“What do you think?” Sophie asked, turning the pumpkin. It had the hollow eyes, arched eyebrows, and gaping mouth of all Halloween pumpkins, but she had transformed the usual features into something remarkable.
Once upon a time, when the tradition of carving vegetables on All Hallow’s Eve began, the ancient Celts cut up turnips rather than pumpkins. The tradition wards off evil spirits. There’s an old Irish story about Stingy Jack, a man who tricked the Devil and wasn’t allowed into either heaven or hell upon death. Instead, he roamed the earth forever with an ember burning in a carved-out turnip. He thus became Jack o’ the Lantern.
“Smallpox?” They’d stopped giving smallpox vaccines to schoolchildren a few years before I was born. That meant Sophie and Nathanial hadn’t been immunized, either.
Smallpox is an ancient disease–there are apparently traces of a smallpox-like rash on mummies who died 3000 years ago–which spread across the globe with human trade and travel. Three out of every ten people who contracted the disease died; those who survived had severe scars.
As Matthew tells Diana, the vaccine for smallpox was developed by Edward Jenner, who noted that milkmaids who had been exposed to cowpox did not get smallpox after being exposed to the disease. In 1959, the World Health Organization began a global campaign to eradicate smallpox. It didn’t succeed until 1977; it required thousands of high-quality, free vaccines and the cooperation of thousands of communities. The CDC profiled the two last sufferers of smallpox, one in Asia and one in Africa. If you care to read further, this National Geographic article has excellent historical information on smallpox and a selection of photographs.
The hop barn still held the sweet aroma of long-ago harvests.
Once upon a time, upstate New York had a thriving hops industry. Hops are one of the key ingredients in brewing beer and require very specific growing conditions to thrive. In 1855, New York state grew over three million pounds of hops. Then, a combination of deadly fungus and Prohibition destroyed the industry and left the state’s hop barns standing empty. In the present day, American hops are grown primarily in the Pacific Northwest.
Proper hop barns have a special shape to encourage the drying of hops, which grow in long vines. There are still a couple of farmers trying to make a go of hop farming in New York; the crop is lucrative, and the world’s supply is limited.
“We’re a proper conventicle now, Sarah,” Sophie observed as she reached for the pyramid of freshly baked cookies on the kitchen island.
The word “conventicle” emerged in fifteenth and sixteenth century England to describe groups of dissenters who met in secret to protest the acts of Parliament that forced people to attend the Church of England. There are also historical conventicles on Scotland, Finland, Germany, and the United States.
“Tiger, tiger, burning bright / In the forests of the night,” Hamish said, quoting William Blake.
In 1794, William Blake wrote “The Tyger,” a poem said to represent the “duality between aesthetic beauty and primal ferocity.” Blake’s poetry explores duality and contrast as a means of understanding humanity. Should you be interested, there’s some analysis of the poem here.
See you tomorrow!