Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Just When You Need Them Most—Murfin’s Thanksgiving Rules


It turns out that this illustration, swiped from a children's book, was actually created by Theresa Murfin! Gotta be some kind of relative!.  Hello, cousin and feel free to stop by for the feast.  We'll make room.

Note:  Miss me?  I have spent the last two days toiling over a new post I think you will find of interest.  And I’m not quite finished.  Tune into this channel on Friday for the results.  In the meantime we have a holiday here in the Land of the Semi-free and Home of the Fearful…

I have posted my Murfin’s Thanksgiving Rules before, but on Thanksgiving itself when everyone is too busy with preparations, entertaining, dinner, and cleaning up to read them.  I have been scolded for this.  “Damn it, Murfin!  Why didn’t you post this when it would have been of use!  I didn’t read it until 10 pm after the last guest was gone, last dishes washed, and the gravy stain scrubbed from the carpet.”

Good point.  So here it is today, in plenty of time to share with your guests—or your hosts.  This list of rules is particularly apt for those of us who do not live in House Beautiful, Pinterest posts, or Martha Stewart fantasies.  It’s for those of us with cramped space, short time, and real families of blood or choice that don’t resemble that Norman Rockwell cover or behave at all times with perfect reverent decorum.  In other words, most of the folks I know.

If you spend your Thanksgiving like this, you are excused.  And blessings on your head.

1. If you spend the day in a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, jail, hospital, nursing home, or even on the street blatantly and illegally feeding the hungry, read no more.  Your sins have been erased and forgotten and you win a gold star in the middle of your forehead.

2. Sleep in a little.  No matter how much there is to do, you will need your rest.  Strong coffee with at least the pre-show for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is OK.


4.  If you are coming, bring something, anything to add to the feast and festivities unless you are explicitly warned against if by the occasional fussy perfect Hosts and Hostesses.  It does not have to be homemade, expensive, or complicated.  Just not poisonous

5.  If you are not cooking, help with the set up.  Not every home has a state dining room, plenty of matching chairs, and infinite table leaves.  Be prepared to move furniture aside, scour the house for any chair that will not collapse, including the folding chairs rusting in the garage.  Try to make sure there are plates, bowls, glasses, and flatware at every seat.  They do not have to match.  In a pinch Ronald McDonald plates will suffice.  Be prepared to ferry food from the kitchen as directed.

As long as everyone gets to eat, it doesn't mater if your plates, flatwear, or chairs match or that you hauled the folding tables up from the basement.  Guests can help assemble a makeshift dining room.
6.  Try to seat the children at the table.  If this is not possible, do not ask teenagers to sit at the kids’ table.  They will know you just want them to baby sit and hate you so much that you may later not want to be alone with them near the plug in your nursing home.

7.  Speaking of children, if any are present at least one will smash an heirloom platter, spill a two litter of Coke on the kitchen floor and everyone’s feet will be sticky the rest of the day, or pour gravy on the cat.  Smile sweetly.  This will become a beloved family story, and will embarrass the miscreant for decades to come

Many of us gather with families of choice, not of blood like these urban hipsters and their friends.  The same rules apply.

8.  It is alright for some folks to watch some football when dinner is not on the table or family social time is not in force as long as men don’t hog the couches and beer and women are not made galley slaves and serving wenches.
9.  When dinner is finally ready, firmly demand that all electronics be put away.  This will cause shrieks and wails of protest, some of it from actual teenagers, the rest from relatives who realize you do not want them posting the meal live on Twitter.  There will be sulking.  Almost everyone will get over it.  Then tell some of the men that means turning of the football game as well.

10.  Saying grace is fine.  If you are a host, take a look around your table and if you are not completely sure that everyone there shares your exact and passionate religious convictions, try to make the prayer as inclusive as possible.  Don’t ask for salvation of lost souls.  No adding political diatribes in the guise of prayerright or left.  If you are a guest and hear a prayer that does not conform to your preferences unless a thumb has been stuck directly in your eye, smile and ignore it.  Chances are that no matter how doltish the person praying meant well.

11. This is not the occasion to go to war over food choices.  Let what you won’t/can’t eat pass by.  Carnivores do not ridicule the vegetarians—and hosts make sure they have something to eat.  Vegetarians, vegans, and Ethical eaters spare everyone your diatribes.  You knew what you were in for when you agreed to come.

12.  There almost surely will be at least one dramatic, cathartic moment at the table when old resentments are laid bare and skeletons come tumbling out of the closet.  A few tears, even a little screaming and a dramatic stomping away from the table clear the air like a thunderstorm on the prairie.  Afterwards if there is love and a dollop of understanding, the expectant tension broken, things feel better.  Pass the pies.

Post-Thanksgiving dish stacking at the Murfin mansion--third load
13. After dinner the COOKS ARE EXEMPT FROM CLEAN-UP AND DISH WASHING!!!!  There are no guests at Thanksgiving.  Everyone is literal, figurative, or honorary family.  Roll up your sleeves and pitch in.  With a group effort, and plenty of take home containers for leftovers, it doesn’t take long.
14.  Don’t everybody scatter the second the pie is put away.  Deal the cards on the cleared table, play charades or parlor games.  If there is a piano or guitar, start the singing.  Share scrapbooks.  Break out your best lies.
15.  After a while it is alright to surrender to lethargy, sprawl listlessly on sofas and easy chairs, go gape mouthed and stupid.  Even snore a little.  There must be some sappy old movie on to pretend to watch.
16. And the most important rule of allDON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT GOING SHOPPING!  If you do, I will hunt you down and hurt you.
A few years ago I found myself asked to say grace at a typical extended family Thanksgiving.  Around the table were Catholics ardent and lapsed, liberal Protestants, Jews (mostly secular), a practicing Buddhist, and unchurched secularists.  And I, of course, was a Unitarian Universalist with Humanist leanings.  To be inclusive, to whom should I address a prayer?  What deity, if any, should I invoke?  Should I lead with a Chinese menu of optionspick a god from column A and a spirit from column B? 

This is what I came up with.  You may find it useful—or not.  Feel free to use it if it fits.  Or adapt it to your needs and circumstances.  No pressure.
Thanksgiving Prayers should be about gratitude and love, not preaching, proselytizing, politics, or finger pointing. Swallow hard.  You can manage it....

A Thanksgiving Prayer for Those Who Don’t Pray

Thanks for the hands.
All of them.
            That dug and scratched,
            reaped and loaded,
            milled and butchered,
            baked and cooked,
            served and scrubbed.

The cracked,
            the bleeding,
                        the blistered hands.

The hands that
hewed and smelted,   
            sawed and hammered,
            wove and sewed,
            put together and took apart.

The calloused,
            the greasy,
                        the grimy hands.

The hands that
            wrote and painted,
            plucked and keyed
            carved and created.

The graceful,
            the supple,
                        the nimble hands.

The hands that
            caressed and fondled,
            stroked and petted,
            held and are held,
            grasped and gave,
            played and prayed.

The warm,
            the soft,
                        the forgiving hands.

And today bless even the hands that
            shoved and scourged,
            slapped and smote,
            bound and chained us.

The harsh,
            the hateful,
                        the heavy hands.

Today they cannot still our hands
            from their pleasure and their duty.

The void of anger they create,
            our hands fill with love.

The gentle,
            the clasping,
                        the reaching hands.

Patrick Murfin

Sunday, November 19, 2017

His Final Will—Good Luck to You, Joe Hill

Joe Hill post perforation.

On November 19, 1915 Utah authorities took Joe Hill from his prison cell, tied him to a straight back chair, blindfolded him and pinned a paper heart on his chest.  Then, in accordance with the local custom a firing squad of five men, four of them with live rounds in their rifles and one with a blank, perforated that paper valentine.
No one was better at setting words to popular or sacred songs to use in educating and rousing up workers than Joseph Hillstrom, a Swedish immigrant who drifted into the migratory labor life of the American West shortly after the dawn of the 20th Century. He was born as Joel Hägglund in Gävle, Sweden and immigrated to the U.S. under the name Hillstrom in 1902 learning English in New York and staying for a while in Cleveland, Ohio before drifting west. 
He joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1910 and was soon sending songs to IWW newspapers, including his most famous composition, The Preacher and the Slave, meant to be sung to the music of the Salvation Army bands who were frequently sent to street corners to drown out Wobbly soapbox orators.
As a footloose Wobbly Hill was likely to blow into any western town where there was a strike or free speech fight going.  He was a big part of any Little Red Songbook from 1913 on with such contributions as The Tramp, There is Power in the Union, Casey Jones the Union Scab, Scissor Bill, Mr. Block, and Where the River Frasier Flows.  He also began to compose original music as well, the most famous of which was The Rebel Girl which he dedicated to the teen-age organizer of Eastern mill girls, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. 
Hill also dispatched caustic, if crude, cartoons to Industrial Solidarity, the union’s newspaper, some of which ended up on silent agitatorsstickers meant to slapped up in mess halls, in lumber camps, in city flops and beaneries, and even on the factory floor.  

Joe Hill in life
Joe Hill was often the first fellow worker ready to take the stump at a free speech fight and the first arrested.  He was loved by his fellow working stiffs and feared as an enormous pain in the side of western bosses.
Hill came to Salt Lake City where the local copper barons feared he might bring their miners out on strike.  The small IWW miner’s local there was a target of police harassment.  But Hill apparently had no specific plans and was just booming around looking for work and possibly a place to winter over with sympathetic local Swedes. 
After he showed up at a doctor’s office with a bullet wound, he was arrested and charged with the robbery and murder of a grocer, a former policeman named Morrison—and his son the night before.  He told police that a woman’s honor was involved and would say no more.  He was tried, convicted, and executed by firing squad in 1915.  He was just 36 years old.
Most scholars agree that it was physically impossible for him to have been involved in the robbery or to be shot by the grocer.  But questions always lingered about the bullet wound and that vague alibi. 
Finally in 2013 writer William M. Adler did remarkable spade work and an exhaustive investigation of Hill time in Salt Lake in his book The Man Who Never Died, The Life, Times, and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon.  Adler identified the likely real murder of grocery store owner and his son—Magnus Olson, a career criminal with a long record who was known to be in the area and who had beef with the former policeman.  The police had even picked him up as a possible suspect but he talked his way out of it and hid his identity under a welter of aliases.  Olson also matched the physical description of the assailant given by Morrison’s surviving son, which Hill did not.
Then Adler identified the mysterious woman—20 year old Hilda Ericson, the daughter of the family which ran the rooming house in suburban Murray where he was staying.  She had been engaged to Hill’s friend, fellow Swede and Fellow Worker Otto Applequist who also boarded at the house.  Joe won the girl’s heart and she threw over Applequist for the Wobbly bard.  An upset Applequist shot Hill in a fit of jealousy, but immediately regretted it and was the man who took Joe to the doctor for treatment.  After taking Hill back to the rooming house he packed his bag and left at 2 am with the excuse he had gone looking for work.  Hill refused to name Applequist out of loyalty to his friend, and refused to identify the girl to spare her public humiliation—or perhaps to spare her and her family the risk of persecution from the police for providing an alibi.   And despite all that it cost him, Hill refused to say more.
The judgment of history is that Joe Hill was framed.  He became a martyr to labor in no small measure because of his Last Words, a letter to IWW General Secretary Treasurer William D. “Big Bill” Haywood,
Goodbye Bill. I die like a true blue rebel. Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize... Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.
That has been shortened as a union motto to “Don’t Mourn Organize.
He also composed a memorable Last Will:

My will is easy to decide,
For there is nothing to divide.
My kin don’t need to fuss and moan,
“Moss does not cling to a rolling stone.”

My body? Oh, if I could choose
I would to ashes it reduce,
And let the merry breezes blow,
My dust to where some flowers grow.

Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my Last and final Will.
Good Luck to All of you,
Joe Hill.

In keeping with Hill’s wishes his body was shipped by rail to Chicago, home of the IWW’s General Headquarters where it was cremated.   His funeral was attended by thousands at the Westside Auditorium on Thanksgiving Day where Haywood, spoke along with tributes in several other languages and performances of Hill’s songs.  The funeral possession was reportedly one of the largest ever held in Chicago up to that time.  It took Hill’s remains to Waldheim Cemetery—now known as Forest Home Cemetery—where the bulk of his ashes were scattered around the Haymarket Martyrs Memorial.
One of the packets of Joe Hil's ashes distributed around the worl
The rest of his ashes were divided into several small manila envelopes which were sent to IWW locals or delegates in all 48 states except Utah, to Sweden, and to other countries. 
Over the years some packets of Hill’s ashes have surfaced—some that were seized by the Federal Government in its 1919 nationwide raids on IWW halls and offices were returned to the union by the National Archives in 1988.  The packets have been disposed of in various ways, some ceremonial, some not.  British labor singer Billy Bragg reportedly ate some.  West coast Wobbly singer Mark Ross has some inside his guitar.  Former Industrial Worker editor Carlos Cortez scattered ashes at the dedication of a monument to the six striking coal miners killed by Colorado State Police machine gun fire in the 1927 Columbine Mine Massacre.   An urn kept at General Headquarters in Chicago contains the last known ashes.
Hill entered American culture as a folk hero along with the likes of John Henry and Casey Jones largely thanks to the memorable 1936 song I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night with lyrics by Alfred Hayes and music by Earl Robinson.  As performed and recorded by the great African-American actor, activist, and singer Paul Robeson it became an anthem of the labor movement and eventually more famous than Hill’s own songs.  More than three decades later Joan Baez introduced it to a new generation of radicals and activists when she sang it at the Woodstock Festival in 1989. 
Phil Ochs, one of the heirs of Hill’s protest bard legacy also wrote and recorded his own Ballad of Joe Hill complete with a detailed account of his fate. 
The poster for Bp Widerberg's Joe Hill.  The movie sucked.
Hill is also a revered figure in his native Sweden where he has been commemorated on postage stamps and where his childhood home is reverently preserved as a museum.  In 1971 director Bo Widerberg came to the States to film his Joe Hill.  Despite his reputation as the lyrical auteur of the internationally acclaimed Elvira Madigan, Widerberg botched the job by sacrificing much of the gritty class war content for a sappy and unbelievable romance.  The film sank like a stone when released in English in the U.S. 
But even a bad movie could not erode Hill’s fame.  He has appeared in fiction, poetry, and plays and has inspired several works of art, perhaps most notably in linocut posters hand produced by Wobbly artist, poet, and editor Carlos Cortez.

One of several versions of Joe Hill posters hand produced by Carlos Cortez.
Two years ago for the centennial of Hill’s execution events were held around the country and the world all year, including a series of Joe Hill Road Show tours featuring contemporary IWW musicians and other performers of people’s music.

Truly, Joe Hill is the Man Who Never Died.