LightHusband is really into genealogy. I mean REALLY into it. He loves the mystery and puzzle of finding unknown dead people … where they lived and the keys to how they lived. His family genealogy is mostly done. Mine, on the other hand, has provided no end of mysteries to solve and people to find. He makes connections that span decades with living people who are on the trail of the same branch of the family tree. Today, he heard from just such a person after not hearing from them in a dozen or so years. Whatever trail he’d been on went cold and the communication died away. But today, a clue!
It came in the form of a warning notice. A warning from 1832. This warning was not the kind of warning that you’re thinking of. It was a notice to one of my ancestors that he was a “person of ill-reputation” and he was no longer welcome to live in this particular town. You can read it for yourself if you want … just click on the picture to enlarge it.
This strange notice from 180 years ago gives me pause. We do know a little bit about this ancestor and his family. We know that the father died precipitously (drowned in a fishing accident) and left the mother and children with no means of supporting themselves. Instead of drawing around the widow and orphans, they were “warned out of town” … run out on a rail, as it were. This was common in the early days of our country. It happened mostly to women who were widowed without property. It could also happen to men who were single past the age of propriety. If they didn’t go or there was anything weird about the family or individual, the woman might be branded as a witch. A fascinating study of the practices surrounding witchcraft is, “Entertaining Satan” by John Putnam Demos (for real … that’s his last name).
I started to think about this as we were driving to and from hockey events today. What is it that causes humans to separate from the less-able-bodied members of their “clan?” Can it all be ascribed to evolution? I don’t think so. But we seem to have this drive to put our sickly, our widows, our orphans, the unfit and the unseemly out on an ice flow to perish in the cold and the dark. We can still see this drive manifesting itself today.
Take away the safety net. Dismantle or “privatize” (a euphemism for starving both the program and the people) Social Security. That program exists precisely for the elderly in our society who likely did NOT get a chance at a higher education. They have worked the coal mines and bus lines, bussed tables and cleaned restrooms. If they had two sous to rub together it was a miracle. They’ve had no practice managing a “portfolio” and do not have the education or outlook to do so in a way that will assist them with retirement. So why is it after all this time and movement forward, that we have decided to “warn them out of town.” That we do not want to care for them anymore … that those who are not actively contributing to the production of a nation have no business reaping any meager reward for past service rendered to the god of economy. Are we that cold? That unfeeling? Is it really true that the value of a human life can only be measured in economic productive units?
We are still separating ourselves from the other and demonizing them in the process. We don’t call the word, “Witch” any more … but we might as well.