Days Gone By
Those of you who remember the matchless humor of Al Capp’s “Li’l Abner” will remember a little, roly poly character looking something like a white pear with eyes and referred to as a “Shmoo.”
The Shmoo was an amazing little fellow who reproduced endlessly and was devoted to the concept of helping mankind in a variety of ways. The Shmoo laid eggs and produced milk at will. It gladly offered itself up as food and was said to taste much like chicken. Its skin made fine leather and its eyes made perfect coat buttons. Shmoos multiplied faster than rabbits so that any family with a pair of them was automatically self-sufficient.
The Shmoo improved the life of its owners so much that people were going, in effect, “Back to the land” with their Shmoo families and big business began to suffer. As a result the Shmoos were finally declared “The greatest menace to humanity the world has ever known.” “Because they are so bad?” Little Abner asked. “No,”said old man Mose. Because they are so good.”
A corrupt group of exterminators go forth to destroy all the shmoos (except for one pair secreted out by lil Abner). Needless to say the last pair begin to repopulate the species in the “Valley of the Shmoon.”
My guess at the meaning of this clever allegory is that it is a flashback to the farm economy of the eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds and what a relatively ideal life it was. The loving giving quality of the Shmoos reflected the quality people had toward each other in those simpler times.
Whatever the origin, the “Shmoo” became a national sensation and Shmoo collectibles are sought after to this day.
It seems ironic that historical fiction might become the best vehicle for restoring historical fact. And yet that is what happened in a newsworthy way through the historical fiction of Daisy Goodwin in her ongoing series about Queen Victoria.
In several episodes of her second season she covers the time period of the great potato famine in Ireland which started in 1845. A terrible blight ruined the crops that year leaving the struggling farmers to fate.
She makes wonderful use of the part her great, great, great grandfather, Rev. Robert Traill, played during the famine years. Traill set up emergency food supplies for the hordes of literally starving Irish farmers and tried in vain to get the rent lords of the English Gentry to temporarily lower or suspend rents, or allow the tenant farmers to at least keep some of their grain as the farmers were being forced to eat their seed potatoes needed for the following season or starve. His efforts were in vain and the English government showed little or no interest in the terrible tragedy. The government spread the story that the poor farmers were the cause of their own troubles and needed no English “coddling”and withdrew what assistance they had given to the starving and dying families. Traill himself died in 1847 a victim of “famine fever”(typhus) he is said to have given all he had to alleviate the suffering of that time. A true hero in every sense of the word.
When that relatively graphic portion of the series was shown in some English schoolrooms, it shocked many of the students because a clear account of the famine and its history was not included in their schoolbooks! Many of the school programs had chosen to overlook the famine which had caused the loss of over a million lives and caused another two million people to move to America and other countries. A pretty big piece of history to downplay or omit.
In America we have to consider these lessons also.The politically correct movement has been the cause of continuing omissions of history lessons of the same kind here. Using the argument that people of the present are made uncomfortable by the nastiness of the past they suggest that snipping those lessons is the best policy. “Out of sight, out of mind”they feel. They even bully noted library associations into doing their snipping as they did with the “Little House”books. When things like the potato famine are snipped, the two hundred year old example of victim-blaming is gone so modern victim-blaming can go on unabated with no earlier reference to help us understand ourselves and our natures.
Easy then to pick up the ready Facebook placards and rage against the “lazy over-indulged poor“who use their food stamps to buy a birthday cake for a young child. “Shame shame“we smugly post. (Did you ever step back and LOOK at what we’re encouraged to post?) (Victim blaming, by the way, past or present, always involves attributing all manner of bad qualities and actions to the group we wish to blame, regardless of our actual personal knowledge of those people. If we can’t think up excuses there are plenty of ready made placards available for the purpose to do the blaming for us.)
We walk to the other side of the street when a homeless person is seen (easy if we never read about the starving Irish and Scotch people thrown off their property when their crop failed) so, “It’s the poor’s own fault”we profile, and we repeat this to ourselves as we return to our warm homes after a healthy jog. We don’t bother to consider how the influx of wealthy tech lords into the cities raised the rents on the few affordable apartments and houses. And middle men were hired to kick out the tenants of limited means so not to weigh upon our own consciences. (“It was cold out there, too bad for those street people that they are so foolish and short sighted. They must prefer life on the street in the bitter cold.”)
Thank you, Daisy Goodwin, for honoring your brave grandparent, you have shown we have much to learn and teach through historic fiction. It may well help lead us back to our better selves. To our souls even. We need that now, more than ever.
Appreciate your comments, send to firstname.lastname@example.org
( In honor of the late Robert Granger, Mongo)
Thanksgiving is usually , while enjoyable, a fairly serious holiday. One year mine had a larger than usual helping of unintentional comedy in it. I’ll explain what I mean
My friend Bob Granger, (Better known as Mongo) , who we lost a few years back, was having a meal provided by some good friends of his. He invited me over to partake of it and I arrived in time to have Thanksgiving lunch with him. He called in from another room and asked me to carve the turkey which was covered with foil in a baking pan.He told me the turkey had been prepared by some special deep cooking method. I pulled back the foil and was amazed at the flatness and dry quality of the Turkey. The deep cooking must have done this, I thought. Mongo had laid out a massive carving knife to use, more on the order of a small Swedish saw . I didn’t want to hurt his feelings but was certain the Turkey had roasted down to nearly nothing. It took quite awhile to cut off even a little breast meat and when I transferred it to the plate it was brownish.
I was supposed to be serving three people but had hardly finished placing a helping on Mongo’s care-giver , Jennifer’s, plate when I could feel the knife striking bone. The Drum sticks offered little promise , they looked small and sparse. At this point Mongo Interrupted me asking me to get a coconut cream pie out of his freezer.I brought the dish covered with foil over to the table and unwrapped it. Again I found myself confused . The contents didn’t look like Coconut cream pie to me.. I sawed into it and discovered it was Scalloped potatoes.
After the potato interlude I went back to my turkey carving, and then, finally, the old light-bulb went off over my head. I was not carving on the top of the Turkey, I was carving on the bottom!
Sure enough the turkey was packed up-side down in the pan. Turned it over and then we were back in business. Plenty of breast meat and two normal drumsticks. Well a little more confusion and we finally sat down to our meal. And it was a good one. We were thankful for it.