Good Imbolc, Happy New Year!

My Regular Pagan Holiday Greeting

On Solstices, Equinoxes and Cross Quarter Holidays

Dear Friends,

Imbolc, the Celtic pagan holiday on February 1, and the time of the Lunar New Year really mark the advent of spring in California, at least here in Sonoma County. The daffodils I planted in November are in full bloom. Just before a series of atmospheric rivers dumped 18 inches of rain (about three times the normal rainfall), we installed a water catchment system with swales in the front yard and three 1000-gallon tanks. Our system worked well to save water for future irrigation and to direct it away from the house. The January rains filled creeks to overflowing and greened the grass, although storms also felled many trees and resulted in flooding and some deaths. 

The earth is turning and the light is returning, but it’s still dark at 5 AM when I go out to look for the comet called ZTF. I haven’t been able to see it yet, but skies have been clear lately and I keep trying. The comet can be found in the north sky between the north star and the big dipper. It will be closest to Earth on February 2. It’s green! Perhaps a sign? 

A bit of angst seizes me whenever I look up for the comet. I can’t help thinking about the movie Don’t Look Up. We watched it again recently and it was just as hilarious and sobering as the first time. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, you must! It’s a metaphor for climate change that hits us over the head hard, but lately I’m thinking nothing can be too subtle for us humans. (My friends, I’m not talking about you. I know you are aware and doing all you can do to avert the predicted climate disaster).

Every day, as the green comet comes closer, I’ve looked for it with binoculars, but it keeps eluding me. So we bought a telescope. I found two telescopes in town–an inexpensive one at a sporting goods store and a more expensive one at a camera store. I’m new at this so figured the cheaper one would be just fine. We brought it home and tried to figure out how to use it. It seemed so simple. We followed the spare directions but failed to make it work. We tried and tried. The manufacturer didn’t have decent assembly instructions. So we looked online for videos and found one in Spanish, but as neither of us understands the language (a failing I’ve always regretted) we didn’t really get it. Plus, to set the focus each time you have to bend over in a way that my old neck will no longer allow. 

So I boxed the telescope back up and returned it. Then we bought the expensive one. This thoroughly modern telescope was made in France and must be connected to wifi and a computerized device. Directions say we can have as many as ten devices so we imagine we can host star watching parties where all the guests could see the comet, or the moon, or planets on their ipads. That’s the fantasy anyway. Still is. 

We were directed to connect to the manufacturer’s wifi network, which didn’t come up on my phone. Later I was able to log on but couldn’t figure out the next step. Instructions are not terribly helpful. Are they translated? Or are we just too old to understand? Normally this tech breakdown would have me throwing up my hands in despair. But my wife Holly is kind of a tech wizard (witch?) and I depend on her to solve these problems. She couldn’t, but she is sanguine and so I haven’t lost hope that we can figure it out. Maybe I’ll see the green comet yet. It won’t be back around again for 50,000 years. I just can’t wait that long.

Aside from my unfulfilled obsession with the comet, life is good for us in Santa Rosa. We are thankful for our good fortune, but at the same time we are anguished by the growing wealth gap and the failure of our society to care for those more needy than we. The capitalist system values nothing as much as making (or stealing) money, assigning those with other priorities to the losers column.

My angst is multiplied by the recent explosion of gun violence especially in the past couple of weeks. California, with the strictest gun laws in the country, experienced some of the worst violence. We lesbian feminists laugh (and cry) about testosterone poisoning, and I do think that simple theory has some truth to it. Systems breakdowns and our society’s failure to prioritize the common good contribute. Gun violence has worsened with the proliferation of guns, but it has been going on for a long time. January 30 is the 75thanniversary of the shooting death of Mahatma Ghandi.

I support taking away the guns. That’s what Cheryl Wheeler sang. Her song, If It Were Up to Me, was written after the Stockton school shooting in 1989 and it still applies. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Op7agdIFOGY

If you don’t know Cheryl Wheeler, check her out. She writes funny songs too. My Cat’s Birthday comes to mind. We lesbians do love our cats.

Sending wishes for peace in the new year.

Love, Molly and Holly (MoHo)

The T-Shirt

I first encountered Dar on a job site. The contractor had moved me there so he could meet affirmative action requirements for females on the job. This was a popular practice. Rather than just hiring more women, the company would hire one woman and move her around from job to job so monitors would count the same woman repeatedly. The job, a low-income housing project in Chinatown, received federal funding and so had to meet federal affirmative action goals for women and minorities. This was in 1980 when some regulators actually took affirmative action laws seriously and monitored job sites. Those days are long gone.*

Three female utility plumbers working downtown San Francisco. Art by Victoria Hamlin

In those days women would often ignore each other when we were dispatched to the same job. We tried to be invisible and often, when there was only one of us, we got away with it. But as soon as two women started talking or working together, an undercurrent of anxiety rippled among the men. For a brief period on one job I got to work with a female apprentice.

“What do you two talk about?” asked one of the electricians. “Are you talking about the size of our dicks?”

This hadn’t occurred to me. Women might talk about the harassment we endured on the job or, more likely, how to work together to complete the job at hand. Dicks, drawn in profusion on the walls of the porta potties, did seem to hold a prominent place in the imaginations of some of our coworkers.

Photo Victoria Hamlin

Women knew that if we spoke to each other our male coworkers would notice. Straight women didn’t want to be painted with the dyke brush, and most lesbians were still in the closet and didn’t want the brush either. Dar didn’t worry about such implications. She was a big mouthy white woman with buck teeth and a head of bleached blond hair. On the job site you couldn’t miss her. She did not melt into the woodwork. My first day on that job, the Chinatown low-income housing project, she introduced herself as we passed each other on the deck.

“So you’re the affirmative action hire,” she said. “I guess they needed another chick.”

I wasn’t wild about being called a chick, but she had a point. Federal affirmative action regulations were the only reason I was on that job. Our short conversation made me think Dar didn’t like women any more than the men on the job did. She didn’t seem like a feminist sister.

Sewage treatment plant utility plumber. Photo Victoria Hamlin

For a couple of days I was pulling Romex through holes punched in metal framing. Then they pulled me off that job and put me on another where the regulations said they needed a woman. Fine with me. It all paid the same—a good wage previously reserved for men only. Dar was likely in the same boat. The plumbing contractors had a reputation for hiring even fewer women than the electrical guys. After they could check off the number of female hours worked, they could lay us off.

A couple of years later after a couple more layoffs, I scored a full-time maintenance job with the San Francisco Water Department. I worked out of a corporation yard in the southeast industrial area of the city, looking after all the motors that ran pumps that supplied water to the city. That’s when I ran into Dar again. She had been hired for a job in the plumbing division. The crews of plumbers worked installing new services all over the city, usually in big holes in the street. Or they might be required to repair a main break. The job was wet and muddy.

Photo Victoria Hamlin

I didn’t see much of Dar, as the plumbers were out of the yard working in the street all day. But I heard about her. A story in the grapevine told of Dar punching out a coworker who had harassed her while they worked in a trench. I never heard what was said. That was before the rule was imposed that fighting on the job would get you fired immediately. Dar was not the first plumber to make use of fists to manage a dispute, but she was the last to do so and avoid getting fired. 

The day I saw the T-shirt was a maintenance nightmare for the water department. One of the big pump stations that housed 100 HP motors flooded. The motors sat in wells in the concrete floor and so were vulnerable to being overtaken by the quickly rising water. I could see it wouldn’t be long until the motors were under water. The team of plumbers worked fast to staunch the leak.

Photo Victoria Hamlin

My only job as electrician was to cut the power to the motors and that was just a matter of disconnecting circuit breakers in a huge panel on a higher level, though if the water rose high enough that panel, too, would be in peril.

That’s when I spotted Dar, down in the pit with a cluster of men. She wore a T-shirt with a message in big print:

Feeling a little sexy?

Go fuck yourself

No one said anything aloud about the message on Dar’s shirt, but it shocked me. I couldn’t imagine wearing it myself, as much as I agreed with the sentiment. I didn’t have the guts to wear that shirt.

I had to give Dar credit. Maybe she wasn’t my kind of feminist, but she was some kind of feminist.

Photo Victoria Hamlin

*Affirmative action in the construction industry really only lasted a short time before Reagan killed it. In California the death knell was dealt in 1996 when Ward Connerly put affirmative action on the ballot. In the meantime some of us were able to get a foot in the door and advocate for the hiring of more women. But women still make up only about three percent of the construction workforce. We were the forgotten recipients of affirmative action and we could benefit from a renewed commitment to it now as the Supreme Court threatens to end it entirely.

Don’t Bleed in the Shark Pool

Book review

Thick Skin: Field Notes from a Sister in the Brotherhood by Hilary Peach, Anvil Press, 2022

A woman navigating the challenges of the male workplace makes a good story and Hilary Peach does the genre proud in her new book, Thick Skin. A Canadian from BC, Peach writes of working for twenty years as a boilermaker on big projects in Canada and the U.S. She has worked at coal fired power plants, the tar sands in Alberta, pulp mills, gas plants, shipyards—big industrial power generating companies of all kinds, often staying in their company towns. 

I enjoy reading about the work people do, especially hard dirty jobs like construction. In this book Peach tells us about the world of boilermakers, a subculture all its own. She describes the often difficult working conditions while she schools the reader about the intricacies and art of welding. 

Most stories center on the men she works with, the psychopaths as well as the nice guys. 

She encounters sexism and discrimination regularly as might be expected as the only woman among hundreds of men. But Peach always finds humor in the stories and often had me laughing out loud. Tradeswomen who go through the same challenges in our workplaces will delight in her creative comebacks and her various inventive ways of responding to harassment.

“How do we know it’s sexual harassment?” asks an apprentice.

“Just stop talking about your penises. That’s 80 percent of it,” say the women in the break room.

I loved this book. It’s well written and an engaging read with truly general appeal. And, of course, it reminds me of my own experience working construction.

Electricians, too, have a subculture of travelers, boomers, tramps, journeyworkers—those who travel around to different jobs—and my sisters and I used to dream of traveling. We thought it would be the greatest thing—that is until we heard from others who were on the road, mostly because they couldn’t get work in their own union locals. Sandy said she had to wear so many layers of clothes working in the Boston winter that her arms stuck straight out at her sides. Barbara of NYC told about burning refuse in high rises to keep warm and to help the concrete set, risking the hazards of smoke inhalation. Betsy complained of the Texas heat and miles of smelly porty potties.

Maybe we didn’t want to travel after all. 

Hilary Peach does it for two decades—driving hundreds of miles, often in the driving rain or snow, to get to a job. Staying in work camps whose last century accommodations have been condemned and then reopened without remodel. Working 12 hour shifts happy for the overtime, working nights, working in cramped quarters in the freezing cold and boiling hot.

As the hard hat sticker says, “If you can’t stand the heat get the fuck out of the boiler.”

Peach does indeed develop a thick skin. A favorite maxim, repeated often:

“You don’t bleed in the shark pool.”

Later, as more women begin to come on to the jobs, they tell her conditions have improved. She writes, “When other women were on the job it made a remarkable difference. One other woman and you are no longer the freak, the anomaly. You have an ally. Three or more, and everything changes. We can no longer be isolated and targeted in the same way…Someone has to organize a second bathroom.”

Thank you Hilary Peach for making women look good out there and for paving the way for more women to enter this industry. A published poet, she’s now working on a novel. As boilermakers say at the end of a job, “See you on the next one.”

Molly Martin is a retired electrician whose latest book, Wonder Woman Electric to the Rescue, is available on Amazon and Kindle.

To order Thick Skin: https://www.anvilpress.com/books/thick-skin-field-notes-from-a-sister-in-the-brotherhood

Racism and Fascism Target Us All: Gay, Trans, Cis, Straight

This letter from a friend helps explain why I’m angry

My photo taken at a San Francisco march

The letter:

With all due respect, with incidents like Proud Boy types storming the San Lorenzo library because a trans lady storyteller was holding story hour, to the latest murder of a Black man, Jason Walker, by the police with no consequences (what a surprise, not) the continuous denial from white people about the disgusting racism that has this country in its grip, mostly due to white people afraid to face the truth about America and content with it, as they talk a good game, but that’s as far as it goes. They fail to act every time. It’s with pain and disgust that I look at this country and its racism. Evil flourishes when good people do nothing. Evil is flourishing because white people have no real desire to fight against racism. Before you offer me weak words of platitude, don’t. Actions speak louder than words. If folks are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem. It is evident by the racists parked in our federal govt., yet another murder of a Black man by the racist police with no consequences that most whites are ok with how things are because it doesn’t personally affect them. As a Black woman with a Black son, I am filled with anxiety and fear every time I have to go outside. I shouldn’t have to live this way, but I do.
So, that’s all I got but it is enough to keep me angry.

Fucking angry,

Carol

When my friend Carol sent me this letter, I didn’t know how to respond except to tell her I heard her anger and that she was right. Later, she called me to say it was hurting her own health to hold on to so much anger. She told me that she’s been working with a couple community organizations to reach out to neighbors to discuss the issue of racism, but her white neighbors just don’t want to hear it. They are avoiding her now because she suggested getting together to watch a video about racism.

She wrote:

I invited my white “friends” to take the time to watch small 15 minute videos that anyone can access on you tube. It was not so much them not being willing to watch a short film, but the total lack of compassion or empathy of the ordeals black people have suffered since being brought to this country involuntarily and still continue today.

I am trying so hard not to stay pissed off, but every time I hear about another shooting of an unarmed Black man by the police, I just want to scream. Nothing is changing because most white people (I know, a sweeping generalization) don’t see a need for it…I can’t rest knowing that this country is not yet ready to face its past and make America a better place. It seems I am always in the “minority” when expressing my viewpoint and or perspective.

So, thank you for all you do, but we need way more people who think like you before we can move forward.

Carol lives near the San Lorenzo library, which was attacked by Proud Boys during a drag queen story hour. She walked right up to them and asked them what they were doing. They told her they were there to protect children and suggested she join them. Didn’t she want children to be protected?

I watched the PBS series, The U.S. and the Holocaust, and I’m seeing undeniable parallels to Hitler’s Nazis. They demonized a population–the Jews–just as our own right wing demonizes trans people, gay people, immigrants, Blacks, people of color and Jews. They produced reams of propaganda spouting lies that the general population was oh-so-quick to believe. Then they started restricting their rights and destroying their property, humiliating and beating them and sending them to concentration camps along with other targeted groups — homosexuals, gypsies, communists.

Many of us wonder if the Proud Boys and their ilk are turning into the new SS, Hitler’s paramilitary, responsible for terrorizing and killing millions. It happened recently at the First Christian Church in Katy, Texas.

Texas Christians Terrorize Church Supporting Transgender Christians

The organizer, who calls herself a Christian fascist, tweeted, “Let’s start rounding up people who participate in Pride events.”

We are all being demonized and we must hang together to reject fascism or we will hang separately.

Like Carol, I abhor racism and also feel powerless to do anything about it. The very least I can do is publish her words with the hope that it will help white people to understand and sympathize.

Solstice Came Early This Year

Winter Solstice 2022

My Regular Pagan Holiday Missive

Years ago my wife Holly and I invented a solstice ritual we named the Twelve Days of Solstice, starting on the solstice, December 21, and ending with New Year’s day. We made up our own daily rituals and customs, observing the natural world and the changing of the seasons.

Our invention was aimed at supplanting the christian holiday. We are both ex-christians, she tortured by a more evangelical denomination than me by my pale protestant presbyterian sect.

My antipathy has been mostly aimed toward catholicism, a particularly misogynist, patriarchal, racist, and homophobic cult whose latest endeavor is covering up its sexual abuse of children. It is only the most powerful example of christian horror, but there are many more worldwide who hide behind religion to perpetrate evil.

We want no part of this and so we eschew the trappings of christian holidays. However, we do feel the need for tradition and ritual in our lives and so must invent our own. This year in the wake of a worldwide fascist assault on democracy I was feeling a bit depressed in mid-November and sought holiday solace. 

“Let’s start celebrating solstice early!” I entreated.

The festive custom of tree decorating is not owned by the christians. It was stolen from pagan religions and so I feel very good about reclaiming this pagan tradition. The term pagan was historically used by christians to refer to everyone not christian, so it includes all of us non-christians.

I checked around and there were no trees nor boughs to be bought until the day after Thanksgiving. So, after considering and rejecting cutting our own, on the morning of November 25th we drove directly to Grandma’s tree farm a few miles out in the country. People had already stormed the farm, a magical place with a huge old barn decorated to the rafters for the season. There was hot chocolate waiting, a flocking room, a real antique sleigh for kids to play on and all the ornaments and boughs and trees of every size. 

We bought evergreen boughs for the mantle, adorable bird decorations and, of course, a tree, cut and carried by an agile worker who told me he has a landscape company in other seasons.

For the next couple of days we decorated the tree, taking all the time we felt like because why should we be in a hurry? One point of invention is to overcome all the obligations that make this holiday stressful. Like shopping. We are made to feel like we will be responsible for the U.S. economy failing if we don’t spend tons of money. Retailers depend on this holiday to bring in 40 percent of their annual revenue, an unsustainable economic program that bankrupts the poor and does not fit well with our effort to consume less.

With a much longer holiday schedule than usual, we were designing rituals for a month of celebrating instead of just the 12 days of solstice. Ok but no pressure. Instead, I decided to just appreciate the revelatory events that happened to me daily.

Nov. 24 As I planted 40 daffodils in the front yard, I thought bulb planting must be added to our annual constellation of solstice rituals.

Nov. 30 It froze! Contemplating the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, we acknowledged the wilting of the big flowers in our yard. The tree dahlia, which at nearly 20 feet tall had only just started blooming, died. And the huge marigold that had appeared late in the fall, maybe from a wildflower mix, froze. We appreciate that nothing is truly perfect or permanent.

Dec. 1 Then it stormed! We got an inch of rain. We invoked Tefnut, the Egyptian goddess of rain and moisture, responsible for maintaining life, as we watched the bright leaves fall from the trees.

Dec. 3 As I picked the first oranges from our tree and made juice, I called in Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture and the harvest. When her daughter Persephone returns to Hades each winter, the plants die, only to be reborn when she returns in spring. The orange, one plant that the gods apparently overlooked, produces fruit all winter.

Dec. 7 I’m witness to a supernatural event at 5am while I soak in the hot tub. The sheet metal cap on the chimney glows with an amazingly bright light. I feel this is like seeing the virgin Mary on a slice of toast–positively spiritual. The cap continues to glow and I wonder what the universe is trying to tell me. It was so bright I couldn’t imagine what the light source could be. Could the light be coming from inside the house? Of course, it was the setting full moon shining at a direct angle, but so otherworldly that I wanted to take a picture to let someone else in on my religious experience. Who would believe me? Will I be the Cassandra of Hylandia?

I can find no goddess of chimneys nor sheet metal nor chimney caps, so I’ll have to decide whether to check in with one of many goddesses of the hearth. Or perhaps the moon was communicating with me through the chimney cap, in which case I can consult any number of moon goddesses like Selene, the Greek personification of the moon.

The universe is definitely talking to me.

Dec. 8 We spent a lovely couple of hours walking at the ocean with Holly’s brother and wife and afterward I happily consumed the sacred molluscs, oysters. Is there a seafood goddess? Maybe not exactly, but Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty, was born in an oyster so she knew something about them.

Then on our way back from the ocean we hit only green lights on Guerneville Road. A total miracle! I didn’t even have to invoke Asphalta, the goddess of roads and highways, because I know that she is watching over us, especially when we look for parking. We recite the prayer “Hail Asphalta full of grace, help me find a parking place.” Then we rub the sacred crystals which are pieces of asphalt adorned with the yellow line, enclosed in an orange bag that hangs from the car’s mirror. Asphalta’s priestesses are the flag women of the highways. The goddess was invented by my friend Morgan Grey for a book called Found Goddesses and so fits right in with our effort to invent rituals.

Finding the sacred in my everyday life has definitely improved my spirits. It’s worked so well that I might have to continue this practice for the rest of the year.

Happy solstice my friends, however you choose to celebrate it.

OTTERS Thank President Carter

For the past several years I’ve been meeting on zoom with a group of old women trades workers and organizers as we discuss and record our collective history. We call ourselves the OTTERS (Old Tradeswomen Talking Eating and Remembering Shit). Since the 1970s we have fought to open jobs for women and minorities that had been closed to us, like construction work. Affirmative action was our issue and for a short time during Jimmy Carter’s administration, we had support from the federal government. Our fortunes reversed after the election of Reagan, whose labor policies were crafted to push women out of the workforce and back into the kitchen. Our vision of employment equity became much harder to realize, but we didn’t stop. We’ve created training programs and tradeswomen organizations that have opened opportunities for women all over the U.S. We wanted to thank President Carter for his part in the success of our movement, so we wrote him a letter.

The Honorable Jimmy Carter
The Carter Center
453 Freedom Parkway NE
Atlanta, GA 30307

Dear President Carter,

We are writing to thank you for supporting Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Laws while you were in the White House and beyond. More importantly, we want to thank you for enforcing those laws. It made a difference for us and so many other women who were able to enter the construction trades because of your commitment. 

We are a group of older tradeswomen from around the country. We have come together to share stories, remember old times, and to document our history. 

We are the OTTERS. Old Tradeswomen Talking, Eating and Remembering Sh#*. 

During several of our meetings we were trying to figure out when and what was the ‘watershed’ moment when we began working together. We had been working in our respective states but then something happened. You may wonder what it was that brought us together and allowed us to begin meeting and working on a national level to reach out to women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) for training in trade and technical jobs.

We agreed it was, in large part, due to you and your administration’s commitment to equality. Enforcing the laws and ensuring those enforcement agencies were properly funded and staffed.

Many of our OTTERS members started Tradeswomen organizations that provide pre-apprenticeship training for women and find partnering with Habitat for Humanity a wonderful experience for our students. Many of us are still engaged in advocacy and still working toward a more diverse workforce. You continue to be an inspiration to all of us. Thank you. 

Yours in Equity, 

Lisa Diehl, West Virginia

United Brotherhood of Carpenters 7 years

Co-Chair 2nd National Tradeswomen Conference

Non-Traditional Advocacy 30 years

Founder, West Virginia Women Work

Dr. Lynn Shaw, California 

Miner/Steelworker/Longshoreworker/Electrician: 25 years 

Founder of WINTER, Women in Non-Traditional Employment Roles Los Angeles

Ronnie Sandler, New Hampshire

First woman in any of the building trades in Michigan 1976 

Carpenter and contractor for 12 years

First woman to work highway construction in the state of New Hampshire

Designed and ran trades training programs for women Michigan, Vermont, and New Hampshire

On site compliance officer for Maine Department of Transportation 3 major bridge projects

Nettie Dokes, Washington

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Line worker 30+ years

First African American woman Line worker (high voltage electrician) in US 

Seattle Women in Trades Executive Board 25+ years

Pre-apprenticeship instructor 15 years

President and CEO of Workforce Alchemist-a consulting firm for Women in Construction 5 years

Connie Ashbrook, Oregon

Elevator Constructor 17 years

Founder and Executive Director (retired) Oregon Tradeswomen Network

Dale McCormick, Maine

First woman Journeyman in US Carpenters Union, 51 years

Founder and Executive Director of Women Unlimited Maine

Northeast Women in Transportation

Elly Spicer, New York

United Brotherhood of Carpenters New York City, 35 years

Apprenticeship Training Director 3 years

Kathy Augustine, Ohio

Computer Systems Electronics Technician 15 years

Executive Director (retired) Hard Hatted Women, Cleveland 16 years

Kipp Dawson, Pennsylvania

Coal Miner 13 years

Public School teacher 23 years

Coal Miner and Activist in United Mineworkers of America 13 years

Coal Employment Project- Coal Mining Women Support Team since 1979

Betty Jean Hall, Florida

Executive Director & General Counsel

Coal Employment Project- Coal Mining Women Support Team 1977-1988

Lauren Sugerman, Illinois

Elevator Constructor 6 years

Founding Executive Director of Chicago Women in Trades 23 years

Founder and Director of the National Center for Women’s Equity in Apprenticeship and Employment 

Marge Wood, Wisconsin

Plumber 12 years

United Association UA union member 35 years, Madison

Apprenticeship Consultant, WI Technical College System 24 years

Molly Martin, California

Electrician 14 years

Electrical Inspector 10 years

Founder of Tradeswomen Inc., San Francisco

Who Put the We in Halloween?

My Regular Pagan Holiday Greeting

Dear Friends,

Halloween might be the one pagan holiday that neither the Romans nor the catholic church could suppress or usurp, even after centuries of trying.

The Celt holiday of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) celebrated the end of summer and the start of winter. Celts believed that on the night of October 31 the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. People lit sacred bonfires and wore costumes to ward off ghosts. In some places, people doused their hearth fires on Samhain night; then each family solemnly re-lit its hearth from the communal bonfire, thus bonding the community together. 

The Celts lived 2000 years ago in what later became Ireland, the UK and northern France. The 400-year occupation by the Romans left some cultural traditions. At Feralia the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead. And the festival of Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees whose symbol is the apple, was held November 1. In Celtic mythology, apples were strongly associated with the Otherworld and immortality.

Then the christians invaded. Over the centuries, a couple of popes made the effort to subsume the pagan holiday under a new Christian one on November 2, All Souls Day. As with other pagan holidays, it is widely understood that the church was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, church-sanctioned holiday.

But the old customs associated with Samhain never died out entirely. Instead, the first night of Samhain, October 31, became All Hallows Day Evening, the night before the saints were venerated. That name eventually morphed into Halloween. One of the rituals adopted from the Celts waspumpkin carving, which held religious significance. The jack-o-lantern custom consisted of placing fire—which imitates the good magic of the sun—inside a hollowed out vegetable (usually a turnip), representing the harvest. The hope was that the good magic would help to preserve the harvested food through the dark half of the year, until the next growing season could replenish the community’s food stocks.

The practice of trick-or-treating began as the Celtic custom of giving token bits of the harvest to spirits wandering outside of houses on the evening of Samhain to placate them and prevent them from doing destructive things to the harvest or to homes.

Centuries later, Halloween customs were brought to the U.S. by immigrants from Ireland, Scotland and other ancient homelands of the Celts. That’s when pumpkins took over from turnips to make jack-o-lanterns, a modern advancement.

Here in Santa Rosa, Holly and I have invented new rituals and customs for Samhain.

The blessing of the flip flops. During the changing of the footwear we remove our flip flops and put them away for the winter after kissing them and telling them we appreciate their hard work of protecting our feet all summer. Then we don our winter slippers.

The beanie and toque resurrection. We bring down the box of winter hats, scarves and gloves from the top shelf of the closet where they have patiently waited all summer. 

The moving of the deck furniture. All summer the outdoor couch has sat in the shade where we could be comfortable even on hot days. At this time of year we move the couch to a sunny spot on the deck near the house. The ceremony consists of grabbing the couch, saying one two three up and carefully carrying it to its new place.

The building of the ofrenda. Our little Dia de los Muertos altar sits on the fireplace mantle where we assemble pictures and clay figurines of friends and family who have died. We are reminded that many cultures remember their dead at this time of year.

The planting of the peas, the harvesting of persimmons and pomegranates. October is the time to plant sugar snap peas so we can eat them right off the vine in Spring. We also plant cover crops and colorful flowers like violas and pansies to keep us smiling through the winter. My favorite fall salad is made with persimmons, pomegranates, pecans and pears with a citrus dressing (I call it the P salad).

Wishing you, your pods and families a happy Halloween. 

Equinox and the Middle Way

My Regular Pagan Holiday post

Dear Friends,

I’m writing this during a gentle rainstorm that has elicited delight among denizens here in Santa Rosa. Our weather station says it has brought a little less than an inch of rain. We are humbled when we think of raging floods elsewhere in the world but of course what we worry about at this time of the year is fire. Word is that the rain has dampened our biggest California fire, the Mosquito Fire, which has burned 75,000 acres in the Sierra foothills and is now 35 percent contained. This rain may not put an end to fire season, but we hope, as the fall equinox approaches, it marks the beginning of the end. This year the autumn equinox takes place on September 22, when the sun crosses the equator making night and day of equal length in all parts of the earth. 

In Japan the equinox symbolizes the middle way between the seasons. This week will mark the start of Higan, a seven-day Buddhist celebration and national holiday in Japan during the fall and spring equinoxes. The origin of the holiday dates from Emperor Shomu in the 8th century. Higan means the “other shore” and refers to the spirits of the dead reaching Nirvana. It is a time to remember the dead by visiting, cleaning, and decorating their graves. The red spider lily signals shūbun, the arrival of fall. 

Buddhist psychology is neither a path of denial nor of affirmation. It shows us the paradox of the universe, within and beyond the opposites. It teaches us to be in the world but not of the world. This realization is called the middle way.

If we seek happiness purely through indulgence, we are not free. If we fight against ourselves and reject the world, we are not free. It is the middle path that brings freedom. This is a universal truth discovered by all those who awaken.

The middle way describes the middle ground between attachment and aversion, between being and non-being, between form and emptiness, between free will and determinism. The more we delve into the middle way the more deeply we come to rest between the play of opposites.

When we discover the middle path, we neither remove ourselves from the world nor get lost in it. We can be with all our experience in its complexity, with our own exact thoughts and feelings and drama. We learn to embrace tension, paradox, change. Instead of seeking resolution, waiting for the chord at the end of a song, we let ourselves open and relax in the middle. In the middle we discover that the world is workable. From the book The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield

Here in Sonoma County at fall equinox we celebrate the end of those super hot days of summer. There was a day in August when we set a heat record of 115 degrees here. 

We may still get some 90 degree days, but the withering heat is behind us and the cold of winter is yet to come. No more flex alerts! We look forward to enjoying the outdoors in this mild season.

Native aster

Like all Californians we are conserving water during an ongoing drought. Our vegetable garden is not as robust and productive as in wetter years, but native plants thrive. Favorites include native Epilobium in bright reds and pinks, eriogonum (wild buckwheat), and a purple native aster given to us by a neighbor, still blooming happily without water! Birds of all feathers converge on our garden to eat the seeds of spent wildflower blooms.

Wishing you a tranquil equinox.

Love, Molly (and Holly)

My Mother’s Lesbian Affair

Chapter 6 My Brother Finds Pictures

Group photo at the 1937 conference. Is that Eddie leaning against Flo (center)

Lately I’ve been walking around with my head in the 1930s.

I’ve been thinking about my mother  and what her life was like as a young person. Mom was born in 1913 and graduated high school in 1929. She came of age in the 1930s. Born in 1949, I came of age in the 1960s. They were two very different worlds.

I thought I’d gone through all the evidence we’d found of our mother’s dalliance with another woman. Love letters we discovered revealed attempts at seduction, but there was nothing to prove that they had been lovers. 

Then my brother called me. “I found pictures!” he said.

In an envelope in a forgotten file cabinet, Don found a slew of photos of my mother and her friends in the 1930s. Some were clearly pictures of the YWCA meetings in 1937 and 38 where our mother, Flo, met and roomed with her lesbian admirer, Edna Lauterbach (Eddie). Maybe Eddie is in the pictures! Of course Eddie is in the pictures! 

I’m posting some of the pictures here and I hope readers will weigh in. I think these photos are from the 1937 conference where Flo and Eddie first met in Chicago. I’m pretty sure Eddie is in one of these photos, but which one is she? Here is what we know: Flo was 24 and Eddie was 37 in 1937. I know from the census records that Eddie’s father was ethnically German. I would love to know what she looked like.

Flo on the left. Are her two handsome companions a lesbian couple?

The photos show groups of women, many with their arms around each other, hands on legs or shoulders. My mother had her hands on several of them. These women seem way more physically affectionate with each other than my generation of female friends ever were in public. Were they all lovers? 

In her seminal book Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love between Women from the Renaissance to the Present, Lillian Faderman posits that women in “Boston marriages” and “romantic couples” did not necessarily have sex. She writes that “romantic friendships” between women were accepted in the Western world up until WWI. After that, as women’s status in the culture changed, these friendships started to become less accepted. Today girls and women are not encouraged to hold hands in public or to enter into romantic friendships, presumably because they might turn lesbian. Today if there’s not a sexual component, we don’t take the relationship seriously. But Faderman argues that in the past these relationships were as serious as those between men and women. 

By the 1930s American culture was changing, but close physical friendships between women were still more accepted than they were in my youth. My mother couldn’t understand why my generation was so focused on co-ed activities. She told me she had much more fun with her girlfriends than she did with boys. Mom maintained life-long friendships with women. She even named me, her only daughter, after her best girlfriend. 

Flo and an unidentified girlfriend

Society was much more permissive by the time I was coming up than it was when Mom came of age. By the late 1960s, sex had become a hot topic. We thought about and experimented with sex all the time. For one thing, we had the birth control pill. For another thing, we had women’s and gay liberation. In three decades, our culture had changed. Women were now free agents. But women were no longer free to be so physically affectionate with each other in public.

From the moment we discovered the love letters, my question has been: Did Flo and Eddie have sex? From Eddie’s letters we know that she was crushed out on Flo. If any of Flo’s letters to Eddie existed it might be easier to determine how she was feeling. But even then we might not know whether they engaged in sex. Faderman uncovered letters throughout history in which women in nonsexual romantic friendships declared undying love for one another.

It’s not as if sex wasn’t going on. There were definitely lesbians involved in the YWCA, unions, and progressive organizations in the 1930s. Eleanor Roosevelt’s inner circle included women in Boston marriages, and Eleanor herself carried on a closeted affair with her press attache, Lorena Hickok. We know from their resurrected letters that they were deeply in love with each other, but there is no evidence that their relationship had a sexual component. 

Flo (left front) with hands on two others

By the 1960s, physical closeness between women had become suspect. I have a lesbian cousin, Sandy, who is ten years older than I. That’s a whole generation in the gay universe. I’ve depended on Sandy to school me about her older gay generation. She was closeted. She worked for the YWCA in Seattle in 1963 and told me there were many dykes there. They all knew each other and they were all closeted. You had to be if you wanted to keep your job. Sandy had affairs with a couple of them. They did not feel so free to show affection in public as my mother’s generation of women did. They worried about being outed.

My guess is Eddie knew what she was doing when she wooed Flo in 1938. She wanted a lover. But, at least in the beginning, I believe Flo was oblivious. I believe she thought Eddie just wanted to be friends. Eddie may have been the first lesbian she encountered in her life. She was probably shocked when Eddie came out to her.

Eddie was a good romancer. She managed to lure Flo to New York City from Yakima, Washington in 1941. She bought Flo gifts, took her out to dinner and the theater, and squired her around the city. And that is when I imagine Eddie came out to her and declared her love. At least, had I been in Eddie’s shoes, that’s what I would have done.

1937 group photo. Can you spot the lesbians?

A small town gal, Flo was pretty green when she first met Eddie at the YWCA conference in Chicago. She may not have even known what the word lesbian meant. By the time they met up in New York, Flo was no longer so young or naïve. She was 28 and had traveled to cities across the U.S.

I just had an epiphany. What if I’m culturally biased?

I see now that I’ve been evaluating my mother’s generation through the lens of my own. My generation thinks the word lover describes people who have genital sex. Maybe I need to redefine the term lover. Perhaps we should expand the definition of lover to include what Faderman calls “romantic friendships.”

My mother and her friends were activists in women’s organizations who enjoyed working and playing together. Maybe being lovers then was not all about sex. If we expand our notion, then we can imagine a culture in which physical affection extended to all. It’s fun to contemplate an army of female lovers. 

Maybe for women like my mother the defining factor in a relationship was not sex. Maybe there’s a third choice: romantic friendship. Maybe I should stop asking whether they had sex. Maybe I should start with love.

Chapter 1: https://mollymartin.blog/2016/09/03/my-mothers-lesbian-affair/

Who Was My Mother’s Lesbian Admirer?

She came of age in New York City in the 1920s

Did My Mother Have an Affair With a Woman? Chapter 4

Flo (L) in the 1920s

After I discovered love letters to from a woman to my mother in an old scrapbook from the 1930s, I endeavored to find out as much as I could about my mother’s admirer, Eddie. Who was she and what was her story?

Over a couple of years my brother Don and I uncovered some answers. A big breakthrough came when we discovered her last name in a letter stuffed in another scrapbook. Once we had that we looked her up in census records where we learned more details. She was Edna Lauterbach, born in 1900. She lived in Brooklyn with her family including two sisters. She worked in advertising and she was active in the Business and Professional Women’s group within the YWCA. She had encountered my mother, Florence Wick, at conferences in Chicago and Columbus in 1937 and 38 where they roomed together.

From one of Eddie’s letters

The letters convinced me that Eddie was at least a self-acknowledged lesbian who had a serious crush on my mother. There is so much more I want to know about her. Did she remain a closeted lesbian all her life? Was she part of a lesbian subculture? No doubt the environs of New York City afforded more possibilities than those of smaller towns. We know that, as in Berlin, gay culture flourished in the 1920s in New York City, the epicenter of the “Pansy Craze” and the accompanying “Sapphic Craze.” Eddie came of age at a time when gay and lesbian characters were featured in pulp novels, stage plays, radio songs and (before the Hays Code) in movies. Born at the cusp of the 20th century, she would have been just the right age to experience this flowering of gay culture in New York.

Did she frequent the lesbian and gay gathering places in Manhattan during the 20s and 30s? We know Eddie worked in advertising, though the census doesn’t tell us which firm she worked for. But we can assume she traveled daily from her home in Brooklyn to her work in Manhattan. My mother, Flo, was a small town gal from Yakima, Washington. But I imagine Eddie, who grew up in New York, to be far more citified and sophisticated. Maybe she taught my mom some things.

Did she know Eve Adams, the notorious lesbian café owner who was arrested in 1926, jailed, and later deported, and sent to Auschwitz where she was murdered? Eve Adams is a Jewish radical lesbian foremother, but I had never heard of her until I read her biography by the gay historian Jonathan Ned Katz. The New York Times recently included her obit in its Overlooked No More obituary section and she was profiled in the New Yorker. 

Read this book!

Eve Adams (a taken name alluding to Adam and Eve) was friends with anarchists Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman and Ben Reitman. In New York she mingled with the likes of Margaret Sanger and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. Adams came to the US in 1912 and spent four years hitchhiking around the country before settling in New York. I learned from Katz’s book that one of the places she visited was my hometown of Yakima. What drew her there at the height of the nativist backlash in 1922? I’m still trying to find out.

In 1925 Eve Adams published the first American book with lesbian in the title, Lesbian Love. In that year she opened a café in Greenwich Village called Eve’s Hangout, which became a destination for New York’s bohemian contingent. 

Did Eddie visit Eve’s Hangout? I bet she knew about the place. She may have been afraid to visit, especially after Eve was arrested in 1926 by an undercover policewoman for “disorderly conduct,” a charge that referred to her alleged sexual advances and for having written an “obscene” book. But if I had been in New York in 1925 you can bet I would have checked out Eve’s Hangout.

Gay culture flourished in the Roaring Twenties in New York. Then in the 30s with the Great Depression and the end of Prohibition, a backlash began and gay culture went underground. By the time Flo and Eddie met in Chicago in 1937 you were taking a chance going into a gay gathering place, if you could even find one. I speculate that Eddie’s two sisters may also have been lesbians. The 1940 census finds them all still single in their 30s and still living in the family apartment on 88th Street in Brooklyn. I bet Eddie and her sisters had fun together in New York. Flo traveled to New York to visit Eddie in 1941 and, whether or not she met the family, I know she met one of the sisters, Gertrude. The three women saw a Broadway play together, the antifascist play by Lillian Hellman, Watch on the Rhine.

Was Eddie involved in the blooming lesbian feminist culture in the 1970s? She would have been 70 in 1970, but there were plenty of older women who joined the feminist movement, including my mother. Did Eddie continue to be active in the YWCA? The YW may not have harbored anarchists, but my mother and Eddie did rub shoulders with a progressive element who wanted to change the world. J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI went after activists in the YW, calling them communists, but the attacks never stuck, maybe because of the Christian in the name or because they were allied with wives of industrialists. Researching the YW for this series, I am impressed with all the organization accomplished, and the stance it took against racism, even in its early years. It is a fascinating history, yet to be compiled into a book. I believe my mother’s progressive anti-racist politics were formed in the YW, and my own world view benefitted from activism in the organization.

The YW was at the forefront of the most critical social movements including women’s empowerment and civil rights. The activism of Flo and Eddie set the stage for my generation’s second wave of feminism and our gay rights movement.

I thought I had reached the end of my Eddie research and speculation. But now my brother has unearthed a batch of photos of our mother and her YW pals. We’ve been able to place them at the conferences in Chicago and Columbus. So in a final chapter of this story I’ll ask readers to weigh in on the possibilities.

To be continued.

Chapter 5: https://mollymartin.blog/2022/08/04/my-mothers-lesbian-affair-2/

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