Monday, August 16, 2010

RL Is Stranger Than Fiction, Part One

Pastor Mott's diary entries (see the last post) have gotten me thinking. I've had all kinds of ideas about Phebe's life swirling around in my head these last few months. Mostly they resemble romance novel scenarios. Set in Colonial times. So, you know, not really very realistic. And accidentally stumbling on the Baptist Church records (on-line, no less), finding her name and not only that, but something pretty major concerning her life and the life of her family, is kind of stunning to me. It's not something I could've come up with, really. And this made me realize, that, really, I have no imagination about this kind of thing. I'm better at researching and reading and facts. Left-brained things. I would never have guessed her to be so strong, so dramatic. But it happened.

Then I got to thinking about how this whole lack of imagination thing extends not just to how I imagine historical figures, but how I have very little imagination when trying to predict the behavior of people around me right now. My husband, yes, but he's very predictable. My kids, too. My mom and sister, too. Wow, that's quite a few, you might say, but really, that's it.

And even then, they surprise me fairly regularly. Particularly some of the things my husband says. He's very funny sometimes. Great one-liners. Some friends were talking about the glamour birthday party that their 4 year old daughter was invited to. She's a shy girl, and these kinds of parties involve, usually, dressing up, getting hair and makeup done, nails done, etc. The most cringe-worthy part (the whole thing is pretty cringe-worthy to me, but what the hell do I know) is at the end of the party, when the girls have to walk on the runway or the red carpet and show off their beauty (I guess?). So the shy girls have trouble at this point, usually. And that's what I don't like. Anyway, my husband's response to this was, and I quote verbatim, "Well, the best part must've been at the very end when they went off to do a few lines and then throw up." See? Funny. Out of nowhere.

OK, but his behavior and the behavior of the other members of my close family is very predictable. Well, this is interesting, because I'm kind of splitting hairs. They may be predictable, but the exact way they do things is always surprising. That's what I can't ever imagine. For instance, I predicted that my mother and I would have difficulty working together to decorate my daughter's room. This was right after we moved down to Middletown. So, we went to Kohl's with the kids, which is never fun, and walked around looking at comforters. She said, "What about this one?" And I replied, "Well, I'm not too big on that graphic print. It's primary colors and I don't know about that. Kind of bold." To which she replied, "Well, that's rich, coming from someone who dresses their daughter in polyester Princess nightgowns." See? Out of nowhere. I had no response. I don't know, maybe I deserved it. I did call her casual suggestion for a comforter gaudy. Well, not really, but she interpreted bold as gaudy.

This is why I don't think I could write fiction. Or why I'm in awe of anyone who does. True life, or real life as it's commonly called on the interwebs, is always way more weird and unexpected than anything I could ever come up with in my imagination. Oh, and I have tons of examples. So this'll be a two-parter.

My brother and father, also for example. Let's start with my brother. Every single time, lately, that I hear anything about him, it's that he's going on another vacation to some sunny, beautiful place. They already live in a beach town in Florida, and have tons of boats, and basically do things on the weekends that are very vacation like, but again, what the hell do I know. They also have financial problems. Well, that's a whole big thing which I will probably never write about due to potential legal actions in the future (you really don't want to know). Anyway, they complain about financial problems constantly. Well, then, you'd think, and rightly so, maybe cut down on the vacations? But I said that to him once and he basically freaked out, went on a bender which precipitated his wife "leaving" him, but that was only for a day or so and then, basically, after a few more days, things went back to normal. So that didn't work. And then still, when I talk to my mom and get the update on them, I find out, nearly every single time, that they are planning, yet again, to go to the Keys, or the British Virgin Isles, or some other fantastic place. And every single time, I'm surprised and then angry. Maybe I should start predicting that he'll go on vacation every month. Then I won't be surprised and maybe not so angry.

Now that I realize it, I predicted that Phebe and her husband probably did not have a great marriage. They're not buried together, and he was, by all accounts a bastard. But the exact way it played out is not something I could've imagined. And I still don't know what happened in the last forty years of their life together. I'm dying to know, actually.

Let's get back to my family. Last example today, I think. So my father came out to visit us, for the first time in my new house, a few months ago. I could've predicted that he wouldn't bring anything for his grandkids, even though it was right after his grandson's second birthday, which he in no way acknowledged. So I expected nothing. And what happened? Something even more awesome than nothing. Oh, before I tell you what he brought, I should tell you that he's seventy-two and completely demented at this point due to alcoholism. It's actually pretty amazing that he came to visit me alone at all. How he got around New York City at all is pretty amazing. But then, they have taxi drivers and Penn Station has policemen and information booths to help. So he managed to get here, via NJ Transit, from Penn Station after spending a few days in the city. He stayed exactly 19 hours. For twelve of those hours, he was asleep. So about 3 hours Friday evening and then 4 hours Saturday morning he actually spent with us, before he went back to the city. As expected.

What he brought was unexpected. I'm in the kitchen, doing something, and he's in the living room/playroom with the kids. He has his bag with him and makes a big production about having a gift for them. "Mary, your Granddaddy brought you something! Now, come on over here. Are you ready?" Oh, and he's from Mississippi and lately has really really lapsed into the exaggerated accent ALL the time. Part of the reason people help him, I guess. So, what does he give her? An apple. The free apple he got from the breakfast bar at his hotel in New York. And, God bless her, she goes, "Oh, wow, I love apples!" and she walks into the kitchen to show me. No sarcasm yet for her. She doesn't know what that means. But me? Well, I'm not sarcastic either to him about it, because at that point, I was pretty speechless. And then for my two year old? An orange! Also from the free breakfast bar! He thought it was a ball. Which made him happy too.

So, you see? I couldn't have come up with that had I tried. Alright, more tomorrow. All about my adventures in on-line Twilight-land. You're scared, aren't you? It's fine. It'll be fine. And funny. And weird. And completely unpredictable. For that I hadn't had years and years of observation to be able to comfortably predict anything. It's all new to me, how the interwebs work. Late to the party there.

More tomorrow...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Phebe Taylor Kicks Some Baptist Pastor A in 1751 and I Flove It.

Turns out Phebe wasn't invisible. In fact, she may have been crazy and was most certainly angry and, the best part, the reason I know this after all, she fell out with the church!!!

OK, I'll quote. These are from the diary of the pastor of the Baptist Church here in Middletown. I thought they'd be Anglicans, but I was wrong, thankfully. Cause this pastor was effin wordy! This passage I'll quote is preceded by a bit about Phebe's husband John feuding with his brother Edward. Apparently, Edward called Phebe a name - crossed out due to it being an indecent term (for reals) and it was really Edward being mad about some decision of their father's in favor of John. But she totally is, though, Edward said. He could prove it. Whatever it was. I'm dying to know this indecent term.

Anyway, here's the bit about Phebe specifically, (in the same year as that feud between John and Edward). PS I love that it's Edward all over the place here (Twilight is everywhere). Apparently, Edward ended up being a good guy (and by that I mean Patriot) and John was the Loyalist "shylock" according to the descendent that wrote their family history up. Different book, though.

Alright, quoting about Phebe: "June 1751 a Groundles Report Being Spred that John taylor Was Grate With Sarah thorne By Which Phebe taylor Was Stured Up to a Sperit of Jelosey: And did Much Abufe her hufband: for which he Came and Made Complant to Me of her: I Went to See her and told her the Sin She Was Gilty of But She Would Not hear I Used Indiuers (?) With her Several times But to No Purpofe. John thorn allfo Complained Unto Me: that Phebe Strove to Mak difrance Betwen: he and his Wife By Infifting her hufband and his Wife Ware Actually Guilty of the Charge Which Complaint I Laid Before Phebe With the Several Agrivating Sins She Was Gilty of In So doing: She Stil Continued obStinate and Juftified her Selfe In all She had done: Upon Which I told her She Should Not Be admited to her Place: With out Publick Acknolidgment: Which She Refented Very Much and told me I Ufed her Very ill And Watched Over her from Evel and Not for Good."

Then in August, when she wasn't there, they suspended her until she could have a hearing.

Then in October 1751: "At a Church Meeting at Middletown Phebe Taylor Gave her Attendance Defiering to Be admitted to her Place Agane in the Church. I being Sik Could Not atend. The Church Redily admited her to her Place again In the Church. With out Examining the Complant laid Againf her By Me in Auguft."

Sounds like he was pissed at that last part. No more about them until the Revolution (1777) when her husband John was dismissed from the church for going against the Free States or something like it. Also, in 1751 she gave birth to her seventh child (fourth child who survived childhood). So my thinking was she was fed up. I don't know. It was terribly exciting.

I love that she stood up to the pastor. He used to love to call people out for public drunkenness and fornication. Lots of those charges in his diary. Mostly drunkenness. It's really a fascinating document.

I may have mentioned in an earlier post that a John Taylor, as recorded in the Second Book of Middletown, in 1736 (Phebe's husband would've been 21, if it's the same person, which I think it was) was threatened by the town with a lawsuit if he didn't take care of the Bastard Child that he had with Mary Robarts.

Drama. I love it. I can't believe there's so much about her even in the few things I've found. Yay! On-line, even. Now, if only I could figure out what that indecent term was. Hmmm, drunkard? Fornicator? Harlot? What else could it be? Witch? That's not really indecent. May never know. It's ok. I should see if it's in the original document, if that's still around.

She stood up to the Pastor, then went around him to get back into the church. And it worked. That wouldn't have happened had she had no support.

Must run. I'm trying to come up with a timeline of known facts (with references). Still lots of gaps. Especially towards the end of her life. One of my main questions concerns how she ended up in that cemetery but her husband didn't. The family plot. I also have no idea where she lived when he was run out of town during the Revolution. Maybe she stayed here. Or maybe she went to New York with John and just wanted to be buried here in Middletown.

I know more today than I did yesterday, thanks to Stillwell's Historical and genealogical miscellany (which contained the records of the Baptist Church of Middletown, linked above). Yay!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Spreading the Word

So my mom knows about this blog. I told her. To get her off my back about where my life was going. And now she's going to tell people I have a blog. Scheisse. I hate that idea. "Oh, Penelope's doing great! Her children are beautiful, and, you know, she's started a blog! I know! It's about some colonial woman or something. I'm just so excited. She's using her education again. Well. What's going on with your alcoholic daughter?" That last bit I threw in as a fantasy of mine. She wouldn't have said alcoholic. But that girl totally is.

Why is this so upsetting? I don't know. That whole thing above may not translate, but it's horrible. To me. But then again so are most kinds of social functions, so what the hell do I know?

I have news about John Taylor, Esquire, I think, that I'll write up soon. He was almost sued for child support! For a "Bastard Child"! Which is exciting. But before I write it up, I need to get a time-line going. I need to have an idea of when he was married before I go accusing him of cheating on Phebe. By most accounts, though, he himself was a bastard. Oh, the irony. And the tragedy for Phebe. Maybe she was equal parts bastard to counteract his bastard behavior, but I hope not.

And, you all will think me even more crazy - well, since I'm writing to myself - I never told my mom the name of this blog, just that it exists - well, who cares then. I'll just say it. Around the time they lived in Middletown, there also lived in Middletown a Robert Paterson. This makes me happy. Fanfic! Just joking. I want to put him in the timeline too. Adds an extra element to my daydreaming about Phebe. Yay!

Oh, you know, I really do want this to be serious research about her. I just have no time to really do it. We don't have the money to justify serious childcare for my 2 year old and, well, he's just tough! And I'm going to be teaching a night course next year two nights a week. And all the grading and prep work involved in that. But I am keeping my eye on the prize. In three years he'll be going to full day kindergarden, so, at that point everything will be different. Three years, though. In the meantime, lots of daydreams.

OK, rambling post. Missed writing here. Oh, and btw, my 5 year old daughter's birthday party went well. She was happy, a bunch of kids came, and she had her grandmother and aunt here. And she and my son got to ride in a wagon at the party while everyone sang Happy Birthday. Anxiety over nothing, it turns out. Well, there are details I won't go into, but, you know. Focussing on the positive. Rambling!

Until next time...