Humans have been debating the definition of “normal” as regards sexuality ever since we climbed dripping wet out of the swamps and looked around in search of intimacy. In between conducting sieges, banging vengefully on each other, and finding other fun ways to be hurtful, our ancestors have loved and lived in a bewildering variety of ways. Look at the ancient Greeks, who practiced homoeroticism openly and with impunity, as their decorated pottery attests. The Romans looked askance at intimate relations between men but it was okay for women to engage in it, I’ve read. They had another hang-up: if women were raped, it humiliated the entire family, especially the male members, and was considered the women’s own fault. (Punish the victim is still a favorite playbook in many Middle Eastern quarters, not to mention closer to home. Sometimes the raped woman is disowned or even killed.) The Egyptian pharaohs reputedly practiced incest, marrying brothers to sisters, or fathers to daughters, to perpetuate the throne within the clan, although some scholars now dispute this in part because incest was frowned on for ordinary folk. The point may be, what was conventional or “normal” depended on where you lived, when you lived, and what your status was on the social ladder.
My maternal grandmother in Iowa loved her milk cows. Born in 1878, she and millions of others like her in the 19th Century nourished a tender relationship with their farm animals. In the first Federal Census in 1790, 90-some percent of the people enumerated in this country were engaged in farming of one kind of another. By the 1940 census – the last one we can have access to — the statistics were reversed, with 90-something percent of our citizens off the farms and doing something else for a living. I cherish a photo of Grandma perched on her milking stool, cheek against the flank of a cow, filling a bucket to be drunk at the next meal by her many dependents, or to make butter, or use in many other delicious ways. Such as to whip up a batch of her buttermilk “gems”. Yum! My cousin Jerry, who grew up in my grandparents’ house, would only drink the Brown Cow’s milk (a Guernsey, perhaps), not the other milker they kept at that time. I couldn’t tell the difference between the two, myself, but he had developed discriminating tastebuds and insisted on Brown Cow. On the other side of the tree, my father’s family established successful dairies in Dundee, Illinois in the mid-1800s, replicating dairies they had owned in Western Massachusetts before emigrating West.
The return of students from the architectural school founded by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1932 will be celebrated with a community event in Mazomanie on July 15. The city’s new Performing Arts Pavilion, designed as a project of the School of Architecture at Taliesin, will be dedicated at 7 p.m. It opened on Memorial Day.
We had our own homegrown Juneteenth celebration here in Plain last weekend, in a village known more for its homogeneity than diversity. The party in our neighborhood was ostensibly a birthday party for a one-year-old, but it was charming and inspiring in its inclusion of a wide variety of ages, races, and genders.
The radio this morning has paid homage to Flag Day by playing some of my favorite music –for example, John Philip Souza’s “Stars and Stripes Forever”– and some that I have an aversion to –e.g. our national anthem, which is unsingable and filled with bloodthirsty war images besides. I much prefer “America the Beautiful”, which contains stirring, idealistic phrases that move beyond a narrow definition of patriotism and aspire to something far better, such as “crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”