Sunday, October 30, 2011


Sophie with Sophie May
Ten days ago, my husband’s sister-in-law Sophie R. Chetwynd died after an extended illness. Her death has disrupted our lives, which are usually far from tranquil with everyday activities and events, but this sort of thing always prompts some thinking on our loved ones and on the life-changing events of our lives - births, deaths, and marriages. I thought I’d write a few words in tribute to this remarkable woman.

Sophie was one of the most creative persons I have ever had the pleasure to know. I have been endowed with more than my fair share of creativity, but compared to Sophie, my ability resembles that of a single-celled organism. Sophie sewed, sculpted, painted, and worked in charcoal. No doubt, she engaged in other arts and crafts. Over twenty-five years ago, she learned how to create Faberge-style decorative eggs, and in this art, she became nationally renowned. Besides creating the eggs, she taught thousands of classes in her basement several times a week, helping others develop the skill and art, several of whom are carrying on her tradition and classes.

Despite bouts of broken bones, diabetes, and several kinds of cancer, all of which but the last she defeated through sheer stubbornness and a positive attitude, Sophie persevered through thick and thin. She always looked for (and often found) the bright lining behind often ominous clouds. When she couldn’t find a bright lining, she made one.

With mighty social zeal, Sophie’s ego was never dominant in any of the civic positions she held. Whether she presided over the Greenwood Junior Women’s Club or the New England Egg Art Guild, was a matron of the Order of the Eastern Star, or was treasurer for the Stoneham Arts and Crafts Guild, she did the work because it needed to be done, never for self-aggrandizement. It didn’t matter whether or not she could afford it, if anyone came to her for help, she extended a hand and gave what she could, in time, effort, thought, materials.

She made so many friends that their visits became overwhelming during extended stays in the hospital. Two weeks before she died, she had eighteen visitors in her room at the nearby nursing facility over the course of one afternoon, prompting her daughter to email everyone to give her mother a chance to get some rest. Even when she was harder to visit at in-town Boston hospitals, the nurses always remarked that they had never before had a patient with so many visitors.

Sophie was married to my husband Phillip’s brother Bill, and they had a single child, Lauralyn. Some years later, Sophie and Bill divorced. Bill remarried, but the dedication of Bill and Sophie both to cooperate in raising their daughter resulted in a strong and devoted friendship among Bill, his second wife Joan, and Sophie.

Sophie’s house became Party Central for all of the big Chetwynd parties. An only child with no living relations, the Chetwynd family became Sophie’s only family. Divorce or no divorce, she became a sister to all of us as much as she would have been by blood. Nothing made her happier than to have her house bursting at the seams with friends and relations. (Believe me, it did burst at the seams!)

Besides the parties, she was famous for her meatballs and stuffed shells. Although she took her meatball recipe with her, Lauralyn has informed me that she has not only the stuffed-shell recipe, but knows its secret ingredient as well.

Sophie's "Lilies of the Valley" after Faberge
Lauralyn grew up to become a professional audiologist, and two years ago married Charlie. They welcomed little Sophie May into the world in early May this year, an event which Sophie anticipated with great delight. Sophie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January this year, and given about six months to live. Had she followed the doctor’s schedule, and had little Sophie May followed her doctor’s schedule, grandmother and granddaughter would probably have passed each other without meeting. But little Sophie was born a month premature, and big Sophie, true to form, refused to pay attention to the doctor, surpassing her deadline by about four months. Little Sophie grew up enough to recognize her devoted grandmother with big smiles, and big Sophie had six months to glow in the light of her grandchild and spoil her thoroughly.

Sophie Chetwynd has sojourned to a better place, forever removed from illness, pain and troubles. No doubt, she has already inventoried the egg-decoration stocks in Heaven and has signed up half the angelic populace for classes. I plan to sign up when I get there.

"It's my passion to take one source of life [an egg] and create something else," Sophie said in a Boston Magazine article in April 2009. This quote reveals much about Sophie besides egg art.  She always saw the future as an egg: full of potential.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Tecumseh, from life, artist unknown
One hundred and ninety-eight years ago this week, during the War of 1812, Tecumseh’s warriors and their British allies met defeat by American forces under William Henry Harrison (future president) at the frontier Battle of  the Thames, north of Lake Erie near present-day Chatham, Ontario.

During this battle, Tecumseh had taken over leadership of the British, Canadian and Indian forces, the British commander being weak-willed and unwilling to stand against Harrison’s Kentuckians, who numbered more than twice those of Tecumseh. He situated the men in the best defensive position he could find.  Harrison’s forces crashed into the British line, routing them entirely, but the Indians under Tecumseh, engaged with the Americans, pushed back and forth, forcing the fight into a swamp. Many men on both sides hear Tecumseh’s voice thunder over the din, and saw him, as he exhorted his forces to hold, wounded over and over. By twilight, he was gone. In the night, the Indians slipped away quietly, taking the body of their great leader with them.

Tecumseh was born a Shawnee in March of 1768 near present-day Dayton, OH. His name was actually Tecumtha, meaning “panther lying in wait,” but whites mispronounced it, interpreting this name to mean “shooting star.” Either meaning applied to Tecumseh, a dynamic man who became the definitive leader of his people.

Tecumseh’s father Puckeshinwa was a Shawnee war chief born in Florida, and his mother Methoataske was probably a Creek from eastern Alabama, illustrating the Shawnee penchant to roam. Shawnees migrated incessantly in small groups, settling here among the Miamis, there among the Chickasaw, then moving on, making it difficult for whites to see them as a single nation. No doubt, this nomadic predilection, giving the Shawnee a strong bond with dozens of tribes from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes, figured largely in Tecumseh’s ability to unite the many nations to defend their territories.

Such defense has a long history, dating to the first days of European exploration and colonization. During the French and Indian War, native tribes banded together with French allies in an effort to stop the migration of English settlers into Indian territories.

Soon after, Joseph Brant, an Iroquois who had been educated by white settlers, had a similar idea, to unite the native nations into a solid political unit to protect native homelands against sale to and settlement by white pioneers. He almost achieved his goal during the American Revolution when he united the seven Iroquois tribes into a single nation and won several concessions for recognition of the Iroquois as a nation by the new United States on their traditional homeland within New York State. But it all turned to ash when most of his people sided with the British. The Iroquois lost their political clout when the British lost the war.

“The long, confused wanderings, marked by numerous alliances with other tribes and constant guerrilla warfare against advancing whites, had made the Shawnees more conscious than most natives of the similarity and urgency of the racial struggles being waged against the settlers on many fronts.” (1)

Tecumseh, a product of this period of constant conflict, continued this idea of unity among the native tribes and nations. He was a Shawnee, but his vision encompassed all Native Americans.

"Where today are the Pequot?” Tecumseh asked in 1811. “Where are the Narragansett, the Mochican, the Pocanet, and other powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and oppression of the white man ... Sleep not longer, O Choctaws and Chickasaws ... Will not the bones of our dead be plowed up, and their graves turned into plowed fields?" (2)

Primarily because of broken treaties, he became dreaded for his prowess in leading the Indians against white encroachment on Indian lands, and news of his death in October, 1813, was cause for great exultation throughout the frontier communities.

Benson John Lossing's depiction, 1868
As much as whites had feared this powerful Shawnee war chief, many recognized his greatness as a leader. Gen. William Henry Harrison, reporting to Washington after the Battle of the Thames, described Tecumseh as “one of those uncommon geniuses, which spring up occasionally to produce revolutions and overturn the established order of things.  If it were not for the vicinity of the United States, he would perhaps be the founder of an Empire that would rival in glory that of Mexico or Peru.” (3)

“He was a brilliant orator and warrior and a brave and distinguished patriot of his people. He was learned and wise, and was noted, even among his white enemies, for his integrity and humanity.” (4)

With the death of Tecumseh, that shining star, Native Americans throughout the continent lost not only their greatest patriot, but also all hope for a sovereign nation separate from the encroaching United States.

1. The Patriot Chiefs: A Chronicle of American Indian Leadership by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., New York: The Viking Press, 1961.  p. 138

2. "Poetry and Oratory,"The Portable North American Indian Reader by Frederick Turner III, Penguin Book, 1973. pp. 246–247

3. The Patriot Chiefs: A Chronicle of American Indian Leadership by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., New York: The Viking Press, 1961.  p. 131

4. The Patriot Chiefs: A Chronicle of American Indian Leadership by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., New York: The Viking Press, 1961.  p. 132

Tecumseh, Wikipedia

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Daniel Boone, 1820
On September 26, 1820, intrepid frontiersman Daniel Boone died, a few weeks short of his 86th birthday. He had spent a lifetime exploring the frontier west of the Appalachians.  The myth and legend surrounding this American icon grew rampant even in his lifetime.

The sixth of eleven children, Boone was born in 1734 in Berks County, PA, near present-day Reading. He spent his early days learning to hunt and fish from both white neighbors and friendly natives, and soon mastered musket, rifle, bow and arrow, and knife. Some of his many siblings and cousins married their Lincoln neighbors, the same family from which our 16th president descended.

In 1750, young Boone’s family pulled up stakes and followed the Conestoga wagons south and west through the Shenandoah Valley, and settled in the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina. In this forested, mountainous environment, Boone soon became famous for his skill as a hunter and woodsman.

After several excursions on his own, Boone began promoting the rich wilderness west of the Appalachians, organizing and leading expeditions through the Cumberland Gap to settle the fertile valley of the Kentucky River.  He took his own family there in the 1770s, establishing Fort Boonesboro, which became a primary gateway for westbound pioneers.

One of the new settlers with wanderlust who accompanied Boone on one of these expeditions was Abraham Lincoln, grandfather of President Lincoln.  Abraham’s family, equally restless, had followed Boone’s family south in 1768 and settled in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.  Young Lincoln accompanied Boone two or three times before moving his wife and children to Kentucky in 1785.

Boone became a captain during the American Revolution, his militia patrolling the west against British-fostered Indian predations on white frontier communities, from western Virginia north to Ohio. Later in the war, he was made a lieutenant colonel. He led military expeditions against British outposts well after the official end of the American Revolution, counteracting British and Indian actions that did not let up after the surrender at Yorktown in 1781 and the treaties between Great Britain and the United States in 1784.

Much of the Boone mystique is fiction, but much of it is true. A certain John Filson published “The Discovery, Settlement And present State of Kentucke in 1784, with a dramatically enhanced section about Daniel Boone’s exploits.  All exaggeration aside, however, Boone was a dynamic leader and explorer, and an unparalleled marksman, deeply devoted to the solitude of the wilderness he roamed. His exploits were remarkable, considering the dangers of the times and places he frequented, far from civilization.  Boone’s adventures influenced James Fenimore Cooper in writing “The Last of the Mohicans;” no doubt, many other writers were similarly inspired.

Even more remarkable is the fact that despite his dangerous profession, he not only attained considerable seniority, but also remained physically active well into his old age.  He was the prototype for the strong pioneering spirit of the American West so embedded in our American culture.

Boone preferred the wilderness to the budding settlements in whose founding he was so instrumental. Although he often served as a civic leader in several communities where he lived over the years, he always ended up moving further west. He ultimately retired, if such a concept could be applied to such an individual, at his son’s home in Missouri.  Retirement did not suit this trailblazer, however, who trekked in 1816 at age 81 with a hunting expedition to the Yellowstone River, which feeds into the upper reaches of the Missouri River in Idaho and Montana. Four years later, back in Missouri, he died of natural causes at his son’s home near present-day Defiance, MO.

Do you think that Daniel Boone has found sufficient elbow room in the afterlife? Or do you suppose he is still blazing trail?


“Daniel Boone” by Arthur Guiterman, poet (1871-1943) “The Saturday Evening Post” v. 196 No.32, February 9, 1924.

Boone portrait painted by Chester Harding in 1820.