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Planting Apples Trees (A Veteran’s Day Offering)

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Blog Post #46

On this Veteran’s Day I ask the question: What is greatness?

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When I think about what makes someone great, I can’t help but think about planting apple trees. *John Chapman, AKA “Johnny Appleseed,”was the son of a Minuteman who fought at the Battle of Bunker (Breed’s) Hill. Chapman spent a lifetime planting and cultivating a tart variety of apples, called “spitters,” (because that’s what you’d do if you bit into one), but which made good cider. He purchased lands to homestead, planted fifty acres of trees on a parcel, then sold the land to settlers throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois. His travels took him over 100,000 square miles of wilderness, and by the time he died, he owned 1200 acres. Avid in his Swedenborg faith, he remained unmarried and chaste throughout his life, and was an advocate for all animal life.

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Apple Cultivars “Spitters”

It wasn’t in the planting of trees, or the harvesting of apples, his unusual rustic garb, or his travels that made Johnny Appleseed great. I believe his greatness was in his unselfish labors, in planting something good for others to enjoy at some future time (rather than hoarding the fruits of his effort for himself). The backbreaking work of clearing land, preparing, planting, and cultivating fruit-bearing trees was not a passive hobby. It required sweat and toil. It was a labor of love and a selfless sacrifice. That’s why I think of his planting of apple trees as greatness. When someone plants an apple tree, knowing they will not benefit from its shade, fruit, or beauty, that’s selflessness, and selflessness for the good of others is greatness.

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Those who serve our country know what it means to give selfless service. They often sacrifice family, health, convenience, personal time, and the fruits they may have planted in their homeland of America, leaving a bounty of the blessings of preserved freedoms for those at home to enjoy while they labor on foreign soil.

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My father, Joe Culotta, is at front left.

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My Uncle Albert Mascari is standing 4th from the left

My father’s generation—the World War II generation— was truly great. Most of their generation understood and strived to live lives of decency, courage, self-sacrifice, self-mastery, and fortitude. They laid their lives on the line for the good of their families and others, for the good of their nation, and for the good of the world. Many, like my father, stepped forward and volunteered to serve before the draft. They saw a need and rose to the occasion without coercion or intimidation. They gave all for their beliefs, and for a love of liberty, and they did it without complaining or whining.  They were a willing and hard-working generation, and they did so honestly and with humility.  Sure, there are those who bucked this standard, but they were comparatively few.

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My mother, Veneta Mascari, was asked by Henrite Product Corporation to join the war effort working as a draftswoman in 1944

Those of that generation who remained at home were great, too. They worked for the USO, and stocked the garners of liberty with their offerings, doing what they could: newspaper drives, rubber drives, sewing, cooking, entertaining troops, and giving what they had to give. My mother wrote to servicemen, and worked as a draftswoman for the war effort. These folks had love of country branded in their hearts, and that patriotism appeared in their music, movies, conversations, billboards, and by their home fires.

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Yes, there were evil folks in that generation, too. Yes, there were those who were lazy, self-serving and contemptible, and no, I’m not suggesting that their generation alone cornered the market on that which was great. There are many great men and women from generations prior to theirs, as well as after, and also today. There is much good in the world today.  While we are bombarded with the notion that society, in general, is tipping the scale in a direction away from decency and selflessness toward incivility and self-gratification, and there does appear to be more concern about who is “wrong” than what is right….And though the banks of meaningful conversation are overrun by a glib texting of words and tweets, and an inability to listen to or value what is precious to another, or to find the common ground that unites us as a people, and as members of humanity….And even if much of what we see and hear casts the pendulum as swinging away from civility…. Even though it is possible, even probable, that all of this is rooted in truth, I look around at my neighborhood, and am grateful to see an overwhelmingly quiet, industrious, respectful and generous body of people. These are good people who care about each other, and perform quiet acts of service for neighbors – neighbors they didn’t choose, but have embraced.

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We have neighbors who took the trouble to build a counter on which they freely give away lemons and limes in season.We have neighbors who bring us delicious persimmons, peaches, and plums – sharing their bounty with others. We have neighbors who create marvelous light displays for others to enjoy during the holidays. We have neighbors who overwhelmed us with their kindness when death reached our doors. We have neighbors who anonymously leave flowers, notes, and gifts on our doorstep. We have neighbors who take in our mail, and return our garbage cans without our asking. We have neighbors who are decent, kind and serve others. We have “great” neighbors; we have “Johnny Appleseed” sorts of neighbors. I hope we may be found in every way equal to our neighbors in these selfless acts of  goodness.

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9-11 “Tribute in Light” Memorial

We are all the same, really. From my perspective, 9-11 gave proof of that. When 9-11 happened, for a small moment in time, the people of America laid aside personal biases and agendas, and became one in charity and in patriotism – linking arms, hearts, and minds to comfort the downtrodden, provide aide to the suffering, and preserve what was most dear to us all.  For a moment, we as a unified nation assumed the attributes of the greatest generation.  In most scenarios, we saw others the way we saw ourselves – vulnerable, hopeful, and in many ways, equal. We cared about each other because someone from without was threatening our way of life and our very lives in a very real and tangible way.

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Abraham Lincoln

In Abraham Lincoln’s famous Address, which he delivered to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois on January 27, 1838, titled “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions” he said these words:

“Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.”

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Daguerreotype of Abraham Lincoln taken in 1846

During the 1858 Senatorial campaign, Lincoln also said:

“Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as a heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors.”

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Believed to be the last known surviving apple tree planted in Nova, Ohio by John Chapman 

It’s not too late to plant apple trees instead of “the seeds of despotism” for the next generation…to leave a positive legacy for our children – for our posterity – of hope that feeds the body and soul with the fruit of goodness, kindness, truthfulness, respect, tolerance, faith, and love. It’s not too late to live for others.

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“John Chapman: He lived for others.” 1774-1845  (What a great epithet!)

“Surely God would not have created such a being as man, with an ability to grasp the infinite, to exist only for a day! No, no, man was made for immortality.” (Abraham Lincoln, 1858 Senatorial campaign)

End Piece

© November 11, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

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"As You Sow…"

Blog Post #17

Jean-François Millet, The Sower
My mother-in-law had her own twist on the old proverb “For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,” (Galatians 6:7). With delight, she often showed me pieces of fabric she planned to use for new dresses. One fabric she particularly liked had a small print of little cowboy boots, horses, and spurs on a navy blue field. She liked this fabric because it suggested something dear to her—her late husband, who had passed away a year or two earlier.  Horses and cowboy boots were synonymous with Dad.

The cowboy print looked something like this

Dad with his horse Smokey
She used the same dress pattern many times, changing the print of the fabric for variety.  Soon after she showed me the cowboy print, it became a dress much like the one she’s wearing in the picture below.
My mother-in-law wearing a
typical dress of her own making

One day, not long after my husband and I had married, his mom emerged from her sewing room and laughingly shared with me the truism she had just thought of as she began to repair a mistake in her sewing: 

Whatsoever a woman seweth, that shall she also rip!” 


This became shortened  to, “As you sew, so shall you rip,” which is how I always think of it. Her witticism seemed to make up for any error in sewing she had made. She knew she had struck on a profound play on words. Always chuckling at her wit, she repeated this phrase to me whenever I found her sewing.


The notorious seam ripper

It was simply brilliant. And so true. I have thought of it plenty of times since as I’ve sat at my own sewing machine frantically rushing to repair a mistake by wielding my trusty seam ripper. I have never been a patient seamstress. I like sewing. I do. But mostly the thing I like about sewing is being done. I like the finished product—wearing, displaying, or using it. Sewing is a means to an end.


My daughter Caity sews for a living. Her business keeps her extremely busy, with deadlines that often require additional help, (which I am pleased to provide). We sit together sewing for hours at a time, or I do odd jobs to expedite the orders she has to fill.
“Young Mother Sewing” by Mary Cassatt

Caity does impeccable work. Running her business online via an *Etsy shop means her clients must take their own measurements. This can create problems if done incorrectly. Sometimes, items are returned for adjustments. Fortunately, this is the exception, not the rule. Making adjustments is time-consuming and generally without remuneration.

At times, she asks me to remove a bodice (the top portion of a dress) from the skirt. Recently, I had two such dresses to take apart. On one of the dresses, the length of both sleeves and skirt had been miss-measured by the customer, and the dress returned for adjustments. The fully lined mutton sleeves—having two parts—also needed to be dissected and refinished.

Dresses with mutton sleeves.
Not the dresses Caity makes.

Looking at one of the sleeves, I saw a possible shortcut to repairing the hem of the lower sleeve without having to rip the sleeve apart. But I was strictly instructed that no shortcuts were allowed. Caity, having already attempted a shortcut in refinishing the sleeve at the proper length in a thoroughly acceptable way, received word from the customer that she preferred the sleeves refinished the original way.  The fabric would need re-cutting, and the sleeve, re-made from scratch. It had to measure up to a high level of quality and workmanship, and it did. Her customers are happy, and she feels peace and confidence in her product, and, truthfully, in herself. 

I balked at the thought of this, knowing the extra time and effort it would take. But Caity was adamant. I tore out the stitches, while reciting to myself the slightly altered form of the already misrepresented adage, “As you sew, so shall I rip.” True. So true. We reaped as she sowed (and as she sewed).



I’ve watched Caity in her preparations to sew her custom designs. Because she does work with a handicap—the customer’s measurements—she takes precautions to help insure a perfect fit (and achieves this feat at least 95 % of the time). I’ve watched her measure, and re-measure, two and three times before cutting.  She carefully lays-out, and pins pieces together, instead of doing it her mother’s less exacting and speedier way. In doing so, she saves the time I waste picking out mistakes. Because she makes costumes that multiple people may wear, she allows for discrepancies and variances in size by including an expandable panel in her designs. I’ve watched the great care she takes in her craft and marvel at how few mistakes she makes. It is truly remarkable, considering the queen of “just get it done as fast as possible” was her first (and only) sewing instructor. (Yes, I speak of myself. I grimace as I admit this. But it is true.)

“…Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” True of everything, not just sewing. This summer is full of illustrations: I neglected to deadhead my roses, and have had few to any blooms. The basil, too, I’ve neglected, and have nothing but sad and scraggly plants gone to seed with which not to make pesto. I have giant “thistles” instead of artichokes, because I failed to harvest. We have a sad little avocado tree that was sown in what must be a cursed bit of soil, for the tree, (and its earlier counterpart, which we uprooted because it also fared poorly) has turned into a skinny, leafless stem. I have reaped as I have sown. No doubt about it.


There are many ways to sow. Sowing faithful and true relationships is paramount if you wish to reap a harvest of love and harmony. Sowing good works brings joy and fulfillment. Sowing things of the spirit brings a harvest of knowledge, truth, and peace. Of course, it’s possible to sow things that reap a poor harvest. Sowing seeds of laziness, self-indulgence, pride, and deceit all reap thriving harvests, but who wants grubs and sewage in their horn of plenty?  


For me, it was a particularly hot and humid summer—a particularly busy one, as well. We were busy sowing other than in our vegetable garden. One of our daughters and her family came to stay after being pruned and uprooted from the bit of soil where they had been planted for several years. Their former house sold, they stayed with us during the summer until they found a fruitful spot of ground in a happy situation less than an hour away. Transplanted and thriving–is this not a worthwhile harvest?


Add to that, the sowing and the reaping (or more apropos, the sewing and the ripping) with Caity, we’ve had a fruitful summer.
In sowing and reaping, time does not allow for shortcuts. It just doesn’t. If you plant a seed, it doesn’t matter how much you water it, or expose it to the proper sunlight and nourishment, it will always take a certain amount of time before it will produce. A mighty oak isn’t grown in a day. You cannot rush the harvest. You might be able to encourage it, to make it more plentiful. You might even discourage it, and never reap at all.


Our daughter’s family reaped a nice, quiet, home in exactly the area they had hoped to live, but there were no shortcuts getting there. They reaped as they sowed. They might have settled for something less adequate, but there would have been a price to pay. The safe environment they were seeking, the proximity to schools, work, church, family, and access to the community would have, to a degree, been sacrificed, and with that a certain measure of peace and comfort. Patience in sowing reaps added benefits during harvest.



Brad planted tomatoes. With great care, he watched over them. He nourished and cared for them because he wanted that plentiful harvest. He reaped a lot of tomatoes—many beautiful, red, ripe and delicious. Enough to bottle and to share. He thought he might be able to extend the season further into fall by pruning back the old plants, and planting a couple new plants mid-summer. He was disappointed that his efforts really didn’t produce the desired effect. The season has run its course. The tomatoes have run their cycle—all ending at about the same time. There are things we can change, and things we cannot. I suppose he could build a greenhouse, and have tomatoes year-round, but he hasn’t chosen to do that. Everything comes with a price. Shortcuts must follow the law of the harvest. No matter what, you always reap what you sow.  
 

Jean-François Millet – “Gleaners”


Looking back on the summer, it is evident that I did not sow some of the things that I might have sown. I didn’t even sew things that I planned to sew. I’ve been talking about making a new dress since March. I still haven’t done it. It doesn’t matter. The old ones are still wearable as they hang, limp and lifeless in my closet, like vintage remnants from a garage sale. Instead, I sowed a summer with my daughter, sewing and talking, and being together. It was, and continues to be, worth the harvest, for she is precious to me.



I spent the summer with my other daughter’s family, with treasured grandchildren, laughing, talking, playing games, and building relationships that reek with happiness.
Surely these, and other important things sown over the course of the summer, were worth any displaced activities I might have harvested. Instead of basil, what have I gleaned? Much, much more—and of greater worth. An eternal harvest.

One of our daughters, and some of our grandchildren on a summer outing

One of my grandsons with me

There’s always next year for basil and artichokes. But some things you may only sow once in a lifetime. They are worth every part of the time invested, and the harvest reaped is eternal.
  

*Caity’s Etsy shop is called Cait’s Boutique.  You might find it fun to take a look!

© September 6, 2014