viewpoints are represented, how can we make a decision? No trial just presents the defense case or the prosecution case, and at times, I think we need to have a third viewpoint, that of society. I once was involved as a teacher in a child custody case and spoke for the child—not as the mother or the father, both of whom loved their child—but as the teacher who saw the impact of both parents on the child. I was that third or maybe even the fourth voice, since the child was also questioned.

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As our children become the adults in charge, will they be content with how things are in this country. Will they cease to create a more perfect union since they have been taught that all is perfect? If so, we will slip further and further down on that escalator of history.

We need our teachers to be free to teach without fear of retribution or punishment. If we don’t allow freedom in the classroom, we will have no teachers of quality left in our schools as we create a nation of people who are limited in their thinking and world view.

We need to embrace the challenge of running up the down escalator.

Hell Hath No Fury–Origins

This wonderful cover was designed by Teresa Jenellen.

When I was doing reseach on historic homes in Massachusetts, I stumbled across a ruling in a court case. There were not many details, but I wondered about the events before and after the case was decided. My imagination took over and from those little bits of facts and my imagination came the story told in Hell Hath No Fury.

However, the story remained nebulous until I discovered the setting. I call my imaginary town Slaterville, but some of the inspiration came from the area of Sharpsville, Pennsylvania. I certainly took liberties with some aspects of the town’s geography and history, but in other ways, I stayed close to reality.

The title, Hell Hath No Fury, comes from a play written by William Congreves in 1697.  The line is “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned” As the relationship between the three main characters develop, rage does turn love to hatred.

Hazel, the first character the readers encounter, is young, beautiful, and well-liked.  Her father runs the general store in town, but is about to lose it. Times are changing and the A&P is moving in.  Florence is the daughter of the wealthiest man in town, the man who owns the mill which is the heart of the town’s economy.  Older and plainer, she considers herself the leader of the women in the area, yet worries that people only like her because she is rich.

Then a roll of the dice brings Henry into this small town, and both women are dazzled by him. Henry has learned to survive by his wits and by cutting corners.  When the dice tell him to stay in this small town, the lives of both women change.

In future blogs, I will talk more about the book and how I moved from nebulous idea to a book in print.

Nichola de la Haye–Who Knew

Nichola de la Haye’s Seal

One of the more famous (or infamous) villains in English medieval history is the Sheriff of Nottingham, the nemesis of Robin Hood. A sheriff or shire reeve, was responsible for overseeing the county or shire for the king, enforcing the laws, collecting taxes, keeping the peace.  There was one very unusual sheriff during the reigns of Richard the Lion-hearted and then his brother King John. The sheriff was a woman, Nichola de la Haye[1].  Despite her important role in history, her story, like that of most women at that time, has largely been forgotten.

We are only guessing that Nichola was born somewhere in the early 1150s.  As well as owning lands in France, her father, Richard, was a Lincolnshire landowner and the caretaker or castellan of the royal castle at Lincoln.  Richard de la Haye died about 1169 leaving only three daughters. Nichola, the eldest inherited his English lands and the rights to his position at the castle. Her two younger sisters were given his lands in France.

Upon the death of her father, Nichola became a wealthy heiress and a highly desirable matrimonial prospect.  Any husband would expect to control her lands and also assume the position of caste.  Her first husband died in 1178, leaving her with a daughter. She married again before 1185. Her second husband died in 1215. She outlived him by fifteen years. While Nicky’s husbands each claimed the role of castellan while they were in the castle, but if they were away and after their deaths, she was often left in charge.

Castle Gates at Lincoln

The chroniclers of the time first write about Nichola in 1191.  King Richard had gone on the Third Crusade, and while he was gone, Prince John attempted to usurp the throne.  Her husband left her in charge of the castle in Lincoln while he joined with John’s forces.  Richard’s supporters marched to Lincoln and placed the castle under siege.  Nichola refused to yield and held out for forty days.  One contemporary recording the event commented that she defended the castle ‘without thinking of anything womanly’. [2]

Naturally when King Richard returned, he was displeased with the loyalty that Nichola and her husband expressed in supporting John, and they lost their position in the castle and her land.  However, when Richard died and John became King, the couple regained their holdings in 1199.

When her husband died in 1215, Nichola officially assumed the position of castellan, a role that she probably had been carrying out even when her husband claimed the title.  Contemporary writers are clear that he has the position only because he was married to her.

By the time of her husband’s death, England was in a state of upheaval with many of the nobles accusing John of corruption, murder, and misrule.  He extorted money on various pretexts to support his unsuccessful military campaigns in France. Some of the barons wanted to invite the French King to come and rule England.  In June 1215, a peace treaty of sorts was drawn up between the king and the rebelling barons.  This document known in history as the Magna Carta is considered to be the framework of modern British Government by putting limits on power of the monarchy.  A year later, John repudiated the conditions laid out in the charter and civil war broke out.

Seige at Lincoln according to a Medieval Artist

Nichola held Lincoln for John.  When a rebel army tried to lay siege to the castle after sacking the town, she bribed them to go home. 

In September 1216, King John visited the Lincoln.  Nichola met him outside the main or east gate, holding out the keys to the castle. She offered the keys to him claiming her great age (she might have been in her 60s) made it tiring to carry such a heavy responsibility for her king.  John, addressing her in respectful terms, said she should keep the office until he removed her. Before his death about a month later, John named Nichola to the responsibility of being Sheriff of Lincoln

In the months that followed, Nichola proved her loyalty to the crown giving her unstinting support to nine-year old king, Henry III. Other nobles, fearful of the weakness of a child ruler, invited Prince Louis of France to come and take the throne. The rebel forces were meeting with some success, but Nichola held the castle at Lincoln firmly for Henry III.  Prince Louis even traveled to Lincoln asking for her surrender, assuring her he would guarantee her safety. She refused.

Warrior Nichola

In March 1217, Lincoln Castle was under siege.  A siege lasted for close to three months.  Catapults bombarded the walls. Nichola’s forces were outnumbered three to one by the French.  The city itself supported the rebel cause and welcomed the French Army. By mid-May a relief force arrived, the siege was broken. This battle, where Nichola held the castle, is considered to be the end of French aspirations to rule England.  English chroniclers of the time praise her abilities; the rebels and the French portrayed her as ‘‘a very cunning, bad-hearted and vigorous old woman’’[3]

Her reward for holding the castle until other forces could come to defeat the French army was to be removed as sheriff and as the overseer of Lincoln Castle.  Her replacement, the Earl of Salisbury, seized the castle. Salisbury was an uncle to the young king.

Nichola who was well into her 60s might have just retired to some of her landholdings in the area. She did not.  She went to the regents for the young king explaining all the ways she had supported the young king and had proven her loyalty. Eventually a compromise was reached.  Salisbury got the position of sheriff, but Nichola remained castellan and retained control of the city of Lincoln.  She continued in these positions, despite Salisbury’s frequently attempts to unseat her.  Salisbury even married his son to her granddaughter in hopes of diminishing her powers.

In 1226, Nichola gave up control of Lincoln Castle and retired to live a quiet life. She was probably in her early 70s. She died in November 1230, outliving Salisbury by four years.  Salisbury’s son and Nichola’s granddaughter inherit her lands.

Nichola’s name on a charter

Her resistance to the French in the siege of Lincoln in 1217 saved the reign of Henry III who became an important ruler in English History. Chroniclers of the time struggled with how to describe the actions and life of this woman.

Medieval women played a larger role than most history books would have us believe.

Nichola De La Haye– female sheriff and defender of a castle… a woman who enabled the reign of a child king to continue… who knew?

[1] Nichola’s name has many different spellings across reference materials. Nicolae, Nicholaa, Nicholae. I picked one and stuck with it, but spelling in the middle ages was somewhat fluid.

[2] Paraphrased from Chronicle of Richard of Devizes. Section 38, page29, published 1881


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