Lá Fhéile Pádraig

Wearin’ o’ the green

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! The one day of the year when everyone think’s they’re Irish. The Day of the Festival of Patrick is a religious and cultural celebration on the day that’s traditionally held as the death day of St. Patrick, an important Irish patron saint.

St. Patrick

St. Patrick’s Day has been an official Christian feast day since the early 1600’s. The religious celebration commemorates St. Patrick, the 5th century missionary and bishop who is traditionally credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. The secular aspect of St. Patrick’s Day celebrates Irish culture and heritage in general.

Oddly, the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations among the expatriate Irish were bigger than those in Ireland until the 20th century. According to Dr. Michael Francis, based on research of Spanish Archives of the Indies, the first recorded St. Patrick’s Day celebration was held in 1600 in the Spanish colony of St. Augustine, Florida. They held the first parade there the following year. Apparently the vicar of St. Augustine, Ricardo Artur, was Irish.

Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day

There have been St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the U.S. since the first in Boston in 1837. Montreal, Canada has held one of the largest and longest-running St. Patrick’s Day parades in Canada since 1929. The first recorded parade in New York was held by Irish soldiers in the British army in 1766. Chicago’s first parade was in 1843, and they have traditionally dyed the Chicago river green for the occasion since 1962.

So, while you’re downing the black (drinking a pint of Guinness) today, raise a toast to the Irish.






A Part of the National Fabric

When fabric was a part of our fabric

There was a time when a large part of the fabric of the United States was, literally, fabric. Textile mills were an important part of  the U.S. economy. From the 1800’s until 1920, the U.S. was the world’s largest producer of cotton, and textile mills in the U.S. had a distinct transportation cost advantage over textile producers on other continents.

Mechanization of cotton production and of textile production also played a role in making fabric a part of the fabric of the U.S. Textile production was one of the early examples of continuous process manufacturing. Many mills ran 24 hours per day.Spinner

The electrification of the U.S. also helped fabric become part of the U.S. fabric. Prior to the advent of electric power, textile mills used steam power, or were located near rivers to utilize water power. Once electricity became available textile plants could locate anywhere, taking advantage of any local conditions, such as cheap land or a desperate labor force.

But a part of this fabric of the U.S. was flawed. Textile production was also one of the early examples of unfettered capitalism. In a time before the health and safety of workers was a consideration, mills were some of the most dangerous places to work in the U.S. Shifts were typically 12 hours per day, seven days per week. Mills routinely and openly employed young children in conditions that were deplorable.

This unfettered capitalism did provide another, less flawed bit of the fabric of the U.S. Perhaps the most important thing we have to thank the textile industry for is their part in bringing about the workplace rules and regulations enjoyed by labor in the U.S. today. If not for the children working in the mills, and the U.S. government employees who documented the fact, our workplaces might all be a little less safe than they are today. There are some today who want to remove these safeguards, who want to return to the good old days of unfettered capitalism, so that our children can once again work long hours in unsafe conditions. Why would we ever want to do that?

Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, National Child Labor Committee Collection, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-108765]

Leaving Every Day

A short story for Sunday

The train was there again, on the sidetrack, by the water crane. Steam escaped with sighs of relief. Molly watched from her perch as the fireman loaded the tender’s water tanks. Coal-black clouds swirled when the fuel bunker filled.

LocomotiveWateringShe knew the fireman would soon disappear into the locomotive’s cab to stoke the firebox. Thick black smoke would curl idly through the fire tubes, into the smokebox, escaping through the stack. One long whistle by the engineer meant the boiler was back to pressure, followed by an enormous belch of steam and smoke and cinders, and the train would move.

It would build speed again, each steamy huff arriving sooner than the last, and Molly would wonder, as she always did, where the train was going. She would try to imagine what that place was like, how it felt to be on the train, going somewhere other than Clay County. She’d been to Iola, and to Louisville, the County seat. But she knew there was more than Clay County.

The train disappeared over the horizon, the only reminder a ragged stripe of dark grey puffs swirling in the summer breeze. Molly sat while her imagination finished its journey to all the places she knew she would never see. She roused, slowly returning to Clay County, and started the long walk from the hill overlooking the railroad tracks to the chores that waited for her on the family farm. She’d come to the hill tomorrow, to let her imagination travel again.

[Author’s note: this is a stab at short fiction, it came in at 250 words. Feedback?]

Spring Forward

We moved our clocks ahead this morning, those that didn’t move by themselves. Here in North America, in the areas that do so, we began observing Daylight Savings Time. Many areas around the globe have adopted this shift in time. Not all agree on when, or if, it should happen, or on how long it should last. I’m certain that there are some peoples in some regions of the world for whom Daylight Savings Time comes and goes unnoticed.

Stonehenge, before Daylight Savings Time

My phone knew what to do, probably from the nearby cell tower. So did the little wireless weather station, the one that talks to the temperature sensors installed outside the kitchen window and in the garage. I think the satellite network told it when. I forgot to tell the coffee maker, so it wasn’t ready when the rest of us were this morning. Maybe I should tell it about the satellites.


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