Pat Wahler

Penning stories to savor.

Month: November 2017

The Mother of Thanksgiving

The scent of a turkey roasting in the oven.  Mashed potatoes covered with home-made gravy that melts in your mouth. Cinnamon-sweetened pumpkin pie served with plenty of fresh whipped cream. These are only a few of the delights offered by one of our country’s most decadent culinary events.

Thanksgiving is a mere eight days away and most of us are scurrying to stock up on the supplies necessary to create America’s annual traditional feast.

While the idea may have originated from the pilgrims – even though their meal looked far different from what is served today – it took the efforts of a woman to formally establish the tradition.

Sarah Josepha Hale, Mother of Thanksgiving. (Wikipedia, Public Domain)

Known as the Mother of Thanksgiving, Sarah Josepha Hale lobbied for the creation of a national holiday dedicated to giving thanks. Sarah, an accomplished and prolific writer, became editor of the most influential journal of its day, Godey’s Ladies Book, a position she held for forty years. Sarah wrote many editorials championing the idea of establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday before playing her most important card on September 28, 1862. With America in the midst of the horrors of the Civil War, she wrote a letter to President Lincoln asking him to make Thanksgiving a national holiday and “permanently an American custom and institution”. Lincoln must have agreed, for within a week, an official proclamation was issued setting the observance for the final Thursday in November to “help heal the wounds of the nation”.

In her spare time, (when she wasn’t busy establishing national holidays or editing), Sarah penned books, poems, and articles; she advocated on behalf of women’s education, encouraged the publication of American writers, campaigned for a unified American culture, and promoted the preservation of historical sites. Oh yes, and she wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, too.

Arbiter of fashion, food, and literary delights, thanks to Sarah Josepha Hale. (Public Domain)

I must admit her efforts to make a better America have me feeling like a total slacker, so here’s a gentle reminder from me to you. While you’re gathering ingredients for the holiday meal, please consider picking up a few extra things for your local food pantry. A little can help a lot, and I feel sure Sarah Josepha Hale would nod in approval at your kindness.

Finally, and just in time for Thanksgiving, I’ve posted a new recipe. Click on the Easy-Peasy Recipe tab for a simple and delicious way to prepare sweet potatoes that does NOT involve marshmallows or brown sugar. I think you’ll like it!

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The Day After Halloween and Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Missouri Civil War Museum. I met and chatted with the museum’s director, Mark L. Trout, at length. He inspired me with his passion about preserving information on this crucial time in our country’s history, and he impressed me with his knowledge and plans for the museum’s future.

Here are a few of the exhibits at the Missouri Civil War Museum. (Photo – Missouri Civil War Museum  website)

This wasn’t my first trip to the museum near Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, and it certainly won’t be my last. They own many artifacts from the war, including clothing, medical instruments, weaponry, and personal effects. Prowling through the exhibits provides a fascinating trip back in time. For those interested in the Civil War, I highly recommend taking a visit. For more information, click HERE.

After leaving the museum, I headed to the monthly meeting of the Civil War Round Table of St. Louis, looking forward to the topic – the history of mourning customs in America. Paula Zalar, the presenter, filled us in on many fascinating tidbits.  According to Ms. Zalar, customs evolved based on the religious beliefs of the time. For example, early Christians hoped for a “good” death, which basically meant a lingering one with at least a moderate amount of suffering (gulp!), giving the person time to repent his/her sins and ready them spiritually for death. As time went on these beliefs were challenged (war may have had something to do with it), and the notion of a “good” death changed.

The romanticism of the latter 19th century  made symbolism increasingly important. People wanted to keep mementos of the deceased that included memorial cards, use of the deceased’s hair in jewelry or other items, and photographs taken of the deceased (some of which were posed to appear as though still alive). Symbolism in grave markers also abounded, using placement of flowers, a rendering of a broken chain, trailing ivy, and other means.

Women bore the brunt of mourning customs in the nineteenth century. Men mostly just had to wear a dark suit, but a woman who lost a husband (which happened a lot during the war) was expected to wear full deep mourning attire for at least two years. To ignore the prescribed expectations would make the widow a social outcast. (Think Scarlett O’Hara when she took her famous dance with Rhett Butler while in deep mourning.) But never fear, a woman didn’t have to wear black and a heavy veil forever. After two years, society allowed her a subdued shade of lilac.

Paula Zalar wore mourning clothes for her presentation which would have been suitable for a widow after two years. (Photo-Civil War Round Table of St. Louis)

Needless to say, mourning customs have continued to evolve, but still much of what we do now is based on early traditions. Ms. Zalar’s talk intrigued many of us enough to seek out additional information. If you’re interested in further reading, (including how Queen Victoria set the standard for mourning), you can start HERE.

Now on to an important announcement.

On October 25, the names of all my subscribers were entered in a random drawing to win a $25 Amazon gift card. The winner has been selected and, drum roll please, her name is – Sioux Roslawski! Congratulations to Sioux and have fun shopping.

If your name wasn’t chosen this time, don’t despair. I’ll be holding another giveaway soon.

Now I’m off to do a little more reading on mourning customs. How appropriate for the day after Halloween.



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