ell, almost time to turn our calendar pages over! (Again!) And when you do (if you have my wall calendar) you will find a story I wrote about someone you've probably never heard of until now. Someone who lived what seemed to be a tiny speck of a life here on Martha's Vineyard from 1814 to 1890. She did the best she could, and that made her a folk hero. Her name was Nancy Luce.
or years, on my way up-island, I would pass the graveyard where Nancy Luce is buried, and notice the headstone at the back of the cemetery that's surrounded in fake chickens -- all colors, little and big, cement and plastic, in the snow and in the grass, but I never understood why they were there.
ne day, in our used bookstore, I found a biography of Nancy Luce, written by Walter Magnes Teller in 1984 (and out of print now), called Consider Poor I, and that's where I learned the story of the chickens in the graveyard.
Consider Poor I. This was Nancy's phrase. It was what she asked of those around her.
o let's do what she asked. Nancy lived most of her life in a dark, lonely world of poverty and illness. She didn't start out that way; when she was young, she was a good horsewoman, rode twenty miles to and from Edgartown, often, and did all the trading for her family. But she became ill in her early twenties. At the time, no one knew what she had, so they couldn't help her. (I have a friend who's a doctor and he thinks, from looking at her symptoms, she may have had Lyme disease.) Whatever it was, it was debilitating and it lasted the rest of her life.
ust about the time she fell ill, her parents passed away; Nancy was on her own, and prey to avarice of family and neighbors; they tried to steal her home from her; there are minutes from the town meeting at that time showing what they tried to do. She fought them and won; but it left her vulnerable; her enemies didn't like losing to her; it shamed them; she became the butt of local jokes (schoolboys came by to scare her and make fun of her), leaving her even more isolated than she already was.
he lived in her little house, all alone, winter, summer, spring, and fall, in the middle of nowhere (with no electricity, no personal physical strength, no family, and no money). What she had, were chickens, which she needed for the eggs they supplied. And she grew to love them in an extraordinary way. As anyone would in her circumstances. They were all she had.
he other thing Nancy had, but probably wasn't as aware of as I am now, was an indomitable spirit. I don't think it gave her much comfort at the time, probably made things even worse, but it gives me great comfort to see how she soldiered on, despite the difficulties in her life.
he tried not to care what others thought; she loved her chickens, and so when they died, she buried them in real caskets, and spent all her egg money on carved granite headstones for them; she made a little graveyard for them next to her house. This of course made her the object of fun, people would come by to laugh at her, as if she was crazy or something, but she most definitely was not crazy.
ecause of her ailments, sounds were disturbing to Nancy, loud noise hurt her, inspiring her "enemies," as she called them, to serenade her by beating pots and pans at her door. Someone "brought in cow dressing and put it in my entry and shut the door against it." She tells many stories of neighborly abuse. But despite everything, when she was around forty-six, and with no outside help, she had the courage, and amazing inner reserve, to write, illustrate, and self-publish her own small books; the first was called Poor Little Hearts, a book about her chickens. These books aroused interest from curious tourists who began to beat a path to her door (not everyone was horrible to her, some people were just curious).
xploiting her own peculiarities, since it was clear people were interested; she tried to pay her way (taxes, wood for the fire) by selling the little books. She also had photographs taken of herself and her chickens (which is saying something for the 1860's in nowheresville, USA). Others made money on her too; hundreds of picture postcards of her were sold, of which she got not a cent. Because of her own original self, because she followed her heart and did her best, Nancy ended up being the most well-known island person of her time, although there wasn't much comfort in that for her. At the end, at age 75, she fell in her house, alone. It was days before anyone found her; she died shortly after, in poverty, and was buried by the town where she is today-- surrounded by chickens left for her by admirers with "good hearts and tender feelings," Nancy's preferred type of visitors.
ancy was a folk artist and poet. She was fanciful and totally charming when naming her chickens (I took pains to spell them as they are written in the biography, these are not typos!): Teeddla Toonna, Lebootie Ticktuzy, Jafy Metreatie, Otte Opheto, and Aterryryree Opacky -- to name just a few.
ne of her poems, called No Comfort (she wrote what she knew and she knew no comfort) starts like this:
You don't know how hard it is to me,
When one of her favorite chickens,
Poor little Ada Queetie
If she was as far off as across the room,
If she was far off, and I only spake her name,
I used to dream distressing dreams,
ancy's books were hand-written, covers were made from bits of old wallpaper, they were filled with vignettes of her life and loves (her hens). They were how she stood up for herself.
ust knowing about such courage reminds me of all the amazing, hard-working, giving, brave, and sometimes lonely people there are in the world.
ecently I was at an Island Fair, one of the people exhibiting was a famous local artist by the name of Dan Waters. He had this WONDERFUL PRINT (printed from a carved block of linoleum on a hand-operated printing press), which, as you can imagine, I snapped up immediately and have hanging in my studio. Recently I asked if he could make a few more; I was thrilled when he said he would; I was thinking maybe some of you might like one. We only asked for a few; but I think we can get more of them if you're interested. (Just click on WONDERFUL PRINT to learn more.)
Whenever I think I have troubles, I just have to look at my wall, see Nancy Luce flying with her chickens, and I feel much better. If she can do what she did, surely, I can do anything. I have electricity, I have a kitty, I have Joe, I don't need a horse, and I have you.
"The tread mill routine of the week is washing, baking, ironing, fixing dried fruit, airing clothes, sewing, cleaning, baking, and cleaning again. So it goes, week after week, eating and drinking, cooking and cleaning, scrubbing and scouring we go through life; and only lay down our implements on the verge of the grave! Girls, do not scrub and scour until you have no time left to plant a tree, or vine, or flower."
t's the same now as then; the wisdom of the ages is out there, all we have to do is look.
ne more thing, about handwriting, a bit off subject, but one dear to my own heart, and I believe I would be speaking for Nancy Luce as well. I didn't study much art in school; as you know, I didn't realize I could paint at all until I was thirty, but I always got A's in handwriting -- all through grammar school. Now I think my handwriting was my first window into art (Nancy's only window). I was always practicing in notebooks, making swirls -- not thinking "art" but just fooling around... I didn't really look through that window to see watercolor lurking on the other side, but I think it gave me kind of an inner "hand confidence" that I put to use later on. I'm only mentioning this because the other day my sister told me that where her eight-year-old twins go to school in California, they will no longer be teaching cursive. Ouch. I've heard of lots of crazy things; I accept books-in-a-box (against my better instinct), but no cursive? Isn't that going a bit too far? Let my thin cry (the only thin thing about me) go out into the universe; Three cheers for handwriting! There, I said it. Feel better.
nother long Willard. Yikes. You probably need to get back to work. OK, I'll hurry, here are the answers to the question everyone is always asking me, "What's New?" You probably already know from the BLOG or from FOSB that the new CALENDARS have arrived!
he AUGUST ISSUE of Where Women Create Magazine is going to be here any day now; I'm in it! Ten pages of moi. More moi than you might want to shake a stick at. It's a wonderful magazine, if you're not familiar with it. We know in some parts of the country it's hard to find, so we'll have some copies available here in our web store.
ther things just in: There are food items in this world that I just love. Lately I've been asking around to see if these manufacturers would let me sell their things on my web site. Usually they're small businesses, Ma and Pa; many of them choose not to grow, and said no thank you. (Love people who know their limits; why aren't I like that?) Anyway, I did find a couple of people who said yes! One is Vineyard Sunshine GRANOLA. We get it at our local farmer's market; it's made here on the island and it's just the BEST. When I go on the train, or out to California, I take this granola with me. I give it as island souvenirs! Eat it on ice cream, put a handful over yogurt with watermelon and grapes (OMG Summer addiction), have it with milk and sliced banana. Or, put it in your Christmas stocking, it's gooooood.
ext...For years I have owned and loved and cherished my ice cream maker. It works without electricity; you just stir up a favorite ice cream, pour it into the frozen inner liner (you keep in your freezer for moments like this), put on the lid, and every so often, you turn the crank on the top. You can do it at the table, that's how easy and wonderful it is. So I said, "Let's look for my ice cream maker so we can tell everyone about it." We got them! If you don't already have one, you will love this ICE CREAM MAKER! Make my CINNAMON ICE CREAM (from my AUTUMN BOOK p.94) this fall! (Bonding, between you and your victims, will take place. Adoration will occur.)
nother delicious discovery I found at our local farm stand were these SOUR CHERRIES in a jar. These cherries are not in some thick murky sauce, they're in their own juice, so light and flirty, there seems to be giggling involved; all you do is pour them over ice cream and you are done with dessert. I also have a great recipe for cherry syrup for pancakes which I'll share on the blog as soon as I know everyone who wants these cherries has them. The cherry-making people live on a beautiful Wisconsin farm; they also make fabulous HONEY; we got that too! Makes your tea a perfect afternoon calgon moment.
while back, we got in our newest cooking scrapbook called RECIPE TRADITIONS, but I forgot to tell anyone. So, I am now...it's got everything, watercolor stickers, letter stickers, places for photos, background papers, lined writing areas, recipe cards, divider pages that have envelopes in them for recipes. If you're looking to make a wonderful gift for the holidays for someone, this is a good way to start! You can also get extra BACKGROUND PAGES in our web store.
nd so now, you are free to go.
Ooops, wait a minute, back up, I forgot...have you seen the new Woody Allen movie? I was forced to break my, what is it, ten-year-anti-Woody-Allen, one-person boycott -- to go see this movie -- at least he's not in it. (I think I was madder at Woody Allen than I was at my own ex-husband!) But, you know, I'm weak, I brake for art, especially back-in-time-in-Paris art. It's called Midnight in Paris and it's adorable; so us. Great scenery, perfect music. You'll love it. (You don't have to forget what he did, just rise above, stay true to self, and go.)
hat's it, that's all she wrote. Happy, Happy August; do all the wonderful summer things you love; don't forget the watermelon! All the way to heaven is heaven...
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